Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The best show we couldn't see: The Lunar Eclipse

Like much of California, December 21, 2010 found us under cloudy skies. A rare lunar eclipse eluded us, even from the roof.
Fortunately William Castleman in Florida captured it and gives us
The Best view of the December 21 Lunar Eclipse 2010!

Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse 2010 from William Castleman.
Time lapse video of Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse on December 21, 2010 from 1:10 AM EST (6:10 GMT) to 5:03 AM EST (10:03 GMT) from Gainesville Florida. The music is Claude Debussy’s Nocturnes: Sirènes.

Photographs were taken every 20 seconds with a dslr camera Photos were assembled in Quicktime Pro software to make the time lapse video and stabilized in After Effects CS5.

- David Owens

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Jingle Bell Rocking from the Azteca Theater

Happy Holidays from
the Azteca Theater!

Jingle Rock Sax  by David Owens.

Soprano Saxophone rocks popular holiday tune, Jingle Bell Rock. Enjoy Winter holiday scenes from Russia for a warm California to enjoy!

Happy Holidays from David's  Jingle Rockin' Sax from the Azteca Theater! Unfortunately, the performance was a private party, but you can enjoy the video!

-David Owens

Friday, October 29, 2010

La Momia Azteca: Mummy Movies for Halloween!

The Azteca Mummy Popoca!
By David Owens

For fans of classic horror movies, the "La Momia Azteca" series deliver that good old, "I-want-to-be-scared-bu-its-just-so-goofy!" Halloween fun.

La Momia Azteca
The Mexican cinema of the 1950s discovered monsters, mad scientists, space ships, robots and shapely space-women. Masked, “lucha libre” wrestlers became the heroes of working class entertainment.
Multiple cult heroes were often thrown together in a campy romp as funny as it was titillating.

And none more exciting than the Azteca Mummy trilogy!
All released in 1957-8! How could Director Rafael Portillo create all this excitement in just over a year? You have to watch to believe it!

The Azteca Mummy
The original!

The Azteca Mummy! or Attack of the Azteca Mummy 
Director; Rafael Portillo
México, 1957

Dr. Almada attempts to prove his theory that people can be regressed to past lives by hypnotizing his lover Flor. Only to find out that in a previous life Flor was the Aztec maiden Xochitl, who was killed and entombed for having an affair with the warrior Popoca!
Her lover Popoca was mummified -- but cursed to remain alive-- and guard the treasure.

With her newly understood memories, Flor is able to lead Almada, his wimpish assistant Pincate, and her father to the now-skeletal remains of the maiden.

But, oh no! To their horror, the party is intercepted by the mummified warrior, Popoca, and flee with the breastplate back to Mexico city. Popoca follows.

Meanwhile, the unscrupulous Professor  Krupp  recruits a gang of thugs, whom he leads from behind a mask and known only as "The Bat". Both Krupp and his gang, and the mummy, converge on Flor's house to retrieve the sacred breastplate, which is in her possession...

Video of the Azteca Mummy - La Momia Azteca. Click through to YouTube to see more scenes!

Dr. Krupp -- The Bat

2nd in the series!
Curse of the Azteca Mummy
The Curse of the Azteca Mummy!
Director; Rafael Portillo
Mexico, 1957 

The evil Dr. Krupp, once again tries to get possession of the Aztec princess Xochitl's jewels, and  hypnotizes her current reincarnation, Flor, to get her to reveal the jewels' location - Xochitl's tomb!
Confusion reigns as Krupp and his thugs are opposed by Flor's lover, Dr. Almada, his assistant, and wrestling superhero, El Angel. Krupp finally meets his match, however, when he comes up against Popoca, the warrior mummy who guards Xochitl's tomb

The Robot Humano!

3rd in the La Momia Azteca Trilogy!
Azteca Mummy and Human Robot!
La Momia Azteca Contra el Roboto Humano
¡The Aztec Mummy vs. The Human Robot!
Mexico, 1958  USA, 1959

Invaders from Mars meet the Aztecan Mummy for sure-fire encounters.
Producer: Guillermo Calderón
Director: Rafael Portillo
Cast: Ramón Gay, Rosa Arenas, Ángel di Stefani, Crox Alvarado, Luis Aceves Castañeda

Flor is really an Azteca Princess!
Sinister Dr. Krupp desires the ancient treasure guarded for centuries by the dreaded Aztec mummy Popoca.  Dr. Almada, a modern Mexican scientist, tells his incredulous colleagues about Dr. Krupp’s earlier attempts to hypnotize Almada’s beautiful fiancée Flor into stealing the treasure.  The final confrontation in a cemetery between the mummy and Krupp’s metallic robot Can Krupp’s tin monstrosity finally rob Mexico of its ancient treasure, or will Popoca vanquish the evil invader?

There are quite a variety of English and Spanish DVDs and posters still on the market.

Don't be cursed! Watch and learn the secrets of survival!!

See Rosa Arenas in another life!

The Bat will be waiting for you!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Godling - Exciting new theatre production

 Now showing at the Broken Leg Stage, 1470 N. Van Ness, Fresno

The Godling (actress Christina Tellifson)  showing at the The Broken Leg Studio

A Play wrtten by Mark Barkowski
Photo by Joe Osejo

The Godling,an elegant horror story by Mark Borkowski, a carnival ringmaster uses a nasty strategy to create his own sideshow attractions through the wonders of modern technology.
Winner of 2009 San Francisco Fringe/Critically acclaimed.
Starring Jay Parks, Travis Sheridan, Ron Blackwell, See Lee, and Christina Tellifson

Mark Borkowski is an award winning playwright whose work has been performed from coast to coast. Most recently, "Twilight's Child" at Playwrights Horizons and "The Daughters of Eve" at The Cherry Lane Theatre. Also a screenwriter, his dark thriller "The Perfect Witness" is available on DVD and is currently on SHOWTIME. Mark is a member of The Lark, The Actors Studio Playwright's Unit and the Dramatist Guild of America 
NOTE: No one under 17 years old will be admitted.
There will be no late admittance. This is an adult show due to language and subject.

