We could listen to people who care about Los Angeles all day long... but City Hall won't let us.

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.

When the pandemic shut down Los Angeles City Hall a year ago, there was a very real concern that the public would lose what little access we have to observing, criticizing and having some small impact on the workings of our local government.

But incredibly, locked down Angelenos started showing up en masse for virtual meetings, holding politicians accountable, calling out public corruption and pushing back against policies that benefit developers and harm citizens. KNOCK.LA has been doing terrific work creating live video commentary during these meetings, helping get citizens up to speed on the confusing public commenting system, and creating a sharable record of what happens in the halls of power.

It’s been inspiring to tune in to online meetings and listen to the growing community of engaged and informed public speakers—and frustrating to see how poorly Council President Nury Martinez runs her twice weekly meetings, ensuring that many speakers are left out every week as a few loud regulars eat up a time slot that Martinez arbitrarily limits. And don’t get us started on members of City Council and their long, scripted speeches patting themselves and their colleagues on the back.

That’s why we’ve joined a number of progressive groups and citizens in signing on to the Reclaiming Our Time letter to Los Angeles City Council. The letter calls for a regular schedule of three weekly meetings (as required by City Charter ), for amended motions to be published before votes are taken, and for public comment to be prioritized. If this means there’s no time for council members to pontificate, so be it.

A perfect example of why public comment must be prioritized happened yesterday, at the start of the twice-monthly Cultural Heritage Commission meeting. Unlike City Council (and the Cultural Affairs Commission), the CHC runs a smooth and equitable meeting, and anyone who wants to speak on matters on or off the agenda gets a chance to be heard.

One such caller was Tim Watkins, President and CEO of The Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC). He had never before attended a Cultural Heritage Commission meeting, and was there to let the commissioners know that his historic district is under assault from big developers who are making sweetheart deals that threaten the community’s cultural and architectural treasures. He was asking for help, and the Commissioners asked their staff to follow up with him.

But Tim Watkins wasn’t just calling to tell the CHC there was a problem. He realized that anyone listening to this meeting must care about saving old buildings, so he gave his phone number for anyone who could help. We called after lunch, got a good introduction to the challenges facing Watts, and were able to offer a few suggestions. We look forward to the work to come.

Public comment is a megaphone for citizens who deserve to be heard, not just by the politicians who typically ignore them, but by their neighbors and by the press. We think that it’s the least City Hall can do to let everyone who wants to speak have their minute or two, spread out over the legally mandated three meetings a week. If you agree, you can sign on to the letter here. And if you have some skills or ideas to offer Tim Watkins as he fights for the preservation of Watts’ landmarks, you can reach him at (323) 864-2549.

We hope you’ll join us on Saturday at noon for A Celebration of Paul R. Williams, Architect: From Hollywood Regency to SeaView Palos Verdes. We’ve put together a terrific group of writers, photographers, historians and preservationists to explore the legacy of this groundbreaking Modernist, how his work still shapes the landscape, and the hands-on experience of restoring and updating a remodeled Williams tract home, while respecting its beautiful bones. Get the skinny here.

On Saturday, March 27 it’s Art Deco Leisure Suits: How Los Angeles Preserved the 1930s in the 1970s. This webinar picks up where the Los Angeles Historic Preservation, 1900s-1980s webinar left off, to explore the rebirths of the Biltmore Hotel and Oviatt building, how redevelopment revived Spring Street, the early days of the Los Angeles Conservancy in the Eastern Columbia Building, the epic battle to save the Wiltern Theatre, and how Tom Waits sprinkled stardust all over its stage. For more info, or to sign up, click here.

And just added for Saturday, April 3 is John Fante’s Bunker Hill and Downtown Los Angeles Literary Time Machine webinar, honoring the author of the classic 1939 Bunker Hill novel Ask the Dust and the places and people who inspired his work. We’ll be joined by the author’s children Vickie Fante Cohen and Jim Fante, Pershing Square public artist Barbara McCarren (her piece HeyDay, seen at lower right in the image above, references the Long Beach earthquake from Ask The Dust and is currently threatened with removal), Fante scholar Matteo Cacco and Bunker Hill native son Gordon Pattison. For more info or to reserve your spot, click here.

Stay tuned as we roll out a new webinar program each Saturday. And remember if you can’t watch live or need to leave mid-stream, you can watch the recording for one full week. There’s still time to see Saving South Los Angeles Landmarks through Saturday night.

