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.


Above the Dutch Chocolate Shop, A Mysterious Los Angeles Time Capsule


History-loving Los Angeles, sit down: we’re about to blow your collective mind.

You know, of course, that behind a rolled down grate in the heart of Downtown’s Broadway Theater District is a magical 1914 space called the Dutch Chocolate Shop, containing the largest collection of unique Ernest Batchelder tile murals in the world. If you’ve taken our Lowdown on Downtown tour (it rolls this Saturday), you might have even been inside.

Dutch Chocolate Shop

But have you ever wondered if there is anything else of historical interest preserved within the walls of 217-219 West Sixth Street? More marvelous art tile perhaps, or remnants of the building’s long history as a health food restaurant and cafeteria?

Recently, we had the opportunity to explore the entire building, hoping to answer this nagging question. We took the marbled linoleum stairs, heading into the silent, dusty spaces above and below the Chocolate Shop.


step risers

The basement and middle floors proved to be spare lofts, long stripped of detail, with the exception of occasional patches of vintage wallpaper or stacks of old doors.

silver wall

wall paper

On the top floor, though, things got really interesting. While we didn’t find anything as spectacular as the Dutch Chocolate Shop, we discovered that the building contains another fascinating, and most unlikely, time capsule of old Los Angeles: a nearly intact alternative (read: quack) medical clinic that operated on this site, on and off, from 1939 through the mid-1960s.


Ladies and gentlemen, we give you: the Dr. A. W. von Lange Health Institute, dispensing the good doctor’s signature Vienna Drugless System, a cure for all that ails you.

LAT 1953 von Lange ad cropped

Through some miracle of inertia, the abandoned clinic has remained intact, nearly unaltered, for fifty years, used until recently as storage space. A bit of yellowed marketing material left behind explains something of what went on here.

vienna pamphlet front

“Why Are You Sick?” the pamphlet inquired, before listing a distressing litany of potential maladies: Anemia – Appendicitis – Asthma – Bronchial – Cardiac Disorders – Bladder Trouble – Boils – Bright’s Disease – Catarrh – Chronic Cough – Colds – Colitis – Constipation – Dizziness (and the beat goes on for three more columns of solid suffering).

The potential patient is urged to Call MAdison 6-0951 and schedule a 6-point examination: 1) chest and lung x-ray, 2) circulatory test, 3) blood pressure, temperature and pulse study, 4) bone and joint exam, 5) stomach and colon x-ray and 6) cardiograph.

graphic patients in heat pack

With all that data, Dr. von Lange would be prepared to offer his cure-all recommendation: The Vienna Super-Heat Pack, which as far as we can gather from the vague terminology of the pamphlet and period newspaper ads, was a tight and toasty two-hour towel wrap meant to non-surgically bind herniated ruptures and get the recipient’s intestines working at maximum velocity to flush toxins out their backside. Also on offer: colonic irrigations and spinal adjustments (von Lange styled himself a Doctor of Chiropractic). A return to health should quickly follow.

A sufferer might avail themselves of the free two-hour parking in the Alexandria Hotel lot, then drag their wretched carcass around the corner to the Finney Wilton Building, where in the early years of Dr. von Lange’s practice they could fortify themselves with a snack in the tiled health food restaurant on the ground floor. But no eggs! This binding substance was firmly forbidden those who sought the Viennese heat treatment.

Japanese wallpaper

If immediate relief was their goal, the elevator would deliver them upwards to a long hall, at the center of which a receptionist sat beneath a charming expanse of Japanese wallpaper.

Upon presenting their complaint(s), the patient would soon be ushered back to consult with the doctor, a handsome gentleman with an old world accent, bright eyes and very little hair.

von lange naturalization photo

If the situation required it, and why wouldn’t it, the patient might then continue down the hall to the Hydro-Therapy Department, turning right if a woman and left if a man.

Women's Hydro-Therapy door

Here were, and remain, twin spa facilities behind frosted glass doors, each comprised of three tiled stalls.


One contained a peculiar low sink/tub contraption that we presume was involved in the colonic irrigation treatments. A heavy gold lamé shower curtain still hanging in front of this stall lends a certain Old Hollywood glamour to the space.


gold curtain

These clinical rooms are connected by a short hall with a tiny water closet, through which nursing staff might quickly attend to the Vienna Super-Heat Packed on either side of the wall.


It is a strange and intimate space where time seems to have stood still as the city grew up around it. And just as it’s been our great pleasure to share the Dutch Chocolate Shop with curious urban seekers, we are delighted to (virtually) share its upstairs neighbor. Here are a few more photos.

