JK’s Tunnel: An Unknown Hobo Folk Art Environment on the L.A. River

When our friend Susan Phillips–the graffiti scholar who recently took us to the Confluence of the Los Angeles River and Arroyo Seco to see century-old hobo inscriptions–told us about a riverside tunnel that had been elaborately carved by one anonymous artist around 1940, we were eager to see it.

JK's Tunnel entrance

Today, we were able to satisfy our curiosity about the obscure site that Susan calls “JK’s Tunnel” while helping to document this extraordinary and hard-to-reach place.

Joining us was Craig Sauer, a photographer who uses Matterport 3D Showcase technology to create virtual tours of physical spaces. Most of his work is commercial (real estate), but he has a passion for offbeat historical spaces and reached out asking if we could help him gain access to someplace special. As it happened, we had just the site in mind.

Craig Sauer prepares to scan JK's Tunnel

Craig Sauer gives the thumbs up

After we determined that the level of light inside JK’s Tunnel would be low enough for details to be captured, we made the date. And this morning found our eager crew tramping through the high grass and down a little wash to explore the womb-like space where the mysterious JK carved his intriguing explosions of word salad.

JK's Tunnel 4 Leaf Klover

Probably using a railroad spike as a chisel, the artist painstakingly carved important words and phrases into the smooth concrete vault of the tunnel. He lists American cities and years and the names of guns. He writes LANA TURNER and STAY OUT OF JAIL. He writes MEXICO AND REBEL LAND.

And up on the ceiling he carves an urgent litany evoking wartime mass movement: TRUCKS AUTOS MAIL SHIPS PAINTINGS AIRPLANES ARMNENTS MUNITIONS FACTORIES JOBS POSTAGE MILLS BOTTLES KLOTHING SHELTER.

JK's Tunnel: WW2 Word Salad

Whoosh–can’t you just see it rushing by JK’s safe little tunnel home?

Who was this artist? On these walls, he calls himself John Kristian, Johnny K, Johnson Kraft, Johnny Kake, Journeyman Kavalier, John Kook and plain old JK. We don’t know his real name or when he was born or died, and maybe we never will.

We just know that sometime around 1940, he came to this quiet place by the river and took all the time he needed to capture the voices in his head on the smooth tunnel walls. And standing there inside JK’s Tunnel, with the trains and the river passing by, despite all the years and layers of paint from graffiti artists who came after, he spoke to us. Now through Craig’s wonderful 3-D rendering, he can speak to you, too.

 

An Esotouric Day Trip to Helena Modjeska’s Canyon Retreat

On a cool, spring day we left Los Angeles early, bound for the Orange County canyon home of Helena Modjeska, the great 19th century Polish actress who learned English in mid-life and tirelessly toured America, bringing culture and emotional honesty to the people.

Our journey felt a bit like time travel, as the busy freeway traffic thinned and gave way to rolling hills covered with grass. Then up a narrow canyon, past olive groves and giggling turkeys running free, we found Arden, the house and garden where Modjeska went to recharge her soul after giving everything to her audiences. Today it is a National Register landmark with a devoted interpretive docent staff. We were the only people on the tour, and our guide Jan graciously shared the secrets of the house and indulged our many questions.

We hope you enjoy Kim’s photos from Mme. Modjeska’s wonderful house, a rare example of Stanford White’s architecture in California. You can see Richard’s photos of the grounds here. To plan your own visit, visit the OC Parks website. Recommended reading: Starring Madame Modjeska: On Tour in Poland and America.

The Death of the Old Long Beach Courthouse (1960-2016)

Today we bid farewell to the old Long Beach Courthouse, designed by Kenneth S. Wing and Francis J. Heusel, 1960, demolished March 2016. Demolition of Old Long Beach Courthouse, March 2016 photo by Louise Ivers P1010896

These photos taken earlier this week are by architectural historian Dr. Louise Ivers of Long Beach Heritage, a great voice in the campaign to save and adaptively reuse the building. The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Docomomo SoCal (pdf link) and the Los Angeles Conservancy were also on the case.

