This provocative Esotouric bus adventure begins downtown and works its way south through Vernon, Bell Gardens, Santa Fe Springs and Downey, and through the past two centuries, exploring off-the-beaten path Los Angeles landmarks that have had enormous influence on the cultural life of the city and the world beyond.
Turning the West Side-centric notion of an L.A. architecture tour on its head, the bus goes into areas not traditionally associated with the important, beautiful or significant, raising issues of preservation, adaptive reuse and the evolution of the city. The locations all speak to the power, mutability and reach of Southern California as a creative engine. Some of the tour stops are:
Rancho San Antonio (1840). One of the oldest adobe structure in Los Angeles County, it was built by the Lugo family, whose rancho spread all the way to South Gate--the south gate of the property. This fascinating home sits smack dab in the middle of a 65-year-old trailer park on the banks of the Rio Hondo River in Bell Gardens. Between the layers of context at this site is the history of migration and growth in the Southland, from Spanish land grants to the dust bowl to the vast waves of stucco suburbs.
Canning Hardware and the Ed "Big Daddy" Roth studio (1950s). This modest stretch of Slauson Avenue was ground zero for Southern California high performance and hot rod culture. Come discover how aerospace, social mobility and teenage ingenuity transformed the automotive industry and created new modes of self-expression that spread worldwide.
The Clarke Estate (1920). A lost masterpiece by tilt-slab concrete architect Irving Gill, this Mission Revival (with a smattering of Mayan)-inspired dwelling feels like a time capsule from a simpler era, and offers insights into how the California style of architecture was born and popularized through Gill's modernist fans Schindler and Neutra.
Harvey's Broiler (1958/2008). One of the most prominent stops on the South Los Angeles cruising circuit, the teen culture promenade of the 1950s and '60s that had enormous influence on fashion, automotive design, popular music and leisure, Harvey's is also a cautionary tale about historic preservation. The beloved Downey diner with its landmark neon sign was illegally partially demolished by a renter who wanted more space to park used cars. The site was saved due to public outcry, and has been restored as a Bob's Big Boy built to the original specifications.
This tour is just one of our California Culture tour series (formerly known as the Reyner Banham Loves L.A. series).
The Black Surfers Collective, Heal the Bay, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Santa Monica Conservancy and other groups will offer a day of surf lessons and activities for young and old to commemorate the life of Nick Gabaldon (1927–1951), the first documented surfer of African American and Mexican descent, and the heritage of the historical African American beach site, sometimes formerly called the “Inkwell.” The day is a celebration of our California seaside, cultural and historical heritage, and outreach to promote historical studies, surfing and ocean stewardship.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Fayard and Harold Nicholas, two high flying siblings from Philadelphia, took America by storm with their tap dancing prowess and transformed the landcape of popular entertainment.
Special guest, Tony Nicholas (son of Fayard Nicholas) presents hand-picked shorts featuring his father and uncle's careers and discusses a family legacy that spans five centuries.
Discover the story of Hope Foye, a progressive young singer whose voice impressed legends such as Paul Robeson and W.E.B. Dubois. However, a subpeona to appear before the McCarren Committee in 1949 changed her life forever. "Red Hope: The Blacklisting of Hope Foye" will be screened at the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum in Culver City. The film's subject, Hope Foye, will be at the screening to discuss her life and career.
Free. Donations welcomed.
Southern California 1931: Amongst the burgeoning urban sprawl built atop bulldozed orange groves and the bitter realization that you can’t eat the sunshine, recent emigré James M. Cain found a kernel of truth and his voice, which would eventually distill through his novels, ”The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Mildred Pierce” and “Double Indemnity” and subsequent film adaptations into the unique American genre: Film Noir.
How did this East Coat sophisticate go from managing editor of “The New Yorker” to populist novelist accused of writing dirty books? The tour explores Cain’s L.A. from Hollywood to Glendale and along old Route 66, and includes illuminating visits to Forest Lawn Memorial Park (a Glendale institution and site of the funeral of Mildred Pierce’s “other” daughter, Ray), the Glendale Train Station where the “Double Indemnity” murder plot played out, and the punch line to a Billy Wilder joke so subtle, it’s taken 63 years for anyone to get. The tour will also cover the artisans who transformed Cain’s tales into film, including Billy Wilder, Raymond Chandler, Joan Crawford and Lana Turner, each an important contributor to the Film Noir canon.
"This bus tour... has established itself as an L.A. classic." -The Los Angeles Times
The Black Dahlia murder in 1947 is the most compelling unsolved crime Los Angeles has ever known. What Jack the Ripper is to London, the Torso Killer to Cleveland, the Black Dahlia is to L.A. And yet unlike those other cases, the name Black Dahlia refers not to the killer, but to the victim. What was it about Elizabeth Short that keeps her the object of obsessive fascination by writers, musicians, artists, filmmakers, cops and readers, more than sixty years after she was slain?
The Real Black Dahlia Crime Bus Tour seeks to answer this question by intimately exploring the last weeks of Elizabeth Short's life, asking not "who killed her?" but "who was she?"
