The Peabody-Werden House makes a move

You have to get up pretty early in the morning to see a 121-year-old Victorian duplex moved across the road, and luckily for you, we do.

Peabody-Werden House through fence

We arrived at First and Soto Streets to find the crew from Brandt House & Building Movers staging the dirt in front of the house and prepping plywood panels to protect the sidewalk and asphalt. On the other side of the street, the vacant Metro-owned lot stood ready for its precious cargo, a pair of blooming Jacaranda trees jussssst far enough apart that the house would be able to squeeze between them.

Jacaranda framing Peabody-Werden House

A crowd gathered, curious to see what moving a house was all about. Among them, a precocious six-year-old named Michael who adamantly insisted that Victorian houses were old and ugly. Nevertheless, he was eager to spend his birthday morning watching this one start its new life.

We’re still giddy about our historic preservation campaign succeeding in just 13 hours, and so pleased that ELACC graciously agreed to preserve, restore and transform the Peabody-Werden house into a community center. We hope the happy conclusion of this home’s story will inspire other people to ask for a preservation solution when redevelopment projects put historic places at risk. Houses can be moved. Old things matter. And you can’t win unless you try.

We were able to capture most of the house move on cell phone video, until a phone call from a reporter inadvertently cut off the recording. Brandt’s crew made quick work of it, and we think you’ll find the process interesting. Here’s to the next 121 years, and all the good work done today.

The last Van de Kamp’s Holland Dutch Bakery windmill is back

Despite the triple-digit temperatures, the western end of Route 66 seems a bit cooler today thanks to a newly-restored piece of roadside signage; the vintage 1967 Van de Kamp’s Holland Dutch Bakery windmill (since 1989 a Denny’s) on Huntington Boulevard, Arcadia.

And we were there for the festivities, as former mayor George Fasching shared his seemingly quixotic quest to convince Denny’s corporate HQ to finance a restoration. Although others in town were pessimistic, George’s spunky note to CEO John Miller made a strong case, and once the city relaxed the sign ordinance to permit motion, a check for $100,000 soon followed. In just a few months, the windmill had a new motor and reinforced blades illuminated with white LEDs.

Also in attendance was architect Harold Bissner Jr., who with Harold B. Zook designed the circular Arcadia landmark, the first (and last surviving) of fifteen Van de Kamp’s restaurants. (Bissner is also the visionary behind Volcano House, Huell Howser’s old hang out.)

As the blades started spinning, a couple of ladies of indeterminate age squinted up at them from the sidewalk across the street. “It used to spin clockwise,” said one. “And the lights were blue and white, Van de Kamp’s colors.” “Woo! Windmill!” yelled a young, smiling man covered in tattoos. And Harold Bissner looked upon his own work and he smiled, too.

John Miller says the windmill will spin 24/7, sending a message of welcome to all who pass. Next time you’re out Santa Anita way, swing by and see for yourself.

Seen in Boyle Heights: the incredible historic preservation power of social media

Esotouric's Meme that saved the Peabody Werden House

On September 10, 2015, I read the transcript of a short KPCC radio piece about 20 Boyle Heights families facing eviction from their rent-controlled apartments by low-income housing developer East L.A. Community Corporation (ELACC). Residents had been organized by Union de Vecinos to protest the loss of their homes. I shared the news with my husband Richard Schave, who hosts an occasional tour about the cultural history of Boyle Heights.

On September 26, while running errands in the neighborhood, Richard and I stopped to see where residents were fighting to save their homes. Although the eviction fight and planned demolitions had received quite a bit of news coverage that month, we were startled to discover that one of the threatened properties was a very handsome double-width, half-timbered Victorian house. Why had none of the reporters mentioned that this wasn’t just an eviction story, but an historic preservation story, too?

After taking some photos of the run-down house from the sidewalk, I went home and researched the history of 2415 East 1st, learning it was built circa 1895 and had been an early mixed use development: residential below and commercial above.

Concerned that nobody had sounded the alarm about the demolition threat to a unique historic structure, I spent half an hour designing a simple image meme showing the vintage building contrasted with its proposed modern replacement. The text read: “SAVE ME! Q: With so many vacant lots in Boyle Heights, why does affordable housing developer ELACC want to tear down a 120-year old mansion?.”

Then late on September 27, I posted the image on Esotouric’s Facebook account with the suggestion that anyone concerned about the house share it and send an email to developer ELACC. Dozens of people shared it overnight.

