A Facebook group curated by a television producer gives Angelenos a daily dose of the Los Angeles that's gone forever.
As the daughter of actor and singer Al Martino (best known for his role as an Italian crooner in The Godfather), Alison Martino watched her parents act like most celebrity couples in Los Angeles. Drinks at the moat-surrounded Luau in Beverly Hills. Dinner at the glamorous star-magnet Chasen's. But unlike the other kids she knew, Martino didn't have to stay at home. "They took me everywhere," she says. "So I got really sad about it when these places I went to that had stuck around for 30 to 40 years started going away."
Now, from the amusement park that used to be where the Beverly Center is, to a forgotten fish restaurant shaped like the mouth of a whale, Martino is slowly building a compendium of the L.A. that was at the Facebook community Vintage Los Angeles.
Although she'd always been enamored with L.A. history, it wasn't until Martino became a producer on the show Mysteries and Scandals that she realized her calling. Over 127 episodes, she spent hours combing over vintage Hollywood footage and realized she was far more interested in the places than the celebrities. "I'd ask for more street footage to be tacked onto the end," when she requested archival reels, she remembers. "Everyone saw the shots of Marilyn putting her handprints in Grauman's, but I'd want to know what the parking meters looked like."
After launching a popular page dedicated to mid-century architecture, Martino realized she wanted to go further back in history. One month ago she started Vintage Los Angeles, which exploded when a 1964 clip of the Sunset Strip culled from a producers' library began to be picked up on blogs. Yesterday she reached 5,000 fans, and she also gets about 100 emails and messages a day from people asking her to identify or find landmarks. "I thought I was the only one who cares about this vintage stuff," she laughs.
Not everyone cares as much as Martino, who collects her personal recollections of her favorite places at Martino's "Lost Angeles" Time Table. After digging through records at the Chamber of Commerce, and poring over Google for images, Martino hits the streets to take the "Then and Now" photos which accompany many of her archival finds. Once she knocked on a door at the Crossroads of the World and a guy handed her stack of old postcards, which she tucked into her voluminous collection of memorabilia—one that includes over 40,000 matchbooks.
While her detective work nets some pretty excellent finds, Martino is far more interested in other people's personal photos, and encourages them to post them to the page. She posted a photo of the infamously gaudy "Sheik's House" in Beverly Hills which burned down in a suspicious fire in the 1980s, and immediately got an even better photo from a reader who spent the day sifting through his mother's scrapbooks. "I've been looking of a photo of that for 20 years," says Martino. But that's not even the half of it. Dozens of comments flooded in, each with their own recollection about how it burned and who was to blame. "I've always wanted to write a book about L.A. but who really cares about my opinion?" she says. "I want to know what everyone else has to say."
Like another cult-favorite Facebook page, Hidden Los Angeles, Vintage Los Angeles seeks to reclaim the sumptuous, secret history of a city that many say forgets its past all too quickly. She points to the beautiful modernist building that used to host the restaurant Scandia, which has been empty for 13 years. "Maybe people will see this and see that it would be good for a restaurant or a club or a gallery." Plus she hopes developers will take inspiration in the vibrancy of, say, 1940s Wilshire Boulevard. "It was a very colorful place," she says. "Now they paint all the buildings brown."
While many of her readers are of the age when they really did ice skate and bowl at many of the lost landmarks (Martino herself just turned 40), she knows that people just a few years younger see the photos as the framework for preservationist action. "I do think the newer generation can do something," she says. "I get the same reaction to every photo I post: 'What were they thinking?'"