Nightmare on Spring Street edition





July 10th, 2014


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Gentle Reader. . .


If you go in search of information about Ernest Batchelder's groundbreaking tile work in Downtown Los Angeles, before long you're bound to run into us–and our dear friend and fellow preservationist, Brian Kaiser.

This isn't accidental. When we started giving tours almost a decade ago, Downtown was just waking up from its long slumber. Important decorative features, like the forgotten speakeasy beneath the King Eddy Saloon and Batchelder's amazing installation for the Dutch Chocolate Shop, were still hidden away behind plywood, shelving and signage.

Concerned that unrecognized treasures might end up demolished or ruined, we've made it our business to locate and advocate for these precious spaces, to educate the public and, where possible, the property owners and leaseholders. That's why we've hosted free tile-themed tours of the Dutch Chocolate Shop and Angel City Brewery and spent uncounted hours researching, talking with experts, sleuthing out historic sites and sharing what we've learned with anyone who'll listen. And it's not hard to find listeners when it comes to Batchelder tile. His work is, quite simply, captivating.

But not everyone appreciates Ernest Batchelder's work, even when they know exactly what they have. For years, disturbing rumors have circulated in the preservation community about "problems" with an important early tile installation on Spring Street. The lobby of the old Stowell Hotel, redeveloped by Tom Gilmore's company as The El Dorado Lofts, was supposed to contain a massive treasure trove of Batchelder, revealed when an old hallway was demolished. We'd seen the historic postcards, and were thrilled to think it had all survived and was being restored.

But when we visited on a tour–before the last of the condos sold and the building was locked up tight–we saw only a very few painted-over tiles, lacking Batchelder's celebrated raw clay finish. And while we didn't know the story, it was clear as day that something had gone terribly wrong with this "restoration." Knowing the tiles' value, and the frequent complaints from homeowners about unscrupulous contractors stealing whole fireplaces, we assumed it had been stolen and sold off, and was being enjoyed elsewhere. Unimpressed by what the El Dorado lobby had to offer, we didn't mention the tiles when our tour bus drove by.

The truth, as revealed in Liz Arnold's extraordinary Curbed story published this week, is far more sinister.

It's a long story, well worth taking the time to read. It's about the hope and wonder of rediscovered architectural gems, the challenges of keeping them relevant in a changing city, and just what it is about Ernest Batchelder that makes him such a uniquely L.A. artisan. You'll find Richard quoted throughout the article, and our dear Brian Kaiser, too. And round about the middle, you'll find the real story of how the priceless tile at the El Dorado Lofts was destroyed by incompetent contractors wielding vats of acid–contractors who then falsely accused an innocent tile lover of theft, manufactured fake "tiles" to replace all they had ruined, and presented the finished lobby as a masterpiece. And after all that, the building received Mills Act tax breaks meant to encourage continued investment in its preservation!

Well, as we so often sigh, "preservation is pain." For everything saved, there are a dozen losses. But few of them sting as much as the careless destruction of something beautiful by supposed professionals who should know better, or ghastly cases like this one where a good person who tried to help was actually jailed for his trouble. Still, at least we know the truth now. And we have to admit, it's one hell of a horror story. Why, we might have to add it to one of our crime bus tours after all!

Join us this Saturday for a tour of Charles Bukowski's lost literary city, or on Sunday for a blood-spattering afternoon of forensic science discovery. And next Saturday, it's our once-a-year Tom Waits bus adventure. Join us do!

Upcoming Tours & Happenings

Come explore Charles Bukowski's lost Los Angeles and the fascinating contradictions that make this great local writer such a hoot to explore. Haunts of a Dirty Old Man is a raucous day out celebrating liquor, ladies, pimps and poets. The tour includes a visit to Buk's DeLongpre bungalow, where you'll see the Cultural-Historic Monument sign that we helped to get approved, and a mid-tour provisions stop at Pink Elephant Liquor.

Join LAVA in the teaching crime lab of Cal State L.A. for our quarterly forensic science seminar. This time, we'll delve into cutting edge tools for analyzing blood at crime scenes, and the mysterious science of blunt force trauma. Techniques will be illustrated through real-world crime scene case studies, presented by the scientists and investigators who were there. And your ticket purchase supports the advanced research of the Criminalistics graduate department, where CSI breakthroughs are being made.

Please join us this evening at Vroman's Bookshop in Pasadena where Kim will presenting her new 1920s mystery novel The Kept Girl, the fact-based tale of the Great Eleven cult that escaped from the bus tours where it was originally featured to become something new. Kim will read from and sign copies of her book, and talk about her research into noir Los Angeles cult murders, civic vice and the young Raymond Chandler, all of which are folded into the fluffy noir omelette of the book.

