Avalon Casino Picture of the week

Avalon Casino - The Art Deco style building opened in 1929 the large gathering hall was never used for gambling. There is a movie theater and ballroom inside.
Avalon Casino – The Art Deco style building opened in 1929. The large gathering hall was never used for gambling. There is a movie theater and ballroom inside, so as you’d suspect, it’s a favorite spot for Southern California brides.

Listen, guys, I know this goes against the man code, but you really should pay attention to your wife every so often. This seemingly innocent act of unselfishness pays dividends. She may let you watch the race (game?) and cook a pack of pizza rolls for you; she could let you play golf, or—in my case—the sock-fairy returns a drawer full of footies before I order another pack from Amazon. You got to try it. A little act of kindness pays off tenfold.

By now, you’re probably wondering what I’m babbling about. Let me explain. Here at the Witkowski double-wide mansion, we’ve had the fortune to get small returns from the IRS over the past couple of years. We treat it as unexpected vacation money, but we always spend it on tires, garage doors, or new cameras. This year, we didn’t have any incidental expenses, so I asked Queen Anne, “Honey, where would you like to go on vacation.” At first, she squinted and scowled at me, but when she realized I was serious, she answered, “Catalina Island is high on my bucket list.” So, we agreed to blow all our tax returns on an island for a week.

Before I get too far, let me clarify a point. Unless you own a yacht, you’re into backpacking, or your family name starts with Wrigley, you don’t visit Catalina; you go to Avalon. They don’t have rental cars on the island, but you can rent a bike, golf cart, or steal a local’s Smart Car, but you’re mostly going to walk around town. We didn’t mind because that was enough to keep us entertained for the week.

Although Avalon is still in Los Angeles County, its atmosphere makes you feel like you need a passport to travel there. First, the air is free of LA smog so that you can see the mainland’s San Gabriel Mountains through the fog. As you walk past the shops and bars on Crescent Avenue, you get the aroma of sea air mixed with waffle cones, beer, and pizza. The businesses along the strand are the same mix of souvenir shops, restaurants, hotels, ice cream, and adventure tours that you’d expect in any popular tourist attraction. We spent the week scouring through all the T-shirt shops before selecting a couple to bring home.

Before we even left home, I knew one of the photos I would take would be of Catalina’s iconic casino. Since I had plenty of time on the island, I took nearly a dozen. I shot it in the sun, in the fog, under a cloudy sky, from ground level, and this week’s featured image is from the cliffs overlooking it. I picked this version to show because it has soft shadows, and you can see its details and its relationship with the harbor. I call this image Avalon Casino even though its actual name is the Catalina Casino.

The Santa Catalina Company built the building and opened it in 1929. They never used it for gambling. ‘Casino’ is a European term for large gathering hall, but Vegas operators thought that casino sounds more hoity-toity than gambling hall, so they stole the word. The multi-story hall is the largest building on the island, and its art-deco design has fans worldwide (I’ll have more to say about that in a couple of weeks).

This week’s photo also includes my dream boat. Can you guess which one it is? It’s not the biggest, but it’ll do. I’m scheming a way to have Santa bring it for Christmas, so after I publish this morning, I have to do dishes and mop the floor. I got to keep the jolly old elf happy, you know.

We’ll spend the rest of our hot July remembering our Avalon trip. You can see the larger version of Avalon Casino on its Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week and see more from our Avalon adventure.

Till Next Time
jw

Cozy Bed by the Fire Picture of the Week

Cozy Bed by the Fire - A discarded box spring left inside the abandoned Richardson House at Union Pass.
Cozy Bed by the Fire – A discarded box spring someone left inside the abandoned Richardson House at Union Pass.

Neither of my grandfathers was around when I grew up, but their wives were more than a kid could handle. I don’t know of two women that were such opposites. They were the prototype for the good-cop/bad-cop routine used by police worldwide. My parents invited each to live with us at one time or another. For us kids, it was like having four bosses—with different agendas.

