Love of Helping Others

Catalina Paints strives to provide great customer service
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Catalina Paint/submitted photo

Catalina Paints’ staff has long been known for its honesty, hard work and exceptional customer service, all thanks to its founder, Bud Cohn.

Bud started Catalina Paints in 1966 on the west side of Los Angeles, and it has since become one of the region’s largest distributors of Benjamin Moore Paints.

Bud’s son, John, says he’s proud to continue his late father’s legacy with Catalina and Benjamin Moore paints. 

“It’s been a joy being in the family business and watching it flourish,” John says. “Benjamin Moore has been a great partner. We’re expanding their market share.”

Highly regarded and the East Coast’s largest paint company, Benjamin Moore Paints are favorites among designers. 

“Painters paint their own homes with Benjamin Moore Paints,” he says. “The quality is that much better. Catalina is known for great customer service and advice.” 

John and his 80-person staff treat all customers equally, whether they’re do-it-yourselfers, contractors or interior designers. 

“We offer top-quality products and great customer service,” John says. “We have color consultants who offer their services for free. We have in-store displays of new products, too. During the pandemic, we saw a lot of homeowners who wanted to work on their homes. We’ve been busier than ever.”

In addition to carrying exceptional brands like Benjamin Moore, Catalina manufactures its own line of quality paints. Select stores also carry Farrow and Ball paints and Hunter Douglas window coverings and wallpaper options to complete any look.

John advises customers to do their homework before visiting the store. 

“Have textile colors and pattern swatches with you when paint shopping,” he says. “Take room setting photos with you as well.” 

He advises his customers to have a fabric in mind before choosing a paint color. John says whites, yellows, grays and beiges work well in Southern California, but he suggests to customers that they try out different styles in different rooms. 

“Give each living space its own identity and personalize it,” he says. 

Hot trends include soft yellows; a variety of whites and beiges; and bold accent colors like dark gray, red or blue.

Cohn says not having design/decorating, furnishings or color schemes in mind can spell trouble when assembling a room. 

Still, Catalina Paints’ employees are ready to help. Their years of expertise and love of helping others translates into a great customer experience. 

“We have the best colors,” John says. “Come to use for color advice and a free color consultation.”

Hiring Mr. Right

Getting the right contractor the first time around
By Gail Jamentz
Michael James Hillman/Submitted

Construction season is in full swing as homeowners continue to tackle their remodeling wish lists spawned from two years of homebound living and plenty of time to reassess how they want their interior spaces to meet their family’s needs. 

This flush of pent-up demand has created a frenzied environment as homeowners compete to secure a quality contractor to complete their remodeling and building projects this year. 

While supply chain product delays, climbing loan interest rates, a skilled labor shortage, and almost daily material price hikes have challenged most construction companies, the demand for their services has not waned. 

So how do you find a talented, licensed contractor with the business skills to negotiate these industrywide hurdles and still produce a beautiful, finished product on time and in budget, while making it an enjoyable experience.  

It’s a tall order. But as the saying goes, “cream rises to the top,” and quality contractors are out there, particularly in the San Gabriel Valley. 

The key is to find the right professional for your type of job, personality and project budget. 

With that in mind, following are six industry pro tips to ensure a successful selection process and remodeling experience. 

Do your due diligence

“One of the biggest mistakes I see homeowners make is that they don’t actually take the time to call the references listed on a potential contractor’s Client Reference List,” says new homebuilder Rich Mortensen, owner of Waterford Construction. 

“They may read former client testimonials on the contractor’s website or Instagram feed, but that’s not enough. Homeowners should have an extended phone conversation with past clients about the contractor’s work quality, business practices, and the overall experience of working with his team.”

Additionally, it is important to find out if he “plays nice with others.”  

For example, how well did he work with former project architects, interior designers, subcontractors, or the local building department? 

Homeowners have every right to ask a potential contractor for names of industry peers he has collaborated with to ascertain an accurate picture of his professionalism and business practices. 

And it goes without saying, running a contractor’s license number through the California Contractors State License Board website is a must. This precautionary step will determine if his license is current and in good standing. 

It is not enough for a contractor to just show a business card, flier or website with his license number listed. It may be expired, or it may not even be his company’s license number. 

Additionally, researching his license number will reveal if his company has filed a contractor’s surety bond, carries workers’ compensation insurance, or has consumer complaints filed against it, all very important matters when selecting a professional whose team will be working on a property for months or even years.  

While none of these issues are the creative or fun part of the building process, they are essential and should be discussed with a potential contractor before signing a proposal. 

Who’s his posse?

Like many professional service providers, the lead business owner, in this case the general contractor, is only as good as his team. So, it’s important to learn about who the subcontractors are that he would bring to the job site. Be sure to ask how long they have worked together, and most importantly if his subcontractors are licensed tradesman.  

Most likely the contractor will bring several tradespeople such as his electrician, plumber or HVAC sub to see the space before creating his final bid. This is called a trade day and is a great opportunity to meet his team and ask questions. 

Set a date

While it is key to meet a contractor’s team, it is also very helpful to visit one of his completed projects that are similar in type to the renovation being considered. This offers a chance to assess the quality of his work in person, as opposed to just looking at photos. 

A talented contractor will have positive relationships with former clients and should be able to arrange a brief visit to a past job site to view his work, as well as his attention to detail and level of craftsmanship. 

A successful remodel should add value to the home, so take note of the quality of the building materials; the method of installation of materials such as tile, millwork or painting, for example; and whether it feels comfortable to be in the space.  

If his work quality is impressive; former clients and industry peers speak highly of him; and his license, bonding and insurance are in good standing, then it’s time to take the next step and ask for a written proposal. 

Play the field

It’s a number’s game — in more ways the one. 

Be sure to meet with several potential contractors and provide all of them with the same detailed design plans to bid on. 

“Having an architect or interior designer involved in developing your design plans prior to bidding on the cost of construction is always recommended,” suggests contractor Ray Hughes, owner of Whitcomb-Hughes Design Build. 

