The fate of Bob Winter’s library

Esotouric’s Richard Schave learned how to give a bus tour on Bob Winter’s “L.A. on a 6-Pack” Occidental College excursions in the 1980s

When the announcement circulated yesterday about a one-day estate sale at the longtime Pasadena home of architectural historian Bob Winter, hearts dropped into stomachs all across the Southland.

It was widely known that Bob intended to leave his Arts & Crafts bungalow, built by the great Pasadena tile maker Ernest Batchelder and liberally festooned with rare tile, glass and metalwork, to his beloved Occidental College.

Less widely known was what the college planned to do with the National Register landmark. It is in no danger of being demolished; the facade and principal downstairs rooms are protected by a preservation easement. But would Oxy undertake the considerable expense of maintaining the property just as it was, as an off-campus lecture hall or visiting scholar’s residence? Or would they put it on the market?

The estate sale announcement settled that question firmly: Bob Winter’s home would be sold.

Scrolling through photos on the estate sale listing, it was obvious that the library had been thinned. Still there were hundreds of books laid out in banker’s boxes. Would the reference library that informed such iconic Southern California histories as The California Bungalow, California Design 1910, Batchelder Tilemaker and A Guide to Architecture in Los Angeles and Southern California be dispersed?

The answer is “absolutely not!”

We reached out to our friends at Occidental College and got the skinny from Dale Ann Stieber, Special Collections Librarian and College Archivist:

“Three faculty members and two librarians reviewed Dr. Winter’s books and selected about 250-300 items for subject matter of regional value (arts & crafts and California regional arts, architecture and culture) for Occidental College Library.

Dr. Winter’s personal and professional papers, memorabilia, awards, and research files/books were reviewed, packed and will be coming to Special Collections. Ann Scheid, USC architectural librarian and a close friend and colleague of Dr. Winter, is assisting us in the processing of these materials for future researcher access. I should add that a decade ago Dr. Winter transferred his comprehensive 35mm slide collection on Southern California architecture to Occidental College; it has been fully digitized, described and available in ArtStor.”

And that’s a bit of happy news on the sad occasion of the end of our friend Bob Winter’s life in his lovely bungalow. May this place attract a fine new steward and be a joyous and creative home for many years to come.

As for us, we’re skipping the estate sale, and prefer to remember the house filled with Bob’s personality and treasures. Having learned how to give offbeat Los Angeles architecture and history tours directly from the master (including one of Batchelder’s Dutch Chocolate Shop), we’ll be deep in South LA on Saturday, exploring the sites that figure in Patty Hearst’s kidnapping and the SWAT raid that incinerated her SLA captors.

We don’t begrudge anyone who swings by the sale in search of a keepsake, but if you’d like to explore the city Bob loved, why not come along for the ride? There’s time for both, and Los Angeles is calling.

Oldest friends Jean Bruce Poole (senior curator and historic museum director, El Pueblo) and Bob Winter enjoy a sunbeam in his living room, Winter 2015

“Frankly, it smells.” – Our Public Comment on the Times Mirror Square Draft EIR

A week ago, after the Los Angeles Times broke the story that cracks had started to appear inside and outside the landmark Los Angeles Times buildings in January, and that Metro had prepared a report for Federal regulators, we asked the Los Angeles Planning Department to extend the period of public comment on the Times Mirror Square Draft EIR until that report was made public. The city declined, though it left the door open to accept additional comments.

So we submitted the following public comment on the proposed redevelopment project today.

 

William Lamborn
Major Projects
Department of City Planning
221 North Figueroa Street, Suite 1350
Los Angeles, CA 90012
<william.lamborn@lacity.org>

Re: Case No. ENV-2016-4676-EIR
Times Mirror Square Project
Public Comments

May 19, 2019

Dear Mr. Lamborn,

I am a cultural and architectural historian focusing on Los Angeles in the 20th Century, and the applicant who submitted the Historic-Cultural Monument nomination for Times Mirror Square (Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #1174).

This letter represents the public comment on the above noted Draft EIR both for myself, and for the Historic-Cultural Monument nomination team.

The Project has adverse impacts to the historic Times Mirror Square complex, and should under CEQA’s standards revert to one of the lesser impact Alternatives. A landmark of this caliber should not be subjected to a diminution of its cultural and architectural integrity through demolition of a contributing structure, nor through the creation of an historically inappropriate commercial Paseo.

1. DAMAGE TO TIMES MIRROR SQUARE BUILDINGS CAUSED BY METRO CONSTRUCTION

I write this public comment with a significant disadvantage, not having seen Metro’s report prepared for Federal regulators regarding cracking to interior and exterior walls that has been noted on the Project site as beginning in January 2019. The existence of the damage report was reported in the Los Angeles Times on May 12, 2019 (see attachment 1).

Without knowing the extent of the damage, which is apparently related to ongoing work for the Regional Connector Project, its current and potential future impact on the landmark structures and the cost and time needed to stabilize them before restoration can begin, it is difficult if not impossible to comment appropriately on the proposed Project and its Alternatives.

