Save The Date: 8:30am Thursday - Listen Live As The L.A. Times Project Appeal Hearing Illuminates City Government's Corrupt Soul
read on as we share something terrible that happened to us, and our sincere hope that the worst is behind Los Angeles and its civic dragons are soon to be vanquished
Tomorrow is a red letter day in the history of Los Angeles journalism and historic preservation.
Over the course of more than a decade, on our own time and dime, we put together a team of preservationists, architectural historians and longtime Los Angeles Times executives to write a nomination landmarking the buildings where the L.A. Times was published, from the reactionary 1930s through the progressive 1960s, from multiple sales that gutted the paper and stripped the real estate away from the news division, up until the pathetic day when the paper’s billionaire owner cried poverty over the rent and moved the operation to El Segundo.
He even stole some protected artifacts on the way out the door.
When we sat down to work on this newsletter this morning, our plan was to invite you to tune in to tomorrow’s virtual City Planning Commission hearing of the project appeal, encourage you to call in and make public comment, and share links to some of our Pereira in Peril historic preservation blog posts on the Times project.
We’d tell you about how we put the team together to landmark the newspaper buildings, and about the many hearings we attended, speaking out for preservation against a well-paid army of land use attorneys and lobbyists.
Maybe we’d describe the exciting day when the Cultural Heritage Commission got righteously pissed off at Ken Bernstein from the Office of Historic Resources for preparing documents stating that the 1973 William Pereira addition was not worthy of preservation, and how they demanded the record reflect their opinion that the whole complex should be landmarked.
We’d probably express our confusion over Ken’s position, since the only reason we hadn’t completed the landmarking process a decade ago was his insistence that we nominate the entire city block, and not just the 1934 art deco jewel box by Gordon B. Kaufmann.
William Pereira’s glass and stone addition was part of our landmark nomination was because Ken told us he wouldn’t accept a submission that didn’t include it. (Pro-development YIMBYs who like to snark at us online don’t have much to say when we point this out.)
In time, and with the guidance of our Pereira in Peril preservation pal Alan Hess, we came to understand how right it was that the Pereira was preserved. And the Cultural Heritage Commission agreed.
Then as the landmark moved towards the pivotal hearing before Councilman Jose Huizar, chair of the powerful PLUM Committee and a friend to all developers who want to demolish landmarks, the FBI raided his home and office. Huizar was removed from PLUM, along with all of his committee posts. (Some political watchers believe it is illegal for him to sit and vote on City Council while serving on no committees.)
We were briefly hopeful that the landmark would make it through PLUM and then full City Council. But when we asked for a pre-hearing meeting with Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who sat in Huizar’s old chair, his staff asked why, since MHD intended to do whatever Jose Huizar asked him to on Times Mirror Square.
It was clear that despite the musical chairs pantomime of stripping the raided rat from his committee posts, corruption in Los Angeles was still a well oiled machine, tearing up good buildings, breaking the hearts of its citizens.
And at PLUM, Huizar’s cronies had their marching orders. They did something unthinkable, something so complex that there was no freaking way Los Angeles politicians came up with it.
No, this little trick was obviously the work of the highly paid land use attorneys and lobbyists on retainer for the Times Mirror Square project. They took our beautiful landmark nomination, the work of a decade and many dedicated souls, fully vetted by the Cultural Heritage Commission, and they rewrote it on the spot.
Just like Ken Bernstein of the Office of Historic Resources said at the CHC hearing, PLUM declared that the William Pereira building was not worth landmarking. So out it went, and with it went the progressive history of the Los Angeles Times under Otis Chandler, a paper that changed the world and changed Los Angeles and made the rest of the world respect us, in a building that was worthy of that work.
Onni Group would soon be free to wreck Pereira’s building, and in so doing, scrape it off the side of Kaufmann’s art deco jewel box, with which it was fully integrated, one master architect in conversation with another.
Did we mention that Onni Group has proposed two of the ugliest towers imaginable for this iconic site, kitty corner from City Hall? A gifted first year design student could do better.
And then while we were getting ready to write this newsletter, RICO charges were filed that further illuminate the disgusting depths of Councilmember Jose Huizar’s venal behavior, selling out Angelenos for piles of cash, Lakers tickets and trips to China.
Mentioned in the case file is a $50,000 donation that likely matches the one made by Onni Group to Huizar’s wife Richelle’s political action committee, in exchange for his support for their crummy project at Times Mirror Square, and their support for his unqualified wife’s coronation as the Queen of CD14.
Reading the documents with shock, horror, humor and disgust, missing lunch, not finishing this newsletter, juggling calls from journalists and preservation pals, looking back over everything that had happened, we thought about something terrible that had happened to us, and had slowed the process of the Times landmarking.
And then we thought, what the hell, why not tell you about it?
Los Angeles has never been in more trouble than she is right now, our tour business is shuttered for God knows how many more months, landmarks are falling like dominoes, there’s no safe place for our homeless neighbors, and the corrupt, inept, not very bright members of Los Angeles City Council are acting like everything is fine, even as the DOJ drops indictments and plea deals that implicate half of them in systemic public corruption.
So what the hell. Yes, the Times Mirror Square landmarking project took a long time, but it would have happened quicker if Ken Bernstein hadn’t called us on Friday, January 16, 2015 and said, in essence: I have a message for the people writing the L.A. Times landmark nomination from Tribune [then owner of the Los Angeles Times and its buildings] and their land use attorney: “if you want a fight, you got one.”
