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)

Monument to L.A.’s Visionary City Planner Calvin Hamilton Missing From Bunker Hill

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UPDATE: We have learned that someone did steal the plaque, but a Bunker Hill resident was able to retrieve it. That person plans to turn it over to the BID, which awaits city approval to reinstall it. Stay tuned for more details as we have them, and Long Live Cal Hamilton! – UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: As of February 2, the plaque is back! Thanks, Lisa Napoli, for the photo.

ORIGINAL POST: Writer Lisa Napoli alerts us to troubling news from the futuristic 1970s Bunker Hill Pedway system: the metal plaque placed to honor the city’s visionary Director of Planning, Calvin S. Hamilton (1964-1985), is gone!

Lisa noticed last week that Hamilton’s plaque in the center of the Pedway near Bunker Hill Towers was loose, and alerted the local Business Improvement District, but didn’t hear from them that they had come and taken it for safe-keeping.

Today, she saw that it was gone. We are very worried that metal thieves came back and finished the job, and intend to sell the plaque for scrap value.

When Calvin Hamilton came to Los Angeles from Indianapolis, he brought with him the concept of historic preservation as public policy. We owe our city’s strong and early preservation ordinance to Hamilton, and many of our oldest city landmarks are still standing due to his work. The Pedway system was named in his honor. It would be a tragedy if his monument were lost.

Be on the look out, preservation people, especially Downtown. If you see a big, flat metal disc with Calvin Hamilton’s face on it anywhere in your travels, grab it tight and let us know!

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Esotouric’s local history talk & book signing at Los Angeles Breakfast Club, March 29

On March 29, Esotouric’s Kim Cooper and Richard Schave are honored to present an illustrated lecture on their offbeat Southern California history research at the legendary Los Angeles Breakfast Club. This will be followed by a book signing, featuring Kim’s newest title, How To Find Old Los Angeles, and other historic books and maps. This is just one in a series of special events celebrating Esotouric’s 10th Anniversary.

Where: Friendship Auditorium, 3201 Riverside Drive, Los Angeles 90027
When: Wednesday, March 29, from 7-9am
Cost: First-time visitors may attend for free; hot buffet breakfast is $15

So what is this Los Angeles Breakfast Club? Just one of the oldest social clubs in the city! Since 1925, congenial Angelenos have gathered at the foot of Griffith Park for hearty eats and stimulating conversation. Learn more about the club and membership benefits here.

Esotouric’s Los Angeles Historic Preservation 2016 year-end list

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Gentle reader…

As we slam the door on 2016, it’s time for that annual Esotouric tradition: our very opinionated list of the past year’s Top Los Angeles Historic Preservation Stories.

Because preservation is never as simple as buildings being lost forever or rescued from the brink, the list is split into three sections: the Gains, the Losses, and those Bittersweet moments that hover somewhere in the middle, and keep us up nights. We hope you find the list by turns thought-provoking, infuriating and inspiring, and that 2017 will see some of the Bittersweets tip over onto the Gains side of the fence.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Gains of 2016:

G1. Spinning Wheel: On a hot day in sleepy Arcadia, where the last Googie-style Van De Kamp’s Holland Dutch Bakery restaurant (1967) stands proudly on Huntington Boulevard, Denny’s executives were on hand to throw the switch on the restored, spinning windmill sign, a beloved local landmark brought back to life through the Quixotic efforts of former mayor George Fasching.

G2. Ciao, Bella: One of Downtown L.A.’s most pathetic landmarks, the long-deteriorating Bank of Italy headquarters (1923) at 7th & Olive Streets, has finally changed hands and is currently undergoing a complete restoration as a boutique hotel. And not a moment too soon: the colossal metal entry doors were dissolving from uric acid.

