Tabletop Treasures and the Ghosts of Los Angeles Past

Gentle reader,

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.

Just listed on our virtual event calendar for August 19 is the first in a new series of Thursday evening webinars, and we hope you’ll join us for Miniature Los Angeles: Meet the Artists Who Craft Tiny Versions of the Historic Landmarks Angelenos Love.

Miniaturists C.C. de Vere, Mike Battle, Bruce Heller and Kieran Wright will share their passion and methods for shrinking cool buildings to tabletop size, and architectural historian Nathan Marsak will be on hand to talk about the city’s WPA tabletop planning model. You can watch live and participate in the Q&A, or tune in on-demand at your leisure. We’ll be hosting live webinars a couple nights a month, and have some cool immersive virtual adventures in the wings, so stay tuned.

Many times over the past fifteen years, people have asked us if we give ghost tours, and when we say we don’t, why not. After all, paranormal exploration has never been more popular, and many spirit seekers seek out the same types of time capsule landmarks that we visit on our tours.

The short answer is that after a number of individual and shared experiences that don’t seem to have any other reasonable explanation, we do believe in ghosts—but are skeptical that the spirit world can be made to perform on cue. Bringing members of the public into a supposedly haunted space with the expectation that something uncanny will happen to make it worth their while seems to be asking an awful lot of whatever is lurking on the other side.

So we don’t take folks out on ghost hunts—not formally, anyway.

But in a way, everything we do is a kind of a ghost tour. We haunt archives, book shops and old newspaper microfilm learning all we can about the deceased Angelenos whose spirits and influence can still be felt in historic spaces, and we love taking people into those environments to share stories that bring their personalities, traumas and adventures alive.

With in-person tours on hiatus, we’ve got more time to dedicate to historic preservation advocacy, our great passion. When we fight to save a Los Angeles landmark, we feel like we straddle the past and the future, using all history has taught us. If we succeed in our efforts, it means something of the past will survive so that Angelenos not yet born can experience an environment that’s more precious than gold.

We don’t believe that historic places ought to be dusty relics, unchanged and trapped in amber. The most interesting landmarks are those that are alive, in use and constantly changing, collecting layers of interesting stories and life experiences while still holding onto the character defining features that are protected under the municipal landmarking ordinance.

These preservation battles are tough, with skilled opponents who are paid handsomely by property developers to argue against protecting landmarks. It’s far quicker and more profitable to demolish and build something brand new than to cook up an adaptive reuse solution, where the old and new share a footprint.

But history matters, and we think it’s worth making the effort to keep the good old places a part of our growing, changing city. And when we do succeed in one of these preservation battles, we can’t help thinking that the ghosts of old Los Angeles are cheering us on. What’s a ghost without a familiar place to haunt? A lost spirit, untethered and alone.

If we’ve got anything to say about it, our ghosts won’t be lonesome, and our landmarks won’t be lost without a worthy fight.

yours for Los Angeles,

Kim & Richard

Esotouric


Subscribe! In the latest subscriber's edition of this newsletter—$10/month, cheap!—Remembering Pat Adler, History Detective: she sleuthed the mean streets of 1960s Los Angeles, in search of likely landmarks and treasures soon to be demolished—a remarkable archive reveals a city at once familiar and wonderfully strange.


CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS

On our LACMA Lovers League petition, we shared the Save LACMA nonprofit’s billion dollar bailout offer for the stalled LACMA redesign, and wonder if museum director Michael Govan will accept. And if you think it’s weird that the Los Angeles Times isn’t writing about this, so do we.

New video from our realtor friend David Silvas: A Visit To Paul Landacre's Cabin, a Los Angeles landmark (HCM #839) apparently seeking a preservation-minded buyer… though the property hasn’t actually been listed on the MLS, just oddly here. Citizens called in to express concern about the master printer’s home to the Cultural Heritage Commission.

And we posted all of last week's red hot Cultural Heritage Commission hearing to YouTube so tune in for passionate advocacy for several Asian American landmarks in Virgil Village and West Adams and odd City Planning intervention with a trashed Cliff May ranch house on a million dollar lot. (Part 1, Part 2)

What will become of the Fairfax Theatre? Suffering demolition by neglect and intent, on July 30 the State Historical Resources Commission will hear the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles' National Register nomination for the Jewish cultural landmark. (Also on the agenda, King Neptune’s Malaga Cove Plaza.)

