Farewell to Fred Krinke, L.A.’s Fountain Pen King

We’re saddened to learn that Fred Krinke, third generation proprietor of The Fountain Pen Shop—founded in Downtown Los Angeles in 1922, housed in recent years in a Monrovia industrial park—died on Sunday.

Fred was a cool, wise character who is probably responsible for turning more Southern Californians on to the frustrations and fussy pleasures of fountain pen use than anyone else. A visit to his shop was always a kick for us, with Richard testing nibs of newly manufactured daily pen options, while Kim, who owns more vintage fountain pens than she’ll be able to wear out in this lifetime, explored Fred’s mini-museum in the front room.

The future of the family-run Fountain Pen Shop is uncertain, but Fred’s sweet influence will never be forgotten. Our sympathies go to his family, and to the extended family of scribers who will start feeling anxious as their stock of Fred’s Secret Sauce pen cleaner runs low.

We hope you enjoy these photos of Fred’s magical shop, taken on a visit in April 2017, when we were able to share with him the happy news that Angels Flight Railway would soon be running again. With his passing, a door closes on a lost era of Downtown Los Angeles, and a golden thread of generations of writers creative and practical, who appreciate the old ways and the cultured gentleman who always kept their pens, and by extension their thoughts, flowing. Farewell and thank you, Fred!

Public Benefit Corporation SAFER challenges validity of Onni Group’s Times Mirror Square EIR

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Last Wednesday morning, we joined a passionate band of concerned Angelenos at Los Angeles City Hall in a last ditch effort to halt the runaway Planning Department train that appears intent on approving demolition of half of the historic, landmark Los Angeles Times Mirror Square compound, despite the stench of civic corruption surrounding the project.

Included in our group were preservationists, historians, architects, affordable housing advocates, longtime L.A. Times and Times Mirror executives, neighbors, tenants and descendants of the newspaper’s founders. You can read their comments, and see full video, here.

We did our best to give the planners pause, pointing out the ongoing FBI investigation that has ensnared Councilman Jose Huizar, the bizarre alteration of the landmark designation by Huizar’s PLUM committee, the architectural and cultural distinction of the threatened buildings, the significant impact on those living and working close to the project site, the mediocrity of the proposed towers, the glut of market rate housing and office space in the Downtown market, the project’s failure to do anything to alleviate our city’s horrific homeless crisis, and the risk that in approving the project the city would incur significant legal settlement costs and enable money laundering.

Did they listen to us? Politely, to be sure, and with no time limits. But does Eric Garcetti’s Planning Department ever truly listen to concerned citizens?

Still, something had their attention. During the hearing, project lead William Lamborn mentioned that his office had received a significant written response to the EIR that morning. This mysterious comment hung over the room all through the public comment period.

Then Alan Como, who led the hearing, closed public comment with the following words: “So, given the discussion and testimony today, including the item that was received this morning—the letter, which I believe you said Will was rather lengthy—I’m going to take this under advisement for a period of approximately one week to give planning staff an opportunity to review that letter. And so, yeah, no action will be taken today.”

We of course requested a copy of that “rather lengthy… item,” which was promptly provided by Mr. Lamborn, and have read it with growing and complete fascination, awe and gratitude.

(Parenthetically, do you ever stop to wonder just how it is that corruption has run so utterly amok in our City of the Angels? Do you think, like we do, it might have something to do with our checked-out local media, which cannot even be bothered to send an intern to attend the Planning Department’s final hearing for a huge redevelopment project that is central to the FBI’s investigation of Jose Huizar and his special favors for real estate industry donors, a project which calls for the demolition of the most distinguished newspaper industry landmark in Southern California?)

So yeah, that’s why the blog of a scrappy historic Los Angeles tour company is breaking the news that the nonprofit California public benefit corporation Supporters Alliance For Environmental Responsibility (“SAFER”), which is closely associated with the Laborers International Union of North America Local 300 (“LIUNA”), has fired an astonishing shot across the bow of Onni Group’s Times Mirror Square project, calling on the Los Angeles City Planning Department to halt the EIR approval process and address serious flaws, falsehoods and misinterpretations under CEQA in its analysis of the project’s environmental impact, and then circulate a corrected and factual RDEIR (revised draft environmental impact report) for public review.

Among the serious issues raised by SAFER’s expert analysts in their 100+ page letter, are:

• A flawed interpretation of the state law that protects historic resources like the locally landmarked and California State Register eligible buildings on the site;

• The concern that the project would cause significant bird death, including to locally nesting and migrating Vaux’s Swifts, due to the huge expanse of glass windows;

• A non-trivial cancer risk from the off-gassing of formaldehyde in all the new plywood and other mass produced crap slated to replace the fine materials used in William Pereira’s building;

• An unjustified rejection of project alternatives that would protect historical resources and cause less pollution and traffic, simply because they fail to match the property owner’s arbitrary determination of what “must” be included in their proposed development. 

