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

The Flâneur & The City: Olvera Street

olveraStreetBeforeSterlingUrban historian Richard Schave's site-specific discussion series "The Flâneur & The City" is an ongoing attempt to explore some of the more important issues revealed by the constantly changing heart of the metropolis. The core notion of the series is of culture and history as commodities that are packaged and sold to a target demographic; meanwhile, it's the ignored and seemingly worthless scraps of meaning found on the sidewalks and marketplaces where the true remnants of positive public space can be found. All interpretations and nuisances of the word flâneur are examined — from the modern-day aesthete dreaming of Baudelaire while carried along in the human tide past the stalls and shops of Broadway, to its more recent and perhaps relevant use, someone who is loitering. At its heart this series is a celebration of the simple act of getting out of your car and walking through a neighborhood and learning to see it with all your eyes. In this installment, held on July 25, 2010, we visited Olvera Street, the historic seed of Los Angeles and the first place where issues of urban preservation entered the city's consciousness. On this free 45-minute walking tour, we explored the site's history, from the founding of the city (1781) to the present day, with a focus on the "classic" era: Christine Sterling's nearly thirty years of preservation and reinterpretation, which resulted in the entire Plaza becoming a State park, now managed by the city of Los Angeles. The excerpt presented here is a brief discussion of Christine Sterling's conflicting motivations in preserving Olvera Street, and her alliances with business and publishing interests.

On this informative stroll through a provocative and multi-layered space, we explored such key questions as:

  • What core challenges, goals and strategies are shared by Christine Sterling at the Plaza in the early 20th century and the developers of downtown's Old Bank District (4th & Main) in the early 21st century?
  • Can arts and culture succeed as a tool for economic development for reinvigorating historic neighborhoods? Was Jane Jacobs right when she proclaimed that "new ideas need old buildings"?
  • Is there a point on the continuum where the creeping kitsch of a tourist attraction overwhelms the value of a vital community space? Can a positive public space be ruined by popularity and accessibility?

For more on free events held under the umbrella of LAVA – The Los Angeles Visionaries Association, visit http://www.lavatransforms.org

Esotouric Road Trip, May 2010 – Cambria Cemetery

Just before Memorial Day, your intrepid urban adventurers stepped outside of their asphalt-coated comfort zone for a lightning 40-hour road trip to explore some notable, rural Central Californian attractions. This is the third of several blog posts sharing scenes from the road.

While Nitt Witt Ridge is definitely the granddaddy of all folk art environments on the Central Coast, anyone interested in manifestations of amateur creativity and raw feeling should schedule a visit to Cambria's historic, eclectic, mountain cemetery.

Unlike tidy urban graveyards that frown on mourners placing their own messy memorials on loved ones' burial sites — it makes it so hard to mow, after all — Cambria Cemetery welcomes all manner of personal expressions of grief, from elaborate sculptures showing the deceased in life…


…to collections of shiny treasures reflecting their former passions.

Exploring the shaded woodland paths populated with expansive expressions of love and loss, one gets the sense that this is a community that's learned how to say goodbye in a way that encourages healing and personal growth. While all of the deceased were strangers to us, as is typically the case when visiting an historic graveyard, we left Cambria Cemetery feeling as though we had spent an hour with hundreds of distinct individuals. While serene and lovely, it's the farthest thing from sad as a cemetery could be.

For more photos from Cambria Cemetery, click this link.

Esotouric Road Trip, May 2010 – Nitt Witt Ridge

Just before Memorial Day, your intrepid urban adventurers stepped outside of their asphalt-coated comfort zone for a lightning 40-hour road trip to explore some notable, rural Central Californian attractions. This is the second of several blog posts sharing scenes from the road.

After shaking off the eerie quiet of La Purisima Mission, we took the slow route up the central valley, hitting a few thrift shops in Santa Maria and enjoying an al fresco Mexican lunch in weedy Nipomo. Late afternoon found us rolling into drizzly, seaside Cambria, where Michael O’Malley was waiting for us at Nitt Witt Ridge, the uninhabited home and folk art environment for which he and wife Stacy serve as caretakers.

