3-D Tour of the Original Bob Baker Marionette Theater

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

Our love for the Bob Baker Marionette Theater is no secret. It is a zone of pure creativity and whimsy that could only have flowered in Los Angeles. Bob was a dear friend, and in 2013, we were privileged to help see that his visual archives were safely preserved by the Los Angeles Public Library, at a time when the theater’s future was uncertain.

Uncertainty is a funny thing, though. Yes, the original Bob Baker Marionette Theater is a “protected” city landmark which a developer nevertheless intends to demolish for a generic housing development. But the young puppeteers who took up the management strings after Bob’s death in 2014 have proved to be terrific stewards. They’ve nourished a nonprofit arm, built thriving community partnerships, and just last week opened up their lovely new, much larger puppet theater on a busy stretch of York in Highland Park.

The sweet, silly and inspiring shows that Bob Baker created for the mid-century kids of Los Angeles will continue to blow the minds of new generations.

Still, it’s hard to see such a Los Angeles treasure displaced, and we wanted to mark the transition. So we reached out to Craig and asked if he’d be interested in bringing his Matterport camera over and documenting the theater, backstage, workshops and Bob Baker’s personal research library loft (up the stairs, stage left), where Bob selected the music for shows and gained visual inspiration for puppet costumes, backdrops and props.

The results are a time capsule, three-dimensional love letter to Bob Baker’s genius as it manifested in the final days, before the world he made was boxed up for the move to Highland Park.

On a day when The New York Times honors our hometown marionettes with a lengthy feature, we’re sending out this bittersweet remembrance of the funky, original Bob Baker Marionette Theater in its historic home of 56 years. We hope you enjoy the opportunity to creep around this magical place which no longer is a public space, but which welcomes you virtually inside any time you feel its call.

And we heard the funniest thing on opening day in Highland Park: that developer who bought the building and planned to tear it down hasn’t been heard from lately. Rumor has it, nothing’s happening at 1345 West First Street any time soon.

But the marionettes have already moved on, and invite you to come see a show in Highland Park. Bring on the dancing cats and raise the traditional post-performance cup of ice cream to the next 56 years of joy!

 

City Hall Testimony Against LACMA Crossing Wilshire and Barton Phelps critiques Peter Zumthor

Yesterday in Los Angeles City Hall, our Richard Schave (representing the nonprofit Save LACMA and the LACMA Lovers League’s 1850+ petitioners) and Save LACMA board president Rob Hollman gave public comment against the granting of city-owned air rights over Wilshire Boulevard to allow LACMA to build its unpopular, undersized new bridge-style building.

Also speaking in opposition were Steve Luftman (Friends of Lytton Savings), Oscar Peña (artist and former LACMA employee) and Barton Phelps, FAIA (architect and preservationist who was instrumental in saving Central Library).

Drawing attention to the museum’s controversial partnerships with Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Quatar, final speaker Oscar Peña said, “As funding is stalling, LACMA is settling up with dictators, slave states and totalitarian regimes. We need real public oversight.” His powerful remarks earned a round of applause from the audience.

Later, Barton Phelps shared his strong and well reasoned opposition to Peter Zumthor’s design directly with LACMA director Michael Govan. He explained to Govan how the proposed building fails to respect the site and the history of this significant portion of the Miracle Mile, and expressed regret that he had not been able to be a part of the project conversation at an earlier stage. He continued this conversation later still with our Richard Schave, and those remarks are included at the end of this video. And his complete statement to City Council is transcribed below.

What about the result of the City Council vote? As decided long before today, the city eagerly granted the air rights request. But the fight continues!

Learn more about our Pereira in Peril campaign here.  Join Save LACMA.

Below you will find Barton Phelps’ intended comments for City Council, which he was unable to make in full due to outgoing Council President Herb Wesson’s anti-democratic one minute time limit, and which he personally handed to LACMA director Michael Govan:

• President Wesson, Honorable Council Members, I’m Barton Phelps, Principal, Barton Phelps & Associates, Architects and Planners, Los Angeles. We design buildings that support cultural and educational activity. I’m a former professor of architecture at UCLA and a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. Thank you for this chance to speak critically on this important matter.

• I’m not pleased to say what I must today and I don’t envy your responsibility for making sense of the layers of complexity this potentially wonderful project unfolds before us.

• I’m reminded that 44 years ago I stood in this exact spot attempting unsuccessfully to convince your predecessors on the City Council (especially the charismatic Gilbert Lindsay whose district this was) that replacing the 1926 Central Library with a so-so office building, although already designed, was not a great idea.

• A suit, brought jointly by the AIA and the National Trust, was, after many years, the City’s salvation.The library, restored and expanded, became an anchor of downtown renewal. I think of that effort by many people as a test of cultural maturity. Los Angeles rose to the occasion. The rest is history. I’m hoping it will again.

