Esotouric’s Los Angeles Historic Preservation 2018 year-end list

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Gentle reader…

As we slam the door on 2018, 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, and that 2019 will see some of the Bittersweets tip over onto the Gains side of the fence.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Gains of 2018:

G1. A Modernist Master Recognized: It began with an impassioned plea from Zev Yaroslavsky to preserve William Pereira’s endangered CBS Television City, an architectural and cultural treasure that supports high paying professional jobs. Then the Los Angeles Conservancy brought in architect and historian Alan Hess, our partner in the Pereira in Peril campaign, to write the successful landmarking nomination. Also involved, property owner CBS, who came to the table to craft a preservation solution for the future of its historic broadcast production campus. The campus just sold, and will be subject to preservation guidelines in any future alterations.

G2. Rock On: If you love music history, Hollywood history, civil rights history and great architecture, then Musicians’ Union Local 47 matters to you. Founded in 1897, its members have shaped motion picture soundtracks since the dawn of the talkies, and uncountable hit records. The handsome Vine Street union hall, master architect Gordon Kaufmann’s last commission, became one of the first integrated performance guilds in America in 1953. The union recently sold the building and moved to Burbank, but the future of the old union hall is secured now that it’s been declared an Historic Cultural Monument. Cheers to John Girodo of Hollywood Heritage for writing a terrific nomination.

G3. Won’t Be Doggone: When Tail o’ the Pup, one of the last programmatic oddball architectural dining attractions standing, became a museum piece, we felt blue. But somehow, the iconic storefront is coming back as a commercial enterprise in the hands of the historically-minded 1933 Group, who are presently restoring the Formosa Café. And that’s a shaggy dog story we don’t mind waiting out.

G4. Bank On It: Downtown’s gorgeous Bank of Italy (Morgan, Walls & Clements, 1923) was shuttered for decades, so when Kim set part of her mystery novel The Kept Girl inside, she had to imagine everything. But this year, the NoMad Hotel completed an elegant adaptive reuse project, transforming a sober commercial building into a sweet social space.

G5. Spinning Wheel (redux): In 2016, on a hot day in sleepy Arcadia, where the last Googie-style Van De Kamp‘s Holland Dutch Bakery restaurant (Harold Bissner, 1967) stands proudly on Huntington Boulevard, Denny’s executives were on hand to throw the switch on the restored, spinning windmill sign, a beloved local landmark brought back to life through the Quixotic efforts of former mayor George Fasching. But months later, the blades snapped and fell through the restaurant’s roof. The future of the landmark sign again seemed uncertain, but happily, the sails are now spinning anew.

G6. Give Me Liberty or Give Me… WHAT?!: Neighbors rallied when Liberty Park (Peter Walker, 1967), a beloved privately-owned modernist landscape in the heart of park-poor Koreatown, was threatened with high-rise development. Tempers flared, culminating when property owner Dr. David Lee of Jamison Services terrorized attendees of a City Hall meeting by threatening to turn his assault rifle on citizens. That creepy stunt backfired, and Liberty Park became a protected Los Angeles landmark soon after.

G7. Landmarking Makes All the Difference: After official designation was granted to the derelict clothing-store-turned-trade-paper-HQ, the Crossroads of the World mega-project now plans to incorporate the Hollywood Reporter building. The adjacent 1930s garden court apartment block, encompassing 80 charming rent stabilized homes, won’t be so lucky (see B18 below).

G8. Exile on San Remo Drive: Thanks to the advocacy of thousands of writers and curators, the German government raised funds to purchase Thomas Mann’s Pacific Palisades home in exile, a modernist gem (J.R. Davidson, 1941) which had been listed for sale at a tear-down price. Slated to become a center for exploring ideas of cultural openness and international values, the first step is the recreation of the writer’s lost library.

G9. Developer, Please: In 1936, William Kesling designed a perfect streamline moderne residence for actor Wallace Beery in the flats of Hollywood, and for eight decades, lucky Angelenos kept the landlocked ocean liner ship-shape. Late last year, property developer Ilan Gorodezki announced his intent to knock the lovely thing down to build condos. But preservation people were paying attention, and drafted a successful landmark nomination. Thanks to the efforts of Charles J. Fisher and Steven Luftman, one of the coolest houses ever built in L.A. might survive to see its centennial.

G10. Heirloom Roses: For a decade, the landmark city-owned Casa de Rosas campus (Sumner Hunt, 1893) sat shuttered and decaying, a target for vandals or squatters, and a sad sight from the window of our Weird West Adams crime bus tours. We’re encouraged to see L.A. finally investing resources to reactivate this fascinating place as much needed low-income housing.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Losses of 2018:

L1. A Long Goodbye: The Mission-style Heather Apartments (Charles C. Rittenhouse, 1910) was one of Westlake’s loveliest old apartment hotels. But after the owner was cited for unpermitted renovations a decade ago, she was boarded up. Despite L.A.’s housing crisis, no law compelled Louis C. Gonzalez to make the 26 rent stabilized apartments available. It’s called demolition by neglect: no need to file for a demo permit, just let time and squatters do their worst. Two fires later, the old gal was doomed and soon demolished.

L2. Last O’Call: Although neglected by the city, a lousy steward of its historic resources, Ports O’ Call Village (1963) remained a beloved South Bay landmark, a place to socialize, promenade and feast on fishy treats. But with a development-focused administration in City Hall, a plan was hatched to erase the village and its small business tenants, leaving a clean slate for a generic corporate complex. Broken promises led to tragedy that the San Pedro community won’t soon forget. Have we learned nothing from the mistakes of Bunker Hill?

L3. Lights Out: Serial landmark wrecker Jason Illoulian hasn’t even got permits for his Sunset Boulevard mega project, and neighbors are organizing to save the block, but the uncertainty has had a killing effect on the row of small businesses. The saddest loss came when Parisian Florist moved away, and gave their signs to the Museum of Neon Art. The destruction of Hollywood’s finest mid-century storefront breaks our heart.

