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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Elegy for 1326 South Mariposa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Frankly, it smells.” – Our Public Comment on the Times Mirror Square Draft EIR

A week ago, after the Los Angeles Times broke the story that cracks had started to appear inside and outside the landmark Los Angeles Times buildings in January, and that Metro had prepared a report for Federal regulators, we asked the Los Angeles Planning Department to extend the period of public comment on the Times Mirror Square Draft EIR until that report was made public. The city declined, though it left the door open to accept additional comments.

So we submitted the following public comment on the proposed redevelopment project today.

 

William Lamborn
Major Projects
Department of City Planning
221 North Figueroa Street, Suite 1350
Los Angeles, CA 90012
<william.lamborn@lacity.org>

Re: Case No. ENV-2016-4676-EIR
Times Mirror Square Project
Public Comments

May 19, 2019

Dear Mr. Lamborn,

I am a cultural and architectural historian focusing on Los Angeles in the 20th Century, and the applicant who submitted the Historic-Cultural Monument nomination for Times Mirror Square (Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #1174).

This letter represents the public comment on the above noted Draft EIR both for myself, and for the Historic-Cultural Monument nomination team.

The Project has adverse impacts to the historic Times Mirror Square complex, and should under CEQA’s standards revert to one of the lesser impact Alternatives. A landmark of this caliber should not be subjected to a diminution of its cultural and architectural integrity through demolition of a contributing structure, nor through the creation of an historically inappropriate commercial Paseo.

1. DAMAGE TO TIMES MIRROR SQUARE BUILDINGS CAUSED BY METRO CONSTRUCTION

I write this public comment with a significant disadvantage, not having seen Metro’s report prepared for Federal regulators regarding cracking to interior and exterior walls that has been noted on the Project site as beginning in January 2019. The existence of the damage report was reported in the Los Angeles Times on May 12, 2019 (see attachment 1).

Without knowing the extent of the damage, which is apparently related to ongoing work for the Regional Connector Project, its current and potential future impact on the landmark structures and the cost and time needed to stabilize them before restoration can begin, it is difficult if not impossible to comment appropriately on the proposed Project and its Alternatives.

However, since my request on May 13, 2019 that, in light of the questions raised by the Los Angeles Times’ reporting, the period of DEIR comment be extended for one month was not granted, I will comment on the DEIR as it stands. I appreciate your responding on May 14, 2019 “in accordance with the CEQA Guidelines, that while not required, the Lead Agency may also respond to late comments that are received,” and trust that future public comments will be incorporated into the DEIR as more information is made public.

It is essential that Metro’s report be made available to the public, Office of Historic Resources and the Department of Building and Safety and additional comment taken before any decisions are made on the proposed Project and its Alternatives.

QUESTION #1: Will a full reporting of damage to Times Mirror Square be made available to the public and appropriate city agencies, and additional comment accepted, before this Project moves on to the next stage of the EIR process?

2. SEEMINGLY ARBITRARY DELETION OF BUILDINGS PROTECTED UNDER THE LANDMARK ORDINANCE, OCCURRING AGAINST THE BACKDROP OF AN FBI INVESTIGATION INTO ALLEGATIONS OF PUBLIC CORRUPTION

The process by which Times Mirror Square, the Historic-Cultural Monument impacted by the Project, has moved from the nomination process through the Cultural Heritage Commission, then to the Planning & Land Use Management Committee and then to City Council is highly unusual, and should be noted by the Planning Commissioners.

2a. BACKGROUND ON THE HISTORIC-CULTURAL MONUMENT APPLICATION

More than a decade ago, Ken Bernstein in the Office of Historic Resources informed me that his office would not accept a landmark nomination for anything less than the entire block, Based on this direction, I adjusted my plan to nominate the 1935 Times Building to include the Plant, Mirror and Executive Buildings. This more complex nomination, encompassing the work of three architects and spanning five decades of architectural advances and site history, required significant additional research and the assistance of numerous scholars.

