Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Chinese American Artists Working in Los Angeles 

  "Courtesy of Elisabeth L. Uyeda, http://losangelesrevisited.blogspot.com".

This post title is borrowed from the title of a current exhibit at the Vincent Price Art Museum located on the campus of East Los Angeles College, Monterey Park, California.

Image courtesy of the Vincent Price Art Museum (VPAM)

The genuine lives of Chinese Americans are seldom portrayed in the media.  Likewise, artistic achievements by Chinese Americans in Los Angeles have not received adequate attention from art historians, including the period since the end of World War II.  The 'Round the Clock exhibition is a rare, prideful opportunity to appreciate the lives of five men through their delightful artwork, as well as their productive work careers.  After wandering through the large gallery hall, everything is all right:  the artists are strong role models, and they remedy the media vacuum with a huge dose of positivity.

 (Click on image to enlarge)

(Click on image to enlarge)

(Click on image to enlarge) (Above four images courtesy VPAM)

My visit to the museum Saturday, March 10th, was enriched through the presence on the gallery floor by Milton Quon, the fifth artist exhibited.

(Click image to enlarge) Courtesy of VPAM
Several of his children were present also, and I had ample time to speak with everyone.  I asked Mr. Quon whether there were any women artists in his circle, and Helen Liu Fong came to his mind.  Fong was an architect - her achievements are included in the Chinese American Museum's current exhibition Breaking Ground: Chinese American Architects in Los Angeles (1945-1980) showcasing the work of "four pioneering Chinese American architects whose contributions were critical to the development of Los Angeles' urban and visual landscape between 1945 and 1980."

Although 'Round the Clock does not include a female artist, there is a strong consolation:  Sonia Mak, guest curator, is the woman who spearheaded this exhibition to make it possible.

From left:  Timothy Quon, Sherrill Quon, Milton Quon, and Sonia Mak.  The watercolor drawing behind Mr. Quon was inspired by Winslow Homer.
I learned quite a bit about Milton Quon - and I think it was mutual.  He is curious and interested in everyone around him.

He had a role as an extra in Sandra Bullock's 1994 film "Speed" portraying a "Chinese" passenger on a bus.  On the film set, he passed the long hours of waiting by sketching the activity going on around him.

Milton Quon explains how he first met artist Jake Lee, with son Timothy looking on.
I did not have the notion to ask what compelled him to his subject matters.  I do know that he is a native Angeleno.  On exhibit includes a piece from 1990 entitled "Refinery East Los Angeles."  Below is "Chavez Ravine Grocery, Effie Street" from about 1952.  Was he aware of the impending doom for the Chavez Ravine neighborhood to be redeveloped for public housing or for a ball park?

(Courtesy of VPAM)

Showcase of Tyrus Wong's commercial projects, including greeting cards.  (Courtesy of VPAM)
George Chann's "Shy Boy" (Courtesy of VPAM)

John Kwok's abstracts (Courtesy of VPAM)   

For a critique of this exhibition, read Blouin Art Info.

For an interesting Q & A with the curator, Sonia Mak, read the Huffington Post issue of January 19th. 

Update: Read a review on the Los Angeles Times Culture Monster.

'Round the Clock is an admission-free exhibition - see it before it closes on May 25, 2012.
"Courtesy of Elisabeth L. Uyeda, http://losangelesrevisited.blogspot.com".

