Find the Fire Door! 3-D Tour of Downtown L.A.’s King Eddy Saloon Speakeasy Reveals A Vanished Cultural Treasure

king edward 3d preview

Welcome to the ninth in a series of 3-D explorable tours of off-the-beaten-path Los Angeles spaces, created by Craig Sauer of Reality Capture Experts using cutting-edge Matterport technology.

This tour takes you behind the scenes of John Parkinson’s 1906 King Edward Hotel, recently purchased by the Healthy Housing Foundation so its scores of vacant SRO rooms can be made available to low-income tenants.

In addition to the exquisite lobby with its Egyptian marble details, vintage rolling wall safe, mosaic tile floor, faux marble scagliola columns (soon to be restored!) and dolphin fish wall fountain, we also go upstairs to explore the room upgrades in progress, and into the basement, packed with incredible artifacts of 112 years as a working apartment-hotel. Don’t miss the collection of massive iron boilers in the northwest corner, too big to remove when they became obsolete.

We share these immersive photo projects to bring fellow history lovers along with us into spaces that are often hard to visit, experiencing transition and rich in layers that reward a deeper look.

This is the first time, while documenting an historic space, that we’ve uncovered evidence of a crime!

But before revealing details of that crime, and asking for your help in solving it, let’s go back to the beginning, at least to our beginning as professional tour guides. When we launched Esotouric in 2007, one of the Los Angeles writers we celebrated was John Fante. We successfully nominated the intersection of 5th & Grand outside Central Library as John Fante Square, got to know Fante’s family, marked his centennial, sought out time capsule locations that Fante would still recognize and generally did our part to honor a fine, unjustly neglected artist.

The most resonant Fante location proved to be the King Eddy Saloon, the last of the old school Skid Row dive bars, and a featured location in the 1939 novel Ask The Dust. In the book, Fante’s literary alter ego Arturo Bandino blows his first royalty check on one of the b-girls hustling in the basement speakeasy.

In 2008, while filming an episode of Cities of the Underworld in the junk-filled basement, our Richard Schave was among the first people in decades to see a Skid Row masterpiece emerge from the dust: a big metal fire door that separated the bar from the hotel basement, expertly painted with a comic scene of an old fashioned cop rousting a drunk on a bench.

Over the next few years, we had numerous opportunities to take groups down into the speakeasy, and to see how the fire door thrilled people. Every group asked if the speakeasy could ever come back. Word got around about the real speakeasy (something rare as hen’s teeth in a city filled with “speakeasies”) beneath the King Eddy, and other bar owners lusted after the space.

In 2012, the King Edward Hotel changed hands after a death and bankruptcy. The Croik family, owners of the bar since the early 1960s, found themselves without a lease. To stay on, they’d need to agree to invest big money in the speakeasy and to make major changes to the working man’s bar upstairs. Investing in the speakeasy was a no-brainer, but the latter demand went against the Croiks’ ethics as the stewards of that fragile ecosystem, the last Skid Row bar. Grandson Dustin couldn’t be the person to dismantle an environment crafted over three generations, by his father and grandfather before him, a place that meant so much to The Regulars.

So with more than a little sadness, it was announced that the King Eddy would be closing at the end of 2012. We organized a special night of farewell speakeasy tours, led by Dustin, then put the video of that night aside, too sad to do anything with it, until now.

The new owners, ACME Hospitality Group, were nice and loved the bar’s history, and we kept bringing groups down to tour the speakeasy (here’s ACME’s Jonny Valenti showing a private John Buntin organized crime history tour group around).

But the promised big money investment demanded of the Croik family never happened, and the numerous changes to the working man’s bar upstairs didn’t click. From 2015 through today, the bar changed hands a couple of times, and we could never connect with the new owners to learn about their plans for the precious speakeasy.

Okay, enough background. So what about the crime?

Summer 2018. There we were in the dark and cavernous western side of the hotel basement, helping to set up lights so Craig could complete his 3-D scan and excited to show him the lesser-known hotel side of the Weirton Steel fire door (painted with a comely Dutch girl serving a foamy beer to a baby-faced sailor), when we discovered the unthinkable.

