What's Happening with Esotouric Tours, Anyway?

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.

Let’s start with some disappointing news—but we promise we won’t leave you feeling blue.

If you’ve been keeping track, you know we’re very concerned about protecting the health of our tour guests and wider community, which is the reason we made the tough decision to shut down on March 11, 2020, eight days before the state did.

It was our cautious hope to announce a return to in-person group bus tours this summer, assuming COVID-19 transmission numbers stayed low. Unfortunately, with the current trajectory of rising positivity rates and vaccinated people serving as asymptomatic carriers, we believe it would be socially irresponsible to resume operation now.

An air-conditioned coach class bus is a great way to move a lot of people quickly around the city, but an environment in which it’s impossible to social distance—not to mention how challenging it would be for us to put on a show while masked, and while making sure everyone else is, too.

We’re sad we can’t get together in person with our “gentle riders” just yet. We really miss you!

But cutting edge technology has always been core to our work interpreting and sharing the past, from Kim’s 1947project blog to the series of immersive 3-D scans of inaccessible landmarks created with Craig Sauer to using an email distribution fire hose to overwhelm City Hall with community support for libraries. We like solving physical problems in the virtual realm.

So last September, after doing a lot of research into the then-opaque arena of ticketed virtual events, we launched a weekly webinar series that enabled us to take many of you on virtual Esotouric road trips, digging deep into the sprawling archives, offbeat landmarks, untold histories and urban mysteries that are our shared obsessions.

These programs kept us blissfully busy, provided a much needed sense of community, and at $10 a pop, helped keep the wolf from the door. But it was a lot of work.

After 36 weeks of intensive and immersive Saturday noon webinars, we went on hiatus to recharge our batteries, and in recognition that our audience has been enjoying their weekends out of the house. (The webinars are also available as recordings on-demand, but a big part of the experience on both sides of the screen is participating in the lively chat room.)

So here’s the good news: since we can’t get back on the bus just yet, we’ll be starting a new series of live webinars, on Thursday evenings, a couple times a month, and we promise we won’t keep you up all night. We’ve got some swell themes in the hopper and new archival paths to map now that the Huntington Library is again open to researchers. We really hope you’ll join us for these virtual Esotouric experiences. Soon!

Although we’ve enjoyed the break from webinar research and production, we haven’t exactly been conked out under a palm tree.

Our historic preservation advocacy has kicked into high gear, with ongoing efforts to find a preservation solution for one of the world’s biggest Chili Bowl restaurants, reading countless meeting agendas, planning applications, building permits and commission reports, fielding cries for help from Angelenos experiencing the impacts of demolition by neglect and city planning corruption in their neighborhoods, taking a top secret road trip to help find a home for a significant L.A. archive (stay tuned!), and making visits to lost and threatened landmarks like the Unique Theatre, Venice First Baptist Church, Temple City’s Fitzjohn Jewelers (RIP), Crouch Memorial Church of God in Christ, Liquor Bank, Goodwill Industries and of course Taix French Restaurant. You can see more of our explorations by clicking the #esotouricroadtrip hashtag on Instagram or Twitter.

Also, there’s a new subscriber edition of this newsletter, Remembering Pat Adler, History Detective: she sleuthed the mean streets of 1960s Los Angeles, in search of likely landmarks and treasures soon to be demolished. In researching it, we were sad to learn that the devoted historian and preservationist died last February. In sharing some of the incredible lost buildings that she captured on film, we pay tribute to a life that left Los Angeles much improved. Even if you don’t subscribe to these special newsletters, we hope you’ll raise a glass to a great Angeleno, who played a key role in protecting many of our most treasured city landmarks.

yours for Los Angeles,

Kim & Richard


Our pandemic series of webinars is now available as On-Demand recordings: Elysian ParkVictorian Los AngelesDowntown L.A. Artists4th & MainLlano del Rio Utopian ColonyDowntown L.A. Treasure HuntWilshire BoulevardSunset BoulevardJohn FanteArt Deco Leisure SuitsPaul R. WilliamsSaving South L.A. LandmarksBirth of NoirStorybook ArchitectureDark Side of the West SideHotel CecilL.A. Historic Preservation, 1900s-1980sSouthern California’s Architecture of DeathCrawford’s MarketsJohn Bengtson’s Silent Film LocationsGeorge Mann’s Vintage L.A.Pershing SquareCafeterias 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.

Subscribe! In the latest subscriber's edition of this newsletter—$10/month, cheap!—Remembering Pat Adler, History Detective: she sleuthed the mean streets of 1960s Los Angeles, in search of likely landmarks and treasures soon to be demolished—a remarkable archive reveals a city at once familiar and wonderfully strange.


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 on-demand library (or for upcoming occasional webinars), 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 and we determine that groups can gather safely. But in addition to on-demand 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.