However, since my request on May 13, 2019 that, in light of the questions raised by the Los Angeles Times’ reporting, the period of DEIR comment be extended for one month was not granted, I will comment on the DEIR as it stands. I appreciate your responding on May 14, 2019 “in accordance with the CEQA Guidelines, that while not required, the Lead Agency may also respond to late comments that are received,” and trust that future public comments will be incorporated into the DEIR as more information is made public.

It is essential that Metro’s report be made available to the public, Office of Historic Resources and the Department of Building and Safety and additional comment taken before any decisions are made on the proposed Project and its Alternatives.

QUESTION #1: Will a full reporting of damage to Times Mirror Square be made available to the public and appropriate city agencies, and additional comment accepted, before this Project moves on to the next stage of the EIR process?

2. SEEMINGLY ARBITRARY DELETION OF BUILDINGS PROTECTED UNDER THE LANDMARK ORDINANCE, OCCURRING AGAINST THE BACKDROP OF AN FBI INVESTIGATION INTO ALLEGATIONS OF PUBLIC CORRUPTION

The process by which Times Mirror Square, the Historic-Cultural Monument impacted by the Project, has moved from the nomination process through the Cultural Heritage Commission, then to the Planning & Land Use Management Committee and then to City Council is highly unusual, and should be noted by the Planning Commissioners.

2a. BACKGROUND ON THE HISTORIC-CULTURAL MONUMENT APPLICATION

More than a decade ago, Ken Bernstein in the Office of Historic Resources informed me that his office would not accept a landmark nomination for anything less than the entire block, Based on this direction, I adjusted my plan to nominate the 1935 Times Building to include the Plant, Mirror and Executive Buildings. This more complex nomination, encompassing the work of three architects and spanning five decades of architectural advances and site history, required significant additional research and the assistance of numerous scholars.

Bafflingly, after the nomination finally was submitted to the Cultural Heritage Commission, the Office of Historic Resources staff report of July 2018, signed by Ken Bernstein and colleagues, stated that the Executive Building, which Mr. Bernstein had explicitly instructed me to nominate, was not significant. The Cultural Heritage Commission disagreed, and demanded that the staff report be amended to note the significance of William L. Pereira (architect of the Executive Building) and publisher Otis Chandler (who commissioned it). In the Commissioners’ opinion, the Times Mirror Square landmark includes the four interconnected buildings.

2b. FBI RAID OF JOSE HUIZAR’S CITY HALL OFFICE AND SUBSEQUENT PLANNING AND LAND USE COMMITTEE HEARING AND CITY COUNCIL VOTE

On November 7, 2018, Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar was raided by the FBI, then removed from his Planning and Land Use Management Committee chairmanship. Nevertheless, on November 27, 2018, the Planning and Land Use Management Committee deferred to Councilman Huizar’s request and altered the landmark nomination by removing the Executive Building. Thus, the nomination reverted to the opinion in the July 2018 Office of Historic Resources staff report and rejected the later determination of the Cultural Heritage Commission to amend the staff report and accept the nomination.

On December 5, 2018, City Council took up the matter of Times Mirror Square’s landmarking as part of a multi-item block vote, and with no comment or discussion, unanimously approved the altered landmark.

2c. REVELATION OF $50,000 DONATION BY TIMES MIRROR SQUARE DEVELOPER TO POLITICAL COMMITTEE ASSOCIATED WITH JOSE HUIZAR

On February 7, 2019, the Los Angeles Times reported that shortly before the Planning and Land Use Management Committee vote, developer Onni Group had donated $50,000 to a political action committee with ties to Councilman Huizar and his wife (see attachment 2). The appearance of a pay-to-play agreement between a politician and developer, in which a landmark was arbitrarily altered by the Planning and Land Use Management Committee in such a way as to ease the development of two towers on the property is deeply troubling, especially against the backdrop of a still developing FBI investigation in which other City Hall figures have been named, and even more so when it threatens the preservation of so iconic a Los Angeles landmark as Times Mirror Square.

Frankly, it smells. Times Mirror Square’s fate should not be decided under a cloud.

QUESTION #2: Will you wait until the ongoing FBI investigation involving Jose Huizar’s activity as the chair of the most powerful land use committee in Los Angeles is resolved before this Project, in which Mr. Huizar took a particular and personal interest, moves on to the next stage of the EIR process?

3. PROJECT ALTERNATIVES

Under CEQA, a project EIR must include a range of plausible alternatives, with the environmentally superior alternative designated as the best option.

3a. PROJECT ALTERNATIVES REFLECTING THE CULTURAL HERITAGE COMMISSION’S DETERMINATION

In the DEIR, there are three Alternatives, which reflect the determination of the Cultural Heritage Commission that the four main structures of Times Mirror Square, not including the Pereira-designed parking garage (see section 4. below), merit preservation.

These Alternatives are:
Alternative 1: No Project / No Build Alternative
Alternative 4: Partial Preservation Alternative
Alternative 5: Full Preservation Alternative

Additionally, these three Alternatives retain the eligibility of the entire Times Mirror Square complex to be listed as an Historic District on the National and California Registers, something that might not still be the case were the Executive Building removed and the west facing facades of the Times, Plant and Mirror Buildings altered with the creation of a commercial Paseo.

Alternative 4 has the additional environmental advantages of Reduction of Solid Waste and Reduction of Energy Use.