My dad’s mom was a short stalky woman who spoke with a Polish accent, even though she was born in Pittsburg. That was the primary language in the neighborhood where she lived. When I was in kindergarten, my mom made my dad move to the suburbs after I came home swearing in Polish. Her name was Regina, but we always called her grandma—or Grandma Witt when they were both around. She earned money for cleaning downtown offices at night. It wasn’t a glamorous job, but she owned her home up on Leander Street—the Rodeo Drive of Polack Hill.

After she retired, she joined us in California, and my parents paid her to clean our house—which never needed cleaning. Except for Christmas cookies, she was a terrible cook. She used vinegar in everything, and her favorite vegetable was sauerkraut. On Wednesdays, she’d make pork chops. According to her, they weren’t cooked until they were dry and brittle as their serving plate. It took years to get over my disdain for pork. When we would test her boundaries, the extent of her discipline ended with the phrase, “I’m going to tell your father when he gets home.” She never did, so we got away with murder.

Mom’s mother, on the other hand, was a terrorist. I don’t know how her seven children made it out alive because she detested kids. We called her Grandma Moore even though she took back her maiden name after divorcing my granddad. She was thinner and a couple of inches taller than dad’s mom, and we kids called her Mean Grandma. Whenever my mom would announce that she was coming to stay with us, we tuned up and bawled. My mom told us she was a registered nurse, but her remedy for anything was mercurochrome or Bromo Quinine. If you ever saw a red-splotched child heaving at the curb, that was us.

One time my dad came home on a payday and surprised us with brand new toys. They were those wooden paddles with a red ball attached by a rubber string. The goal was to continuously bounce the ball off the paddle like a horizontal yoyo (Because I lacked coordination, the ball kept smacking me in the face). The day my parents returned to work, she tore the ball and band off and kept the paddles handy to swat us when we got out of line.

I remember her telling us that we were all heathens and should behave more like our cousins. After she died and we all gathered for her funeral, those cousins recounted how my sisters and I were her examples of well-behaved children. That’s when I realized that she acted the same with all her grandkids.

At one point in my photography career, I began shooting trash furniture. I took one picture of a chair, and then I began to see discarded furniture everywhere. It jumped out at me. I have an extensive collection of chairs I found dumped on the street, and you can see some of them in my Have A Seat gallery. When I was shooting at the Richardson Homestead last month and stuck my head inside the house, I came up with the ironic title before I snapped the photo. Even though it’s garbage, Queen Anne and I have stayed in motels that weren’t much better.

I stepped inside, but when I framed the shot, I was too close—even with my widest lens. I had to back up to get everything in the frame. When I stood outside the door, its structure got in the shot, so the perfect place to stand was in the doorway. But, since that was the scene’s primary light source, the stage was too dark. I was blocking the incoming light. That’s when I heard Grandma Moor’s voice in my head reciting one of her favorite phrases, “You make a better door than a window.” She would always say that whenever we stood in front of the TV. Forty years after her death, she haunts the darker corners of my brain.

I finally figured out how to get this week’s photo without the dreaded slow-shutter blur. I call this image Cozy Bed by the Fire, and you can see the larger version on its Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week to see the next shot from my morning at the Richardson Homestead.

Till Next Time
jw

White House Picture of the Week

White House - An abandoned dwelling of some sort in the ghost town of Dos Cabezas.
White House – An abandoned dwelling of some sort in the ghost town of Dos Cabezas.

Ghost towns are a big business in Arizona. That’s good because we have our fair share, and a few of them attract many tourists. They’re our Disneyland. As soon as your relatives hit the tarmac and demand to see the state, the first suggestion out of your mouth is, “Let’s go to Jerome (Bisbee-Oatman-Tombstone-etc.).” You’d think that, by definition, ghost towns are abandoned places—they had their heyday long ago, but the residents left when things went south. But, that’s not necessarily true. The population count in some of our mining towns rivals the numbers they had in their prime. Our hometown of Congress is an example. People move here to get away from Phoenix’s smog and traffic—or the Minnesota snow—and they’re all on the road and in my way.