L4. Last Man Standing: Once upon a time, Los Angeles had two thriving book shop districts, one on Hollywood Boulevard, the other in Downtown’s warren of streets south of Central Library. In Hollywood, only the Larry Edmunds Bookshop remains, a favorite stop on our Raymond Chandler tours. Caravan Book Store, the last survivor on Downtown’s Book Row, closed this year, not due to landlord greed or redevelopment fears for once, but because second generation proprietor Leonard Bernstein was ready. Stifling sobs, we rushed down with our photographer pal Craig Sauer to capture the time capsule for posterity in explorable 3-D.

L5. Hollywood’s Silent Movie Theater was gutted as the owners attempt to rebrand the venue, which became toxic after Cinefamily staff spoke out about abuse. It’s not a protected landmark, so there’s no requirement to preserve historic resources, but it would have been cool if they tried.

L6. Clean Slate: RIP Alhambra’s Valley Cleaners, an obsolete bit of roadside signage that made us happy every time we waited to make a left turn up Fremont and now has disappeared.

L7.  R is For Rats: Shame on the Los Angeles School Board for voting to demolish the historic “R Building” at Roosevelt High, at a time when community pride and cultural history is more important than ever for Boyle Heights. Don’t be fooled: the so-called “preservation settlement” is a demolition, which is why no legit preservation group seeking to save Roosevelt’s history signed off on it.

L8. Scorched Earth: The fast-moving Woolsey Fire took the Western Town at Paramount Ranch and the nearly-restored Sepulveda Adobe, but reports of the destruction of the M*A*S*H set were premature.

L9. Sad Trombone: By the time a silent film fan raised the alarm after noticing the demolition permit on the 1904 Tabor House, which had a memorable cameo in the 1927 Our Gang film Dog Heaven, Councilman Paul Koretz had already put through a motion seeking to designate the early westside landmark for preservation. But after the property owner illegally demolished the facade, Koretz’ office says there is no recourse. If you think this gross behavior merits a revised city ordinance that punishes people for knocking down historic-but-unlandmarked buildings, tell your councilperson.

L10. Very Sour: Preservationists fretted, but for a brief moment (see Chapter 2.0.), it looked like Metro would save the Arts District’s beloved Pickle Works warehouse, after all. And then the gorgeous old thing burned down, amidst reports that the city-owned building contained a well-known homeless encampment. Demolition by neglect is always ugly, but especially so when it’s a public asset lost.

L11. Joe Friday Wept: Before the FBI showed up to empty his City Hall office and home of unspecified documents, Councilman Jose Huizar was the one-man wrecking ball sacrificing Los Angeles landmarks to his political ambitions. His (hopefully) last act was the rushed demolition of Parker Center (Welton Becket & Associates and J. E. Stanton, 1955), the world’s first modern police administration building and the finest International Style structure in L.A.’s portfolio, which for all its controversial history, remained an architecturally distinguished and potentially useful structure. But Huizar, who never met a lobbyist he didn’t lick, was determined to clear the east side of the Civic Center in order to privatize and turn it into “a 24-hour destination,” no matter the cost. While that sketchy idea and Huizar’s future might be toast so, regrettably, is Parker Center.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Bittersweet Moments of 2018:

B1. Infrastructure’s Victims: Caltrans has long been a crummy steward of the historic houses where the 710 won’t go, among them Julia Child’s girlhood home. Now that the freeway project is officially kaput, we hope these gems aren’t too far gone for longtime tenants to purchase and restore.

B2. To All My Friends: Tom Bergin’s, a Miracle Mile gem that’s fallen on hard times, has many pals seeking to make its landmark status official lest it be knocked down for redevelopment.

B3. Imitation Is Better Than Nothing: Renderings have been released for proposed redevelopment of William Pereira’s Metropolitan Water District HQ: much demolition, but also partial recreation of the low-rise building at the heart of the 1963 complex.

B4. Summer Coming: It’s been a wild multi-year ride as preservationists and members of the Japanese-American community seek an option to purchase the time capsule buildings and farm at Historic Wintersburg, a nationally significant Japanese-American landmark in Huntington Beach. Will it become a garbage dump, self-storage facility or an interpretive center telling the rich story of an immigrant community? No news is good news, we hope.

B5. Cop Caper: A recent 3-D photoshoot with Craig Sauer revealed the disappearance of Skid Row’s own American Gothic, the painted fire door that we discovered in the King Eddy speakeasy basement more than a decade ago. A reward is offered for its safe return.

B6. C’est la Morte: C.C. de Vere, historian of French Los Angeles, just wanted to know where her beloved statue of Joan of Arc had gone. She ended up uncovering some troubling data about the disappearance of one of the city’s oldest charities, and many millions of dollars. At least she found Saint Joan! Forget it, Jake: it’s Chinatown.

B7. Poor Pedigree: After a fatal arson fire at Dr. Jones Dog & Cat Hospital (Wurdeman and Becket, 1938), developer Arman Gabaee pursued plans to built a glass and steel mediocrity on the site, despite the dogged efforts of citizen preservationists Kate Eggert and Krisy Gosney which were picked up by the Los Angeles Conservancy. But then Gabaee was arrested on Federal bribery and public corruption charges. Tough luck for him, but a lucky break for the legacy of Dr. Jones.

B8. The Landmark Cudgel: Things get weird when politicians make preservation policy. Although Pico Boulevard’s wee Googie-style Orange Julius-turned-L.A.-Burger stand (Armet and Davis, 1963) wasn’t ultimately landmarked, the folded plate roof will be saved, and inspired the retro re-styling of the planned redevelopment project. Bonus: the neighborhood is spared another faux Tuscan slab, and gets its burgers back. That’s better than the Algemac’s project in Glendale, where a beloved Googie diner’s bones were saved, but not its kitchen.

B9. Pu Pu Platter: Tiki-lovers gasped at news that the sprawling Don the Beachcomber (originally Sam’s Sea Food and Hawaiian Village) was closing, its large PCH lot slated for unspecified redevelopment. The interior fixtures might be salvaged for use in a new venue, but there’s no way to replicate the sense of space and creativity of an original mid-century exotica environment on the coast highway. For now, the historic complex still stands, with Art Snyder’s restless spirit gnashing invisible teeth within.