Bafflingly, after the nomination finally was submitted to the Cultural Heritage Commission, the Office of Historic Resources staff report of July 2018, signed by Ken Bernstein and colleagues, stated that the Executive Building, which Mr. Bernstein had explicitly instructed me to nominate, was not significant. The Cultural Heritage Commission disagreed, and demanded that the staff report be amended to note the significance of William L. Pereira (architect of the Executive Building) and publisher Otis Chandler (who commissioned it). In the Commissioners’ opinion, the Times Mirror Square landmark includes the four interconnected buildings.

2b. FBI RAID OF JOSE HUIZAR’S CITY HALL OFFICE AND SUBSEQUENT PLANNING AND LAND USE COMMITTEE HEARING AND CITY COUNCIL VOTE

On November 7, 2018, Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar was raided by the FBI, then removed from his Planning and Land Use Management Committee chairmanship. Nevertheless, on November 27, 2018, the Planning and Land Use Management Committee deferred to Councilman Huizar’s request and altered the landmark nomination by removing the Executive Building. Thus, the nomination reverted to the opinion in the July 2018 Office of Historic Resources staff report and rejected the later determination of the Cultural Heritage Commission to amend the staff report and accept the nomination.

On December 5, 2018, City Council took up the matter of Times Mirror Square’s landmarking as part of a multi-item block vote, and with no comment or discussion, unanimously approved the altered landmark.

2c. REVELATION OF $50,000 DONATION BY TIMES MIRROR SQUARE DEVELOPER TO POLITICAL COMMITTEE ASSOCIATED WITH JOSE HUIZAR

On February 7, 2019, the Los Angeles Times reported that shortly before the Planning and Land Use Management Committee vote, developer Onni Group had donated $50,000 to a political action committee with ties to Councilman Huizar and his wife (see attachment 2). The appearance of a pay-to-play agreement between a politician and developer, in which a landmark was arbitrarily altered by the Planning and Land Use Management Committee in such a way as to ease the development of two towers on the property is deeply troubling, especially against the backdrop of a still developing FBI investigation in which other City Hall figures have been named, and even more so when it threatens the preservation of so iconic a Los Angeles landmark as Times Mirror Square.

Frankly, it smells. Times Mirror Square’s fate should not be decided under a cloud.

QUESTION #2: Will you wait until the ongoing FBI investigation involving Jose Huizar’s activity as the chair of the most powerful land use committee in Los Angeles is resolved before this Project, in which Mr. Huizar took a particular and personal interest, moves on to the next stage of the EIR process?

3. PROJECT ALTERNATIVES

Under CEQA, a project EIR must include a range of plausible alternatives, with the environmentally superior alternative designated as the best option.

3a. PROJECT ALTERNATIVES REFLECTING THE CULTURAL HERITAGE COMMISSION’S DETERMINATION

In the DEIR, there are three Alternatives, which reflect the determination of the Cultural Heritage Commission that the four main structures of Times Mirror Square, not including the Pereira-designed parking garage (see section 4. below), merit preservation.

These Alternatives are:
Alternative 1: No Project / No Build Alternative
Alternative 4: Partial Preservation Alternative
Alternative 5: Full Preservation Alternative

Additionally, these three Alternatives retain the eligibility of the entire Times Mirror Square complex to be listed as an Historic District on the National and California Registers, something that might not still be the case were the Executive Building removed and the west facing facades of the Times, Plant and Mirror Buildings altered with the creation of a commercial Paseo.

Alternative 4 has the additional environmental advantages of Reduction of Solid Waste and Reduction of Energy Use.

QUESTION #3: Will you only consider Alternatives that respect the determination of the Cultural Heritage Commission and treat the Executive Building as a protected historic resource?

3b. PROJECT ALTERNATIVES IGNORING THE CULTURAL HERITAGE COMMISSION’S DETERMINATION

The Alternatives that fail to meet the standards of being environmentally superior are:

Alternative 2: 20 Percent Reduced Density Alternative
Alternative 3: All Office and Residential Alternative

In the case of Alternatives 2 and 3, the architecturally and culturally significant Executive Building would be demolished, thus resulting in the necessity to restore the west facing elevation of Times Building. This facade was lost when the Executive Building was constructed, creating a new, integrated north and west facing elevation representing master architect William L. Pereira’s adaptation of master architect Gordon Kaufmann’s design.

