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

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Some emails have just been released in response to a public records request by government transparency blogger Adrian Riskin of MichaelKohlhaas.org. He asked Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office for any correspondence between the councilman’s staff and anyone with netflix.com email address. You can read the emails here.

In addition to emails expressing the councilman’s desire to be helpful in addressing the streaming giant’s need for hotel rooms and apartments in Hollywood, you’ll find a fascinating email thread with Richard Adkins, president of Hollywood Heritage.

This thread helps clear up some of the mystery surrounding the rumored cancellation and last minute restoration of the 55th Annual Cinecon Classic Film Festival’s five-day booking at the Egyptian Theatre, a booking that we’ve heard from several sources had been salvaged through the direct intervention of Councilman O’Farrell’s office.

In his email (Subject: Additional Information on Cinecon and the petition, 7/20/2019), Mr. Adkins explains at the outset, “I would like to make it clear that Hollywood Heritage has not spoken publicly about the Cinematheque or the proposed purchase of the Egyptian Theatre.”

(We think this lack of comment on a major change of use for Hollywood’s oldest motion picture palace is unfortunate, both because Hollywood Heritage was founded in 1980 “to protect, maintain and enhance buildings and neighborhoods, natural resources, and other monuments and artifacts that exemplify or constitute a part of the historic, architectural or cultural heritage of Hollywood,” and because it is the only other Hollywood non-profit that received a landmark building as a gift with the expectation that it would be operated as a public benefit. The opinion of Hollywood Heritage on this proposed sale is in the public interest.)

Further, Richard Adkins wishes it known that he is not the same person as Richard Schave, who is circulating the petition seeking transparency around the sale of the Egyptian Theatre.

He continues: “In regards to Cinecon, Hollywood Heritage has the non-profit operator of Cinecon for the past three years. We have been associated with the festival since the museum was established inn 1985, but only began managing the festival following the passing of Robert S. Birchard who was the president of Cinecon… To be able to continue to operate, Hollywood Heritage filed a DBA with the state as operators of the festival. Select personnel at the Cinematheque have been familiar with Cinecon Classic Film Festival for almost 20 years and may not have been aware of the changeover, as we kept it low key in order not to alarm registrants, vendors and creditors… I am sure this is why there may be some unfamiliarity with our relationship to the festival, but I assure you it is now a Hollywood Heritage activity. If at all possible we would like to have notification of the return of our Egyptian dates by Wednesday [7/24/2019], so that should there be a problem, we can seek alternate venues.”

(The ellipses above are included to remove a claim made in the email that the late Bob Birchard, a dedicated film historian and preservationist who once gave a wonderful interview about lost Hollywood bookstores on our podcast, was misleading the public by operating Cinecon as a non-profit, when it was not one in good standing with the California Attorney General. We have looked far and wide for any claim ever made by Bob Birchard that Cinecon, or the parent organization Society of Cinephiles, was a non-profit, without success. To the contrary, Bob Birchard partnered with a non-profit at the end of his life to allow Cinecon to receive tax-deductible donations (see this PDF link). Since 2016, Cinecon has been operated by a non-profit, Hollywood Heritage.)

Two days later (7/22/2019) Craig Bullock, Planning Director for Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, forwards Richard Adkins’ email to London Kemp, Netflix’ Director of Corporate Real Estate:

“FYI. I wanted to share the email below regarding the petition. I would not have intervened had the people doing the petition were the same as the people doing the film festival. At my request, Richard Atkins sent this email to me to better clarify the players… it get confusing especially with multiple Richards haha”

With the air cleared, Cinecon did indeed go on as planned at the Egyptian Theatre from 8/29-9/2/2019. It was a close call for the festival, and for the hundreds of film fans, guest speakers and memorabilia vendors who purchased tickets and paid for travel and lodging, unaware that the event was hanging by a thread.

We’re glad Cinecon happened this year at its longtime home, The Egyptian Theatre. And we’re glad Los Angeles Times reporter Ryan Faughnder was able to attend Cinecon and to meet as perfect a dues-paying American Cinematheque member as Christina Rice there, so her quote can wrap up today’s front page story: “If it’s such a great thing, why does this all need to be shrouded in secrecy?”

And we’re deeply troubled that something as silly and as capricious as Netflix executives mistakenly thinking the preservationist named Richard who is petitioning the American Cinematheque to explain why they want to sell the Egyptian Theatre is the same person as the non-profit president named Richard who has no comment about the situation came thisclose to stopping Cinecon’s show from going on.

The city gave the Egyptian Theatre to the American Cinematheque for a dollar so festivals like Cinecon can have a home. We the people of Los Angeles and the wider film community deserve some honest answers before we lose this precious place. If you agree, please sign the petition, and share it with friends. You can learn more about the situation here.


Update: On September 12, two days after publication of this post containing the email in which he tells Netflix and Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office that Hollywood Heritage has made no public comment about the proposed sale, the non-profit’s president Richard Adkins made the following statement on Facebook, in which he commits to Hollywood Heritage sharing its informed opinion about the sale… after or as it closes. We understand that journalists have been reaching out to Adkins and Hollywood Heritage while reporting the story, with no response. These observations could have been helpful to them.

“The landmark Egyptian Theatre has been the focus of press attention in the last six months due to media reports of a pending transfer of ownership. At this date, and to our knowledge, no such transfer has as yet been completed and articles in the press lack sufficient detail to justify taking any position on a projected, but unexecuted, transaction. That being said, we would clearly anticipate that any such transfer of a national landmark building in a national historic register district would be reviewed with transparency by and all responsible public agencies, departments, or commissions. As the first Sid Grauman theatre in Hollywood and the site of the first gala “premiere” with searchlights and a red carpet, the Egyptian Theatre is a defining structure in our built environment and merits careful consideration in order to protect and preserve its unique architectural and cultural value not only to Hollywood, Los Angeles and America, but the world in general, which views Hollywood as a shared international cultural asset. When there is specificity and detail regarding a change in the projected operation of the theatre which may affect its future, Hollywood Heritage will be happy to share its observations and opinions on such plans, specifically as it relates to the monument, the district, and non-profit law and operation.”

In a follow up comment to someone seeking clarification, he adds: “That would be a simplification of the historic building process and this one is complicated by ownership by a non-profit. Yes, changes which require a permit are automatically reviewed for any building over 50 years of age under regulations which were designed to protect existing and potential landmarks. Painting for instance, is not a permit-necessary process. The review I was referring to has everything to do with how a non-profit steward of a historic structure has to proceed via non-profit law. A non-profit which owns or operates a landmark structure is periodically reviewed to make sure funds donated specifically for projects such as restoration are actually used for that purpose and not for staffing or other ancillary purposes. The Egyptian is a landmark, the Cinematheque is a non-profit, review of their management of the site is appropriate.”

