10/25/12

SUSAN LIVES


All Los Angelinos who have spent time in the Melrose/ La Brea area are familiar with this lady.
Some call her "THE LAVA LADY, more recently she is called "THE WELLINGTON WITCH, but her real name is SUSAN and this is the most accurate information I have about her to date.
As far as my personal experience with her goes all the way back to 1980's, while shopping as a stylist on Melrose ave I would spot this towering figure lumbering down the street. She wore wide~legged pants with a matching cape made out of brown burlap, with a turtleneck sweater. Her hair was wrapped into one long ponytail that stood straight up like an antenna. The make up was plastery and cheeks rouged like a baby doll. Sometimes she would have black eyebrows. The best part was her shoes! Possibly 10-inch neutral color platform shoes, covered by the burlap-flared pants. I became obsessed. Whenever I would bring her up someone else would scream, "have you seen her too?!" we would then trade stories about what we knew of her. I had a friend witness her tripp on the curb of Melrose & la Brea. She said it was like watching a building collapse. My obsession lead me to always be on the lookout for her.  One day I saw her entering an all black house on Clinton & Detroit streets, just off la Brea. I had hit pay dirt! I now admit that I snuck up to her mailbox and look at her mail- addressed to SUSAN STRAUSS!! I now knew her name!Around 1988 I saw her shopping at jetrag on la Brea, (the original smaller location) she was putting a black rose brocade curtain fabric up to her waist and looking in the mirror. "Hello Susan," I said, "hello she politely responded, totally nonplused that I knew her name. " I like that fabric you've chosen. What will you do with it?" I asked. "Perhaps a skirt" she quietly responded.
Then during 1993 I took my then BF Dan to see her house. I was trying my best to describe her and the house and figured a live visual was best.  The house was covered entirely in jet-black lava rock, as were the walls & garage. All the shrubbery was a green yucca or cypress fern. In the front yard was a raised catwalk made of green astro turf. (I've seen her walk back & forth on this many times) next door was what was once a regular house, now also engulfed in black lava rock. We were assuming she now owned this property.
Suddenly a man walks out of this second house. "Hey!" Dan exclaimed, "that is my locksmith at my office building!"  Wow what were the chances that I knew someone that knew Susan’s tenant?!! We ran to say hi to him and besieged him with questions.  Here’s what I found out~ 
*Her name is Susan Strauss

* She is heir to the Levi Strauss Company.

* She owned allot of property. Some in the Hollywood hills. 

* She forced the tenant to allow her to cover the house in black lava rock.

* She never uses electric light, only candles.

* She only eats canned  or bottled food, like baby food. She doesn't cook.
* At one time she had a black panther on the premises, but the city forced her to remove it.
* The interior walls a flint rock. No furniture except for blue plastic child's furniture. 
* Besides her eccentricities, she was a very nice landlord.



The last time I saw Susan was in 1998. I was in the parking lot of Ralphs on la Brea & fountain and I spotted her walking by.  I had my camera with me. I ran like the dickens and found a spot about 20 feet ahead of her.  As she approached she saw me and seemed a little bit scared. "Hello Susan," I said sweetly to break the ice. "Hello," she softly responded. "May I take your picture?" I asked. "Yes, " she replied and struck a noble~ high fashion pose. I was in shock and elated at the same time, as were passer bys. Everyone knew the lava lady!
here is the photo i took~
susan strauss~ photo~ rickcastro.com


 
Recently I was told that she died, but I didn't believe it. I finally found out she moved to Palm Beach Florida in the suburb of wellington. The locals call her "wellington witch." leave it to the stupidity of the south.  Another reason I have no interest to visit Florida.
       ***********************************************************
Growing up in Los Angeles during the 1970’s and ‘80s, there were several stylish and eccentric people who became well-known icons to residents of the area. Some rode buses, like General Hershey Bar, and some just walked around town or hung out in neighborhoods. One of the more celebrated and flamboyant icons of the era was a woman who became known as the Lava Lady.

 She was just a looming vision walking the streets of my neighborhood, which was around Melrose and La Brea in Hollywood. 
I lived off of Clinton Street, and she lived on the corner, which was a few blocks east of me. So I often saw her extremely erect figure (although over the years at a slight angle) walking ever so precisely along on her way to wherever her destination might be.
 She seemed to like her solitude. 

She acquired the name Lava Lady because the outside of her house was covered with black lava-like stone. I never knew anyone that had actually been inside the mysterious lava-laden home of this mysterious lady, except for my friend Paul. I sat down with him recently and discussed his encounter with the Lava Lady. 



Joanne: How did you meet the Lava Lady?