Michael came bounding down the steps when he heard our car pull up, and threw open the gates with a big welcoming grin. With a warning to walk carefully, and be prepared to duck under low beams, he led us up the abalone shell-risered steps, holding tight to metal stair rails that once doubled as Nitt Witt Ridge’s water pipes — some of them with electrical light fixtures frighteningly entwined.

But there is no longer any flowing water at Nitt Witt Ridge. The water meter, a valuable commodity in a community that actively limits growth, was sold off to a developer years ago, and the old jerry-rigged electric system has been (wisely) switched off. Today, Nitt Witt Ridge exists outside of the modern era, best visited by daylight, and if you want a glass of water or (its builder’s favorite tipple) cheap American beer, you’d better bring your own.

During our hour-long exploration of the property that Art Beal designed, built and decorated over the course of 50+ years, Michael shared myths and facts about the eccentric builder, known variously as Der Tinkerpaw or Captain Nitt Witt. Although Michael never met the old curmudgeon, he’s made it his business to gather stories (and a rather mean-spirited vintage “Real People” TV clip) to enliven the experience of visiting a place that was once synonymous with its maker.


When Michael bought the place a few years after Art’s death, many rooms were stuffed high with junk, and looters had made off with whatever valuables remained. Left behind were Art’s real treasures, little bits of junk he accumulated in his decades as Cambria’s garbage man and occasional hauler for William Randolph Hearst’s San Simeon castle. Bits of salvaged paper, cloth, ceramic and metal are stacked in every cubby, and open dresser drawers reveal Art’s personal archives, news clippings and photos fading under dust. Inside the kitchen cupboards repurposed from radio cabinets destined for Cambria’s dump, murky canned foods float in jars. Art’s clothes still hang in the closet. Dust is everywhere. You feel Art, and art, all around. It’s wonderful.

Out in the garden, stacks of cemented metal car wheel rims made for sturdy columns, and an open air puttering workshop was bedecked with climbing nasturtium. A little prodding of the seemingly solid earth at the top of the property has revealed Der Tinkerpaw’s ingenious methods: instead of driving out to the dump with the community’s garbage, as his contract dictated, plenty of junk ended up in the gully above Art’s main house, followed by loads of dirt, until a comfortable garden area with exceptional views was constructed on what was once thin air. A recycled fountain of couple of old sinks spilling into a bath made for an open air washtub.


At the top of the property a visitor reaches a ramshackle fence with a conventional wooden shack ruin behind it. This is the old house, where it was said Art once lived with a woman named Gloria. One day she ran off with the contents of his bank account, and he let the place rot. There may be something to this sad legend: Michael has crept inside and found a lady’s shoe and other evidence of habitation.

Art Beal lived a long life, but despite his best intentions, did not die in the home he built. The narrative is muddy, but it seems a small loan obtained for medical services in the 1970s went unpaid, and the lender sought to take Art’s land. Some do-gooders formed a foundation to save Nitt Witt Ridge, but Captain Nitt Witt didn’t cotton to interfering kids or their newfangled ideas. Art became senile, and often ran around naked and hollered at passersby. Complaints were made about self-neglect, social workers started sniffing around, and eventually Art was forced to go into a nursing home. He died there in 1992, and a few years later Michael and Stacy came along and were compelled to take up the mantle of maintaining the strange house on the hill.

Although Nitt Witt Ridge is a California Historical Landmark, the city of Cambria hasn’t made it easy for Michael and Stacy to make a go of their tourist attraction. Some community members disliked Der Tinkerpaw during his lifetime, and that animosity has continued after his death. Large houses have sprung up all around the structure, and while Art’s was there first, some seem to have built their homes with the expectation that Nitt Witt Ridge would be absorbed by the elements or demolished. While neither has happened, thanks to Michael and Stacy’s devotion, small indignities are trotted out to discourage them.


So this landmark example of California vernacular architecture cannot be visited by tour buses, a modest fee cannot officially be charged for Michael’s delightful tour (though you are welcome to tip), and we were denied the opportunity to purchase a commemorative Nitt Witt Ridge t-shirt or tea cosy. To which we say phooey on Cambria. Art Beal’s spirit, and his incredible home, will outlive such petty prejudices. We highly recommend a visit to Nitt Witt Ridge if you’re visiting the Central Coast. Call Michael at 805-927-2690 to book a private tour, and tell him Esotouric sent you. (2018 Update – Nitt Witt Ridge is for sale!)