Open OCT.21-23 and OCT.28-30
Show starts @ 9pm No late entrances!

Starring. Jay Park, Travis Sheridian, Ron Blackwell, Christina Tellifson, See Lee

And KP (guest on opening night)

Rated  NC-17
Leaning towards X

Directed by Brandey Steiner

RSVP now. (559) 492-0674

More Info:

Or you can get buy your tickets at

Review by Donald Munro at The Bee

At the Broken Leg Stage

Affiliated with

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fresno Fair Tacos!

 A Valley Favorite

By David Owens

 What does the Fresno Fair mean to you? One wise friend told me he could could get the fair experience any time and without spending all day getting worn out, "Eat a corn dog, step on some gum and lose $20."  He said it with a smile, but there is some truth to that!

A counter to that cynical view is the Fresno Fair Taco.   For many the warm rolled and tasty taco brings fond anticipation for the Big Fresno Fair.

For those not near the Azteca in Fresno or for the rest of the year you can make your own. Here is a Fresno grandmother's recipe that adds some festivity to any occasion:


1 pound ground beef
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
3-4 green onions, minced
3/4 cup chopped lettuce
1/2 cup mashed potatoes
12 (1 package) corn tortillas
Taco sauce


In a skillet, slowly cook ground beef until lightly browned. 
Add the minced garlic and salt and pepper to taste. 
Drain off excess fat.
Add minced green onions, chopped lettuce and mashed potatoes; 
simmer slowly for about 7 minutes.
In hot oil, heat tortillas, one at a time just until softened; 
blot dry with paper towels; stack and keep warm. 
Put about 1 tablespoon or more of the mix on each tortilla; 
Add your favorite taco sauce.
Roll up and eat!
Thank you Jason Farris for sharing your recipe with us. 

Anyone have a variation they like?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Anasazi help for the Azteca!

Ladders to the Alcove House
You never know when a past experience will come to your aid in the future. I remember some years how amazing it was to see the Anasazi villages in Chaco Canyon and Bandelier National Monument. The ancient ones, ancestors of the modern Pueblo Indians, that left their mark in the dwellings, pottery and rock art across New Mexico and the Southwest.

It's easy to lose yourself in time, walking in the footsteps of those who were here before and imagining what life would be like living  in a circular village on the flats or a cliff dwelling built into the volcanic hillsides. Or entering spiritual life inside a Kiva and hearing music from flute and drums. Seems so enchanting but distant from modern American life.

One of the treats at Bandelier National Monument is to climb 140 feet of ladders up to the Alcove House. The ladders end and you find yourself  on a ledge eroded into the mountain with some house ruins and a restored Kiva. The view across the valley and circular village is lovely  and, notably, very inaccessible except from the  ladders. In order to protect themselves the Anasazi could climb up the ladders, then pull the ladders up after them and no one could follow them to the house.

Putting such romantic ideas aside and getting back to daily life ...

 A few weeks ago I was looking up at the Azteca Marquee and was shocked to see the letter "T" missing from the AZTECA sign. As I  looked closer I realized the "T" was hanging out perpendicular to the wall. How could that happen? Were those pigeons making a balcony?  Pesky critters. Looked like I'd have to investigate.

Using the Anasazi security  technique to fix the sign
No matter, better correct it before it completely fell off. I scrounged up some  various size metal screws and hand tools and considered the logistics. I need to get myself  about 25 feet above the ground to upright the letter and reattach it to the wall. But I only had about 16-feet of ladder.

This would take some figuring. After considering hanging from ropes or getting a longer ladder, there was just one way. Inspired by the Anasazi!

I leaned the step ladder against the marquee and climbed up from m the sidewalk. 
Once there I hauled the ladder up with me on the marquee.  Just like the Anasazi, with ladder up and no one can reach me. Except the pesky pigeons!

There have been several times I have stepped off the top step of a ladder to do repairs and wondered if the street hooligans might steal it and trap me up there. But not this time!

I lay the ladder up against the sign and climbed up to fix the sign to the wall.
If  I were more romantic I could report that I could hear the frustrated Apache people below, as I scampered up the ladder, but it was really antic-climactic to do the repair without further incidence.

My  trash can was open by the street and did a little cleanup around the marquee.  I took some 20-foot jump shots with trash and pigeon litter. Made some of them too :)

A few years ago I accidentally dropped pile of  pigeon dung on a the shoulder of a passing street addict who was not paying attention to the fact that he walked under a ladder with a trash can.  He was not very happy but he forgot about it right away. I thought he might bump my ladder.
I wondered if the Anasazi threw trash down on to their enemies.
More likely big rocks to avoid repercussions!

I lowered the ladder off the marquee, hoping  I would not hit a passerby below or knock a bicyclist of his stead. No such circumstance and all went well.

Another  repair completed at the Azteca.    Thanks to inspiration from the Anasazi!


The Anasazi were located in the Four Corners region of the U.S.
( Northern New Mexico west of the Pecos River, southwestern Colorado, southern Utah, and northern Arizona south to the Little Colorado River).