Checking in on how L.A.'s historic watering holes have weathered the weirdness, and is it getting a little dusty in here, or is the Tonga Hut's landlord just a good egg?

Does anyone love a lost neighborhood more than Nathan Marsak moons over Bunker Hill?

Troubling news came in from Downey Conservancy about the derelict Rives Mansion, so we went to see for ourselves. The National Register landmark is undergoing major work by a firm that builds modern celebrity homes and retail, but appears to have no experience renovating historic properties. The city approved the project with conditions that we worry are not being honored.

Feeling nostalgic about taking Charles Bukowski fans to the time capsule places where the writer lived, drank and gathered material, we stumbled onto Hayley Fox' final USC journalism project from 2010, an illustrated audio portrait of an Esotouric tour. This city changes fast—glad we started when we did.

Residential conversion proposed* for Claud Beelman & Herman Spackler’s Farmer’s Insurance at 4680 Wilshire (1937-49). A very beautiful open plan Moderne office complex, but not laid out in a way that lends itself easily to apartments. Our photos were taken before "artist" David Choe trashed the interiors. An attempt to landmark the tower was mysteriously withdrawn in 2015, soon after CIM Group purchased it. Now that it’s slated for redevelopment, we hope the landmark nomination can be revived. (*funny thing, the planning documents that were on the city website on July 19 are gone now.)

2821 Avenel Street, a charming 1928 Spanish house near Ivanhoe Elementary school, purchased for just north of $1M last May. Now demolition permits are sought to replace it with 30' condos.

Evidence of ancient oceans beneath Downtown Los Angeles? Yes—according to one of the equipment operators who excavated 5th & Flower in 1970. See HUNGUSind's comment on The Cranky Preservationist (episode 2): Arco Towers Screwy Skybridge Blues.

Rocking on Ray Bradbury’s star in front of the Larry Edmunds Bookshop. We love this town! From @FilmThePoliceLA on Twitter: Hollywood Blvd & Cherokee, 2:12 AM.

CEQA appeal filed by West Adams Heritage Association against huge USC housing project at 806 West Adams, states that City Planning is ignoring "entire phalanx of stakeholders which include city officials and experts" to push it through.

The Bob Baker Marionette Theater presents Re-Opening Revelry, a whimsical welcome back revue, including a ceremonial sidewalk ribbon cutting showing gratitude to the community. Select Friday evenings and weekends, July 31-September 12.

Beautiful news from the families that made Rod's Grill in Arcadia one of our favorite preservation success stories!

Fiery commentary from historian of French Los Angeles C.C. de Vere, calling the city's rotten leadership on the carpet and reminding them what happened on July 14, 1789. Maybe Frank Shaw ran rackets, but he ran L.A. better than this crew!

The gross revelations from Eric Garcetti's office continue to ooze out, with ambitious staffers tolerating sexual assault of themselves and colleagues to protect their careers. Did the Mayor get off in some sick way by empowering this creep?

Fascinating Indian-centric perspective on Garcetti's coziness with the Chinese government and the likelihood that he's been groomed by the CCP. Chinese developers have certainly caused enormous harm to Los Angeles by bribing others in City Hall.

Well, that didn't last long. Earlier this month, demolition next to the oddball programmatic Safety Concrete Incinerator building at 3329 Sunset Boulevard revealed a hand painted 1920s brick ghost sign, but a prolific tagger has now destroyed it. (Pics: Ruta Vaisnys)

One day, Los Angeles will erect a monument to Robert Silverstein and Dan Wright for their dogged efforts to halt the potentially deadly Millennium Hollywood project. Great to see their legal efforts forcing reversal of the 2013 approvals. Viva CEQA!

If Route 66 gets National Historic Trail designation, we hope that cool cultural landmarks and businesses along the way can benefit from grants and marketing assistance to help keep the funky, independent spirit of Route 66 alive. Sign on to support the bill.

Long Beach long let incompetent and crooked vendors neglect the Queen Mary and it would cost a fortune to repair the decay. Now that it's entirely the city's responsibility, will the Art Deco cruise ship become the most elegant artificial reef of them all?

