The Dead Know Things That The Living Can Only Dream Of...
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.
One thing that helped sustain us during the rough early months of the pandemic, after we made the tough decision to shut our tours down with no direction from public health officials, was our newsletter. Since we no longer had tickets to sell, we switched from the paid marketing service Mailchimp over to Substack, a writer-focused email distribution service.
Substack is free to use, with the option of setting up paid subscription tiers, so readers can support the independent journalism that matters to them. We gambled that some of the folks who have been getting our updates would think they were worth paying for—especially if we shared bits of archival lore that they couldn’t find anywhere else.
When a number of subscribers did sign up for the monthly paid edition of this newsletter (it’s $10/month or $100/year), and new people did, too, it meant a lot. We were extremely grateful to have some money coming in as we figured out how to pivot from giving live tours to webinars, and touched to receive so many lovely messages from people who wanted us to know they were reading, appreciated the work we do, and were going to stick around wherever these strange new tides took us, and them.
It’s that time of the month again when when we publish a special edition of the newsletter for subscribers, and this one features the story of a tiny 1904 crime scene that Kim discovered, tucked neatly into an archival box at the Huntington Library in late 2018. We won’t give it away, except to say that the file in question involved the immediate aftermath of an execution at Sing Sing Prison in upstate New York, and that studying true crime history can be emotionally jarring, especially at time when the Federal government is on an unprecedented killing spree.
We always strive to tell these dark stories with empathy, respect and in the hope that by understanding our shared demons, we can move together into the light.
Studying the past is a gift, though. As terrible as things have been, it is the nature of time that they always get better. Thanks to Librarianshipwreck on Twitter for this meme which gave us a laugh when the horrors of this past week seemed all too much.
If you can’t afford to pay for the subscriber’s edition, we hope that you’re holding up okay, and that this free newsletter brings a little joy into your life. And if you have subscribed or tossed something in the tip jar, thank you for helping us keep doing all we do for Los Angeles. We love and we believe in this city, and even if we can’t give tours, we want to keep telling her stories and working to preserve the past and improve the future.
For now, that means webinars! And tomorrow at noon we’re reunited with one of our favorite bus tour guest hosts, as we present vintage cinema sleuth John Bengtson’s “Silent Echoes in Westlake” Early Los Angeles Film Locations.
Come tag along for a then-and-now virtual tour of the architecturally rich Westlake district, spotlighting the time capsule locations that are immortalized in the comic films of Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin. You’ll be astonished to learn how John uses vintage photos and film clips, maps, archival sources, shoe leather and dumb luck to pinpoint the spots where motion picture history was made.
With the Westlake district presently L.A.’s ground zero for demolitions, suspicious fires, displacement and redevelopment, we think it’s more important than ever to recognize its cultural landmarks, and to work to preserve the handsome, historic and so very necessary rent-controlled multi-family housing that you’ll recognize from these classic comedies.
Plus, John will tell us about his campaign to have the city officially recognize Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley in the heart of Hollywood, and how this unassuming T-shaped slice of urban infrastructure played an outsized role in motion picture history. If you love the idea of making the alley a landmark, John asks that you give it five stars on Google by clicking here.
Next Saturday, January 23, it’s The Biggest Little Country Store in the World: How Crawford’s Markets Fed the San Gabriel Valley and Transformed The Industry. We invite you to spend an afternoon with our friend Mitchell Crawford as he shares the rollicking tale of his grandparents’ beloved and innovative supermarket chain, home of the world’s largest Cheddar cheese round, whimsical architecture, offbeat events, unforgettable characters and a little jolt of noirish true crime to keep you on your toes.
And just announced for January 30, we’re Touring Southern California’s Architecture of Death with historian Nathan Marsak, to tell the stories of the early cemeteries in the heart of pueblo, and the 1910s modernist impulse that brought us the bold and hygienic community mausolea and their stunning stained glass laylights. This webinar will appeal to fans of offbeat history and architectural innovation, and those of you who can’t get enough of the irrepressible Nathan Marsak.
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 George Mann’s Fabulous Vintage Views of Los Angeles through Saturday night.
