Los Angeles Historic Preservation “25 for 2013” edition





December 20th, 2013


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Cliftons Nestor Historic Preservation 25 for 2013.  This is a photo of Clifton's Brookdale circa 2009.  Derek Hutchinson took the photo.  Pictured is Nestor, who was a manager at Clifton's Cafeteria for about 25 years.

Gentle Reader. . .

As 2013 ticks down to its inevitable conclusion, it's time for that annual Esotouric tradition: our very opinionated list of the past year's Top Los Angeles Historic Preservation Stories. Because preservation is never as simple as buildings being lost forever or rescued from the brink, the list is split into three sections: the Gains, the Losses, and those bittersweet moments that hover somewhere in the middle, and keep us up nights. We hope you find the list by turns thought-provoking, infuriating and inspiring.

Esotouric's Los Angeles Historic Preservation "25 for 2013"

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Gains of 2013:

1. King Eddy Saloon Re-Opens: When the King Eddy Saloon, the last Skid Row bar, was sold and closed for remodeling last December, we worried about the loss of a great neighborhood dive. But just a few months later, the King Eddy re-opened, cleaner, with a new staff, but still a friendly and reasonably priced neighborhood bar… though you can't drop in for a 6am eye-opener anymore. On track for 2014: the re-opening of the historic cellar speakeasy, elements of which we discovered in 2009 while filming an episode of Cities of the Underworld.

2. The Tamale Could Be Landmarked: When the world's only tamale-shaped former cafe turned hair salon and dentist's office was listed for sale at a teardown price, we despaired that this iconic East L.A. landmark was doomed. But the threat to the Tamale and community outcry spurred a strong response from Supervisor Gloria Molina, and the announcement of a new historic preservation plan for unincorporated Los Angeles, including tax breaks for property owners. While the yet-unlandmarked Tamale remains at risk of demolition, it's still standing, and and there is hope for this masa masterpiece.

3. Markham Place Historic District Created: One of the Southland's loveliest and most precarious neighborhoods got a protective coating of historic recognition when the Markham Place Historic District, better known as the neglected Cal Trans-owned houses threatened with demolition if the 710 freeway extension ever gets built, was added to the National Register.

4. Restore Pershing Square Campaign: Since the 1950s, downtown's Pershing Square has been the poster child for failed public spaces, an unusable "park" that gets worse with each redesign. CD14's recent formation of an unofficial task force to discuss the park's future spurred our creation of a campaign to restore Pershing Square to architect John Parkinson's classic 1910 design. More than 1300 people have signed the petition, and the idea of restoring the park has been featured in the L.A. Times and on KCRW.

5. The Huntington Library Scans Southern California Edison's Archives: A city's history is a fluid thing, subject to reinterpretation with each generation. The internet era has heralded a golden age for amateur historians–amateur in the best meaning of the word, lovers of history–and they are in heaven with the Huntington's online publication of thousands of high-resolution scans from the photo archives of So. Cal. Edison–a secret history of Southern California ripe for the picking.

6. Echo Park Lotus Patch Blooms Again: A few years ago, the famous lotus plants in Echo Park lake, rumored to have been placed there by the famed evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, began mysteriously dying off. The city never figured out what was wrong, and by the time the lake was drained for restoration work, there weren't any tubers to save. Enter Randy McDonald, a larcenous plant geek who had purloined a selection of Echo Park lotuses in 2005, and was prepared to sell cloned plants back to the city. The lake recently re-opened, and the historic flower bed is the jewel in the crown.

7. Hope for Julia Morgan's Pasadena YWCA: Some years back, a Hong Kong billionaire's daughter purchased the handsome Julia Morgan-designed YWCA opposite Pasadena's City Hall. Family troubles drew her back to Hong Kong, and the building was boarded up and left to rot, with all the city's purchase attempts rejected. While eminent domain is a controversial tool, too often mis-used, we applaud Pasadena's reclaiming this landmark before the elements devour it, and look forward to its restoration as a boutique hotel.

