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. At the direction of the Office of Historic Resources, our application includes all three entwined historic structures on the site: Gordon B. Kaufmann’s 1935 Times Building (including the Globe Lobby and its fixtures), Rowland H. Crawford’s 1948 Mirror tower and William L. Pereira’s 1973 corporate headquarters. These three buildings together tell the story of the Los Angeles Times and Southern California.

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

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

He’s right.

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

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

Workmanship of such poor quality is not acceptable.

For our 12th (linen) wedding anniversary, we delivered the Bradbury Building basement hoard to the Huntington Library

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Twelve years ago this week, Alicia Bay Laurel married us in the garden of the Velaslavasay Panorama with psychic cats, a cool jazz trio, eats by Papa Cristo’s, Ernst Haeckel sheet cakes, Scholium Project wine (thanks, Abe), and all our friends. It’s been a wild, sweet ride so far!

Being married to someone who shares your passions is a lot of fun, and our greatest shared passion is uncovering and preserving the history, culture and built environment of Los Angeles.

Anniversary gifts aren’t compulsory in our home, but over the years we’ve given each other a neat collection of L.A.-centric books, photos and artifacts. This 12th year (traditional: linen), the gift was more conceptual, and maybe the best one yet, because we get to share it with future generations, and with you.

A few years ago, we got to know the McKelvey family, the owners of the Bradbury Building from the 1940s through 1989. Their loving stewardship helped preserve this 19th century landmark against serious threats to its survival. It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time not very long ago that the Bradbury Building was considered too vulnerable to fire or earthquake to keep its occupancy permit. Through faith and hard work, minds were changed and the building saved. Every L.A. architecture lover should breathe a sigh of gratitude to the McKelveys.

While working in the Bradbury basement one day in 1986, Paul McKelvey stumbled across a collection of very old architectural renderings and blueprints. They were delicate and interesting, so he tucked them in a rainbow colored ski bag for safe-keeping, and ended up carting that bag from place to place for the past three decades. Could we see them, we asked? Sure!

And from a high shelf, covered in the dust of decades and tumbling out all over Paul’s work table, came a stunning collection of early Los Angeles landmarks: Doheny Mansion, Good Samaritan Hospital, the Old Soldier’s Home in Westwood, Bullocks Wilshire. And such storied names: John Parkinson, John C. Austin, A.C. Martin, Theo Eisen, Sumner Hunt.

We carefully unrolled a few of these time capsule documents of landmarks lost and still standing, marveling at the tiny, precise penmanship, the backstage details, the penciled additions suggesting a quick conference with the client.

Among the rolls was a single sheet we gasped to see: the Third Street facade of the Bradbury Building itself, a blueprint bearing the early construction date of 12/25/1891 and the name of that remarkable architectural neophyte whose design for the demanding silver magnate Bradbury continues to astonish. George Wyman built me, says the blueprint. (The newspapers of the time said the same, but a stubborn conspiracy theory claims the real architect was Sumner Hunt, and that Wyman was elevated in a mid-century prank by the science fiction crowd on architectural historian Esther McCoy. It’s nice to have more evidence to put that claim to rest the next time our pal Nathan Marsak, The Cranky Preservationist, taunts us with it.)

Naturally, we wondered what Paul planned to do with the collection. He didn’t really know. He’d removed the documents from the basement to protect them, had looked after them for 32 years, and felt the weight of the responsibility. He was open to handing these artifacts off, if the right home could be found. So we introduced him to Erin Chase, assistant curator of architecture and photography at the Huntington Library, and after expressing great interest in the collection—and observing that the Bradbury blueprint is the only known 19th century rendering of this beloved landmark—she explained how the Huntington would preserve the delicate plans, digitize them, contextualize them in a massive collection of related material and make them available for researchers, should he chose to make a gift.

After discussing the proposal with his family, Paul decided the Huntington was the right home for the Bradbury Building basement hoard. And that is how we found ourselves celebrating our anniversary by driving down to Laguna Beach to pick up the famous rainbow colored ski bag and its contents, and delivering the lot to Erin Chase at the Huntington the next morning.

We’re so pleased that we could play a part in ensuring these fascinating documents are preserved, and concluding their journey in the climate controlled aisles of the Huntington archive. If you’re a researcher who would like to consult them, keep an eye out for the finding aid once the collection has been fully accessioned.

