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


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.


We really hate to say goodbye to Nita Lelyveld, the L.A. Times City Beat columnist whose character-driven sensibility is so in tune with ours. But we can't begrudge her life choices that will feed her sweet soul. Farewell—and we won't forget you, either!

Heartbroken to see that Tenant Mosaic Church has destroyed the polychrome interiors of South Pasadena's National Register Rialto Theatre with no prior notice. Yes, mythological female breasts have been hidden under boxes. Also, they're having mask-free singalongs inside. (pics: Libby Cline-Birmingham, 2021, Walt Mancini, 2015, top right, Pasadena Star-News)

When we wrote “Free The Harpy Titties” about the situation in a social media post, several people asked if they could get that phrase on a T-shirt or a tote bag. Why not? Our line of Keep the Rialto Weird merch can be found here.

Russian pop star Egor Kreed's "I Will Stay" video with Arina Kuzmina includes levitating lovers inside and outside the Bradbury Building, and lots of gleaming Downtown L.A. neon.

As goes the Mulholland Memorial Fountain, so goes Los Angeles? Dry times ahead call for nimble thinking.

A deeply upsetting Facebook post from our friend Jeff Mantor, proprietor of the Larry Edmunds Bookshop (est. 1938). He is at wit's end, after years of experience selling cool stuff on what he lovingly calls "the dirty Boulevard." L.A. needs to provide resources for the people experiencing homelessness in the tourist district, and ensure that the laws against nudity and street fighting are enforced. This chaotic and dangerous situation is not fair to the homeless community, business owners, tourists or shoppers.

RIP 4021 Radford automotive service station, the rare 5-star Mercedes mechanic, keeping the San Fernando Valley's wheels spinning since 1938. A developer wants to build a 6-story mixed use project on the parcel. Planning docs.

Central Library's auditorium is woefully underutilized and there are decent event spaces in many city branches. Very pleased to see LAPL issuing an RFP (PDF link) for a Special Events Coordinator to handle outside bookings. We'll be first in line to put on a show!

Thrilling: the Los Angeles City Model at the Natural History Museum is slated to be digitized! We feel as if we manifested this thrilling news by geeking out over it in the Miniature Los Angeles webinar.

Huge sigh of relief! Instead of demolishing Barlow Respiratory Hospital, they want to build 150 new skilled nursing beds. Now to restore the cottages, and move (rather than tear down) Building 26, El Bano. Planning docs (1, 2): To learn more about Barlow's rich history, check out our on-demand webinar, The Treasures and Tragedies of Elysian Park, and these free podcast episodes: Clever Gifts and Elysian Park Activists: Preserving Sacred Ground.

"Hollywood: A bibliography" is a virtual shelf of fiction and autobiography set in the dream factory, compiled in 1970 by English historian and movie executive Paul Mayersberg for Montreal film magazine Take One. Big names and intriguing curiosities.

A lovely tribute to Arroyo preservationist, Los Angeles River advocate and great friend to the Southwest Museum Diana Barnwell (1938 – 2021) from her friend Daniel Wright, one of the rare land use attorneys on the side of the angels.

As longtime El Pueblo Commission President David Louie rotates to the VP seat, Olvera Street vendor Edward Flores (Juanita’s Café) asks if new leadership will agendize discussion of Metro's MIA $1 Million gift, which no journalists have reported on. The Plaza needs so many improvements, and a million would go a long way. Minutes (PDF link).

Our Save the Chili Bowl petition update: L.A. Conservancy Files Writ of Mandate Seeking to Void City Hall’s Illegal Chili Bowl Votes. With PLUM’s former President Jose Huizar scheduled to stand trial on RICO charges next summer, it is a shocking and disturbing way to behave.

And it turns out Silver Lake Heritage Trust filed one first: a massive pleading citing Mitch O’Farrell’s sneaky last minute sabotage “support” of the Taix landmark nomination, and naming developer Holland Partner Group as a party.

Meanwhile, now there’s a giant hole in the Taix porte cochere. Is this the kind of demolition by neglect we have to look forward to as the new owner licks his chops until he can tear the landmark down? (click for 3D photo by Sandi Hemmerlein.)

Dr. Jones Dog & Cat Hospital, a streamline moderne masterpiece by Wurdeman & Becket, was demolished by the Charles Company after their unhoused "guard" was murdered on site. An inexact replica facade appears in new Melrose Triangle renderings. Bad deal.

Too late for the culturally Japanese seniors displaced from Sakura Gardens by developer Pacifica (#1 in nursing home COVID deaths) and the nonprofit board that betrayed them, but state bill AB 279 could protect other elders from deadly evictions. We need to talk about the underlying cause: land use corruption in Jose Huizar's CD14 enabling venal developers, and the nonprofit Keiro that betrayed generations of donors.

As three historic Mission Revival style churches burn over the summer, it’s starting to look like more than just a weird coincidence.

Farewell to one of the weirdest Los Angeles seekers, Skylaire Alfvegren. If there's an afterlife, we know she's conducting oral histories with the spectres, goblins and black elves right now.

New from silent cinema sleuth John Bengtson, video of techniques that ID'd the Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin film shoots in the Hollywood alley that could become an historic landmark. Chip in! And for more, tune in to our recent webinar.

