As 2012 ticks down to its inevitable conclusion, we're introducing a new annual Esotouric tradition: our very opinionated list of THE TOP LOS ANGELES HISTORIC PRESERVATION STORIES OF 2012. Because preservation is never as simple as buildings being lost forever or rescued from the brink, the list is split into three sections: the GAINS, the LOSSES, and those BITTERSWEET MOMENTS that hover somewhere in the middle, and keep us up nights. We hope you find the list by turns thought-provoking, infuriating and inspiring.
ESOTOURIC'S LOS ANGELES HISTORIC PRESERVATION "25 FOR 2012"
LOS ANGELES HISTORIC PRESERVATION GAINS OF 2012:
1. Redevelopment agencies, which have strayed far from their idealistic origins and financed the destruction of uncounted historic buildings and neighborhoods–not least of them downtown's Bunker Hill–are dissolved by California Governor Jerry Brown.
2. Under new and well-capitalized ownership, Monrovia's astonishing National Register Aztec Hotel begins an ambitious and long-overdue restoration program.
3. Despite ongoing financial woes and an 88-year-old proprietor, Bob Baker's Marionette Theater continues to put on incredible puppet shows for children of all ages.
4. Thanks to a last minute reprieve following the discovery of millions of dollars in hidden state park funds, Governor Pio Pico's house museum in Whittier remains open to the public.
5. The City of Beverly Hills, ground zero for Southern California's teardown-to-mega-mansion activities, finally enacts an historic preservation ordinance and begins recognizing structures that should be saved for future generations.
6. Art Deco transportation-themed mosaics are found hidden under carpeting at the Long Beach airport, and will remain on view.
7. John Feathers' world class map horde isn't just saved from the dumpster after being discovered in his Mount Washington cottage after his death, but is donated to LAPL by the civic-minded realtor who found it.
8. USC's Digital Library has scanned more than 10,000 images from the Dick Whittington Studios photographic archives at ultra-high resolution. Nearly every one of them teaches us something new about the history of Los Angeles.
9. After Frances "The Cake Lady" Kuyper dies, her archival collection of elaborate plaster cake designs is bound for the dump. They briefly find a home in a West Valley cooking school before moving permanently to New Orleans' Southern Food and Beverage Museum.
10. West Hollywood's Plummer Park, its historic trees and buildings threatened with demolition as part of a massive and controversial redevelopment scheme, is saved when the state refuses to finance the project.
LOS ANGELES HISTORIC PRESERVATION LOSSES OF 2012:
1. The Old Spaghetti Factory is hurriedly demolished, despite developer CIM's promise to incorporate the historic structure (originally a Peerless Motors dealership and later radio station KMPC) into the new project. This mysteriously undervalued property later figures prominently in the L.A. Assessor's Office scandal.
2. Despite the quick launch of a very vocal preservation movement spearheaded by independent filmmakers, several historic buildings at Pickfair Studios are quickly demolished, again by developer CIM.
3. The original 1912 Los Angeles Athletic Club men's room, perhaps the most beautiful bathroom in the city, is gutted to make space for a women's restroom.
4. Lloyd Wright's soaring modernist Moore House in Palos Verdes is demolished to make room for a mega-mansion.
5. The Venice Post Office, including its publicly-owned WPA mural of the neighborhood's history, passes into private hands–albeit with verbal promises that the building will be restored and the mural remain accessible.
6. The stately mid-century Wilshire Grand, formerly the Statler Hotel, is demolished to build an LED-coated tower.
7. San Fernando's JC Penney store, an anchor for the shopping district since 1953, is closed despite community outcry, but an attempt to steal its vintage modernist signage is thwarted by observant citizens.
8. The demolition of portions of Downey High School proceeds before the street-facing modernist mural can be removed and preserved.
9. The massive Downey Space Plant (birthplace of the Apollo capsule and Space Shuttle) is demolished to make room for a Super Walmart. This massive loss to aerospace history goes unnoticed amidst the hype surrounding the arrival of Space Shuttle Endeavour.
10. The beloved 1950s Felix the Cat neon car dealership sign, voted L.A.'s Best Neon Sign by L.A. Weekly in 2011, is partially demolished, its neon tubes replaced with LED strips. The LEDs promptly fail.
LOS ANGELES BITTERSWEET HISTORIC PRESERVATION MOMENTS OF 2012:
1. UCLA tries to sell off the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden, a legacy gift. The community and Mrs. Carter's family mobilize to save it, and while many antique architectural elements have been sent away to points unknown, the sale has been blocked in the courts… for now.
2. The 1960s-era metal grate covering Clifton's Cafeteria is removed, revealing the heavily damaged 1935 facade. But fifteen months after it closed, and ten months after the grate came down, the historic restaurant remains shuttered, with no signs of the promised facade and interior restoration, and no reopening date.
3. Several of the 1970s-era wooden facades are stripped off the early 1900s brick downtown buildings in San Dimas. But with redevelopment funds in limbo, restoration work has stopped and the incongruous wooden sidewalks remain. And honestly, we kind of liked the silly "Old West" facades.
4. The ugly shop fixtures and metal grates that were cluttering up Ernest Batchelder's 1914 Dutch Chocolate Shop are removed, revealing the stunningly tiled beautiful interior that historians knew as hidden in plain sight. But the proprietor lacks funding to develop a business in the space, and in the months since this gem re-emerged there has been no restoration done, and the shop is rarely open to the public.
5. The King Eddy Saloon, the last Skid Row bar and an oasis of good fellowship in a rough part of the world, passes out of the Croik family's ownership after 50 years, and is closed pending renovation by its new owners. Restoration of the basement storeroom, a speakeasy during Prohibition and a location in John Fante's great downtown novel Ask the Dust, is planned.