8. United Artists Theatre Returns to Public Use: In the 1990s, the brilliant and bizarre televangelist Dr. Gene Scott purchased the Walker and Eisen-designed United Artists Theater and office building, and did a sensitive restoration of the interior. But access has been spotty, due to the church's prickly relationship with non-members. Dr. Scott's widow moved the church to Glendale, taking one of the landmark rooftop "Jesus Saves" neon signs from the Church of the Open Door with her. Next month, Ace Hotel will open in the UA, and the historic theater will be activated with concerts and special events.

9. The Idle Hour Cafe to be Restored: Southern California is the birthplace of the programmatic restaurant–those daffy structures shaped like what they serve (see the Tamale above). But many of these places, typically small and erected quickly from cheap materials, haven't survived into the 21st century. The Idle Hour, shaped like a beer barrel and formerly a flamenco joint and private residence, was in pretty poor shape when bar owners 1933 Group snatched the city landmark up at auction. A full restoration is in the works.

10. Tom Bergin's Lives: When the beloved mid-city Irish pub Tom Bergin's was sold to new owners, regulars worried they'd ruin the place. But few anticipated they'd close down with no notice after just over a year. Following the closure, the Bergin's community came together on Facebook to share their heartbreak. All seemed lost, until one of those regulars took out his checkbook, bought the bar, and made plans to bring back all the things the short-term owners had thrown out. Tom Bergin's will re-open shortly.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Losses of 2013:

1. Hollywood Park Closing for Redevelopment: The glamour of old Hollywood wouldn't have quite the same sparkle without its namesake horse track, a Warner Brothers production. But racing has fallen out of fashion, and after 75 years, Hollywood Park's 260 acres of Inglewood real estate are being redeveloped into housing and retail. Sunday is your last chance to visit.

2. West Hollywood Hates History: West Hollywood's City Council continues to solidify its reputation as L.A. County's black spot when it comes to stewardship of its architectural and cultural landmarks. In the past year, we've seen the city's last lesbian bar (The Palms) demolished for redevelopment, no support for an inspired proposal to turn the old Tower Records building into a Sunset Strip rock and roll history museum, the eviction of beloved longtime tenants from Route 66 landmark Irv's Burger's, the demolition of the Tiffany Theatre and, most egregiously, a spite vote to demolish the Great Hall in Plummer Park, recently added to the National Register and the recipient of massive community support. There is talk that West Hollywood councilman John Duran would like Zev Yaroslavsky's seat on the Board of Supes. Preservation-minded Westside Angelenos, take note!

3. Future of Lummis House Uncertain: As we go to press, preservationists are buzzing about LA's Department of Recreation and Parks evicting the Southern California Historical Society from Charles F. Lummis' house museum, El Alisal, in Highland Park. SCHS has been a wonderful steward of this unique L.A. landmark for almost fifty years, even though the city has never granted them the longterm lease necessary to solicit grants to restore the city-owned property. We are gravely concerned about the survival of El Alisal without its devoted tenant, but hopeful that with a new mayor in office, and a new head of Rec and Parks to be appointed, this is just a bad bit of policy lingering from past leaders that can still be rectified.

4. The Death of the Bahooka: Fans of offbeat Polynesian cocktails and pu-pu platters were saddened in February by the news that Bahooka Ribs and Grog, a Rosemead institution for 46 years, would be closing. The family had foolishly listed it for sale at a price so low that an investor snapped it up after just one day. Although it was initially announced that a Chinese restaurant would be moving in, and retaining the beloved aquariums, the sale fell through. Nearly a year later, Bahooka is boarded up and looking lousy, and the fate of the celebrated carrot-eating fish Rufus remains a mystery.

