Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Do You Hear the People Sing?

On this day in 1789, revolutionaries stormed the Bastille to free political prisoners and raided the Hotel des Invalides in search of weapons. The Third Estate - a whopping 90 percent of France's population - was fed up and fighting back. The French Revolution had begun.*

I had planned to elaborate more on the history of Bastille Day in LA today. In light of recent events, I am saving it for another day.

I hope the city's leaders, if you can even call them that, see this. They all need a very harsh wake-up call.

Eric Garcetti, arguably the worst Mayor of Los Angeles since Frank Shaw, is finally on his way out. He is leaving the city in MUCH worse shape than it was in when he assumed office. (I wonder if his parents ever taught him not to leave a mess for someone else to clean up. But I doubt it.)

That means electing a new Mayor. What if the next one is even worse? 

As President of the City Council, Nury Martinez will probably be the acting Mayor. She has proven ineffective at best, ignores Brown Act requirements, and can't even start a City Council meeting on time.

The remaining Council members all have their own shortcomings. By now, we all know Mitch O'Farrell can be bought. Nithya Raman has deeply disappointed constituents wondering why David Ryu's team got things done, but hers can't seem to return phone calls. There are more people on the Council, of course (and they are ALL complicit in ongoing violations of the Brown Act), but it's late and I'm very, VERY tired.

Speaking of Nithya, why did she win over incumbent David Ryu? Because the people of LA are sick of politicians, sick of broken promises, and sick of poor leadership. They want something better. You'd THINK the rest of the Council would take note and shape up. But so far, they have only gotten more brazen.

I also have serious misgivings about the direction some of LA's law enforcement officers are taking. While I've known enough people in law enforcement to know that some of them are bad and some of them are good, I cannot ignore or excuse bad behavior. I hope the ATF is giving the South LA explosion a thorough investigation, because the sad fact of the matter is that the LAPD has lost much of the community's trust.

Indeed, while discussing the explosion recently, my dad sputtered "I love LA, but it's become a Third World city." (My dad has been grumbling about LA for as long as I can remember. I have never before heard him admit he actually loved the place.)

Thriving cities don't become dystopian hellscapes for no reason. They become that way due to poor leadership and mismanagement.

Los Angeles is notoriously unkind to its own Third Estate (i.e. anyone who isn't rich, powerful, or well-connected). And it is only getting worse. Developers buy off politicians so they can get away with yet another luxury building that fewer and fewer people can afford. Hardworking street vendors often can't afford expensive permits or having their carts confiscated and their wares thrown away, but the city isn't making it any less difficult or less expensive to get permits. Echo Park Lake is fenced off, with even the wheelchair ramp inaccessible (ever hear of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Mitch?).

And then there's the homelessness crisis. The city has now effectively made it illegal to be homeless, has not made any realistic effort to provide sufficient housing or more emergency shelters, has been kicking people out of Project Roomkey hotel rooms with nowhere to go, and reportedly turns a blind eye to abusive behavior at shelters. I'm sure I don't need to comment on the city deliberately removing the hand-washing stations.

Refusing to provide viable and appropriate solutions to a massive and growing problem is a sickening moral failure. People can't live on the street, but the city is now effectively pushing them from one street to the next. That will never solve the problem. The only people who seem to truly care about the homeless are the various grassroots volunteers who distribute frozen water bottles and food, work hard to connect people in a crisis with social services, hold sock drives, etc. 

The city is running full speed in the wrong direction. The people running the city are responsible for that. And before anyone calls this political...it's really not. It's common sense, regardless of political leanings. 

Why do we study history? To learn from it. The people in charge either don't want to learn, or just don't care.

To the city's First Estate (elected officials and city employees of all stripes), I have this to say: You are supposed to be serving the people of the City of Los Angeles. Too many of you are doing it selectively, poorly, or not at all. You are not infallible and you are 100 percent replaceable. Take your work seriously and be better. If you can't or won't do that, quit. Louis XVI wasn't a bad person, but he was unfit to lead, and look where that got him.

Recently, someone changed a Broadway theatre marquee to read "Let's Be A City of Love, Compassion, and Kindness". Beyond the barricade, that's the world I long to see.