“When we receive a detailed scope of work it takes the guesswork out of the bidding process and the homeowner can receive a competitive estimate that meets their desires.”

Also, it is much easier for homeowners to compare multiple proposals when everyone is pricing the same set of design plans. 

In addition to reviewing the construction estimates, take note of the contractor’s professionalism, punctuality and responsiveness when emailing or calling with questions during the bidding process. This is a sure indicator of how one will be treated during the monthslong construction process. 

Shades of gray: But not in contracts

For a contractor to put his best foot forward and produce an accurate, detailed proposal it is up to each homeowner, and his or her design team if hired, to provide as much project detail as possible. 

Additionally, it is important to ask that the proposal pricing be listed out by trade such as slab fabrication, tile installation, cabinetry and electrical, for example. 

“Never accept an estimate without a cost breakdown,” Hughes advises. 

“It is important that homeowners understand they are paying for, so make sure the contractor’s estimate has a detailed scope of work with line-item costs. If the project estimate is vague, that’s a red flag,” Hughes warns. 

A detailed scope of work will also help mitigate future change orders, which is industry verbiage for approved additional project costs and time. 

So, to minimize financial stress, manage expectations and ensure a successful project be sure the construction proposal is complete and clearly states whether the prices are for labor and materials, or just labor. 

This is particularly important because often homeowners assume something is included, when it is not. 

Also review the quote and see if it includes a either a notation, or an allowance, referencing building permits, design review fees, recycling fees, and post-construction cleanup, to name a few, which can often be overlooked by first-time remodelers when developing their budgets.  

And lastly, the contractor’s bid should indicate the quality and type of building materials he is planning on installing. 

For example, it is not enough for a bid to state: “supply and install bathroom countertops.” This is too vague. What type of countertop? Natural stone or manufactured quartz? Custom or prefab? What’s the slab thickness? How many slabs are needed? All of these design decisions affect the material and labor price of fabricating countertops and should be spelled out. 

Stay in your power

Knowing what to expect, ask for or insist on when working with a general contractor can involve a learning curve if there is not a designer, architect or owner’s rep advocating for the homeowner, or it is homeowner’s first-time project.  

This is completely normal and highlights the importance of selecting a contractor that respectfully answers questions; explains things thoroughly and in a timely manner; and does not try to dodge questions, bully or intimidate anyone into making decisions. This is particularly relevant for women managing a remodel to keep in mind. 

And just as there are high expectations on how a contractor should communicate and treat a client, the same applies to homeowners’ communication with a contractor. 

“A great client is someone who truly listens, is decisive, and also realistic about the project budget and timeline,” says Mortensen. “And if the homeowner offers a compliment to the contractor or subs occasionally, it goes a really long way with the team. The workers can feel when they are appreciated so if unexpected, additional work comes up on the job, the guys will go out of their way to finish and meet the deadline.” 

A compliment and a little gratitude mean a lot to a contractor who is typically juggling a lot of behind-the-scenes issues with suppliers and tradespeople to keep a project moving forward, while running multiple jobs concurrently. Not to mention, he is also handling the project paperwork, city inspections, client billing and material ordering, to name a few. 

“Many clients want to see the general contractor at the job site every day,” Hughes says. 

“But what they need to keep in mind is that we are visiting multiple job sites daily and communicating with our team several times a day to make sure each job stays within scope, on schedule, and that costs are being maintained. That’s what results in a quality project.”

Making a Statement

Trending colors, prints and fabrics can refresh any home
By Kamala Kirk
Allison Knizek/Submitted Photo

Colors and patterns are important in interior design, as they can completely change a home’s atmosphere and evoke either relaxation or excitement.

Color scheme, wallpaper patterns and furniture prints add definition and interest, and can breathe life into any new space.

“Neutral rooms are beautiful, no doubt about it,” says interior designer Amy Peltier of San Marino-based Amy Peltier Interior Design & Home. 

“But adding a pop of color can bring life, personality and charm to a space. You put on a simple black dress and a pair of plain black shoes. That’s a great start, but what if you added a pair of red shoes and a purse with a little color and pattern to it? Maybe you put on red lipstick and some gold jewelry — now you have a styled outfit. That’s what color and pattern does for a home.”

For those who are hesitant to experiment with colors and patterns, Peltier recommends starting with neutral basics.

“That means all of your big, expensive pieces can be in tones of neutrals and you can add color with art, accessories, throws and my favorite — pillows,” Peltier says. “We’ve launched a new brand called the Pillow Addict that allows you to play with color and pattern outside your comfort zone without the expensive commitment.”

When using mixed patterns to create a more maximalist environment, architectural and interior designer Allison Knizek always starts with one — usually the boldest — and works her way out. We here bringing in complementary smaller patterns or completely different-looking patterns.

“For example, I may start with a bold floral and then pull in a geometric design with like or complementary colors,” Knizek says. “Color and pattern, especially when combined with mix master skills, always brings the jaw-dropping ‘wow’ factor. It takes some thought to create a balanced blend versus something that looks like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.”

When it comes to color, Knizek says warm tones are trending again because “I think we’ve seen enough gray in home décor to last a lifetime,” she says. “I love playing with shades of roses, salmons and chocolate browns for paint tones, as they play so nicely with strong jewel tones as well as black and white.”

As for prints and patterns, Peltier says she sees ll prints with a vintage vibe taking center stage.

“I’d say florals from modern to classic are having a moment right now,” Peltier says. “People are really looking to add personality and comforting elements to their home in response to the pandemic. Prints and patterns do just that, but what they look like — from subtle to bold — is really up to you and your style preferences.”

Knizek adds, “In terms of pattern, I’m loving all the floral variations that can be found both in wallpapers and in textiles, as they make a perfect backdrop for more linear, graphic patterns to be layered on. I’m a pushover for graphic black-and-white rugs and tile mosaics, and they act as very grounding factors and wonderful bases for bolder décor items.”