But maybe there will be a chance to see part of the collection as soon as this fall, when the Huntington will host Erin Chase’s timely exhibition, Architects of a Golden Age: Highlights from The Huntington’s Southern California Architecture Collection. Will something from the ski bag make the cut? After the sheets are stabilized and given a deep cleaning, we sure hope so. You’ll just have to see the show to find out.

For now, we hope you enjoy this small selection of images from Paul McKelvey’s generous gift, a glimpse into a thrilling time in Los Angeles, when the town was small but filled with ambitious architects and businessmen yearning to make a mark, and some terrific buildings got made.

Esotouric’s Los Angeles Historic Preservation 2017 year-end list

Gentle reader…

As we slam the door on 2017, 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 2018 will see some of the Bittersweets tip over onto the Gains side of the fence.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Gains of 2017:

G1. Angels Sing: After several years of non-operation, during which time the lovely little landmark suffered grave humiliation, Angels Flight Railway returned to daily service, thanks to a private partnership cemented by the Mayor’s Office, in direct response to the pleas of civic petitioners like you.

G2. Such A Lovely Place: After Westlake’s Hotel Californian burned in 1995, only the most optimistic preservationist—is there such an animal?—dared dream its massive, rusting twin neon roof signs would ever glow again. But dreams can come true when people care enough to do the work. And while a recent transformer issue has temporarily shut off the lights, soon you’ll again be able to marvel at that sweet script in the sky.

G3. In Sacred Memory: Angelenos who fell in the Great War have no better friend than Courtland Jindra, the modest preservation powerhouse who sleuths out the locations and histories of local war memorials, and has recently added restoration to his resume. Victory Memorial Grove was a forgotten ruin on the edge of Elysian Park, but thanks to Courtland and his crew, it is once again a beautiful place of remembrance, with new tree plantings to come.

G4. Dream Factory: Against the backdrop of Hollywood’s hyper-development excess, one project stands out for its audacious attempt to redesign Sunset Boulevard itself. Named for the exquisite National Register landmark at its eastern edge, Crossroads of the World seeks to demolish dozens of 1930s apartment units and the historic art deco HQ of The Hollywood Reporter. But not so fast, bulldozers: thanks to the passionate advocacy of local preservationists and historians, our company town landmark now has some civic protection. Special thanks to the Art Deco Society, with its new focus on writing landmark nominations.

G5. Final Exit: The Hotel Cecil was just another of Downtown L.A.’s 1920s-era low-income residency hotels, and occasional stop on our true crime tours, when a pitch-perfect internet-era mystery captured the world’s attention. While Vancouver tourist Elisa Lam’s sad death inside the rooftop water tower was ruled accidental, public fascination with the Cecil’s supposed curse has only intensified. But despite the lobby’s unfortunate recent faux finishes, the old girl has great bones, and new management that’s sought and received historic landmark designation. Restoration coming soon.

G6. 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 a little less uncertain now that it’s passed the first hurdle on the road to becoming an Historic Cultural Monument. Cheers to John Girodo of Hollywood Heritage for writing a terrific nomination.

G7. Home Is Worth Fighting For: Hurrah for Lena Kouyoumdjian, who successfully nominated her lovely rental, in one of Echo Park’s rare surviving bungalow courts, as a landmark. These distinctly Southern California compounds are rich with history, and provide a rare sense of community in the heart of the city. But Wurfl Court faced that growing threat: demolition of historic rent-stabilized housing stock for a newly-permitted “small lot development” of high-priced tiny houses. Of note: landmarking is contagious, and successful nominations inspire future fights.

G8. Sugar Pill: The Cranky Preservationist went down to Sugar Hill, West Adams to gripe about the hipster murals that had defaced a fine old house (inside and out), but it turns out 2200 Harvard has been sold, and is finally getting some respect.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Losses of 2017:

L1. Joe Friday Wept: The Cultural Heritage Commission tried, but couldn’t overcome City Council’s plan to clear a large plot by City Hall for development. In the cross hairs: Welton Becket’s masterful mid-century Parker Center (“not one of [his] best works” – Councilman Jose Huizar, justifying a travesty), the world’s first modern police administration building and the finest International Style structure in L.A.’s portfolio. Demolition appears inevitable, but first the city must document the building, and ensure the removal and re-installation of integrated art pieces by Joseph Young and Tony Rosenthal. Preservationists and even one of the architects lament the city’s short-sightedness.