Video links:
See Art Beal and his kitties
Watch Michael lead a tour

For more photos from Nitt Witt Ridge, click this link. Up next: Cambria’s unique community cemetery.

Fêting John Fante, part 2

On April 8, 2010, the City of Los Angeles officially designated the corner of Fifth and Grand at the foot of Bunker Hill as John Fante Square. To watch a film of that ceremony, featuring speakers Councilwoman Jan Perry, Fante Square nominator Richard Schave of Esotouric, John Fante’s children Vickie Fante Cohen, Jim Fante and Dan Fante, his biographer Stephen Cooper, resident of Historic Bunker Hill Gordon Pattison, Tom Hyry from UCLA Special Collection and Louise Steinman of the L.A. Public Library’s Aloud program, click below.

Introducing LAVA – The Los Angeles Visionaries Association

lavaSunspotsLAVA – The Los Angeles Visionaries Association All across this vast and confusing city, little pockets of creative energy flare up, like molten lava oozing from the earth's core. But if you blink, you'll miss them. The failure to find real connection in Los Angeles is a cliché rooted in truth. You could easily spend frustrating years searching for the real thing, those hidden gems and secret gatherings that give this city a soul. Or you can look to a new entity called LAVA (the Los Angeles Visionaries Association) for guidance.

LAVA has been several months in the making, and we're so excited to push it out into the world and see where it takes us. We hope the LA folk reading this will please have a look and let us know what they think of the site.

More info:
LAVA aims to reveal the hidden heart of Los Angeles and facilitate connections between people with shared passions and sensibilities. Through participation in LAVA, a select group of artists comes together to promote cultural programming that speaks to the urban experience while promoting positive public space. LAVA's creative partners share a love for L.A. and unique ideas for how to express and explore it in their work.

Formed by social historians RICHARD SCHAVE and KIM COOPER — proprietors of Esotouric bus adventures and until recently the Director and Curator of the Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk — LAVA brings together L.A.'s most visionary promoters, artists, writers and thinkers. Not virtually, though LAVA's online calendar is packed with gems, but in frequent gatherings of living, breathing, collaborating, connecting human beings, held all around the town — including a monthly Sunday Salon at Clifton's Cafeteria.

The first crop of Visionaries in the growing curated community includes cultural chronicler ADRIENNE CREW, Cacophony Society co-founder AL RIDENOUR, back-to-nature pioneer ALICIA BAY LAUREL, former Metropolitan Museum curator ALLON SCHOENER, designer/mom of Chicken Boy AMY INOUYE, custom tours maven ANNE BLOCK, master puppeteer BOB BAKER, producer and promoter CHRISTIAN VOLTAIRE MEOLI, performance artist CRIMEBO THE CLOWN, the NEA's outgoing Director of Literature DAVID KIPEN, documentarian and exploitation film historian ELIJAH DRENNER, pop critic and outsider artist GENE SCULATTI, no-longer-Teenage Glutster food blogger JAVIER CABRAL, horror film director JEREMY KASTEN, social historian JOAN RENNER, Musso & Frank co-owner JORDAN JONES, performance artist JULES ROCHIELLE, curator and activist JULIE RICO, "Kristin's List" cultural chronicler KRISTIN BEDFORD, esoteric scholar and lecturer MAJA D'AOUST, poet and dancer MONA JEAN CEDAR, L.A. Historic Theater Foundation rep NICK MATONAK, music producer and impresario NO'A WINTER LAZERUS, peace activist PAUL NUGENT of the Aetherius Society, social networking mistress SHAWNA DAWSON, and hat designer and multi-media artist YASMIN DIXON.

LAVA's core members are multi-generational (ranging from age 21 through 86) genre-hoppers who are already beginning to collaborate on a series of exclusive LAVA happenings, many of them free to attend. Forthcoming free LAVA exclusives include the L.A.-themed exploitation film series Tinseltown Tarnish (hosted by Elijah Drenner and Jeremy Kasten), a screening of the astrologically-themed 1938 film "When Were You Born" at the historic United Lodge of Theosophy (hosted by Maja D'Aoust) and a new series of "Flâneur & the City" downtown walking tours (led by Richard Schave). And starting in March, LAVA hosts a monthly Sunday Salon at Clifton's Cafeteria, where all curious folks are invited to come learn about the LAVA community and enjoy short presentations from select Visionaries.

