Shadows on Orange County Courthouse (1901), Santa Ana by @esotouric
Gentle Reader. . .
Change can be hard, even when it's something you've longed for.
For years, we've wandered through Grand Central Market, that venerable old downtown trading post, lamenting the lack of variety, the limited dining options, the general shabbiness. There were fewer vendors each time we visited, and the ones that remained seemed lonesome tucked in among the empty spaces.
Sure, it was always a good place to people watch, pick up some cheap veggies or commune with the spirit of Arturo Bandini. Occasionally, it still had the capacity to boggle the mind. But the gates shut tight at 6pm. It wasn't a destination. It was easy to forget.
In the "New Downtown," Grand Central Market seemed determined to live in the past and fade slowly away.
So it was with no small surprise and not a little skepticism that we processed news of the Yellin Company's intention of remaking Grand Central Market as a foodie destination along the lines of San Francisco's Ferry Building. Did they mean it? Could they find an audience? Would they extend their hours? Would the old vendors be pushed out?
Yes and yes and yes and yes again. In recent months, a smattering of new spots have proliferated through the Market, from the regrettably cloacal Eggslut to the retro bakery Valerie, a cheese vendor, a proper deli, fancy juice bars and coffee stands. Curated art events, lectures and screenings have kept the Market hopping into the wee hours. The promise of a vibrant urban destination is beginning to pay off with long lines and social media buzz.
Last week came the announcement that McConnell's of Santa Barbara, our favorite ice cream in the world, would soon open a stand inside the Market. And this week we scheduled an afternoon visit in the late lunch hour. It was nice to have more food options to chose from–Wexler's bagels are the real deal. But because there are so few prepared food vendors, the lines are outrageous. There's no place to sit. The tables, if you do snag one, are sticky with many spilled meals.
And on this very warm day we found that the inexpensive ice cream vendor on the Broadway side was gone. The one on the Hill Street side was previously replaced by a massive, fancy coffee stand. Gone, too, the little Mexican pastry shop. We longed for an affordable sweet, but left disappointed. We don't think we are the only ones.
The loss of the ice cream stands, coming on the heels of the replacement of the ancient, affordable Economy Meats butcher shop with high-end sustainable Belcampo Meat Co., makes it clear that the Market is trying too hard to please Downtown's well-heeled residents at the expense of its longtime low-income clientele.
While we love the idea of dipping into Grand Central Market for a scoop of McConnell's creamy, supercharged Turkish Coffee, we're afraid we won't recognize the place.
A great urban market offers variety, competition, choice. A $3 meal or a $30 meal. This market needs to rebalance its scales, or soon there won't be anything left for the ordinary people who've kept it around for 90 years. And if the regulars leave, all that'll be left is four walls and a roof. No magic, no history, no reason to come back.
We think what Grand Central Market needs is a good $1 kid's ice cream cone, and to remember where it came from. Management should treasure the existing vendors rather than jettisoning them, and encourage more affordable vendors to move in. Offset the trendy with the classic. Serve its community in all its aspects. Remember why this place matters. Take a chance on the ordinary.
If it can find that balance, it will be the great urban space we've always known it could be. Grand Central Market: we believe in you. Don't let us down!
New on our calendar, crime bus tours through September. And we're back on the bus this Saturday, with a downtown double feature of weird murder lore and historic hotel rambles. Join us, do!
Upcoming Tours & Happenings
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.
The Crown City masquerades as a calm and refined retreat, where well-bred ladies glide around their perfect bungalows and everyone knows what fork to use first. But don't be fooled by appearances. Dip into the confidential files of old Pasadena and meet assassins and oddballs, kidnappers and slashers, Satanists and all manner of maniac in a delightful little tour you WON'T find recommended by the better class of people! From celebrated cases like the RFK assassination (with a visit to Sirhan Sirhan's folks' house), "Eraserhead" star Jack Nance's strange end, black magician/rocket scientist Jack Parsons' death-by-misadventure and the 1926 Rose Parade grand stand collapse, to fascinating obscurities, the tour's dozens of murders, arsons, kidnappings, robberies, suicides, auto wrecks and oddball happening sites provide a alternate history of Pasadena that's as fascinating as it is creepy. Passengers will tour the old Millionaire's Row on Orange Grove, thrill to the shocking Sphinx Murder on the steps of the downtown Masonic Hall and discover why people named Judd should think twice before moving to Pasadena.
On this guided tour through the Beverly Hills of the early 20th Century, Crime Bus passengers thrill as Jazz Age bootleggers run amok, marvel at the Krazy Kafitz family's litany of murder-suicides, attempted husband slayings, Byzantine estate battles and mad bombings, visit the shortest street in Los Angeles (15' long Powers Place, with its magnificent views of the mansions of Alvarado Terrace), discover which fabulous mansion was once transformed into a functioning whiskey factory using every room in the house, and stroll the haunted paths of Rosedale Cemetery, site of notable burials (May K. Rindge, the mother of Malibu) and odd graveside crimes. Featured players include the most famous dwarf in Hollywood, mass suicide ringleader Reverend Jim Jones, wacky millionaires who can't control their automobiles, human mole bank robbers, comically inept fumigators, kids trapped in tar pits, and dozens of other unusual and fascinating denizens of early Los Angeles.
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 spirit of otherworldly creativity in Los Angeles. Speakers include Craig Berry, an initiate of Ordo Templi Orientis, who will take us on a journey through the magical world of Jack Parsons, rocket scientist and mystic. And Milt Stevens of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, which for many years met at Clifton's Cafeteria and counted Jack Parsons among its members, will take us on a guided tour of 20th Century science fiction. After the Salon, Richard Schave leads one of his free Broadway on My Mind walking tours (free, reservations required).
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.
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.
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.
AND FINALLY, LINKS!
A Hollywood landmark lost.
Too close to home.
Ed Ruscha does God's work.
Wee doggies of old New York.
Change is gonna come– but what kind?
Restoration of censored faux-WPA Kenton Nelson murals indicting corrupt Pasadena pols and cops.
The muddied jewel is asking big bucks.
More musings on gentrification.
Always sad when a venerable preservation org goes over to the dark side.
A psychological mystery.
KEEP THE TAGS AS THEY ARE FOR EMPHASIS SO THE SIGN OFF IS NOT LOST
Kim & Richard