• And finally, an objection which made us laugh out loud: the incomplete and inaccurate traffic impact analysis must be completely re-done, not least because the EIR fails to account for the impact on and from Jose Huizar’s ridiculous Downtown Streetcar Inc. boondoggle!

All of the above is thoroughly explained in the lengthy letter from leading environmental attorney Richard Toshiyuki Drury of Lozeau Drury LLP sent on behalf of SAFER, which you can read for yourself here.

If you appreciate this information, we are always grateful for your tips (both monetary and in the form of offbeat Los Angeles lore sent via email). Thank you, SAFER. And viva Pereira!

 

Video: Concerned citizens testify at L.A. Times Mirror Square Planning Hearing

In 2016, we launched a consciousness-raising campaign for the benefit of the mid-century architect and city planner William Pereira and his endangered buildings. Since then, the risk to Pereira’s legacy has been regularly discussed in the architecture press, his CBS Television City was named a Los Angeles landmark (nomination by Pereira in Peril core member Alan Hess), and there is now a non-profit called Save LACMA.

Our most active Pereira in Peril campaign is The Los Angeles Times Mirror HQ addition (1973), unanimously accepted by the Cultural Heritage Commissioners as part of the landmarked Times Mirror Square complex in September 2018.

On November 7, 2018, Downtown councilman Jose Huizar was raided by the FBI, then removed from his powerful PLUM Committee chairmanship. Nevertheless, on November 27, PLUM deferred to Huizar’s request and altered our landmark nomination by removing Pereira’s building, clearing the way for Canadian developer Onni Group to demolish it for one of their proposed twin towers. City Council passed the politically re-written landmark designation with no discussion.

Then in February 2019, The Los Angeles Times reported that just prior to the PLUM vote, Onni Group had donated a whopping $50,000 to a political action group supporting the since-suspended City Council candidacy of Jose Huizar’s wife Richelle (Huizar himself cannot run again due to term limits).

PLUM’s bizarre Times Mirror Square landmark changes certainly appear to be part of a quid pro quo vote buying operation. To quote our own written response to the Draft EIR: “Frankly, it smells.”

Almost a year after the raids, with the FBI investigation ongoing and now expanded to include serious allegations of corruption at the DWP, there have been
NO INDICTMENTS
NO ARRESTS
NO CHARGES and
NO ANSWERS for the citizens of Los Angeles who wonder who among their elected officials is working not for the people but for property developers and other special interest groups.

Meanwhile, Onni Group’s Times Mirror Square project moves through the city planning process. On October 16, 2019, a hearing was held by the Los Angeles Planning Department to consider the final EIR before the project goes on to the Planning Commission for final approval. The room was packed, with lobbyists, attorneys and union reps supporting the developer, and with historians, preservationists, neighbors, those with deep ties to the Los Angeles Times, tenants and low income housing developers opposing.

Not in attendance was anyone representing Councilman Jose Huizar—even though the hearing room is only a 30 second elevator ride from his office.

This video includes the public comments made in opposition to the project, in which concerned citizens raise serious concerns about corruption in the planning process, money laundering, exacerbation of the homeless crisis, violations of the rights of tenants and neighbors, the developer’s contempt for Los Angeles history shown by their mediocre tower designs, and the very real possibility that the city will be successfully sued for pushing through a project that raises so many red flags.

One mystery left unexplained during the hearing: who is the author of the lengthy response to the EIR that was received the morning of the hearing, which had planning staff so concerned that they made no determination on the project, deferring any decision for about a week? We’re trying to find out, so stay tuned!

We thank the concerned citizens who came to testify at City Hall with no monetary compensation, for their love for Los Angeles and their faith that the city will “do the right thing” for Times Mirror Square. Select quotes from their testimony follows:

“Pereira’s work represents a critical chapter in late Southern California modernism and must be preserved so that future generations can learn from his work… It is a wonderful example of late modernist architecture, and if brought back to its full glory it would be a complement to the civic square around City Hall.” – John Southern (Architect / USC School of Architecture)

The Times Mirror building and the Times are an integral part of Los Angeles. It’s part of our history, and I think the building should be preserved.” – Jay Lorick (Times Mirror Co.)