*My dad is a descendant of French kings and a distant cousin to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. My mom comes from French peasant stock. My relationship with Bastille Day is...complicated.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

J'Accuse

Dear Readers:

I tried. Many of you tried. The Friends of Taix tried.

Taix has been "landmarked", but it has also been marked for annihilation. Go while you still can.

And never, ever, ever stop fighting like hell for what we do still have. 

C.C.

Now that I've said that...time to make like my peasant ancestors and bring on the proverbial beheadings. (Who needs a guillotine when words will do?)

J'accuse, Mike Taix.

I know certain things about you that come from reliable sources. But I don't want those sources to get blackballed from the restaurant industry. So while I won't be listing them here...know that I know. And I am not the only one who knows. 

I know you wanted to sell the restaurant previously, in the '80s. I'm well aware that demolishing and redeveloping is part of your family's long history in LA along with that famous bread. 

But if all of this were really about the building being too big, the building could be adapted. Alternately, there are plenty of other commercial restaurant spaces in LA that are smaller than Taix.

Can you really blame anyone who thinks you only care about what money you can make off of Taix? You haven't lived in LA in years. Your continued involvement with HPG looks suspicious to anyone with common sense. You sold out your own family's legacy. I won't speculate on whether your grandfather would be proud of you.

You got your $12 million. I suggest you sell the business end of the restaurant to someone who DOES give a damn and butt out of Echo Park's future.

J'accuse, Holland Partner Group.

I know you asked Mitch O'Farrell to modify the landmark nomination. It's quite literally on the public record, so don't even think about trying to gaslight me.

You people don't live in LA - you don't even live in California. Your contributions to the city consist of luxury apartments (we have had more than enough since the 1970s, thanks) and illegal short-term rentals. You are not part of the community, you are carpetbaggers.

Making money, in and of itself, isn't wrong. Making money at someone else's expense is. And your short-term rentals drive down occupancy and drive up demand in LA. Ultimately, that's harmful.

You have baited-and-switched us with different renderings. The most recent plan for the Taix site bears little resemblance to the first one. Was the revised (and frankly uglier) design the plan all along?

Two signs and a bar top are salvage, NOT preservation. You and Mitch have effectively gutted LA's historic preservation ordinance, all for profit. That takes away meaningful protection and opens the door for wrecking more of what makes Los Angeles, Los Angeles.

If you insist upon gutting a city for profit, I ask that you confine it to your own hometown. LA does not belong to you. It belongs to Angelenos.

You, and Mike, have also based your argument for the proposed development upon a lie: that Taix can't be incorporated. Fairfield Residential is doing just that with Dinah's in Westchester. If they can do it, so can you. (Fairfield's design looks nicer than yours, too.)

J'accuse, Mitch O'Farrell.

I know Holland Partner Group spent six figures buying your influence. Don't bother trying to deny it.

You promised not to seek re-election. You broke that promise after the Taix vote.

Silverlake Heritage was mysteriously not able to get a meeting with you. Were you busy, or were you too cowardly to face them?

You have been caught on video running away from a constituent who intends to run against you. You locked the bathrooms at Echo Park Lake during a pandemic. The lake is now nearly inaccessible, with even the wheelchair ramp blocked off - surely you've heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act? Or do you just not care?

Your actions indicate that you don't care about the homeless. While I realize the encampment had serious issues (although the sanitation issue could have mitigated at least somewhat by, oh, unlocking the damn bathrooms), I have concerns about how it was handled and I have concerns about how inhumane and dangerous shelters can be. I am also concerned about food vendors getting cited in the area, despite their long tenure in Echo Park.

You are hurting your own district, and you are hurting Los Angeles. I can swear in English, French, Spanish, and Italian, and there are not enough curse words in all of those languages combined to fully express my disgust for you.

J'accuse, everyone else on the Los Angeles City Council.

You played along with Mitch and HPG's little plan. Or was it playing? You're politicians, after all. Scratch his back and he'll scratch yours, right?

You violate the Brown Act on a regular basis. Specifically, you violated the Brown Act at the landmarking hearings and landmarking vote regarding Taix. Multiple people, myself included, were mysteriously never called upon. That's illegal and you all know it.

You have now set a precedent gutting historic preservation in LA, effectively marking everything special about the city with an X. Do you really think that will endear you to fed-up voters?

I have news for you - voters ARE fed up. It's why Nithya Raman beat incumbent David Ryu.

