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Esotouric Presents The Weird World of Programmatic Los Angeles Architecture On Demand Webinar

This is a recording of a webinar that previously streamed live. You can purchase a ticket to watch the recording, but you won’t be able to participate in the live chat or Q&A. Join us on Saturdays at noon Los Angeles time for a new live webinar.

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In the 1920s, when the sleepy little village of Los Angeles suddenly blossomed into a rocket fueled boomtown, something very odd and interesting happened to its roadside architecture.

Along main arterials and at prominent corners, savvy developers and ambitious business owners swiftly erected strange buildings that were also commercial signs—shaped like hats and flower pots, tamales, zeppelins, chili bowls, cameras, owls, windmills, oil cans, sailing ships, puppy dogs, grand pianos, Egyptian sphinxes, mushrooms, hot dogs, coffee pots, icebergs, even crashed aircraft.

These inventive structures, known by scholars as Programmatic or Mimetic architecture, attracted the attention of a new class of consumer: automobile riders, zipping past at speeds that demanded something truly eye-catching to get them to pull over.

Critics, too, took notice of the oddly-shaped structures, and used them to mock this new city at the end of the continent, where bad taste was the flavor of the day.

But the weird buildings had the last laugh, with some surviving into the 2020s to become treasured cultural landmarks, and priceless commercial draws. Today, the Randy’s Donut chain is expanding with new giant sinker rooftop signs, and 1933 Group is close to reopening the restored Tail o’ The Pup after their acclaimed restoration of the barrel-shaped Idle Hour in North Hollywood.

Join Esotouric, L.A.’s most eclectic sightseeing tour company, for a virtual exploration of a century of Programmatic architecture and oddball signage, including rare images and wild tales of the adventures of the strangest structures ever knocked together over a weekend by a couple of hustlers with a dream.

Your hosts Kim Cooper and Richard Schave are native Angelenos who have always been interested in Programmatic architecture, first as the playful backdrop to their imaginations—wee Kim loved to walk into the whale’s mouth doorway at the Fish Shanty reaturant—and much later as a topic for research and interpretation in their bus tours and guidebooks. They even became the voice of a threatened oddball building, appearing on local newscasts urging L.A. County to pass a preservation ordinance, when East L.A.’s giant tamale went on the market at a teardown price. (It’s still standing!)

We’ll be joined by a very special guest, architect, advocate and historian Alan Hess, who will share insights into the distinctly Southern California programmatic style and his many years working to bring respect and context to roadside vernacular architecture.

Alan Hess says: “Though most east coast critics used L.A.’s Programmatic architecture as a cudgel to keep us snotty surfer upstarts in our place, culturally speaking, these Derbies, Owls, Oranges, Donuts, Tamales, and Sphinxes have a much more profound architectural meaning. They were the first creative response to the car culture and the way it would reshape the American city through bolder scale, wittier visuals, cinemagraphic fantasias, and lucid communication for the character of the suburban commercial strip. Even early in the twentieth century, more insightful critics realized this. Industrial and theatrical designer Norman Bel Geddes wrote in 1932 that such architecture brings ‘unquestionably, a new liveliness…into architecture and we may yet hear of it as one of the Seven Lively Arts. It can certainly be made as vivacious as the tabloids, the talkies, or vaudeville.'”Also joining us is Bobby Green, principal of 1933 Group, the Los Angeles hospitality company that has restored the barrel-shaped Idle Hour restaurant, preserved the replica Bulldog Café from the Petersen Museum, and reversed the ruin of the Formosa Café. Bobby will share tales from the programmatic restoration trenches and preview upcoming projects, including the much anticipated return of the Tail o’ the Pup.

And Alison Martino from Vintage Los Angeles will be sharing her insights into the abiding popularity of these oddball buildings.

Tune in for a deep dive into the most curious and compelling only-in-L.A. landmarks that once dotted the landscape, and those very special structures that survive.

This webinar is an illustrated lecture packed with rare photos and video that will bring Los Angeles’ programmatic and signage landscape to life on your digital device. And you’ll find the look of an Esotouric webinar is a little different than your standard dry Zoom session, with lively interactive graphics courtesy of the mmhmm app.

After the presentation, Kim and Richard will answer your questions about these unusual buildings and their passion for historic preservation, so get ready to be a part of the show.

Can’t join in when the webinar is happening? You’ll have access to the full replay for one week. Please note: the 90 minute running time is just an estimate, and we often run long because the stories take on a life of their own. You can always come back and watch the last part of the webinar recording later.

So, tune in and discover the incredible history of Los Angeles, with the couple whose passion for the city is infectious.

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About Esotouric: As undergraduates at UC Santa Cruz, Kim Cooper and Richard Schave inexplicably hated one another on sight. (Perhaps less inexplicably, their academic advisor believed they were soul mates). A chance meeting 18 years later proved much more agreeable. Richard wooed Kim with high level library database access, with which she launched the 1947project true crime blog, highlighting a crime a day from the year of The Black Dahlia and Bugsy Siegel slayings. The popular blog’s readers demanded a tour, and then another. The tour was magical, a hothouse inspiring new ways for the by-then-newlyweds to tell the story of Los Angeles. Esotouric was born in 2007 with a calendar packed with true crime, literary, architecture and rock and roll tours. Ever since, it has provided a platform for promoting historic preservation issues (like the Save the 76 Ball campaign and the landmarking of Charles Bukowski’s bungalow), building a community of urban explorers (including dozens of free talks and tours under the umbrella of LAVA) and digging even deeper into the secret heart of the city they love.

Rights and permissions: By attending an Esotouric webinar, you acknowledge that the entirety of the presentation is copyrighted, and no portion of the video or text may be reproduced in any fashion.