QUESTION #3: Will you only consider Alternatives that respect the determination of the Cultural Heritage Commission and treat the Executive Building as a protected historic resource?

3b. PROJECT ALTERNATIVES IGNORING THE CULTURAL HERITAGE COMMISSION’S DETERMINATION

The Alternatives that fail to meet the standards of being environmentally superior are:

Alternative 2: 20 Percent Reduced Density Alternative
Alternative 3: All Office and Residential Alternative

In the case of Alternatives 2 and 3, the architecturally and culturally significant Executive Building would be demolished, thus resulting in the necessity to restore the west facing elevation of Times Building. This facade was lost when the Executive Building was constructed, creating a new, integrated north and west facing elevation representing master architect William L. Pereira’s adaptation of master architect Gordon Kaufmann’s design.

3c. WHY ALTERNATIVES 2 AND 3 ARE ENVIRONMENTALLY INFERIOR CHOICES

Note that the Historic Architectural Resources Survey states that the Executive Building appears to be an historic resource, specifically “The Executive Building appears eligible for listing in the California Register and as a HCM under Criterion 1 for its association with the Times Mirror Company and under Criterion 2 for its association with Otis Chandler.”

The Times Building stood intact for 37 years (1935-72). It has existed in its present form, joined to the Executive Building, for 46 years (1973-present). As explained in detail in the landmark nomination, the Executive Building is the physical manifestation of the Los Angeles Times as a mature, progressive and award-winning newspaper, and of Times Mirror Company as the first media corporation in America, an enormously successful and influential organization. The Executive Building is the only structure in the Times Mirror Square compound associated with Otis Chandler, who transformed the backwater Los Angeles Times into a respected newspaper of national significance. Otis Chandler is explicitly named in the landmark findings, which note that “However, it was under Otis Chandler that the newspaper arguably made its greatest strides in the publication circuit. During his tenure as publisher, from 1960 until 1980, the Times was retooled from a small-scale publication into a nationally-acclaimed news outlet. He professionalized the paper by significantly investing in newsroom staff and expanding into other media markets. It was during this time that the paper was thrust into the front ranks of American journalism. Circulation doubled, and the paper won more Pulitzer prizes under the leadership of Otis Chandler than it had in all other eras combined.”

Any Alternative that requires demolition of the designated historic resource Executive Building erases the property’s association with Otis Chandler, and is inherently inferior to Alternatives that preserve the Executive Building.

Further, the landmark findings state that “Times Mirror Square also ‘represents a notable work of a master designer, builder, or architect whose individual genius influenced his or her age’ as a significant work of master architects Gordon Kaufmann, Rowland Crawford, and William Pereira…. The subject property is… a noteworthy project by Pereira. Throughout his architectural career, Pereira designed few, if any other, additions to existing buildings and the Times-Mirror Headquarters Building represents a unique commission within his body of work.”

Any Alternative that requires demolition of the designated historic resource Executive Building erases the association with William Pereira, and is inherently inferior to Alternatives that preserve the Executive Building.

QUESTION #4: Will you respect the determination of the Cultural Heritage Commission and consider the Executive Building as a protected historic resource, eligible for inclusion on the California Register?

3d. THE UNSUITABLE PASEO PROPOSAL

Finally, Alternatives 2 and 3 each call for the demolition of the Executive Building and the parking garage in order to create space for a block-long commercial Paseo pass-through. Such a development is directly contrary to the history of the site.

In the years following the bombing of the Los Angeles Times Building in 1910, newspaper publisher Harrison Gray Otis, and his successor Harry Chandler, chose to commission buildings that were physically hardened against potential attack. The Times Building is a solid cube of stone, steel and concrete, with few windows and limited means of access. There was never, even before the construction of the Executive Building, any public access along the west facade of the building. To pierce the west facade of the Times Building with commercial storefronts would create a false narrative that diminishes the imposing physical sense of the landmark, and erases the structure’s history as a building that intentionally is somewhat inaccessible and only entered through the Globe Lobby.

QUESTION #5: Will you reject Alternatives that call for demolition of cultural resources including the Executive Building to clear space for any such historically inaccurate Paseo pass-through?

3e. THE MISSING ALTERNATIVE

There is no Alternative presented which breaks down the environmental impacts of Partial Preservation with a taller South tower, preservation of the Executive Building and no Paseo.

QUESTION #6: Will you require the developer to show the impacts of such a Partial Preservation / Taller South Tower Alternative?

4. CORRECTING THE RECORD ON THE MATTER OF THE PARKING STRUCTURE

Finally, note that in Section VI-I (Other CEQA Considerations – Significant Unavoidable Impacts), a footnote states that “on September 20, 2018, the Cultural Heritage Commission recommended the designation of the entire block and found that the Executive Building and parking structure were significant for the association with Pereira.” This is not accurate. The parking structure is not included in my landmarking nomination, and there was no discussion of its preservation during the Cultural Heritage Commission hearings. The commissioners amended the nomination to protect and designate the Executive Building, not the parking structure.

5. CONCLUSION

You do not have the power to reverse the Planning and Land Use Management Committee’s seemingly arbitrary decision to declare the Executive Building insignificant. However, you do have the ability to take the unaltered Historic-Cultural Monument, as determined by the Cultural Heritage Commission, as your base for determining historic context. Under this criteria, only Alternatives 1, 4 or 5 are acceptable.