In many cases, Knizek says that wallpaper will be her starting point for an entire room.

“I will play off the theme, color and texture in making complementary decisions for the other elements in the room,” she says. “The wallpaper palette will also inform my fabric and paint decisions, such as the slightly twisted ‘Thistle’ pattern by Cole and Sons in a cheery breakfast room I did. I found a performance velvet in the same pale aqua to use for the chairs.”

Peltier loves putting patterns on a big piece of furniture, although she admits that it is a little bolder and scarier to pull off.

“In my own home I have a patterned sofa. I then added coordinating pillows with a different scale or type of pattern to balance out the rounded floral pattern on the sofa,” Peltier says. “A little less of a commitment is adding patters to your chairs or even easier — drapery panels.”

Peltier also encourages mixing up the scale of patterns to prevent a space from becoming distracting.

“If you have a big print with a white or colored background and you then add another big print, it will be become too busy and overwhelming,” she points out. “If you pair a big print with a complementary small-scale print, you’ve got a good match. Also, don’t add in too many patterns. Mix things up with a good solid or texture. Stripes and plaids can also help balance it all out — that’s a winning combo.”

With a Modern Tuscan remodel that Knizek did, the walls were done in shades of salmon, and rather than pick textiles using those same shades, she went with graphic black-and-white drapes and a black-based embroidered satin on the entry bench that added some drama thanks to their high-contrast nature.

“Both fabrics are from Calico, and the paint is from Dunn Edwards,” Knizek says. “In my French Deco remodel, aqua velvet settees bring a plush wash of bold color to balance the black, white and purple accents in a transitional library space.”

Texture is another great way to add interest to a room, according to Peltier.

“Pillows with fringe and tassels add loads of texture, which can really act like a print, and they’re very popular right now,” she says.

Another big trend has been a push for very durable living materials in the home, including new fabric and rug innovations, and stain and soil-resistant materials.

“Performance fabrics make up about 50% of all textiles that I purchase,” Knizek says. “The newest technology in fiber and weaving makes this category of fabrics the natural choice for busy households, as they resist stains and are easy to clean with just a mild soap solution. Perfect for households with kids, pets and red wine.” 

Peltier adds, “With everyone in their homes twice as much as before, our houses are taking extra abuse, and durable fabrics and finishes have been a huge request from clients. The design world is exploding with livable options. Rugs are now being made with a PET material, which makes it soft for an indoor feel but durable for outdoor use. A huge bonus is that PET is recycled plastic materials. As for fabrics, they’re now built with major stain resistance. Brands such as Inside Out and Sunbrella are dominating the market. You no longer have to sacrifice looks for durability — which is a very good thing.”

Allison Knizek Design

Amy Peltier Interior Design & Home

Creative Freedom

Pasadena Showcase House continues its run at Oaklawn Manor
By Luke Netzley
Chris Considine/submitted photos

After just four months, the interior designers of the Pasadena Showcase House of Design’s flagship event have completed their renovation of South Pasadena’s Oaklawn Manor for the 57th Showcase House.

The Oaklawn Manor is a 1905 English Tudor mansion built for English civil engineer Harry Hawgood. It hosts the first Showcase House in South Pasadena in over 40 years. Each designer was given a section of the house and the creative freedom to decorate it with their own chosen materials and style. 

Until the mansion’s closure on Sunday, May 22, over 25,000 guests will tour through the numerous interior and landscape design spaces and see the work of numerous designers from across the San Gabriel Valley and LA County, including Pasadena’s Karen Billman and South Pasadena’s James Hernandez. 

“It’s an honor to be chosen to participate in the Showcase House,” Hernandez says. “There’s a lot to see, and there’re wonderful designers participating in this year’s Showcase House. It’ll be special for everybody who attends.”

Hernandez founded an interior design business after returning from a yearlong sabbatical across Europe that inspired him to gain a deeper understanding of modern design. He has since become known across Southern California and beyond for his high-end residential interiors and has worked with celebrity clients such as Caitlyn Jenner, Tyra Banks and Kimora Lee Simmons. 

Hernandez is a four-time participant in the Showcase House and felt especially connected to this year’s event because of its location within South Pasadena, which has been his home for the past 16 years. 

“One thing that gravitated me to do the Showcase House this year was that it was in my own backyard,” Hernandez explains. “It’s a quintessential town where you can bring your family. You feel like you’re at peace when you’re in South Pasadena. There’s a calmness about it and a tranquility.”

Ahead of his renovation of the Oaklawn Manor’s Sunroom, Hernandez’s vision was to incorporate a newfound brightness and modernity into the space. With a sponsorship from design firm Thibaut, Hernandez paired a neutral color palette with a botanical wall covering alongside contemporary furnishings and an organic hemp rug.

As a designer, Hernandez does not fit into any one stylistic mold but works based on client desires and personal experience across a breadth of styles, a trait shared by fellow Showcase House designer Karen Billman.

“The Showcase House is really a feather in my cap, and I think it would be for anybody,” Billman says.

Through renovating the gym and its adjacent hallway and bathroom in her first Showcase House appearance, Billman wanted to introduce a sense of elegance and dramatic flair to her section of the Oaklawn Manor. 

With the help of bath supply company Ferguson, gym brand Johnson Fitness and Wellness, Mission Tile West, Guilford of Maine and Fusion Builders contractor Anthony Bykowski, Billman used a gray tile with black mats for the gym floor. She then incorporated a silver-toned mesh fabric commonly used for noise suppression in theaters for two of the gym walls with a velvet black paint on the others.

“I’m really excited and I hope I get asked to do it again next year, because it’s really a fun process,” Billman says. 

Alongside the personalized design spaces, guests to the 57th Showcase House can expect over 20 boutique vendors at the Shops at Showcase, as well as several on-site restaurants and daily programming with local musicians, speakers, special tours and more.

2022 Pasadena Showcase House of Design

WHEN: 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays and Sundays; 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays 

WHERE: Oaklawn Manor, South Pasadena. 