Petition to Save the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre

UPDATED JULY 4, 2019 – Petition launched to Save the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre. Please sign and share. Read on for more details, or skip ahead to see our questions and concerns.

UPDATED AUGUST 13, 2019 – Public Comment is made at City Hall, and stories we’ve heard about what’s actually happening behind the scenes.

UPDATED SEPTEMBER 9, 2019 –  The Los Angeles Times features our campaign in a front page story. Also, government transparency blogger Adrian Riskin of MichaelKohlhaas.org publishes emails from Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s staff regarding Netflix, the American Cinematheque, The Egyptian Theatre, Hollywood Heritage and our campaign.

PRESS CLIPS: Will LA Stall Netflix Plan? Deal for Egyptian may face hurdles (Los Angeles Business Journal, 7/19/2019), Netflix Planning to Purchase Historic Egyptian Theater (Spectrum News 1, 8/7/19), Will Netflix’s Ownership of L.A.’s Egyptian Theatre Spark Backlash? (Hollywood Reporter, 8/9/19), Arpa International is First Confirmed Film Festival Cancellation, after 14 years at the Egyptian Theatre (8/14/19), Behind the Netflix Bid for Hollywood’s Egyptian Theater (Commercial Observer, 9/3/19), What happens when Netflix buys Hollywood’s iconic Egyptian Theatre? It’s complicated (L.A. Times, online 9/6/2019, front page in print 9/9/2019)

Click here to sign the petition.

Petition reads: As members of the American Cinematheque and patrons and fans of its programming, we demand transparency about the proposed sale to Netflix of the Egyptian Theatre and of the financial status of the non-profit.

The American Cinematheque is a membership-based non-profit organization that owns and operates the landmark Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, a building that was gifted to the Cinematheque by the City of Los Angeles for the symbolic price of $1. We understand that the theater is held in the public trust.

Currently operating without an Executive Director and with its charitable status listed as “Delinquent” due to incomplete tax filings dating back to 2015, the Cinematheque’s board of directors has apparently offered the Egyptian Theatre for sale to Netflix, the employer of board member Ted Sarandos.

The California Attorney General is currently investigating the American Cinematheque for its failure to file required financial information, its claim to have lost this information due to staff incompetence, illness and computer problems, and two unexplained outstanding loans to board members. (PDF link.)

In light of the ongoing financial mismanagement by the American Cinematheque board resulting in potential loss of its non-profit status, the board’s failure to hire a new Executive Director, the potential conflict of interest should board member Ted Sarandos’ employer Netflix purchase the theater, and the failure to inform the members that a financial crisis might require sale of the theater and threaten the very existence of the non-profit, we the undersigned call for a halt to any sale, and a public meeting at the Egyptian Theatre where representatives of the non-profit will explain the situation, take and respond to questions, and engage in a free, open and transparent dialogue moving forward about the future of this treasured membership-based non-profit and its sole asset, the Egyptian Theatre.

The future of the American Cinematheque and the Egyptian Theatre should be determined in an open conversation that includes the members and a qualified Executive Director, and not in secret by the board of directors and Netflix.

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ORIGINAL BLOG POST – April 29, 2019: “Netflix In Talks To Acquire Hollywood’s Historic Egyptian Theatre From American Cinematheque”: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

The press release, sent out by a firm not associated with the American Cinematheque, must have gone out first thing on April 9. Deadline broke the story at 9:06am, followed by The Hollywood Reporter (10:31am) and Variety (10:50am).

The articles painted a narrative of a win/win solution for a cash-strapped non-profit rescued by a deep-pocketed corporation. The only person named was Ted Sarandos, the American Cinematheque board member who had recused himself from voting on the sale, since he is also an executive at Netflix.

Because the only information about the proposed theatre sale has come from internal sources, with no independent reporting, the news raises many more questions than it answers.

We love the Egyptian Theatre and care deeply about its long history on Hollywood Boulevard, which since the 1990s has been entwined with the American Cinematheque. We’re are troubled that such a major change would be announced as all but a done deal, at a time when the American Cinematheque lacks an executive director (Barbara Smith retired late last year) to advocate for the non-profit’s mission.

And we’re hearing privately from many people in the film revival and historic preservation communities who are also concerned, and confused that, weeks after the proposed theatre sale was widely reported in the industry press, American Cinematheque members have yet to receive any explanation at all.

Perhaps Netflix really is uniquely positioned to help a treasured non-profit that is in dire straits. But before a landmark theatre that was gifted to the non-profit and the city by L.A.’s redevelopment agency is sold, the board owes American Cinematheque’s members and the community an open and honest conversation about how and why it’s come to this.

Questions for the American Cinematheque board:

1. What are the board’s reasons for considering a sale of the Egyptian Theatre?

2. When did the board begin to discuss selling the theatre, and what motions were put forward?

3. Have any alternatives to a property sale been explored?

4. Have any potential theatre buyers other than Netflix been approached?

5. Are costly improvements that were funded by donations, like the 2016 state-of-the-art enclosed nitrate-stock projection booth, being included in the proposed sale? If so, what are the potential tax ramifications to donors including The Film Foundation, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, TCM, and the Academy Film Archive? Have donors been notified?

6. What are the conditions of the Community Redevelopment Agency’s $1 sale of the Egyptian Theatre to the American Cinematheque, and is it actually legal to sell the theatre to anything other than a non-profit organization that shares its mission?*

7. Why has the non-profit failed to file its required tax forms dating back to 2015, resulting in a “Notice of Intent to Suspend or Revoke Registration” being issued in April 2018, and why is it currently listed on the State of California Attorney General’s website as “Delinquent”? What actions are being taken to resolve these issues?

8. Is the board conducting an active search for a new Executive Director, and if so what is the status of this effort?

So, what could possibly go wrong? Here are some things to consider:

• A new owner of the Egyptian Theatre could seek permits to do major interior improvements. While historic elements of the structure are protected under the city’s landmark ordinance, public access and use as a movie theatre are not protected. It could become a corporate media VIP lounge, restaurant, private club, nightclub, co-working space or even a private residence.

• The news stories based on the press release suggest there would be an agreement from Netflix to allow the American Cinemetheque to continue using the theatre on weekends. Even if entered into in good will, such an agreement could break down for many reasons. Netflix might sell the theatre to another entity. Rental costs might become too high. The owner might decide that other weekend uses are too profitable to miss.

• Assuming the weekend schedule did work out, the American Cinematheque would have to focus on more commercial programming during its limited screening times. Membership would certainly decline among patrons who frequent the Egyptian Theatre and enjoy less commercial programs. Without the caché of the flagship Hollywood Boulevard theatre and high profile Cinematheque-associated festivals, fundraising for the non-profit could become more difficult.

• The American Cinematheque has business relationships with independent festival programmers like TCM, Cinecon and Noir City and industry unions like the Art Directors Guild. Could these entities continue to book the theatre, for the necessary dates and at a reasonable cost, if it was sold to a corporation?

