Touring CalEdison, the Art Deco landmark formerly known as One Bunker Hill

Welcome to the fifth in a series of 3-D explorable tours of historic Los Angeles spaces, created by Craig Sauer using cutting-edge Matterport technology. And what cooler space to explore than the lobby of the newly rebranded CalEdison, an Art Deco masterpiece that was L.A.’s first air conditioned, seismically safe tower?

Photo: Julius Shulman, October 1980 (Library of Congress)

You might know the building as One Bunker Hill, a name given it in 1972, when Edison moved its offices to Rosemead and sold its namesake tower. Hopes were still high that the Bunker Hill Redevelopment Plan would yield a thriving, live-work community where young professionals contributed to the tax base 24/7.

It didn’t exactly work out that way—a heartbreaking tale of scorched earth public policy hubris documented in Gordon Pattison’s family story and on the On Bunker Hill blog— but in seeking to make the aging, low rent building more appealing to new tenants like the US Postal Service, ceilings were dropped, old fashioned spaces reconfigured, and the long, open patios enclosed with glass. And so it remained, for four decades.

Today, under new, preservation-focused owners Rising Realty Partners, these insensitive upper floor additions are being peeled away and the building marketed to creative tenants who appreciate its machine age aesthetics and are keen on downtown. It only took two generations!

But the grand T-shaped lobby was never “updated,” and it’s this extraordinary space you can explore through Craig Sauer’s 3-D photography.

Craig Sauer shooting CalEdison

But first, a little history: In 1931, Southern California Edison’s opulent Art Deco corporate headquarters was erected at the foot of Bunker Hill, on a prime 175’ x 175’ corner site kitty corner to the Biltmore Hotel (Schultze and Weaver, 1923) and opposite Central Library (Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, 1926).

Architects Allison and Allison designed the 12-story height limit tower with its bold, geometric stepped facade and cutting edge mechanical innovations. P.J. Walker Co. built it. Constructed at a cost of $2,500,000 and boasting 250,000 square feet of office space, its all-steel frame was meant to withstand fire, hurricane force winds or the most powerful recorded earthquakes. And when the devastating 6.4 Long Beach temblor struck on March 10, 1933, the Edison Building just shrugged.

That unshakable frame was beautifully wrapped in sober granite and terracotta facing, with a rainbow of stone finishes within. The exterior rotunda’s relief sculptures representing the “Generation,” “Distribution” and “Utilization” of electricity are by Merrell Gage. The central lobby mural, “Power,” is by Hugo Ballin, with Conrad Buff and Barse Miller gracefully handling the narrow frieze paintings above the elevators, also on an electrical theme.

Elevator frieze by Conrad Buff

As befit a tower housing a modern electrical utility, the ventilation systems were powered, with windows that opened and closed automatically to control internal temperature. And today, the building is newly LEED certified. Also, fans of Los Angeles literature will note that the prime corner site was declared John Fante Square a few years back (reader, we nominated it).

But enough background: the lovely lobby awaits your exploration. Click here to begin.

Take your time and zoom at will, noting the ultra-high resolution of the newest Matterport camera. [To make your virtual tour a little more exciting, the first person to find the Esotouric flier and email a description of its location to us will win a free seat on any of our regularly scheduled tours between now and September 30, 2017. Happy hunting! – update: congrats to Paul T., who first found the flier.]

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

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

Searching for Millard Sheets’ genius and Masonic relics at the Marciano Art Foundation

For as long as we can remember, the mysterious, windowless lodge building has stood on its prominent Wilshire site, an hermetic, masculine balance to the social, feminine Ebell Club just across the boulevard.

scottish rite exteriorDesigned by Southern California symbolist extraordinaire Millard Sheets, he of the Home Savings mosaic murals that sold the regional lifestyle to passing motorists and prudent savers, the Scottish Rite Temple (1961) is Southern California’s last great Masonic hall, a Gesamtkunstwerk from its exterior mosaics, instructional texts, high relief figural sculptures and giant unlit braziers to the unknown mysteries within.
scottish rite brazierSadly, it is also a block-long grave marker for a once-thriving fraternal organization that failed to inspire new generations of free thinkers. Rites ceased in 1993, and litigious neighbors and insufficient parking made it unsuitable as a secular event space.

