Some weeks, it seems like every time we check our email or DMs, there’s a new preservation crisis brewing, and some desperate, caring, exasperated Angeleno who feels compelled to tell us what’s threatened in their corner of the city, and ask if there’s any hope at all. There is, but it can be hard to find.
When word got out that the wreckers had finally come for the long vacant, famously sleazy Sunset Pacific Motel (aka Bates Motel), we checked the LADBS portal for demolition permits, found none, and had the odd experience of the developer appearing in our Instagram comments touting the existence of a permit which was, most peculiarly, listed under an alternative address not the one previously used for the property.
That was weird. It’s hard enough to keep track of L.A.’s rampant development without it playing out as a real life shell game. Is it any wonder that citizens feel angry and powerless as they watch the landmarks and landscapes they love get scraped away for interchangeable mixed use multicolored boxes?
A Bates Motel neighbor, Rachel, drew our attention to the other threatened structures on the Effie side, including a lovely 1906 ranch house with an approved demolition permit. It was rumored to have been used by silent film legend Mabel Normand when the neighboring motion picture studio was her home base.
In the corner of the yard was a horse tether that could well have been used by cowboy star William S. Hart, the studio’s second namesake and subject of one of our preservation campaigns. Well, we certainly needed to see that, and over we went late last week to bid farewell to the remains of the motel and assess the early cinema site behind.
Shockingly, despite the still operating 1916 motion picture studio a few feet away, the Junction Gateway Project Historical Resource Evaluation Report produced by GPA Consulting in 2015 only mentions the local film industry once (on page 10), and entirely misses the cinema associations of the lovely house at 4300 West Effie (page 21). They did capture a nice color photo of how it appeared when still inhabited, though.
Developer Frost/Chaddock has been interested in Sunset Junction for more than a decade, generating ill will by tearing a storybook style community landmark down and refusing a buy-out offer from neighborhood icon Flea, but not yet breaking ground on any project.
The current trend for developers holding large Los Angeles parcels is to go through the lengthy and expensive process of getting their City Planning entitlements, demolish or vandalize the inconvenient old buildings on the site, then put the properties back on the market seeking big profits. We’ve seen that with 1111 West Sunset (oh, those lost Pereira sun screens!) and with Lytton Savings at Sunset and Crescent Heights.
We don’t know if this is the motivation behind the demolition of the long vacant motel and residential structures behind. Maybe Frost/Chaddock does plan to finally move forward with their massive Junction Gateway development soon. It would be good to have this parcel reactivated with housing and commercial tenants after so many years of blight. (The supposedly non-toxic whitewash that artist Vincent Lamouroux sprayed on the motel in 2015 still clots the palm trunks.)
But more than a decade after they demolished A Different Light to stymie its landmarking, and after so many contentious community meetings and so much organizing, what a gracious move it would be if instead of tearing down Mabel Normand’s Studio Bungalow, Frost/Chaddock extended an olive branch to the neighborhood and hit the pause button on demolition long enough to find a new home for this charming structure that was a witness to and quite likely a participant in early cinema history. Once you locate a new site, it’s actually pretty easy to move a wooden house (not to mention a horse tether), and it’s a thrill to see it done.
If you agree with us that this is a wonderful idea, please send a message to property owner Frost/Chaddock through their online contact form, and cut and paste what you’ve sent into an email to Council District 13’s Planning Director Emma Howard (email@example.com) and us (firstname.lastname@example.org).
It’s enough to simply write “Dear Frost/Chaddock, Please don’t move forward with plans to demolish Mabel Normand’s Studio Bungalow at 4300 West Effie Street, but instead work with the community to find a new home for this living piece of motion picture history.” You can say more if you’re so inspired. Be nice—good will goes a long way—be persuasive, and let’s see if they’ll show they’re ready to be a good neighbor and do the right thing by Mabel and by Sunset Junction.
We believe good and useful buildings that tell the story of Los Angeles should be treated like old friends, and given a chance to stick around and play a part in the future. We hope you do, too. Let's try to save her.
If there are updates on the Mabel Norman Studio Bungalow’s fate, we’ll share them on our blog. [And also here: on March 15, 2023, the morning after this was published, preservation pal Brett Loudermilk visited the site and found the house demolished.]
Now scroll down to see our newly listed tours through May, including the debut of Nathan Marsak’s celebration of post redevelopment Bunker Hill.
yours for Los Angeles,
Kim & Richard
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, vintage Los Angeles webinars available to stream, in-person walking tours, gift certificates and a souvenir shop you can browse in. Or just share this link with other people who care.
UPCOMING WALKING TOURS
Saturday, March 18 - Franklin Village Old Hollywood • Saturday, March 25 - Angelino Heights & Carroll Avenue • Saturday, April 8 - John Fante’s Downtown • Saturday, April 15 - Raymond Chandler’s Downtown • Saturday, April 22 - Alvarado Terrace & South Bonnie Brae Tract • Saturday, April 29 - Human Sacrifice: The Black Dahlia, Elisa Lam, Heidi Planck & Skid Row Slasher Cases • Saturday, May 13 - All Around the Auto Club West Adams • Saturday, May 20 - Bunker Hill’s Modernist Marvels with Nathan Marsak • Saturday, May 27 - Evergreen Cemetery, 1877
CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS
Big news on the Monastery of the Angels front: an extraordinary press release announces that the Dominicans are launching a public process seeking options for the restoration and use of the site. As trained medievalists, preservationists and Angelenos, we are honored to play a role in what as far as we know is the first RFP ever issued for the development of a Dominican monastery! We know that our UC Santa Cruz art history professor Jasper Rose is proud of us.