I’ve concluded that somebody loves it and wants to live there no matter how remote one of these places is. Take the town I introduced last week—Dos Cabezas. Among the derelict buildings, there are two surviving businesses. One is an art studio/gallery (Dos Cabezas Art Gallery), and the other is a bed and breakfast (Dos Cabezas Retreat Bed and Breakfast). At least those are the two places that advertise their presence. There are several cattle ranches in the area, and there is an emerging wine presence, but not within the town limits.

I don’t know anything about the gallery, but enjoying a glass of local wine while staring at the stars on the B&B patio would be a treat. Since it’s closer to the Chiricahua National Monument, it’s an alternative to the chain hotels or downtown dives in Willcox. The two guest rooms are in an adobe walled casita, and as the name implies, the hosts include breakfast. A drawback for Queen Anne and I would be dinners. The nearest restaurants are 15 miles away in Willcox or Douglas, over an hour’s drive south. If you’re a person that needs bright lights and noise to sleep, the retreat wouldn’t be your cup of tea—the nights in the middle of Sulphur Springs Valley are exceptionally dark and silent.

As you can tell from this week’s picture, the little ghost town is at the foot of the Dos Cabezas Mountains. It’s near the range’s southern reach, so you can only see the south head (Cabeza). There’s a road and trails that will get you to the top, where I imagine the view of the valley and Willcox Playa is spectacular. You need permission to cross a locked gate, and the top is steep, so why bother?

In this image that I call White House, I assume it was a dwelling. It’s a palace compared to some of the miner’s shacks I’ve seen. Unlike the other buildings in Dos Cabezas, this one is a fixer-upper. You have affordable housing with a bit of paint, a few shingles, and a yard clean-up. But there’s probably a community historical committee that needs appeasement, so you can’t paint it purple.

Unlike last week’s photo, the white stucco pops against the brown mountain and clear blue sky, and I like that. There’s plenty of side yard where I visualize Queen Anne hanging laundry on a solar drier. Then, this would be a picture that Norman Rockwell or Andrew Wyeth would envy. Where’s the Saturday Evening Post when you need them?

You can see a larger version of White House on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, we continue down County Highway 186 in search of an image worthy of another car stop. Please join us.

Till Next Time
jw

Adobe Ruin Picture of the Week

Adobe Ruins - In the ghost town of Dos Cabezas, most of the remaining buildings are severely decayed.
Adobe Ruins – In the ghost town of Dos Cabezas, most of the remaining buildings are in a severe state of decay.

Roughly midway between Willcox and the Chiricahua National Monument, the county highway’s speed limit drops to 45 mph. At first, there’s no clue about the slowdown until a small sign announces that you’re entering the town of Dos Cabezas. Only three of its dozen or so buildings are worthy of occupancy. The rest are in various states of decay. It’s only a city block long, and you soon return to an empty country road, where you can reset the cruise control.

After driving through Dos Cabezas three times, I insisted on stopping on our fourth pass. As regular readers know, I’m a sucker for historic buildings, whether they’re restored or about to be blown down by the wind. I’m glad that I did, and this week’s featured shot is one of several that I captured during that afternoon.

As with most Arizona ghost towns, Dos Cabezas’s history is a flash of glory followed by a long decay period. The town is located at the southeastern reach of the mountain range, which shares the same name. When word came out that prospectors discovered gold and silver on the mountain, miners swooped in like hungry vultures to feed on a carcass. The Feds opened a Post Office in 1878, which served a population of 300 that eventually swelled to over 4000. They found little gold in the Elma mine, but there were some copper deposits. Investment capital dried up when investors discovered that the mine was a scam and part of stock fraud. People left to find work elsewhere. As the town dwindled, the Post Office finally closed its branch in 1960. I guess that you could count today’s Dos Cabezas citizens on one of your hands.