Some of you seem to think you will never face a consequence. While that might be true under Garcetti's watch (my ire for Garcetti is a much longer topic for another time)...you are still being watched by the Feds.

Remember your colleague Jose Huizar? He played a little too nicely with greedy developers too. He's facing RICO charges. The DOJ is still actively watching some, if not most, of you.

I won't be the one who cuts the thread holding up Damocles' sword. I really am just a pissed-off Valley Girl who blogs about dead French people. But the sword is there. It's only a matter of time before someone cuts the thread. 

You have all sold out LA's heritage. You are all, arguably, doing more harm than good. Los Angeles deserves better than this, and Los Angeles deserves better than all of you.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

LAST CALL to Save Taix!

The City Council is meeting today (Wednesday, June 2) to vote on the Taix HCM nomination.

Here's the problem: Mitch O'Farrell and his ilk have amended the nomination to make it essentially useless.

The amended HCM nomination wouldn't preserve the building at all - only two of the restaurant's signs and its bar top. That is not preservation at all.

If accepted by the City Council, this bastardized nomination would set a dangerous precedent for future preservation efforts.

But we can fight back. We can say no. There is no real reason Taix can't be repurposed or incorporated into a mixed-use development (Acres of Books' facade is being incorporated into a new development in Long Beach, although Onni Group chopped off quite a bit more than everyone expected).

The LA Conservancy has compiled a list of what to do

At the last hearing re: Taix, an untold number of would-be public commenters (myself included) were never called upon - indeed, very few calls were taken in regard to Taix. That's a violation of the Brown Act, but as per usual, no one has had to answer for that. (I have my suspicions about Mitch's role in all of this, but first things first.)

This is it. We lost the original Taix in 1964. We need to speak up NOW if we're going to have any chance of saving the Taix we still have.

(Mike, if you're reading this: you've been an absentee owner for years and I know you tried to get the city to buy the place for a freeway extension years ago. Do you even still want to run the restaurant? It's okay to sell the family business and retire - Philippe Mathieu did. If your heart's not in it, what are you even doing? You got a great price for the property. If you don't want to deal with the restaurant, passing the reins is an option.)


Friday, March 19, 2021

See you Saturday, PCC!

If you're a student at Pasadena City College and in the French Club, I'll be seeing you on Saturday morning! I've added some extra slides to my "standard" slideshow as a special treat, since the French Club kindly allotted me a longer-than-usual time frame.

(Note: there was a typo on the flyer. I'm actually on at 11am.)



Monday, March 15, 2021

Charles Gay and the Lions' Playground

Hauteville-sur-Fier is a little Alpine village not far from France's border with Switzerland. It was in this unlikely environment that LA's best-known lion trainer was born and raised.

As a young boy, Charles Gay was fascinated with lions and lion taming. He attained the rank of sergeant in the French army before leaving his homeland for England, learning lion taming from English showmen.

Charles learned the English language as well, and soon met journalist Muriel Crowe. When they married, Charles adopted Muriel's son Kenneth, and Muriel joined Charles' lion taming act. 

The Cole Brothers circus troupe brought the Gays to Los Angeles in 1914. Charles also appeared in a couple of adventure movies (both featuring lions). 

Adventure movies were quite popular, which meant demand for big cats. The Gays decided to focus on raising and training lions for films, opening Gay's Lion Farm in 1920 with three lions.

Although a lion farm in Los Angeles is unthinkable now, it had company: the Gays bought a plot of land close to an ostrich farm, an alligator farm, and a zoo. 

The lion farm was popular from its inception: El Monte High School, founded in 1901, renamed its sports teams the Lions (and Charles gave the school a live lion mascot, believe it or not). 

In 1923, the Gays brought forty lions to the California Industries Exposition in San Francisco, an event covered by the San Pedro Daily News. In part:

Mrs. Gay assists her husband in the work and declares she is particularly interested in the welfare of "the babies". 

"These animals", Gay declared as he caressed the head of a giant lion, "are just as responsive to kind treatment as any other animal. They are just as affectionate and trusting as dogs when treated right."

Gay said he wants to show people that cruelty and weapons are not essential in training wild animals, that kindness wins.