G3: High Lights: For years, sign geeks have looked with longing at the rusting cans of the twin Hotel Californian rooftop neons, tucked away behind the Mulholland fountain in Los Feliz. Then in May, one of the signs appeared atop a brand new low-income apartment house on the site of the old Californian. Beautifully restored by Paul Greenstein, it awaits a last piece of permitting before it can once again illuminate the sky over MacArthur Park.

G4: Overnight Sensation: When we learned that an especially handsome 19th century Boyle Heights duplex was threatened with demolition, we asked the internet to speak on its behalf. Within hours, a preservation promise was made to save the Peabody Werden house, and in July we got to see the old gal moved to a nearby safe haven.

G5: Native Sun: Just as it seemed certain that the modernist home that exiled Nobel laureate Thomas Mann built for himself in Pacific Palisades would be replaced by a bland McMansion, the German government emerged as its new owner, with plans for a literary cultural center in the spirit of Villa Aurora.

G6. Googie Redux: In an age when classic diners are an endangered species, what a neat surprise to hear that The Penguin of Santa Monica is being converted back from a boring dental office to a jazzy all-night restaurant.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Losses of 2016:

L1. Iconic Absence: The Sixth Street Viaduct was the largest, last and loveliest of our city’s glittering necklace of landmark downtown bridges. Suffering from concrete rot, it needed to be replaced. Our friend Shmuel Gonzalez has documented the span’s sad last days, from grassroots gatherings to tumbling lamps. While common sense and the preservation community called for a full restoration, political forces chose instead an overwrought post-modern replacement. One day, years late and at tens of millions over budget, we’ll see it.

L2. Location, Location, Location: Usually it’s good news when an endangered piece of signage is carefully removed and placed in the care of an institution like the Museum of Neon Artbut not when that sign is as essential a piece of the urban fabric as the Sun-Lake Drugs facade. Preservation is place is better, and Silver Lake much less beautiful for its removal.

L3. Bad Taste: Under the guise of free “restoration” work, the city’s Rec and Parks Department encouraged interior decorators to run amok inside Wattles, Hollywood’s last grand mansion. The new look might appeal to the wedding planners who market the space, but historically, it’s a disaster.

L4. Hole In One: Who would have dreamed that that gang violence could take out an historic structure? RIP to the pretty little house on Pleasant Avenue (1901-2016).

L5. Lurid No Longer: When Charles Bukowski lived in the neighborhood, East Hollywood was the nearest thing to an L.A. red light district. Buk lamented “when you clean up a city, you kill it,” and a last bit of local color died hard this year when the owner of the Tiki Xymposium invested in a dull new sign.

L6. Eclipsed: Meanwhile, on Culver City’s vintage motel row, some lunatic tossed the lovely Half Moon neon in the dumpster.

L7. Tears Shed: Because developers saw no use for the Pacific Electric Trolley Shed in their new project, a cool relic of lost mass transit history went down. (The rail car that used to live there is mostly gone, too.)

L8. Adios: The quirky Casa de Petrol was kid sister to Sherman Oaks’ Casa de Cadillac dealership, and nearly unchanged from when James Dean was photographed filling up on the day he died. So naturally, developers smashed it to bits.

L9. Hamburgled: Downey folks treasure their original Stanley Meston-designed McDonald’s with its iconic golden arches. But in L.A., the arches were ripped out to make way for a smoky grill, and not much later, the whole building came down. Born 1957, died 2016.

L10. 99 and a Half Won’t Do: South Figueroa was L.A.’s original Auto Row, a zone of creative commerce where some of the world’s most exquisite vehicles were crafted and marketed. But you wouldn’t know that from the way the 99-year-old Hartwell Motor Company building was destroyed with zero public notice.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Bittersweet Moments of 2016:

B1. Stringing Along: Generations of kids have had their minds blown at Bob Baker’s Marionette Theater. Though a city landmark, development threatens the vintage attraction. We think there’s room for puppets and people on the site.

