Going back in time on Santa Cruz Island

Last week, we decided we had to get a break from the relentless 2017 news cycle. Which was convenient, because the unseasonably cool weather made it the perfect time to explore one of Southern California’s most inaccessible natural and historic attractions, Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park.

It’s best if it’s cool when visiting Santa Cruz Island, because the sheep and pigs who grazed the hills starting in the mid-19th century destroyed the native oaks. Since the island became a protected landscape—the western 76% controlled by The Nature Conservancy, the remaining 24% by the National Parks Service, following a byzantine series of estate battles and eminent domain seizures—these invasive creatures have nearly all been eradicated, small oaks are growing in gullies and the grasses are high.

But shade is rare, and day visitors must come when the sun is high and carry all the water they’ll need on the trail.

We booked passage with the Island Packers outfit (since 1968), arriving at Ventura Marina with minutes to spare before the 9:00am departure. The two-level vessel was full of schoolkids, solo hikers and customers of a kayak tour company. But with many passengers spending the 90-minute trip at the rail, the boat didn’t feel crowded.

The sky was gray and the sea glassy as we shot between the tall oil platforms off Ventura, a reminder of the devastating 1969 Santa Barbara spill which left birds and sea mammals dying on the shore. The sea around the oil rigs is nutrient rich, attracting fish, birds and large mammals. The captain steered off course to visit with a pod of common dolphins, who surfed our wake and performed spectacular jumps to the delight of the rail hangers.

This was a hoot at the time, and on the return voyage when the show was repeated. But we would feel the negative effects of this impromptu detour for much of the day, as we struggled to complete the 8-mile hike from Scorpion Ranch to Smuggler’s Cove and back in time for our 4pm departure. And to spare you, gentle reader, any sympathetic anxiety, we’ll confess we didn’t make it as far as the beach at Smuggler’s, but we also didn’t miss the boat.

But what a magnificent day’s hiking it was! We began in the sunny natural anchorage at Scorpion Ranch, dotted with rusting relics from the ranching days, and pretty old houses set back among flowers. An interpretive center and topographic map provide context for the island, and well-kept pit toilets a last pit stop before setting off into the wild.

The wide, well-maintained dirt road wound up to the crest, red sand glittering with broken bits of abalone shell. Flowering succulents climbed down the cliff walls, each of them a little unfamiliar from those we know on the mainland, like nearly every living thing on Santa Cruz.

Oyster salsify, before…

…and after.

Very soon, we reached the top of the island and began the long, mostly flat hike across this sunny, grassy peak in the middle of the blue sea. It’s an idyllic place that scratched our escapist itch divinely.

A fascinating bonus: the trail was full of colonies of mining bees, busily popping in and out of their individual tube homes to feed their young, and occasionally scrap with each other.

We finally stopped on the ridge overlooking Smuggler’s Cove, for a picnic among the little lizards and scrub oaks. Then back across the island making double time to descend the path to Scorpion Ranch just before the boat departed, where we stole a few moments with the island’s fearless native foxes, who are worth the trip all by themselves. We returned to the 21st century replenished, and recommend this excursion to anyone feeling the weight of modernity heavy on their neck. A little fox’ll do ya!

Recommended Reading: For the warts and all history of post-Chumash life, love, conservation and business battles in the Channel Islands, pick up Santa Cruz Island: A History of Conflict and Diversity by John Gherini, a member of one of the last families to own a piece of that contentious rock. If you’d like to hike in our footsteps, archeologist Don Morris’ guidebook to the park side of the island is a fine pocket companion.

Episode #119: Secrets of Llano del Rio and Utopian Los Angeles

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Join us this month for an episode dedicated to Llano del Rio, the socialist cooperative experiment that hosted its final May Day celebrations in the Antelope Valley one hundred years ago this month. Our guests are historian Paul Greenstein & artist-archivist Karyl Newman, who co-host a special Esotouric bus adventure, Desert Visionaries, on Saturday, June 17.

We’ll also talk about the judge’s decision that may save Kurt Meyer’s ladmark Lytton Savings from being demolished, a status report on attempts to reactivate the city’s neglected Lummis House and the latest from the Sinatra Bungalow preservation efforts.


Karyl Newman’s website.


