Going back in time on Santa Cruz Island

Last week, we decided we had to get a break from the relentless 2017 news cycle. Which was convenient, because the unseasonably cool weather made it the perfect time to explore one of Southern California’s most inaccessible natural and historic attractions, Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park.


It’s best if it’s cool when visiting Santa Cruz Island, because the sheep and pigs who grazed the hills starting in the mid-19th century destroyed the native oaks. Since the island became a protected landscape—the western 76% controlled by The Nature Conservancy, the remaining 24% by the National Parks Service, following a byzantine series of estate battles and eminent domain seizures—these invasive creatures have nearly all been eradicated, small oaks are growing in gullies and the grasses are high.

But shade is rare, and day visitors must come when the sun is high and carry all the water they’ll need on the trail.

We booked passage with the Island Packers outfit (since 1968), arriving at Ventura Marina with minutes to spare before the 9:00am departure. The two-level vessel was full of schoolkids, solo hikers and customers of a kayak tour company. But with many passengers spending the 90-minute trip at the rail, the boat didn’t feel crowded.

The sky was gray and the sea glassy as we shot between the tall oil platforms off Ventura, a reminder of the devastating 1969 Santa Barbara spill which left birds and sea mammals dying on the shore. The sea around the oil rigs is nutrient rich, attracting fish, birds and large mammals. The captain steered off course to visit with a pod of common dolphins, who surfed our wake and performed spectacular jumps to the delight of the rail hangers.

This was a hoot at the time, and on the return voyage when the show was repeated. But we would feel the negative effects of this impromptu detour for much of the day, as we struggled to complete the 8-mile hike from Scorpion Ranch to Smuggler’s Cove and back in time for our 4pm departure. And to spare you, gentle reader, any sympathetic anxiety, we’ll confess we didn’t make it as far as the beach at Smuggler’s, but we also didn’t miss the boat.

But what a magnificent day’s hiking it was! We began in the sunny natural anchorage at Scorpion Ranch, dotted with rusting relics from the ranching days, and pretty old houses set back among flowers. An interpretive center and topographic map provide context for the island, and well-kept pit toilets a last pit stop before setting off into the wild.

The wide, well-maintained dirt road wound up to the crest, red sand glittering with broken bits of abalone shell. Flowering succulents climbed down the cliff walls, each of them a little unfamiliar from those we know on the mainland, like nearly every living thing on Santa Cruz.

Oyster salsify, before…

…and after.

Very soon, we reached the top of the island and began the long, mostly flat hike across this sunny, grassy peak in the middle of the blue sea. It’s an idyllic place that scratched our escapist itch divinely.

A fascinating bonus: the trail was full of colonies of mining bees, busily popping in and out of their individual tube homes to feed their young, and occasionally scrap with each other.

We finally stopped on the ridge overlooking Smuggler’s Cove, for a picnic among the little lizards and scrub oaks. Then back across the island making double time to descend the path to Scorpion Ranch just before the boat departed, where we stole a few moments with the island’s fearless native foxes, who are worth the trip all by themselves. We returned to the 21st century replenished, and recommend this excursion to anyone feeling the weight of modernity heavy on their neck. A little fox’ll do ya!

Update, May 2018: we went back for another ramble, this time around the Nature Conservancy land at Prisoners Harbor, and discovered a towering native Humboldt Lily growing in a gully deep in the interior.

Recommended Reading: For the warts and all history of post-Chumash life, love, conservation and business battles in the Channel Islands, pick up Santa Cruz Island: A History of Conflict and Diversity by John Gherini, a member of one of the last families to own a piece of that contentious rock. If you’d like to hike in our footsteps, archeologist Don Morris’ guidebook to the park side of the island is a fine pocket companion.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDkBt2zlBDI

Save Parker Center

BREAKING NEWS: FORGET IT, JAKE… THE FIX WAS IN!

• January 20, 2019 – Government transparency blogger Michael Kohlhaas publishes a shocking cache of emails (part 2) from the staff of PLUM Committee members Jose Huizar and Gil Cedillo to Little Tokyo business advocates and non-profit development organizations, crafting a false narrative of broad public support for the demolition of Parker Center in a quid pro quo exchange for political support for Little Tokyo’s First Street North development project. (The Brown Act was violated, too. Then Parker Center rats infested City Hall.)