5. The Living Death of St. Vincent Court: For decades, al fresco diners from the Jewelry District have gathered in St. Vincent Court, that odd little historic alleyway behind 7th and Broadway, to kibbitz, nosh and make deals. That all ended when the Delijani family, upset because they couldn't always use the alley as a staging area for commercial productions in the Los Angeles Theatre, complained to the city about unpermitted sidewalk tables. City officials, who long ignored the issue, have done little if anything to solve the problem–though a proposal to fast-track sidewalk dining elsewhere in downtown was announced. Meanwhile, dozens of working people are suffering, the Los Angeles Theatre remains dark, and L.A. has lost one of its true urban gems.

6. Rocky and Bullwinkle, Kidnapped: Since 1961, a whimsical statue of Bullwinkle J. Moose and his squirrel pal Rocky has stood on the Sunset Strip, a signpost for genius animator Jay Ward's longtime offices and a winking tribute to a famous Vegas showgirl billboard. In July, the characters were unceremoniously removed by DreamWorks Animation, the new corporate owners of Ward's characters, ostensibly to be repaired. A photo has leaked showing the beloved statue under a tarp in a parking lot. On the Strip, Rocky and Bullwinkle are much missed.

7. RIP to Bukowski Row: L.A. writer Charles Bukowski is sometimes called the Poet Laureate of Skid Row, but it's the rough, raw and very real world of pre-gentrification East Hollywood that comes most alive in his poems and stories. As Bukowski fans, we were saddened by the demolition of an entire block that was central to his urban mythos: the northwest corner of Hollywood and Western, encompassing the Big 20 bar (whose closure "like it was a malaria joint!" Buk lamented in Barbet Schroeder's The Charles Bukowski Tapes), Pioneer Chicken and the Le Sex Shoppe. This was the seedy, sad and fascinating heart of LA's sex trade in the 1960s and 1970s, and as the last of the walls came down, we missed Bukowski's world very much.

8. The VA is a Poor Steward: If you've ever driven west on Wilshire out of Westwood, you've seen the 19th century buildings on the VA campus. They're National Register landmarks, and their condition is a national disgrace.

9. Projectors go Dark at the Chinese Theatre: IMAX is a perfectly fine display tool for science museums, but motion pictures are a uniquely American art form, and we're heartsick to know that Hollywood's Chinese Theatre, among the greatest places to see a movie for almost a century, no longer projects film.

10. Huell Howser RIP: This year we said goodbye to the populist lover of all things California, an unforgettable fellow who with boundless warmth and curiosity celebrated the uniqueness of our state and its people, and quietly promoted the values of historic preservation to millions. We miss him.

Los Angeles Bittersweet Historic Preservation Moments of 2013:

1. Waiting for Clifton's Cafeteria: Last February, the 1960s-era metal grate covering Clifton's Cafeteria was removed, revealing the heavily damaged 1935 facade; it was promptly tagged by vandals. But 27 months after it closed, and 22 months after the grate came down, the historic restaurant remains shuttered, with no reopening date.

2. The Charnock Block is Dead, Long Live The Charnock Block: A great 19th Century L.A. building, Main Street's bay-windowed Charnock Block, home of the notorious 1920s freak show attraction The World Museum, is no more. The ancient interior, a warren of halls and stairways, has been gutted, and the walls propped up with girders. A new building is going up inside the old one, which will serve as low income housing and social services. At least the facade survives, and it's said many interior details have been preserved.

3. The Merced Theatre Lives, If You Can Call It Living: The Plaza is problematic. The original heart of Los Angeles is home to much-loved gems like Olvera Street and the Avila Adobe, and to landmarks so poorly managed that they may as well be invisible. Pico House is rarely open, and most Angelenos don't know the Merced Theater, the city's oldest, even exists. So it's good news that the Merced is being renovated to welcome its first new tenant in decades… but a wasted opportunity that the tenant is just the city's public television production studio, and not one that will welcome visitors and activate this fine old building.

4. Loopholes Are Evil: Last year, we applauded the City of Beverly Hills for enacting its first preservation ordinance, and naming a selection of protected landmarks. The ordinance is meant to kick in whenever an attempt is made to alter or demolish a building by an important architect. Demolition can still happen, but there's a process that must be followed, with the community informed. The ordinance worked well when a Wallace Neff was recently at risk, but failed miserably when Steve Needleman, owner of the Orpheum Theatre and someone who really does know better, sought and received permission to destroy Ira Gershwin's home.