“The irony here is when Onni says, ‘Our number one goal is historic preservation,’ and they’re willing to tear down the historic building that my father dedicated. It makes this a bit of a mockery. You can’t embrace historical preservation and tear down a William Pereira building.. I think Onni’s plan could easily accommodate building on top of it. Take a bit of the Pereira building off and keep the paseo. I think keeping the lobby and keeping the atrium where Dorothy Chandler, my grandmother, planned the Music Center—there’s a lot of history in that building and I think it would be a shame and a crime to demolish it.” – Harry Chandler (Family Built L.A. Times / Neighbor)

“At this time where this country is divided by serious allegations of corruption, allegations that have touched this project as evidenced by an ongoing FBI investigation, I ask you to stand up for what is right. Stand up for the history of this building…. As a journalist who spent more than thirty years in that building, I can assure you that it was the site of events and decisions that had more significance to the development of Los Angeles than just about any other building in the city, and on par with City Hall itself.” – Leo Wolinsky (Managing Editor, Los Angeles Times)

“These buildings couldn’t be more common. They’re like tin cans, they’re everywhere you look. There is no architectural distinguishing feature. They will add just more common skyscraper moneymakers. They might as well just be a stack of dollar bills…. Don’t vote for blight. Don’t vote for housing that’s a joke, that everyone knows we don’t need, just for a few people who are already fabulously rich to make money, while others have to camp out on the sidewalk.” – Miki Jackson (AHF / Healthy Housing Foundation)

“Why on earth would anyone approve structures that would tower over and diminish the impact of City Hall and the architectural Deco gem that is the original L.A. Times? If I have to go to court to stop this tragedy, I will!” – Allan Harris (Neighbor)

“I personally believe somebody is getting paid off to do it, and if we HAD the fourth estate down here… that sits as our eyes and ears as citizens to look at the corruption in City Hall, look at the corruption in the Planning Department… we might be able to get at it. Do you know, when they bought that building, they ran the L.A. Times out of that building. And you know how they did it? They sent the rents skyrocketing… So they banished the fourth estate from our civic core, and I think it’s a real disaster.” – Cheryl Younger (Neighbor)

“We are a tenant in the Onni building, since 2013 when the L.A. Times was still in the building… We have a lease that continues for several years, and we have an option to renew… We were not advised of any of the development plans, we received no communication from the building, I only happened upon the scheduling of this meeting. We would be displaced if this were to continue…. I am very concerned, because it does seem existing obligations are not a high consideration.” – Aileen Tang (Corporate Counsel, VXI Global Solutions / Tenant)

“I agree that L.A. needs more housing, but I don’t believe we need more luxury housing.”- Sarah Ochoa (Concerned Citizen)

“The city center, its historic core, its heart, has a unique identity. By throwing up generic towering condos that echo those in other Downtown L.A. neighborhoods we will lose this essence— forever. Development should be done thoughtfully and in service to the city and the community’s long term goals, and not just for the short-sighted benefit and profit of those who don’t actually live here.” – Linda Cordero (Neighbor)

“I support this project with the adoption of Alternative #5. The Pereira building is not only an excellent example of late modern architecture by a master architect, but it also represents the L.A. Times changing from a reactionary organization to a very progressive organization, that endorsed a Black mayor, that hired Hispanic reporters. The elimination of this building will eliminate part of our history.” – Steven Luftman (Historic Preservationist)

To learn more about the Pereira in Peril campaign, visit http://www.esotouric.com/pereira

Announcing Save LACMA

If you’ve followed Esotouric for any time at all, you know that we’re big fans of William L. Pereira‘s civic and commercial architecture, and have advocated for the preservation of such endangered buildings as the Metropolitan Water District HQ, Los Angeles Times Executive Building and Los Angeles County Museum of Art as part of a broader Pereira in Peril campaign.

Today we begin a new chapter in this work, with announcement of the launch of Save LACMA (http://www.ourlacma.org), a registered 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Corporation formed to amplify the voice of the community to help steer the museum’s future, not just with the proposed Wilshire-straddling new building project, but in all its change and growth to come.

The more we learned about LACMA’s current plans, the more we felt the need to advocate not just for the historic campus, but for the survival of the museum as an institution. We are proud to join with other concerned Angelenos to volunteer our time as board members, taking our LACMA Lovers League petition campaign to a new level under the Save LACMA nonprofit banner.

We look forward to meeting you at LACMA-focused events in the near future. For now, we hope you’ll visit the website to learn more, sign up for the occasional newsletter, follow Save LACMA on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) and share this exciting news with your arts loving friends. It’s going to be a campaign to remember, and we can’t wait to share it with you!

Planning Commission To Decide Fate of Times Mirror Square

The Angelenos who landmarked the Los Angeles Times buildings cordially invite you to be a part of their history, by asking the Planning Commission to “do the right thing” at the Final EIR hearing on October 16 and approve a redevelopment plan that preserves and protects this architecturally and culturally significant place, while rejecting the appearance of political corruption steering land use decisions in Los Angeles. There is still cause for hope that the Times buildings will be treated with due respect during redevelopment, but they need your help!

Please join us at Los Angeles City Hall on Wednesday, October 16 at 10:30 am to give public comment to the Planning Commission on the Final EIR for the Times Mirror Square Project. (Or send an email by October 15; see instructions at the bottom of this page.) (Facebook event link.)

FOR THOSE GIVING PUBLIC COMMENT: If you plan to attend the October 16 hearing, please email us at tours@esotouric.com, and we can give you more info and let you know what to expect. We don’t know exactly when this agenda item will be heard, but the hearing begins at 10:30am in room 1020.

