Places that Inspire. Clifton’s Cafeteria.

On Broadway between West 6th and 7th Streets is a 1935 Downtown L.A. landmark, Clifton’s Cafeteria, where “none were ever turned away, [and] during one 90-day period, 10,000 ate free”.

Clifton's Cafeteria front glass.

Clifton's 1935 facade.

Clifton's illustrated side walk.

A framed quote from Clifford Clinton.

A magazine clipping, source unknown.

Inside the tiny second floor chapel at Clifton's.

From the second story loft.

From the second story terrace.

Paradise in the cafeteria line, next to the jello salad and turkey and gravy at Clifton's.

Clifford Clinton created his forest oasis during the Great Depression in 1935. Inspired by the family’s tradition of service, he created a world “… of imagination, dreams and whimsy—away from the troubles that we hope can be left at the door for just a short while.”

Ray Bradbury, Jack Kerouac, Robert A. Heinlein, Jerry Leiber and Walt Disney have all been loyal patrons. (This fantasy forest was completed twenty years before Disneyland.)

Check before you go—Clifton’s is under restoration. This year the Clinton family sold Clifton’s to luxury night club creator Andrew Meieran. His plans for preservation offer some hope—he transformed the old downtown powerhouse into the very nice
Edison nightclub.

Meieran will be adding a speakeasy, a cocktail bar and more, but also promises to restore Clifton’s original facade and old time charm, including re-creating the Water Wheel,
Old Tree Wishing Well, Limeade Springs, Sherbet Mine, and the long-employed greeter—a stuffed raccoon.   “All existing historic fabric will be thoughtfully and carefully retained—including the Chapel, the Waterfall and Brook, … the Redwood trees and Terraces—the elements that have made Clifton’s an institution for so many decades.”

Magically kitchy, Clifton’s Cafeteria is worth a special visit.
Clifton’s Cafeteria, 648 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014, telephone: 213.627.1673.

Check out the panarama the L.A. Times created for Clifton’s Cafeteria.


After a four year restoration, Clifton’s Cafeteria  will conduct it’s preview celebration on September 17, 2015 and reopens October 1st. Let’s cross our fingers. The Los Angeles Conservancy has already praised Andrew Meieran’s preservation of Clifton’s ground floor and mezzanine and there’s been a lot of good press in the LA area.
And the jello? Yes, #thejellostays.

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Building Brands and Brand Nations. Being a part of something.

A montage of Green Bay Packers fans and players.Does your brand feel like it’s something your customers want to become a part of?
Does your brand mean something to them? Does your brand stand for something they can believe in?

Thousands of Green Bay Packer fans became a part of something they believe in today.

In their first stock offering in 14 years, the Packers sold 1,600 shares of stock at $250 per share in the first 11 minutes of the sale.

As reports, “The stock isn’t an investment in the traditional sense: Its value doesn’t increase, there are no dividends, it has virtually no re-sale value and it won’t give buyers a leg up on the 93,000 people on the waiting list for season tickets.”

The Packers have been a publicly owned nonprofit since 1923. More than 112,000 Packers stockholders own a total of 4.75 million shares. No other NFL team is owned by its’ fans.

These lucky Packer fans bought shares to become a part of something they believe in.

Your prospective customers want to know how you fit into their life. They want to know how your brand’s meaning intersects their life and what it stands for. If your brand measures up, they’ll want to become a partner with you as well.

When you’re building your brand nation, test it against the Packer’s fans loyalty.  Offer compelling reasons to believe in your brand. Offer values to live by, ethics, a movement, and a reason to be that your customers will want to become a part of.

These are the brand evangelists who will spread the good news about you and your brand.
These are the people who will become your brand nation.

Posted in brand identity, brand strategy, Building Brands and Brand Nations., creative thinking, design, digital design, ideas that inspire, Small Business. Big Business. Your Business., Social Media, web design | 1 Comment

Places that inspire. The WWI Museum.

