Esotouric’s Los Angeles Historic Preservation 2018 year-end list

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Gentle reader…

As we slam the door on 2018, it’s time for that annual Esotouric tradition: our very opinionated list of the past year’s Top Los Angeles Historic Preservation Stories.

Because preservation is never as simple as buildings being lost forever or rescued from the brink, the list is split into three sections: the Gains, the Losses, and those Bittersweet moments that hover somewhere in the middle, and keep us up nights. We hope you find the list by turns thought-provoking, infuriating and inspiring, and that 2019 will see some of the Bittersweets tip over onto the Gains side of the fence.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Gains of 2018:

G1. A Modernist Master Recognized: It began with an impassioned plea from Zev Yaroslavsky to preserve William Pereira’s endangered CBS Television City, an architectural and cultural treasure that supports high paying professional jobs. Then the Los Angeles Conservancy brought in architect and historian Alan Hess, our partner in the Pereira in Peril campaign, to write the successful landmarking nomination. Also involved, property owner CBS, who came to the table to craft a preservation solution for the future of its historic broadcast production campus. The campus just sold, and will be subject to preservation guidelines in any future alterations.

G2. Rock On: If you love music history, Hollywood history, civil rights history and great architecture, then Musicians’ Union Local 47 matters to you. Founded in 1897, its members have shaped motion picture soundtracks since the dawn of the talkies, and uncountable hit records. The handsome Vine Street union hall, master architect Gordon Kaufmann’s last commission, became one of the first integrated performance guilds in America in 1953. The union recently sold the building and moved to Burbank, but the future of the old union hall is secured now that it’s been declared an Historic Cultural Monument. Cheers to John Girodo of Hollywood Heritage for writing a terrific nomination.

G3. Won’t Be Doggone: When Tail o’ the Pup, one of the last programmatic oddball architectural dining attractions standing, became a museum piece, we felt blue. But somehow, the iconic storefront is coming back as a commercial enterprise in the hands of the historically-minded 1933 Group, who are presently restoring the Formosa Café. And that’s a shaggy dog story we don’t mind waiting out.

G4. Bank On It: Downtown’s gorgeous Bank of Italy (Morgan, Walls & Clements, 1923) was shuttered for decades, so when Kim set part of her mystery novel The Kept Girl inside, she had to imagine everything. But this year, the NoMad Hotel completed an elegant adaptive reuse project, transforming a sober commercial building into a sweet social space.

G5. Spinning Wheel (redux): In 2016, on a hot day in sleepy Arcadia, where the last Googie-style Van De Kamp‘s Holland Dutch Bakery restaurant (Harold Bissner, 1967) stands proudly on Huntington Boulevard, Denny’s executives were on hand to throw the switch on the restored, spinning windmill sign, a beloved local landmark brought back to life through the Quixotic efforts of former mayor George Fasching. But months later, the blades snapped and fell through the restaurant’s roof. The future of the landmark sign again seemed uncertain, but happily, the sails are now spinning anew.

G6. Give Me Liberty or Give Me… WHAT?!: Neighbors rallied when Liberty Park (Peter Walker, 1967), a beloved privately-owned modernist landscape in the heart of park-poor Koreatown, was threatened with high-rise development. Tempers flared, culminating when property owner Dr. David Lee of Jamison Services terrorized attendees of a City Hall meeting by threatening to turn his assault rifle on citizens. That creepy stunt backfired, and Liberty Park became a protected Los Angeles landmark soon after.

G7. Landmarking Makes All the Difference: After official designation was granted to the derelict clothing-store-turned-trade-paper-HQ, the Crossroads of the World mega-project now plans to incorporate the Hollywood Reporter building. The adjacent 1930s garden court apartment block, encompassing 80 charming rent stabilized homes, won’t be so lucky (see B18 below).

G8. Exile on San Remo Drive: Thanks to the advocacy of thousands of writers and curators, the German government raised funds to purchase Thomas Mann’s Pacific Palisades home in exile, a modernist gem (J.R. Davidson, 1941) which had been listed for sale at a tear-down price. Slated to become a center for exploring ideas of cultural openness and international values, the first step is the recreation of the writer’s lost library.

G9. Developer, Please: In 1936, William Kesling designed a perfect streamline moderne residence for actor Wallace Beery in the flats of Hollywood, and for eight decades, lucky Angelenos kept the landlocked ocean liner ship-shape. Late last year, property developer Ilan Gorodezki announced his intent to knock the lovely thing down to build condos. But preservation people were paying attention, and drafted a successful landmark nomination. Thanks to the efforts of Charles J. Fisher and Steven Luftman, one of the coolest houses ever built in L.A. might survive to see its centennial.