Monday, April 9, 2012

Father of Chinese spaceflight

Tsien Hsue-shen (1911-) Father of Chinese spaceflight. Leading rocket theoretician, expelled from USA as Red in 1955. Created China's space industry from scratch, results: China's first ballistic missiles, 1960s; first satellite, 1970; and first astronaut, 2003.
Tsien Hsue-shen (Qian Xuesen), was the father of Chinese rocketry and spaceflight. A pre-eminent rocket scientist in America, he was driven from the country during the Red Scare of the 1950's. He single-handedly built a national space and rocketry program from the technology base of an agrarian society.
Tsien was born in Hangzhou, China in 1911. A brilliant student, he went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a Boxer Rebellion Scholarship in 1935. Becoming a protege of the legendary Theodor von Karman, Tsien was the leading theoretician in rocket and high-speed flight theory in the United States. He was instrumental in the founding of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, and collaborated closely with the newly-founded Aerojet Corporation in the development of the first JATO and sounding rockets built in the United States.
CHINA'S NEW FRONTIER: U.S. threw out man who put China in space
Orlando Sentinel ^ | December 11, 2001 | Michael Cabbage | Sentinel space editor
Posted on Tuesday, December 11, 2001 4:21:41 AM by Cincinatus' Wife
BEIJING -- To Chinese graduate student Tsien Hsue-shen, the gatherings at Sidney Weinbaum's California home seemed like typical American parties of the 1930s -- not meetings of Professional Unit 122, Pasadena Section of the U.S. Communist Party.
There were spirited political discussions, music, games and good conversation. The parties provided a needed break every few weeks from the academic grind endured by the 26-year-old aeronautics whiz and two dozen or so Caltech colleagues. Tsien came for the music. He was learning to play the flute.
More than a decade later, those all-but-forgotten get-togethers would turn Tsien's life upside down.
McCarthyism was in full bloom throughout the United States. And no one, not even one of the country's most brilliant rocket scientists -- an Air Force colonel and a founder of what would become NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory -- was above suspicion. Tsien's case set off a chain of events that would forever change the global balance of power.
FBI agents finally got around to confronting Tsien in June 1950. The evidence against him was a 1938 Communist Party membership roster that listed his name. Tsien's denials meant little. His security clearance to work on classified military projects was revoked.
Tsien raised official eyebrows again two months later. After receiving a message from his ailing father, he attempted to leave for an extended visit to China. Customs agents seized eight cases of personal notes and papers Tsien planned to take with him to continue his work while abroad for a year. Despite his application a few months earlier to become a U.S. citizen, authorities weren't convinced Tsien was coming back. Some of the papers appeared sensitive. They refused to let him go.
The proud Tsien was arrested at home in front of his family several days later and jailed for two weeks by immigration officials. After his release on bail, he was forbidden from traveling outside Los Angeles County. The charge: He failed to divulge to authorities his membership in the Communist Party when he re-entered the United States in 1947 after an earlier visit to China. Hearings to deport Tsien began under the Subversive Control Act of 1950.
Tsien and his friends never were accused of doing anything more serious than discussing left-wing politics.
"All you have to do is witness one of these hearings to know how ridiculous they are," said Frank Marble, a Caltech professor and friend of Tsien's who attended every hearing. "Justice was not one of the objects. There was no credible evidence."
The government, however, had a dilemma. While immigration officials were trying to kick out Tsien, a State Department directive forbade aliens whose technical expertise might jeopardize national security from leaving the country.
It took five years to resolve the issue. Undersecretary of the Navy Dan Kimball, a friend of Tsien's, was adamantly against deportation.
"I'd rather shoot him than let him leave the country," Kimball joked to others. "He knows too much that's valuable to us. He's worth five divisions anywhere."
Little did Kimball know that Tsien would one day be regarded as the father of China's space industry.
Destined for brilliance
Tsien -- whose given name, Hsue-shen, means "study to be wise" -- was a natural, one of those students who always instantly got it.
The son of a teacher, he was born in Hangzhou, China, in 1911, the same month the 2-century-old Qing Dynasty collapsed. After a stellar high-school career in Beijing, Tsien graduated first in his class from Shanghai's Jiaotong University in 1934 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He was going to build locomotives.
Tsien, however, became obsessed instead with machines that fly. China had little to offer in the infant field of aeronautics, so he set his sights abroad. Tsien competed against the best and brightest in China's universities for a coveted scholarship to attend graduate school in the United States -- and won. By 1936, he had earned a master's degree in aeronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then enrolled in the California Institute of Technology's doctoral program.
Caltech's star-studded faculty included Theodore von Karman, a Hungarian immigrant dubbed "the father of the supersonic age" and considered one of the world's leading authorities in the field. Von Karman took the young Chinese student under his wing. The hard-working Tsien wasted little time making the transition from von Karman's student to colleague.
