The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

CLUI Field Trips and Tours

The Center occasionally organizes and conducts tours for school groups, museums and other cultural organizations. These tours are custom designed by the CLUI, and are generally not repeated. Among these tours are van trips for school groups (mostly college or university graduate level students), conducted as informal research programs, usually consisting of one or two days of exploration and pre-arranged encounters within the larger urban or suburban environment that surrounds the school (though generally within a 100 mile radius). CLUI bus tours are more formal and complex affairs, requiring weeks or months of preparation. Bus tours work on a tightly scheduled itinerary, with many stops, local briefers, an onboard video program, and other events. They usually take all day, and are open to the public if possible.

CLUI Takes Students To New Ohio Mounds
Things Pile Up Around the Heart of Procter and Gambleland

CLUI photo

A DAY OF APPLIED INTERPRETATION was organized by the Center in spring 2008 for students at the University of Ohio in Cincinnati. The tour was generally about the city of Cincinnati, its origins, development, and re-development, and interpreted versions of its past, present and future.

We began at Sawyers Point, the park where Cincinnati has rediscovered its waterfront and erected a very complicated sculptural interpretive area, which includes the Gateway Monument.

The tour then drove by some of the big businesses in town, generative places producing products for the city and the world: the downtown Procter and Gamble (P&G) headquarters, and the Kroger Grocery headquarters. Kroger is one of the largest supermarket chains in the nation, and P&G of course is the largest consumer products company, whose full spectrum of soaps and paper products fill a substantial amount of Krogers shelves (and are said to find their way to more countries of the world than any other company's). P&G started as a local candle and soap company in Cincinnati, whose raw material, tallow, came from the rendered byproducts of the region's slaughterhouses. Now most of their products are petrochemical and paper-based, and they have over 135,000 employees worldwide.

From there it was on to the other side of the consumer chaindumps and scrapyards. At the river (and there is still river trade along the Ohio) we looked at the DJJ yard, where metal is ground up and shipped downstream to steel mills and metal re-manufacturers. Next was a famous local landmark, Mount Rumpke, one of the largest active dumps in the nation. Driving around the back side of the dump, we visited the Handlebar Ranch on Bank Road, an alleged "midget carny town," housing marginalized people on the margins of the dump. Nobody was home.

Then to Fernald, to see what condition the "future site of a former uranium plant" was in. The plant, which over a forty year period made 500 million pounds of uranium metal for America's nuclear weapons arsenal, was closed in 1989, and has been undergoing remediation since that time. Though the visitor center has not been built yet, and the site is still closed to the public, we were met and briefed by Sue Walpole, of the Office of Legacy Management of the DOE, who showed us around the 1,000 acre site. Just about all of the 323 industrial buildings are gone, and the site is being graded and planted to be an open space preserve, with ponds and manufactured wetlands. A few metal sheds remain, including pump houses and monitoring stations, as what lies beneath portions of the green veneer will remain toxic for millennia. The $4.5 billion preserve (the amount spent cleaning up Fernald) will probably never be fully open to the public. From a land use point of view, this site has been used to capacity, and is now in terminal status. The end of the line.

Highway 62 Revisited
CLUI Bus Tour Explores Creativity In Morongo Basin

tour group
The bus arrives at its first stop, Desert Christ Park. CLUI photo

A bus tour of the Morongo Basin was conducted by the CLUI last spring, as a commission by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, in association with a MOCA exhibition of the work of the artist Andrea Zittel. The tour, which was open to the public, visited sites of creativity in the area, which include the towns of Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree, in the desert two hours outside Los Angeles.

In 1997 the CLUI also conducted a public bus tour through this region, as part of the first series of bus tours arranged by the organization (the Hinterland series, done for Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions), so one purpose of this trip was to examine the changes over the last decade. The changes, it turns out, are dramatic, more so here than in other parts of the desert arc around Los Angeles. Ten years ago this was more like other places. Today, it is like nowhere else.

This is the part of the California desert most romanticized, visited, and developed by today's creative people from Los Angeles. Palm Springs may have been the desert getaway of choice in the 1950's through the 1970's (and it continues to be popular among the golf-set). The Morongo Basin, and the region around the north side of Joshua Tree park, however, is the current desert au-courant. Rapid development of the commercial type now clogs Highway 62, the central artery through the region, and businesses like health food stores, coffee shops and art galleries are now part of the strip. Alluring modernist prefabs glint in the sun on hillsides along the highway, though the most interesting sites are just off the increasingly beaten path.

The fully loaded big white tour bus left the CLUI HQ in Culver City early in the morning, with 53 passengers on board, and headed into the sun. After an introduction by the tour's humble narrator, Matthew Coolidge, the bus travelled down Interstate 10, in the direction of Jacksonville, Florida, while an excerpt from Divided Highways, a film about the Interstate highway system, played on monitors overhead. As the bus passed the transition between the L.A. basin and the Inland Empire at Kellogg Hill, the "world's largest religious mosaic" was pointed out. The artwork is 172 feet long, and is one of several unusual attractions at this branch of Forest Lawn Cemetery (where services include the $595 "a la carte burial," the $3,500 "basic cremation package," and the "Elegance" casket funeral for $19,500).