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Having seen Dr. von Lange’s clinic, we wanted to know more, and began digging into a variety of archival sources. For all his years ministering to Southern California’s unwell, Dr. von Lange left a faint, but intriguing, impression on the public record. From period advertisements, legal filings and news reports, this is what we know.

vienna lax tm filing

In 1934, he trademarked a laxative called Vienna-Lax which had been produced in his own Vienna Laboratory since 1931. (There is evidence of a dismantled lab in the abandoned clinic.) In 1935, it was being distributed at the Best Drug Stores chain in Los Angeles, $2 for the family size bottle.

rejuventation LAT ad

By 1939, he was seeing patients above the Dutch Chocolate Shop, with a suggestive ad in the Los Angeles Times headed REJUVENATION… “We rid the body of all poisons. Youth returns in consequence.” The Vienna Super Heat Pack, one was to assume, would turn an old goat into a young buck again.

terpezone ad 1937 physical culture magazine

Soon, the newspaper ads reveal, he was experimenting with different quack medical devices. In 1940, someone suffering a cold, asthma, sinus or bronchitis could, for $2, receive an examination and single treatment of Terpezone, ozone-rich oxygen vapor that emerged from a sinister box with the cheery claim that it represented the “revitalizing air of the Alps.”

Oh, and he wasn’t really Dr. von Lange. When he arrived in New York in 1914, aged 33, it was as Adolf Tworkowski, though we’ll have to take his word for it. A Pole, he was born in Brody and had most recently lived in Lemberg. Most citizens of Brody were Jewish, but there’s no evidence that our man was a member of the tribe.

He will later claim to have two American-born children, Adolf Jr. (b. 1918, New York) and Irene (b. 1920, Ohio), although strangely neither one appears in census or other vital records, and their mother is apparently a ghost.

Around 1933, Tworkowski somehow becomes proprietor of a health clinic in Long Beach. The established Vienna Health Institute on Pine Avenue is renamed American-Vienna, and moves to a prominent storefront on Seaside, opposite the Municipal Auditorium. Using the more euphonious and suggestively regal name Prof. Von Lange, and claiming training in Vienna and Budapest, Tworkowski takes out numerous ads in the annual city directory to promote his bowel-focused healing arts. But almost immediately, our man is on the move. Our guess: his clinic was damaged in the terrible March 1933 earthquake.

1933 Long Beach city directory ad

In 1934, he seeks to formally change his name from Adolf Ladislaus Tworkowski to Adolf Walter von Lange. He already had a beautiful signature at the ready.

von lange signature

It will be as Dr. Von Lange that he establishes his professional life in Los Angeles, primarily in the clinic above the Dutch Chocolate Shop. He marries the widowed Evelyn McCarthy of Indiana and they will live together, apparently happily, in a fine English house on Rossmore.

116 N Rossmore sold

But it’s not an Esotouric blog post without some crime and a mystery. First, let’s flash back to 1930, when we find our friend Tworkowski working a long con on the ladies of the Ontario Women’s Clubhouse, selling $20 treatments along with a concoction that we suspect may have violated the provisions of the 18th Amendment.

medicine show bust

A quarter century later, von Lange is an upright citizen, when something frightening happens in the clinic. A man walks in, seeking a diagnosis. But in the course of his intake session, he pulls a gun on the doctor. Both von Lange and receptionist Mrs. Lillian Haldane are tied hand and foot with shoelaces. The robber then ransacks the clinic, searching for cash. He finds nothing and splits, and the victims free themselves and call police.

gunman headline

At the time of this incident, von Lange is 74. A lesser man might well have wound down his business interests and retired to prune the petunias. But ads for the clinic continue to appear through early 1964, and he remains on lists of medical practitioners for another few years after that.

In 1970, Evelyn dies in Los Angeles and her body is shipped back to Indiana for burial. But, like his putative children, von Lange himself vanishes from the record. We do not know when, or even if, he died.

But somewhat miraculously, the doctor’s WW2-era clinic remains at the ready above Sixth Street, needing just a fresh coat of paint and new lengths of rubber tubing to again be at the service of eager health seekers. It is one of the eeriest places we have ever visited, and just one more reminder that one can never fully know Los Angeles.

What does the future hold for this fascinating time capsule? Stay tuned, and we’ll be sure to let you know!


For more weird stories of lost Los Angeles, take one of Kim Cooper’s Esotouric crime bus tours, or check out her novel about Raymond Chandler investigating the real 1920s Great Eleven cult, The Kept Girl.



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

pe shed

The Subway Terminal Building was erected in 1925 in the 400 block of South Hill Street, in response to congestion in the growing metropolis of Los Angeles.

Here, for thirty bustling years, passengers descended into a cavernous station, where they boarded Hollywood- and Silver Lake-bound Pacific Electric red cars for a subterranean voyage across downtown, emerging at the Belmont Tunnel just opposite what is now the Bob Baker Marionette Theater.

pe shedJust to the south of the Subway Terminal, an unpretentious concrete overhang sheltered trolleys, while cars and trucks parked above. This structure is soon to be demolished, as work begins this week on MacFarlane Partners’ overdue low-rise Park Fifth residential development, set to span the block between Hill and Olive Streets.

We stopped by to say a last farewell to this faithful servant of our changing city, which until recently incongruously sheltered one of the few remaining yellow LARy streetcars, departed now for points unknown. With all the metal sorting underway, it was a little noisy for a moment of silence, but we did our best.