5. Bringing Back Broadway?: We're thrilled to see new life and business come to downtown's grand old boulevard, the restored Rialto marquee advertising Urban Outfitters, the high fashion and jewelry lines, even Ross Dress for Less. But the controversy surrounding the ill-planned streetcar proposal should make urbanists very concerned about the potentially destructive changes recommended by the associated Streetscape Master Plan. The streetcar is half-baked, and big changes shouldn't be made to Broadway to clear the way for it.

And that's our report on the state of Los Angeles preservation at the end of 2013. To see the 2012 list, click here.

We'd like to thank all the folks who have ordered a Subscription to the deluxe special edition of Kim's mystery novel about the young Raymond Chandler, The Kept Girl. By popular demand, we now have shared Subscriptions good for two. Subscriptions remain available through Christmas, with the book out early next year. More info is here.

Just added to the Esotouric Emporium of (mainly) L.A. lore: holiday book selections. If you're struggling to pick something special for the curious souls in your life, we might just have the answer.

We're off the bus through the end of the year, getting our first Esotouric Ink book ready for market. You've still got a few days to Subscribe to The Kept Girl or get one for a friend. Then on the 19th, we'll be on Broadway, hosting a very special LAVA Sunday Salon on the theme of Aleister Crowley's OTO in Southern California. Join us, do!


Upcoming Tours & Happenings

You are invited to be part of a transformative downtown experience. The Sunday Salon is the free monthly gathering of our creative consortium LAVA – The Los Angeles Visionaries Association. From noon to 2pm, at Les Noces du Figaro on Broadway, we hope you'll join L.A.'s most innovative artists, writers and performers to enjoy good company, hearty comfort food, and presentations from fascinating LAVA Visionaries. This Salon is dedicated to a single topic: the fascinating international initiatory order called the Ordo Templi Orientis, or O.T.O. While the roots of O.T.O. lie in Freemasonry, it separated from that tradition a century ago under the leadership of noted magician Aleister Crowley. O.T.O. has a rich history in Los Angeles stretching back to the 1930s, when Wilfred Smith and Jack Parsons led Agape Lodge in Pasadena, the only fully operational O.T.O. body in the world at the time of Crowley's death in 1947. At the Salon, following a brief presentation on the nature of the O.T.O., Star Sapphire Lodge, the O.T.O. body serving Los Angeles, invites you to join in a celebration of the Gnostic Mass, the central ritual of the O.T.O. We are pulling out the stops to make the final Sunday Salon of 2014 a gathering to remember. Don't miss it!

We kick off the 2014 tour season with our most popular crime bus tour, which we always schedule around the anniversary of this iconic, unsolved Los Angeles murder mystery. Our excursion begins in the historic Olive Street lobby of the Biltmore Hotel and ends in time for you to take tea and crumpets where Beth Short waited out the last hours of her freedom before walking south into hell. After multiple revisions, this is less a murder tour than a social history of 1940s Hollywood female culture, mass media and madness, and we welcome you to join us for the ride. This tour always sells out, so reserve your spot today.

Join us for a journey from the downtown of Chandler's pre-literary youth (but which always lingered at the fore of his imagination) to the Hollywood of his greatest success, with a stop along the way at Tai Kim's Scoops for unexpected gelato creations inspired by the author. We'll start the tour following in the young Chandler's footsteps, as he roamed the blocks near the downtown oil company office where he worked. See sites from Lady in the Lake and The Little Sister, discover the real Philip Marlowe (Esotouric's exclusive scoop, and the inspiration for Kim's novel The Kept Girl), and be steeped in noir LA.

Come explore Charles Bukowski's lost Los Angeles and the fascinating contradictions that make this great local writer such a hoot to explore. Haunts of a Dirty Old Man is a raucous day out celebrating liquor, ladies, pimps and poets. The tour includes a visit to Buk's DeLongpre bungalow, where you'll see the Cultural-Historic Monument sign that we helped to get approved, and a mid-tour provisions stop at Pink Elephant Liquor.

