Let's Talk Taix: The Most Interesting Historic Preservation Battle in a Generation

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.

Last week’s webinar on Elysian Park history was the final one in our pandemic Saturday series, which since September kept us chained to a cycle of five days a week of deep research, scripting and slideshow prep, one afternoon’s performance, a lazy Sunday, then back to the wheel for 36 weeks.

We learned so much and felt privileged to be of service to history lovers seeking a virtual community—but it’s awfully nice to be off deadline! Of course that doesn’t mean we’re busy doin’ nuthin’.

We’ve been yakking with our preservation pals and with the press about the harm that could result from Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s troubling interference in the historic landmarking of Taix French restaurant—did you see our quotes in the Los Angeles Times, calling it a “bait and switch" that “leaves a really bad taste in [our] mouth”?—and tuning in and calling in to public hearings where the preservation sausage gets made.

Webinar research has revealed some fascinating Southern California preservation problems that we’re trying to solve, now that it’s safer to get out into the field for on-site meetings.

So we’ll be heading out to Riverside, to visit the now-dry cascade of artificial stones created by Francois Scotti, the French-trained genius who crafted the fanciful interior landscapes for the Clifton’s Cafeterias and the city landmark rock garden behind the Police Academy, as featured on last week’s Elysian Park webinar. And closer to home, we visited Ryozo Fuso Kado’s magical Lourdes of the West grotto at St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Altadena. Stay tuned to this channel and our social media, and we’ll share as we go.

Resuming in-person Esotouric tours means we need to reconnect with dozens of people and places that are part of our routes, and that’s not something we can or want to rush. Also, we went to the beach, saw dolphins surfing and helped a hawk.

It feels good to have a little more flexibility, and to cast our nets back into the wider Southern California community, where we can advise on preservation battles and opportunities. We play a special role as independent advocates, more nimble than nonprofits or institutions, and sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed to steer a threatened treasure away from the looming rocks.

But let’s continue to talk about Taix, which as the title of this newsletter suggests, we believe is ground zero for L.A.’s historic preservation future—something worth paying close attention to, even if you don’t think the 1962 edition of an old Los Angeles restaurant needs to be preserved. Because today it’s Taix, but tomorrow it could be the Bradbury Building or Bullocks Wilshire, if the preservation ordinance is weakened.

Last week, Echo Park Councilman Mitch O’Farrell used his political powers to jam through an astonishingly weird "landmark” designation: he named three discrete and relatively insignificant physical features of Taix French Restaurant the only things about this century-old family business worthy of preservation, and decreed that if they were Frankensteined together in a brand new building, it would constitute a protected city landmark.

Those features are a small neon blade sign that reads COCKTAILS…

…a partially obscured neon billboard that reads TAIX…

…and a section of indeterminate size and shape of the wooden bar top.

These physical elements were spelled out in an amendment to the official landmark designation approved by the Cultural Heritage Commission after two intense debates on the merits of the submission from the Silver Lake Heritage Trust. Everything the CHC decided is eclipsed by this political document.

And while it’s upsetting to see the preservation ordinance hijacked, it’s also fascinating. As Richard testified to the CHC this week, it’s like the record that breaks the record player.

Among the questions raised by Mitch O’Farrell’s peculiar interference in the landmarking process:

Why has O’Farrell perverted the intent of the preservation ordinance to declare an unbuilt building with salvaged elements a landmark? Will the new building receive tax breaks, or will O’Farrell further increase the parcel’s zoning due to its landmark status?

There must be some financial benefit for the developer or some political benefit for O’Farrell. Why else would he alienate the preservation community and Cultural Heritage Commissioners and draw press scrutiny? Why not just reject the Taix nomination outright if he believes the best use of the parcel is a new development? (We asked the same questions in 2018, when councilman Jose Huizar rewrote our Los Angeles Times building landmark nomination for the benefit of Canadian developer Onni Group, and was arrested on Federal RICO charges. The DOJ has stated that other sitting councilmembers are also under investigation.)

Question: Who is represented by an elected Los Angeles City Councilmember: his constituents, or corporations that do business in his district?

Answer: In Mitch O’Farrell’s Council District 13, it appears to be the latter. Developer Holland Partner Group is based in Washington State, and restaurant owner Mike Taix moved to Utah prior to selling the property to Holland for $12 Million. Holland’s well-paid lobbyists have had no problem gaining access to the councilman, and his staff allegedly told one unhappy constituent that O’Farrell was doing what the property owner wanted. Meanwhile, the local nonprofit that wrote the landmark nomination has been unable to get a meeting. (We remember a similar dynamic when the community was asking for O’Farrell’s help keeping the Egyptian Theatre in the hands of the nonprofit American Cinematheque, but the councilman supported Netflix’ purchase of the landmark instead.)

