Kiss a YIMBY / Save a Landmark

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.

It’s been fun hosting webinars again after a summer hiatus, and we’d love it if you tuned in live to participate in the chat and Q&A, or caught the recording on-demand. Next up on Thursday, September 30 at 8pm, it’s Los Angeles: City of Neon Light.

For this program, we’re gathering a neon dream team to talk about the ultra-modern advertising innovation and how the French technique blossomed in 1920s Los Angeles. You’ll hear the stories of some of our most iconic signs, and tools for restoring and preserving vintage neon in the wild and in museums like Glendale’s MONA—even long after the business advertised no longer exists.

Our special guests are Dydia DeLyser and Paul Greenstein (authors of Neon, A Light History), J. Eric Lynxwiler (author of Signs of Life: Los Angeles Is the City of Neon) and Nathan Marsak (author of Los Angeles Neon), and you can learn more about the program here.

Reserve Your L.A. Neon Webinar Ticket

Earlier this month, there was a panicked local social media reaction to yard work at one of the famous Wistaria Vine houses in Sierra Madre, which recently changed hands.

The first reports warned that the 127-year-old vine, the largest blooming plant in the world and star of the annual Wistaria Festival (as visited by Huell Howser), was being chopped down! Worried fans sent a drone overhead to determine the degree of loss and peeped into the backyard to confirm it was a major pruning, not complete removal. Then as the dust settled, reporters talked with the players to paint a more nuanced picture of miscommunication and good intentions. The vine will likely survive, though less spectacularly huge than it was a few weeks ago.

The incident raises serious questions about the stewardship of unusual landmarks—wistaria, a non-native plant, is not protected in California, no matter how old or how famous it is—and if Sierra Madre needs to do more as a municipality and a community to support the families who have looked after the vine on their own dime and time. We’d like to to see the homeowners granted Mills Act historic preservation tax savings, and subsidized water and arborist bills, to help ensure that the grand vine is well maintained and occasionally accessible for generations to come. Sierra Madre wouldn’t be Sierra Madre without its Wistaria Festival!

Panning from the local to the California stage, Governor Gavin Newsom survived the attempt to recall him, and immediately signed a couple of troubling land use bills, SB9 and SB10, into law.

These radical bills are the culmination of a series of attempts by Sacramento politicians, funded by big tech and the real estate industry, to eliminate local control, zoning, environmental, historic preservation and planning authority so their donors can grow even richer and more powerful.

According to the carefully workshopped arguments for SB 9 and SB 10, which get amplified on social media by their YIMBY (“yes in my backyard”) acolytes who lack the personal experience that would reveal their flaws, California lacks sufficient housing for its population, and an army of greedy senior citizen NIMBYs (“no in…”) are blocking new construction in order to protect their elevated home values. Boo, hiss!

We can’t speak for the state as a whole, but for Los Angeles, this simplistic and intentionally deceptive narrative ignores the census numbers that show a huge population loss in over-developed Hollywood—something the redistricting commission must take into account—and the estimated 111,000 apartment units presently held vacant as investment or money laundering vehicles, and the unknown number of dwellings illegally rented by the night on home share websites like Airbnb, as well as the large Downtown SRO hotels like the Cecil and Morrison sitting dark for decades after boutique hoteliers throw everyone out.

If even half these units were returned to the market, and tenants were protected from displacement for luxury projects, the city’s manufactured “housing crisis” (actually a housing use crisis) would dissipate like sugar in your tea.

It’s a disgrace that the city doesn’t act to fix the broken system. But the manufactured crisis is profitable, which lets the shadowy forces that craft these laws fund biased reporting like KQED’s Facebook-sponsored California housing series, called (we can’t make this stuff up) “Sold Out” and to donate big bucks to the local politicians who look the other way. They even have enough left over to almost get psychedelic drugs decriminalized—maybe next year, psychonauts.

We’ve seen first hand how bad faith arguments that pit citizens against each other pollute the commons. Land use hearings have become a stage for digital and in-person bullying of Angelenos who oppose projects not because it makes their real estate more valuable—many are renters themselves—but because they care about vulnerable neighbors, love historic landmarks, recognize that many new buildings are too costly for community members to afford and see politicians blatantly break the law to benefit their developer donors.

The nastiness coming from the pro-development faction is nation-wide, and we think it’s a shame. Because housing is certainly broken in America, and there’s a real need for people who care to fight for change. But when one gets one’s talking points from those who stand to profit, and is mean to those who were fighting first, it’s less than no help. YIMBYs can be hard to like, but if we really want to solve these problems, we need to learn to love and to forgive them.