B2. Where’s The Beef: Hyperactive PR buzz touted the return of La Cienega’s beloved Tail O’ The Pup stand, but it turns out the new owners didn’t actually restore the vintage programmatic building. That landmark is still sitting in storage somewhere while a food truck turns out fancy franks. Meanwhile, to the east, the world’s biggest tamale is also in mothballs. We’d like to see them both brought back into photogenic service.

B3. Pershing Problems: Everyone agrees that downtown’s Pershing Square needs work. While thousands of Angelenos would like to see John Parkinson’s 1910 park plan restored, a design competition left restoration off the table; the jury picked the only entry that ignored the past. The proposed redesign is unfunded, and the fate of the park’s historic monuments remains uncertain. And now Rec and Parks has embarked on a bizarre series of modifications to Ricardo Legorreta’s 1992 plan. Amidst all this chaos, a moment of peace: Parkinson’s great-great-grandson crafted a digital version of the lost landmark.

B4. Research Wrecked: The Port of Los Angeles Archives, recently celebrated in a book and granted a dedicated reference library, have been mysteriously removed to an open dockside warehouse. Despite public outcry, the officials charged with protecting these unique documents remain silent as to why they’ve been placed in harm’s way and research access halted.

B5. World’s End: Paramount Pictures is eager to redevelop its studio lot upwards, and despite intense negotiations with preservation groups and the city, refuses to guarantee the iconic RKO Globe sign will be saved.

B6. Main Drag: The last stretch of modest, independent businesses along Main Street’s historic Skid Row face an uncertain future, their historic buildings threatened with demolition by the parking lot company that owns the land.

B7. Pereira in Peril: City planner, Time Magazine cover boy, Hollywood’s idea of an architect, William Pereira never got his due from the critics. Now, a campaign seeks to raise consciousness about his work just as several important local projects are threatened and things get hot at the Cultural Heritage Commission meetings. Can LACMA, the L.A. Times and Metropolitan Water District be saved?

B8. Hot Spot: There’s just something charged about the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights. Wild times at the Garden of Allah, teens rioting over curfew restrictions, and now a politicized preservation battle pitting citizen activists and the Los Angeles Conservancy against developers and their pals on City Council. Lawsuits and accusations are flying as the battle to save Lytton (rhymes with kitten) Savings ramps up.

B9. Half Empty: Welton Becket’s Parker Center is an elegant modernist office tower, one of the most architecturally significant buildings in the city’s portfolio. In a rare move, the Cultural Heritage Commission itself is opposing civic bean counters by advocating for its adaptive reuse.

B10. Deco Inferno: In 1938, veterinarian to the stars Eugene C. Jones commissioned architects Walter Wurdeman and Welton Becket, in a rare collaboration, to design a Streamline Moderne animal hospital. Decades later, the neglected structure was hidden behind overgrown trees, and its provenance deliberately obscured by development-happy politicos. West Hollywood Heritage Project discovered the subterfuge, and have tirelessly campaigned to save this endangered landmark. We were encouraged when the Los Angeles Conservancy joined the cause and sued West Hollywood to compel preservation, then horrified when the back side of the “vacant” building caught fire, with a homeless man, known to the owners to be living inside, killed by smoke inhalation. Arson and murder investigations are ongoing, and the preservation fight continues on appeal. Despite recent tagging, the building is still gorgeous, and worth saving.

B11. Fallen Angels: One especially romantic scene in the new film La La Land pours salt in the civic wound that is the stalled Angels Flight funicular railway, rubbed in when a local rag called the regulators for a quote that killed the non-profit’s major source of funding. In the 1211 days since the public was permitted to ride, the lovely little landmark has suffered grave humiliation, yet it remains fully functional and eager to serve. If only the Mayor would help!

*      *      *

And that’s our report on the state of Los Angeles preservation for 2016. To see past years’ lists, click here: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012. And to stay informed all year round, see our preservation page on Facebook, subscribe to our newsletter and visit the Los Angeles Historic Preservation Hotspots map, where you can find nearby trouble spots.