Paul: At the Glamour shop, a resale thrift store on La Brea Avenue. I did have a previous experience with her when she had asked me to take a doll that I had made in her image out of the window of my friend’s hair salon. She acted a bit stiff, but later came by to give us a little gift as a thank you. We actually had more of a real conversation when I volunteered at the Glamour shop and she came in one day. The Lava Lady needed help moving a refrigerator that she had purchased there back to her house. As repayment she invited me to her house for lunch. This was back in 2002. 



J: Do you her know her real name?


P: Susan Strauss. Some say that her grandfather was Levi Strauss.

 

J: What was her home like inside?


P: She welcomed me in and gave me a full tour of the house. It was all pure white — the rugs, walls, and furniture. There were white bubble lamps all over the ceiling so her paintings wouldn’t be affected by any outside color or light. The paintings were all created by her. 



J: What did her paintings look like?


P: Moody, muddy abstracts. 



J: What was her demeanor?


P: Cordial, dignified, well spoken. She talked about art and fabric. She loved velvets, brocades, and she altered outfits with them. She had an emotionless air to her — no lightness or humor. Very serious. She also talked about her two children, one lived in New York, and the other lived in Palm Beach, Florida. They wanted her to move to either New York or Palm Beach so they could look after her.

 

J: What did she make you for lunch?


P: A square egg, on individual white trays — one for her, and one for me. 


J: Square eggs?


P: Yup. She only ate dairy, including six fresh eggs every day. And they had to be fresh. That was one thing the Lava Lady was worried about: that there wouldn’t be any fresh eggs in Palm Beach (which is where she ended up moving to). 



J: Anything else besides the egg?


P: No, Just the one square egg. And water. No toast, salt or pepper. 



J: What did she wear?


P: All black. 



J: What was the most surprising thing about her house?


P: Just that it was so pure, stark, and white inside, which contrasted with the black exterior. I thought it would be more elaborate with mementos, or that she would be a hoarder. Outside of her amazing outfits, there was nothing really crazy about her.

 

J: How long did you stay for lunch?


P: About 45 minutes. At the end of our lunch, she gave me a tour of her garden, which was then a sort of graceful way of ending the stay. 



J: Did you see her after that?


P: Over the next six months, I did run into her a few times. She told me that she was moving to Palm Beach, and was worried that she wouldn’t be able to find any fresh eggs, and also about the bus system there. 



J: Do you have any idea of her current status?


P: As far as I know, she’s still in Palm Beach.
  (susan's house~then)
Susan Strauss earned her name by covering her entire house on the corner of Detroit of Clinton in Lava Rock. .  But, anyone who walks the streets daily with their hair wrapped straight up, in doll-like blush, long velvet gowns, and 10-inch platforms is bound to get a bit of attention!
Some say Strauss was a model for Rudi Gernreich in the 60s, others label her as a long-lost wife of Dr. Seuss, many claim her to be an heir to the Levi Strauss fortune, and a few are positive she was a member of the Manson family.  But, the Lava Lady has only admitted to being a retired poet.
(susan's house~ now)
During 2009 an exhibit featuring Susan was at Brick and Mortar on Gardner Street in Hollywood. This is a clothing and art store. The photographer of the evening was Oscar Jimenez
We used to see The Lava Lady at the Original Farmers Market, at Ralph's Market on 3rd and La Brea, at Trader Joe's across the street and walking in the general vicinity. Because of those 10-inch platforms and long bell-bottoms and/or skirts, she seemed to glide along the street. One time, I was behind her in the checkout line at Ralph's. The checker said hello to her and I got to hear her voice. It was very high and reedy, kind of sing-songy. She seemed extremely pleasant.We haven't seen the Lava Lady in about 3 or 4 years and her houses must have been sold, because they're white now and the lava rock is gone. She moved to Florida about 4 years ago to be near her children. She now resides in that area of Wellington Florida where she was been dubbed the Wellington Witch.  Strauss was infamous in L.A., just as she seems to be now in Wellington.There is another infamous witch, called the Wellington Witch who also visits the Royal Palm Beach Wal-Mart. I’ve seen this one too. She looks more like the traditional witch though, dressed entirely in black with a funny black hat. She actually wears what looks like black, combat boots.
photo courtesy~ maria
 The Wellington Witch has been frequently seen in the Wellington/Royal Palm Beach area. She even has a face book page. People have taken her picture while she’s shopping and posted it on the Internet. 
this is the most recent photo of SUSAN STRAUSS taken~ 3/20/2014~ 
UPDATE- i was recently told that suzan strauss passed to the other side on -
september 1st, 2016.
RIP- LEGEND- RIP
you can read more- HERE

photo courtesy~ heath
RECENT PHOTO~ 4/27/2014

photos courtesy~ oscar jeminez, compiled by rick castro from his writings and previous postings by beth & larry A, Joanne Levine , Paul Monroe and me~rick castro~ los angeles/antebellum correspondents 

