Episode #127: Fighting For the Soul of Los Angeles

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Join us this month as we talk with preservationist John Girodo about his struggles to preserve Hollywood’s historic built environment as that small neighborhood experiences hyper-gentrification. We’ll also visit with social justice advocate Adrian Riskin of MichaelKohlhaas dot org, to discuss his satirical exploration of the shadowy world of Business Improvement Districts and how BIDs influenced the controversial recent defeat of a Skid Row Neighborhood Council.

We’ll also discuss the fate of the Peabody-Werden house, Richard Neutra’s Chuey House, a proposed aerial tram for Dodger Stadium, the Healthy Housing Foundation’s purchase of the nearly empty King Edward Hotel, Jill Stewart of the Coalition to Preserve L.A. on the challenges facing Los Angeles, L.A. Times art critic Christopher Knight laments Brookfield’s selling off public art on Bunker Hill, the L.A. Times’ dedicated historian Darrell Kunitomi’s long goodbye to the newspaper’s historic downtown home, a set of newly digitized photo albums from the Cuffe movie ranch in Lone Pine, Burbank’s Book Castle – Movie World bookstore closes its doors after 51 years, peril for Arts District landmark the Pickle Works Building, and the developer who plans to demolish the exquisite streamline moderne Dr. Jones Dog and Cat Hospital in West Hollywood is arrested on Federal bribery and public corruption charges. So stay tuned. . .

URLs for Interviews

Michael Kohlhaas dot org

Los Angeles Poverty Department exhibition: Zillionaires Against Humanity: Sabotaging the Skid Row Neighborhood Council

Hollywood Heritage

Upcoming Events

September LAVA Forensic Science Seminar

Closely Watched Trains

Fate of the Peabody-Werden house, moved to make way for a Boyle Heights housing development, remains uncertain.

Richard Neutra’s Chuey House, which was mysteriously pulled from landmark consideration by the Los Angeles Conservancy, is back on the market–but not as a teardown this time.

Aerial tram proposed for Dodger Stadium.

The Healthy Housing Foundation purchased the nearly empty King Edward Hotel with the aim to renovate rooms and fill it by mid-summer.

Curbed interviewed Jill Stewart of the Coalition to Preserve LA on the challenges facing Los Angeles. We like her idea of turning Parker Center into homeless housing rather than tearing it down.

L.A. Times art critic Christopher Knight laments Brookfield’s selling off public art on Bunker Hill: “This Miró masterpiece will be sold to the highest bidder. It belongs in a museum instead.” (The price realised at the May 15 auction was $9,425,000). We’re broken up about Brookfield’s demolition of the Halprin atrium, too.

The L.A. Times’ dedicated historian Darrell Kunitomi is on Facebook saying a long goodbye to the newspaper’s historic downtown home, and offering guided tours of the building until the threatened move to El Segundo.

A set of newly digitized photo albums from the Cuffe movie ranch in Lone Pine contains amazing snapshots of C.B. DeMille’s 10 Commandments ancient Egyptian film set in the Guadalupe dunes.

In vanishing independent bookstore news, Burbank’s Book Castle – Movie World closed its doors after 51 years.

The Pickle Works Building, an Arts District cultural landmark, is in peril from an expanding MTA project. The public Comments for DEIR for the Division 20 Portal Widening and Turnback Facility project just closed. (PDF link.)

The developer who plans to demolish the exquisite streamline moderne Dr. Jones Dog and Cat Hospital in West Hollywood was just arrested on Federal bribery and public corruption charges. Who else was paid off and how many landmarks lost?



The King Edward Hotel: Empty No More

Michael Weinstein describes what’s next for the King Edward Hotel

Yesterday, we attended an event at the stately King Edward Hotel (John Parkinson, 1906) in the heart of historic Skid Row, where Michael Weinstein of AIDS Healthcare Foundation introduced the new Healthy Housing Foundation model of housing L.A.’s homeless and chronically ill population quickly in historic hotels and motels.

The previous owners of the King Edward were keeping about 110 of the 150 rooms vacant, as we learned when a longtime tenant posted a disturbing video last summer. The HHF plan is to fix the empty rooms up and have the building fully inhabited by summer. The cost per unit at the King Edward is about $70,000 for the purchase of the building and simple upgrades, as opposed to the Measure HHH budget of $434,000/unit for brand new construction.

Weinstein asked why the County isn’t housing people in County General Hospital, and why the City of LA plans to demolish Parker Center rather than using it as desperately needed housing. These are good questions.

