A Modest Proposal for Saving Rancho Los Amigos and Helping the Homeless of Los Angeles County

A SOLUTION FOR HOMELESSNESS:

A NEW LOS ANGELES COUNTY “POOR” FARM

By Colleen Adair Fliedner

Author of the Rancho Los Amigos Centennial History Book

The words “poor farm” generally conjure up images of Oliver Twist and filthy almshouses, where half-starved men, women and children live and work in deplorable conditions. When it came to the Los Angeles County Poor Farm, however, nothing was further from the truth. When it opened in 1888 about two miles from the fledgling community of Downey, the L. A. County Poor Farm consisted of 124.4 acres of agriculturally rich farmland; two wards; a smaller, more rustic building housing a kitchen, dining room, and employees’ quarters; and several dozen residents.

While there were other county poor farms in the United States, none seems to have had the same success as L. A. County’s. The idea of combining housing for the homeless and hopeless of the County with a productive farm was nothing less than brilliant. Within 10 years of its founding, an article written about the County Farm described it as “the most beautiful, well-managed and cheerful home for those that are unfortunate, of any country on earth.” As the years passed, the word “poor” was seldom used, in spite of the fact that it was still the official name of the institution. This was done, in part, to eliminate the negative connotation associated with a County Farm. But the other reason was that Los Angeles’ Poor Farm was actually a pleasant place in its day…and it certainly beat the alternative of living on the streets of downtown Los Angeles.

The County Poor Farm housed a variety of individuals with a wide range of problems. Like every other aspect of this fascinating institution, the type of patients cared for was constantly changing. By the turn of the century, the most notable difference was in the increase of elderly people brought to the Farm. This had occurred as a result of the depression of 1893, when state aid was cut to indigent men and women over the age of 60. According to County records, the elderly who were admitted to the Farm were in good health, but simply had nowhere else to go. Another group of individuals whose numbers increased after 1900 were those with mental illness, and especially those suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction, which were considered a form of insanity at that time. Indeed, the County Farm became a sort of “catchall” institution, a custodial care facility that took up the overflow from the L. A. County Hospital and the state mental hospitals.

Though there were separate male and female wards, an old man in relatively good health might have had a bed next to a 15-year-old boy with epileptic seizures, or a blacksmith with tuberculosis. In spite of this undesirable situation, State inspectors reported that the County Poor Farm was one of the cleanest, most orderly institutions of its kind in California. Unlike many contemporary county-run poor farms around the country, the men and women at the Los Angeles County Farm had plenty of food to eat and spotless buildings in which to live.

By 1898 the number of acres had grown to 227. There were groves of oranges, fields of alfalfa, oats, corn, sorghum, beets, potatoes, and various fruits and vegetables. Fifteen acres were set aside for large expanses of well-manicured lawns, a variety of shade trees, and colorful flowerbeds. Hundreds of eucalyptus trees rimmed the grounds and lined the roadways. Impressed visitors often remarked that the place was kept up so well that looked like a park, rather than a poor farm.

Even more amazing was the County Farm’s dairy. Two hundred gallons of milk were produced each day by its eighty-five cows. Part of the milk was churned into butter and a portion became the Farm’s own cheese. Chickens and hogs were raised for meat. Physically capable residents did most of the work in exchange for food, a place to stay, and a stipend for extra purchases, such as tobacco. The County Poor Farm was so successful in these endeavors that it not only supported its own expenses, there was plenty of extra food and dairy products to feed the patients at Los Angeles County Hospital.

Many residents were either too old or frail to work. These men and women were cared for at the County Farm for the rest of their lives. Unless a family member claimed their remains, they were buried in the cemetery situated at one end of the property.

In the case of the ambulatory residents, they were often taught skills to help them find jobs “on the outside.” Actually, the County’s goal was to heal the residents who could be cured, and then prepare them to become self-sufficient. Besides learning about agricultural and dairy work, professional craftsmen were employed to teach the residents a variety of skills. For instance, a cobbler instructed male residents in the art of repairing and making shoes and manufacturing artificial legs. With so many people living at the Farm, the shoe shop provided a much needed and cost-effective service. In another shop, residents were taught to weave wicker furniture, which was used throughout the buildings and gardens, as well as being sold to the general public.

After a few years, the staff began to notice that the residents who suffered with arthritis and hand injuries who performed these and similar tasks had actually improved. Thus, what initially began as a way to help these individuals earn extra money for themselves and the County Farm became the beginning of what is today known as “Occupational Therapy.” This and dozens of remarkable developments and discoveries actually began at the L. A. County Farm.

This institution, which had begun with some 40 residents in 1888, had over 200 residents by 1898. The number of buildings grew in accordance with the availability of County funds. Sometimes there weren’t enough beds, and people were turned away. That’s why it became increasingly important to rotate needy patients in, while releasing the trained and fully recuperated men back into society as soon as possible.