That magnificent painted fire door, Skid Row’s own American Gothic and the centerpiece of the historic basement speakeasy, had been TAKEN OFF ITS HINGES AND SPIRITED AWAY!

You can see the hole where the door should be over Craig’s shoulder at left in the photo below.

According to hotel staff, one day several years ago, they noticed that this integral piece of building safety infrastructure had been removed. They put a large piece of plywood up to cover the hole in the wall between the bar and the hotel basement, securing it on the hotel side. The plywood panel is visible in this speakeasy tour video shared by Oddity Odysseys in June 2017, and in the screen grab below.

The new owners of the King Edward Hotel, the Healthy Housing Foundation, love the building’s history and very much want to see this lost artifact returned and preserved. We asked Miki Jackson of HHF what message she had for anyone who might know where the fire door is now. Miki says, “The King Edward and the King Eddy Saloon basement speakeasy are just not the same without our cantankerous cop, our resident miscreant, our charming Dutch girl, the mischievous sailor and his beer! They have gotten lost; please send them back home. We are honoring the long and colorful history of the famed King Edward Hotel and this painted door is a very important part of that history. Please help us find it.”

The Healthy Housing Foundation is offering a reward of $300, a behind-the-scenes tour of the building and a round of beers in the King Eddy Saloon for the return of the King Eddy’s historic fire door. Because we love the door and feel responsible for rediscovering it in the first place, we’re throwing in tickets for the person who helps return the door and three friends to ride our Downtown L.A. true crime history tour, Hotel Horrors & Main Street Vice or, if you’re more bookish than ghoulish, Charles Bukowski’s Los Angeles.

Somebody knows where the painted fire door is now. And as cool as this artifact is out of its historic context, we hope they can see that it ought to be returned to the King Eddy cellar, the room it was created to decorate.

Please help spread the word by sharing this blog post and the missing posters below. And if you know where the door is or where it’s been since it was last seen around 2015, please say something and help bring this precious cultural artifact home, so future generations can be as charmed as we were when we brought it back into the light ten years ago.

REWARD

with any info

CONTACT Kim and Richard

tours@esotouric.com

213-915-8687

http://www.esotouric.com/KingEddyDoor

Lloyd Wright’s Sowden House, 1920s Hollywood Landmark & Black Dahlia Suspect’s Lair

Welcome to the sixth in a series of 3-D explorable tours of historic Los Angeles spaces, created by Craig Sauer using cutting-edge Matterport technology. This one is special, as for the first time in our partnership, Craig got us inside a building we’ve been longing to explore!

A decade ago we launched Esotouric with our flagship tour, The Real Black Dahlia. And on nearly every Dahlia tour, someone asks us about the murder suspect George Hodel and his sinister-looking house on Franklin Avenue. Although we don’t subscribe to his son Steve’s theory that George Hodel killed Beth Short in the basement, the house itself is fascinating.

Constructed in 1926 by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son and collaborator Lloyd Wright, using techniques similar to the elder architect’s “textile block” concrete forms, Sowden House is a classic Spanish Rancho-era California home filtered through a Mayan Art Deco sieve and updated for the jazz age theatrical set who lived to entertain. Presenting a blank white wall to the world outside, the house opens up to a magnificent sun-dappled courtyard, ringed all around with public and private spaces.

While we’d never been inside, the house could be understood by consulting a lovely set of 1971 Marvin Rand photographs and plans for the Historic America Building Survey (HABS), viewable on the Library of Congress website and above.

In 2001 Sowden House was purchased from its seventh owners by crystal-loving designer Xorin Balbes, who in the course of “restoring” the National Register and Los Angeles landmark, added many garish contemporary touches. He also apparently demolished the site-specific sculptural tiled bath. In recent years, the house has been used as a filming location and hosted George Hodel’s son Steve poking around the basement with a “cadaver dog” named Buster, seeking evidence of a seventy-year-old slaying.