It was an interesting and inspiring press conference, in one of the most beautiful, though neglected, landmarks of old Skid Row. We’re looking forward to the King Edward’s new life as a place people call home, and to some much needed preservation of the historic features. (But sorry, Presidential history buffs, Teddy Roosevelt didn’t really sleep here!)

We hope you enjoy this photo tour, including the grand lobby with its faux marble columns and Grecian mosaic floor, and a trip upstairs to see one of the newly renovated rooms (simple but dignified, with terrific views), the long, haunting hallways with their shared baths, and some doors still showing the bright blue seal of the Coroner’s Office. How sad and stupid to think that a person died, and their room was left empty, while tens of thousands sleep in the streets of Los Angeles.

Old buildings need new ideas, and we’re glad to see the great King Edward is where they’re being hatched.

Update: we returned a week later, and found an entire empty wing on the second floor being readied for residents.

Episode #126: From Show Caves to Palm Canyons: Treasures of Southern California’s Desert State Park System

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Join us this month as we get an education from two devoted parks interpreters: LuAnn Thompson shares her favorite things about the landscape and creatures found in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and Andy Fitzpatrick introduces us to the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area, including the Route 66 roadside attraction turned State Parks resource, the astonishing Mitchell Caverns.


LAVA Forensic Science Seminar: The Grim Sleeper


Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Providence Mountains State Recreation Area

Recommended Reading:

Anza Borrego Desert Region: Your Complete Guide to the State Park and Adjacent Areas of the Western Colorado Desert by Lowell & Diana Lindsay

Keepers of the Caves: A True Account of Twenty Years of Modern Pioneering by Jack Mitchell

  • Hollenbeck Park Lake in Boyle Heights slated for a major makeover.
  • In rent control news, Costa-Hawkins repeal supporters say they will qualify for November ballot.
  • Landmarking makes all the difference: Crossroads of the World mega-project now plans to incorporate historic Hollywood Reporter building (no word on the gorgeous 1930s garden apartment buildings that are also under landmark consideration).
  • The huge development surrounding Capitol Records returns from the grave.
  • Church of the Angels moves forward after vandalism.
  • Developer in Dispute with Community Stakeholders Warns, ‘I’ll Use My AR-15.’ The parcel was subsequently landmarked.
  • The L.A. Times might move to… El Segundo? We made the trek so you don’t have to!
  • City of Los Angeles following the lead of AIDS Healthcare Foundation in turning old motels into permanent supportive housing. This is good for people experiencing homelessness and for the preservation of the historic built environment.
  • Pasadena plans new anti-suicide barriers for the National Register Colorado Street Bridge, with design recommendations to come. They can’t be uglier than the current chain link solution. . .we hope!

“DREAMERS in Long Beach,” a DACA-inspired mural collaboration — in 3-D!

Welcome to the eighth in a series of 3-D explorable tours of off-the-beaten-path Los Angeles spaces, created by Craig Sauer using cutting-edge Matterport technology.

Today we’ve ventured south to the terminus of the 710 Freeway, where Street Artist in Residence and the City of Long Beach have transformed a pedestrian underpass into an open-air gallery in support of the 800,000 Dreamers whose futures are uncertain due to the Trump administration’s attempts to dismantle the DACA program.

It’s a weird, semi-subterranean space, concrete on all sides, windy and dusty, with mossy streams of fluid oozing from mysterious sources and cars racing just overhead. The river and city are both close, but out of sight. Here at the bend in the road, sunlight and shadow activate the powerful images of hope, anxiety, uplift and uncertainty. Infrastructure is humanized.

We invite you to take a virtual tour, explore the many creative responses to this moment in time, and think about what might be coming for this country just around the bend. Because history doesn’t just happen: people make history.

Dream on.

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” – Oscar Wilde, 1892

Episode #125: A Farewell to the Caravan Book Store & The Challenges Facing L.A.

Caravan Books

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Join us this month as we talk with Donald Spivack, former Deputy Director of Policy & Operations for the CRA-LA, about the two biggest challenges facing Los Angeles: Homelessness and Open Space. We’ll also visit with Leonard Bernstein, second-generation proprietor of Caravan Book Store, which is closing at the end of this month after nearly 56 years. It is the last shop left on Downtown’s historic Booksellers Row.

