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

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

How Canadian Developer Onni Group “Preserved” the Art Deco Seattle Times Building

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before:

A venerable local newspaper, fallen on hard times in the aftermath of the financial crisis, sells its architecturally-significant, centrally-located Art Deco headquarters and two attached buildings, comprising an entire city block, to a multi-national development company. The developer expresses affection for the site’s history, and makes preservation of the main newspaper building the centerpiece of a proposed project. The twin-tower mixed-use residential, retail and public plaza project is vastly out of scale and requires zoning changes. When preservationists express concern about protection of the historic resources, they’re assured that the developer is a good steward with the best intentions. Besides, we’re in a housing crisis, so build, baby, build!

Sound familiar? If you’re a Californian, you might recognize the beats of the recent history of the Los Angeles Times, with the paper’s real estate split off under Tribune’s ownership and its historic headquarters sold to Vancouver-based Onni Group.

But the story you just read is actually about the landmarked Seattle Times ( Robert C. Reamer, 1931), which Onni Group purchased in 2013 and neglected so profoundly that the normal rules for protected buildings were waived: in February 2016, Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections approved (archive link) immediate demolition of the landmark for reasons of public safety.

November 2015: “Squatters leave the old Seattle Times building at 1120 John St., after waking up during Thursday’s fire” (Steve Ringman / Seattle Times)

During the first three years of Onni’s ownership, the Seattle Times became a squatter’s den (archive link), home to hundreds of homeless people, their pets and their troubles. Metal thieves operated openly, stripping the landmark of its historic artifacts and plumbing. The squatters were rousted, but immediately returned, prying off the thin plywood panels Onni Group installed to keep them out. When the police ordered the landlord to properly secure the building, Onni Group missed the deadline. Taxpayers covered the costs of constant police and paramedic calls. There were fires, overdoses, gas leaks and suffering that can’t be quantified.

Then came the wrecking ball and bulldozers, spelling the end of the Seattle Times and a clearing a nearly clean slate for a massive development, recently changed from housing to office towers, in the shadow of the Amazon.com headquarters.

February 2017: An old press that once printed the Sunday color comics section is partially exposed. (Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)

(But before the walls came down, the newspaper building told one last story. Up on the roof, a hand-made banner went up the flagpole. The Times printed a photo and reported on the common ¢ents activists who were calling for Seattle’s hundreds of vacant buildings to be made available to serve the city’s homeless population. That’s a conversation Los Angeles should be having, too.)

Demolition began in October 2016. Today, just a couple of sad walls from the landmark Seattle Times building survive, and Onni Group is busily building upward.

The Art Deco Los Angeles Times Building is not a protected city landmark like the Seattle Times Building was. We believe it should be a landmark, which is why we’ve filed an Historic-Cultural Monument application, which is now under consideration, with a hearing on July 19. At the direction of the Office of Historic Resources, our application includes all three entwined historic structures on the site: Gordon B. Kaufmann’s 1935 Times Building (including the Globe Lobby and its fixtures), Rowland H. Crawford’s 1948 Mirror tower and William L. Pereira’s 1973 corporate headquarters. These three buildings together tell the story of the Los Angeles Times and Southern California.

Some people believe that it’s only Pereira’s building that is threatened by Onni Group’s plans. But the Pereira can’t be demolished without tearing a giant hole in the Art Deco Kaufmann building’s west facade. And the Pereira is a good, if unfashionable, building that deserves to be considered on its architectural merits, which are largely invisible from street level, but reveal themselves when you step inside.

As Harry Chandler told the Los Angeles Times, “Developers are wont to change their minds based on market conditions, not preservation needs. [Onni] is not an L.A. company and they don’t have credentials for caring for historic buildings in our city. We shouldn’t leave that to chance.”

He’s right.

Onni Group might prove to be a better steward of our great newspaper’s home than they were in Seattle. It would be hard to be a worse one.

But let’s not just take their word for it. Please join us at the Cultural Heritage Commission on Thursday, July 19 and speak for the stone, the neon, the glass and the Globe. These buildings shaped the Southern California we love, and they deserve to be preserved.

Workmanship of such poor quality is not acceptable.

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

king edward 3d preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, enough background. So what about the crime?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REWARD

with any info

CONTACT Kim and Richard

tours@esotouric.com

213-915-8687

http://www.esotouric.com/KingEddyDoor

Will an illuminated Marciano Art Foundation sign be allowed on Millard Sheets’ Masonic Temple?

File under: when a “landmark” isn’t actually landmarked, property owners can make some pretty big changes.

Last month, we blogged about the newly opened Marciano Art Foundation, which has radically transformed the interior of Millard Sheets’ Scottish Rite Temple on Wilshire Boulevard.