G10. Heirloom Roses: For a decade, the landmark city-owned Casa de Rosas campus (Sumner Hunt, 1893) sat shuttered and decaying, a target for vandals or squatters, and a sad sight from the window of our Weird West Adams crime bus tours. We’re encouraged to see L.A. finally investing resources to reactivate this fascinating place as much needed low-income housing.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Losses of 2018:

L1. A Long Goodbye: The Mission-style Heather Apartments (Charles C. Rittenhouse, 1910) was one of Westlake’s loveliest old apartment hotels. But after the owner was cited for unpermitted renovations a decade ago, she was boarded up. Despite L.A.’s housing crisis, no law compelled Louis C. Gonzalez to make the 26 rent stabilized apartments available. It’s called demolition by neglect: no need to file for a demo permit, just let time and squatters do their worst. Two fires later, the old gal was doomed and soon demolished.

L2. Last O’Call: Although neglected by the city, a lousy steward of its historic resources, Ports O’ Call Village (1963) remained a beloved South Bay landmark, a place to socialize, promenade and feast on fishy treats. But with a development-focused administration in City Hall, a plan was hatched to erase the village and its small business tenants, leaving a clean slate for a generic corporate complex. Broken promises led to tragedy that the San Pedro community won’t soon forget. Have we learned nothing from the mistakes of Bunker Hill?

L3. Lights Out: Serial landmark wrecker Jason Illoulian hasn’t even got permits for his Sunset Boulevard mega project, and neighbors are organizing to save the block, but the uncertainty has had a killing effect on the row of small businesses. The saddest loss came when Parisian Florist moved away, and gave their signs to the Museum of Neon Art. The destruction of Hollywood’s finest mid-century storefront breaks our heart.

L4. Last Man Standing: Once upon a time, Los Angeles had two thriving book shop districts, one on Hollywood Boulevard, the other in Downtown’s warren of streets south of Central Library. In Hollywood, only the Larry Edmunds Bookshop remains, a favorite stop on our Raymond Chandler tours. Caravan Book Store, the last survivor on Downtown’s Book Row, closed this year, not due to landlord greed or redevelopment fears for once, but because second generation proprietor Leonard Bernstein was ready. Stifling sobs, we rushed down with our photographer pal Craig Sauer to capture the time capsule for posterity in explorable 3-D.

L5. Hollywood’s Silent Movie Theater was gutted as the owners attempt to rebrand the venue, which became toxic after Cinefamily staff spoke out about abuse. It’s not a protected landmark, so there’s no requirement to preserve historic resources, but it would have been cool if they tried.

L6. Clean Slate: RIP Alhambra’s Valley Cleaners, an obsolete bit of roadside signage that made us happy every time we waited to make a left turn up Fremont and now has disappeared.

L7.  R is For Rats: Shame on the Los Angeles School Board for voting to demolish the historic “R Building” at Roosevelt High, at a time when community pride and cultural history is more important than ever for Boyle Heights. Don’t be fooled: the so-called “preservation settlement” is a demolition, which is why no legit preservation group seeking to save Roosevelt’s history signed off on it.

L8. Scorched Earth: The fast-moving Woolsey Fire took the Western Town at Paramount Ranch and the nearly-restored Sepulveda Adobe, but reports of the destruction of the M*A*S*H set were premature.

L9. Sad Trombone: By the time a silent film fan raised the alarm after noticing the demolition permit on the 1904 Tabor House, which had a memorable cameo in the 1927 Our Gang film Dog Heaven, Councilman Paul Koretz had already put through a motion seeking to designate the early westside landmark for preservation. But after the property owner illegally demolished the facade, Koretz’ office says there is no recourse. If you think this gross behavior merits a revised city ordinance that punishes people for knocking down historic-but-unlandmarked buildings, tell your councilperson.

L10. Very Sour: Preservationists fretted, but for a brief moment (see Chapter 2.0.), it looked like Metro would save the Arts District’s beloved Pickle Works warehouse, after all. And then the gorgeous old thing burned down, amidst reports that the city-owned building contained a well-known homeless encampment. Demolition by neglect is always ugly, but especially so when it’s a public asset lost.

