Gentle Reader. . .
Out in the desert near the Salton Sea lived a man who saw the world differently. To Leonard Knight, the ideals of Christian love and charity were the true gems of the earth, not oil or gold or the castles built from them. He felt that preachers stood between the people and this beautiful fact, and made it hard to understand. He wanted to share this vision, abstracted down to the simple phrase "God is Love," so he built himself a hot air balloon proclaiming this message.
But the balloon sprung a leak, and his truck broke down, and while camped out in the middle of nowhere, Leonard had the inspiration to turn the sand all around him into a glorious multi-colored pile.
That little hill grew. Leonard stayed put. Thousands of hours of work and uncounted gallons of surplus house paint later, Salvation Mountain gleamed from the desert floor as one of the most astonishing folk art environments in the west. Pilgrims and curiosity seekers came to the place, climbed the painted steps to the top, and marveled.
Down below, Leonard lived modestly in his camper, with his cats and his guitar and a warm welcome for anyone who visited. He was happy to share his vision, and the unique space manifested out of it. If people wanted to bring paint, or help him build, he welcomed them. If people wanted to laugh, he smiled. Attempts to declare Salvation Mountain a toxic hazard were deftly deflected as if by some unseen hand, and senators and curators proclaimed the site a landmark.
In recent years, Leonard became infirm and had to leave his mountain. On February 10, he died. But Salvation Mountain still stands, and other souls have rallied to preserve Leonard's message from the desert winds, to repaint the words and sweep the sand away. You can see Salvation Mountain gleaming from space, this little home-made hot air balloon that sprung a leak and was transformed.
We think Leonard's mountain is a marvelous symbol for how our good works are bigger than any one of us, and can ripple out into the shared consciousness, transforming and inspiring others, surviving even death. And Leonard's story reminds us that no dream is too big or too absurd to be worth pursuing. But don't take our word for it. Take his.
We're back on the bus this Saturday, with our occasional cultural history tour of the fascinating neighborhoods of Boyle Heights and Monterey Park. A few seats are left on the bus. And on Sunday, we'll be on Broadway, hosting the free LAVA Sunday Salon and a free walking tour of John Parkinson's architecture to follow. Join us, do!
Upcoming Tours & Happenings
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.
You are invited to be part of a transformative downtown experience. The Sunday Salon is the free monthly gathering of our creative consortium LAVA – The Los Angeles Visionaries Association. From noon to 2pm, at Les Noces du Figaro on Broadway, we hope you'll join L.A.'s most innovative artists, writers and performers to enjoy good company, hearty comfort food, and presentations from fascinating LAVA Visionaries. This month, LAVA Visionary Joe Oesterly, author of Weird Hollywood shares offbeat tales from his weird road travels, and introduces Count Smokula, a 496-year-old accordion-playing vampire from the vaguely Eastern-European nation of Smokesylvania. Plus, poets Fred Voss and Joan Jobe Smith will read poems of life, love and work in Los Angeles. (Linda King, previously scheduled to appear at this Salon, regrets that she is unable to attend.) A free architectural walking tour (registration required) follows the Salon.
From the founding of the city through the 1940s, downtown was the true center of Los Angeles, a lively, densely populated, exciting and sometimes dangerous place. After many quiet decades, downtown is making an incredible return. But while many of the historic buildings remain, their human context has been lost. This downtown double feature tour, hosted by Kim Cooper, Joan Renner and Richard Schave, is meant to bring alive the old ghosts and memories that cling to the streets and structures of the historic core, and is especially recommended for downtown residents curious about their neighborhood's neglected history.
The Crown City masquerades as a calm and refined retreat, where well-bred ladies glide around their perfect bungalows and everyone knows what fork to use first. But don't be fooled by appearances. Dip into the confidential files of old Pasadena and meet assassins and oddballs, kidnappers and slashers, Satanists and all manner of maniac in a delightful little tour you WON'T find recommended by the better class of people! From celebrated cases like the RFK assassination (with a visit to Sirhan Sirhan's folks' house), "Eraserhead" star Jack Nance's strange end, black magician/rocket scientist Jack Parsons' death-by-misadventure and the 1926 Rose Parade grand stand collapse, to fascinating obscurities, the tour's dozens of murders, arsons, kidnappings, robberies, suicides, auto wrecks and oddball happening sites provide a alternate history of Pasadena that's as fascinating as it is creepy. Passengers will tour the old Millionaire's Row on Orange Grove, thrill to the shocking Sphinx Murder on the steps of the downtown Masonic Hall and discover why people named Judd should think twice before moving to Pasadena.
On this guided tour through the Beverly Hills of the early 20th Century, Crime Bus passengers thrill as Jazz Age bootleggers run amok, marvel at the Krazy Kafitz family's litany of murder-suicides, attempted husband slayings, Byzantine estate battles and mad bombings, visit the shortest street in Los Angeles (15' long Powers Place, with its magnificent views of the mansions of Alvarado Terrace), discover which fabulous mansion was once transformed into a functioning whiskey factory using every room in the house, and stroll the haunted paths of Rosedale Cemetery, site of notable burials (May K. Rindge, the mother of Malibu) and odd graveside crimes. Featured players include the most famous dwarf in Hollywood, mass suicide ringleader Reverend Jim Jones, wacky millionaires who can't control their automobiles, human mole bank robbers, comically inept fumigators, kids trapped in tar pits, and dozens of other unusual and fascinating denizens of early Los Angeles.
