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A love letter to the Pickwick Bookshop in Hollywood, in memory of Aaron M. Epstein (1930-2023)

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Gentle reader,

Los Angeles lost one her best friends last month, with the passing of Aaron M. Epstein (1930-2023) of the Hollywood Boulevard Epsteins.

Book lovers of a certain age get wistful when they recall Louis Epstein’s Pickwick Bookshop, with its packed shelves, brainy staff and irresistible tables of cheap remainders that let you build a fine library for a few bucks a week.

It’s pretty unusual that a book dealer in Depression-era Los Angeles would be able to buy a prominent shopping district building, as Louis Epstein did. The story that goes Paramount borrowed 20,000 books from his stock to dress the Glendale Library set for No Man of Her Own (1932), in which Clark Gable and Carole Lombard met cute. Then the studio forgot to return the books, until the bill grew so big that it was enough to buy the storefront that would become Pickwick. If you put that into a movie script, the producer would complain it was implausible. But such is the real-life magic that helped spark Hollywood’s Bookseller’s Row.

Louis’ son Aaron grew up in the business, and continued to be a steward of the Boulevard even after B. Dalton bought the store. He loved and championed the neighborhood, as a historic district and as a thriving small business hub. This 1972 letter to the Los Angeles Times is a glimpse at his advocacy.

Our gifted preservation pal John Girodo—you can thank him for Earl Carroll Theatre, The Palladium, Warner Hollywood and the Musician's Union on Vine—shared that when he first started volunteering with Hollywood Heritage, Epstein took the time to welcome, encourage and thank him for the work he was doing, and that meant a lot. John is honored to carry forth Epstein’s legacy of caring for Hollywood, his adopted home town.

And among civil libertarians, Epstein’s successful legal challenge to the attempted privatization of Hollywood Boulevard by the secretive BID office is legendary. Mitch O’Farrell might have named a square after Epstein’s nemesis Kerry Morrison, but for those who know and truly love Hollywood, Aaron M. Epstein’s is the name that deserves to be in lights. May his memory be a blessing.

Now as to this video, recently unearthed from dusty corners of two different offices.

We’ve had a funny sort of side career developing incredibly popular cultural events in gentrifying neighborhoods that are not Esotouric bus or walking tours. Funny, because in the case both of the Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk, and the LAVA Literary Salons at Musso & Frank, just as the momentum was ramping up, the rug got pulled out from under us.

It seemed baffling then that our partners didn’t want to see these programs thrive or to work with us. But with time, we’ve come to understand that not everyone wants to be part of the Kim & Richard Show. We’re a lot, and we expect a lot of everyone who shares the bill.

When the Literary Salon series had to leave Musso & Frank on short notice, we were graciously welcomed by the last survivor of Hollywood’s book district, Larry Edmunds. After a frantic few days, we managed to pull off the Jim Tully: A Hobo in Hollywood program with Tully’s biographers Paul J. Bauer and Mark Dawidziak, featuring Los Angeles bookshop historian Howard Prouty and Aaron M. Epstein talking about Hollywood bookshops in general, and Pickwick in particular.

It went pretty well, considering. But afterwards, we were beat. And the video footage captured that evening by Noah Luke sat neglected and eventually forgotten… until Aaron M. Epstein’s son A.J. reached out this month, to say he’d found some videos on a thumb drive among his father’s things, and was it okay to share them in his memory?

Looking back at the footage, we discovered that gremlins had eaten a portion of the proceedings. But even with hiccups, what’s there is a sweet record of a special night in the last Hollywood Boulevard bookshop, celebrating the bookish past which we believe can be again. We’re pleased to share it with you now, as one small way of saying thank you to Aaron M. Epstein and his family for all they’ve done for Hollywood. And we’re still really sorry about the lack of supper!

This Saturday’s tour is Human Sacrifice: The Black Dahlia, Elisa Lam, Heidi Planck & Skid Row Slasher Cases, a walk that pulls together the seemingly disparate strands of historic true crime lore and public policy, to reveal how corruption in City Hall can be literally a matter of life and death on streets of Downtown Los Angeles. Join us, do!

Nathan Marsak’s Bunker Hill Modern Marvels walk has been rescheduled for June 17, as his new architecture guidebook was delayed at the printer. We hope you’ll be there to discover that as much as we may miss Victorian Downtown, the relics of redevelopment can also be beautiful.

And coming on Monday, May 1: we’ll be announcing our summer schedule, including the long awaited return of bus tours! You can still save $15 a tour by reserving discounted presale tickets through the weekend, so get yours here while you still can.

yours for Los Angeles,

Kim & Richard

Esotouric


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.