• There are a number of historic businesses in Hollywood that benefit from a symbiotic relationship with the American Cinematheque, and would see reduced revenues if the Egyptian Theatre ceased to be a repertory house. These include The Larry Edmunds Book Shop, Miceli’s and Musso & Frank.

• The American Cinematheque through its non-profit mission provides some of the most affordable and eclectic cultural programming in Hollywood, not just on Friday and Saturday nights, but all week long. This is highly valued by residents, visitors and the local businesses that they patronize.

• How many jobs would be lost if the theatre was sold and the American Cinematheque scaled back its programming?

• And finally, there’s the matter of the Egyptian Theatre’s loading dock. Access to the historic loading dock is currently threatened by potential redevelopment of the parking lots behind the theatre. Commercial developers interested in the space have expressed a willingness to design any project so that the loading dock remains functional, as a courtesy to a non-profit providing a treasured service to the community. Just down Hollywood Boulevard at the Fonda Theatre, that commercial entity is not getting such courteous treatment from the developer next door, and there’s no reason to think that Netflix would. Without access to its loading dock, the Egyptian Theatre would no longer be a viable performance space able to accommodate the type of productions that it has hosted since Sid Grauman opened the theatre in 1922. It would be effectively neutered.

We believe that the American Cinematheque board owes the community a transparent conversation about why such a drastic change in operation is being proposed for the non-profit. We call on them to halt discussions of selling the Egyptian Theatre until such a time that the community is better informed, and the concerns of membership and preservationists are heard. We’ve asked for a meeting with board member Ted Sarandos, who recused himself due to his Netflix ties, but have not heard back.

[Update July 4: please ignore the following instructions and just sign the petition to express your concerns directly to the American Cinematheque, Mitch O’Farrell’s Office and the state Charities Registry] If you believe that the American Cinematheque board owes Los Angeles an explanation, please share this link with your friends and let the board know with an email to info@americancinematheque.com, and copy your message to tours@esotouric.com (that’s us) and daniel.halden@lacity.org (in Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office).

We almost lost the Egyptian after the Northridge Earthquake; millions in public funds and countless volunteer hours saved it. Lets not lose her now.

*Mission of the American Cinematheque: The American Cinematheque is a viewer-supported cultural organization dedicated exclusively to the public presentation of the moving picture in all its forms. The Cinematheque presents the best of film and video – ranging from the classics to the outer frontiers of the art form. The American Cinematheque was created in 1981 to honor and promote America’s indigenous art form — the moving picture; to present the full range of film and video, not otherwise available, to the widest possible audience; to establish a forum for an on-going dialogue between filmmakers and filmgoers; to provide a high profile exhibition facility for other independent film and video organizations; and to encourage and support new talent by creating a showcase for their work.

 

In memory of John Walsh, who fought for the soul of Hollywood

When Hollywood gadfly and anti-corruption activist John Walsh died in early 2019, Los Angeles City Council showed its contempt for the man by adjourning in his honorknowing, no doubt that he had asked that this never happen, for “even in death, I would consider it an eternal insult to have my name associated with the L.A. City Council.”

John Walsh lived long enough to see the FBI raid City Hall, but not long enough to see the results of that raid.

Long unavailable due to complicated anti-competition matters between various defunct Los Angeles free weeklies, here is Susan Goldsmith’s legendary 1998 New Times feature story about John’s extraordinary work rooting out corruption in the Los Angeles subway project, “The Freak Who Stopped The Subway.”

In memory of John Walsh, with thanks from other Angelenos who care.

Who Blew The Whistle On the USC Architectural Artifacts Warehouse Heist?

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Freeman House by Julius Shulman, 1953 (Getty Research Institute Los Angeles)

In exposing one distressing historic architecture world mystery, The Los Angeles Times might have just solved a second one.

As we read The Times’ story about the unreported theft of significant decorative objects from a Los Angeles warehouse, we were reminded of a lingering question regarding the curatorship of Greene & Greene’s Gamble House, a landmark that is jointly managed in a partnership between the University of Southern California and the City of Pasadena.

Below are several news stories and events, all related to significant Los Angeles County architectural landmarks with links to USC.

February 3, 2019 – Based on an investigation sparked by an anonymous tip, The Los Angeles Times reveals that priceless Frank Lloyd Wright and Rudolph Schindler furniture and artifacts were stolen from a USC warehouse circa 2012, but that no police reports were ever filed.

June 7, 2018 – Chicago auction house Wright sells a single textile block from the USC-owned, Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Samuel Freeman House, an artifact with poor provenance, for $5000. Weeks later, “The Times received an anonymous email describing the warehouse theft. The author also included a link to the auction and wrote that even if the sale was not connected to the theft, it was troubling. How could the tile have fallen into private hands when its ownership had passed directly from the Freemans to USC, the writer asked.”

August 10, 2018 – It is announced that Gamble House curator Ted Bosley intends to depart at the end of the year after 28 years over “differences of approach between himself and USC School of Architecture leaders over the future of the Craftsman icon.” No explanation of the differences of approach is given, leaving lovers of Greene & Greene’s great residential commission concerned, especially in light of the recent series of serious administrative scandals at USC.

We can’t help but wonder if recently departed Gamble House curator Ted Bosley is the anonymous tipster who alerted The Los Angeles Times to the USC warehouse theft, and if he lost his university position because the administrators who covered up the theft learned that he blew the whistle.

The community deserves to know the truth—about the warehouse theft, about any other losses of significant historical material in USC’s care, and about exactly how USC intends to do things differently at the Gamble House. It would be very sad if a dedicated professional was dismissed for doing the right thing, when USC would not. For while USC is charged with the responsibility of maintaining these landmark properties, they actually belong to you.

Esotouric’s Los Angeles Historic Preservation 2018 year-end list

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Gentle reader…

As we slam the door on 2018, 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 2019 will see some of the Bittersweets tip over onto the Gains side of the fence.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Gains of 2018:

G1. A Modernist Master Recognized: It began with an impassioned plea from Zev Yaroslavsky to preserve William Pereira’s endangered CBS Television City, an architectural and cultural treasure that supports high paying professional jobs. Then the Los Angeles Conservancy brought in architect and historian Alan Hess, our partner in the Pereira in Peril campaign, to write the successful landmarking nomination. Also involved, property owner CBS, who came to the table to craft a preservation solution for the future of its historic broadcast production campus. The campus just sold, and will be subject to preservation guidelines in any future alterations.

G2. Rock On: If you love music history, Hollywood history, civil rights history and great architecture, then Musicians’ Union Local 47 matters to you. Founded in 1897, its members have shaped motion picture soundtracks since the dawn of the talkies, and uncountable hit records. The handsome Vine Street union hall, master architect Gordon Kaufmann’s last commission, became one of the first integrated performance guilds in America in 1953. The union recently sold the building and moved to Burbank, but the future of the old union hall is secured now that it’s been declared an Historic Cultural Monument. Cheers to John Girodo of Hollywood Heritage for writing a terrific nomination.

