An Esotouric Day Trip to Helena Modjeska’s Canyon Retreat

On a cool, spring day we left Los Angeles early, bound for the Orange County canyon home of Helena Modjeska, the great 19th century Polish actress who learned English in mid-life and tirelessly toured America, bringing culture and emotional honesty to the people.

Our journey felt a bit like time travel, as the busy freeway traffic thinned and gave way to rolling hills covered with grass. Then up a narrow canyon, past olive groves and giggling turkeys running free, we found Arden, the house and garden where Modjeska went to recharge her soul after giving everything to her audiences. Today it is a National Register landmark with a devoted interpretive docent staff. We were the only people on the tour, and our guide Jan graciously shared the secrets of the house and indulged our many questions.

We hope you enjoy Kim’s photos from Mme. Modjeska’s wonderful house, a rare example of Stanford White’s architecture in California. You can see Richard’s photos of the grounds here. To plan your own visit, visit the OC Parks website. Recommended reading: Starring Madame Modjeska: On Tour in Poland and America.

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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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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George Ehling Mosaic House tour

High in the Hollywood Hills, the 1927 Spanish castle that top cinematographer Oliver Marsh built was in pretty shabby shape by 1967, when wrestler/actor/carpenter George Ehling picked it up. Instead of restoring, he transformed the place into something brand new. Over the years, and continuing to this day, George has coated almost every inch of the property with a mix of traditional and original mosaic patterns crafted from salvaged tiles he found in dumpsters — and a few prime specimens purchased on his world travels. These photos offer just a hint of the surprise and wonder of the Mosaic House.

Thanks to mosaic historian Lillian Sizemore for organizing this tour, and to George and Ivenia Ehling for welcoming us into their only-in-Hollywood home. Stay tuned on news about this wonderful folk art environment on its Facebook page George Ehling Mosaic House, and look for Lillian Sizemore’s article on the house in the next issue of Raw Vision Magazine.