Our Kim Cooper has a knack for rooting out facts about Raymond Chandler that other scholars miss.
New on her The Kept Girl blog, war archives reveal Chandler to be one of the fortunate survivors of the Spanish flu pandemic.
Hello there, lover of old Los Angeles and the colorful places where grim fate sets its traps. Have you wondered what’s doing with Thelma Todd’s Beach Cafe, recently sold for a lowball $6 Million and its future uncertain? We sure have.
We stopped by this week, and found the old gal stripped to the studs, with a crew on the roof putting down a new crop of red Spanish tiles. Banners on the facade advertise Creative Office + Ocean Views +/- 15,000 RSF. Interested? Call CBRE (310) 550-2639.
Happily, the vintage details that we know from past visits with longtime in-house curator, Father Frank Desiderio of Paulist Productions, appear mostly intact, from the rusted iron gates to the gay tiled arch to the yellow glass paneled doors that led into Joya’s, the mobbed-up nightclub on the second floor.
This bodes well for a respectful revamp of this lovely landmark, which is unprotected by any historic preservation ordinance. But any savvy developer knows these jazz age relics are priceless.
Here’s how she looked on a muggy morning, stripped to her bones for perhaps the first time since the Castellammare development was carved into the shaky hillside, almost a hundred years ago. She’s a beautiful thing with a lot of life left in her, even though there’s no place to park.
File under: when a “landmark” isn’t actually landmarked, property owners can make some pretty big changes.
Last month, we blogged about the newly opened Marciano Art Foundation, which has radically transformed the interior of Millard Sheets’ Scottish Rite Temple on Wilshire Boulevard.
Because the building was never made a protected Historic-Cultural Monument, there were essentially no restrictions on the changes that could be made to the building. But with the exception of some regrettably removed decorative lettering on the west facade, the magnificent exterior is largely as Sheets intended it.
Maybe not for long, though. This morning, our pal Joseph Hilliard spotted a notice of public hearing taped to the base of one of the huge braziers on the Wilshire side: the Marcianos are seeking approval to install a 16 square foot illuminated sign on Wilshire, as well as a 1.5 square foot unlit sign on Lucerne.
According to the posted notice, the matter was discussed yesterday afternoon at a meeting of the Los Angeles Planning Department, and it’s unclear if any decisions were made there. If you’re interested in the architectural integrity of Millard Sheets’ great temple, keep an eye on DIR-2017-2270-DRB in the city’s workflow. And if you’ve been meaning to photograph the grand old pile, get cracking.
Welcome to the fifth in a series of 3-D explorable tours of historic Los Angeles spaces, created by Craig Sauer using cutting-edge Matterport technology. And what cooler space to explore than the lobby of the newly rebranded CalEdison, an Art Deco masterpiece that was L.A.’s first air conditioned, seismically safe tower?
You might know the building as One Bunker Hill, a name given it in 1972, when Edison moved its offices to Rosemead and sold its namesake tower. Hopes were still high that the Bunker Hill Redevelopment Plan would yield a thriving, live-work community where young professionals contributed to the tax base 24/7.
It didn’t exactly work out that way—a heartbreaking tale of scorched earth public policy hubris documented in Gordon Pattison’s family story and on the On Bunker Hill blog— but in seeking to make the aging, low rent building more appealing to new tenants like the US Postal Service, ceilings were dropped, old fashioned spaces reconfigured, and the long, open patios enclosed with glass. And so it remained, for four decades.
Today, under new, preservation-focused owners Rising Realty Partners, these insensitive upper floor additions are being peeled away and the building marketed to creative tenants who appreciate its machine age aesthetics and are keen on downtown. It only took two generations!
But the grand T-shaped lobby was never “updated,” and it’s this extraordinary space you can explore through Craig Sauer’s 3-D photography.
But first, a little history: In 1931, Southern California Edison’s opulent Art Deco corporate headquarters was erected at the foot of Bunker Hill, on a prime 175’ x 175’ corner site kitty corner to the Biltmore Hotel (Schultze and Weaver, 1923) and opposite Central Library (Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, 1926).