A peculiar Cultural Heritage hearing on Thursday morning: Robert Wagner's derelict 1939 Cliff May ranch house, never occupied by the late Rita Kogan, with the landmark initiated by City Planning (?!). Plus threatened AAPI sites Hung Sa Dahn and Joyce/Ozawa Boarding House. PDF agenda link.

Here's the most thorough reporting we've seen on Hawkins House of Burgers' Catch 22 eminent domain battle with CalTrans. And the good news that the agency has backed off its fast tracked demands!

A little spark of hope amidst a forest of displaced independent arts orgs, as Los Angeles becomes the world capitol of ugly new buildings with boring commercial tenants: Former Bootleg Theater to become performing arts center and arts cooperative.

As the Chili Bowl landmarking is rejected at City Hall, the Los Angeles Conservancy is speaking out about how PLUM flagrantly violated the Brown Act, and the city ignored their lawyer's letter. But they're not giving up on saving the Chili Bowl and neither are we!

John Carney is the most uncanny sleight of hand artist we ever saw work the Magic Castle's Close Up Room—like we are half-convinced he is a real wizard. His new book is a gorgeous throwback to vintage gilded pictorial stamping. Wanna be a wizard, too?

Heartbreaking. Master house mover Eric Brandt died on the job protecting 1912 Craftsman after La Verne said it wasn't a landmark, and Lordsburg Heritage Square stepped up. We loved watching his careful work in Boyle Heights.

Great public comment by Susan Winsberg, rhetorically asking Cultural Heritage Commissioner Richard Barron how he feels when PLUM overturns, contorts and disrespects his work? Barron plays politics, but admits the Taix vote was not great.

State Senator Anthony J. Portantino got $8M to preserve Rockhaven women's sanitarium as a park and museum of progressive inpatient mental health care. Cheers to Friends of Rockhaven, who fought so hard to keep the history alive!

Weird story out of San Diego, where City Attorney seeks to reverse purchase of 101 Ash Street, claiming Section 1090 violation by consultant. Fascinating to see SD seek to claw back millions and think about the billions in real estate tied to Jose Huizar's corrupt votes. Prosecutions could solve L.A.'s homelessness crisis many times over. It helps when the newspaper is on board (The L.A. Times, also owned by billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, is not).

Now reading: The Barber Brief. Why should you care about Reno? Every hyper-gentrifying city is the same, and we appreciate Alicia's informed musings on how developers work the system to get what they want from politicians, and how citizens can fight back.

Not even a last call for Mikawaya, the beloved Little Tokyo sweet shop where mochi ice cream was invented. Established 1910, shuttered during internment, closed forever 2021. (But Frances Hashimoto's mochi ice cream is still available at the supermarket!) Huell Howser paid a visit.

San Francisco, too, could lose its 115 year old mochi shop unless someone steps up to buy it from the Okamura brothers.

After destroying our beloved LACMA for no good reason, Michael Govan continues to troll Angelenos by dolling out chunks of William Pereira's landmark campus to be "folly ruins" in West Hollywood. But the community thinks it's a dumb idea and so do we.

Please share the GoFundMe for the Guerrero family, injured and displaced when LAPD detonated seized explosives on their historic South Central block for news cameras without fully evacuating adjacent homes. (Warning, main photo shows facial shrapnel wounds.) The Reyes and Ruiz families also seek financial assistance. And here’s our video from the scene almost 24 hours after the blast.

Not the first time residents on East 27th Street have had cause to curse the LAPD. In October 1925, resident Frank Bustos was popped by the masher squad for flirting with the ladies at 5th & Broadway.

Sickening: developers are circling the Craftsman bungalows one block from a National Register historic district, trying to demolish the bomb-damaged homes. Don't expect any help from their best pal, councilman Curren Price. When the National Register Crossroads of the World was misrepresented as intrinsic to the huge redevelopment project taking out 80 RSO apartments to the west, Price’s wife Del Richardson made buyout deals with tenants.

Something's lit a fire under Paul Koretz' chair, and he's stepping in to "assert jurisdiction" over controversial mega-projects that the Planning Commission and Planning Director have approved. The dense eldercare facility on Holt threatened lovely Spanish apartments, The Retreat at Benedict Canyon was a fancy hotel in a neighborhood.

A plea from a regular to the landmark theater's new owner: "Dear Mister Tarantino. Please don't change the Vista." (Pic: Ed Ruscha, 1973)

Two weeks earlier, Vista owner Lance Alspaugh lamented to the Los Angeles Times that "He was still waiting for the Small Business Administration to approve his application for badly needed federal government funds." Did mismanagement of SVOG aid packages make it impossible for this independent venue to hang on?