• The current L.A. County design proposal for much needed expansion and improvement to LACMA poses a similarly destructive threat to an iconic Los Angeles place but this time the threat is subtler in approach and, in its imagery, more socially and artistically beguiling.

• Given pressing limitations in site size, budget, function it seems odd that a design team composed of such brilliant design talents should persist in pursuing a fictional landscape of a site largely cleared of useful existing structures and capped by a simplistic, space-hungry, dated-looking, elevated single story composition. In refusing to fully recognize the truly daunting complexity of this project it unsuccessfully searches formalist simplicity for anchorage. It’s simply the wrong response.

• As if to demonstrate design team’s desperation, the current plan casually tosses a large suburban-looking volume across seven lanes of Wilshire Boulevard almost exactly where the corridor’s volume executes a graceful turn onto (or off of) the L.A. grid. But it will need your permission to do so.

• Aside from its painful impacts on sidewalks, park, and local neighborhoods the bridging of Wilshire Boulevard would crudely violate the historically-defining spatial continuity that generations of Angelinos have respected and delighted in for nearly a hundred years.

• (If I may) I’ll quote landscape historian, the late J.B. Jackson: “A landscape without visible signs of political history is a landscape without memory or forethought. We are inclined in America to think that the value of monuments is simply to remind us of origins.They are much more valuable as reminders of long-range, collective purpose, of goals and objectives and principles. As such even the least sightly of monuments gives a landscape beauty and dignity and keeps the collective memory alive.”

Thank you,
Barton Phelps, FAIA

Public Benefit Corporation SAFER challenges validity of Onni Group’s Times Mirror Square EIR

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Last Wednesday morning, we joined a passionate band of concerned Angelenos at Los Angeles City Hall in a last ditch effort to halt the runaway Planning Department train that appears intent on approving demolition of half of the historic, landmark Los Angeles Times Mirror Square compound, despite the stench of civic corruption surrounding the project.

Included in our group were preservationists, historians, architects, affordable housing advocates, longtime L.A. Times and Times Mirror executives, neighbors, tenants and descendants of the newspaper’s founders. You can read their comments, and see full video, here.

We did our best to give the planners pause, pointing out the ongoing FBI investigation that has ensnared Councilman Jose Huizar, the bizarre alteration of the landmark designation by Huizar’s PLUM committee, the architectural and cultural distinction of the threatened buildings, the significant impact on those living and working close to the project site, the mediocrity of the proposed towers, the glut of market rate housing and office space in the Downtown market, the project’s failure to do anything to alleviate our city’s horrific homeless crisis, and the risk that in approving the project the city would incur significant legal settlement costs and enable money laundering.

Did they listen to us? Politely, to be sure, and with no time limits. But does Eric Garcetti’s Planning Department ever truly listen to concerned citizens?

Still, something had their attention. During the hearing, project lead William Lamborn mentioned that his office had received a significant written response to the EIR that morning. This mysterious comment hung over the room all through the public comment period.

Then Alan Como, who led the hearing, closed public comment with the following words: “So, given the discussion and testimony today, including the item that was received this morning—the letter, which I believe you said Will was rather lengthy—I’m going to take this under advisement for a period of approximately one week to give planning staff an opportunity to review that letter. And so, yeah, no action will be taken today.”

We of course requested a copy of that “rather lengthy… item,” which was promptly provided by Mr. Lamborn, and have read it with growing and complete fascination, awe and gratitude.

(Parenthetically, do you ever stop to wonder just how it is that corruption has run so utterly amok in our City of the Angels? Do you think, like we do, it might have something to do with our checked-out local media, which cannot even be bothered to send an intern to attend the Planning Department’s final hearing for a huge redevelopment project that is central to the FBI’s investigation of Jose Huizar and his special favors for real estate industry donors, a project which calls for the demolition of the most distinguished newspaper industry landmark in Southern California?)

So yeah, that’s why the blog of a scrappy historic Los Angeles tour company is breaking the news that the nonprofit California public benefit corporation Supporters Alliance For Environmental Responsibility (“SAFER”), which is closely associated with the Laborers International Union of North America Local 300 (“LIUNA”), has fired an astonishing shot across the bow of Onni Group’s Times Mirror Square project, calling on the Los Angeles City Planning Department to halt the EIR approval process and address serious flaws, falsehoods and misinterpretations under CEQA in its analysis of the project’s environmental impact, and then circulate a corrected and factual RDEIR (revised draft environmental impact report) for public review.

Among the serious issues raised by SAFER’s expert analysts in their 100+ page letter, are:

• A flawed interpretation of the state law that protects historic resources like the locally landmarked and California State Register eligible buildings on the site;

• The concern that the project would cause significant bird death, including to locally nesting and migrating Vaux’s Swifts, due to the huge expanse of glass windows;

• A non-trivial cancer risk from the off-gassing of formaldehyde in all the new plywood and other mass produced crap slated to replace the fine materials used in William Pereira’s building;

• An unjustified rejection of project alternatives that would protect historical resources and cause less pollution and traffic, simply because they fail to match the property owner’s arbitrary determination of what “must” be included in their proposed development. 

