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Learning from Boyle Heights / Saving Los Angeles

November 14, 2021 @ 4:00 pm - 6:30 pm

This is a recording of a webinar that previously streamed live. You can purchase a ticket to watch the recording, but you won’t be able to participate in the live chat or Q&A.

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Join Esotouric, L.A.’s most eclectic sightseeing tour company, for an immersive cultural history webinar about Boyle Heights’ rich legacy of civic activism, arts education, faith and progressive social service organizations, and the devoted community advocates who are fighting to preserve and reactivate historic landmarks to give the community places to honor their past and shape the future.

All the major challenges faced by Los Angeles in 2021 come into sharp focus in Boyle Heights, the early residential suburb on the east side of the L.A. River.

The longtime councilman Jose Huizar is facing trial on racketeering charges, gentrification is encroaching from the high-rent Arts District across the still unfinished “world class” redesigned Sixth Street Bridge, small businesses are struggling and locals with deep roots are facing displacement.

But the solutions to the community’s challenges are there in the past, in the stories of progressive political organizers building coalitions and taking back power, arts education transforming young lives, and charitable homes for orphaned children, immigrants and seniors protecting the most vulnerable. Today, locals are working to restore, repurpose and preserve landmarks associated with Boyle Heights’ progressive past, to serve as incubators for a new generation of community builders.

For more than a century, the citizens of Boyle Heights have taken on tough civic challenges with brains, grit and heart, and come out stronger. How can current residents look to their past to find a new model for engaged civic and cultural life, and inspire the rest of the city to follow? Let’s talk about it!

Our special guests for this program are:

  • Sean Carrillo, a member of the ASCO arts collective who as a teen found his artist’s voice in the photo labs of the All Nations Youth Center (Soto-Michigan Jewish Community Center) and studying under Sister Karen Boccalero at Self Help Graphics. Sean is joined by his dear friend Daniel Villarreal, an actor and fellow member of ASCO, who also benefited from the arts education offered in Boyle Heights.
  • Vivian Escalante, who leads Boyle Heights Community Partners, a non-profit dedicated to preserving cultural landmarks, protecting legacy businesses and documenting neighborhood stories.
  • Stephen Sass, President of the Breed Street Shul Project, a longtime chronicler of local Jewish history and advocate for the preservation, restoration and reactivation of the historic temple.
  • David Silvas, Vice President of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, who has a particular interest in historic preservation and equitable and ethical land use decisions, including fighting the displacement of culturally Japanese seniors from the Sakura Gardens retirement facility.
  • David Kipen, Southern California historian and educator. David shares how his tenure as Director of Literature for the National Endowment for the Arts helped shape his work with the Libros Schmibros neighborhood lending library on Mariachi Plaza.
  • Steven Luftman, historic preservation advocate, whose latest campaign is the Fairfax Theatre, where many former Boyle Heights residents met to socialize, brainstorm, fundraise for their new culturally Jewish neighborhood.

Topics include:

  • A short history of Boyle Heights’ development as a culturally diverse streetcar suburb absorbing waves of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Japan, Mexico and Russia.
  • The history of the Breed Street Shul as a Jewish spiritual site, and the decades-long campaign to protect the earthquake damaged landmark from demolition with the aim of restoring and reactivating it to serve the secular Boyle Heights community.
  • The neighborhood’s influential arts education programs, including the Soto-Michigan Jewish Community Center and Self Help Graphics, and how ideas hashed out in these fertile spaces spread far beyond Boyle Heights. If you’ve ever participated in a Día de los Muertos event in the United States, you can thank Sister Karen and Self Help Graphics for their work at Evergreen Cemetery.
  • How secular Jewish organizers associated with the Vladeck Center, Jewish Labor Committee, Los Angeles Workmen’s Circle and CSO-Community Service Organization, including Julius Levitt and Saul Alinsky, helped to transform the political power base in Los Angeles and foster a vibrant Chicano Power movement.
  • The landmarking campaign for the Nishiyama Residence and Otomisan, the last Japanese restaurant in Boyle Heights, a significant commercial landmark and a poster child for Los Angeles’ failure to enact a Legacy Business Registry.
  • The history of the culturally Japanese retirement facility Keiro / Sakura Gardens. Originally the home of the pioneering Workman family, it became the Hebrew Shelter and the Jewish Home for the Aged, before being sold to a Japanese-American non-profit with the proviso that they continue the charitable work of protecting vulnerable elders. In the aftermath of the property’s sale to a developer and the rejection of more than a century’s ethical land use, we’ll talk about what comes next for the historic site, and how the community can help hold private developers and politicians accountable.
  • Plus we’ll highlight interesting landmarks that tell the layered history of Boyle Heights, including the Max Factor House on Boyle Avenue, with its garage that served as the laboratory for his cosmetics innovations, and which was later home to community physician Dr. H.J. Hara.
  • Celebrating ten years of the Libros Schmibros Lending Library on Mariachi Plaza, and founder David Kipen’s advocacy for the 21st Century Federal Writer’s Project Act, inspired by Depression-era cultural programs.