Among the most surprising facts was that a separate “insane” ward was built in 1907 for the burgeoning number of mentally ill patients who continued to pour in from the County Hospital’s overcrowded “insane” wards. The records noted why each patient was deemed insane and required confinement to the mental wards. By today’s standards, many of the reasons are shocking. They included: syphilis, anemia, cerebro-spinal meningitis, brain tumor, epilepsy, pneumonia, sexual derangements, typhoid fever, alcoholism, over-study, jealousy, sexual excesses, fasting during Lent, abortion, childbirth and lactation, menopause, love affair, domestic infelicity, uterine trouble, and, last but not least, masturbation.

By the 1930s, another period of building was underway. The new Spanish-style buildings were attractive, reflecting the Farm’s Superintendent, William Harriman’s, love for Old California’s mission architecture. In 1932 he took his theme a step further, changing the County Poor Farm’s name to Rancho Los Amigos, which he translated as “Home of the Friends.” Under Mr. Harriman’s leadership, Rancho Los Amigos continued its evolution, adding a hospital building and infirmaries. Apparently, most of the patients thrived, fondly describing Rancho as their “Home Away From Home.” They expressed their sentiments through letters and poems, such as this poem written by a woman patient in 1932:

OUR HOME

You call this the poor house? Nay friend, not so.

This house was built to God’s own plan,

Noble thought and loving hand.

 

This is not poverty’s abode, but wealth and love.

Here God moulds, makes, creates characters; and takes the ones He wants

For fitted works in His great house above.

You’ll find within these open doors welcome and protection from cares,

Worldly strife, wickedness, and human woes.

The best of all we need for happiness.

 

Behind these stately walls do roam

Kindly hearts and culture, too.

Souls filled with music, from whose faces shone

Thoughts as a draught of Heaven’s own blue.

We have the best which can be given,

Heat, food, best of matrons, nurses kind.

Superintendent’s mind.

Doctors so wonderful.

Nay, this is not a poorhouse, friend, but earthly heaven.

 

The fact that so many patients felt this way is not surprising, when one considers the excellent care they received and the way they were welcomed to their “new home.” A small booklet given to each patient began:

“Our new friend, we welcome you to our little city. We hope you will find here a pleasant and comfortable home, with health and happiness. To this end, we need your help, not only in compliance with instructions of the medical staff who are working for your good, but in your thoughtful consideration and assistance of those who are weaker and less fortunate. You will not be burdened with oppressive rules. The one called the Golden Rule covers them all.”

Since its humble beginnings in 1888, what began as a home for the County’s needy has evolved into the world-renowned Rancho National Rehabilitation Center. Most of the County Farm era’s buildings on the south side of Imperial Highway have been demolished, leaving a large tract of land empty, with the exception of a few structures which have been repurposed. Could this County-owned property provide the space to allow the homeless of Los Angeles to erect their tents? Restrooms with showers like one would find in a campground could be erected. Perhaps converting empty shipping containers could be used for housing, as is being done in other cities around the country. Like the old County Farm, community gardens could be planted to provide fresh produce for the residents. Food banks could deliver meat and other necessities to prepare meals. Volunteers could teach some of the formerly homeless modern-day skills and, perhaps, help them find jobs.

The concept of bringing the homeless to a place where they would be safe, clean, fed, given rehab, and taught ways to re-enter society worked beautifully in the past. Why can’t it work now?


Video of Esotouric’s Richard Schave giving public comment to the Historical Landmarks and Records Commission of L.A. County in support of saving Rancho Los Amigos and using it for the public good.

Richard Schave’s Public Comment to Los Angeles Planning Commission on Times Mirror Square

For context on the below public comment that Richard Schave made on 5/14/20, please see our newsletter post, Listen Live As The L.A. Times Project Appeal Hearing Illuminates City Government’s Corrupt Soul.

So, what happened today at the Planning Commission hearing for Times Mirror Square? Fireworks. And not celebratory fireworks, but the kind of explosion that happens when an errant spark falls on the barge and blows the whole enterprise straight to hell.

You can read our blow-by-blow commentary on Facebook, but in short, the Commissioners told Onni Group:

• That their projects suck;

• That the site deserves an architecturally distinguished building;

• That they were disgusted by the lack of affordable housing;

• That offering to donate $1 Million to Pershing Square was stupid;

• That it was their own fault the project wasn’t moving forward;

• That they had no intention of violating the Brown Act for them;

• That they didn’t care if the funding dried up and the project died.

Then they rejected the appeal and continued consideration of the EIR until July 9, when they expect Onni Group to return with a great design and affordable housing component.

It was glorious! We predict Times Mirror Square will soon be on the market again. And William Pereira’s 1973 addition might yet get the thoughtful vertical expansion it deserves.

Updated May 18: the wild Times Mirror Square Los Angeles City Planning Commission audio is now online! Listen to the hearing here. Read Commercial Observer coverage of the hearing here.


Public Comment: My name is Richard Schave. I am principal author of the Historic Cultural Monument nomination for Times Mirror Square.

