Just when we try to go on hiatus... BOOM! The preservation Bat Signal calls on us to help save the world's biggest Chili Bowl
Greetings from your friendly historic Los Angeles sightseeing tour company, now offering digital programming until we can again organize groups to gather and explore the city we love.
So there we were, trying to remember how to relax after 36 straight weeks of all-new Saturday pandemic series webinars, musing on what it will take to return to in-person tours, and cruising down to the Inland Empire on day trips to explore vintage pancake joints, cobblers, pioneer graveyards, adaptive reuse museum projects, nationally recognized endangered adobes and commune with the Mission Inn kitty cats, when the klaxon buzzer went off.
RED ALERT! Kim and Richard are urgently needed to speak for a weird Los Angeles landmark on the ropes!
We threw on our capes and got moving. If you click the photo below, you’ll see our new petition, and we really hope you’ll sign and share. For much more info, with links and a timeline about this crisis, click here.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
The landmark nomination for the last giant Chili Bowl restaurant in Los Angeles was prepared by the Los Angeles Conservancy, and made it through a contentious debate at the Cultural Heritage Commission with a positive decision. We have a soft spot for giant buildings shaped like what they sell, and were thrilled to see the Chili Bowl on its way to protected status. Surely once it was named a landmark, the Conservancy could work with the new property owner to find a preservation solution allowing them to build up and around the little building.
But nothing happened as expected. The CHC vote was in February 2020. A month later, the landmarking process was halted along with all city land use deadlines due to the Mayor’s COVID emergency orders. Then in December the property owner evicted their Michelin-starred sushi restaurant tenant and sued the city for the right to demolish the Chili Bowl.
Lots of drama and cause for concern. Still, we assumed the Conservancy’s professional preservation advocates would stay at the table to fight for their Chili Bowl landmark nomination, which had the support of the local Neighborhood Council, the CHC and the community. Even with a cranky, litigious property owner, compromise was still possible. Right?
Yesterday, City Hall opened up for business, with the Chili Bowl on the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee agenda.
First, PLUM heard a request from councilmembers Paul Krekorian and Nithya Raman to declare the shuttered, recently sold gay bar Oil Can Harry’s a protected landmark, and was happy to oblige. Yay, Pride!
But when the Chili Bowl came up for consideration, the L.A. Conservancy wasn’t there to speak about their nomination. Richard and another community member had already made supportive public comment at the start of the meeting. And later we learned that at least one member of the public was on the phone frantically pressing the “raise hand” button, only to be ignored.
Without any advocacy from the Conservancy and with the citizen caller excluded, the only comment before the vote came from Councilman Mike Bonin, who sent his Senior Planning Deputy Jason Patrick Douglas to declare this utterly unique and delightful 1935 building unworthy of landmark status!
Why? Because according to Bonin’s deputy and to the property owner who wants to demolish it, it is too greatly altered from its original appearance to qualify as a city landmark. Below is the then and now comparison included in the property owner’s own report. It’s a patently ridiculous claim, and if we’d been down there at City Hall instead of listening to the audio-only YouTube stream, we might have yelled out, “Stop gaslighting us!” (We did yell it here at home.)
But public support of a high quality landmark nomination and an ever-rising tide of citizen anger means nothing in this town. Just as it had with Oil Can Harry’s, the PLUM Committee deferred to the wishes of the local councilmember and stopped the Chili Bowl in its tracks for Mike Bonin.
Gee, Mike, we hope the donation from 12244 PICO, LLC is worth it.
That person who was trying to get through by phone has filed a complaint with the City Attorney for the Brown Act violation, and asked that PLUM’s vote be voided because the public was excluded.
As for us, we’re working the phones looking for the perfect possible home for the Chili Bowl and ideas for how the historic restaurant could be restored and reactivated, in anticipation of a meeting with Mike Bonin’s Senior Planning staff. We would love to bring a petition with your name on it to that meeting.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Not so many years ago, this city functioned more or less smoothly, and Angelenos didn’t have to dress up in metaphorical capes to fix the enormous and easily solved land use errors of politicians who dole out favors at the expense of what’s good for Los Angeles.