Walking Tour Gift Certificates

UPCOMING WALKING TOURS & BUS TOUR SALE

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 27 - Evergreen Cemetery, 1877NEW DATE: Saturday, June 17 - Bunker Hill’s Modernist Marvels with Nathan Marsak


CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS

On May 4 at 10am, Netflix will try to sneak a horrible multicolored LED billboard into the forecourt of the Egyptian Theatre, and it’s up to you to make public comment to the Cultural Heritage Commission against it!

We’ve got another scoop in our investigation into what really led to the collapse of the Skid Row Housing Trust, and it’s completely nuts. We don’t know why the L.A. Times won’t report on the board chair whose interstate marijuana grow deal fell apart just as the non-profit’s buildings went into a nosedive, but we’re glad we can share the info with concerned citizens before the city votes for a costly bail out.

Thanks to a tip from Chris Nichols, we went to 6th & Broadway to see the sad state of the magnificent green and yellow checkerboard terrazzo sidewalk, which now has a long strip of plywood where the colors ought to be. While we don't see any permits pulled for sidewalk work, we suspect this damage has something to do with the decade long project to transform the commercial Zukor's Building into Three One Four Apartments. Terrazzo sidewalks are precious historic resources that occupy a gray area in Los Angeles. The city has thusfar refused to declare them protected and flag the addresses in ZIMAS so there is appropriate oversight any time construction is proposed. This damage should never have happened, but at least the city's Office of Historic Resources is on the case, talking with the contractor about replacing what was lost. And we've now got a new object in our collection of preservation failures: a few chips of green terrazzo left behind when a contractor wrecked Broadway's magic carpet.

New on the Bookstore Memories blog, the marvelous tale of Jim Hubler, Hollywood’s midnight bookseller who fed off the trade kicked out of Pickwick at closing time.

Chris Nichols also sounds the alarm about a potential threat to the soldier of neon who, according to urban legend, has been magically holding redevelopment on Hollywood Boulevard at bay. Supply Sergeant is on the market—but this beloved sign must stay! We’ve learned that Museum of Neon Art is in talks with Jack Arian’s family about the Supply Sergeant’s future, which we trust will be right on the Boulevard where it belongs. As with House of Spirits in Echo Park, preservation in place is best.

New owners shut down Diner on Main in Alhambra and little birdies in City Hall told us they were asking about redevelopment options… but now the Googie style restaurant by Armet & Davis is for lease. Maybe you will bring it back to life?

At last! We have a tenant for the late, lamented Callender's Grill on Wilshire. It will be a branch of the Costa Mesa based teppanyaki-style "modern taqueria" Descanso.

“Hey Day” is saved! After several years of advocacy, we helped get the city to pledge to restore, relocate and preserve nearly all of Barbara McCarren’s Pershing Square tribute to John Fante and Carey McWilliams!

Shame on Alex Gorby, who let the Fairfax Theatre become a blighted husk and gutted the auditorium in a failed attempt to halt landmarking. And shame on architect Howard Laks for this stumpy faux Gehry addition! Do better.

The Artery captures the ruined beauty of the art deco Wilshire Professional Building (Arthur E. Harvey, 1929). This “protected” city landmark is owned by Koreatown mega-developer Jamison, and they refuse to shut the damn windows and keep the taggers out. The city does nothing to enforce protection of this treasure, which is being destroyed in plain view. Odd how Jamison gets treated with kid gloves by City Hall, even when threatening constituents with guns.

The exquisite Garfield Building (Claud Beelman, 1930) has been a vacant, derelict eyesore for about 30 years, during which time metal thieves stripped the pipes and who knows what else. But at last, it has new owners and a chance to shine!

Speculator blight destroys another lovely block in Koreatown as demo permits are finally pulled for 408-414 S. Oxford, blighted since the $5,000,000 sale in 2019 displaced 30 tenants. Years of code enforcement with no clean up, and no new project approved.

We've got an update on the illegal work at the Pig 'N Whistle on Hollywood Boulevard. Read all about it on our advocacy page - scroll down to the bottom for the sleazy details of how there were no consequences for building walls, violating liquor law and hosting private perv parties.

A shocking sight at Crenshaw and Jefferson, where the exuberant roof wings and glittering Dalle de verre stained glass keyholes of West Angeles COGIC are falling fast for another massive CIM Group mixed user. We wish we could save the pretty windows!

As Friends of Rockhaven takes Glendale to court to force the city to clean up the neglected sanitarium, we hope they can come together to ensure the landmark becomes a museum of enlightened care and community hub. The state granted millions for it!

Video Interlude: A couple days a week, when you ride Angels Flight Railway, your ticket will be taken by Bunker Hill historian Nathan Marsak, the man in the jaunty hat, who hosts a new Bunker Hill tour on June 17. He shared his philosophy of hands on preservation with Jada Montemarano for Spectrum News' Socal Scene.

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