An Esotouric Road Trip: Tinkertown

In October, the Esotouric gang set off to enjoy four days of adventuring in northern New Mexico, in search of Mission-era adobe churches, dilapidated neon signage, hot springs, horned toads, piñon coffee, funky graveyards, folk art environments and chiles relleño. (We found everything except the horned toads, much to said lizards' relief.) This is the second of two blog posts in which we'll share some of the gems we found on our travels. Peruse our first New Mexico blog post here.


Heading back into Albuquerque after our northerly rambles, we made a small detour into the Sandia mountains to visit the Tinkertown folk art environment, and gosh, are we glad we did. It's simply one of the most delightful and captivating places we have ever visited, so of course we took lots of photos, and even a little video, so we could share the magic with YOU!

Ross J. Ward, the genius of Tinkertown, was a South Dakota kid whose imagination was kickstarted by an early visit to the still-funky Southern California roadside attraction Knott's Berry Farm. Fascinated by its small-scale recreation of the American West, he went home and built one even smaller, with fruit box storefronts inhabited by toy Indians and settlers, some store-bought, others hand-made.


Ross Ward grew up to become a fine traveling carnival sign painter and a passionate fan of the independent spirit of Route 66 hucksters who sold tourists a peek at something novel, cold drinks and that certain undefinable quality of magic that even the humblest roadside attraction boasts.


He'd never stopped tinkering with tiny people and buildings to put them in, and after setting down roots in Sandia Park, his miniature constructions spread out over what would become a sprawling roadside attraction of his own creation: Tinkertown.


In partnership with his second wife Carla, he crafted elaborate bottle walls inspired by Grandma Prisbrey's Bottle Village in Simi Valley, slotted restored vintage automata between his own cleverly moving creations, assembled oddball collections ranging from different varieties of barbed wire strands to a complete sailing vessel, and curated a magical maze of densely packed rooms of wonder that can keep you gasping and laughing for hours.


Visiting Tinkertown is like falling head first into into a swirling dream landscape of 19th and early 20th century America. A hillbilly band hangs out on its front porch playing tunes for an audience of vultures, moonshiners whittle while grandma chops wood, an intricately detailed and densely-packed Western town pokes fun at every cliché of the genre, while all throughout hand-painted psychedelic wall signs dispense bits of homespun philosophy–and then the circus comes to town.


Ross Ward was a carney by trade, a collector of old sideshow banners, a lover of show people and somebody who, through his work, knew intimately the myriad details that make up a traveling show. And they're all there in his delightful tabletop circus, from the cotton candy stand to the furry Monkey Girl, from dancing dogs to marching bands, aerialists, jugglers, tiger tamers, clowns, wagons, tents, swamis and snake handlers, each one packed with personality and just where they belong. The circus is at the center of Tinkertown's warren of glass-fronted exhibition halls, and a wonderful reward for making it to the heart of the place.


Sadly, Ross Ward developed Alzheimer's disease in his late 50s, and died in 2002. But unlike so many folk art environments that fall into disrepair with the passing of their creator, Carla Ward keeps Tinkertown open and humming, as a tribute to her sweetheart and to the decades of creativity they shared.


We were fortunate at the end of our tour to be able to talk with Carla about her experiences running Tinkertown and helping Ross bring his dreams to life. She even showed us through the private rooms that had been their home, still packed with Ross' surprisingly sophisticated paintings and illustrations, his reference books and drawing studio. It felt like he'd just stepped out to get a smoke, and full now with the spirit of the man and his imaginary worlds, we soon followed.

See all of Chinta Cooper's photos from our visit to Tinkertown here

And if you're ever in New Mexico, pay a visit–and tell Carla we sent you. 


Esotouric’s Los Angeles Historic Preservation “25 for 2012”

Esotouric's Los Angeles Historic Preservation 25 for 2012


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.  



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.



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.



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.

