“DREAMERS in Long Beach,” a DACA-inspired mural collaboration — in 3-D!

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

Today we’ve ventured south to the terminus of the 710 Freeway, where Street Artist in Residence and the City of Long Beach have transformed a pedestrian underpass into an open-air gallery in support of the 800,000 Dreamers whose futures are uncertain due to the Trump administration’s attempts to dismantle the DACA program.

It’s a weird, semi-subterranean space, concrete on all sides, windy and dusty, with mossy streams of fluid oozing from mysterious sources and cars racing just overhead. The river and city are both close, but out of sight. Here at the bend in the road, sunlight and shadow activate the powerful images of hope, anxiety, uplift and uncertainty. Infrastructure is humanized.

We invite you to take a virtual tour, explore the many creative responses to this moment in time, and think about what might be coming for this country just around the bend. Because history doesn’t just happen: people make history.

Dream on.

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” – Oscar Wilde, 1892

Esotouric’s Los Angeles Historic Preservation 2016 year-end list

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Gentle reader…

As we slam the door on 2016, 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 2017 will see some of the Bittersweets tip over onto the Gains side of the fence.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Gains of 2016:

G1. Spinning Wheel: On a hot day in sleepy Arcadia, where the last Googie-style Van De Kamp’s Holland Dutch Bakery restaurant (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.

G2. Ciao, Bella: One of Downtown L.A.’s most pathetic landmarks, the long-deteriorating Bank of Italy headquarters (1923) at 7th & Olive Streets, has finally changed hands and is currently undergoing a complete restoration as a boutique hotel. And not a moment too soon: the colossal metal entry doors were dissolving from uric acid.

G3: High Lights: For years, sign geeks have looked with longing at the rusting cans of the twin Hotel Californian rooftop neons, tucked away behind the Mulholland fountain in Los Feliz. Then in May, one of the signs appeared atop a brand new low-income apartment house on the site of the old Californian. Beautifully restored by Paul Greenstein, it awaits a last piece of permitting before it can once again illuminate the sky over MacArthur Park.

G4: Overnight Sensation: When we learned that an especially handsome 19th century Boyle Heights duplex was threatened with demolition, we asked the internet to speak on its behalf. Within hours, a preservation promise was made to save the Peabody Werden house, and in July we got to see the old gal moved to a nearby safe haven.

G5: Native Sun: Just as it seemed certain that the modernist home that exiled Nobel laureate Thomas Mann built for himself in Pacific Palisades would be replaced by a bland McMansion, the German government emerged as its new owner, with plans for a literary cultural center in the spirit of Villa Aurora.

G6. Googie Redux: In an age when classic diners are an endangered species, what a neat surprise to hear that The Penguin of Santa Monica is being converted back from a boring dental office to a jazzy all-night restaurant.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Losses of 2016:

L1. Iconic Absence: The Sixth Street Viaduct was the largest, last and loveliest of our city’s glittering necklace of landmark downtown bridges. Suffering from concrete rot, it needed to be replaced. Our friend Shmuel Gonzalez has documented the span’s sad last days, from grassroots gatherings to tumbling lamps. While common sense and the preservation community called for a full restoration, political forces chose instead an overwrought post-modern replacement. One day, years late and at tens of millions over budget, we’ll see it.

L2. Location, Location, Location: Usually it’s good news when an endangered piece of signage is carefully removed and placed in the care of an institution like the Museum of Neon Artbut not when that sign is as essential a piece of the urban fabric as the Sun-Lake Drugs facade. Preservation is place is better, and Silver Lake much less beautiful for its removal.

L3. Bad Taste: Under the guise of free “restoration” work, the city’s Rec and Parks Department encouraged interior decorators to run amok inside Wattles, Hollywood’s last grand mansion. The new look might appeal to the wedding planners who market the space, but historically, it’s a disaster.

L4. Hole In One: Who would have dreamed that that gang violence could take out an historic structure? RIP to the pretty little house on Pleasant Avenue (1901-2016).

L5. Lurid No Longer: When Charles Bukowski lived in the neighborhood, East Hollywood was the nearest thing to an L.A. red light district. Buk lamented “when you clean up a city, you kill it,” and a last bit of local color died hard this year when the owner of the Tiki Xymposium invested in a dull new sign.

L6. Eclipsed: Meanwhile, on Culver City’s vintage motel row, some lunatic tossed the lovely Half Moon neon in the dumpster.

L7. Tears Shed: Because developers saw no use for the Pacific Electric Trolley Shed in their new project, a cool relic of lost mass transit history went down. (The rail car that used to live there is mostly gone, too.)