Parker Center (Welton Becket & Associates and J. E. Stanton, 1955) in Downtown Los Angeles is a building that inspires strong feelings.

Architecture lovers admire its beautiful lines and integrated artwork and plantings. Crime historians marvel at the first modern police headquarters with its cutting-edge forensic science laboratory, built to the specifications of the legendary Ray Pinker. Film and television fans enjoy its stylish appearances from Dragnet to Inherent Vice.

But Parker Center also symbolizes the dark side of Los Angeles policing, and was a place where protesters came over many decades to challenge authority that harms their communities. And stakeholders in Little Tokyo regret the loss of a block of small businesses for Parker Center construction.

Despite the advocacy of the Los Angeles Conservancy, the Cultural Heritage Commission and independent preservationists and community members, Parker Center is a cultural and architectural landmark that is in grave danger of being destroyed within the year.

Attempts to preserve Parker Center have been stymied by Los Angeles politicians’ ambitions to redevelop the property surrounding City Hall. These plans have made it impossible to get a fair landmarking hearing for the building, even as the Los Angeles Conservancy’s independent analysis of the project suggests that as much as $100 Million in public funds could be saved if the structure was adaptively reused.

We are very concerned that the process by which landmarks are dedicated is not being allowed to follow its natural course, and that a great building might be lost for what is now only a speculative real estate development. We are also worried about what will happen to the art that exists within and on Parker Center: Bernard J. Rosenthal’s “Family Group” sculpture and Joseph Young’s “Theme Mural of Los Angeles” mosaic, which will be very difficult and expensive to remove from the lobby.

We will continue to advocate for the preservation and adaptive reuse of Parker Center, and will update this page with news as it happens.

A timeline of recent events:

• September 2016 – After City Council’s PLUM committee, headed by Jose Huizar, fails to consider a landmarking application in a timely fashion and internal city proposals recommend demolition, the Cultural Heritage Commission makes a rare attempt to save the building itself.

• December 2016 – Cultural Heritage Commissioner Gail Kennard publishes an eloquent defense of Parker Center in an L.A. Times op-ed, explaining that the building is worth saving for all the reasons some want to see it demolished.

• February 2017 – On political, rather than the legally appropriate historic/aesthetic grounds, Los Angeles City Council denies the recommended landmark status for Parker Center, ignoring the educated determination of the Cultural Heritage Commission.

• March 2017 – At the LAVA Sunday Salon, architectural historians Nathan Marsak, Alan Hess and Richard Schave present an illustrated lecture and walking tour advocating for the preservation of Parker Center. Watch video of the event here.

• April 2017 – City Council promotes the demolition of Parker Center as stage one in the process of creating a clean slate around City Hall that can attract public-private investment partnerships.

• October 2017 – City Council explores the immediate demolition of Parker Center.

• November 2017 – in The Architect’s Newspaper, Louis Naidorf, who worked on the project under Welton Becket, asks why Los Angeles would demolish a pleasant, adaptable office building like Parker Center.

• May 2018 – In Curbed, Jill Stewart from the Coalition to Preserve LA says, “We think Parker Center is the No. 1 best property they could possibly turn into homeless housing. We hired an architect who said that 730 could be housed there. The retrofit would be very inexpensive. The city’s numbers are off the charts as to how much it would cost to retrofit—way, way off the charts. There’s a much cheaper way to do it, so we think they should look at the big empty city buildings and use them for homeless housing. We think they should stop being NIMBYs.”

• May 2018 – Coverage of the press conference calling for Parker Center to be adaptively reused. (photo by Esotouric)

Parker Center Tom Bradley Housing Center press conference 2018-05-24

• June 2018 – New report confirms the Los Angeles Conservancy’s analysis: the true cost of demolishing Parker Center and building a new tower is hundreds of millions of dollars more than the city claimed.