L2. Hot Stuff: Since 1910, the magnificent Mission Revival-style Heather Apartments have occupied the slightly sinister address of 666 South Bonnie Brae, but it’s years since anyone has lived inside. In April, the Santa Ana winds picked up an arsonist’s spark and tuned this derelict gem into kindling wood. The fire department’s photos are astonishing, and the Cranky Preservationist aghast.

L3. His Horrid Hobby: Imagine, if you will, spending years painstakingly restoring a magnificent 1902 mansion by Griffith Observatory architect John C. Austin, seeing it declared a landmark, then selling for a pretty penny. A happy ending, yes? Not when the buyer is serial home wrecker Xorin Balbes (not his real name), who felt that all that gorgeous dark wood had to go. Just a few months later, the “protected” Higgins-Verbeck-Hirsch Mansion is languishing on the market, the best illustration we know for how desperately Los Angeles needs an interior landmarking ordinance.

L4. His Excellency Regrets: Sometimes we only learn of a landmark when informed of its pending loss. Such was the case with a fine Koreatown mansion which, we discovered when researching the address, had been the home-in-exile of Mexican Revolutionary General Maytorena. Illegal demolition stymied any attempt at saving the home or its stunning stained glass.

L5. Park It: It’s no secret that we’re in love with John Parkinson’s 1910 design for Pershing Square, and yearn to see it return. But that doesn’t mean we’re enjoying the city’s slow destruction of the extant Ricardo Legorreta + Laurie Olin Brutalist park plan and its integrated artwork. Meanwhile, an unfunded redesign scheme now proposes to block the classic Biltmore view with LED lights. Is it so hard to just do the sensible thing and restore?

L6. No Room To Grow: It’s ironic, as LACMA scrounges around for a billion dollars to finance demolition of its iconic 1965 William Pereira campus for a slightly smaller Wilshire-spanning mausoleum, that it leased A.C. Martin’s & S.A. Marx’ streamline moderne May Company department store to the Academy for a museum of the movies. That project has hit some potholes, but none deep enough to stop the removal of the back half of the building.

L7. Storm The Bastille: When hillside Silver Lake bar-restaurant El Cid demolished half of its sidewalk-facing wall, it broke our hearts. Although altered somewhat since 1925, that windowless facade, with a wide door at the center, was built as a daffy roadside attraction, the Jail Cafe, featuring waiters in prisoner stripes serving swells chicken dinners, with no silverware, inside mock jail cells. The world is a little less weird for loss of that wall.

L8. Lights Out: A concerned fan sounded the alarm that Vermonica, artist Sheila Klein’s beloved 1993 installation of historic L.A. streetlights had mysteriously vanished from its East Hollywood parking lot home. Turns out, street lighting staff had reclaimed the poles, but failed inform the artist. Something that is Not Vermonica currently shines on a nearby city building, but Klein and the Mayor’s office are now in talks to bring the real deal back to the city that loves it.

L9. Brookfield Broke It: When the Community Redevelopment Agency demolished every building on Bunker Hill, Los Angeles was promised something new and useful in return for the lost Victorian neighborhood. High-rise developers received huge subsidies to provide public art and amenities, in return for agreeing to maintain these civic handouts. Flash forward to last week, when Brookfield Properties, recent buyer of Wells Fargo Tower, illegally demolished landscape architect Lawrence Halprin’s Crocker Court (1983), an oasis of running water, mature plants and world-class sculpture.  The timing couldn’t have been more shocking: a touring Halprin exhibition was at the A+D Museum, and the Los Angeles Conservancy had just toured the site. The Cranky Preservationist explains where the buck stops, here.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Bittersweet Moments of 2017:

B1. Bad News: It’s been a long, slow slide for the Los Angeles Times since the Chandler family sold the paper. The Chicago owners continue to bleed its assets, recently selling the landmark (but not actually landmarked) newspaper buildings to Canadian developer Onni Group. Onni is marketing the compound as a hip work space, with Times staff likely evicted by summer. If the newspaper leaves, what of the magnificent Globe Lobby? It would be a civic and aesthetic crime to take it apart, even assuming the newspaper still owns its artifacts, which is uncertain.  As for William Pereira’s masterful, if misunderstood, 1973 addition: Onni wants to demolish it for twin glass towers. There’s a reason no local developer bought the Times compound: if respect for a Los Angeles institution was included in the equation, the financials just didn’t pencil out. That’s not an issue for foreign investors. So if any local billionaires are reading this, it’s your last chance to buy paper and preserve its historic home.