3c. WHY ALTERNATIVES 2 AND 3 ARE ENVIRONMENTALLY INFERIOR CHOICES

Note that the Historic Architectural Resources Survey states that the Executive Building appears to be an historic resource, specifically “The Executive Building appears eligible for listing in the California Register and as a HCM under Criterion 1 for its association with the Times Mirror Company and under Criterion 2 for its association with Otis Chandler.”

The Times Building stood intact for 37 years (1935-72). It has existed in its present form, joined to the Executive Building, for 46 years (1973-present). As explained in detail in the landmark nomination, the Executive Building is the physical manifestation of the Los Angeles Times as a mature, progressive and award-winning newspaper, and of Times Mirror Company as the first media corporation in America, an enormously successful and influential organization. The Executive Building is the only structure in the Times Mirror Square compound associated with Otis Chandler, who transformed the backwater Los Angeles Times into a respected newspaper of national significance. Otis Chandler is explicitly named in the landmark findings, which note that “However, it was under Otis Chandler that the newspaper arguably made its greatest strides in the publication circuit. During his tenure as publisher, from 1960 until 1980, the Times was retooled from a small-scale publication into a nationally-acclaimed news outlet. He professionalized the paper by significantly investing in newsroom staff and expanding into other media markets. It was during this time that the paper was thrust into the front ranks of American journalism. Circulation doubled, and the paper won more Pulitzer prizes under the leadership of Otis Chandler than it had in all other eras combined.”

Any Alternative that requires demolition of the designated historic resource Executive Building erases the property’s association with Otis Chandler, and is inherently inferior to Alternatives that preserve the Executive Building.

Further, the landmark findings state that “Times Mirror Square also ‘represents a notable work of a master designer, builder, or architect whose individual genius influenced his or her age’ as a significant work of master architects Gordon Kaufmann, Rowland Crawford, and William Pereira…. The subject property is… a noteworthy project by Pereira. Throughout his architectural career, Pereira designed few, if any other, additions to existing buildings and the Times-Mirror Headquarters Building represents a unique commission within his body of work.”

Any Alternative that requires demolition of the designated historic resource Executive Building erases the association with William Pereira, and is inherently inferior to Alternatives that preserve the Executive Building.

QUESTION #4: Will you respect the determination of the Cultural Heritage Commission and consider the Executive Building as a protected historic resource, eligible for inclusion on the California Register?

3d. THE UNSUITABLE PASEO PROPOSAL

Finally, Alternatives 2 and 3 each call for the demolition of the Executive Building and the parking garage in order to create space for a block-long commercial Paseo pass-through. Such a development is directly contrary to the history of the site.

In the years following the bombing of the Los Angeles Times Building in 1910, newspaper publisher Harrison Gray Otis, and his successor Harry Chandler, chose to commission buildings that were physically hardened against potential attack. The Times Building is a solid cube of stone, steel and concrete, with few windows and limited means of access. There was never, even before the construction of the Executive Building, any public access along the west facade of the building. To pierce the west facade of the Times Building with commercial storefronts would create a false narrative that diminishes the imposing physical sense of the landmark, and erases the structure’s history as a building that intentionally is somewhat inaccessible and only entered through the Globe Lobby.

QUESTION #5: Will you reject Alternatives that call for demolition of cultural resources including the Executive Building to clear space for any such historically inaccurate Paseo pass-through?

3e. THE MISSING ALTERNATIVE

There is no Alternative presented which breaks down the environmental impacts of Partial Preservation with a taller South tower, preservation of the Executive Building and no Paseo.

QUESTION #6: Will you require the developer to show the impacts of such a Partial Preservation / Taller South Tower Alternative?

4. CORRECTING THE RECORD ON THE MATTER OF THE PARKING STRUCTURE

Finally, note that in Section VI-I (Other CEQA Considerations – Significant Unavoidable Impacts), a footnote states that “on September 20, 2018, the Cultural Heritage Commission recommended the designation of the entire block and found that the Executive Building and parking structure were significant for the association with Pereira.” This is not accurate. The parking structure is not included in my landmarking nomination, and there was no discussion of its preservation during the Cultural Heritage Commission hearings. The commissioners amended the nomination to protect and designate the Executive Building, not the parking structure.

