In October, we shared the thrilling news that the almost completely empty Barclay Hotel had been sold to the Healthy Housing Foundation and would be immediately returned to use as affordable housing, instead of being converted into a boutique hotel at some unspecified future date.
As the oldest continuously operated hotel in Los Angeles, and a key location in Raymond Chandler’s Hollywood novel The Little Sister, it has long been a favorite Esotouric stop on our Chandler tours and on the true crime outing Hotel Horrors & Main Street Vice.
When the hotel changed hands, we had the privilege of showing the new owners some of its secrets, like the miniature railroad track in the basement for moving coal around, and the tunnels under the sidewalks. You can explore these yourselves in a 3-D tour created by Craig Sauer, part of a series of virtual tours of places that are otherwise hard to access.
In the course of exploring, we poked our noses into the storefronts on the Main Street side, which are not rented out except for film production (including this short documentary about us). The smallest of these is a narrow shoe repair shop just to the right of the main door, packed to the rafters with old stock and decades of dust.
This is La Fe Shoe Repair, “Faith” in Spanish, and it is a fascinating time capsule of the Skid Row neighborhood’s service industry in that more innocent time, when #DTLA boosters only dreamed of turning old office buildings into loft apartments, and before Chinese real estate investment trusts thought to gather blackmail material on Los Angeles City Councilmembers. The shop still looks just as it did on the day around 1994 when the proprietor turned his keys over to the landlord and walked away.
Our friends at the Healthy Housing Foundation recognize how unique and special this space is, and invited Craig Sauer to come back and add another section to his 3-D tour of the Barclay’s grand lobby and basement tunnels.
This virtual tour of La Fe Shoe Repair is our holiday gift to you, a treasure hunt through a dusty, dim and forgotten commercial space that holds relics not just of the person who last operated the business, but of the hotel’s original 1896 design by master architects Morgan and Walls. You’ll see what we mean as you click your way inside, selecting the blue and white bullseyes which bring up additional information and photographs. To begin, click the floating video which can also be found at the NO SMOKING sign labeled “drink me,” or visit our YouTube channel.
Many people who love old Los Angeles lament the loss of the Bunker Hill neighborhood of Victorian mansions and residency hotels above Downtown’s commercial core, and we do, too. But as we’ve immersed ourselves in the study of Los Angeles history, public policy and redevelopment, the commercial core of Main Street seems an even greater loss.
As on Bunker Hill, the Community Redevelopment Agency played God and sanitized a poor but lively neighborhood, pushing social service agencies east toward the River, replacing bars and dirty bookstores and cheap cafés with sidewalk-killing parking structures and blank windowed non-profits, allowing historic neon signs and theater facades to be destroyed, until the once thrilling Main Street was left looking like a plucked chicken.
But there is still a rich history to be found here, still beautiful and useful buildings, and unexpected treasures like a time capsule shoe repair shop that is, in its modest way, as holy a space as we have ever encountered in our explorations. We hope it never changes, and that you love it, too.
Happy holidays from our weird family to yours, and wishing you good health and good spirits until we can be together again.