LAVA's website debuts today with a community calendar that features an eclectic mix of events: occult lectures, Tom Waits bus tours, musical gatherings, art openings, puppet spectaculars, historic theater tours, saucy nurse performance art, comedy benefits for Haitian relief, ancient Hindu scripture classes, and a free walking tour of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Los Angeles. Coming soon: podcasts, community forums and printable event calendars.

Then there's the community blog, a chance for LAVA's secret weapon to shine. Click BLOG and you'll find ALLON SCHOENER, the 84-year-old cultural historian, author, exhibition originator and art world "Zelig," who in January moved from Hudson, NY to Hollenbeck Palms, the historic Boyle Heights retirement home, dusted off his laptop and started planning his creative life in Los Angeles. Allon's first blog post in a series of recollections of meetings with 20th Century tastemakers is the story of how he brought the first domestic espresso machine to Hollywood in the 1950s. Coming soon: Allon's 100% true tales of life as Charles and Ray Eames' houseguest, socializing with Imogen Cunningham, brainstorming with George Nelson and studying art history with Soviet spy Anthony Blunt.

Musso & Frank dials it back to the 1940s for late night snacks and tipples

We’ve been waiting a long time to share the very cool news that our friend Jordan Jones, 4th generation owner of the historic MUSSO & FRANK GRILL in Hollywood, will be keeping the “new room” bar open late a few nights a week and dialing the atmosphere back to the early 1940s with jazz, blues, snacks and perfect martinis from the bar that fueled Chandler, West, Faulkner, Bukowski, Hemingway and Fitzgerald. The new concept debuts Friday, Novemeber 27 (the night after Thanksgiving), and we’re planning to pop by around 10pm to enjoy the transformation. Maybe we’ll see you there. The regular after-dinner schedule will be Friday and Saturdays, 10pm-2am. Info:

Toronto Star covers Esotouric’s Lowdown on Downtown tour… and the lost promise of Richard Schave’s Art Walk leadership

Toronto Star: Irreverent tour turns L.A. unconfidential – Guide provides candid commentary about city's shortfalls, history – by Michael Benedict

LOS ANGELES–Even the passengers on this zany "secret history of Los Angeles" bus tour get in on the city-bashing act. One of our stops is Pershing Square in L.A.'s historic heart, a prime example of what guide Richard Schave calls "bad public space." When we walk through the near-empty concrete "park," Joie Magidow, one of several locals on the tour, shouts out: "It used to have palm trees and green spaces. People would take their lunch there. Then it turned into concrete sh–."

Imagine an enthusiastic guide who slams his city, left, right and especially centre? Welcome to Esotouric's "bus adventures," where co-owner Schave entertains by lambasting the revitalization efforts in L.A.'s downtown.

Schave takes us far off the tourist track to show us architectural masterpieces, neighbourhoods in transition and even some urban successes. This 4 1/2-hour adventure is clearly not your standard promotional tour.

Esotouric began in 2007 with a menu of offbeat itineraries. They highlighted L.A.'s noir, seamy side. Two sensational and still unsolved 1947 city murders featured prominently: the brutal knifing of Elizabeth Short, later known as the Black Dahlia, and the shooting of mobster Bugsy Siegel. Esotouric still offers these popular tours along with another based on Raymond Chandler mysteries.

Chandler's private eye, Philip Marlowe, prowled the same downtown streets Schave now wants to rejuvenate. "This is the site of the largest public eviction in U.S. history," he says as we walk atop Bunker Hill, where some 5,000 people lost their homes in the late 1950s to make way for a massive redevelopment that is still ongoing.

On the bus, Schave displays old photos on TV screens of the Victorian houses that once stood on the hill. Today, there are high-rise towers, high-rise office buildings, Frank Gehry's acclaimed Walt Disney Concert Hall and very, very, very little public space. Schave blames award-winning architect I.M. Pei (the Louvre pyramid, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and Commerce Court West in Toronto) for cutting off the buildings from the people. "He designed these crazy streets," says Schave. "It's all his fault."

