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.

Pickle Works Locked Up and Condemned to Die by Carlton Davis

This is a guest post by Carlton Davis, who was the proprietor of The Art Dock drive-in gallery in the historic Pickle Works building in Downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District in the 1980s. We interviewed Carlton about this extraordinary, endangered landmark in 2013 for Episode #18 of our podcast You Can’t Eat The Sunshine: Peeling Back The Layers of The Arts District. (Update: two weeks later, in November 2018, the Pickle Works burned in an arson fire. Carlton calls out the City and Metro for failing to secure the structure from trespassers whose presence was well known. At the end of January 2019, the facade of the scorched landmark was demolished.)

On the Lowdown on Downtown tour, Carlton Davis, who curated the legendary Art Dock gallery, gazes with dismay at the site of the landmark Pickle Works building that was burned, then demolished, on the city’s watch (February 2019).

Affordable artists’ housing advocate Jonathan Jerald holds an oil painting of the 19th century landmark Pickle Works on the site of its demolition. (February 2019).

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What a tragedy that the City of Los Angeles is actively erasing the history and culture of the Arts District, a neighborhood that no longer supports working artists, while capitalizing on their reputation. God save the Pickle Works! The final decision on its fate will be made at the Regular Metro Board of Directors Meeting on Thursday, October 25, 2018.

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Art Dock and Doorways, Citizens Warehouse aka Pickle Works, Los Angeles, CA, August, 2018

Steel bars, angles, and heavy mesh imprison the Art Dock, all the ground floor openings, and doorways of the Citizens Warehouse. No trespassing signs declare violators will be prosecuted for parking on the street. The once vibrant artist residences and studios are vacant and have been since the city of Los Angeles purchased the building in 2000 for construction of the Gold Line light rail extension into East LA. A 60-foot section of the old warehouse next to the First Street Bridge was demolished for construction staging. The destruction was needless. In October 2018, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) eagerly awaits planning permission to demolish what remains of this 1880s brick warehouse with its hand-hewn redwood columns and beams, oak plank floors, and pickle vats in the basement. The Division 20 Environmental Impact Study (DEIR) declared it necessary. This is after MTA’s promises to preserve the building; after passionate historic preservationists’ and art community leaders’ requests that the Citizens Warehouse be saved.

The MTA lied for almost 18 years about its intentions. It made promises to save the building. Community pressure caused LA City’s engineering department to “restore” the south end of the building, which they had left as a plywood-covered eyesore, as a supposedly good faith effort to save the historic structure, which is one of the few, if not the only remaining, brick warehouses dating from the 19th Century, and a significant remnant of the flourishing art community in downtown Los Angeles from the late 1970s to 2000. The Potemkin Village reality that hid the true intentions of the city’s transportation planners is obvious from what was ultimately created on the south end of the structure. The wall was given a plaster veneer, and bolted to the wall were sheet metal images of windows with shutters flanking and flower boxes below included part of the imagery. The phony windows became curled and bent from the sun because of the shoddy method of their installation. The few bolts attaching the painted sheet metal resulted in a strange tableau of twisted metal like crushed pieces of chewing gum slapped to the façade. It is comical, but revealing.

The proclivity of Los Angeles development is to disregard the past as impeding process to the future. While mass transit is desperately needed in a city choked with traffic, it too often comes with the price of bulldozing the city’s existing context. This is nothing new. The fate of the Citizens Warehouse follows the honored stance of development over everything else. Now locked up inside steel bars the empty building seems haunted by the ghosts of wild spirits it once held. The warehouse/pickle works is condemned to death for being too full of creative energy. Once an important element of a burgeoning art community, the lost lofts become a metaphor for the lose of the art community in the Los Angeles Arts District. A neighborhood of rambunctious energy turns into a tame zone of cell phone-preoccupied and latte-sipping crowds of wannabes.

Designated the Arts District by the city, the area east of Alameda celebrated and declared Los Angeles’ rise to be a world class center of multi-faceted culture. More than just a cinema capital, LA matures into an art Mecca rivaling New York, London, and Paris. The Arts District, however, is no longer a realization of art’s importance in LA; it is a very profitable real estate venture. The district has become a developer’s dream. Cheaper land close to the government and business centers of the metropolis invited capital investment in new apartment buildings replacing the low density lofts. A few lofts remain, but the square foot cost rose from 12 cents paid in 1980 to an estimated 2 dollars or more currently. Artists can no longer afford to live in the Arts District. Many of the loft warehouses have morphed into restaurants and chic shops. Others warehouses have been demolished or soon will be. This is the fate of the Citizens Warehouse. The change is inevitable.

In New York City, what was once a viable loft scene, affordable live/work spaces have become the habitats of the rich. Soho has galleries and fancy restaurants, but not many working artists. Galleries pander to the acquisitive desires of the well-off who can afford the rents. Artists have dispersed into other boroughs and cities. In Los Angeles, artists scattered to other neighborhoods. The Arts District became attractive. Where there once few restaurants, the area has some pretty expensive eateries. Internationally renowned gallery Hauser & Wirth established itself on Third Street in the heart of the Arts District. It is the punctuation mark on the change that is and will become the icon of another reality about art zones. It’s all about money and who gets it. Except for a few, most artists don’t get the money, but many artists attract the money to where they were. Culture evolves from creativity to financial gain.

The Art Dock installations in the 1980s. Karen Kristin’s Wolf at the Door (above) and Drew Lesso’s and Neal Taylor’s Pile of Leaves in the dock and coal in the street (below)

Whither the Peabody-Werden House?

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Earlier this month, concerned by social media chatter about trespassers and trash around the Peabody-Werden House in Boyle Heights, we renewed our attempts to get someone at ELACC, the low-income housing developer that moved the house two years ago, to update us on their plans for the property.

It turns out there’s been a lot of turnover on ELACC’s staff, and our past inquiries slipped through the cracks. A meeting with ELACC was arranged outside the house on a misty, warm morning, also attended by local historian-activists Shmuel Gonzalez and Dapper Dyke Vivian Escalante.

Across 1st Street, a victim of the flames

Across the street, a cute little bungalow that had been the big house’s neighbor for a century was open to the sky, having recently caught fire. But over on the Metro lot, the Peabody-Werden house was sealed up tight, with concentric rings of chain link fencing, plywood over the windows and a motion detector sniffing for trouble. On the porch above, a mummified cat stood silent guard.

What’s the plan, we asked? It’s slowly coming together, they told us. Restoration and activation of the historic house is tied to a new housing development on the west side of Soto Street, and that project is several years from completion. The general plan is for the old house to remain on the Metro lot, where it can serve as a community arts center, though it could also be non-profit offices or serve some other public use.

We’re encouraged by the increased security around the house and by ELACC’s interest in preserving it. Now that communication lines are open again, we’ll keep the conversation going, and post updates as we have them. Until then, please keep a watchful eye on the big blue Victorian at the corner of 1st and Soto Streets. She’s got a lot of life left in her, and it’s up to all of us who care to help keep her standing strong until the plywood come off and she becomes a part of Boyle Heights’ living history once more.

 

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

Esotouric's Meme that saved the Peabody Werden House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updated to add: watch the house moved here.