Because the building was never made a protected Historic-Cultural Monument, there were essentially no restrictions on the changes that could be made to the building. But with the exception of some regrettably removed decorative lettering on the west facade, the magnificent exterior is largely as Sheets intended it.

Maybe not for long, though. This morning, our pal Joseph Hilliard spotted a notice of public hearing taped to the base of one of the huge braziers on the Wilshire side: the Marcianos are seeking approval to install a 16 square foot illuminated sign on Wilshire, as well as a 1.5 square foot unlit sign on Lucerne.

According to the posted notice, the matter was discussed yesterday afternoon at a meeting of the Los Angeles Planning Department, and it’s unclear if any decisions were made there. If you’re interested in the architectural integrity of Millard Sheets’ great temple, keep an eye on DIR-2017-2270-DRB in the city’s workflow. And if you’ve been meaning to photograph the grand old pile, get cracking.

Searching for Millard Sheets’ genius and Masonic relics at the Marciano Art Foundation

For as long as we can remember, the mysterious, windowless lodge building has stood on its prominent Wilshire site, an hermetic, masculine balance to the social, feminine Ebell Club just across the boulevard.

scottish rite exteriorDesigned by Southern California symbolist extraordinaire Millard Sheets, he of the Home Savings mosaic murals that sold the regional lifestyle to passing motorists and prudent savers, the Scottish Rite Temple (1961) is Southern California’s last great Masonic hall, a Gesamtkunstwerk from its exterior mosaics, instructional texts, high relief figural sculptures and giant unlit braziers to the unknown mysteries within.
scottish rite brazierSadly, it is also a block-long grave marker for a once-thriving fraternal organization that failed to inspire new generations of free thinkers. Rites ceased in 1993, and litigious neighbors and insufficient parking made it unsuitable as a secular event space.

Enter the Marciano brothers, designer jeans moguls, contemporary art collectors, seekers of vast amounts of square footage in the heart of Los Angeles. They picked the white elephant up for $8 Million to become what was initially presented as a private museum.

Flash forward several years, and that private museum is now open to the public, with timed, free ticketed entry Thursday-Saturday.

Which is how we found ourselves at long last stepping into Millard Sheets’ most mysterious commission, intent on seeking out elements of the design that have survived architect Kulapat Yantrasast’s transformation of the Temple and its dedicated theater, dining room, library and myriad club rooms into spaces suited for showing big, new and site-specific artwork.

It was immediately obvious, gazing up at the west facade, that the building has been stripped of much of its Masonic context. The ghosts of a lost gold metal text on the theme of Faith, Hope and Charity were visible between symbols of the Mason’s craft. (Google streetview captured the lost text nicely in 2009.)

scottish rite lost textOne of the gracious attendants explained that Millard Sheets’ son Tony had come and removed the golden letters, as well as a number of interior mosaics, and that they were now held in the artist’s archive. But we could see one large Sheets mosaic inside and another on the eastern exterior wall.

That east facade is Sheets’ largest mosaic commission, a history of Masonry from the ancient world to gold rush Sacramento.

scottish rite history mosaic 1

scottish rite history mosaic 2

Here we go, then, on a preservation-minded photo tour of L.A.’s newest contemporary art space, featuring reclaimed Masonic theatrical backdrops, high art water fountains and a forest of hidden creatures. Behold!

Over the first gallery hover two huge celestial lamps, their symbolism obscure.

scottish rite mezzanine lamps

scottish rite lamp detail

Step to the right, behind a half wall, to see the handsome Wilshire Boulevard entry, decommissioned due to security concerns.

scottish rite wilshire entryStripes of pebbly gold tiles stand out against the gorgeous stone walls

Just past the lobby, a carpet of jewel-toned terrazzo flanks a bay of be-compassed elevators.  masonic rite elevator bay

scottish rite elevator doorPeel an eye for those artful water fountains, both gilded and tiled, but none of them working.
scottish rite gilded fountain
scottish rite tile fountainThe vast first floor once contained the 1800-seat theater, where 33rd Degree Freemasons gathered to watch their esoteric history represented through elaborate theatrical productions. As befit the grandest lodge in the world’s motion picture capitol, the Wilshire Boulevard Masons didn’t skimp on stagecraft, make up or costuming.

It’s an odd thing, but when the Masons sold the building, they didn’t deliver it vacant. The new owners discovered a great quantity of abandoned stuff, some of it even older than the building, all of it odd. These bits and pieces have been retained and some of them displayed, in various states of integrity.

