April Fool: Times Mirror Square EIR Challenge Rejected, or “Nothing to see here, G-Man”

Last October, a passionate band of concerned Angelenos went to Los Angeles City Hall to testify one last time in support of the preservation of William Pereira’s Times Mirror corporate headquarters.

This recognized architectural and cultural landmark had been deliberately cut out of the approved Historic Cultural Monument designation by the Los Angeles City Council, a political body with numerous members under FBI investigation for public corruption in service of real estate interests.

But almost a year after investigators raided Councilmember Jose Huizar’s City Hall office and home, he was still sitting on the council, and questionable projects in his Downtown district continued to get the green light.

Still, it’s important to show up and speak truth to power, even when it seems like the fix is in.

Included in our group that fall day were preservationists, historians, architects, affordable housing advocates, longtime L.A. Times and Times Mirror executives, neighbors, tenants and descendants of the newspaper’s founders.

Although we went into the hearing room expecting to bear witness to the city’s approval of demolition of the great newspaper and media HQ that Otis Chandler built, that didn’t happen. It seemed that the City Planning Department had received a long letter that gave them pause, so they paused approval of the project… “for one week.”

To see what we said in October, learn more about this wild preservation campaign through Fall 2019, and read the letter that gave the city pause, click here.

That letter, from Lozeau Drury, the attorneys for public interest nonprofit SAFER, proved to be the prelude to a legal challenge to Onni Group’s project EIR, citing numerous instances where serious problems had been glossed over or ignored by City Planning in order to approve the enormous development.

One particularly interesting point: although Councilman Jose Huizar continues to promote a streetcar loop through his nonprofit initiative L.A. Streetcar, the EIR provided no analysis of how such a conveyance would impact traffic around the site. Is there going to be a Broadway Streetcar, or isn’t there? In politically supported Downtown L.A. development, it seems you can have it both ways.

One week turned to a month, then to several. Six months later, we’re still holding out hope that the landmark Los Angeles Times complex can be saved.

But on April Fool’s Day, City Planning came out of its slumber and issued a new document, which declared that nothing in SAFER’s challenge letter justified halting the project. Although this new document references a complete rebuttal of SAFER’s claims (“March 2020 Responses”), this rebuttal was not shared by the city, so we’re unable to weigh its merits.

We hope and expect that SAFER will appeal City Planning’s determination by the April 10 deadline, and that Times Mirror Square may yet be saved.

After all, in recent weeks, the Los Angeles public corruption investigation has once again kicked into high gear. A lobbyist pleaded guilty to bribing a politician, who could only be Councilmember Jose Huizar, with half a million dollars in a liquor box—for just one land use vote. (In response, we have called for his resignation.) A virtual City Council meeting was overshadowed with the news that former Councilmember Mitch Englander had made a deal with the Feds in exchange for leniency on his felony charges.

Court watchers expect more charges, arrests and indictments of sitting politicians, developers, lobbyists and city staffers to happen any day.

So, why did City Planning reject SAFER’s challenge? Perhaps the office felt it had no choice. To acknowledge SAFER’s bold claim that the EIR should never have been approved in the first place would be to admit that politicians like Jose Huizar are able to pull strings at the highest level of land use, for the benefit of their developer and lobbyist friends.

If that’s the case, it will all come out in the coming indictments. And Los Angeles will be left to pick up the pieces of our broken, beautiful city. We hope that, unlike Parker Center, Times Mirror Square will still be standing when we do.

South L.A. LACMA Satellite Site in Violation of Sweetheart City of Los Angeles Lease?

As the Los Angeles County Supervisors rushed to approve LACMA’s hot-off-the-presses EIR for Peter Zumthor’s new museum building last April, ignoring the 83% of public emails begging them to vote no, they made frequent mention of museum director Michael Govan’s claim that LACMA intended to open satellite facilities in far-flung corners of the County.

Bringing art to under served communities is a terrific thing, and we’d like to applaud LACMA’s commitment to building diverse audiences, especially young ones.

But when we recently went out to look at the most widely reported of the proposed LACMA satellite sites, the former transit garage Building 71 on the edge of South Los Angeles Wetlands Park, we saw no signs of any LACMA presence.

Almost two years after the deal was announced, we found the barn-like 84,000 square foot 1911 concrete structure sealed up tight, with Playboys gang tags on the entry bays and metal cages clamped to the windows.