5. CONCLUSION

You do not have the power to reverse the Planning and Land Use Management Committee’s seemingly arbitrary decision to declare the Executive Building insignificant. However, you do have the ability to take the unaltered Historic-Cultural Monument, as determined by the Cultural Heritage Commission, as your base for determining historic context. Under this criteria, only Alternatives 1, 4 or 5 are acceptable.

QUESTION #7: Will you respect the determination of the Cultural Heritage Commission and consider the Executive Building as a protected historic resource, eligible for inclusion on the California Register, and not consider Alternatives that call for its demolition?

Thank you in advance for your thoughtful attention to this most complicated, interesting and, dare I say, historic matter before you.

With All My Regards,
Richard Schave

Attachment 1 – Richard Schave DEIR public comment – Los Angeles Times article
Attachment 2 – Richard Schave DEIR public comment – Los Angeles Times article

 

Petition to Save the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre

UPDATED JULY 4, 2019 – Petition launched to Save the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre. Please sign and share. Read on for more details, or skip ahead to see our questions and concerns.

UPDATED AUGUST 13, 2019 – Public Comment is made at City Hall, and stories we’ve heard about what’s actually happening behind the scenes.

UPDATED SEPTEMBER 9, 2019 –  The Los Angeles Times features our campaign in a front page story. Also, government transparency blogger Adrian Riskin of MichaelKohlhaas.org publishes emails from Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s staff regarding Netflix, the American Cinematheque, The Egyptian Theatre, Hollywood Heritage and our campaign.

PRESS CLIPS: Will LA Stall Netflix Plan? Deal for Egyptian may face hurdles (Los Angeles Business Journal, 7/19/2019), Netflix Planning to Purchase Historic Egyptian Theater (Spectrum News 1, 8/7/19), Will Netflix’s Ownership of L.A.’s Egyptian Theatre Spark Backlash? (Hollywood Reporter, 8/9/19), Arpa International is First Confirmed Film Festival Cancellation, after 14 years at the Egyptian Theatre (8/14/19), Behind the Netflix Bid for Hollywood’s Egyptian Theater (Commercial Observer, 9/3/19), What happens when Netflix buys Hollywood’s iconic Egyptian Theatre? It’s complicated (L.A. Times, online 9/6/2019, front page in print 9/9/2019)

Click here to sign the petition.

Petition reads: As members of the American Cinematheque and patrons and fans of its programming, we demand transparency about the proposed sale to Netflix of the Egyptian Theatre and of the financial status of the non-profit.

The American Cinematheque is a membership-based non-profit organization that owns and operates the landmark Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, a building that was gifted to the Cinematheque by the City of Los Angeles for the symbolic price of $1. We understand that the theater is held in the public trust.

Currently operating without an Executive Director and with its charitable status listed as “Delinquent” due to incomplete tax filings dating back to 2015, the Cinematheque’s board of directors has apparently offered the Egyptian Theatre for sale to Netflix, the employer of board member Ted Sarandos.

The California Attorney General is currently investigating the American Cinematheque for its failure to file required financial information, its claim to have lost this information due to staff incompetence, illness and computer problems, and two unexplained outstanding loans to board members. (PDF link.)

In light of the ongoing financial mismanagement by the American Cinematheque board resulting in potential loss of its non-profit status, the board’s failure to hire a new Executive Director, the potential conflict of interest should board member Ted Sarandos’ employer Netflix purchase the theater, and the failure to inform the members that a financial crisis might require sale of the theater and threaten the very existence of the non-profit, we the undersigned call for a halt to any sale, and a public meeting at the Egyptian Theatre where representatives of the non-profit will explain the situation, take and respond to questions, and engage in a free, open and transparent dialogue moving forward about the future of this treasured membership-based non-profit and its sole asset, the Egyptian Theatre.

The future of the American Cinematheque and the Egyptian Theatre should be determined in an open conversation that includes the members and a qualified Executive Director, and not in secret by the board of directors and Netflix.

*   *   *

ORIGINAL BLOG POST – April 29, 2019: “Netflix In Talks To Acquire Hollywood’s Historic Egyptian Theatre From American Cinematheque”: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

The press release, sent out by a firm not associated with the American Cinematheque, must have gone out first thing on April 9. Deadline broke the story at 9:06am, followed by The Hollywood Reporter (10:31am) and Variety (10:50am).

