Of Tacos, Tar Pits and Toppled Trees
On a few terrible occasions, we’ve watched in stunned disbelief as a property owner, tenant or non-profit occupying an historic landmark squanders vast stores of community goodwill on a horrible remodel or rebranding, turning off the longtime patrons who are its biggest fans.
Often, the blame can be directly laid at the feet of one man in the throes of the Dunning-Kruger effect. We hesitate to write that these guys are “suffering from” D-K, because it’s really the rest of us who suffer, while they blithely skate along, convinced of their genius, wrecking the places we love.
But there’s been an interesting side effect recently to two of these terrible scenarios, where neighboring projects have taken a much better direction—we suspect in response to how poorly things went for the egomaniac down the block.
So in Hancock Park, the renovation plans for the La Brea Tar Pits Museum and landscaping have unfolded over several years of transparent public meetings, in which community feedback was treated with the enormous respect it deserves. The proposal makes a delightful contrast to the disaster that is the top-down, unpopular and underfunded LACMA remodel.
On Hollywood Boulevard, longtime fans look away when passing the Pig ‘N Whistle restaurant, illegally gutted for a Mr. Tempo Cantina by the taunting, flatulent scofflaw Jorge Cueva.
But as of this week, should you feel the need to combine a visit to Hollywood Boulevard with chain Mexican food and a stiff drink, you can ignore the former Pig ‘N Whistle entirely, and patronize Taco Bell’s new Cantina concept half a block away. It’s housed in the historic Pickwick Books storefront, with the battered Spanish Churrigueresque facade lovingly repaired by KC Restoration for the project.
It shouldn’t take the slow motion car crash of a LACMA remodel or the bold destruction of a Pig ‘N Whistle to inspire others to do right by the landmarks in their care. But we’ll take all the preservation and stewardship wins we can get.
And if we get to take stewardship into our own hands, that can be fun, too.
On Day of the Dead 2022, we met our environmental horticulturist pal Dr. Don Hodel at the Plaza off Olvera Street, to inspect the spot where one of four Moreton Bay Fig Trees (Ficus macrophylla) that had been planted in 1875 toppled over in 2019.
As discussions continue about what should be planted in its place—you can tune in to the El Pueblo Commission hearing on Thursday, 2/23 at 2pm for a presentation from the Ad Hoc landscape and tree committee—Don wanted to see for himself if the fruit on any of the three surviving trees was producing viable seeds that might replace the tree that was lost.
Richard went to work collecting fallen figs in his handkerchief, while Don explained to curious passersby what we were up to. Don took the figs and promised to report back. And we waited, and waited.
And this week, Don delivered his verdict, in the form of a photograph of happy little fig sprouts grown from the 147-year-old trees!
We’ve kept Olvera Street management informed about this experiment, and asked to make a presentation to the El Pueblo Commission about options for replacing the fallen witness tree with the offspring of one of its sisters.
But while this idea floats unrealized in the mist, here’s a suggestion to lovers of old Los Angeles: next time you’re at the Plaza and picking up souvenirs, why not include a couple of fallen figs to plant at home? One little sprout could grow to be a mighty tree, and a golden thread leading through L.A.’s historic heart to the soil-stained hands of Elijah Hook Workman.
With a huge storm on the way, Saturday’s previously announced Westlake Park tour will be postponed to a future date. Bundle up and we’ll see you in March for a stroll in the sunshine.
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, February 25 - Westlake Park Time Travel Trip (postponed due to rain)• Saturday, March 11 - Downtown Los Angeles is For Book Lovers • 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
CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS
We were thrilled to see CBS Saturday Morning cover efforts to landmark Cornelius Johnson's Olympic Oak, but shrieked when the reporter misrepresented the stalled process as a done deal. It still must be scheduled for an L.A. City Council vote, and you can help.
Here's KCAL-9’s report on the campaign to protect L.A.'s oldest service station, a Route 66 attraction that was nearly lost until locals said stop.
The Charles B. Booth Residence (HCM #491) at 824-826 South Bonnie Brae was damaged yesterday morning when the landmarked Carriage House caught fire and spread to the home's attic. We alerted the city’s Office of Historic Resources, and they’ll be reaching out to the owner and building inspectors to see what can be saved.
New from Nathan Marsak's Institute for Advanced Bunker Hill Studies: in search of presidential presence upon the lost peak, and a swell discovery in the flats below.
A strange exchange occurred during a Santa Clarita City Council Budget Committee meeting, in which the potential city takeover of William S. Hart Park and house museum was described, oddly, as a purchase. We’re tracking the situation here.
R.I.P. Waldemar Cafe, 1927-2023. The end came quickly for Edith Northman's Boyle Heights roadhouse, demolished just as we realized its historic significance.
Long Beach has lost a great preservationist and activist. RIP Stan Poe, who salvaged the ruins of old Bunker Hill and was inspired to fight the bulldozers in LB.
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Do you own an historic property in Pasadena that's not yet on the landmarks list? You can apply with the city for designation and Mills Act tax relief, in return for being a good caretaker.
We stopped at 2528 East First Street in Boyle Heights to see the bungalow court, storefront and cottage threatened with demolition for TOC upzoning. How are the tenants supposed to survive if evicted? Build on parking lots, not on rent controlled historic housing!
We’ve continued to dig into the mysterious collapse of Skid Row Housing Trust, and are sharing new discoveries on our blog, including a distressingly close connection between the non-profit’s leaders and the 2008 toxic loan scam that crashed the world economy.
We’re saddened by the sudden closure of Rod’s Grill, Arcadia’s coolest time capsule, and hope heroic waitress Julie lands somewhere soft.
In another timeline, the grand Park View mansions on MacArthur Park were preserved as part of a protected district. In this one, most were demolished—except this charmer, now tucked behind a Manhattan Beach garage, and on the market.
What's new with Relevant Group, who gutted the potential landmark Morrison Hotel and made us look at their ugly work? A chaotic battle for control of Mother Wolf restaurant in Hollywood.
We're encouraged that Downey City Council is finally moving to create a historic preservation ordinance—and not falling for the pro-developer hustle of putting the Planning Commission in charge.
Corruption Corner: Happy Jose Huizar Trial Day! After years using public defenders at your expense, this nasty piece of work made a deal with the Feds and left his co-conspirator Ray Chan to face the jury alone. Who will Huizar flip on? How high does the racket reach? And is Chan’s attorney Harland Braun demented, or deliberately aiming for a mistrial?… As the City Hall RICO trial begins, City Council moves to fund an Office of Inspector General to watchdog City Planning. They should hire the preservationists who have done this work for years, for free… In the first Angels Landing project update since Jose Huizar's guilty plea: Chief Legislative Analyst nixes developer Don Peebles' demand to get bailed out by the taxpayers should he fail to break ground after 10 years.
I loved seeing your fig sprouts! Did Don offer any tips on how to plant them, if we pick a few up for ourselves?
Hard to believe how much of our precious architecture that reminds us who we are is being destroyed. Memories sustain us. Keep up the good work.