L8. Adios: The quirky Casa de Petrol was kid sister to Sherman Oaks’ Casa de Cadillac dealership, and nearly unchanged from when James Dean was photographed filling up on the day he died. So naturally, developers smashed it to bits.

L9. Hamburgled: Downey folks treasure their original Stanley Meston-designed McDonald’s with its iconic golden arches. But in L.A., the arches were ripped out to make way for a smoky grill, and not much later, the whole building came down. Born 1957, died 2016.

L10. 99 and a Half Won’t Do: South Figueroa was L.A.’s original Auto Row, a zone of creative commerce where some of the world’s most exquisite vehicles were crafted and marketed. But you wouldn’t know that from the way the 99-year-old Hartwell Motor Company building was destroyed with zero public notice.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Bittersweet Moments of 2016:

B1. Stringing Along: Generations of kids have had their minds blown at Bob Baker’s Marionette Theater. Though a city landmark, development threatens the vintage attraction. We think there’s room for puppets and people on the site.

B2. Where’s The Beef: Hyperactive PR buzz touted the return of La Cienega’s beloved Tail O’ The Pup stand, but it turns out the new owners didn’t actually restore the vintage programmatic building. That landmark is still sitting in storage somewhere while a food truck turns out fancy franks. Meanwhile, to the east, the world’s biggest tamale is also in mothballs. We’d like to see them both brought back into photogenic service.

B3. Pershing Problems: Everyone agrees that downtown’s Pershing Square needs work. While thousands of Angelenos would like to see John Parkinson’s 1910 park plan restored, a design competition left restoration off the table; the jury picked the only entry that ignored the past. The proposed redesign is unfunded, and the fate of the park’s historic monuments remains uncertain. And now Rec and Parks has embarked on a bizarre series of modifications to Ricardo Legorreta’s 1992 plan. Amidst all this chaos, a moment of peace: Parkinson’s great-great-grandson crafted a digital version of the lost landmark.

B4. Research Wrecked: The Port of Los Angeles Archives, recently celebrated in a book and granted a dedicated reference library, have been mysteriously removed to an open dockside warehouse. Despite public outcry, the officials charged with protecting these unique documents remain silent as to why they’ve been placed in harm’s way and research access halted.

B5. World’s End: Paramount Pictures is eager to redevelop its studio lot upwards, and despite intense negotiations with preservation groups and the city, refuses to guarantee the iconic RKO Globe sign will be saved.

B6. Main Drag: The last stretch of modest, independent businesses along Main Street’s historic Skid Row face an uncertain future, their historic buildings threatened with demolition by the parking lot company that owns the land.

B7. Pereira in Peril: City planner, Time Magazine cover boy, Hollywood’s idea of an architect, William Pereira never got his due from the critics. Now, a campaign seeks to raise consciousness about his work just as several important local projects are threatened and things get hot at the Cultural Heritage Commission meetings. Can LACMA, the L.A. Times and Metropolitan Water District be saved?

B8. Hot Spot: There’s just something charged about the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights. Wild times at the Garden of Allah, teens rioting over curfew restrictions, and now a politicized preservation battle pitting citizen activists and the Los Angeles Conservancy against developers and their pals on City Council. Lawsuits and accusations are flying as the battle to save Lytton (rhymes with kitten) Savings ramps up.

B9. Half Empty: Welton Becket’s Parker Center is an elegant modernist office tower, one of the most architecturally significant buildings in the city’s portfolio. In a rare move, the Cultural Heritage Commission itself is opposing civic bean counters by advocating for its adaptive reuse.

B10. Deco Inferno: In 1938, veterinarian to the stars Eugene C. Jones commissioned architects Walter Wurdeman and Welton Becket, in a rare collaboration, to design a Streamline Moderne animal hospital. Decades later, the neglected structure was hidden behind overgrown trees, and its provenance deliberately obscured by development-happy politicos. West Hollywood Heritage Project discovered the subterfuge, and have tirelessly campaigned to save this endangered landmark. We were encouraged when the Los Angeles Conservancy joined the cause and sued West Hollywood to compel preservation, then horrified when the back side of the “vacant” building caught fire, with a homeless man, known to the owners to be living inside, killed by smoke inhalation. Arson and murder investigations are ongoing, and the preservation fight continues on appeal. Despite recent tagging, the building is still gorgeous, and worth saving.

B11. Fallen Angels: One especially romantic scene in the new film La La Land pours salt in the civic wound that is the stalled Angels Flight funicular railway, rubbed in when a local rag called the regulators for a quote that killed the non-profit’s major source of funding. In the 1211 days since the public was permitted to ride, the lovely little landmark has suffered grave humiliation, yet it remains fully functional and eager to serve. If only the Mayor would help!