The inaugural temporary exhibition in the now-gutted theater is a multimedia installation by Jim Shaw, who made his name as a curator of thrift store paintings. Here, he presents a number of enormous theatrical backdrops hung at angles, their already cryptic significance amped up with the addition of iconic cartoonish characters and a dramatic light display.

Enter the International House of Pain and to your left, on an enormous panel, damned souls writhe in a hell of their own making.

scottish rite house of pain

scottish rite hellscapeThis spectacular vintage piece is left unaltered, and if one stands in just the right spot, the viewer’s shadow appears like the Spectre of the Brocken to menace the writhing forms.

scottish rite brocken

In the center of the space, a super-colossal George Washington vacuums up flattened fellows through a vintage Hoover attachment emerging from his loins.

scottish rite georgeLook out for the scenic artists’ stamps and signatures.

Esoteric genealogists on the internet enjoy speculating that Barbara Bush might be the secret daughter of occultist Aleister Crowley, and these two colorful characters appear in an intimate shadow play behind an abandoned mini mall.
scottish rite bush and crowleyAt right, in a tidy glass storefront space, vintage Masonic character hairpieces are displayed alongside weird rugs imagined by the artist.

scottish rite wig museum

It’s up to you to figure out which are new and which Masonic. (Hint: look for the dust of decades.)
scottish rite wig museum explosionIt’s here that contemporary art makes its strongest comment on the historic space: through the museum window is a painting of a stylish mid-century couple pausing with their baby’s carriage in front of a jewelry store window. The invisible child is of the generation that abandoned Masonry and its philosophical pursuits, and civic dedication to building up Los Angeles, dooming the Scottish Rite Temple to irrelevance.

The scene changed as a spotlight came on somewhere behind, casting the ominous shadow of a shopping cart, eternal symbol of consumerism and of L.A.’s 40,000+ homeless souls, onto the scrying glass shop window. Fate is a mother.

scottish rite shopping cart

But the clock was ticking (visitors are only allowed two hours in the parking lot) and we knew there was one large-scale Millard Sheets mosaic somewhere in the building. We were determined to find it, and eventually we did. At the very back of the upstairs gallery, in a gutted white room filled with big paintings and sculptures, a false wall hides a forest scene set in a stunning expanse of black glass tesserae.

scottish rite sheets tesserae

Step behind the wall and crane your neck. In spite of the ill-placed track lighting and awkward space, this beautiful, rhythmic piece with its lively animals is well worth seeking out.

scottish rite richard looks at sheets

scottish rite sheets gold trees
sheets racoons detail

The historically minded will also want to seek out the small exhibition gallery on the mezzanine. Here are relics of this lodge, and artifacts of older Los Angeles lodges, with a focus on theatrics and publications. We suspect these are leftovers from the short-lived Masonic museum of the early ‘oughts. The collection would benefit from more informed interpretation: one of the scant labels incorrectly states that the original Masonic Hall on the Plaza downtown has been demolished.

Artifacts include a theatrical maquette which could benefit from a little attention from the restorer.
scottish rite maquetteA gilded mosaic globe post, obviously from the Sheets studio.

scottish rite globeA set of racially insensitive figural busts.

scottish rite bustsJust a few of those that originally offered inspiration for theatrical character transformations.
scottish rite backstageNovel head gear and character sheets.
scottish rite hats

scottish rite turbans Striking costumes.


A banner from the oldest Los Angeles temple (still standing, darn it!).
scottish rite plaza banner

And when the sun is just right, the stained glass surrounding the reversed, double-headed eagle, one of the original building’s few sources of exterior light, is just lovely.

scottish rite eagle window scottish rite eagle window detail
Less appealing to preservation-minded visitors is the multi-screen video installation “Ledge” by Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch. If you’ve got the stomach for it, you can duck beneath a cramped awning to watch helium-voiced characters on a mock ghost hunt run amok inside the original building, before the historic spaces were gutted and the artifacts offered to artists who the Marcianos collect. While we wanted to see the lost space, we could only take a couple of minutes of the intentionally irritating show.

But that’s not all! An unexpected Millard Sheets discovery awaited us in the bookshop: an expressionistic forest mural, only partially obscured by stock displays. (It would be great if some kind of guard were installed here to protect the paint from abrasion.)

scottish rite bookstore mural scottish rite bookstore mural signature
Confident that we’d found all the relics and artifacts on view, we made our way out into the blinding Los Angeles sun, puzzling over the tough experience of finally getting inside a fascinating landmark, and finding nothing there.

Because the Scottish Rite Temple that Millard Sheets, a layman and a genius, created for the Freemasons of our city no longer exists. The walls still stand, with a few of the integrated artworks designed to illuminate the teachings of the masonic craft, but all context has been carved away.