A City Planning staffer threatened me over this work. I have shared this information with the FBI.

I am asking the Commission to accept the appeal and deny the EIR.

I hope you have all read the plea released by the US DOJ yesterday, describing how a private citizen worked with Jose Huizar, serving as the Guiliani to Huizar’s Trump, creating an alternative city planning feedback loop, predicated on bribery, extortion, shell corporations, nepotism, and money laundering.

A principal point of public interface for this criminal enterprise is this Commission.

When I went to Huizar’s City Hall office before the PLUM hearing to speak with staff, I found the FBI had sealed the office. When I asked for a meeting with Huizar’s replacement Marqueece Harris-Dawson before PLUM, his staff told me there was no need to meet, since they intended to follow Huizar’s direction on Times Mirror Square.

PLUM rewrote the landmarking designation for the benefit of developer Onni Group. Yesterday’s RICO filings mention Onni’s $50,000 donation to Jose Huizar’s wife’s PAC.

The City of Los Angeles deserves better. Do the right thing, accept the appeal, deny the EIR.

Downtown Los Angeles Development, Jose Huizar and the Bishop Mora Salesian High School Slush Fund

What follows is purely speculative quarantine spitballing.

As politically obsessed Los Angeles reads the tea leaves of the slow drip, drip, drip of Federal charging documents and plea agreements in the ongoing FBI public corruption investigation, anticipating the blast of information that will finally explain how this city got so far off the rails and who steered the train, we find ourselves wondering…

Why did Jose Huizar direct so many Downtown L.A. real estate developers, billboard companies, lobbyists, construction firms and lawyers to donate to his alma mater, Bishop Mora Salesian High School in Boyle Heights, a private college prep institution with only 400 students? Have all donations from developers been reported, or did some come in the form of stacks of cash in a liquor box? Why did his wife Richelle Rios (Ramona Convent Secondary School, class of ’87), a non-practicing attorney, work in the school’s development office from July 2012 to January 2016?

Is it possible that untraceable donated funds from entities seeking Jose Huizar’s PLUM Committee and City Council support for lucrative projects was used to pay off former students seeking compensation for abuse suffered at the hands of pedophile priests and brothers of the Salesian Order who were shuttled between California schools for decades, as detailed in this December 2019 CNN investigation?

Justin Jangwoo Kim’s plea agreement shows that just one corrupt Jose Huizar land use vote came at the price of $500,000. There could easily be tens of millions moving around Huizar’s transactional chess board.

So, where did all that money go? Is the answer back home in Boyle Heights?


Sign The Petition: Los Angeles Citizens Demand: Corrupt Councilmember José Huizar must resign

April Fool: Times Mirror Square EIR Challenge Rejected, or “Nothing to see here, G-Man”

Last October, a passionate band of concerned Angelenos went to Los Angeles City Hall to testify one last time in support of the preservation of William Pereira’s Times Mirror corporate headquarters.

This recognized architectural and cultural landmark had been deliberately cut out of the approved Historic Cultural Monument designation by the Los Angeles City Council, a political body with numerous members under FBI investigation for public corruption in service of real estate interests.

But almost a year after investigators raided Councilmember Jose Huizar’s City Hall office and home, he was still sitting on the council, and questionable projects in his Downtown district continued to get the green light.

Still, it’s important to show up and speak truth to power, even when it seems like the fix is in.

Included in our group that fall day were preservationists, historians, architects, affordable housing advocates, longtime L.A. Times and Times Mirror executives, neighbors, tenants and descendants of the newspaper’s founders.

Although we went into the hearing room expecting to bear witness to the city’s approval of demolition of the great newspaper and media HQ that Otis Chandler built, that didn’t happen. It seemed that the City Planning Department had received a long letter that gave them pause, so they paused approval of the project… “for one week.”

To see what we said in October, learn more about this wild preservation campaign through Fall 2019, and read the letter that gave the city pause, click here.

That letter, from Lozeau Drury, the attorneys for public interest nonprofit SAFER, proved to be the prelude to a legal challenge to Onni Group’s project EIR, citing numerous instances where serious problems had been glossed over or ignored by City Planning in order to approve the enormous development.

One particularly interesting point: although Councilman Jose Huizar continues to promote a streetcar loop through his nonprofit initiative L.A. Streetcar, the EIR provided no analysis of how such a conveyance would impact traffic around the site. Is there going to be a Broadway Streetcar, or isn’t there? In politically supported Downtown L.A. development, it seems you can have it both ways.

One week turned to a month, then to several. Six months later, we’re still holding out hope that the landmark Los Angeles Times complex can be saved.

But on April Fool’s Day, City Planning came out of its slumber and issued a new document, which declared that nothing in SAFER’s challenge letter justified halting the project. Although this new document references a complete rebuttal of SAFER’s claims (“March 2020 Responses”), this rebuttal was not shared by the city, so we’re unable to weigh its merits. [Update: the rebuttal was provided after we requested it, and you can find it here, with the section on Jose Huizar’s Schrodinger’s Streetcar highlighted.]