*      *      *

And that’s our report on the state of Los Angeles preservation for 2016. To see past years’ lists, click here: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012. And to stay informed all year round, see our preservation page 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 in the new year with The Real Black Dahlia on January 7, on the crest of the 70th 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 for a 10th Anniversary Year packed with special events and surprises.

yrs,
Kim and Richard
Esotouric

Angels Flight Railway graffiti removal

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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)

While Los Angeles Waits: A Virtual 3-D Tour of Angels Flight Railway

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To go directly to the 3-D Angels Flight tour, click here

It has been 1005 days since Angels Flight Railway, the beloved funicular that is, with the exception of a stone retaining wall, the last remnant of the lost Victorian neighborhood of Bunker Hill, suffered a minor derailing incident and was taken offline by its regulator, the California PUC.

Last July, horrified to see a car defaced with greasy graffiti, we formed the Angels Flight Friends & Neighbors Society (FANS) and petitioned Mayor Garcetti for help in cutting the regulatory red tape. He responded quickly, instructing Metro to prepare a report. But nothing else happened, at least not in the public eye. And here it is, almost summer again, and there’s still no good answer to that burning question we hear so often on our historic tours: “When can we ride Angels Flight?”

We believe that everyone should have the chance to enjoy this unique time capsule of old Los Angeles. And it occurred to us that if Angels Flight can’t legally take paying customers, there’s nothing to stop virtual visitors from climbing aboard. Unfortunately, there’s also little to stop bad actors from climbing aboard, as we discovered yesterday evening, on arrival at Angels Flight.

While Craig Sauer prepared his 3-D Matterport camera rig to capture the funicular’s photogenic nooks and crannies, Angels Flight FANS Richard Schave and Gordon Pattison got busy scrubbing off the childish graffiti tags that covered Olivet’s windows, undercarriage, seats and beams.  This vandalism, funicular operator John Welborne said, was no more than five days old. Thanks, a lot, “Saucy.”

But how are people getting into the Angels Flight cars, normally parked in the center of the 298 foot track, high above the ground? We didn’t have to ask, for an intense young man suddenly appeared just below the station house, having marched boldly up the tracks from Hill Street. When John Welborne inquired what he thought he was doing, the trespasser cooed, “Are you a Scientologist?” and blithely skipped away.

So far, vandals have only scrawled on the cars, scratched their names into the glass and left trash behind. It is our great fear that one of these illegal visitors will cause more lasting damage that cannot be erased with elbow grease and Goo-Gone. So long as Angels Flight remains out of commission, it falls to all of us, from public agencies to private citizens, to keep our eyes on Olivet and Sinai, and to call for help if we see anything suspicious.

But enough fretting and fussing: strap on your wings and get ready to soar!

Craig Sauer at Angels Flight station houseCraig’s 3-D scan replicates the experience of boarding Olivet at Angels Flight’s upper station house on Bunker Hill. The car is empty, so you can sit anywhere you like.

ride on Angels Flight lasts less than a minute, but there’s no need to hurry. Poke around and explore, admiring the narrow slatted ceiling, bare incandescent bulbs and metal handrails worn from innumerable rising riders. Although moved half a block south from its original location and no longer hemmed in by Victorian apartment hotels, Angels Flight is essentially unchanged from the conveyance than carried generations of Angelenos from the heights down into the city. Once you’ve had your fill, simply head down the hill inside the car and you’ll arrive at the lower station house, just across from Grand Central Market, open late all summer long and the new home of our free LAVA Sunday Salons and Broadway on My Mind walking tours.

V on Angels Flight IMG_20160605_184149It was a pleasure to spend a little time with our beloved Angels Flight and bring back a special view to share. The best part was seeing the faces of Craig’s children light up as they experienced their very first ride on L.A.’s wonderful funicular. Let’s hope it won’t be much longer before they, their classmates and YOU can ride it any day of the year.

If you care about Angels Flight and want to see it running again, please sign and share our petition, and we’ll keep you informed about the preservation campaign.

If you enjoy Craig’s Angels Flight tour, we also recommend our previous collaborations: The Dutch Chocolate Shop, Barclay Hotel and a folk art tunnel along the Los Angeles River. What will be the next hidden Los Angeles landmark to get the 3-D treatment? Stay tuned!

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.

 

In Search Of… 1914 Hobo Inscriptions in the LA River

If you read our most recent newsletter, you know how excited we are to have learned that some 102-year-old hobo graffiti survives on the undersides of bridges in the L.A. River.

Today, we descended into the concrete channel with historian Susan Phillips to see some of her favorite pieces and seek out new discoveries of our own. (And yes–we actually found something–but you’ll just have to get on the next Eastside Babylon crime but tour to hear about it!)

Won’t you tag along on our journey into the strange, peaceful and historic riverbed?