The Return of Oddball Row edition


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December 10th, 2014

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Tuttle Cameras 4019 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach #vintage #neon ##artdeco #signage #signporn #signgeeks by @esotouric

Gentle Reader. . .

In 1920s Los Angeles, a particular type of offbeat commercial architecture flourished, notable for unique sculptural designs that were at once usable buildings, and eye-catching three-dimensional signage. From the humble orange-shaped OJ stand to the towering owl dispensing ice cream to a Tamale as big as a bus, these daffy concoctions charmed and befuddled generations of visitors.

It’s only in retrospect that the style got its high-falutin’ academic names (“programmatic” or “mimetic”) and a book-length celebration. By that time, many of the cheaply-constructed buildings were falling apart, or had been demolished to make way for more profitable developments. Those few that remain are precious remnants of a lost Los Angeles, forever teetering on the brink.

So we’re always pleased to learn of one of these gems getting a careful restoration. The good work being done to revive the Idle Hour, a barrel-shaped tavern in North Hollywood, has been on our radar for quite some time. How delightful, then, to hear that the barrel is being joined by the adorable miniature replica of the Bulldog Cafe that the Petersen Automotive Museum doesn’t want any longer. Two programmatic buildings in one block evokes the groovy Oddball Row that once was Whittier Boulevard, and thrills us to the core.

But that’s not all! Long Beach fought for, and saved, its giant donut, reinstalled this week with a chocolate sprinkles makeover paid for by new owners, Dunkin’ Donuts.

And the ketchup on the weiner is the breaking news that Tail o’ the Pup, the beloved and much-missed hot dog stand shaped like what it sells, has been acquired by a revamped downtown mall.

The best chance for L.A.’s surviving programmatic buildings to be preserved is for their owners to understand how cool, rare and valuable they are. So we applaud all of this breaking news about weird buildings, and can’t help but dream that might be on the cusp of a new era of creative California Krazy design and construction. Here’s hoping!

We’re grateful to everyone who has signed and shared our petition seeking to convince the Raymond Chandler Estate to let us stage The Princess and the Pedlar, the lost Chandler comic operetta discovered by Kim. If you haven’t yet, won’t you, please?

We’re back on the bus this Saturday with our final tour of the year, and it’s a wild one. Eastside Babylon is a crime bus tour packed with terror and giddy delight, and yes, we will be visiting the giant Tamale on Whittier Boulevard, so you can get up close and personal with the programmatic past. Join us, do!

Go East, young ghoul, with our most unhinged crime bus adventure. Come visit Boyle Heights, where the Night Stalker was captured and a mad dad ran amok. Roam the hallowed lawns of Evergreen, L.A.’s oldest cemetery and home of some memorable haunts and strange burials. Visit East L.A., where a deranged radio shop employee made mince meat of his boss and bride–and you can get your hair done in a building shaped like a giant tamale. Explore the ghastly streets of Commerce, where one small neighborhood’s myriad crimes will shock and surprise. Visit Montebello, for scrumptious milk and cookies at Broguiere’s Farm Fresh Dairy washed down with a horrifying case of child murder.

Join us on this iconic, unsolved Los Angeles murder mystery tour, from the throbbing boulevards of a postwar Downtown to the quiet suburban avenue where horror came calling. After multiple revisions, this is less a true crime tour than a social history of 1940s Hollywood female culture, mass media and madness, and we welcome you to join us for the ride. We only have one seat left, so hurry and reserve your spot today.

Come explore Charles Bukowski’s lost Los Angeles and the fascinating contradictions that make this great local writer such a hoot to explore. Haunts of a Dirty Old Man is a raucous day out celebrating liquor, ladies, pimps and poets. The tour includes a visit to Buk’s DeLongpre bungalow, where you’ll see the Cultural-Historic Monument sign that we helped to get approved, and a mid-tour provisions stop at Pink Elephant Liquor.

We’re delighted to have been invited to speak at the DRW Auditorium of the Pasadena Central Library, a National Register building and a great place for literary conversations. At this free evening presentation (7-9pm), Kim will discuss and read from her 1920s mystery, The Kept Girl. Kim’s illustrated talk will draw on her years of research into the lost lore of Los Angeles, with a focus on the bizarre Great Eleven cult, which ensnared dozens of credulous Angelenos in their mystical rites before one disgruntled ex-believer brought the whole enterprise tumbling down. You’ll hear about Raymond Chandler’s pre-literary life as an oil company executive, the idealistic L.A. policeman who is a likely model for Philip Marlowe, the real woman who inspired the character of Chandler’s secretary Muriel, and the terrible secrets revealed by the fraud investigation in the Great Eleven’s activities. Richard will share insights into how he used cutting edge computing tools to evoke the look and feel of a mid-century book, and Kim will talk abut the deluxe Art Deco wraps created for the Subscribers, whose pre-publication support covered a big chunk of the print cost. Copies of the book and the new Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles will be available for purchase and signing after the talk. We’d love to see you there!