We hope and expect that SAFER will appeal City Planning’s determination by the April 10 deadline, and that Times Mirror Square may yet be saved.

After all, in recent weeks, the Los Angeles public corruption investigation has once again kicked into high gear. A lobbyist pleaded guilty to bribing a politician, who could only be Councilmember Jose Huizar, with half a million dollars in a liquor box—for just one land use vote. (In response, we have called for his resignation.) A virtual City Council meeting was overshadowed with the news that former Councilmember Mitch Englander had made a deal with the Feds in exchange for leniency on his felony charges.

Court watchers expect more charges, arrests and indictments of sitting politicians, developers, lobbyists and city staffers to happen any day.

So, why did City Planning reject SAFER’s challenge? Perhaps the office felt it had no choice. To acknowledge SAFER’s bold claim that the EIR should never have been approved in the first place would be to admit that politicians like Jose Huizar are able to pull strings at the highest level of land use, for the benefit of their developer and lobbyist friends.

If that’s the case, it will all come out in the coming indictments. And Los Angeles will be left to pick up the pieces of our broken, beautiful city. We hope that, unlike Parker Center, Times Mirror Square will still be standing when we do.

3-D Tour of the Original Bob Baker Marionette Theater

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

Our love for the Bob Baker Marionette Theater is no secret. It is a zone of pure creativity and whimsy that could only have flowered in Los Angeles. Bob was a dear friend, and in 2013, we were privileged to help see that his visual archives were safely preserved by the Los Angeles Public Library, at a time when the theater’s future was uncertain.

Uncertainty is a funny thing, though. Yes, the original Bob Baker Marionette Theater is a “protected” city landmark which a developer nevertheless intends to demolish for a generic housing development. But the young puppeteers who took up the management strings after Bob’s death in 2014 have proved to be terrific stewards. They’ve nourished a nonprofit arm, built thriving community partnerships, and just last week opened up their lovely new, much larger puppet theater on a busy stretch of York in Highland Park.

The sweet, silly and inspiring shows that Bob Baker created for the mid-century kids of Los Angeles will continue to blow the minds of new generations.

Still, it’s hard to see such a Los Angeles treasure displaced, and we wanted to mark the transition. So we reached out to Craig and asked if he’d be interested in bringing his Matterport camera over and documenting the theater, backstage, workshops and Bob Baker’s personal research library loft (up the stairs, stage left), where Bob selected the music for shows and gained visual inspiration for puppet costumes, backdrops and props.

The results are a time capsule, three-dimensional love letter to Bob Baker’s genius as it manifested in the final days, before the world he made was boxed up for the move to Highland Park.

On a day when The New York Times honors our hometown marionettes with a lengthy feature, we’re sending out this bittersweet remembrance of the funky, original Bob Baker Marionette Theater in its historic home of 56 years. We hope you enjoy the opportunity to creep around this magical place which no longer is a public space, but which welcomes you virtually inside any time you feel its call.

And we heard the funniest thing on opening day in Highland Park: that developer who bought the building and planned to tear it down hasn’t been heard from lately. Rumor has it, nothing’s happening at 1345 West First Street any time soon.

But the marionettes have already moved on, and invite you to come see a show in Highland Park. Bring on the dancing cats and raise the traditional post-performance cup of ice cream to the next 56 years of joy!

 

Public Benefit Corporation SAFER challenges validity of Onni Group’s Times Mirror Square EIR

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Last Wednesday morning, we joined a passionate band of concerned Angelenos at Los Angeles City Hall in a last ditch effort to halt the runaway Planning Department train that appears intent on approving demolition of half of the historic, landmark Los Angeles Times Mirror Square compound, despite the stench of civic corruption surrounding the project.

Included in our group were preservationists, historians, architects, affordable housing advocates, longtime L.A. Times and Times Mirror executives, neighbors, tenants and descendants of the newspaper’s founders. You can read their comments, and see full video, here.

We did our best to give the planners pause, pointing out the ongoing FBI investigation that has ensnared Councilman Jose Huizar, the bizarre alteration of the landmark designation by Huizar’s PLUM committee, the architectural and cultural distinction of the threatened buildings, the significant impact on those living and working close to the project site, the mediocrity of the proposed towers, the glut of market rate housing and office space in the Downtown market, the project’s failure to do anything to alleviate our city’s horrific homeless crisis, and the risk that in approving the project the city would incur significant legal settlement costs and enable money laundering.

Did they listen to us? Politely, to be sure, and with no time limits. But does Eric Garcetti’s Planning Department ever truly listen to concerned citizens?

Still, something had their attention. During the hearing, project lead William Lamborn mentioned that his office had received a significant written response to the EIR that morning. This mysterious comment hung over the room all through the public comment period.

Then Alan Como, who led the hearing, closed public comment with the following words: “So, given the discussion and testimony today, including the item that was received this morning—the letter, which I believe you said Will was rather lengthy—I’m going to take this under advisement for a period of approximately one week to give planning staff an opportunity to review that letter. And so, yeah, no action will be taken today.”

