John Thomas serves on the boards of the Historical Society of Long Beach, Long Beach Heritage, the Bluff Heights Neighborhood Association and others. He is the historic resource adviser and preservation consultant for the Queen Mary. The co-author of "Long Beach Art Deco," Thomas will lead, in association with the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles, for the eighth time, the Art Deco Festival, Aug. 31-Sept. 2, aboard the ship.
Question: Your condo is filled with Art Deco items. What's your favorite piece?
Answer: That's like asking someone who their favorite child is.
Q: My favorite child is my (inaudible). By far. Now, tell me yours.
A: I guess I'd have to say my cobalt blue sleigh radio designed
Q: Your favorite building in Long Beach?
A: The Lafayette on Linden Avenue.
Q: Building you wish hadn't been destroyed?
A: The three public buildings that made up the old civic center after the 1933 quake: The old city hall, the Public Utilities Building and the Veterans Memorial Building. Those three in a line were great edifices of Art Deco. The architecture signaled to the public a sense of style and sophistication. I'm so sorry they weren't kept and adapted and re-used.
Q: Favorite Art Deco ship in Long Beach?
A: The Queen Mary.
Q: Second-favorite Art Deco ship in Long Beach?
A: I don't think there is one.
Q: Why does the Queen Mary need a
A: There's a lot that's involved. There's paintings, etched glass, bronze. Each piece of art has its own unique level of conservancy and maintenance that needs to be done. The historic veneers have to be preserved and maintained: There are more than 50 species of wood used on the ship. There's a lot of decorative metal - our elevators, stairways, handrails. There are the teak decks, the lifeboats. Each area will have a very specific evaluation and treatment protocol on how to stabilize, preserve and, most importantly, maintain it.
Q: In fewer than a billion words, what is Art Deco?
A: In its purest form, it's the geometry. When King Tut's tomb was discovered in 1922, the artwork - the zigzags, chevrons, leaping animals - was embraced in the 1925 Paris Exposition, and that became Art Deco, which later turned into Streamline Moderne: Designers started smoothing things out, cutting the corners, incorporating speed-lines. Think of the old Model A Fords, and later the more rounded, aerodynamic bodies that Detroit started using.
Q: Was the streamlining a matter of form or function?
Q: So it was function that looked nice, plus something that looked nice that happened to have function.
Q: Are you planning on another Long Beach Art Deco book?
A: My partner, photographer Christopher Launi, who took the pictures in the book, has done a lot of work of close-up shots of Art Deco. We'd call it "Deco in the Details," and I'd like us to do a book in color.
Q: You conduct an Art Deco walking tour of Long Beach. Where do you find the best examples in Long Beach?
A: A great example is the Acres of Books building on Long Beach Boulevard. And there's some beautiful art, murals, architecture at the schools in Long Beach that were built or rebuilt after the earthquake and we had all these great architects in town incorporating Art Deco and Streamline Moderne into their design. Washington, Rogers, Poly. There's a lot of them. Lindbergh has a beautiful frieze over the entryway of airplanes flying over the continents.
Q: What do you have planned for the Art Deco Festival over Labor Day weekend?
A: There's so much we're doing. The event has really grown over the years. The signature events are the lectures, which we try to make both educational and entertaining. There's a 1930s-theme ball on Saturday night, which is wonderful. On Sunday we have a 1920s-era tea dance. There's entertainment throughout the weekend in the Observation Bar and Sir Winston's. We'll have a vintage car display from the 1930s. If you go to the Queen Mary website (www.queenmary.com) you can download the entire schedule. There will also be a lot of things for sale.
Q: You gonna buy more stuff?
A: I will if you don't tell Chris.
Q: Will you always have the festival on the Queen Mary?
A: I hope so. It's exactly the right venue for an Art Deco festival. And it's exactly why the ship was built: to bring people together from all over the world to celebrate style and a sense of wonder, and you can't do that any better than on the Queen Mary.