They are thought to be the ancestors of modern Indian tribes like the Hopi, the Zuni and the Pueblo.
The earliest Anasazi probably settled in the plateau area because water was more available, which may also be why they disappeared when water was less available.

They disappeared about 800 years ago, long before the first europeans discovered their ruins in 1849.

Circular village in Bandelier National Monument

Alcove House Kiva, Bandelier National Monument

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cotillion Waltz from Fresno's own Patrick Contreras

Another great song from Patrick and Omar

Uninvited by Alanis Morisette,
performed by Patrick Contreras, violin
Omar Nare, Piano

Beautiful Waltz "Cotillion" 
by Fresno's  most versatile and  popular violinist 
Patrick Contreras with Omar Nare.

After our post about his rock violin following it is refreshing to hear a beautiful traditional piece.

And another great song from Patrick and Omar

Mad World
performed by Patrick Contreras, violin
Omar Nare, Piano

See more about Patrick on Facebook!/pcviolin

Okay, a secret dream ... to get Patrick and Omar booked  for a concert at the Azteca Theater...

Prerequisite Dream ...  to get it open for lots of people :)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Classic Strings from Russia Grace the Azteca Theater with Friendship

Classics from Russia to the Azteca -  musical friends we have made along the way.
Rimsky-Korsakov String Quartet 
Part of the varied journey for the Azteca Theater have been the various roadblocks along the way that sometimes opens other doors. A few years ago  the City of Fresno selected a master developer for all of Fresno's Chinatown. It placed a freeze on many of us in the neighborhood waiting to see how our plans would relate to the greater plan and if they would be blessed.  We are still waiting.  But for me it meant taking an opportunity to go to St. Petersburg, Russia and make  some small projects. It also resulted in a website,, with hundreds of tips for things to do in St. Petersburg, Russia, organized in a forum format. St. Petersburg is the cultural soul of Russia and the one must-see city to understand things Russian. Along with great museums, public art, authors and ballets, St. Petersburg is a great music center. Here are a few friends from St. Petersburg who now have enriched  the voyage for the  Azteca Theater.

The Rimsky-Korsakov String Quartet

Excerpt from the second movement and the beginning of the third movement Night Journey, by Katia Tiutiunnik  and  performed by the Rimsky Korsakov Quartet of St. Petersburg, June 24, 2006 at the Dom Kompozitorov organized by Dr. Elena Kostyuchenko.
The Rimsky-Korsakov String Quartet continues a long tradition of  classical music in Russia that began in earnest with Rimsky-Korsakov.  The list of students at  the N.A. Rimsky-Korsakov Saint Petersburg State Conservatory is quite impressive.

One of the  Quartet's CDs, is a collection of music based on the musical  Friday  afternoons Rimsky-Korsakov held with other musician friends to play their new works for each other and refine their compositions. It is a very pleasant CD of music not often heard. I have not seen it for sale here.

The Rinsky-Korsakov String Quartet performed in Ashland, Oregon in its first trip to the USA in 2003. They played in Fresno at a CSUF concert series during their second American concert tour in 2004. It was a pleasure to assist in the arrangements and meet them in the USA again after attending some of their performances in Russia.

Sergei Ilyin

Excerpt from the Russian premiere of "Tre Preghiere di Nabuccoduriussor" by Katia Tiutiunnik and performed by Sergei Ilyin on June 24 2006, at the Dom Kompozitorov, St. Petersburg, Russia organized by Dr. Elena Kostyuchenko.  Sergei heads up the St. Petersburg guitarist group in St. Petersburg and has written quite a few pieces himself. He is very generous with his knowledge and wonderful performer.

Peter Dyson

Listen with Mother: A piano duet by Peter Dyson, composer residing in St. Petersburg, Russia
 Aside from being a very interesting composer, Peter is also a personable person to know. To see him in his long beard one instantly thinks of the classic composers of  Russia and Europe of the past. However, his music is progressive and stimulating.

Savely Shalman

Savely Shalman instructs student Jessica
Savely Shalman has conducted scores of virtuoso violin workshops in Europe, Russia and in recent years,  the USA. I attended the recital of his students in St. Petersburg in the large Glinka Hall on Nevsky Prospect and it was standing room only occasion. They are that good!  Building on a foundation of good technique, Savely has great skill at bringing out the passion and emotion of music from his students.

Savely visited the Azteca Theater on the occasional of his first Master Classes held in California. Sitting  high above San Francisco on the headlands across from  the Golden Gate Bridge I shared some moments with Savely upon his arrival. For someone raised under the Soviet government it never seemed possible to travel to America.
Savely has since made numerous trips here hold master classes and meet with students and instructors.
Savely Shalman is Professor at the Special School of Music in St Petersburg and distinguished Russian violin teacher. He is the author of a number of books on the subject. He is a member of the International Secretariat of ESTA, and Chairman of the board of ESTA-Russia.

- David Owens, Azteca Theater

Friday, August 20, 2010

Patrick Contreras: Fiery Bow that Rocks!

Patrick Contreras plays Purple Haze on the roof of  Irene's Cafe in the Tower District
Patrick Contreras Band

A few years back Patrick was down here performing in Chinatown just down the street at the Full Circle Brewery. The audiences were small, but the venue was friendly and it is hard to find places that really support live music and the people who make it. Patrick has the talent. And he has gathered a large following.  This past week (August 21, 2010) Patrick was at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas. They made the top 5 of the Hard Rock's  national talent search! The big event was Sept. 4, 2010. They did well and will be back!

Way to go Patrick and the band!