G3. Won’t Be Doggone: When Tail o’ the Pup, one of the last programmatic oddball architectural dining attractions standing, became a museum piece, we felt blue. But somehow, the iconic storefront is coming back as a commercial enterprise in the hands of the historically-minded 1933 Group, who are presently restoring the Formosa Café. And that’s a shaggy dog story we don’t mind waiting out.

G4. Bank On It: Downtown’s gorgeous Bank of Italy (Morgan, Walls & Clements, 1923) was shuttered for decades, so when Kim set part of her mystery novel The Kept Girl inside, she had to imagine everything. But this year, the NoMad Hotel completed an elegant adaptive reuse project, transforming a sober commercial building into a sweet social space.

G5. Spinning Wheel (redux): In 2016, on a hot day in sleepy Arcadia, where the last Googie-style Van De Kamp‘s Holland Dutch Bakery restaurant (Harold Bissner, 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. But months later, the blades snapped and fell through the restaurant’s roof. The future of the landmark sign again seemed uncertain, but happily, the sails are now spinning anew.

G6. Give Me Liberty or Give Me… WHAT?!: Neighbors rallied when Liberty Park (Peter Walker, 1967), a beloved privately-owned modernist landscape in the heart of park-poor Koreatown, was threatened with high-rise development. Tempers flared, culminating when property owner Dr. David Lee of Jamison Services terrorized attendees of a City Hall meeting by threatening to turn his assault rifle on citizens. That creepy stunt backfired, and Liberty Park became a protected Los Angeles landmark soon after.

G7. Landmarking Makes All the Difference: After official designation was granted to the derelict clothing-store-turned-trade-paper-HQ, the Crossroads of the World mega-project now plans to incorporate the Hollywood Reporter building. The adjacent 1930s garden court apartment block, encompassing 80 charming rent stabilized homes, won’t be so lucky (see B18 below).

G8. Exile on San Remo Drive: Thanks to the advocacy of thousands of writers and curators, the German government raised funds to purchase Thomas Mann’s Pacific Palisades home in exile, a modernist gem (J.R. Davidson, 1941) which had been listed for sale at a tear-down price. Slated to become a center for exploring ideas of cultural openness and international values, the first step is the recreation of the writer’s lost library.

G9. Developer, Please: In 1936, William Kesling designed a perfect streamline moderne residence for actor Wallace Beery in the flats of Hollywood, and for eight decades, lucky Angelenos kept the landlocked ocean liner ship-shape. Late last year, property developer Ilan Gorodezki announced his intent to knock the lovely thing down to build condos. But preservation people were paying attention, and drafted a successful landmark nomination. Thanks to the efforts of Charles J. Fisher and Steven Luftman, one of the coolest houses ever built in L.A. might survive to see its centennial.

G10. Heirloom Roses: For a decade, the landmark city-owned Casa de Rosas campus (Sumner Hunt, 1893) sat shuttered and decaying, a target for vandals or squatters, and a sad sight from the window of our Weird West Adams crime bus tours. We’re encouraged to see L.A. finally investing resources to reactivate this fascinating place as much needed low-income housing.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Losses of 2018:

L1. A Long Goodbye: The Mission-style Heather Apartments (Charles C. Rittenhouse, 1910) was one of Westlake’s loveliest old apartment hotels. But after the owner was cited for unpermitted renovations a decade ago, she was boarded up. Despite L.A.’s housing crisis, no law compelled Louis C. Gonzalez to make the 26 rent stabilized apartments available. It’s called demolition by neglect: no need to file for a demo permit, just let time and squatters do their worst. Two fires later, the old gal was doomed and soon demolished.

L2. Last O’Call: Although neglected by the city, a lousy steward of its historic resources, Ports O’ Call Village (1963) remained a beloved South Bay landmark, a place to socialize, promenade and feast on fishy treats. But with a development-focused administration in City Hall, a plan was hatched to erase the village and its small business tenants, leaving a clean slate for a generic corporate complex. Broken promises led to tragedy that the San Pedro community won’t soon forget. Have we learned nothing from the mistakes of Bunker Hill?

L3. Lights Out: Serial landmark wrecker Jason Illoulian hasn’t even got permits for his Sunset Boulevard mega project, and neighbors are organizing to save the block, but the uncertainty has had a killing effect on the row of small businesses. The saddest loss came when Parisian Florist moved away, and gave their signs to the Museum of Neon Art. The destruction of Hollywood’s finest mid-century storefront breaks our heart.

L4. Last Man Standing: Once upon a time, Los Angeles had two thriving book shop districts, one on Hollywood Boulevard, the other in Downtown’s warren of streets south of Central Library. In Hollywood, only the Larry Edmunds Bookshop remains, a favorite stop on our Raymond Chandler tours. Caravan Book Store, the last survivor on Downtown’s Book Row, closed this year, not due to landlord greed or redevelopment fears for once, but because second generation proprietor Leonard Bernstein was ready. Stifling sobs, we rushed down with our photographer pal Craig Sauer to capture the time capsule for posterity in explorable 3-D.

L5. Hollywood’s Silent Movie Theater was gutted as the owners attempt to rebrand the venue, which became toxic after Cinefamily staff spoke out about abuse. It’s not a protected landmark, so there’s no requirement to preserve historic resources, but it would have been cool if they tried.

L6. Clean Slate: RIP Alhambra’s Valley Cleaners, an obsolete bit of roadside signage that made us happy every time we waited to make a left turn up Fremont and now has disappeared.

L7.  R is For Rats: Shame on the Los Angeles School Board for voting to demolish the historic “R Building” at Roosevelt High, at a time when community pride and cultural history is more important than ever for Boyle Heights. Don’t be fooled: the so-called “preservation settlement” is a demolition, which is why no legit preservation group seeking to save Roosevelt’s history signed off on it.

L8. Scorched Earth: The fast-moving Woolsey Fire took the Western Town at Paramount Ranch and the nearly-restored Sepulveda Adobe, but reports of the destruction of the M*A*S*H set were premature.

L9. Sad Trombone: By the time a silent film fan raised the alarm after noticing the demolition permit on the 1904 Tabor House, which had a memorable cameo in the 1927 Our Gang film Dog Heaven, Councilman Paul Koretz had already put through a motion seeking to designate the early westside landmark for preservation. But after the property owner illegally demolished the facade, Koretz’ office says there is no recourse. If you think this gross behavior merits a revised city ordinance that punishes people for knocking down historic-but-unlandmarked buildings, tell your councilperson.

L10. Very Sour: Preservationists fretted, but for a brief moment (see Chapter 2.0.), it looked like Metro would save the Arts District’s beloved Pickle Works warehouse, after all. And then the gorgeous old thing burned down, amidst reports that the city-owned building contained a well-known homeless encampment. Demolition by neglect is always ugly, but especially so when it’s a public asset lost.