Join us for a journey from the downtown of Chandler’s pre-literary youth (but which always lingered at the fore of his imagination) to the Hollywood of his greatest success, with a stop along the way at Tai Kim’s Scoops for unexpected gelato creations inspired by the author. We’ll start the tour following in the young Chandler’s footsteps, as he roamed the blocks near the downtown oil company office where he worked. See sites from Lady in the Lake and The Little Sister, discover the real Philip Marlowe (the inspiration for Kim’s novel The Kept Girl) and get the skinny on Chandler’s secret comic operetta that we discovered in the Library of Congress nearly a century after it was written.

Ride along on a very pulpy path on a wide-ranging tour that digs deep into the literature, film and real life vices that inform that most murderous genre, film noir — from Double Indemnity (where Raymond Chandler’s Hollywood career intersects with Cain’s) to The Postman Always Rings Twice to Mildred Pierce and beyond. The tour rolls through Hollywood, Glendale and old Skid Row, lost lion farms, murderous sopranos, fascist film censors, offbeat cemeteries — all in a quest to reveal the delicious, and deeply influential, nightmares that are Cain’s gift to the world.

Due to the red-tagging of the storm-damaged Irving Gill Clarke Estate, we are unable to give this tour as planned. It will repeat in August, so stay tuned.

Come on a century’s social history tour through the transformation of neighborhoods, punctuated with immersive stops to sample the varied cultures that make our changing city so beguiling. Voter registration, citizenship classes, Chicano Moratorium, walkouts, blow-outs, anti-Semitism, adult education, racial covenants, boycotts, The City Beautiful, Exclusion Acts and Immigration Acts, property values, xenophobia, and delicious dumplings–all are themes which will be addressed on this lively excursion. This whirlwind social history tour will include: The Vladeck Center, Hollenbeck Park, Evergreen Cemetery, The Venice Room, El Encanto & Cascades Park, Divine’s Furniture and Wing Hop Fung.

A Valentine’s Day treat for lovers, or those who are in love with urban exploration, and back by popular demand, it’s our Route 66 bus adventure. Join us on a time travel trip due east along California’s Mother Road to explore the building of its dream, from citrus ranches to oddball roadside attractions, sinister sisters, an ancient hidden graveyard (perhaps the most remote and haunted site we visit on any of our tours) and the many mysteries of the northern San Gabriel Valley.

Come discover the secret history, and the fascinating future, of a most beguiling neighborhood. This is not a tour about beautiful buildings–although beautiful buildings will be all around you. This is not a tour about brilliant architects–although we will gaze upon their works and marvel. The Lowdown on Downtown is a tour about urban redevelopment, public policy, protest, power and the police. It is a revealing history of how the New Downtown became an “overnight sensation” after decades of quiet work behind the scenes by public agencies and private developers. This tour is about what really happened in the heart of Los Angeles, a complicated story that will fascinate and infuriate, break your heart and thrill your spirit. Come discover the real Los Angeles, the city even natives don’t know.



  • In search of noirish holiday gifts? Look no farther.
  • Wilshire’s United Artists Theatre about to fall.
  • KCRW’s Frances Anderton reports on the proposed public/private partnership at Pershing Square, and is hassled by a security guard for recording an interview in the public park. We shudder to think what a privatized park will be like.
  • A. Wolfe digs Pasadena Confidential.
  • A sweet little Silverlake street, and some magnificent arroyo stone, dodge the demo bullet.
  • Long live the Bob Baker marionettes!
  • Mall life, 1989, or, old people are naturally cool.
  • Bean-counting cars on the mess that’s currently Broadway.
  • Rich people and their money. Ballona Wetlands will survive just fine without the Annenbergs.
  • No landmarking dice for that handsome A.C. Martin gem in Los Feliz. The wrecking ball is nigh.
  • Nobody much liked Veronica Lake. And yet…
  • What’s a neighborhood matter when there’s money to be made?
  • It takes a particularly heinous building to inspire this much sheer glee in its flaming destruction.
  • Larry Harnisch, whose Black Dahlia theory is the only one with legs, and which we feature on our tour about the crime, is finally writing his book.
  • Photos from last Saturday’s Pasadena Confidential crime bus tour.



Kim and Richard


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