To support preservation in your public comment, please include these words, then add your own personal reasons for speaking: “I oppose the Project because under CEQA, the Executive Building is a recognized historical resource eligible for the California Register for its association with the Times Mirror Company and Otis Chandler, and is a significant example of the work of master architect William L. Pereira. I urge you to select Alternative 5, Full Preservation Alternative, the environmentally superior alternative.”


THE SITE: A square block sitting kitty corner from Los Angeles City Hall, comprised of Gordon B. Kaufmann’s 1935 L.A. Times Building, Rowland Crawford’s 1948 Mirror Tower, William L. Pereira’s 1973 Executive Building, and a Pereira-designed parking garage.

THE THREAT: Canadian developer Onni Group wants to demolish the garage and Executive Building to build two high-rise towers. The Executive Building is fully integrated into the 1935 L.A. Times Building. This project would not only destroy a significant work by William Pereira, but leave a gaping hole in the side of the most architecturally significant structure on the site.

THE STORY: On September 20, 2018, the Cultural Heritage Commission accepted our Times Mirror Square landmark nomination in full, disagreeing with the Office of Historic Resources’ claim that Pereira’s Executive Building should not be included. The nomination would next go to City Council’s PLUM Committee, where we were concerned that the chair, Councilman Jose Huizar, would reject it outright, to clear the way for Canadian developer Onni Group to erect two towers. However, between the CHC and PLUM hearings, the FBI raided Huizar’s City Hall office and home, and Huizar was removed from PLUM. Nevertheless, on November 27, 2018, PLUM deferred to Huizar’s request and altered the landmark nomination by removing Pereira’s building. The altered nomination was then approved by full City Council. In February 2019, the Los Angeles Times reported that developer Onni Group had given $50,000 to Huizar’s political fund two months prior to the PLUM vote. It is against the backdrop of this appearance of quid pro quo vote buying that the Planning Commission will decide the fate of Times Mirror Square.

To learn more about the L.A. Times landmarking nomination, and the wider Pereira in Peril campaign, click here.

To read the Final EIR for this project, and our feedback, click here.


FOR EMAIL SUPPORTERS: You can also send a statement of support via email ASAP, but no later than end of day Tuesday, October 15.

Below is an example of how a statement of support should be formatted.
Subject line: ENV-2016-4676-EIR
Email to: william.lamborn@lacity.org
cc: tours@esotouric.com (that’s us, the landmark team)

Dear Planning Commission,

I oppose the Project because under CEQA, the Executive Building is a recognized historical resource eligible for the California Register for its association with the Times Mirror Company and Otis Chandler, and is a significant example of the work of master architect William L. Pereira.

I urge you to select Alternative 5, Full Preservation Alternative, the environmentally superior alternative.

sincerely, (your name, your address, your email)

PLEASE NOTE: Uniquely personal remarks, even just a line or two, really make a difference. Please consider adding this sentence and filling in the blank: These buildings are important to me because ____________.

 

City Librarian John Szabo unveils The Well of the Scribes at Central Library

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Feeling quite awed to see this Los Angeles treasure in the flesh (photo: Stephen Gee)

We had the opportunity today to attend a small ceremony in which a section of sculptor Lee Lawrie’s Well of the Scribes fountain was unveiled in the Rare Books room of Los Angeles Public Library.

The bronze fountain has been missing since 1969, when Central Library’s garden became a parking lot and its decorative elements went into city storage… only to vanish. Had the fountain been stolen away by a private collector, misplaced in some remote storage area, or melted down for scrap?

For fifty years, its fate remained a mystery. But answers may be forthcoming: one panel was recently found in the care of Arizona antique dealer Floyd Lillard, after he reached out offering to return the lost treasure.

While the relief sculpture is in remarkably good condition for its decades on the road, it needs a little love. So following today’s ceremonial return to the building it was designed for, it will be sent to a conservation lab for cleaning and stabilizing. Then it will go on public view in a location yet to be determined at Central Library.

While you wait for that auspicious day, enjoy these close-up views of the Well of the Scribes and the happy folks from the library and Alta Magazine, publishers of a recent feature story which helped to bring this beautiful object back home. The Library and Alta are eagerly seeking the remaining two sections of the fountain, so keep your eyes peeled in your travels for Pegasus and his scholarly pals.

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The Cinecon Caper revealed in emails between Hollywood Heritage, Netflix and Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s Office

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Some emails have just been released in response to a public records request by government transparency blogger Adrian Riskin of MichaelKohlhaas.org. He asked Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office for any correspondence between the councilman’s staff and anyone with netflix.com email address. You can read the emails here.

In addition to emails expressing the councilman’s desire to be helpful in addressing the streaming giant’s need for hotel rooms and apartments in Hollywood, you’ll find a fascinating email thread with Richard Adkins, president of Hollywood Heritage.