B2. Covina on The Nile: Covina Bowl (Powers, Daly, and DeRosa, 1956) closed last March, leaving fans and preservationists concerned about the fate of the wildest Egyptian-Googie bowling center in the world. Eligible for the National Register, the exotic white elephant patiently waits for a visionary to save it, or a villain to knock it down.

B3. Frank Slept Here: Doug Quill is a filmmaker with an office on the old United Artist’s / Goldwyn Studios lot. When he learned that Frank Sinatra’s personal bungalow was threatened by demolition to make room for a DWP infrastructure project, he petitioned to save it. It seemed the least he could do, since his grandfather had played in Sinatra’s band! After Doug asked for help from the DWP Commissioners, the bungalow got a stay of execution while possible solutions are explored. It’s not saved, but still standing, so there’s hope.

B4. Rhymes With Kitten: We’re big fans of architect Kurt Meyer, who was the firm hand at the CRA that ensured that Central Library was preserved and restored. Now one of his own finest buildings, the marvelous mid-century Lytton Savings, is threatened. Although recently designated as a landmark, starchitect Frank Gehry refuses to adapt his project to spare Meyer’s work. It will be up to the courts, City Council and the continued dedication of Lytton lovers Steven Luftman and Keith Nakata, to keep this art-drenched Sunset Strip gem intact.

B5. Attractive Nuisance: Victorian Los Angeles provided a safe place for its indigent and ill, a vast farm and industrial complex called Rancho Los Amigos, aka The Downey Poor Farm. Today, its decaying buildings are fenced and shuttered, which only sometimes keeps out the urban explorers who have defaced the buildings with graffiti and set a series of major fires. But after decades of indecision, the County is taking a serious look at how best to redevelop the site, and we’re encouraged to hear that preservation of existing structures is on the table.  Hopefully, affordable housing will be on the table, too.

B6. Elegant Decay: Also in Downey, are things finally looking up for the columned Rives Mansion, a National Register landmark badly neglected by its “owners” (owners in quotes, because they stopped paying their mortgage years ago)? Finally, after a fence collapsed from the weight of accumulated garbage, the bank and city took notice. The mansion sold in December, hopefully to a preservation-minded buyer.

B7. Adobe Don’t: One of the oldest houses in Los Angeles County, home to a California Governor, molders away in the middle of a Bell Gardens trailer park, desperately in need of roof and electrical work and informed interpretation. A recent L.A. Magazine feature looks at the Gage Mansion preservation problem, but fails to cover all the drama of our years-long public access battle. For that story, join us on the South L.A. Road Trip!

B8. A Dog-Gone Shame: 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. But a judge has ruled against  preservation, which leaves us hoping developer inertia leaves the door open for the still gorgeous building to be moved. If it falls, it won’t be without notice.

B9. Too Cool Too Lose: After initial discussions about demolishing not just the buildings, but perhaps even the prominent hill on which they sit, serious architectural and landscape guns were brought in to redevelop William Pereira’s neglected Metropolitan Water District HQ, a prime focus of our Pereira in Peril campaign. We’re watching this project with cautious optimism.

B10. Star Power: Another day, another Pereira in Peril (there’s LACMA, too, see L6 above). CBS Television City, the world’s first and most glamorous purpose-built TV production studio, is on the market. Concerned that inflated land values make demolition likely, the Los Angeles Conservancy has stepped in with a landmarking nomination, their first such attempt to preserve an endangered Pereira compound.  In a Times Op-Ed, ironic since their own Pereira building is endangered, Zev Yaroslavsky highlights the need to preserve an architectural and cultural treasure that supports high paying professional jobs.

B11. Pulling Strings: The landmark Bob Baker Marionette Theater will be be demolished, but Baker’s magical puppet shows going to return to a new theater inside the development project slated for the site.

B12. Men Behaving Badly: For film fans, the sudden shuttering of the Cinefamily non-profit was a cultural loss. For emotionally abused employees and volunteers, it was a validation and relief. But preservationists and Hollywood historians lament the closure of the Silent Movie Theatre in its 75th year of operation, and hope this isn’t its final curtain.

B13. Tails We Lose: For all the owners’ big talk about bringing the beloved Tail O’ The Pup stand out of storage and restoring it for a new generation of photo ops and quick meals, nobody did the actual work required to launch a restaurant. The end of the line for the promised roadside revival is a static museum display. And the original wasn’t even in the valley! Meanwhile, to the east, the world’s biggest tamale is also in mothballs.