These webinars are now available as On-Demand recordings: The Birth of NoirStorybook ArchitectureThe Dark Side of the West SideIn The Shadow of the Hotel CecilL.A. Historic Preservation, 1900s-1980sTouring Southern California’s Architecture of DeathCrawford’s MarketsJohn Bengtson’s Silent Film LocationsGeorge Mann’s Vintage L.A.Pershing Square 1866-2020Cafeterias 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.

And we’d love to see you tomorrow at noon for A Celebration of Paul R. Williams, Architect: From Hollywood Regency to SeaView Palos Verdes.

yours for Los Angeles,

Kim & Richard

Esotouric


Subscribe! In the latest subscriber's edition of this newsletter—$10/month, cheap!—A Hidden Victorian Elevator Cage With A Bloodthirsty Past—we peer into a hotel broom closet that is as beautiful as it is terrifying.

WANT TO SUPPORT OUR WORK?

If you enjoy all we do to celebrate and preserve Los Angeles history, please consider signing up for (or gifting) the subscriber’s edition of this newsletter, or putting a little something into our digital tip jar. Gift certificates are available for any webinar in our library or upcoming calendar, starting at $10. Printed matter? We’ve got a swell selection of books and maps, some written by us, others sourced from dusty warehouses. For a wider selection, Bookshop uses the power of distributor Ingram to help independent bookstores stick around. We've curated a selection of uniquely Los Angeles titles, and when you order from these links, it supports participating local shops, and us, too. You can also click here before shopping on Amazon... & if you love what we do, please tell your friends.

AND WHAT'S THE NEXT TOUR? WHO KNOWS?!

We're dark until public health officials determine that groups can gather safely. But in addition to weekly webinar programs, we've got 138 episodes of the podcast You Can't Eat The Sunshine free to download for armchair explorers, and videos of the Downtown L.A. LAVA walking tours, plus Cranky Preservationist videos.


AND FINALLY, LINKS

What a find: When Billy Wilder shot Sunset Boulevard on the decaying grounds of the Getty mansion, caretakers Cletus and Della Peters got their camera out. And yes, their kid did mess around in Norma Desmond's leopard upholstered 1929 Isotta-Fraschini!

Memorial held outside the Kei-Ai senior facility in Lincoln Heights, with highest COVID death rate in California, compares developer greed to anti-Asian street violence—just as deadly, but more profitable. Now they are fighting to keep the survivors safe.

825 West Bartlett is a time capsule cottage built in 1898 on the northern edge of Bunker Hill. A developer plans to demolish it for dense, discretionary TOC apartments. We think this sweet survivor should be moved and loved, not smashed and trashed!

Alexander Calder's "Three Quintains (Hello Girls)" was one of our favorite things on the demolished LACMA campus, and it's bittersweet to see in his newly digitized archives. Here she is in action before the bulldozers came.

Museum director Michael Govan wants us to know he "self-evicted" and instructed LACMA to sell his newly-purchased, downsized director's house, and is now doing the Jim Rockford thing in a Malibu trailer.

While Central Library is closed, the magnificent Judson Glass Rotunda Chandelier got a thorough cleaning, and you can join photographer Gary Leonard in getting a rare close-up look at its whimsical astrological details, through video and close up stills.

El Monte's famed lion farm had Gallic roots, as described on Frenchtown Confidential. The site of the lost roadside attraction is a favorite stop on our Blood and Dumplings tours.

Cheers to Kevin All-Myer, who captured these rare and fascinating views inside Fire Station No. 23 on Skid Row, the long derelict Los Angeles landmark #37. (We checked with the CD14 Council Office, and were relieved to learn that the Cultural Heritage Commission has signed off on this adaptive reuse project, which has Chattel, Inc. as the preservation consultant along with Donna Williams.)

Our Bunker Hill historian pal Nathan Marsak riffs on lost neighborhoods and the relics that survive, on the latest Hidden History of Los Angeles podcast.

The perfect Pritzker prize winners for 2021: Lacaton & Vassal are preservationists and humanists, transforming historic spaces, rejecting architect's egotism and improving modern life for ordinary people. "Never demolish what can be redeemed!"

We're big fans of Jo Mora's witty illustrated maps packed with California characters and lore, and can't imagine a better subject for a traditional wooden jigsaw puzzle. Featuring Liberty's custom "whimsy" pieces.

Rusted and forlorn, after road trips to Michigan and Oakland, the Garden of Allah neon sign is on the market. Will this relic of Hollywood's golden age come home?