July 6, 2012

LAVA – The Los Angeles Visionaries Association

”[LAVA is] a network of creative types and thinkers working to grow Los Angeles up.” – The New York Post. “LAVA gathers creative people in search of a different experience of life in Los Angeles.” – Flavorpill. “LAVA always flows with red-hot nuggets of LA life.” – The Rundown. “This organization is like an ongoing Masters program in Los Angeles cultural history.” – Marguerite Darlington

Gentle reader,

Welcome to the LAVA dispatch, an invitation to get out into the open air and explore. The real Los Angeles reveals itself slowly, and rewards the ernest seeker.

This week we’d like to share with you some scenes from our recent screening at the King Eddy Saloon (http://vimeo.com/45286001), and pull your sleeve to the Lit Fest @ The King Eddy, just added to our calendar (http://lavatransforms.org/kingeddylitfest1).

Now read on for the LAVA news you can use.

Here are some brief highlights from LAVA’s calendar.
Visit http://lavatransforms.org for full details and new additions. We hope you can join us for some of these Visionary-hosted events.

Sat, 01/31/2015 - 12:00pm

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.

Sat, 02/07/2015 - 12:00pm

Press clips: Los Angeles Times feature article on this tour.

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On the east side the Los Angeles River, some of the most fascinating Southern California stories are waiting to be told. Join Esotouric, L.A.’s most eclectic bus adventure company, on a century’s social history tour through the transformation of neighborhoods, punctuated with immersive stops to sample the sites, smells and cultures that make our changing city so beguiling.

Voter registration, citizenship classes, walkouts, blow-outs, anti-Semitism, adult education, racial covenants, boycotts, The City Beautiful, Exclusion Acts and Immigration Acts, property values, xenophobia, and delicious dumplings—all are themes which will be addressed on this lively bus and walking tour.


In the mid-1920s, Monterey Park was poised on the brink of becoming the Beverly Hills of the east. The Wall Street crash put an end to opulent residential development, but left some beautiful remnants of what might have been. In the 1950s, a thriving Italian-American community settled in the hills, and established some of the area’s most beloved landmark businesses. Since the 1980s, the communities of Alhambra, San Gabriel and Monterey Park have transformed themselves from sleepy suburban bedroom communities (bursting at the seams from a 1950s housing explosion) to the nexus of a pan-Asian megalopolis. Fueled by immigration and investment from Taiwan, Hong Kong and South-East Asia, these communities have found their 21st Century identity, and their economic base—but at the expense of aging long-time residents, who have seen familiar neighborhoods and retail zones become unrecognizable.



In the 1890s, Rev. Dana Bartlett ministered to and taught the Russian Molokons in the cramped riverside neighborhood known then and now as “The Flats.” Today, the area contains public housing projects--a belated mid-century solution to the social problems that worried Bartlett, and an ongoing challenge for residents and city planners. In the 1960s, the Chicano Moratorium emerged from the same streets where in the 1920s and 1930s Jewish activists helped change the face of labor in California and the nation. Using the organizing tools first honed by their Jewish neighbors, young Chicanos stood up and rejected the military machine that sent so many of their peers to die in Vietnam, and developed an empowered social identity that lead all the way to the Mayor’s office.


This whirlwind social history tour of some of the most interesting and dynamic neighborhoods on the east side of Los Angeles will include stops at:

  • The Vladeck Center
  • Hollenbeck Park
  • Wyvernwood Garden Apartments
  • Evergreen Cemetery
  • The Venice Room
  • El Encanto & Cascades Park
  • Divine’s Furniture
  • Wing Hop Fung for a complementary tea tasting

This tour is just one of our California Culture tour series (formerly known as the Reyner Banham Loves L.A. series).

Sat, 02/14/2015 - 11:30am

Join us on an afternoon's exploration of California's Mother Road and the building of its dream in the foothills of the San Gabriel Valley. From the real estate boosterism of the 1880s to the citrus industry, health farms, TB hospitals and daffy roadside architecture, from its earliest days Southern California branded itself as something new under the sun.

Highlights of the Route 66 tour include:

E. Wald Ward Farm, purveyors of fine preservatives and other delicacies. We will visit the barn store of this venerable Sierra Madre citrus family which has been in business of producing and selling the highest quality preserves from their orchards since 1918. Come tour the canning facility and mini museum, and hear all about the history of this uniquely California family from 4th generation proprietor Jeff Ward.