Subject: Los Angeles Lovers at Bob Baker Marionette Theater (5/12)

LAVA Sunday Salon: S.A. Griffin on Charles Bukowski (5/28)

Siege at Fort Anthony at Central Library (6/8)

Esotouric’s Tenth Anniversary calendar

Save Parker Center

Parker Center (Welton Becket & Associates and J. E. Stanton, 1955) in Downtown Los Angeles is a building that inspires strong feelings.

Architecture lovers admire its beautiful lines and integrated artwork and plantings. Crime historians marvel at the first modern police headquarters with its cutting-edge forensic science laboratory, built to the specifications of the legendary Ray Pinker. Film and television fans enjoy its stylish appearances from Dragnet to Inherent Vice.

But Parker Center also symbolizes the dark side of Los Angeles policing, and was a place where protesters came over many decades to challenge authority that harms their communities. And stakeholders in Little Tokyo regret the loss of a block of small businesses for Parker Center construction.

Despite the advocacy of the Los Angeles Conservancy, the Cultural Heritage Commission and independent preservationists and community members, Parker Center is a cultural and architectural landmark that is in grave danger of being destroyed within the year.

Attempts to preserve Parker Center have been stymied by Los Angeles politicians’ ambitions to redevelop the property surrounding City Hall. These plans have made it impossible to get a fair landmarking hearing for the building, even as the Los Angeles Conservancy’s independent analysis of the project suggests that as much as $100 Million in public funds could be saved if the structure was adaptively reused.

We are very concerned that the process by which landmarks are dedicated is not being allowed to follow its natural course, and that a great building might be lost for what is now only a speculative real estate development. We are also worried about what will happen to the art that exists within and on Parker Center: Bernard J. Rosenthal’s “Family Group” sculpture and Joseph Young’s “Theme Mural of Los Angeles” mosaic, which will be very difficult and expensive to remove from the lobby.

We will continue to advocate for the preservation and adaptive reuse of Parker Center, and will update this page with news as it happens.

A timeline of recent events:

• September 2016 – After City Council’s PLUM committee, headed by Jose Huizar, fails to consider a landmarking application in a timely fashion and internal city proposals recommend demolition, the Cultural Heritage Commission makes a rare attempt to save the building itself.

• December 2016 – Cultural Heritage Commissioner Gail Kennard publishes an eloquent defense of Parker Center in an L.A. Times op-ed, explaining that the building is worth saving for all the reasons some want to see it demolished.

• February 2017 – On political, rather than the legally appropriate historic/aesthetic grounds, Los Angeles City Council denies the recommended landmark status for Parker Center, ignoring the educated determination of the Cultural Heritage Commission.

• March 2017 – At the LAVA Sunday Salon, architectural historians Nathan Marsak, Alan Hess and Richard Schave present an illustrated lecture and walking tour advocating for the preservation of Parker Center. Watch video of the event here.

• April 2017 – City Council promotes the demolition of Parker Center as stage one in the process of creating a clean slate around City Hall that can attract public-private investment partnerships.

Peek inside Frank Sinatra’s endangered motion picture bungalow

For the past few weeks, we’ve been offering support and advice to Doug Quill, the filmmaker who has been petitioning to keep a 1929 bungalow on The Lot (formerly Goldwyn Studios and United Artists) from being demolished for an expansion of LADWP’s electrical distribution system. Doug shares his story with us on the latest You Can’t Eat the Sunshine podcast.

Dozens of creative people have worked in the comfortable Spanish-style bungalow over the decades, but it’s most closely associated with Frank Sinatra. His Essex Productions was based at the Goldwyn Studios in the early 1960s, and the bungalow was his retreat during the recording of The Concert Sinatra (1963) at Sound Stage 7. It is recognized as a primary contributing resource to the studio’s historic fabric.

So it’s Frank Sinatra’s bungalow that’s teetering on the brink, and the reason, naturally, is a woman. After Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks divorced in 1936, she donated the southern portion of the then-United Artists studio backlot to the city, legend has it for a park. Somehow, the land instead passed into the control of LADWP, and it became an essential part of the city’s electrical power distribution infrastructure. A few buildings, the Sinatra bungalow among them, sat all or partly on LADWP land, but functioned as part of the studio for decades. Last month, ahead of a planned expansion, LADWP declined to extend these building’s leases, and the preservation crisis began.

