In Loving Memory of A Giant Chili Bowl, Sacrificed On The Altar of Civic Corruption
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.
Since last we wrote you about it, the wonderful giant Chili Bowl on Pico Boulevard has suffered a pointless and painful series of abuses, which we’ve been chronicling with the aid of its dedicated fans.
First, green demolition fencing went up, obscuring the view of the potential National Register landmark. So a worried fan flew a drone overhead, capturing grisly footage of workers scooping out the restaurant’s guts as if it was a Jack O’Lantern. A day later, another concerned citizen captured close up views of the historic structure being sliced into labeled sections, like an orange peeled by an ape.
But if there’s a plan to preserve and put these somewhat ravaged sections back together somewhere, sometime, neither the property owner nor councilman Mike Bonin is talking. Since February 16, we have sent eight emails to a previously active thread with Bonin’s planning staff, with no response.
Back when they were still talking to us, they said that the councilman had made a deal with the property owner—implying that in exchange for Mike Bonin not supporting landmarking last summer, the owner had agreed to move the building off site. Clearly, that didn’t happen. And it’s not at all what the councilman’s deputy said at the fatal landmarking hearing.
Despite the damage to the structure, we continue to advocate for a preservation solution, and to be dismayed by the power and influence that developers—and “developers,” for in this case there is no project proposed for the parcel—have over our almost comically corrupt and equally inept City Hall “leaders.”
With this building having been moved once before, and many folks interested in moving it again, we must sadly suspect that there is some malice at the core of how unpleasantly the Chili Bowl saga played out. And if there is malice in it, it reflects very poorly on the council office, the property owners and their legal team. It’s wrong to destroy something cool just because you can, and because you know it will cause pain.
Yes, it hurts to see the Chili Bowl chopped up, but it only makes us fight harder.
And every public preservation battle exposes weak spots in the forces that seek to destroy our shared history. The Chili Bowl campaign showed Angelenos that pro-development lobbyist group Abundant Housing LA will blatantly lie about a non-existent housing project to undermine the work of the nation’s largest member-based preservation non-profit, the Los Angeles Conservancy, and promote their growth-at-all-costs agenda. Their credibility is shot.
We hope people will remember the Chili Bowl, and tell their friends that this Abundant Housing gang acts in bad faith and is full of… beans!
But there was no time to mourn the Chili Bowl, because another remarkable and neglected mid-century California landmark needed our help.
Since our visit a month ago to Old Trapper’s Lodge on the campus of Pierce College, we’ve been studying the history of this widely misunderstood work and the enormous efforts by one of our preservation heroes, Seymour Rosen, to save it. Rosen’s documentation on the project has been scanned by SPACES Archives, and can be found here—it’s an impressive and illuminating file.
We hope you’ll visit our blog to learn more, become a Friend of "O.T" and join us in advocating for a solution that honors the accomplishments of sculptors John Ehn and Claude K. Bell and of preservationist Seymour Rosen, while keeping this folk art environment intact, accessible and in decent repair.
We've been working with historian Colleen Adair Fliedner and Supervisor Janice Hahn's office on options for preservation and interpretation of historic Rancho Los Amigos, the old County Poor Farm. So you can imagine our dismay when on February 23, we heard a helicopter reporter lament that the landmark property was burning down. So the next morning, we rushed to the campus to see if the historic buildings and sentinel trees on our preservation wish list had survived, and found... well, see for yourself.
For the story of this special place and our hopes for how it can again be of service to Angelenos in need, check out Colleen’s blog post and on-demand webinar. And stay tuned for much more Rancho Los Amigos news, as we’ve finally been able to walk the property and share our hopes and dreams with those in charge.
Finally, a reminder that early Sunday morning the time changes and we don't want you to be caught unawares. So remember to "spring forward" and reset your vintage neon clocks by adding one hour before bedtime. If you wake up early, you might head over to Breed Street in Boyle Heights for a community tree planting and giveaway in the shadow of the historic Jewish temple.
Psst… If you’d like to support our efforts to be the voice of places worth preserving, we have a tip jar and a subscriber edition of this newsletter. Or just share this link with other people who care.
yours for Los Angeles,
Kim & Richard
In the latest subscriber's edition of this newsletter—$10/month, cheap!—The Ghost of Harry Bergman's Roadside Museum on Highway 371: of provenance, weed murders, big lizards and the transformative effect of green glass shards lit by the sun.
CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS
Save the date, Thursday March 17 at 10am, for the final Cultural Heritage Commission hearing deciding if Walker's Cafe in San Pedro can become an official Los Angeles landmark. We hope you'll tune in and call in and help protect this treasure!
New in the souvenir shop: We have very limited supplies of the out-of-print Picture Album of Historic Angelino Heights, produced by local preservationists to promote the neighborhood. And in memory of Charles Bukowski, who died this week in 1994, we’ve revised our guidebook to the city he loved.
Boris Dralyuk shares a few fine poems from his forthcoming collection My Hollywood, pointed love letters to our endangered dingbat apartments, bungalow courts and the vanishing barflies of Hank's in the Stillwell Hotel.
Instead of adding to the politicized "L.A. is a hell mouth" coverage like countless lazy outlets, the Jewish Journal went looking for people who love this city, and gave them space to say why.