QUESTION #7: Will you respect the determination of the Cultural Heritage Commission and consider the Executive Building as a protected historic resource, eligible for inclusion on the California Register, and not consider Alternatives that call for its demolition?

Thank you in advance for your thoughtful attention to this most complicated, interesting and, dare I say, historic matter before you.

With All My Regards,
Richard Schave

Attachment 1 – Richard Schave DEIR public comment – Los Angeles Times article
Attachment 2 – Richard Schave DEIR public comment – Los Angeles Times article

 

An Unhappy March for Charles Fletcher Lummis and The Southwest Museum

March was a sacred month for Charles Fletcher Lummis, that remarkable character who gave so much to his adopted home of Los Angeles and to the greater Southwest. It was the month of his birth, and the time of the wildest of the revels hosted in his stone castle home along the Arroyo, honoring himself and his fellow “March Hares.”

How tone-deaf of the Autry Museum of the American West to choose March to announce that, having taken possession of the Southwest Museum’s priceless collections and endowment following the institutions’ 2003 merger, it would be seeking proposals from developers to take over the white elephant on the hill, the institution erected by Lummis as the culmination of a lifetime of collecting, interpreting and preserving the cultural history of the region.

The tale of the decline and erasure of the city’s first museum is long and depressing. It includes artifact theft by administrators, neglected infrastructure and collection care, and a failure by the City of Los Angeles to do its due diligence when the Autry family came calling with empty promises to make all the Southwest’s problems go away.

Since then, it has been a tale of bad faith from the Autry and hard, heartbreaking work by community groups seeking to protect Lummis’ great gift and hold those who control it accountable.

The future of the Southwest Museum will be debated soon, in the court of public opinion, in the press and at City Hall. Before Los Angeles considers what to do with this endangered National Treasure landmark, it’s beholden on anyone who cares to look to the source and understand what has been lost during these dark years of the Autry’s control of the Southwest Museum, and what potentially will be lost forever if the redevelopment plan is allowed to go forward.

We direct you to this 1910 pamphlet, published by the Southwest Society of the Archaeological Institute of America: Two great gifts: the Lummis library and collections and the Munk library.

In it, you will find the text of the last will and testament of Charles Fletcher Lummis, explaining his reasoning for gifting his valuable collections of art and artifacts and a library of 5000 items to the newly formed Southwest Museum, a promise made in the sacred month of March on the occasion of his 51st birthday.

The gift was an expression of Lummis’ faith in the potential of Los Angeles to become a great cultural center, and of his determination that the disparate materials that only he could have collected should remain forever intact and accessible in an institution dedicated to their study and interpretation.

If old man Lummis were to stumble today out of a time machine and discover what has become of his beloved Southwest Museum, we would hear oaths and epithets of a vehemence seldom expressed among cultured people. For the incredible gift that he so carefully prepared for the edification and delight of future generations has been squandered and cannibalized, again and again. Lummis would be well be within his rights to demand that his collections, no longer freely available for public use at the Southwest Museum, revert to the possession of his heirs.

Read his will. And if his words move you, as they do us, do not let the story of the Southwest Museum be a slow motion train wreck ending in its complete loss. Say NO to the commercialization of this historic institution. Demand that the Autry honor their commitment to preserve and reactivate our city’s first museum, or step aside and allow the collection and buildings to be cared for by an institution that will.

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.

*      *      *

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

Lloyd Wright’s Sowden House, 1920s Hollywood Landmark & Black Dahlia Suspect’s Lair

Welcome to the sixth in a series of 3-D explorable tours of historic Los Angeles spaces, created by Craig Sauer using cutting-edge Matterport technology. This one is special, as for the first time in our partnership, Craig got us inside a building we’ve been longing to explore!

A decade ago we launched Esotouric with our flagship tour, The Real Black Dahlia. And on nearly every Dahlia tour, someone asks us about the murder suspect George Hodel and his sinister-looking house on Franklin Avenue. Although we don’t subscribe to his son Steve’s theory that George Hodel killed Beth Short in the basement, the house itself is fascinating.

Constructed in 1926 by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son and collaborator Lloyd Wright, using techniques similar to the elder architect’s “textile block” concrete forms, Sowden House is a classic Spanish Rancho-era California home filtered through a Mayan Art Deco sieve and updated for the jazz age theatrical set who lived to entertain. Presenting a blank white wall to the world outside, the house opens up to a magnificent sun-dappled courtyard, ringed all around with public and private spaces.

While we’d never been inside, the house could be understood by consulting a lovely set of 1971 Marvin Rand photographs and plans for the Historic America Building Survey (HABS), viewable on the Library of Congress website and above.

In 2001 Sowden House was purchased from its seventh owners by crystal-loving designer Xorin Balbes, who in the course of “restoring” the National Register and Los Angeles landmark, added many garish contemporary touches. He also apparently demolished the site-specific sculptural tiled bath. In recent years, the house has been used as a filming location and hosted George Hodel’s son Steve poking around the basement with a “cadaver dog” named Buster, seeking evidence of a seventy-year-old slaying.