Our dream is that we might be able to forget about City Hall for weeks at a time. But until each one of us wakes up from this shared nightmare of incompetence, dysfunction, gaslighting, corruption and favoritism, we’re going to keep a gimlet eye on that gleaming white tower at 1st and Spring, and do what we can to make Los Angeles live up what we believe she can be.
We’ll leave you with Richard’s quote from the press release about the Friends of the Chili Bowl petition campaign, and a funny twist.
Richard says, “For too long, City Hall has served the interests of wealthy property developers, their lobbyists and land use attorneys, while ignoring their actual constituents. The Chili Bowl landmark effort ending in PLUM is a shocking example of a councilmember rejecting the informed opinions of the Cultural Heritage Commission, Los Angeles Conservancy, local neighborhood council and community members just to make a developer happy. The irony is that Chili Bowl founder Art Whizin ran for Los Angeles Mayor in 1969 on a platform of creating a Neighborhood Community Federation, to give citizens a real voice in City Hall. I’m honored to use my voice to advocate for preservation of Art’s cool building, and for the People Power that he wanted his fellow Angelenos to enjoy.”
WWAWD? He’d fight hard and use his brains for good—and so will we!
yours for Los Angeles,
Kim & Richard
Our pandemic series of webinars is now available as On-Demand recordings: Elysian Park • Victorian Los Angeles • Downtown L.A. Artists • 4th & Main • Llano del Rio Utopian Colony • Downtown L.A. Treasure Hunt • Wilshire Boulevard • Sunset Boulevard • John Fante • Art Deco Leisure Suits • Paul R. Williams • Saving South L.A. Landmarks • Birth of Noir • Storybook Architecture • Dark Side of the West Side • Hotel Cecil • L.A. Historic Preservation, 1900s-1980s • Southern California’s Architecture of Death • Crawford’s Markets • John Bengtson’s Silent Film Locations • George Mann’s Vintage L.A. • Pershing Square • Cafeterias of Old L.A. • Programmatic Architecture • Angels Flight • Grand Central Market • Ohio River Valley • Bunker Hill • Charles Bukowski • Raymond Chandler • Black Dahlia • Dutch Chocolate Shop • Bradbury Building • Tunnels • L.A. Times Bombing and 13 Uncanny Crimes & Mysteries.
Subscribe! In the latest subscriber's edition of this newsletter—$10/month, cheap!—Slip Into Hall of Waters, a ragged Mayan Art Deco marvel awaiting its next act—we find haunting relics in a basement bomb shelter.
WANT TO SUPPORT OUR WORK?
If you enjoy all we do to celebrate and preserve Los Angeles history, please consider signing up for (or gifting) the subscriber’s edition of this newsletter, or putting a little something into our digital tip jar. Gift certificates are available for any webinar in our on-demand library (or for upcoming occasional webinars), starting at $10. Printed matter? We’ve got a swell selection of books and maps, some written by us, others sourced from dusty warehouses. 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... & if you love what we do, please tell your friends.
AND WHAT'S THE NEXT TOUR? WHO KNOWS?!
We're dark until public health officials and we determine that groups can gather safely. But in addition to on-demand webinar programs, 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.
AND FINALLY, LINKS
Mike Battle is crafting tiny replicas of iconic Los Angeles and Rochester sign landmarks as centerpieces for his wedding to Kelly Brooks. Every one of these cool places figures in their romance. Good luck, kids!
Holy cats! Follow Heritage Square Museum on Instagram on a Utah road trip to retrieve salvaged relics from the demolished Bunker Hill Hopecrest / Hildreth mansion, coming home to Los Angeles to live at Heritage Square.
Disturbing changes to the newly landmarked International Institute of Boyle Heights, in escrow with a prospective new owner doing work. A new fortress-like gate and gothic color scheme appear to violate the preservation ordinance. (Photos: David Silvas)
Terrible: the 1920s building at Third and Los Angeles that recently exploded was Little Tokyo Art Complex, with 20+ artists' studios and storage spaces upstairs, and exploding vape shop tanks below. Art Share LA is fundraising to replace materials.
Historic-Cultural Monument nomination submitted for Edmund "Rochester" Anderson Residence (Paul R. Williams, 1941) 1932 Rochester Cir. West Adams, first hearing 7/1. Currently on the market for $3.6M, it operates as a hostel.