Our guided bus tours return in the new year with The Real Black Dahlia on January 7, on the crest of the 70th anniversary of Beth Short’s disappearance and an especially haunting date to walk in the footsteps of this fascinating and mysterious lady. This tour is nearly full, so reserve soon if you’d like to ride, then stay tuned for a 10th Anniversary Year packed with special events and surprises.

yrs,
Kim and Richard
Esotouric

Pershing Square is 150 Years Old Today!

On December 11, 1866, Cristobal Aguilar, the Mayor of Los Angeles, a town of about 5000 souls still recovering from the brutal upsets of the Mexican-American War, signed an ordinance concerning a swampy patch of land due South-West of the Plaza:

“Lots from Nos. 1 to 10 in block 15 of Ord’s Survey of said city are hereby set aside for the use of said city and the residents thereof as a public square, and the same is hereby declared to be a public square or plaza for the use and benefit of the citizens in common of said city, remaining under the control of the mayor and council of said city.”

It wasn’t much of a park, just a muddy, ungraded rectangle, 600 x 330 feet. But it belonged to the people of Los Angeles, and in time they would take to it with a passion that occasionally seemed beyond all sense and reason.

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The park would become lovelier, too, from the meandering Eaton plan of 1886 to John Parkinson’s classic axial design of 1910/31. And while it is not today such a beautiful thing, we still live in hope that the great park that was will one day exist again. (Sign our petition if you agree.)

So join us today in celebrating the sesquicentennial of Pershing Square, an auspicious anniversary we have not seen many of in this youthful municipality.

We rejoice with all the great departed Angelenos who have loved the place: “Roundhouse George” Lehman,  who planted the park’s first trees and carried water to them in oil cans, “Stoolpigeon Mary,” who spoke against a misguided plan to remove benches and trees, “Pigeon Goldie” Osgood, who cared for the birds until a wicked unknown person killed her at the Hotel Cecil, Benny the Squirrel, whose antics delighted a generation (his end was violent, too), and uncounted soapbox speakers and Bunker Hill bench sleepers and pretty fellows cruising and children splashing in the fountain and writers who paused in the shade to study their fellow humans and work out some rough bit of plotting.

Long live our Pershing Square!

Because when you love Pershing Square there is always something new to learn, we close with a little gift from the archives: a rare trade card from an early business that faced the park from the 5th Street side. Opened in early 1895, the prominently-situated Pavilion Cyclery and Riding School did much to promote this novel mode of transport.

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A bicycling poem from February 1895

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A visit to historic Boys Republic, home of the Della Robbia holiday wreath (since 1923)

boys-republic-street-signEarlier this year, we had the opportunity to tour the historic Boys Republic school, situated on the Rancho Santa Ana Del Chino, near the modern cities of Chino and Chino Hills. (Here is an early ranch map, here a modern aerial view.)

It was on this site in September 1846, during the Mexican-American War, that Isaac Williams’ moated adobe ranch house was besieged and 24 Americans taken prisoner and marched to Boyle Heights. A canon stands as a war memorial just east of the school grounds.

Boys Republic is an extraordinary place, a largely undeveloped time capsule of the Californio era, as well as a functioning ranch, farm, educational facility (academics and construction trades) and seasonal cottage industry—the famous Della Robia Holiday Wreaths have been made here since 1923.

The lower campus features a master plan and buildings by noted Pasadena architect Myron Hunt, who married founding board member Virginia Pease and maintained a long interest in the school.

Since 1907, this progressive institution has offered troubled and neglected youth the opportunity to build self esteem, develop life skills and participate in a civic system based on self-governance. We were eager to see Hunt’s campus and the historic ranch buildings, and learn about how the school functions. Our visit coincided with preparations for the annual Friends of Steve McQueen Car & Motorcycle Show, a fundraiser honoring Boys Republic’s most famous alumnus, so we got to see some cool vintage vehicles, too.

