The Death of the Old Long Beach Courthouse (1960-2016)

Today we bid farewell to the old Long Beach Courthouse, designed by Kenneth S. Wing and Francis J. Heusel, 1960, demolished March 2016. Demolition of Old Long Beach Courthouse, March 2016 photo by Louise Ivers P1010896

These photos taken earlier this week are by architectural historian Dr. Louise Ivers of Long Beach Heritage, a great voice in the campaign to save and adaptively reuse the building. The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Docomomo SoCal (pdf link) and the Los Angeles Conservancy were also on the case.

Demolition of Old Long Beach Courthouse, March 2016 photo by Louise Ivers  P1010900

Demolition of Old Long Beach Courthouse, March 2016 photo by Louise Ivers P1010906

Long Beach Press-Telegram article from 2013 includes many of the reasons the city gave for wanting to knock down all the buildings in its neglected mid-century Civic Center.

Why has Long Beach been in such a rush to demolish everything and not consider adaptive reuse options? Perhaps because the city is dead set on handing a clean slate of cleared public land over to a private developer.

Thank you, Dr. Ivers, for bearing witness to this week’s ugly end to a good building. This is the hardest part of a preservationist’s work. May the pain of loss give strength for your next battle. Onward!

Help Save The Bob Baker Marionette Theater

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The Bob Baker Marionette Theater needs your help! Click here to send an email of support.

THE STORY: A developer wants to build a big apartment building on the site of this historic landmark. We believe that there can be apartments, but also a working puppet theater on this site.

Please! Share this blog post and show your support for this gem of mid-century Los Angeles by visiting the Bob Baker website and sending an email to the Planning Department, asking that the theater be included in the approved redevelopment plan.

Here’s our Kim Cooper’s email to the Planning Department, with some points you may wish to echo:

Dear Planning Department,

I write to express my strong opinion that any redevelopment of the Bob Baker Marionette Theater site should include a functioning puppet theater.

It was only six years ago that City Council declared the theater an Historic-Cultural Monument (#958), an honor that is richly deserved for the decades of entertainment that Bob Baker and his crew have given to the families of Los Angeles.

It is my understanding that Bob Baker lost control of this property through a series of deceptive, if not outright fraudulent, transactions, and that the theater was sold at below market value. A reasonable profit can be made with a redevelopment project that allocates space for the puppet theater as a paying tenant, in addition to many residential units.

The retention of the puppet theater tenant will also serve the community by ensuring that this site retains its lively street life, instead of becoming a walled, residential garden, and through the continued training of puppeteers, many of them local youths.

You can do the citizens of Los Angeles a great service by insisting that the developer make room for a functioning Bob Baker Marionette Theater in the development that seeks to demolish this world renowned landmark.

Thank you for your consideration.

best regards,
Kim Cooper, Historian
Los Angeles

An Esotouric Road Trip: Cupples House, Saint Louis

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 flew into Saint Louis, picked up a rental car and headed straight to the Samuel Cupples House on the campus of Saint Louis University, a magnificent red sandstone Richardsonian Romanesque merchant’s castle laden with leaded glass, carved wood and quirky antiques.

Cupples House facade

Now on the National Register, in the early 1970s the mansion’s interior was in rough shape from decades of heavy use as a student center and the exterior stonework stained black from soot. Demolition was planned when “Father Mac,” a natural preservationist who wouldn’t take no for an answer, announced his intention to save, restore and repurpose the place as an historical museum. And boy, did he ever!

 

The student docent at the front desk gave us a thick booklet explaining the decorative symbolism in each of the 42 rooms, then set us free to wander until the daylight faded. From a cosy red-flocked library with generous window seat…

Cupples Library fisheye

to elegant dining rooms, every surface polished to a high sheen…

Cupples House dining room

to charming fireplace surrounds, each one different than the one before…

Fireplace, Cupples House

to charming rafter rooms, pressed into service as wee art galleries….

Cupples House round arch

and briefly outside again, to admire the generous porch and its softening sandstone details ahead of the dusk…

Cupples House porch

And finally up to the highest point of the house, to gaze out over the ugly modern city through a charming metal frame. Could architect Thomas B. Annan have conceived of such a world when he constructed Mr. Cupples’ castle? Maybe only in his nightmares.

Cupples House view

Although the old world has great appeal, it was getting late, and we knew there were adventures to be had out there in the new. So we said goodbye to the house that Father Mac brought back from the brink of demoliton, and went out to find them.

See more photos from our exploration of the Cupples House here and here. And stay tuned for further adventures on the road.

Exploring Rancho Camulos, the Home of Ramona

Long on our list of iconic Southern California sites to see was Rancho Camulos, the Spanish land grant rancho in the Santa Clara River Valley near Piru that inspired Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel of old Californio life, Ramona (1884).

On Sunday, we had a chance to explore the grounds and structures of this National Register landmark, now both a museum and a working citrus ranch still dealing with the ravages of the 1994 Northridge earthquake. It is a most picturesque place, containing many layers of California history, artifice and mystery.

We hope you enjoy our photos from this captivating place. Kim’s are in the slideshow below, and Richard’s can be found on Flickr. If planning a visit, see the museum website. Recommended reading: Ramona Memories: Tourism and the Shaping of Southern California.

