Dan: So, we agree, Burning Man burn out is very real
Blake: Yeah, oh yeah, well you did it….You got your own dose of burn out with your project. I start talking about, you know, the journey of life …and like yeah, by the way my business partner did a whole thing at Burning Man called the Journey. Yeah, I go… I feel like I’m an honorary Burner by osmosis, you know, exposure. And not just through you, but through everybody else I know that’s been.
Dan: Speaking of the Burn, I was at breakfast with Bret Gerber the other day and as we talked about different adventures we had and as I thought of Mid Century Enterprises, i sort of coined a phrase for what it is we’re doing and a new turn of our of mission statement about doing business ethically with all…
Dan: …and you’ve come up with a phrase, that we’ve jokingly, labeling ourselves as reluctant capitalists
Dan: …and I realized part of what it is we are doing is profit through principles. That comes directly from being exposed to the Burning Man ethos. Then we came to an awareness that outside of religion or dogmatic belief systems, we struggle to find principled ways of living. Granted the laws that govern us and that we all agree to uphold a certain amount of civility. You and I have created a space in the store where we’re building profit through principled decisions.
Blake: I like it… ah breakfast!
Dan: So, for our readers, we’re at Lestat’s on University in Hillcrest and about ready to eat our favorite local breakfast sandwich.
Blake: In the whole city of San Diego.
Dan: It’s the California Breakfast Sandwich on the menu, but our trick is to get it on an everything bagel. It comes on a croissant, which is a mighty fine sandwich, but hmmm…. bagel better!
Blake: Over the top!
Dan: So, was it in your earlier Revolver days, when you first met Jeff, or was that afterwards?
Blake: hmmmm, Evolver is what it was, as in Evolution, and Evolver days started when I got to San Diego in 1994. Evolver was a concept, or an idea, that I would have these night clubs all around the world. I would have, the goal was to have seven night clubs and they would be hooked up via something – I wasn’t entirely sure what – satellite link? And now, of course, it all so doable with the internet. So that was the concept, and I immediately set about to try and find people to come on board with it.
Jeff at Mid Century, it was interesting, I don’t think he ever really knew so much about Evolver or my pursuits around the club.
Dan: I was more thinking about the timing
Blake: Yeah, it was the late 90’s when I met him, and I met him when I just wandered into his store. I was wondering by… I think I was actually going to Cafe on Park and heading to breakfast. I wondered by and I just was looking… I think I had smoked some pot, and I was looking through the window admiring a Curtis Jere piece, which was this brass wall-hanging… a three dimensional piece that he had and I just went in there briefly to ask him how much it was. It was a few hundred bucks which at the time, which you know was dirt cheap for what it was back then. Now it’s probably worth a few thousand dollars, you know. I guess everything is pretty relative when it comes to value.
Dan: Was he sitting at his Florence Knoll desk?
Blake: Ha! I’m trying to think, but you know I think he was. I mean, pretty much by the late 90s he had migrated to the desk and there wasn’t a whole lot of moving around on his part.
Dan: Was the infamous coffee couch already in place?
Blake: It was… yeah, he already had a round of folks that were coming in and he would sit there and visit with them. I really liked him a lot. He was effusive and nice with me. You know, who knows why, you know? But I just saw somebody that was doing something fun and cool and I liked him.
And I ended up on that couch as one of his friends. I was one of the revolving door of friends and just kept showing up. I bought a few things, here and there, but I’ve never been one to acquire a whole lot of anything. I went on sort of a mass mid-century buying spree, but that was when I lived in LA and I was doing… I had some goals in mind for the film world back then.
Dan: What were you doing in LA?
Blake: In LA, the whole… I dabbled on the periphery of the whole film world in LA. My degree was in film production at the University of Texas at Austin, and I decided I was just going to go to LA and see what happens
Dan: Do the whole Hollywood thing?
