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.


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





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…


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


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



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


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


complete with vintage eye protection propaganda…


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


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


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.


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


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


…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.)


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


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!


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)

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.

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.)

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.
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.
Bye bye, old girl. You deserved more respect than this. And so does your pretty neighbor. Long may she stand.
demolished, and we're worried about her neighbor

Secrets of Los Angeles, 1932-33: The Anton Wagner files

angels-flight 5


When lost Los Angeles is your beat, as it is ours, you’re dependent on the stray relics that survive in photographic archives, books and on film.

The buildings and vistas that obsess us were captured at precise moments and specific angles, and while we’re grateful for every scrap of documentation that survives, we also can’t count the times we’ve shaken our fists at the sky and exclaimed, “Damn it, if you had only stood ten feet to the left when you framed that shot!”

For nuts like us, there’s nothing more exciting than news of a new and previously unknown photographic archive, like George Mann’s color views of Bunker Hill or Herman J. Schultheis’ eclectic collection held by LAPL. We raise a virtual glass of frosty Eastside Old Tap Lager to these artists’ holy memories.

Today we add another camera-toting friend to that storied list, the creator of a body of work that we’re just getting to know. Anton Wagner came to Los Angeles in 1932 as a doctoral candidate at the ancient University of Kiel in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. To illustrate his thesis on the influence of the landscape on the life of the young metropolis, he took hundreds of photographs, all recently scanned by the California Historical Society.

As a stranger from the old world with a scientific interest in the place, his neutral eye settled on atypical scenes that no other photographer bothered to capture. And in these beautiful, high-resolution scans, we find a version of depression-era Los Angeles that is fresh and unfamiliar, filling in gaps we didn’t know were there.

We encourage you to explore the Anton Wagner collection and find your own treasures—and to post them in the commentsbut here are a few scenes that we found particularly thrilling.

• An unusual side view of the landmark Doria Apartments in the Pico-Union district, whose rooftop sign we were privileged to save from illegal alterations when we spotted the work while giving a true crime bus tour in 20111.


Angels Flight Railway at her original site beside the Third Street Tunnel, with the funicular partly obscured by a Pacific Electric car and busy work crew. Photographers typically framed the railway in a romantic postcard manner, without obstruction. It’s fascinating to see it as part of the chaotic daily cityscape.


• The storied Art Deco haberdasher Alexander & Oviatt caught at the moment of the liquidation sale which James Oviatt managed to put behind him through some masterful hustles at the bank down the block. His only-in-LA story was featured at our LAVA Sunday Salon with Marc Chevalier. (That odd-looking sidewalk? The black and white rubber blocks whose removal features in Raymond Chandler’s novel The Lady in the Lake!)


• A magnificently funky suite of Main Street storefronts on the site of today’s most unfunky police headquarters, among them a carnival sideshow-style reptile display promising a Mongoose vs. Cobra show that could only have been taxidermy.



• A rare view of the short-lived Clifton’s Cafeteria on Hollywood Boulevard (center right).



• There are shockingly empty undeveloped landscapes, like the hills of Silver Lake…


• and Westwood’s Fox Theater looming like a California Mission on the naked plains…


• and the wilds of the unchannelized Arroyo Seco winding through the wee township of Hermon…


• and the Olympic Auditorium flanked by billboards and acres of dirt.


• There’s the gateway to the lost Long Beach amusement village called The Pike, a year-round carnival sideshow whose wholesale destruction is one of the great cultural crimes of California’s redevelopment agencies. We’ll visit this exact site on Richard’s 2016 birthday bus adventure.


• A stunning aerial view of the Garden of Allah hotel and bungalows, the center of snarky literary culture in the backwater of Hollywood.


• Hungry? Here’s a palatial roadside sandwich joint at Wilshire and Le Doux.


• And a generically named French Dipped Sandwich Shop on Grand Avenue that suggests the local favorite cut a wider swath that just from Philipe’s to Cole’s.


• The undeveloped forest of Olive Hill (now Barnsdall Park), with Aline Barnsdall’s notorious left wing billboards promoting Louis Adamic’s just published Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence in America


…while at far left, we catch a rare view of the swine-shaped sign for Kirby’s Pig Stand, a Texas BBQ chain that claims, along with California’s A & W Root Beer, to be America’s first drive-in restaurant.


And all this is just scraping the surface of the gems to be found in the Anton Wagner collection, which we encourage you to explore at your leisure.


We’ll close with a figure found exiting the Pike amusement zone, a handsome little old fellow who seems about to walk up to Wagner and inquire as to his work.

Perhaps the two of them will find that they are countrymen, and retire to a nearby tavern for beer and conversation.

We’ll leave these two to their further adventures in the magnificent young city that was Los Angeles. We can’t go with them, except in our dreams. And so to bed!