 

When LACMA proudly announced its 35-year no-rent lease of the historic tilt-slab structure in January 2018, it was with the promise to retrofit and activate Building 71 as an art center to serve the 9500 children who attend school in the vicinity.

But we learned from our conversations with museum administrators that LACMA soon balked at the seismic, structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and hazardous materials abatement costs associated with bringing Building 71 into compliance as a public space suitable for hosting events and exhibiting art. And indeed, there is no evidence that any work has been done to improve or activate the South Los Angeles Wetlands Park site.

However, the lease agreement did not only call for LACMA to retrofit and activate the derelict Building 71. The lease states:

Additionally, within one year of the execution date of the Lease, LACMA shall provide certain public programming at several recreation centers within the surrounding communities. Within eighteen (18) months of the execution of the Lease, LACMA will begin public programming on the premises area.

If LACMA was providing public programming at any of the South Los Angeles recreation centers, or on the grounds of the Wetlands Parks, we would have expected to have seen a press release. Nothing has been heard about any of the exciting initiatives promised in the January 2018 lease agreement:

• Free Social Justice-themed School Tour and Art-making Program

• Teen Tour Guide Program

• Intergenerational Weekday and Weekend Programs

• Teaching Assistant Training Program

One year has passed with no public programming at rec centers. 18 months has passed with no public programming at the Wetlands Park. We are now more than two years out, and LACMA appears to be in violation of its no-rent 35-year lease from the City of Los Angeles.

The lease served its purpose, though, by providing cover for Michael Govan’s inspiring claim that approving the ill-conceived, over-priced Zumthor building was serving the public good and bringing great art and cultural programming to South Los Angeles.

Recent reporting by Carolina Miranda in the Los Angeles Times suggests LACMA may be shirking its responsibilities at the South Los Angeles Wetlands Park because it simply doesn’t have the money.

We believe that City Council should hold LACMA accountable, and remind the museum that it made a commitment to bring the arts to South Los Angeles. LACMA and City Hall owe the community straight answers about what’s happening with Building 71. It’s not enough to clap each other on the back and smile for the press release photos: you have to write the checks and do the work and actually improve Los Angeles.

Or perhaps, since LACMA isn’t using Building 71, and if the museum is indeed in violation of its lease agreement, this useful and centrally located City-owned site could be freed up for other civic uses. Its 84,000 square feet could even be used to house some of the more than 60,000 Angelenos who are sleeping on the streets.

If you share our concerns about the misuse of this site and about LACMA’s unsustainable redevelopment scheme, please sign our petition and consider supporting the Save LACMA non-profit, which is currently fundraising for a ballot measure to stop the museum from destroying itself.

Vermonica Lives!

 

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Two years ago I received the news that Vermonica had been dismantled and moved. . A lot has transpired and one silver lining is realizing the impact and support for this work. . So many threads to this story- which I hope will be illuminated, disclosed and discussed. . Because of the continued sleuthing and inquiry by Richard Schave and Kim Cooper of Esotouric, a trove of emails were found that were damning to Bureau of Street Lightning and the city and therefore forced the city to do the right thing. . I have a contract to rebuild the piece on Santa Monica Boulevard near the Bureau with a hopeful opening in early May- the 27th birthday of Vermonica. . Hope to see you there. . More soon, feel free to share this news, I am hopeful. . Sheila . . . #sheilaklein #vermonica

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We’re delighted to finally be able to share the thrilling news that Sheila Klein’s Vermonica, the original vintage Los Angeles street light sculpture and cultural landmark (accept no imitations!) will once again be installed in the heart of East Hollywood under the direction of the artist. Her New Years Day Instagram post (above) let the cat out of the bag.

The unbelievable story of Vermonica’s mysterious removal and half-baked duplication has been featured on this blog previously. Catch up by reading Part One and Part Two.

Getting to a place where the city agreed to right this wrong took a lot of hard work by a dedicated crew who refused to accept the loss of the landmark as a done deal. When progress stalled, Adrian Riskin of government transparency blog MichaelKohlhaas.org uncovered a shocking tranche of emails that revealed precisely how a city department had violated Sheila Klein’s artist’s rights. To the city’s credit, they came back to the table to hammer out a deal that satisfies the artist and gives the artwork back to the East Hollywood community.

For us, the lesson of this 2+ year restoration and accountability campaign is clear: Never give up on the things you believe in, and let the light of Vermonica be your guiding star as you set out every day to be a good Angeleno and to make this city a better place for your neighbors and those who will come after.