Nine Thousand Poppies.
Housed in the 1929 Liberty Memorial in Kansas City is the new National WWI Museum. Enter the museum and cross a glass bridge above a field of 9,000 red poppies, each one representing 1,000 WWI combatant deaths, and honoring all veterans, young and old, for the sacrifices they’ve made.


Poppy Bridge at the WWI Museum, KC MO, Mark Cox, New York Times

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Ideas that inspire. Kurt Schwitters at Berkeley.

Kurt Schwitters collage: Mz 601, 1923; paint and paper on cardboard; 17 × 15If you’re anywhere near the Bay Area, hurry to see
Kurt Schwitters, Color and Collage in the cantilevered bomb shelter aesthetics of the Berkeley Museum of Art—BAM/PFA—before the show closes Sunday, November 27th

Kurt Schwitters’ evocative collages are composed of the discarded stuff of life—arcane retail bags and paper, tickets, and newspaper classifieds combined into jewel-like miniatures not much bigger than your iphone, though some are more than double that size.

This exhibit is  gathered from a wide array of sources—some from the private collections of artists Ellsworth Kelly and Jasper Johns, and the Schwitters family itself.

Schwitters talked about his work in mostly formal terms—his collage materials were extensions of color and paint—but its’ strong recalled memories cannot be resisted. It’s as if you’re looking down to what’s beneath your feet, long discarded by those before you.

Along with famous artists Hanna Hoch, Hans Arp and El Lissitsky, Schwitters created the Dada-like revolutionary Merz Magazine.

Also on display is a recreation of one room of his Merzbau environment, a multi-room composition without boundaries—like walking through Arp sculpture punctuated with bits of Max Earnst imagery. You’ll leave wanting to wander through twenty times the wonder we’re allowed here.

Kurt Schwitters Color and Collage, at the Berkeley Museum of Art—BAM / PFA.
Ends Sunday November 27, 2011.

(No photographs of the exhibit are permitted, so here are some images of the cantilevered M. C. Esher, Labyrinth aesthetics of The Berkeley Museum of Art, BAM.)

Exterior of the Kurt Schwitters' Merzbau recreation at UC Berkeley.

Kurt Schwitters, Color and Collage at UC Berkeley.

UC Berkeley Museum of Art, BAM/PFAHas plans to move to the 1939 Art Deco University of California Press.

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Places that inspire. Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace.

They’re gonna put me in the movies. They’re gonna make a big star out of me. We’ll make a film about a man that’s sad and lonely. And all I got to do is act naturally. Buck Owens, Act Naturally, 1963.

On a recent trip to L.A., I took the exit off Interstate 5 to Bakersfield. For most folks it’s not exactly a destination, but for me it was a pilgrimage. I was going to Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace.

A road-worn Telecaster.

Country sparkle coat at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace, Bakersfield.

Blue suit with sparkles at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace, Bakersfield.

Green suit with sparkles at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace, Bakersfield.

Buck's custom Cadillac above the bar, the Crystal Palace, Bakersfield.

The Cadillac's intereior is leather tooled, with silver coins.

The stage and dance floor at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace, Bakersfield.

Hank Williams full-sized bronze statue at Buck Owen's Crystal Palace.

Buck Owens and The Buckeroos Songbook, Crystal Palace Bakersfield.

In the 1930s, Bakersfield was the land of the Dustbowl Okies. It was Woody Guthrie’s this-land-is-your-land America. The Okies descended on Bakersfield, desperate to find jobs in the oil and lettuce fields. With them they brought their tradition of old-timey country music.

This is where the twang of the hard-drinking Bakersfield Sound evolved. While Nashville was recording lush string arrangements with crooners like Jim Reeves and Patsy Cline, the Bakersfield Sound was cutting through the bar-din of local honky tonks with a plaintif steel guitar and the twang of the Telecaster.