In this picture that I call Adobe Ruin, you see the remains of a large building constructed using adobe bricks and stucco. The town once had a hotel, and these sections may be all that’s left of it. Adobe was a common building material throughout the old southwest because it was simple to make. All you need is to combine mud and straw and let it dry in the sun. The thick bricks provide plenty of protection from the desert heat and cold winters, but they quickly erode once water enters them.

I took several variations of the building, but I favored this one because I liked the mud stains streaking down the wall, and I liked the wall’s placement before the background’s two-headed mountain. The desert willow and hackberry show how soon nature reclaims her own. Ashes to ashes, as it were.

You can see a larger version of Adobe Ruin on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, we’ll walk down the street to look at another of the Dos Cabezas ruins. Come back then and have a look.

Till Next Time
jw

Past and Future Picture of the Week

Past and Future - Along Willcox's historic Railroad Avenue, there are business that pay homage to the town's past and its future.
Past and Future – Along Willcox’s historic Railroad Avenue, some businesses pay homage to the town’s past and others to its future.

My dad bought our first television the week they hit the stores from stories that my mom told. I don’t remember because I was an infant at the time. The screen was small; you could cover it with your hand. She said that news of our new set spread fast, and the entire neighborhood crowded into our two-room apartment to watch shows on it. The crowd size amazes me because my great-grandmother’s apartment building didn’t have indoor plumbing, but it must have had electricity.

We didn’t need a TV Guide. We memorized the program schedule and could rattle off the shows for any given evening. The best night was Sunday. That was the night that Walt Disney’s Disneyland came on. They called it that between 1954 and 1958, it had various names after that. The gist of the show was always the same. Us kids loved that we could stay up an extra hour to see it—and maybe some of the Ed Sullivan Show if Topo Gigio was a guest.

The Disney show had four rotating themes. My siblings and I liked the cartoon week the best, but my dad enjoyed the westerns. They were either cowboy stories or a smooth-talking narrator explaining the west. He spoke differently from us. He didn’t have an accent as such—he had a drawl. He hung on to words so long they curled at the end—like the top of a Dairy Queen cone. His calm voice was soothing, and even at our young age, we knew that he wasn’t from Pittsburgh.

As I got older, I learned that the narrator’s name was Rex Allen. In addition to the Disney shows, he was an actor, songwriter, and singing cowboy. You may remember seeing his movies on Saturday morning cowboy shows if you’re as old as I am. (I don’t see a lot of hands out there in the peanut gallery, so you’ll have to take my word for it.)

After seeing this week’s picture, many of you have already guessed that he was born and raised in Willcox. I suspect that he’s their most famous native, and that’s why there is a museum for him along Railroad Avenue, across the street from a park with his statue. I can’t imagine anyone loitering in that park because the busy railroad tracks bisect it. It’s no place for a drunken hobo.

The tan building in the photo wasn’t built to house the Rex Allen Museum—it was initially the Schley Saloon. Sound familiar? It was the bar where Joseph Schwertner made his money—go back a read last week’s story. Two doors down, the building with the blue awnings is the Marty Robbins Gift Shop. You’re asking, “What’s he got to do with Willcox?” If you’re a boomer like me, you’ll remember the hit song Streets of Laredo that Robbins sang. Rex Allen wrote it. I think another Allen song that Arthur Godfrey recorded in 1948 is pretty catchy. It’s titled Slap Her Down Again Paw. It’s true; I couldn’t make this one up.

The grand white building between the museum and gift shop was a bank. It’s currently the Keeling Schaefer wine tasting room. One of at least three that Queen Anne and I saw on the avenue, and they may be the future of Willcox tourism. While the memory of Rex Allen and Marty Robbins appeals to my generation, there is no context for those that follow. So, the old cowboys’ draw may be on the wane.

However, wine is another story. A couple of decades ago, some adventurous vintners settled into the high grasslands of southeast Arizona. They saw that the conditions here would be an excellent place to plant vines—especially the well-drained soils of the foothills. The climate and geography are similar to parts of California’s central valley. New wineries are blooming from the little town of Elgin east to New Mexico.