We’ll also discuss the unwelcome sale of the Japanese-American landmark Historic Wintersburg for a possible self-storage facility, the Vermonica problem, big changes at the Los Angeles Times as the reporters unionize and a new era of local ownership begins, with the Save 7500 Sunset petition the community rallies to save Parisian Florist and other historic Sunset Boulevard small businesses from an out-of-scale redevelopment project, Tom Bergin’s on the ropes again, hope for retaining some of William Pereira influence in the new development proposed for his Metropolitan Water District HQ, sleuthing the shock demolition of Lawrence Halprin’s taxpayer-funded Crocker Court on Bunker Hill, Malibu’s surfing zone is added to the National Register and we hope this is good news for the neglected Adamson House, outrage and organizing as the Port of L.A.’s redevelopment arm breaks promises made to the Ports O’ Call tenants and San Pedro community and changes to San Gabriel’s outdated preservation policies.


February Sunday LAVA Salon: Poem Noir

March Sunday LAVA Salon: The Los Angeles Mall Reconsidered

LAVA Forensic Science Seminar: Wrongful Convictions: Investigatory Case Studies From the California Innocence Project


RIP Caravan Book Store (1954-2018). The last survivor of Downtown L.A.’s bookseller’s row is closing on 2/24, and with it goes a big piece of Los Angeles’ literary heart. See the 3-D scan.

Caravan Books

Betrayal of preservation promises at Historic Wintersburg, a significant Japanese-American landmark in Huntington Beach.

Can Street Art Be Moved Without Destroying It? Atlas Obscura tackles the Vermonica problem. The Cranky Preservationist stops by, too: Episode 15: Not Vermonica Blues.

Big changes at the Los Angeles Times: the reporters have unionized, then the inept Chicago owners sold the paper to a local owner. The looming question: will the Times be able to remain in its namesake building, which it no longer owns?

A petition is launched to “Save 7500 Sunset” seeking to preserve two blocks of small businesses in Hollywood, including Parisian Florist, one of the finest vintage storefronts we’ve got.

Tom Bergin’s is on the ropes, again.

Renderings released for proposed redevelopment of William Pereira’s Metropolitan Water District HQ: much demolition, but also partial restoration of the low-rise building at the heart of the complex. The sunscreens, removed, we believe, to stymie the landmark nomination, are back.

A civic disgrace: Department of Building and Safety issued a demolition permit in TWO DAYS just before Christmas, then Lawrence Halprin’s significant, taxpayer-funded Crocker Court was destroyed with no public notice. And of course the Cranky Preservationist has something to say about it: Episode 14: Bunker Hill Re-Redevelopment Blues.

Southern California culture spreads its influence around the globe. And now Malibu’s surfing zone is on the National Register, for layers of significance ancient to modern. Maybe now the state will invest in proper restoration of the magnificent tiled Adamson House, which needs some love.

Outrage and organizing as the Port of L.A.’s redevelopment arm breaks promises made to the Ports O’ Call tenants and San Pedro community

San Gabriel, rich with history, gets L.A. Conservancy recognition for beefing up its outdated preservation policies.



Exploring George Johnson’s Wonderful Wartime Negro Business Directories

Before his death in 2006, George Johnson held the distinction of being California’s oldest citizen at 112 (and change).

Friends, caretakers and family members would often drop in on his Richmond home to hear stories of a colorful life, from a prankish Pennsylvania boyhood to stateside service in the Great War, encounters with Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller, and of course the abiding rumors that his father was the love-child of President Andrew Johnson.

An undated snapshot of George and Ida Johnson at a party at their Richmond Annex home. The couple loved to entertain, and though they didn’t smoke or drink themselves, they were happy to accommodate their guests. (Collection: Chris Treadway)

And sometimes, they’d look at his books. A man can collect a lot of books in 112 years. Among the most interesting was a rare and fragile volume that had belonged to his wife, Ida. She was an advertising executive who in the early 1940s had solicited listings for The Official California Negro Directory and Classified Buyers Guide, a sort of West Coast Yellow Pages for black-owned and affiliated businesses.

After George died, Melinda McCrary at the Richmond Museum of History reached out to the Internet Archive and asked if the Guide, which was falling to pieces, could be made accessible to a wider audience. After a painstaking scanning process, this fascinating time capsule can be virtually enjoyed without the risk of further damage. Skip ahead to page 80 for the Los Angeles buyer’s guide section.

And there’s even more in store for lovers of Los Angeles lore in the form of a second rarity from George Johnson’s collection, The Official Central Avenue District Directory: A Business and Professional Directory (1939). This L.A.-centric volume too has been digitized, and it’s packed with lively ads for BBQ joints, beauticians, decorators, druggists, entertainers, haulers, plumbers, pool halls, psychics and the natty Dunbar Liquors motorcycle delivery crew.