This webinar is an illustrated lecture packed with rare photos that will bring the story of Boyle Heights to life. And you’ll find the look of an Esotouric webinar is a little different than your standard dry Zoom session, with lively interactive graphics courtesy of the mmhmm app.

Our guests are eager to answer your questions, so get ready to be a part of the show.


SEAN CARRILLO was born in Boyle Heights in 1960; the eighth of nine children born to Jose P. Carrillo and Elisa Arevalo of El Paso, Texas. He attended Resurrection Grammar School in East LA and Bishop John J. Cantwell High School in Montebello. As a teenager, Sean completed a self-directed photography course at All Nations Neighborhood Center and later at the behest of Director Bill Maxwell he became a member of the board of directors as Community and Youth Representative. He attended Los Angeles City College and Cal State LA, where he worked as the Events Administrator for the Exploratorium Art Gallery. At Cal State in 1980, Sean met visual artists Harry Gamboa Jr. and Gronk. He joined their performance art group, ASCO, and toured with them throughout the Southwest for several years as a performer, artist and Technical Director. In 1984 Sean met Bibbe Hansen, daughter of the late Fluxus artist Al Hansen. They married and he became stepfather of two boys, Channing and Beck. Shortly thereafter they adopted a daughter, Rain. In 1986 began he began work as an assistant editor for Steven Eckelberry who was editing a film for director Paul Williams. He worked for several years as an assistant and then graduated to editor. During this period he edited a film on Global Warming for the esteemed documentary director, Harrison Engel and the legendary educational film company Churchill Films. In 1990 Sean and Bibbe opened Troy Café in downtown Los Angeles, which quickly became nationally renowned for showcasing the best in multi-cultural music, art and performance, with a special emphasis on the Latino Arts Community. Troy Café was nationally recognized as a premier venue for emerging artists. From 1995 – 2004 Sean Carrillo has worked as a producer, director, editor and writer of industrial videos, commercials and live events. Notably, he produced the in-flight commercial for Hawai‘i Pacific University currently in rotation on United Airlines. In January 2005 he and his wife relocated to the East Coast of the United States. Most recently Sean co-produced a video to commemorate the 35th Anniversary of Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) which was screened at their Anniversary Gala, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. Visit Sean’s website.

VIVIAN ESCALANTE: Born and raised in Boyle Heights, as my family was displaced by the City of Los Angeles, Chavez Ravine – Dodger Stadium Project, and settled into Boyle Heights, where I attended Sheridan Elementary School, Hollenbeck Junior High School, and lettered at Roosevelt High School and was in Student Council as the Girls Athletic Coordinator. In the Spring of 2018, an active participant with the Committee to Defend Roosevelt from the demolition of our 1923 historic R building and Auditorium with an LAUSD Modernization Project that has erased our history and cultural heritage, as we fought for the LAUSD Alternative 2 – Modernization and Historic Preservation for what could have been a win-win situation for our community and future generations. In 2019 – Present, Certified from Center for Nonprofit Management, a Nonprofit Management Certificate, Introduction course Individual Donation Fundraising Certificate, introduction to 101 How to Start a nonprofit course. A passionate soul for historic preservation, community, and history, fueled with enthusiasm for my community of Boyle Heights. As President/CFO of Boyle Heights Community Partners, focused on giving back, and moving forward Historic Cultural Monument nomination applications. We are moving fast as developers are moving aggressively faster with demolitions projects to our historic homes, erasing our cultural and heritage, as we are preserving it. Sitting on the board of our Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, with the ability to have created the first ever Historic Preservation Committee, and sitting on our Plan and Land Use committee, working together on behalf of our community.