The tour takes us from the human hustle of Main Street to the serene lobby of the Biltmore (the second-to-last place she was seen alive), to the newspaper offices and the Greyhound station where she checked her bags, and concludes at the site where her bisected body was found in Leimert Park and with a little known suspect who lived nearby.
From the few personal possessions she left behind to the friends who scarcely knew her, from the mass hysteria of the investigation with its fruitless leads, wacko suspects and false confessions, the tour reveals all that's known about this enigmatic black-haired girl who reinvented herself at whim, and shows how she came to be the unfortunate symbol of her time and place.
Join LAVA for our revived free monthly Sunday Salon series. We return to South Broadway, to the mezzanine of Les Noces du Figaro, which was recently opened by the family behind Figaro Bistro in Los Feliz. This handsome space was formerly Schaber’s Cafeteria (Charles F. Plummer, 1928), and the mezzanine features wonderful views of the Los Angeles Theatre.
On the last Sunday of each month, LAVA welcomes interested individuals to gather in downtown Los Angeles (noon-2pm), for a structured Salon featuring formal presentations and opportunities to meet and connect with one another. If you’re interested in joining LAVA as a creative contributor or an attendee, we recommend Salon attendance as an introduction to this growing community. We also recommend the eclairs.
Read about the original Sunday Salon at Clifton's Cafeteria here.
The Salon's theme will be Jazz Age Los Angeles, and the two talks (45 minutes each) will focus on that theme at the intersection of Crescent Heights and Sunset Blvd.
You are encouraged to arrive early if you wish to order food and beverages from the counter downstairs, and bring your meal upstairs.
Please note that there will a morning and afternoon walking tour of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Hollywood on Saturday, June 29, and that our Salon presenters Martin Turnbull and Marc Chevalier will be making short appearances.
Presentation One: Martin Turnbull on The Garden of Allah
Martin Turnbull, author of The Garden Of Allah novels will be discussing life at that hotel and its infamous bungalow courtyard during the 1920s and 30s. Its bootleg liquor, fizzy flappers, all night parties defined the Jazz Age in Los Angeles. When Scott Fitzgerald when came to L.A. in the mid 1930s with his $1000/week contract at MGM, it was at the Garden of Allah he chose to land. it was also the home-away-from-home for Algonquin Round Table refugees Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman, Alexander Woollcott, Donald Ogden Stewart and Marc Connelly, so Fitzgerald must have feel at home. As did anyone answering Hollywood’s siren call lucky enough to get a room there. Martin’s talk will be punctuated by readings from his first novel in the series, The Garden On Sunset.
Back Story on the Garden of Allah: Formerly the movie star mansion of luminous silent screen star, Alla Nazimova, the Garden of Allah opened its doors in 1927 at the height of the Jazz Age and in no time, word got out that Nazimova’s Garden could always provide hopeful Hollywood arrivals with a pillow, a pal and a party. Over those years, a virtual who’s who of Hollywood paraded through the place: Bogie and Bacall, Errol Flynn, David Niven, Harpo Marx, Tallulah Bankhead, Artie Shaw, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Dorothy Gish, Kay Thompson, Leopold Stokowski, Orson Welles, Ava Gardner, and Frank Sinatra.
Presentation Two: Marc Chevalier on the Crescent Heights Shopping Center & the ballyhoo spirit of the Jazz Age
For his talk, Marc Chevailer, the historian of the Oviatt Building, will focus on the Crescent Heights Shopping Center, just across the street from the Garden of Allah. First drawn to the building because of James Oviatt's proposed but never realized "satellite" shop for his famous haberdashery downtown, Marc soon become ensorcelled by this beautiful French Norman revival building. Built in 1925, this towered, marble-trimmed and mansard-roofed Norman ‘chateau’ housed Schwab’s Pharmacy and the Crescent Heights Market, which fed, drugged and boozed the Garden of Allah’s voracious guests. It was where Hollywood’s movielanders shopped, schmoozed, strove and scrounged for generations … where F. Scott Fitzgerald nearly died and Marilyn Monroe got her final prescription, and where Robert Mitchum, already a star, stocked grocery shelves just for fun.
It was home to the Sunset Medical Center, the upscale Talmadge Jones flower shop (with its Rolls-Royce delivery trucks), a bakery, a dry cleaner, a beauty parlor, the infamous Crescent Heights Market (owned and managed by a cantankerous ex-speakeasy operator from New York, who randomly overcharged Hollywood's elite for its groceries), and a pharmacy that would be bought out by Schwab's in 1932. In 1949, Googie's would build its first coffee shop next to Schwab's.
While nothing remains of it today, “the chateau that housed Schwab’s” is ripe for rediscovery. Join Marc as he presents us a rich palimpsest of Hollywood from its halcyon era as he peels back the layers of the Crescent Heights Shopping Center, a compound which was drastically remodeled in the 1960s, and demolished in 1988.