But you can’t keep a misguided preservationist down, and Mr. Balbes has moved on to ruin other significant Los Angeles buildings, like the Hiram Higgins, or Willard house, a strong candidate to top our annual list of historic preservation nightmares. Sowden House was sold in 2013.

And just this summer, its tenth stewards took possession of Lloyd Wright’s bold building. Among their first acts was to ask Craig Sauer to document the property with an immersive 3-D scan—but only after the thick jungle of yucca, palm, bird of paradise and banana that has obscured the facade for years was removed. And like a handsome man who finally shaved off his awful beard, all we can do is wonder what took him so long.

As you click to enter the newly stark facade through Craig’s Matterport scan, then ascend the spartan staircase—ignore the contemporary rustic risers, which were originally bare concrete tile tread—you’ll find a house that is happily regaining its architectural integrity. Gone are the climbing vines and thorny succulents that clogged the edges of the courtyard, which Mr. Balbes had already rendered semi-usable with poorly-proportioned small pools instead of replicating the lost 32’ pool with its upright block structure supporting a water organ. The textured walls and columns change subtly as the sun moves across the sky and night falls.

The new owners are philanthropists dedicating to helping animals, promoting art and artists, and supporting social activism. They founded Canna-Pet and its non-profit organization, Pet Conscious, and plan on sharing the Sowden House as an event space to connect with other foundations and nonprofits in the L.A. community and help with fundraising. Perhaps an evening at Sowden House is in your future? But for now, we urge you to explore this Los Angeles treasure at your leisure.

But one part of the structure doesn’t appear in Craig’s scan, so don’t bother looking. Although every armchair Dahlia-ologist is curious about the basement in which George Hodel did or didn’t do something terrible to Beth Short in 1947, Craig felt that it just wasn’t architecturally “interesting” enough to merit the effort of scanning. So here, for your ghoulish pleasure, is a view of the dirt-floored basement and its primitive raised storage platform. We couldn’t visit the house without seeing it.

Now when we offer our Real Black Dahlia tour, as we will again on October 7, we’ll be able to direct interested parties to virtually explore the house where George Hodel danced a delicate duet with the cops he knew were bugging him. Maybe they’ll spot a clue, or one of the pussycats who are getting settled in to their new home. Certainly, they’ll be ensorcelled by this marvelous place!

Thelma Todd’s Beach Cafe is ready for its autopsy

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.

A LAVA tour of Downtown L.A.’s Subway Terminal and Tunnel

 

 

Subway Terminal tunnel on LAVA tour June 2017 by Kemal Cilengir

                                                                                                                                       photo by Kemal Cilengir

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.

Happy, dusty explorers emerge into the light – Photo: J. Scott Smith – see more

Peek inside Frank Sinatra’s endangered motion picture bungalow

For the past few weeks, we’ve been offering support and advice to Doug Quill, the filmmaker who has been petitioning to keep a 1929 bungalow on The Lot (formerly Goldwyn Studios and United Artists) from being demolished for an expansion of LADWP’s electrical distribution system. Doug shares his story with us on the latest You Can’t Eat the Sunshine podcast.

Dozens of creative people have worked in the comfortable Spanish-style bungalow over the decades, but it’s most closely associated with Frank Sinatra. His Essex Productions was based at the Goldwyn Studios in the early 1960s, and the bungalow was his retreat during the recording of The Concert Sinatra (1963) at Sound Stage 7. It is recognized as a primary contributing resource to the studio’s historic fabric.

So it’s Frank Sinatra’s bungalow that’s teetering on the brink, and the reason, naturally, is a woman. After Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks divorced in 1936, she donated the southern portion of the then-United Artists studio backlot to the city, legend has it for a park. Somehow, the land instead passed into the control of LADWP, and it became an essential part of the city’s electrical power distribution infrastructure. A few buildings, the Sinatra bungalow among them, sat all or partly on LADWP land, but functioned as part of the studio for decades. Last month, ahead of a planned expansion, LADWP declined to extend these building’s leases, and the preservation crisis began.