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Sixth Street Bridge – RIP

This weekend* is your last chance to take a stroll across the iconic Sixth Street Bridge, that grand Art Deco passage between Boyle Heights and the Arts District. We were there tonight in the golden hour, along with dozens of bridge lovers armed with cameras, skateboards, lowrider cars (these under the bridge, in the river bed) and memories of a beautiful piece of the city that will soon be demolished. It really is a special place. Make the time to say goodbye if you can.

*update: apparently the bridge will remain open through January 25th, demolition starting February 5.

Ghost Building: The El Mirador Apartments

Designed by theater architect S. Charles Lee and erected in 1929, El Mirador Apartments is one of the handsomest structures along an architecturally distinguished stretch of Fountain, just below the Sunset Strip.

The criminally minded among you might recall it as the site of model Judy Dull’s kidnapping by 1950s serial killer Harvey Glatman–a narrative included on our new Esotouric crime bus tour, Hollywood!

Recent years have been, if possible, more heartbreaking for El Mirador. The building fell into the hands of notorious landlord Jerome Nash, whose low opinion of his tenants as a very young man led to the creation of the Ellis Act, the law which is now being used to displace thousands of renters across California. In theory, the Ellis Act is meant to be used by small property owners when they want to get out of the rental business and out from under prohibitive rent control obligations. In reality, corporate property owners use Ellis to remove affordable rentals from the market, flipping attractive buildings into more profitable condos and hotels.

Not Jerome Nash, though. He apparently applied the Ellis Act to the El Mirador simply because he didn’t like his tenants or the City of West Hollywood reminding him that historic landmark buildings are supposed to be maintained safely and with period appropriate windows that don’t rain glass down onto the sidewalk. There were threats to tear El Mirador down, or turn it into some kind of swinger’s party pad. All the tenants were evicted. Five years and more have ticked away, the legal window after which an Ellis-ing landlord can do whatever they wish with their property. And yet El Mirador still stands vacant, boarded up with weeds growing on the steps, a haunted house in the heart of West Hollywood, the physical manifestation of one sick landlord’s contempt for his tenants.

You can see the lifeless building as it looks today in the photos below. Follow the sad tale of the El Mirador in this series of posts from Curbed LA. And dig into Jerome Nash’s dark heart in this LA Times feature on his family lawsuits. Or join us on the Hollywood! tour to see for yourself and hear of Judy Dull’s terrible fate.

A Visit to Charles Bukowski’s Childhood Home at 2122 Longwood Ave.

Did Los Angeles poet and novelist Charles Bukowski ever have a childhood?

The lawn at Longwood, which Bukowski was forced to trim.

The lawn at Longwood, which Bukowski was forced to trim.

Well, he was small here, in this Spanish style house in the West Adams district, where his brute of a father made him mow the lawn with a precision that no human boy could master, then beat him into unconsciousness in the tiny bathroom at the end of the hall.

Jeff Markey is a Bukowski fan who recently purchased the house at 2122 Longwood Avenue, with an aim to restore it to its 1920s appearance and make it available as a short-term AirBnB rental.

We’ve been advising him about historic preservation options, based on our having helped to get Bukowski’s East Hollywood bungalow named an L.A. landmark.

Esotouric's Kim Cooper takes a moment inside the remodeled bathroom where the young Bukowski was abused.

Esotouric’s Kim Cooper takes a moment inside the remodeled bathroom where the young Bukowski was abused.

The experience of standing alone in “that” bathroom is not something any Bukowski fan will soon forget.

You can hear an interview with Jeff and our Richard Schave done by Anna Scott of Press Play/ KCRW.

And the house has a website.

And our Charles Bukowski bus tour is scheduled four times a year.

See more of our photos of the house on Longwood Avenue below.

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The Garfield Building, a seldom-seen Art Deco treasure

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Detail, Garfield elevator clock

For many years, the only way to see any part of the interior of Claud Beelman’s magnificent Art Deco Garfield Building (1928-30), a National Register and Los Angeles landmark, was through a grubby glass door behind a metal grate.

Despite a million dollar restoration in the 1970s, the Garfield has long been locked up tight, only accessible to vandals and pigeons. But the revival of interest in Downtown architecture has finally stirred the landlords to place the property on the market. Over the summer, the ugly plastic panels come down off the upper first story, and we noticed some intriguing activity inside the lobby.

And when we saw that this door to paradise was open, we couldn’t resist taking a peek. Behold! All this can be yours! (And soon, we fervently hope, more freely accessible to the beauty seeking citizens of the world.)

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Oak Grove Cemetery Mausoleum, St. Louis

Oak Grove is a private cemetery opened in 1922, and owned and managed by Marilyn Stanza, who married into the founding family. Cemeteries without large perpetual care endowments can become difficult to maintain with time, and in recent years there have been complaints surrounding the condition of the park grounds and Mausoleum. There has been water damage to the structure, and metal items, including rain gutters and sculptures, have been stolen for scrap value.

Mrs. Stanza has recently initiated a major restoration of the lion-flanked Byzantine Mausoleum (Tom P. Barnett and Sidney Lovell, 1928 with later additions), beginning with the gilded dome, which was inspired by the Pantheon in Paris. She was kind enough to permit us to visit this exquisite structure, and to share stories of the cemetery and St. Louis community.

Our tour of Oak Grove Mausoleum reminds us of the enormous challenges that face small organizations and individuals entrusted with the care of aging landmark properties. We hope that the good restoration work begun by Mrs. Stanza will continue and that Oak Grove will once again become famous for its beauty and restful charm.


See photos from our visit to Bellefontaine Cemetery here.

See more scenes from our anniversary trip through Missouri and Illinois here.