The articles painted a narrative of a win/win solution for a cash-strapped non-profit rescued by a deep-pocketed corporation. The only person named was Ted Sarandos, the American Cinematheque board member who had recused himself from voting on the sale, since he is also an executive at Netflix.

Because the only information about the proposed theatre sale has come from internal sources, with no independent reporting, the news raises many more questions than it answers.

We love the Egyptian Theatre and care deeply about its long history on Hollywood Boulevard, which since the 1990s has been entwined with the American Cinematheque. We’re are troubled that such a major change would be announced as all but a done deal, at a time when the American Cinematheque lacks an executive director (Barbara Smith retired late last year) to advocate for the non-profit’s mission.

And we’re hearing privately from many people in the film revival and historic preservation communities who are also concerned, and confused that, weeks after the proposed theatre sale was widely reported in the industry press, American Cinematheque members have yet to receive any explanation at all.

Perhaps Netflix really is uniquely positioned to help a treasured non-profit that is in dire straits. But before a landmark theatre that was gifted to the non-profit and the city by L.A.’s redevelopment agency is sold, the board owes American Cinematheque’s members and the community an open and honest conversation about how and why it’s come to this.

Questions for the American Cinematheque board:

1. What are the board’s reasons for considering a sale of the Egyptian Theatre?

2. When did the board begin to discuss selling the theatre, and what motions were put forward?

3. Have any alternatives to a property sale been explored?

4. Have any potential theatre buyers other than Netflix been approached?

5. Are costly improvements that were funded by donations, like the 2016 state-of-the-art enclosed nitrate-stock projection booth, being included in the proposed sale? If so, what are the potential tax ramifications to donors including The Film Foundation, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, TCM, and the Academy Film Archive? Have donors been notified?

6. What are the conditions of the Community Redevelopment Agency’s $1 sale of the Egyptian Theatre to the American Cinematheque, and is it actually legal to sell the theatre to anything other than a non-profit organization that shares its mission?*

7. Why has the non-profit failed to file its required tax forms dating back to 2015, resulting in a “Notice of Intent to Suspend or Revoke Registration” being issued in April 2018, and why is it currently listed on the State of California Attorney General’s website as “Delinquent”? What actions are being taken to resolve these issues?

8. Is the board conducting an active search for a new Executive Director, and if so what is the status of this effort?

So, what could possibly go wrong? Here are some things to consider:

• A new owner of the Egyptian Theatre could seek permits to do major interior improvements. While historic elements of the structure are protected under the city’s landmark ordinance, public access and use as a movie theatre are not protected. It could become a corporate media VIP lounge, restaurant, private club, nightclub, co-working space or even a private residence.

• The news stories based on the press release suggest there would be an agreement from Netflix to allow the American Cinemetheque to continue using the theatre on weekends. Even if entered into in good will, such an agreement could break down for many reasons. Netflix might sell the theatre to another entity. Rental costs might become too high. The owner might decide that other weekend uses are too profitable to miss.

• Assuming the weekend schedule did work out, the American Cinematheque would have to focus on more commercial programming during its limited screening times. Membership would certainly decline among patrons who frequent the Egyptian Theatre and enjoy less commercial programs. Without the caché of the flagship Hollywood Boulevard theatre and high profile Cinematheque-associated festivals, fundraising for the non-profit could become more difficult.

• The American Cinematheque has business relationships with independent festival programmers like TCM, Cinecon and Noir City and industry unions like the Art Directors Guild. Could these entities continue to book the theatre, for the necessary dates and at a reasonable cost, if it was sold to a corporation?

• There are a number of historic businesses in Hollywood that benefit from a symbiotic relationship with the American Cinematheque, and would see reduced revenues if the Egyptian Theatre ceased to be a repertory house. These include The Larry Edmunds Book Shop, Miceli’s and Musso & Frank.

• The American Cinematheque through its non-profit mission provides some of the most affordable and eclectic cultural programming in Hollywood, not just on Friday and Saturday nights, but all week long. This is highly valued by residents, visitors and the local businesses that they patronize.