• And finally, an objection which made us laugh out loud: the incomplete and inaccurate traffic impact analysis must be completely re-done, not least because the EIR fails to account for the impact on and from Jose Huizar’s ridiculous Downtown Streetcar Inc. boondoggle!

All of the above is thoroughly explained in the lengthy letter from leading environmental attorney Richard Toshiyuki Drury of Lozeau Drury LLP sent on behalf of SAFER, which you can read for yourself here.

If you appreciate this information, we are always grateful for your tips (both monetary and in the form of offbeat Los Angeles lore sent via email). Thank you, SAFER. And viva Pereira!

(December 2, 2019 update from L.A. City Planning on Times Mirror Square: Expected letter of determination NOT issued. No scheduled hearings at this time and it’s highly unlikely one will be scheduled this year. We think no news is good news for the Pereia in Peril!)

 

Announcing Save LACMA

If you’ve followed Esotouric for any time at all, you know that we’re big fans of William L. Pereira‘s civic and commercial architecture, and have advocated for the preservation of such endangered buildings as the Metropolitan Water District HQ, Los Angeles Times Executive Building and Los Angeles County Museum of Art as part of a broader Pereira in Peril campaign.

Today we begin a new chapter in this work, with announcement of the launch of Save LACMA (http://www.ourlacma.org), a registered 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Corporation formed to amplify the voice of the community to help steer the museum’s future, not just with the proposed Wilshire-straddling new building project, but in all its change and growth to come.

The more we learned about LACMA’s current plans, the more we felt the need to advocate not just for the historic campus, but for the survival of the museum as an institution. We are proud to join with other concerned Angelenos to volunteer our time as board members, taking our LACMA Lovers League petition campaign to a new level under the Save LACMA nonprofit banner.

We look forward to meeting you at LACMA-focused events in the near future. For now, we hope you’ll visit the website to learn more, sign up for the occasional newsletter, follow Save LACMA on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) and share this exciting news with your arts loving friends. It’s going to be a campaign to remember, and we can’t wait to share it with you!

Planning Commission To Decide Fate of Times Mirror Square

The Angelenos who landmarked the Los Angeles Times buildings cordially invite you to be a part of their history, by asking the Planning Commission to “do the right thing” at the Final EIR hearing on October 16 and approve a redevelopment plan that preserves and protects this architecturally and culturally significant place, while rejecting the appearance of political corruption steering land use decisions in Los Angeles. There is still cause for hope that the Times buildings will be treated with due respect during redevelopment, but they need your help!

Please join us at Los Angeles City Hall on Wednesday, October 16 at 10:30 am to give public comment to the Planning Commission on the Final EIR for the Times Mirror Square Project. (Or send an email by October 15; see instructions at the bottom of this page.) (Facebook event link.)

FOR THOSE GIVING PUBLIC COMMENT: If you plan to attend the October 16 hearing, please email us at tours@esotouric.com, and we can give you more info and let you know what to expect. We don’t know exactly when this agenda item will be heard, but the hearing begins at 10:30am in room 1020.

To support preservation in your public comment, please include these words, then add your own personal reasons for speaking: “I oppose the Project because under CEQA, the Executive Building is a recognized historical resource eligible for the California Register for its association with the Times Mirror Company and Otis Chandler, and is a significant example of the work of master architect William L. Pereira. I urge you to select Alternative 5, Full Preservation Alternative, the environmentally superior alternative.”


THE SITE: A square block sitting kitty corner from Los Angeles City Hall, comprised of Gordon B. Kaufmann’s 1935 L.A. Times Building, Rowland Crawford’s 1948 Mirror Tower, William L. Pereira’s 1973 Executive Building, and a Pereira-designed parking garage.

THE THREAT: Canadian developer Onni Group wants to demolish the garage and Executive Building to build two high-rise towers. The Executive Building is fully integrated into the 1935 L.A. Times Building. This project would not only destroy a significant work by William Pereira, but leave a gaping hole in the side of the most architecturally significant structure on the site.

THE STORY: On September 20, 2018, the Cultural Heritage Commission accepted our Times Mirror Square landmark nomination in full, disagreeing with the Office of Historic Resources’ claim that Pereira’s Executive Building should not be included. The nomination would next go to City Council’s PLUM Committee, where we were concerned that the chair, Councilman Jose Huizar, would reject it outright, to clear the way for Canadian developer Onni Group to erect two towers. However, between the CHC and PLUM hearings, the FBI raided Huizar’s City Hall office and home, and Huizar was removed from PLUM. Nevertheless, on November 27, 2018, PLUM deferred to Huizar’s request and altered the landmark nomination by removing Pereira’s building. The altered nomination was then approved by full City Council. In February 2019, the Los Angeles Times reported that developer Onni Group had given $50,000 to Huizar’s political fund two months prior to the PLUM vote. It is against the backdrop of this appearance of quid pro quo vote buying that the Planning Commission will decide the fate of Times Mirror Square.