My own September 27 email to ELACC read: “I am writing in regard to the 1895 half-timbered double house at [2415 East 1st], which is slated for demolition under your proposed redevelopment project, Cielito Lindo. This is a rare example of Tudor-style architecture on the East side of the river, and is also unusual due to its scale and its retention of glass, wood and stone details. It has great bones, and deserves another chance. I urge you to explore options for moving this 120 year old community landmark, rather than destroying it.”

On September 28, ELACC President Isela C. Gracian President replied, with a message that was refreshingly different from the demolition plans that had been reported in the Los Angeles Times, Eastsider L.A. and Boyle Heights Beat.

Gracian thanked me for my interest in the property and continued, “Let me just start off correcting information, this building is not slatted (sic) nor has it been for demolition. This is incorrect information which has unfortunately been disseminated.We at ELACC support the preservation of historic places and [this] is a building we are working to preserve by moving it to a different location. The preservation of the building has been at the forefront since we acquired the property.”

The time elapsed between my initial email to ELACC and ELACC’s reply? Just thirteen hours and 52 minutes. But in that short window, dozens of people shared the image meme and sent their own emails of concern.

In late October, Richard and I took Ms. Gracian up on an invitation to participate in a discussion about possible future uses for the building, where we learned that an empty MTA lot directly across 1st Street might be available as a new home for structure, which ELACC had nicknamed The Blue House or The Peabody Werden House in honor of early residents. (see Attachment B – Peabody-Werden House Relocation Site Plan.)

And this Thursday, June 30 (8:00AM – 2:00PM), after 121 years facing south, the structure will be moved directly across 1st Street to its temporary, north-facing home. And Richard and I will be there to watch the show, tickled to know that because we stopped to take a look, and shared our concerns with the preservation-minded Los Angeles social media community, ELACC responded with a respectful plan to preserve a piece of Boyle Heights history for future generations. Won’t you join us?

And it’s a happy ending for the residents, too, as Union de Vecinos negotiated right of return for evicted tenants to go to the top of the list to move into the new development.

So what’s next for The Peabody Werden House? Metro is granting a one year license to stage the historic house on their vacant lot during construction of the approved Cielito Lindo project. which requires its removal. ELACC is exploring options for its future use, including restoring it as a community space for residents of the proposed Los Lirios development slated for the vacant lot. (see 1st_soto_board_report). Stay tuned to the Esotouric blog for updates as we get them.

Updated to add: watch the house moved here.

A Rare Interior Tour of the Endangered Los Angeles Times Compound

When the Chandler family relinquished ownership of the Los Angeles Times in 2000, it sounded a discordant note all across the southland.

For while the Chandlers and ancestor Col. Otis before them were imperfect stewards, they were undeniably devoted to the growth and dignity of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Times, that city’s newspaper. Chicago-based Tribune’s tenure has been closer to Animal House than Pulitzer territory, as the once great paper has hemorrhaged staff while failing miserably to comprehend the challenges and opportunities of the digital era.

Which brings us to this week’s announcement that Tribune Tronc is close to selling the “landmark” Times-Mirror compound at 1st and Spring Streets, landmark in quotes because not one part of this magnificent compound is a protected Historic-Cultural Monument. Not Gordon B. Kaufmann’s broad-shouldered 1935 Art Deco jewel box with its glowing neon clock, not Rowland Crawford’s boldly vertical 1948 Times Mirror addition, not William Peirera’s elegant, and widely misunderstood, 1973 black glass corporate headquarters.

Although the lobbies of the Kaufmann and Crawford buildings are accessible, much of the compound remains a mystery to the public and sadly, in recent years to newspaper staff as well.

With a sale possible and no civic protection for these important buildings, as a public service we share these interior photos, shot last fall while scouting locations for an Angels Flight Railway benefit. In the end, we held it at the Million Dollar Theater. But we sure did enjoy our spin around the old Times HQ, and think you will, too. Long may she stand.

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Post updated to include a link to our colleague Nathan Marsak’s appearance on “Press Play with Madeleine Brand” talking about the preservation concerns surrounding the proposed sale. 

While Los Angeles Waits: A Virtual 3-D Tour of Angels Flight Railway

Angels Flight in mid track IMG_20160605_180348

To go directly to the 3-D Angels Flight tour, click here

It has been 1005 days since Angels Flight Railway, the beloved funicular that is, with the exception of a stone retaining wall, the last remnant of the lost Victorian neighborhood of Bunker Hill, suffered a minor derailing incident and was taken offline by its regulator, the California PUC.