• How many jobs would be lost if the theatre was sold and the American Cinematheque scaled back its programming?

• And finally, there’s the matter of the Egyptian Theatre’s loading dock. Access to the historic loading dock is currently threatened by potential redevelopment of the parking lots behind the theatre. Commercial developers interested in the space have expressed a willingness to design any project so that the loading dock remains functional, as a courtesy to a non-profit providing a treasured service to the community. Just down Hollywood Boulevard at the Fonda Theatre, that commercial entity is not getting such courteous treatment from the developer next door, and there’s no reason to think that Netflix would. Without access to its loading dock, the Egyptian Theatre would no longer be a viable performance space able to accommodate the type of productions that it has hosted since Sid Grauman opened the theatre in 1922. It would be effectively neutered.

We believe that the American Cinematheque board owes the community a transparent conversation about why such a drastic change in operation is being proposed for the non-profit. We call on them to halt discussions of selling the Egyptian Theatre until such a time that the community is better informed, and the concerns of membership and preservationists are heard. We’ve asked for a meeting with board member Ted Sarandos, who recused himself due to his Netflix ties, but have not heard back.

[Update July 4: please ignore the following instructions and just sign the petition to express your concerns directly to the American Cinematheque, Mitch O’Farrell’s Office and the state Charities Registry] If you believe that the American Cinematheque board owes Los Angeles an explanation, please share this link with your friends and let the board know with an email to info@americancinematheque.com, and copy your message to tours@esotouric.com (that’s us) and daniel.halden@lacity.org (in Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office).

We almost lost the Egyptian after the Northridge Earthquake; millions in public funds and countless volunteer hours saved it. Lets not lose her now.

*Mission of the American Cinematheque: The American Cinematheque is a viewer-supported cultural organization dedicated exclusively to the public presentation of the moving picture in all its forms. The Cinematheque presents the best of film and video – ranging from the classics to the outer frontiers of the art form. The American Cinematheque was created in 1981 to honor and promote America’s indigenous art form — the moving picture; to present the full range of film and video, not otherwise available, to the widest possible audience; to establish a forum for an on-going dialogue between filmmakers and filmgoers; to provide a high profile exhibition facility for other independent film and video organizations; and to encourage and support new talent by creating a showcase for their work.

 

Celebrate William Pereira’s 110th Birthday by Taking A Selfie With Buildings You Love

William Pereira with plans for both UC Irvine and the City of Irvine.

Today, in partnership with The Late Group, we celebrate the 110th birthday of William Pereira, one of the most influential shapers of mid-twentieth-century California. His scope and innovations range from the LAX Theme Building (our Eiffel Tower) to LACMA (the cultural crown of midcentury Los Angeles), from Marineland of the Pacific to CBS Television City, from the Disneyland Hotel to UC San Diego’s Geisel Library, from the Transamerica Pyramid to UC Irvine. At dynamic aerospace and university campuses, Pereira defined the look of Imperial California when the state’s high-tech industries, media, recreation, and lifestyles were spreading across the nation and circling the globe. It was an up-to-date Modern architecture that was pushing into new creative territory as seen in the work of Craig Ellwood, John Lautner — and William Pereira. His buildings embodied the self-confidence and creativity of Californian’s in this progressive era.

Today this legacy — and this self-confidence — is under threat as Pereira’s L.A. Times Chandler Wing, LACMA, and the Metropolitan Water District face demolition.

On the map below, Pereira designs that are at risk of being lost are shown as flaming points. Help raise awareness and show your love for Pereira by visiting your favorite local landmark, taking a selfie with the building and sharing it on social media with the hashtag #PereiraForever, from April 25, 2019 (William Pereira’s 110th birthday) and all through California’s Preservation Month of May. Vintage photos are also welcome, or landmark only shots if you are shy. Learn more about the Pereira in Peril campaign here.

Who Blew The Whistle On the USC Architectural Artifacts Warehouse Heist?

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Freeman House by Julius Shulman, 1953 (Getty Research Institute Los Angeles)

In exposing one distressing historic architecture world mystery, The Los Angeles Times might have just solved a second one.