Sound stage demolition in progress

Now it’s up to LADWP and studio owner CIM Group to find common ground with the Los Angeles Conservancy and Hollywood Heritage, two agile preservation organizations that have stepped in to support Doug’s campaign. What will happen to Frank Sinatra’s motion picture bungalow? It will either be moved (but where?) or demolished in the coming weeks. As a tangible link to the golden age of Hollywood and popular music, we think it’s a treasure worth keeping, even as the sound stages behind it are torn to pieces by heavy machinery.

Last week, we attended a site visit to explore the feasibility of moving the building; happily, it is a simple structure that will be easy to lift and transport in one piece. Take a behind-the-scenes peek at this endangered piece of Hollywood history, and please sign the petition to show your support and get updates as they happen.

If this medicine chest could talk…

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

A Possible Solution to the Los Feliz Murder Mansion Mystery

2475 Glendower, after the crime (Los Angeles Times)

2475 Glendower, after the crime (L.A. Times)

In the early morning hours of December 6, 1959 in a handsome Spanish-style mansion in hilly Los Feliz, California, Dr. Harold Perelson took up a hammer and murdered his wife Lillian in her bed, then attempted to kill his sleeping daughter Judy.

But his aim was poor, and Judy was able to raise the alarm and to escape. The killer spoke calmly to his younger children, telling them it was only a nightmare and to go back to bed. Then he retreated to a bathroom, where he took a fatal overdose. He was found dead in bed, the bloody hammer in his hand and an open copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy at his side.

It’s a terrible story, and a strange one. In the legends that swirled around the house in later years, as it sat vacant and brooding with a living room filled with stored junk that credulous urban explorers convinced themselves represented “the Perelson’s Christmas tree and presents, exactly as they’d left them,” Harold’s brutal actions appear unexplainable, perhaps demonic. Sure, the family had money problems, but what family doesn’t?

Now, as the house on Glendower Place goes back on the market after 56 years, and a production company develops a film about the spooky murder mansion, the question still lingers: just what got into Harold Perelson?

The answer, we suspect, lies in the last substances he ingested, and in a very similar crime that would occur four months later, in an equally fine Pasadena mansion. It’s a story we tell on the Pasadena Confidential tour.

Here is a headline from the front page of the Pasadena Independent on December 8, 1959, after Harold Perelson’s attacks.

Pasadena Independent December 8 1959 perelson los feliz Nightmare of Murder headline

And this is a front page headline from the same paper, April 23, 1960.

Pasadena Independent april 23 1960 taft coma headline

Pasadenans Martha Ann and William Howard Taft had their problems, too. His jealousy, her anxiety, their failure to conceive. But when she left her bed on April 21, took up the heavy hammer and beat her sleeping mate’s brains in, so soundly that the handle broke, nobody was more surprised than she. When she realized what she’d done, she wrote a suicide note / confession, took an overdose of pills and slashed her wrists. Her sister found her alive the next morning, but William was beyond help.

When Martha had recovered enough to be held accountable, she opted to go before a Superior Court judge, no jury. H. Burton Noble ruled that while she had killed her husband, it was not a conscious act on her part. Influencing his decision was the report of UCLA toxicologist Dr. Thomas Haley, who stated that anyone who took as much of the powerful tranquilizer Miltown as Martha had could behave “like a maniac.” She was freed.

The Taft House, today

The Taft House, today (photo: Esotouric)

The unconscious mind is a force beyond our understanding. Almost asleep, deeply drugged, acting out past traumas with the nearest weapon at hand, Martha Ann Taft became a murderess. Perhaps the germ of the idea was formed over the morning newspaper that past December, as she read about another family’s nightmare.

The Los Feliz Murder Mansion case is fascinating because it makes so little sense. The family annihilator type of killer, a parent who goes after spouse and children, typically leaves no survivors, and doesn’t always commit suicide. When they do kill themselves, it’s decisively, not by taking pills in front of witnesses. It doesn’t add up, unless you factor in the pills as an unseen actor.

We know from his mode of death that Harold Perelson had a medicine chest full of powerful drugs. We know from his actions that fatal night that he could be easily distracted from the act of murder. He told the little children who he let get away that it was only a nightmare. Maybe, as he slipped away, he believed that, too.