Buck Owens moved from Texas in 1951 to play the Bakersfield honky tonk circuit. He soon landed a guitar gig at the hardscrabble Blackboard Cafe with Bill Woods, the father of the Bakersfield Sound.

Buck made a name for himself and stepped forward to form his own band, The Buckaroos, featuring Telecaster genius, Don Rich. The 1960s was Buck’s decade, with Ringo Starr covering Act Naturally and Ray Charles covering Cryin’ Time, and a concert at Carnegie Hall.

Buck bought the local radio station, KUZZ, produced records and hosted TV’s HeeHaw with Roy Clark. In 1996 he created his personal country music hall, The Crystal Palace.

Merle Haggard grew up in a trailer a mile away in Oildale, California. He was just one of the Okies’ kids of the 1940s who embraced the Bakersfield Sound. His first hit was Okie from Muskogee in 1969.

Today, Brad Paisley and Dwight Yokum carry the torch. Homer Joy’s The Streets of Bakersfield became a #1 Billboard smash hit for Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam in 1988 and Starr and Owens cut a new version of Act Naturally in 1989.

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Ideas that inspire. Millennials Remake America

Millennial Momentum book coverJudy Woodruff of PBS News Hour recently interviewed the authors of the new book, “Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation Is Remaking America”. They report Millennials—95 million born between 1982 and 2003—are the largest generation in American history. They’re the most diverse generation as well.

The study suggests that Millennials are much more likely to promote actions for the good of the larger group than the individual.

This will change the way America thinks.

Millennials are pragmatic about the way they plan to achieve their goals. They’ll work with one another to solve problems and generate change locally from the bottom up. They’ve rejected the idea that the most effective solutions have to come from top-down leadership. And the authors note that top-down solutions have rarely created real, innovative change.

Contradictors’ comments offer anecdotes complaining about the uninvolved, slacking, and unprepared in this age group. And no comments seem to be from Millennials themselves—after all, they’re really not watching television news like the News Hour any more.

In my experience, I’ve found the Millennials thoughtful and bright. I get smarter when I listen to them. And in fact, I’d sign on to be in “Club Millennial” if I could.

Many generations have promised to change the world. Maybe this time the Millennials’ pragmatic grassroots organization and experiences may actually create something new and more effective for all of us.

Posted in book review, creative thinking, critical thinking, ideas that inspire, trends | 2 Comments

Building Brands and Brand Nations: Catching on.

True. It’s a little hard to feel sorry for the freakishly beautiful.

It brings to mind the 30 Rock episode when Jon Hamm—Liz Lemon’s (Tina Fey) boyfriend—doesn’t understand that the average looking aren’t treated the same as the abnormally beautiful.

However, in the fashion industry even the thin, young and beautiful are treated as commodities to be traded and bet upon.

Model agencies—or bookers as they’re known in the industry—toss hundreds of young faces at designers in hopes that one of them will catch on and become that singularly rare super model that provides glamor, prestige and substantial commissions for the booking agent.

In this interview on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, former model Ashley Mears talks about her new book Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model, and we discover that finding this years’ It Girl is driven by belief, capriciousness and the subjectivity of a high stakes and fickle fashion industry.

Catching on is what the fashion industry is all about, and the industry shamelessly creates their own symbols of the moment—those beautiful and celebrated models who adorn and enhance their product on runways and in all sorts of media.

The rest of the thin, young and beautiful work in what a sociologist calls a structurally bad job—a non-standard job in an informal economy without a sure paycheck, health care or retirement benefits, and with forced retirement virtually guaranteed by age 25.

Catching on in fashion is subjective and mercurial at best, and only a few win. No amount of words can convince the fashion industry that yours is the new look.

Unlike the fashion industry, if we’re able to think strategically about just what it is we mean to our customers, we can build convincing brands that develop their own following of brand nation loyalists and evangelists.

For us, catching on means creating a compelling message that helps your customers understand that you “get them” and that you two make a perfect fit.

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Places that inspire. Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.