L11. Joe Friday Wept: Before the FBI showed up to empty his City Hall office and home of unspecified documents, Councilman Jose Huizar was the one-man wrecking ball sacrificing Los Angeles landmarks to his political ambitions. His (hopefully) last act was the rushed demolition of Parker Center (Welton Becket & Associates and J. E. Stanton, 1955), the world’s first modern police administration building and the finest International Style structure in L.A.’s portfolio, which for all its controversial history, remained an architecturally distinguished and potentially useful structure. But Huizar, who never met a lobbyist he didn’t lick, was determined to clear the east side of the Civic Center in order to privatize and turn it into “a 24-hour destination,” no matter the cost. While that sketchy idea and Huizar’s future might be toast so, regrettably, is Parker Center.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Bittersweet Moments of 2018:

B1. Infrastructure’s Victims: Caltrans has long been a crummy steward of the historic houses where the 710 won’t go, among them Julia Child’s girlhood home. Now that the freeway project is officially kaput, we hope these gems aren’t too far gone for longtime tenants to purchase and restore.

B2. To All My Friends: Tom Bergin’s, a Miracle Mile gem that’s fallen on hard times, has many pals seeking to make its landmark status official lest it be knocked down for redevelopment.

B3. Imitation Is Better Than Nothing: Renderings have been released for proposed redevelopment of William Pereira’s Metropolitan Water District HQ: much demolition, but also partial recreation of the low-rise building at the heart of the 1963 complex.

B4. Summer Coming: It’s been a wild multi-year ride as preservationists and members of the Japanese-American community seek an option to purchase the time capsule buildings and farm at Historic Wintersburg, a nationally significant Japanese-American landmark in Huntington Beach. Will it become a garbage dump, self-storage facility or an interpretive center telling the rich story of an immigrant community? No news is good news, we hope.

B5. Cop Caper: A recent 3-D photoshoot with Craig Sauer revealed the disappearance of Skid Row’s own American Gothic, the painted fire door that we discovered in the King Eddy speakeasy basement more than a decade ago. A reward is offered for its safe return.

B6. C’est la Morte: C.C. de Vere, historian of French Los Angeles, just wanted to know where her beloved statue of Joan of Arc had gone. She ended up uncovering some troubling data about the disappearance of one of the city’s oldest charities, and many millions of dollars. At least she found Saint Joan! Forget it, Jake: it’s Chinatown.

B7. Poor Pedigree: After a fatal arson fire at Dr. Jones Dog & Cat Hospital (Wurdeman and Becket, 1938), developer Arman Gabaee pursued plans to built a glass and steel mediocrity on the site, despite the dogged efforts of citizen preservationists Kate Eggert and Krisy Gosney which were picked up by the Los Angeles Conservancy. But then Gabaee was arrested on Federal bribery and public corruption charges. Tough luck for him, but a lucky break for the legacy of Dr. Jones.

B8. The Landmark Cudgel: Things get weird when politicians make preservation policy. Although Pico Boulevard’s wee Googie-style Orange Julius-turned-L.A.-Burger stand (Armet and Davis, 1963) wasn’t ultimately landmarked, the folded plate roof will be saved, and inspired the retro re-styling of the planned redevelopment project. Bonus: the neighborhood is spared another faux Tuscan slab, and gets its burgers back. That’s better than the Algemac’s project in Glendale, where a beloved Googie diner’s bones were saved, but not its kitchen.

B9. Pu Pu Platter: Tiki-lovers gasped at news that the sprawling Don the Beachcomber (originally Sam’s Sea Food and Hawaiian Village) was closing, its large PCH lot slated for unspecified redevelopment. The interior fixtures might be salvaged for use in a new venue, but there’s no way to replicate the sense of space and creativity of an original mid-century exotica environment on the coast highway. For now, the historic complex still stands, with Art Snyder’s restless spirit gnashing invisible teeth within.

B10. Museum Grow: The clock is ticking on the ambitious proposal to demolish William Pereira’s 1965 LACMA campus and its unfortunate additions for an amoeba-shaped new museum spanning Wilshire Boulevard. Chinese steel tariffs might break the bank.

B11. Machine Rage: A “preservation” hustle unfolds in West Hollywood, as serial landmark wrecker Jason Illoulian gets city approval to move and carve National Register landmark The Factory into a meaningless morsel. But it gets sleazier: Illoulian co-opted the name used by the community activists who fought to save this icon of early Hollywood camera manufacturing and gay culture for his own PR blitz. Cheers to Councilwoman Lauren Meister for taking a lone stand against this dishonest and destructive project.

B12. Spoiled Span: After approving the construction of affordable housing and a children’s park below a bridge that’s long been synoymous with suicides, Pasadena erected unsightly chain link panels blocking access to seating alcoves on the National Register Colorado Street Bridge, then extended the fence the length of the bridge. Historically sensitive design recommendations are promised. They can’t come soon enough.

B13. String ’em Up: Designation as an official city landmark is supposed to offer some protection, but don’t bother telling that to “developer” (this appears to be his only project) Eli Melech, who has been threatening for years to demolish the Bob Baker Marionette Theater and replace it with a puppet-themed apartment building. With a too tiny performance space on offer, the troupe made the tough decision to move on. You can find the road show in historic places like the Pasadena Playhouse and Santa Monica Pier, and chip in to help them plant new roots.