Demolition of Old Long Beach Courthouse, March 2016 photo by Louise Ivers  P1010900

Demolition of Old Long Beach Courthouse, March 2016 photo by Louise Ivers P1010906

Long Beach Press-Telegram article from 2013 includes many of the reasons the city gave for wanting to knock down all the buildings in its neglected mid-century Civic Center.

Why has Long Beach been in such a rush to demolish everything and not consider adaptive reuse options? Perhaps because the city is dead set on handing a clean slate of cleared public land over to a private developer.

Thank you, Dr. Ivers, for bearing witness to this week’s ugly end to a good building. This is the hardest part of a preservationist’s work. May the pain of loss give strength for your next battle. Onward!

Help Save The Bob Baker Marionette Theater

bob baker clown save me

The Bob Baker Marionette Theater needs your help! Click here to send an email of support.

THE STORY: A developer wants to build a big apartment building on the site of this historic landmark. We believe that there can be apartments, but also a working puppet theater on this site.

Please! Share this blog post and show your support for this gem of mid-century Los Angeles by visiting the Bob Baker website and sending an email to the Planning Department, asking that the theater be included in the approved redevelopment plan.

Here’s our Kim Cooper’s email to the Planning Department, with some points you may wish to echo:

Dear Planning Department,

I write to express my strong opinion that any redevelopment of the Bob Baker Marionette Theater site should include a functioning puppet theater.

It was only six years ago that City Council declared the theater an Historic-Cultural Monument (#958), an honor that is richly deserved for the decades of entertainment that Bob Baker and his crew have given to the families of Los Angeles.

It is my understanding that Bob Baker lost control of this property through a series of deceptive, if not outright fraudulent, transactions, and that the theater was sold at below market value. A reasonable profit can be made with a redevelopment project that allocates space for the puppet theater as a paying tenant, in addition to many residential units.

The retention of the puppet theater tenant will also serve the community by ensuring that this site retains its lively street life, instead of becoming a walled, residential garden, and through the continued training of puppeteers, many of them local youths.

You can do the citizens of Los Angeles a great service by insisting that the developer make room for a functioning Bob Baker Marionette Theater in the development that seeks to demolish this world renowned landmark.

Thank you for your consideration.

best regards,
Kim Cooper, Historian
Los Angeles

An Esotouric Road Trip: Cupples House, Saint Louis

Most Saturdays, we host a few dozen “gentle riders” on the Esotouric tour bus, revealing the lost lore of Los Angeles through visits to landmarks both notable and obscure.

Because most of our passengers are Southland locals, we don’t offer tours during the busy Christmas season, which gives us the opportunity to play tourist ourselves. Mid-December found us on a breakneck architecture-rich road trip along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Join us, do, for a virtual journey (map) from St. Louis to Louisville ahead of the brutal December storms.

We flew into Saint Louis, picked up a rental car and headed straight to the Samuel Cupples House on the campus of Saint Louis University, a magnificent red sandstone Richardsonian Romanesque merchant’s castle laden with leaded glass, carved wood and quirky antiques.

Cupples House facade

Now on the National Register, in the early 1970s the mansion’s interior was in rough shape from decades of heavy use as a student center and the exterior stonework stained black from soot. Demolition was planned when “Father Mac,” a natural preservationist who wouldn’t take no for an answer, announced his intention to save, restore and repurpose the place as an historical museum. And boy, did he ever!

 

The student docent at the front desk gave us a thick booklet explaining the decorative symbolism in each of the 42 rooms, then set us free to wander until the daylight faded. From a cosy red-flocked library with generous window seat…

Cupples Library fisheye

to elegant dining rooms, every surface polished to a high sheen…

Cupples House dining room

to charming fireplace surrounds, each one different than the one before…

Fireplace, Cupples House

to charming rafter rooms, pressed into service as wee art galleries….

Cupples House round arch

and briefly outside again, to admire the generous porch and its softening sandstone details ahead of the dusk…

Cupples House porch

And finally up to the highest point of the house, to gaze out over the ugly modern city through a charming metal frame. Could architect Thomas B. Annan have conceived of such a world when he constructed Mr. Cupples’ castle? Maybe only in his nightmares.