So save the approximate date of early May 2020, for a big party at Vermonica’s new, nearby location. We cannot wait to dance in the streets by the light of our beloved urban candelabra with Sheila Klein, music, tacos and YOU!

3-D Tour of the Original Bob Baker Marionette Theater

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

Our love for the Bob Baker Marionette Theater is no secret. It is a zone of pure creativity and whimsy that could only have flowered in Los Angeles. Bob was a dear friend, and in 2013, we were privileged to help see that his visual archives were safely preserved by the Los Angeles Public Library, at a time when the theater’s future was uncertain.

Uncertainty is a funny thing, though. Yes, the original Bob Baker Marionette Theater is a “protected” city landmark which a developer nevertheless intends to demolish for a generic housing development. But the young puppeteers who took up the management strings after Bob’s death in 2014 have proved to be terrific stewards. They’ve nourished a nonprofit arm, built thriving community partnerships, and just last week opened up their lovely new, much larger puppet theater on a busy stretch of York in Highland Park.

The sweet, silly and inspiring shows that Bob Baker created for the mid-century kids of Los Angeles will continue to blow the minds of new generations.

Still, it’s hard to see such a Los Angeles treasure displaced, and we wanted to mark the transition. So we reached out to Craig and asked if he’d be interested in bringing his Matterport camera over and documenting the theater, backstage, workshops and Bob Baker’s personal research library loft (up the stairs, stage left), where Bob selected the music for shows and gained visual inspiration for puppet costumes, backdrops and props.

The results are a time capsule, three-dimensional love letter to Bob Baker’s genius as it manifested in the final days, before the world he made was boxed up for the move to Highland Park.

On a day when The New York Times honors our hometown marionettes with a lengthy feature, we’re sending out this bittersweet remembrance of the funky, original Bob Baker Marionette Theater in its historic home of 56 years. We hope you enjoy the opportunity to creep around this magical place which no longer is a public space, but which welcomes you virtually inside any time you feel its call.

And we heard the funniest thing on opening day in Highland Park: that developer who bought the building and planned to tear it down hasn’t been heard from lately. Rumor has it, nothing’s happening at 1345 West First Street any time soon.

But the marionettes have already moved on, and invite you to come see a show in Highland Park. Bring on the dancing cats and raise the traditional post-performance cup of ice cream to the next 56 years of joy!

 

City Hall Testimony Against LACMA Crossing Wilshire and Barton Phelps critiques Peter Zumthor

Yesterday in Los Angeles City Hall, our Richard Schave (representing the nonprofit Save LACMA and the LACMA Lovers League’s 1850+ petitioners) and Save LACMA board president Rob Hollman gave public comment against the granting of city-owned air rights over Wilshire Boulevard to allow LACMA to build its unpopular, undersized new bridge-style building.

Also speaking in opposition were Steve Luftman (Friends of Lytton Savings), Oscar Peña (artist and former LACMA employee) and Barton Phelps, FAIA (architect and preservationist who was instrumental in saving Central Library).

Drawing attention to the museum’s controversial partnerships with Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Quatar, final speaker Oscar Peña said, “As funding is stalling, LACMA is settling up with dictators, slave states and totalitarian regimes. We need real public oversight.” His powerful remarks earned a round of applause from the audience.

Later, Barton Phelps shared his strong and well reasoned opposition to Peter Zumthor’s design directly with LACMA director Michael Govan. He explained to Govan how the proposed building fails to respect the site and the history of this significant portion of the Miracle Mile, and expressed regret that he had not been able to be a part of the project conversation at an earlier stage. He continued this conversation later still with our Richard Schave, and those remarks are included at the end of this video. And his complete statement to City Council is transcribed below.

What about the result of the City Council vote? As decided long before today, the city eagerly granted the air rights request. But the fight continues!

Learn more about our Pereira in Peril campaign here.  Join Save LACMA.

Below you will find Barton Phelps’ intended comments for City Council, which he was unable to make in full due to outgoing Council President Herb Wesson’s anti-democratic one minute time limit, and which he personally handed to LACMA director Michael Govan:

• President Wesson, Honorable Council Members, I’m Barton Phelps, Principal, Barton Phelps & Associates, Architects and Planners, Los Angeles. We design buildings that support cultural and educational activity. I’m a former professor of architecture at UCLA and a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. Thank you for this chance to speak critically on this important matter.

