The Crown City masquerades as a calm and refined retreat, where well-bred ladies glide around their perfect bungalows and everyone knows what fork to use first. But don’t be fooled by appearances. Dip into the confidential files of old Pasadena and meet assassins and oddballs, kidnappers and slashers, Satanists and all manner of maniac in a delightful little tour you WON’T find recommended by the better class of people! From celebrated cases like the RFK assassination (with a visit to Sirhan Sirhan’s folks’ house), “Eraserhead” star Jack Nance’s strange end, black magician/rocket scientist Jack Parsons’ death-by-misadventure and the 1926 Rose Parade grand stand collapse, to fascinating obscurities, the tour’s dozens of murders, arsons, kidnappings, robberies, suicides, auto wrecks and oddball happening sites provide a alternate history of Pasadena that’s as fascinating as it is creepy. Passengers will tour the old Millionaire’s Row on Orange Grove, thrill to the shocking Sphinx Murder on the steps of the downtown Masonic Hall and discover why people named Judd should think twice before moving to Pasadena.
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In July 2013, LAVA – The Los Angeles Visionaries Association launched a series of free walking tours along Broadway meant to raise consciousness about the Broadway Theater and Commercial District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the pending implementation of Strategy One, Phase One of the City of Los Angeles’ Broadway Streetscape Master Plan. Each walking tour follows and departs from the free LAVA Sunday Salon.
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 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.
Go East, Young Crime Fiend!
For years, the devoted and demented crime historians of Esotouric have been stockpiling hideous 20th century crime tales from the east side of the Los Angeles River, and waiting for the perfect moment to spring them upon an unsuspecting world. That moment has arrived. On the EAST SIDE BABYLON tour you’ll discover fascinating, little-known neighborhoods and the grim memories they hold. Come visit Boyle Heights, where the Night Stalker was captured and a mad dad ran amok. Roam the hallowed lawns of Evergreen, L.A.’s oldest cemetery and home of some memorable haunts and strange burials. Visit East Los Angeles, where a deranged radio shop employee made mince meat of his boss and bride–and you can get your hair done in a building shaped like a giant tamale. Explore the ghastly streets of Commerce, where one small neighborhood’s myriad crimes will shock and surprise. Visit Montebello, for scrumptious milk and cookies at Broguiere’s Farm Fresh Dairy washed down with a horrifying case of child murder. All this, and so much more on EAST SIDE BABYLON, Esotouric’s exploration of L.A.’s most horrifying forgotten crimes.
The annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books takes place April 12 (10am-6pm) and April 13 (10am-5pm) at USC, with numerous scheduled talks and signings.
Join LAVA co-founder Kim Cooper at booth #367 at the end of the day Sunday, where she’ll be signing her new historic Los Angeles mystery The Kept Girl in the company of fellow Sisters in Crime Los Angeles scribes Rosalkind Barden, Donna Chaffee, Chris Lynch and Naomi Hirahara.
LAVA co-founders Kim Cooper and Richard Schave invite you to join them at Vroman’s Bookshop for a reading and book signing for The Kept Girl (Esotouric Ink), Kim’s debut novel of 1929 Los Angeles. Kim will read a selection from the book, answer questions and write something sweet inside your copy. Vintage attire is encouraged, but not required.
The Kept Girl is inspired by a sensational real-life Los Angeles cult murder spree which exploded into the public consciousness when fraud charges were filed against the cult’s leaders in 1929. The victim was the nephew of oil company president Joseph Dabney, Raymond Chandler’s boss. In the novel, Chandler, still several years away from publishing his first short story, is one of three amateur detectives who uncover the ghastly truth about the Great Eleven cult over one frenetic week. Informed by the author’s extensive research into the literary, spiritual, criminal and architectural history of Southern California, The Kept Girl is a terrifying noir love story, set against the backdrop of a glittering pre-crash metropolis.
On the last Sunday of each month , LAVA welcomes interested individuals to gather in downtown Los Angeles (noon-2pm), for a loosely structured conversational Salon featuring short presentations and opportunities to meet and connect with one another.
This tour has been honored as an “Editor Pick – City Gem” by Flavorpill L.A.
A criminal and gastronomical excursion into the San Gabriel Valley, Blood & Dumplings rolls through Alhambra, Temple City, Monterey Park, Rosemead and El Monte, revealing dozens of weird, forgotten crimes and oddities from the valley’s past.
Highlights include the mysterious Man from Mars Bandit, the lesbian couple whose bickering over spending cash resulted in one pumping the other full of downers until she died, the young bride who spent her wedding day buried under her parents’ house, the battling neo-Nazis of El Monte, Phil Spector’s spooky castle and the little bar where James Ellroy’s murdered mother Jean had her last drink.