Here Patrick plays a mean roof-rocking version of  "Purple Haze." Video from  the roof of Irene's Cafe with the Tower Theater in the background. It is from "the guys who like to eat." 

Looks like a new series "Fresno City Limits," could be born :) It was on the occasion of Patrick's CD Release Block Party in Fresno's Tower District. This guy's going viral!

Fiddling with locks in Chinatown

By David Owens

Many locksmiths will fiddle with your locks.

And some people can play the fiddle.

But Archie Wood can do both.

When Archie take a break you may hear him pick up his fiddle and pick out a tune.

He once played on the Grand ol' Opry.

At 84 years young Archie may be the oldest  bike-riding, fiddle-playing  locksmith in California. Maybe anywhere.

He is part of the uniquer and rich tapestry of people that make Chinatown in Fresno a fascinating place.Security is his business and he has the experience of a master  locksmith.

Archie's Lock and Key
840 F street
Fresno, CA 93706

 April, 2012,  doing a service call on F street.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Strange Hitchiker on the Journey to the Azteca

Snaking and braking my way down the Valley

Usually bringing a load of supplies down to the Azteca Theater is a dull affair. Load up the van, check the oil and gas and hit the road. And drive through the Valley heat until I get there.

This time it would be easier. I started  early packing some tools and supplies, PVC pipe, an orange wig for Maria (the ticket booth manikin who lost her hair to a crazed druggie.) and  loaded the van two days ahead. I could hit the road as soon as I finished a job in Oregon. 

The drive through the Mt Shasta country is a pleasure. Tall mountains covered with Douglas fir and pine trees. Blue waters below. Blue sky above. This wonderful State of Jefferson ends at Redding as the road descends into the Great Valley of California all the way to Bakersfield.

About an hour above Sacramento, as the Valley heat intensifies, I catch a movement on the dash. Something brown and shiny seems to be glistening as it turns. I can't believe my eyes, but I swear there is the body of a snake about 1/2-inch wide turning on itself and disappearing into the defrosting vents on the dash.
I did a mental jump, but logic told me I must be mistaken. Nothing reptilian could be in the car.
And even if it was, it was now safely lodged in the air vents and I would not see it again.

So I thought.

Road sign warning of snakes going 20-mph.
I'm not paranoid!
I drove on with regularly glance across the dashboard to see if the illusion would repeat itself.
I never saw a snake in a car, how could they possibly get in a locked car? And a car that sat in the sun during the day. No animal, insect or reptile could possibly desire to get into my car. I mused on the impossibility of a snake getting into the car. But what if I brought the sank into the car without its permission? I remembered the boxes I had carefully  prepared and left outside. Could a snake inadvertently hitchhiked a ride with me? And remained undetected until the heat and road vibration caused it to move?

It wasn't a pleasant thought, but it was feasible to think a snake might be camping in my vehicle. But no worries, it is curled up inside the air conditioning system, or probably already let itself out on the shoulder and was slithering happily away. I tried to allay my fearful thoughts of what would happen if it was not curled up in the ventilation or slithering away.

I have always had an irrational fear of snakes. The childhood stories about poisonous rattlesnakes and horrible painful death left its mark.  My first acknowledge of a snake is to panic and jump out of my skin. Rationality returns momentarily, but that first impression is utter panic.
Needless to say, the thought of seeing a snake closeup while driving at 70-mph down the Interstate Freeway 5 did not appeal to me!

I was beginning to calm down a few miles past Williams when I felt something cross my right thigh. I knew instantly what it was and my body froze with hands gripping the steering wheel. I knew a 6-foot rattler has headed for who-knows-what sensitive region.  Good thing the road was straight. My grip of iron would not have wanted to turn. Luckily, the snake crossed my lap and slid down the door to the floor and under my feet.

It is not very comfortable driving with your feet off the floor mats knowing that at any moment a snake could crawl up your pant legs. The last i saw of him he slide over to the passenger side on the floor. I stopped the van on the fight should gravel soon as I could and hopped out of the van. I opened all the doors, two in  rear, four on the sides and circled it like John Wayne looking for varmints. I spotted its head almost in the middle as I looked in the side door. Great! I'll go in the back door with a stick and coax it out to the ground.

Well, the snake had its own idea. Soon as I looked in from the back he headed for a spot between the carpet and the plastic molding near the rear of the side door. No sooner than I could get close he had disappeared into a small gap by the wheel well. I pondered my options. I sure did not want to get into the car knowing he was holing up waitign for the raod noise and heat to start another snakepede.  I tried tapping on the carpet to see if he would emerge. Nothing. So I pulled up the carpet and saw he had escaped into the sidewall inside the body of the car.  Darn! I tried tapping on the body of the car from outside to see if he might find that unplesant and come out again. Nope.

Acceptance of an uneasy quiet

That snake was happy just to let me know he was on board and he would be staying a little longer.
Turns out he didn't have rattles. He was a shiny brown snake about 30" long and just over 1/2" in circumference. Its belly was a little yellowish. For all the world it looked like a Territorial Garter Snake first noted in the journals of Lewis and Clark back in 1805. Well, a distant relative perhaps.

I can't imagine what people driving by thought. A big white van with all the doors open. "Something sure must smell bad!" "Glad I didn't eat what he ate!"  So off again towards Sacramento and on to Fresno. With a little trepidation about the passenger. The passenger that kept me alert. There was no possibility of getting sleepy on this drive!

The freeway noise and flows began to take on a normalcy and I began to imagine I would not see Mr. Snake again now that he was curled up happily in a secret cavity in the sidewall. Never mind that he is on the sunny west side and the sun is getting lower.

