Felix the Cat, the wonderful, wonderful cat, doesn't live here anymore
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.
Yesterday, our friend Gary Leonard posted a provocative image on his Instagram account, showing workers hand-wrecking a brick wall, with a half-demolished building and the iconic Felix Chevrolet pole sign behind them.
We’ve been tracking the failed preservation of the Felix Chevrolet sign for 14 years. Seeing a powerful political donor get his political pals to break the rules in plain sight was an important part of our preservation education. But the worst was yet to come.
Although Darryl Holter of Felix Chevrolet made a big deal about maintaining the sign for future generations if the landmarking process was halted, and promised to give the sign to a museum if things changed, just a few years later he ripped out the neon tubes and installed the LED replica that now stands. One of the people who wrote the landmark nomination actually saw Holter’s crew destroying the sign, and stopped to document the horror. What a nightmare!
So when Gary Leonard posted this image showing the historic showroom being destroyed, people who love the sign had no assurance that it wasn’t next to fall. It certainly looked precarious, what with all the twisted metal and broken bricks.
But after a day of frantic online chatter, Felix Chevrolet posted an ephemeral “story” to its official Instagram account, assuring viewers that the sign was staying.
Maybe so, for now. But the fact that then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and then-Councilwoman Jan Perry stuck their snoots into the landmarking process and prevented Felix from being formally protected in 2007 means the sign can be removed at any time, with no public discussion.
Felix Chevrolet was once a great Los Angeles neon sign, highly visible from the 110 Freeway and beloved by generations. What went down when citizens tried to keep this cool cat around for future generations remains a great cautionary tail reminding preservationists to always say hell no when politicians and powerful people seek to trade empty promises for official designation.
Developers, politicians and real estate lobbyists hate the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and local preservation ordinances because they’re powerful tools, and because by invoking their powers, ordinary people can win a few of the fights that are so often weighted in favor of the big guys.
Next Thursday April 15, for example, Netflix will be presenting in front of the Cultural Heritage Commission about their desire to remodel the interior of the Egyptian Theater and its forecourt shops. As one of the biggest media companies in the world, Netflix is used to doing whatever it wants, and despite public outcry, it is now the owner of the American Cinametheque’s longtime nonprofit home.
But because the Egyptian is a protected landmark, Netflix must to come to City Hall and submit their ideas for criticism and feedback from citizens and the commissioners—and we think that’s great. Tune in, check out their plans and let them know what you think.
Also up for discussion at this hearing is landmarking of the Watts Happening Cultural Center (now with support from the local council district—yay!), Wilmington’s Granada Theatre, some grand San Fernando Valley trees and Weddington Golf and Tennis Club. For more info on how to watch or give comment, the PDF is here.
It was so nice to hear from a number of happy newsletter subscribers this week that the hacker-made tool that checks pharmacy websites every minute helped them get a vaccine appointment. There are still plenty of appointments available, if you’re still looking for yours.
We hope you’ll join us on Saturday at noon for The Crimes and Oddities of L.A.’s Sunset Boulevard, the latest an ongoing series highlighting weird tales in historic neighborhoods. We’ll work our way along the spine of a lively commercial district, highlighting horrible, fascinating and peculiar happenings that were once the talk of the town, and revealing some unexpected landmarks that once seen will be hard to forget. For more info, or to sign up, click here.
Next Saturday, April 17 it’s The Wonders and Weirdness of Wilshire Boulevard. Join us for a virtual jaunt down the loveliest boulevard in town, as we dig into strange crimes and gorgeous buildings, city planning, historic preservation and the unexpected surprises to be found along this ancient transit corridor. We’ll take you inside Bullocks Wilshire, Wilshire Tower / Silverwood’s, Farmers Insurance and Millard Sheets’ Scottish Rite Temple, and pay our respects to the late, great LACMA. For more info, or to reserve your spot, click here.
And just added for Saturday, April 24 is A Downtown Los Angeles Lovers’ Treasure Hunt. This time, you’ll come with us on a virtual stroll through the historic heart of the city, as we show off some favorite discoveries made through archival research, urban exploration and picking the brains of colorful old timers. Even if you know Downtown L.A. like the back of your own hand, we think you’ll hear some things that are brand new, so join us, do!
Stay tuned as we roll out a new webinar program each Saturday. And remember if you can’t watch live or need to leave mid-stream, you can watch the recording for one full week. There’s still time to see John Fante’s Bunker Hill and Downtown Los Angeles Literary Time Machine webinar through Saturday night.
These webinars are now available as On-Demand recordings: 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.
And we’d love to see you tomorrow at noon for The Crimes and Oddities of L.A.’s Sunset Boulevard.
yours for Los Angeles,
Kim & Richard
Subscribe! In the latest subscriber's edition of this newsletter—$10/month, cheap!—Peep Inside a 1930s Movie Theater Manager's Promotional Scrapbook—we get a glimpse of a lost world of thrilling ballyhoo in Old Town Pasadena.
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 library or upcoming calendar, 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 weekly 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
Hollywood Soapbox interviewed us about the COVID transition from guided Los Angeles history tours to hosting new webinars every Saturday.
Richard Nixon's Southern California haunts can be found on a printed map and in blog form.
Preservation people: the mass shooting in Orange has hit close to home, striking the family of carpenter Louis Tovar, who works on Historic Home Row Old Towne residential projects. Please chip in to his mother’s medical fund or share the link.
300 low income units, missing in action. Downtown News checks in with Cecil Hotel's New York leaseholder, who says “We have no intention right now of reopening. It's tough to build a hotel during COVID. There are a lot more difficult things going on in the world than that decision.” We think the city should turn it into housing for Angelenos.
Sad but classy news: Pasadena's Women's City Club has dissolved after 76 years of feminine fellowship, and is gifting its National Register headquarters to Pasadena Heritage, an ideal caretaker for the Edmund Blinn House.
Thank you, Senator Mills. You left California a better place, and how many legislators can you say that about?
Stunning piece by Davy Rothbart about how his mom and extended family of caregiver friends busted his dad out of a Michigan nursing home in the early days of the pandemic. Not every family could do this—and their resources did not include being wealthy.
Share this vintage fan website celebrating the original California Museum of Science and Industry at Exposition Park if you, too, miss Mathematica, the egg-shaped chicken hatchery, "Clearissa," the Transparent Woman, etc.
Sure, your dog is cute, but he's no trick trout! (Wide World Magazine, 1920 )
Preservationist Mary Urashima has fought for years to protect a Japanese American historic site in Huntington Beach, and has been subject to vicious online abuse from racists. Her cause is righteous, and we stand with Mary. Viva Wintersburg!
CEQA appeal filed in opposition to City Planning approval of proposed new construction behind the 1902 mansion at 1122 West 30th near USC. Such a hulk would violate Secretary of the Interior standards and the University Park Preservation Plan by its scale.
Thrilled to see the exact concrete "tile" pattern from El Encanto, the wee Midwick View Estates Monterey Park showcase house—one of the last places we went on a tour—in a $9 Million Redondo Beach palazzo. A gorgeous effect at large or small scale.
Video vault: Eric Garcetti officiates the Queen of Silver Lake Pageant, is swatted by outgoing Queen Edna. The road not taken by the mayor was the one that let weirdos and art freaks continue to thrive in Los Angeles. But that sweet developer money was more enticing.
There is one UNESCO World Heritage Site in Los Angeles, Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House. Residents have a bone to pick with councilwoman Nithya Raman about gang activity in its shadow.