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So as not to compromise the privacy of the students, our photos focus on parts of the campus that were unpopulated during our golf cart tour.

The northwestern portion of the site is dedicated to animal husbandry, with friendly inhabitants in the handsome old barns and corrals.grain-silo

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Unfortunately, Isaac Williams’ adobe ranch house does not survive. Nor does the house that Myron Hunt built for his wife in 1915. But as we drove out towards the site, something glittered inside an open barn door…

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Behind some dusty golf clubs was a magnificent wrought iron gate, no doubt part of Hunt’s project.

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Perhaps it stood somewhere near the old stone gateposts which formerly opened onto the southern border of the ranch.

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Close by is a horizontal plinth which formerly displayed the war memorial canyon before it was moved just off campus for easier public access.

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Randy, who has managed the Wood Shop for decades, gave us a tour of his neat domain…. wood-shop-proprietor-randy

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complete with vintage eye protection propaganda…

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and a quote from a Steve McQueen biography about how he was changed by his time at Boys Republic.

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We wrapped up our visit with a walk through the Della Robbia wreath factory, a series of functional buildings wrapped around the historic gym.

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Although the holidays were still six months away, the factory floor was humming with activity. We watched with fascination as the craftswomen swiftly loaded plastic rings with a mix of dried cones, pods and nuts, making a pretty festive scene inspired by the 15th century terracotta sculptures of Andrea della Robbia.

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On the wall, twin Santas display both sizes of the finished product.

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Just off the factory, we passed through a vintage fire door…

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…into a long warehouse with lofts packed with sacks and boxes of wreath fixings. (If we returned at this time of year, the buildings would be bustling with dozens of young men helping to make, pack and ship wreaths out to customers all over the country.)

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An ingenious triangular metal stand makes it easy to fill the recycled potato sacks with pine cones.

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Nearby, in the old gym, beautiful rafters support a complex system of hooks and conveyor belts, which carry completed wreaths to the shipping center for final packaging. It’s clear that, after 93 years in the business, Boys Republic has wreath production down!

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If you’d like to support the good work of Boys Republic, you can purchase a freshly-crafted Della Robia Holiday Wreath, and learn more about the wreath making process here.

Our thanks to Boys Republic Development Director and historian  Jerry Marcotte for the tour and the hospitality.

The Demolition of the Hartwell Motor Company Building (1917-2016)

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The South Park neighborhood around the Los Angeles Convention Center is positively lousy with new development projects, and some charming commercial structures are being lost around historic Automobile Row.
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1917 (Los Angeles Herald)

This afternoon, we paid our last respects to The Hartwell Motor Company Building at 1224 South Flower Street. This elegant early auto showroom, office and mechanic’s garage survived just three months shy of a century on this site before being unceremoniously smashed to bits. (We’d heard that Onni Group planned to build a tower on the corner, but were mistakenly under the impression that the site only encompassed a surface parking lot.)
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2009 (Google streetview)

Automobile Row could be a volatile place in the teens, as early advertisements reveal. A trip through the Los Angeles Herald archives reveal that in January 1917, the Hartwell Motor Company moved into its custom digs, only to sell to the Troy Motor Sales Company a scant three months later. For a few months in 1919, this was the A.E. Evans Company, dealing in the Paige (“the most beautiful car in America”), before the Standard Steel Automotive Corporation moved in. In later years, it was a taxi dispatcher.
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Thanks to Roger Price for pulling our sleeves to the dire situation, and sharing a photo of the partially demolished structure on the L.A. Historic Preservation Facebook page, taken a couple of weeks ago.
When we made it down to see for ourselves, it was too late to see anything but a patch of broken, but still beautiful, floor tile on top of the rubble pile.
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Bye bye, old girl. You deserved more respect than this. And so does your pretty neighbor. Long may she stand.
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