Aztec Hotel. Designed in the Mayan style by architect Robert Stacy Judd, this 1924 National Register landmark is being restored by its new owners and is again becoming the place again to get your kicks. Judd's buildings in Southern California were an important influence on Frank Lloyd Wright's Mayan houses, and are among the most lyrical and inventive architectural spaces in the region.

The McNeil & Vosberg Residences (The Feuding Slauson Sisters of Azusa). A hidden gem of Azusa lore, and family dynamics. These historic residences, set in a growing new suburb, also serve as a reminder of the fragility of ecologies to the incessant crush of progress.

Fairmount Cemetery, a remote and fascinating Civil War-era hillside burial ground.

This four hour tour will include a complimentary coffee and cookies stop in the early afternoon. We recommend bringing a bag lunch as well. Please note: comfortable walking shoes recommended. One of our shorter tour stops takes us over slightly rugged ground, and less agile passengers may prefer to remain on the bus.

This tour is just one of our California Culture tour series (formerly known as the Reyner Banham Loves L.A. series).

Sat, 02/21/2015 - 12:00pm

This is NOT a tour about beautiful buildings--although beautiful buildings will be all around you. This is NOT a tour about brilliant architects--although we will gaze upon their works and marvel.

Esotouric's The Lowdown on Downtown IS a tour about urban redevelopment, public policy, protest, power and the police. It is a revealing history of how the New Downtown became an "overnight sensation" after decades of quiet work behind the scenes by public agencies and private developers. This tour is about what really happened in the heart of Los Angeles, a complicated story that will fascinate and infuriate, break your heart and thrill your spirit.

So join your host Richard Schave, the founding director of the Downtown LA Art Walk non-profit, on a tour that reveals the secret history, and the fascinating future, of this most beguiling LA neighborhood.

This is a tour about the populated, vibrant mid-20th Century Downtown Los Angeles you've only heard about, and about the 21st Century Downtown that can rise again with a richness of heritage and quality of life leaving natives and visitors gaping in disbelief. This is a tour about Downtown's invisible neighborhoods and great public spaces which managed to escape the wrecking ball. This is a tour about how gentrification sprung up on the city's meanest streets, with all the conflicts that go along with a major socio-economic shift in a small community, and about how the free speech concerns of Occupy LA protesters came into synch with those of homeless rights activists in a challenging moment for LAPD and the arts community. This is a tour about the real and evolving Los Angeles, the city even natives don't know. Get on the bus for the real Lowdown on Downtown, as no one but Esotouric's Richard Schave can reveal it.

Our tour begins in the corporate public spaces of Bunker Hill and Pershing Square, each the result of deliberate social engineering (the razing of old Bunker Hill which displaced 9,000 residents; the elimination of positive public space in Pershing Square to thwart public address and gatherings). We segue to the underappreciated yet extremely successful public spaces of the Historic Core and then to the emerging residential community of The Old Bank District, where developer Tom Gilmore’s gentrification and the monthly Art Walk have brought life to spaces which have been dead for decades. The tour concludes in the Arts District, with a history of the bold urban explorers who reclaimed vacant loft spaces at great personal risk, the public policy shift that legalized their creative community, and the astonishing growth of the "new" Arts District and what it means for the artists who remain and for young artists. 

WHY "THE LOWDOWN ON DOWNTOWN?" - Having studied under architecture critic Reyner Banham in the mid-1980s, tour host Richard Schave has taken it upon himself to correct his teacher’s gross oversight of downtown Los Angeles, relegated to a dismissive coda in his seminal Los Angeles guidebook Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. Richard and his wife Kim Cooper work extensively with the history and lost cultures of downtown in their bus tours, in their work placing Art Walk into a non-profit, on blogs including On Bunker HillIn SRO Land and1947project, and through public lectures on thesubject.

This tour has a significant walking component, down the stairs along Angels Flight, around Pershing Square, through several other pedestrian locations. It is broken up, but please be advised to be ready to stretch your legs. Locations on the tour include: Angels Flight - Pershing Square - Bunker Hill - Bradbury Building - Grand Central Market - Mercantile Arcade Building - Bloom's Square - An underground arts space.

This tour is just one of our California Culture tour series (formerly known as the Reyner Banham Loves L.A. series).

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 2:00pm

Please note that, due to limited room capacity, attendees must register to attend the LAVA Sunday Salon. To sign up for this free event: First register as a user on this site, or login to your existing account and then return to this page. Refresh the page and the signup field will appear just to the left of this text. Enter your email address. No plus-ones; each guest must register individually. If you find you are unable to attend, please return to this page and cancel your reservation. Also, note that the Sunday Salon has a new time slot: 2-4pm. 