To learn more about the L.A. Times landmarking nomination, and the wider Pereira in Peril campaign, click here.

To read the Final EIR for this project, and our feedback, click here.


FOR EMAIL SUPPORTERS: You can also send a statement of support via email ASAP, but no later than end of day Tuesday, October 15.

Below is an example of how a statement of support should be formatted.
Subject line: ENV-2016-4676-EIR
Email to: william.lamborn@lacity.org
cc: tours@esotouric.com (that’s us, the landmark team)

Dear Planning Commission,

I oppose the Project because under CEQA, the Executive Building is a recognized historical resource eligible for the California Register for its association with the Times Mirror Company and Otis Chandler, and is a significant example of the work of master architect William L. Pereira.

I urge you to select Alternative 5, Full Preservation Alternative, the environmentally superior alternative.

sincerely, (your name, your address, your email)

PLEASE NOTE: Uniquely personal remarks, even just a line or two, really make a difference. Please consider adding this sentence and filling in the blank: These buildings are important to me because ____________.

 

City Librarian John Szabo unveils The Well of the Scribes at Central Library

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Feeling quite awed to see this Los Angeles treasure in the flesh (photo: Stephen Gee)

We had the opportunity today to attend a small ceremony in which a section of sculptor Lee Lawrie’s Well of the Scribes fountain was unveiled in the Rare Books room of Los Angeles Public Library.

The bronze fountain has been missing since 1969, when Central Library’s garden became a parking lot and its decorative elements went into city storage… only to vanish. Had the fountain been stolen away by a private collector, misplaced in some remote storage area, or melted down for scrap?

For fifty years, its fate remained a mystery. But answers may be forthcoming: one panel was recently found in the care of Arizona antique dealer Floyd Lillard, after he reached out offering to return the lost treasure.

While the relief sculpture is in remarkably good condition for its decades on the road, it needs a little love. So following today’s ceremonial return to the building it was designed for, it will be sent to a conservation lab for cleaning and stabilizing. Then it will go on public view in a location yet to be determined at Central Library.

While you wait for that auspicious day, enjoy these close-up views of the Well of the Scribes and the happy folks from the library and Alta Magazine, publishers of a recent feature story which helped to bring this beautiful object back home. The Library and Alta are eagerly seeking the remaining two sections of the fountain, so keep your eyes peeled in your travels for Pegasus and his scholarly pals.

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The Cinecon Caper revealed in emails between Hollywood Heritage, Netflix and Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s Office

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Some emails have just been released in response to a public records request by government transparency blogger Adrian Riskin of MichaelKohlhaas.org. He asked Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office for any correspondence between the councilman’s staff and anyone with netflix.com email address. You can read the emails here.

In addition to emails expressing the councilman’s desire to be helpful in addressing the streaming giant’s need for hotel rooms and apartments in Hollywood, you’ll find a fascinating email thread with Richard Adkins, president of Hollywood Heritage.

This thread helps clear up some of the mystery surrounding the rumored cancellation and last minute restoration of the 55th Annual Cinecon Classic Film Festival’s five-day booking at the Egyptian Theatre, a booking that we’ve heard from several sources had been salvaged through the direct intervention of Councilman O’Farrell’s office.

In his email (Subject: Additional Information on Cinecon and the petition, 7/20/2019), Mr. Adkins explains at the outset, “I would like to make it clear that Hollywood Heritage has not spoken publicly about the Cinematheque or the proposed purchase of the Egyptian Theatre.”

(We think this lack of comment on a major change of use for Hollywood’s oldest motion picture palace is unfortunate, both because Hollywood Heritage was founded in 1980 “to protect, maintain and enhance buildings and neighborhoods, natural resources, and other monuments and artifacts that exemplify or constitute a part of the historic, architectural or cultural heritage of Hollywood,” and because it is the only other Hollywood non-profit that received a landmark building as a gift with the expectation that it would be operated as a public benefit. The opinion of Hollywood Heritage on this proposed sale is in the public interest.)

Further, Richard Adkins wishes it known that he is not the same person as Richard Schave, who is circulating the petition seeking transparency around the sale of the Egyptian Theatre.

He continues: “In regards to Cinecon, Hollywood Heritage has the non-profit operator of Cinecon for the past three years. We have been associated with the festival since the museum was established inn 1985, but only began managing the festival following the passing of Robert S. Birchard who was the president of Cinecon… To be able to continue to operate, Hollywood Heritage filed a DBA with the state as operators of the festival. Select personnel at the Cinematheque have been familiar with Cinecon Classic Film Festival for almost 20 years and may not have been aware of the changeover, as we kept it low key in order not to alarm registrants, vendors and creditors… I am sure this is why there may be some unfamiliarity with our relationship to the festival, but I assure you it is now a Hollywood Heritage activity. If at all possible we would like to have notification of the return of our Egyptian dates by Wednesday [7/24/2019], so that should there be a problem, we can seek alternate venues.”