B10. Museum Grow: The clock is ticking on the ambitious proposal to demolish William Pereira’s 1965 LACMA campus and its unfortunate additions for an amoeba-shaped new museum spanning Wilshire Boulevard. Chinese steel tariffs might break the bank.

B11. Machine Rage: A “preservation” hustle unfolds in West Hollywood, as serial landmark wrecker Jason Illoulian gets city approval to move and carve National Register landmark The Factory into a meaningless morsel. But it gets sleazier: Illoulian co-opted the name used by the community activists who fought to save this icon of early Hollywood camera manufacturing and gay culture for his own PR blitz. Cheers to Councilwoman Lauren Meister for taking a lone stand against this dishonest and destructive project.

B12. Spoiled Span: After approving the construction of affordable housing and a children’s park below a bridge that’s long been synoymous with suicides, Pasadena erected unsightly chain link panels blocking access to seating alcoves on the National Register Colorado Street Bridge, then extended the fence the length of the bridge. Historically sensitive design recommendations are promised. They can’t come soon enough.

B13. String ’em Up: Designation as an official city landmark is supposed to offer some protection, but don’t bother telling that to “developer” (this appears to be his only project) Eli Melech, who has been threatening for years to demolish the Bob Baker Marionette Theater and replace it with a puppet-themed apartment building. With a too tiny performance space on offer, the troupe made the tough decision to move on. You can find the road show in historic places like the Pasadena Playhouse and Santa Monica Pier, and chip in to help them plant new roots.

B14. Cooler Than Its Critics: This summer, after decades of neglect and derision, thousands came, like moths to the flame, to the derelict Los Angeles Mall to see Joseph Young’s Triforium come to life with flashing lights synced to live music. It’s a civic artwork, but this wasn’t a city production. Kudos to the grassroots team who pulled it off. Yet despite the great success of the Triforium Fridays series, the fight to save the Triforium is just beginning. The city has a plan to demolish the very plaza it sits on. At least now Angelenos are paying attention.

B15. Gehry the Vandal: Shame on Frank Gehry, who has gone to the courts to secure permission to demolish rather than integrate Kurt Meyer’s lyrical, landmarked Lytton Savings Bank. Meyer put his architecture career on hold to save Central Library; this fine architect and Angeleno deserves better than this.

B16. No Beano: Hideous blob proposed to obliterate Barney’s Beanery, a rare example of a Route 66 roadhouse in the heart of Los Angeles. The scraps of Barney’s facade propped under this mess add insult to injury.

B17: Location Location Location: Another landmarking designation promoted by an L.A. politician is Silver Lake’s streamline moderne steel Texaco station, a proposal that generated a great deal of anti-preservation sentiment before Mitch O’Farrell announced his real plans: to dismantle and ship the station out of the neighborhood. Frogtown has its own architectural landmarks; it’s silly and ahistorical to move one of Silver Lake’s character defining buildings down to the river.

B18. Abuse of Power: A few months before scandal-plagued Councilman Jose Huizar was removed as head of the PLUM Committee, he helmed a shocking meeting during which his crew struck down four newly-declared Hollywood landmarks, all of which conveniently stand in the path of the proposed Crossroads of the World mega project, and made snide remarks about the quality of the Cultural Heritage Commission’s work. We’ll take the CHC’s thoughtful dedication to preserving buildings of merit over PLUM’s development cheerleading any day. With the FBI now investigating Huizar, perhaps all his land use decisions deserve a fresh look?

B19. DOA: Landmark buildings are never more vulnerable than when tenants are evicted ahead of a redevelopment project. In October, Pierce Brothers Mortuary (1924), the crown jewel of West Adams’ Mortuary Row and until recently occupied by a church, was badly damaged by fire. But because the complex is a designated city landmark, the property owners can’t demolish everything, but must work with preservation experts to determine how to best to retain surviving elements and rebuild.

B20. The Best of Times: Because nobody else was doing it, we stepped up and landmarked The Los Angeles Times buildings, then watched as City Council’s PLUM Committee deferred to the wishes of disgraced ex-chair Jose Huizar and Canadian developers Onni Group and carved out the portion of the landmark that would be most profitable to demolish. But although this was an upsetting setback, Times Mirror Square isn’t done for at all. We will continue to shepherd the landmark through any proposed redevelopment, and with each step forward our preservation forces grow, and see clearly the kind of people who run Los Angeles and for whom. With the whole world watching, let’s see what they can get away with now.

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And that’s our report on the state of Los Angeles preservation for 2018. To see past years’ lists, click here: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012. And to stay informed all year round, see our Los Angeles History Happenings group on Facebook, subscribe to our newsletter and visit the Los Angeles Historic Preservation Hotspots map, where you can find nearby trouble spots.

Our guided bus tours return with The Real Black Dahlia on January 5, on the crest of the 72nd anniversary of Beth Short’s disappearance and an especially haunting date to walk in the footsteps of this fascinating and mysterious lady. This tour is nearly full, so reserve soon if you’d like to ride, then stay tuned as we kick off our 12th Anniversary Year of loving, preserving and telling the stories of Los Angeles. See you on (or off) the bus!

yrs,
Kim and Richard
Esotouric

Pickle Works Locked Up and Condemned to Die by Carlton Davis

This is a guest post by Carlton Davis, who was the proprietor of The Art Dock drive-in gallery in the historic Pickle Works building in Downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District in the 1980s. We interviewed Carlton about this extraordinary, endangered landmark in 2013 for Episode #18 of our podcast You Can’t Eat The Sunshine: Peeling Back The Layers of The Arts District. (Update: two weeks later, the Pickle Works burned in an arson fire. Carlton calls out the City and Metro for failing to secure the structure from trespassers whose presence was well known.)

What a tragedy that the City of Los Angeles is actively erasing the history and culture of the Arts District, a neighborhood that no longer supports working artists, while capitalizing on their reputation. God save the Pickle Works! The final decision on its fate will be made at the Regular Metro Board of Directors Meeting on Thursday, October 25.

