The Art Center Years: Settling In, Out West – Arriving To The School Where Cars Are Born

Source: Dun’s Review, April 1967


Time for a short break in the COAL series. When we left our protagonist, he had completed his first coast-to-coast trip in his trusty ’66 Caliente convertible. Figures just-unearthed show that the journey consumed eleven tanks of gasoline (totaling $59.55), five motel nights ($57.83 in all), $9.67 for food (!), and another $5.76 in stamps, postcards, and other sundries, for a grand total of $132.81, a frugal trip even then. Now, on the hunt for a place to live in southern California, he was armed with a typed list of approved boarding houses supplied by Art Center College of Design, as there were no on-campus accommodations.

Remember, this was the fall of 1971. The internet was barely a gleam in Al Gore’s eye at the time, and maps were still manually unfolded, not accessed with one tap on a cellphone app. I’d already invested in a laminated Los Angeles map, and holding it at a suitable reading distance with one hand, I steered with the other hand, driving to the first address indicated.

This would become home for the next few years.


Norton Avenue was one of many quiet residential streets in West Los Angeles, close to the intersection of Western and Melrose Avenues, near what is now the Koreatown area. 411 South Norton, the address in Art Center’s listing, was an unassuming two-story with a partial attic. At some point in the past, it had been converted from an expansive single-family home to a boarding house.

The first and last stop on my L.A. house-hunting list.


The lower floor was occupied by two elderly single women, as well as Mrs. Ray, the not-quite-elderly woman who owned and ran the place. Student tenants lived on the second floor, while the home’s partial attic functioned as a common studio area. Room and board amounted to $120/month, including breakfast (usually alternating between eggs and hot cereal) and whatever was on the menu for dinner. The fare, while hardly of gourmet variety, was at least enough to keep one nourished. Meals were staggered so that the lady residents dined separately from the student boarders.

As the beginning of my first Art Center term was fast approaching, I quickly agreed to Mrs. Ray’s terms and settled into my first Los Angeles digs. One of the next orders of business was to stock up on the basic art supplies that I’d need for the next few years. I quickly learned that one of the “go-to” art supply emporiums was H. G. Daniels, not too far away from Mrs. Ray’s and even closer to Art Center. Over the years, I must have spent thousands on art supplies there. Here’s my first such shopping list, from September 1971:

Look at those late-1971 prices.


Suitably equipped with art materials and having paid the first semester’s $800 tuition, I was ready to begin my higher education in earnest. Back then, Art Center’s program included a single, nine-to-five class each weekday. This was intended to duplicate as closely as possible the real-world working conditions we would presumably face upon graduation. Various design exercises aimed to elevate our sensitivity to line and form, ranging from a lettering class to a life drawing session (the latter of which was my first exposure, no pun intended, to a nude model).

A typical second-semester program for Art Center students majoring in Transportation Design would include Product Design I (model construction and surface development), Model Construction II (design project in-shop build), Transportation I (intro to transportation design), Design II (principles and practice), and Theory of Structure (introduction to structural systems). My second-semester Saturday-morning academic adds were Political History of the U.S. and Physical Science, all of which made for a full schedule.

Most of my Art Center classmates were somewhat older than I, typically having already completed their academic requirements for a Bachelor’s degree. Some were military veterans as well, a subject best avoided in those days at the height of the Vietnam War.  (Sidebar: I vividly remember being nervously glued to my small black-and-white portable TV on February 2nd, 1972, as the draft lottery for those born in 1953 was being conducted. My number was 152, ironically the same as our house number back in Morristown, so I was not obliged to consider the implications of another life-changing circumstance, though my poor vision may have rendered me unfit for service anyway.)

Life-changing futures being drawn from a bin.


The Saturday-morning academic classes referred to above were compulsory for those few attending Art Center directly from high school. Although these were largely cursory at best, and their course load was not overwhelming, they did require additional homework over and above the regular assignments related to my Transportation Design major. My most absorbing academic class was in English, taught by a veteran Los Angeles Times wordsmith, Fred Holley. Looking back, I rank Mr. Holley alongside Strother MacMinn and Harry Bradley, as my most influential and fondly remembered instructors. (Photo of partial LA Times front page)

And what of the Comet? Near the end of another manic cross-country trip during a three-week semester break over the Christmas holidays, its Cruise-o-Matic decided to pack it in. A replacement modulator and hose, new seals and pan gasket, and eight quarts of transmission fluid cured that issue. The local Lincoln-Mercury service shop also replaced an idler arm to firm up the power steering, and a cracked driveshaft (!) was also replaced, for a grand total of $177.20, including labor and tax.

Just a bit scruffy after the first cross-country trip.


After its transmission was fixed, I began to question the Comet’s long-term reliability, especially since I couldn’t afford more expensive repairs cramping my already-spendthrift student lifestyle. In fact, now that I had a better understanding of the greater-LA apartment market, I was actively looking for new (and cheaper) accommodations. But the Mercury would make one more trip back to New Jersey before it was replaced…