It wasn't long before I felt a nudge on my elbow. Am I getting edgy? There it was again! I glanced but could see nothing. But I knew it was there! I was on the outskirts of Sacramento and the freeway was gettign wider and busier. The snake was just letting me know it was there and not to be forgotten. I sat up on the edge of the driver seat with feet off the floor and looking very seriously alert to other drivers.  The road rumbled and the sun got lower and hotter.

Through traffic takes the left lane through Sacramento, usually 70 miles and hour and the far left lane to avoid all the merging and exiting in the city. It is always a thrill to see the old town bridge and high-rise builings come into view. Made more so by appearance of the snake, this time fully coiled up in my lap and with no intent on leaving!

The van made a little dance as I overcame my panic. Shall we dance? I assumed the frozen now-what-do-I-do? position. The view was not as enjoyable as before.
I was passing the center of town and the freeway followed the Sacramento River. The river that flows like a snake through Sacramento...

Sacramento River snaking through the city
I began merging to the right lanes as safely as possible and by the time the Seamas exit came near I was poised to exit. Mr. Snake decided he could relax and dropped himself to the floor and slithered behind me. Did he know it was time to stop? Would he hide again and I must drive on and repeat the ride of terror all the way to Fresno? Would I make it to Fresno?

It just so happened I lived near this exit when I worked for the Sacramento Bee and it ran into an area called the "Little Pocket" along the river.  There are beautiful parks and bike trails forever in this south area of Sacramento. And all kinds of insects, slugs and small varmints. Wouldn't this be a good place to live if you were a snake? I would soon find out.

I unlocked my arms and pulled off on Seamas, through a light and pulled up parallel to Bahnfled Park, a 6-acre sunken soccer field. It was shady there and the grass looked cool. Surely this is what the rogue snake wanted to find. I knew that California has all kinds of alien species rules, no insects, no fruits, no undocumented people, no non-native plants. But I didn't remember anything about migrating snakes. In fact, as i looed over the green park with no people anywhere to be seen, I thought this park needs a snake!

I knew the drill

Open all the doors, be quiet and see what the shy snake would do. Sure enough, as the cool breeze flowed through the van, the snake crawled to the middle of the van facing the main open side doors. Its little tongue tasted the air and he surveyed what was in front of him. Not leaving anything to chance, I went to the back door and pulled out a piece of plastic pipe and lowered it behind it. No more encouragement was needed. The snake dropped to the ground and started worming along the curb.

The rogue snake that could
I ran to grab a camera and got this one grab shot as he was moving at a fast walk. Soon he found the break in the curb that lead to some grass and bushes and he dissolved into nature. Whew!
I felt much lighter. I jumped in the van. My feet touched the floor, my grips was light and my arms hung down in a relaxed position. Life was good. There are no problems in front of me. Arriving at night to the curious stares of corner drug dealers, nosy transients and bar revelers. No problem.

Soon as I saw the lit ticket booth on Fresno's F Street with Maria smiling out it was okay!
And the rogue snake must be reveling in the mild California climate full of new bugs and wallows.

Life is good.
Thamnophis Rogus?
Western Rogue Garter Snake from Rogue River?

The Northwestern Garter Snake was first noted by the Lewis and Clark Expedition on July 24, 1805 near present-day Townsend, Montana.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The story of the Azteca Theater

 The Azteca Theater was built by Gustavo Acosta and opened Nov. 30, 1948. Acosta had several theaters and worked out of  Los Angeles. It was the first Spanish-only theater in Fresno and served the whole San Joaquin valley.

The design was by Fresno firm  Johnson Engineers. They had also been involved in some of the facade work on the Warnor's Theater in Fresno and designed the Biola Theater which was similar in design to the Azteca.
Azteca Theater, December 1982
showing Ahi Esta El Detalle and
Juan Gallo for 99-cents.
Photo Courtesy American Classic Images
The iron roof trusses came from Sanger Iron. Add a lot of concrete and well-laid red bricks and  the theater has a long future ahead.

In 1956 Acosta  leased the Azteca Theater to friend Arturo Tirado.who had managed a theater in Bakersfield 1944-1953. The Azteca Theater received Spanish language  film distribution through Acosta in Los Angeles.

Arturo Tirado was born in 1912 to a family of entertainers originally from Spain  that moved to Los Angeles around 1918 and he acted in theaters and some cinema and even played violin in a music group.. His father Romualdo Tirado was quite famous in the theater as and actor and writer and the quintessential Cantinflas.

In addition to running the theater, Arturo organized tours in the US for many famous actors and musicians from Mexico. Many A-list performers passed through Fresno and the Azteca.

Mexican cinema had made great progress since the 1930s but was little known outside Latin America. The Spanish speaking community of Fresno strongly supported the Azteca Theater  and  several other Spanish language theaters that followed.

Tirado ran the Azteca until the mid-1980s. In its later years it became more of a social center for the Mexican-American community helping those in need, holding charitable food drives.  Tirado even wrote some Spanish language brochures on legal citizenship to help the many workers from Mexico who populated the San Joaquin valley.

The theater was the center for music, vaudeville, comedy and theatricals as well as cinema for the Mexican-American community. All the top stars from Mexico came to Fresno and filled the theater. When Cesar Chavez made his famous march with farm workers from Delano to Sacramento he stopped at the Azteca and rallied his followers. The mayor, Tirado and  somewhat notorius Fresno Police Chief  Morton escorted the march through the area to show respect and guarantee safe passage.