A gem from the 2021 PBS Short Film Festival with a brutal kicker: Atomic Café was J-Town's beating multi-cultural and -generational punk rock heart, and we still can't believe Metro tore it down. This short leaves us wanting more!

A tough but loving goodbye from the gal who made a star out of Boystown's own street corner hepcat: Rickie Lee Jones remembers Chuck E. Weiss. And his Variety obit.

The Clark Street Bread folks plan to reopen the mid-century mod 101 Coffee Shop, with unspecified generic diner fare and daytime service only. That's a nice start. Suggest they poll the regulars who miss their favorite menu items, and the 3am closing bell.

New CEQA appeal accuses Eric Garcetti's City Planning Commission of violating the General Plan, Hollywood Community Plan and Vermont/Western Transit Oriented District Specific Plan to approve 4750 Santa Monica megaproject, demolish two Craftsman homes.

William Pereira's 1962 Hunt Branch Library has received $2.75 M from the state for restoration and reactivation as a cultural arts center. We visited this fascinating structure on Richard's 2019 birthday tour and look forward to seeing it shine anew.

New leadership at The Ebell, the historic women's clubhouse just across from Millard Sheets' Scottish Rite Temple that we've long thought has the potential to be a major player in the city's intellectual and cultural life. Staying tuned!

Who wants a tiny tabletop Randy's Donuts? (Oh, you prefer sprinkles?)

Fascinating tale of L.A.'s J-Flats diaspora, as Hoover Street's Anna Tojo Shigemura ends up in the Midwest after Heart Mountain internment, running elegant Japanese restaurants that gave her Japanese war bride servers independent incomes.

It's unconscionable for Los Angeles to permit a developer to demolish 40 rent controlled apartments and Tom Bergin's parking lot for an upzoned tower with fewer affordable units. We fear senior tenants at 800 S. Fairfax will not survive if this happens.

Who ponied up $50,000 to buy Don McLean a star on the Walk of Fame—at Hollywood and Vine, no less? And are they aware of his domestic violence arrest and guilty plea? UCLA recently rescinded an award when it found out. (Sounds like he’s not so nice to other acts on the bill, either.)

Preservation pal David Silvas was shocked to drive by the long derelict, fire-damaged St. Paul's German Evangelical Church at Washington and Trinity and see it has been knocked down. There's no active permit on file at LADBS. It appears LAFD may have finished the job after yet another fire this week.

Another vacant, blighted mixed use building, another fire. The RSO tenants and Siesta Yoga studio at 1839 North Western were recently evicted by the Lazy Acres developer that tried to demolish Sister Corita Kent's art studio on the other side of the parcel. Boarded up, but maybe home to squatters?

1991 N. Alexandria is a 1923 Spanish bungalow on a double lot, with natural springs feeding the koi ponds and lush gardens planted by the Kuromi-Ito family. Sold for $2.9M in May, the demolition permit was approved in June. Worrying, since the free flowing artesian springs are protected by city ordinance, and they’re already undermining the block.

Over on Instagram, janelle.mg was inspired by the sweet storybook cottage we shot in Santa Ana's Floral Park and turned it into a drawing.

What's planned for the Breed Street Shul now that the state has topped up the fundraising cup? Something old and something new.


Our pandemic series of webinars is now available as On-Demand recordings: Elysian ParkVictorian L.A.Downtown Artists4th & MainLlano del RioDowntown Treasure HuntWilshire SunsetFanteArt Deco Leisure SuitsPaul R. WilliamsSaving South L.A. LandmarksBirth of NoirStorybook ArchitectureDark Side of the West SideHotel CecilL.A. Historic Preservation, 1900s-1980sArchitecture of DeathCrawford’s MarketsJohn Bengtson’s Silent Film LocationsGeorge Mann’s Vintage L.A.Pershing SquareCafeterias of Old L.A.Programmatic ArchitectureAngels FlightGrand Central MarketOhio River ValleyBunker HillBukowskiChandlerBlack DahliaDutch Chocolate ShopBradbury BuildingTunnelsL.A. Times Bombing and 13 Uncanny Crimes & Mysteries.


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.