26 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for this very interesting story. I love LA and lived there for 4 years. I wished I would have seen the house covered with lava. I only know the witch house in BH which I photographed.
    Hoping to hear more stories.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you so much for this very interesting story. I love LA and lived there for 4 years. I wished I would have seen the house covered with lava. I only know the witch house in BH which I photographed.
    Hoping to hear more stories.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you so much for this very interesting story. I love LA and lived there for 4 years. I wished I would have seen the house covered with lava. I only know the witch house in BH which I photographed.
    Hoping to hear more stories.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Such a presence, always a stillness in the air surrounding her. It made the excitement I felt whenever I caught sight of her all the more electric. I swore one day I'd have the nerve to approach or speak w her, but never did. I hope she somehow senses how inspiring she is to us.

    ReplyDelete
  5. At the beginning of the story her name is Susan Levi and at the end it's Susan Strauss? I feel sorry for her the way that people treated her more as an interesting object than a human being...

    ReplyDelete
  6. thank you for pointing that out.. her name is susan strauss... my mistake....

    ReplyDelete
  7. Just awesome, always wondered about her. The rumor amongst our group was that was was Dr. Suess' widow... had to the be her style. I was really sad when I saw that the lava house was destroyed... true LA history.

    ReplyDelete
  8. That was engaging and enlightening. I always saw her and was so excited every time. Once I dressed as her and went to her usual hangout at the Fairfax swap meet. People were very excited to see someone imitating their popular icon. Then a security guard told me that Susan had entered the swap meet. Both of us there at the same time. I was having my portrait painted as her when she saw me and tripped on a crack in the cement. My video "song for a righteous revolution" with me as her is on YouTube.

    ReplyDelete
  9. please send me the pics of you & susan and i will post!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I loved seeing this woman. Saw her a lot during the 80's and 90's shopping for vintage around the Melrose/La Brea area. I always fancied her walking in those high ass platforms. Se walked so slowly but so erect. She was a fashion icon in her eclectic style and rosy rouge cheeks. I did always wonder why she wrapped her hair and wore it straight up like a unicorn. She did have some mystery to her and was always alone. Her house was amazing to see from the outside and I always wondered what it looked like inside. Wish I saw her around now, would like to have lunch with her. (maybe a square egg). Cheers to Susan

    ReplyDelete
  11. Great story! I always saw this woman when I was out and about back in the 80s and 90s. She went to the Fairfax High School Trading Post a lot and the people there called her "The Black Widow." She reminded me of old Greta Garbo wandering around New York toward the end of her life. Garbo would walk all over the place and say nothing to anyone. This is who "The Black Widow" reminded me of!

    ReplyDelete
  12. As someone who knew her as the "Wellington Witch" I will say that she was given the name because she would wear a black dress, cape and witches hat everywhere she went. So it was actually a pretty obvious nickname to have given her

    ReplyDelete
  13. BLACK CAPES AND HATS DO NOT SIGNIFY A WITCH. IF THAT WAS THE CASE CARDINALS AND POPES WOULD BE CONSIDERED WITCHES.. ALSO JESUITS AND RABBIS.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Please don't shout, Antebellum. I'm sure KC simply was referring to the popular cultural/Disney/Brothers Grimm image of a witch as a pointy-hat or poke-bonnet wearing crone, flying to the Sabbat on a broomstick. I don't think this playful image is in any way intended to be disrespectful of Wiccans or wise women (or warlocks, for that matter).

    ReplyDelete
  15. @ IAIN~ I SUGGEST YOU LOOK AT KC HEARTLESS'S MAIN PAGE. SHE IS INTO GORE & HORROR, NOT PLAYFUL ANALOGIES. SUSAN DOESN'T WEAR BLACK CAPES AND WITCHES HATS, SHE'S ALSO NOT WICCAN. SUSAN IS AN ECCENTRIC HEIRESS, WITH HER OWN SENSE OF STYLE, SELF, AND THE WORLD AROUND HER.

    BTW- I'M NOT SHOUTING. I'M BLIND.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I always believed the rumor that she was related to Dr. Seuss in some way - but to find out that she shares the same last name as me is even cooler!! Hollywood local here and I used to see here everywhere as I hung out on Melrose circa the 80's and 90's !