L11. Joe Friday Wept: Before the FBI showed up to empty his City Hall office and home of unspecified documents, Councilman Jose Huizar was the one-man wrecking ball sacrificing Los Angeles landmarks to his political ambitions. His (hopefully) last act was the rushed demolition of Parker Center (Welton Becket & Associates and J. E. Stanton, 1955), the world’s first modern police administration building and the finest International Style structure in L.A.’s portfolio, which for all its controversial history, remained an architecturally distinguished and potentially useful structure. But Huizar, who never met a lobbyist he didn’t lick, was determined to clear the east side of the Civic Center in order to privatize and turn it into “a 24-hour destination,” no matter the cost. While that sketchy idea and Huizar’s future might be toast so, regrettably, is Parker Center.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Bittersweet Moments of 2018:

B1. Infrastructure’s Victims: Caltrans has long been a crummy steward of the historic houses where the 710 won’t go, among them Julia Child’s girlhood home. Now that the freeway project is officially kaput, we hope these gems aren’t too far gone for longtime tenants to purchase and restore.

B2. To All My Friends: Tom Bergin’s, a Miracle Mile gem that’s fallen on hard times, has many pals seeking to make its landmark status official lest it be knocked down for redevelopment.

B3. Imitation Is Better Than Nothing: Renderings have been released for proposed redevelopment of William Pereira’s Metropolitan Water District HQ: much demolition, but also partial recreation of the low-rise building at the heart of the 1963 complex.

B4. Summer Coming: It’s been a wild multi-year ride as preservationists and members of the Japanese-American community seek an option to purchase the time capsule buildings and farm at Historic Wintersburg, a nationally significant Japanese-American landmark in Huntington Beach. Will it become a garbage dump, self-storage facility or an interpretive center telling the rich story of an immigrant community? No news is good news, we hope.

B5. Cop Caper: A recent 3-D photoshoot with Craig Sauer revealed the disappearance of Skid Row’s own American Gothic, the painted fire door that we discovered in the King Eddy speakeasy basement more than a decade ago. A reward is offered for its safe return.

B6. C’est la Morte: C.C. de Vere, historian of French Los Angeles, just wanted to know where her beloved statue of Joan of Arc had gone. She ended up uncovering some troubling data about the disappearance of one of the city’s oldest charities, and many millions of dollars. At least she found Saint Joan! Forget it, Jake: it’s Chinatown.

B7. Poor Pedigree: After a fatal arson fire at Dr. Jones Dog & Cat Hospital (Wurdeman and Becket, 1938), developer Arman Gabaee pursued plans to built a glass and steel mediocrity on the site, despite the dogged efforts of citizen preservationists Kate Eggert and Krisy Gosney which were picked up by the Los Angeles Conservancy. But then Gabaee was arrested on Federal bribery and public corruption charges. Tough luck for him, but a lucky break for the legacy of Dr. Jones.

B8. The Landmark Cudgel: Things get weird when politicians make preservation policy. Although Pico Boulevard’s wee Googie-style Orange Julius-turned-L.A.-Burger stand (Armet and Davis, 1963) wasn’t ultimately landmarked, the folded plate roof will be saved, and inspired the retro re-styling of the planned redevelopment project. Bonus: the neighborhood is spared another faux Tuscan slab, and gets its burgers back. That’s better than the Algemac’s project in Glendale, where a beloved Googie diner’s bones were saved, but not its kitchen.

B9. Pu Pu Platter: Tiki-lovers gasped at news that the sprawling Don the Beachcomber (originally Sam’s Sea Food and Hawaiian Village) was closing, its large PCH lot slated for unspecified redevelopment. The interior fixtures might be salvaged for use in a new venue, but there’s no way to replicate the sense of space and creativity of an original mid-century exotica environment on the coast highway. For now, the historic complex still stands, with Art Snyder’s restless spirit gnashing invisible teeth within.

B10. Museum Grow: The clock is ticking on the ambitious proposal to demolish William Pereira’s 1965 LACMA campus and its unfortunate additions for an amoeba-shaped new museum spanning Wilshire Boulevard. Chinese steel tariffs might break the bank.

B11. Machine Rage: A “preservation” hustle unfolds in West Hollywood, as serial landmark wrecker Jason Illoulian gets city approval to move and carve National Register landmark The Factory into a meaningless morsel. But it gets sleazier: Illoulian co-opted the name used by the community activists who fought to save this icon of early Hollywood camera manufacturing and gay culture for his own PR blitz. Cheers to Councilwoman Lauren Meister for taking a lone stand against this dishonest and destructive project.

B12. Spoiled Span: After approving the construction of affordable housing and a children’s park below a bridge that’s long been synoymous with suicides, Pasadena erected unsightly chain link panels blocking access to seating alcoves on the National Register Colorado Street Bridge, then extended the fence the length of the bridge. Historically sensitive design recommendations are promised. They can’t come soon enough.

B13. String ’em Up: Designation as an official city landmark is supposed to offer some protection, but don’t bother telling that to “developer” (this appears to be his only project) Eli Melech, who has been threatening for years to demolish the Bob Baker Marionette Theater and replace it with a puppet-themed apartment building. With a too tiny performance space on offer, the troupe made the tough decision to move on. You can find the road show in historic places like the Pasadena Playhouse and Santa Monica Pier, and chip in to help them plant new roots.

B14. Cooler Than Its Critics: This summer, after decades of neglect and derision, thousands came, like moths to the flame, to the derelict Los Angeles Mall to see Joseph Young’s Triforium come to life with flashing lights synced to live music. It’s a civic artwork, but this wasn’t a city production. Kudos to the grassroots team who pulled it off. Yet despite the great success of the Triforium Fridays series, the fight to save the Triforium is just beginning. The city has a plan to demolish the very plaza it sits on. At least now Angelenos are paying attention.

B15. Gehry the Vandal: Shame on Frank Gehry, who has gone to the courts to secure permission to demolish rather than integrate Kurt Meyer’s lyrical, landmarked Lytton Savings Bank. Meyer put his architecture career on hold to save Central Library; this fine architect and Angeleno deserves better than this.

B16. No Beano: Hideous blob proposed to obliterate Barney’s Beanery, a rare example of a Route 66 roadhouse in the heart of Los Angeles. The scraps of Barney’s facade propped under this mess add insult to injury.

B17: Location Location Location: Another landmarking designation promoted by an L.A. politician is Silver Lake’s streamline moderne steel Texaco station, a proposal that generated a great deal of anti-preservation sentiment before Mitch O’Farrell announced his real plans: to dismantle and ship the station out of the neighborhood. Frogtown has its own architectural landmarks; it’s silly and ahistorical to move one of Silver Lake’s character defining buildings down to the river.