COST: $65 golden ticket; $200 insider package No. 1, gold ticket and empty house party; $400 insider package No. 2 


Telling Stories

Orange Grove Studios helps clients create their dream home
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Orange Grove Studios/Submitted Photo

Stephen Lazar was designing and producing large-scale events for global tech companies and financial institutions when he discovered his passion for interior design. It quickly became his next chapter.

“I was flipping homes for myself and working with others on similar projects, and I became captivated by interior design,” he says.

“Currently, I put all my energy into interior design, especially with a slant toward incorporating sustainable and vintage products in my projects. Life is so much better with a little patina.”

While producing large-scale events, he began Green Owl Design in the Bay Area. Eventually, he moved to Pasadena, where he founded Orange Grove Studios.

“I am a mindful designer, concerned as much about the beauty of a design as I am about pragmatism and flow,” he says.

“My approach to design is open and explorative. Often I immerse myself in a project until I feel like I can move the puzzle pieces and shape the space. I don’t stop until I find an elegant modern solution that flows.”

Orange Grove Studios has evolved into a residential design firm that is focused on home, kitchen and garden living. Lazar and his team serve clients in Southern California, San Francisco and the wine country. 

The two firms were a long time coming. Lazar studied classical art and architecture at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest. He ended up in the hospitality world and learned the ropes of organization and project management. 

“My design sensibility was rooted in organization and project management. And my experience in hospitality and events prepared me to create warm comfortable environments for clients.” 

Lazar says planning large events use the same thought processes as interior design. He sees full home renovations as a large-scale event with an emphasis on the four “Fs” — flow, function, feeling and fun.

He’s particularly proud of two homes he recently redesigned. In Pasadena, he renovated the entry, living and dining rooms for a couple in the entertainment industry. Lazar worked with the clients to reupholster and refinish existing furnishings; edit their large collection of ceramics and art; and add new furniture, flea market finds and vintage art to the space.  

“We also added natural raffia wallpaper to the entry, a customized nickel gap wood wall treatment around the two-sided fireplace, and new stone for the fireplace mantels. It was great fun.”

Concurrently, he has taken on a full-home project in Rolling Hills.

“The couple is building their dream home for retirement with sweeping views of Catalina Island,” he says. “They went down to the studs as far as they could, and after year of construction they are finally at a point where the walls, windows and doors could be installed. 

“I worked with them on the general space planning, interior design, furniture selection and oversaw all of the interior and exterior surfaces including walls treatments, flooring, tile, kitchen cabinetry, lighting and plumbing fixtures. It continues to be a challenging project, but we are close.”

With both jobs, the homeowners have significant input. 

“The reality is my projects must reflect my clients. It tells their story of travel and family, their taste in art, their color and texture preferences. It’s my job to make sure all of the options I bring them are great. 

“That way, when they’re making a decision, there’s no wrong way to go.”

“My own personal style is very eclectic, a mix of art and life’s treasures combined with traditional and modern pieces that tell a story about how people live. That’s my job: telling stories.”

Orange Grove Studios — Pasadena


Longtime Legacy

MUSE/IQUE fetes LA’s music scene
By Kamala Kirk
Robert Latour/Submitted Photo

Los Angeles is home to iconic performance venues and an impressive history of musicians that includes the Beach Boys, The Mama & Papas, and the Eagles. 

In its new season, MUSE/IQUE’s “LA Composed: A Festival of Los Angeles Music” celebrates the city’s musical legacy with a yearlong concert series.

Curated and led by Artistic Director Rachael Worby, the series features renowned musicians and performers celebrating at cultural institutions such as Caltech and The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens through November.

“For us, curation is illuminating the connection point between the inspiration of the artist and the curiosity of the audience,” Worby says. 

“We try to follow the music to that magical place where understanding flourishes. ‘LA Composed’ started from an idea to focus a season on the unique musical history of LA. We started by focusing on genres that are associated with LA, such as film scores or the legendary club scene. We also studied with awe the wide range of cultural influences that feed the LA music scene.”

As the organization studied LA’s music giants, it found these entertainers could not be easily defined. Instead, their genius reflects the wild interconnectivity and infinite creativity of the city, Worby says.

“It began to occur to us that LA music is much like its most famous streets — brimming with energy and absolutely distinct local flavor — and yet remarkably global and even universal in appeal and influence. We started thinking about composers, singers and musicians in the place of creation — on these incredible streets of LA. From that point, ‘LA Composed’ almost curated itself.”

The first concert of the series, “Sunrise on Sunset,” debuted in mid-March at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Featuring vocalists Brandon Victor Dixon, Kecia Lewis and the DC 6 Singers, it explored the music intersections of Sunset Boulevard, the epicenter of cultural revolution.

“When Brandon sang Leon Russell’s ‘A Song for You’ for the Sunset Boulevard show, it was a convergence of genius,” Worby says. 

“We showed a clip of Russell revealing his reverence for B.B. King, and then we talked about how so much of what we hear in music today is influenced by Russell. Then Brandon, who is an unparalleled interpreter of song, seemed to bring that whole history of inspiration to life in a way that resonated with our modern audience. To make it even better, we were able to link the history of the song to Sunset Boulevard to give a relevant time and place context for listeners. 

“Bringing history and context together with genius songwriters, musicians and singers in a way that speaks to our own times. That’s what we aim for with every moment of every show. We had more moments like that with Nikka Costa channeling James Taylor and Carole King in our Laurel Canyon show. And we expect our artists to come up with more intellectually and emotionally thrilling moments as we examine the history of Whittier Boulevard, Route 66, Highway 1, Central Avenue, Grand Avenue, and Hollywood and Vine in our upcoming shows.”

Upcoming concerts in the series include “Route 66 and Highway 1” on Wednesday, June 22, and Thursday, June 23, at Caltech, which highlights how the most numbered highways come together and intersect to define surf and sand from the Beach Boys to Beach Blanket Bingo. 