STEPHEN J. SASS, a native Angeleno, is President of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California and Breed Street Shul Project and Chair of the Los Angeles County Historical Landmarks and Records Commission. Steve was editor of the award-winning Jewish Los Angeles: A Guide, executive producer and co-writer of “Meet Me at Brooklyn & Soto,” JHS’s documentary on East L.A.’s Jewish heritage, which aired on public television, and has written extensively on regional history and preservation issues. He chaired the Fairfax Community Mural Project
, which resulted in a photo mural in the heart of the Beverly-Fairfax neighborhood highlighting L.A.’s Jewish history painted by seniors and teens. He has also been a consultant on exhibits at such venues as the Japanese American National Museum and the Autry Museum, as well as the annual celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month by the Los Angeles City Council. Professionally, Steve is EVP & Chief Counsel for HBO Max/TNT/TBS and truTV Original Programming.

DAVID SILVAS’ family has a long lineage in Boyle Heights, as it was the first Los Angeles community his family moved to at the turn of the century from when they arrived from Hungary and Romania and were involved with financing the Weber and Spaulding designed International Institute on Boyle Avenue, an important community space that was a stepping stone for immigrants. His passion for historic preservation and architectural properties is matched by few. From Victorian, to American Craftsman, to Hollywood Regency and Mid Century Modern, his admiration for period design in Los Angeles is a driving inspiration in his business as his real estate practice, Engel & Völkers Beverly Hills focuses solely on Architectural and Historic real estate throughout Southern California and has made him one of the most preeminent agents specializing in historic and architectural properties. Concerned about the future of this vibrant and historic community, David has been a vocal advocate for adaptive reuse of current buildings, extensive landmarking and preservation for heritage sites, and advocating harmonious-small scale development that is sensitive to the already established neighborhoods. Community engagement and education is a passion of his, as this is key in preserving this historic treasure. David holds an MBA from the University of Toledo and is a published author. Organizational memberships include: The Los Angeles Conservancy, Docomomo, The California Preservation Foundation, and The Southern California Paul R. Williams Society. He is Vice President of both the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council and Boyle Heights Community Partners.

DAVID KIPEN began his career as manager of the Nuart Theater in his native Los Angeles. He holds a degree in Literature from Yale University, and served as Book Editor/Critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and Director of Literature for the National Endowment for the Arts before joining Writing Programs at UCLA. His areas of expertise include the literatures of California, Los Angeles and the West; Pynchon studies; urbanism; film; modern and contemporary American literature; Latin American literature; Western history; the Federal Writers Project of the WPA; and the practice of lexicography and quotation. He is the author of “The Schreiber Theory: A Radical Rewrite of American Film History” (Melville House, 2006); a translation from the Spanish of Cervantes’ novella “The Dialogue of the Dogs” (Melville House, 2009); and introductions or chapters of books including reissues of the WPA guides to California, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego (UC Press). His teaching includes the course “Defining California: From Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary to Wikipedia.” He most recent book is, Dear Los Angeles: The City in Diaries and Letters, 1542 to 2018. He also helps to run Libros Schmibros, his neighborhood lending library on Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights.

STEVEN LUFTMAN was born and raised in Laurel Canyon. Aside from a 10 year stint in New York, he has resided in Los Angeles his whole life. He was an Art Director in Advertising professionally, but his experience with eviction pulled him into working as an activist for historic and housing preservation. Before he was evicted, Steven was a vintage race car driver and racer a 1978 Crosslé Formula Ford. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking and going to live music shows. Before being Ellis Acted from his Beverly-Grove apartment of 19 years, Steven deeply appreciated the format of the neighborhood he lived, where his grandparents had lived across the street, where he had gotten his first hair cut as a boy, where walking to the grocery store was viable. The old charm and court-yarded format of his building made knowing and communicating with neighbors an easy and enjoyable experience. During his residency in the apartment, Steven watched his neighborhood be developed in an anti-social way, against the historic architecture of the existing buildings and which dislocated long-standing members of the community. When he received the Ellis Act, Steven’s initial response was to historically preserve his beautiful building, in which he succeeded. However, was still forced to leave due to a condominium conversion. This experience set him on his current path of loving and saving old buildings, including his successful landmarking of Kurt Meyer’s Lytton Saving (1960), tragically demolished by the Frank Gehry’s mega-project in spite of that designation, his efforts to preserve and designate L.A.’s unique bungalow courts, vernacular apartments, Tom Bergin’s Irish pub, and the former Fairfax Theatre.