In 2019, El Pueblo lost one of its 1875 Moreton Bay Figs. The three surviving trees finally got an arborist’s assessment in November, which was only just made public. In short: our sentinel trees are in peril, and they need immediate deadwood pruning, improved irrigation and a root check to determine viability. We cannot wait years for reports while the trees get sicker!
A camera obscura appeared inside one of the Canada Malting Silos that Toronto is restoring, and it's a haunting effect. Weird things happen with light and sound inside curved spaces, like the grain silo at Llano del Rio, subject of an Esotouric webinar.
These fine Pico-Union homes we recently returned to were boarded up before the pandemic, to the Cranky Preservationist's dismay. Upzoned HHH housing projects don't just take great buildings, they take years to even break ground. This city supported project is finally moving forward. (But we worry vulnerable people may be living inside still.)
We're quoted in this thought provoking L.A. Taco piece about the city’s obsolete air raid sirens, with a shout out to the one Frank Gehry "lost."
So Izek Shomof claims to want to solve the homeless crisis by converting Boyle Heights Sears to shelter and services? The crisis he contributed to by illegally emptying three Skid Row SRO hotels, including the still desolate Leland?
Important reporting from Matthew Stromberg about the Department of Cultural Affairs, a $20 Million city department that essentially ceased functioning at the start of the pandemic, and still is MIA.
For its Hoffman Candy Co. landmark campaign, the Art Deco Society of L.A. shares vintage family photos and ephemera.
We’re very pleased the County is buying the long vacant Fellowship House in Boyle Heights to be a 40-unit interim housing facility under Project Homekey. This lovely building is where many Japanese American Angelenos transitioned back to freedom after internment.
The fine boarded up 1909 mansion at 930 Park View where we photographed Cranky Preservationist Nathan Marsak pre-pandemic burned for the second time on 2/22 and got an LAFD hashtag #ParkViewFire. It could be home to a dozen people, but instead sold for $1.9M in 2018, held empty since. Vacancy tax now! (fire photo: RMGNews)
After local union Unite Here did the math on their PPP loans, Congress is looking into Chinese EB-5 visa fraud in the financing of Relevant Group’s neighborhood destroying Hollywood entertainment campus.
First a fire took one neglected Japanese American landmark at Historic Wintersburg, then a second building was allowed to burn, and the potential arson site was destroyed. We think the FBI needs to investigate what may very well be a hate crime.
Last summer, we shared the news that Owl Pen Books (est. 1960 in upstate New York) was for sale, and suggested somebody tuned into our social media might be its next steward. And magically, they were!
We’re thrilled the Huntington got Gloria Stuart's papers. She was a great friend of Watts Towers when it was threatened and painted this sweet study that LACMA has on non-public view at the Hall of Administration.
In Praise of Used Bookshops, the story of how a scarce pamphlet penned by a fired Los Angeles cop inspired Kim's debut novel starring the young Raymond Chandler.
The end of a era: the Hathaway family has sold the Los Angeles Athletic Club, where oilman Raymond Chandler drank through his lunch hour eavesdropping on the worst people in the world, later to be fictionalized.
There is joy in Frenchtown: the Le Mesnager family's stone vineyard barn is reopening as a nature center on March 19.
We read a plenty of dull public documents so we can break hot news like this: Francis Ford Coppola is belatedly getting a star on the Walk of Fame, right in front of Musso & Frank, where he's been a regular for decades. And Quentin Tarantino seeks beer and wine license, conditional use permit for the Vista Theatre. The long vacant storefronts would become a new cafe and vintage arcade space with some retail.
Thrilling and unexpected news from the depths of link rot: the dead Tiki Central message board, where countless weird architectural, musical and pop cultural matters were explored since 2000, is coming back—with all its photos and comments intact!
Farewell to the Farmer's Daughter Motel, a dirty joke that was a clean place to stay in Hollywood from 1962 to 2020. Rebranded as Short Stories; we love the original goldenrod mod look.
This week in 1968, KFWB-AM ended its 10 year run as a pop station, and DJ Gene Weed hosted the very last set. Cheers to the Internet Archive for putting a big chunk of it online.
Shame on new property owner Matin Mehdizadeh, who the Los Angeles Conservancy caught doing unpermitted demo work on the pending Japanese American landmark Joyce Boarding House and its pretty neighbor in J-Flats / Virgil Village.
Corruption Corner: dirty ex-councilman Jose Huizar returns to social media to call us "stalkers" for cleaning up the incriminating trash he left on a public Boyle Heights sidewalk. A day later, Judge John F. Walter delivered another blow to the defense, then decided to try Huizar’s developer co-defendants first… Huizar wants the prosecution to turn over emails from a mystery man: John Carlin. Carlin was Huizar’s 2013 dinner date, and had a business that went dark around the time the City Hall wiretaps went in—so is he a cooperating witness or facing charges?… Gustavo Arellano writes about a plaque honoring Huizar in his Mexican birth village, supposedly erected by the locals. We scared up footage of the dedication party, and wonder if Huizar paid to honor himself…. A shocking allegation that the Skid Row Wiggins housing settlement was corrupted by its administrators. We've long wondered why the historic Downtown hotels we visit on tours had so few residents.