An Esotouric road trip: Santa Fe and Taos

In October, the Esotouric gang set off to enjoy four days of adventuring in northern New Mexico, in search of Mission-era adobe churches, dilapidated neon signage, hot springs, horned toads, piñon coffee, funky graveyards, folk art environments and chiles relleño. (We found everything except the horned toads, much to said lizards’ relief.) This is the first of two blog posts in which we’ll share some of the gems we found on our travels. Check out our first New Mexico photo set here.

We flew into Albuquerque, rented a car and immediately hit the road, bound for the high country and one of the oldest North American towns, Santa Fe.
The magical late afternoon light on the Spanish Colonial architecture made for some stunning vistas, and the cold air was most refreshing after L.A.’s endless summer.
We stayed at La Fonda on the Plaza, which was central to everything and charming.

La Fonda on the Plaza

One of the first things we did was to find a cowboy hat for Richard.
He took it off when visiting the (desanctified) Loretto Chapel, whose supposedly gravity-defying spiral loft staircase is a favorite topic on television shows about “unexplained mysteries.”
After perusing the stair for a spell, Richard announced it not atypical of the work you’d expect to see imported in sections from France for a regional American chapel, noting that the French stained glass arrived the same year as the mysterious carpenter who supposedly erected the strange stairs, then vanished without asking for payment.


So it’s not really all that mysterious, but still a handsome building and worth the small price of admission. We particularly admired the unusual capital decorations, which seemed to be inspired by honeycomb or the mineral called Desert Rose.

Over the next few days, our dance card was positively packed with church visits, since Northern New Mexico is flush with ancient worship sites. We admired the fresh coat of straw-flecked adobe on the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church at Ranchos de Taos…
… its well-cared for flanks a striking contrast to the melting homestead just across the path.
At the otherwise captivating Taos Pueblo…
…we found the San Geronimo Chapel, while very handsome, to be an unsettling space…
…perhaps some psychic holdover of the community’s bloody struggles with Spanish Catholic colonization and American rule.

So we were glad to get back on the road, for a long ramble over winding Highway 76, bound for the Lourdes of America, the pilgrimage site Chimayó.
Passing through Las Trampas, the massive old roadside Church of San José de Gracia demanded we stop to admire its fine walls and towers.


Richard was examining the vast wooden door when he heard movement inside, knocked, and was rewarded when a group of gentlemen on a Catholic pilgrimage welcomed us inside to see the place.

Our new friends, who were preparing for an evening ritual recreating the Stations of the Cross, asked us not to take photographs inside. It was no great sacrifice, as pictures could not have captured the astonishing time capsule of this holy place, which seems not to have changed significantly since it was built circa 1770.


Happily, the Library of Congress holds a number of fine photographs of the church and town from the 1940s. This is, miraculously, the very church we saw.

The rough-hewn floor clearly showed the outlines of burial crypts, reminding us with each step deeper into the space of the faithful souls who had constructed the church in this remote mountain hamlet.
Its heavy walls were lined with powerful, primitive paintings of saints and the family of Christ, and one small altar held long, bright metal nails, clearly intended for use during the evening’s ritual. We wondered if one of the gentlemen bustling around the church intended to be crucified in emulation of his lord, a practice which has long been a part of the culture of rural New Mexico. But one doesn’t ask such impertinent questions.

At the back of the church, the brightly colored main altar was framed with an adobe arch, a theatrical touch which lent even greater power to the assemblage of religious paintings and sculpture against the wall.

On the way out, we were instructed to look up to the roof beams, where our penlight bulbs illuminated the primitive drawings of the town’s long-dead children, their contribution to the building of the church.

If you’re hungry in this neck of the woods, we recommend a stop at  Sugar Nymphs Bistro, where the nicest ladies in the world will bring you delicious gourmet treats. It’s a little bit of San Francisco bohemia in the midst of the mountains, and if you’re lucky, the kids circus camp will be in session when you visit.