B14. Daffy Deco Gone Dark: Among our most-missed tour stops is Monrovia’s incredible Aztec Hotel (1924), actually Mayan-inspired and designed by eccentric English architect Robert Stacy-Judd, who held court there in ancient Central American ritual garb. The National Register landmark has had hard times since the start, with repeated foreclosures and some downright peculiar “restoration” work. The hotel reverted to the bank in 2011, and was purchased by a Chinese investor. Although the storefronts remain active, and the restaurant recently reopened, the hotel remains inaccessible, undergoing agonizingly slow renovations. We’re hoping for a grand reopening in 2018.

B15. Band-Aid Solution: New chain-link fencing ruins the beauty of Pasadena’s National Register Colorado Street Bridge. It’s not that we’re insensitive to how important it is to help people thinking of self-harm, but the bridge already has integrated suicide prevention fencing that was installed when it was restored in 1992, which blended in with the design of the span. This new fencing is very ugly, and blocks off the alcove benches that give pedestrians a place to rest and look at the view. The bridge deserves better, and we’re glad to hear the city will be exploring alternative designs.

B16. Stone Drag: Charles Fletcher Lummis saved the California Missions, and did much to preserve the history of Native Americans and Mexican California. If only that great Western booster was around to advocate for the preservation and reactivation of his own historic home El Alisal, city owned, minimally managed by Rec and Parks, and brimming with potential. Every year that goes by without regular cultural programming at Lummis House is a heartbreaking civic failure.

B17. Just Because You Can: Everyone loves the Bradbury Building, California’s greatest surviving Victorian commercial space. Well, everyone except the uninspired folks behind the insensitive LED lighting scheme which makes the exterior remarkably ugly after dark.

B18. Doesn’t Mean You Should: When William Kesling’s streamline moderne Wallace Beery House (1936) was recently on the market, the listing highlighted its remarkable condition and unique machine-age charms. The realized price reflected the home’s condition and rarity. What an unpleasant year-end surprise, then, to learn it had been purchased by a developer eager to demolish the house for a dense cluster of condos. Preservationists have kicked into high gear, hoping to protect this gem.

B19. Vegas on Vine: Remember Onni Group, the Canadians eager to evict the newspaper from the Los Angeles Times building? They’re busy in Hollywood, too, with an outrageous proposal to erect a landlocked cruise ship looming over the lovely Afton Square District, which is designed on the California State Register. The project seeks a 35% density bonus, and proposes to move a collection of historic bungalows around like pawns on a chessboard and demolish a fine 1930 Art Deco market. Although presented as 429-unit apartment complex (hey, L.A. needs housing!), we suspect it will be another unpermitted hotel, a destructive model Onni got in trouble over at home in Vancouver before importing to L.A.

B20. Spinning Wheel: On a hot summer’s 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. Last week, after just 18 months of service, the restored Van De Kamp’s windmill blade fell off the tower. A few days earlier, we saw no sign of trouble. Locals are shocked and eager for assurance that Denny’s will re-restore, but as yet there’s been no official word on what went wrong or on plans for the sign’s future.

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And that’s our report on the state of Los Angeles preservation for 2017. To see past years’ lists, click here: 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 6, on the crest of the 71st 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 11th Anniversary Year of loving, preserving and telling the stories of Los Angeles. See you on (or off) the bus!

yrs,
Kim and Richard
Esotouric

Lloyd Wright’s Sowden House, 1920s Hollywood Landmark & Black Dahlia Suspect’s Lair

Welcome to the sixth in a series of 3-D explorable tours of historic Los Angeles spaces, created by Craig Sauer using cutting-edge Matterport technology. This one is special, as for the first time in our partnership, Craig got us inside a building we’ve been longing to explore!

A decade ago we launched Esotouric with our flagship tour, The Real Black Dahlia. And on nearly every Dahlia tour, someone asks us about the murder suspect George Hodel and his sinister-looking house on Franklin Avenue. Although we don’t subscribe to his son Steve’s theory that George Hodel killed Beth Short in the basement, the house itself is fascinating.

Constructed in 1926 by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son and collaborator Lloyd Wright, using techniques similar to the elder architect’s “textile block” concrete forms, Sowden House is a classic Spanish Rancho-era California home filtered through a Mayan Art Deco sieve and updated for the jazz age theatrical set who lived to entertain. Presenting a blank white wall to the world outside, the house opens up to a magnificent sun-dappled courtyard, ringed all around with public and private spaces.

While we’d never been inside, the house could be understood by consulting a lovely set of 1971 Marvin Rand photographs and plans for the Historic America Building Survey (HABS), viewable on the Library of Congress website and above.

