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Dirk Braun is shown inside his namesake gallery on Malibu Road. Contributed Photo

The ‘Storm Blüthner’ piano will be on display at DIRK BRAUN Gallery starting March 6

By Benjamin Marcus

The DIRK BRAUN gallery is a wonderful, well-lighted place tucked away on Malibu Road between Spic n’ Span Cleaners and LACO Fire Station 88. There on Malibu Road, DIRK BRAUN gallery is situated in a quiet coastal town with a lot of stately homes with a lot of wall space that needs filling. The DIRK BRAUN gallery fills those walls with limited-edition, large-scale framed photographs. Dirk Braun likes to throw the occasional cocktail party and this Wednesday, the 7th, he will have a party featuring a 19th-century piano nearly drowned by a 21st-century atmospheric river.

When and how did you become infatuated with the Grumman Albatross? 

The best design is most beautiful, and I believe the Albatross reigns supreme. With the ability of taking off and landing on land, open ocean, snow, and ice, and a range capable of crossing oceans, this aircraft inspires dreams and speaks to fantasy. A friend of mine introduced me to this aircraft when I was 18 and it was something that stuck with me and I dreamed about making a film about them.

Google says the flying boat era was the ’20s and ’30s. I’m thinking of those vintage posters of travel to Hawaii — where the plane figured as prominently as Diamond Head and palm trees and hula dancers.

The flying boat era was short-lived but was most adventurous and romantic. Before there was a network of runways, flying boats ruled the skies. There were hundreds of different models, and were the first aircraft to pioneer long-distance air travel, which beforehand was only done by cruise ships. 

People would gather and watch these flying boats as they would take off and land at places like the LaGuardia Marine Air Terminal and Dinner Key in Miami. These beautiful aircraft would be coming from or going to far-flung exotic locations around the world.  

Wasn’t Howard Hughes flying one in “The Aviator”? Landed it somewhere in Malibu?

Howard Hughes famously built the largest flying boat, H-4 Hercules, which is featured in my film. In the movie “The Aviator,” Leonardo DiCaprio (playing Howard Hughes) flies a Sikorsky S-38 flying boat (featured in my 21-minute extras film too). This aircraft was also used by Charles Lindbergh to initiate air mail service between the U.S. and the Panama Canal and for airborne African photography and filming missions in the 1930s. During WWII, a network of runways were made, and the flying boat was phased out of service.

Makes sense. World War II changed everything, including the need for flying boats. A shame. They’re a beautiful animal.

The second wave of flying boats was in the late 1940s, 1950s and ’60s. The Grumman Albatross is a large twin-radial engine amphibious seaplane used by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard primarily for open ocean search and rescue missions. It is very rugged with the ability to take off and land in high seas and has long-distance range.  

Google says 2,850 miles for range. That’s plenty for cross country and cross the ocean. 

With the addition of drop tanks, they could go even longer distances and fly for up to 20 hours without having to refuel. They were the last passenger transport flying boat used by the famed Pan American Airlines and have been used for countless other explorations and research missions. In the 1990s, Billabong outfitted a Grumman Albatross and went on surf missions in secret spots around the world.

Where are these planes now? 

Most of these aircraft were sent to the boneyard, a vast area in Tucson, Arizona, where 4,000-plus aircraft lie in permanent storage, wasting away. The last remaining examples of these fabled machines were brought back to airworthiness after being in all stages of condition by a few mechanics and pilots and are now used for their own unique ambitions and aspirations. These people are featured in my film “Flying Boat.”

Do you own an Albatross? You could do well giving rides off the Malibu Pier, up and down the 21 Miles of Scenic Beauty and out to Catalina. That would be swell!

I am involved with a company called Amphibian Aerospace Industries that is remanufacturing this aircraft, now with a modern cockpit and turboprop engines. It can be outfitted for utilitarian purposes or for those interested in the most adventurous experience possible: a custom luxuriously-appointed interior which can include a galley and beds and custom surf and scuba racks. 

I ask this question of all pilots: If you could fly any five aircraft — Past, present or future — what aircraft would they be? Mine are: 1. The P51 Mustang. 2. The A10 Warthog. 3. F22 Raptor. 4. P38 Lightning. 5. A jet pack untethered from the ISIS.

Nice choices. Mine would be:

Amphibian Aerospace Industries Albatross 2.0

Lockheed Super Constellation

Sikorsky S-38

Morane-Saulnier MS.760 Paris jet

Korabl Maket (Caspian Sea Monster)

Tell us about the DIRK BRAUN gallery: When did you open? How has the reception been? 

We opened in August 2022 and are looking forward to hosting more events and exhibitions.

I specialize in limited edition, large-scale framed photographs. Some of my pieces are as large as 100 inches framed and compliment the walls of large contemporary homes.  

At Zinque this morning, you spoke about displaying a piano that survived a mudslide in Beverly Glen during the Atmospheric River. 

The piano is an 1875 Blüthner that once belonged to Academy Award-nominated opera singer Miliza Korjus. She was well known for her first role in the 1938 film, “The Great Waltz.” After record-breaking rainfall a few weeks ago during a winter storm that slammed Southern California, this piano was ejected from a vacant home in Beverly Glen that was dislodged from its foundation and washed down the street during a mudslide.  

Yikes. The atmospheric river claims another. Los Angeles just goes to shinola when it rains.

The neighbors discovered the piano upside down, in the street, covered in mud and wanted to save it from being thrown away. The Kasimoffs saw the piano on the front page of The LA Times and could instantly recognize that it was a Blüthner. They connected the neighbors with movers and the piano was hoisted onto a truck and brought to the store where it is now on display in the front window. The Kasimoffs have named the piano “The Storm Blüthner.” Kyrill Kasimoff and his 92-year old mother Helga have been running the store since 1963.

And now it is here, safe and sound, high and dry in Malibu.

From March 6 and ongoing after the Academy Awards this “Storm Blüthner” piano will be on display at the gallery. There will be a cocktail party on March 7 from 4 to 7 p.m. with a live piano performance.

Is it playable? I know a jazz pianist in Malibu who might want to have a go.

It isn’t playable but it’s remarkable that after being thrashed and bashed, not one string on it was broken! It’s a unique, irreplaceable art piece and will be on display at the gallery starting on Wednesday, March 6. We’ll also have another piano there for the live performance on Thursday, March 7.  

To RSVP please email gilles@dirkbraungallery.com