A little bit of the Dutch Chocolate Shop goes on tour at Pasadena Museum of History’s “Batchelder: Tilemaker” exhibition

Dutch Chocolate Shop mural

These are heady times for lovers of the Arts & Crafts movement, as the Pasadena Museum of History celebrates the gift of Dr. Bob Winter’s incomparable Ernest Batchelder collection with a fascinating and eclectic show on his influential Arroyo pottery. Batchelder: Tilemaker is on view through February 12, when we’ll be hosting a special bus tour of the master’s Downtown Los Angeles tile installations.

Included in the exhibition are magnificent fireplaces and miniature salesmen’s samples, bookplates and business cards, corbels and plaster casts (from a horde used to shore up a Los Feliz hillside for decades, then miraculously recognized and preserved), even a virtual reality headset which lets you explore donor “Bungalow Bob’s” Pasadena home and garden, formerly Batchelder’s.

Dutch Chocolate Shop mural

But the piece we’re most excited about is the one we had a little part in bringing to the museum: one of the “lost” tile murals from Downtown’s landmark Dutch Chocolate Shop, removed in the mid-1980s when a door was opened between the DCS and the contiguous Spring Arcade building. Geographically, we understand that it made sense to take this mural down. But with its prominent back wall placement, Batchelder ensured  it contained one of the most commission’s most charming scenes: a young couple in Dutch garb walking a handsome hound. Hidden from view for decades, the unrestored panel has a proud central spot in the new exhibition, and we hope you have a chance to see it.

When you visit, leave a time for the amusing show across the hall, Cast & Fired: Pasadena’s Mid-Century Ceramics Industry. If you’ve spent much time in antique malls or thrift shops, you’ll recognize the kitschy novelties that emerged by the thousands from Pasadena kilns: scrawny hillbillies, cartoony woodland creatures, exotic Asian figurines and stylized owls. It’s a small revelation to see the work of specific designers clustered together, along with select sketches and color studies. Look especially for the wee set of ceramic fascist figurines by Twin Winton and the Roselane flat cat.

Metropolitan Water District landmarking vote reveals recent gutting of Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission


PETITION: Mayor Eric Garcetti, Fill the Vacant Seat on the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission.

On Thursday afternoon, September 15, 2016 an SRO crowd gathered in room 1010 of Los Angeles City Hall for the final hearing in the historic-cultural monument consideration process for William L. Pereira’s 1963 Metropolitan Water District campus at 1111 West Sunset Boulevard.

Presentations were made by Pam O’Connor and nominator Yuval Bar-Zemer (in favor) and Bill Delvac and Jenna Snow representing the property owner (opposed). Members of the public spoke about the property: two dozen in favor of preserving it (among them, the architect’s daughter Monica Pereira), two opposed. Bar-Zemer also presented the Commissioners with a pro-landmarking petition containing more than 600 names.

The Commissioners acknowledged that it had been a long day—we heard that security had already been called during the contentious Miracle Mile HPOZ agenda item, and they also were called during this item—and that they believed that determination on the MWD property was problematic due to alterations, some done by the prior church tenant in the 1990s, others done just a few months ago by the property owner apparently (though the Commissioners did not say this) in an attempt to render the property less suitable for landmarking.

When the vote came, it split 2-2, Commission president Richard Barron and Commissioner Jeremy Irvine somewhat reluctantly opposed to landmarking, Commission vice president Gail Kennard and Commissioner Barry Milofsky in favor.

chc-agenda-header-with-5-commissioners-shown-september-15-2016We had noticed through the whole afternoon that Commissioner Elissa Scrafano wasn’t at the dais. But it wasn’t until the vote was tabulated that her absence was explained, to the great dismay of the many citizens who had taken half their day to attend what they believed would be a fair hearing, with an informed Commission vote determining the fate of the endangered mid-century campus.

Although her name appears on the agenda for the hearing, in fact Elissa Scrafano is no longer a member of the Cultural Heritage Commission!

In July, Mayor Garcetti appointed Ms. Scrafano to the Cultural Affairs Commission to fill the vacancy created by Mari Edelman, who resigned. This appointment leaves both Commissions unbalanced and unable to break tie votes: the CAC now has 6 sitting commissioners, the CHC 4.

In the absence of Ms. Scrafano, there was nobody able to break the tie vote for landmarking the MWD, which means no action will be taken. With no new Commissioner nominated by the Mayor, and no CHC meeting scheduled in the 75 day window from when the property came before the Commission, this important William Pereira campus will almost certainly be demolished by the property owner.

But there is a chance, and we’re asking you to help: we are petitioning Mayor Garcetti and several city councilmembers with significant pending landmark nominations in their districts to act promptly to correct the voting imbalance on the Cultural Heritage Commission by appointing a fifth Commissioner. We are further asking that CHC president Richard Barron extend the period of consideration and/or call a special meeting once the Commission is balanced to hold a fair and final vote on the fate of the Metropolitan Water District campus.