• June 16, 2018 – The Department of Cultural Affairs removes Joseph Young’s mosaic mural from the lobby of Parker Center, one of a small series of historic resource requirements that must be met before the building can be demolished. Video of the removal.

• July 3, 2018 – Los Angeles City Council votes unanimously to rush demolition of Parker Center, despite the true costs now estimated as $226 Million higher. Councilman Jose Huizar is determined to privatize the Civic Center and turn it into “a 24-hour destination” and you’re going to pay for it.

• July 11, 2018 – Activists pushing forward with plan to convert Parker Center into homeless housing.

• July 13, 2018 – Parker Center is #3 on Curbed L.A.’s list of LA’s most endangered buildings. “Led by groups like the Los Angeles Conservancy, the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles, and Esotouric, LA has a strong community dedicated to historic preservation.”

• July 31, 2018 – While the city races to demolish Parker Center (319,000 square feet) it’s considering its tiny neighbor, the derelict Children’s Museum on the L.A. Mall (14,000 square feet), as emergency homeless housing.

• early August 2018 – Demolition scheduled to begin August 20 and last 500 days. (Architects Newspaper, Rafu Shimpo.)

• August 15, 2018 – Housing advocates sue the City of Los Angeles to halt demolition of Parker Center over a $193 Million discrepancy between their independent engineers’ report on the cost to retrofit the building as supportive housing and the city’s estimate to do the same.

• August 20, 2018 – As demolition begins pending a judge’s determination on preserving the building, our Richard Schave goes on Take Two to talk about what made Welton Becket’s 1955 Parker Center such a progressive LAPD HQ. (interview starts at 40:00). See also this LAist story.

• October 11, 2018 – Demolition timeline.

• January 20, 2019 – Government transparency blogger Michael Kohlhaas publishes a shocking cache of emails from the staff of PLUM Committee members Jose Huizar and Gil Cedillo to Little Tokyo business advocates and non-profit development organizations, crafting a false narrative of broad public support for the demolition of Parker Center in a quid pro quo exchange for political support for Little Tokyo’s First Street North development project. (The Brown Act was violated, too.)

• February 8, 2019 – News reports document a rat and flea infestation in City Hall and City Hall East, with a city employee claiming her typhus infection was transmitted in the office. City staff tell City Council they believe the rats came from Parker Center due to the demolition work there.

Peek inside Frank Sinatra’s endangered motion picture bungalow

For the past few weeks, we’ve been offering support and advice to Doug Quill, the filmmaker who has been petitioning to keep a 1929 bungalow on The Lot (formerly Goldwyn Studios and United Artists) from being demolished for an expansion of LADWP’s electrical distribution system. Doug shares his story with us on the latest You Can’t Eat the Sunshine podcast.

Dozens of creative people have worked in the comfortable Spanish-style bungalow over the decades, but it’s most closely associated with Frank Sinatra. His Essex Productions was based at the Goldwyn Studios in the early 1960s, and the bungalow was his retreat during the recording of The Concert Sinatra (1963) at Sound Stage 7. It is recognized as a primary contributing resource to the studio’s historic fabric.

So it’s Frank Sinatra’s bungalow that’s teetering on the brink, and the reason, naturally, is a woman. After Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks divorced in 1936, she donated the southern portion of the then-United Artists studio backlot to the city, legend has it for a park. Somehow, the land instead passed into the control of LADWP, and it became an essential part of the city’s electrical power distribution infrastructure. A few buildings, the Sinatra bungalow among them, sat all or partly on LADWP land, but functioned as part of the studio for decades. Last month, ahead of a planned expansion, LADWP declined to extend these building’s leases, and the preservation crisis began.

Sound stage demolition in progress

Now it’s up to LADWP and studio owner CIM Group to find common ground with the Los Angeles Conservancy and Hollywood Heritage, two agile preservation organizations that have stepped in to support Doug’s campaign. What will happen to Frank Sinatra’s motion picture bungalow? It will either be moved (but where?) or demolished in the coming weeks. As a tangible link to the golden age of Hollywood and popular music, we think it’s a treasure worth keeping, even as the sound stages behind it are torn to pieces by heavy machinery.