B14. Cooler Than Its Critics: This summer, after decades of neglect and derision, thousands came, like moths to the flame, to the derelict Los Angeles Mall to see Joseph Young’s Triforium come to life with flashing lights synced to live music. It’s a civic artwork, but this wasn’t a city production. Kudos to the grassroots team who pulled it off. Yet despite the great success of the Triforium Fridays series, the fight to save the Triforium is just beginning. The city has a plan to demolish the very plaza it sits on. At least now Angelenos are paying attention.

B15. Gehry the Vandal: Shame on Frank Gehry, who has gone to the courts to secure permission to demolish rather than integrate Kurt Meyer’s lyrical, landmarked Lytton Savings Bank. Meyer put his architecture career on hold to save Central Library; this fine architect and Angeleno deserves better than this.

B16. No Beano: Hideous blob proposed to obliterate Barney’s Beanery, a rare example of a Route 66 roadhouse in the heart of Los Angeles. The scraps of Barney’s facade propped under this mess add insult to injury.

B17: Location Location Location: Another landmarking designation promoted by an L.A. politician is Silver Lake’s streamline moderne steel Texaco station, a proposal that generated a great deal of anti-preservation sentiment before Mitch O’Farrell announced his real plans: to dismantle and ship the station out of the neighborhood. Frogtown has its own architectural landmarks; it’s silly and ahistorical to move one of Silver Lake’s character defining buildings down to the river.

B18. Abuse of Power: A few months before scandal-plagued Councilman Jose Huizar was removed as head of the PLUM Committee, he helmed a shocking meeting during which his crew struck down four newly-declared Hollywood landmarks, all of which conveniently stand in the path of the proposed Crossroads of the World mega project, and made snide remarks about the quality of the Cultural Heritage Commission’s work. We’ll take the CHC’s thoughtful dedication to preserving buildings of merit over PLUM’s development cheerleading any day. With the FBI now investigating Huizar, perhaps all his land use decisions deserve a fresh look?

B19. DOA: Landmark buildings are never more vulnerable than when tenants are evicted ahead of a redevelopment project. In October, Pierce Brothers Mortuary (1924), the crown jewel of West Adams’ Mortuary Row and until recently occupied by a church, was badly damaged by fire. But because the complex is a designated city landmark, the property owners can’t demolish everything, but must work with preservation experts to determine how to best to retain surviving elements and rebuild.

B20. The Best of Times: Because nobody else was doing it, we stepped up and landmarked The Los Angeles Times buildings, then watched as City Council’s PLUM Committee deferred to the wishes of disgraced ex-chair Jose Huizar and Canadian developers Onni Group and carved out the portion of the landmark that would be most profitable to demolish. But although this was an upsetting setback, Times Mirror Square isn’t done for at all. We will continue to shepherd the landmark through any proposed redevelopment, and with each step forward our preservation forces grow, and see clearly the kind of people who run Los Angeles and for whom. With the whole world watching, let’s see what they can get away with now.

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And that’s our report on the state of Los Angeles preservation for 2018. To see past years’ lists, click here: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012. And to stay informed all year round, see our Los Angeles History Happenings group on Facebook, subscribe to our newsletter and visit the Los Angeles Historic Preservation Hotspots map, where you can find nearby trouble spots.

Our guided bus tours return with The Real Black Dahlia on January 5, on the crest of the 72nd anniversary of Beth Short’s disappearance and an especially haunting date to walk in the footsteps of this fascinating and mysterious lady. This tour is nearly full, so reserve soon if you’d like to ride, then stay tuned as we kick off our 12th Anniversary Year of loving, preserving and telling the stories of Los Angeles. See you on (or off) the bus!

yrs,
Kim and Richard
Esotouric

Los Angeles Times Globe Lobby Emptied of Historic Resources Ahead of Landmark Hearing

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When the Office of Historic Resources received our nomination to make Times Mirror Square a protected Los Angeles landmark in June, notification was made to property owner Onni Group and to the newspaper’s new owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong that the historic resources described in the nomination were not to be disturbed, pending determination of landmark status. We understand that communication came not only from the Office of Historic Resources, but from the Mayor’s Office as well.

We were particularly concerned, because Dr. Soon-Shiong was giving interviews talking about the museum of L.A. Times history he hoped to build in the paper’s new headquarters in El Segundo, specifically mentioning wanting to move the enormous aluminum globe out of its namesake Globe Lobby.