If Sirhan Sirhan is granted parole, we hope he's able to join his surviving brother Munir in the family home. We'll likely no longer visit on our Pasadena Confidential tours. The case against him is very troubling, and we wish peace to all who feel the weight of the crime. Here is a short clip of his late mother Mary after a visit with Sirhan on Death Row, San Quentin.

Nice turn of phrase from a ticked-off San Diegan: "Stealth Local Government" is what keeps engaged citizens across this country working for free to undo the destructive (but profitable!) policies pushed by lobbyists who don't live here.

In response to the radical pro-developer upzone agenda being forced through the California legislature in session after session, fed up Californians for Community Planning seek to protect local zoning via ballot measure. Video intro to their ideas.

Court watch: looks like future felon Jose Huizar is actually on his way to Mexico on a religious pilgrimage. Wanna lay odds Los Angeles never sees his crooked smirk again?

Arturo Ceja III pleaded guilty to transporting explosives, so we're not going to learn how this 26-year-old living with family on E. 27th Street paid for the biggest fireworks stash we've ever heard of. We still have a lot of questions about the LAPD blast.

The Rialto isn’t the first local landmark unhappily remodeled by Mosaic church. Howard Elwell's Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist in Hollywood got uglier after a sketchy sale. As the embezzler gets just 11 years (he was facing 250), a former co-worker tells a wild tale of what he witnessed. Seems weird in a case the Secret Service was involved with that he wasn’t called to testify, and just learned about the crimes from a web search!

We love that the Los Angeles County Supervisors are considering landmark designation for the fire damaged, yet still so beautiful (and bee-filled!), Unique Theatre that we’ve been advocating for. Do you have personal memories about this East LA neighborhood treasure that would help with their research? Please reach out—and pass it on!

City Council seeks an operator for Marla Gibbs' passion project, the Vision Theatre, built for Howard Hughes by Morgan, Walls & Clements as the Fox Leimert in 1932. City-owned and long shuttered under slow renovation, a fire came way too close last April.

A stunt candidate on the California recall ballot is David Bramante. Since he seems to want attention, let's remember that when he evicted an 80 year old tenant, he thought it would be cute to list a cemetery as her relocation address. Go to blazes, you ghoul.

The Morrison Hotel is an SRO for the poorest people in Los Angeles, boarded up for 15 years. Now hotelier/developer Relevant Group is sued over unpaid brokerage fees. The city needs to buy it and rent those desperately needed rooms out now! Here's a 2007 article from the defunct City Beat about the sad situation—we tipped the writer off, and gave him a tenant source.

Thanks to Gordon Pattison, these sad views of Onni Group's "restoration" of the Art Deco Seattle Times, which was a squatter's camp before they gutted it. Several years on, it's just a vandalized shell in the shadow of new towers. Pray for the L.A. Times.

If you want a glimpse of American dystopia, visit the green lawns of Salt Lake Park, Huntington Park, California. In the face off between RoboCop and Spider-Man, we're rooting for the human child.

The bars in Clifton's Brookdale are coming back online this fall, but the cafeteria is not yet ready, and may return as an Automat concept. But will the famous strawberry cake be behind those little glass doors?! What Clifton's favorite do you miss most?

Alex Gorby, neglectful owner of the Fairfax Theatre, has filed a formal objection to the building being placed on the National Register. We think the best thing for the landmark and Mr. Gorby is for somebody who gives a damn to buy it from him—and soon!

As the Mohamed Hadid trial ends with a scant fine for endangering lives, corrupt Building and Safety inspectors go unpunished. What exactly is the FBI doing in L.A.?

New short online radio show from Lynn Peril, This Week in ‘66, looking back at the mod era, with a feminist historian's gimlet eye. Could you hack life in 1966?

Inbox: West Adams Heritage Association isn't confident that their fall Angelus Rosedale Living History Tour can be made safe for large crowds of volunteers and guests, so they're moving it to next Spring—but stay tuned for small group walking tours soon.

Petition to Save Paradise Hill from development and undo the sneaky harm that Art Snyder did to Lincoln Heights many years ago. Preserving this precious landscape and dedicating it as Sal Castro Park would be a gift to the future and a balm to the present.

Eight years ago this week, Angels Flight Railway suffered a minor derailing incident that nearly killed off the wee funicular forever. Somebody had make a fuss, so we did. And now this relic of Edwardian Bunker Hill survives to take you on a time travel trip.

Beyond The Pleasuredome is the just published catalog from the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick, psychedelic master Burt Shonberg's first one-man show since his 1967 takeover of Gallery Contemporary on La Cienega. Psychedelic magical coffee house / Corman realism.

A shocking discovery by preservation pal Cat Lukaszewski: the magnificent gate master architect Paul R. Williams built at Murphy Ranch has vanished, flagstone pillars and all. Did Rec & Parks tear it down? Was it stolen? Prior harm and a preservation promise.

Today’s reading is Hollywood Cesspool: A Startling Survey of Movieland Lives and Morals, Pictures and Results (by the author of The Blight of Booze). It sounds raunchier than it is, but doesn't everything these days?