We of course requested a copy of that “rather lengthy… item,” which was promptly provided by Mr. Lamborn, and have read it with growing and complete fascination, awe and gratitude.

(Parenthetically, do you ever stop to wonder just how it is that corruption has run so utterly amok in our City of the Angels? Do you think, like we do, it might have something to do with our checked-out local media, which cannot even be bothered to send an intern to attend the Planning Department’s final hearing for a huge redevelopment project that is central to the FBI’s investigation of Jose Huizar and his special favors for real estate industry donors, a project which calls for the demolition of the most distinguished newspaper industry landmark in Southern California?)

So yeah, that’s why the blog of a scrappy historic Los Angeles tour company is breaking the news that the nonprofit California public benefit corporation Supporters Alliance For Environmental Responsibility (“SAFER”), which is closely associated with the Laborers International Union of North America Local 300 (“LIUNA”), has fired an astonishing shot across the bow of Onni Group’s Times Mirror Square project, calling on the Los Angeles City Planning Department to halt the EIR approval process and address serious flaws, falsehoods and misinterpretations under CEQA in its analysis of the project’s environmental impact, and then circulate a corrected and factual RDEIR (revised draft environmental impact report) for public review.

Among the serious issues raised by SAFER’s expert analysts in their 100+ page letter, are:

• A flawed interpretation of the state law that protects historic resources like the locally landmarked and California State Register eligible buildings on the site;

• The concern that the project would cause significant bird death, including to locally nesting and migrating Vaux’s Swifts, due to the huge expanse of glass windows;

• A non-trivial cancer risk from the off-gassing of formaldehyde in all the new plywood and other mass produced crap slated to replace the fine materials used in William Pereira’s building;

• An unjustified rejection of project alternatives that would protect historical resources and cause less pollution and traffic, simply because they fail to match the property owner’s arbitrary determination of what “must” be included in their proposed development. 

• And finally, an objection which made us laugh out loud: the incomplete and inaccurate traffic impact analysis must be completely re-done, not least because the EIR fails to account for the impact on and from Jose Huizar’s ridiculous Downtown Streetcar Inc. boondoggle!

All of the above is thoroughly explained in the lengthy letter from leading environmental attorney Richard Toshiyuki Drury of Lozeau Drury LLP sent on behalf of SAFER, which you can read for yourself here.

If you appreciate this information, we are always grateful for your tips (both monetary and in the form of offbeat Los Angeles lore sent via email). Thank you, SAFER. And viva Pereira!

(December 2, 2019 update from L.A. City Planning on Times Mirror Square: Expected letter of determination NOT issued. No scheduled hearings at this time and it’s highly unlikely one will be scheduled this year. We think no news is good news for the Pereia in Peril!)

 

Announcing Save LACMA

If you’ve followed Esotouric for any time at all, you know that we’re big fans of William L. Pereira‘s civic and commercial architecture, and have advocated for the preservation of such endangered buildings as the Metropolitan Water District HQ, Los Angeles Times Executive Building and Los Angeles County Museum of Art as part of a broader Pereira in Peril campaign.

Today we begin a new chapter in this work, with announcement of the launch of Save LACMA (http://www.ourlacma.org), a registered 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Corporation formed to amplify the voice of the community to help steer the museum’s future, not just with the proposed Wilshire-straddling new building project, but in all its change and growth to come.

The more we learned about LACMA’s current plans, the more we felt the need to advocate not just for the historic campus, but for the survival of the museum as an institution. We are proud to join with other concerned Angelenos to volunteer our time as board members, taking our LACMA Lovers League petition campaign to a new level under the Save LACMA nonprofit banner.

We look forward to meeting you at LACMA-focused events in the near future. For now, we hope you’ll visit the website to learn more, sign up for the occasional newsletter, follow Save LACMA on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) and share this exciting news with your arts loving friends. It’s going to be a campaign to remember, and we can’t wait to share it with you!

Planning Commission To Decide Fate of Times Mirror Square

The Angelenos who landmarked the Los Angeles Times buildings cordially invite you to be a part of their history, by asking the Planning Commission to “do the right thing” at the Final EIR hearing on October 16 and approve a redevelopment plan that preserves and protects this architecturally and culturally significant place, while rejecting the appearance of political corruption steering land use decisions in Los Angeles. There is still cause for hope that the Times buildings will be treated with due respect during redevelopment, but they need your help!

Please join us at Los Angeles City Hall on Wednesday, October 16 at 10:30 am to give public comment to the Planning Commission on the Final EIR for the Times Mirror Square Project. (Or send an email by October 15; see instructions at the bottom of this page.) (Facebook event link.)

FOR THOSE GIVING PUBLIC COMMENT: If you plan to attend the October 16 hearing, please email us at tours@esotouric.com, and we can give you more info and let you know what to expect. We don’t know exactly when this agenda item will be heard, but the hearing begins at 10:30am in room 1020.