• I’m not pleased to say what I must today and I don’t envy your responsibility for making sense of the layers of complexity this potentially wonderful project unfolds before us.

• I’m reminded that 44 years ago I stood in this exact spot attempting unsuccessfully to convince your predecessors on the City Council (especially the charismatic Gilbert Lindsay whose district this was) that replacing the 1926 Central Library with a so-so office building, although already designed, was not a great idea.

• A suit, brought jointly by the AIA and the National Trust, was, after many years, the City’s salvation.The library, restored and expanded, became an anchor of downtown renewal. I think of that effort by many people as a test of cultural maturity. Los Angeles rose to the occasion. The rest is history. I’m hoping it will again.

• The current L.A. County design proposal for much needed expansion and improvement to LACMA poses a similarly destructive threat to an iconic Los Angeles place but this time the threat is subtler in approach and, in its imagery, more socially and artistically beguiling.

• Given pressing limitations in site size, budget, function it seems odd that a design team composed of such brilliant design talents should persist in pursuing a fictional landscape of a site largely cleared of useful existing structures and capped by a simplistic, space-hungry, dated-looking, elevated single story composition. In refusing to fully recognize the truly daunting complexity of this project it unsuccessfully searches formalist simplicity for anchorage. It’s simply the wrong response.

• As if to demonstrate design team’s desperation, the current plan casually tosses a large suburban-looking volume across seven lanes of Wilshire Boulevard almost exactly where the corridor’s volume executes a graceful turn onto (or off of) the L.A. grid. But it will need your permission to do so.

• Aside from its painful impacts on sidewalks, park, and local neighborhoods the bridging of Wilshire Boulevard would crudely violate the historically-defining spatial continuity that generations of Angelinos have respected and delighted in for nearly a hundred years.

• (If I may) I’ll quote landscape historian, the late J.B. Jackson: “A landscape without visible signs of political history is a landscape without memory or forethought. We are inclined in America to think that the value of monuments is simply to remind us of origins.They are much more valuable as reminders of long-range, collective purpose, of goals and objectives and principles. As such even the least sightly of monuments gives a landscape beauty and dignity and keeps the collective memory alive.”

Thank you,
Barton Phelps, FAIA

Public Benefit Corporation SAFER challenges validity of Onni Group’s Times Mirror Square EIR

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Last Wednesday morning, we joined a passionate band of concerned Angelenos at Los Angeles City Hall in a last ditch effort to halt the runaway Planning Department train that appears intent on approving demolition of half of the historic, landmark Los Angeles Times Mirror Square compound, despite the stench of civic corruption surrounding the project.

Included in our group were preservationists, historians, architects, affordable housing advocates, longtime L.A. Times and Times Mirror executives, neighbors, tenants and descendants of the newspaper’s founders. You can read their comments, and see full video, here.

We did our best to give the planners pause, pointing out the ongoing FBI investigation that has ensnared Councilman Jose Huizar, the bizarre alteration of the landmark designation by Huizar’s PLUM committee, the architectural and cultural distinction of the threatened buildings, the significant impact on those living and working close to the project site, the mediocrity of the proposed towers, the glut of market rate housing and office space in the Downtown market, the project’s failure to do anything to alleviate our city’s horrific homeless crisis, and the risk that in approving the project the city would incur significant legal settlement costs and enable money laundering.

Did they listen to us? Politely, to be sure, and with no time limits. But does Eric Garcetti’s Planning Department ever truly listen to concerned citizens?

Still, something had their attention. During the hearing, project lead William Lamborn mentioned that his office had received a significant written response to the EIR that morning. This mysterious comment hung over the room all through the public comment period.

Then Alan Como, who led the hearing, closed public comment with the following words: “So, given the discussion and testimony today, including the item that was received this morning—the letter, which I believe you said Will was rather lengthy—I’m going to take this under advisement for a period of approximately one week to give planning staff an opportunity to review that letter. And so, yeah, no action will be taken today.”

We of course requested a copy of that “rather lengthy… item,” which was promptly provided by Mr. Lamborn, and have read it with growing and complete fascination, awe and gratitude.

(Parenthetically, do you ever stop to wonder just how it is that corruption has run so utterly amok in our City of the Angels? Do you think, like we do, it might have something to do with our checked-out local media, which cannot even be bothered to send an intern to attend the Planning Department’s final hearing for a huge redevelopment project that is central to the FBI’s investigation of Jose Huizar and his special favors for real estate industry donors, a project which calls for the demolition of the most distinguished newspaper industry landmark in Southern California?)