Last week, we attended a site visit to explore the feasibility of moving the building; happily, it is a simple structure that will be easy to lift and transport in one piece. Take a behind-the-scenes peek at this endangered piece of Hollywood history, and please sign the petition to show your support and get updates as they happen.

If this medicine chest could talk…

Monument to L.A.’s Visionary City Planner Calvin Hamilton Missing From Bunker Hill

calvin-hamilton-plaque-gone-with-inset-january-25-2017

UPDATE: We have learned that someone did steal the plaque, but a Bunker Hill resident was able to retrieve it. That person plans to turn it over to the BID, which awaits city approval to reinstall it. Stay tuned for more details as we have them, and Long Live Cal Hamilton! – UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: As of February 2, the plaque is back! Thanks, Lisa Napoli, for the photo.

ORIGINAL POST: Writer Lisa Napoli alerts us to troubling news from the futuristic 1970s Bunker Hill Pedway system: the metal plaque placed to honor the city’s visionary Director of Planning, Calvin S. Hamilton (1964-1985), is gone!

Lisa noticed last week that Hamilton’s plaque in the center of the Pedway near Bunker Hill Towers was loose, and alerted the local Business Improvement District, but didn’t hear from them that they had come and taken it for safe-keeping.

Today, she saw that it was gone. We are very worried that metal thieves came back and finished the job, and intend to sell the plaque for scrap value.

When Calvin Hamilton came to Los Angeles from Indianapolis, he brought with him the concept of historic preservation as public policy. We owe our city’s strong and early preservation ordinance to Hamilton, and many of our oldest city landmarks are still standing due to his work. The Pedway system was named in his honor. It would be a tragedy if his monument were lost.

Be on the look out, preservation people, especially Downtown. If you see a big, flat metal disc with Calvin Hamilton’s face on it anywhere in your travels, grab it tight and let us know!

calvin-hamilton-plaque-long-view-photo-by-kim-cooper

Esotouric’s local history talk & book signing at Los Angeles Breakfast Club, March 29

On March 29, Esotouric’s Kim Cooper and Richard Schave are honored to present an illustrated lecture on their offbeat Southern California history research at the legendary Los Angeles Breakfast Club. This will be followed by a book signing, featuring Kim’s newest title, How To Find Old Los Angeles, and other historic books and maps. This is just one in a series of special events celebrating Esotouric’s 10th Anniversary.

Where: Friendship Auditorium, 3201 Riverside Drive, Los Angeles 90027
When: Wednesday, March 29, from 7-9am
Cost: First-time visitors may attend for free; hot buffet breakfast is $15

So what is this Los Angeles Breakfast Club? Just one of the oldest social clubs in the city! Since 1925, congenial Angelenos have gathered at the foot of Griffith Park for hearty eats and stimulating conversation. Learn more about the club and membership benefits here.

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

27for2016-header

Gentle reader…

As we slam the door on 2016, it’s time for that annual Esotouric tradition: our very opinionated list of the past year’s Top Los Angeles Historic Preservation Stories.

Because preservation is never as simple as buildings being lost forever or rescued from the brink, the list is split into three sections: the Gains, the Losses, and those Bittersweet moments that hover somewhere in the middle, and keep us up nights. We hope you find the list by turns thought-provoking, infuriating and inspiring, and that 2017 will see some of the Bittersweets tip over onto the Gains side of the fence.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Gains of 2016:

G1. Spinning Wheel: On a hot day in sleepy Arcadia, where the last Googie-style Van De Kamp’s Holland Dutch Bakery restaurant (1967) stands proudly on Huntington Boulevard, Denny’s executives were on hand to throw the switch on the restored, spinning windmill sign, a beloved local landmark brought back to life through the Quixotic efforts of former mayor George Fasching.

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

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

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

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

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

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Losses of 2016:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Bittersweet Moments of 2016:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*      *      *

And that’s our report on the state of Los Angeles preservation for 2016. To see past years’ lists, click here: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012. And to stay informed all year round, see our preservation page on Facebook, subscribe to our newsletter and visit the Los Angeles Historic Preservation Hotspots map, where you can find nearby trouble spots.

