Esotouric Day Trip: Long Beach, alive and dead

On a warm April day, the Esotouric gang set off for points south, on a journey to explore some of the architectural and sculptural gems of our near-neighbor, Long Beach. Below, we’ll share a few things spied along the way. Check out the full photo set here.

Our first stop was Sunnyside Cemetery in Long Beach. Note that this is not the Forest Lawn-run Sunnyside in Long Beach where we recently gave a free LAVA tour, but an older and more modest graveyard in the shadow of the oil fields. It is home to some handome carved monuments…


… and also to an extraordinary sculpted grave honoring local physician Albert Rhea, killed when his bicycle collided with a streetcar in 1907, and his family.


When Ansel Adams photographed the tomb in 1939, he framed it with oil derricks; oil is still drilled on the hill behind, but not so dramatically. Our beloved LAPL owns several prints from the same photo session.


The sculpture, known as The Angel of Sorrows, is remarkable. It is a very pretty thing in person, but when photographed it is astonishingly beautiful. We found ourselves moving from place to place, trying to take a photo that wasn’t stunning. We failed.


Later in the day, we strolled the waterfront, pausing to marvel at the gothic pile that is the Villa Riviera…

Photo Apr 05, 5 32 35 PM

and the sylvan sprawl of the El Cordova Apartments, with its marzipan Spanish balconies…


and a fine little WPA library in the Spanish style.

Photo Apr 05, 3 42 23 PM

Saddest was our stop at the former Acres of Books, a landmark of the west coat literary scene for nearly a century, snatched away by the since-dissolved Long Beach redevelopment agency for a dumb project that remains, and shall remain, unbuilt.

Photo Apr 05, 6 44 27 PM

But even in death, AoB has an undeniable gravitas.

Photo Apr 05, 6 44 59 PM

These day trips exploring the near unfamiliar remind us how energizing it is to get out of our everyday habits and go out in search of something new. Stay tuned for more Esotouric day trips, and in the mean time, we hope you’ll veer off your own regular routes and see what unexpected gems you’ll find there.

The Aztec Hotel 1925-2012-?

The Aztec Hotel is a National Register landmark located along the old Route 66 alignment in Monrovia, CA. Built in the Mayan Revival style by the visionary English architect Robert Stacy-Judd (1884-1975) circa 1925, The Aztec has recently passed into new hands and closes today for refurbishment. While we await the re-opening of one of our favorite buildings, please enjoy this photo set and three panoramic photographs: #1, #2, #3 all captured yesterday (May 8, 2012) in this most lyrical and mysterious building, which has long been a highlight of our Route 66 tours.

What’s new in our time travel blogs

Recent posts in the 1947project time travel blogs include a 1950s-era virtual drive to through Malibu with 3-D photographer George Mann, featuring incredible restaurant photos not seen in decades and explorations of what the recently released 1940s census tells us about Black Dahlia murder victim Elizabeth Short and the celebrated Hollywood residence hotel The Garden of Allah. Esotouric grew out of these online history websites. Swing by and enjoy all the interesting digging we’ve been doing.

Esotouric road trip, June 2011 – A giant shoe in Bakersfield and other Central Californian oddities

For their fifth anniversary celebration, Esotouric’s Kim Cooper and Richard Schave headed off on California’s old, lost highways in search of the unexpected.

First stop, the remote Saint Francis dam disaster site, with its surprising companion, the stunning Art Deco D.W.P. Power Plant #2. The 1928 disaster provided an architectural opportunity to rebuild in the high style of the day, and it’s certainly a gem.
St. Francis dam site

To access the spot where the dam collapsed and millions of gallons of water poured to the sea at Ventura, dragging about 500 souls to their death, one must stop on the two-lane highway and walk out along an abandoned, partially washed-out road. Within moments, the heat of the canyon dissipates and all mechanical sounds vanish.
St. Francis dam site
The road is clogged close by trees feeding off the stream that’s filtered up through the asphalt, and down in the thin layer of mud and water, swift black tadpoles darted away from our shoes.

St. Francis dam site

The walk is short. Round a bend where bullet holes dot old road signs, and there it is: the big canyon with unmistakeable signs of Mr. Mullholland’s hubris in building atop an ancient landslide.
St. Francis dam site

Shaken by this quiet monument to the suffering caused by L.A.’s booster egotism, we left quietly, our spirits much buoyed by the sight of a colony of incredibly tiny frogs, too small to photograph, frolicking in their mud puddle.

Next on the agenda was a stop in Tehachapi, that little mountain town best known for the prison which used to house all the southland’s Tiger Women and Black Widows.


After exploring the cute little downtown with its replica train station (a recent fire ate the landmark original), German bakery (try the Harvest Loaf)
and vintage neon hotel signs, we found the tranquil cemetery, just off the highway out on the community dump road.