To support preservation in your public comment, please include these words, then add your own personal reasons for speaking: “I oppose the Project because under CEQA, the Executive Building is a recognized historical resource eligible for the California Register for its association with the Times Mirror Company and Otis Chandler, and is a significant example of the work of master architect William L. Pereira. I urge you to select Alternative 5, Full Preservation Alternative, the environmentally superior alternative.”


THE SITE: A square block sitting kitty corner from Los Angeles City Hall, comprised of Gordon B. Kaufmann’s 1935 L.A. Times Building, Rowland Crawford’s 1948 Mirror Tower, William L. Pereira’s 1973 Executive Building, and a Pereira-designed parking garage.

THE THREAT: Canadian developer Onni Group wants to demolish the garage and Executive Building to build two high-rise towers. The Executive Building is fully integrated into the 1935 L.A. Times Building. This project would not only destroy a significant work by William Pereira, but leave a gaping hole in the side of the most architecturally significant structure on the site.

THE STORY: On September 20, 2018, the Cultural Heritage Commission accepted our Times Mirror Square landmark nomination in full, disagreeing with the Office of Historic Resources’ claim that Pereira’s Executive Building should not be included. The nomination would next go to City Council’s PLUM Committee, where we were concerned that the chair, Councilman Jose Huizar, would reject it outright, to clear the way for Canadian developer Onni Group to erect two towers. However, between the CHC and PLUM hearings, the FBI raided Huizar’s City Hall office and home, and Huizar was removed from PLUM. Nevertheless, on November 27, 2018, PLUM deferred to Huizar’s request and altered the landmark nomination by removing Pereira’s building. The altered nomination was then approved by full City Council. In February 2019, the Los Angeles Times reported that developer Onni Group had given $50,000 to Huizar’s political fund two months prior to the PLUM vote. It is against the backdrop of this appearance of quid pro quo vote buying that the Planning Commission will decide the fate of Times Mirror Square.

To learn more about the L.A. Times landmarking nomination, and the wider Pereira in Peril campaign, click here.

To read the Final EIR for this project, and our feedback, click here.


FOR EMAIL SUPPORTERS: You can also send a statement of support via email ASAP, but no later than end of day Tuesday, October 15.

Below is an example of how a statement of support should be formatted.
Subject line: ENV-2016-4676-EIR
Email to: william.lamborn@lacity.org
cc: tours@esotouric.com (that’s us, the landmark team)

Dear Planning Commission,

I oppose the Project because under CEQA, the Executive Building is a recognized historical resource eligible for the California Register for its association with the Times Mirror Company and Otis Chandler, and is a significant example of the work of master architect William L. Pereira.

I urge you to select Alternative 5, Full Preservation Alternative, the environmentally superior alternative.

sincerely, (your name, your address, your email)

PLEASE NOTE: Uniquely personal remarks, even just a line or two, really make a difference. Please consider adding this sentence and filling in the blank: These buildings are important to me because ____________.

 

The Cinecon Caper revealed in emails between Hollywood Heritage, Netflix and Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s Office

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Some emails have just been released in response to a public records request by government transparency blogger Adrian Riskin of MichaelKohlhaas.org. He asked Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office for any correspondence between the councilman’s staff and anyone with netflix.com email address. You can read the emails here.

In addition to emails expressing the councilman’s desire to be helpful in addressing the streaming giant’s need for hotel rooms and apartments in Hollywood, you’ll find a fascinating email thread with Richard Adkins, president of Hollywood Heritage.

This thread helps clear up some of the mystery surrounding the rumored cancellation and last minute restoration of the 55th Annual Cinecon Classic Film Festival’s five-day booking at the Egyptian Theatre, a booking that we’ve heard from several sources had been salvaged through the direct intervention of Councilman O’Farrell’s office.

In his email (Subject: Additional Information on Cinecon and the petition, 7/20/2019), Mr. Adkins explains at the outset, “I would like to make it clear that Hollywood Heritage has not spoken publicly about the Cinematheque or the proposed purchase of the Egyptian Theatre.”

(We think this lack of comment on a major change of use for Hollywood’s oldest motion picture palace is unfortunate, both because Hollywood Heritage was founded in 1980 “to protect, maintain and enhance buildings and neighborhoods, natural resources, and other monuments and artifacts that exemplify or constitute a part of the historic, architectural or cultural heritage of Hollywood,” and because it is the only other Hollywood non-profit that received a landmark building as a gift with the expectation that it would be operated as a public benefit. The opinion of Hollywood Heritage on this proposed sale is in the public interest.)

Further, Richard Adkins wishes it known that he is not the same person as Richard Schave, who is circulating the petition seeking transparency around the sale of the Egyptian Theatre.