Why did developer Holland Partner Group initially work with the Los Angeles Conservancy on a proposal that would have preserved the historic Taix building, then blindside them by releasing renderings of a different proposal that required Taix to be demolished? Was it because Mitch O’Farrell told Holland’s lobbyists that he would support a denser and more profitable project?

Why is Mitch O’Farrell, ostensibly a progressive Democrat representing a district populated by progressive Democrats, bending over backward to help one of the nation’s top GOP/Donald Trump donors demolish a local Los Angeles landmark? Friends of Taix submitted a troubling public comment to the council file, calling out numerous improprieties in the situation.

The answer to this last question is one that should have O’Farrell and his City Hall cronies doing some serious soul searching as the 2022 election season nears. Angelenos on both sides of the political aisle are furious with the state of their city, and have been taking it out on elected officials in acid tongued public comment and online bullying and recall campaigns.

O’Farrell is especially vulnerable, due to his mismanagement of the Echo Park encampment, his close ties to unpopular Mayor Eric Garcetti and the strong likelihood that the FBI is looking into land use corruption in the Hollywood portion of his district.

The councilman can’t even step into Echo Park without being shouted down and chased away by political opponents. Is it any wonder that he prefers to sit down with out of state corporations and their lobbyists, well-mannered gentlemen who flatter the councilman and contribute generously to his office holder accounts?

When you look at the proposed development, it’s obvious that Taix can easily be preserved by building on the surface parking lot and over the single-storey restaurant. We still hope that the developer and councilmember will change course and do the right thing.

But assuming Taix is demolished and a huge new complex erected on the parcel, the unpopular Mitch O’Farrell will likely no longer be in office to answer for it.

And that means if, like this developer’s STOA and Sofia “apartment buildings,” the Taix development ends up operating as an unlicensed hotel, we’ll just have to hope his successor cares more about the very real housing use crisis in Los Angeles, and less about the manufactured “housing crisis” that is so profitable for unscrupulous developers like Holland Partner Group and the politicians who serve their interests.

But one positive thing might yet come out of the Taix tragedy: desperately flailing around for a positive spin, Mitch O’Farrell advocated during a City Council meeting for a long stalled Legacy Business Registry motion to be picked up, an idea echoed by the Los Angeles Times editorial board in their pro-demolition editorial. And if a stray remark from Ken Bernstein of the Office of Historic Resources in response to an obviously irked Cultural Heritage Commissioner can be taken as gospel, maybe there will be some encouraging LBR news soon. Here’s hoping—and if so, we’ll sing hallelujah!

yours for Los Angeles,

Kim & Richard

Esotouric


Our pandemic series of webinars is now available as On-Demand recordings: Elysian ParkVictorian Los AngelesDowntown L.A. Artists4th & MainLlano del Rio Utopian ColonyDowntown L.A. Treasure HuntWilshire BoulevardSunset BoulevardJohn FanteArt Deco Leisure SuitsPaul R. WilliamsSaving South L.A. LandmarksBirth of NoirStorybook ArchitectureDark Side of the West SideHotel CecilL.A. Historic Preservation, 1900s-1980sSouthern California’s Architecture 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 HillCharles BukowskiRaymond ChandlerBlack DahliaDutch Chocolate ShopBradbury BuildingTunnelsL.A. Times Bombing and 13 Uncanny Crimes & Mysteries.


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AND FINALLY, LINKS

Spotted this distressing new sign at the entrance to the Huntington Gardens, necessary because some mask hating visitors have been behaving like hooligans. Garden and museum staff don't deserve this abuse.

At the same City Council meeting in which Taix was “landmarked,” Sister Corita Kent’s art studio was actually landmarked, saving the site from demolition for a couple of supermarket parking spaces. Meanwhile, in Arizona, disgraced former Councilmember Mitch Englander started his prison sentence for lying to the FBI. He’ll be released in time to testify at Jose Huizar’s trial.

The lengthy and controversial Century Plaza condo development appears to be nearing completion. But do Angeleno zillionaires want to pay $2,500/square foot to live on top of a mid-century modern hotel? And what about Glorya Kaufman's elder abuse suit?

Nothing is lost! Irv's Burgers (since 1946) was evicted and Sonia Hong's patrons thought they'd never see her smiling face handing them a paper plate with a personal doodle and a juicy hamburger sandwich again. But like a beautiful dream, Irv's is back.