From the founding of the city through the 1940s, downtown was the true center of Los Angeles, a lively, densely populated, exciting and sometimes dangerous place. After many quiet decades, downtown is making an incredible return. But while many of the historic buildings remain, their human context has been lost. This downtown double feature tour, hosted by Kim Cooper, Joan Renner and Richard Schave, is meant to bring alive the old ghosts and memories that cling to the streets and structures of the historic core, and is especially recommended for downtown residents curious about their neighborhood's neglected history.

The Crown City masquerades as a calm and refined retreat, where well-bred ladies glide around their perfect bungalows and everyone knows what fork to use first. But don't be fooled by appearances. Dip into the confidential files of old Pasadena and meet assassins and oddballs, kidnappers and slashers, Satanists and all manner of maniac in a delightful little tour you WON'T find recommended by the better class of people! From celebrated cases like the RFK assassination (with a visit to Sirhan Sirhan's folks' house), "Eraserhead" star Jack Nance's strange end, black magician/rocket scientist Jack Parsons' death-by-misadventure and the 1926 Rose Parade grand stand collapse, to fascinating obscurities, the tour's dozens of murders, arsons, kidnappings, robberies, suicides, auto wrecks and oddball happening sites provide a alternate history of Pasadena that's as fascinating as it is creepy. Passengers will tour the old Millionaire's Row on Orange Grove, thrill to the shocking Sphinx Murder on the steps of the downtown Masonic Hall and discover why people named Judd should think twice before moving to Pasadena.

On this guided tour through the Beverly Hills of the early 20th Century, Crime Bus passengers thrill as Jazz Age bootleggers run amok, marvel at the Krazy Kafitz family's litany of murder-suicides, attempted husband slayings, Byzantine estate battles and mad bombings, visit the shortest street in Los Angeles (15' long Powers Place, with its magnificent views of the mansions of Alvarado Terrace), discover which fabulous mansion was once transformed into a functioning whiskey factory using every room in the house, and stroll the haunted paths of Rosedale Cemetery, site of notable burials (May K. Rindge, the mother of Malibu) and odd graveside crimes. Featured players include the most famous dwarf in Hollywood, mass suicide ringleader Reverend Jim Jones, wacky millionaires who can't control their automobiles, human mole bank robbers, comically inept fumigators, kids trapped in tar pits, and dozens of other unusual and fascinating denizens of early Los Angeles.

Come explore Charles Bukowski's lost Los Angeles and the fascinating contradictions that make this great local writer such a hoot to explore. Haunts of a Dirty Old Man is a raucous day out celebrating liquor, ladies, pimps and poets. The tour includes a visit to Buk's DeLongpre bungalow, where you'll see the Cultural-Historic Monument sign that we helped to get approved, and a mid-tour provisions stop at Pink Elephant Liquor.

Join us on this iconic, unsolved Los Angeles murder mystery tour. Our excursion begins in the historic Olive Street lobby of the Biltmore Hotel and ends in time for you to take tea and crumpets where Beth Short waited out the last hours of her freedom before walking south into hell. After multiple revisions, this is less a murder tour than a social history of 1940s Hollywood female culture, mass media and madness, and we welcome you to join us for the ride. This tour always sells out, so reserve your spot today.



  • Krampus invades Los Angeles.
  • Save the date: Kim's Kept Girl book party at Skylight (2/13).
  • A community driven plan to revive the Southwest Museum and Arroyo arts culture.
  • Our favorite noir dame passes.
  • The stories of Willowbrook.
  • Philip Marlowe in a reflective mood.
  • Getting the Village wrong.
  • Stay tuned as Kim "live tweets" the last week's of Beth Short's life, leading up to the anniversary of the Black Dahlia murder.
  • Metro opens an Amtrak lounge in Union Station, and it's heartbreakingly bland.



Kim & Richard


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