But you can’t keep a misguided preservationist down, and Mr. Balbes has moved on to ruin other significant Los Angeles buildings, like the Hiram Higgins, or Willard house, a strong candidate to top our annual list of historic preservation nightmares. Sowden House was sold in 2013.

And just this summer, its tenth stewards took possession of Lloyd Wright’s bold building. Among their first acts was to ask Craig Sauer to document the property with an immersive 3-D scan—but only after the thick jungle of yucca, palm, bird of paradise and banana that has obscured the facade for years was removed. And like a handsome man who finally shaved off his awful beard, all we can do is wonder what took him so long.

As you click to enter the newly stark facade through Craig’s Matterport scan, then ascend the spartan staircase—ignore the contemporary rustic risers, which were originally bare concrete tile tread—you’ll find a house that is happily regaining its architectural integrity. Gone are the climbing vines and thorny succulents that clogged the edges of the courtyard, which Mr. Balbes had already rendered semi-usable with poorly-proportioned small pools instead of replicating the lost 32’ pool with its upright block structure supporting a water organ. The textured walls and columns change subtly as the sun moves across the sky and night falls.

The new owners are philanthropists dedicating to helping animals, promoting art and artists, and supporting social activism. They founded Canna-Pet and its non-profit organization, Pet Conscious, and plan on sharing the Sowden House as an event space to connect with other foundations and nonprofits in the L.A. community and help with fundraising. Perhaps an evening at Sowden House is in your future? But for now, we urge you to explore this Los Angeles treasure at your leisure.

But one part of the structure doesn’t appear in Craig’s scan, so don’t bother looking. Although every armchair Dahlia-ologist is curious about the basement in which George Hodel did or didn’t do something terrible to Beth Short in 1947, Craig felt that it just wasn’t architecturally “interesting” enough to merit the effort of scanning. So here, for your ghoulish pleasure, is a view of the dirt-floored basement and its primitive raised storage platform. We couldn’t visit the house without seeing it.

Now when we offer our Real Black Dahlia tour, as we will again on October 7, we’ll be able to direct interested parties to virtually explore the house where George Hodel danced a delicate duet with the cops he knew were bugging him. Maybe they’ll spot a clue, or one of the pussycats who are getting settled in to their new home. Certainly, they’ll be ensorcelled by this marvelous place!

An Esotouric Kentucky Road Trip to experience the 2017 American Eclipse Totality

The total solar eclipse that slashed across the continental US on August 21 provided a great excuse to take our favorite kind of road trip: a few semi-scheduled days roaming the blue highways, seeking out historic Main Streets, graveyards, roadside attractions, diners, storefronts and nice folks who are willing to stop what they’re doing and show us around old buildings.

Since a big part of the pleasure is bringing back photos to share. won’t you join us for a virtual excursion, from Nashville to Bowling Green, Mammoth Cave to Cave City, #EclipsevilleUSA to the shadow of the Kentucky State Penitentiary to the cosmos and beyond?

We touched down Friday afternoon in humid Nashville, picked a Ford from the rental fleet and bee-lined to Mount Olivet Cemetery (1856), home to the tallest of the many Confederate memorials we’d see on this trip. Try as we might, we couldn’t escape the politicization of these times: lurking in the shade nearby, a couple of tough looking fellows sat in a camouflage SUV, just kind of… watching. Not wishing to rile them, and meaning the monument no harm, we ambled off to admire mossy crypts in the Egyptian, Moorish and Southern Gothic styles. The possible presence of these lurking “Monument Guards” is something history lovers should be aware of when visiting southern graveyards, or other places where the Confederacy has left its mark.

After a congenial supper at Monell’s Germantown’s communal table of all-we-could-eat catfish, greens, slaw and ‘nilla wafer specked banana pudding, we took our table mates’ advice and strolled through the Italian Lights festival on Bicentennial Mall. Diet tip: chasing fireflies across the lawn is a swell way to work off a heavy meal.

Next stop: Bowling Green, KY. It was Saturday and BGSU’s special collections library was shut, so we couldn’t call up select novelties from their famed pop culture holdings. But the sleepy town proved plenty novel.

In a tiny and apparently nameless Civil War cemetery opposite Lisa’s 5th Street Diner (great twice-fried potato discs!), we felt the weight of time and marveled at the alien beauty of a newborn cicada, its pale wings still expanding for first flight, perched on its own shed skin at the base of a grave. These weird creatures spend long years in the ground, then ascend to the trees to suck sap and make riotous noise with the bass drum in their tummies, and their cacophonous rhythm was the soundtrack for our trip.

Bowling Green is a park-rich town, and Circus Square Park features a cool architectural feature: Standard Filling Station No. 1, restored in 2008 to its original 1920s exterior appearance. The interior has been cleverly altered to serve as a public restroom.

No eclipse road trip would be complete without a flying saucer sighting, and Bowling Green delivered, in the form of Western Kentucky University’s exuberant Hardin Planetarium (1967).

Just down the hill stood a faded classical temple with a vivid blue dome, weeds growing between its ramshackle steps.

An open door lured us to call out, and inside we found Vilson Qehaja, who purchased the former Westminster Presbyterian Church (1912) two years ago at auction and is converting the National Register landmark into a restaurant (Anna’s) and wedding venue (Century Palace).