We heard that workers had measured the globe and had an idea for how to get it off its art deco base and into a moving truck. And when we asked a conservationist who had worked on the lobby’s restoration, they told us that there was no way to remove the stone and metal base without destroying it. The base, too, is an historic resource listed in the nomination.

So we felt great relief once the nomination was received and everyone who might mess with the lobby understood it was not to be touched.

With the first hearing before the Cultural Heritage Commission just five days away, The Globe Lobby was supposed to be safe. But this morning, we saw posts on Times’ employee social media stating that the iconic eagle sculpture by Gutzon Borglum, which had survived the 1910 bombing of the Times and was one of the listed historic resources in the landmark nomination, had been removed.

We raced downtown to see for ourselves, and through the dark glass of the Globe Lobby doors found that the situation was even worse: the eagle was gone, and so were the sculpted busts of the newspaper’s first four publishers (General Otis, Harry Chandler, Norman Chandler and Otis Chandler). The Globe is alone, in a defaced space that looks like a plucked chicken.

We don’t know for certain if this is true, but the buzz on social media is that the sculptures have been removed by the Los Angeles Times and taken to the city of El Segundo.* This is a direct violation of Los Angeles’ historic preservation ordinance, and an action that shows a profound disrespect for the newspaper’s history, for the public and for the law.

Has respect for the rule of law ever mattered more than in 2018?

When we go before the Cultural Heritage Commission on Thursday, we will be advocating for the preservation of buildings that are among the most significant in Southern California. We have limited time in which to abstract the book-length nomination, calling out the important people, civic campaigns, industries and ideas that originated at Times Mirror Square, as well as the compound’s architectural significance. It pains us to have to dedicate some of that precious time to telling the Commissioners about this vandalism. It pains us still more to think that the new owner of the Los Angeles Times would do such a thing.

Please join us, through an email or in person, as we speak for the stone, the neon, the glass and the Globe… before it’s too late!


* update: Laura J. Nelson of the Los Angeles Times tweeted this photo, captioned “The @latimes eagle has flown the coop in downtown L.A. A security guard took this photo over the weekend.”

laura j nelson tweet of eagle removed july 16 2018

The Heather Apartments: A Long Goodbye

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Charles C. Rittenhouse built the Heather Apartments (1910) in the then-popular Mission Revival style. She was an unusually attractive building, with keyhole arches spanning the porch, rusticated stone and symmetrical towers.

Miss Elizabeth Stewart, Scottish stage star, thought she was just swell in 1911.

We have a theory that it’s bad luck to rename a public park after a war hero. Central Park started its long slide when it became Pershing Square, and the once-desirable residential neighborhood around Westlake Park lost its luster as MacArthur.

But a strong, handsome building like The Heather has always been a good investment, easy to rent, not needing too much upkeep. She last was sold in 1993 for $720,000, and seems to have operated without incident for more than a decade after. Then, just before the real estate bubble burst, the property owner must have gotten ideas.

The Heather cannot speak, so her story can only be pieced together from notes on the Department of Building and Safety website. In 2005, somebody filed a complaint about an Abandoned or Vacant Building Left Open to the Public.

A couple of years later, an inspector came, found illegal work taking place and wrote up the code violations: Electrical permit required for the new electrical installation. Maintenance and repair of existing building; construction work is being performed without the required permits. Plumbing permit is required for the installation of the new plumbing work. Stop all work.

Apparently, the extensive, illegal construction had left The Heather uninhabitable. Maybe the property owner couldn’t afford to do the work properly. No legal permits were pulled. For year after year, The Heather remained vacant, taking 26 rent-stabilized apartment units off the rental rolls as the city faced a growing housing crisis. Squatters pried open doors and windows and rested within The Heather’s walls.

The old girl stood tall and waited.

Architecture lovers noticed The Heather, neglected and unloved, but still beautiful. Many people hoped she might be preserved, might be full of people again. But nobody did the hard work of submitting a landmarking nomination, and the city failed to include her in SurveyLA as a significant structure deserving of protection. She was vulnerable and without friends.

April 2017, LAFD photo

Last spring, a fire broke out in The Heather, leaving the building open to the sky. The firemen from the station down the block fought hard to save their neighbor. She was still strong and beautiful. We went over with our friend Nathan Marsak, The Cranky Preservationist, and made a video about this great building and our worries about her future. (And yes, dear reader, he humped her.)

You’d think in a situation like this, where much-needed affordable housing stock was kept offline by an absentee landlord, the property creating a public hazard, that the city would insist on improvements. Not in Los Angeles. For more than a decade, this attractive nuisance rotted away, and nobody was held accountable.

After the fire, the squatters returned. It was only a matter of time.