Tehachapi Cemetery

Eager to settle in for the night, we gunned it on to Bakersfield, where Richard posed with the object of our trip, Mr. Deschwanden’s shoe repair shop which is, yes, shaped like a shoe. It seems to be vacant. A business opportunity for you, perhaps?

Bakersfield Shoe-Shaped Cobbler's Shop, circa 1950 (builder: Mr. Deschwanden)

At Richard Neutra’s Norwalk Service Station, now a Sir Lube, we learned that the roof leaks, but the old gal is otherwise holding up nicely.

Norwalk Service Station (former), Neutra, Bakersfield

We admired many fine neon signs.

Sinaloa restaurant neon, Bakersfield

Harper Pools neon, Bakersfield

And found an old iron hitching ring in the sidewalk, in front of what used to be a popular saloon, but is now a vacant lot.

Iron hitching ring, Bakersfield

The heat was getting to us, so after a cozy night in the restored Padre Hotel, we lit out for points more coastal, via Delano, a birthplace of farmworkers’ rights where the derelict brick Hotel Kern caught our eye.

Derelict Hotel Kern, Delano

The road to the coast followed James Dean’s last drive, and we pulled off the road at the spot where he crashed his Porsche to muse for a spell on the life lost and myth gained. Kim had Phil Ochs’ lovely song about him stuck in her head for the next couple hours.

James Dean death site

After the outrageous heat of the central valley, San Luis Obispo felt like heaven, so of course we had to seek out the putti and pink fluff of
Madonna Inn Resort & Spa

Madonna Inn

It was just about a year ago that we’d last dropped by, on the way home from our Nittwitt Ridge Excursion, and we were delighted to see that the innkeepers have again welcomed a family of swallows to nest under the eaves of the porte-cochère. A little luck, and we captured an image of feeding time.

Baby swallows being fed, Madonna Inn

Down to town the next morning, Richard was reluctant to go thrift shopping, but happy he had when he came away with a beautiful set of vintage Samsonite luggage, cheap.

Richard scores vintage Samsonite luggage set, San Luis Obispo

Breakfast was served at Louisa’s Place, which we liked for our sassy waitress and the ingenious addition of grilled mushrooms to the Eggs Florentine.

Last stop before home to kiss the cats was a long stroll out onto the boardwalk through the dunes at Guadalupe, a strange and beautiful place.

Guadalupe Dunes

Somewhere out there are the ruins of exotic silent film sets, but we were more keen on bird watching and admiring the very odd plants that thrive in the sand.

Guadalupe Dunes

Thanks for tagging along with us for this latest road trip adventure, and stay tuned for more peculiar excursions. For more photos, click here.

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. Noire fans ride the Real Black Dahlia bus

L.A. Noire fans gather outside the Biltmore, eager to go play the game with new understanding of '47 L.A. On April 16, Esotouric was delighted to welcome fans of the much-anticipated Rockstar / Team Bondi video game "L.A. Noire" aboard The Real Black Dahlia crime bus, for a moody excursion following in the footsteps of Elizabeth Short, whose unsolved 1947 murder, notorious then as now as the Black Dahlia case, figures in the plot of the game. Walking to the crime scene From the Biltmore Hotel where she rested, to the Olive Street bar that was the real last place she was seen alive, then out to Leimert Park to the now disarmingly suburban crime scene, it was an emotional day spent in great company. We hope taking the tour helps our new friends solve all the virtual crimes that "L.A. Noire" can throw at them (in the character of Cole Phelps, newly-minted 1947 LAPD Detective) while revealing the real, sad girl behind all the mystery and bluster of the Black Dahlia myth. Hotel Figueroa, where Beth Short had a romantic interlude For more photos from our day exploring, see the Flickr set . And if you're excited about playing "L.A. Noire" and want to visit the real city that's its source, then come out with us on any one of our 1940s-themed tours: The Real Black Dahlia, The Birth of Noir, Raymond Chandler's L.A. or Hotel Horrors & Main Street Vice.

Raymond Chandler’s wife comes home

On Valentine's Day 2011, Esotouric took a road trip to San Diego to attend the Cissy Chandler burial service at Mount Hope Cemetery in San Diego. This video is a short version of the ceremony, with a very special surprise at the end, as Sybil Anne Davis reads an unpublished poem by Raymond Chandler.

Speakers at the Cissy Chandler burial service included Loren Latker (Shamus Town website), Ann Lispcomb Hill (San Diego Historical Society), Dr. Annie Thiel-Latker, Powers Boothe reading selected bon mots by Raymond Chandler, Judith Freeman reading from "The Long Embrace" and Randal Gardner, Rector of St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church of La Jolla, officient. Music by the Crown Island Jazz Band. For information on Esotouric's occasional bus tour "Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: In A Lonely Place" visit this link. For a full set of photos from the burial ceremony, click here. Photos by Chinta Cooper, video by Esotouric, all rights reserved