He continues: “In regards to Cinecon, Hollywood Heritage has the non-profit operator of Cinecon for the past three years. We have been associated with the festival since the museum was established inn 1985, but only began managing the festival following the passing of Robert S. Birchard who was the president of Cinecon… To be able to continue to operate, Hollywood Heritage filed a DBA with the state as operators of the festival. Select personnel at the Cinematheque have been familiar with Cinecon Classic Film Festival for almost 20 years and may not have been aware of the changeover, as we kept it low key in order not to alarm registrants, vendors and creditors… I am sure this is why there may be some unfamiliarity with our relationship to the festival, but I assure you it is now a Hollywood Heritage activity. If at all possible we would like to have notification of the return of our Egyptian dates by Wednesday [7/24/2019], so that should there be a problem, we can seek alternate venues.”

(The ellipses above are included to remove a claim made in the email that the late Bob Birchard, a dedicated film historian and preservationist who once gave a wonderful interview about lost Hollywood bookstores on our podcast, was misleading the public by operating Cinecon as a non-profit, when it was not one in good standing with the California Attorney General. We have looked far and wide for any claim ever made by Bob Birchard that Cinecon, or the parent organization Society of Cinephiles, was a non-profit, without success. To the contrary, Bob Birchard partnered with a non-profit at the end of his life to allow Cinecon to receive tax-deductible donations (see this PDF link). Since 2016, Cinecon has been operated by a non-profit, Hollywood Heritage.)

Two days later (7/22/2019) Craig Bullock, Planning Director for Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, forwards Richard Adkins’ email to London Kemp, Netflix’ Director of Corporate Real Estate:

“FYI. I wanted to share the email below regarding the petition. I would not have intervened had the people doing the petition were the same as the people doing the film festival. At my request, Richard Atkins sent this email to me to better clarify the players… it get confusing especially with multiple Richards haha”

With the air cleared, Cinecon did indeed go on as planned at the Egyptian Theatre from 8/29-9/2/2019. It was a close call for the festival, and for the hundreds of film fans, guest speakers and memorabilia vendors who purchased tickets and paid for travel and lodging, unaware that the event was hanging by a thread.

We’re glad Cinecon happened this year at its longtime home, The Egyptian Theatre. And we’re glad Los Angeles Times reporter Ryan Faughnder was able to attend Cinecon and to meet as perfect a dues-paying American Cinematheque member as Christina Rice there, so her quote can wrap up today’s front page story: “If it’s such a great thing, why does this all need to be shrouded in secrecy?”

And we’re deeply troubled that something as silly and as capricious as Netflix executives mistakenly thinking the preservationist named Richard who is petitioning the American Cinematheque to explain why they want to sell the Egyptian Theatre is the same person as the non-profit president named Richard who has no comment about the situation came thisclose to stopping Cinecon’s show from going on.

The city gave the Egyptian Theatre to the American Cinematheque for a dollar so festivals like Cinecon can have a home. We the people of Los Angeles and the wider film community deserve some honest answers before we lose this precious place. If you agree, please sign the petition, and share it with friends. You can learn more about the situation here.


Update: On September 12, two days after publication of this post containing the email in which he tells Netflix and Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office that Hollywood Heritage has made no public comment about the proposed sale, the non-profit’s president Richard Adkins made the following statement on Facebook, in which he commits to Hollywood Heritage sharing its informed opinion about the sale… after or as it closes. We understand that journalists have been reaching out to Adkins and Hollywood Heritage while reporting the story, with no response. These observations could have been helpful to them.

“The landmark Egyptian Theatre has been the focus of press attention in the last six months due to media reports of a pending transfer of ownership. At this date, and to our knowledge, no such transfer has as yet been completed and articles in the press lack sufficient detail to justify taking any position on a projected, but unexecuted, transaction. That being said, we would clearly anticipate that any such transfer of a national landmark building in a national historic register district would be reviewed with transparency by and all responsible public agencies, departments, or commissions. As the first Sid Grauman theatre in Hollywood and the site of the first gala “premiere” with searchlights and a red carpet, the Egyptian Theatre is a defining structure in our built environment and merits careful consideration in order to protect and preserve its unique architectural and cultural value not only to Hollywood, Los Angeles and America, but the world in general, which views Hollywood as a shared international cultural asset. When there is specificity and detail regarding a change in the projected operation of the theatre which may affect its future, Hollywood Heritage will be happy to share its observations and opinions on such plans, specifically as it relates to the monument, the district, and non-profit law and operation.”

In a follow up comment to someone seeking clarification, he adds: “That would be a simplification of the historic building process and this one is complicated by ownership by a non-profit. Yes, changes which require a permit are automatically reviewed for any building over 50 years of age under regulations which were designed to protect existing and potential landmarks. Painting for instance, is not a permit-necessary process. The review I was referring to has everything to do with how a non-profit steward of a historic structure has to proceed via non-profit law. A non-profit which owns or operates a landmark structure is periodically reviewed to make sure funds donated specifically for projects such as restoration are actually used for that purpose and not for staffing or other ancillary purposes. The Egyptian is a landmark, the Cinematheque is a non-profit, review of their management of the site is appropriate.”