This thread helps clear up some of the mystery surrounding the rumored cancellation and last minute restoration of the 55th Annual Cinecon Classic Film Festival’s five-day booking at the Egyptian Theatre, a booking that we’ve heard from several sources had been salvaged through the direct intervention of Councilman O’Farrell’s office.

In his email (Subject: Additional Information on Cinecon and the petition, 7/20/2019), Mr. Adkins explains at the outset, “I would like to make it clear that Hollywood Heritage has not spoken publicly about the Cinematheque or the proposed purchase of the Egyptian Theatre.”

(We think this lack of comment on a major change of use for Hollywood’s oldest motion picture palace is unfortunate, both because Hollywood Heritage was founded in 1980 “to protect, maintain and enhance buildings and neighborhoods, natural resources, and other monuments and artifacts that exemplify or constitute a part of the historic, architectural or cultural heritage of Hollywood,” and because it is the only other Hollywood non-profit that received a landmark building as a gift with the expectation that it would be operated as a public benefit. The opinion of Hollywood Heritage on this proposed sale is in the public interest.)

Further, Richard Adkins wishes it known that he is not the same person as Richard Schave, who is circulating the petition seeking transparency around the sale of the Egyptian Theatre.

He continues: “In regards to Cinecon, Hollywood Heritage has the non-profit operator of Cinecon for the past three years. We have been associated with the festival since the museum was established inn 1985, but only began managing the festival following the passing of Robert S. Birchard who was the president of Cinecon… To be able to continue to operate, Hollywood Heritage filed a DBA with the state as operators of the festival. Select personnel at the Cinematheque have been familiar with Cinecon Classic Film Festival for almost 20 years and may not have been aware of the changeover, as we kept it low key in order not to alarm registrants, vendors and creditors… I am sure this is why there may be some unfamiliarity with our relationship to the festival, but I assure you it is now a Hollywood Heritage activity. If at all possible we would like to have notification of the return of our Egyptian dates by Wednesday [7/24/2019], so that should there be a problem, we can seek alternate venues.”

(The ellipses above are included to remove a claim made in the email that the late Bob Birchard, a dedicated film historian and preservationist who once gave a wonderful interview about lost Hollywood bookstores on our podcast, was misleading the public by operating Cinecon as a non-profit, when it was not one in good standing with the California Attorney General. We have looked far and wide for any claim ever made by Bob Birchard that Cinecon, or the parent organization Society of Cinephiles, was a non-profit, without success. To the contrary, Bob Birchard partnered with a non-profit at the end of his life to allow Cinecon to receive tax-deductible donations (see this PDF link). Since 2016, Cinecon has been operated by a non-profit, Hollywood Heritage.)

Two days later (7/22/2019) Craig Bullock, Planning Director for Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, forwards Richard Adkins’ email to London Kemp, Netflix’ Director of Corporate Real Estate:

“FYI. I wanted to share the email below regarding the petition. I would not have intervened had the people doing the petition were the same as the people doing the film festival. At my request, Richard Atkins sent this email to me to better clarify the players… it get confusing especially with multiple Richards haha”

With the air cleared, Cinecon did indeed go on as planned at the Egyptian Theatre from 8/29-9/2/2019. It was a close call for the festival, and for the hundreds of film fans, guest speakers and memorabilia vendors who purchased tickets and paid for travel and lodging, unaware that the event was hanging by a thread.

We’re glad Cinecon happened this year at its longtime home, The Egyptian Theatre. And we’re glad Los Angeles Times reporter Ryan Faughnder was able to attend Cinecon and to meet as perfect a dues-paying American Cinematheque member as Christina Rice there, so her quote can wrap up today’s front page story: “If it’s such a great thing, why does this all need to be shrouded in secrecy?”

And we’re deeply troubled that something as silly and as capricious as Netflix executives mistakenly thinking the preservationist named Richard who is petitioning the American Cinematheque to explain why they want to sell the Egyptian Theatre is the same person as the non-profit president named Richard who has no comment about the situation came thisclose to stopping Cinecon’s show from going on.

The city gave the Egyptian Theatre to the American Cinematheque for a dollar so festivals like Cinecon can have a home. We the people of Los Angeles and the wider film community deserve some honest answers before we lose this precious place. If you agree, please sign the petition, and share it with friends. You can learn more about the situation here.


Update: On September 12, two days after publication of this post containing the email in which he tells Netflix and Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office that Hollywood Heritage has made no public comment about the proposed sale, the non-profit’s president Richard Adkins made the following statement on Facebook, in which he commits to Hollywood Heritage sharing its informed opinion about the sale… after or as it closes. We understand that journalists have been reaching out to Adkins and Hollywood Heritage while reporting the story, with no response. These observations could have been helpful to them.