Blake: Yeah, do the Hollywood thing. And, I’m glad I did. I was there for three years. I learned a lot. I also had…
Dan: I was going to say, i remember you had a crazy mid-century apartment up there in West Hollywood
Blake: It was beautiful. And I was… my friend and roommate, Keith, and I… we had a discussion of what we were going to do with this beautiful mid-century apartment… in West Hollywood, at the top of La Cienega and Sunset. We decided we should stick with the theme and then, of course, I set out to make it happen… It took about a year, and I pulled together disparate pieces, from all over. Ebay was pretty much… was a pretty powerful force, back then. The internet was only just kind of beginning.
Dan: You acquired a lot of pieces off ebay?
Blake: I did. Yeah, it was all about design and I was really just trying to create a place that was a ‘wow’ place where people would walk through the front door and go ‘wow!’
Dan: So, you wanted them to have that experience
Blake: Yeah, and it was a ‘wow’
Dan: setting the stage…
Blake: Yeah, setting the stage, literally. It’s film, and LA is very impressed with design, the world of Hollywood is very …like I’ve said it before, you know, Keith and I laughed about it, but you know, if we were twenty we could’ve gotten away with cinder blocks and particle-board shelving.
Blake: But in LA, if you’re in your 40’s, which we were at that time… by the time you’re in your 40’s you better have some sort of…
Dan: You remember your forties? You can think back that far?
Blake: I don’t think I like you any more… you’re mean! My business partner is mean to me!!
Dan: Heh… so, you weren’t selling then, you were just buying cause you were building out your appt.
Dan: and you were working at Ruth’s Cris in Beverly Hills
Blake: I was. Ha, that sounds so ritzy, Ruth’s Cris in Beverly Hills!
Dan: It WAS ritzy! I mean, the distinguished names you could list of people you met…
Blake: Phyllis Diller!
Dan: I mean, Phyllis Diller is my favorite… you even invited her over to your…
Blake: I did… for my party! She kindly… she was very sweet and said no, I don’t think I can make it. I’m like, Phyllis, I’d love to have you come to my party…
Dan: Can you imagine?
Blake: I would’ve loved it! My mother would’ve had a heart attack.
Dan: I think I now understand where your alter ego comes from…where Blakewina was formed… It was in conversation with Phyllis Diller.
Blake: Maybe! She was extraordinary. She was great. And boy what a personality she had. She really, like… she would come into Ruth’s Cris. And I wouldn’t say all eyes were on her, but all the energy was on her. She just had… It’s interesting, you meet certain people…
Dan: and the charisma is there
Blake: That charisma, I mean, that powerful thing. I mean, RuPaul talks about it all the time. She would just walk into the room and it was like a gravitational pull. It was awesome. She was just fun to be around.
I waited on her, i think, 3 times and she was still able to joke. I mean, good god, how old would she have been? Maybe in her 80’s? You know, out there with her assistant. She would order one martini, and of course, that martini was a monster. A martini at Ruth’s Cris is about the size of two martini’s anywhere else. So it’s this monster martini, and she would be there for three hour and sip that martini. And she would finish it, all of it.
Dan: And the Beverly Hills location, too, is an old-school, high-back booth dining situation… it’s conducive to sitting around for 3 hours and having conversations.
Blake: It is, and it was comfortable to be there. And the nice thing about that particular location is that it’s been around so long in Beverly Hills, that it’s not really a ‘place to be’ on some a-list…
Dan: paparazzi aren’t hovering…
Blake: un-unh. But it was fun, you know, and all the celebrities that would come would love it cause nobody was there to give them a hard time. No cameras, none of that.
Dan: And you have a multi-state history with Ruth’s Cris, you worked there for quite some time.
Blake: heh, Texas… California… Ruth Cris was good to me. I don’t have any complaints at all about that.
Dan: You were still working for Ruth Cris when we bought the store.
Blake: I know. When we took over the store I worked at RC for another 7 months, i believe. Something like that, right?
Dan: I remember, we used to do all our store anniversary dinners there. The first four years in a row.
Blake: yeah, uh-huh. It was good to me, no complaints. I mean, I learned a lot there, too. I learned how to deal with people and all the vagaries of human emotions, perceptions and whatnot.