Last July, horrified to see a car defaced with greasy graffiti, we formed the Angels Flight Friends & Neighbors Society (FANS) and petitioned Mayor Garcetti for help in cutting the regulatory red tape. He responded quickly, instructing Metro to prepare a report. But nothing else happened, at least not in the public eye. And here it is, almost summer again, and there’s still no good answer to that burning question we hear so often on our historic tours: “When can we ride Angels Flight?”

We believe that everyone should have the chance to enjoy this unique time capsule of old Los Angeles. And it occurred to us that if Angels Flight can’t legally take paying customers, there’s nothing to stop virtual visitors from climbing aboard. Unfortunately, there’s also little to stop bad actors from climbing aboard, as we discovered yesterday evening, on arrival at Angels Flight.

While Craig Sauer prepared his 3-D Matterport camera rig to capture the funicular’s photogenic nooks and crannies, Angels Flight FANS Richard Schave and Gordon Pattison got busy scrubbing off the childish graffiti tags that covered Olivet’s windows, undercarriage, seats and beams.  This vandalism, funicular operator John Welborne said, was no more than five days old. Thanks, a lot, “Saucy.”

But how are people getting into the Angels Flight cars, normally parked in the center of the 298 foot track, high above the ground? We didn’t have to ask, for an intense young man suddenly appeared just below the station house, having marched boldly up the tracks from Hill Street. When John Welborne inquired what he thought he was doing, the trespasser cooed, “Are you a Scientologist?” and blithely skipped away.

So far, vandals have only scrawled on the cars, scratched their names into the glass and left trash behind. It is our great fear that one of these illegal visitors will cause more lasting damage that cannot be erased with elbow grease and Goo-Gone. So long as Angels Flight remains out of commission, it falls to all of us, from public agencies to private citizens, to keep our eyes on Olivet and Sinai, and to call for help if we see anything suspicious.

But enough fretting and fussing: strap on your wings and get ready to soar!

Craig Sauer at Angels Flight station houseCraig’s 3-D scan replicates the experience of boarding Olivet at Angels Flight’s upper station house on Bunker Hill. The car is empty, so you can sit anywhere you like.

ride on Angels Flight lasts less than a minute, but there’s no need to hurry. Poke around and explore, admiring the narrow slatted ceiling, bare incandescent bulbs and metal handrails worn from innumerable rising riders. Although moved half a block south from its original location and no longer hemmed in by Victorian apartment hotels, Angels Flight is essentially unchanged from the conveyance than carried generations of Angelenos from the heights down into the city. Once you’ve had your fill, simply head down the hill inside the car and you’ll arrive at the lower station house, just across from Grand Central Market, open late all summer long and the new home of our free LAVA Sunday Salons and Broadway on My Mind walking tours.

V on Angels Flight IMG_20160605_184149It was a pleasure to spend a little time with our beloved Angels Flight and bring back a special view to share. The best part was seeing the faces of Craig’s children light up as they experienced their very first ride on L.A.’s wonderful funicular. Let’s hope it won’t be much longer before they, their classmates and YOU can ride it any day of the year.

If you care about Angels Flight and want to see it running again, please sign and share our petition, and we’ll keep you informed about the preservation campaign.

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

Save the Smell & Save the Victory Cafe!

245 to 249 s main street demolitions photo by the smellEarlier today the Smell, the legendary all-ages club in Los Angeles’ historic Skid Row, shared a photograph of a demolition permit application notice posted on their building. Even at the start of a holiday weekend, the response from incensed patrons was deafening.

We love the Smell, too, and agree that Los Angeles would be much diminished by its loss, should the permit be approved.

But the threatened structures at 245-249 South Main Street are so much more than just their familiar 2016 businesses: the Downtown Independent Theater, the Smell and the New Jalisco bar. They are the last physical remnants of a lost early 20th century Main Street, a zone of deliciously low culture entertainment that encompassed the burlesque arts, tattooing, freak shows, shooting galleries, wax museums, nickelodeon theaters, taxi dance halls and bars catering to all manner of men, an honorable tradition continued by the New Jalisco.

It is a world as lost to us as the Aztec and the Maya, but one that continues to fascinate and to inspire, and that we attempt to visit four times a year on our crime bus tour Hotel Horrors & Main Street Vice.

These are not the kind of buildings that inspire book-length studies, appear in pristine archival photographs or are featured on the walking tours of the Los Angeles Conservancy. To find their stories, one must browse through cinema enthusiast websites and the back pages of old newspapers, source rare bits of b-movie footage, keep both ears to the ground.