The tour includes a selection of dumplings from one of the San Gabriel Valley’s best Chinese restaurants.(Vegetarian passengers, please let us know your food preference several days before we depart.) If using a gift certificate, please note that this tour has an additional $5 dumpling fee, payable in cash or check at the bus door.
“I’ve taken the famous ‘Ghostly New Orleans’ and ‘Mysteries of Venice, Italy’ tours and also enthusiastically enjoyed London’s ‘Jack the Ripper of Whitehall’ tour, and I assure you none surpasses Richard Schave and Kim Cooper’s Esotouric “Blood & Dumplings” bus excursion into the bizarrely memorable but rarely-visited regions of East Los Angeles. As humorous and constantly entertaining as it is thoroughly researched, this lovingly crafted 4-hour tour is essential for any tourist or long-term denizen who wishes to comprehend the many fascinating characters and their dark, odd-ball deeds which have contributed to Los Angeles’ nutty history. Very comfortable, carefully prepared, weirdly funny, and unforgettable.” (F.A.)
On the 20th anniversary of Bukowski’s death, LAVA – The Los Angeles Visionaries Association hosted an evening of poems, toasts and memories at the King Eddy Saloon on East Fifth Street in Downtown Los Angeles.
The evening was hosted by Richard Schave (Esotouric’s Haunts of a Dirty Old Man bus tour & the De Longpre bungalow preservation campaign) and included readings from five notable Los Angeles poets and friends of the late writer: Dan Fante, S.A. Griffin, Suzanne Lummis, Joan Jobe Smith and Fred Voss. The event concluded with a toast from S.A. Griffin.
This is the definitive tour of Tom Waits’ formative creative life in Los Angeles, and the people, places and late night pastries that shaped it.
Click here to purchase David Smay’s book about Tom Waits. Press clips: Leonie Cooper of The Guardian got an emotional weather reporton the once-a-year Tom Waits bus adventure. The 2013 edition of our once-a-year Tom Waits tour is L.A. Weekly’s Go >> L.A. pick of the week.
Calling all rain dogs, gin-soaked boys and Gun Street girls! Climb aboard as your hosts David Smay (author of the new 33 1/3 series book on “Swordfishtrombones”) and Esotouric’s Kim Cooper (a Zoetrope Studios intern who’ll tell how she used teenage subterfuge to arrange a private concert by Tom) lead you on a scrupulously researched ride through Tom’s epic misdeeds and shenanigans, from the Trashing of the Troubadour to epic nights at the Tropicana.
And oh, there are such tales to tell, from food fights with L.A. Punks and smackdowns with L.A. Police. We’ll crawl through the Sewers of Paris, tattle on the Ivar Theater, and get the lowdown on Tom’s legendary performances at the Wiltern and elsewhere. Before departing for points rural, Tom left his mark all over L.A., from Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios to Sunset Sound to Skid Row. We’ll show you where Tom found his true love and collaborator, Kathleen Brennan, and how all the pieces came together to transform a drunken, desperate singer into the multi-faceted, multi-media artist he’d become.
Raised near San Diego, Tom Waits launched his musical career in L.A., signing with David Geffen’s Asylum Records in 1972, living at the raunchy Tropicana Hotel (where he sawed off the kitchen drain board so his piano would fit), and building a reputation as a songwriter willing to risk his own health and sanity to get inside the sad sack characters that peopled songs like “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me),” “On The Nickel” and “Pasties And A G-string (At The Two O’clock Club).”
By 1980, Tom was 31 and starting to feel the effects of his hard living. While scoring the music to Francis Ford Coppola’s “One From The Heart,” he met Kathleen Brennan, whose influence would completely transform his life and his art. After a whirlwind courtship the pair married and began a 28-year creative and personal partnership, beginning with the revolutionary album “Swordfishtrombones,” the subject of tour host David Smay’s recent book.
“Crawling Down Cahuenga” spans Tom’s personal city, from The Nickel (aka Skid Row) to once-ratty West Hollywood, favorite strip clubs and midnight diners, recording studios, night clubs, record labels and film studios, before rolling back downtown via the filming location of Waits’ “In The Neighborhood” video.
ABOUT THE HOSTS: Longtime collaborators David Smay and Kim Cooper co-edited the books “Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth” (“quite simply the most fun music book I have ever read.” -Bucketfull of Brains) and “Lost in the Grooves: Scram’s Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed” (“the perfect book for the advanced record collector” -Ear Candy) before penning their solo 33 1/3 series books on Tom Waits and Neutral Milk Hotel. Kim gives Esotouric’s rock history and true crime tours. David Smay lives in San Francisco, where he is working on a history of the Beats.