Cupples House view

Although the old world has great appeal, it was getting late, and we knew there were adventures to be had out there in the new. So we said goodbye to the house that Father Mac brought back from the brink of demoliton, and went out to find them.

See more photos from our exploration of the Cupples House here and here. And stay tuned for further adventures on the road.

Exploring Rancho Camulos, the Home of Ramona

Long on our list of iconic Southern California sites to see was Rancho Camulos, the Spanish land grant rancho in the Santa Clara River Valley near Piru that inspired Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel of old Californio life, Ramona (1884).

On Sunday, we had a chance to explore the grounds and structures of this National Register landmark, now both a museum and a working citrus ranch still dealing with the ravages of the 1994 Northridge earthquake. It is a most picturesque place, containing many layers of California history, artifice and mystery.

We hope you enjoy our photos from this captivating place. Kim’s are in the slideshow below, and Richard’s can be found on Flickr. If planning a visit, see the museum website. Recommended reading: Ramona Memories: Tourism and the Shaping of Southern California.

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In Search Of… 1914 Hobo Inscriptions in the LA River

If you read our most recent newsletter, you know how excited we are to have learned that some 102-year-old hobo graffiti survives on the undersides of bridges in the L.A. River.

Today, we descended into the concrete channel with historian Susan Phillips to see some of her favorite pieces and seek out new discoveries of our own. (And yes–we actually found something–but you’ll just have to get on the next Eastside Babylon crime but tour to hear about it!)

Won’t you tag along on our journey into the strange, peaceful and historic riverbed?

Sixth Street Bridge – RIP

This weekend* is your last chance to take a stroll across the iconic Sixth Street Bridge, that grand Art Deco passage between Boyle Heights and the Arts District. We were there tonight in the golden hour, along with dozens of bridge lovers armed with cameras, skateboards, lowrider cars (these under the bridge, in the river bed) and memories of a beautiful piece of the city that will soon be demolished. It really is a special place. Make the time to say goodbye if you can.

*update: apparently the bridge will remain open through January 25th, demolition starting February 5.

Esotouric’s Los Angeles Historic Preservation “22 for 2015” report

 

22for2015 graphic

Gentle reader…

As we slam the door on 2015, 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 2016 will see some of the Bittersweets tip over onto the Gains side of the fence.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Gains of 2015:

G1. At Last: After four years of painstaking restoration and revision, our beloved Clifton’s Cafeteria reopened as Clifton’s Cabinet of Curiosities. The menu has changed and the addition of booze and burlesque on upper floors would have upright founder Clifford Clinton fuming, but there’s much to celebrate in the return of this unique establishment. Our 2011 closing day meditation and Brother Pancake’s 2015 reopening invocation remind us what Clifton’s has meant to Angelenos past. What’s in the future? Maybe the Jell-o knows.

G2. Saved By The Bell: In Downey last month, a modest stucco building was loaded onto a flatbed for the overland journey to Irvine, where Taco Bell’s “Numero Uno” store found a new home at the fast food corporation’s HQ. It’s the happy ending to a mercifully brief preservation crisis, when the long-shuttered restaurant got an eviction order in advance of planned development. Would this iconic California culinary landmark be demolished? But preservationists are great gossips, and word soon spread: “Taco Bell thinks it’s cool and they want to save it.” We’re thrilled that a huge corporation sees value in preserving its own history. Nine years ago, when we asked ConocoPhillips to please stop destroying 76 Balls, it took a year and a lot of bad press and bad jokes before they saw the light. Taco Bell didn’t need to be shamed to step in and do the right thing, which might mean we’re living in more enlightened times. Here’s to more mainstream preservation saves, and a lively second act for Numero Uno.

G3. Sign Here: Start a brick-and-mortar business today, and your signs will likely be designed on a computer, and look that way—perfect, but kind of boring. What makes older signs so special is their hand-crafted nature: neon tubes bent by hand, jauntily painted script. Old signs are cool, and function as familiar way-finding aids, even when the businesses that paid for them move away. So kudos to the City of Burbank for recognizing the value in its historic signage stock, and enacting a preservation ordinance making it easier for citizens to nominate neglected favorites for landmarking and restoration.