“The landmark Egyptian Theatre has been the focus of press attention in the last six months due to media reports of a pending transfer of ownership. At this date, and to our knowledge, no such transfer has as yet been completed and articles in the press lack sufficient detail to justify taking any position on a projected, but unexecuted, transaction. That being said, we would clearly anticipate that any such transfer of a national landmark building in a national historic register district would be reviewed with transparency by and all responsible public agencies, departments, or commissions. As the first Sid Grauman theatre in Hollywood and the site of the first gala “premiere” with searchlights and a red carpet, the Egyptian Theatre is a defining structure in our built environment and merits careful consideration in order to protect and preserve its unique architectural and cultural value not only to Hollywood, Los Angeles and America, but the world in general, which views Hollywood as a shared international cultural asset. When there is specificity and detail regarding a change in the projected operation of the theatre which may affect its future, Hollywood Heritage will be happy to share its observations and opinions on such plans, specifically as it relates to the monument, the district, and non-profit law and operation.”

In a follow up comment to someone seeking clarification, he adds: “That would be a simplification of the historic building process and this one is complicated by ownership by a non-profit. Yes, changes which require a permit are automatically reviewed for any building over 50 years of age under regulations which were designed to protect existing and potential landmarks. Painting for instance, is not a permit-necessary process. The review I was referring to has everything to do with how a non-profit steward of a historic structure has to proceed via non-profit law. A non-profit which owns or operates a landmark structure is periodically reviewed to make sure funds donated specifically for projects such as restoration are actually used for that purpose and not for staffing or other ancillary purposes. The Egyptian is a landmark, the Cinematheque is a non-profit, review of their management of the site is appropriate.”

Celebrating 61 Years of Neon, Bowling, Booze & (now) Booza in Anaheim’s Little Arabia

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We were cruising across the vast flat lands of Orange County, the GPS app set to avoid toll roads and freeways, as the setting sun tinted every surface with that magical liquid gilding that can’t be painted or bottled, but is best captured in passenger window cellphone snaps.

Our destination: Le Mirage, a French bakery in Anaheim’s Little Arabia district, which we learned from Gustavo Arellano’s 2018 article also does an off-menu trade in booza, an ancient, taffy-like Syrian ice cream and pistachio confection textured with orchid root and tree resin.

We arrived at the mini-mall at dusk, just as the intersection of Brookhurst and Lincoln lit up with dancing incandescents and the warm buzz of neon. For just across the road, delightfully, was a perfect time capsule of mid-century suburbia: Linbrook Bowl, a bowling alley, coffee shop, bar and gaming center, open 24/7 (except on Christmas Eve) since 1958.

In fact, we learned upon stepping in, this weekend is the 61st Anniversary of the family-owned establishment, and guests are encouraged to doll up in 1950s attire to enjoy such Customer Appreciation specials as $2 beers and $1.50 hot dogs from 11:30am-3:30pm.

We resisted the urge to settle in on a bar stool and trade tall tales with the regulars, even though our new friends in the bar urged us to stay and toast the loss of other Southland bowling centers and Linbrook’s remarkable survival.

We explained our culinary mission across the road. “Ice cream, by Granny’s Do-Nuts? No way!” It all seemed most unlikely there beneath the mica-flecked sunken ceiling of The Kopa Room, and mention of an article in The New Yorker did nothing to convince them. Besides, one insisted, it couldn’t possibly be as good as Thrifty drug store ice cream. Well, we’d be the ones to go find out about that.

And after promising to return some day with the answer, we trundled back across six lanes of traffic, crossing from the old Orange County to the new in the length of a green walk signal.

A little small talk at the register was followed by some mysterious banging sounds in the back of the bakery, and the booza bowl was delivered, pale greenish petals studded with nuts and glistening with a splash of syrup.

And what a strange and lovely treat it proved to be! We’ve never had fresher tasting pistachios, or anything cold with such a texture. It wasn’t too sweet, and didn’t melt to a liquid like churned ice cream does, but was quite creamy and refreshing.  The ladies waiting for their cake started laughing, because Richard just kept saying “Wow… wow” and smiling at everyone.

To Anaheim’s Syrian community, booza is the taste of the diaspora, its sweetness tinged with sorrow and loss. While the flavors didn’t conjure up such feelings for we two native Angelenos, it did remind us of our dear grandma Cutie the foodie, and make us wonder if she would have recalled this treat from her early girlhood in Cairo.

A detour to visit Le Mirage is highly recommended, along with spending a little time talking with the friendly folks to be found on both sides of the street. It’s evenings like this one that make us grateful to live in Southern California, where so many different worlds and delicious flavors exist side by side, even if they don’t always mix. But when you’re ready to explore something new to you, all you have to do is look both ways and cross with care.

As grandma Cutie always said, quoting a beer billboard of her youth: “Lucky when you live in California.” And we are!

 

A Report From The Last Days of the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre… or are they?

Click the video below to see public comment made today at Los Angeles City Hall, when the halls were filled with Perry Mason extras in 1920s period dress, lending a weird Chinatown noir air to the proceedings.