B18. Abuse of Power: A few months before scandal-plagued Councilman Jose Huizar was removed as head of the PLUM Committee, he helmed a shocking meeting during which his crew struck down four newly-declared Hollywood landmarks, all of which conveniently stand in the path of the proposed Crossroads of the World mega project, and made snide remarks about the quality of the Cultural Heritage Commission’s work. We’ll take the CHC’s thoughtful dedication to preserving buildings of merit over PLUM’s development cheerleading any day. With the FBI now investigating Huizar, perhaps all his land use decisions deserve a fresh look?

B19. DOA: Landmark buildings are never more vulnerable than when tenants are evicted ahead of a redevelopment project. In October, Pierce Brothers Mortuary (1924), the crown jewel of West Adams’ Mortuary Row and until recently occupied by a church, was badly damaged by fire. But because the complex is a designated city landmark, the property owners can’t demolish everything, but must work with preservation experts to determine how to best to retain surviving elements and rebuild.

B20. The Best of Times: Because nobody else was doing it, we stepped up and landmarked The Los Angeles Times buildings, then watched as City Council’s PLUM Committee deferred to the wishes of disgraced ex-chair Jose Huizar and Canadian developers Onni Group and carved out the portion of the landmark that would be most profitable to demolish. But although this was an upsetting setback, Times Mirror Square isn’t done for at all. We will continue to shepherd the landmark through any proposed redevelopment, and with each step forward our preservation forces grow, and see clearly the kind of people who run Los Angeles and for whom. With the whole world watching, let’s see what they can get away with now.

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And that’s our report on the state of Los Angeles preservation for 2018. To see past years’ lists, click here: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012. And to stay informed all year round, see our Los Angeles History Happenings group 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 with The Real Black Dahlia on January 5, on the crest of the 72nd 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 as we kick off our 12th Anniversary Year of loving, preserving and telling the stories of Los Angeles. See you on (or off) the bus!

yrs,
Kim and Richard
Esotouric

Esotouric’s Los Angeles Historic Preservation 2017 year-end list

Gentle reader…

As we slam the door on 2017, 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 2018 will see some of the Bittersweets tip over onto the Gains side of the fence.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Gains of 2017:

G1. Angels Sing: After several years of non-operation, during which time the lovely little landmark suffered grave humiliation, Angels Flight Railway returned to daily service, thanks to a private partnership cemented by the Mayor’s Office, in direct response to the pleas of civic petitioners like you.

G2. Such A Lovely Place: After Westlake’s Hotel Californian burned in 1995, only the most optimistic preservationist—is there such an animal?—dared dream its massive, rusting twin neon roof signs would ever glow again. But dreams can come true when people care enough to do the work. And while a recent transformer issue has temporarily shut off the lights, soon you’ll again be able to marvel at that sweet script in the sky.

G3. In Sacred Memory: Angelenos who fell in the Great War have no better friend than Courtland Jindra, the modest preservation powerhouse who sleuths out the locations and histories of local war memorials, and has recently added restoration to his resume. Victory Memorial Grove was a forgotten ruin on the edge of Elysian Park, but thanks to Courtland and his crew, it is once again a beautiful place of remembrance, with new tree plantings to come.

G4. Dream Factory: Against the backdrop of Hollywood’s hyper-development excess, one project stands out for its audacious attempt to redesign Sunset Boulevard itself. Named for the exquisite National Register landmark at its eastern edge, Crossroads of the World seeks to demolish dozens of 1930s apartment units and the historic art deco HQ of The Hollywood Reporter. But not so fast, bulldozers: thanks to the passionate advocacy of local preservationists and historians, our company town landmark now has some civic protection. Special thanks to the Art Deco Society, with its new focus on writing landmark nominations.

G5. Final Exit: The Hotel Cecil was just another of Downtown L.A.’s 1920s-era low-income residency hotels, and occasional stop on our true crime tours, when a pitch-perfect internet-era mystery captured the world’s attention. While Vancouver tourist Elisa Lam’s sad death inside the rooftop water tower was ruled accidental, public fascination with the Cecil’s supposed curse has only intensified. But despite the lobby’s unfortunate recent faux finishes, the old girl has great bones, and new management that’s sought and received historic landmark designation. Restoration coming soon.

G6. Rock On: If you love music history, Hollywood history, civil rights history and great architecture, then Musicians’ Union Local 47 matters to you. Founded in 1897, its members have shaped motion picture soundtracks since the dawn of the talkies, and uncountable hit records. The handsome Vine Street union hall, master architect Gordon Kaufmann’s last commission, became one of the first integrated performance guilds in America in 1953. The union recently sold the building and moved to Burbank, but the future of the old union hall is a little less uncertain now that it’s passed the first hurdle on the road to becoming an Historic Cultural Monument. Cheers to John Girodo of Hollywood Heritage for writing a terrific nomination.

G7. Home Is Worth Fighting For: Hurrah for Lena Kouyoumdjian, who successfully nominated her lovely rental, in one of Echo Park’s rare surviving bungalow courts, as a landmark. These distinctly Southern California compounds are rich with history, and provide a rare sense of community in the heart of the city. But Wurfl Court faced that growing threat: demolition of historic rent-stabilized housing stock for a newly-permitted “small lot development” of high-priced tiny houses. Of note: landmarking is contagious, and successful nominations inspire future fights.

G8. Sugar Pill: The Cranky Preservationist went down to Sugar Hill, West Adams to gripe about the hipster murals that had defaced a fine old house (inside and out), but it turns out 2200 Harvard has been sold, and is finally getting some respect.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Losses of 2017:

L1. Joe Friday Wept: The Cultural Heritage Commission tried, but couldn’t overcome City Council’s plan to clear a large plot by City Hall for development. In the cross hairs: Welton Becket’s masterful mid-century Parker Center (“not one of [his] best works” – Councilman Jose Huizar, justifying a travesty), the world’s first modern police administration building and the finest International Style structure in L.A.’s portfolio. Demolition appears inevitable, but first the city must document the building, and ensure the removal and re-installation of integrated art pieces by Joseph Young and Tony Rosenthal. Preservationists and even one of the architects lament the city’s short-sightedness.

L2. Hot Stuff: Since 1910, the magnificent Mission Revival-style Heather Apartments have occupied the slightly sinister address of 666 South Bonnie Brae, but it’s years since anyone has lived inside. In April, the Santa Ana winds picked up an arsonist’s spark and tuned this derelict gem into kindling wood. The fire department’s photos are astonishing, and the Cranky Preservationist aghast.

L3. His Horrid Hobby: Imagine, if you will, spending years painstakingly restoring a magnificent 1902 mansion by Griffith Observatory architect John C. Austin, seeing it declared a landmark, then selling for a pretty penny. A happy ending, yes? Not when the buyer is serial home wrecker Xorin Balbes (not his real name), who felt that all that gorgeous dark wood had to go. Just a few months later, the “protected” Higgins-Verbeck-Hirsch Mansion is languishing on the market, the best illustration we know for how desperately Los Angeles needs an interior landmarking ordinance.