So yeah, that’s why the blog of a scrappy historic Los Angeles tour company is breaking the news that the nonprofit California public benefit corporation Supporters Alliance For Environmental Responsibility (“SAFER”), which is closely associated with the Laborers International Union of North America Local 300 (“LIUNA”), has fired an astonishing shot across the bow of Onni Group’s Times Mirror Square project, calling on the Los Angeles City Planning Department to halt the EIR approval process and address serious flaws, falsehoods and misinterpretations under CEQA in its analysis of the project’s environmental impact, and then circulate a corrected and factual RDEIR (revised draft environmental impact report) for public review.

Among the serious issues raised by SAFER’s expert analysts in their 100+ page letter, are:

• A flawed interpretation of the state law that protects historic resources like the locally landmarked and California State Register eligible buildings on the site;

• The concern that the project would cause significant bird death, including to locally nesting and migrating Vaux’s Swifts, due to the huge expanse of glass windows;

• A non-trivial cancer risk from the off-gassing of formaldehyde in all the new plywood and other mass produced crap slated to replace the fine materials used in William Pereira’s building;

• An unjustified rejection of project alternatives that would protect historical resources and cause less pollution and traffic, simply because they fail to match the property owner’s arbitrary determination of what “must” be included in their proposed development. 

• And finally, an objection which made us laugh out loud: the incomplete and inaccurate traffic impact analysis must be completely re-done, not least because the EIR fails to account for the impact on and from Jose Huizar’s ridiculous Downtown Streetcar Inc. boondoggle!

All of the above is thoroughly explained in the lengthy letter from leading environmental attorney Richard Toshiyuki Drury of Lozeau Drury LLP sent on behalf of SAFER, which you can read for yourself here.

If you appreciate this information, we are always grateful for your tips (both monetary and in the form of offbeat Los Angeles lore sent via email). Thank you, SAFER. And viva Pereira!

(December 2, 2019 update from L.A. City Planning on Times Mirror Square: Expected letter of determination NOT issued. No scheduled hearings at this time and it’s highly unlikely one will be scheduled this year. We think no news is good news for the Pereia in Peril!)

 

Announcing Save LACMA

If you’ve followed Esotouric for any time at all, you know that we’re big fans of William L. Pereira‘s civic and commercial architecture, and have advocated for the preservation of such endangered buildings as the Metropolitan Water District HQ, Los Angeles Times Executive Building and Los Angeles County Museum of Art as part of a broader Pereira in Peril campaign.

Today we begin a new chapter in this work, with announcement of the launch of Save LACMA (http://www.ourlacma.org), a registered 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Corporation formed to amplify the voice of the community to help steer the museum’s future, not just with the proposed Wilshire-straddling new building project, but in all its change and growth to come.

The more we learned about LACMA’s current plans, the more we felt the need to advocate not just for the historic campus, but for the survival of the museum as an institution. We are proud to join with other concerned Angelenos to volunteer our time as board members, taking our LACMA Lovers League petition campaign to a new level under the Save LACMA nonprofit banner.

We look forward to meeting you at LACMA-focused events in the near future. For now, we hope you’ll visit the website to learn more, sign up for the occasional newsletter, follow Save LACMA on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) and share this exciting news with your arts loving friends. It’s going to be a campaign to remember, and we can’t wait to share it with you!

Planning Commission To Decide Fate of Times Mirror Square

The Angelenos who landmarked the Los Angeles Times buildings cordially invite you to be a part of their history, by asking the Planning Commission to “do the right thing” at the Final EIR hearing on October 16 and approve a redevelopment plan that preserves and protects this architecturally and culturally significant place, while rejecting the appearance of political corruption steering land use decisions in Los Angeles. There is still cause for hope that the Times buildings will be treated with due respect during redevelopment, but they need your help!

Please join us at Los Angeles City Hall on Wednesday, October 16 at 10:30 am to give public comment to the Planning Commission on the Final EIR for the Times Mirror Square Project. (Or send an email by October 15; see instructions at the bottom of this page.) (Facebook event link.)

FOR THOSE GIVING PUBLIC COMMENT: If you plan to attend the October 16 hearing, please email us at tours@esotouric.com, and we can give you more info and let you know what to expect. We don’t know exactly when this agenda item will be heard, but the hearing begins at 10:30am in room 1020.