The temple, small t, is now a shell that contains the experiences and aspirations of the new Los Angeles. It represents some positive things: the patronage by the wealthy of working artists and a social space whose usefulness is yet to be revealed.

But it is also a promise broken, as cryptic objects once the subject of deep study and revelation are openly displayed for the uninitiated. It is the masons (small m) who failed their temple. Now it’s up to the new Los Angeles to make something good of what’s still here.

A little bit of the Dutch Chocolate Shop goes on tour at Pasadena Museum of History’s “Batchelder: Tilemaker” exhibition

These are heady times for lovers of the Arts & Crafts movement, as the Pasadena Museum of History celebrates the gift of Dr. Bob Winter’s incomparable Ernest Batchelder collection with a fascinating and eclectic show on his influential Arroyo pottery. Batchelder: Tilemaker is on view through February 12, when we’ll be hosting a special bus tour of the master’s Downtown Los Angeles tile installations.

Included in the exhibition are magnificent fireplaces and miniature salesmen’s samples, bookplates and business cards, corbels and plaster casts (from a horde used to shore up a Los Feliz hillside for decades, then miraculously recognized and preserved), even a virtual reality headset which lets you explore donor “Bungalow Bob’s” Pasadena home and garden, formerly Batchelder’s.

Dutch Chocolate Shop mural

But the piece we’re most excited about is the one we had a little part in bringing to the museum: one of the “lost” tile murals from Downtown’s landmark Dutch Chocolate Shop, removed in the mid-1980s when a door was opened between the DCS and the contiguous Spring Arcade building. Geographically, we understand that it made sense to take this mural down. But with its prominent back wall placement, Batchelder ensured  it contained one of the most commission’s most charming scenes: a young couple in Dutch garb walking a handsome hound. Hidden from view for decades, the unrestored panel has a proud central spot in the new exhibition, and we hope you have a chance to see it.

When you visit, leave a time for the amusing show across the hall, Cast & Fired: Pasadena’s Mid-Century Ceramics Industry. If you’ve spent much time in antique malls or thrift shops, you’ll recognize the kitschy novelties that emerged by the thousands from Pasadena kilns: scrawny hillbillies, cartoony woodland creatures, exotic Asian figurines and stylized owls. It’s a small revelation to see the work of specific designers clustered together, along with select sketches and color studies. Look especially for the wee set of ceramic fascist figurines by Twin Winton and the Roselane flat cat.

An Esotouric Road Trip: Cupples House, Saint Louis

Most Saturdays, we host a few dozen “gentle riders” on the Esotouric tour bus, revealing the lost lore of Los Angeles through visits to landmarks both notable and obscure.

Because most of our passengers are Southland locals, we don’t offer tours during the busy Christmas season, which gives us the opportunity to play tourist ourselves. Mid-December found us on a breakneck architecture-rich road trip along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Join us, do, for a virtual journey (map) from St. Louis to Louisville ahead of the brutal December storms.

We flew into Saint Louis, picked up a rental car and headed straight to the Samuel Cupples House on the campus of Saint Louis University, a magnificent red sandstone Richardsonian Romanesque merchant’s castle laden with leaded glass, carved wood and quirky antiques.

Cupples House facade

Now on the National Register, in the early 1970s the mansion’s interior was in rough shape from decades of heavy use as a student center and the exterior stonework stained black from soot. Demolition was planned when “Father Mac,” a natural preservationist who wouldn’t take no for an answer, announced his intention to save, restore and repurpose the place as an historical museum. And boy, did he ever!

 

The student docent at the front desk gave us a thick booklet explaining the decorative symbolism in each of the 42 rooms, then set us free to wander until the daylight faded. From a cosy red-flocked library with generous window seat…

Cupples Library fisheye

to elegant dining rooms, every surface polished to a high sheen…

Cupples House dining room

to charming fireplace surrounds, each one different than the one before…

Fireplace, Cupples House

to charming rafter rooms, pressed into service as wee art galleries….

Cupples House round arch

and briefly outside again, to admire the generous porch and its softening sandstone details ahead of the dusk…

Cupples House porch

And finally up to the highest point of the house, to gaze out over the ugly modern city through a charming metal frame. Could architect Thomas B. Annan have conceived of such a world when he constructed Mr. Cupples’ castle? Maybe only in his nightmares.

Cupples House view

Although the old world has great appeal, it was getting late, and we knew there were adventures to be had out there in the new. So we said goodbye to the house that Father Mac brought back from the brink of demoliton, and went out to find them.

See more photos from our exploration of the Cupples House here and here. And stay tuned for further adventures on the road.