On Wednesday, July 20, and Thursday, July 21, “Whittier Blvd.” at The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens will tell the story of how Mexican American musicians blended music from across LA to create a whole new genre whose influences rang from coastal rock to the rhythms on Central Avenue. Additional concerts and venues will soon be announced.

 “I think the reason our shows resonate so deeply is that we ask our performers to assert their own personality, their own spirit, their own unique character and charm into the performance,” Worby says. 

“We don’t ‘cover’ songs. We discover their true depth and meaning by attaching the deepest parts of ourselves to them. So the personality of the artists really becomes the conduit by which audiences find new ways into familiar songs. I’d say our work is more than collaboration — it’s a brave adventure that would not be possible without gutsy artists who are willing to expose their vulnerabilities and their true character. 

“I never know exactly how we are going to perform a song until I get the artists in a room together and hear it in their true voice. We don’t ask them to conform to a specific vision of a song. We ask them to help us discover what the song really means. For that reason, we are dependent on a wide range of personalities and performers.”

Worby says it’s the same with the venue partners. 

“Place matters in the mind of the audience,” she adds.

“It informs the meaning of the performance. So, a performance changes and takes on new values when we change the venue. This is especially true when we encourage the personality and community of each venue to shine through in the event. By presenting music in so many varied and iconic locations, we are able to find ever deeper meaning in the music.”

MUSE/IQUE is a member-supported, nonprofit performing arts organization that makes engaging live music experiences accessible for all. Its mission is to build empathy and expand imaginations through transformative live events. 

Members receive complimentary admission to all MUSE/IQUE events. Membership begins at $200. Admission for nonmembers starts at $75 and includes a trial membership along with admission to MUSE/IQUE’s next three events.

“This is more than the history of LA music; this is their history,” Worby says. 

“Our secret is that these shows are really about the audience. The songs form an emotional language to tell the story of their community in a way they have never heard before. The streets and music we will explore are familiar to our audiences. 

“But we know they will leave with a whole new sense of themselves, their culture and the songs they love. It’s really about discovering a profound kind of civic pride. This year will conclude an 18-month cycle of examining the history of LA music through its streets and iconic artists. We could, of course, devote 10 seasons to this topic. But one thing I have learned is that it is always best to leave them wanting more and move on to new ideas to pique audience curiosity. So next year we will be on to a new exploration, to be announced soon.”


Family Ties

Playhouse stages new version of Chekhov masterpiece
By Bridgette M. Redman
Pasadena Playhouse/Submitted Photo

Many times, the oldest of stories feel new again in a world where everything has turned upside down.

The Pasadena Playhouse is launching Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” from Wednesday, June 1, to Sunday, June 26.

Published in 1898, it is considered one of Chekhov’s masterpieces.

Director Michael Michetti feels today’s audiences, having lived through the pandemic, will relate to the themes in this piece. The play explores family dynamics and what happens when people are thrown together with very different goals.

“Uncle Vanya” takes place on a country estate, where Vanya and his niece are caring for the property. Unexpectedly, his brother-in-law and new wife show up. Passions flare, frustrations are revealed, and everyone’s life is threatened to be thrown upside down. 

This production uses a new translation, one that premiered at the Old Globe in 2018. The translators — Richard Nelson, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky — come together annually. 

Eventually, theaters commissioned them, and Theater Communications Group Books began publishing them. Their translation of “Uncle Vanya” has been widely hailed for brushing away the cobwebs and making it feel modern and conversational.

“It is faithful to the original and feels very modern and colloquial,” Michetti says. “It has all the family dynamics that we’re all used to, but there’s nothing about it that feels like its Chekhovian or Russian.”

Pasadena Playhouse wants to be known as California’s official state theater. Michetti said he and the Playhouse’s producing artistic director, Danny Feldman, spoke about the play, as it was one that he loved. 

It is his first time directing it, though he helmed the related “Anton’s Uncles” in 2012 at Boston Court Pasadena.

Feldman sees this as an important part of the theatrical canon and something that will appeal to the Playhouse’s audiences.

“In addition to producing American musicals and new works, boldly re-envisioning classic plays is core to our mission at the Playhouse,” Feldman says. 

“This new translation of ‘Uncle Vanya’ breathes new life into a theatrical masterpiece, making it perfect for fans of Chekhov or people experiencing his work for the first time.”

Michetti is committed to creating an intimate experience for audiences so they can feel what it’s like to be cooped up with a group of people who are tense about relationships and decisions. 

They’re planning to remove the first couple rows of seats so the stage is closer to the audience. Some of the playing area will be below the stage.

“I really do want the audience to feel like they’re able to be flies on a wall and eavesdropping on life as it’s being lived in front of us,” Michetti says. “So, we’re trying to create a physical base that allows that to happen.”

He wants the story to feel relevant as he strips the unnecessary things that might distract or take the audience out of their experiences.

“So often in a Chekhov play, you go in and you see heavy rugs, samovars and all the things that make us feel like it’s a world different than the one we live in,” Michetti says. “We’re going to be stripping it down to its bare essentials. This is largely a family sitting around having these conversations.”

Since the piece was added to the Pasadena Playhouse season, Russia invaded Ukraine. Michetti said they’ve had creative conversations between his team and Feldman about how to handle information about Russia’s history and political makeup.

The play was written in a very different Russia. First produced in 1898, “Uncle Vanya” was a reworking of another play that Chekhov wrote a decade earlier called “The Wood Demon.” In the revision, he reduced the cast from two dozen to nine and gave it a more ambiguous, less happy ending. Some scholars think he revised the work while visiting a prison colony on an eastern Russian island in 1891.

It was all before the Soviet Union was formed or the current Russian Federation. Yet the Pasadena Playhouse artistic team recognizes that a lot of people are distancing themselves from anything Russian as a means of expressing solidarity with Ukrainians.

“It is an interesting time to be doing the work of a very famous Russian playwright,” Michetti says. “But I think all of the choices we are making around this production are likely to de-emphasize the importance of it being a Russian play rather than that of a universal family.”

