The Los Angeles Times of El Segundo is asleep at the switch, but corruption doesn't rest

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.

Thanks to everybody who tuned in for the Los Angeles: City of Neon Light webinar. If you missed the live show, you can still catch the recording, packed with lively tales of vintage sign dumpster diving, aerial photo sleuthing, tools and tips for preserving and relighting landmark neon treasures from our very special guests Dydia DeLyser, Paul Greenstein, J. Eric Lynxwiler and Nathan Marsak. Plus you’ll get the scoop on what’s happening with Paul’s restoration and transformation of the rediscovered Adohr Milk Farms sign in Pasadena, seen in its new color scheme above.

For our next webinar, we’re taking an infrastructure road trip within the city limits and back in time. As the days grow shorter we’re starting earlier. On Sunday, October 17 at 4pm, it’s A Natural History of Los Angeles Freeways.

We’re joined by Paul Haddad (author of the just-released book Freewaytopia: How Freeways Shaped Los Angeles), photographer and educator Jeff Gates (In Our Path, documenting the Century Freeway’s construction and impact on the communities beneath it) and Bunker Hill native son Gordon Pattison, a witness to the displacement and community disconnect caused by the 110-Harbor Freeway’s 4th Street Cut. For more info, or to sign up, just click.

Book your Freeway Ticket

And you’re invited get into the weird spirit of the season when you join us on Tuesday October 12 at 6pm for a free Zoom presentation with the Whittier Library about the offbeat, fascinating and sometimes deadly cults that called the Santa Susana Pass home. Among them, the Great Eleven who are the dark stars of Kim’s non-fiction mystery novel, The Kept Girl.

Although you wouldn’t know it from reading the news, yesterday afternoon something big happened in Los Angeles City Hall, an incident that figures prominently in the ongoing public corruption investigations and that will certainly appear in the history books.

But so far, only our Esotouric social media accounts have covered it.

It isn’t in the Los Angeles Times or on any of the radio stations, or on the political blogs tracking Eric Garcetti’s tortuous path to the Indian ambassadorship, or in the real estate journals. It’s just us.

Although we break historic preservation and culture stories with some frequency, and it’s always exciting to type the word SCOOP and pretend we’re hard-boiled mid-century reporters rushing into the chief’s office all in a lather, we actually feel pretty sick about the whole thing.

Because the huge story that no journalists or editors or bloggers cared enough to report on was the official revocation of the Hollywood Millennium Project’s 2013 permits, the signature development of the new high-rise, upscale Hollywood that is supposed to coincide with the 2028 Summer Olympic Games, an event that many believe would be horrible for Angelenos.

Millennium Hollywood, a proposed compound of outrageously huge towers clustered around the landmark Capitol Records building and straddling an earthquake fault ought never to have been approved under the law. But as Angelenos have learned since Eric Garcetti took power, the bigger and more outrageous the project the quicker it gets rubber-stamped—the law, the locals and the building code be damned.

Crusading Pasadena attorney Robert P. Silverstein has been fighting Hollywood Millennium and the city in the courts for years—long enough that the developer tried to slough off the Millennium moniker after its namesake San Francisco tower became notorious for its dangerous tilt. He took his case all the way to the California Supreme Court, as Angelenos paid the mounting legal bills to defend the city’s part in the deal.

Silverstein and his earthquake scientists were right, of course, and they won, repeatedly. Eight years after Hollywood Millennium got its green light, while the neighborhood of working class people saw enormous displacement as their rent-controlled apartments were illegally transformed into Airbnb units or quasi-legal boutique hotel rooms or simply demolished, the city finally accepted the high court’s decision and scheduled a hearing to document the humiliating loss.

The final nails went into Millennium’s casket during the Tuesday afternoon PLUM Committee hearing. PLUM is the powerful land use arm of City Council that until the FBI started poking around was the fiefdom of Jose Huizar (indicted) and Mitch Englander (serving Federal time in Arizona).

Audio of Tuesday’s hearing is up on YouTube, and it won’t take you long to listen to the Millennium section, as the City Attorney’s rep makes light of the matter and the councilmen race to be done with it, lest the taint rub off on their pet projects. But if you’re really in a rush, here’s councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s Planning Director Craig Bullock, usually keen to pontificate at length, unable to utter the single simple sentence confirming that his boss wants the city to reverse the project approvals. Quite a change in tone.

The last word on the whole affair deserves come from Robert Silverstein, who submitted a pithy, acid letter to the council file:

Dear Chair Harris-Dawson and PLUM Committee Members:

This firm and the undersigned represent

In 2013, this Committee – with Councilmen Huizar and Englander as two of the three PLUM votes – and then the City Council, approved the illegal Millennium Hollywood project.

