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Cirque du Pedley

August 3, 2010

Just inside the gate ...

Pedley, a dusty little horse-farming hamlet just outside Riverside, boasts a population of just over 11,000. It’s not the kind of place I would have thought would be home to a business like The L.A. Circus. But its founders, Chester Cable, a famous foot juggler, and Wini McKay, a retired trapeze artist, seem to find Pedley the perfect place for their vast collection of circus-related props. They rent their stock for use in movies and television shows, as well as to photographers and for editorial and catalog purposes. Actually, saying that L.A. Circus has a vast collection of props is like saying the Pacific is damp — it doesn’t begin to describe what all is here behind the doors of various full-sized metal shipping containers, under tarp-covered shades or in a huge fenced-in yard at the edge of the Metrolink rail tracks. It was while on a bleary-eyed trip home from work that I first noticed the clown cars, circus wagons and cannon-large-enough-to-be-shot-out-of in that yard that piqued my interest. Each day I’d scan the yard from the train window and wonder who these things belonged to, and if any of the them were for sale … But it was while on a scavenger hunt Saturday for a VW bug’s rusted shell (future project, coming soon) in an adjoining yard, that we found ourselves meeting both Wini and Chester … and taking a delightful and unexpected tour of all things circus. Luckily, I had my camera with me, and I was able to take these shots. Unluckily, lots of the shots were awful, and some of the most interesting items (costumes, papier mache figures) were in places too dark for me to capture properly. But, I think you’ll still be able to share our sense of wonder. Step right up! …


Everything you need ...

They have that!

Like any good prop house, L.A. Circus seems to be prepared for anything … there’s stuff here that could be used to dress a side-show in freakish style, and plenty of elephants of every size and shape — although some assembly may be required. Speaking of elephants, the upcoming film ‘Water for Elephants’, starring Reese Witherspoon, and featuring Robert Pattinson as a circus veterinarian during the Great Depression, made extensive use of L.A. Circus’ collection of period items. These items, like the clown in the opening photo, lie just inside the compound’s gate and were a suitable introduction to what was waiting ahead.

... and everything else!

With Wini as our guide, we moved through the quonset hut-style office. It’s not just an office, though; it’s a floor-to-ceiling repository for smaller items including an amazing replica of a vintage calliope in wood. Wini treats us to a sprightly number and then we move out into the space out back, where more, so much more awaits …

Patina gone wild

Much of L.A. Circus’ stock is stored in full-sized metal storage containers, like the one above with the gorgeously alligatored patina. Unhesitatingly flinging open each container, Wini treated us to the the sight of everything from overflowing racks of riotously-colored costumes, to iconic prop circus performers and animals. Especially striking was a life-sized papier mache strong-man (with glass eyes rimmed with real lashes!) made by an artist famous for such figures.

Banner-rama

All type of set dressing lurked around every corner, including a huge assortment of circus and sideshow banners. Wini protested that these examples were not the best ones they had available, and she was right. More terrific examples were behind these, many of them weathered and vintage-looking, including one for a sideshow performer with a parasitic twin jutting out from his abdomen. Loved that one!

Stand back!

Everywhere we looked was the raw material for creating a complete circus world, whether from a bygone era, or today. Entire canvas tents are folded and stacked, lighting effects and platforms and arenas wait in pieces, and carnival items, like this kicking bronco with a bullseye on his behind, all wait for their chance to entertain again.

Light the fuse

More elephants, some in pieces, stand around keeping a colorful cannon company. One of several on the premises, each cannon seems poised and ready to launch a spandex-clad performer skyward.

Chinese leftover

This striking figure at one time stood gracefully at a Chinese festival … from her pose I’m thinking she was playing a flute of some sort. I’m sure she was much better dressed for that occasion than she is now, but I still find her quite beautiful, not to mention surreal, in this setting.

Out in the yard

Across the street from the main compound, the fenced-in yard contains larger circus accoutrements, including a tiny VW van clown car (which I covet!), some large spheres for balancing acts (which I die for!), antique and replica circus barker stands (I want!), and tons of other vehicles for animals and performers ….

I want this, and this, and ....

We were surprised to learn that lots of things here looked old, but were actually created only recently and made to look that way. It was really hard to tell the difference. Again, many of these pieces were used in past (‘The Butterly Circus’) and yet-to-be-released movies (‘Water for Elephants’), as well as on TV (‘Canivale’ on HBO). All of these were set in circus/carnival settings in the 1920s and 30s, L.A. Circus’ specialty.

Pretty ingenious

Also in the yard was this: a peacock glowing like stained glass in the late afternoon sun. Wini pointed out to us that it had been made entirely of glass insulin vials that had been dyed with food coloring! Looking closer I could see she was right. Okay, I want this too.