At Chimayó, which was nearly deserted, the fences leading up to the shrine were hung with hundreds of crucifixes made from bits of wood or other found objects.
We made the slow passage through the nautilus shell of the shrine, past hundreds of photographs of people whose families sought prayers for their healing, up a ramp, into the church, then into a side chapel hung with crutches left behind by those that were healed, and finally into the little room containing the miraculous hole in the ground, which the priests of the place keep topped up with blessed dirt from the surrounding hills. It was from this hole, it’s said, that a statue of Christ mysteriously appeared, and to which it returned every time its discoverer sought to take it away. After the third time, the small church was built around the holy spot, and the statue hung on the altar.

It is a strange and powerful place, which on holidays is thronged with the faithful, some of whom crawl for miles in hopes of divine intercession.
There were no such faithful here today, but at the base of the hill, a handsome horse gorged on a feast of fresh apples.

Sagebrush Inn

Back in Santa Fe (we stayed at the wonderful old Sagebrush Inn) Richard built a fire.
While Chinta documented the folk art decorations of the ladies lounge off the hotel lobby.
And soon we were on the highway back toward Albuquerque, stopping along the way to admire neon signs both well-loved…


… and sorely neglected.
Thus concludes part one of our New Mexico adventures. Stay tuned for the next installment, featuring our visit to the Tinkertown folk art environment, one of the most delightful spots on earth.

Here’s a wee teaser to whet your appetite. There is much more to come!
(photos by Chinta Cooper)

Esotouric Day Trip: Exploring L.A.’s domestic architecture

On a drizzly February day, your intrepid Esotouric / 1947project gang (Kim, Richard and Nathan) set out for a road trip in our own backyard, seeking out the most beguiling and delightful examples of domestic architecture from Pasadena to Silver Lake, the Hollywood Hills to the Palisades. Below you’ll see a few of the gems which we found. Check out the full photo set here.

La Miniatura, glimpsed from a wee Arroyo, is Frank Lloyd Wright’s most convincing Mayan temple.


Clinker brick is the junk that falls to the sides of the kiln. It took the clever folk of the Art & Crafts Movement to recognize how interesting and beautiful this industrial waste product could be.


A set of windows wittily echo the staircase behind.


What other weathervane for a hillside Storybook House than a witch on her broom?


Please, CalTrans, don’t tear down the first Greene & Greene house (1897) to extend the 710 freeway.

The lesson from our day’s exploration: you don’t need to go very far off your regular path to be somewhere completely new and amazing. Go out and discover the magical things that are close to home… and bring a friend!

Remembering Clifton’s Cafeteria (1935-2011-?)

IMG_1203.jpg Gentle reader, There exist in this world those rare places where souls can linger, each one alone in their thoughts but feeling part of a lively community. Unlike so many contemporary spaces with their hard surfaces and excess of rules (read: Pershing Square), these spots are calibrated to welcome individuals. There are comfortable chairs, little corners of privacy, light for reading, reasonably priced and healthful food and drink available. In these places, lovers meet, tourists marvel, visions are nurtured and the old and lonesome can escape their rooms. Nobody will lean over you and clear their throat to suggest you've been sitting too long, and ought to be moving along in one of these magical places, for there, you are at home. This week, we say a fond farewell to one of these gems, Clifton's Cafeteria. Since 1935, Clifford Clinton's redwood-themed cafeteria has welcomed millions to its bosom in the heart of downtown. Clifton's was there when 7th & Broadway was among the busiest corners on earth, through the dark years of urban decline and into its renewal. Founded with a remarkable philosophy which fused solid business acumen with charitable works, Clifford Clinton's flagship restaurant was a lightning rod for right action that transformed this city. cliftons10Clinton fed the hungry, treated his employees like family, and led the brave campaign that brought down the corrupt Mayor Frank Shaw and the octopus of vice which inhabited the LAPD. For his efforts he was harassed, his home bombed (by a cop), his cafeterias subject to false reports of food poisoning, but he and his friends fought on, armed with a vision of a better Los Angeles in which every person was treated with dignity, and had a full belly, a safe place to sleep and real opportunities to better themselves. Mayor Shaw and his venal cronies laughed at the Cafeteria Kid, but they weren't laughing when the jail bars slammed. Last year, Clifton's was sold to a sympathetic new owner, and attempts were made to renovate the building while remaining open as a restaurant. This didn't work. So on Monday, after 76 years, Clifton's closed its doors. There are plans for a soft reopening as a bakery soon, with the full restaurant and two cocktail bars to follow in time. cliftons8We are working with the management to continue to lead tours through Clifton's, and to host our free LAVA Sunday Salon there (Sunday, closing day, marked the 19th month of this event). But today, the doors of Clifton's are closed, and the good people who felt so at home there are scattered to the winds. This edition of the newsletter goes out, with love, to all our friends from 648 South Broadway. We are thinking especially of the gracious associates, some of whom worked at Clifton's for upwards of thirty years.We're so pleased that Clifton's will live on, but it won't be the same without those friendly faces. We will leave you with Clifford Clinton's credo, which are words to live by: "We pray our humble service be measured not by gold, but by the golden rule."