In 1961 Tirado held a meeting in San Francisco that resulted in the formation of  the Spanish Pictures Exhibitors Association. Elected President, Tirado represented almost 300 Spanish language movie houses nationwide in negotiations with distributors. It was the golden age for Mexican movies. Cantinflas, Pedro Infante, Maria Felix, Agustin Lara, Pedro Vargas, Miguel Aceves Mejia, Pedro Armendariz, Antonio Aguilar and Jose Alfredo Jimenez were among the luminaries seen at the Azteca Theater.

 In the early 1980s the theater ran budget films in English and Spanish. Karate films and Bruce Lee were also popular.  But the time had come for Tirado to retire and so did the theater. Single screen movie houses disappeared all over the country in favor of multi-screen theaters. (In the 1990s many multi-screen theaters closed in favor of 20-plus screen theaters.) Video tapes also appeared to lure customers away.

The theater fell into neglect in the late 1980s and by 1995 was in derelict condition with doors off, holes in the roof, and all seats and equipment removed.   The seats were hauled of to Levy's for recycling. The Fresno police patrol saw them being removed and when they understood they were being recycled a few offices bought a few. The only seats from the Azteca remaining are those in the homes of  a few police officers in Fresno!
 There used to be 10 large murals of  Mexican and Aztec life on the wall and many framed photos of stars of Mexico. Some were removed and only two few destroyed by water from the roof were left.

Several new owners got involved with ideas for a cotillion ballroom or other uses, but it did not materialize.
A roof repair job gone awry resulted in all rain water running into the building forming a pond.  Bums ransacked the interior  and occupied the place along with pigeons and cats. It had become a hazardous building by neglect.

Since 1999 it has been stabilized and has prospects for a good future with new owner David Owens. Fisk Construction  did the crucial roof repairs and it is looking much better. Especially after some paint and patch from Lance Fry's crew. The iPacific art gallery is open occasionally and a master locksmith, Archie Wood, occupied the left commercial wing until 2013.

Azteca Theater in 2014
Update!  On September 26, 2014, the Azteca Theater celebrated a grand reopening under the management of Laura Barboza!

Watch for more chapters from the Azteca Theater as the story continues!
Activities and events are now on Facebook.
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                       En Espanol

Manuel G. Gonzales wrote a great history of  the Azteca Theater and Latino culture in Central California in the  March 22, 2006 edition of California History Magazine titled, "Arturo Tirado and the Teatro Azteca: Mexican popular culture in the central San Joaquin Valley."
Find it in your library or it is available for purchase:
Arturo Tirado and the Teatro Azteca: Mexican popular culture in the central San Joaquin Valley.: An article from: California History

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A friend we'd like to see at the Azteca

American Voices and Gene Aitken: A dream concert

 Gene is an amazing teacher and musician and truly a great humane ambassador. He seems to be all over the planet of late and the chance of finding him nearby is slim to none. I was honored to participate in a Jazz program under Gene Aitken in Oregon. It would be a personal dream to see him at the Azteca Theater coaching a new batch of musicians.

He currently spends most of his time teaching jazz and music education in Asia and the Middle East, and has recently retired as Director of the Conservatory of Music at the National University of Singapore. His activities as a conductor, performer, composer, adventurer, clinician, adjudicator, and producer of educational events have led him to all corners of the globe.
His recent travels to Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq from June through August 2009 brought him to some of the most dangerous places in the world in which to teach music.

Since retiring from the University of Northern Colorado in 2002, he has worked extensively as a conductor and teacher in the Middle East and Asia. In addition to coordinating donations of music and musical instruments from the United States and Asia to musicians in the Middle East, he has conducted some of the top military bands and wind ensembles in Asia and the Middle East including the Peoples' Liberation Army Band of China (Beijing), the Pershmerga Army Band in Kurdistan (Erbil), the Lebanese Army Band (Beirut), the Sulaimaniyah Wind Ensemble (Iraq) and the Nepal Police Academy Band.

American Voices is engaged in cultural diplomacy through jazz, hip hop, country, Broadway, classical and other musical programs with over 80 countries around the world. They bring together out musicians with local traditional musicians and perform gala concerts, recordings from which are presented here. Please browse our videos of live performances in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kazakhstan and beyond!

Dr. Gene Aitken, 
DownBeat Jazz Educator Hall of Fame is just one of Gene's accolades.

Kurdish Jazz in Suleimaniya

Participants in the Unity Youth Performing Arts Academy in Iraq perform a jazz arrangement of a popular Kurdish song under the direction of Dr. Gene Aitken.  They worked together for about 10 days.

Gene Aitken has the most sophisticated musical perception imaginable. He seems to hear every note in every unusual Jazz harmony. Just a quick flash of his eyes in your direction and you know he heard something unusual. If he has to stop the group he can tell you exactly where something unusual happened and what note should have been there. He never assumed the musician was wrong. He might ask what note is listed in the chart, where and please, to play it! Sometimes he would correct the score in favor of they musician's choice, whether intended or accidental.

In Jazz a note is never wrong, at least philosophically. But some certainly sound better than others in a group setting. Every once in a while gene would step the group through a song beat by beat and listen to the harmonic fabric.

One great joy of being in one of Gene's lab bands was the tremendous amount of sight reading. The start of every session put a couple of new charts in front of us play. We had just one chance to get it right. It got the blood pumping and a feeling of victory if we nailed it. Then the chart went away and work began on the current playlist.

There were some unspoken rules known among jazz musicians. One was about making mistakes. To miss a note once was a learning experience. To miss it twice was a cause for questioning looks. To miss it a third time was to risk being replaced.

In the fleeting moment of jazz performance, you are only as good as your last riff and you are never done getting it just right.