Modest moniker

Back at headquarters, both Wini and Chester regaled us with tales of prissy art directors, flamboyant photogs and flighty production designers … they also shared their archives of printed materials that featured their items on their pages. I was delighted to learn that a high-end boho fashion catalog had been here, and seeing the pictures containing items I’d seen on our tour was fun. There were also Vogue magazine spreads with Hollywood stars making like trapeze artists, outré photo books by Justin Monroe and Cristian Schiller that tapped into the erotic side of the circus, and many other publications. Our hostess and tour guide, Wini, was the definition of voluble, and she and Chester truly had a million stories they could have told. Sadly, dinnertime was upon them and we had to cut our impromptu visit short. To read more about L.A. Circus’ mission, and for more details, click this link for a story that appeared locally in the Press-Enterprise. I’m hoping to ask Wini for another visit, this time planned, so I can show you better pictures of their amazing stock. Saturday’s visit was a complete surprise: I had literally phoned Wini out of the blue, just to ask about the awesome stuff in the yard, but, once she found out we were parked outside she invited us in — I guess that’s circus folk for you!

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. Megan permalink
    August 4, 2010 12:49 am

    You always go to the coolest places!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      August 4, 2010 1:01 am

      Hiya — I owe it all to luck and being nosy!

  2. Jeff Kenavey permalink
    July 18, 2012 2:54 am

    I hope there is someone there to hear my comment. Chester Cable is my grandmothers brother, I was told since I was a kid that Chester ran away, to the circus. But after research I find that not only Chester was showing the talent that he discovered, he wanted to show others that skill. (unfortunately I never learned from my great uncle.) please don’t hesitate to contact me to help keep Chester’s unique skill alive

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 18, 2012 3:59 am

      Jeff, thanks for your amazing comment … I appreciate it.

    • Cora Cable Schertz permalink
      July 15, 2013 1:27 am

      My name is Cora Cable Schertz and Chester was my first cousin. Our Dad’s were brothers. Was wondering which sister was Jeff Kenavey’s grandmother. I knew the family quite well but haven’t kept in touch with any of them.

      • Reuben Muñoz permalink*
        July 15, 2013 3:31 am

        Hi, Cora … thanks for your commment; very interesting. However, I don’t have any information beyond what you read in the post. I suggest you contact LA Circus (the phone number should be online) and ask either Chester himself, or Winni your question. Thanks

  3. Ms. Kevin Moody permalink
    January 28, 2013 9:29 pm

    Hey there…I have a rather large very interesting painted clown portrait that I purchased for the frame…but the portrait is cool, I just don’t need it. I would love to show you a picture of it and see if you can identify the clown? Someone devoted a lot to the creation of the painting…maybe it would mean something to you!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      January 28, 2013 9:48 pm

      Hello, thanks for your comment. I’d love to see the painting and would be happy to try and identify the clown depicted. Send an email to my personal email at reubix@earthlink.net

  4. Ms. Kevin Moody permalink
    January 28, 2013 9:34 pm

    I live in the high desert…would be more than glad to bring it down to you:) It’s so cool…I’d love for it to go to someone who appreciates clown art! It’s about 26″ x 38″

    • reubix1 permalink*
      January 28, 2013 9:48 pm

      Thanks, again! See my previous reply for my email address.

  5. February 18, 2013 11:41 pm

    Hi Winnie… Nancy Rigoli here. I scouted your location for the company Focus Studio about 2 yrs ago. They ended up shooting the rocks behind Club Ed movie set w/ many of your props and a tent.
    Call me at your earliest convenience to discuss a new job coming up where
    if budget allows, attempt the same situation. It’s a still photo shoot only for
    a dept. store. Can’t name it here.
    THX. NANCY RIGOLI
    ps- i have spamblocker, but i check that file often. since we haven’t emailed each other b4, your email may go in there.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      February 18, 2013 11:48 pm

      Hi, Nancy, thanks for commenting … I’m sorry to tell you that Wini won’t be seeing your message unless she happens to revisit my blog post. I don’t have her personal email but I’ll try and find it and send your message on to her. Thanks, Reuben

  6. Michelle permalink
    April 18, 2013 8:45 pm

    Where is this place located?

    • reubix1 permalink*
      April 18, 2013 9:15 pm

      Well, I wish I could supply this info but I haven’t got it. The time we went we just fumbled around the general area until we found it; I knew it as a place I could see from my commuter train so we started at the Metrolink train station in Pedley and went from there … sorry. You could try emailing LA Circus; look them up on Google. I hate to be so vague but that’s all I’ve got. — R

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