Esotouric visits the Tom Waits In The Neighborhood video location

Once a year, the Los Angeles tour company Esotouric makes a very special excursion – CRAWLING DOWN CAHUENGA; TOM WAITS' L.A. In this brief clip from the 2011 tour, host David Smay shows off the unassuming Echo Park alley where legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler shot Waits' "In The Neighborhood" video, and talks about his favorite things about being an Esotouric tour guide for the day. More tour info here. Buy David Smay's "Swordfishtrombones" book here.

L.A.’s best independent tour guides unite to launch “7 Days In L.A.” website calendar

LINK: 7 Days in L.A. LOS ANGELES– America’s second largest city just got easier to navigate, with today’s launch of 7 Days in L.A., a one-stop website calendar featuring the city’s most interesting guided bus, car, bike and walking tours.

7daysinlalogosmallWhy 7 Days in L.A? Because this city is too big and too complicated to understand without a native guide, and because you’re smart enough to know that a one-size-fits-all experience is the wrong size for you.

7 Days in L.A. isn’t a tour operator, but a consortium of the region’s best independent tour operators. Whatever your interest—from architecture to true crime, film locations to graveyards, gay history to iconic L.A. literature—you’ll find the perfect excursion on the 7 Days in L.A. community calendar, and all the information needed to book a high quality tour to suit any budget.

Sign up for the weekly newsletter to receive coming event announcements and special offers, exclusively for 7 Days in L.A. subscribers. Like the website says, “Give us few hours, or your whole week, and we’ll change the way you think about Los Angeles forever.”

7 Days in L.A. is the brain child of Kim Cooper and Richard Schave, the husband and wife behind Esotouric bus adventures, the cultural tourism company known for eclectic offerings like “The Real Black Dahlia,” “Pasadena Confidential” and “Charles Bukowski’s L.A.” Because Esotouric only offers tours on weekends, Kim and Richard regularly recommend select L.A. tour companies to customers inquiring about weekday excursions or companies on a similar wavelength—and these folks often return the courtesy. 7 Days in L.A. is a real world extension of that spirit of cooperation and mutual support that makes L.A.‘s independent tour guide community so special.

Participating tour companies and solo guides include: Architecture Tours L.A., Crimebo the Clown’s Downtown Art Walk Gallery Tour, Dearly Departed Tours, The Dorothy Parker Society, Esotouric Bus Adventures, The Felix in Hollywood Tour Company, Hollywood Forever Cemetery Tour, Hollywood Movie Tours, L.A. Gang Tours, L.A. River Tours, Out & About – Hollywood’s 1st & Only Gay Bus Tour, Take My Mother*Please (*or any other VIP), Terry Bolo – The Hollywood Gal, Tizzle Bike Tours and Urban Photo Adventures.