Here, in a rare bit of color Main Street film shot by the Union Rescue Mission in 1949, we see the threatened structures (The Civic Theater/Downtown Independent, The Victory Cafe/The Smell and Palace Cafe Chop Suey/New Jalisco Bar), set between the lost storefronts to the south and north.

So as 21st century Angelenos rally to Save The Smell, let’s remember that succeeding will also Save The Victory Cafe, and the last stray remnants of Main Street’s astonishing, vanishing entertainment zone. We think it’s worth preserving.

Did we say these are not the kind of buildings featured on Conservancy walking tours? Happily, our friends have no such compunctions. Here’s architectural historian Nathan Marsak, LAVA’s Visionary of the Year for 2015, celebrating these modest storefronts on the Union Rescue Mission Walking Tour: 121 Years on Skid Row. (If you dig these clips, please consider making a donation to the good folks at the URM.)


The Hotel Californian neon is alive, alive!

It was 1995 when arson claimed the derelict Hotel Californian at the corner of 6th and Bonnie Brae in the Westlake District. But before the grand old H-shaped structure was demolished, the city removed its massive twin neon roof signs and placed them behind a chain link fence just east of the Mulholland Fountain on Riverside Drive.

The plan, if you can call it that, was to convince the developer who would eventually build on the site to fix them up and put them back.

And there they sat, lonesome, rusting and occasionally vandalized, for almost two decades. Folks would spy them from the road and pull over, astonished, full of questions and humming that Eagles song.

At some point, one of the signs vanished; the preservation grapevine buzzed that Diane Keaton had mysteriously acquired the least ruined of the pair and installed it on the patio of one of her many historic homes. Then the second sign was gone, too, and nobody seemed to know where.

But then came a hot tip from our neon historian pal Dydia DeLyser, which is how we found ourselves at high noon on the corner of 6th and Bonnie Brae, hitching a ride in the freight elevator of The Paseo at Californian, the nearly-finished low income housing complex that has sprouted on the grassy vacant lot where the old Hotel Californian (1925-1995) lived and died.

Up on the red-tiled roof, we found vintage neon artisan Paul Greenstein putting the finishing touches on the glass tubes that will illuminate the second, newly restored Hotel Californian sign. The metal cans are smooth and clean now, and painted a brilliant California orange with cream that had been revealed as the original colors, visible in flakes beneath layers of rust and paint. (“Creamsicle!” Paul laughed.) As the neon crew posed for photos, then packed up from a job well done, the master’s doggy sidekick Harpo enjoyed the cool breeze off the lake in MacArthur Park.

After 21 years in the exile, the Hotel Californian sign again rises proudly above the city: behold! (She’s not yet lit, but watch this space, and we’ll let you know when you can see her glow.)

Update: Here’s video of the speakers at the relighting ceremony on March 9, 2017.

Hotel Californian


East Saint Louis, post-industrial ghost town

Most Saturdays, we host a few dozen “gentle riders” on the Esotouric tour bus, revealing the lost lore of Los Angeles through visits to landmarks both notable and obscure. Because most of our passengers are Southland locals, we don’t offer tours during the busy Christmas season, which gives us the opportunity to play tourist ourselves. Mid-December found us on a breakneck architecture-rich road trip along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Join us, do, for a virtual journey (map) from St. Louis to Louisville ahead of the brutal December storms.

Our stop to explore the desolate husk of the Armour Meat Packing plant was an unplanned detour en route to the unfortunate city of East Saint Louis, IL.

The once-thriving metropolis has suffered a sixty year decline marked by departing industry (including Armour), divisive roadway construction, declining tax revenue, unchecked conflagrations, soaring crime rates, polluted land and other indignities large and small.

And yet there is some hope for a revival. In 2014, the downtown business district was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and it was this time capsule neighborhood that we’d come to see.

Have you ever wandered the backlot of a motion picture studio? That was our experience exploring the newly-landmarked section of East Saint Louis. The buildings were tall and handsome, but almost all locked up tight. We could stand out in the middle of the street taking pictures of the historically contributing structures, some with trees growing out of cracks in their facades.


It was eerie, and frankly a relief to pack up and hit the road.

Leaving town, we came across one of the strangest structures we’ve ever seen: a jazzy mid-century gas station and mini-mart, with a rustic stone beer garden attached. It, too, was long abandoned, but man, it looked like it had seen some wild times.

Just across the river from bustling Saint Louis, on a fine sunny winter day, East Saint Louis is still waiting for someone to take a chance. We hope the National Register designation will bring new ideas and new life to this sad place. It will have to happen soon: there are tax credits available, but they expire this year.