"Von Karman regarded him as one of the best students he had ever had," said William Pickering, another Caltech pioneer who guided creation of the first U.S. satellite.
After earning his Ph.D. in 1939, Tsien joined the Caltech faculty. His students remember a taskmaster who could devastate pupils and colleagues alike with withering critiques. His impatience with those who didn't measure up intellectually was mythic. Legend has it Tsien's unhappiness with one class prompted him to write a completely new textbook that even the most brilliant students could barely comprehend.
"He was very impressed by people who could really perform at a high level," said Iris Chang, author of a Tsien biography titled Thread of the Silkworm. "He was very dismissive of those who couldn't make the cut."
Tsien's interest in flying machines had spread to rockets by the late 1930s. He occasionally joined a group of other Caltech grad students nicknamed the Suicide Squad on trips to test primitive rocket engines in a canyon several miles from campus. What began as a hobby attracted attention from the Pentagon after the U.S. entered World War II.
The Army created a rocket-development branch in 1943, and the next year von Karman, Tsien and another colleague won a contract to design some of the first long-range ballistic missiles. After standard checks, Tsien had received a high-level security clearance in 1942. The group's work took place at the newly formed Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
> As World War II wound down, Tsien was made a colonel in the U.S. Army Air Forces and sent to Europe in 1945. His mission: Size up the German V-2 rocket program developed by Hitler's Third Reich.
There, he met and interviewed young Wernher von Braun, the V-2 project's technical director who one day would become the visionary behind the Saturn V rocket that put America on the moon. During their meeting, Tsien asked von Braun to put down on paper German breakthroughs and future space goals. The resulting report is credited with helping inspire development of the first U.S. satellites.
After the war, Tsien became the youngest full professor on the faculty at MIT. During a 1947 visit to see his family in China, he met Jiang Ying, a glamorous aristocrat who studied music in Germany and was one of China's most celebrated young sopranos. Her father -- a military adviser for Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government -- was helping wage a civil war aimed at crushing Mao Tse Tung's communist rebels.
The couple married later that year and moved back to America. When Tsien re-entered the United States in Honolulu, he reflexively answered "no" to a question on an immigration form asking whether he had ever belonged to a group advocating overthrow of the U.S. government.
Mao's communist insurgents finally won the bitter war in China and took power in April 1949. A world away, Tsien returned to Caltech's faculty two months later as more than just one of the planet's foremost experts on aeronautics.
He was the living embodiment of the American dream. Tsien had it all: a prestigious, well-paying job. A glamorous wife and growing family. Lots of friends and dinner parties. A house in the suburbs.
Tsien decided to make it official in mid-1949. He applied to become a U.S. citizen.
Return to China
By 1955, five years of virtual house arrest had turned Tsien's American dream into a nightmare.
The evidence presented against him during the deportation hearings was, to be charitable, underwhelming. No witness could say for sure whether Tsien had been a member of the Communist Party. There were no official party records connecting him to the group. The case hinged on a single membership list in the handwriting of police investigators, who claimed they had copied the names from other documents. Tsien steadfastly maintained his innocence.
Nevertheless, immigration officials ruled Tsien had lied on the immigration form when he re-entered the country in 1947 and was a communist subject to expulsion. The government spent the next four years debating what to do with him. Finally, Tsien was notified in 1955 that he was going back to China. His departure was part of a negotiated swap of Chinese scientists in the United States for Americans captured during the Korean War and held in China.
Frustrated and increasingly bitter about his treatment, Tsien was more than ready to go. One can only imagine his resentment as he, his wife and their two small children -- both U.S. citizens by birth -- boarded a ship at Los Angeles harbor for the three-week trip to China. Before leaving, Tsien addressed the horde of reporters who packed the dock:
"I do not plan to come back. I have no reason to come back. I have thought about it for a long time. I plan to do my best to help the Chinese people build up their nation to where they can live with dignity and happiness."
China fully understood the windfall it was getting. Tsien returned to a conquering hero's welcome. He spent the first few weeks touring the country and reaping accolades. Almost overnight, the government handed him the reins of China's fledgling aerospace and missile programs. He quickly went to work building the industry almost from scratch in a society still living with one foot in the Middle Ages.
There were no research facilities. No modern manufacturing plants. Not even Chinese textbooks in many crucial subjects. More than anyone, Tsien changed that. Four months after his return, he founded Beijing's Institute of Mechanics, specializing in critical defense needs, including missiles, atomic energy, computers and electronics.
Those who worked for Tsien regarded him with almost religious awe.
"Everyone always wanted him to give us lectures," said He Ling Shu, a professor at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. "As the first person to start our country's rocket industry, he was very, very famous."
Progress was slow. But Tsien's return to China did nothing to mellow his perfectionism and impatience with mediocrity.
