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.
The Conservancy caught an ugly glimpse this morning, and our preservation pal Damian Sullivan witnessed the sign coming down in the afternoon.
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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A lovely farewell to San Juan Capistrano's preservation superhero Ilse M. Byrnes, a fighter and a visionary. Tag along as she schools Huell Howser (starting around 32 minutes in) here.
Remembering Rodger Young Village, the instant neighborhood installed on the edge of Griffith Park when L.A. lacked affordable housing. If those in power want to solve these problems, it's not hard.
New on R.I.P. Los Angeles, Nathan Marsak calls out ReMax flipper Carlos Ascencio for neutering an intact Highland Park craftsman with deceptive permits. Built ins, wood windows? Who needs 'em? Features a cameo from Mr. Tempo of Pig ‘N’ Whistle infamy.
Did you know councilman Mitch O'Farrell wants to kill the Los Angeles historic preservation ordinance for the benefit of Washington state developer Clyde Holland? Must-read Taix “landmarking” protests from architectural historian Daniel Paul and Frenchtown Confidential’s C.C. de Vere.
Restoration planned for South El Monte's Starlite Drive-in sign, with the 12 acre swap meet replaced by faux Spanish, Craftsman and Farmhouses. We're advocating with the city that the Googie sign stays authentic--neon, not LED strips! Read the report.
Thursday at 10am, the Cultural Heritage Commission considers landmarking three remarkable Los Angeles residences: the Queen of Elysian Heights, Throop House and Schindler’s Oliver House. Tune in for their tales (PDF link).
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.
Spied on one of our #esotouricroadtrip outings: three rent controlled 1939 units under old palms, just sold for $900K. "R3 TOC Tier 3 lot ripe for development." Do the tenants know they're marked for displacement? Where will they go?
Developers know Angelenos hate seeing affordable units lost to luxury projects, so now apartments sell, then flip as vacant lots. GWNC asked about it, then supported this new condo building.
The Skid Row community has questions about what the city is finally doing with the derelict landmark Fire Station No. 23 and why there are no minutes posted for a meeting when it was discussed. A rare peep inside.
The Carthays are three of Los Angeles' loveliest residential neighborhoods and soon they'll join Beverly-Fairfax on the National Register. (This is a happy side effect of Mayor Eric Garcetti's opposition to new HPOZs.)
Broadway's landmark Hamburger's People's Store / May Company, which was a thriving garment industry hub, then a failed redevelopment scheme, to become a partially virtual, crypto tech mall? Mmm-kay...
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.
No developer has ever made a deal pencil out for the enormous Boyle Heights Sears, and now the store is shuttered. Is the National Register landmark destined to just be a parking lot for trucks?
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.
In his latest remastering and colorization of vintage Los Angeles b-roll using neural networks, NASS presents a day in the mid-1940s, from Westwood window shopping to cruising neon-drenched Downtown after dark. It's all quite magical.
New on Kim’s The Kept Girl book blog: as the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union's papers move from a Koreatown mansion to their lasting archival home in Illinois, the tale of a research trip turned nightmare!
A kicker in Edvard Pettersson's reporting on Jose Huizar's RICO hearing. You never want to hear the judge who will try you say you "lied and got caught" even before a jury is seated. Why isn't he making a deal?
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.
Recently in Pasadena we spied something rare at the Christian Science church: a pair of Llewellyn Hollywoods! Streetlight maven Glen Norman was thrilled to learn of them.
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!
A thirsty tipster reports that Wilmington's iconic dive bar The Foc'sle, home of a stunning suite of Shanghai-themed paintings by master tarvern artist Frank Bowers, has been closed for months. We hope not forever!
We called out Bureau of Engineering for an insensitive social media post about the landmark Sixth Street Bridge they demolished, and got them to change their tune.
There's lots of lost Los Angeles to nerd out over in this 35mm 1952 Sunset Boulevard footage just posted to Internet Archive, but our favorite comes at 7:55: a rare view of Victor's, where Philip Marlowe went for gimlets.
Yet another century old Los Angeles church burns, this time St. John’s United Methodist steps away from the Watts Towers. Is there an arsonist targeting our historic houses of worship? LAFD isn't saying, but the preservation community is asking.
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.
Good grief! After brutally pruning Sierra Madre's landmark-but-unprotected ancient Wistaria vine, new owners of 505 N. Hermosa are flipping the property.
Justice for the Glendale Hyperion Bridge streetlights? City Council hears testimony and moves to finally do something (motion 1, motion 2) about rampant theft of copper wire and other valuable metal from street furniture, maybe even shut down scrap yards buying from thieves!
Cheers to councilperson Nithya Raman for her motion to restore the gated Beachwood Drive Stairs.
It seems the folks who wrecked the Pig 'N' Whistle without permits want to make nice and open for business. Will the deal include an overproduced Instagram video of "Mr. Tempo" begging for forgiveness from everyone he offended?
RIP John Edward Herron. His brush with death inspired one of the best East LA murals and a beautiful memorial from his brother, Willie. Oscar Castillo filmed the artist at his mural in 1973.
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.
For the Pershing Square Restoration Society blog, Nathan Marsak nimbly debunks internet Pershingphobes' unsourced claims of the General's alleged white supremacy and a lack of ties to Los Angeles.