Architects Allison and Allison designed the 12-story height limit tower with its bold, geometric stepped facade and cutting edge mechanical innovations. P.J. Walker Co. built it. Constructed at a cost of $2,500,000 and boasting 250,000 square feet of office space, its all-steel frame was meant to withstand fire, hurricane force winds or the most powerful recorded earthquakes. And when the devastating 6.4 Long Beach temblor struck on March 10, 1933, the Edison Building just shrugged.
That unshakable frame was beautifully wrapped in sober granite and terracotta facing, with a rainbow of stone finishes within. The exterior rotunda’s relief sculptures representing the “Generation,” “Distribution” and “Utilization” of electricity are by Merrell Gage. The central lobby mural, “Power,” is by Hugo Ballin, with Conrad Buff and Barse Miller gracefully handling the narrow frieze paintings above the elevators, also on an electrical theme.
As befit a tower housing a modern electrical utility, the ventilation systems were powered, with windows that opened and closed automatically to control internal temperature. And today, the building is newly LEED certified. Also, fans of Los Angeles literature will note that the prime corner site was declared John Fante Square a few years back (reader, we nominated it).
But enough background: the lovely lobby awaits your exploration. Click here to begin.
Take your time and zoom at will, noting the ultra-high resolution of the newest Matterport camera.
[To make your virtual tour a little more exciting, the first person to find the Esotouric flier and email a description of its location to us will win a free seat on any of our regularly scheduled tours between now and September 30, 2017. Happy hunting! – update: congrats to Paul T., who first found the flier.]
If you enjoy Craig’s CalEdison tour, we also recommend our previous collaborations: Angels Flight Railway, The Dutch Chocolate Shop, Barclay Hotel and a folk art tunnel along the Los Angeles River. What will be the next Los Angeles landmark to get the 3-D treatment? All we can say is, it’s a doozy, so stay tuned!
Yesterday’s free (with RSVP) LAVA Sunday Salon and walking tour focused on the holy grail of Los Angeles mass transit history: the sealed-off streetcar station and tunnel located beneath the Subway Terminal Building.
How eager are Angelenos to see this storied space? The waiting list was a thousand names long! For those who couldn’t join us on this time travel trip, below you’ll find some photos to tell this complex and fascinating tale.
We began our LAVA Sunday Salon program in the basement of Grand Central Market where downtown historian Nathan Marsak (nice tie!) let us know what to look for in the Subway Terminal, and our own Richard Schave explained how the Bonaventure Hotel footings severed the tunnel in 1976. Plus, Bunker Hill native son Gordon Pattison previewed his July 30 Sunday Salon talk about his lost Victorian neighborhood and the short-lived Second Street Cable Car Rail Road.
Then, after strapping on headlamps and double-knotting boots, our well-prepared and somewhat giddy group made the short walk down Hill Street to the Subway Terminal Building for a rare tour of the historic passenger concourse, train platform, offices and yes, that remarkable decommissioned tunnel, complete with a growing collection of stalactites and stalagmites! We’re grateful to our gracious hosts at Metro 417 for welcoming us into the Los Angeles landmark beneath their apartment tower.
Will there be another Subway tunnel tour? Only time, and the LAVA newsletter, will tell.
In these trying hours, it’s helpful to remember that there once was a time when American politics was not the focus of every waking thought, and to console ourselves that one day it will once again be the boring sport of wonks.
To that end, we bring you this Map of the Presidents’ Heads, a piece of patriotic folk art that says “Eat my dust, Mount Rushmore: here’s every chief executive through 2003!” This astonishing work, by Korean-born artist Min H. Rhee, hangs in a private medical facility in the San Gabriel Valley.
Observe these leaders of the west, bewigged and balding, bold and pensive, crammed in willy-nilly from sea to shining sea. Remember that power is fleeting, art is democratizing and America is kind of old.