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Art Dock and Doorways, Citizens Warehouse aka Pickle Works, Los Angeles, CA, August, 2018

Steel bars, angles, and heavy mesh imprison the Art Dock, all the ground floor openings, and doorways of the Citizens Warehouse. No trespassing signs declare violators will be prosecuted for parking on the street. The once vibrant artist residences and studios are vacant and have been since the city of Los Angeles purchased the building in 2000 for construction of the Gold Line light rail extension into East LA. A 60-foot section of the old warehouse next to the First Street Bridge was demolished for construction staging. The destruction was needless. In October 2018, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) eagerly awaits planning permission to demolish what remains of this 1880s brick warehouse with its hand-hewn redwood columns and beams, oak plank floors, and pickle vats in the basement. The Division 20 Environmental Impact Study (DEIR) declared it necessary. This is after MTA’s promises to preserve the building; after passionate historic preservationists’ and art community leaders’ requests that the Citizens Warehouse be saved.

The MTA lied for almost 18 years about its intentions. It made promises to save the building. Community pressure caused LA City’s engineering department to “restore” the south end of the building, which they had left as a plywood-covered eyesore, as a supposedly good faith effort to save the historic structure, which is one of the few, if not the only remaining, brick warehouses dating from the 19th Century, and a significant remnant of the flourishing art community in downtown Los Angeles from the late 1970s to 2000. The Potemkin Village reality that hid the true intentions of the city’s transportation planners is obvious from what was ultimately created on the south end of the structure. The wall was given a plaster veneer, and bolted to the wall were sheet metal images of windows with shutters flanking and flower boxes below included part of the imagery. The phony windows became curled and bent from the sun because of the shoddy method of their installation. The few bolts attaching the painted sheet metal resulted in a strange tableau of twisted metal like crushed pieces of chewing gum slapped to the façade. It is comical, but revealing.

The proclivity of Los Angeles development is to disregard the past as impeding process to the future. While mass transit is desperately needed in a city choked with traffic, it too often comes with the price of bulldozing the city’s existing context. This is nothing new. The fate of the Citizens Warehouse follows the honored stance of development over everything else. Now locked up inside steel bars the empty building seems haunted by the ghosts of wild spirits it once held. The warehouse/pickle works is condemned to death for being too full of creative energy. Once an important element of a burgeoning art community, the lost lofts become a metaphor for the lose of the art community in the Los Angeles Arts District. A neighborhood of rambunctious energy turns into a tame zone of cell phone-preoccupied and latte-sipping crowds of wannabes.

Designated the Arts District by the city, the area east of Alameda celebrated and declared Los Angeles’ rise to be a world class center of multi-faceted culture. More than just a cinema capital, LA matures into an art Mecca rivaling New York, London, and Paris. The Arts District, however, is no longer a realization of art’s importance in LA; it is a very profitable real estate venture. The district has become a developer’s dream. Cheaper land close to the government and business centers of the metropolis invited capital investment in new apartment buildings replacing the low density lofts. A few lofts remain, but the square foot cost rose from 12 cents paid in 1980 to an estimated 2 dollars or more currently. Artists can no longer afford to live in the Arts District. Many of the loft warehouses have morphed into restaurants and chic shops. Others warehouses have been demolished or soon will be. This is the fate of the Citizens Warehouse. The change is inevitable.

In New York City, what was once a viable loft scene, affordable live/work spaces have become the habitats of the rich. Soho has galleries and fancy restaurants, but not many working artists. Galleries pander to the acquisitive desires of the well-off who can afford the rents. Artists have dispersed into other boroughs and cities. In Los Angeles, artists scattered to other neighborhoods. The Arts District became attractive. Where there once few restaurants, the area has some pretty expensive eateries. Internationally renowned gallery Hauser & Wirth established itself on Third Street in the heart of the Arts District. It is the punctuation mark on the change that is and will become the icon of another reality about art zones. It’s all about money and who gets it. Except for a few, most artists don’t get the money, but many artists attract the money to where they were. Culture evolves from creativity to financial gain.

The Art Dock installations in the 1980s. Karen Kristin’s Wolf at the Door (above) and Drew Lesso’s and Neal Taylor’s Pile of Leaves in the dock and coal in the street (below)

A Virtual 3-D Tour of Mitchell Caverns, Southern California’s Only Show Cave

Welcome to the tenth in a series of 3-D explorable tours of off-the-beaten-path Southern California spaces, created by Craig Sauer of Reality Capture Experts using cutting-edge Matterport technology.

We’re passionate about all of these virtual tours, but this one is pretty special: seven months in the making, comprising the largest, most ancient, most collaborative and most geographically remote scan in the series. (It also comes sprinkled with a smattering of mystical fairy dust.)

There we were, celebrating Kim’s birthday with a private guided tour of the newly-reopened Mitchell Caverns show cave, high in the Providence Mountains near the Arizona border.

Dedicated State Parks ranger/interpreter Andy Fitzpatrick unlocked the gates and took us on a trip back and forward in time, from the limestone cave’s violent geological prehistory, its fossil deposits, ritual use by the native Shoshone people, reinvention as a Route 66 roadside attraction, vandalism by Oliver Stone’s The Doors crew and amateur jackasses, then down into the dust by the side of the pathway to dig the miniature current inhabitants (Niptus beetles and pseudoscorpions).

He even turned out all the newly installed LED spotlights, allowing us a moment in the complete darkness at the center of the earth, then switched on a black light to reveal delicate streams of bat urine on the cave walls. It’s quite the “gross… but cool!” show stopper that nicely echoes the showmanship of the roadside attraction era.

There’s nothing we enjoy more than exploring a completely unique environment with someone who knows and loves it intimately, and you can hear Andy talk about these amazing caverns in episode 126 of our podcast, You Can’t Eat The Sunshine.

And to learn more about the wacky, bush wacking roadside attraction days, check out the posthumously published Keepers of the Caves: A True Account of Twenty Years of Modern Pioneering by Jack Mitchell, a weird and wonderful tale of an iconoclast and his incredibly tolerant wife in Depression-era Southern California.

Like all good roadside attractions, the Mitchell place had a novelty building, a nifty stone hut meant to suggest an igloo, and traditionally offered to honeymooning guests.

