The Wreckers Come For The Giant Chili Bowl, But They Can't Demolish L.A.'s Weird, Sweet, Creative Soul
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.
From this year forward, February 16 will be a grim anniversary for fans of offbeat Los Angeles architecture and restaurant history.
In spite of enormous good faith efforts by the Los Angeles Conservancy and our own scrappy Friends of the Chili Bowl crew to get the 1935 roadside diner moved to safety (if not landmarked), the property owner has a demolition permit and mysterious plans to do something destructive behind that privacy fence.
So the question now is: how destructive? And how will anyone know, with the building hidden away and conflicting stories spewing from councilman Mike Bonin’s office and the owners? It’s going to fall on citizens to keep an eye on the big bowl and try hard to hold these slippery, entitled characters accountable. Mad? Yes, we are, thanks.
Last night, a fiery Richard addressed the West Los Angeles Sawtelle Neighborhood Council prior to its unanimous vote urging Mike Bonin to step in and finally do something to protect the Chili Bowl, and you can hear his few holds barred testimony in a video we’re calling Mike Bonin’s Hot Mess.
We find quite a contrast between the creative efforts of Art Whizin, the visionary restaurant operator and property developer who as a young English immigrant came up with the Chili Bowl concept, its eye-catching portable architecture, legendary chili recipe and wacky branding (“we cook our beans backwards—you only get the hiccups”), and how property based LLCs make their fortunes in Los Angeles today.
Where once you had to have good ideas, a quality product, excellent people and management skills, as well as a good name you stood proudly behind, now all one needs to do to profit is to register a shadowy corporate identity and $omehow convince a lame duck politician to slam the brakes on preservation efforts. And then if things goes as desired by almost no one, a little piece of Los Angeles history can be senselessly wrecked and a development site cleared.
It might be profitable for a few, but it leaves our city much the poorer.
As painful as it can be to take on these battles, you have our promise that we will continue adopting landmarks in peril and speaking up for cool, weird places that make up the Los Angeles story. It’s the giant Chili Bowls that really matter, and not backroom deals and dirty profits. In fifty years, nobody will remember any of these selfish, boring schemes. But Art Whizin will still be one cool cat worth talking about!
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.
But there’s more to life than giant threatened Chili Bowls, and in two short videos, we invite you to tag along on Kim’s recent birthday adventure, where she paid her respects to a most remarkable birdie named Blinky, and exposed the dark secret of the Old Trapper, whose folk art environment is threatened with eviction.
Hmm… sounds like we’ve got a lot of work to do. But we expect you know by now that we wouldn’t have it any other way.
yours for Los Angeles,
Kim & Richard
In the latest subscriber's edition of this newsletter—$10/month, cheap!—On Chicago Street in Boyle Heights, if you stand very still and wish very hard, it's still 1895—is a virtual tour of the time capsule wooden church where Occidental College was founded, featuring stained glass windows worth shouting about.
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Environmental Communications: Seeing Los Angeles in the 1970s is a multi-screen video installation that debuted at LACMA in 1977. You can get lost in first seven minutes here. Stunning signage and landmark footage and weird juxtapositions!
When tattoo artist Kat Von D bought the Isaac Newton Van Nuys residence, she claimed the spooky-ooky remodel of the unlandmarked gem would be her dream house. Now she’s split for Indiana, leaving a $15 Million flip and a bloody pool and promoting a “restoration” documentary.
The owners of the National Register Stahl House (Pierre Koenig, 1960, Case Study #22) have concerns about a large development that has been approved for the hillside underneath it, and are asking fans to contact the city in support of the project appeal. More info.
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If you tuned in for the Cultural Heritage Commission hearing for landmarking Walker's Cafe (video), you also heard a great nomination for Hollywood Home Savings and Loan presented by Kathryn Ahmanson. Her great uncle commissioned Millard Sheets to build it; she gives a Hollywood Heritage talk on 2/24.
Avoiding Regret checked in on the last Woolworth's luncheonette, which has ceased service as new owners prepare to renovate. Everybody in Bakersfield is holding their breath this gem isn’t lost.
It's still 1949 at the Southside Theatre on Vermont Avenue, except now it's a house of god and the palms are all grown up. Southside is a dirty word in Topeka, notorious as the absentee landlord that’s let Sumner Elementary School rot on a bed of broken preservation promises.
Local “Yimbys” consistently attack preservationists advocating for protection of naturally occurring affordable housing, misrepresenting community volunteers as doing it to increase real estate value. It's false, alienating and they could learn much from us. Turns out the problem is a national one.
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Do you like to watch snuff films? Neither do we. But it's important to bear witness to L.A.'s failure to deal with blighted, usable housing, like these fine homes off Alvarado Terrace that first burned five years ago, and again this month.
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Meanwhile, filings show lobbyist Morrie Goldman's attorney got caught by the Feds illegally recording proffer talks, and Sleazy Huizy wants a copy. Only problem: the Feds claim they deleted the file link! And it only gets wilder from there.
The California Preservation Foundation is planning something special: Doors Open California, a statewide open house of places that matter. If you run one, sign up!
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It's not to late to save East Bakersfield's fantastic Southern Pacific station, but it's getting pretty close.
Beautiful memorial to a real San Francisco character, Lone Star Swan the bird man—and to the journalist, husband and father John Ratliff, who he was before schizophrenia changed his course. RIP.
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Jeers to Brian Prince of B.D.O.G., who evicted tenants from the 1922 apartments at 1920 Whitley, and is now demolishing without the required canopy and fence. Toxic dust in a respiratory pandemic on a block filled with seniors.
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