He graciously took some time away from his work to give us a tour of the project, which has been rich in the surprises (both happy and heart-stopping) to be expected from a century-old building. We were thrilled to have a chance to preview this lovely space as it steers towards its second century, and glad we could thank Vilson personally for making the considerable effort to restore and open it up to the public. Blessed are the entrepreneurial preservationists! And dig that fabulous glass!

Although we saw nothing that would be called a crowd in Los Angeles, eclipse tourists had reserved all of the ticketed Mammoth Cave tours weeks before. But there was no ticket required to hike down into the primordial forest at Cedar Sink, a beautifully engineered staircase path from the highway that wound down and around and finally into a wet cave system whose ceiling collapsed long ago. Along the way, we saw iridescent blue butterflies, strange wildflowers, tree limbs draped in the filmy sacks of wiggling bagworms and two very weird caterpillars.

On the outskirts of the National Park is Cave City, a highway-facing tourist trap of a town that’s been miraculously spared recent development. Of course, the architectural historian’s miracle is the business owner’s lament, and it didn’t take long for a storekeeper to let us know that Cave City was no longer booze-free (!!), and investment would soon follow. This made us gladder still to have stopped by to see the sights while they were still a mid-century time capsule.

Come October, thrill seekers will presumably be able to scream themselves hoarse inside Raven’s Cross Haunted Village, but on this hot August afternoon, the parking lot was deserted. We couldn’t resist peering into the spooky attraction’s open doors, which seemed unsettling even in bright sunlight. Was that electric sawing sound coming around the bend a technician constructing a scary display, or a serial killer chopping up the previous nosy tourists? We didn’t hang around to find out!

One of the reasons we travel is to interact with people who are very different from us.

At Mammoth Cave Knife Works, we found ourselves in a spacious shop that seemed to function like the extended living room of the colorful family proprietors. Gleefully politically incorrect, they were also gracious and funny, and ran an admirably tight ship. Richard picked up a nice little bone-handled fruit knife and some insights into life on the Cave City main line.

Across the highway, Redneck Golf was closed for the season or maybe forever, its dusty Astroturf greens guarded by a sun-faded concrete hippo.

Our next stop was Onyx Cave, one of the smaller, privately-run subterranean attractions that surprisingly had space available on the next tour—although we’d soon learn this was because the operator was taking advantage of increased demand to oversell. But our tour group was friendly and didn’t mind pressing close together as Gabrielle, our enthusiastic guide who had only been on the job for a couple of months, did a great job of telling the story of the beautiful cave’s accidental discovery, unique characteristics, conservation concerns and weird bugs. About halfway through the narrow cave, we outed ourselves as professional tour guides and offered to help with crowd control, and Gabby outed herself as a former Southern Californian, and together we brought the group safely through sheets of dripping wet “cave bacon” and back to the gift shop entrance.

We couldn’t leave Cave City without stopping to admire the celebrated Wig Wam Village #2, America’s oldest surviving ring-of-teepees motel complex. There, inside the towering teepee office, we phoned Kumar Patel, who runs Wig Wam Village #7 in Rialto and let him say howdy to his cross-country innkeeping compatriot, Mir.

Years ago, the basement of the big teepee held a circular souvenir shop. It’s just used for storage now, but we got a big kick out of exploring this unique space and seeing all the cool artifacts down there. Maybe one day it will be a shop again.

As dusk fell, we found ourselves in Russellville, KY, the self-styled “oldest town in Southern Kentucky,” admiring its National Register town square, first with pleasure, then with mounting horror, as we realized that two of the most prominent historic corner buildings are slated for demolition, to be replaced with “boutique hotels.”

It was painfully obvious that the historic downtown is dead, with no stores open and the only restaurant owned by Deborah Hirsch, the person who seeks to knock the landmarks down. Russellville needs help. But destroying history isn’t going to magically bring people to spend money. We don’t understand how the demolition of major contributors to a National Register commercial district can be permitted except in the case of building collapse, and very much hope the town’s leaders will think twice about taking the word of the property developer’s architects that these historic buildings are too far gone to be adaptively reused. They looked solid and beautiful as the sun set, and we hope one day we will see them again.

But the universe in benevolent, and wouldn’t let us leave Russellville in a preservation funk. As Richard gassed up the car, Kim heard a volley of squeaks and looked up to see dozens of bats taking flight from inside an old chimney. What a thrill! Nice creatures, the bats, congenial. Maybe they can take over some of these derelict old buildings and make something out of them.

On Sunday, we swung through Hopkinsville, KY, the small town that had cleverly branded itself as #EclipsevilleUSA due to its prime position within the totality, still more 24 hours away. The carnival atmosphere was building as we admired the historic storefronts reverberating with an amplified open-air church service, and searched in vain for somewhere to get a cup of tea and a muffin to go.

We mistook a storefront rescue mission for a cafe, and longtime mayor Wally Bryant stepped out to offer a preview of his cosmic testimony and invite us to visit his landmark home afterwards. If the moon’s shadow wasn’t racing ever nearer towards its union with the sun, we’d have taken him up on it. But the road called, and we needed to be on it.