Isn’t it lovely, though?

For more of East Saint Louis, see Richard’s photos here.

A Virtual Tour of the Barclay Hotel: Grand Lobby to Hidden Tunnels

Richard Schave outside Barclay HotelOne of our favorite Los Angeles buildings is the Barclay Hotel (originally the Van Nuys), a Beaux Arts gem constructed in 1896 on the northwest corner of 4th and Main Streets by pioneering architects Morgan and Walls.

We love the hotel because it’s beautiful, but also because it holds so many layers of history, real and fictional. We visit the lobby on our Raymond Chandler tours, for it’s upstairs in room 332 that detective Philip Marlowe finds the man in the toupée with an icepick in his neck, a pivotal plot point in The Little Sister. We also stop on our Hotel Horrors & Main Street Vice tours, to share the true life tales of a deranged 19th century millionaire who turned mean drunk in the hotel bar, and of two serial killers who worked their evil in rooms above.

It is our great pleasure to share with a wider audience the Barclay Hotel’s magnificent double-height lobby through the virtual magic and Matterport technology of 3-D photographer Craig Sauer’s lens. You’ll marvel at the ornate plasterwork, the stained glass, the monumental clerk’s cage and the vast sea of tile that distinguish Historic-Cultural Monument #288.

Barclay Hotel basement stairsBut thanks to the generosity of Victor Vasquez—whose family has owned the hotel for decades and was responsible for its landmarking—we can also take you deeper, where we’ve never been able to take tour guests, down marble stairs into the labyrinthian basement, with its tiled passages, sliding wooden doors of the historic stables, lockers decorated by long-dead workers, spiral stairs to nowhere and handsome nooks and arches. It is a true Los Angeles time capsule, a functional environment that has barely changed in 120 years.

As you explore the basement level, you may find your way into that most rare and beguiling bit of lost Los Angeles: an unrestricted L-shaped section of the hidden service tunnels beneath the sidewalk that once criss-crossed Downtown. We can’t tell you if the Barclay’s tunnels were used during Prohibition to move illicit substances, but we did find whole walls covered in mysterious penciled numbers that suggest some informal commerce was practiced here. Sniff around and see if the Barclay’s secrets reveal themselves to you.

If you enjoy Craig’s scans of the Barclay, we also recommend our previous collaborations: The Dutch Chocolate Shop and JK’s Tunnel. What will be the next hidden Los Angeles landmark to get the 3-D treatment? Stay tuned!

An Esotouric Road Trip: Ruins of the Armour Meat Packing Plant (National City, Illinois)

Armour Meat Packing Plant

Most Saturdays, we host a few dozen “gentle riders” on the Esotouric tour bus, revealing the lost lore of Los Angeles through visits to landmarks both notable and obscure. Because most of our passengers are Southland locals, we don’t offer tours during the busy Christmas season, which gives us the opportunity to play tourist ourselves. Mid-December found us on a breakneck architecture-rich road trip along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Join us, do, for a virtual journey (map) from St. Louis to Louisville ahead of the brutal December storms.

We saw the chimneys from the highway, twin brick columns rising above the old Armour Meat Packing Plant, once the nation’s most efficient killing machine. We didn’t know then what it was, only that we wanted to get closer. The chimneys made it easy, as we left the interstate and wound down the quiet rural road leading to the ruin.

There were some men parked there, near the old factory. As one told Kim how sad he was that this fine old hulk would soon be demolished for a new road, another was instructing Richard on how to navigate the weedy paths and safely access the factory floor. “Stick to the first room,” he said, “There are hazards past the threshold.”

Later, we read that National City, Illinois was a company town, born in 1907 as a city of death. Here was erected a grand factory that turned the squealing creatures of the stockyards into bacon, leather, tallow and beef, these products ferried neatly away by rail. The factory was a source of wealth for the adjacent city of East Saint Louis and a morbid tourist attraction. But when the killing stopped, in 1959, it was East Saint Louis that died.

The empty factory, so soundly constructed, stood tall through cold winters and humid summers. Thieves took what they could carry and vandals broke windows, and the trees grew thick up to the walls. As of a few months ago, the old Armour Meat Packing Plant was still there, a proud and terrible relic of the hungry, inventive America that was.

Stepping into its cold hulk on that freezing day, we felt the weight of time and of inconceivable suffering. This cathedral of commerce demanded respect, even in its ruined state. It didn’t seem right that it shouldn’t stand as long as time and nature allowed. When we gazed up through the open ceiling at those towering chimneys, the sky was very blue, then black with crows, then blue again.