The sonic qualities of the curved interior are said to be… amusing. Take a virtual tour of the space here.

That evening at the caverns, as the sun slipped behind the mountain and the wide desert plain and historic stone houses purpled, Richard had an idea. “Hey, Andy–do you think our friend Craig could do a 3-D scan of the cave?” And as is Richard’s way, he was already phoning Craig before Andy had a chance to reply. And this is where the fairy dust sparkled.

As Craig tells it, “The morning before Richard called me (from the Caverns!) I had been taking with my barber about the especially cool places I’ve scanned, including JK’s Tunnel and Jergins Tunnel. When I got home, I sat down at my computer and Googled ‘Southern California caves’ and up popped Mitchell Caverns, which I had not heard about before. I learned that they had recently been reopened and thought how amazing it would be to get access to them. But then I saw how far away it was and how unlikely it would be for me to convince someone there to let me scan it. Not one hour later, I got the call from you and Richard, standing there with Andy!”

Apparently, whatever happy spirits inhabit Mitchell Caverns are eager to spread the word.

It took a little fiddling to get approval from the state and coordinate a block of scanning time, but soon the project was a go. Craig’s colleague Michael Asgian joined him in creating the digital file, each starting from one end of the caverns. In addition to the speedy Matterport camera, they used the new Leica BLK 360 camera, which records 3D data with a laser scanner, and better captures the vast open spaces in the caves, as well as the sunny entrances.

While the public can once again book a tour of Mitchell Caverns, the remoteness of the site and limited capacity makes it a difficult place to explore. But thanks to new 3-D scanning technology and a lucky collision of interested people, you can virtually visit at your convenience.

Just click the cave entrance below and prepare to be humbled by the awesome power of water, wind and time. Along the way, you’ll find some pop-up windows, offering information about some of the curious creatures who have been captured by the trail cameras, notable mineral formations and stories from the caverns’ history.

The results are truly astonishing, and we’re thrilled to be able to share Mitchell Caverns with you.

 

The Baltimore Hotel, Empty No More

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The Baltimore Hotel opened in 1910 with all good intentions, a first-class reinforced concrete, fireproof structure just across Fifth Street from John Parkinson’s handsome 1906 King Edward Hotel.

The owner-builder was T. Ashton Fry, and the architect Arthur Roland Kelly, whose later commissions include the William S. Hart estate and the Arthur Letts, Jr. estate (better known as the Playboy Mansion).

There were 215 rooms and apartments, and the style was said to be Spanish Colonial (we don’t see it). Today there are 202 rooms, but only 76 residents, which is a troubling statistic for a building that is legally bound to operate as low-income housing for decades to come. But as at the King Edward, tenancy declined precipitously since it was purchased out of bankruptcy in 2012. Neighborhood reporter JD Kelly (Universal Network News) documented the hotel’s habitability crisis, but the city just let it slide.

But that was then.

The Baltimore, like its neighbor King Edward and Charles Bukowski’s beloved Madison deeper East in Skid Row, has now been purchased by the Healthy Housing Foundation of AIDS Healthcare, and will soon be filled with formerly homeless and chronically ill Angelenos in need of a place to call home. In addition to housing people, and restoring decaying historic elements of these landmark buildings, HHF is trying to make a point: adaptive reuse of SRO hotel facilities is much cheaper and faster than building new ground up housing, and should be part of L.A. city’s and county’s policy for dealing with the homeless crisis. As preservationists who care about our homeless neighbors and fiscal responsibility, we think it’s an idea worth talking about.

To celebrate the purchase, The Baltimore will be open for tours today from 10:30am-12:30pm.

Here’s just a taste of her fascinating 108-year history:

When she opened, Angelenos called her the “New” Baltimore, to distinguish from the hotel’s original location at 7th & Olive. That was such a prime piece of downtown real estate that in 1907, the Los Angeles Athletic Club bought the turreted 1896 hotel for $450,000 with the intention of demolishing it; its new, million dollar clubhouse was erected on the site in 1912, and still stands.

The New Baltimore, a more modest establishment than the original, was completed by fall 1910. Among the first guests to check in was a union fellow from back east, just stopping briefly in Los Angeles to place a dynamite bomb against a wall of General Otis’ open shop Los Angeles Times. 21 people died. (Yes, we have a bus tour about it.)

And the Baltimore, which in its old digs had regularly featured in the society pages as a site for banquets and social shindigs, seems to have adopted a deliberately low profile, perhaps reasoning no press was better than “visit the New Baltimore, favorite stop of terrorist bombers.”

Civil War Musicians in a Memorial Day parade, Los Angeles Street, between 5th & 6th Streets, looking north, Los Angeles, ca.1915 (USC, California Historical Society Collection)

Upon completion, T. Ashton Fry had leased the hotel out to operators C.W. and E.E. Hatch. This arrangement immediately went south. In May 1911, Fry sued the Hatches in superior court for $8587 in unpaid rent, and $5000 in damages. In addition to stiffing Fry on rent, the Hatches had permitted contractor J.H. Proper (aka The Human Mole) to illegally excavate a west-leading tunnel beneath Werdin Alley, through which sewer, hot water and steam pipes were run between the Baltimore and the Conda and Renne hotels on South Main Street. Proper’s network of Downtown service tunnels, all dug in violation of city law, came to light when one connecting the Alexandria Hotel and Chester Williams Building caused a cave-in of Fifth Street.

 

Later managers avoided such controversy. But the world was changing fast, and the solid Beaux Arts travelers lodgings of 1910, with modest lobbies and simple accommodations, couldn’t compete for the travelers’ dollar with air conditioned, modern hotels, with their cocktail lounges, swimming pools and marketing budgets.

The hotel’s ads, when they bothered to run them, spotlighted the good food in the trendy, cafeteria-style dining room. Patrons liked visually confirming that their meals would be agreeable, and saving money on tips; these show-me lunchrooms became so popular that one wag nicknamed Los Angeles “Sunny Cafeteria.” But a good cafeteria wasn’t enough to bring in the tourist trade.