Dan: So, you were popping in the whole time to have coffee conversations with Jeff?
Blake: I was. The genesis with Jeff was just sorta over time and we drifted, strangely enough, into a friendship. And it was really, you know, was he my palsy-walsey, best friend ever? No, but he certainly was a good friend.
Dan: Okay, we need buttons, “palsy-walsey, best friend ever!” That’s awesome!
Blake: You know, we just drifted into a friendship and it was really fun. I liked going to visit him and I would wander through his store… his store was like a treasure hunt. Jeff was really good at bringing things in, but not so good at, you know, putting art up on the walls, spreading things out.
Dan: And back in the 90’s when you first met, it was still only the north side of the store only.
Blake: Yeah, it was just the one side, back when I very, very first met him. He was actually still with David
Dan: oh really, David Skelly?
Blake: Yeah it was a long time ago.. Yep, David with Boomerang. I remember they were sitting on the couch. I remember his wonderful dog, I loved that shiba-inu of his. It was always in the window. I remember walking by one time and the dog was in the very front window… I thought it was a statue, or whatever, not actually a living, live dog. And it was his dog and it startled me when it moved… it’s alive!!
Dan: I don’t remember ever meeting the dog. I didn’t walk into the store myself until the early 20-aughts.
Dan: Yeah, I think the only reason I did was because you and I also met in the late 90s and I was working at UCSD and you were coming up to have lunch. I think you mentioned the store several times. So, I think one time when I was in Hillcrest, I intentionally stopped in. Jeff had a very different way of bringing everything in… and I wouldn’t even really call it merchandising, but just sorta piled and leaned… but he had an incredible eye, his stuff was amazing.
Blake: He did… he was very selective, too. Granted, he had developed relationships with people over the years and he could find all of those interesting pieces, by hans wegner, hans olsen, jens risom, all the names… but Jeff didn’t like to work on things, we wanted to just pass a treasure on. Man, this sandwich is good!
Dan: So, which came first, your running into… so when you saw the Curtis Jere piece in the window, you already knew who Curtis Jere was?
“The nightmare of materialism, which has turned the life of the universe into an evil, useless game, is not yet past; it holds the awakening soul still in its grip. Only a feeble light glimmers like a tiny star in a vast gulf of darkness. This feeble light is but a presentiment, and the soul, when it sees it, trembles in doubt whether the light is not a dream, and the gulf of darkness reality. This doubt, and the still harsh tyranny of the materialistic philosophy, divide our soul sharply from that of the Primitives.“
Blake: No, un-unh. I just knew that I loved it. It turned out to be Curtis Jere and years later I came to understand who that was… the round plate spray on the wall. It actually reminds me a lot of Kandinsky, which is why I like it so much. It’s circles #96 that I like so much from Kandinsky. And that Curtis Jere is like, you know… It’s funny how that works. I don’t know that I would have understood what it was that I liked of the mid-century idea, except that Kandinsky had already come along and done all that.
Dan: You went to New York and saw an exhibition, yeah?
Blake: Yeah, they rounded up all these Kandinksy’s from all over the world and did a whole retrospective, the life of Kandinsky. It was amazing. It was pretty awesome. I’ve alway been drawn to the minimal. I don’t like, I’m not drawn to the flowery… what’s the word?
Dan: Baroque, Rococo?
Blake: That and the flowery, Victorian era… all of that. I just don’t find any of that interesting at all.
Dan: You definitely hold more of a modern aesthetic.
Blake: Yep, less is more… I appreciate things that are generated solely from one’s imagination. And I think mid-century design really captured that and did it in an elegant way. I have a quote from Kandinsky that I keep on my phone
And Kandinsky said this, and I’m thinking it’s so true, his more famous quote that everything starts from a dot, and I appreciate that too. Mid-century design captures some of the minimal scaffolding upon which you can build your own version of reality, your own interpretation. What I saw that day in the window was that Curtis Jere was a kind of mid-century art house interpretation of Kandinsky’s tapestry of minimalism. That’s what drew me into Mid Century, the store.