Marc Chevalier stumbled across “the chateau that held Schwab’s” while doing research for his upcoming biography of James Oviatt, the man behind L.A.’s Oviatt Building. In 2008, in partnership with filmmaker Seth Shulman, he researched/wrote/produced a feature-length documentary on the Oviatt Building’s history. An English teacher by profession, Chevalier calls Los Angeles history his passion/addiction, and credits Kim Cooper and Richard Schave for feeding it regularly.
"[This tour is] a poetic journey full of rare insight into the life of a man who's come to represent the ghettoized contingency of the City of Angels.” - Tanja M. Laden, Flavorpill
"Haunts of a Dirty Old Man: Charles Bukowski's LA" focuses on Bukowski’s great passions: writing, screwing and Los Angeles. We’ll take in the canonical locations of his life and myth: the Postal Annex Terminal where he gathered the material for “Post Office,” the De Longpre apartment where he briefly experimented with marriage and fatherhood, one of his favorite bars and liquor stores, and many other spots. Along the way, we’ll explore the people and ideas that made up the warp and weft of Buk’s rich inner life. This Esotouric bus adventure is hosted by Richard Schave.
The tour spans Bukowski's personal city, from Skid Row to once-genteel Crown Hill, to Bukowski's favorite East Hollywood liquor store, the Pink Elephant.
Esotouric has made its name with true crime bus tours (Black Dahlia, Pasadena Confidential) and explorations of literary LA (Raymond Chandler, John Fante, James M. Cain). Now they turn their creative attentions to Bukowski, the prolific poet, novelist and screenwriter whose rough-hewn tales of boozing, wild women and rotten jobs never obscure the deep vein of sweetness and hope that runs through all his work. In one of his finest poems, he described this as a bluebird he kept caged, and that bluebird is been represented in the Bukbird, a pale blue version of his beloved alcoholic crow character, represented by a logo created by cartoonist Tony Millionaire exclusively for this tour. The Bukbird is available on T-shirts, beer coasters and fine art prints by plasticmuse.
On this guided tour through the Beverly Hills of the early 20th Century, Crime Bus passengers thrill as Jazz Age bootleggers run amok, marvel at the Krazy Kafitz family's litany of murder-suicides, attempted husband slayings, Byzantine estate battles and mad bombings, visit the shortest street in Los Angeles (15' long Powers Place, with its magnificent views of the mansions of Alvarado Terrace), discover which fabulous mansion was once transformed into a functioning whiskey factory using every room in the house, and stroll the haunted paths of Rosedale Cemetery, site of notable burials (May K. Rindge, the mother of Malibu) and odd graveside crimes. Featured players include drunken ice cream men, the most famous dwarf in Hollywood, mass suicide ringleader Reverend Jim Jones, wacky millionaires who can't control their automobiles, human mole bank robbers, comically inept fumigators, kids trapped in tar pits, and dozens of other unusual and fascinating denizens of early Los Angeles.
There are even some celebrity sites along the route, including the death scenes of Motown soul sensation Marvin Gaye and 1920s star Angels baseball catcher Gus Sandberg. And the architecture too is to die for, as the Crime Bus rolls down the elegant streets of old West Adams, lined with gay mansions, adorable bungalows and signs of a century's decay which only enhance the neighborhood's charm.
Passengers on this eye-opening, funny and informative tour will forever see the West Adams district in a new light. It is highly recommended for natives and newcomers alike, crime and history buffs and anyone who likes to seek out the unexpected.
From the founding of the city through the 1940s, downtown was the true center of Los Angeles, a lively, densely populated, exciting and sometimes dangerous place. After many quiet decades, downtown is making an incredible return. But while many of the historic buildings remain, their human context has been lost.
This downtown double feature tour, hosted by Kim Cooper, Joan Renner and Richard Schave, is meant to bring alive the old ghosts and memories that cling to the streets and structures of the historic core, and is especially recommended for downtown residents curious about their neighborhood's neglected history.
The Hotel Horrors portion is a true crime and oddities tour featuring some of the wildest, weirdest, goriest and most memorable happenings in historic hotels like the Alexandria, St. George, Barclay and Cecil. Get on the bus to see inside some of these legendary locales and find out where Night Stalker Richard Ramirez liked to stay and the hotel that saw a visit from the Skid Row Slasher, and where two traveling chocolate salesmen laughed so hard they fell backwards out a window to their deaths. You'll also explore the fiery curse that repeatedly leveled the St. George Hotel. Included are some light hearted stories to help the blood and gore go down.
The Main Street Vice portion is a social history tour celebrating the ribald, racy, raunchy old promenade where the better people simply did not travel, but kicks were had by all who did. Burlesque babes and dirty picture parlors, mummified western outlaws and old time tattoo parlors, wax museums and pawn brokers, "professors" offering sex lectures and magazine peddlers with nudie Marilyn Monroe calendars under the counter, sophisticated steak houses and nickel donut dives -- these were the pleasures and the people to be found along Main during the first half of the 20th century, a street that every Angeleno knew offered more (yet less) of what could be seen anywhere else. On this tour, we'll visit the scenes of some more unforgettable debaucheries and share stories of crime, smut, passion and commerce.
Climb aboard for a time travel journey back to the downtown that's not there anymore, and the surprising amount of gems that survive.