"He was so far ahead of us, we couldn't even comprehend how far at first," said Luan Enjie, current head of the China National Space Administration.
Tsien had access to China's top leaders, including Mao. That meant access to funding. But there was a price. Friends in America -- who almost universally remember Tsien as someone who shunned politics -- heard from him less and less. However, his statements began appearing in China's state-run media more and more.
"As long as we are able to act in accordance with Chairman Mao's directives," Tsien was quoted as saying, "victory will surely belong to us."
In 1958, 20 years after a naive young graduate student first played the flute at leftist Sidney Weinbaum's parties, Tsien officially became a member of the Communist Party. He was elected to China's rubber-stamp national legislature later that year.
Rise and fall
With Tsien's guidance and help from Soviet scientists, China's leap from developing backwater to strategic missile power was stunningly swift. The country officially entered the Space Age in 1960 by launching a Chinese-built knockoff of a Soviet booster.
Four years later, China stunned the West when it detonated an atomic bomb. Tsien was responsible for developing intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of delivering Beijing's new atomic arsenal around the globe. China successfully tested its first ICBM in 1971. By 1980, China had the ability to rain nuclear bombs on Tsien's former home in Southern California.
Unfortunately for Tsien, his scientific successes were followed by political defeats. The space program was paralyzed in the late 1960s after Mao unleashed the Cultural Revolution to purge the country of "anti-revolutionary, bourgeois" thinking. Technical schools were closed. Scientists were beaten and sent to rural farms for re-education. Even Tsien was briefly stripped of his authority and reduced to a common worker.
After Mao's death in 1976, Tsien backed Mao's widow and the so-called "Gang of Four" in the power struggle that ensued. When Deng Xiaoping -- whom Tsien had publicly criticized -- rose to leadership two years later, Tsien fell from grace and was reduced to little more than a figurehead. He staged a minor comeback in 1989, when he took a leading role in denouncing the pro-democracy demonstrators who were crushed in Tiananmen Square. The aging Tsien was awarded the title of "State Scientist of Outstanding Contribution," China's highest scientific honor, in 1991.
"The transformation I see is from a pure scientist to a scientific politician," author Chang said. "I don't know if anyone can really judge him because we have no idea the kind of pressure he was under."
Today, Tsien has become something of a recluse, his mobility limited by deteriorating pelvic bones. His wife no longer gives music lessons at their home but still plays the piano to satisfy his love of music. His son Yucon, a computer technologist who earned his master's degree at Caltech in 1988, lives in the same apartment building. His daughter, Yung-jen, returned to her native United States and in recent years has worked as a medical technician in Virginia.
Despite his advancing age, Tsien still occasionally holds court with China's aerospace leaders in his Beijing apartment building. One of his neighbors is China space administrator Luan.
"He has been in an advisory position for a long time," said Frank Marble, a Caltech professor and Tsien's closest friend in America. "It has been some years since he has done any active research himself. But his opinions are highly sought and very often followed."
Marble, who at 83 still goes to work every day at Caltech, has been in regular contact with Tsien since 1982. Tsien repeatedly has turned down invitations to visit America. But Marble traveled to Beijing last week to participate in a symposium Monday in Tsien's honor. Today, the old friends will celebrate Tsien's 90th birthday.
Spy or victim?
Almost a half-century after Tsien's return to China, the debate still rages: Was Tsien a Chinese spy?
A 1999 House panel headed by U.S. Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., said yes. The committee's investigation of past and present Chinese espionage portrays Tsien as the prototype for communist spies sent to America to steal classified information. The charges against him, the report concludes, "are presumed to be true."
The evidence, however, is riddled with holes. The report accused Tsien of gathering information on the Titan rocket program, a feat that would have been difficult considering the project didn't begin in earnest until after Tsien had left the United States. That and a variety of other factual errors led many to conclude the investigation was little more than a partisan political statement.
Most of Tsien's former Caltech colleagues laugh at the notion he was a communist spy. They offer several reasons: Chinese communists came to power just weeks before Tsien's arrest. His father-in-law was a high-ranking military adviser in the nationalist government Mao overthrew. Tsien had applied to become a U.S. citizen. No credible evidence ever was made public to support the charges.
"He was just a hard-working scientist," said Pickering, a former director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "I honestly think he intended to visit his father and come back here [in 1950] -- as he had done before."
Marble agrees.
"It was one of the greatest tactical errors the United States has ever made," Marble said.
Tsien's colleagues in China likely would agree. They're thankful, however, that history took the turn it did. Most, such as China's current space chief Luan, prefer not to think about the alternative.
"He's the father of our space industry," Luan said. "It's difficult to say where we would be without him."
Michael Cabbage can be reached at mcabbage@orlandosentinel.com or 321-639-0522.