Our guided bus tours return in the new year with The Real Black Dahlia on January 7, on the crest of the 70th anniversary of Beth Short’s disappearance and an especially haunting date to walk in the footsteps of this fascinating and mysterious lady. This tour is nearly full, so reserve soon if you’d like to ride, then stay tuned for a 10th Anniversary Year packed with special events and surprises.

yrs,
Kim and Richard
Esotouric

Pershing Square is 150 Years Old Today!

On December 11, 1866, Cristobal Aguilar, the Mayor of Los Angeles, a town of about 5000 souls still recovering from the brutal upsets of the Mexican-American War, signed an ordinance concerning a swampy patch of land due South-West of the Plaza:

“Lots from Nos. 1 to 10 in block 15 of Ord’s Survey of said city are hereby set aside for the use of said city and the residents thereof as a public square, and the same is hereby declared to be a public square or plaza for the use and benefit of the citizens in common of said city, remaining under the control of the mayor and council of said city.”

It wasn’t much of a park, just a muddy, ungraded rectangle, 600 x 330 feet. But it belonged to the people of Los Angeles, and in time they would take to it with a passion that occasionally seemed beyond all sense and reason.

pershingSquareAmazing_0-2

The park would become lovelier, too, from the meandering Eaton plan of 1886 to John Parkinson’s classic axial design of 1910/31. And while it is not today such a beautiful thing, we still live in hope that the great park that was will one day exist again. (Sign our petition if you agree.)

So join us today in celebrating the sesquicentennial of Pershing Square, an auspicious anniversary we have not seen many of in this youthful municipality.

We rejoice with all the great departed Angelenos who have loved the place: “Roundhouse George” Lehman,  who planted the park’s first trees and carried water to them in oil cans, “Stoolpigeon Mary,” who spoke against a misguided plan to remove benches and trees, “Pigeon Goldie” Osgood, who cared for the birds until a wicked unknown person killed her at the Hotel Cecil, Benny the Squirrel, whose antics delighted a generation (his end was violent, too), and uncounted soapbox speakers and Bunker Hill bench sleepers and pretty fellows cruising and children splashing in the fountain and writers who paused in the shade to study their fellow humans and work out some rough bit of plotting.

Long live our Pershing Square!

Because when you love Pershing Square there is always something new to learn, we close with a little gift from the archives: a rare trade card from an early business that faced the park from the 5th Street side. Opened in early 1895, the prominently-situated Pavilion Cyclery and Riding School did much to promote this novel mode of transport.

pavilion cyclery and riding school c1896

A bicycling poem from February 1895

hazard-wheelman-bicycle-poem-feb-1985-la-herald

A visit to historic Boys Republic, home of the Della Robbia holiday wreath (since 1923)

boys-republic-street-signEarlier this year, we had the opportunity to tour the historic Boys Republic school, situated on the Rancho Santa Ana Del Chino, near the modern cities of Chino and Chino Hills. (Here is an early ranch map, here a modern aerial view.)

It was on this site in September 1846, during the Mexican-American War, that Isaac Williams’ moated adobe ranch house was besieged and 24 Americans taken prisoner and marched to Boyle Heights. A canon stands as a war memorial just east of the school grounds.

Boys Republic is an extraordinary place, a largely undeveloped time capsule of the Californio era, as well as a functioning ranch, farm, educational facility (academics and construction trades) and seasonal cottage industry—the famous Della Robia Holiday Wreaths have been made here since 1923.

The lower campus features a master plan and buildings by noted Pasadena architect Myron Hunt, who married founding board member Virginia Pease and maintained a long interest in the school.

Since 1907, this progressive institution has offered troubled and neglected youth the opportunity to build self esteem, develop life skills and participate in a civic system based on self-governance. We were eager to see Hunt’s campus and the historic ranch buildings, and learn about how the school functions. Our visit coincided with preparations for the annual Friends of Steve McQueen Car & Motorcycle Show, a fundraiser honoring Boys Republic’s most famous alumnus, so we got to see some cool vintage vehicles, too.

old-truck

So as not to compromise the privacy of the students, our photos focus on parts of the campus that were unpopulated during our golf cart tour.