Esotouric’s Kim Cooper says, “I’m thrilled to announce 7 Days in L.A. because L.A.‘s independent tour guides are not competitors, we’re peers and friends. Now when somebody asks me what to do in L.A. in the middle of the week, I can just point them to this website, where they’re sure to find several top quality tours to choose from.”

Jenny Price of L.A. River Tours says “This is such a tough city to understand—and it’s so MIS-understood—that I’m excited to assemble this cadre of folks who can show visitors and Angelenos alike the real Los Angeles.” “I think these bigger tour companies are like McDonald’s, but we’re like Musso and Frank,” notes Karie Bible of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery Tour, “What we offer is something unique and specialized for the more discerning tourist.”

Jim Anzide of Out & About Tours agrees: “7 Days in L.A. is exactly what’s needed for the discerning traveler. It offers a rare collection of seldom heard and less frequently told stories that are truly the lifeblood of this city. Each specialty tour is a perfectly crafted hidden gem.” And Scott Michaels of Dearly Departed Tours points out that you don’t have to be a tourist to discover the real Los Angeles: “Locals who wish to become better acquainted with their own city don’t have to go any further to plan a month of Sundays.”

“In Sightseeing, like in Real Estate, ‘Location, Location, Location’ is important,” notes Philip Mershon of the Felix in Hollywood Tour Company. “What sets the 7 Days in L.A. group apart is that we are also firm believers in ‘Research, Research, Research’! It’s what makes the difference for a really satisfying experience.” And Anne Block of Take My Mother*Please (*or any other VIP) raves, “Finally, a unique mix of tour offerings for visitors to Los Angeles — and local devotees, too! — in an easy to access calendar format. Our merry coalition of expert guides represents many facets of the city we love, so rich in beauty, history, and oddity.”

And Scott Michaels of Dearly Departed Tours adds, “I think people will welcome these unique perspectives of Los Angeles – and each is truly unique. There’s no competition here. We are just people who love Los Angeles and are eager to share what we’ve learned from it.”

For more info, visit 7 Days in L.A.

Esotouric road trip, February 2011 – Angeles Abbey, Compton

Angeles Abbey, Compton

Once upon a time not so very long ago, Los Angeles was a city full of retired burghers and their wives from the central plains–hard-working, respectable people who were easily awed and expected no less in their retirement. In “Day of the Locust,” Nathanael West paints these drab souls with a sinister brush, and we do not doubt that they were boorish and hard to share a streetcar with. And yet.

Way down in Compton there survives, improbably, one of the architectural follies built to make these plain people gape. It still manages to boggle any mind that happens across it today. Angeles Abbey is a phantasmagoria of Indian, Moorish, Spanish, Byzantine and High Modernist concrete elements, plopped down in such a way that its delirious towers can be viewed from every home in the modest neighborhood that grew up around it. Squint, breathe the jasmine and orange-scented air, and it’s not Compton around you, it’s Hollywood’s dream of Arabia–in Technicolor.
Angeles Abbey, Compton

The visionary builder was George Craig of the Long Beach (via Toledo) shipbuilding Craigs, who it is said sent his architects to sketch the dome of the Taj Mahal around the same time that Adolph Schleicher commissioned drawings of royal Assyrian walls in Berlin’s Pergamon museum for his Samson Tire Factory (now Citadel) and the firm of Meyer & Holler tweaked the loudest aspects of Cairo and Peking into Sid Grauman’s theaters. By 1931, the corporation was spending a purported $500,000 on a new, central mausoleum containing 4000 crypts, which when combined with the 6000 in the first building made Angeles Abbey one of the largest American structures of its kind. Angeles Abbey rose up on the gentle plains of Id, far from the bustle of Long Beach and Los Angeles. The exquisitely decorated halls, all marble and leaded stained glass, were pure palaces of the dead, and a source of pride to those burghers who reserved eternal homes within.