Anne and I spent a couple of hours in Keeling Schaefer sampling and talking with the hostess. We found their offerings to be young and a little rough, but we did like a couple of whites and reds enough to purchase. There is an essence of the local soil in the wine—like the peat in a highland scotch. It’s a characteristic that you like or not. A word of advice if you go; sample at the tasting rooms and note your likes. Then stop at Safeway and buy the bottles at a more reasonable price.

You can see a larger version of Past and Future on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we move on to a new project. Come back and see our next project.

Until next time — jw

Schwertner House Picture of the Week

Schwertner House - Built as an overnight barracks for Army officers during the Apache Wars, the Schwertner family bought and lived in the house until 1980.
Schwertner House – Built as an overnight barracks for Army officers during the Apache Wars, the Schwertner family bought and lived in the house until 1980.

In 1880, when Southern Pacific established a whistle-stop in Willcox, there was peace everywhere in the country except in Cochise County. Here the Army was busy battling Cochise and Geronimo in the Chiricahuas. Stupid decisions made by Army officers prolonged the Apache Wars, but that’s another day’s story.

The U.S. Army operated from several forts in the southeast corner of the Arizona Territory, and the newly built railroad was an efficient way to get officers into Arizona. So, the Army immediately paid to have a boarding house built within walking distance of the Willcox train station. The green officers had a place to stay until troops escorted them to Fort Bowie, Fort Grant, or Fort Thomas.

After hostilities ended, Joseph Schwertner bought the barracks for his family’s home. Joe was a well-off Schley saloon owner, one of several that lined Railroad Avenue at the turn of the century. After Joe died in 1929, his heirs continued to live in the house until 1980, when they gifted it to the local historical society. Today, the pretty little yellow house with green shutters is one of several buildings in Willcox on the National Registry list and is open for tours.

In this week’s picture, I shot the historic home at dawn just after I got my first cup of coffee and my eyes finally opened. I called the shot Schwertner House—its proper name. In addition to the lovely morning light on its yellow front and new metal roof, I like the picket fence (I’m a sucker for picket fences because they’re rare in Arizona). The dark green shutters should be next on the TLC list.

What if you’re not into history and old buildings? What else is in Willcox that makes it worth a visit? A mile or so east of the railroad crossing is the town’s golf course. It’s not fancy, and it will never be on the PGA tour, but that’s not important to most golfers. I’ve never been good at stick-and-ball sports, so I’m not keen on golf. However, on the road and just past the course is something that I do find exciting.

Willcox Playa Sandhills - Sandhill Cranes stop at the Wilcox Playa on their way to Canada.
Willcox Playa Sandhills – Sandhill Cranes, stop at the Wilcox Playa to rest and feed on their way to Canada.

We started our Willcox story a couple of weeks ago by explaining why Southern Pacific picked this spot for a stop. The railroad located the town along the northeast part of the Willcox Playa. Usually a dry lakebed, there is enough seasonal water to fill the low spots. Because these shallow pools are dependable year after year, migrating waterfowl stop for food and rest.

The most notable flock of birds is the Sandhill Cranes. The large stilt-legged gray birds are in the ponds late winter until the weather warms enough to continue to Canada. The playa is the best place to watch the red-faced birds this side of New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache preserve.

Since the access road encircles the ponds, you can watch the cranes from your car. In freezing mornings, the birds cluster in tight groups, communicating with trills, clucking, and squawks. Before they take to the air, their cacophony gets louder and the pace quicker. Then a half dozen take a couple of steps and flap their long broad wings rising gracefully above the pond. In winter, the air in Sulfur Springs Valley has temperature inversions, so the birds fly up to where the air is warmer and soar over town. The locals proudly call the phenomena Wings over Willcox, or WOW.

You can see a larger version of Schwertner House on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, I have a final shot of historical Willcox, so come back and see what we’ve dug up.

