A Trip Through Lost Los Angeles in Ed Ruscha's Wonderful Time Machine

When we think back on how we spent the hottest weekend in years, the memories will be surprisingly cool

Gentle reader,

Greetings from your friendly historic Los Angeles sightseeing tour company, in mothballs until we can again organize groups to gather and explore the city we love. We’ve finally secured delivery of all the technical gear we need to host online events, and an announcement of the first ticketed webinar is forthcoming. Thanks for your patience and stay tuned.

What an adventure we had this week! On Wednesday, the Getty Research Institute quietly announced a major new addition to its online archives, the digitization with map-based interpretation of Ed Ruscha’s enormous archive of Los Angeles streetscape photography, more than 70,000 images spanning the years 1965-2010.

In ordinary times, it would have been newsworthy, accompanied by a photo spread in the Times or a featurette on Curbed LA (RIP).

But nobody was talking about it, with the exception of vintage clothing dealer and preservationist Cameron Silver, who shared on Instagram a 1975 shot of the art deco building where Decades trades on Melrose Avenue.

Blame the heat, or the fires, the media furloughs, the relentless news cycle, the pandemic or sheer exhaustion. We felt like the last people on earth as we explored old Los Angeles in Mr. Ruscha’s wonderful time machine, virtually cruising down the Sunset Strip and Hollywood Boulevard, through the Santa Monica Boulevard Studio District and out to Silver Lake, skipping effortlessly between the decades.

It was hot as blazes here in 2020, but easy to forget about bodily discomfort, with such a fascinating distraction at hand.

By Saturday evening, we couldn’t stand to keep this treasure to ourselves any longer, and published a blog post highlighting a few buildings and signs we found particularly beguiling, and encouraging others who love Los Angeles to explore the archive and share their discoveries.

Alison Martino from Vintage Los Angeles accepted the challenge, as did Variety’s Pat Saperstein. Alison’s heart is on the West Side, so she scoped out the Standard Oil station at Doheny and Santa Monica that was painted by Ruscha and photographed by Dennis Hopper, architect Welton Becket’s office, and the pungent Wonder Bread factory. Pat made a bee line for 1980s Silver Lake, and the funky storefront eateries that haunt her dreams. Twitter user Seanternet found a hobbit-themed gay dance club. Wayne Bremser found the 99 Cents Only store where Andreas Gursky shot “99 Cent II Diptych on” in 2001. kalART ignored the buildings while digging the Chevrolets. And Rio Dylan Hernandez made note of a most unusual cafeteria.

We’re so grateful to the Getty, and its dedicated team of archivists, librarians, metadata specialists, imaging experts, UX designers, software engineers, project managers and members of the research community who transformed the contents of thousands of archival boxes into a virtual special collections reading room, where enthusiasts all over the world can safely explore the layers of Los Angeles that Ed Ruscha captured as part of his extraordinary project.

In such challenging times, we can count on the institutions and professionals tasked with protecting our shared history to find new ways to explore the past and think about the future. Here’s to many fascinating hours exploring this wonderful addition to the study of Los Angeles, and to other archives that are inspired to take their holdings online in fresh ways that leverage new tools and accessibility.

We can’t wait to see what YOU find when you take a spin in Ed Ruscha’s wonderful time machine. Send us a postcard from the road!

yours for Los Angeles,

Kim & Richard


Subscribe! In the latest subscriber's edition of this newsletter—$10/month, cheap!—Archeological Explorations in Downtown's Mayan Theatre—the exotic architecture is spectacular, but it's some pencil stub scribblings on a plain cement wall that really blew our mind. Not a subscriber? Sneak a peek here.


If you enjoy all we do to celebrate and preserve Los Angeles history and would like to say thank you, please consider signing up for the subscriber’s edition of this newsletter, or putting a little something into our digital tip jar. Looking for something L.A.-centric to enliven your collection? We’ve got a swell selection of local history books and maps, some written by us, others sourced from dusty warehouses. And we finally figured out how to ship these goodies direct from our quarantine pad to yours! For a wider selection, Bookshop uses the power of distributor Ingram to help independent bookstores stick around. We've curated a selection of uniquely Los Angeles titles, and when you order from these links, it supports participating local shops, and us, too. You can also click here before shopping on Amazon. Or you can reserve a gift certificate to join us for a tour once we're back on the road (tour gift certificates will also be redeemable for the lower priced ticketed webinars while tours are on hiatus)... & if you love what we do, please tell your friends.


We're dark until public health officials determine that groups can gather safely. But we've got 138 episodes of the podcast You Can't Eat The Sunshine free to download for armchair explorers, and videos of the Downtown L.A. LAVA walking tours, plus Cranky Preservationist videos.