Then last week, on the hottest day anyone could remember, The Heather burned again. It took firefighters almost an hour to extinguish the blaze, and when they were done, the proud old building looked ready to give up. Sadly, we returned to document the damage and wonder if we would ever see The Heather again.

We noticed that there was a demolition permit taped to the fence out front, and marveled at how quickly the city had moved to condemn after the fire. But no, the permit was filed in June, weeks before. Perhaps one of the squatters was angry and set the blaze.

At the time of the 2017 fire, the owner of record was Louis C. Gonzalez of 204 1/2 South Marengo, Alhambra. The Heather can’t tell us her story, and Mr. Gonzalez probably has a sad tale of his own to tell. Very few landlords set out to create blight, go without rent for years, or to see their buildings burn.

When the history of 21st Century historic preservation is written, there will be a special black-edged chapter about the crooked bankers who wrote crazy loans to people who could never pay them back, financing tens of thousands of flipped properties, their pretty old fixtures ripped out for Home Depot junk, and grand buildings like The Heather brought to a premature end.

RIP, old girl. So beautiful, and potentially so useful, even now.

 

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.

Angels Flight Railway graffiti removal

IMG_20160912_081521.jpg

Early on Thursday we got the word, via a Twitter photo posted by the good folks at DTLA Walking Tours, that Angels Flight Railway had been hit with a major graffiti bomb.

The rest of the day was a blur of emails and calls, seeking out the people who could do something about the mess and help keep it from happening again. Elsewhere in Los Angeles, other concerned citizens were doing their part, too.

Since it was Angels Flight that needed help, the city stepped up with enhanced police patrols over the weekend, and the earliest possible Monday morning crew from Graffiti Control Systems. And that’s why we found ourselves standing under the faded Angels Flight archway just after sunrise, sneakers wet with dew, helping former funicular operator John Welborne to supervise work on the National Register railcars, and shooting the photos and video you’ll find below. Big thanks to Paul Racs, Director of the Office of Community Beautification in the Department of Public Works, for all you did to make this happen!

Enrique, Joel and Ricky did their best, but unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to treat Angels Flight with kid gloves, and a layer of paint came off with the vandal’s mess. Ironically, this leaves the funicular shining a little brighter today than yesterday—but she’s also more vulnerable, as any further rough cleanings could expose the century-old wood under the paint.

Next, the city plans to tackle the filthy conditions along the Angels Flight stairs, which will make it easier for everyone who cares to spend a little more time keeping an eye on this landmark of old Bunker Hill, protecting her from harm while behind-the-scenes efforts continue to satisfy the demands of the regulatory agency and get Angels Flight Railway running again.

If you haven’t yet, please visit the Save Angels Flight page, where you can sign the petition and let Mayor Garcetti know that you care about Angels Flight and want to see her running again soon, explore a virtual version of the funicular and learn more about its history and preservation. We’ll be sure to let you know when you can take a ride.

yrs,
Kim & Richard
Angels Flight Friends & Neighbors Society (FANS)

Above the Dutch Chocolate Shop, A Mysterious Los Angeles Time Capsule

History-loving Los Angeles, sit down: we’re about to blow your collective mind.

You know, of course, that behind a rolled down grate in the heart of Downtown’s Broadway Theater District is a magical 1914 space called the Dutch Chocolate Shop, containing the largest collection of unique Ernest Batchelder tile murals in the world. If you’ve taken our Lowdown on Downtown tour (it rolls this Saturday), you might have even been inside.

Dutch Chocolate Shop

But have you ever wondered if there is anything else of historical interest preserved within the walls of 217-219 West Sixth Street? More marvelous art tile perhaps, or remnants of the building’s long history as a health food restaurant and cafeteria?

Recently, we had the opportunity to explore the entire building, hoping to answer this nagging question. We took the marbled linoleum stairs, heading into the silent, dusty spaces above and below the Chocolate Shop.

stairs

step risers

The basement and middle floors proved to be spare lofts, long stripped of detail, with the exception of occasional patches of vintage wallpaper or stacks of old doors.

silver wall

wall paper

On the top floor, though, things got really interesting. While we didn’t find anything as spectacular as the Dutch Chocolate Shop, we discovered that the building contains another fascinating, and most unlikely, time capsule of old Los Angeles: a nearly intact alternative (read: quack) medical clinic that operated on this site, on and off, from 1939 through the mid-1960s.

Exit

Ladies and gentlemen, we give you: the Dr. A. W. von Lange Health Institute, dispensing the good doctor’s signature Vienna Drugless System, a cure for all that ails you.