Until next time — jw

Mack’s Bar Picture of the Week

Mack's Bar - Something that its patrons may never see is the early morning sun shining on Mack's Bar in Willcox, Arizona.
Mack’s Bar – Something that its patrons may never see is the early morning sun shining on Mack’s Bar in Willcox, Arizona.

“Gee, had I only known …” I don’t know about you, but I’ve uttered that phrase a lot. I shouldn’t be surprised because my mom always told me that I “was a day late and a dollar short.” And, I always thought she called me sun because I was so bright.

This time I whispered the idiom to myself after getting back from our Cochise County trip. As I always do, I began looking for stories that complement my pictures. I found a great story about another Earp shooting. Not Wyatt. That would have been too good. This incident involved the shooting death of Warren Earp—Wyatt’s youngest brother—at 1:30 am July 6th, 1900, in the Headquarters Saloon.

If you’re not familiar with the controversial Earp brothers (where have you been), they were supposedly the good guys at the OK Corral shootout in 1881—even though they wore the black hats and black dusters. I don’t want to dwell on the Tombstone incident, but the short version is that Wyatt, two of his brothers Virgil and Morgan, and their friend—Doc Holiday went to the corral to disarm four Clanton Gang cowboys. The confrontation erupted in a 30-second gunfight where the Earp’s killed Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton while Ike Clanton managed to run away. (In this video, Bob Boze Bell—former DJ, artist, and publisher of True West magazine—explains the shootout’s story better. It’s longish but interesting.)

Warren wasn’t in Tombstone at that time because he was too young and lived with his parents in California, but he later got entangled in the subsequent vendetta that lasted another year. By 1900, Warren had settled in Willcox, a mountain range east of Tombstone. He worked as a stage driver for the mail and a Sierra Bonita Ranch hand. It was at the ranch where he and Johnny Boyett became close.

On the fateful night, Warren and Johnny got into a shouting match in the saloon on the northeast corner of Maley Street and Railroad Avenue (diagonally across the street from last week’s train station). As their argument heated, they threatened to kill one another, although neither was armed. Short-tempered Warren and Boyett left the bar separately. Earp wanted to cool off, and Johnny went to get a gun. When Warren returned through the back door, Boyett shot at him four times. He seemingly missed on purpose. Earp taunted the ranch foreman and opened his duster to prove he didn’t have a gun. “Don’t come an inch closer,” Johnny shouted, but Warren continued. Johnny fired another round sending a bullet through Earp’s heart. Warren fell foreword, dead onto the floor. Then things got weird.

Between the 1:00 am shooting, and sunrise, Earp’s body was dragged to the cemetery and buried in an unmarked grave. Meanwhile, the Sheriff arrested Johnny. Then he got the local judge out of bed. They held a trial, where the witnesses testified. Finally, the judge determined the shooting was justified and freed Johnny Boyett. The incident was closed and sealed forever.

There is a tantalizing clue, however. In the 1930s, a reporter interviewed a woman living in Prescott’s Pioneer Home. Her name was Mary Cummings—she was also called Kate Elder, but she was best known as Big Nose Kate. She worked as a prostitute in Tombstone and was Doc Holiday’s common-law wife. During that interview, she recounted her memories of the Earp brothers and said Warren’s death “… was the result of an altercation between two individuals involved in an unnatural male relationship.”

How does this week’s picture fit into this story? It doesn’t. The Headquarter Saloon burned to the ground sometime after the shooting, but the builders used the foundations to rebuild an identical structure. It’s repurposed now—ironically as a wine-tasting room. While I was shooting in Willcox, I didn’t feel it worthy because it has a tacky sign painted on the white stucco. This week’s photo—Mack’s Bar—is also on Maley Street, a block west of where our story took place. So, it’s a bar, it’s on the same street, and that’s as close as I got.

You can see a larger version of Mack’s Bar on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, I have another picture from Willcox, and maybe I can find a story that goes with it.

Until next time — jw

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