Tour keeps spirit of author Raymond Chandler’s L.A. alive (Associated Press, 2009)

LOS ANGELES — The thought hit as soon as the bus pulled up: “I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat, and a gun.”

Actually, what I really had was a notebook, a pen, and a digital recorder. Oh yeah, and a seat on Esotouric’s Raymond Chandler Bus Tour, having decided to learn whether L.A. really is, as Chandler’s hard-bitten detective Philip Marlowe once said, “just a big dry sunny place with ugly homes and no style.”

To find out, I would have to get as close to the source as possible. Just like Marlowe had done in Farewell, My Lovely, when he picked up that hat and coat, strapped on that gun, and passed through the mansions, the dive bars, and the “dine and dice emporiums” of this gaudy city in search of a deadly redhead named Velma.

The source of course couldn’t be Chandler himself. L.A.’s literary legend, arguably the greatest crime novelist of all time, had died 50 years earlier. Now, like Joe Brody in The Big Sleep, he was at rest in a modest grave in a San Diego cemetery.

No, the man to see would be Richard Schave, the guy standing by the front of the bus, the one in the snap-brim fedora, gaudy blue vest, and white shirt.

His outfit didn’t look quite as outrageous as that of the cowboy hoodlum in The Long Goodbye, the fellow Marlowe once mocked as looking like he was ready to “dance a tango with a ground squirrel.” But it made you think of it.

The 40-year-old tour guide was impressively well versed, however, on every aspect of Chandler’s life.

Schave had grown up in this neon-lighted slum that the author liked to mock as a place of “sunglasses and attitudes and pseudo-refined voices and waterfront morals.” And so he knew that Chandler secretly loved this city, in that twisted love-hate way only an Angelino can.

“I read his letters, and I knew Chandler liked to give tours of Los Angeles, about scenes from his books and his crime scenes in particular, and I always had this notion of how do you show people Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles,” Schave said.

But he might never have done it if there hadn’t been a woman involved. As Marlowe might say, “There always is.”

Schave’s wife, Kim Cooper, began putting together an L.A. crime noir blog three years ago, focusing on the year 1947. From the still-unsolved Black Dahlia murder of Elizabeth Short, whose body was neatly cut in half and left in a vacant lot, to the rubout of mob boss Bugsy Siegel, there was no lack of subject matter.

Soon Cooper had a loyal following, and when readers wanted to see the crime sites she was writing about it seemed only natural to rent a bus and take them there.

Three years later, Esotouric offers about a dozen different year-round tours, most focusing on the mean L.A. streets Chandler glamorized.

There’s a tour that covers the favorite haunts of Skid Row poet laureate Charles Bukowski and another that takes you down the streets that inspired musician Tom Waits. The sites that shaped the works of classic L.A. noir writers John Fante (Ask the Dust) and James M. Cain (Double Indemnity) are also included. The great L.A. crime novelist James Ellroy has even climbed aboard the bus himself a couple times to show riders the places that inspired works like L.A. Confidential and The Big Nowhere.

But Esotouric’s two Chandler tours remain the most popular of its four-hour Saturday excursions.

“I’ve been a mystery buff since I was a kid,” said Scott Nessa, who traveled all the way from Minneapolis with his friend Cathy Carter to see sites like the venerable Hollywood hangout Musso and Frank, where Chandler wrote The Big Sleep, the Lincoln Heights jail, where the author gained valuable knowledge for Marlowe’s incarceration in The Long Goodbye while sleeping off his own benders, and the Chateau Delaware, the beaux arts building Marlowe was living in when he set out to learn who put The Lady in the Lake. It was also the place where Joe Brody got plugged in The Big Sleep.

Then there’s the Barclay Hotel on the edge of Skid Row, the place where the bald guy in Room 332 got the ice pick in the neck in The Little Sister. It was called the Van Nuys Hotel in the book, a name still etched in the granite facade. And if the surrounding neighborhood is gentrifying these days, the signs in the lobby still remind visitors as they did Marlowe, “Guests Must Pay in Advance.”

“He really captured the flavor of L.A.,” bus rider Maureen Myers of Los Angeles said of Chandler as she dug her spoon into a cup of gelato outside another tour stop, Scoop’s, in east Hollywood.

A friendly hole-in-the-wall place where they don’t ask too many questions, Scoop’s could have served as a Marlowe watering hole if it only served vodka gimlets instead of Italian ice cream.

Still, the nicotine-flavored gelato dished up got the point across: This is L.A., a city where if oddness wasn’t invented, it was perfected. It’s Raymond Chandler’s L.A.

If You Go…

ESOUTOURIC TOURS: esotouric.com or 213-373-1947. Quirky bus tours of the noir side of Los Angeles, including visits to sites that inspired writers Raymond Chandler, John Fante, James. M. Cain, James Ellroy, Charles Bukowski, and others. Tours of the haunts of musician Tom Waits and the site of the Black Dahlia murder and other famous L.A. crimes are also included.

TICKETS AND SCHEDULE: $58 per rider. Discounts and season passes are also available. Most tours begin at noon on Saturdays and last about four hours. Check for details when booking. Buses leave from various locations around the Los Angeles area.

SURPRISES: The tours make frequent stops to meet with colorful L.A. denizens and visit historical buildings and L.A. oddities. “Crimebo the clown” and other colorful characters sometimes accompany the tours, and James Ellroy himself has led a couple of the tours to his sites.

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Information about this bus tour

There are no paper tickets: your name will be on a list at the bus door. Check in is at 11:30am for a 12pm sharp departure from the Daily Dose Cafe.

Food and drink are permitted and suggested; no audio or video-taping without permission. We regret that there are no refunds for passengers who miss the bus.

Parking / Breakfast suggestions

There is ample free parking in the neighborhood.

The Daily Dose is a great place for breakfast, but we recommend that you arrive about a half an hour before check in, so that neither you nor the cafe is rushed.

Need to reach us on tour day? Please phone Richard at 213-915-8687 after 8am.

Overview of this bus tour

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Address

The Daily Dose Cafe
1820 Industrial Street
Los Angeles 90021
(213) 281-9300

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Dear City of Los Angeles: Please Save the Wyvernwood Garden Apartments

Submitted by email
Mr. Sergio Ibarra
City of Los Angeles, Major Projects
200 North Spring Street, City Hall, Room 750
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Email: Sergio.Ibarra@lacity.org

To Mr. Ibarra,

As preservationists, architectural historians and residents of the east side, we are writing to express our grave concern over the proposed demolition and redevelopment of the historic Wyvernwood Garden Apartments in Boyle Heights. This is one of the best designed and most significant examples of modern architecture on the east side of town, and it ought to be preserved and maintained and not demolished. Similar properties on the west side have waiting lists to live in them, because they are recognized as the best sort of urban residential design.

15 Group has been a neglectful landlord of Wyvernwood for many years, and now wants to evict hundreds of families and build a massive development that is unsuitable for the community and which many people do not believe will welcome the longtime residents back. This is the same out-of-state developer that recently purchased and demolished a beloved Silver Lake coffee shop, The Coffee Table, demolished it for residential redevelopment, abandoned the project and left a vacant lot.

Why should Los Angeles trust 15 Group to do what’s right for Boyle Heights when they have such a poor track record in our communities?

In a part of town which has so many vacant lots and derelict industrial structures, there are simply thousands of better choices for redevelopment than is the Wyvernwood Garden Apartments, and we urge you to consider a plan that will preserve this gem of Boyle Heights.

best regards,
Kim Cooper and Richard Schave
PO Box 31227
Los Angeles, CA 90031