LAT 1953 von Lange ad cropped

Through some miracle of inertia, the abandoned clinic has remained intact, nearly unaltered, for fifty years, used until recently as storage space. A bit of yellowed marketing material left behind explains something of what went on here.

vienna pamphlet front

“Why Are You Sick?” the pamphlet inquired, before listing a distressing litany of potential maladies: Anemia – Appendicitis – Asthma – Bronchial – Cardiac Disorders – Bladder Trouble – Boils – Bright’s Disease – Catarrh – Chronic Cough – Colds – Colitis – Constipation – Dizziness (and the beat goes on for three more columns of solid suffering).

The potential patient is urged to Call MAdison 6-0951 and schedule a 6-point examination: 1) chest and lung x-ray, 2) circulatory test, 3) blood pressure, temperature and pulse study, 4) bone and joint exam, 5) stomach and colon x-ray and 6) cardiograph.

graphic patients in heat pack

With all that data, Dr. von Lange would be prepared to offer his cure-all recommendation: The Vienna Super-Heat Pack, which as far as we can gather from the vague terminology of the pamphlet and period newspaper ads, was a tight and toasty two-hour towel wrap meant to non-surgically bind herniated ruptures and get the recipient’s intestines working at maximum velocity to flush toxins out their backside. Also on offer: colonic irrigations and spinal adjustments (von Lange styled himself a Doctor of Chiropractic). A return to health should quickly follow.

A sufferer might avail themselves of the free two-hour parking in the Alexandria Hotel lot, then drag their wretched carcass around the corner to the Finney Wilton Building, where in the early years of Dr. von Lange’s practice they could fortify themselves with a snack in the tiled health food restaurant on the ground floor. But no eggs! This binding substance was firmly forbidden those who sought the Viennese heat treatment.

Japanese wallpaper

If immediate relief was their goal, the elevator would deliver them upwards to a long hall, at the center of which a receptionist sat beneath a charming expanse of Japanese wallpaper.

Upon presenting their complaint(s), the patient would soon be ushered back to consult with the doctor, a handsome gentleman with an old world accent, bright eyes and very little hair.

von lange naturalization photo

If the situation required it, and why wouldn’t it, the patient might then continue down the hall to the Hydro-Therapy Department, turning right if a woman and left if a man.

Women's Hydro-Therapy door

Here were, and remain, twin spa facilities behind frosted glass doors, each comprised of three tiled stalls.

stalls

One contained a peculiar low sink/tub contraption that we presume was involved in the colonic irrigation treatments. A heavy gold lamé shower curtain still hanging in front of this stall lends a certain Old Hollywood glamour to the space.

tub

gold curtain

These clinical rooms are connected by a short hall with a tiny water closet, through which nursing staff might quickly attend to the Vienna Super-Heat Packed on either side of the wall.

WC

It is a strange and intimate space where time seems to have stood still as the city grew up around it. And just as it’s been our great pleasure to share the Dutch Chocolate Shop with curious urban seekers, we are delighted to (virtually) share its upstairs neighbor. Here are a few more photos.

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Having seen Dr. von Lange’s clinic, we wanted to know more, and began digging into a variety of archival sources. For all his years ministering to Southern California’s unwell, Dr. von Lange left a faint, but intriguing, impression on the public record. From period advertisements, legal filings and news reports, this is what we know.

vienna lax tm filing

In 1934, he trademarked a laxative called Vienna-Lax which had been produced in his own Vienna Laboratory since 1931. (There is evidence of a dismantled lab in the abandoned clinic.) In 1935, it was being distributed at the Best Drug Stores chain in Los Angeles, $2 for the family size bottle.

rejuventation LAT ad

By 1939, he was seeing patients above the Dutch Chocolate Shop, with a suggestive ad in the Los Angeles Times headed REJUVENATION… “We rid the body of all poisons. Youth returns in consequence.” The Vienna Super Heat Pack, one was to assume, would turn an old goat into a young buck again.

terpezone ad 1937 physical culture magazine

Soon, the newspaper ads reveal, he was experimenting with different quack medical devices. In 1940, someone suffering a cold, asthma, sinus or bronchitis could, for $2, receive an examination and single treatment of Terpezone, ozone-rich oxygen vapor that emerged from a sinister box with the cheery claim that it represented the “revitalizing air of the Alps.”

Oh, and he wasn’t really Dr. von Lange. When he arrived in New York in 1914, aged 33, it was as Adolf Tworkowski, though we’ll have to take his word for it. A Pole, he was born in Brody and had most recently lived in Lemberg. Most citizens of Brody were Jewish, but there’s no evidence that our man was a member of the tribe.

He will later claim to have two American-born children, Adolf Jr. (b. 1918, New York) and Irene (b. 1920, Ohio), although strangely neither one appears in census or other vital records, and their mother is apparently a ghost.