The northwestern portion of the site is dedicated to animal husbandry, with friendly inhabitants in the handsome old barns and corrals.grain-silo

goat

cow-in-v-barn

penned-cattle-with-br-brand

handsome-cows

Unfortunately, Isaac Williams’ adobe ranch house does not survive. Nor does the house that Myron Hunt built for his wife in 1915. But as we drove out towards the site, something glittered inside an open barn door…

old-barn-door-open

Behind some dusty golf clubs was a magnificent wrought iron gate, no doubt part of Hunt’s project.

gate-in-old-barn

Perhaps it stood somewhere near the old stone gateposts which formerly opened onto the southern border of the ranch.

old-gate-posts-and-tree-line

richard-with-old-gate-post

Close by is a horizontal plinth which formerly displayed the war memorial canyon before it was moved just off campus for easier public access.

old-cannon-plinth

Randy, who has managed the Wood Shop for decades, gave us a tour of his neat domain…. wood-shop-proprietor-randy

wood-shop-interior

complete with vintage eye protection propaganda…

wood-shop-vintage-eye-protection-poster

and a quote from a Steve McQueen biography about how he was changed by his time at Boys Republic.

wood-shop-steve-mcqueen-quote

We wrapped up our visit with a walk through the Della Robbia wreath factory, a series of functional buildings wrapped around the historic gym.

wreath-hq-exterior

Although the holidays were still six months away, the factory floor was humming with activity. We watched with fascination as the craftswomen swiftly loaded plastic rings with a mix of dried cones, pods and nuts, making a pretty festive scene inspired by the 15th century terracotta sculptures of Andrea della Robbia.

wreath-shop-workers

On the wall, twin Santas display both sizes of the finished product.

wreath-shop-santas

Just off the factory, we passed through a vintage fire door…

wreath-shop-vintage-fire-door

…into a long warehouse with lofts packed with sacks and boxes of wreath fixings. (If we returned at this time of year, the buildings would be bustling with dozens of young men helping to make, pack and ship wreaths out to customers all over the country.)

wreath-shop-stacked-bags

An ingenious triangular metal stand makes it easy to fill the recycled potato sacks with pine cones.

wreath-shop-bag-filling-frame

Nearby, in the old gym, beautiful rafters support a complex system of hooks and conveyor belts, which carry completed wreaths to the shipping center for final packaging. It’s clear that, after 93 years in the business, Boys Republic has wreath production down!

wreath-shop-rafters-and-assembly-line

If you’d like to support the good work of Boys Republic, you can purchase a freshly-crafted Della Robia Holiday Wreath, and learn more about the wreath making process here.

Our thanks to Boys Republic Development Director and historian  Jerry Marcotte for the tour and the hospitality.

A little bit of the Dutch Chocolate Shop goes on tour at Pasadena Museum of History’s “Batchelder: Tilemaker” exhibition

These are heady times for lovers of the Arts & Crafts movement, as the Pasadena Museum of History celebrates the gift of Dr. Bob Winter’s incomparable Ernest Batchelder collection with a fascinating and eclectic show on his influential Arroyo pottery. Batchelder: Tilemaker is on view through February 12, when we’ll be hosting a special bus tour of the master’s Downtown Los Angeles tile installations.

Included in the exhibition are magnificent fireplaces and miniature salesmen’s samples, bookplates and business cards, corbels and plaster casts (from a horde used to shore up a Los Feliz hillside for decades, then miraculously recognized and preserved), even a virtual reality headset which lets you explore donor “Bungalow Bob’s” Pasadena home and garden, formerly Batchelder’s.

Dutch Chocolate Shop mural

But the piece we’re most excited about is the one we had a little part in bringing to the museum: one of the “lost” tile murals from Downtown’s landmark Dutch Chocolate Shop, removed in the mid-1980s when a door was opened between the DCS and the contiguous Spring Arcade building. Geographically, we understand that it made sense to take this mural down. But with its prominent back wall placement, Batchelder ensured  it contained one of the most commission’s most charming scenes: a young couple in Dutch garb walking a handsome hound. Hidden from view for decades, the unrestored panel has a proud central spot in the new exhibition, and we hope you have a chance to see it.

