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.)

Esotouric visits the Fairmount Cemetery

On Saturday, June 20, 2009, the Esotouric bus paid a visit to Glendora's remote Fairmount Cemetery, set high on San Felipe Hill, as part of the Reyner Banham Loves LA: Route 66 tour. The dilapidated site is one of the oldest Southern California burial grounds in continuous use, with unmarked graves dating back to the 1840s.

Today it is a strange and mournful place, reached by a precarious path along partially collapsed gravel roads, silent save for the soft hum of the bees who've built a hive in an old tree, and the occasional barking of dogs coming across the valley floor. Monuments in various stages of repair dot the hillside, and at the top, an incongruous grove of citrus trees drop ripe fruit for only squirrels to enjoy. Fairmount Cemetery graves

It's said that Monrovia Growers, the nursery which owned all the surrounding land until they recently sold it off for residential subdivision, planted the fruit trees to undermine the fragile ecostystem of the graveyard. But so far, it abides.

For more about the cemetery, see this cached webpage listing the known burials, this 1994 L.A. Times article about development coming to the hill and the Find A Grave page, which links to short bios of the residents.

Our tour also included a stop at the giddy, Googie Covina Bowl, which in addition to its marvelous vintage lighting fixtures…


currently sports a raven's nest in its landmark sign.

Covina Bowl sign with raven's nest

And to the E. Waldo Ward Farm for a tour of the canning rooms. (Below, barbecue sauce ready for shipment, and fourth generation proprietor Jeff Ward.)


To see all photos from the day's adventure, click here.

Raymond Chandler and the Creamery

slide17-1Welcome to the Esotouric blog, a place for eclectic bits of L.A. lore that wouldn’t otherwise have a home. Here you’ll find original research that’s too detailed to share on our bus tours, photo tours of offbeat landmarks, recommended readings and special announcements meant to bring a little antique joy into this all too modern world. We hope you’ll tune in and find our musings to your liking.

Our first post grows out of research into detective novelist Raymond Chandler, subject of two Esotouric bus adventures, the downtown-centered “Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles: In A Lonely Place” and the westside tour “Raymond Chandler’s Bay City. [Update: and the novel The Kept Girl, starring the young Chandler on the trail of a cult of murderous angel worshippers.]

To read Raymond Chandler while studying Los Angeles history is to discover that the writer took a special pleasure in larding his tales with real names and places that had personal resonance. Every time one of these little clues comes into focus, we find it hard not to squeal.

“The Lady in the Lake” (1943) has at least two of these small gifts: the Treloar Building (obviously based on the Art Deco Oviatt) is almost certainly named for Harvard grad Al Treloar, “The Most Perfectly Developed Man in the World,” who was for decades the athletic director at the LA Athletic Club, half a block from the Oviatt and site of Chandler’s mid-day bridge games. And Marlowe’s cop-companion Al Degarmo likely honors G.C. De Garmo, a socially-connected attorney involved in a lengthy contract dispute affecting Chandler’s early employer, the Los Angeles Creamery.

Los Angeles Creamery circa 1939 LAPL collection

For the downtown tour, we looked into a little known period of Raymond Chandler’s life in Los Angeles, the years 1913-19, before he joined the Dabney Oil Syndicate. What did this intelligent youth observe from behind his bookkeeper’s desk? He leaves us no written evidence, but we’ve done a little digging into his employer’s public record, and found some fascinating dirt.

Chandler was a mature man when he started writing fiction, and evidence of his rich pre-literary life is thick in the work. While little is known conclusively about his early years in Los Angeles, a bit of digging exposes unexpected spice in his seemingly dry gig as a commercial bookkeeper.

In 1913, we know that Chandler, then 25, was working as a bookkeeper in the Los Angeles Creamery, the largest milk concern in the city. Their main plant was at 12th and Towne, south of downtown. He worked there through most of the teens, briefly supervised their Santa Barbara office, and got his job back on his return to Los Angeles after war service in 1919 before making the transition to the oil business.

While on first glance this sounds like it might be a dull part of Chandler’s life, and his biographers concur, further exploration reveals he would have received an early education in local corruption and crimes of passion while so employed.

george platt dies 1936In March 1912, George E. Platt, president of the Los Angeles Creamery and Chandler’s boss, was found guilty of adulterating the “cream” his company sold. The pricey product was proven to be ordinary milk mixed with the condensed variety. Platt appealed his conviction, claiming he had the right to regulate his inventory, but he lost the appeal and was fined $25. This case received a great deal of publicity, and Chandler would certainly have been aware of it.

Then in July 1914, Platt was stalked and shot by a business associate who claimed he was being ripped off in a real estate deal. The aggrieved C.P. Deyoe drove from his Hollywood home to the intersection of Sixth and Ardmore, where he knew Platt (resident of 520 Ardmore) and contractor Frank O. Jean (452 Ardmore) caught the streetcar to work. Jean was late that day, lucky fellow. But Platt was waiting for the train, and accepted a ride from Deyoe.

It was not a pleasant trip. Deyoe immediately launched into the same old story about how Platt owed him $10,000 commission on Platt’s purchase of the Scorpion Ranch in Owensmouth, and furthermore, Platt’s friend and neighbor Frank O. Jean owed him money, too. When Deyoe asserted that if it hadn’t been for the money he was owed, Jean wouldn’t have been able to build Platt’s new house on Ardmore for him, Platt objected. That’s when Deyoe pulled out his gun.

George Platt jumped from the car at Sixth and Catalina, failing to yank the gun away as he ran, and Deyoe shot him in the back, then shot himself in the head. The assailant died instantly, and his victim lingered in terrible agonies at California Hospital with a bullet lodged in his abdomen. He survived.

george platt shooting headline

When interviewed, Frank O. Jean claimed he didn’t even know the gunman. In the hospital, Platt said he believed the shooter was insane and the claimed debt imaginary.

But then again, this is a man who thought it was his right to sell adulterated milk products as cream. And it’s known that in 1908, Deyoe brokered the sale of 280 acres in Rancho La Puente as a dairy facility for Platt’s Creamery, at a price of between $250 and $400 an acre.

We also know that Raymond Chandler, reconciling ice cream orders in lined notebooks and observing everything with the care of a born writer, was getting an education in how business was done in California. He would prove something of an expert when he finally took up the pen in earnest.


Image credits: Platt obituary and headline from the Los Angeles Times, WPA project Los Angeles Creamery photo circa 1939 from the Los Angeles Public Library.

If you’d like to explore other recent research into Chandler’s life in Los Angeles, we highly recommend Loren Latker’s site Shamus Town.