I could tell an embarrassing story about how Gene entrusted me with the lead alto spot in a lab band and how I brought the sax soli in two measures early during the command performance of the saxophone-right-of-passage, "Cottonmouth" but it would be too humbling. As a true master at leading musicians Gene gathered the bass and drums with a quick look of eyes and some deft body and arm work to bring everyone into the correct time frame. Gene saved it. Someone made a joke its good "as long as we start and finish on the same note!" Gene didn't have to say anything, it was understood in just a fleeting look and stance. I could do better.

It is so difficult to lead creative people to improve without crushing their delicate creative souls. Thank you Gene for knowing that. Strike one. I went back to the woodshed.

--- Musical note: Duke Ellington composed “Cotton Tail” in 1940 after returning from the band’s European tour. His famous 1940’s band with Jimmy Blanton on bass and Ben Webster on tenor sax recorded it on May 4, 1940. Webster arranged its celebrated saxophone section chorus and played the solo which became a famous standard. Later versions were nicknamed Cottonmouth, describing how the sax section felt when playing this piece. It was said that if you could play this piece, you could play any sax Jazz tune as it contained all the classic rhythms and riffs of modern Jazz. Hear a hot sax section playing this at high tempo and it leaves you breathless.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Babalicious: A story for a good cause


How innocently began the day as the red claws of dawn rose over Babalarella. A constant pale moonlight on this dark and chilly side of the planet helped Johnny Orchid navigate his walk towards the feasting grounds,  just beyond the red glow of the Terrahotta Hills --  and near the human quarter. 
A short graphic play
based on an illustration by Jeff Zugale.
Wil Wheaton as Willy Whacker (Prince of the Velvet Loins)
John Scalzi as Johnny Orchid (an Orc)
Starrek the unikitty as itself
Featuring the evil clown (Babalord) uniform on Willy
Setting: Planet Babalarella
Fiction project to benefit the Lupus Alliance of America
© 2010 David Owens
 Johnny felt the warmth of molten rock beneath the slagstones take the chill out of the air as he approached the stone ovens. His mouth watered and teeth chattered as he anticipated this favorite sustenance - the fermented mass of recent  kills and flesh of the undetermined kind. 
Other Orcs would join him at the morning feast. He looked forward to a good  flesh gnashing among friends, even  within sight of the human quarter.

An uneasy peace with the humans had been tolerated since Johnny was just a fingerling and he wasn't sure how he felt towards them. 
Hardly five moonshadows past, one of the bolder of their kind, Prince Willy Whacker of the Velvet Loins, had approached them on Starrek, his unikitty. That was fine, but the unikitty was hardly trained and it bounded into the middle of the fingerlings amidst the frenzy of their morning gnash. That would have been forgiven, but the unruly unikitty managed to devour most of the freshly refermented mass for itself. The fingerlings scattering in fear that they would be next.
Willy looked shocked and what happened but perhaps not too upset. 

Johnny thought he heard a strange laughter from Willy as he bounded away on Starrek.  Or was it the odd satisfied belching of the unikitty? Johnny was not sure. The fingerlings were hungry and expressed pointed slanders of youth towards the humans without restraint.
On this morning the fingerlings were already at their feast and enjoying a new chant:
    "Willy Willy Whacker, feed him a cracker.
     One whack, two whacks, what a slacker.
     Silly silly Willy, throw him in a pot.
     Taste his bones and love him not!"
And as it would happen, a human in full dress uniform arrived on a unikitty to hear the fingerling taunt.
Price Will of the Velvet Loins! Wearing the insignia of the royal order of Babalord! There was no mistaking of the fiery orange crown over poisonous blue eye slots over the exploding purple banana! 
The fingerlings scattered and the unikitty eyed the feast.
"Not this time, you furry scavenger," called out Johnny, "be gone or be lunch!" 
He raised his axe to repel the intrusion.
"I'll say what to do," replied Willy, "and I go where I please!" And he raised his staff, a ceremonial spear he had as yet to use, in an awkward manner.
 All this spooked the unikitty who leapt ferociously - not aimed at Johnny -  but at the feast just beyond. Starrek knocked over Johnny and Willy tumbled to the ground and had the wind knocked out of him leaving him impotent to do more than wince.

 "Well, that's fine how d'ya do! laughed Johnny when he realized the folly before him. He joked, "Looks like we might enjoy some loin steak after all, the velvet kind!" The Babalord uniform looked almost comical and childlike upside down.

 "Not if I can help it!" chortled Willy.

 The unikitty helped itself to a big mouthful of fermented flesh.

 "You beast, prepare to be eaten!" yelled Johnny.

 "Not so fast, help me restrain Starreck and I'll find you something else to eat in the human quarter" said Willy.

 "Only if you remove that Babalord uniform, it's ruining my appetite!" said Willy. "Did you say we are having human quarters?"

 And thus continued the uneasy peace on the slagstones of Babalarella.


Editor's note:
Actor Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation and many other roles) and author John Scalzi ( Old Man's War and The Rough Guide to the Universe 2 )
lent their names to this project to benefit a good cause.Lupus Alliance of America. Fresnans may remember Scalzi as the Movie Critic at The Fresno Bee.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Your memories and thoughts

A lot of history has passed through the Azteca Theater since 1948 when it first opened. When I walk out front to do a  little  cleanup people are always stopping by to ask "What are you going to do with the Azteca?" and then a story of memories usually raise a smile to their face and they tell how they used to come to the Azteca as kids. Stories of how they saw somebody famous. Stories of how the neighborhood has changed. Stories of what their friends did. 

