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A CHRONICLE OF THE PASSING SCENE : Simon Rodia's Agoura 'Tower'

October 23, 1992|SUE REILLY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Simon Rodia is best known for the flamboyant, eccentric junk-art tower he built in Watts, but at least one other remembrance of his eclectic genius delights scores of Southern Californians every day.

There's a 4-foot-tall fountain in the center of the 23-acre site of Sunny Skies Country Preschool in Agoura, surrounded by several buildings, a swimming pool, a treehouse and about 100 oak trees.

Rodia built the fountain in the late '20s when he was working on the property as a mason, helping to build a bridge over a stream nearby.

Rodia offered to build the fountain on weekends to make extra money and exercise his creativity, according to Steve Siegel, who now owns the property.

Siegel, who created the school on the land he purchased in 1974, says the fountain was built as the centerpiece of five vacation homes.

"The original families who bought the acreage all lived in Los Angeles in the early '20s and they used it--calling it the Blue Geese Ranch--as a weekend place," he says.

By the time Siegel took it over, most of the homes had disappeared and the property was owned by a woman who had leased the land to a construction firm that parked heavy equipment there.

The fountain was neglected and in disrepair.

Siegel was respectful of the artistic relic as he went about creating first a summer camp and then a preschool.

In August, 1981, disaster struck.

"A woman parked her car on a hill above the fountain without setting the hand break properly," Siegel says. The car rumbled down the hill and into the fountain, leaving a rubble of green and white tiles and half-squashed seashells.

Siegel took the bits and pieces to the Watts Tower Restoration Committee and paid them to reassemble it.

"They painstakingly put it back together so that it was totally restored," Siegel says.

Now the children of Sunny Skies play, swim and eat their lunch around this one-of-a-kind piece of California history.

Simon Rodia, the unschooled Italian immigrant, whom Buckminster Fuller considered an equal in natural engineering, would probably be pleased.

It's a Lot Warmer Than Snow Too

Fred Sabbagh wears a number of hats at Calamigos Ranch in a canyon above Malibu.

He's the head of maintenance, ranch foreman and all-around handyman.

For the past couple of years he also has been the special-effects man, the guy who can and does fill a 100-by-50-yard area with foam.

Why would anyone want a football field waist-deep with soapy-looking wet stuff?

Just about everyone likes to play in it, according to Sabbagh.

He says the foam is basically the same stuff firefighters use to put out fires, and commercials use when a washing machine overflows.

"The only difference is that ours doesn't have any kind of chemicals in it. The only problem with playing in it is that you get soaking wet," he says.

Sabbagh says that almost all of the companies that rent Calamigos Ranch for picnics or outings ask for the foam now.

"I think we're the only place in Southern California that does it, but the word of mouth on it is real strong," he says.

"After the food and whatever, we blanket a particular area or areas with foam. It usually takes an hour or two for the foam to come out of the bubble machine."

After that, the kids--some rather well-aged--play in it.

And you wondered what the next Moon Bounce would be.

That's a Cheap Date

Ever wish you could go back in time? The folks at the Valley Inn at 4557 Sherman Oaks Ave., Sherman Oaks, are turning their restaurant's calendar back to 1947.

The Inn's three owners--Josephine Kumpula, Jack Gold and chef Peter Trump--will celebrate the eatery's 45 years of continuous operation Sunday and Monday by offering three entrees for what they cost back then, $2 each.

You can get pot roast of beef with potato pancakes or calf's liver with mashed potatoes or broiled chicken with rice pilaf for the $2.

The hearts of lettuce salad with 1000 Island dressing is 35 cents extra, and ice cream is another 25 cents.

"We were trying to figure out a way to mark the anniversary, so I looked up the old menus and suggested this," Kumpula says.

"My partners were convinced we would go broke doing it, but it's only two days, so what the heck. We'll probably start a trend."

Breaking the Sound Bite Barrier

The first man to fly faster than the speed of sound, Chuck Yeager, met recently with others in the Jet Pioneers Assn. to celebrate 50 years of American jet flight at Edwards Air Force Base.

The jet-propelled Yeager showed he was a fast man with the anecdote too.

The 25 pioneers--including 90-year-old retired Army Gen. Laurence Craigie, the first man to fly the experimental Aerocomet in 1942--gathered to catch up on recent events, watch a re-creation of the flights of several vintage experimental aircraft, and swap a few war stories.

After other pioneers talked at length about their first jet flights, Yeager, the legendary former test pilot, TV huckster and best-selling autobiographer, now 69, gave this abbreviated rendition of his first flight:

"My first flight in a jet aircraft was 48 years ago when I flew a P-51 Mustang in Germany, and I shot down the first enemy plane I saw," he said.

Overheard

"With those three running for President, how can anyone sleep nights without medication?"

--North Hollywood man to friend

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