Enter the Marciano brothers, designer jeans moguls, contemporary art collectors, seekers of vast amounts of square footage in the heart of Los Angeles. They picked the white elephant up for $8 Million to become what was initially presented as a private museum.

Flash forward several years, and that private museum is now open to the public, with timed, free ticketed entry Thursday-Saturday.

Which is how we found ourselves at long last stepping into Millard Sheets’ most mysterious commission, intent on seeking out elements of the design that have survived architect Kulapat Yantrasast’s transformation of the Temple and its dedicated theater, dining room, library and myriad club rooms into spaces suited for showing big, new and site-specific artwork.

It was immediately obvious, gazing up at the west facade, that the building has been stripped of much of its Masonic context. The ghosts of a lost gold metal text on the theme of Faith, Hope and Charity were visible between symbols of the Mason’s craft. (Google streetview captured the lost text nicely in 2009.)

scottish rite lost textOne of the gracious attendants explained that Millard Sheets’ son Tony had come and removed the golden letters, as well as a number of interior mosaics, and that they were now held in the artist’s archive. But we could see one large Sheets mosaic inside and another on the eastern exterior wall.

That east facade is Sheets’ largest mosaic commission, a history of Masonry from the ancient world to gold rush Sacramento.

scottish rite history mosaic 1

scottish rite history mosaic 2

Here we go, then, on a preservation-minded photo tour of L.A.’s newest contemporary art space, featuring reclaimed Masonic theatrical backdrops, high art water fountains and a forest of hidden creatures. Behold!

Over the first gallery hover two huge celestial lamps, their symbolism obscure.

scottish rite mezzanine lamps

scottish rite lamp detail

Step to the right, behind a half wall, to see the handsome Wilshire Boulevard entry, decommissioned due to security concerns.

scottish rite wilshire entryStripes of pebbly gold tiles stand out against the gorgeous stone walls

Just past the lobby, a carpet of jewel-toned terrazzo flanks a bay of be-compassed elevators.  masonic rite elevator bay

scottish rite elevator doorPeel an eye for those artful water fountains, both gilded and tiled, but none of them working.
scottish rite gilded fountain
scottish rite tile fountainThe vast first floor once contained the 1800-seat theater, where 33rd Degree Freemasons gathered to watch their esoteric history represented through elaborate theatrical productions. As befit the grandest lodge in the world’s motion picture capitol, the Wilshire Boulevard Masons didn’t skimp on stagecraft, make up or costuming.

It’s an odd thing, but when the Masons sold the building, they didn’t deliver it vacant. The new owners discovered a great quantity of abandoned stuff, some of it even older than the building, all of it odd. These bits and pieces have been retained and some of them displayed, in various states of integrity.

The inaugural temporary exhibition in the now-gutted theater is a multimedia installation by Jim Shaw, who made his name as a curator of thrift store paintings. Here, he presents a number of enormous theatrical backdrops hung at angles, their already cryptic significance amped up with the addition of iconic cartoonish characters and a dramatic light display.

Enter the International House of Pain and to your left, on an enormous panel, damned souls writhe in a hell of their own making.

scottish rite house of pain

scottish rite hellscapeThis spectacular vintage piece is left unaltered, and if one stands in just the right spot, the viewer’s shadow appears like the Spectre of the Brocken to menace the writhing forms.

scottish rite brocken

In the center of the space, a super-colossal George Washington vacuums up flattened fellows through a vintage Hoover attachment emerging from his loins.

scottish rite georgeLook out for the scenic artists’ stamps and signatures.

Esoteric genealogists on the internet enjoy speculating that Barbara Bush might be the secret daughter of occultist Aleister Crowley, and these two colorful characters appear in an intimate shadow play behind an abandoned mini mall.
scottish rite bush and crowleyAt right, in a tidy glass storefront space, vintage Masonic character hairpieces are displayed alongside weird rugs imagined by the artist.

scottish rite wig museum

It’s up to you to figure out which are new and which Masonic. (Hint: look for the dust of decades.)
scottish rite wig museum explosionIt’s here that contemporary art makes its strongest comment on the historic space: through the museum window is a painting of a stylish mid-century couple pausing with their baby’s carriage in front of a jewelry store window. The invisible child is of the generation that abandoned Masonry and its philosophical pursuits, and civic dedication to building up Los Angeles, dooming the Scottish Rite Temple to irrelevance.