“Uncle Vanya”

WHEN: Various times Wednesday, June 1, to Sunday, June 26 

WHERE: Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molina Avenue, Pasadena

COST: Tickets start at $30


Revealing Family Secrets

Author shines light on his father’s shadowy past
By Ronnie Sansome
Daniel Molitor/Submitted Photo

When Daniel Molitor’s father died in 2014 at the age of 84, he left behind a dark secret.

“As far as I can remember, he never talked about it, ever,” Molitor says. 

“It” is his father’s experiences in the Army during the Korean War, when the wide-eyed enlistee and former Catholic schoolboy found himself assigned to radio reconnaissance and signal intelligence for the Army Security Agency (ASA). He was stationed first for over a year in Japan and then for eight months on the Korean Peninsula. 

“Something happened to him during the last couple of months,” Molitor continues. “He did something, the sort of thing a soldier often has to do, but nonetheless something he obviously regretted. It messed him up pretty bad.” 

That never-talked-about event, Molitor explains, cast a very long shadow, not only over his father in the immediate aftermath of the war but over his father’s family, his work and, years in the future, his son. 

Now, looking back on his own career as a writer and creative director in the themed entertainment industry, Molitor, a 20-year resident of Pasadena, is surprised by how little he knew about his father’s past. The process of uncovering what happened during that bitter cold Korean winter of 1952 is set down in Molitor’s graphic novel, “Burying Cheng,” released by the independent press Dynasty XVIII and available at Vroman’s.

“It sounds egotistical, I know,” Molitor confesses, “but after dad died I realized I couldn’t tell his story without telling part of my own. I didn’t know any of the stuff that’s in the book until I started digging through the old memorabilia he’d kept hidden away for quite literally half a century. Uncovering and understanding my father’s journey through life became a quest of my own.”

Among the hidden treasures found on that quest was an old wooden cigar box his father had kept hidden on a high shelf at the back of his closet. The box was filled with tiny black-and-white photographs taken with a vintage 35mm camera identified as a product of occupied Japan. The photos were largely unmarked. 

“I had one image of a group of soldiers taken in a beer hall in Kyoto,” Molitor says. “That one had the names of some of the men written on the back. Most of the rest were blank.” He was able to match some of the faces to later images taken in Korea, but many of the soldiers remained anonymous. “A few of the men, the ones who survived, stayed together pretty much through the whole war,” he says. “They were buddies, and a couple of them turned out to be major players in the events that led up to the incident in Uijeongbu.” 

The ‘incident’ in the territory above what was then a small village 30 miles north of Seoul was the key to unlocking his father’s long-hidden mystery. Molitor used old Army records and ASA documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act to trace his father’s movements. “After shipping out from Japan and arriving in Busan in the south of the Republic of Korea,” Molitor relates, “dad and his unit traveled by train up to Seoul, then did their first recon work north of Chuncheon, where the UN forces were preparing for heavy fighting around the infamous Punchbowl region.”

It was there that Dick Molitor first came face to face with the reality of war. 

“His assignment in Japan had been pretty sweet,” Molitor says. “That was something he actually talked about once, how much he and his buddies enjoyed Kyoto. I think that made what happened next that much more horrible.” 

Molitor says he hesitated at first to write about what happened at Uijeongbu but felt compelled to tell his father’s story, if for no other reason, to help himself understand what made him tick. “Dad and I had a difficult relationship,” Molitor says. “Like many of his generation, he couldn’t talk about the dark stuff that had happened to him, but it really did have an impact on me and the rest of our family. He was a scarred man.” 

One event, in particular, Molitor says, typifies how memories of the war affected others, not just his father. It was a tough scene to put down on paper, but his mother, who passed away in 2020, insisted it be included. “Mom told me the story of dad’s nightmares and how they sometimes spilled over into the real world. Dad’s reactions very nearly ended their nascent marriage. And like everything else having to do with Korea, he could never bring himself to talk about them, let alone get help to finally put them to rest. Sadly, that’s a thread that ran throughout his entire life.”

Nightmares, misplaced loyalties, a succession of jobs, and a secret life that led from the ASA in Korea to the Central Intelligence Agency in Washington, D.C., and ultimately to undercover work for the National Security Agency in the little town of Yakima, Washington, where Molitor grew up, all are threads woven into the personal history that is “Burying Cheng.”

“I was alone with dad when he died,” Molitor says. “A lot of his old Catholic schoolboy fears had recently risen up to haunt him. Despite his macho bravado, I think he was genuinely scared of what might be coming next.” 

After learning what happened to his father in Korea, Molitor recognizes the source of those fears and realizes, hopefully, that even the darkest of tales can have a happy ending.

Vroman’s Live

Bookstore boasts stellar lineup for April

By Arroyo Staff

The renowned bookstore Vroman’s is hosting more top-notch virtual programs throughout April.

The Vroman’s Live events are held virtually and in person. Vroman’s Virtual events will be presented through Crowdcast. Register through Anyone with questions is asked to contact email@

Virtual events

Gina Sorell, in conversation with Jennifer Robertson,
discusses “The Wise Women”

6 p.m. Wednesday, April 13

Popular advice columnist Wendy Wise has been skillfully advising the women who write to her seeking help for four decades, so why are her own daughters’ lives such a mess? Clementine, the working mother of a 6-year-old boy, has just discovered that she is renting the Queens home that she thought she owned, because her husband Steve secretly funneled their money into his flailing startup. Meanwhile, her sister, Barb, has overextended herself at her architecture firm and reunited semi-unhappily with her cheating girlfriend.

When Steve goes MIA and Clementine receives an eviction notice, Wendy swoops in to save the day, even though her daughters, who are holding on to some resentments from childhood, haven’t asked for her help. But as soon as Wendy sets her sights on hunting down her rogue son-in-law, Barb and Clementine quickly discover that their mother has been hiding more than a few problems of her own.