Pershing Square 1866-2020, Cafeterias of Old L.A., Programmatic Architecture, Angels Flight, Grand Central Market, Ohio River Valley, Bunker Hill, Charles Bukowski, Raymond Chandler,Black Dahlia,Dutch Chocolate Shop,Bradbury Building, Tunnels, L.A. Times Bombing and 13 Uncanny Crimes & Mysteries are now available On-Demand. And we’d love to see you tomorrow at noon for John Bengtson’s “Silent Echoes in Westlake” Early Los Angeles Film Locations.
yours for Los Angeles,
Kim & Richard
Subscribe! In the latest subscriber's edition of this newsletter—$10/month, cheap!—The Most Disturbing Item We Ever Discovered While Doing Research at The Huntington Library—A story about brains, knockout drops, family traditions and a bad night on New York City's Tenderloin.
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
The California Historical Society invites you to share your Golden State COVID-19 story for posterity. (Because this will end.)
Redevelopment alert for Pea Soup Andersen’s: are pea-splitting mascots Hap-Pea and Pea-Wee going to be homeless?
When we were trying to convince our friend Bob Baker to donate his marionette theatre archives to LAPL, the fact that the Yale Puppeteers and Turnabout Theatre already did helped seal the deal. Now there's a virtual exhibition about these fascinating LGBT string pullers.
Looking back on Ray Bradbury's enduring influence as a myth maker, a Californian and a self-taught visionary on the occasion of the author's centennial. The story about the kitchen staff is worth the click.
Petition update: Thanks to a concerned community member, you can watch Netflix’ Egyptian Theatre Zoom presentation for the Cultural Heritage Commission. A 22% seating reduction and incredibly boring lobby and stage treatments are a disappointment. Restore!
Why did Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez place Councilman John Lee in a position of enormous influence (PLUM), when it was 99% clear he was co-conspirator in Mitch Englander's public corruption? Now it's 100%. City Staffer B must resign.
Restore Pershing Square petition update: we urged petitioners to Call Cultural Affairs Commission on 1/13 to Say No to Pershing Square “Redesign,” but only Richard called in, to point out that the meeting wasn’t legal. And they called it off! Meanwhile Downtown Weekly L.A. asks "What in the Hell is Going On With Pershing Square?" Good question!
Watch for us to spin a little Skid Row history and context in a new documentary series from Joe Berlinger, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, debuting on Netflix (yes, our Egyptian Theatre nemesis!) in mid-February.
Sad to see the owner of Robert Stacy-Judd's Hopi Revival Atwater Bungalows is so ambivalent about landmarking. There is never a better time to designate a treasure than now.
Gary Leonard talks about his unique role as the go-to DTLA construction photographer through the money laundering boom years. From Arts District punk rock to the Sixth Street Bridge, he covers the waterfront—and beyond.
Got a threatened local landmark that's keeping you up nights? (Join the club.) The National Trust for Historic Preservation is making a list, and your place that matters could be on it. Submit!
Too late for Parker Center, demolished by Jose Huizar for a project since cancelled as fiscally irresponsible: councilmembers Kevin de Leon's and Nithya Raman's motion determining suitability of city owned property as housing for the homeless.
Beautiful new video celebrating Koreatown's endangered historic landscape at 8th and Normandie Avenue, narrated by Bunker Hill historian Nathan Marsak. Don't let this lovely block be ruined with a lousy new building. Make it pretty and Save Little New York Street!
A very serious estate sale in Mar Vista, at the home of Barbara Wood of the California Guild of Book Workers. Fine bindings, bookcases, swords and miniatures. If you go, shop safely!
Here's a new reason to loathe developer Jason Illoulian of Faring Capital: after displacing landmark businesses like Parisian Florist (they moved to a new, bland location) and French Marketplace, now he seeks to displace hundreds of seniors from a Carson mobile home park—which will shorten their lives.
We are remembering Beth Short on the 74th anniversary of her death, and feeling ourselves unmoored by absence. Every January since 2007, we've taken a group to Norton Avenue, to share her sad story and how she touched even tough cops and reporters as the victim in the Black Dahlia murder case. May her soul rest peacefully now.