In 2001 Sowden House was purchased from its seventh owners by crystal-loving designer Xorin Balbes, who in the course of “restoring” the National Register and Los Angeles landmark, added many garish contemporary touches. He also apparently demolished the site-specific sculptural tiled bath. In recent years, the house has been used as a filming location and hosted George Hodel’s son Steve poking around the basement with a “cadaver dog” named Buster, seeking evidence of a seventy-year-old slaying.

But you can’t keep a misguided preservationist down, and Mr. Balbes has moved on to ruin other significant Los Angeles buildings, like the Hiram Higgins, or Willard house, a strong candidate to top our annual list of historic preservation nightmares. Sowden House was sold in 2013.

And just this summer, its tenth stewards took possession of Lloyd Wright’s bold building. Among their first acts was to ask Craig Sauer to document the property with an immersive 3-D scan—but only after the thick jungle of yucca, palm, bird of paradise and banana that has obscured the facade for years was removed. And like a handsome man who finally shaved off his awful beard, all we can do is wonder what took him so long.

As you click to enter the newly stark facade through Craig’s Matterport scan, then ascend the spartan staircase—ignore the contemporary rustic risers, which were originally bare concrete tile tread—you’ll find a house that is happily regaining its architectural integrity. Gone are the climbing vines and thorny succulents that clogged the edges of the courtyard, which Mr. Balbes had already rendered semi-usable with poorly-proportioned small pools instead of replicating the lost 32’ pool with its upright block structure supporting a water organ. The textured walls and columns change subtly as the sun moves across the sky and night falls.

The new owners are philanthropists dedicating to helping animals, promoting art and artists, and supporting social activism. They founded Canna-Pet and its non-profit organization, Pet Conscious, and plan on sharing the Sowden House as an event space to connect with other foundations and nonprofits in the L.A. community and help with fundraising. Perhaps an evening at Sowden House is in your future? But for now, we urge you to explore this Los Angeles treasure at your leisure.

But one part of the structure doesn’t appear in Craig’s scan, so don’t bother looking. Although every armchair Dahlia-ologist is curious about the basement in which George Hodel did or didn’t do something terrible to Beth Short in 1947, Craig felt that it just wasn’t architecturally “interesting” enough to merit the effort of scanning. So here, for your ghoulish pleasure, is a view of the dirt-floored basement and its primitive raised storage platform. We couldn’t visit the house without seeing it.

Now when we offer our Real Black Dahlia tour, as we will again on October 7, we’ll be able to direct interested parties to virtually explore the house where George Hodel danced a delicate duet with the cops he knew were bugging him. Maybe they’ll spot a clue, or one of the pussycats who are getting settled in to their new home. Certainly, they’ll be ensorcelled by this marvelous place!

A LAVA tour of Downtown L.A.’s Subway Terminal and Tunnel

 

 

Subway Terminal tunnel on LAVA tour June 2017 by Kemal Cilengir

                                                                                                                                       photo by Kemal Cilengir

Yesterday’s free (with RSVP) LAVA Sunday Salon and walking tour focused on the holy grail of Los Angeles mass transit history: the sealed-off streetcar station and tunnel located beneath the Subway Terminal Building.

How eager are Angelenos to see this storied space? The waiting list was a thousand names long! For those who couldn’t join us on this time travel trip, below you’ll find some photos to tell this complex and fascinating tale.

We began our LAVA Sunday Salon program in the basement of Grand Central Market where downtown historian Nathan Marsak (nice tie!) let us know what to look for in the Subway Terminal, and our own Richard Schave explained how the Bonaventure Hotel footings severed the tunnel in 1976. Plus, Bunker Hill native son Gordon Pattison previewed his July 30 Sunday Salon talk about his lost Victorian neighborhood and the short-lived Second Street Cable Car Rail Road.

Then, after strapping on headlamps and double-knotting boots, our well-prepared and somewhat giddy group made the short walk down Hill Street to the Subway Terminal Building for a rare tour of the historic passenger concourse, train platform, offices and yes, that remarkable decommissioned tunnel, complete with a growing collection of stalactites and stalagmites! We’re grateful to our gracious hosts at Metro 417 for welcoming us into the Los Angeles landmark beneath their apartment tower.

Will there be another Subway tunnel tour? Only time, and the LAVA newsletter, will tell.

Happy, dusty explorers emerge into the light – Photo: J. Scott Smith – see more

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!

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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