Compton, Angeles Abbey at center, 1928

Aerial photograph taken 1928 by Spence Airplane Photos, collection of Los Angeles Public Library

Through the 1940s, the main mausoleum was opened to all on Easter Sunday, and an organist would play dolorous music into the evening as “courteous attendants” skipped about assisting visitors with the placing of flowers and other memorial acts. Elaborate Veterans Day ceremonies continued at least through the 1970s. And yet today the place is something of a ghost town, its decline reflecting the vast social changes that have impacted the central city.

Angeles Abbey Easter ad, 1941

But before the decline, there were golden years, and some peculiar happenings that attracted note. In March 1935, 52-year-old Lois Ludwick, who really, really loved her car, was interred at Angeles following an unusual funeral in which her automobile was draped with flowers and towed behind the hearse bearing her remains. Automotive culture would become a theme that year: race car driver H.W. “Stubby” Stubblefield, killed during a practice run for the 1935 Indianapolis 500 would be interred at Angeles alongside his mechanic Leo Whitikar, who perished with him when their steering failed.

Stubby Stubblefield's Indianapolis 500 wreck

In 1937, a strange lawsuit was dismissed, thus denying us the opportunity to know why the family of J. Allen McManis (later the author of the New Guinea travel narrative “Flesh of My Brother, or, Kia Kia [Flesh Eaters])” believed the corpse of 5-year-old J. Allen Junior had vanished from his crypt. And in 1938, Richard V. Brady, 16, was memorialized after a game of Russian Roulette among high school chums resulted in the inevitable. In 1969, Angeles Abbey welcomed Clinton “Cy” Chamberlin, 94, called the “last of the smoke-eaters” for his work training the front ends of the horse-drawn fire-trucks that were phased out circa 1921. He was in later life fire chief for MGM and Warner Brothers. The cemetery’s advertising slogan circa 1964 was “Lowest Cost – Finest Protection – And Beautifully Maintained “For Those Who Care” but the time would come when these phrases would ring as hollow as the rap of a heavy flashlight against an empty wall crypt. The 1965 Watts Riots played a role, as did the shifting demographics which would leave Angeles Abbey on the wrong side of a very long commute for those who still cared to visit their dead.

Angeles Abbey, Compton

But the death knell for Angeles Abbey tolled decisively in August 1976, when headlines blared the grim tale of the murder of 76-year-old Martha Eddington of Rosemead, beaten and strangled as she visited the mezzanine-level crypts of her daughter Margaret Brown and son-in-law Ralph Pejsa. It was initially reported that she had been killed over the weekend, but not found until Monday afternoon, when an anonymous tip advised police to look behind a curtain. The autopsy, less widely publicized, showed that she had been killed a few hours before she was found, in a pool of blood, with a broken vase bearing the name of her dead daughter close by. Martha Eddington died very near to her own reserved crypt, and she was interred there as planned. What follows was a series of scandals and miserable incidents. In 1984, Angeles Abbey and the Neptune Society were jointly named in a civil suit filed by eight persons who believed the ashes of their loved ones had been improperly commingled with “persons or things unknown.” Jean Sanders, who managed the property in the 1980s and 1990s, gained some celebrity for her careful management of rival gangs during services for those killed in gang-related incidents, while lamenting the vandalism that neighborhood youth visited on the place. And in 2002, $5 million was awarded in a class action suit that alleged that hundreds of bodies had been secretly stowed six-deep beneath the cemetery’s main road, while the management conducted fraudulent burials in a pretty, grassy part of the grounds. Sod has since been laid over the graves in question, rendering the place exceptionally confusing to drive through. Now the dead rest as easily as they are able, beneath tightly-locked towers so beautiful that they hardly seem real.

For more photographs from Angeles Abbey, please visit the Flickr photo set.

Angeles Abbey, Compton