(The ellipses above are included to remove a claim made in the email that the late Bob Birchard, a dedicated film historian and preservationist who once gave a wonderful interview about lost Hollywood bookstores on our podcast, was misleading the public by operating Cinecon as a non-profit, when it was not one in good standing with the California Attorney General. We have looked far and wide for any claim ever made by Bob Birchard that Cinecon, or the parent organization Society of Cinephiles, was a non-profit, without success. To the contrary, Bob Birchard partnered with a non-profit at the end of his life to allow Cinecon to receive tax-deductible donations (see this PDF link). Since 2016, Cinecon has been operated by a non-profit, Hollywood Heritage.)

Two days later (7/22/2019) Craig Bullock, Planning Director for Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, forwards Richard Adkins’ email to London Kemp, Netflix’ Director of Corporate Real Estate:

“FYI. I wanted to share the email below regarding the petition. I would not have intervened had the people doing the petition were the same as the people doing the film festival. At my request, Richard Atkins sent this email to me to better clarify the players… it get confusing especially with multiple Richards haha”

With the air cleared, Cinecon did indeed go on as planned at the Egyptian Theatre from 8/29-9/2/2019. It was a close call for the festival, and for the hundreds of film fans, guest speakers and memorabilia vendors who purchased tickets and paid for travel and lodging, unaware that the event was hanging by a thread.

We’re glad Cinecon happened this year at its longtime home, The Egyptian Theatre. And we’re glad Los Angeles Times reporter Ryan Faughnder was able to attend Cinecon and to meet as perfect a dues-paying American Cinematheque member as Christina Rice there, so her quote can wrap up today’s front page story: “If it’s such a great thing, why does this all need to be shrouded in secrecy?”

And we’re deeply troubled that something as silly and as capricious as Netflix executives mistakenly thinking the preservationist named Richard who is petitioning the American Cinematheque to explain why they want to sell the Egyptian Theatre is the same person as the non-profit president named Richard who has no comment about the situation came thisclose to stopping Cinecon’s show from going on.

The city gave the Egyptian Theatre to the American Cinematheque for a dollar so festivals like Cinecon can have a home. We the people of Los Angeles and the wider film community deserve some honest answers before we lose this precious place. If you agree, please sign the petition, and share it with friends. You can learn more about the situation here.


Update: On September 12, two days after publication of this post containing the email in which he tells Netflix and Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office that Hollywood Heritage has made no public comment about the proposed sale, the non-profit’s president Richard Adkins made the following statement on Facebook, in which he commits to Hollywood Heritage sharing its informed opinion about the sale… after or as it closes. We understand that journalists have been reaching out to Adkins and Hollywood Heritage while reporting the story, with no response. These observations could have been helpful to them.

“The landmark Egyptian Theatre has been the focus of press attention in the last six months due to media reports of a pending transfer of ownership. At this date, and to our knowledge, no such transfer has as yet been completed and articles in the press lack sufficient detail to justify taking any position on a projected, but unexecuted, transaction. That being said, we would clearly anticipate that any such transfer of a national landmark building in a national historic register district would be reviewed with transparency by and all responsible public agencies, departments, or commissions. As the first Sid Grauman theatre in Hollywood and the site of the first gala “premiere” with searchlights and a red carpet, the Egyptian Theatre is a defining structure in our built environment and merits careful consideration in order to protect and preserve its unique architectural and cultural value not only to Hollywood, Los Angeles and America, but the world in general, which views Hollywood as a shared international cultural asset. When there is specificity and detail regarding a change in the projected operation of the theatre which may affect its future, Hollywood Heritage will be happy to share its observations and opinions on such plans, specifically as it relates to the monument, the district, and non-profit law and operation.”

In a follow up comment to someone seeking clarification, he adds: “That would be a simplification of the historic building process and this one is complicated by ownership by a non-profit. Yes, changes which require a permit are automatically reviewed for any building over 50 years of age under regulations which were designed to protect existing and potential landmarks. Painting for instance, is not a permit-necessary process. The review I was referring to has everything to do with how a non-profit steward of a historic structure has to proceed via non-profit law. A non-profit which owns or operates a landmark structure is periodically reviewed to make sure funds donated specifically for projects such as restoration are actually used for that purpose and not for staffing or other ancillary purposes. The Egyptian is a landmark, the Cinematheque is a non-profit, review of their management of the site is appropriate.”

Celebrating 61 Years of Neon, Bowling, Booze & (now) Booza in Anaheim’s Little Arabia

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We were cruising across the vast flat lands of Orange County, the GPS app set to avoid toll roads and freeways, as the setting sun tinted every surface with that magical liquid gilding that can’t be painted or bottled, but is best captured in passenger window cellphone snaps.