And ask yourself: “Is LBJ loaded?”
Answer: Yeah, he’s definitely loaded. And we’ll drink to that.
For as long as we can remember, the mysterious, windowless lodge building has stood on its prominent Wilshire site, an hermetic, masculine balance to the social, feminine Ebell Club just across the boulevard.
Designed by Southern California symbolist extraordinaire Millard Sheets, he of the Home Savings mosaic murals that sold the regional lifestyle to passing motorists and prudent savers, the Scottish Rite Temple (1961) is Southern California’s last great Masonic hall, a Gesamtkunstwerk from its exterior mosaics, instructional texts, high relief figural sculptures and giant unlit braziers to the unknown mysteries within.
Sadly, it is also a block-long grave marker for a once-thriving fraternal organization that failed to inspire new generations of free thinkers. Rites ceased in 1993, and litigious neighbors and insufficient parking made it unsuitable as a secular event space.
Enter the Marciano brothers, designer jeans moguls, contemporary art collectors, seekers of vast amounts of square footage in the heart of Los Angeles. They picked the white elephant up for $8 Million to become what was initially presented as a private museum.
Flash forward several years, and that private museum is now open to the public, with timed, free ticketed entry Thursday-Saturday.
Which is how we found ourselves at long last stepping into Millard Sheets’ most mysterious commission, intent on seeking out elements of the design that have survived architect Kulapat Yantrasast’s transformation of the Temple and its dedicated theater, dining room, library and myriad club rooms into spaces suited for showing big, new and site-specific artwork.
It was immediately obvious, gazing up at the west facade, that the building has been stripped of much of its Masonic context. The ghosts of a lost gold metal text on the theme of Faith, Hope and Charity were visible between symbols of the Mason’s craft. (Google streetview captured the lost text nicely in 2009.)
One of the gracious attendants explained that Millard Sheets’ son Tony had come and removed the golden letters, as well as a number of interior mosaics, and that they were now held in the artist’s archive. But we could see one large Sheets mosaic inside and another on the eastern exterior wall.
That east facade is Sheets’ largest mosaic commission, a history of Masonry from the ancient world to gold rush Sacramento.
Here we go, then, on a preservation-minded photo tour of L.A.’s newest contemporary art space, featuring reclaimed Masonic theatrical backdrops, high art water fountains and a forest of hidden creatures. Behold!
Over the first gallery hover two huge celestial lamps, their symbolism obscure.
Step to the right, behind a half wall, to see the handsome Wilshire Boulevard entry, decommissioned due to security concerns.
Stripes of pebbly gold tiles stand out against the gorgeous stone walls
Just past the lobby, a carpet of jewel-toned terrazzo flanks a bay of be-compassed elevators.
Peel an eye for those artful water fountains, both gilded and tiled, but none of them working.
The vast first floor once contained the 1800-seat theater, where 33rd Degree Freemasons gathered to watch their esoteric history represented through elaborate theatrical productions. As befit the grandest lodge in the world’s motion picture capitol, the Wilshire Boulevard Masons didn’t skimp on stagecraft, make up or costuming.
It’s an odd thing, but when the Masons sold the building, they didn’t deliver it vacant. The new owners discovered a great quantity of abandoned stuff, some of it even older than the building, all of it odd. These bits and pieces have been retained and some of them displayed, in various states of integrity.
The inaugural temporary exhibition in the now-gutted theater is a multimedia installation by Jim Shaw, who made his name as a curator of thrift store paintings. Here, he presents a number of enormous theatrical backdrops hung at angles, their already cryptic significance amped up with the addition of iconic cartoonish characters and a dramatic light display.
Enter the International House of Pain and to your left, on an enormous panel, damned souls writhe in a hell of their own making.
This spectacular vintage piece is left unaltered, and if one stands in just the right spot, the viewer’s shadow appears like the Spectre of the Brocken to menace the writhing forms.