G4. Extraordinary Ordinance: The City of Los Angeles was an early adopter of historic preservation, and today the list of designated Historic-Cultural Monuments tops 1000. But in the wider unincorporated County, there were no tools for nominating and protecting sites of cultural and architectural significance—until this year. The requirements are a bit too stringent and the submission costs too high, but it’s an encouraging first step towards saving wonderful things that might otherwise be lost.

G5. Oddball Row Redux: Southern California is the birthplace of programmatic architecture—those daffy structures shaped, often, like what they sell (among them our beloved, and endangered, East L.A. Tamale). But many of them, typically small and erected quickly from cheap materials, haven’t survived into the 21st century. The Idle Hour, shaped like a beer barrel, was in pretty poor condition when bar owners 1933 Group snatched the city landmark up at auction. A loving restoration followed, and when the Idle Hour re-opened, it was with a companion structure: the small-scale replica of Downtown L.A.’s lost Bulldog Cafe, built as part of the Petersen Automotive Museum’s incredibly cool, recently destroyed exhibition celebrating SoCal automotive culture. Meanwhile, down in Long Beach, restoration work continues on the Koffee Pot Cafe, a charming spot that’s been in sorry shape for years, and the much-missed Tail O’ The Pup stand is coming back, and being cloned! As Southern California’s surviving programmatic buildings approach the century mark, we hope more people will do what it takes to keep them hopping for many decades to come.

G6. Rancho Days Are Here Again: Once upon a time, a family named Lugo, famed for their hospitality, maintained adobe homesteads across Southern California. But with the decades, the assets of the old Californio families were stretched thin as a hand-me-down shawl. When Henry Gage married a Lugo, her dowry was a dilapidated adobe by the Rio Hondo. Charmed, Gage restored and expanded it. When Gage became Governor in 1899, the home served as his southern headquarters. Later, a trailer park sprung up on the grounds, and a community grew there. The mansion became an official California landmark, among the oldest homes in Los Angeles County. But few people knew about it and fewer visited. When we wrote our South Los Angeles tour, the mansion was prominently featured. There is simply no other place that contains these precise layers of culture and change, in so beautiful a package. But over the years, our access to the mansion has been restricted at the request of the trailer park’s board. We never stopped visiting this stretch of Gage Avenue, but we’ve been forbidden from entering the property for years. Finally, this summer, came some positive movement in our campaign to ensure that this extraordinary landmark remain accessible to the public, as required by virtue of its status in the state’s charitable registry. When we gave the South Los Angeles tour in August, we visited the mansion’s porch and were graciously welcomed by several resident board members. While interior access isn’t an option for now, we’re glad of the opportunity to share this important site with fellow travelers, and hopeful that the future will bring opportunities for further exploration and needed preservation of the place.

G7. Thank The Mermaid: March saw the Gilmore Gasoline Service Station (R.J. Kadow, 1935) buzzing like an Art Deco hive in its new life, as a Starbucks drive-thru coffee shop. For too many years, the old station moldered on its prominent corner, victim of a greedy landlord who drove its gas station tenants off with unsustainable rent hikes. Vacant, fenced, it became a magnet for taggers and a source of pain for the preservation-minded. As a landmark, nominated by the neighborhood that loved it, the station couldn’t be easily torn down to reap the “highest and best use” of its prime Hollywood location (think mini-mall, or mixed use residential). But time can be nearly as effective as the wrecking ball, when demolition-by-neglect is on the menu. So three cheers for a corporation with the resources and the vision to transform this bit of urban blight back into the proud treasure that always lurked beneath the grime, and the good taste to let the building speak for itself. For the cost of a restoration, Starbucks has bought itself a billboard, and a whole lot of goodwill.