The first speaker, representing the American Cinematheque board, is consultant Ken Scherer. If his name is familiar, you might recall the central role he played a decade ago in the attempted closure of the charitable Motion Picture Home, causing life-threatening stress to elderly residents until community activists proved that the nursing home’s supposedly dire financial situation was wildly exaggerated. It takes a special kind of person to try to shutter a treasured Hollywood non-profit. Here’s hoping the American Cinematheque fares as well as the Motion Picture Home did, in the end.

Note: public comment can also be viewed from a different angle on the city website. Start at timestamp 43:17, then skip ahead to 48:37.


Since July 4, when we launched our petition seeking transparency from the American Cinematheque regarding their proposed sale of the Egyptian Theatre to Netflix, we’ve heard from so many people with strong feelings about the matter. Some of them know things, things that when strung together begin to fill in the holes in this mysterious narrative.

Of course there’s really nothing very mysterious here. The problems at the American Cinematheque are simply another facet of the crisis of non-profit stewardship that just in Los Angeles County has LACMA imploding, Gamble House and Arroyo del Rey disentangling themselves from USC in the aftermath of the Freeman House furniture theft scandal, the disappearance of the French Benevolent Society and their millions, the still unfinished Academy Museum suddenly directorless, ad nauseam.

In this chaotic moment, old fashioned concepts like fiduciary responsibility, prudent management and attention to mission statements must seem terribly old fashioned.

Nevertheless, the full picture of why the American Cinematheque board has done such an abysmal job of managing itself that the California Attorney General is investigating with the aim of possibly shutting the organization down, and why they are so desperate to sell the Egyptian Theatre to Netflix while the investigation remains ongoing, is not clear to the public. And although they don’t even own the theater and might not ever own it, the prime mover in almost everything that’s happening seems to be Netflix.

Thus, all tips from concerned parties are very interesting, even if we can’t attest to their significance or accuracy. Consider the following to be cocktail party chatter, which everyone who cares about the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre has as much right to hear as do we. Should any of it spark a connection in your mind, please let us know.

• Netflix and the American Cinematheque so firmly believed the sale would close on July 31—coincidentally the day we filmed our Spectrum News piece—that American Cinematheque staff had been directed to clear out the building, and the August calendar was empty in anticipation of the theater’s closure. The sale did not close, and an August calendar was hurriedly filled in, bookending the long-scheduled, very nearly cancelled, 55th Annual Cinecon Classic Film Festival.

• The urgency for Netflix to own a theater in Los Angeles County is tied to the fast approaching deadline for Academy Award nominations, specifically as it relates to Martin Scorcese’s The Irishman. The Egyptian is not a qualifying house under Oscar’s strict rules, so the film may not even have public bookings there. Instead, Netflix seeks to leverage the prestige of Hollywood’s original motion picture palace to host a constant rotation of free private screenings for voting members of the industry guilds, four days a week, all through awards season (October-January). In so doing, they would privatize a public resource 57% of the time. Why, you might ask, can’t Netflix hold guild screenings at one of their numerous buildings and leave the only cinema non-profit in Hollywood to continue its good works? That’s just one of the questions that the public has not been able to ask the American Cinematheque board, since they refuse to hold an informational meeting for members and the public.

• One reason that Netflix is feeling increasing stress over the failure of the property sale to close is their desire to install a complicated $100,000 Dolby Atmos cinema sound system inside the landmark Egyptian Theatre before planned guild screenings of The Irishman begin. A rushed installation of large audio components that need to be attached to the delicate surfaces of the Egyptian stands to potentially cause harm to the protected painted plaster surfaces. Any such major alterations must be carefully reviewed by the Office of Historic Resources and Cultural Heritage Commission to ensure they comply with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, with opportunity for public notification and comment, before any work begins. This is a timeline that would likely preclude installation by awards season. And as patrons, personally we would not feel comfortable sitting underneath a speaker mounted to the 97-year-old ceiling.

• Although the possible sale of the Egyptian Theatre to Netflix was announced in the trades in April 2019, the Egyptian was actually Netflix’ second choice Hollywood Boulevard motion picture palace. For months beforehand, the company was in serious negotiations with the owners of the vacant Warner-Pacific Theater, and working closely with City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office on this project before it collapsed for reasons unknown. We are saddened that Netflix has stepped away from this opportunity to revive a beautiful theater that would be a great addition to the cultural landscape, and has instead set its sights on privatizing a community treasure like the Egyptian Theatre.

• It’s perhaps just a coincidence that in March, Steven Spielberg was interviewed saying that Netflix productions should be eligible for Emmys, not Oscars, and then in April, Netflix is announced to be buying the Egyptian Theatre, with its small screening room named after Spielberg. Or maybe industry people are just petty like that.

We love the Egyptian Theatre, and for all its problems, we believe in the mission of the American Cinematheque. Won’t you stand with us as we demand transparency and challenge the notion that a secretive board and a giant corporation know what’s best for the non-profit’s members and the wider community?