Downtown’s energies migrated westward. Fifth Street had once been the way into town for visitors arriving at the various train depots near the river, and grand East-facing rooftop and wall signs welcomed them. But when arrivals were consolidated at Union Station, The Nickel lost its luster.

In time, The Baltimore became a residency hotel, offering rooms by the week, weeks turning into years. And when the Rolling Stones made Los Angeles their base for portions of their 1970 American tour, Robert Frank brought them down to pre-redevelopment Skid Row to shoot some promotional film for the Exile on Main Street project (yes, it’s L.A.’s Main Street!) in which the Baltimore’s awning has a brief cameo above Charlie Watts’ shoulder.

Over on Main Street itself, a little logo inspiration was found at a dirty picture house.

But back to Baltimore and its 108 years at the center of the action. A spin through the newspaper archives reveals a house of sorrows and occasional flashes of mirth.

Christmas week, 1911: as oil driller Frank Miller attempts to slash the throat of his common law wife Josephine Swift on the sidewalk in front of the Baltimore—her teenage daughter wrestled the razor away—Marie Pinson, aged 18, is discovered semi-conscious and despondent in a 3rd floor restroom. She tells manager E. H. Hess that she’d run away from her home in Los Angeles intending to join a motion picture company, but had lost her $100 stake and couldn’t find work. Happily, Miss Pinson was only drunk and not poisoned.

July 1914: the hotel is the site of a weird, locked door mystery. Elwood Beaver, a Philadelphia railroad man on a cross-country tourist jaunt, checked in on a Sunday afternoon. He went to his room and was not seen again. The chambermaid knocked daily, but got no response. On Tuesday afternoon, concerned hotel staff broke his door down and discovered Beaver gasping on the floor, near death. The room was spattered with blood, and Beaver’s skull and arm were fractured. It would be reasonable to presume the visitor had been attacked, but nobody had heard a fight, and the room still contained Beaver’s cash, watch and other effects. After the dying man was carried away, detectives examined the scene and determined that Beaver had suffered a violent attack of tuberculosis, spraying blood and injuring himself while trying, in vain, to call for help.

September 1916: suffering from depression relating to the impact of the Great War on his numerous international investments, Canadian real estate and mine owner J. Anson Wheeler, 54, slipped away from his bride Isabelle in their apartment in the Bryson overlooking Westlake Park and spent nine days brooding in a room at the Baltimore. Then he checked out, for good. Detectives hired by Mrs. Wheeler conveyed the grim news that when Wheeler had shot himself in his hotel room, he had in his hand her newspaper photograph announcing their recent wedding, on which he had written “Darling wife, please forgive me.” He was buried at Monrovia, with the first Mrs. Wheeler.

July 1916: Miss Christine Buist, until recently Mrs. Dr. Horace Pierce of Santa Barbara, doggedly worked the Baltimore’s serpentine telephone exchange. She was the daughter of a millionaire, and her former husband’s people were rich, too. But her pride was such that she needed to earn her fare back home to New Jersey, and so had refused alimony from her estranged spouse and would not ask her family for help. The lady’s public complaints must have been particularly humiliating for the Pierce family; having failed to secure $100,000 in an alienation of affection suit against them, perhaps that was payment enough.

August 1922: When she checked in under a pseudonym to rest up from an exhausting day, she was a nobody. But soon Clara Phillips was the notorious Tiger Woman, on the lam after crushing the skull of her husband’s mistress with a hammer. That no-account husband parked Clara “Jackson” at the Baltimore while scheming how to get her out of town, and his hair. When asked later about her stay, Clara claimed to have suffered absolute amnesia from the moment of the murder—which she blamed on her pal Peggy Caffee—to when she woke up in her room. There’s another marketing line never used: “The Baltimore Hotel: You’ll Sleep Like A Baby, No Matter What You’ve Done.”

Let’s leave the Baltimore’s back pages with a sweeter sort of tale. In 1971 and again in 1972, the great Los Angeles Times columnist Jack Smith wrote about his friends Bill and Maggi Bender, the hotel’s managers who lived on the 6th floor with their pet iguana, Heathcliff. The Benders “prefer an iguana to a dog because an iguana requires more imagination, which is why they prefer old radio to contemporary television.” The couple, young actors who loved their colorful neighborhood, were hardcore collectors of old time radio air check tapes, and welcomed friends like Smith to sit for hours in the heart of Skid Row, eyes closed and listening to golden age recordings of Jack Benny, The Green Hornet, Lum n’ Aber, Fred Allen and scores more.

The Benders were special people, as Smith observed. Where business interests saw a slum worth wrecking filled with dirty, useless people, the Benders saw a great place to call home, packed with interesting architecture and colorful characters, like Porno Bill who ran the bookstore and Frank the hallelujah man. And Dodger Stadium and the Music Center were each only 12 minutes away (“we saw ‘Man of La Mancha four times!'”).

Time has a way of flickering in and out of focus at the corner of Fifth and Los Angeles Streets, and bringing interesting people into port. Why not come by some time and see what the Baltimore has in store for you? Here are some of the gems you might see.

Los Angeles Times Globe Lobby Emptied of Historic Resources Ahead of Landmark Hearing

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When the Office of Historic Resources received our nomination to make Times Mirror Square a protected Los Angeles landmark in June, notification was made to property owner Onni Group and to the newspaper’s new owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong that the historic resources described in the nomination were not to be disturbed, pending determination of landmark status. We understand that communication came not only from the Office of Historic Resources, but from the Mayor’s Office as well.

We were particularly concerned, because Dr. Soon-Shiong was giving interviews talking about the museum of L.A. Times history he hoped to build in the paper’s new headquarters in El Segundo, specifically mentioning wanting to move the enormous aluminum globe out of its namesake Globe Lobby.

We heard that workers had measured the globe and had an idea for how to get it off its art deco base and into a moving truck. And when we asked a conservationist who had worked on the lobby’s restoration, they told us that there was no way to remove the stone and metal base without destroying it. The base, too, is an historic resource listed in the nomination.

So we felt great relief once the nomination was received and everyone who might mess with the lobby understood it was not to be touched.

