Saturday, May 10, 2014

Destination . . . Chorale Bel Canto

            By Linda de Vries

Love Classical Choral Music? Think Chorale Bel Canto.

Seldom or never listen to Classical Choral Music? Think again.

On June 8, think the City of Downey.

I need to correct an error in this post. Chorale Bel Canto usually performs on Saturdays, but this  concert is on a Sunday. The Space Memorial is not open on Sunday, so go for the Greek Festival or another trip I'll describe and enjoy the Space Memorial when we're in Downey on a Saturday next season.

Think Downey is too far to drive for just a concert? Think again.

“Destination . . . Chorale Bel Canto” posts several times in advance of each of our concerts, offering ideas for a different day trip to the city in which we’re singing, with a Chorale Bel Canto concert at the center of your experience. These trips appeal to a wide variety of interests and share fascinating, sometimes intricate, connections between the city and the music.

On June 8, 2014, Chorale Bel Canto is in Downey singing America Sings! This concert is a collaboration with the Claremont Chorale under the direction of Gregory Norton, and features the music of Aaron Copland, Randall Thompson, and a concert version of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess with 130 singers, guest soloists, and a full orchestra.

Since we’re singing 20th century music, think 20th century history! All you space buffs, listen up!

Morning. Begin your day at the Columbia Memorial Space Center at 12400 Columbia Way (formerly Clark Ave.), Downey (562-231-1200). The Apollo Space Program and the Space Shuttle programs began here.

Photo by Jerry Blackburn

The Background

The aviation industry began in Downey in 1929 When E.M. Smith purchased 73 acres of a castor bean farm and orange grove from James Hughan and began to manufacture aircraft.

By 1935 Downey was an “orange grove town,” primarily devoted to farming. That was, however, about to change. By 1936 Smith’s aircraft business had changed hands several times and was owned by Vultee Aircraft. In the 1940s the company was awarded the largest contract ever granted by the Army Air Corps, which led to the construction of a manufacturing plant designed by the Los Angeles architect Gordon B. Kaufman, who also worked on the Hoover Dam. By 1941 the plant produced 15% of all military aircraft produced in the United States, producing the largest number of heavy bombers in the country.

After World War II, Vultee was awarded a contract to study long-range missile weapons systems, and Downey grew into one of several towns in this area of southern California devoted to the aerospace industry, with suburban homes replacing farms. The City was incorporated in 1956.

Vultee, the city’s largest company, was successively owned by North American Aviation, North American Rockwell, Rockwell International, and Boeing. It housed Rockwell’s NASA plant, building systems for the Apollo Space Program and the Space Shuttle. At its peak in the 1970s it employed over 30,000 people, but successive cutbacks in the defense budget reduced the workforce to 5,000 by 1992.

The plant closed in 1999 and the buildings were demolished. The property then housed the Space Center, Downey Landing shopping center, Kaiser Permanente hospital, a park, and the Downey Movie Studios.

The Space Center

The Space Center, owned and operated by the City of Downey, houses a 20,000 square-foot visitor center built on the site of the former NASA/Rockwell Downey facility. Opened in October 2009, a joint resolution of the U.S. Congress designated this the official national memorial to the Space Shuttle Columbia and the crew of STS-107, lost on February 1, 2003.

The mission of the Center is to teach young people about careers in space exploration, aviation, engineering, technology, and science. It contains numerous interactive exhibits. It is open Tuesday-Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is $5 per person; children three years and under are free. Call for group admission.