That was after I presented evidence, suppressed by developer Millennium Partners, of an active earthquake fault running through the proposed site, among multiple illegalities affecting the project and the project site.

We then beat the City and developer’s attorneys at trial, on appeal, and before the California Supreme Court. That is why you are now about to overturn those 2013 approvals.

We note that Millennium Partners just halted so-called repairs of its leaning tower in San Francisco. That disaster is now sinking and tilting doubly fast into the quagmire of the developer and city’s making. To date, San Francisco taxpayers have paid tens of millions of dollars for those mistakes.

How much is this City Council ready to pay to defend the indefensible hubris of Mitch O’Farrell and Millennium Partners for a new version of their Hollywood disaster project, now renamed Hollywood Center?

83 years ago, Robert Silverstein’s grandfather Rabbi Osher Zilberstein took to the streets of Boyle Heights in protest of the Nazi attacks on Jews in Europe, the Kristallnacht pogrom. Silverstein is the beneficiary and culmination of many generations of ethical community service and scholarship. Los Angeles is damn lucky to have him fighting for our rights, and defending the most vulnerable among us as our leaders sell off everything that matters to strangers who only see L.A. as a place to make a dirty fortune.

It is so, so much more than that. And the city of angels is filled with real angels who love this place, hate what is happening to it, and use their skills and talents and time to look after their neighbors and their neighborhoods and to advocate for change.

We see them, calling in to protest inequitable redistricting maps, asking folks living on the streets how they can help, suffering through tedious public hearing and only sometimes getting to make public comment, monitoring law enforcement stops by peacefully bearing witness, landmarking good and useful buildings, supporting the grassroots non-profits that actually do what their mission statements say, documenting things around the city that don’t look right, asking questions, staying connected, reaching out, not moving away.

They deserve to live in a city with leaders who work for their interests, not the shadowy portfolios of international money laundering. They deserve a newspaper worthy of the name and based within the city limits and with sufficient City Hall reporters. They deserve safe, affordable places to live, beautiful parks, clean streets, functioning public transit, healthy infrastructure, and the opportunity for creative Angelenos to provide them with great food, cool shops, incredible performances and unimaginable adventures.

We had the great good fortune to be born in that lost Los Angeles, and to live in it for much of our lives. We’re not going to shut up so long as we can still see the city we love so much on the other side of this crooked, dirty curtain.

We’re glad you’re on the side of the angels, too, and can’t wait to celebrate with you when the lights of this sweet city glow neon bright again.

yours for Los Angeles,

Kim & Richard


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.


Shame on Los Angeles City Council and City Planning, which improperly re-submitted a denied proposal to demolish this magnificent Beverlywood duplex for an illegally enormous development, and refused to let the appellant be heard before today's vote.

So sleazy... and so cute! A new miniature by Kieran Wright celebrates East Hollywood's last XXX movie theater and its late, great backlit plastic sign. Thursday at 10am, the model will be available for purchase at The Tiki Xymposium is still in business, but that amazing and subtly pornographic sign was removed in 2016, and replaced with something bland.

Farewell to the Michael Kohlhaas blog, which served up its Los Angeles public records activism and education with a huge helping of snark. Thanks to MK, Angelenos know what really happened with Vermonica, Parker Center, the Egyptian Theatre and so much more!

Now that's what we call public art! Leo and Leona, the 8' tall 1920s cats guarding the Cats Estate in Poet’s Canyon, Los Gatos, California. Still there today, still aloof.

Landmark nomination pending for Sakura Gardens, the historic nursing home purchased by developer Pacifica when Jose Huizar still ran Boyle Heights. Too late for the displaced seniors, but this place matters so much. The Jewish Home for the Aged chose to sell to the Japanese-American non-profit Keiro and not to a private developer “to continue serving the community and to maintain the same integrity.”

Massive The Fig project near USC seeks to destroy a block of rent controlled apartments facing the 110. Los Angeles got the block's end from CalTrans, wants to sell it as surplus land—to the Fig. But SEIU Local 721 says move the apartments onto it.

When one of Los Angeles' treasured legacy businesses is in the news, we've all learned to wince and assume the worst. But Eastside Market Italian Deli (established 1929) isn't on the ropes—quite the contrary!

Although some locals believe too many landmarks have been lost already, we're glad Alhambra is creating an historic preservation ordinance. Your feedback is welcomed.

Great piece from Denise Hamilton in Alta about the lost and buried creeks of the Los Angeles basin, the passionate freaks who map and advocate for them and the challenge of protecting waterways from development happening behind tall gates. Free the flow!