Around 1933, Tworkowski somehow becomes proprietor of a health clinic in Long Beach. The established Vienna Health Institute on Pine Avenue is renamed American-Vienna, and moves to a prominent storefront on Seaside, opposite the Municipal Auditorium. Using the more euphonious and suggestively regal name Prof. Von Lange, and claiming training in Vienna and Budapest, Tworkowski takes out numerous ads in the annual city directory to promote his bowel-focused healing arts. But almost immediately, our man is on the move. Our guess: his clinic was damaged in the terrible March 1933 earthquake.

1933 Long Beach city directory ad

In 1934, he seeks to formally change his name from Adolf Ladislaus Tworkowski to Adolf Walter von Lange. He already had a beautiful signature at the ready.

von lange signature

It will be as Dr. Von Lange that he establishes his professional life in Los Angeles, primarily in the clinic above the Dutch Chocolate Shop. He marries the widowed Evelyn McCarthy of Indiana and they will live together, apparently happily, in a fine English house on Rossmore.

116 N Rossmore sold

But it’s not an Esotouric blog post without some crime and a mystery. First, let’s flash back to 1930, when we find our friend Tworkowski working a long con on the ladies of the Ontario Women’s Clubhouse, selling $20 treatments along with a concoction that we suspect may have violated the provisions of the 18th Amendment.

medicine show bust

A quarter century later, von Lange is an upright citizen, when something frightening happens in the clinic. A man walks in, seeking a diagnosis. But in the course of his intake session, he pulls a gun on the doctor. Both von Lange and receptionist Mrs. Lillian Haldane are tied hand and foot with shoelaces. The robber then ransacks the clinic, searching for cash. He finds nothing and splits, and the victims free themselves and call police.

gunman headline

At the time of this incident, von Lange is 74. A lesser man might well have wound down his business interests and retired to prune the petunias. But ads for the clinic continue to appear through early 1964, and he remains on lists of medical practitioners for another few years after that.

In 1970, Evelyn dies in Los Angeles and her body is shipped back to Indiana for burial. But, like his putative children, von Lange himself vanishes from the record. We do not know when, or even if, he died.

But somewhat miraculously, the doctor’s WW2-era clinic remains at the ready above Sixth Street, needing just a fresh coat of paint and new lengths of rubber tubing to again be at the service of eager health seekers. It is one of the eeriest places we have ever visited, and just one more reminder that one can never fully know Los Angeles.

What does the future hold for this fascinating time capsule? Stay tuned, and we’ll be sure to let you know!

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For more weird stories of lost Los Angeles, take one of Kim Cooper’s Esotouric crime bus tours, or check out her novel about Raymond Chandler investigating the real 1920s Great Eleven cult, The Kept Girl.

 

 

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.

Ghost Building: The El Mirador Apartments

Designed by theater architect S. Charles Lee and erected in 1929, El Mirador Apartments is one of the handsomest structures along an architecturally distinguished stretch of Fountain, just below the Sunset Strip.

The criminally minded among you might recall it as the site of model Judy Dull’s kidnapping by 1950s serial killer Harvey Glatman–a narrative included on our new Esotouric crime bus tour, Hollywood!

Recent years have been, if possible, more heartbreaking for El Mirador. The building fell into the hands of notorious landlord Jerome Nash, whose low opinion of his tenants as a very young man led to the creation of the Ellis Act, the law which is now being used to displace thousands of renters across California. In theory, the Ellis Act is meant to be used by small property owners when they want to get out of the rental business and out from under prohibitive rent control obligations. In reality, corporate property owners use Ellis to remove affordable rentals from the market, flipping attractive buildings into more profitable condos and hotels.

Not Jerome Nash, though. He apparently applied the Ellis Act to the El Mirador simply because he didn’t like his tenants or the City of West Hollywood reminding him that historic landmark buildings are supposed to be maintained safely and with period appropriate windows that don’t rain glass down onto the sidewalk. There were threats to tear El Mirador down, or turn it into some kind of swinger’s party pad. All the tenants were evicted. Five years and more have ticked away, the legal window after which an Ellis-ing landlord can do whatever they wish with their property. And yet El Mirador still stands vacant, boarded up with weeds growing on the steps, a haunted house in the heart of West Hollywood, the physical manifestation of one sick landlord’s contempt for his tenants.

You can see the lifeless building as it looks today in the photos below. Follow the sad tale of the El Mirador in this series of posts from Curbed LA. And dig into Jerome Nash’s dark heart in this LA Times feature on his family lawsuits. Or join us on the Hollywood! tour to see for yourself and hear of Judy Dull’s terrible fate.