    ReplyDelete
  17. I used to work on Melrose in the mid-late 90's and used to see this wonderful apparition of a woman quite often! Love her! Used to walk past that house intentionally on my way home as well!
    Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Thank you for the Spindlehead-Lava Lady compilation! In 1987, I was living on Sycamore & Fountain, and when I wasn’t working, I was either sleeping, clubbing, or buying groceries at the Mayfair Market on Fountain @ LA Brea. That’s where I first beheld Susan. She was way down at the other end of the produce aisle, and heading left, to the next aisle. I abandoned my vegetable shopping and tried to act nonchalant as I hightailed to the next aisle... mesmerized by the way she glided down the aisle in high platforms (a statement, as platforms were still reviled until about 1990/Lady Miss Kier, Red Balls on Fire, etc.). Her gait was as if the soles of her platforms were suction cups, and she had a henna-magenta spindle of hair, like Lautrec’s La Goulue or Picasso’s absinthe drinker. She was wearing an original, handcrafted, thick, double-knit ensemble in gray - flared pants, and sort of a short cape thing with a tall collar. I was smitten. (I had several Slouching-Toward-Joan-Didion experiences in that produce department – one with Ruth Buzzi, even! But witnessing Susan was MAGICAL.)
    In 1989, a coworker named Ceci had a party, She lived off Fairfax, and on her mantle was a diorama she’d made of Melrose, in foam core- and Spindlehead was one of the figures! We bonded. Little by little, I’d discover other friends who also knew and were smitten with Lava Lady. My friend Christopher announced that whenever we saw her, it was like a sign that something magical was gonna happen.
    Around 1991, when WeHo Halloween still had subversively creative homosexual participants, I watched with glee, as a Lava Lady dragster glided down SM Boulevard, regal and without speech, as three punky Latin skaters circled her like killer bees, hilariously badgering her with questions ”Hey Spindlehead, why do you dress like that?” ”Hey, why do you live in that lava rock house?” etcetera. It was one of those moments when I really, really, really loved Los Angeles. And it’s a really lyrical example of the kind of things that I miss about Los Angeles, in its current state. Sigh. It was a beautiful moment. Viva Lava Lady! And thanks again for all the loveliness.

    ReplyDelete
  19. You really didn't have to slam the South there...she really was a loved local icon. Everyone around here knew her and loved to see her. Not all witches wear black, no...not all people that wear all black are witches...and not all witches are bad (in fact, I know several actual witches and none of them are bad). It was mostly a matter of it fitting well with "Wellington" and none of us having any clue about her Lava Lady past until it became more widely available information. The name was started by children, and to us children, she looked like some ethereal, witchy sort of character out of a book. She was fascinating. She was kind...soft-spoken...and had to be seriously hot wearing all black down here, I mean, it's seriously hot and muggy down here, she had to have hella stamina. She started out wearing purple a lot, when she first showed up, but for whatever reason, she switched to black - always. Anyway, she passed away earlier in September, and she is missed <3 You can leave your love:
    http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/name/ray-strauss-obituary?pid=1000000181278968

    ReplyDelete
  20. She passed away this month September 1st 2016. She may have been dubbed the "wellington witch" but rest assured we here in palm beach were all equally fascinated and in love with this unique and beautiful person . Thank you for compiling this information for us to read

    ReplyDelete
  21. Thanks for sharing this story -sad to know she is not around anymore,i met her at the Fairfax fleamart in hollywood-she came up to my booth looked at my artwork,we talked for a shortwhile. She was stunning,not people make such an impact (her and David Bowie) now no more....... RIP

    ReplyDelete
  22. Didnt have to call people of the south stupid. people in wellington loved her. she use to ride my mothers bus all the time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. DO PEOPLE IN WELLINGTON CALL ALL WOMEN THEY LOVE WITCHES?

      Delete
  23. Susan Strauss is my Spirit Animal!!!!

    And she has children??? Weird, I would never have thought...I wonder what they are like, Imagine if that was your mom, I wonder what they think about her lifestyle choices, how did she dress them? What was their childhood home like? Who is their father? Did they turn out ultra Normal to rebel? This just opens up a whole new set of questions. I just love and appreciate the world's dedicated eccentrics they truly improve the quality of all our lives by sparking our imaginations, and bringing us together by giving us something larger than life to talk about and speculate over. I used to live in that magical area of los Angeles between Melrose and beverly in the 90s. Honestly, back then she terrified me but in a really fun way. The story I heard about her was that she was a Satanist who had been involved with Anton Laveys group in the sixties,and that she was a practicing satanic witch. Shows what I knew,I was such a kid. I thought I was so smart lol, now of course I know that alas even the Satanists are disappointingly not that evil...just atheists really. Not that I Like evil, but in a way, we all do, we love the idea of it, we want people to be larger than life to represent that for us...so much that we project it onto anybody who seems to fit the bill...even quiet retired poets who dig plastic baby furniture (that made my year thank you) Thank you so much for sharing this story. I've thought about it all day and that made it a cool day. I hope she realized how well loved she was, I hope her kids realize it too. What a neat lady rest in peace you gorgeous creature

    ReplyDelete