With the first hearing before the Cultural Heritage Commission just five days away, The Globe Lobby was supposed to be safe. But this morning, we saw posts on Times’ employee social media stating that the iconic eagle sculpture by Gutzon Borglum, which had survived the 1910 bombing of the Times and was one of the listed historic resources in the landmark nomination, had been removed.

We raced downtown to see for ourselves, and through the dark glass of the Globe Lobby doors found that the situation was even worse: the eagle was gone, and so were the sculpted busts of the newspaper’s first four publishers (General Otis, Harry Chandler, Norman Chandler and Otis Chandler). The Globe is alone, in a defaced space that looks like a plucked chicken.

We don’t know for certain if this is true, but the buzz on social media is that the sculptures have been removed by the Los Angeles Times and taken to the city of El Segundo.* This is a direct violation of Los Angeles’ historic preservation ordinance, and an action that shows a profound disrespect for the newspaper’s history, for the public and for the law.

Has respect for the rule of law ever mattered more than in 2018?

When we go before the Cultural Heritage Commission on Thursday, we will be advocating for the preservation of buildings that are among the most significant in Southern California. We have limited time in which to abstract the book-length nomination, calling out the important people, civic campaigns, industries and ideas that originated at Times Mirror Square, as well as the compound’s architectural significance. It pains us to have to dedicate some of that precious time to telling the Commissioners about this vandalism. It pains us still more to think that the new owner of the Los Angeles Times would do such a thing.

Please join us, through an email or in person, as we speak for the stone, the neon, the glass and the Globe… before it’s too late!


* update: Laura J. Nelson of the Los Angeles Times tweeted this photo, captioned “The @latimes eagle has flown the coop in downtown L.A. A security guard took this photo over the weekend.”

laura j nelson tweet of eagle removed july 16 2018

How Canadian Developer Onni Group “Preserved” the Art Deco Seattle Times Building

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Stop us if you’ve heard this one before:

A venerable local newspaper, fallen on hard times in the aftermath of the financial crisis, sells its architecturally-significant, centrally-located Art Deco headquarters and two attached buildings, comprising an entire city block, to a multi-national development company. The developer expresses affection for the site’s history, and makes preservation of the main newspaper building the centerpiece of a proposed project. The twin-tower mixed-use residential, retail and public plaza project is vastly out of scale and requires zoning changes. When preservationists express concern about protection of the historic resources, they’re assured that the developer is a good steward with the best intentions. Besides, we’re in a housing crisis, so build, baby, build!

Sound familiar? If you’re a Californian, you might recognize the beats of the recent history of the Los Angeles Times, with the paper’s real estate split off under Tribune’s ownership and its historic headquarters sold to Vancouver-based Onni Group.

But the story you just read is actually about the landmarked Seattle Times ( Robert C. Reamer, 1931), which Onni Group purchased in 2013 and neglected so profoundly that the normal rules for protected buildings were waived: in February 2016, Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections approved (archive link) immediate demolition of the landmark for reasons of public safety.

November 2015: “Squatters leave the old Seattle Times building at 1120 John St., after waking up during Thursday’s fire” (Steve Ringman / Seattle Times)

During the first three years of Onni’s ownership, the Seattle Times became a squatter’s den (archive link), home to hundreds of homeless people, their pets and their troubles. Metal thieves operated openly, stripping the landmark of its historic artifacts and plumbing. The squatters were rousted, but immediately returned, prying off the thin plywood panels Onni Group installed to keep them out. When the police ordered the landlord to properly secure the building, Onni Group missed the deadline. Taxpayers covered the costs of constant police and paramedic calls. There were fires, overdoses, gas leaks and suffering that can’t be quantified.

Then came the wrecking ball and bulldozers, spelling the end of the Seattle Times and a clearing a nearly clean slate for a massive development, recently changed from housing to office towers, in the shadow of the Amazon.com headquarters.

February 2017: An old press that once printed the Sunday color comics section is partially exposed. (Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)

(But before the walls came down, the newspaper building told one last story. Up on the roof, a hand-made banner went up the flagpole. The Times printed a photo and reported on the common ¢ents activists who were calling for Seattle’s hundreds of vacant buildings to be made available to serve the city’s homeless population. That’s a conversation Los Angeles should be having, too.)

Demolition began in October 2016. Today, just a couple of sad walls from the landmark Seattle Times building survive, and Onni Group is busily building upward.

The Art Deco Los Angeles Times Building is not a protected city landmark like the Seattle Times Building was. We believe it should be a landmark, which is why we’ve filed an Historic-Cultural Monument application, which is now under consideration, with a hearing on July 19 (Update: the second hearing is Thursday, September 20 and we still need your comments and emails!). At the direction of the Office of Historic Resources, our application includes all three entwined historic structures on the site: Gordon B. Kaufmann’s 1935 Times Building (including the Globe Lobby and its fixtures), Rowland H. Crawford’s 1948 Mirror tower and William L. Pereira’s 1973 corporate headquarters. These three buildings together tell the story of the Los Angeles Times and Southern California.

Some people believe that it’s only Pereira’s building that is threatened by Onni Group’s plans. But the Pereira can’t be demolished without tearing a giant hole in the Art Deco Kaufmann building’s west facade. And the Pereira is a good, if unfashionable, building that deserves to be considered on its architectural merits, which are largely invisible from street level, but reveal themselves when you step inside.

As Harry Chandler told the Los Angeles Times, “Developers are wont to change their minds based on market conditions, not preservation needs. [Onni] is not an L.A. company and they don’t have credentials for caring for historic buildings in our city. We shouldn’t leave that to chance.”

He’s right.

Onni Group might prove to be a better steward of our great newspaper’s home than they were in Seattle. It would be hard to be a worse one.

But let’s not just take their word for it. Please join us at the Cultural Heritage Commission on Thursday, July 19 and speak for the stone, the neon, the glass and the Globe. (Update: the second hearing is Thursday, September 20 and we still need your comments and emails!) These buildings shaped the Southern California we love, and they deserve to be preserved.

Workmanship of such poor quality is not acceptable.