In our very occasional guest tour series, a delightful excursion that only comes around once a year, the Tom Waits bus adventure hosted by acclaimed rock critic David Smay (Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, Swordfishtrombones). This voyage through the city that shaped one of our most eclectic musical visionaries starts in Skid Row and rolls through Hollywood and Echo Park, spotlighting the sites where Waits was transformed through the redemptive powers of love and other lures: the Tropicana Motel, Francis Coppola's Zoetrope Studios, the raunchy Ivar Theatre and so much more. Join us for a great day out in 1970s Los Angeles celebrating the music, the culture and the passions of Tom Waits.

Join us on this iconic, unsolved Los Angeles murder mystery tour. Our excursion begins in the historic Olive Street lobby of the Biltmore Hotel and ends in time for you to take tea and crumpets where Beth Short waited out the last hours of her freedom before walking south into hell. After multiple revisions, this is less a murder tour than a social history of 1940s Hollywood female culture, mass media and madness, and we welcome you to join us for the ride. This tour always sells out, so reserve your spot today.

You are invited to be part of a transformative downtown experience. The Sunday Salon is the free monthly gathering of our creative consortium LAVA – The Los Angeles Visionaries Association. From noon to 2pm, at Les Noces du Figaro on Broadway, we hope you'll join L.A.'s most innovative artists, writers and performers to enjoy good company, hearty comfort food, and presentations from fascinating LAVA Visionaries. This month, we celebrate the culture and horticulture of old Los Angeles, as David Boule shares wild tales of the citrus industry and Brent E. Walker delves into the secret history of our town as revealed in early Charlie Chaplin comedies. Plus! instruction in digital mapping for would-be time travelers. After the Salon, Richard Schave leads one of his free Broadway on My Mind walking tours (free, reservations required).

This rare Sunday tour in our California Culture series rolls through Vernon, Bell Gardens, Santa Fe Springs and Downey, and the past two centuries, exploring some of L.A.'s most seldom-seen and compelling structures. Turning the West Side-centric notion of an L.A. architecture tour on its head, the bus goes into areas not traditionally associated with the important, beautiful or significant, raising issues of preservation, adaptive reuse, hot rod kar culture and the evolution of the city.

Join us for a journey from the downtown of Chandler's pre-literary youth (but which always lingered at the fore of his imagination) to the Hollywood of his greatest success, with a stop along the way at Tai Kim's Scoops for unexpected gelato creations inspired by the author. We'll start the tour following in the young Chandler's footsteps, as he roamed the blocks near the downtown oil company office where he worked. See sites from Lady in the Lake and The Little Sister, discover the real Philip Marlowe (Esotouric's exclusive scoop, and the inspiration for Kim's novel The Kept Girl), and be steeped in noir LA.

Come on a century's social history tour through the transformation of neighborhoods, punctuated with immersive stops to sample the varied cultures that make our changing city so beguiling. Voter registration, citizenship classes, Chicano Moratorium, walkouts, blow-outs, anti-Semitism, adult education, racial covenants, boycotts, The City Beautiful, Exclusion Acts and Immigration Acts, property values, xenophobia, and delicious dumplings–all are themes which will be addressed on this lively excursion. This whirlwind social history tour will include: The Vladeck Center, Hollenbeck Park, Evergreen Cemetery, The Venice Room, El Encanto & Cascades Park, Divine's Furniture and Wing Hop Fung.

Come discover the secret history, and the fascinating future, of a most beguiling neighborhood. This is not a tour about beautiful buildings–although beautiful buildings will be all around you. This is not a tour about brilliant architects–although we will gaze upon their works and marvel. The Lowdown on Downtown is a tour about urban redevelopment, public policy, protest, power and the police. It is a revealing history of how the New Downtown became an "overnight sensation" after decades of quiet work behind the scenes by public agencies and private developers. This tour is about what really happened in the heart of Los Angeles, a complicated story that will fascinate and infuriate, break your heart and thrill your spirit. Come discover the real Los Angeles, the city even natives don't know.

From the founding of the city through the 1940s, downtown was the true center of Los Angeles, a lively, densely populated, exciting and sometimes dangerous place. After many quiet decades, downtown is making an incredible return. But while many of the historic buildings remain, their human context has been lost. This downtown double feature tour is meant to bring alive the old ghosts and memories that cling to the streets and structures of the historic core, and is especially recommended for downtown residents curious about their neighborhood's neglected history.



  • Similar to the unknown archive we found at the Union Rescue Mission, see these London faces, out of the mists of charitable time.
  • Hear us on the California Report, talking about our beloved Bradbury Building
  • Mysteries of a life completed.
  • The secret link between letterpress printing and the Miranda warning.
  • An ethical dilemma: what to do with a book bound in human skin? (PDF link)
  • Scenes from an afternoon honoring The Kept Girl Subscribers, or What, Me Lonesome?
  • And in further book news, Kim's love letter to LAPL Central, on the occasion of The Kept Girl being LAPL Reads' featured title.
  • Christopher Hawthorne is still not liking the plans for LACMA expansion.
  • "A projectionist sitting down? Are you crazy?"
  • {C}{C}{C}{C}<!–


    Kim & Richard



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