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.
You are invited to be part of a transformative downtown experience. The Sunday Salon is the free monthly gathering of our creative consortium LAVA – The Los Angeles Visionaries Association. From noon to 2pm, at Les Noces du Figaro on Broadway, we hope you'll join L.A.'s most innovative artists, writers and performers to enjoy good company, hearty comfort food, and presentations from fascinating LAVA Visionaries. This month, historian Tom Sitton, author of The Courthouse Crowd: Los Angeles County and its Government, 1850-1950, takes us on a tour of a rogue's gallery of early L.A. politicos. Then the focus turns to 1929 Downtown and Kim Cooper's new mystery novel starring the young Raymond Chandler, The Kept Girl. Kim will discuss the process of transforming real true crime stories into fiction, and ace cover artist Paul Rogers will share how he discovers remnants of L.A. history in the landscape and turns them into contemporary illustrations.
Join us on this iconic, unsolved Los Angeles murder mystery tour. Our excursion begins in the historic Olive Street lobby of the Biltmore Hotel and ends in time for you to take tea and crumpets where Beth Short waited out the last hours of her freedom before walking south into hell. After multiple revisions, this is less a murder tour than a social history of 1940s Hollywood female culture, mass media and madness, and we welcome you to join us for the ride. This tour always sells out, so reserve your spot today.
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.
Forget Hollywood, babe, 'cause the quintessential LA town in definitely El Monte, its history packed with noirish murders, brilliant thespians, loony Nazis, James Ellroy's naked lunch and the lion farm that MGM's celebrated kitty called home. See all this and so much more, including the Man from Mars Bandit's Waterloo, when you climb aboard the daffiest crime tour in our arsenal, and the only one that includes a dumpling picnic at a landmark playground populated with fantastical giant sea creatures!
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 (Esotouric's exclusive scoop, and the inspiration for Kim's novel The Kept Girl), and be steeped in noir LA.
Go East, young ghoul, with our newest 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.
In our very occasional guest tour series, a delightful excursion that only comes around once a year, the Tom Waits bus adventure hosted by acclaimed rock critic David Smay (Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, Swordfishtrombones). This voyage through the city that shaped one of our most eclectic musical visionaries starts in Skid Row and rolls through Hollywood and Echo Park, spotlighting the sites where Waits was transformed through the redemptive powers of love and other lures: the Tropicana Motel, Francis Coppola's Zoetrope Studios, the raunchy Ivar Theatre and so much more. Join us for a great day out in 1970s Los Angeles celebrating the music, the culture and the passions of Tom Waits.
- BOYLE HEIGHTS & THE SAN GABRIEL VALLEY: THE HIDDEN HISTORIES OF L.A.'S MELTING POTS – Saturday, 2/22
- LAVA SUNDAY SALON – Sunday, 2/23
- HOTEL HORRORS & MAIN STREET VICE – Saturday, 3/1
- PASADENA CONFIDENTIAL (WITH CRIMEBO THE CLOWN) – Saturday, 3/15
- WEIRD WEST ADAMS – Saturday, 3/22
- CHARLES BUKOWSKI'S LOS ANGELES – Saturday, 3/29
- LAVA SUNDAY SALON – Sunday, 3/30
- THE REAL BLACK DAHLIA – Saturday, 4/5
- THE BIRTH OF NOIR: JAMES M. CAIN'S SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA NIGHTMARE – Saturday, 4/26
- BLOOD & DUMPLINGS CRIME BUS TOUR – Saturday, 5/3
- RAYMOND CHANDLER'S LOS ANGELES – SAT. 5/17
- EAST SIDE BABYLON – SAT. 5/31
- CRAWLING DOWN CAHUENGA: TOM WAITS' L.A. – Saturday, 7/19 (note changed date)
AND FINALLY, LINKS!
The Kept Girl makes The L.A. Times.
When Paul Rogers took the case.
Historic preservation stymied by budget cuts; an Egyptomaniac objects.
Don't do it, Dunkin' Donuts!
Update: They didn't!
Gill's beautiful dream recalled. (and it's nice to see Curbed expanding into longform architectural history coverage.)
The public is private on Bunker Hill.
Bittersweet change afoot in the Spring Arcade.
Playing tiki bar hot potato with Rufus the carrot-eating Pacu fish.
Just say "no" to Frank Gehry.
Zeke the Sheik, Altadena's guru of compost and cosmic consciousness, has a blog!
The archives speak, and Joe Gould is further revealed
Floral L.A. lore
KEEP THE TAGS AS THEY ARE FOR EMPHASIS SO THE SIGN OFF IS NOT LOST
Kim & Richard