Every year around Thanksgiving, eclectic Los Angeles sightseeing tour company Esotouric organizes an all-day excursion to celebrate co-owner Richard Schave’s birthday and honor the preservation people who keep local landmarks alive. With a buffet lunch, birthday cake and visits to fascinating sites, the “birthday bus” is a must for those who love to explore Southern California in good company.
This year, the coronavirus is keeping us apart—but Richard’s preservation party is still happening, with an immersive virtual road trip that takes you far beyond the borders of Los Angeles and California, to visit with some fascinating folks who care for historic places in the Ohio River Valley and to learn about their local landmarks.
For the first time, Esotouric fans can join Kim and Richard on an out of state adventure, replicating a road trip the couple took in 2018, with guest appearances from stewards of historic places along the route.
- Johnstown, Pennsylvania – settled in the late 1700s, Johnstown was a port and key transfer point along the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal, with a rich, multi-cultural community and fine architecture. But its riverfront valley setting made it uniquely vulnerable to flooding. The Great Flood of 1889 took more than 2200 souls, and inspired construction of a massive funicular railway system that makes L.A.’s Angels Flight look like a toy. Today, the town is underpopulated, with its handsome historic buildings offering opportunity for creative entrepreneurs. We’ll visit with Richard Burkert, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Johnstown Area Heritage Association, to learn about his work preserving, reactivating and interpreting the history the town, from the National Register Bethlehem Steel blacksmith shop to the Johnstown Flood Museum to the Heritage Discovery Center, telling the story of the nation through the lives of local immigrants. There’s so much to see and learn in this little town, you won’t want to leave.
- Steubenville, Ohio – Named for the early American army defensive Fort Steuben, this town on the Ohio River is famous as the birthplace of Dean Martin and for its many murals. We’ll be joined by passionate local booster Mark Nelson. Mark serves on the board of the Steubenville Historic Landmarks Foundation, operates Leonardo’s Coffeehouse & Renaissance Coffee Roasting Co. in the landmark downtown Raney & Sheal Building that he restored, organizes the annual Steubenville Nutcracker Village & Advent Market and is friends with a giant, cranky salamander named Branagan. Mark will give us a whistle stop tour of Steubenville’s historic landscape and the creative tools he uses to activate and interpret them, including a preview of the holiday Nutcracker festivities.
- New Vrindaban, West Virginia – An intentional community founded by ISKCON (followers of the Hare Krishna movement) in 1968, New Vrindaban is home to Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold, a rare American example of Indo-Saracenic Revival architecture, the style associated with Raj-era India. Originally constructed by devotees of Krishna as an American residence for their spiritual teacher, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, their devotion gradually transformed the simple dwelling into a magnificent Palace of Gold situated in the beautiful rolling hills of rural West Virginia. The site includes magnificent rose, terraced and lotus gardens and a brightly colored multi-domed shrine that is all the more remarkable for being the work of amateur architects and builders. For our virtual visit, we will be joined by Banabhatta Das, manager of the Palace of Gold. He will share with us the history of the community and its architecture, describing the challenges of maintaining the buildings through West Virginia’s icy winters and explaining how the Palace of Gold functions as a physical manifestation of Krishna Consciousness. Through its recent addition to the National Register, preservation of the structures and their cultural legacy serve as a continuing act of focus on Krishna Consciousness that seeks out the higher self within. You’ll be fascinated to learn about this unique spiritual site.
- Mehlman Cafeteria (St. Clairsville, Ohio) – It wouldn’t be an Esotouric tour without a special snack or meal stop. Family owned and operated since 1961, stepping into this cozy eatery attached to a vintage motel on US Route 40 almost made us sob as we took in its delicious fare, friendly service, retro decor and similarities to the still standing, but too much transformed, Clifton’s Cafeteria in Downtown Los Angeles. For our virtual visit, we’ll meet Danielle Mehlman, fourth generation food service professional, to learn the history of the cafeteria, and how they keep the family traditions alive while adapting to 21st century tastes and the challenges of COVID. Keep a napkin handy, because you’ll find your mouth watering at the sight of such homestyle favorites as mashed potatoes and gravy, flaky sweet and savory pies, baked puddings, turkey dinners, ham or meat loaf, prime rib, apple dumplings, piping hot soups, varied jello treats, and of course Mehlman’s famous creamy, cheesy broccoli casserole. You’ll understand why Mehlman’s was recently named one of the ten best cafeterias in America by Food & Wine and yearn to pay a real life visit one day.
This webinar is a virtual vacation road trip packed with vintage and contemporary photographs that will bring the gems of the Ohio River Valley to life on your digital device. 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. During the presentation, our honored guests will answer your questions about the places they care for, so get ready to be a part of the show.
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About Esotouric: As undergraduates at UC Santa Cruz, Kim Cooper and Richard Schave inexplicably hated one other 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 ever deeper into the secret heart of the city they love.
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