Our destination: Le Mirage, a French bakery in Anaheim’s Little Arabia district, which we learned from Gustavo Arellano’s 2018 article also does an off-menu trade in booza, an ancient, taffy-like Syrian ice cream and pistachio confection textured with orchid root and tree resin.

We arrived at the mini-mall at dusk, just as the intersection of Brookhurst and Lincoln lit up with dancing incandescents and the warm buzz of neon. For just across the road, delightfully, was a perfect time capsule of mid-century suburbia: Linbrook Bowl, a bowling alley, coffee shop, bar and gaming center, open 24/7 (except on Christmas Eve) since 1958.

In fact, we learned upon stepping in, this weekend is the 61st Anniversary of the family-owned establishment, and guests are encouraged to doll up in 1950s attire to enjoy such Customer Appreciation specials as $2 beers and $1.50 hot dogs from 11:30am-3:30pm.

We resisted the urge to settle in on a bar stool and trade tall tales with the regulars, even though our new friends in the bar urged us to stay and toast the loss of other Southland bowling centers and Linbrook’s remarkable survival.

We explained our culinary mission across the road. “Ice cream, by Granny’s Do-Nuts? No way!” It all seemed most unlikely there beneath the mica-flecked sunken ceiling of The Kopa Room, and mention of an article in The New Yorker did nothing to convince them. Besides, one insisted, it couldn’t possibly be as good as Thrifty drug store ice cream. Well, we’d be the ones to go find out about that.

And after promising to return some day with the answer, we trundled back across six lanes of traffic, crossing from the old Orange County to the new in the length of a green walk signal.

A little small talk at the register was followed by some mysterious banging sounds in the back of the bakery, and the booza bowl was delivered, pale greenish petals studded with nuts and glistening with a splash of syrup.

And what a strange and lovely treat it proved to be! We’ve never had fresher tasting pistachios, or anything cold with such a texture. It wasn’t too sweet, and didn’t melt to a liquid like churned ice cream does, but was quite creamy and refreshing.  The ladies waiting for their cake started laughing, because Richard just kept saying “Wow… wow” and smiling at everyone.

To Anaheim’s Syrian community, booza is the taste of the diaspora, its sweetness tinged with sorrow and loss. While the flavors didn’t conjure up such feelings for we two native Angelenos, it did remind us of our dear grandma Cutie the foodie, and make us wonder if she would have recalled this treat from her early girlhood in Cairo.

A detour to visit Le Mirage is highly recommended, along with spending a little time talking with the friendly folks to be found on both sides of the street. It’s evenings like this one that make us grateful to live in Southern California, where so many different worlds and delicious flavors exist side by side, even if they don’t always mix. But when you’re ready to explore something new to you, all you have to do is look both ways and cross with care.

As grandma Cutie always said, quoting a beer billboard of her youth: “Lucky when you live in California.” And we are!

 

Elegy for 1326 South Mariposa

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We were driving the side streets of the Pico-Union District after locking down a special location to be added to the next Curse of the She-Devil true crime history tour. The late afternoon light was beautiful, with that sort of buttery, gilded quality that sends all the architectural details into high relief.

It doesn’t matter how many times we explore Pico-Union, the sprawling neighborhood always rewards us with something new. The buildings are old, solid and lived in, displaying layers of demographic change in their signs. The past and present are entwined, organically and unpretentiously.

Some signs of the past are more precious than others: the Mission Revival rooftop arch of the Doria Apartments (1600 West Pico, built 1905), illuminated with incandescent bulbs, was being covered up with an illegal billboard in 2011, when we drove by on our Weird West Adams tour and snapped a crime scene photo. An urgent call to the city’s Office of Historic Resources happily resulted in a stop work order before any permanent damage was done to Historic-Cultural Monument #432. Every time we pass the Doria now and see that jaunty sign, we feel like she’s kind of “ours.”

On our recent ramble, following the commercial spine of Pico, we dipped down into the residential corridors, where we were especially delighted to make the acquaintance of Byrdshire Manor (1405 South Berendo Street, built 1928), an English vernacular apartment block with layers of hand-painted signage, graceful arches and a smattering of deformed clinker bricks breaking up its rhythms.

But just five blocks to the west, we found a landmark just as arresting, though not for its charm.

The handsome folk Victorian house at 1326 South Mariposa Avenue was built in 1895; the back house in 1951. Two years ago, when the property was listed at $687,500, a marketing video captured a messy home with at least one child in it. It sold for slightly above asking and was soon back on the market, an unaltered flip.

This June, the house sold for $1,300,000. It is presently boarded up, with lurid No Trespassing signs and weeds in the lawn. At the front of the parcel, a huge billboard erected by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway advertises the large, charmless apartment building that is “Coming Soon.”