Community rallies to save Alhambra's Hawaiian style Aloha Food Factory, threatened with displacement for an automated car wash, and the Planning Commission takes the item off its agenda. A new hearing is scheduled for 6/21. Can this unique spot be saved?
Can't help wonder if Los Angeles City Councilmember Nithya Raman would be facing recall if she'd retained David Ryu's core office staff. Changes in policy aside, CD4 "going dark" on phone/email replies has infuriated many of its most engaged constituents. Can you hear them now? (Some who worked on her campaign are also unhappy.)
In the recent history of Los Angeles City Council, we had one staunch contrarian, a former big band musician who analyzed every vote through the lens of “is this good for tax payers and for L.A.?” Ernani Bernardi's critiques had impact, could be a model for future reform candidates.
Video: Old folk art memorial gate tucked away at the Agua Mansa Pioneer Cemetery in Colton's industrial belt. So many layers of Southern California history can be explored at this holy place, but mostly the lizards and squirrels do so today.
Eric Garcetti extends President Richard Barron's term on the Cultural Heritage Commission. If the India rumors are true, the recent flurry of commission appointments could be among the mayor's last official acts.
Santa Monicans met at Belmar Park to protest planned demolition of Santa Monica High School's Art Deco History Building, seek recall of School Board that won't consider a #SaMoHi preservation solution.
Cheers to Pasadena's own Kenton Nelson, whose New Yorker cover gazes back to the style of the WPA moderne regionalist muralists while hinting that the nation might once again leverage the talents of its creative class through a new WPA. Yes, please!
Michel Bordagary is something of a time traveler, the last of a generation of Basque immigrant boarding house dwellers. If you visit Centro Basco in Chino, sit at his table and he might tell you a story.
Controversy erupts over the fate of the partially vacant multi-family 626 Prospect, one of the trapped-in-amber 710 Freeway extension properties finally freed. But will it be market rate, church owned or or affordable housing for longtime tenants?
About the fire on Friday night at 4867 Melrose, a Swiss chalet craftsman bungalow built in 1913 and illegally operated as a dangerous hostel in plain sight of the city of Los Angeles by the former “Doctor 420.”
CEQA appeal filed on the 6555 W. Franklin Avenue Whitley Heights project that destroyed two lovely historic homes (PDF link to failed landmark nomination), with claims that Eric Garcetti's Planning Department altered zoning, falsely stating the site is not in a high fire hazard zone to allow denser development than is legal.
As Huntington Library readers and ardent preservationists, we love that the library's cache of Christopher Isherwood papers helped inform the recent landmarking of his longtime home with Don Bachardy, a place of cultural but not architectural significance.
Fascinating piece on Capote-esque Twitter grifter Yashar Ali, who sidelined Eric Garcetti's D.C. ambitions with blogged abuse allegations. Could he have stockpiled blackmail material on Gavin Newsom when he controlled the then-mayor's social media accounts?
Los Angeles City and County parks remain closed with no reasonable explanation, and we're very concerned they won't reopen until politicians find a way to privatize, fence and monetize every one of them. Why live in cities if they're run like bad HOAs?
Checking in on the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel and the unpermitted removal of the historic neon sign. Now a portion of the sign is back, looking as it did before the 1955 Paul R. Williams remodel. Missing is the word THE and the backlit plastic marquee.
New from Bunker Hill historian Nathan Marsak: "We Need to Talk About Cooper Do-Nuts." Sorry, John Rechy—it's a great pre-Stonewall riot story, but it melts like cotton candy in the old swimming hole when you look closely.
Holy space freaks! An incredibly rare pamphlet of extraterrestrial beings drawn by Bradbury Building architect George Wyman for his grandson Forry Ackerman and distributed at the 1941 Denver Sci-Fi Fest just sold at Getman's Virtual Book Fair (temporary listing link).
This is completely insane: Hollywood restaurant owners take over a public median—which BTW is also a war memorial!—for al fresco dining. Neighbors are furious, but these guys seem to believe they're entitled to annex city land. Is that gorgeous jacaranda okay?
Development planned for Culver City Dinah's... but don't worry, giant Dutch baby pancake and fried chicken fans: the new building will wrap around the Googie gem. Gee, maybe the Chili Bowl owners could take a lesson. And how do they make those amazing pancakes? Sasha Khokha found out!