The old South Street neighborhood was pretty desolate when I lived there. I rented a cheap room on nearby Kater Street alley and that 1890s working class rowhouse made no promise of being brought back to near-habitable decency any time soon.

A three story mirrored mosaic on an alley off South Street in Philadelphia by Isaiah Zagar.Through the spokes, Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens, Philadelphia.Close up of mosaics, Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens, Philadelphia.Lower level interior, Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens, Philadelphia.Deeper into the lower level, Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens, Philadelphia.Just one of several galleries at Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens, Philadelphia.Exploring Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens, Philadelphia. Looking skyward in Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens, Philadelphia. The lower Grotto, Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens, Philadelphia.

The Grotto, Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens, Philadelphia.More wall mosaics from Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens, Philadelphia. There were a few urban pioneers back then. One bright spot on South Street was a shop whose walls were covered inside and out with fanciful mirrored mosaics and drawings on ceramic. The Eyes Gallery imported South American molas, masks and ceramics, and its’ mosaics created a lively spirit amidst the urban decay.

Much to my delight 0n a rare walk down South Street this past winter, everywhere I looked I found those same fanciful mosaics I’d remembered. Big mosaics on alley walls, building fronts and door stoops. Not only had South Street become an urban shopping and entertainment destination, the mosaic magic had grown way beyond the old gallery storefront and into the whole neighborhood.

It was on this walk I discovered the ultimate expression of this great extravagance—a complete multi-level garden full of sculpture and imagination. While Isaiah Zagar, the mosaic artist and husband of the Eyes Gallery owner, was decorating surfaces throughout his neighborhood, he’d also spent fourteen years excavating and decorating tunnels and grottos on a three thousand square foot vacant lot next to his studio on South Street.

In 2004 the owner of the lot was ready to sell.  Fearful of losing their treasure, the neighborhood bought the property and created the nonprofit Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, and dedicated themselves to preserving Isaiah’s garden and his other prolific mosaics on South Street. And now Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is open to amaze every day of the year with tours, workshops and events.

Posted in architecture, creative thinking, photo blog, places that inspire | 3 Comments

Building Brand Nations with Social Media. Principle #3

Make your blog social.
Sharing, conversation and creating community. That’s what meaningful Social Media is about. When you provide fresh content, invite commentary and create conversation, your blog becomes social and your value to your community increases

Making your blog social is easy. Just remember to include content that encourages discussion, comments and sharing. Make your blog post provocative. Offer insights that allow your viewer to think about the topic in interesting ways. Alert viewers to your blog posts through your Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts.

Doing these things will encourage dialog, interaction and comments. In turn, you’ll increase traffic to your web site, your blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Facebook accounts.

By making your blog social, you’ll create community, improve your SEO—and build your brand nation.

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Building Brands and Brand Nations. Demystifying SEO, Part 2.

Google is constantly refining its’ search algorithms to help users find valuable content.

Along with Google, the popular WordPress web site architecture and SEO plug-ins are helping search engines recognize relevant information and allowing users to create SEO-friendly content within their blog posts as well.

There are two other SEO-defining elements that might be overlooked. These two items will help search engines recognize your valuable content and improve your web site’s SEO.

1) Above the URL area is your web site title. Your title is one of the most important elements of SEO. It should be a concise ten-word description that both defines your product category and states your brands’ unique value proposition. Creating an effective title takes some skill, artistry and time.

2) Your h1 and h2 phrases are like topic sentences or subheads that summarize your value proposition. It’s likely that these will use some terms that are somewhat common and generic to your customer and your product category. The more difficult task here is to begin to incorporate language that differentiates your brand from all the others. And that’s the real art required for writing for the web.

SEO helps your customers find you. It also finds all your competitors as well.
By creating a strong brand, you help define why you, above all the others, are the better choice for you customers.

Posted in brand identity, brand strategy, Building Brands and Brand Nations., digital design, Small Business. Big Business. Your Business., Social Media, web design | Leave a comment