Encyclopedia Astronautica   


Strawberry Cake forever

Strawberry cake forever

Phoenix Bakery's signature strawberry whipped-cream cake is still showing up to the party after six decades.

Phoenix bakery's strawberry cake.
Phoenix bakery's strawberry cake. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

By Betty Hallock
September 30, 2009

It's the cake that has fueled hundreds of thousands of birthdays, weddings and office parties across Los Angeles.

You've probably had it: two layers of soft yellow sponge cake that sandwich a filling of fresh strawberries and fluffy whipped cream, frosted all over with yet more whipped cream, ringed with toasted almonds on the sides and decorated with red, blue or pink roses on top. It might have said, "Thank you for all your hard work," "Congratulations, Sarge" or "Happy Birthday, Sinook!"

Phoenix Bakery's
signature strawberry cake rose from the imagination of one Chinese American baker, Lun Chan, now almost 88 years old. And for all the buttercream-frosted, marzipan-enrobed and ganache-filled cakes from modern-retro or Euro-inclined bakeries in town, it remains what is probably L.A.'s most popular cake.

Not bad for a cake that is more than six decades old, a bakery icon that has been there for all the good times (anniversaries, graduations, job promotions), and some of the bad (goings-away, layoffs).

Located in Chinatown on Broadway Street near Bamboo Lane, Phoenix is a two-story, blue-roofed pagoda of a bakery now run by the second and third generations of the Chan family. Lun's son Youlen, 53, is head of production, and because even bakeries have to try to keep up with the times, he has expanded its offerings in the last year to include dim sum and red velvet cupcakes.

"It used to be croissants, but then people didn't like it. They liked bagels. Now, it's cupcakes," says Lun Chan, who retired in the '80s but occasionally drops by the bakery, recently in a khaki suit, carrying a burgundy umbrella and wearing big, gold-trimmed, crystal-accented sunglasses (a look that might be described as Kim Jong Il meets Kanye West). "It goes in cycles."

But his strawberry cake is still the engine of Phoenix's business, even if business isn't what it used to be. And while Chinatown prepares for this year's Moon Festival and the bakery's schedule is interrupted by moon cake making (see related story), a majority of customers come for the cake.

"I've been coming here for over 30 years," says Judy Scales, who lives on the Westside. "I've bought maybe hundreds of cakes. So light, so refreshing. What a lot of people don't realize is you can special order it with peaches. Bananas are good too."

There are 16 cake sizes, from a 4-inch round to a full sheet. You can request banana, pineapple, custard, lemon curd or chocolate mousse filling (peach only when available). You can have half the cake with strawberries and the other half with bananas -- or even strawberries mixed with bananas. But it is always two layers. "A true two-layer cake," Youlen says. "We have a reputation for making a tall cake."

The early days

Lun Chan's late older brother, Fung Chow Chan, and his wife, Wai Hing, opened the bakery in 1938, the year Chinatown's Central Plaza was built.

The original bakery was located a few blocks south of where Phoenix is now. Back then, the Chans were selling sesame cookies and almond cookies to dime stores and chop suey houses. "Oh, it was good business. There was chop suey all over!" Lun says. "Danny Kaye used to come and buy sesame cookies."

After a stint in the Army during World War II, Lun returned to the U.S. in 1943 and studied baking at the Frank Wiggins Trade School (now the Los Angeles Trade Technical College). He went to his native Hong Kong for several months to hone his skills in making traditional Chinese pastries.

Back at Phoenix, Lun developed recipes: Chinese flaky pastries filled with black bean, lotus or winter melon, cookies, meringues. "I even used to bake apple pie, with lard in the crust. So flaky!" Lun says.

And the cake.

As Lun remembers it, it was during a tour of East Coast bakeries in the late '40s with the Southern California Master Bakers Retailers Assn. that he came across the strawberry shortcakes that inspired his own version. "Put more strawberries, put more," he says he thought to himself. "Everybody loves strawberries."