The scene changed as a spotlight came on somewhere behind, casting the ominous shadow of a shopping cart, eternal symbol of consumerism and of L.A.’s 40,000+ homeless souls, onto the scrying glass shop window. Fate is a mother.

scottish rite shopping cart

But the clock was ticking (visitors are only allowed two hours in the parking lot) and we knew there was one large-scale Millard Sheets mosaic somewhere in the building. We were determined to find it, and eventually we did. At the very back of the upstairs gallery, in a gutted white room filled with big paintings and sculptures, a false wall hides a forest scene set in a stunning expanse of black glass tesserae.

scottish rite sheets tesserae

Step behind the wall and crane your neck. In spite of the ill-placed track lighting and awkward space, this beautiful, rhythmic piece with its lively animals is well worth seeking out.

scottish rite richard looks at sheets

scottish rite sheets gold trees
sheets racoons detail

The historically minded will also want to seek out the small exhibition gallery on the mezzanine. Here are relics of this lodge, and artifacts of older Los Angeles lodges, with a focus on theatrics and publications. We suspect these are leftovers from the short-lived Masonic museum of the early ‘oughts. The collection would benefit from more informed interpretation: one of the scant labels incorrectly states that the original Masonic Hall on the Plaza downtown has been demolished.

Artifacts include a theatrical maquette which could benefit from a little attention from the restorer.
scottish rite maquetteA gilded mosaic globe post, obviously from the Sheets studio.

scottish rite globeA set of racially insensitive figural busts.

scottish rite bustsJust a few of those that originally offered inspiration for theatrical character transformations.
scottish rite backstageNovel head gear and character sheets.
scottish rite hats

scottish rite turbans Striking costumes.


A banner from the oldest Los Angeles temple (still standing, darn it!).
scottish rite plaza banner

And when the sun is just right, the stained glass surrounding the reversed, double-headed eagle, one of the original building’s few sources of exterior light, is just lovely.

scottish rite eagle window scottish rite eagle window detail
Less appealing to preservation-minded visitors is the multi-screen video installation “Ledge” by Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch. If you’ve got the stomach for it, you can duck beneath a cramped awning to watch helium-voiced characters on a mock ghost hunt run amok inside the original building, before the historic spaces were gutted and the artifacts offered to artists who the Marcianos collect. While we wanted to see the lost space, we could only take a couple of minutes of the intentionally irritating show.

But that’s not all! An unexpected Millard Sheets discovery awaited us in the bookshop: an expressionistic forest mural, only partially obscured by stock displays. (It would be great if some kind of guard were installed here to protect the paint from abrasion.)

scottish rite bookstore mural scottish rite bookstore mural signature
Confident that we’d found all the relics and artifacts on view, we made our way out into the blinding Los Angeles sun, puzzling over the tough experience of finally getting inside a fascinating landmark, and finding nothing there.

Because the Scottish Rite Temple that Millard Sheets, a layman and a genius, created for the Freemasons of our city no longer exists. The walls still stand, with a few of the integrated artworks designed to illuminate the teachings of the masonic craft, but all context has been carved away.

The temple, small t, is now a shell that contains the experiences and aspirations of the new Los Angeles. It represents some positive things: the patronage by the wealthy of working artists and a social space whose usefulness is yet to be revealed.

But it is also a promise broken, as cryptic objects once the subject of deep study and revelation are openly displayed for the uninitiated. It is the masons (small m) who failed their temple. Now it’s up to the new Los Angeles to make something good of what’s still here.

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.

• March 2019 – Urban explorers snuck inside the doomed Parker Center, and we’re grateful for their documentary efforts.

• March 2019 – We imagine the FBI will be taking close notice of City Council’s selection of a private developer to build the replacement tower where the landmark Parker Center is presently being demolished.

• April 2019 – Did the rushed demolition of Parker Center contribute to a City Hall staffer’s typhus infection? Maybe yes, maybe no, but one sure thing is that the taxpayers will end up footing the bill.

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!

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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

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.

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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

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