The Permanent Exhibits allow you to:
·       Have your picture taken inside an Astronaut Suit
·       Operate Robotic Arms and see the mechanics in action as the arms move
·       Program a robot in the Robotics Lab and run a mission like the Mars Rover to collect rock samples
·       View the earth and the universe in the 360-degree projection system Magic Planet
·       Examine planetary orbits and experience “algebra in motion” at the Gravity Well
·       Practice how to safely land a crew from the top of the 25-foot tall Drop Tower
·       Design your very own solar system with the Solar System Designer
·       Learn the principles of flight at the Paper Airplane Station
·       Land and dock a shuttle in the Shuttle Simulator
·       Test your launch skills with the Rocket Launcher
·       View concrete Rockwell Signature Blocks signed by various astronauts

“Return to the Moon, Rendezvous with a Comet, or go on a Voyage to Mars.” If you have a group of 16 or more and can plan in advance, arrange a field trip to the Challenger Learning Center, where your group can enjoy a hands-on experience as an astronaut in the space mission simulator. An additional fee is required for this experience. Call the Space Center to schedule.

The Movie Studios

Downey Studios, located at 12214 Lakewood Boulevard on part of the old Rockwell property, featured 79 acres of indoor and outdoor production space, including the largest indoor water tank in North America and a suburban residential street backlot with five homes and 11 facades.


Downey Studios - Suburban Street

 Downey Studios - Backlot

In October 2012 the studio complex was demolished to be replaced by the Tierra Luna shopping center. The one building that remains is the historic Kaufman wing and the Rotunda, the administrative offices nearest Lakewood Blvd., preserved by the City and the Aerospace Legacy Foundation.

Among the score of movies filmed there are Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Terminator 3, and Pineapple Express. Many of the buildings along Florence Avenue in Downey can be seen in an early driving sequence in Pineapple Express.

Downey is also home to several famous movie personalities. Ken Ralston is a five-time Academy Award winner for Special Effects. He is a 1971 graduate of Warren High School (named after Earl Warren, former California governor and Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court). Ralston worked 20 years for George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic, creating effects for Star Wars. He is best known for his work on the films of Robert Zemeckis. He was awarded Oscars for Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Forrest Gump, Death Becomes Her, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Cocoon. You can see Warren High at 8141 De Palma Street.

In addition, Aimee Teegarden, star of the NBC drama Friday Night Lights, was born in Downey in 1989, and Alanna Ubach, known for her roles in Legally Blonde and Meet the Fockers, was born there in 1975. Miranda Cosgrove, starring as the lead character in the Nickelodeon TV series Carly, attended Maude Price Elementary School in Downey, which is located at 9525 Tweedy Lane.

Lunch. You might want to nosh at the 1953 “Speedee” McDonald’s restaurant at 10207 Lakewood Blvd. (at Florence Ave.), which was the third McDonald’s built and is the oldest surviving building of the chain. It was the second restaurant franchised by Richard and Maurice McDonald prior to Ray Kroc joining the company. It maintains its original 30-foot “golden arches” and a 60-foot animated neon “Speedee” sign.

Lacking a drive-up window and indoor seating and following severe damage in the Northridge earthquake, it was listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 1994 list of the 11 most Endangered Historic Places. Owing to the public’s demand to save the restaurant, however, McDonald’s spent two years restoring its Googie-style architecture. Today, you can visit this historic restaurant and an adjoining gift shop and museum.

 You may also drive by the first Taco Bell restaurant, opened by Glen Bell in Downey on March 21, 1962 at 7112 Firestone Blvd. The building retains its original look, but is no longer a Taco Bell.

Lunch Alternative. You might want to do lunch at the Downey Greek Food Festival at St. George Greek Orthodox Church at 10830 Downey Ave. (562-862-6461).

Afternoon. Whether you lunch there or not, spend the afternoon on June 8th at the Greek Festival and enjoy fun, games, and dancing!

4:00. Head to the Downey Civic Theatre at 8435 Firestone Blvd. and listen to Chorale Bel Canto in America Sings! This concert of 20th century American music is a fitting climax to your day focused on 20th century Downey history and architecture.

 Dinner. If you didn’t lunch there, you might want to return to the Greek Festival, which is open until 11:00 p.m. Or, for traditional 20th century American dining, try nearby Pico Rivera, either Dal Rae Restaurant at 9023 Washington Blvd. (562-949-2444) or Clearman’s Steak ‘n’ Stein at 9545 Whittier Blvd. (562-699-4716).

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