Retro L.A. 1967 radio air check newly posted on the Internet Archive: a soulful psychedelic hour of Humble Harve on Boss Radio 93 KHJ. Skip ahead for the wild news report at 35:29 with Sunset Strip rape claims, acid freakouts and "an army of children" pickets PCH to save their beloved Castellammare bridge to the beach—and win!

Daily bummer from Debra Jane Seltzer's essential Roadside Architecture blog, using Google streetview to check up on iconic neon signs and finding vast recent losses. The weird old America is vanishing! Tell your town leaders: Preserve in Place!

Housing nonprofit ELACC displaced small businesses and renters by falling to secure their construction site, which burned last year. Now the Unique Theatre discount store, with its beautiful vintage fixtures, and all of its neighbors are on the market. Will this East Los Angeles gem be demolished?

We took notice when Pallet Shelter inserted itself into Judge Carter's court hearings about lucrative tiny house contracts for homeless Angelenos. Meghann Cuniff asks if they're safe. Like Grenfell Tower, Banning's fire also involved cheap HDPE panels.

Eater LA takes a deeper look at the "humane" Belcampo Meat Co. mislabeling scandal, finds an unsustainably growing company committed to underpaying staff, defrauding customers and supporting factory farms. It’s a tragedy that these scammers displaced legacy Grand Central Market butcher Economy Meats.

Cheers to Nicole Possert, longtime Highland Park preservationist, in her new role as executive director of Restore Oregon!

If you're on the social network Reddit, you're invited to join r/LosAngelesPreserved, a place for people who care about Southern California's historic built environment and saving community landmarks. Here's a place to learn, share, discover, advocate, kibbitz and connect.

So happy to see the incredibly fragile and important Trujillo Adobe in Riverside on the National Trust list of America's 11 Most Endangered Places. This home tells a rich story of the layers of Southern California migration and community and MUST be preserved! Learn more about the challenges to the site, see photos from the recent spring cleaning community event and get involved.

There's nothing else like Aloha Food Factory in the San Gabriel Valley, and the site is threatened by redevelopment. But car washes and good eats are a perfect match, so call the Planning Commission at 7pm tonight and ask for a compromise to keep AFF at the Valley "Y"!

Our friend Kristin Bedford's new book of Southern California cruising images is celebrated with a "Cruise Night" Book Release with Just Memories Car Club and Skylight Books, Saturday 6/12 6-10pm at the Big 5 parking lot at 3600 Peck Rd, El Monte, CA 91732.

City Council intervenes in Planning Commission approval of demolition of three multi-family Spanish Colonial Revival duplexes on Holt Avenue, calls for public hearings.

Decades of neglect and mismanagement leave the Queen Mary in a precarious spot. Perhaps Long Beach is not a suitable steward for the ship, and yet the city’s now taking responsibility for the floating (but for how long?) landmark.

Gasp! Raymond Chandler's old La Jolla haunt The Whaling Bar, which closed in 2013, is coming back (!) and the new operators are polling regulars (!!) on what elements they most love and miss. The backbar mural is still in the building, likely will return.

Thanks to the eagle eye of Hale House fan Ani Palmtree, we found the legendary Ameritone Paint ad showing the Heritage Square landmark all tarted up with 39 tints, as L.A.'s most colorful painted lady, as featured in our Victorian L.A. webinar. The ad appeared in Sunset Magazine in 1973!

Silent film star "Princess Mona Darkfeather" died in 1977, but her landlords saved her photo scrapbooks and they've now been donated to the Workman Temple Museum, in recognition of the actress' Workman ancestry.

Sign the petition to save the Fairfax Theatre, a potential National Register landmark suffering demolition by neglect. Learn more and see recent fire photos in this short video from nominator Steven Luftman of the Art Deco Society of LA:

Troubling lack of concern by the State as erosion and sea wall collapse threaten Malibu's Adamson House, a tile-filled masterpiece by Stiles O. Clements. The house has been falling apart for years, and now could be washed away.

Congratulations to new Library Commissioner Arianne Edmonds, who has worked with LAPL to digitize her great-great grandfather J.L. Edmonds' black owned L.A. newspaper, The Liberator (1900-1914).

What Sheriff Alex Villanueva said today on the Venice boardwalk might sound unlikely, but LASD has a long history in clearing undesirable humans from public spaces—yes, including in LAPD territory. But will the County Health Department cooperate? Stay tuned.