The biggest challenge when perusing (or maybe even reading) “Addicted to Americana” by king-of-kitsch Charles Phoenix is NOT grinning every time the page is turned and shouting, “Oh, my god! I remember those!”
The mini-coffee table book (9 inches square; Prospect Park Books; $29.95) takes readers down Memory Lane and across America to a time when architecture oozed
space-age themes; a 6-inch high, artery-clogging frozen custard cost 50 cents; and you could tell a Chevy from a Ford because, well, there weren’t that many makes or models back then.
And by “back then,” we mean the 1950s and 1960s — a period we second-millennium dwellers have dubbed “mid-century.”
Self-appointed Ambassador of Americana, Phoenix engrosses readers with tales of an auto industry that attracted women buyers with pink and white cars that came with matching umbrella, raincoat, purse and of course, cigarette case (the 1955 Dodge La Femme); early-day Disneyland where men, women and children wore their Sunday best to visit the Happiest Place on Earth; and giant people, cowboy boots, potatoes and cows that dotted roadside America.
And best of all, you don’t have to imagine any of this.
Every page of “Addicted to Americana” is crammed full of photos and brightly colored graphics that will make your eyes pop and your head spin.
“When you put a lot of whimsy in a single book, it has the power to sweep you away,” Phoenix said during a phone interview from his Los Angeles home. “I’m a curator — an editor — capturing images and stories and sharing them.”
Phoenix likes to say that he was born on a Southern California used-car lot because he spent endless hours there with his father who owned it.
“Sparkling spinner wheel covers were the first things that caught my infant eyes,” he writes. And “… the bigger the tail fins, the more I liked the car. This was the genesis of my lifelong obsession with Americana.”
Phoenix’ first car was a 1959 Plymouth Belvedere convertible with rocket-ship fins; his best vintage-car find was a 1959 pink Dodge Coronet Convertible, which he owned in 1986.
Fast-forward to 2017.
“I’ve owned hundreds of vintage cars in my lifetime,” he said. “Today I own a classic ‘61 Pontiac Bonneville, very green inside and out.”
Phoenix’ fixation on mid-century memorabilia pulled him into the world of Kodachrome slides. He travels the country presenting retro-themed slide shows (Christmas; Disneyland; family vacations; pop culture) that those of certain age remember seeing via slide carousels, projectors and pop-up screens and bed sheets.
He finds these and other mid-century modern treasures while traveling the country for events where he always appears in outrageous, custom-made suits. (Visit www.charlesphoenix.com for photos, videos and show schedule.)
“I get there and find a bunch of things and people tell me about more,” Phoenix explained. “It helps to know what you’re looking for and I know exactly when I find it.”
San Diego County has its own mid-century modern icons: the Joor Muffler Man, corner of Juniper Street and Valley Parkway; the 101 Café at Wisconsin Avenue and Highway 101 in Oceanside; Anthony’s Fish Grotto in La Mesa (enter through a giant clamshell); and the now-empty Flying Bridge restaurant in Oceanside, slated to fall into the category that Phoenix calls “preservation that doesn’t exist” and Americana that “is being swallowed up by corporate America.” (A proposed Hyatt hotel and condominium is scheduled to replace the long-time landmark.)
“There is a lot of preservation that exists and a lot that doesn’t exist,” Phoenix explained, “but in general the almighty dollar does the talking. I consider the stuff that does survive more precious every day.
For more photos, visit www.facebook.com/elouiseondash.
E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at firstname.lastname@example.org