Bunker Hill residents were linked to the commercial district below by a five-cent funicular that deposited them steps from work, banking and grocery shopping at the Grand Central Market. City planners shut down the funicular, known as Angels Flight, in 1962, but brought it back under public pressure in 1996. However, it closed five years later after a fatality – and has yet to reopen. "They keep promising to start it again soon," says Schave, "but don't hold your breath."

Grand Central Market does remain open, defying predictions of its demise when Bunker Hill was depopulated. According to Schave, "You can fill two bags of groceries here for under $10."

He shows us Grand Central because it is a "good public place." Another positive example is the Mercantile Arcade, modelled on London's Burlington Mall. It connects Spring St., the former "Wall St. of the West" that today is home to lofts and art galleries, with Broadway, where vaudeville theatres once flourished and now is mostly a Latino shopping street. Enthuses Schave: "The Arcade was the Rodeo Dr. of its time, and it's still perfect. It's my favourite part of the historic downtown."

Another bad example of downtown public place is L.A. Live, a $3 billion redevelopment project anchored by the new GRAMMY Museum and the Staples Centre, home to the world champion L.A. Lakers. Schave dismisses the massive undertaking as the worst of 1980's-style urban planning. "It's a freeway exit," he says.

Despite his rhetoric, Schave sees a hopeful future for his beloved downtown, a future he intends to influence.

And not just through his eye-opening bus tours. Schave, who has a degree in fine arts, is director of Art Walk,* a not-for-profit organization that is drawing attention to the city's core as a desirable place to live. On the second Thursday night of every month, people converge on the old city centre for walking tours, to visit galleries and enjoy street entertainment. The event began in 2004 with a handful of visitors but now draws more than 10,000 people to the historic district's streets.

"After 15 years of failure, Los Angeles has finally got it right," Schave says of the city's support of Art Walk and shift to promoting mixed-used, instead of high-rise, development. His goal is to proselytize for the positive power of public spaces through Art Walk and his private tours.

"Los Angeles is complicated and needs lots of explaining," says Schave, who this year lectured on downtown L.A. at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal.

Schave is a master of stand-up and local trivia. He stops the bus to point out Ross Cutlery on Broadway, where O.J. Simpson allegedly bought a stiletto similar to the one used in the murder of his ex-wife. Murder scenes or hotels where notorious killers once stayed are duly noted.

The tour ends on a high note. A former industrial area hidden among cold storage warehouses is these days home to artists taking advantage of city incentives for low-cost residential use. Long-time denizen Terry Ellsworth takes the reins from Schave and shows us around his Arts District.

"Al's bar, where lots of alternative rock groups got their start, was here," says Ellsworth.

"It was quite a wild place in the 1980s – if you say that you remember an incident, you really weren't there."

But today it's a stable community drawing people from outlying regions.

Says Ellsworth: "Watch us bring the city back to life."

Dorothy Parker once described Los Angeles as 72 suburbs in search of a city. Thanks to Schave and his friends that may finally be changing.

             Michael Benedict is a Toronto-based freelance writer.


*Editrix' note: With great regret, Richard resigned as the Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk's Director on November 9, 2009 due to philosophical conflicts with the Board, which informed him of its desire to give the HDBID, a private organization of the neighborhood's largest property owners, a voice in the management of this arts non-profit.


Richard Schave's The Lowdown on Downtown tour next rolls on Saturday, February 27.

Free walking tours of the Downtown LA Art Walk

cliftons1Now that our Richard Schave is the Director of the Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk, you won’t be surprised to learn that walking tours are on the agenda. We started slow for the July 2009 Art Walk: three early evening tours which we guessed would each have about 30 attendees. It ended up being closer to 50 per tour, and Richard had to go around twice to pick up the overflow. If you’re curious about the Art Walk and would like to test the waters on a guided tour, please sign up for the Art Walk mailing list so you’ll know when to reserve your spot.

Here’s a glimpse into the July walking tours hosted by Richard and Mike the PoeT. (Anne Block also led a wonderful tour, but our videographer’s battery died as it began.)