G8. The People Have The Power: Reading a blog post about protests by people unhappy that their rent-controlled Boyle Heights units would be demolished for a low-income development, we observed that one of the doomed buildings looked mighty historic. We swung by to have a look and confirmed that the double-width, half-timbered Tudor house, built 1895, was a rare surviving example of early eastside vernacular architecture. It was also much too handsome to be lost without notice, so we whipped up a meme illustrating the threat and suggesting folks email the developer, ELACC. The image was shared widely on social media, and within hours we heard from ELACC that they appreciated the public concern, and intended to move the structure. We were also invited to sit on an advisory board dedicated to its preservation. Observe how the internet can empower communities to speak up and swiftly make a difference for special places like this one, which is called the Peabody-Werden House. Watch this newsletter for updates on its future.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Losses of 2015:

L1. Something Wretched This Way Comes: The year began with a hollow thud, the sound of science fiction pioneer Ray Bradbury’s charming Cheviot Hills home of fifty years being ripped apart so starchitect Thom Mayne can build something much larger on the lot. It was all just barely on the up and up, with the demolition permit pulled one week in advance of a new notification ordinance that would have granted neighbors and the wider community the opportunity to protest. In the end, there was nothing to do but weep, and lament the baffling fact that Survey L.A., which is supposed to collect all structures of significance in the city, canvassed wee Cheviot Hills and somehow missed the neighborhood’s most celebrated resident.

L2. MIA, Presumed DOA: Once upon a time, Rosemead boasted a lively Polynesian restaurant called Bahooka, famous for its flaming tiki drinks, fish tanks, and one enormous Pacu fish, the friendly, carrot-chomping Rufus. But the owners were ready to retire, and sold their building at a bargain price, leaving the fishes in the care of a longtime employee. After a contentious fundraising campaign that sought to move Rufus to a competing tiki joint (Damon’s of Glendale), new owner Alan Zhu promised to look after the beloved fish. Elderly, delicate Rufus soon left the building for points unknown, Mr. Zhu made vague remarks that terrified fish-savvy fans. Now, after many months and another ownership change, the old Bahooka is Moonlight Restaurant, with nary a fish tank to be found. Decorative elements from the old Bahooka are slated for inclusion in the forthcoming Clifton’s tiki bar, but sadly, Rufus was not included in the restaurant auction. We hate to say it, but RIP old chum. You were one cool fish.

L3.  The Townhouse Curse: You’d think a beautiful century-old house by a famous architect situated on big lot with mature trees would be something to treasure. But in Los Angeles, which recently enacted an ordinance allowing developers to shoehorn half a dozen tall, skinny houses where one grand old lady once held court, such properties sit in the crosshairs. When such a house is sold, families looking for a home can’t compete with developers seeking to profit. Late last year, we lost A.C. Martin’s lovely Bartlett House in Los Feliz, when the Cultural Heritage Commission refused to landmark it. But while the demolitions continue, renters are beginning to fight back and sometimes win.

L4. Counter Countdown: This year we lost Jan’s Family Restaurant, a venerable community hub on Beverly Boulevard. There’s no drama in its closure, no villainous landlord to hiss, just the passage of time and a proprietor’s decision, leaving a pretty big hole.

L5. The Big Oops: Everyone laments the loss of the Red Cars, but nobody does anything about it—except the good people of San Pedro, who drafted snazzy replicas into service as port-side trolleys in 2003. But now, with big plans for redevelopment at the Port and historic Ports o’ Call, a series of planning oversights means these Red Cars will likely vanish, too.

L6. Oodles of Noodles Obscure Swell Structure: People are talking about the new facade of the Petersen Automotive Museum, but they’re not saying anything nice. Nor are we: it’s an aesthetic crime that such an eyesore occupies the same intersection as two marvelous Southern California landmarks: the (newly-truncated) “stack of pennies” May Company Building and jaunty Johnie’s Coffee Shop. Hard to believe, but there’s a pretty restrained modernist building by L.A. master architect Welton Becket under all that jazz.

L7. A Jailable Offense : The old Lincoln Heights Jail alongside the L.A. River has lived many lives: drunk tank immortalized in verse by Charles Bukowski, youth boxing gym, Hollywood memorabilia storage facility, movie star. But the city has long failed to maintain the Art Deco landmark, and recently allowed vandals to repeatedly enter and deface the walls and windows. A trespasser’s video celebrating the debased condition of the jail is one of the most upsetting things we’ve seen all year. There was a beauty to the building’s aged surfaces that’s been lost forever.