But first, peckish Richard presented himself at the only midway food concession tent that looked like it might be open for business. “Sure—we can deep fry anything!” the cook boasted. Richard opted for an order of Oreo cookies and managed to eat three of the gloopy horrors.

Next stop: Princeton, KY, another small town with more than its share of intact 19th century storefronts. Strolling down the main drag after a hearty grade school lunch of grilled American cheese sandwiches and vegetable soup, we were immediately swept up by native daughter Debbie, who was giving visiting Oklahoma friends a town tour and wanted to know who we were, why we’d come and what we thought of Princeton.

Well, we thought Princeton was just beautiful. It’s unusual among smaller towns because it has an Art Deco WPA courthouse, a handsome jewel box distinguished by a row of three-dimensional busts, among them FDR’s. The old Masonic Hall across the street is pretty special, too.

When we mentioned our plan to drive out to see the old state penitentiary, “The Castle on the Cumberland” on Lake Barklay, Debbie suggested we caravan out to Eddyville together.

But first, we had to see the limestone river cave that was at the old town’s heart (spooky and cool).

And we had to visit Debbie’s pal Nancy, the ham lady.

We somehow had no idea that Princeton, KY is a legendary foodie destination, and that people come from all over the world to taste Newsom’s Country Hams, produced in the 18th century fashion over nearly two years of tending by third-generation smoker Nancy Newsom Mahaffey.

But when we stepped inside her Old Mill Store, it was obvious that we were in the presence of a genius, a place where traditional foodways and public service are twined into a lover’s knot.

We didn’t “discover” Nancy Newsom Mahaffey—that honor belongs to James Beard, in the mid-1970s, and you should click that link and read all about it—but we did enjoy the rare pleasure of stumbling onto Newsom’s Old Mill Store completely unaware. Some of the carnivorous wonder was lost on us as pescatarians, but we still come away with some of the finest treats anyone ever ate out of a jar, including a luscious blackberry cobbler and some unbelievably delicious pickled beet salad. You can order these things, with or without a ham, by mail order from Nancy the ham lady, herself.

A little dazed and drunk on the scent of smoked pig, we followed Debbie on to the lakeside hamlet of Eddyville, site of the historic prison. Unfortunately, the state prison system had eclipse fever, too, and a humorless deputy got out of his van to let us know that the lake frontage road with its views of the 19th century prison complex would remain closed until after the solar event. With the trouble in the yard earlier this summer, the warden wasn’t taking any chances on so-called “architectural historians” casing the joint for a bust out.

Well, we’d just have to admire the state penitentiary from the water. Because here comes the main event!

Thanks to the hospitality of our pal Greg Tlapek, seen above plotting our course at his family’s cabin, we took in the eclipse on a pontoon boat off the coast of Lake Barkley, KY, at a spot that boasted about 2.5 long minutes of totality.

After a hearty country breakfast, it took us an hour to motor to the spot, over flooded towns and fields seized by the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1960s. We stopped close to shore when a heron landed and let us know he believed this was the place.

And then the eclipse began. The long slide into darkness was preceded by waters roiling with big, confused fish jumping for fat bugs and by eagles swooping in to take the fish. It wasn’t dark, but the light wasn’t right. Time seemed off-kilter, too.

And then the shadow came and stopped up the sun, like a kid’s thumb over the lip of a bottle. It was disorienting and wonderful, and in the midst of it we somehow managed to capture a cell phone image of the hole in the sky with the light show exploding all around it.

Then the brightest light that ever was poured out of the hole’s right side and it was summertime again. It was a good 15 minutes until the birds or cicadas made another sound, and before they did, we were talking about traveling however far it took to see another total solar eclipse.

Man, what a show! Space and time contract into a single point and the brain can hardly take it in. Well worth any trouble to experience something so uncanny.

Before flying home from St. Louis, we had one final pilgrimage to make. Richard Nickel is one of our historic preservation heroes. As a young photographer in the 1960s, he documented and single-handedly salvaged some of Chicago’s greatest doomed buildings, with a special focus on the exquisite decorative forms of Frank Lloyd Wright’s teacher, Louis Sullivan.

 

Overwhelmed by the volume of salvaged material he was collecting ahead of the bulldozer, Nickel partnered with the new Southern Illinois State University at Edwardsville, which purchased much of his collection with the promise to display it. A few years later Nickel was under contract for the university, salvaging elements of the Chicago Stock Exchange, when the floor collapsed and he was killed.

We admire his devotion and singular vision, and mourn his lonesome death. It was very moving to see his astonishing collection, which is installed in and around the university library, in the stairwells and in a quiet double-height gallery near the stacks.

Imagine a time when such exquisite, architecturally significant objects were viewed as garbage by most people! It wasn’t all that long ago. As preservation activists, who often come up against such dismissive attitudes surrounding the places we seek to save, this visit—especially in the charged aftermath of the cosmic event—filled our psychic batteries to the brim. We set off for the airport in a state of humming excitement, eager to return to the preservation work that awaited us at home in Los Angeles.

Some friends who we’ve told about our eclipse trip have expressed surprise that didn’t just go to Oregon with all the other Californians. But especially now, with the country so divided, we think it’s important for coastal dwellers to visit red states, to talk to the people and admire their folkways and landmarks. We’re all of us Americans, and not really so different when we come face to face–at least, as long as there isn’t a statue of Robert E. Lee between us. And damn, Kentucky is beautiful. Much too beautiful to write off for political reasons.

