The Cranky Preservationist in… What the Hell Happened to the Pantages Neon? (episode 22)

Architectural historian Nathan Marsak loves Los Angeles, and hates to see important buildings neglected and abused, whether by slumlord owners or the savage public. Follow him on his urban adventures as he sees something that looks like crap, opens his yap and spontaneously lets you know exactly why this place matters.

Episode 22 finds Nathan in front of the Pantages Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, to confirm the terrible rumors that have been circulating on social media since Saturday, 2/29/2020.

It’s true! The magnificent neon blade sign, an integral part of the landmark and a streetscape beacon for nearly a century, is really gone. Since the first photo of the sad letters PANT being lowered to the sidewalk began circulating online, L.A. preservationists have desperately sought reliable information, while going through the classic first four stages of grief.

  • Stage 1: Denial. (This can’t be happening! Maybe it’s Photoshopped?)
  • Stage 2: Anger. (What idiot is responsible for this outrage? GR$#!@%)
  • Stage 3: Bargaining. (Bummer. Can our neon sign museum have the old sign?)
  • Stage 4: Depression. (I heard from a kid who talked to a guy on the crane that it’s going to be LED. I want to put my head in the oven.)

The last stage of grief is Acceptance, and Cranky Preservationists will NEVER accept the loss of a landmark as inevitable, or not worth yowling about. As with Felix the Cat, another beloved historic neon sign that was sneakily removed only to be replaced with a hideous LED copycat, what’s happened to the Pantages is an important cautionary tale.

Felix wasn’t a protected monument, because Antonio Villaraigosa kept that from happening as a favor to the politically connected property owner, Shammas Group. (Learn more about that at Save The Felix Neon SIgn Blog) But the Pantages Theatre is Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #193, and its character-defining features are protected under the law. The historic sign should never have been removed on a Saturday afternoon, leaving citizens scrambling to figure out why.

When Nederlander, the owner of the Pantages, sought a permit to work on its sign in 2018, that permit request should have triggered an agenda item at the Cultural Heritage Commission, giving the Commissioners and community a chance to hear what Nederlander proposed, give feedback, raise concerns and decide on appropriate next steps. With a back office approval and no public notice, we’re left with nothing but rumors, and an ugly black splotch where a great sign lit the Hollywood night from Garbo’s time until Leap Day, 2020.

And that’s enough to make any preservationist cranky.

If you like these Cranky Preservationist videos, you’ll probably like Nathan’s R.I.P. Los Angeles blog, too, so check it out!

Where will the Cranky Preservationist turn up next? Stay tuned!

The Cranky Preservationist meets The L.A. Preservation Imp (episode 21)

Architectural historian Nathan Marsak loves Los Angeles, and hates to see important buildings neglected and abused, whether by slumlord owners or the savage public. Follow him on his urban adventures as he sees something that looks like crap, opens his yap and spontaneously lets you know exactly why this place matters.

Episode 21 finds Nathan in an obscure corner of Ernest Batchelder’s 1914 Dutch Chocolate Shop in Downtown Los Angeles, researching the stylistic differences between the tile master’s catalog output, and the cute doggies that appear in the landmark’s custom murals.

But wait! What is this mysterious casket wedged between the wall and the south mural? And what strange creature pops out to make its strong feelings about historic preservation in Los Angeles known?! It is a pal, sidekick and uncanny foil for the Cranky Preservationist, and we think you’ll be seeing quite a bit more of the L.A. Preservation Imp. So tune in and say hi… if you dare!

If you like these Cranky Preservationist videos, you’ll probably like Nathan’s R.I.P. Los Angeles blog, too, so check it out!

Where will the Cranky Preservationist turn up next? Stay tuned!

The Cranky Preservationist: 3 Beauties Bite the Dust (episode 20)

Architectural historian Nathan Marsak loves Los Angeles, and hates to see important buildings neglected and abused, whether by slumlord owners or the savage public. Follow him on his urban adventures as he sees something that looks like crap, opens his yap and spontaneously lets you know exactly why this place matters.

Episode Twenty finds Nathan back in Pico-Union, a disenfranchised community of immigrants and renters that is experiencing unprecedented development-fueled displacement and demolition. On the 2700 block of West Francis Avenue, three beguiling early 20th century homes converted to multi-family housing stand boarded up and derelict, waiting for the pneumatic claw to rip them to shreds.

Your tax money in the form of HHH funds will be used to build something quick and cheap, but very profitable for the consultants, developer and politicians attached to the project.

And yeah, presumably some poor elderly people will get the chance to live in that quick, cheap structure. But West Francis Avenue and Los Angeles will be forever diminished by the loss of these beautiful homes that have grown up with the city. In a city blighted with tens of thousands of vacant lots, strip malls and oil change pits, it is a crime to turn landmarks into landfill, and once beautiful blocks into eyesores. If you’re cranky, too, let’s demand better from City Hall and the County Supervisors.

If you like these Cranky Preservationist videos, you’ll probably like Nathan’s R.I.P. Los Angeles blog, too, so check it out!