L8. The Mystery of the Mucked Up Formosa: In July, Angelenos were all aflutter over an unexpected preservation crisis. The Formosa Café, the iconic cocktail lounge known for its carmine walls dotted with vintage celebrity photos, had been ruined, its jewel-box interior replaced by a generic beige motif with a side of tacky mural art. But wasn’t the Formosa on the short list of official WeHo landmarks, and thus protected? The question nagged at our friends Kate Eggert and Krisy K. Gosney, the dedicated preservationists behind West Hollywood Heritage Project. So they started digging, and what they found was truly shocking. Because it turns out the Formosa wasn’t quite the landmark that local preservationists or the city said it was. The building had been “saved” from redevelopment decades earlier, but apparently everyone involved was so busy celebrating that they failed to actually file the paperwork required to codify the matter in law. Still, the city proudly claimed it as a landmark, so it wasn’t on anyone’s radar as a place that needed to be watched carefully. And because nobody raised the alarm during the demolition, the Formosa was wrecked before anyone knew it was at risk. The owners have since backpedaled, blaming the unpopular makeover on a departed partner and seeking funds from patrons to help undo the damage. Good luck with that. But next time, don’t “fix” what ain’t broke.

L9. A Cool Sign, Crushed: The backlit plastic and incandescent Sassony Arcade sign in the 700 block of South Broadway wasn’t terribly old, likely dating to the 1970s. But it was a playful and lively relic of Downtown L.A.’s lost era, something that politicians and developers regularly evoke in their efforts to revitalize the boulevard. Increased property values recently spurred the neglectful owner to evict the popular ground-floor arcade and sell the otherwise vacant building, but the sign remained… until the new owners illegally destroyed it in the middle of one September night. The replacement lacks a certain vigor.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Bittersweet Moments of 2015:

B1. A Sycamore Shaped Like A Question Mark: There’s no house in Los Angeles more steeped in Southland myth and lore than Charles Fletcher Lummis‘ hand-crafted El Alisal, in which that remarkable man organized to save the missions, founded our first museum, ran the public library (where he used a cattle brand to mark rare volumes), recorded the vanishing sounds of the Rancho-era and hosted a mind-boggling array of celebrity visitors. The city-owned property has long been neglected, and the historical society that volunteered to occupy and interpret the site was unable to seek restoration grants without a long-term lease. Many in the community winced when the historians were shown the door and public visiting hours shortened. Would a largely-vacant El Alisal entirely in the care of the Department of Recreation and Parks fall victim to vandals and the natural course of decay? If you’ve heard that Occidental College is taking over and Lummis House is safe, take note: that’s a great idea, but no formal agreement has yet been reached between the college and the city. And so we wait, and sincerely hope that CFL’s wonderful home will soon have a steward who gets it. The alternative is most distressing.

B2. Cowboys and Indians: And just up the hill from El Alisal, Lummis’ marvelous and once city-owned Southwest Museum still languishes, victim of a too-good-to-be true takeover by the Autry Museum that took a world-class Native American art collection off view and shuttered all but a tiny section of the aging building. Discussions between the Southwest’s advocates and the Autry have done little save generate mistrust, so it was a relief when the National Trust For Historic Preservation stepped in to lend resources and aid in conflict resolution. Perhaps fresh eyes can see new life for a great cultural resource.

B3. The Trouble With Angels: Although not threatened with demolition, the continued lack of an operating permit makes Angels Flight Railway, Downtown’s beloved on-and-off-again funicular, little more than a nostalgic photo op. Although the non-profit that runs Angels Flight has invested in a new electronic brake system and addressed the problems that resulted in a non-injury derailment, the regulators continue to demand expensive, historically inaccurate changes before Angels Flight can roll again. We became involved after one car was vandalized, forming the Angels Flight Friends and Neighbors Society, a volunteer organization that petitioned Mayor Garcetti for help, redesigned the funicular’s website, and organized a film noir fundraiser. Now the non-profit and regulators are talking again, and we’re hoping the new year sees further progress in the easing the conflict that has stalled Olivet and Sinai since 2013. But just alongside Angels Flight, the charming Angels Knoll, a rare section of mature landscaping in concrete-heavy downtown, remains fenced off from public use, a victim of the dissolution of the city’s redevelopment agency and the complaints of “stakeholders” who didn’t like the type of people who used the lower plaza. Angels Knoll also has its friends, but sadly they haven’t had much luck in their campaign. We’d love to watch Angels Flight in motion from that film-famous bench again some day.