Glad as we are that these directories survive, there’s an undeniable sadness to them. In other parts of Los Angeles, a mid-century listing of nearly every business would include some we’d heard of, even some that had survived into the present. But after decades of economic hardship and the riots and fires of 1965 and 1992, there’s very little that has lasted into the 21st century in South Central Los Angeles. These fragile business directories reveal a world almost entirely lost. Thanks, George!



A Last and Lasting Visit To Caravan Book Store – in 3-D!

Welcome to the seventh in a series of 3-D explorable tours of historic Los Angeles spaces, created by Craig Sauer using cutting-edge Matterport technology.

For the first time in the series, we’ve documented a space that is freely open and accessible to the public. But soon the Caravan Book Store will only exist in memory and in this captured moment in time. Because after almost 64 years in the shadow of the Los Angeles Public Library, the last survivor of Downtown L.A.’s Booksellers Row is about to become the Row’s final retail closure. If you want to visit, February 24 is Caravan’s last day.

We are grateful to Craig for rushing downtown to capture Caravan before the stock was depleted and fixtures removed (ahem, we bought a lovely little glass-faced bookshelf on our way out the door) and to Leonard Bernstein and daughter Leilah for letting us disrupt their first busy day in the shop after the news broke.

Oh Caravan! The tugboat of Downtown. How we’ll miss your dusty air and beautiful things and the calm, wry, wise presence of the great Angeleno at your heart.

In 1954, Leonard Bernstein’s parents Morris and Lillian opened Caravan at 605 South Grand Avenue so that they could spend their days together. The store evolved with the changing city, honing antiquarian specialties that interested the Bernsteins and their customers. Californiana, presidential biographies, travel, rail history, cookbooks, old newspapers, fine bindings, ephemera, and the unexpected treasures that came in by the box load whenever an old Southern California estate collection was purchased.

In 1970, L.A. Times columnist Jack Smith stepped in, and wrote:

“I found myself back in the 1930s. In that era, when you might think nobody had any money to spend on books, 6th St. in that neighborhood was Booksellers Row.

There were perhaps a dozen of them, all much like this one: narrow and deep, smelling of dust and old buckram and leather. Each shop would be tended by one man, usually a lean one, with a hungry look, who could be found at a desk at the back bent over a rolltop desk. On cold days a gas heater would be burning.

There would be a tin coffeepot on a burner and sometimes a loaf of bread and some cheese and canned milk. Most of the men had wives who helped them out, wearing sweaters to keep warm, and there were always cats.

There might be three or four customers in the shop or none, depending on the hour and the weather, though I rarely saw anyone buy anything, and I hung around a lot, not buying anything myself.

The bookman didn’t seem to mind. He talked with them, if they wanted to talk, sometimes going up to a loft to find a book or shoving his ladder along a wall and climbing it for a book out of reach. He knew where every book in the shop was because he had put it there, and once he had put it there, it rarely moved. Cronies spent the day, sitting at the back by the heater, making the coffee and talking about T.S. Eliot or Jurgen or Aimee Semple MacPherson… Now they are gone.”

But Caravan, a late arrival to the Row, found its even keel and pushed on, as Downtown Los Angeles declined and was revived more times that its current boosters would like you to know.

Photo: Ann Summa (Los Angeles Times)

By 1980, when a bank took over all the retail storefronts in Caravan’s building, the little kid who had grown up helping out in the store was a full grown bookman. Leonard helped move the store’s stock across Grand Avenue to its comfortable new digs in the Pacific Mutual Building, formerly the offices of Air Panama, and posed with his dad in the sterile space which will all too soon be so again.

Caravan is not closing because business is bad, the landlord is greedy, or because you took photos of rare items on the shelves and bought them cheap online (but if you did, shame on you). Caravan is closing because the next generation of Bernsteins have their own full lives, and because after a lifetime in business on the wild and woolly streets of Downtown Los Angeles, Leonard is ready to sleep late, have some new adventures, and see what else the world has in store for him.

The business will continue, but without drop-in hours. So make some time this shortest month to pay a visit to the last of a great Los Angeles literary tradition. And for heaven’s sake, buy something! For to quote Morris Bernstein, at the time of the last move, “The thought of moving all those books makes me wish I’d gone into the stamp business!”

Caravan Book Store
550 S. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90071

Monday through Saturday: 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sunday: Closed

There will be a Store Closing Sale from February 3 through 24, with markdowns on merchandise throughout the shop. Sale hours will also be flexible and by appointment.

Contact Info
Email: caravanbookstore@yahoo.com
Phone: 213-626-9944
Instagram: @caravan_book_store
New mailing address (as of March 1): Caravan Book Store P.O. Box 550 7162 Beverly Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90036

Store closing announcement