You can find out more about the local housing wars, who is paying the bills and how they’re spinning misleading narratives in Renee Tapp’s recent scholarly paper, "Introducing the YIMBYs: Renters, housing, & supply-side politics in L.A."

Although Sacramento is crowing with the two development bills’ passage, nothing is set in stone. Many city governments went on record opposing the laws, and are looking for ways out. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation has already filed suit against SB10, and one civic group is exploring letting voters weigh in on these unpopular schemes with a ballot measure. They won’t stand up to a vote.

Like the tech-funded, deceptive Proposition 22, recently ruled unconstitutional, we won’t be surprised to see these laws struck down. But it will take time, sweat and money, and distract some of our most talented community organizers and advocacy organizations from the good work they could be doing, many of them without pay. Is it any wonder there’s a burnout crisis in the professional preservation world?

For us, as devoted unpaid preservationists, this work isn’t about keeping old places around because they’re quaint or pretty—our advocacy is life and death for low-income Angelenos, it’s good for our dangerously warming environment, it makes it a little harder to corrupt elected and appointed officials, and it’s simply the right thing to do. We believe there’s a future, and it’s important that the Los Angeles landmarks that have inspired us are still around to inspire the people who live there.

We are so grateful for every citizen who takes the time and takes the heat to stand up for the places they care about, and we dream that one day soon we’ll have better leaders who don’t make us fight among ourselves for scraps in a city of such vast wealth, beauty and possibility. We can see such great things on the horizon, if only small and selfish forces stop holding Angelenos back—and that includes great things for the meanest YIMBYs, in spite of themselves.

yours for Los Angeles,

Kim & Richard

Esotouric


In the latest subscriber's edition of this newsletter—$10/month, cheap!—Visiting time capsule mansions of Redlands, in the footsteps of Leo Politi—a beautiful book inspires an architectural treasure hunt, and brings one of our favorite Southern California artists into view.


CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS

Time travel is real. Don't believe us? Ask Hollywood kid Marguerite Guineheux, who found her family car and lost landscapes of a Sunset Boulevard childhood when she discovered our blog post about Ed Ruscha's Getty archive.

NAMBA, the North American Model Boat Association are holding their 50th Anniversary Nationals at Legg Lake through Saturday, 9/25. We made a little video of the action on Tuesday afternoon.

New Esotouric blog post: come along as we follow up on reports of nightly thefts of priceless Glendale Hyperion Bridge streetlights and manage not to electrocute ourselves in the process. The cops are on the case now, too. Let’s find ‘em!

We just love it when our obsessions prove contagious! After watching the Love Letter to L.A. Streetlights webinar, the Larchmont Buzz' Patricia Lombard went looking for the mystery lanterns of Stratford Way, hiding off Bronson since 1924.

A couple of Esotouric scoops: Is the venerable California Club next to Central Library on the market? An investor’s rep seeks info from the city. And spied in a dusty commission agenda: 3rd generation Olvera Street restaurateur Vivien Bonzo, her La Golondrina (est. 1924) shuttered since March 2020, seeks permission to sell business to longtime vendors Bertha and David Gomez (Rudy's Mexican Candy). May founder Consuelo Castillo de Bonzo smile upon them.

Weddington Golf and Tennis Club is the latest Los Angeles landmark nomination co-opted to benefit developers. Our blog post about an intentionally deceptive landmarking hearing includes the school's triumphant post-vote email to alumni and a warning that your councilmember can screw you next!

We’ve been out looking for beautiful buildings we didn’t know existed. If you’d like to be a virtual passenger on these L.A. drives, just click the #esotouricroadtrip hashtag on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

And here’s the most beguiling building we discovered on a recent ramble, a streamline art deco bungalow court that was advertised when new as "Designed for Beverly Hills, but built in Southwest.” There must be a story there! Rent for a 3-room apartment in 1939 was $27.50 (that’s about $540 today).

Jose Huizar and his alleged racketeering co-conspirators Ray Chan and Shen Zhen New World seek to have RICO case thrown out over general vagueness, unconstitutionality, innate sleaziness of City Hall and conflicts between California and Federal law. (PDF motion here.)

Ever wonder why there aren't more wooden Los Angeles street cars repurposed as diners, à la the Formosa Café? It might be because the rail company stripped everything of value, and burned the obsolete conveyances in their Torrance Shops! RIP beautiful.

Surfers and preservationists look with horror on the grim conditions at Malibu Lagoon, "restored" but wrecked. Will the surf ever be up again? Or will Adamson House and the Chumash heritage site be washed away while State officials dither?

A troubling compliance document from City Planning's recent hearing on the hidden open air oil well at Pico and Doheny: wrong call-in number distributed, frightened neighbors who avoid the stench, minimal transparency. As the County seeks an end to urban drilling, can we trust L.A. to enforce its own rules? Neighbors for a Safe Environment don’t think so, so they’re appealing.