B4. Deco Inferno: In 1938, veterinarian to the stars Eugene C. Jones commissioned architects Walter Wurdeman and Welton Becket, in a rare collaboration, to design a Streamline Moderne animal hospital. Decades later, the neglected structure was hidden behind overgrown trees, and its provenance deliberately obscured by development-happy politicos. West Hollywood Heritage Project discovered the subterfuge, and have tirelessly campaigned to save this endangered landmark. We were encouraged when the Los Angeles Conservancy joined the cause and sued West Hollywood to compel preservation, then horrified when the back side of the “vacant” building caught fire, with a homeless man, known to the owners to be living inside, killed by smoke inhalation. Now, in addition to the preservation suit, arson and murder investigations are ongoing. But the building is still gorgeous, and worth saving.

B5. Keep It Simple, Stupid: Poor old Pershing Square, widely dishonored as one of the nation’s worst public spaces. Now a public-private partnership is making noises about yet another redesign, but while the competition proceeds, critics yawn and note that there’s no actual money in the pot to pay for a makeover (we’ve heard cost estimates for a park of this size and complexity of upwards of $50 Million). Uncertainty about the park’s future hasn’t stopped Rec and Parks from investing in not one, but two, children’s play areas, which perhaps conveniently took out the concrete benches where Downtown’s less fortunate used to sit and take the air. The result is a debasement of Ricardo Legorreta’s 1992 design which only serves to make the grim and confusing space more incoherent. Our gentle solution for the contested park: don’t redesign, restore!

*      *      *

And that’s our report on the state of Los Angeles preservation for 2015. To see past years’ lists, click here: 2014, 2013, 2012. And to stay informed all year round, see our preservation page 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 in the new year with The Real Black Dahlia on January 9, the 69th 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.

yrs,
Kim and Richard
Esotouric

 

 

 

Ghost Building: The El Mirador Apartments

Designed by theater architect S. Charles Lee and erected in 1929, El Mirador Apartments is one of the handsomest structures along an architecturally distinguished stretch of Fountain, just below the Sunset Strip.

The criminally minded among you might recall it as the site of model Judy Dull’s kidnapping by 1950s serial killer Harvey Glatman–a narrative included on our new Esotouric crime bus tour, Hollywood!

Recent years have been, if possible, more heartbreaking for El Mirador. The building fell into the hands of notorious landlord Jerome Nash, whose low opinion of his tenants as a very young man led to the creation of the Ellis Act, the law which is now being used to displace thousands of renters across California. In theory, the Ellis Act is meant to be used by small property owners when they want to get out of the rental business and out from under prohibitive rent control obligations. In reality, corporate property owners use Ellis to remove affordable rentals from the market, flipping attractive buildings into more profitable condos and hotels.

Not Jerome Nash, though. He apparently applied the Ellis Act to the El Mirador simply because he didn’t like his tenants or the City of West Hollywood reminding him that historic landmark buildings are supposed to be maintained safely and with period appropriate windows that don’t rain glass down onto the sidewalk. There were threats to tear El Mirador down, or turn it into some kind of swinger’s party pad. All the tenants were evicted. Five years and more have ticked away, the legal window after which an Ellis-ing landlord can do whatever they wish with their property. And yet El Mirador still stands vacant, boarded up with weeds growing on the steps, a haunted house in the heart of West Hollywood, the physical manifestation of one sick landlord’s contempt for his tenants.

You can see the lifeless building as it looks today in the photos below. Follow the sad tale of the El Mirador in this series of posts from Curbed LA. And dig into Jerome Nash’s dark heart in this LA Times feature on his family lawsuits. Or join us on the Hollywood! tour to see for yourself and hear of Judy Dull’s terrible fate.