One person told me about how Cesar Chavez stopped his famous march to Sacramento out in front of the Azteca and gave a speech to a big rally. Tirado was there, too.   Another mentions Bobby Kennedy. And all the famous performers from Mexico who packed the house. Most of the stories have not been written down. They are part of the oral history of the Chinatown community that generally did not make it into TV and newspapers.Some of the stories probably should have been wider known, and some are personal memories we all can identify with.

Overlooked, but not forgotten, these stories are the fabric of our lives and worth sharing

I have not seen one photograph of what the theater looked like in the 1940s and 1950s. If you have a picture or story you would like to share, please do so.

I would love to here from more of you, either as a comment here or as an e-mail to

Let's have fun making new memories and revisiting the old.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Remembering a Chinatown Treasure

Dick Avakian, Chinatown, Fresno,  David Owens
Dick Avakian, Chinatown Fresno, 1999 Photo David Owens
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Dick Avakian: Remembering a Living Treasure in Old Town Chinatown
By David Owens
June 11, 2010
Dick Avakian's Dick's Menswear has been a fixture in Fresno's Chinatown for longer than most of us have been alive. It was impossible to pass by his shop at 1526 Kern St ( Between F Street and China Alley) and not stop in to hear the latest happenings.

Even now, after he has been gone over a year I still turn my head to look  straight through the door where he would sit in the middle of a long row of chairs reading The Fresno Bee. And usually involved in a  conversation or helping a customer at the same time.

 No, he really is gone. The sign is there, the store is open and there are some nice people there -- but it's not the same. Dick was a central personality in the fabric of Chinatown. He officially retired from his shop in 2003, but he came down to Chinatown every morning to his building on Tulare Street, a block from his shop. It was a little harder to find him, but he was there reading the paper and taking care of his properties.

Dick never gave up on Chinatown, he saw it go through the Tong wars, prohibition, the anti-suspender laws and the redevelopment projects that made it almost a ghost town.

Yick Fun and Officer Clif Sayers, China Alley, 1920s courtesy of Dick Avakian
Dick was born on December 4, 1915, in Fresno, Ca. In Chinatown. His parents, Dick and Verkin Avakian.,  had escaped the Armenian genocide and came to America. And like many others,  they came to Fresno and found a place to work and a place to call home.
He graduated from Roosevelt High School and Fresno State College.

Dick was born into the family shoe business on Tulare Street. After he served in the U.S. Army in Panama, he returned to Fresno and  grew the business to include many quality brands and moved it's present location on Kern Street. He also owned the Aki Hardware building on Kern and F, and the New Shanghai Restaurant building on Tulare and G Streets.  The restaurant took up the entire 2nd floor, 7,500 square-feet. When Dick "retired" his office became one of the first floor offices.

A few years back Fresno Bee Columnist Eli Setencich wrote a column about how the world passed through Dick's Menswear. From farmworkers to mayors, contractors to white collar, there was always a lively conversation and a feeling of being in the know. There were no worries about Robert's rules of order or political correctness. Well, maybe a little.  People spoke their minds. There was a row of a dozen  chairs all facing Dick on his shoe-fitting stool. Dick was the judge, listened and gave out verdicts. But he listened.

When I walked into the store he would always call out, "Sit down and tell me all about it." So I would sit and we would talk about Fresno and Chinatown and the world. Dick knew something about a lot of things and could offer an opinion with a basis for it.

Dick was grounded in practical experience. One day I wanted to invite him to participate in a meeting about Chinatown Study project formed by Michael Yada and the Chinatown Revitalization group, a grassroots organization formed by local citizens and chartered by the city. Dick replied, "I'll give you your study group on Chinatown. He walked to the back a few minutes and came back with a heavy box load of city studies and plans for Chinatown. "I've sat on every committee and meeting you can imagine and it all ends the same. Nobody wants to do anything! They all say Chinatown has the best location, buildings and potential, but look what they did. Nothing!"   Dick did come to the meeting and he did offer good input.

He was always treasured, even by those who did not always agree with him. Chinatown revitalization wanted him to be the Grand Marshal for the Chinese New Year Parade. Dick almost fell off his stool at that idea. What, do I look like someone who should be paraded around Chinatown as a Grand Marshal! Get somebody else, that Kathi Omachi over at Chinatown revitalization would be a good Grand Marshal, not me!" And he smiled.

"What you gonna do with that white elephant you got? Nobody wants a theater. Level the floor and make a warehouse, then it could be useful."  Dick used that line to start a conversation. He loved to get a rise out of  people and let them show their true colors.  He had a different greeting for every regular customer and he liked to take a shot at using the local cultural vernaculars. Some of it could not be repeated. as if  I could remember it anyway!

 When Dick decided it was time to turn the shop over to someone else Joan Obra at  The Fresno Bee wrote on September 18, 2003:
"Surrounded by stacks of Levi's jeans and Panama hats; walls covered by Stacy Adams, Red Wing and Dexter shoes; and piles of Patrick James dress shirts, owner Dick Avakian offered this explanation for shutting his doors: "My body is telling me it's time to quit. I'm wore out -- What do you want from me?"
After he took a seat, Avakian added: "I wouldn't sit if I could lie down." 
 Dick always had a smile to punctuate his pointed words and took pleasure in studying all who came by.
He gave out verbal nuggets for free. And if you wanted to buy something, he was all business.


Dick Avakian passed away on Tuesday, January 13, 2009, at the age of 93 and is buried at Ararat Cemetary,  in Fresno, California.

He gave large donations to the  Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church and Charlie Keyan Armenian Community School..

Dick Avakian tribute from The Fresno Bee.