How Long Since You Wrote To Mother edition





April 19th, 2014


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Our cat, Numa, finds his calling. by @

Gentle Reader. . .

There is no man-made structure more significant in all early Los Angeles lore than the Zanja Madre, the holy Mother Ditch that brought water from the River out into the growing pueblo, to irrigate the oranges and vineyards, make bricks and beer, to allow homes to be built and businesses launched ever farther from the Plaza.

You can still see bits of it along Figueroa Avenue down near Adams, and on the edge of the Cornfield State Historic Park, and you find signs of its presence all across the map of our city. The Zanja Madre is everything to Los Angeles.

What a thrill, then, to hear that a segment of the enclosed brick pipe had been revealed by the Blossom Plaza development excavations in Chintatown.

And how troubling, that initial information on the find should have been filtered out through the developer and local Councilman's office, with predictable denials that anything of significance, which might require a work stoppage to allow a proper archeological excavation, had been found.

It took a private citizen with a passion for Los Angeles history to trek down to the site and document the huge section of (sadly, damaged by heavy equipment) pipe emerging from the soil to get the real story, a story then parroted by reporters and bloggers who hadn't bothered to ask these questions themselves. Thank you, William Preston Bowling. You are a true Angeleno!

But this is boomtown Los Angeles, where bothersome matters can always be smoothed to ease the needs of developers. Just like that, public and private entities have emerged that will likely be allowed to take segments of the Zanja Madre away for exhibition. Never mind the extraordinary significance of this early public utility in its historic context. Never mind what other artifacts might be nearby. Wrap it up, cut it up, move it out and let's get building–there are apartments to rent!

The heart of our city is beneath the skin of the "new" Chinatown. Its arteries are the Historic Core. Deep pits dot both these old neighborhoods, and there are no archeologists to be seen in any of them. What could be down there? Great wonders: in 1892, a mammoth was uncovered at Fifth and Winston Streets!

We're losing our history by the day, scooped up in earth movers, bound for landfill, seen only by workmen who know their bosses don't want to hear about anything weird turning up in the pit.

Our plea to each one of you reading these words: be the eyes and the conscience of Los Angeles. Stop and look into these excavations in historic neighborhoods, photograph anything that appears out of the ordinary, and share what you find, with us and through whatever social media channels you favor. We cannot save what we do not know is there.

We're off the bus this weekend, but making up for it on the next. We've still got room for you on the James M. Cain-themed Birth of Noir bus, and at the free LAVA Sunday Salon. Join us, do!

Upcoming Tours & Happenings

Ride along on a very pulpy path on a wide-ranging tour that digs deep into the literature, film and real life vices that inform that most murderous genre, film noir — from Double Indemnity (where Raymond Chandler's Hollywood career intersects with Cain's) to The Postman Always Rings Twice to Mildred Pierce and beyond. The tour rolls through Hollywood, Glendale and old Skid Row, lost lion farms, murderous sopranos, fascist film censors, offbeat cemeteries — all in a quest to reveal the delicious, and deeply influential, nightmares that are Cain's gift to the world.

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 month, in celebration of National Poetry Month, Suzanne Lummis, Cece Peri and Dale Raoul will present a series of Poem Noir readings, exploring the themes of crime, decay, anonymity, hauntings from the past and a palpable sense of place and feel unique to Los Angeles. The architectural historian Nathan Marsak, author of Los Angeles Neon, will give an illustrated talk on the revolutionary cemetery architecture of Southern California, from Garden Cemeteries to California Crazy to Modernism, and beyond.

Forget Hollywood, babe, 'cause the quintessential LA town in definitely El Monte, its history packed with noirish murders, brilliant thespians, loony Nazis, James Ellroy's naked lunch and the lion farm that MGM's celebrated kitty called home. See all this and so much more, including the Man from Mars Bandit's Waterloo, when you climb aboard the daffiest crime tour in our arsenal, and the only one that includes a dumpling picnic at a landmark playground populated with fantastical giant sea creatures!

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.

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 month, we devote the entire Salon program to the theme of Electronic Music and Circuit Bending, the intentional creative mis-use of electronic devices intended as children's playthings, presented by Andy Ben, Jeff Boynton and Mona Jean Cedar. Plus, Fanny Daubigny with an interlude on translator Louise Varese and her work with 19th century French poetry.

Go East, young ghoul, with our newest crime bus adventure. Come visit Boyle Heights, where the Night Stalker was captured and a mad dad ran amok. Roam the hallowed lawns of Evergreen, L.A.'s oldest cemetery and home of some memorable haunts and strange burials. Visit East L.A., where a deranged radio shop employee made mince meat of his boss and bride–and you can get your hair done in a building shaped like a giant tamale. Explore the ghastly streets of Commerce, where one small neighborhood's myriad crimes will shock and surprise. Visit Montebello, for scrumptious milk and cookies at Broguiere's Farm Fresh Dairy washed down with a horrifying case of child murder.

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 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.

In our very occasional guest tour series, a delightful excursion that only comes around once a year, the Tom Waits bus adventure hosted by acclaimed rock critic David Smay (Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, Swordfishtrombones). This voyage through the city that shaped one of our most eclectic musical visionaries starts in Skid Row and rolls through Hollywood and Echo Park, spotlighting the sites where Waits was transformed through the redemptive powers of love and other lures: the Tropicana Motel, Francis Coppola's Zoetrope Studios, the raunchy Ivar Theatre and so much more. Join us for a great day out in 1970s Los Angeles celebrating the music, the culture and the passions of Tom Waits.



  • We shared some L.A. lore on the Delta Bravo video podcast.
  • On the posthumous legacy of Marlowe and Chandler, with kind words for The Kept Girl.
  • A farewell to Book 'Em.
  • Little town noir.
  • A notable preservation snafu, or, if you care so much, landmark it before you sell it.
  • Too early an urban memorial.
  • Skid Row selfish.
  • Kim talks 1920s vice in LA Review of Books.
  • Those developers have some crust.
  • The winds came.
  • Safe enough for Disney, but not for the NTSB?
  • Sleuthing the blues.
  • And shaking the trees.
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    Kim & Richard


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