A Statement From Esotouric About COVID-19 and Upcoming Tour Dates

Update, May 17, 2020: In accordance with current state and local restrictions on mass gatherings, we have now had to officially postpone all of our remaining scheduled events into June. The postponed tours will be rescheduled as soon as it is again ruled safe for groups to gather in enclosed spaces like a tour bus. Forensic science seminars will resume when Cal State Los Angeles again allows outside groups to hold events in classrooms. We appreciate your patronage, and are so sorry for this ambiguity. 

Update, March 15, 2020: In accordance with current guidance for mass gatherings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we have postponed all tours scheduled for the next eight weeks, through Architectural Gems of Riverside (5/9).

Original announcement, March 11, 2020:

Gentle reader,

We have been closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation in Southern California, and studying historical and current best practices for protecting vulnerable community members from a new and potentially dangerous virus.

There is no knowing how quickly the virus will spread, or the impact that its spread will have on the public health system.

However, it’s clear that healthy individuals practicing social distancing by avoiding unnecessary public gatherings will flatten the curve of infection, slowing the numbers of people who end up in the hospital with respiratory issues. Keeping hospital beds open as long as possible means a better outcome for those who do become ill, and makes all of us safer.

This article in The Atlantic offers insight into the benefits of social distancing: Cancel Everything.

We love to give tours, and it’s how we make a living, but we have to put the community first. So we have decided that the responsible thing to do is to postpone our upcoming tours until the risk to vulnerable people from COVID-19 is better understood and under control.

We are tentatively listing all of our upcoming tours, through Eastside Babylon on June 27, as “Tour Date Paused, To Be Confirmed or Rescheduled.”

If you have purchased a ticket for an upcoming tour, we hope you’ll keep the booking. We will keep you posted about any change in the tour status.

If your tour date does end up being rescheduled, your booking can:
1) Be moved to the new tour date, or
2) Be applied as credit towards a different tour, or
3) Be turned into a gift certificate, or
4) Of course you may have a refund on request at any time.

Our sincere hope is that the public health concerns will resolve themselves as we head into springtime, and we’ll be able to resume scheduled tours on their previously scheduled dates.

For those tours that end up being rescheduled due to public health concerns, we’ll notify all ticketed passengers of the new date when confirmed. Because we hope to resume touring as soon as possible, tickets for upcoming tour dates will still be available for purchase. Esotouric gift certificates are also available. If you’re hesitant to sign up for a tour date that isn’t 100% confirmed to be operating, we’re happy to put you on the RSVP list, and will notify you of the tour status, and if it’s about to sell out.

Thank you for your understanding as we navigate these trying times and try to be the best little tour operators we know how to be.

If after reading this you’re thinking “How can I help Kim and Richard make it through these uncertain times?” then we’d be grateful if you bought an Esotouric gift certificate or two, an investment in our shared future of exploring the secret heart of Los Angeles together.

We love you. Be well. Wash your hands!

yours for Los Angeles,
Kim and Richard

How Canadian Developer Onni Group “Preserved” the Art Deco Seattle Times Building


Stop us if you’ve heard this one before:

A venerable local newspaper, fallen on hard times in the aftermath of the financial crisis, sells its architecturally-significant, centrally-located Art Deco headquarters and two attached buildings, comprising an entire city block, to a multi-national development company. The developer expresses affection for the site’s history, and makes preservation of the main newspaper building the centerpiece of a proposed project. The twin-tower mixed-use residential, retail and public plaza project is vastly out of scale and requires zoning changes. When preservationists express concern about protection of the historic resources, they’re assured that the developer is a good steward with the best intentions. Besides, we’re in a housing crisis, so build, baby, build!

Sound familiar? If you’re a Californian, you might recognize the beats of the recent history of the Los Angeles Times, with the paper’s real estate split off under Tribune’s ownership and its historic headquarters sold to Vancouver-based Onni Group.

But the story you just read is actually about the landmarked Seattle Times ( Robert C. Reamer, 1931), which Onni Group purchased in 2013 and neglected so profoundly that the normal rules for protected buildings were waived: in February 2016, Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections approved (archive link) immediate demolition of the landmark for reasons of public safety.

November 2015: “Squatters leave the old Seattle Times building at 1120 John St., after waking up during Thursday’s fire” (Steve Ringman / Seattle Times)

During the first three years of Onni’s ownership, the Seattle Times became a squatter’s den (archive link), home to hundreds of homeless people, their pets and their troubles. Metal thieves operated openly, stripping the landmark of its historic artifacts and plumbing. The squatters were rousted, but immediately returned, prying off the thin plywood panels Onni Group installed to keep them out. When the police ordered the landlord to properly secure the building, Onni Group missed the deadline. Taxpayers covered the costs of constant police and paramedic calls. There were fires, overdoses, gas leaks and suffering that can’t be quantified.

Then came the wrecking ball and bulldozers, spelling the end of the Seattle Times and a clearing a nearly clean slate for a massive development, recently changed from housing to office towers, in the shadow of the Amazon.com headquarters.

February 2017: An old press that once printed the Sunday color comics section is partially exposed. (Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)

(But before the walls came down, the newspaper building told one last story. Up on the roof, a hand-made banner went up the flagpole. The Times printed a photo and reported on the common ¢ents activists who were calling for Seattle’s hundreds of vacant buildings to be made available to serve the city’s homeless population. That’s a conversation Los Angeles should be having, too.)

Demolition began in October 2016. Today, just a couple of sad walls from the landmark Seattle Times building survive, and Onni Group is busily building upward.

The Art Deco Los Angeles Times Building is not a protected city landmark like the Seattle Times Building was. We believe it should be a landmark, which is why we’ve filed an Historic-Cultural Monument application, which is now under consideration, with a hearing on July 19 (Update: the second hearing is Thursday, September 20 and we still need your comments and emails!). At the direction of the Office of Historic Resources, our application includes all three entwined historic structures on the site: Gordon B. Kaufmann’s 1935 Times Building (including the Globe Lobby and its fixtures), Rowland H. Crawford’s 1948 Mirror tower and William L. Pereira’s 1973 corporate headquarters. These three buildings together tell the story of the Los Angeles Times and Southern California.

Some people believe that it’s only Pereira’s building that is threatened by Onni Group’s plans. But the Pereira can’t be demolished without tearing a giant hole in the Art Deco Kaufmann building’s west facade. And the Pereira is a good, if unfashionable, building that deserves to be considered on its architectural merits, which are largely invisible from street level, but reveal themselves when you step inside.

As Harry Chandler told the Los Angeles Times, “Developers are wont to change their minds based on market conditions, not preservation needs. [Onni] is not an L.A. company and they don’t have credentials for caring for historic buildings in our city. We shouldn’t leave that to chance.”

He’s right.

Onni Group might prove to be a better steward of our great newspaper’s home than they were in Seattle. It would be hard to be a worse one.

But let’s not just take their word for it. Please join us at the Cultural Heritage Commission on Thursday, July 19 and speak for the stone, the neon, the glass and the Globe. (Update: the second hearing is Thursday, September 20 and we still need your comments and emails!) These buildings shaped the Southern California we love, and they deserve to be preserved.

Workmanship of such poor quality is not acceptable.