Where will the Cranky Preservationist turn up next? Stay tuned!

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The Cranky Preservationist: Won’t Anyone Think of the Squirrels? (episode 19)

Architectural historian Nathan Marsak loves Los Angeles, and hates to see important buildings neglected and abused, whether by slumlord owners or the savage public. Follow him on his urban adventures as he sees something that looks like crap, opens his yap and spontaneously lets you know exactly why this place matters.

Episode Nineteen finds Nathan in Pico-Union, on the 1100 block of South Westmoreland, where a pair of elegant 1930s apartments stand empty save some abandoned toys on the stoop. Here, 16 households were cast out into the cold by the landlord’s invocation of the Ellis Act, and demolition is nigh. The planned mega-project has fewer low income units than the existing structures, but makes up for that by also eliminating green space, and dooming the local squirrels to homelessness–or worse!

For this is how Los Angeles grows, when developers play the system to pencil out vast profit and City Hall happily rubber stamps every permit, blind to good planning, overstressed infrastructure, visual pollution or the suffering of constituents. Yet just down the block, a brand new building earns Nathan’s grudging respect, because it actually serves a purpose. Sometimes even a Cranky Preservationist can justify sacrificing a good, old building if its replacement truly serves a local need.

If you like these Cranky Preservationist videos, you’ll probably like Nathan’s R.I.P. Los Angeles blog.

Where will the Cranky Preservationist turn up next? Stay tuned!

This video is also on Facebook!

Third Strike, Wiseman

Not that your name is Wiseman, Messrs. Cohanzad, but whoever you are, you have done this for the last time. On behalf of Los Angeles, seriously, enough is enough. As Marsellus Wallace says to Butch, you’ve lost all your LA privileges.

RIPsters, we speak of Michael and Isaac Cohanzad; architect Isaac established Wiseman Residential in 1985. Wiseman Residential put their hearts into designing homes you’ll love.

That may be, but they put their efforts into illegally demolishing homes you already love.

Example #1. This was 419 N. Hayworth:

The Spanish number at left is 413-15 N. Hayworth; designed by the great Joe Eudemiller in 1931, who gave Los Angeles a lot of Spanish charm in the 1930s. The French Normandy with Chateauesque influence, center, is 419-21 N. Hayworth; it was built in 1936 and designed by David C. Coleman (check out his synagogue at 2521 West View) for the Spinning Wheel Corp.

The Spinning Wheel apartments were twins, in fact, facing a common courtyard, and absolutely pristine: original windows, hardwood floors, high ceilings, all of its moldings and turrets and whatnot. Until one day, this happened:

If you look verrrry closely you’ll see it say’s “SAVE THIS BUILDING” in the window on the building at far right. Guess how that turns out?

That day was February 12, 2015. Wiseman began tearing off the turrets, and also demolishing elements of the Spanish next door, without a permit from LADBS. Without green demo fencing. Without a thirty-day notice. Without clearance from HCIDLA. Without turning off gas and electric. There were no repercussions for this and the City gave them a permit to demo on March 13.

Building “Hayworth Hyde.”

FYI, the other half of the turreted eight-unit 1936 garden court apartments—well, the renters banded together to get it nominated as a Historic-Cultural Monument, citing that it was a rare intact piece of Normandy Revival, and that it was important culturally as an early piece of Jewish-built and owned property for a neighborhood famously Hebraicising in the 1930s. Michael & Isaac voice their “strong opposition to the proposed designation of the Property on both substantive and procedural grounds” and so forth; the Cultural Heritage Commission nix the nomination and this time Wiseman presumably get a permit:

Wisemanizing the whole block. That’s Hayworth Hyde at left. A two bedroom is 968sf. They start at $3895.

Let’s move on to

Example #2. This was 1332 N. Formosa Avenue:

Built in 1925 and designed by D. F. Hancock; check out Hancock’s four-unit at 1145 Gordon St., and 1257 Bronson/5910 Fountain

In this case, Wiseman tossed everyone out via the Ellis Act. Wiseman would be unable to Airbnb the apartments, because short-term rentals of evictions are decidedly, blatantly against that law (and reprobate), so that is therefore exactly what they did. HCIDLA told them to stop, and Wiseman responded by beginning demolition work. Again, without a permit. HCIDLA came out multiple times with stop-work orders and so Wiseman finally destroyed the building—with the electricity and gas still on—on January 21, 2017. Read more about it here and here.

The cute little Storybook had quite a view to the north there…for a little while…
Hey look at that big thing they built there. Because again, not even a slap on the wrist.

Up next is

Example #3. This is 7050-60 Hawthorn Ave:

Yep, you can barely see its Colonial Revival glory behind the foliage. It’s a damn tranquil oasis in the middle of Hollywood
No, seriously: this is the heart of Hollywood (that’s the Hollywood Roosevelt at bottom left) and 7050 Hawthorn, center-right, is the sole, solitary green spot in all of town. We must do away with that grass! say the do-gooders, conveniently ignoring that grass traps stormwater runoff, reduces noise pollution, keeps the air cooler, cleans the air, traps CO2, produces oxygen, reduces dust pollution, and filters groundwater…

7050 Hawthorn was built in early 1941; the architect was Gene Verge. Among his works are Buster Keaton’s pad; St. Luke’s Hospital; and these rather grand houses.