L4. His Excellency Regrets: Sometimes we only learn of a landmark when informed of its pending loss. Such was the case with a fine Koreatown mansion which, we discovered when researching the address, had been the home-in-exile of Mexican Revolutionary General Maytorena. Illegal demolition stymied any attempt at saving the home or its stunning stained glass.

L5. Park It: It’s no secret that we’re in love with John Parkinson’s 1910 design for Pershing Square, and yearn to see it return. But that doesn’t mean we’re enjoying the city’s slow destruction of the extant Ricardo Legorreta + Laurie Olin Brutalist park plan and its integrated artwork. Meanwhile, an unfunded redesign scheme now proposes to block the classic Biltmore view with LED lights. Is it so hard to just do the sensible thing and restore?

L6. No Room To Grow: It’s ironic, as LACMA scrounges around for a billion dollars to finance demolition of its iconic 1965 William Pereira campus for a slightly smaller Wilshire-spanning mausoleum, that it leased A.C. Martin’s & S.A. Marx’ streamline moderne May Company department store to the Academy for a museum of the movies. That project has hit some potholes, but none deep enough to stop the removal of the back half of the building.

L7. Storm The Bastille: When hillside Silver Lake bar-restaurant El Cid demolished half of its sidewalk-facing wall, it broke our hearts. Although altered somewhat since 1925, that windowless facade, with a wide door at the center, was built as a daffy roadside attraction, the Jail Cafe, featuring waiters in prisoner stripes serving swells chicken dinners, with no silverware, inside mock jail cells. The world is a little less weird for loss of that wall.

L8. Lights Out: A concerned fan sounded the alarm that Vermonica, artist Sheila Klein’s beloved 1993 installation of historic L.A. streetlights had mysteriously vanished from its East Hollywood parking lot home. Turns out, street lighting staff had reclaimed the poles, but failed inform the artist. Something that is Not Vermonica currently shines on a nearby city building, but Klein and the Mayor’s office are now in talks to bring the real deal back to the city that loves it.

L9. Brookfield Broke It: When the Community Redevelopment Agency demolished every building on Bunker Hill, Los Angeles was promised something new and useful in return for the lost Victorian neighborhood. High-rise developers received huge subsidies to provide public art and amenities, in return for agreeing to maintain these civic handouts. Flash forward to last week, when Brookfield Properties, recent buyer of Wells Fargo Tower, illegally demolished landscape architect Lawrence Halprin’s Crocker Court (1983), an oasis of running water, mature plants and world-class sculpture.  The timing couldn’t have been more shocking: a touring Halprin exhibition was at the A+D Museum, and the Los Angeles Conservancy had just toured the site. The Cranky Preservationist explains where the buck stops, here.

Los Angeles Historic Preservation Bittersweet Moments of 2017:

B1. Bad News: It’s been a long, slow slide for the Los Angeles Times since the Chandler family sold the paper. The Chicago owners continue to bleed its assets, recently selling the landmark (but not actually landmarked) newspaper buildings to Canadian developer Onni Group. Onni is marketing the compound as a hip work space, with Times staff likely evicted by summer. If the newspaper leaves, what of the magnificent Globe Lobby? It would be a civic and aesthetic crime to take it apart, even assuming the newspaper still owns its artifacts, which is uncertain.  As for William Pereira’s masterful, if misunderstood, 1973 addition: Onni wants to demolish it for twin glass towers. There’s a reason no local developer bought the Times compound: if respect for a Los Angeles institution was included in the equation, the financials just didn’t pencil out. That’s not an issue for foreign investors. So if any local billionaires are reading this, it’s your last chance to buy paper and preserve its historic home.

B2. Covina on The Nile: Covina Bowl (Powers, Daly, and DeRosa, 1956) closed last March, leaving fans and preservationists concerned about the fate of the wildest Egyptian-Googie bowling center in the world. Eligible for the National Register, the exotic white elephant patiently waits for a visionary to save it, or a villain to knock it down.

B3. Frank Slept Here: Doug Quill is a filmmaker with an office on the old United Artist’s / Goldwyn Studios lot. When he learned that Frank Sinatra’s personal bungalow was threatened by demolition to make room for a DWP infrastructure project, he petitioned to save it. It seemed the least he could do, since his grandfather had played in Sinatra’s band! After Doug asked for help from the DWP Commissioners, the bungalow got a stay of execution while possible solutions are explored. It’s not saved, but still standing, so there’s hope.

B4. Rhymes With Kitten: We’re big fans of architect Kurt Meyer, who was the firm hand at the CRA that ensured that Central Library was preserved and restored. Now one of his own finest buildings, the marvelous mid-century Lytton Savings, is threatened. Although recently designated as a landmark, starchitect Frank Gehry refuses to adapt his project to spare Meyer’s work. It will be up to the courts, City Council and the continued dedication of Lytton lovers Steven Luftman and Keith Nakata, to keep this art-drenched Sunset Strip gem intact.

B5. Attractive Nuisance: Victorian Los Angeles provided a safe place for its indigent and ill, a vast farm and industrial complex called Rancho Los Amigos, aka The Downey Poor Farm. Today, its decaying buildings are fenced and shuttered, which only sometimes keeps out the urban explorers who have defaced the buildings with graffiti and set a series of major fires. But after decades of indecision, the County is taking a serious look at how best to redevelop the site, and we’re encouraged to hear that preservation of existing structures is on the table.  Hopefully, affordable housing will be on the table, too.

B6. Elegant Decay: Also in Downey, are things finally looking up for the columned Rives Mansion, a National Register landmark badly neglected by its “owners” (owners in quotes, because they stopped paying their mortgage years ago)? Finally, after a fence collapsed from the weight of accumulated garbage, the bank and city took notice. The mansion sold in December, hopefully to a preservation-minded buyer.

B7. Adobe Don’t: One of the oldest houses in Los Angeles County, home to a California Governor, molders away in the middle of a Bell Gardens trailer park, desperately in need of roof and electrical work and informed interpretation. A recent L.A. Magazine feature looks at the Gage Mansion preservation problem, but fails to cover all the drama of our years-long public access battle. For that story, join us on the South L.A. Road Trip!

B8. A Dog-Gone Shame: 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. But a judge has ruled against  preservation, which leaves us hoping developer inertia leaves the door open for the still gorgeous building to be moved. If it falls, it won’t be without notice.

B9. Too Cool Too Lose: After initial discussions about demolishing not just the buildings, but perhaps even the prominent hill on which they sit, serious architectural and landscape guns were brought in to redevelop William Pereira’s neglected Metropolitan Water District HQ, a prime focus of our Pereira in Peril campaign. We’re watching this project with cautious optimism.