As we read The Times’ story about the unreported theft of significant decorative objects from a Los Angeles warehouse, we were reminded of a lingering question regarding the curatorship of Greene & Greene’s Gamble House, a landmark that is jointly managed in a partnership between the University of Southern California and the City of Pasadena.

Below are several news stories and events, all related to significant Los Angeles County architectural landmarks with links to USC.

February 3, 2019 – Based on an investigation sparked by an anonymous tip, The Los Angeles Times reveals that priceless Frank Lloyd Wright and Rudolph Schindler furniture and artifacts were stolen from a USC warehouse circa 2012, but that no police reports were ever filed.

June 7, 2018 – Chicago auction house Wright sells a single textile block from the USC-owned, Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Samuel Freeman House, an artifact with poor provenance, for $5000. Weeks later, “The Times received an anonymous email describing the warehouse theft. The author also included a link to the auction and wrote that even if the sale was not connected to the theft, it was troubling. How could the tile have fallen into private hands when its ownership had passed directly from the Freemans to USC, the writer asked.”

August 10, 2018 – It is announced that Gamble House curator Ted Bosley intends to depart at the end of the year after 28 years over “differences of approach between himself and USC School of Architecture leaders over the future of the Craftsman icon.” No explanation of the differences of approach is given, leaving lovers of Greene & Greene’s great residential commission concerned, especially in light of the recent series of serious administrative scandals at USC.

We can’t help but wonder if recently departed Gamble House curator Ted Bosley is the anonymous tipster who alerted The Los Angeles Times to the USC warehouse theft, and if he lost his university position because the administrators who covered up the theft learned that he blew the whistle.

The community deserves to know the truth—about the warehouse theft, about any other losses of significant historical material in USC’s care, and about exactly how USC intends to do things differently at the Gamble House. It would be very sad if a dedicated professional was dismissed for doing the right thing, when USC would not. For while USC is charged with the responsibility of maintaining these landmark properties, they actually belong to you.

A Rare Tour of Dr. George Hodel’s Whimsically Weird Childhood House

Some believe that the architecture of the home that a person grows up in has a profound influence on their developing mind. So while the open-plan modernist houses of mid-century suburbia provided ample space for computing pioneers to imagine new worlds, it’s not surprising that a kid who had to bed down in Lloyd Wright’s stark Mayan-inspired Sowden House might hatch some dark ideas about the father who paid the mortgage.

Sowden House is a Los Angeles landmark and a fascinating example of a traditional Spanish casa infused with material innovations and the theatrical needs of Hollywood’s social set. But as you’ll see in this explorable 3-D scan from our ongoing series, it’s pretty creepy.

Young George Hodel, whose tenancy has given Sowden House a lasting notoriety, briefly lived with his parents in a very different, but no less remarkable, dwelling. Just across the Los Angeles River and up the artsy Arroyo, on the edge of South Pasadena, stands The Hodel Residence and Tea House, a designated Los Angeles landmark (HCM #802) designed by genre-hopping Russian architect Alexander Zelenko in 1921.

Thanks to Esotouric pal Thessaly “The Ukulady” Lerner (she composed our podcast theme song!), who had the pleasure of renting the landmark, we’re pleased to share rare views of the Hodel Residence at 6412 Monterey Road. With its storybook details and theatrical spaces, Zelenko’s design makes a lasting impression.

We like to imagine the young George Hodel, a musical prodigy, entertaining his parents and their cultured friends from the balcony above the hearth. How different everything might have been, had he raised his own family in this fairy tale dwelling, and not across town in the shadowy house of mystery!

And yet, there was the strangest little reminder of Steve Hodel’s abiding belief that his father is The Black Dahlia’s murderer: Thessaly directed us to park, not on Monterey Road, but above the house… on SHORT WAY. Coincidence, or something more sinister?

We hope you enjoy your visit to one of the most eclectic residential landmarks in Los Angeles. Click the first photo to explore. And to hear a little more about George Hodel, join us on the Real Black Dahlia crime bus tour. The next date is on April 20.

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

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

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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 (Update: the second hearing is Thursday, September 20 and we still need your comments and emails!). 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. (Update: the second hearing is Thursday, September 20 and we still need your comments and emails!) These buildings shaped the Southern California we love, and they deserve to be preserved.

Workmanship of such poor quality is not acceptable.