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Charles Phoenix: Celebrating that SoCal style

Artist's overview of pop culture is an appreciation of mid-20th-century kitsch.

November 22, 2013|By Lynne Heffley
  • Pop culture humorist Charles Phoenix at the Donut Hole drive-through in La Puente. Phoenix will explore Southern California's idiosyncratic mid-20th century architecture on Sunday, Nov. 24 at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
Pop culture humorist Charles Phoenix at the Donut Hole… (Courtesy of Charles…)

Charles Phoenix, humorist, author, food-crafter and gleeful guide to pop culture at its kitschiest and most off-beat, will serve up his one-of-a-kind look at mid-20th century building design in “Charles Phoenix: Architecture in LA!” on Sunday at Art Center College of Design's Ahmanson Auditorium in Pasadena.

The show, presented in Phoenix's signature, “histo-tainment,” retro slide-show style, is part of an architecture-themed lecture series hosted by Friends of the Gamble House, the support organization for the 1908 Arts and Crafts-style Gamble House in Pasadena, designed by Charles and Henry Greene.

“I'm going to be spotlighting the underrated, the undiscovered, the underappreciated,” Phoenix said. “Some of the smaller scale, far less famous gems and jewels. Basically these are structures that I feel are very important in the scheme of our cultural fabric. We also want to talk about preserving these buildings because people in the future deserve to experience them.

“I mean, to varying degrees,” he said, with no detectable irony, “some of these buildings are the Taj Mahals of their day.”

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The show is also about themed environments, he added. “It's our social architecture, it's our eating architecture, it's our driving architecture. I mean, I'm really pointing out what I think the ‘there there' is in Southern California that hasn't yet been pointed out as much as it deserves to be.”

One iconic structure that Phoenix will highlight is the world's oldest surviving McDonald's located in Downey, Calif. It sports looping, 30-foot “golden arches” and a 60-foot neon sign topped by the chain's original mascot, “Speedee” the chef, replaced in the 1960s by Ronald McDonald. Phoenix calls it “one of the most important buildings on earth.”

It's “world class,” he said. “You could bring the Queen of England there. In the realm of international pop culture, let alone just American pop culture, that MacDonald's is an icon of commerce and culture of the extreme highest order.”

“I take this very seriously,” Phoenix said about his unique, fact-based entertainment niche, “although it is kind of blossoming around the edges with humor at every turn. At my roots, I am studying and commentating on and serving up classic and kitschy American life and style — past, present and future.”

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