Thanks for joining us on this Esotouric road trip, and stay tuned for further adventures at home and in the field.

A LAVA tour of Downtown L.A.’s Subway Terminal and Tunnel

 

 

Subway Terminal tunnel on LAVA tour June 2017 by Kemal Cilengir

                                                                                                                                       photo by Kemal Cilengir

Yesterday’s free (with RSVP) LAVA Sunday Salon and walking tour focused on the holy grail of Los Angeles mass transit history: the sealed-off streetcar station and tunnel located beneath the Subway Terminal Building.

How eager are Angelenos to see this storied space? The waiting list was a thousand names long! For those who couldn’t join us on this time travel trip, below you’ll find some photos to tell this complex and fascinating tale.

We began our LAVA Sunday Salon program in the basement of Grand Central Market where downtown historian Nathan Marsak (nice tie!) let us know what to look for in the Subway Terminal, and our own Richard Schave explained how the Bonaventure Hotel footings severed the tunnel in 1976. Plus, Bunker Hill native son Gordon Pattison previewed his July 30 Sunday Salon talk about his lost Victorian neighborhood and the short-lived Second Street Cable Car Rail Road.

Then, after strapping on headlamps and double-knotting boots, our well-prepared and somewhat giddy group made the short walk down Hill Street to the Subway Terminal Building for a rare tour of the historic passenger concourse, train platform, offices and yes, that remarkable decommissioned tunnel, complete with a growing collection of stalactites and stalagmites! We’re grateful to our gracious hosts at Metro 417 for welcoming us into the Los Angeles landmark beneath their apartment tower.

Will there be another Subway tunnel tour? Only time, and the LAVA newsletter, will tell.

Happy, dusty explorers emerge into the light – Photo: J. Scott Smith – see more

Angels Flight Railway graffiti removal

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Early on Thursday we got the word, via a Twitter photo posted by the good folks at DTLA Walking Tours, that Angels Flight Railway had been hit with a major graffiti bomb.

The rest of the day was a blur of emails and calls, seeking out the people who could do something about the mess and help keep it from happening again. Elsewhere in Los Angeles, other concerned citizens were doing their part, too.

Since it was Angels Flight that needed help, the city stepped up with enhanced police patrols over the weekend, and the earliest possible Monday morning crew from Graffiti Control Systems. And that’s why we found ourselves standing under the faded Angels Flight archway just after sunrise, sneakers wet with dew, helping former funicular operator John Welborne to supervise work on the National Register railcars, and shooting the photos and video you’ll find below. Big thanks to Paul Racs, Director of the Office of Community Beautification in the Department of Public Works, for all you did to make this happen!

Enrique, Joel and Ricky did their best, but unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to treat Angels Flight with kid gloves, and a layer of paint came off with the vandal’s mess. Ironically, this leaves the funicular shining a little brighter today than yesterday—but she’s also more vulnerable, as any further rough cleanings could expose the century-old wood under the paint.

Next, the city plans to tackle the filthy conditions along the Angels Flight stairs, which will make it easier for everyone who cares to spend a little more time keeping an eye on this landmark of old Bunker Hill, protecting her from harm while behind-the-scenes efforts continue to satisfy the demands of the regulatory agency and get Angels Flight Railway running again.

If you haven’t yet, please visit the Save Angels Flight page, where you can sign the petition and let Mayor Garcetti know that you care about Angels Flight and want to see her running again soon, explore a virtual version of the funicular and learn more about its history and preservation. We’ll be sure to let you know when you can take a ride.

yrs,
Kim & Richard
Angels Flight Friends & Neighbors Society (FANS)

East Saint Louis, post-industrial ghost town

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.

Our stop to explore the desolate husk of the Armour Meat Packing plant was an unplanned detour en route to the unfortunate city of East Saint Louis, IL.

The once-thriving metropolis has suffered a sixty year decline marked by departing industry (including Armour), divisive roadway construction, declining tax revenue, unchecked conflagrations, soaring crime rates, polluted land and other indignities large and small.

And yet there is some hope for a revival. In 2014, the downtown business district was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and it was this time capsule neighborhood that we’d come to see.

Have you ever wandered the backlot of a motion picture studio? That was our experience exploring the newly-landmarked section of East Saint Louis. The buildings were tall and handsome, but almost all locked up tight. We could stand out in the middle of the street taking pictures of the historically contributing structures, some with trees growing out of cracks in their facades.

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It was eerie, and frankly a relief to pack up and hit the road.

Leaving town, we came across one of the strangest structures we’ve ever seen: a jazzy mid-century gas station and mini-mart, with a rustic stone beer garden attached. It, too, was long abandoned, but man, it looked like it had seen some wild times.

Just across the river from bustling Saint Louis, on a fine sunny winter day, East Saint Louis is still waiting for someone to take a chance. We hope the National Register designation will bring new ideas and new life to this sad place. It will have to happen soon: there are tax credits available, but they expire this year.

Isn’t it lovely, though?


For more of East Saint Louis, see Richard’s photos here.

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.