To support preservation in your public comment, please include these words, then add your own personal reasons for speaking: “I oppose the Project because under CEQA, the Executive Building is a recognized historical resource eligible for the California Register for its association with the Times Mirror Company and Otis Chandler, and is a significant example of the work of master architect William L. Pereira. I urge you to select Alternative 5, Full Preservation Alternative, the environmentally superior alternative.”


THE SITE: A square block sitting kitty corner from Los Angeles City Hall, comprised of Gordon B. Kaufmann’s 1935 L.A. Times Building, Rowland Crawford’s 1948 Mirror Tower, William L. Pereira’s 1973 Executive Building, and a Pereira-designed parking garage.

THE THREAT: Canadian developer Onni Group wants to demolish the garage and Executive Building to build two high-rise towers. The Executive Building is fully integrated into the 1935 L.A. Times Building. This project would not only destroy a significant work by William Pereira, but leave a gaping hole in the side of the most architecturally significant structure on the site.

THE STORY: On September 20, 2018, the Cultural Heritage Commission accepted our Times Mirror Square landmark nomination in full, disagreeing with the Office of Historic Resources’ claim that Pereira’s Executive Building should not be included. The nomination would next go to City Council’s PLUM Committee, where we were concerned that the chair, Councilman Jose Huizar, would reject it outright, to clear the way for Canadian developer Onni Group to erect two towers. However, between the CHC and PLUM hearings, the FBI raided Huizar’s City Hall office and home, and Huizar was removed from PLUM. Nevertheless, on November 27, 2018, PLUM deferred to Huizar’s request and altered the landmark nomination by removing Pereira’s building. The altered nomination was then approved by full City Council. In February 2019, the Los Angeles Times reported that developer Onni Group had given $50,000 to Huizar’s political fund two months prior to the PLUM vote. It is against the backdrop of this appearance of quid pro quo vote buying that the Planning Commission will decide the fate of Times Mirror Square.

To learn more about the L.A. Times landmarking nomination, and the wider Pereira in Peril campaign, click here.

To read the Final EIR for this project, and our feedback, click here.


FOR EMAIL SUPPORTERS: You can also send a statement of support via email ASAP, but no later than end of day Tuesday, October 15.

Below is an example of how a statement of support should be formatted.
Subject line: ENV-2016-4676-EIR
Email to: william.lamborn@lacity.org
cc: tours@esotouric.com (that’s us, the landmark team)

Dear Planning Commission,

I oppose the Project because under CEQA, the Executive Building is a recognized historical resource eligible for the California Register for its association with the Times Mirror Company and Otis Chandler, and is a significant example of the work of master architect William L. Pereira.

I urge you to select Alternative 5, Full Preservation Alternative, the environmentally superior alternative.

sincerely, (your name, your address, your email)

PLEASE NOTE: Uniquely personal remarks, even just a line or two, really make a difference. Please consider adding this sentence and filling in the blank: These buildings are important to me because ____________.

 

City Librarian John Szabo unveils The Well of the Scribes at Central Library

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Feeling quite awed to see this Los Angeles treasure in the flesh (photo: Stephen Gee)

We had the opportunity today to attend a small ceremony in which a section of sculptor Lee Lawrie’s Well of the Scribes fountain was unveiled in the Rare Books room of Los Angeles Public Library.

The bronze fountain has been missing since 1969, when Central Library’s garden became a parking lot and its decorative elements went into city storage… only to vanish. Had the fountain been stolen away by a private collector, misplaced in some remote storage area, or melted down for scrap?

For fifty years, its fate remained a mystery. But answers may be forthcoming: one panel was recently found in the care of Arizona antique dealer Floyd Lillard, after he reached out offering to return the lost treasure.

While the relief sculpture is in remarkably good condition for its decades on the road, it needs a little love. So following today’s ceremonial return to the building it was designed for, it will be sent to a conservation lab for cleaning and stabilizing. Then it will go on public view in a location yet to be determined at Central Library.

While you wait for that auspicious day, enjoy these close-up views of the Well of the Scribes and the happy folks from the library and Alta Magazine, publishers of a recent feature story which helped to bring this beautiful object back home. The Library and Alta are eagerly seeking the remaining two sections of the fountain, so keep your eyes peeled in your travels for Pegasus and his scholarly pals.

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

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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.”