Thursday Was A Wild Day in Los Angeles Historic Preservation

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.

Did you happen to tune in to the Cultural Heritage Commission’s Zoom meeting yesterday morning? We did, curious to hear how they would rule on two contentious preservation battles: Taix French Restaurant and Sister Corita Kent’s Art Studio.

Six grueling hours later, after more public comment than we’ve ever heard at one of these meetings, we got an unexpected answer—two unanimous landmarking votes!

This result was remarkable for a few reasons. At an earlier hearing, the commissioners had been disinclined to recognize either property as cultural landmarks. The staff report for Corita’s Studio was extremely negative. Each site is owned by developers who want to demolish them. And the developers have hired “experts” to testify that these important Los Angeles places don’t matter.

But as developer Blake Megdal addressed the Commissioners, he announced that his supermarket project had been redesigned, and it was no longer his intention to knock down Sister Corita’s studio for a few extra parking spaces. So please, he begged the CHC, take my word that it’s protected and don’t landmark the building. (We learned the hard way with the Felix the Cat neon sign, now an LED replica, that you can never trust a developer who slices up this brand of baloney.)

Then they opened the phone lines, and people called in from all over the world. Gallerists in New York who deal in Sister Corita’s work. Architects who wanted to restore the building to its mid-1960s appeareance. Teachers who take students to stand on what they described as “hallowed ground.” Young women who studied under Sister Corita and whose whole lives were transformed. A MOCA board member, the head of the Los Angeles Conservancy, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and so many passionate Angelenos that we wished we could high-five.

As they each advocated for the preservation of this modest structure where world-changing art was made, and reminded the commission that very few places where women or minorities make history have been preserved, we witnessed that most rare and remarkable thing: minds being changed.

And then the commissioners enthusiastically and unanimously voted to send Sister Corita’s Art Studio on to City Council for formal designation as a protected Los Angeles landmark!

The rest of the afternoon was taken up with a battle for the soul of Echo Park, as fourth generation restaurant owner Mike Taix spoke on behalf of the Washington State developer Holland Partner Group, that bought his family’s landmark venue in an off-market $12 Million sale. Calling from his home in Utah, Taix sought to convince the commission that he was the only person who could “save” the restaurant, and to save it HPG needed permission to demolish it and erect an enormous, ugly building. But when pressed about his plans for making a go of things in a new, smaller space, his heart didn’t seem to be in it. It was easy to imagine him throwing his hands up and closing Taix forever.

Then once again, the phones were opened up to a wave of passionate callers, Angelenos who treasure Taix, even if its owner claims it’s a failed business. The calls just kept coming. In the end, the exhausted commissioners voted so quickly to declare the restaurant a landmark that many listeners were confused by what they had done.

Our hope is that landmark status for Taix, assuming City Council approves it, will make the property less appealing to the current developer. The large site has the potential to hold a more appropriate type of new housing, while preserving the historic restaurant intact. And ideally, Mike Taix will consider selling the business to a restaurateur who still lives in Los Angeles, and sees the enormous potential that we do in this treasured place.

The pandemic is hard, but one bright spot has been seeing how the preservation community has grown, with so many new people calling in to bear witness at public hearings, sending emails and making public comment. The eloquence and passion of citizens as they express their love for threatened landmarks is powerful. If they can change the jaded minds of commissioners, they can change public policy.

After this six hour meeting, we felt exhausted, but also inspired and encouraged. Viva Taix! Viva Sister Corita’s Art Studio! Viva Los Angeles!

Tomorrow at noon we go live with The Weird World of Programmatic Los Angeles Architecture, which means this evening we are up to our eyeballs in peculiar researches that might just end up as part of the show. How grateful we are that so many of you tune in every Saturday, and let us the share the stories that obsess us. We’ll be joined by architect and historian Alan Hess, serial restorer of programmatic landmarks Bobby Green of 1933 Group and Vintage Los Angeles retro maven Alison Martino, in an exploration of the the strangest structures to ever hang out their shingles and urge you to stop for a snack.

Next Saturday (12/26), it’s A Love Letter to the Cafeterias of Old Los Angeles. For this holiday program, we’ll celebrate culinary visionaries, tracing the famous and forgotten cafeterias that once dotted the Southland, and the fascinating things that happened within. Tune in for a full tray of vintage cafeteria philosophy, architecture and lore, with a virtual plate of multicolored confetti jello on the side.

And just announced for January 2, 2021 is Pershing Square, Los Angeles: the History, Tragedy and Potential of Our Original Central Park, 1866-2020.

Traditionally, when it is possible to take groups out into the city, we begin our touring year around the anniversary of Beth Short’s kidnapping with our flagship Real Black Dahlia tour (also the subject of a webinar). Telling her tragic story helps keep us grounded, and reminds us how essential it is that we look after one another here in the beautiful, but sometimes dangerous city.

For the new year, we wanted to begin a new tradition by presenting a program that reflects our hopes and dreams for Los Angeles. As so many Angelenos reach the end of the hardest year they have ever known, we will share the story of a wonderful place that has been almost completely ruined, and our vision for how it can be restored. We’ll be joined by Stephen Gee, who wrote the book on the park’s designer John Parkinson, and World War 1 historian Courtland Jindra, who solved the mystery of the missing 18th century siege cannon.

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 A Cultural History of Angels Flight Railway, 1901-2020 through Saturday night.

Grand Central Market, Ohio River Valley, Bunker Hill, Charles Bukowski, Raymond Chandler, Black Dahlia, Dutch Chocolate Shop, Bradbury Building, Tunnels, L.A. Times Bombing, 13 Uncanny Crimes & Mysteries are now available On-Demand. And we’d love to see you tomorrow at noon for The Weird World of Programmatic Los Angeles Architecture.

yours for Los Angeles,

Kim & Richard

Esotouric


Subscribe! In the latest subscriber's edition of this newsletter—$10/month, cheap!—A Wartime Obsession Shared Beneath The Flickering Neon Tubes of Lompoc's Rice Bowl Café—we share one of the wildest things anyone has ever told us about how a landmark came to be built. Here’s a hint: a little bit of Hitler lives in Lompoc.

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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

HOLIDAY GIFTS: For your last-minute December shopping needs, we have emailable $10 gift certificates redeemable for any of our webinars. Maybe add a book or vintage map? We want to make it easy to give the gift of Los Angeles history, culture, mystery and delight to everyone on your list.

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