Sound stage demolition in progress

Now it’s up to LADWP and studio owner CIM Group to find common ground with the Los Angeles Conservancy and Hollywood Heritage, two agile preservation organizations that have stepped in to support Doug’s campaign. What will happen to Frank Sinatra’s motion picture bungalow? It will either be moved (but where?) or demolished in the coming weeks. As a tangible link to the golden age of Hollywood and popular music, we think it’s a treasure worth keeping, even as the sound stages behind it are torn to pieces by heavy machinery.

Last week, we attended a site visit to explore the feasibility of moving the building; happily, it is a simple structure that will be easy to lift and transport in one piece. Take a behind-the-scenes peek at this endangered piece of Hollywood history, and please sign the petition to show your support and get updates as they happen.

If this medicine chest could talk…

Episode #118: Adventures in the Hollywood Preservation Trenches: Lytton Savings & Frank Sinatra’s Bungalow

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Join us this month as we talk with preservationist Steve Luftman about his efforts to save Kurt Meyer’s Lytton Savings, a mid-century landmark threatened with demolition because it sits on the land where Frank Gehry hopes to build a huge mixed use development. We’ll also visit with filmmaker Douglas Quill to learn about his last-ditch campaign to preserve Frank Sinatra’s motion picture bungalow on the old Goldwyn Studios lot in Hollywood.

We’ll also discuss the City of Los Angeles’ plans to demolish Welton Becket’s Parker Center and how Peter Zumthor’s updated proposal for LACMA continues to threaten William Pereira’s 1965 museum campus.

Our guests:
Friends of Lytton Savings campaign (Facebook, Twitter)

Frank Sinatra bungalow petition

Closely watched trains:

Parker Center: Los Angeles Conservancy action alert webpage, LAVA Sunday Salon walking tour video, vintage photos from LAPL’s collection

LACMA: newest redesign renderings, Pereira in Peril webpage featuring video from our LACMA walking tour

Upcoming events:

LAVA Sunday Salon – April 2017 (Fort Moore Hill Pioneer Memorial)

LAVA Sunday Salon – May 2017 (S.A. Griffin on Charles Bukowski)

Esotouric’s Tenth Anniversary special event calendar

Episode #117: SeaView, a Mid-Century Time Modern Capsule on the Palos Verdes Penninsula

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Join us as we go deep inside master architect Paul R. Williams’ SeaView tract home development in Rancho Palos Verdes, as architect and historian Alan Hess and resident-historians Price Morgan & Larry Paul share insights into the tract’s development and style, topographical quirks and how preservationists are taking a stand to maintain this mid-century modern time capsule.

We’ll also discuss the restoration and rededication of the historic Hotel Californian neon roof sign and the big news about the future of Angels Flight railway.

Upcoming events

Upcoming events

Closely Watched Trains


Episode #116: Miracle Mile and a Mid-Century Master

Aaron Green's Anderson Residence in Palos Verdes

Aaron Green’s Anderson Residence in Palos Verdes

Listen to Episode #116!

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And we’re back from hiatus! Join us this month as Alan Hess, architect and architectural historian, walks us through his Palos Verdes Art Center exhibition on Aaron G. Green’s mid-century modern organic architecture.  We’ll also visit with land use consultant Bill Christopher, Principal at Urban Concepts, for a deep pe into Wilshire Boulevard development history.

We’ll also discuss Onni Group’s plan to demolish William L. Pereira’s  1973 addition to Times Mirror Square, the disappearance of the Calvin Hamilton plaque from the Bunker Hill pedway, Los Angeles Magazine’s list of essential Twitter accounts and our ongoing Tenth Anniversary celebrations.

Closely Watched Trains & Our Guests

Onni Group’s plans to demolish a Pereira in Peril. See also, our Pereira preservation campaign.

Calvin Hamilton plaque shenanigans.

Los Angeles Magazine: 50 Twitter Accounts Everyone in L.A. Should Follow.

Esotouric’s Tenth Anniversary Schedule

Our guests

Alan Hess’ website & his Aaron G. Green exhibition

Bill Christopher’s website

Upcoming events

Poem Noir LAVA Sunday Salon (2/26)

Making Sense of Parker Center LAVA Sunday Salon (3/26)

Special Event: Esotouric at Los Angeles Breakfast Club (3/29)

Special Event: Palos Verdes Ancient & Modern (4/8)

Forensic Science Seminar: From The Crime Lab To The Coroner’s Office (4/23)

Special Event: Crawling Down Cahuenga: Tom Waits’ L.A. (6/3)