Egyptian Theater bait and switch: in 2021, Netflix proposed a monochromatic American Cinematheque roof sign with minimalist text. Now they seek permission for a jarring LED billboard in corporate red. This is not historic preservation.
From the documentary Number Our Days (1976), Maury Rosen's lament for the gentrification displacing and endangering the elderly poor of Venice, California.
Some press clips have been added to our Cornelius Johnson’s Olympic Oak preservation page: Upworthy frets redevelopment will kill the tree. And Rich Perelman's Sports Examiner offers a rare accurate rundown of where we are in the HCM process. Next stop: PLUM Committee!
Incredible moment on Saturday’s Downtown Los Angeles is for Book Lovers tour: the rains have exposed a ghost sign for the venerable Fowler Brothers (1888-1994), where Ray Bradbury met his beloved Maggie! (It’s in the alley that terminates at the Oviatt Building.)
Curlett & Beelman's 1924 Insurance Exchange Building at 9th & Olive in Downtown Los Angeles has been purchased by AIDS Healthcare Foundation for conversion from garment industry and office tenants to affordable housing. It's a stunner!
Political drama surrounds a vacancy on the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission, where qualifications, equity concerns and personal ambition collide. Who will fight hardest to save places that matter? Pick them!
Developers like Onni Group use the proximity of the subway to justify projects far too tall for the Miracle Mile. They know market rate tenants won't take Metro, and the politicians who sign off know it, too. It's all a shell game, and L.A. loses.
We've watched Fellowship House for years, wondering what's next for the National landmark that hosted returning Japanese internees. Dunamis House will provide homes for housing insecure students, a great new chapter!
While at Alpine Village making our video against demolition by neglect we spoke with a freelance reporter and our comments were featured in this story on ABC7 local news. Plus, The Real Deal identifies the mysterious new buyer.
Some beguiling views of William Pereira's lost LACMA campus and the iconic Norbert Kricke "Space Sculpture" fountain in this short 1968 doc about land use, via PeriscopeFilm and the Internet Archive.
Metro destroys. Two blocks from the underutilized, ill-designed Leimert Park K-Line Station, SoLa Impact is demolishing a handsome 100 year old block. Affordable projects can preserve and build above historic landmarks, honoring the past, conserving carbon. Do better.
There's a unit available in the Parva Sed Apta at 1817 Ivar, where Nathanael West wrote The Day of the Locust. Perfect for a young writer with an acid pen. Perfect for you? It's also a stop on Saturday’s Franklin Village tour.
East L.A.’s gutted Unique Theatre, which we advocated be a landmark after ELACC's fire displaced the shops and tenants, is back on the market. Paging all affordable housing developers who dig vintage neon.
We ran into Alex Wolfe in Angelino Heights on day 2 of 7 walking Los Angeles and gave him a mini-Carroll Avenue tour. Check outto vicariously share his L.A. adventures, or his east coast newsletter.
Are you looking for a great location for an art gallery or retail space? The shop that shares a wall with Kent Twitchell's early mural Strother Martin Monument (1971) is for lease at 5200 Fountain, East Hollywood. Just across from Liquor Fountain and El Zarape.
Nine years ago today, our Kim Cooper went into a trance researching peripheral Los Angeles characters and discovered the early comic operetta that Raymond Chandler hid throughout his career—and an alternative timeline for his and Cissy's love story.
Corruption Corner: Raymond Chan's attorney Harland Braun has been hospitalized with an infection, and his trial has been indefinitely halted. Will it potentially not wrapping up on schedule have any effect on Jose Huizar's scheduled sentencing next month?… At 27:00 in this interview with Mike Bonin, legal reporter Meghann Coniff comes out and says it: before he was hospitalized, attorney Harland Braun "came across as a little senile." Is Raymond Chan intentionally throwing his RICO defense?.. Insights from a shameful City Hall love fest: Ray Chan wrote a book about LADBS leadership. And how "quirky" that he refused to use a digital calendar…. Planning Commissioner David Ambroz' tale of getting shaken down in the nasty Mama Shelter bar by Chan is a wild window into City Family corruption. And after all that, he approved the crooked project!… Chinese billionaire Wei Huang seeks a new trial or acquittal in his racketeering conviction, says he gave Jose Huizar $600,000 and partied with him in Las Vegas just for fun. Come on—the men don't have a language in common!… The Real Deal’s investigation into Relevant Group's mysterious Grant King reveals two of Relevant's Hollywood hotels (Tommie and Thompson) were foreclosed on, but the illegally gutted Morrison is apparently still in play… Real estate corruption is L.A.'s biggest issue, so it's troubling to read about L.A. Times' housing reporter Liam Dillon's cozy relationship with the industry, sharing stages with politicians and execs on his beat—and getting compensated.