As the three women confront the disappointments and heartaches that have accumulated between them over the years, they discover that while the future may look entirely different from the one that they’ve expected, it may be even brighter than they’d hoped.

Crowdcast registration link:

Peter Dreier discusses his two new books,
“Baseball Rebels” and “Major League Rebels”

6 p.m. Tuesday, April 19

“Baseball Rebels” tells stories of mavericks, reformers and radicals who shook up the baseball establishment and helped change America. These players, managers, sportswriters, activists and even a few owners were influenced by, and in turn influenced, America’s broader political and social protest movements, including battles against racism, sexism and homophobia. 

“Major League Rebels” is a captivating history of the baseball reformers and revolutionaries who challenged their sport and society — and in turn helped change America. Athletes have often used their platform to respond to and protest injustices, from Muhammad Ali and Colin Kaepernick to Billie Jean King and Megan Rapinoe. Compared to their counterparts, baseball players have often been more cautious about speaking out on controversial issues; but throughout the sport’s history, there have been many players who were willing to stand up and fight for what was right. 

In “Major League Rebels: Baseball Battles over Workers’ Rights and American Empire,” Robert Elias and Peter Dreier reveal a little-known yet important history of rebellion among professional ballplayers. These reformers took inspiration from the country’s dissenters and progressive movements, speaking and acting against abuses within their profession and their country. 

Elias and Dreier profile the courageous players who demanded better working conditions, battled against corporate power, and challenged America’s unjust wars, imperialism and foreign policies, resisting the brash patriotism that many link with the “national pastime.” American history can be seen as an ongoing battle over wealth and income inequality, corporate power versus workers’ rights, what it means to be a “patriotic” American, and the role of the United States outside its borders. For over 100 years, baseball activists have challenged the status quo, contributing to the kind of dissent that creates a more humane society. 

Crowdcast registration link:

David Baldacci, in conversation with Robert Crais, discusses “Dream Town”

6 p.m. Tuesday, April 26

It’s the eve of 1953, and Aloysius Archer is in Los Angeles to ring in the New Year with an old friend, aspiring actress Liberty Callahan, when their evening is interrupted by an acquaintance of Callahan’s: Eleanor Lamb, a screenwriter in dire straits.

After a series of increasingly chilling events — mysterious phone calls, the same blue car loitering outside her house, and a bloody knife left in her sink — Eleanor fears her life is in danger, and she wants to hire Archer to look into the matter. Archer suspects that Eleanor knows more than she’s saying, but before he can officially take on her case, a dead body turns up inside of Eleanor’s home… and Eleanor disappears.

Missing client or not, Archer is dead set on finding both the murderer and Eleanor. With the help of Callahan and his partner, Willie Dash, he launches an investigation that will take him from mob-ridden Las Vegas to the glamorous world of Hollywood to the darkest corners of Los Angeles — a city in which beautiful faces are attached to cutthroat schemers, where the cops can be more corrupt than the criminals… and where the powerful people responsible for his client’s disappearance will kill without a moment’s hesitation if they catch Archer on their trail.

Crowdcast registration link:

Vroman’s Local Author Day with Dr. Ian Brooks,
Shanti Hershenson and James Cox

6 p.m. Friday, April 29

Dr. Ian Brooks presents “Intention,” a step-by-step guide in transforming the reader’s story, by reinforcing and building new capabilities to move forward. 

Shanti Hershenson will discuss “You Won’t Know Her Name,” a “haunting, shocking novel told in poetry.” 

“Silver or Lead” is James Cox’s presentation. “What would you do if you found out that the person you were trying to save might have to kill you?”

Crowdcast registration link:

In-person events

Vroman’s in-person events are no longer ticketed but are free and open to the public. Masks are strongly encouraged for those attending. All in-person events will all be held at Vroman’s, 695 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, unless noted otherwise.

Lian Dolan, in conversation
with Rico Gagliano, discusses
“Lost and Found in Paris”

7 p.m. Wednesday, April 6

Joan Blakely had an unconventional childhood: the daughter of a globe-trotting supermodel and a famous artist. Her artist father died on 9/11, and Joan, an art historian by training, has spent more than a decade maintaining his legacy. 

Life in the art world is beginning to wear on her — and then one fateful afternoon her husband drops a bombshell: He fathered twins with another woman.

Furious but secretly pleased to have a reason to blow up her life, Joan impulsively decides to get out of town, booking a last-minute trip to Paris as an art courier: the person museums hire to fly valuable works of art to potential clients, discreetly stowed in their carry-on luggage. Sipping her champagne in business class, she chats up her seatmate, Nate, a good-looking tech nerd who invites her to dinner in Paris. He doesn’t know she’s carrying drawings worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But after a romantic dinner and an even more romantic night together, Joan wakes up next to her new lover to discover the drawings gone. Even more shocking is what’s been left in their place: a sketch from her father’s journals, which she thought had been lost when he died on 9/11, and a poem that reads like a treasure hunt.

With Nate as a sidekick, Joan will follow the clues all over Paris — from its grand cathedrals and romantic bistros to the twisty side streets of Montmartre — hoping to recover the lost art and her own sense of adventure. What she finds is even better than she’d expected. 

Gary Phillips discusses
“One-Shot Harry”

7 p.m. Thursday, April 7

Los Angeles, 1963: African American Korean War veteran Harry Ingram earns a living as a news photographer and occasional process server: chasing police radio calls and dodging baseball bats. With racial tensions running high on the eve of Martin Luther King’s Freedom Rally, Harry risks ending up one of the victims at every crime scene he photographs. 

When Harry hears a call over the police scanner to the scene of a deadly automobile accident, he recognizes the vehicle described as belonging to his good friend and old Army buddy, the white jazz trumpeter Ben Kingslow, with whom he’d only just reconnected. 

The LAPD declares the car crash an accident, but when Harry develops his photos there are signs of foul play. Harry feels no choice but to play detective, even if it means putting his own life on the line. Armed with his wits, his camera and occasionally his Colt .45, Harry plunges headfirst into the seamier underbelly of LA society, tangling with racists, leftists, blackmailers, gangsters, zealots and lovers, all in the hope of finding something resembling justice for a friend.