Then for good measure, while we were weighing the impact of this direct threat conveyed by a city official from a multi-billion dollar media corporation with a reputation for fighting rough, Ken Bernstein further mentioned that not only had he informed Tribune that a landmark nomination was being prepared by private citizens, but he had also shared this information with his boss.
At this time, after speaking with some of our friends at the newspaper about Tribune’s bullying tactics, we chose to put the landmark nomination on hold for our own safety. We only revived it after the property was sold to Canadian developers Onni Group, the people who had destroyed Seattle’s landmark Art Deco newspaper building.
We sure hope that Ken Bernstein told the FBI everything he knows about the Times Mirror Square project. We certainly did.
So let's get up early and have a virtual public corruption party, as the Los Angeles City Planning Commission convenes at 8:30am to hear the appeal on Onni Group's Times Mirror Square project—one day after RICO charges implicate Jose Huizar and planning officials in a complex web of public corruption that very likely includes this project! If you're indicted, you're NOT invited!
We’ve made a Facebook event, so you can tell your friends you’re tuning in, and we can chat amongst ourselves as history is made.
You can even call in and give public comment, and tell the Commissioners to do the right thing, if you feel the urge.
SEE THE HEARING AGENDA HERE (PDF LINK)
INSTRUCTIONS: City Planning Commission meetings can be listened to by dialing (213) 621-2489 or (818) 904-9450. Only members of the public who wish to offer public comment to the City Planning Commission should call 1 (669) 900-6833 and use Meeting ID No. 988 1728 6308 and then press #. Press # again when prompted for participant ID. To give public comment on Times Mirror Square, state that you are speaking on both Agenda Item #9 “VTT-74761-1A - Times Mirror Square / Hearing of Appeal” and Agenda Item #10 “CPC-2016-4675-TDR-VCU-MCUP - Times Mirror Square / Certification of EIR.” You should get a little more time by commenting on these two related items.
And maybe one day soon we’ll have all the indictments and information we need to make a route for the Jose Huizar Crime Bus Tour, and start to take reservations for the debut excursion of this ripped from the headlines Los Angeles tragedy.
Our You Can’t Eat The Sunshine podcast is back from hiatus, reformatted to suit the social distancing times with a more conversational structure, featuring our preservation pals calling in from around the Southland. The newest episode is #136: The Larry Edmunds Bookshop & the (Nearly) Lost World of Hollywood Book & Memorabilia Dealers. Come hang out with us virtually, and let’s keep the conversation going, even while we can’t invite you out to take a tour.
In the latest subscriber's edition of this newsletter—$10/month, cheap!—we expose a forgotten river beneath Downtown Los Angeles, and the rare photograph that property owners would rather you didn’t see.
WANT TO SUPPORT OUR WORK?
If you enjoy all we do to celebrate and preserve Los Angeles history and would like to say thank you, please consider signing up for the subscriber’s edition of this newsletter, or putting a little something into our digital tip jar. Need a good read? 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. Or you can reserve a gift certificate to join us for a tour once we're back on the road... & 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 we've got 136 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 while we're not shipping physical books right now, Kim's 1920s cult mystery novel The Kept Girl is available as an ebook.
AND FINALLY, LINKS
In LACMA News: LACMA has a rich history, though you wouldn't know it from how they treat their landmark buildings. But on the Internet Archive, the spirits of decades of interpretation talk among themselves, in spaces that will themselves soon be ghosts…. Masked and righteous, Rob Hollman of Save LACMA explains why demolishing the museum during a pandemic is a bad look for a County institution facing deep budget cuts. Museum director Michael Govan refused to appear, but emailed the usual talking points. Is he sick?
The Art Deco Society of Los Angeles is holding a virtual Avalon Ball via Zoom on May 16. Dress up in your 1920s finery and dance in your living room to the music of Dean Mora and friends, watch live cocktail mixing, and get a Catalina history lesson.
There is so little local L.A. news getting reported, we had to learn from grim Facebook posts that our friend Dr. Larry Brooks was killed by a speeding McLaren in front of Sci Arc. He was a lovely guy we often visited with after tours at Urban Radish. RIP.
Libros Schmibros now has a podcast, "exploring the people, books, movies and ideas that Californians care about, in a thoughtful way that even New Yorkers can understand." Debut video edition has Mike Davis discussing his new Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties. (Bookshop link, Amazon link)
We think Walt would wait.
To die of natural causes in the midst of a global pandemic is, sometimes, to be overlooked. But the New York Times has a worthy, late memorial to our friend Ian Whitcomb, one of those lucky transplants who flowered so sweetly in the California sun.
"Kathy Don't Go To The Supermarket" is the cult-pop earworm from hell you didn't know you needed right now. It's a production of the Family of God, who are featured in the fold-out Cults map Kim wrote for Herb Lester.
Blog update: "Preservationist" Diane Keaton destroyed a great Los Angeles sign to decorate a flipped mansion. Recent aerial photos show kids' play equipment on this spot. Was the attractive nuisance taken to the dump after the house sold?
Support the US Postal Service and celebrate American Gardens, including The Huntington, by picking up today's release of a forever stamp sheet showing the blooms and landscapes we'll all enjoy again, one sunny day.
The sins of "Happy" Jander, and the dedicated archivists who are absolving them.
yours for Los Angeles,
Kim & Richard