Elegy for 1326 South Mariposa

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We were driving the side streets of the Pico-Union District after locking down a special location to be added to the next Curse of the She-Devil true crime history tour. The late afternoon light was beautiful, with that sort of buttery, gilded quality that sends all the architectural details into high relief.

It doesn’t matter how many times we explore Pico-Union, the sprawling neighborhood always rewards us with something new. The buildings are old, solid and lived in, displaying layers of demographic change in their signs. The past and present are entwined, organically and unpretentiously.

Some signs of the past are more precious than others: the Mission Revival rooftop arch of the Doria Apartments (1600 West Pico, built 1905), illuminated with incandescent bulbs, was being covered up with an illegal billboard in 2011, when we drove by on our Weird West Adams tour and snapped a crime scene photo. An urgent call to the city’s Office of Historic Resources happily resulted in a stop work order before any permanent damage was done to Historic-Cultural Monument #432. Every time we pass the Doria now and see that jaunty sign, we feel like she’s kind of “ours.”

On our recent ramble, following the commercial spine of Pico, we dipped down into the residential corridors, where we were especially delighted to make the acquaintance of Byrdshire Manor (1405 South Berendo Street, built 1928), an English vernacular apartment block with layers of hand-painted signage, graceful arches and a smattering of deformed clinker bricks breaking up its rhythms.

But just five blocks to the west, we found a landmark just as arresting, though not for its charm.

The handsome folk Victorian house at 1326 South Mariposa Avenue was built in 1895; the back house in 1951. Two years ago, when the property was listed at $687,500, a marketing video captured a messy home with at least one child in it. It sold for slightly above asking and was soon back on the market, an unaltered flip.

This June, the house sold for $1,300,000. It is presently boarded up, with lurid No Trespassing signs and weeds in the lawn. At the front of the parcel, a huge billboard erected by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway advertises the large, charmless apartment building that is “Coming Soon.”

On a real estate listing website, agent Dan Risch gushes: “Brand new Building Planned and permits in process. 15 – 1 bedroom units planned. Projected income is $2160/unit/ month. Projected gross income estimated a $373,694 annually. 2 affordable units will be built per developer/owner. Ground level parking. Renderings based on plans. Demolition permits in process. Plans are submitted for review. Located in NMTC zone for tax advantages. Buildings in place at present. Demolition permits expected soon.”

NMTC stands for New Markets Tax Credit. Along with the more common, and also applicable TOC or Transit Oriented Communities, it’s the little extra juice that makes it even more appealing for the biggest companies in the world to swoop into poor neighborhoods like Pico-Union in Los Angeles, buy up the existing historic housing stock at a premium price, sit on it for a couple of years and flip it as a tax advantaged development opportunity.

Preservationists in Los Angeles are playing whack-a-mole with developers who seek to destroy the beautiful buildings that make up the very warp and weft of our shared history, simply because old buildings are usually cheaper to purchase than vacant lots, and because a deeply corrupted City Hall enables it. Many notable landmarks have been saved thanks to the efforts of caring individuals and preservation organizations, but many more terrific contributing structures have vanished from the landscape forever.

With companies like Berkshire Hathaway targeting properties like 1326 South Mariposa and erecting billboards touting the fortunes to be made by demolishing them, the potential loss of beautiful and useful buildings is staggering.

But, some argue, Los Angeles is in the grips of a “housing crisis” and we “need” larger structures like the one on the Berkshire Hathaway billboard. Do we really?

We believe that we actually have a housing use crisis, not a housing crisis.

Artificial scarcity, generated by apartment buildings and SRO hotels kept perpetually vacant by corporate investors, large-scale illegal home share listings, “condos” that are nothing of the kind, Ellis Act evictions that empty buildings that then remain empty for years, newly constructed apartments used as filming locations, these and other greedy misuses of housing stock all conspire to create rental costs that far exceed reasonable rates for many Angelenos, even as the city’s population declines.

Until the many disruptive forces that have radically altered the Los Angeles housing market are reigned in, it’s absurd to reward the real estate industry with a stack of blank demolition forms, so they can take yet more essential housing stock off the market, this time with even greater tax benefits.

But the clock is ticking on the street named for the butterfly. Demolition permits have been requested for 1326 South Mariposa. Some day soon, the wreckers will come and pull down two good buildings, replacing them with something out of scale and style with the block. Nobody will ever stop to photograph this generic apartment house in the gilded afternoon light.

A few blocks away, at 1430 Arapahoe Street, we found an official-looking demolition permit on this grand 1885 Victorian, with no corresponding information on file with the city. A man in the next yard noticing us taking photos, asked first if we wanted to buy the house, then when we said we were just worried about it, insisted “It’s just a little remodel, nothing’s getting torn down.”

And the fight for the soul of Los Angeles goes on. We save what we can, and we keep a list of everything teetering on the brink. Won’t you be the city’s eyes, and tell us when a place you love appears to be at risk?