In the center of the space, a super-colossal George Washington vacuums up flattened fellows through a vintage Hoover attachment emerging from his loins.
Look out for the scenic artists’ stamps and signatures.
Esoteric genealogists on the internet enjoy speculating that Barbara Bush might be the secret daughter of occultist Aleister Crowley, and these two colorful characters appear in an intimate shadow play behind an abandoned mini mall.
At right, in a tidy glass storefront space, vintage Masonic character hairpieces are displayed alongside weird rugs imagined by the artist.
It’s up to you to figure out which are new and which Masonic. (Hint: look for the dust of decades.)
It’s here that contemporary art makes its strongest comment on the historic space: through the museum window is a painting of a stylish mid-century couple pausing with their baby’s carriage in front of a jewelry store window. The invisible child is of the generation that abandoned Masonry and its philosophical pursuits, and civic dedication to building up Los Angeles, dooming the Scottish Rite Temple to irrelevance.
The scene changed as a spotlight came on somewhere behind, casting the ominous shadow of a shopping cart, eternal symbol of consumerism and of L.A.’s 40,000+ homeless souls, onto the scrying glass shop window. Fate is a mother.
But the clock was ticking (visitors are only allowed two hours in the parking lot) and we knew there was one large-scale Millard Sheets mosaic somewhere in the building. We were determined to find it, and eventually we did. At the very back of the upstairs gallery, in a gutted white room filled with big paintings and sculptures, a false wall hides a forest scene set in a stunning expanse of black glass tesserae.
Step behind the wall and crane your neck. In spite of the ill-placed track lighting and awkward space, this beautiful, rhythmic piece with its lively animals is well worth seeking out.
The historically minded will also want to seek out the small exhibition gallery on the mezzanine. Here are relics of this lodge, and artifacts of older Los Angeles lodges, with a focus on theatrics and publications. We suspect these are leftovers from the short-lived Masonic museum of the early ‘oughts. The collection would benefit from more informed interpretation: one of the scant labels incorrectly states that the original Masonic Hall on the Plaza downtown has been demolished.
Artifacts include a theatrical maquette which could benefit from a little attention from the restorer.
A gilded mosaic globe post, obviously from the Sheets studio.
A set of racially insensitive figural busts.
Just a few of those that originally offered inspiration for theatrical character transformations.
Novel head gear and character sheets.
A banner from the oldest Los Angeles temple (still standing, darn it!).
And when the sun is just right, the stained glass surrounding the reversed, double-headed eagle, one of the original building’s few sources of exterior light, is just lovely.
Less appealing to preservation-minded visitors is the multi-screen video installation “Ledge” by Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch. If you’ve got the stomach for it, you can duck beneath a cramped awning to watch helium-voiced characters on a mock ghost hunt run amok inside the original building, before the historic spaces were gutted and the artifacts offered to artists who the Marcianos collect. While we wanted to see the lost space, we could only take a couple of minutes of the intentionally irritating show.
But that’s not all! An unexpected Millard Sheets discovery awaited us in the bookshop: an expressionistic forest mural, only partially obscured by stock displays. (It would be great if some kind of guard were installed here to protect the paint from abrasion.)
Confident that we’d found all the relics and artifacts on view, we made our way out into the blinding Los Angeles sun, puzzling over the tough experience of finally getting inside a fascinating landmark, and finding nothing there.
Because the Scottish Rite Temple that Millard Sheets, a layman and a genius, created for the Freemasons of our city no longer exists. The walls still stand, with a few of the integrated artworks designed to illuminate the teachings of the masonic craft, but all context has been carved away.
The temple, small t, is now a shell that contains the experiences and aspirations of the new Los Angeles. It represents some positive things: the patronage by the wealthy of working artists and a social space whose usefulness is yet to be revealed.
But it is also a promise broken, as cryptic objects once the subject of deep study and revelation are openly displayed for the uninitiated. It is the masons (small m) who failed their temple. Now it’s up to the new Los Angeles to make something good of what’s still here.