LABJ's LA Stories

Pier Pressure

Seems name-changing is all the rage these days in the City of Los Angeles. Last month, the L.A. City Council created a firestorm by considering renaming Crenshaw Boulevard in South L.A. Tom Bradley Boulevard after the former mayor. That proposal was sent back to committee.

Then news surfaced that the Council had decided to change the name of the Venice Pier to the "Ruth Galanter Pier," after the just termed-out city councilwoman who served the Venice area for 15 of her 16 years on the Council.

Although the current Venice Pier is hardly a historical landmark it was built in 1960, nearly two decades after the old pier was dismantled news of the name change shocked historic preservationists in Venice.

"I mean her (Galanter) no disrespect, but this is just another attempt to gentrify things in Venice," said Elaine Alexander, past president of the Venice Historical Society. "The name Venice and everything associated with that name needs to be preserved."

Howard Fine

Easy Breathing

Take a deep breath.

That may not be the advice of most products that purport to help smokers kick the habit, but Venice-based Advanced Inhalation Revolutions Inc. has its own ideas.

The company is marketing an aromatherapy machine that manufacturers claim will provide smokers an oral fix without the nicotine that patches and gum contain.

"Manufacturers that make nicotine gum and patches just substitute one form of nicotine for another," said AIR Chief Executive Karl Goetz. "Our process provides a warm burst of air that simulates smoking."

The units, called NicoHale, cost between $199 and $299.

It turns out that one unsolicited group of users are health-conscious marijuana smokers who have long used machines that heat the plant substance, releasing the vapor of the active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol without the lung-damaging smoke.

"We anticipated the cross-over use for illegal drugs and made policies on advice from our lawyers to ensure we are not promoting drug use," Goetz said. "It's certainly not the customers we're pursuing."

Matt Myerhoff

Merry Marriage

William Shakespeare changed theater and "I Love Lucy" did the same for television. Shakespeare Festival/LA says the similarities don't end there.

The group is drawing on the antics of Lucile Ball and Jackie Gleason to show the connections between the bard and the dawn of television in its annual summer festival.

This season's production of "The Merry Wives of Windsor" will be performed in the style of a 1950s sitcom, with a live commercial break for one of the group's sponsors.

"There are so many similarities between the characters in the play and those you find in early television," said Ben Donenberg, the director. "Early television owes a great deal of gratitude to Shakespeare, and though he can't collect on the royalties, he can be recognized for his contributions."

Donenberg says the two wives in the play are prototypes for Lucy and Ethel, while Falstaff is essentially the same character as Ralph in the "Honeymooners."

The play needed only minor dialogue changes, he said, to be pulled off as a sitcom. "There were some jokes topical to Elizabethans that only somebody with a large dictionary on their lap and a lot of time on their hands would get," he said.

Andy Fixmer

Foliage for Thought

For nearly 30 years, Hilla Futterman has been leading amateur botanists, herbal medicine enthusiasts and health food extremists on hikes through the Santa Monica Mountains to learn how to identify, collect and prepare local wild edible foods.

Futterman, a community college teacher, and offers private instruction at locations ranging from Griffith Park to Agoura. For about $20, hikers learn how to identify different kinds of edible and medicinal plants, many that can be found in stores as bottled dietary supplements or on the menus of vegetarian-friendly restaurants.

But while anglers can get fishing permits for the streams of the local mountains, collecting plants is prohibited except for small amounts for consumption or research.

Futterman often gets special permission to conduct courses and collect wild plants on private property

"We have become so detached from the land that we have no reverence for it. But we can use it, it's not just something Native Americans can do," she said.

Matt Myerhoff

The Roving Eye

Shear Entertainment

With TV monitors looping canned promotions in elevators and supermarket checkout lines, it was only a matter of time before the hair salon was targeted.

Ava DuVernay, founder of the DuVernay Agency public relations firm and originator of the Urban Beauty Collective, aims to market hip brands to a fashion-conscious and temporarily indisposed audience.

"You can only sit for so long and read old issues of Jet magazine," said DuVernay, pointing out that it can take hours to do the braiding and twisting that are popular at African American salons.

It was this realization that led DuVernay, a UCLA graduate, to launch Urban Beauty Collective. DuVernay, who claims to have lined up 10,000 salons nationwide, sells advertising and promotional time on a videotape that member salons will show to customers.

The first tape, mailed in June to 5,000 salons, had spots for DreamWorks' "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas," Baby Phat clothing label and a DMX video from Warner Bros. New tapes will be mailed every month, at no cost to the salon owner. "It's eye candy while you're in the salon," said DuVernay.

She'd prefer to make DVDs, but a lot more salons own VHS players than DVD players.

Karen Butler, manager of Phaze II in Los Angeles, where DuVernay gets her hair done, said the response has been positive. "When you are a stylist, you have to be a trendsetter, you have to keep up with the latest fashions and music and movies," Butler said. "And after a while, you don't want to listen to the radio anymore."

Darrell Satzman

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