Stan's Donuts (1963-2020, seen here with Huell Howser) is no more, but his competitor Primo’s has moved in to continue the tradition of family-owned deep fried sugary delight at Weyburn and Broxton, in the shadow of the Fox Westwood.

We talked with Leila Miller of the L.A. Times about Sirhan Sirhan's possible parole, and why we have included his family home on our Pasadena Confidential tours. Not in her piece: should he be paroled, we won't return, out of respect for the neighborhood.

After 5 years, Mission Hills Bowling alley landmarking is finally moving forward. That's a condition of developer Primestor's approvals, even though it's already been turned into a Ross Dress for Less. Is this winning?

Property listing: "Incredible opportunity to fix, and save in the Beverlywood area... they don't come up often." But Grandma's 1926 house with its 1950s knotty pine great room is doomed for condos. RIP 1465 Cardiff Ave.

When 1973 Carmen, next door to the Monastery of the Angels of pumpkin bread fame, sold in June, the listing said "OPPORTUNITY CALLS!!! HISTORIC HOME ie no development." And now a landmarking nomination has been submitted. Preservation-minded buyer? We hope so!

Rough news out of Skid Row: the 5 Star Bar (est. 1971) can't get a lease extension from Joe's Parking, which wants to level the remains of the 2nd & Main commercial drag. Inside the bar, lovely remnants of the People's Market survive... but for how long? The landlord has been trying to get the row of indie music venues out for the past five years.

New planning docs: Public Storage to be demolished for mixed use next to the historic See's Candies factory. We're told after a year or so, you don't smell the sugar cooking. (Pic: Dick Whittington Studio, Huntington Library, 1931)

Good things are happening at Diamond Bakery, one of the Fairfax district's great cultural and culinary survivors.

Is the trashed Art Deco Lincoln Heights Jail, a stalled redevelopment project, still accessible to urban explorers? Yes, it is. The Cranky Preservationist has feelings about the abuse the landmark is suffering—not to mention it ought to be affordable housing!

The roasted chicken boat among the Echo Park lake swans was in poor taste when nobody knew if it was art or a prank. It's even worse to learn it's an ad for restaurant vampire Postmates. Councilman Mitch O'Farrell's privatization of this public park sucks.

New from Nathan Marsak: the dark side of The Bunker Hill Boy’s Club, which began with an innocent message to our history blog Google group. A slum, you say? Hmm? The family buried their bookie pop with a view of Hollywood Park, later killed by redevelopment.

Your feedback sought into the type of public art that will be part of The John Anson Ford Amphitheatre Scenic Trail in Hollywood.

Dig this astonishingly thorough history of Jay Ward's Rocky and Bullwinkle statue, a site-specific pop culture beacon that ought to be reunited with its elbow prints and venerated by all Angelenos. Another Jay Ward advertising satire is on our blog.

Preservation pal David Silvas snapped this worrying, fenced-off view of Crown Car Wash, a classic Googie-style service business built in 1960 that, while not a landmark, is an historic resource listed in SurveyLA. Doris Day hates it!

Raise a glass to the enlightened owners of Case Study House 23C (Edward Killingsworth, Jules Brady and Waugh Smith, 1960), who have announced their intent to gift the landmark to the La Jolla Historical Society when they're not alive to enjoy it anymore.

Welcome news in The New Yorker that the great white elephant of the Los Feliz hills, Neutra's Lovell Health House, has found a sympathetic buyer who can afford to turn back the clock. One less landmark to worry about is always sweet news.

Serial landmark wrecker Jason Illoulian of Faring unveils a bait and switch revamp for the Robertson Lane project, which carves up and relocates the historic Mitchell Camera Company factory, a significant site for the industry and as a gay club.

Great job, Los Angeles City Council! You had two years to decide on creating a Legacy Business Program to help prop up precious landmarks like Greenblatt's (RIP), but you never even brought it to a vote. MOTION EXPIRED!

Spectrum News reports on efforts to landmark Otomisan Japanese Restaurant and the Nishiyama residence in Boyle Heights. We'd prefer it be added to a Legacy Business Registry, but since City Hall can't be bothered to make one, a landmark it must be!

As with its unpopular new building project, LACMA has missed its deadlines restoring Watts Towers. But in this case the price tag hasn't grown, and they're doing good work that Angelenos appreciate. Here’s our 2013 podcast on the project.

We're eager to see the Jo Mora exhibition at Central Library. If you go, give yourself three times as long as you think you need—and bring a magnifying glass! There’s Mora merch in the Library Store, too.