Lun's cake was born at the same time that the recipe for American chiffon cake went public. It was a recipe said to have been invented by a Los Angeles insurance agent fittingly named Harry Baker who replaced the butter in French génoise with vegetable oil, resulting in an especially light and airy cake. Baker sold the recipe to General Mills in 1947.

Lun calls his "a Chinese formula" but also says it's a recipe that an advisor at Frank Wiggins helped develop. "It's really spongy, nice and spongy," Lun says. "I beat the eggs, folded [the batter] by hand."

Lun's cake took off slowly. At first, just two or three a day were sold. But by the time Phoenix had moved into its current larger location in 1977, word had spread about the bakery's not-too-sweet and "not so Chinese" cake. Strawberries were delivered 100 to 200 crates at a time. The bakery sold as many as 1,000 cakes on a busy Saturday, Lun says.

"People lined up down the block. Unbelievable! If they knew me, they would come around back to get cakes."

By then, Lun's brother, motivated by not being able to get bank loans despite having a successful business, had opened Cathay Bank, Southern California's first Chinese American-owned bank, in 1962 and then East-West Bank a decade later.

"I used to tell him, 'You make the green dough, I make the cookie dough,'" Lun says.

The second generation of Chans already was ensconced in the life of the bakery: trimming strawberries, sweeping floors, greasing cake pans. Youlen, like his siblings and cousins, started helping out when he was 12. "It was mandatory in this family," he says.

Acquaintances recall Kellogg Chan, one of Fung Chow's sons and a lawyer-turned-businessman, showing up at card games dusting flour off his clothes. But it was Youlen who carried the baker's torch. "I just sort of fell into it," he says. He attended the American Institute of Baking in Kansas and has streamlined production.

Meeting demand

Youlen's at the bakery most days, often in a white short-sleeved shirt, shorts and a white apron, overseeing the cake-making assembly line. Cakes are baked in a heavy-duty Chubco, a revolving-tray oven that works like a Ferris wheel and is about the size of a mini van. Its five shelves are loaded one at a time, and the shelves (each fits five sheet pans) rotate during baking.

The batter -- eggs, flour, sugar, oil, water -- isn't mixed by hand but in a commercial mixer. "My dad always did things in smaller batches," Youlen says, "but we wouldn't be able to make enough cakes."

On a good weekend, Phoenix will make 400 to 500 cakes, says Craig Chan, Youlen's second cousin (Kellogg's son), who helps manage the bakery.

A small battalion constructs the cakes on cardboard bases: first cake layer; whipped cream; strawberries; more whipped cream; second cake layer; then "total enrobement" with whipped cream and a thin layer of nondairy topping that makes the cake especially white. They deftly toss sliced almonds on the sides.

Brothers Manuel and Rafael Diaz, 38-year Phoenix veterans, put on the finishing touches. Armed with pastry bags and rose tips, they apply the roses, leaves and scrolled edges on the cake.

"My brother does it different," Rafael says. "You can tell which cakes are his and which are mine." But they both learned from Youlen, who studied with the late Larry D. Powell, author of "Larry Powell's Big Book of Cake Decorating."

It doesn't hurt its continuing popularity that the cake has always been reasonably priced; an 8-inch round that serves up to 12 costs less than $24. It comes in a box with the bakery's logo -- an image of a chubby boy in a robe hiding a pastry box behind his back, created in the '40s by artist Tyrus Wong, who painted the dragon mural in Central Plaza.

"There's some dispute in the family about who it's modeled after," Craig says. "But we think it's Kelly," his uncle, an accountant who also helps manage the business.

Like much of the rest of Chinatown, Phoenix Bakery may have lived through its peak. There was an attempt to expand to other locations, which was abandoned. Yet customers still come in a fairly steady stream, ordering cakes ("Can I get purple flowers?" "Yes." "Can you write something in Chinese?" "Yes.").

In a lot of ways, Phoenix is a throwback. It doesn't eschew shortening or lard. Many of the pastries are the same as were offered decades ago. Other items might be considered oddball: Besides eclairs and cream puffs, you'll find Jordan almonds and Dutch mints alongside pizza buns and Jamaican beef patties.

But mention Phoenix to an Angeleno and the response is so often, "I know that bakery. That's my favorite cake."

Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times