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

A Map of the Presidents’ Heads (1789-2003)

In these trying hours, it’s helpful to remember that there once was a time when American politics was not the focus of every waking thought, and to console ourselves that one day it will once again be the boring sport of wonks.

To that end, we bring you this Map of the Presidents’ Heads, a piece of patriotic folk art that says “Eat my dust, Mount Rushmore: here’s every chief executive through 2003!” This astonishing work, by Korean-born artist Min H. Rhee, hangs in a private medical facility in the San Gabriel Valley.

Observe these leaders of the west, bewigged and balding, bold and pensive, crammed in willy-nilly from sea to shining sea. Remember that power is fleeting, art is democratizing and America is kind of old.

And ask yourself: “Is LBJ loaded?”

Answer: Yeah, he’s definitely loaded. And we’ll drink to that.

JK’s Tunnel: An Unknown Hobo Folk Art Environment on the L.A. River

When our friend Susan Phillips–the graffiti scholar who recently took us to the Confluence of the Los Angeles River and Arroyo Seco to see century-old hobo inscriptions–told us about a riverside tunnel that had been elaborately carved by one anonymous artist around 1940, we were eager to see it.

JK's Tunnel entrance

Today, we were able to satisfy our curiosity about the obscure site that Susan calls “JK’s Tunnel” while helping to document this extraordinary and hard-to-reach place.

Joining us was Craig Sauer, a photographer who uses Matterport 3D Showcase technology to create virtual tours of physical spaces. Most of his work is commercial (real estate), but he has a passion for offbeat historical spaces and reached out asking if we could help him gain access to someplace special. As it happened, we had just the site in mind.

Craig Sauer prepares to scan JK's Tunnel

Craig Sauer gives the thumbs up

After we determined that the level of light inside JK’s Tunnel would be low enough for details to be captured, we made the date. And this morning found our eager crew tramping through the high grass and down a little wash to explore the womb-like space where the mysterious JK carved his intriguing explosions of word salad.

JK's Tunnel 4 Leaf Klover

Probably using a railroad spike as a chisel, the artist painstakingly carved important words and phrases into the smooth concrete vault of the tunnel. He lists American cities and years and the names of guns. He writes LANA TURNER and STAY OUT OF JAIL. He writes MEXICO AND REBEL LAND.

And up on the ceiling he carves an urgent litany evoking wartime mass movement: TRUCKS AUTOS MAIL SHIPS PAINTINGS AIRPLANES ARMNENTS MUNITIONS FACTORIES JOBS POSTAGE MILLS BOTTLES KLOTHING SHELTER.

JK's Tunnel: WW2 Word Salad

Whoosh–can’t you just see it rushing by JK’s safe little tunnel home?

Who was this artist? On these walls, he calls himself John Kristian, Johnny K, Johnson Kraft, Johnny Kake, Journeyman Kavalier, John Kook and plain old JK. We don’t know his real name or when he was born or died, and maybe we never will.

We just know that sometime around 1940, he came to this quiet place by the river and took all the time he needed to capture the voices in his head on the smooth tunnel walls. And standing there inside JK’s Tunnel, with the trains and the river passing by, despite all the years and layers of paint from graffiti artists who came after, he spoke to us. Now through Craig’s wonderful 3-D rendering, he can speak to you, too.

 

George Ehling Mosaic House tour

High in the Hollywood Hills, the 1927 Spanish castle that top cinematographer Oliver Marsh built was in pretty shabby shape by 1967, when wrestler/actor/carpenter George Ehling picked it up. Instead of restoring, he transformed the place into something brand new. Over the years, and continuing to this day, George has coated almost every inch of the property with a mix of traditional and original mosaic patterns crafted from salvaged tiles he found in dumpsters — and a few prime specimens purchased on his world travels. These photos offer just a hint of the surprise and wonder of the Mosaic House.

Thanks to mosaic historian Lillian Sizemore for organizing this tour, and to George and Ivenia Ehling for welcoming us into their only-in-Hollywood home. Stay tuned on news about this wonderful folk art environment on its Facebook page George Ehling Mosaic House, and look for Lillian Sizemore’s article on the house in the next issue of Raw Vision Magazine.