Making Zines, Stalking Tom Waits and Reactivating Old L.A. Movie Theaters for Fun and... Profit?

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.

Believe it or not, Kim wasn’t always a true crime historian—at least not officially. In the distant mists of time before she reconnected with her least favorite UC Santa Cruz classmate Richard, she published a music zine called Scram, a journal of unpopular culture, wrote and edited books about offbeat music and culture and even put on a rock festival in a haunted Downtown L.A. movie theater.

A favorite contributor to Scram was San Francisco critic David Smay, a brilliant and endlessly curious writer who dug as deeply into the roots of motion picture Spy Jazz as he did into the Archies. David and Kim collaborated on the anthologies Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth and Lost in the Grooves, and cheered one another on when each got a contract to write one of the 33 1/3 series of little books about great albums.

Kim’s 33 1/3 contribution ended up being one of the series’ best sellers—but since Neutral Milk Hotel made their music in Athens, Denver and Louisiana, there was no way to fold the project into Esotouric. David’s 33 1/3 book was another matter. Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones happens to be the perfect album to be turned into a Los Angeles bus tour, and we did!

Every year in the spring until COVID shut us down last March, we looked forward to hosting David Smay for a special tour of Downtown, Hollywood, West Hollywood, Echo Park and Historic Filipinotown sites that played a role in Tom Waits’ creative journey.

We’ve missed the exploring musical landmarks and seeing a constantly changing Los Angeles through a good and perceptive visiting friend’s eyes. We don’t know when the Tom Waits tour will roll again, but we’re delighted that David Smay is beaming in from San Fransisco tomorrow to talk Waits and the importance of vintage theaters as performance spaces on our webinar Art Deco Leisure Suits: How Los Angeles Preserved the 1930s in the 1970s. Tune in for a musical interlude from one of the sharpest cats we know… and Kim might even share a backstage Palace Theatre ghost story.

Once a month, we publish a special newsletter for our paid subscribers that digs into some little known treasures from our archival explorations. The cost is $10/month or $100/year to read all the locked posts, including the newest deep dive into Lester Clark's incredible early 1930s Pasadena movie theater promotions scrapbook. If you’re inclined to subscribe, we’d be most grateful for your support. And this free newsletter will continue come out every Friday with all the news you can use.

We hope you’ll join us on Saturday at noon for 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.

On Saturday, April 3 it’s 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.

And just added for Saturday, April 10 is The Crimes and Oddities of L.A.’s Sunset Boulevard, the latest an ongoing series highlighting weird tales in historic neighborhoods. We’ll work our way along the spine of a lively commercial district, highlighting horrible, fascinating and peculiar happenings that were once the talk of the town. For more info, or to sign up, 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 A Celebration of Paul R. Williams, Architect: From Hollywood Regency to SeaView Palos Verdes through Saturday night.

These webinars are now available as On-Demand recordings: Saving South L.A. LandmarksThe 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 Art Deco Leisure Suits: How Los Angeles Preserved the 1930s in the 1970s.

yours for Los Angeles,

Kim & Richard


Subscribe! In the latest subscriber's edition of this newsletter—$10/month, cheap!—Peep Inside a 1930s Movie Theater Manager's Promotional Scrapbook—we get a glimpse of a lost world of thrilling ballyhoo in Old Town Pasadena.


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.


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.


Preserve Orange County's new explorable map of architectural and cultural landmarks will launch a thousand road trips. Discover the rich history behind the orange curtain!

Farewell Urban Radish, our departure point for Downtown L.A. tours before we shut down. Family owned and as passionate about what they did as we are. We look forward to their new store, and are grateful for the hospitality and dark chocolates.

The time capsule 1947 Harvard House Motel in Thai Town is on the market as a $12.8 Million teardown and we think it should be preserved as affordable housing--with that backlit plastic ADULT MOVIES signage protected! (Thanks to eagle eyed tipster Haley S.)

More vintage motel woes. A City Council motion seeks $12,000 to secure nuisance vacated 108 Motel at 10721 South Broadway. "Motivated seller" is asking $3.3 Million for the former motel. Why fence? Seems like a no-brainer: 21 city owned affordable units at $157,000/each.

Fascinating 1931 edition of Max Factor's The New Art of Society Make-up catalog, from the website of James Bennett, who studies the history of cosmetics, skin-care and early Beauty Culture, and shares scarce vintage pamphlets with the world.

Restoration? What restoration? Worrying changes are happening at South Pasadena's landmark Rialto Theatre—seats have been removed and the church tenant wants to flatten the floor rake!

R.I.P. 7500 Sunset. A beloved historic Hollywood independent business block destroyed by Jason Illoulian's Faring. Photo of the cleared site taken this week by Ruta Vaisnys. We want to barf. Parisian Florist moved east. Anyone know if any other small businesses managed to survive?

It's too late for the demolished 7500 block of Sunset on the south side (RIP Parisian Florist, Meltdown Comics, Russian Books, Sunset Strip Tattoo, etc.), but not to save the north side businesses and historic buildings. Sign the community petition here.

Debra Jane Seltzer, keeper of the essential Roadside Architecture website, uses Google streetview to check in on landmark theaters she's photographed and finds a little good news in a sea of unfortunate LED neon conversions and vitrolite glass losses.

Hackman unveils massive plan to redevelop CBS Television City. "While the landmark status doesn’t preclude redevelopment, it necessitates a more thorough and lengthy city review process." When we launched Pereira in Peril, many feared CBS would be demolished. It's now protected, and the TVC 2050 plan says it "realizes Pereira’s futuristic vision," calls for building on and around its production studio legacy.

Wow. After pocketing millions in the ethically questionable sale of the historic Egyptian Theatre to Netflix, the American Cinematheque plays the poor non-profit card and says it can't afford to reopen to members at limited capacity.

For L.A. Taco, Kemal Cilengir documents the stand off between LAPD and advocates for the unhoused Echo Park Lake community against the backdrop of Sister Aimee Semple McPherson's neo-classical bible college. The Nation weighs in, as does Curbed.

Video Vault: The Television Newsman, 1975 is a day in KABC-7 reporter Bill Redeker's life producing local news while musing that spectacle is replacing shoe leather reporting. Featuring those eternal L.A. stories: Queen Mary money woes, undocumented workers raided.

We were honored to be asked to give feedback on the manuscript of Dydia DeLyser and Paul Greenstein's new book Neon: A Light History. These two research (and restore) the untold true story of the greatest thing to ever happen to advertising and want to share it all with you!