On a real estate listing website, agent Dan Risch gushes: “Brand new Building Planned and permits in process. 15 – 1 bedroom units planned. Projected income is $2160/unit/ month. Projected gross income estimated a $373,694 annually. 2 affordable units will be built per developer/owner. Ground level parking. Renderings based on plans. Demolition permits in process. Plans are submitted for review. Located in NMTC zone for tax advantages. Buildings in place at present. Demolition permits expected soon.”

NMTC stands for New Markets Tax Credit. Along with the more common, and also applicable TOC or Transit Oriented Communities, it’s the little extra juice that makes it even more appealing for the biggest companies in the world to swoop into poor neighborhoods like Pico-Union in Los Angeles, buy up the existing historic housing stock at a premium price, sit on it for a couple of years and flip it as a tax advantaged development opportunity.

Preservationists in Los Angeles are playing whack-a-mole with developers who seek to destroy the beautiful buildings that make up the very warp and weft of our shared history, simply because old buildings are usually cheaper to purchase than vacant lots, and because a deeply corrupted City Hall enables it. Many notable landmarks have been saved thanks to the efforts of caring individuals and preservation organizations, but many more terrific contributing structures have vanished from the landscape forever.

With companies like Berkshire Hathaway targeting properties like 1326 South Mariposa and erecting billboards touting the fortunes to be made by demolishing them, the potential loss of beautiful and useful buildings is staggering.

But, some argue, Los Angeles is in the grips of a “housing crisis” and we “need” larger structures like the one on the Berkshire Hathaway billboard. Do we really?

We believe that we actually have a housing use crisis, not a housing crisis.

Artificial scarcity, generated by apartment buildings and SRO hotels kept perpetually vacant by corporate investors, large-scale illegal home share listings, “condos” that are nothing of the kind, Ellis Act evictions that empty buildings that then remain empty for years, newly constructed apartments used as filming locations, these and other greedy misuses of housing stock all conspire to create rental costs that far exceed reasonable rates for many Angelenos, even as the city’s population declines.

Until the many disruptive forces that have radically altered the Los Angeles housing market are reigned in, it’s absurd to reward the real estate industry with a stack of blank demolition forms, so they can take yet more essential housing stock off the market, this time with even greater tax benefits.

But the clock is ticking on the street named for the butterfly. Demolition permits have been requested for 1326 South Mariposa. Some day soon, the wreckers will come and pull down two good buildings, replacing them with something out of scale and style with the block. Nobody will ever stop to photograph this generic apartment house in the gilded afternoon light.

A few blocks away, at 1430 Arapahoe Street, we found an official-looking demolition permit on this grand 1885 Victorian, with no corresponding information on file with the city. A man in the next yard noticing us taking photos, asked first if we wanted to buy the house, then when we said we were just worried about it, insisted “It’s just a little remodel, nothing’s getting torn down.”

And the fight for the soul of Los Angeles goes on. We save what we can, and we keep a list of everything teetering on the brink. Won’t you be the city’s eyes, and tell us when a place you love appears to be at risk?

City of Los Angeles: Restore Vermonica Now


Part One: Vermonica Vanishes – The Story So Far

In November 2017, when an alert fan clued us in 

to the disappearance of Vermonica, Sheila Klein’s beloved vintage street light installation in East Hollywood, we provided the artist with a platform here on our blog to make a statement.

Vermonica’s disappearance wasn’t much of a mystery: the Bureau of Street Lighting, which owned the vintage light poles and had installed the work originally, admitted to removing it in advance of planned parking lot work, and had already reinstalled the poles in front of its Field Operations Division a block away.

Vermonica is a site specific sculpture, a response to the trauma of the 1992 L.A. Riots. Vermonica is named for Vermont and Santa Monica, the location of the Hollytron electronics store that was damaged by looters. Moving Vermonica without notifying the artist was an aesthetic crime, and using its parts to create an amateur replica compounded that crime.

Sheila Klein calls the light poles installed down the block from where Vermonica used to stand “xVermonica.”

She wanted to save Vermonica, and we thought we could help. So late in 2017, we worked to set up a meeting with numerous city officials, including Danielle Brazell (Department of Cultural Affairs), Barbara Romero (Deputy Mayor), Nicole Serrano (office of Mayor Eric Garcetti) and Christine Peters and George Hakopiants (Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s office) and arts advocates Julie Silliman and Al Nodal, in order to to have a conversation with Sheila Klein (via Skype) about how to fix the situation.

It was a cordial meeting that concluded with the agreement that the city would work with the artist to restore Vermonica.

Sheila Klein Skypes into the December 2017 Vermonica meeting at Los Angeles City Hall

If you followed Vermonica in the news and read the statements from city officials or watched the Cranky Preservationist’s video, you were doubtless left feeling encouraged that the city was doing the right thing by Vermonica.

