Find the Fire Door! 3-D Tour of Downtown L.A.’s King Eddy Saloon Speakeasy Reveals A Vanished Cultural Treasure

king edward 3d preview

Welcome to the ninth in a series of 3-D explorable tours of off-the-beaten-path Los Angeles spaces, created by Craig Sauer of Reality Capture Experts using cutting-edge Matterport technology.

This tour takes you behind the scenes of John Parkinson’s 1906 King Edward Hotel, recently purchased by the Healthy Housing Foundation so its scores of vacant SRO rooms can be made available to low-income tenants.

In addition to the exquisite lobby with its Egyptian marble details, vintage rolling wall safe, mosaic tile floor, faux marble scagliola columns (soon to be restored!) and dolphin fish wall fountain, we also go upstairs to explore the room upgrades in progress, and into the basement, packed with incredible artifacts of 112 years as a working apartment-hotel. Don’t miss the collection of massive iron boilers in the northwest corner, too big to remove when they became obsolete.

We share these immersive photo projects to bring fellow history lovers along with us into spaces that are often hard to visit, experiencing transition and rich in layers that reward a deeper look.

This is the first time, while documenting an historic space, that we’ve uncovered evidence of a crime!

But before revealing details of that crime, and asking for your help in solving it, let’s go back to the beginning, at least to our beginning as professional tour guides. When we launched Esotouric in 2007, one of the Los Angeles writers we celebrated was John Fante. We successfully nominated the intersection of 5th & Grand outside Central Library as John Fante Square, got to know Fante’s family, marked his centennial, sought out time capsule locations that Fante would still recognize and generally did our part to honor a fine, unjustly neglected artist.

The most resonant Fante location proved to be the King Eddy Saloon, the last of the old school Skid Row dive bars, and a featured location in the 1939 novel Ask The Dust. In the book, Fante’s literary alter ego Arturo Bandino blows his first royalty check on one of the b-girls hustling in the basement speakeasy.

In 2008, while filming an episode of Cities of the Underworld in the junk-filled basement, our Richard Schave was among the first people in decades to see a Skid Row masterpiece emerge from the dust: a big metal fire door that separated the bar from the hotel basement, expertly painted with a comic scene of an old fashioned cop rousting a drunk on a bench.

Over the next few years, we had numerous opportunities to take groups down into the speakeasy, and to see how the fire door thrilled people. Every group asked if the speakeasy could ever come back. Word got around about the real speakeasy (something rare as hen’s teeth in a city filled with “speakeasies”) beneath the King Eddy, and other bar owners lusted after the space.

In 2012, the King Edward Hotel changed hands after a death and bankruptcy. The Croik family, owners of the bar since the early 1960s, found themselves without a lease. To stay on, they’d need to agree to invest big money in the speakeasy and to make major changes to the working man’s bar upstairs. Investing in the speakeasy was a no-brainer, but the latter demand went against the Croiks’ ethics as the stewards of that fragile ecosystem, the last Skid Row bar. Grandson Dustin couldn’t be the person to dismantle an environment crafted over three generations, by his father and grandfather before him, a place that meant so much to The Regulars.

So with more than a little sadness, it was announced that the King Eddy would be closing at the end of 2012. We organized a special night of farewell speakeasy tours, led by Dustin, then put the video of that night aside, too sad to do anything with it, until now.

The new owners, ACME Hospitality Group, were nice and loved the bar’s history, and we kept bringing groups down to tour the speakeasy (here’s ACME’s Jonny Valenti showing a private John Buntin organized crime history tour group around).

But the promised big money investment demanded of the Croik family never happened, and the numerous changes to the working man’s bar upstairs didn’t click. From 2015 through today, the bar changed hands a couple of times, and we could never connect with the new owners to learn about their plans for the precious speakeasy.

Okay, enough background. So what about the crime?

Summer 2018. There we were in the dark and cavernous western side of the hotel basement, helping to set up lights so Craig could complete his 3-D scan and excited to show him the lesser-known hotel side of the Weirton Steel fire door (painted with a comely Dutch girl serving a foamy beer to a baby-faced sailor), when we discovered the unthinkable.

That magnificent painted fire door, Skid Row’s own American Gothic and the centerpiece of the historic basement speakeasy, had been TAKEN OFF ITS HINGES AND SPIRITED AWAY!

You can see the hole where the door should be over Craig’s shoulder at left in the photo below.

According to hotel staff, one day several years ago, they noticed that this integral piece of building safety infrastructure had been removed. They put a large piece of plywood up to cover the hole in the wall between the bar and the hotel basement, securing it on the hotel side. The plywood panel is visible in this speakeasy tour video shared by Oddity Odysseys in June 2017, and in the screen grab below.

The new owners of the King Edward Hotel, the Healthy Housing Foundation, love the building’s history and very much want to see this lost artifact returned and preserved. We asked Miki Jackson of HHF what message she had for anyone who might know where the fire door is now. Miki says, “The King Edward and the King Eddy Saloon basement speakeasy are just not the same without our cantankerous cop, our resident miscreant, our charming Dutch girl, the mischievous sailor and his beer! They have gotten lost; please send them back home. We are honoring the long and colorful history of the famed King Edward Hotel and this painted door is a very important part of that history. Please help us find it.”

The Healthy Housing Foundation is offering a reward of $300, a behind-the-scenes tour of the building and a round of beers in the King Eddy Saloon for the return of the King Eddy’s historic fire door. Because we love the door and feel responsible for rediscovering it in the first place, we’re throwing in tickets for the person who helps return the door and three friends to ride our Downtown L.A. true crime history tour, Hotel Horrors & Main Street Vice or, if you’re more bookish than ghoulish, Charles Bukowski’s Los Angeles.

Somebody knows where the painted fire door is now. And as cool as this artifact is out of its historic context, we hope they can see that it ought to be returned to the King Eddy cellar, the room it was created to decorate.

Please help spread the word by sharing this blog post and the missing posters below. And if you know where the door is or where it’s been since it was last seen around 2015, please say something and help bring this precious cultural artifact home, so future generations can be as charmed as we were when we brought it back into the light ten years ago.

REWARD

with any info

CONTACT Kim and Richard

tours@esotouric.com

213-915-8687

http://www.esotouric.com/KingEddyDoor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig Sauer shooting CalEdison

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

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

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

Elevator frieze by Conrad Buff

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

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

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

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