What's this?! Historic-Cultural Monument application submitted for 201 N. Beaudry. Address coincides with the notorious Belmont/Roybal Learning Center, which Jose Huizar ensured got built atop dangerous methane pockets. A landmark of environmental racism?

We were saddened to cruise down Las Tunas and not see Fitzjohn Jewelers' gorgeous facade. Merrill Fitzjohn was Temple City's first mayor. Joachim Hein kept the name from when he took over in 1976 until his recent retirement. Sweet interview in the shop and photos from just before they closed.

Our friends at Heritage Square are participating in international Play Music on the Porch Day on August 28, and we think they've got some of the best porches you'll find anywhere. Swing by and dig the sounds.

Legacy businesses like Bob Baker Marionette Theater are always evolving, and archives play a huge part connecting 21st century creativity to the past. We're honored we could help preserve Bob's reference collection. You can, too! (pic: Ian Byers-Gamber)

We love that the landmark Mayer Building, a key location on our Birth of Noir tour, will become affordable housing! We think the corner should be named Doug Carlton Square for the preservationist who fought to save it from vandals.

With tens of thousands of Angelenos living on the street, the Hotel Cecil on Skid Row remains empty, its hundreds of covenanted RSO rooms inaccessible. But that doesn't stop "ghost hunters" from prowling around shooting "terrifying 360 VR" footage.

When the landmarking of Tom Bergin's was altered by City Council to exclude the parking lot, it set the stage for the mysterious owner (possibly still Vegas casino lawyer Frank Schreck) to demolish 40 rent controlled 1951 apartment units to the north.

Should you find yourself down south, there are lovely mod landmarks to explore: San Diego's Mid-Century Modern Marvels self-guided tour.

Ghost sign alert! In 1924, the previously unknown programmatic Safety Concrete Incinerator Company at 3329 Sunset was destroyed by fire—but they rebuilt, and recent demolition reveals a relic on the east wall! (Pics: Ruta Vaisnys)

As Eric Garcetti seeks a diplomatic post 7,986 miles from the Los Angeles he’s driven into the ground, the “tributes” pour in, in video and blog form.

When screenwriter-director Leonard Schrader died in 2006, he left a hoard of 100,000 books in his Hollywood Hills home, subject of the short film Book Obsessed, which bafflingly focuses on the newer, mainstream paperbacks. This month, it's all being sold off in unsorted small lots. We are guessing the material was being stored by his longtime collaborator David Weisman, who died of West Nile a couple years ago. It's a shame neither of them could work things out for the significant material to go the Herrick Library, UCLA or USC.

Critic Sam Hall Kaplan notes "deference to the surreptitious politicizing of the preservation movement" in city planning staffer Ken Bernstein's new book Preserving Los Angeles and the absence of heated campaigns like the community effort to Save LACMA.

Meet Australia's knockout patron saint of journalistic historic preservation activists, Juanita Nielsen. Big hair and eyelashes, bigger spirit. In 1975, she was about to publish an exposé that tied the ruthless Sydney developer displacing hundreds of people from a block of 19th century townhouses to corrupt members of government and law enforcement, when she was kidnapped and assumed murdered. (Her research files disappeared, too.) Juanita was a department store heiress living in a similar building she owned outside the proposed redevelopment zone. She risked her life defending the right of her working class neighbors to live with dignity in their rental homes, which later became squats. And the construction labor union was on her side, declaring a “green ban” on destroying useful housing, harming the environment and displacing poor and non-white Australians. They demanded ethical growth, and walked off the job to get it. It's a wild, heartbreaking story, and every city struggling with rampant development, corrupt politicians, mass homelessness and a glut of vacant units can learn a lot by looking backward, and remembering Juanita's war. Next time, the good guys can win.

Do you still miss the Rathskeller pub in Old World Village (1978-2013)? The Hauff family put everything in storage when they were forced to close when the landlord turned the bar into office space, and now the relics can be yours!

Los Angeles corruption isn't noirish or sexy, but it is every bit as baffling as a Raymond Chandler plot, and LA will be unfair and unlivable until City Hall is truly fumigated. Investigation: LADWP and City Attorney fleeced us all, FBI charges to come.

In 2019, it was revealed that USC covered up the theft of priceless Frank Lloyd Wright and Rudolph Schindler furniture. Now the ethically challenged school is unloading $$ real estate, including FLW's Freeman House. About time!

A public service announcement from Housing is a Human Right on YIMBYism and why there are better ways to be an activist addressing California's crisis in housing affordability than helping big real estate to gentrify minority neighborhoods. Try preservation!

Digging the ability to zoom into these time capsule streetscapes from the Huntington Library's Verner Collection of Panoramic Negatives. Here's Olympic and Crescent Heights, 73 years apart. There are more than 200 scanned in high resolution here.