A good overview of the situation shortly after Vermonica was removed is “Can Street Art Be Moved Without Destroying It?” by Cara Giaimo (Atlas Obscura, January 24, 2018)

But as too often is the case when the city of Los Angeles is involved, despite encouraging words, time passed and nothing happened.

After a couple of months with no follow up, Sheila Klein engaged the services of lawyer Eric Bjorgum, who has litigated several cases regarding destroyed public art and who is also the President of the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles. Bjorgum drafted a friendly introduction, reminding the players what had been said at the City Hall meeting, and seeking to get things moving towards the promised restoration and accession of Vermonica into the city’s collection.

The city responded in March 2018 by making the dubious legal claim that Vermonica is not actually a work of art, and thus not protected by artist’s rights protection law (VARA).

Since this message in March 2018, Sheila Klein has heard nothing from the city about its repeated promises to work with her to reinstall Vermonica, and to make the piece a protected part of the city’s art collection.

Which brings us up to date.

Now read on for the surprising twist, and what YOU can do to help.

Part 2: Vermonica Vanishes – The Secret History


On April 29, 2019, public transparency blogger Adrian Riskin of MichaelKohlhaas.org 

shared on Twitter that the Bureau of Street Lighting (BSL) had been added to the list of Los Angeles City departments for which California Public Records Act (CPRA) requests could be made through a web portal.


Adrian tweeted: “There must be something interesting to CPRA-fy from those folks”


Esotouric replied: “we’ll take Vermonica for $200, Alex.”

At this suggestion, 
Adrian promptly submitted a request for BSL emails related to Vermonica, and soon received a large set of files, which he has uploaded here.

Much of the material documented our efforts to set up that December 2017 City Hall meeting after Vermonica was removed, and communication with reporters about what had happened to the artwork.

But there were also smoking gun emails from BSL staff documenting the actual removal of Vermonica from the parking lot, before Sheila Klein knew her piece was threatened, before the press started asking questions.

These emails show that BSL intended to remove Vermonica from its home of 24 years to create a new installation called “Virmonica” in front of their offices a block to the east. 


If you read just two emails in the large cache, read these two:

1) City of Los Angeles Mail – Re_ Video of Street Lighting Museum for PW Newsletter.pdf
 (PDF link)


Why this email is revealing: On March 6, 2017—more than eight months before Vermonica’s removal—Ed Ebrahimian, then Director of the Bureau of Street Lighting, directs a city employee coordinating a video shoot about BSL’s collection of historic streetlights, to “dont even bring up vermonica…”


This direction is peculiar, because BSL has always been proud of Vermonica and to this day still includes photos of the work on its website. The email suggests that Ed Ebrahimian has some reason for wishing to keep Vermonica out of the public eye in early 2017.


2) From Jeff Ziliotto on Nov 17, 2017 Subject Fwd- VIRMONICA PROJECT O.T
 (PDF link)


Why this email is revealing: After Vermonica was dismantled and its elements reinstalled in front of the BSL office, Jeff Ziliotto—who worked closely with artist Sheila Klein to install the artwork in 1993—forwards emails that explicitly describe the newly installed “Virmonica” and shares photos of how it looks from various directions. The names Vermonica and “Virmonica” are used, showing clearly BSL’s familiarity with Klein’s work.

The story that BSL told about being asked by the property owner to move the streetlights out of the Staples parking lot might actually be true—there are missing emails and attachments in the material provided by the city which might prove or disprove this. But it is obvious that the BSL was not honest with Sheila Klein or with the press about what happened after Vermonica was taken apart.

The creation of “Virmonica” represents an act of bad faith, and a misuse of civic resources to destroy and abscond with a beloved piece of public art.

We are grateful to Adrian Riskin of MichaelKohlhaas.org for the information about how Los Angeles really functions that he exposes on his blog, and recommend anyone with an interest in homelessness policy, neighborhood councils, business improvement districts, policing, charter schools, murals and land use follow his work. Our city is a mess, and the California Public Records Act, in the hands of dedicated citizen-activists like Adrian, has the power to illuminate dark places and bring much needed reform.

What happened to Vermonica was bad enough when it was just the city being inept. Now that we know the truth, we join Sheila Klein in demanding swift action to right this wrong. City of Los Angeles: Restore Vermonica Now!

See where Vermonica used to be, and the xVermonica installation at the BSL field office, on September 7 on our debut Saving Los Angeles Landmarks tour.

Update June 10, 2019: Photos of xVermonica aka “Virmonica” with BSL signage designating the location as “Zilioto Ln” provided courtesy of Vermonica fan Mike Callahan. It’s infuriating that the city would install this self-promotional signage, while refusing to post the notice requested by artist Sheila Klein explaining that this is not her famous work Vermonica.

Update June 12, 2019: As of today, the Ziliotto Ln sign has been removed.

Update July 13, 2019: On NBC News, Bureau of Street Lighting admits the lights in front of their offices need to be moved to be Vermonica once more.