Road Trip! Although public bus tours are on hiatus, we still get around on our social distancing road trips around our beloved Los Angeles. Be a virtual backseat companion when you click the #esotouricroadtrip hashtag, on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

New on the Esotouric blog: Meet Jess, The Lopsided Monarch Butterfly Whose Wings We Splinted. Perfectly healthy, except she couldn't fly, we laid her on a towel and started gluing. Will she soar? Watch the video and see!… We marvel at Pasadena's recently rediscovered Adohr Milk Farms neon sign (it’s staying!) and gripe over sloppy research about Nat King Cole's racist neighbors.

Video Vault: Poet Suzanne Lummis' latest They Write By Night is a love letter to lost Bunker Hill, which was never as Noir as development-drunk city planners wanted us to believe.

Inundated by Zoom calls from panicked sign freaks, Alhambra City Council backed off its plan to strap modern metal signs to the city's vintage neon way finding standards.

Millard Sheets' Scottish Rite Temple was all carved up for the Marciano brothers' vanity museum. After an ugly labor dispute, the building is shuttered and the attached nonprofit looks a lot like money laundering.

Millard Sheets expert Adam Arenson weighs in on the mystery tile mural on the Spanish Colonial McKee HQ near the Glendale border. With chronological, business and stylistic ties to the Scottish Rite Temple, it has Sheets freaks most intrigued.

Penny Marshall had an eye for oddities, collecting folk art and signage along with Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau objects. You might find a treasure in her estate sale, auctioned on September 13. (You might also find a poltergeist.)

New on R.I.P. Los Angeles, the feel-bad blog this city deserves: a lovely bit of Late Moderne commercial, and a stealth Edwardian apartment block, set to fall for the usual monstrosity…. Bulldozers threaten a multi-family compound just off Lankershim, shaded by huge trees recalling the valley's agricultural roots; tough luck to the neighbors who shared the open space and tree canopy for 80 years…. The Planning Department acts like the FBI isn't interviewing senior staff in Jose Huizar's public corruption investigation, rules against neighbors desperately seeking to protect their historic block from upzoned garbage.

Friends of Griffith Park asks concerned Angelenos to take a stand against the proposed aerial tram to the Hollywood Sign by filling out the boosters’ survey with a loud “no thank you!”

We wonder if Jerry Perenchio's spirit is trapped in an earthly limbo under the surface of the La Brea Tar Pits, tormented that his posthumous promise to LACMA was used to justify destruction of the museum he loved?

Details about the Alpine Village historic landmark hearing before the County Supervisors, Tuesday, September 29, 2020 at 9:30 a.m, probably virtual. (PDF link.)

Another public meeting that same morning: Head of Chinatown Business Improvement District advocated for dangerous street lights to be left unrepaired in hopes that unhoused citizens would be killed tapping them. Let him know what you think.

Not so fast, Onni Group! Public interest nonprofit SAFER has appealed (PDF) the city's approval of the Times Mirror Square project on grounds that it violates CEQA and is again demanding a real and truthful Environmental Impact Report. Can this Pereira in Peril stand?

There were so many ways to die in post-war Los Angeles, and the County Coroner laid them out neatly in his annual report to the Supervisors.

Pershing Square Renew, a nonprofit that was formed to allow corrupt Los Angeles Councilmember Jose Huizar to play at being a city planner and hobnob with Parisian architects, has dissolved. But where's that $1M pledge from favored developer MacFarlane?

Remember when Little Tokyoites demanded Parker Center's demolition? Did you know emails from Gil Cedillo's office show they were "bussed in" to manufacture a false "community buy in," in exchange for PLUM support of development project? This is our public comment as the quid pro quo is delivered.

New from the Museum of Neon Art: self-guided tours of the vintage signs of Glendale, East Hollywood, Koreatown, Echo Park, the Sunset Strip and Route 66. Be a socially distanced sign geek until the museum can safely reopen.

Architect Sumner Hunt wept. Vermont Square is one of the city’s most beautiful libraries, a Carnegie, and like any 1913 building, it needs work to look good and run smoothly. Instead, we get surveillance.

South Pasadena elevates citizen critic who warned of financial improprieties in the unaudited budget, as city finance director splits for points unknown.

What's going on at Level Furnished Living, Onni Group's illegal hotel at 9th and Olive? Wild parties, gunfire, velvet ropes, smashed windshields, enraged neighbors. (Why does the city shut down one hillside party house, and let a party tower rage on? Corruption, we figure. Same irresponsible company seeking to demolish the L.A. Times.)

Brookfield Properties destroyed a culturally significant Lawrence Halprin landscape design, Crocker Court, with no notice, over the holidays. Now they're branding their new space on the backs of the Robert Graham sculptures yanked out before the jackhammers came. It's shameful, and the Cranky Preservationist agrees.