Dean Sluyter discusses “The Dharma Bum’s Guide to Western Literature: Finding Nirvana in the Classics”

7 p.m. Tuesday, April 12

With droll humor and irreverent wisdom, Dean Sluyter unpacks the Dharma of more than 20 major writers, from William Blake to Dr. Seuss, inspiring readers to deepen their own spiritual life and see literature in a fresh, new way: as a path of awakening. 

Melissa Chadburn discusses
“A Tiny Shove Upward”

7 p.m. Thursday, April 21

Marina Salles’s life does not end the day she wakes up dead.

Instead, in the course of a moment, she is transformed into the stuff of myth, the stuff of her grandmother’s old Filipino stories — an aswang, a creature of mystery and vengeance. She spent her time on earth on the margins; shot like a pinball through a childhood of loss, she was a veteran of Child Protective Services and a survivor, but always reacting, watching from a distance, understanding very little of her own life, let alone the lives of others. 

Death brings her into the hearts and minds of those she has known — even her killer — as she accesses their memories and sees anew the meaning of her own. In her nine days as an aswang, while she considers whether to exact vengeance on her killer, she also traces back, finally able to see what led these two lost souls to a crushingly inevitable conclusion.

In “A Tiny Upward Shove,” debut novelist Melissa Chadburn charts the heartbreaking journeys of two of society’s castoffs as they make their way to each other and their roles as criminal and victim. 

Michelle Huneven discusses “Search”

7 p.m. Wednesday, April 27

Dana Potowski is a restaurant critic and food writer and a longtime member of a progressive Unitarian Universalist congregation in Southern California. Just as she’s finishing the book tour for her latest bestseller, Dana is asked to join the church search committee for a new minister. Under pressure to find her next book idea, she agrees, and resolves to secretly pen a memoir, with recipes, about the experience. That memoir, Search, follows the travails of the committee and their candidates — and becomes its own media sensation.

Dana had good material to work with: The committee is a wide-ranging mix of Unitarian Universalist congregants, and their candidates range from a baker and microbrew master/pastor to a reverend who identifies as both a witch and an environmental warrior. Ultimately, the committee faces a stark choice between two very different paths forward for the congregation. Although she may have been ambivalent about joining the committee, Dana finds that she cares deeply about the fate of this institution and she will fight the entire committee, if necessary, to win the day for her side.

Kim Dower reads from “I Wore This Dress Today for You, Mom”; special introduction by Ron Koertge, poet laureate of South Pasadena

7 p.m. Thursday, April 28

Acclaimed for combining the accessible and profound, Kim Dower’s poems about motherhood are some of her most moving and disarmingly candid. “I Wore This Dress Today for You, Mom” is an anthology of her poems from being a mother — childbirth to empty nest — as well as being a daughter with all the teenaged messiness, drama and conflict to finally caring for one’s mother suffering from dementia.

Culled from her four collections as well as a selection of new work, these poems, heartbreaking, funny, surprising and touching, explore the quirky, unexpected observations and bittersweet moments mothers and daughters share. 

On the Road

Travellers Autobarn camper van rentals offer budget-friendly getaways with unlimited mileage

By Haley Beyer
Travellers Autobarn/Submitted Photos

During his travels, Peter Burke saw plenty of backpackers who benefited from a camper van. 

Inspired, he founded Travellers Autobarn, which rents camper vans with unlimited mileage. 

The company launched two years ago in the United States but was established in Australia and New Zealand in 1993 and 2016, respectively. 

Through the creation of Travellers Autobarn, Burke learned the true meaning of “It’s not work when you’re having fun.”

“My favorite part about the camper vans is the freedom they provide,” Burke said. 

“Some of the best stories include the most unexpected things because they weren’t planned. I want people to detour. Take turns off your route. COVID-19 taught us that we need to look for true freedom again. A road trip is one of the last true forms of adventure in my opinion.” 

Travellers Autobarn’s most popular camper van model is the Kuga, which sleeps up to three people comfortably and has a kitchen space with a microwave, fridge, sink and gas stove — all powered by solar panels, decreasing the need to stay at a powered campsite to recharge batteries for the fridge and lights.

The camper vans also include an extra preparation pack in the winter to help keep campers warm, including space heaters, an extra battery pack and hot pads. 

Camper vans are a better option compared to regular RVs, fifth-wheel campers, tents and motel/hotel stays because of how practical and simple they are. 

“These camper vans are our own design, and they were built for the renter rather than for luxury or style,” Burke said. “If something’s not needed, it’s not in the van.” 

Other rental options include the HiTop camper van, which fits two to three people and has functional cooking and storage areas, as well as the minivan, which suits up to five people and can be used as a cheap car rental solution while camping. Travelers also have the option to rent a living equipment pack for $45. It includes a tent, camping chairs, table, gas cooker and cooking equipment.

Prices vary depending on the trip, but the per-day cost goes down the longer the vehicle is rented. 

The average cost for a 10-day trip is approximately $89 per day, and there is a minimum rental requirement of four days. 

Customers tend to rent the vehicles for five days, but one paid for eight months. 

“The longer you go, the cheaper it gets,” Burke said. 

Adding to its convenience, Travellers Autobarn’s camper vans do not need to be returned to the rental location.  

There are pickup/drop-off locations in San Francisco; Seattle; Denver; Las Vegas; and Los Angeles, right by LAX.

Burke recommended several popular travel spots that are just a few hours’ drive from LA, including Idyllwild, Lake Arrowhead, Oak Glen, Joshua Tree, Palm Springs and Big Sur.

Travellers Autobarn also provides itineraries on its website for those without a specific location in mind. 

Renters must be 21 or older, and provide a driver’s license and credit card for security purposes. Booking can be done online via Travellers Autobarn’s website.

Travellers Autobarn