Well you know where we’re going with this. In every survey commissioned by the City, Verge’s 7050 complex is identified as a historic resource. Did that worry its owners? AKA Isaac, Benjamin, Michael and Lillian TRS Cohanzad and the Family Trust of Cohanzad? Of course not! They had the place half-rented as an illegal short-term rental hotel, and it was time to get the remainder of those pesky long-term renters out. They began Ellising those folk in October 2019—but that’s always a tricky time, ‘cuz Ellising indicates a building is likely to be demolished, and that red flag might trigger a monument nomination.

So in the middle of the night, with the gas still on, no permit from LADBS, no thirty-day notice, no notice to neighbors, no HCIDLA clearances, they started demolition. No no no, they insisted, this wasn’t demolition, this was abatement.

Uh-huh. This was the abatement of the historic, character-defining features, making it ineligible for landmark designation. (A trick they learned, apparently, from Philip Rahimzadeh—another prolific developer who literally knows everything about LA development law—but when he had recently illegally demo’d the facade of an effing Paul Williams he said “gosh, who knew?” and the City said “golly, oh well!”)

Let’s take a look at what abatement looks like. This is the sort of abatement—not demolition, mind you, but abatement—that occurred over the course of one night.

Before
They were abating what, exactly?

And you know what else? The three I’ve spoken about above are just the illegal ones. The Cohanzads have this pathological fetish for destroying particularly wonderful Los Angeles structures. I don’t have an up-to-date list, but I do know that in just 2017 alone, five Historic Cultural Monument applications were filed for buildings owned by Wiseman LLCs. None lived to tell the tale; each met the wrecking ball. Here’s one of the best—moved forward with a positive recommendation from the Cultural Heritage Commission, the whole bit:

106 S. Kings Road. Built by Joseph J. Rees for Samuel Aidlin in 1936, it’s Streamline Moderne, a fine and iconic early representative of the Beverly Square Development Tract. From 1936-40 it was as well the home of Rudolph Ising.
At the bottom of a landfill now.

So that’s my issue. There’s three million buildings in the county, and Wiseman’s abjuring each empty lot and every strip mall in favor of every Streamline-Colonial-Spanish-Norman interbellum apartment complex they can get their hands on, provided they’re pristine and have a surfeit of charm.

And not, you know, the fact that they evict rent-controlled tenants through the Ellis Act and then Airbnb the units, dozens of documented times, which is immoral and illegal. (Which they do because the City will never so much as slap their hand.) They’ve demolished about forty Rent Stabilized apartment buildings in Los Angeles; something like 300-350 RSO apartments removed from the housing stock—all replaced with million-dollar condominiums and $4000/mo apartments. (Which they do because we need housing, says the City.) Hey, remember that piece in Curbed, “Ten of the Worst Landlords in Los Angeles“—no? Probably not, because Curbed retracted it when they were bullied by said landlords! Well, guess what it said.

So if any or all of this irks you, dear reader, I’ve got an idea: you might want to show up at the PLUM meeting on Tuesday, February 4th (yes, tomorrow). 2:30pm. It’s number five on the agenda. Mitch O’Farrell has nominated Hawthorn for Historic Cultural Monument status! Hollywood Heritage and the neighborhood are pressuring for Wiseman to rebuild. If not, they need to get the Scorched Earth punishment (no development on the site for five years). (Personally, given their absurd repeated bad faith, they should be barred from developing altogether—go RICO on them, prevent them from fraternizing with the owners of bulldozers. And so forth.)

Wiseman & Co. are going to be there, lawyered up all and smart-talkin’, so it’s important to have you good folk speak in favor of this nomination at public comment.

Excelsior!

The Cranky Preservationist: Who Breaks A Butterfly Upon The Wheel (episode 18)

Architectural historian Nathan Marsak loves Los Angeles, and hates to see important buildings neglected and abused, whether by slumlord owners or the savage public. Follow him on his urban adventures as he sees something that looks like crap, opens his yap and spontaneously lets you know exactly why this place matters. Episode Eighteen finds Nathan in Pico-Union, on the 800 block of South Mariposa, where he is horrified to discover that the row of endangered early 20th century apartments that he came to celebrate are at this very moment being reduced to rubble by a guy driving an excavator. Nathan laments his failure to properly document a lost slice of classic Los Angeles and urges concerned Angelenos to hop to it when they see those green demolition fences go up, whether it’s with their camera, a pry-bar or by protesting, landmarking and electing better public servants so our beautiful city stays that way.

If you like these Cranky Preservationist videos, you’ll probably like Nathan’s R.I.P. Los Angeles blog, too, so check it out.

Where will the Cranky Preservationist turn up next? Stay tuned!

Cranky about Facebook? This video is also on YouTube

Catch all the rants