Elegy for 1326 South Mariposa

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We were driving the side streets of the Pico-Union District after locking down a special location to be added to the next Curse of the She-Devil true crime history tour. The late afternoon light was beautiful, with that sort of buttery, gilded quality that sends all the architectural details into high relief.

It doesn’t matter how many times we explore Pico-Union, the sprawling neighborhood always rewards us with something new. The buildings are old, solid and lived in, displaying layers of demographic change in their signs. The past and present are entwined, organically and unpretentiously.

Some signs of the past are more precious than others: the Mission Revival rooftop arch of the Doria Apartments (1600 West Pico, built 1905), illuminated with incandescent bulbs, was being covered up with an illegal billboard in 2011, when we drove by on our Weird West Adams tour and snapped a crime scene photo. An urgent call to the city’s Office of Historic Resources happily resulted in a stop work order before any permanent damage was done to Historic-Cultural Monument #432. Every time we pass the Doria now and see that jaunty sign, we feel like she’s kind of “ours.”

On our recent ramble, following the commercial spine of Pico, we dipped down into the residential corridors, where we were especially delighted to make the acquaintance of Byrdshire Manor (1405 South Berendo Street, built 1928), an English vernacular apartment block with layers of hand-painted signage, graceful arches and a smattering of deformed clinker bricks breaking up its rhythms.

But just five blocks to the west, we found a landmark just as arresting, though not for its charm.

The handsome folk Victorian house at 1326 South Mariposa Avenue was built in 1895; the back house in 1951. Two years ago, when the property was listed at $687,500, a marketing video captured a messy home with at least one child in it. It sold for slightly above asking and was soon back on the market, an unaltered flip.

This June, the house sold for $1,300,000. It is presently boarded up, with lurid No Trespassing signs and weeds in the lawn. At the front of the parcel, a huge billboard erected by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway advertises the large, charmless apartment building that is “Coming Soon.”

On a real estate listing website, agent Dan Risch gushes: “Brand new Building Planned and permits in process. 15 – 1 bedroom units planned. Projected income is $2160/unit/ month. Projected gross income estimated a $373,694 annually. 2 affordable units will be built per developer/owner. Ground level parking. Renderings based on plans. Demolition permits in process. Plans are submitted for review. Located in NMTC zone for tax advantages. Buildings in place at present. Demolition permits expected soon.”

NMTC stands for New Markets Tax Credit. Along with the more common, and also applicable TOC or Transit Oriented Communities, it’s the little extra juice that makes it even more appealing for the biggest companies in the world to swoop into poor neighborhoods like Pico-Union in Los Angeles, buy up the existing historic housing stock at a premium price, sit on it for a couple of years and flip it as a tax advantaged development opportunity.

Preservationists in Los Angeles are playing whack-a-mole with developers who seek to destroy the beautiful buildings that make up the very warp and weft of our shared history, simply because old buildings are usually cheaper to purchase than vacant lots, and because a deeply corrupted City Hall enables it. Many notable landmarks have been saved thanks to the efforts of caring individuals and preservation organizations, but many more terrific contributing structures have vanished from the landscape forever.

With companies like Berkshire Hathaway targeting properties like 1326 South Mariposa and erecting billboards touting the fortunes to be made by demolishing them, the potential loss of beautiful and useful buildings is staggering.

But, some argue, Los Angeles is in the grips of a “housing crisis” and we “need” larger structures like the one on the Berkshire Hathaway billboard. Do we really?

We believe that we actually have a housing use crisis, not a housing crisis.

Artificial scarcity, generated by apartment buildings and SRO hotels kept perpetually vacant by corporate investors, large-scale illegal home share listings, “condos” that are nothing of the kind, Ellis Act evictions that empty buildings that then remain empty for years, newly constructed apartments used as filming locations, these and other greedy misuses of housing stock all conspire to create rental costs that far exceed reasonable rates for many Angelenos, even as the city’s population declines.

Until the many disruptive forces that have radically altered the Los Angeles housing market are reigned in, it’s absurd to reward the real estate industry with a stack of blank demolition forms, so they can take yet more essential housing stock off the market, this time with even greater tax benefits.

But the clock is ticking on the street named for the butterfly. Demolition permits have been requested for 1326 South Mariposa. Some day soon, the wreckers will come and pull down two good buildings, replacing them with something out of scale and style with the block. Nobody will ever stop to photograph this generic apartment house in the gilded afternoon light.

A few blocks away, at 1430 Arapahoe Street, we found an official-looking demolition permit on this grand 1885 Victorian, with no corresponding information on file with the city. A man in the next yard noticing us taking photos, asked first if we wanted to buy the house, then when we said we were just worried about it, insisted “It’s just a little remodel, nothing’s getting torn down.”

And the fight for the soul of Los Angeles goes on. We save what we can, and we keep a list of everything teetering on the brink. Won’t you be the city’s eyes, and tell us when a place you love appears to be at risk?