DANIEL VILLARREAL in 1973 moved to the heart of East Los Angeles, a neighborhood called Boyle Heights. He attended Hollenbeck Jr. High where he took up writing and Roosevelt High School where he learned photography. Villarreal performed his poetry readings at art openings and was a frequent contributor of photography to the Rock Y Ondas music column in La Opinion. Villarreal’s talents produced the cover shots for the East L.A. punk rock band, The Brat. His photographic output has been archived at UC Santa Barbara. In 1980 Villarreal was introduced to the elite performance art troupe from East LA called ASCO (nausea). For the following 4 years, Villarreal exercised his acting talents as a performer with the controversial ASCO group. In 1984, Villarreal met Ramon Menendez, who would go on to direct the feature film, Stand and Deliver in 1987. As an actor in the film, Villarreal developed a close relationship with Edward James Olmos, who brought Villarreal into the epic fold of Latino story telling in the highly acclaimed film, American Me, 1992. This opportunity allowed Villarreal to continue a professional acting career in such films as Speed, Menace to Society and The Getaway. Villarreal developed several projects with Juan Carlos Garza, a Cal Arts Graduate and TV and Film editor. They were commissioned by AFI Film Institute, ITVS Television Series and The J.P. Getty Foundation. Villarreal cowrote and coproduced the independent feature film, Brother Jonas which was optioned by the great director Alfonso Arau. In addition, Villarreal has written a pilot script, All These Little Divas, for a possible tv series with writer/producer Mary Fry which can air on multiple platforms. Currently Villarreal is producing and appearing in the documentary Ninety Minutes Later based on the life and murder of actress Vanessa Marquez. Villarreal is a community activist with 40 years experience. He has worked with many community organizations including All Nations Neighborhood Center, Cispes, The Christic Institute, The Heart Project, Plaza Community Services and Homeboy Industries. Early this year Villarreal received a letter of commendation from City Of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti for his service to the community.

Can’t join in when the webinar is happening? You’ll have access to the full replay for one week. Please note: the 2-hour running time is just an estimate, and we often run long because the stories take on a life of their own. You can always come back and watch the last part of the webinar recording later.

So, tune in and discover the incredible history of Los Angeles, with the couple whose passion for the city is infectious.

FYI: Immediately upon registering, you will receive a separate, automated email containing the link to join the webinar. The webinar is reliable on all devices, Mac, PC, iOS and Android.

Please visit our FAQ for details about our webinars.

About Esotouric: As undergraduates at UC Santa Cruz, Kim Cooper and Richard Schave inexplicably hated one another on sight. (Perhaps less inexplicably, their academic advisor believed they were soul mates). A chance meeting 18 years later proved much more agreeable. Richard wooed Kim with high level library database access, with which she launched the 1947project true crime blog, highlighting a crime a day from the year of The Black Dahlia and Bugsy Siegel slayings. The popular blog’s readers demanded a tour, and then another. The tour was magical, a hothouse inspiring new ways for the by-then-newlyweds to tell the story of Los Angeles. Esotouric was born in 2007 with a calendar packed with true crime, literary, architecture and rock and roll tours. Ever since, it has provided a platform for promoting historic preservation issues (like the Save the 76 Ball campaign and the landmarking of Charles Bukowski’s bungalow), building a community of urban explorers (including dozens of free talks and tours under the umbrella of LAVA) and digging even deeper into the secret heart of the city they love.

Rights and permissions: By attending an Esotouric webinar, you acknowledge that the entirety of the presentation is copyrighted, and no portion of the video or text may be reproduced in any fashion.


November 14, 2021
4:00 pm - 6:30 pm
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