Dim the lights of Union Station and old Skid Row, for Downtown Los Angeles has lost two lions

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.

This Thursday at 8pm, we’re hosting our latest live webinar, A Love Letter to Los Angeles Streetlights (1867-2021), featuring the triumphant rebirth of Sheila Klein’s “Vermonica.” There are so many fascinating stories attached to the historic fixtures that illuminate this town, and we’re bringing together a crack crew of obsessives to tell the tale.

You’ll hear from Jack Feldman of the essential Water & Power Associates digital museum, Bunker Hill historian Nathan Marsak with an incredible relic of Patty Hearst’s 1970s crime spree, historian of French L.A. C.C. de Vere with a couple of Disneyland Easter eggs, and a very special audience with artist Sheila Klein, sharing the origins of her 1993 urban candelabra Vermonica, the original vintage Los Angeles streetlight sculpture, and how we helped her get the city to do the right thing after it mysteriously vanished. Plus historian Mike the Poet’s tribute in verse to the restored Vermonica! We hope you can join us, either to watch live, or later on demand.

Book Your Streetlights Ticket

There’s a new subscriber edition of this newsletter out now, all about the wonderful illustrator Leo Politi and a trail of Victorian breadcrumbs he left through the sweet citrus belt town of Redlands. You can check out this and all the previous special subscriber newsletters for $10 a month, or $100 a year, which supports our preservation advocacy. And we’ve just made the first of these posts free for anyone to read, in honor of Bubbles the Pilot Whale, a sculptural relic of Marineland of the Pacific that might just be coming back into public view.

When we went out to watch the stained glass awning of the King Edward Hotel get reinstalled by Judson Studios—here’s the Daily News photo coverage, and Gayle Anderson’s two segments for KTLA-5 morning news—it was a rare opportunity to catch up with some absent friends. And as is too often the case when seeing people after many months in these pandemic times, it was the occasion to learn that other friends had died.

Downtown Los Angeles has lost a couple of lions—fascinating men who each had charge of a complicated landmark and kept it safe and shipshape, no matter what challenges presented.

Ken Pratt was Union Station’s Deputy Executive Officer of Real Estate, Operations and Management, a long title that could have been abbreviated “heart and soul of the station.” We met him eight years ago, when he reached out in response to our newsletter bemoaning the closure to non-ticketed passengers of Union Station’s historic seating hall, and asked us to come walk the station with him and talk.

We came away from that lengthy meeting confident in Ken’s love for the landmark and for all of those who use it, despite the growing challenges of maintaining safe and equitable public space in a broken city. Later, we sat down in his office and interviewed him about “A Day in the Life of Union Station.”

We’ve often joked that if we ever wrote a screenplay, it would be an action film set at Union Station, starring the most heroic real-life character we knew. Among Ken’s last big projects was pulling off the COVID-era Oscars in the historic Art Deco ticket hall. We know that Union Station will go on without him, but for the first time in years, we’re going to worry a little bit about the place. That’s an unfamiliar and uncomfortable feeling, exactly the size of a dapper, thoughtful fellow who was born to do this work.

Our second departed friend is known to us only as “Robert at the Baltimore Hotel.” We could find out his surname easily enough, but it seems right somehow that he be associated with the Skid Row SRO that he helped manage for eighteen wild and woolly years.

For the past few, we’ve had the privilege to visit the hotel on our Downtown and L.A. Times bombing history tours. As our group of curious tourists would pile into his neat lobby, Robert would come out from behind the desk that he shared with his compadre Dave and graciously share stories of how he kept the colorful clientele in line, with the dry, world-weary wit of a man who could no longer be shocked by anything.

Although Robert put on a gruff facade, we could tell how much he enjoyed sharing his beloved Baltimore with our guests, and they in turn paid rapt attention to this character out of a Damon Runyan story. We’ll never forget trekking upstairs so he could show everyone the strange kink in the hallway where two early Los Angeles buildings were knit together, despite one builder having apparently been drunk. Although the Baltimore Hotel is in good hands, it’s not the same without her resident curmudgeon. We will never forget him.

But the city goes on, and no matter how much we love Los Angeles and no matter how great our responsibilities, each one of us will have to leave one day. It’s our hope that every Angeleno will have the opportunity to find a place where they fit as well as Robert did in his Skid Row hotel and Ken did in his Union Station. The city is better for their time in it, and there really is no greater memorial. Goodbye, friends, and thank you.

yours for Los Angeles,

Kim & Richard

Esotouric


Subscribe! In the latest subscriber's edition of this newsletter—$10/month, cheap!—Visiting time capsule mansions of Redlands, in the footsteps of Leo Politi—a beautiful book inspires an architectural treasure hunt, and brings one of our favorite Southern California artists into view.


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