Join LAVA Visionary and art historian Dr. Paul Koudounaris, author of "Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs" and "The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses" for a very special presentation inaugurating the relaunch of the monthly LAVA Sunday Salon at Library Bar.

Demonically-Possessed Cats with Dr. Paul Koudounaris

Does your cat do things like:

spit fire?

speak in tongues?


shape shift?

wantonly kill people for no apparent reason?

This behavior may be more than simple bad kitty syndrome—your cat may be possessed by a demon. But don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, there is an entire history of demonically-possessed cats. Felines were once considered by theologians to be easy prey for demons, who could enter their bodies and wreck incredible havoc on mankind. And did you know… demonically-possessed cats are still believed to be with us today?! Dr. Paul Koudounaris has immersed himself in the study of demonic cats, in order to to give a talk on this sadly neglected topic. Cat lovers will like this lecture, and cat haters will like it even more. Neither side will ever look at a domestic cat the same way again.

Please note this lecture has been given by Dr. Koudounaris in abbreviated forms about town, but this only time he will present the full lecture in Los Angeles.

Sat, 02/28/2015 - 12:00pm

For the first time, the true crime archeologists of Esotouric have set their sights on points west of Robertson, and the results are truly mind-boggling..

Originally offered in Esotouric’s 2008-2009 seasons, this newly revived crime bus tour spotlights some of the weirdest, most horrific and downright unbelievable crimes of historic West Los Angeles, Venice and Santa Monica. You’ll thrill and shudder to tales of teenaged terrors, tortured tots, wicked wives, evil spirits, cults, creeps and assorted maniacs.

Get on the bus to meet Weird Ward, the boy husband of the nefarious cult leader who compelled her followers to carry her departed victims all across 1920s L.A., and the peculiar Helen Love, who nearly escaped justice when she willed herself into a coma during her very odd murder trial. Along the Venice shore, you’ll see where a pair of real life witches tortured their own Hansels and Gretels as neighbors pretended not to hear the tots’ cries, and marvel at the grand hotel that was formally a flop house for ex-junkies in the Synanon Cult. Come discover the real and terrible history of L.A.‘s westside, on a tour so wild, we had to say it twice.

Sat, 03/07/2015 - 12:00pm

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 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.

The tour also offers an overview of the neighborhood's many early subdivisions, and a groundbreaking court case that helped end housing discrimination nationwide.

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.

Sun, 03/15/2015 - 12:00pm

To purchase a ticket for this special event, click here. If you'd like to be contacted when another crime lab tour and lecture are scheduled, subscribe to LAVA's occasional Crime Lab Newsletter.

Join us in the Cal State Los Angeles teaching crime lab for an afternoon’s inquiry into the history and practice of forensic science in Los Angeles, in support of new research coming out of the Criminalistics Department. 

The Secrets of Forensic Firearm Analysis with Forensic Firearm and Toolmark Examiner Michael I. Kelley

For our first talk, join Michael I. Kelley, who works with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department as a trainer in the Firearm Identification unit, and who previously presented on his crime scene reconstruction of Pat Tillman’s death in Afghanistan, for an in-depth presentation on law enforcement techniques for analyzing projectiles and weapons from criminal investigations.

In this introduction to the science of forensic firearm analysis, illustrated with real crime scene photographs and casework, Mike will cover:

  • Examination of ammunition.
  • Microscopic comparisons of fired bullets, cartridge cases and toolmarks.
  • Distance Determination.
  • Serial number restorations.
  • Physical fracture matches.
  • The Cross Fire (IBIS) System
  • Toolmark identification

For our second talk, join LASD Team Leader and educator Nick Guskos, co-author of the 2013 textbook Criminal Investigation: An Illustrated Case Study Approach, for an insightful presentation inside the hidden world of gang communication. Nick takes us deep within the investigation into a case of a murder which occurred inside the walls of the Los Angeles County Jail. You’ll follow along as the case unfolds and is eventually solved through intelligence gathering. Intelligence gathering is the key to understanding all complex criminal organizations, including terrorism. This latter area is the topic of Nick’s doctoral dissertation, and will be covered at the conclusion of his talk.

By the afternoon’s conclusion, attendees will have a deeper understanding of the real work that’s done in the field by forensic investigators, and the tools and techniques used to interpret physical evidence and analyze intelligence for the benefit of investigating officers and juries.