When you visit, leave a time for the amusing show across the hall, Cast & Fired: Pasadena’s Mid-Century Ceramics Industry. If you’ve spent much time in antique malls or thrift shops, you’ll recognize the kitschy novelties that emerged by the thousands from Pasadena kilns: scrawny hillbillies, cartoony woodland creatures, exotic Asian figurines and stylized owls. It’s a small revelation to see the work of specific designers clustered together, along with select sketches and color studies. Look especially for the wee set of ceramic fascist figurines by Twin Winton and the Roselane flat cat.

Metropolitan Water District landmarking vote reveals recent gutting of Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission

PETITION: Mayor Eric Garcetti, Fill the Vacant Seat on the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission.

On Thursday afternoon, September 15, 2016 an SRO crowd gathered in room 1010 of Los Angeles City Hall for the final hearing in the historic-cultural monument consideration process for William L. Pereira’s 1963 Metropolitan Water District campus at 1111 West Sunset Boulevard.

Presentations were made by Pam O’Connor and nominator Yuval Bar-Zemer (in favor) and Bill Delvac and Jenna Snow representing the property owner (opposed). Members of the public spoke about the property: two dozen in favor of preserving it (among them, the architect’s daughter Monica Pereira), two opposed. Bar-Zemer also presented the Commissioners with a pro-landmarking petition containing more than 600 names.

The Commissioners acknowledged that it had been a long day—we heard that security had already been called during the contentious Miracle Mile HPOZ agenda item, and they also were called during this item—and that they believed that determination on the MWD property was problematic due to alterations, some done by the prior church tenant in the 1990s, others done just a few months ago by the property owner apparently (though the Commissioners did not say this) in an attempt to render the property less suitable for landmarking.

When the vote came, it split 2-2, Commission president Richard Barron and Commissioner Jeremy Irvine somewhat reluctantly opposed to landmarking, Commission vice president Gail Kennard and Commissioner Barry Milofsky in favor.

chc-agenda-header-with-5-commissioners-shown-september-15-2016We had noticed through the whole afternoon that Commissioner Elissa Scrafano wasn’t at the dais. But it wasn’t until the vote was tabulated that her absence was explained, to the great dismay of the many citizens who had taken half their day to attend what they believed would be a fair hearing, with an informed Commission vote determining the fate of the endangered mid-century campus.

Although her name appears on the agenda for the hearing, in fact Elissa Scrafano is no longer a member of the Cultural Heritage Commission!

In July, Mayor Garcetti appointed Ms. Scrafano to the Cultural Affairs Commission to fill the vacancy created by Mari Edelman, who resigned. This appointment leaves both Commissions unbalanced and unable to break tie votes: the CAC now has 6 sitting commissioners, the CHC 4.

In the absence of Ms. Scrafano, there was nobody able to break the tie vote for landmarking the MWD, which means no action will be taken. With no new Commissioner nominated by the Mayor, and no CHC meeting scheduled in the 75 day window from when the property came before the Commission, this important William Pereira campus will almost certainly be demolished by the property owner.

But there is a chance, and we’re asking you to help: we are petitioning Mayor Garcetti and several city councilmembers with significant pending landmark nominations in their districts to act promptly to correct the voting imbalance on the Cultural Heritage Commission by appointing a fifth Commissioner. We are further asking that CHC president Richard Barron extend the period of consideration and/or call a special meeting once the Commission is balanced to hold a fair and final vote on the fate of the Metropolitan Water District campus.

If you share our belief that the Cultural Heritage Commission should be fully staffed for the protection of Los Angeles landmarks, please visit the petition link here, and add your name to send a message to the Mayor, City Council and the CHC.

Video of the September 15 hearing is below. Learn more about the Pereira in Peril campaign, see videos from past site visits and learn how to join us for upcoming tours here.