Religiosity and death are often part of the inspiration and effects of the sun, and for many people the life of Jesus is what comes to mind first when contemplating the meaning and context of the desert. As the bus passed the giant dinosaurs of Cabazon (now owned by a creationist organization), and blew through the wind farms past the pass, the tour transitioned from the Inland Empire to the inland desert, and bounded up Highway 62, to the first stop on the tour, Desert Christ Park. Discluding things like historic and modern rock art, this was one of the first site-based artworks in the region. Desert Christ Park is a series of larger than life concrete human forms depicting biblical scenes. It was made over a ten year period starting in 1951, by Antone Martin, a former aerospace worker who lived near Los Angeles Airport. Though he wasn't particularly religious (he also made plaster dinosaurs for museums), he was concerned about nuclear war, and dedicated the park to world peace. Though nuclear war has so far been avoided, the park has suffered from vandalism and earthquakes, and several versions of Christ are missing limbs and essential digits.

The next stop was the Institute of Mentalphysics, a spiritual campus with interesting buildings that blend with their surroundings. Similarities to Arizona's Taliesin West are no coincidence, as the campus was designed by Lloyd Wright, and the architect's more famous father apparently consulted on the design (though there is some dispute about whether it can be considered at least partially a Frank Lloyd Wright design). The Institute was founded in 1927, and moved to this location in 1974. The founder was Edwin Dingle, who had developed a philosophy and methodology for "victorious living" from his years wandering and studying in China and Tibet. "Whatever you seek is seeking you," claims the Mentalphysics brochure. The facility is used for spiritual gatherings and retreats for many different types of practitioners now. After a tour of the grounds, the group was sought out by lunch, and headed to the dining room.

Back on the road after lunch the bus travelled to Andrea Zittel's house, on a hillside south of the highway. Zittell's work is a sort of institute of investigative living, an examination of the objects and forms of daily life, from clothing, to furniture, to housing. Her style is idiosyncratic modern, and her work is in museums all over the land. She also organizes High Desert Test Sites, periodic art events in the area that bring art people from far and wide. She met the group and toured us around her homestead, which includes several outdoor artworks and specimens of her industry, like custom trailers and living units.

Then it was down the hill, across the highway and into a labyrinth of dirt roads to another desert art site, the sculpture park made by Noah Purifoy. Purifoy was the founder of the Watts Towers Art Center, and a founding member of the California Arts Council. He began working at this site in 1987, making numerous complex and large-scale assemblage sculptures, and showing curious visitors around when they would occasionally show up. He was an inspiration to many, including Andrea Zittel, who once said that she moved to the area because of his example. The artist Ed Ruscha is on the board of the foundation that runs the site now, following Purifoy's death in a trailer fire at the site in 2004 (he was 86 years old).

The next stop was the unusual domed structure near Landers built as a human rejuvenation machine called the Integratron, created in the 1960's and '70s by the former test pilot and UFO abductee George Van Tassel. When we visited the Integratron (and his former home at nearby Giant Rock) on the CLUI bus tour ten years ago, it was for sale for $165,000. Since then it has been purchased by the Karl sisters, who operate it as functional mystical place. They conduct sound baths inside the dome, where the sounds reverberate in architectural harmony, and host other appropriate activities there. The Integratron, and the community, is fortunate to have found owners that appreciate and respect its unique history and capabilities.

This part of the desert seems to have drawn visionary and mystic builders of all types, some of whom we have visited, some long gone, and others hard at work. The new wave of builders include locally famous places like Garth's teepee in Gamma Gulch; Lou Harrison's Egyptionesque vaulted bale home; the Cube, an all-white modernist box; Marmol and Radziner's prefab buildings; and Nadir Khalili's earthbag homes. The next stop on this tour is an exemplary modernist desert structure called the IT house, built in a remote spot by designers Linda Taalman and Alan Koch. They meet us there, and the group enjoyed the purity of their elegant glass and metal box, and the landscape it embraces.

CLUI photo
IT House. CLUI photo

The last stop is dinner at Pappy and Harriets, in Pioneertown. Pioneertown is the former western movie set used for 1950s clean-cut cowboy productions with the likes of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. It became rundown in the 1960's and '70's, when Pappy and Harriets was a serious desert biker bar. Today Pioneertown has been reoccupied, with buildings built behind the movie set facades. Pappy and Harriets, one of the few functional business in town, is run by young people and though still rustic, loud and boisterous, it takes reservations. The Pioneertown motel across the fictional main street, just went up for sale for $1.2 million. Times have changed. We leave fully supped as the band takes to the stage at a packed Pappy and Harriets (it is, after all, Saturday night), and watch the remainder of The Last Western, a recent film about the changing times at Pioneertown, as we head down the hill on the bus.

As we pass the edges of Joshua Tree Park, the discussion moves to Gram Parsons, the 1960's/70's country rock pioneer/balladeer who died from too much morphine and tequila in Room Number 8 of the nearby Joshua Tree Inn. We watch the last part of Fallen Angel, a documentary about Parsons, where his former road manager describes stealing Parsons' coffin from Los Angeles Airport, where it was about to be shipped back to his family, and taking it down Interstate 10 to Joshua Tree Park, where they poured gas on the coffin and lit it on fire.

In a way, Parsons is the region's Dorian Gray, an L.A. hipster gazing stoned at his reflection on a desert motel TV screen showing the 50's singing cowboys prancing around Pioneertown. A visionary romantic heroin neo-cowboy who, today, is reincarnated, as a youthful desert Christ on the barstools of the creaky honkytonks along Highway 62, revisited.