Find the Fire Door! 3-D Tour of Downtown L.A.’s King Eddy Saloon Speakeasy Reveals A Vanished Cultural Treasure

king edward 3d preview

Welcome to the ninth in a series of 3-D explorable tours of off-the-beaten-path Los Angeles spaces, created by Craig Sauer of Reality Capture Experts using cutting-edge Matterport technology.

This tour takes you behind the scenes of John Parkinson’s 1906 King Edward Hotel, recently purchased by the Healthy Housing Foundation so its scores of vacant SRO rooms can be made available to low-income tenants.

In addition to the exquisite lobby with its Egyptian marble details, vintage rolling wall safe, mosaic tile floor, faux marble scagliola columns (soon to be restored!) and dolphin fish wall fountain, we also go upstairs to explore the room upgrades in progress, and into the basement, packed with incredible artifacts of 112 years as a working apartment-hotel. Don’t miss the collection of massive iron boilers in the northwest corner, too big to remove when they became obsolete.

We share these immersive photo projects to bring fellow history lovers along with us into spaces that are often hard to visit, experiencing transition and rich in layers that reward a deeper look.

This is the first time, while documenting an historic space, that we’ve uncovered evidence of a crime!

But before revealing details of that crime, and asking for your help in solving it, let’s go back to the beginning, at least to our beginning as professional tour guides. When we launched Esotouric in 2007, one of the Los Angeles writers we celebrated was John Fante. We successfully nominated the intersection of 5th & Grand outside Central Library as John Fante Square, got to know Fante’s family, marked his centennial, sought out time capsule locations that Fante would still recognize and generally did our part to honor a fine, unjustly neglected artist.

The most resonant Fante location proved to be the King Eddy Saloon, the last of the old school Skid Row dive bars, and a featured location in the 1939 novel Ask The Dust. In the book, Fante’s literary alter ego Arturo Bandino blows his first royalty check on one of the b-girls hustling in the basement speakeasy.

In 2008, while filming an episode of Cities of the Underworld in the junk-filled basement, our Richard Schave was among the first people in decades to see a Skid Row masterpiece emerge from the dust: a big metal fire door that separated the bar from the hotel basement, expertly painted with a comic scene of an old fashioned cop rousting a drunk on a bench.

Over the next few years, we had numerous opportunities to take groups down into the speakeasy, and to see how the fire door thrilled people. Every group asked if the speakeasy could ever come back. Word got around about the real speakeasy (something rare as hen’s teeth in a city filled with “speakeasies”) beneath the King Eddy, and other bar owners lusted after the space.

In 2012, the King Edward Hotel changed hands after a death and bankruptcy. The Croik family, owners of the bar since the early 1960s, found themselves without a lease. To stay on, they’d need to agree to invest big money in the speakeasy and to make major changes to the working man’s bar upstairs. Investing in the speakeasy was a no-brainer, but the latter demand went against the Croiks’ ethics as the stewards of that fragile ecosystem, the last Skid Row bar. Grandson Dustin couldn’t be the person to dismantle an environment crafted over three generations, by his father and grandfather before him, a place that meant so much to The Regulars.

So with more than a little sadness, it was announced that the King Eddy would be closing at the end of 2012. We organized a special night of farewell speakeasy tours, led by Dustin, then put the video of that night aside, too sad to do anything with it, until now.

The new owners, ACME Hospitality Group, were nice and loved the bar’s history, and we kept bringing groups down to tour the speakeasy (here’s ACME’s Jonny Valenti showing a private John Buntin organized crime history tour group around).

But the promised big money investment demanded of the Croik family never happened, and the numerous changes to the working man’s bar upstairs didn’t click. From 2015 through today, the bar changed hands a couple of times, and we could never connect with the new owners to learn about their plans for the precious speakeasy.

Okay, enough background. So what about the crime?

Summer 2018. There we were in the dark and cavernous western side of the hotel basement, helping to set up lights so Craig could complete his 3-D scan and excited to show him the lesser-known hotel side of the Weirton Steel fire door (painted with a comely Dutch girl serving a foamy beer to a baby-faced sailor), when we discovered the unthinkable.

That magnificent painted fire door, Skid Row’s own American Gothic and the centerpiece of the historic basement speakeasy, had been TAKEN OFF ITS HINGES AND SPIRITED AWAY!

You can see the hole where the door should be over Craig’s shoulder at left in the photo below.

According to hotel staff, one day several years ago, they noticed that this integral piece of building safety infrastructure had been removed. They put a large piece of plywood up to cover the hole in the wall between the bar and the hotel basement, securing it on the hotel side. The plywood panel is visible in this speakeasy tour video shared by Oddity Odysseys in June 2017, and in the screen grab below.

The new owners of the King Edward Hotel, the Healthy Housing Foundation, love the building’s history and very much want to see this lost artifact returned and preserved. We asked Miki Jackson of HHF what message she had for anyone who might know where the fire door is now. Miki says, “The King Edward and the King Eddy Saloon basement speakeasy are just not the same without our cantankerous cop, our resident miscreant, our charming Dutch girl, the mischievous sailor and his beer! They have gotten lost; please send them back home. We are honoring the long and colorful history of the famed King Edward Hotel and this painted door is a very important part of that history. Please help us find it.”

The Healthy Housing Foundation is offering a reward of $300, a behind-the-scenes tour of the building and a round of beers in the King Eddy Saloon for the return of the King Eddy’s historic fire door. Because we love the door and feel responsible for rediscovering it in the first place, we’re throwing in tickets for the person who helps return the door and three friends to ride our Downtown L.A. true crime history tour, Hotel Horrors & Main Street Vice or, if you’re more bookish than ghoulish, Charles Bukowski’s Los Angeles.

Somebody knows where the painted fire door is now. And as cool as this artifact is out of its historic context, we hope they can see that it ought to be returned to the King Eddy cellar, the room it was created to decorate.

Please help spread the word by sharing this blog post and the missing posters below. And if you know where the door is or where it’s been since it was last seen around 2015, please say something and help bring this precious cultural artifact home, so future generations can be as charmed as we were when we brought it back into the light ten years ago.

REWARD

with any info

CONTACT Kim and Richard

tours@esotouric.com

213-915-8687

http://www.esotouric.com/KingEddyDoor