Glendale City Council has cut ties with nonprofit Glendale Arts, which has operated the Alex Theatre since 2008 and is sitting on $1.2M in grants for programming the community treasure. If you can stomach it here's Mayor Paula Devine breaking many hearts.

Interesting campaign to strip Black Jack Pershing's name from the park at 6th & Hill Streets on moral grounds. We've advocated in our Restore Pershing Square work to revert to Central Park, which centers its importance to the city.

And councilman Gil Cedillo seeks to rename Pico Union Vest Pocket Park for political crony Nativo Lopez, a notable voting rights organizer who pleaded guilty to fraud for voting in L.A. while living in O.C. and tried to spin cockfighting as a protected cultural activity.

5001 Melrose is a 13-unit rent stabilized 1925 apartment house with retail below. The new owner is seeking to convert the apartments into hotel rooms. This is not an Ellis Act property, so we ask that too common Los Angeles question: where are the tenants?!

Remembering how the Derby Dolls had to abandon their El Sereno space after the city refused to help them legalize it, and it was so obvious Jose Huizar wouldn't help. No bribes or not enough female attention? Either way, the site burned hot this week. And then Huizar, who hasn’t posted to social media since he was arrested by the FBI, picked a fight with us about it on Instagram!

Taxpayers spent millions to destroy Parker Center after councilman Jose Huizar and Gil Cedillo's offices colluded to bus in "concerned citizens" opposing its landmarking. Now, councilman Kevin de Leon moves to explore creating affordable housing on the site. That was a perfectly good building.

On Crenshaw in Leimert Park: a gorgeous curved retail block with rooftop neon and integrated facade sign, and a wild party on the sidewalk in front of the Harley shop, threatened with demolition for upzoned redevelopment. Small business displaced, beauty erased.

Our favorite Victorian isn't in Los Angeles: it's Villa Montezuma, built for spiritualist Jesse Shepard by real estate developers who hoped he'd draw investment to Sherman Heights, San Diego. Finally open to the public again three days a week by reservation, this Hallowe'en it honors E.A. Poe.

A big win for the community around Fremont Avenue: Wayne Ratkovich's Villages at The Alhambra is DOA. We liked him better when he was renovating cool buildings, not displacing small businesses at Ports O' Call or promoting housing atop Superfund sites.

Despite valiant community efforts to protect the 100-year-old Los Feliz Maubert apartments, City Hall sided with developers to tear them all down last week. Built by the Vista Theatre team, destroyed by votes cast under the FBI's watchful gaze.

A bit of Japanese-American Los Angeles history is threatened with demolition, as the Ito family's Flower View Gardens, now Rompage True Value Hardware, is tagged, sad and on the market as an upzoned development. They’re still in business, and it would be a great loss to the neighborhood if they shut.

Great letter from Save LACMA's Rob Hollman in the Sunday Los Angeles Times, but the version published online is stronger, so we've stitched them together. The nonprofit's ballot measure will empower Angelenos to vote Michael Govan and his incompetent billionaire board out!

We're so angry about the toxic oil disaster unfolding on Huntington Beach, and ashamed that human greed and incompetence kills beautiful creatures like this Hopkins Rose Nudibranch and poisons the planet we share. Some ways to help via Christina Pascucci here.

Just an impatient Teri Garr waiting for her bus on the Walk of Fame in 1964. Angelenos still get annoyed waiting for Metro to turn up, but they don't usually have this much fun doing it.

And if you dug that, here’s another terrific short film by John Harris, featuring his unreleased "Summer Love" single from 1963 and some jaw dropping Hollywood streetscape, neon sign and Capitol Records footage. Don't miss the very special Welton Becket Associates door decor at 1:41!

Decline of South Robertson Boulevard: Luigi's Spaghetti's cool channeled streamline facade survived intact from 1948 until 2014, when the building got a bland white makeover between tenants. Los Angeles is a little less whimsical for its loss.

The Serrao family moved into this Cheviot Hills cottage overlooking Rancho Park golf course in 1955. Listed at $1.6M on May 13, it sold above asking in 15 days, and here's the demolition notice. It's a shame this sweet home can't stay.

Digging Deborah Netburn's sweet visit to the Velaslavasay Panorama, Sara Velas' magical L.A. space. Our wedding was the first one held in the garden, with psychic cats telling the fortunes of all the guests. At left, Chris Casady's virtual rendering of Sara's lost Hollywood Panorama, discussed in our recent Miniature Los Angeles webinar.

When the Biren brothers took over Louis Sugarman's Pico Blvd. carpet shop, they didn't skimp on the sign, and have maintained the marvelous installation for 60+ years. You can see vintage pics of the shop, still family owned, here.

If you enjoy the vintage Los Angeles places featured in this newsletter, tag along on our #esotouricroadtrip excursions on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.