B10. Star Power: Another day, another Pereira in Peril (there’s LACMA, too, see L6 above). CBS Television City, the world’s first and most glamorous purpose-built TV production studio, is on the market. Concerned that inflated land values make demolition likely, the Los Angeles Conservancy has stepped in with a landmarking nomination, their first such attempt to preserve an endangered Pereira compound.  In a Times Op-Ed, ironic since their own Pereira building is endangered, Zev Yaroslavsky highlights the need to preserve an architectural and cultural treasure that supports high paying professional jobs.

B11. Pulling Strings: The landmark Bob Baker Marionette Theater will be be demolished, but Baker’s magical puppet shows going to return to a new theater inside the development project slated for the site.

B12. Men Behaving Badly: For film fans, the sudden shuttering of the Cinefamily non-profit was a cultural loss. For emotionally abused employees and volunteers, it was a validation and relief. But preservationists and Hollywood historians lament the closure of the Silent Movie Theatre in its 75th year of operation, and hope this isn’t its final curtain.

B13. Tails We Lose: For all the owners’ big talk about bringing the beloved Tail O’ The Pup stand out of storage and restoring it for a new generation of photo ops and quick meals, nobody did the actual work required to launch a restaurant. The end of the line for the promised roadside revival is a static museum display. And the original wasn’t even in the valley! Meanwhile, to the east, the world’s biggest tamale is also in mothballs.

B14. Daffy Deco Gone Dark: Among our most-missed tour stops is Monrovia’s incredible Aztec Hotel (1924), actually Mayan-inspired and designed by eccentric English architect Robert Stacy-Judd, who held court there in ancient Central American ritual garb. The National Register landmark has had hard times since the start, with repeated foreclosures and some downright peculiar “restoration” work. The hotel reverted to the bank in 2011, and was purchased by a Chinese investor. Although the storefronts remain active, and the restaurant recently reopened, the hotel remains inaccessible, undergoing agonizingly slow renovations. We’re hoping for a grand reopening in 2018.

B15. Band-Aid Solution: New chain-link fencing ruins the beauty of Pasadena’s National Register Colorado Street Bridge. It’s not that we’re insensitive to how important it is to help people thinking of self-harm, but the bridge already has integrated suicide prevention fencing that was installed when it was restored in 1992, which blended in with the design of the span. This new fencing is very ugly, and blocks off the alcove benches that give pedestrians a place to rest and look at the view. The bridge deserves better, and we’re glad to hear the city will be exploring alternative designs.

B16. Stone Drag: Charles Fletcher Lummis saved the California Missions, and did much to preserve the history of Native Americans and Mexican California. If only that great Western booster was around to advocate for the preservation and reactivation of his own historic home El Alisal, city owned, minimally managed by Rec and Parks, and brimming with potential. Every year that goes by without regular cultural programming at Lummis House is a heartbreaking civic failure.

B17. Just Because You Can: Everyone loves the Bradbury Building, California’s greatest surviving Victorian commercial space. Well, everyone except the uninspired folks behind the insensitive LED lighting scheme which makes the exterior remarkably ugly after dark.

B18. Doesn’t Mean You Should: When William Kesling’s streamline moderne Wallace Beery House (1936) was recently on the market, the listing highlighted its remarkable condition and unique machine-age charms. The realized price reflected the home’s condition and rarity. What an unpleasant year-end surprise, then, to learn it had been purchased by a developer eager to demolish the house for a dense cluster of condos. Preservationists have kicked into high gear, hoping to protect this gem.

B19. Vegas on Vine: Remember Onni Group, the Canadians eager to evict the newspaper from the Los Angeles Times building? They’re busy in Hollywood, too, with an outrageous proposal to erect a landlocked cruise ship looming over the lovely Afton Square District, which is designed on the California State Register. The project seeks a 35% density bonus, and proposes to move a collection of historic bungalows around like pawns on a chessboard and demolish a fine 1930 Art Deco market. Although presented as 429-unit apartment complex (hey, L.A. needs housing!), we suspect it will be another unpermitted hotel, a destructive model Onni got in trouble over at home in Vancouver before importing to L.A.

B20. Spinning Wheel: On a hot summer’s 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. Last week, after just 18 months of service, the restored Van De Kamp’s windmill blade fell off the tower. A few days earlier, we saw no sign of trouble. Locals are shocked and eager for assurance that Denny’s will re-restore, but as yet there’s been no official word on what went wrong or on plans for the sign’s future.

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And that’s our report on the state of Los Angeles preservation for 2017. To see past years’ lists, click here: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012. And to stay informed all year round, see our Los Angeles History Happenings group 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 with The Real Black Dahlia on January 6, on the crest of the 71st 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 as we kick off our 11th Anniversary Year of loving, preserving and telling the stories of Los Angeles. See you on (or off) the bus!

yrs,
Kim and Richard
Esotouric

Henny Backus’ futuristic 1933 Greta Garbo bust comes to auction

Brooklynite Henrietta Kaye lived an incredible American life, from Cooper Union sculpture study to half-draped Broadway showgirl, comic foil to Orson Welles in the Surrealist theatrical sensation Horse Eats Hat to noted Hollywood hostess with second husband Jim Backus. Oh, and Thurston Howell the Third’s ridiculous speech patterns were based on Harvard boys she’d dated (“like he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and they forgot to take it out”).

Henny Backus left this plane in 2004, but the Backus family estate is just coming to auction tomorrow at Kimballs in Massachusetts. Included among the baubles and beads and Polaroids of George Burns holding court at cocktail soirees is one of Henny’s astonishing 1930s celebrity portrait busts, a sinuous, pouting likeness of the young Greta Garbo.

Sadly nowhere in the auction is her rumored caricature of Orson Welles, rendered in a special stone the exact color of aged Virginia ham!

Thelma Todd’s Beach Cafe is ready for its autopsy

Hello there, lover of old Los Angeles and the colorful places where grim fate sets its traps. Have you wondered what’s doing with Thelma Todd’s Beach Cafe, recently sold for a lowball $6 Million and its future uncertain? We sure have.

We stopped by this week, and found the old gal stripped to the studs, with a crew on the roof putting down a new crop of red Spanish tiles. Banners on the facade advertise Creative Office + Ocean Views +/- 15,000 RSF. Interested? Call CBRE (310) 550-2639.

Happily, the vintage details that we know from past visits with longtime in-house curator, Father Frank Desiderio of Paulist Productions, appear mostly intact, from the rusted iron gates to the gay tiled arch to the yellow glass paneled doors that led into Joya’s, the mobbed-up nightclub on the second floor.

This bodes well for a respectful revamp of this lovely landmark, which is unprotected by any historic preservation ordinance. But any savvy developer knows these jazz age relics are priceless.

Here’s how she looked on a muggy morning, stripped to her bones for perhaps the first time since the Castellammare development was carved into the shaky hillside, almost a hundred years ago. She’s a beautiful thing with a lot of life left in her, even though there’s no place to park.

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…

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