If you share our belief that the Cultural Heritage Commission should be fully staffed for the protection of Los Angeles landmarks, please visit the petition link here, and add your name to send a message to the Mayor, City Council and the CHC.

Video of the September 15 hearing is below. Learn more about the Pereira in Peril campaign, see videos from past site visits and learn how to join us for upcoming tours here.

Angels Flight Railway graffiti removal



Early on Thursday we got the word, via a Twitter photo posted by the good folks at DTLA Walking Tours, that Angels Flight Railway had been hit with a major graffiti bomb.

The rest of the day was a blur of emails and calls, seeking out the people who could do something about the mess and help keep it from happening again. Elsewhere in Los Angeles, other concerned citizens were doing their part, too.

Since it was Angels Flight that needed help, the city stepped up with enhanced police patrols over the weekend, and the earliest possible Monday morning crew from Graffiti Control Systems. And that’s why we found ourselves standing under the faded Angels Flight archway just after sunrise, sneakers wet with dew, helping former funicular operator John Welborne to supervise work on the National Register railcars, and shooting the photos and video you’ll find below. Big thanks to Paul Racs, Director of the Office of Community Beautification in the Department of Public Works, for all you did to make this happen!

Enrique, Joel and Ricky did their best, but unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to treat Angels Flight with kid gloves, and a layer of paint came off with the vandal’s mess. Ironically, this leaves the funicular shining a little brighter today than yesterday—but she’s also more vulnerable, as any further rough cleanings could expose the century-old wood under the paint.

Next, the city plans to tackle the filthy conditions along the Angels Flight stairs, which will make it easier for everyone who cares to spend a little more time keeping an eye on this landmark of old Bunker Hill, protecting her from harm while behind-the-scenes efforts continue to satisfy the demands of the regulatory agency and get Angels Flight Railway running again.

If you haven’t yet, please visit the Save Angels Flight page, where you can sign the petition and let Mayor Garcetti know that you care about Angels Flight and want to see her running again soon, explore a virtual version of the funicular and learn more about its history and preservation. We’ll be sure to let you know when you can take a ride.

Kim & Richard
Angels Flight Friends & Neighbors Society (FANS)

Episode #115: Hollywood Book Culture & Downtown’s Chimney Swifts

Alex In Wonderland  (1970) - Hollywood Blvd w/ Jeanne Moreau

Alex In Wonderland (1970) – Hollywood Blvd w/ Jeanne Moreau

Listen to Episode #115!

Download Podcast Episode!

Join us this month as we talk with acclaimed Hollywood historian and preservationist, the recently deceased Bob Birchard, about his golden youth spent treasure hunting in Hollywood Boulevard’s legendary bookshops. (Bob was honored this past weekend when the Cinecon film festival was dedicated to his memory.) We’ll also talk with Kimball Garrett, the ornithology collection manager and Jeff Chapman, manager of interpretation and training, both at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, about Vaux’s Swifts and their peculiar roosting habits during their twice-yearly migration, which have become a downtown phenomenon.

We’ll also discuss the possible demolition of Thomas Mann’s house, the old yellow car #1435 leaves downtown as its sheltering Pacific Electric Railway Company’s historic trolley shed is demolished, the coffee pot-shaped Hot Cha Café in Long Beach is restored, the pending return of the vintage hot dog-shaped Tail O’ The Pup building and some spinoffs, Bunker Hill dweller Betty Markoff turns 100, the Downtown Community Plan draft nears completion, a California Condor perches alongside Angels Flight (stalled for three years today) and photos of the newly discovered quack medical clinic time capsule above the Dutch Chocolate Shop.

Upcoming events

The Ukulady hosts the September LAVA Sunday Salon

Cultural Heritage Commission landmarking hearing for William L. Pereira’s Metropolitan Water District

Broadway on My Mind walking tour on historic downtown jails


Closely Watched Trains & Our Guests

The uncertain future of Thomas Mann’s house.

Los Angeles Transit Lines yellow car #1435 is scattered to the winds.

Demolition comes to the Pacific Electric Railway Company’s historic trolley shed.

Hot Cha Café before and after photos.

Tail O’ The Pup plans revealed.

Betty Markoff turns 100. Our podcast interview with the Markoffs about life on Bunker Hill.

Downtown Community Plan Draft nears completion.

Angels Flight gets an ugly new friend.

Above the Dutch Chocolate Shop, a mysterious Los Angeles time capsule.

Vaux’s Swifts return to downtown, 2010.

Ornithology Department of the Natural History Museum.

Jerry Beck’s obituary for his friend Bob Birchard.

Books by Bob Birchard: Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood, Early Universal City, Silent-Era Filmmaking in Santa Barbara, Lone Pine in the Movies: The Early Years: Celebrating Lone Pine and the Silents and King Cowboy: Tom Mix and the Movies.