A newspaper account from 1925 states that Charles also used a radio to calm the big cats when they were nervous or disagreeable. (Perhaps that old chestnut about music soothing the savage beast has some truth to it. One of my cats, who passed away last year, LOVED heavy metal.)

One of Charles' best-known lions was Numa. Named for a lion in the Tarzan books, Numa appeared in Charlie Chaplin's classic "The Circus" and earned about $10,000 a year.

The Coronado Eagle and Journal published an interesting tale from the set of "The Circus". Charles had warned the cast and crew not to get too close to Numa. Chaplin thought he was exaggerating, and entered Numa's enclosure. 

Numa took a look at his co-star and licked his chops. 

Chaplin promptly fell to the ground, having read that playing dead is the thing to do when confronted with a wild animal. 

Numa placed one of his huge paws on Chaplin's stomach. He may have been looking to play with the bemused star (having just eaten, it's unlikely he was hungry). In any case, Charles Gay arrived, with a lioness in tow, drawing Numa's attention away from Chaplin. 

(Note: the newspaper stated that Numa had just eaten an entire side of beef, hide and all. This seems unlikely, since a side of beef weighs 200-300 pounds. Adult male lions can eat up to 90 pounds of meat in one sitting, but smaller meals are more common. Charles' lions are said to have eaten about 20 pounds a day.)

Numa died in 1930, and was so beloved by Hollywood that a funeral was held at the farm (with the other lions in attendance, of course). A newspaper account stated that Numa's skin was to be preserved in taxidermy form and displayed in the farm's offices.

Slats also had an interesting film career. Born at Ireland's Dublin Zoo and brought to Hollywood by trainer Volney Phifer, Slats was the original "Leo the Lion" for Goldwyn Pictures (which merged into MGM). Slats, who passed away in 1927, appeared in film bumpers until 1928, when talkies sadly ended his tenure. MGM wanted a roaring lion once sound was readily available. Slats' hide was preserved - either as taxidermy or a rug, depending on who you ask.

A number of rare white lion cubs were born at the farm over the years as well.

Charles may have believed in being kind to his lions, but he was also aware that they can be very dangerous animals. When the Gays went to Europe in 1928 (accounts differ as to whether this was partly a business trip or strictly a vacation), they left their employees in charge of the lion farm, with strict instructions to shoot and kill any escaping lions.

Sadly, three lions made a break for it, mauling the site manager and wounding two other employees. An hourlong standoff ensued, with the lions hiding in some bushes and roaring. The lions who had attacked were shot dead, with the third lion captured. 

The Gays reportedly never took a vacation again.

Seven years later, another trainer was mauled in a training mishap. Charles himself was wounded many times over the course of his career.

Other lions were killed at the farm over the years, but not for escaping or for attacking the staff. Lions Club chapters would have banquets at the farm, and on these occasions, broiled and fried lion meat would be served. (I can still remember seeing a news story back in the '90s about a posh La Jolla restaurant serving lion meat. Horrified animal lovers protested vociferously. That doesn't seem to have been the case for the lion farm.)

In 1936, there were reports of a lion roaming the San Bernardino valley, and the San Bernardino Sun reached out to Charles Gay. He told the newspaper that the beast couldn't be an African lion, but was probably a very large mountain lion (which resemble female African lions) instead. An escaped African lion would have decimated the area's livestock and killed several humans in the two months since the sightings had begun. African lions that escape captivity are also relatively easy to track and capture, so it's unlikely one could live in Southern California without being captured quickly.

Over the years, the farm's fortunes began to wane. 

Talkies rose in popularity, causing lower demand for adventure movies (among others). 

The Depression reduced visitors. 

Finally, World War II put the final nail in the coffin. Gasoline and tire rationing reduced visitors, and meat rationing is a problem when feeding 200 large carnivorous animals.

The Gays closed the lion farm in 1942, sending the remaining lions to zoos or individual homes. They intended to reopen after the war, but Charles officially pulled the plug in 1949. He told a newspaper "It takes youth and agility to handle lions." Charles was 62 at this point. The Gays retired to Orange County. 

Charles Gay passed away in 1950, and is buried at San Gabriel Cemetery.

There is a monument to Gay's Lion Farm in El Monte, at Valley Boulevard and Peck Road. It's easy to spot, since it's topped by a life-size lion statue. The 10 freeway runs right through the former lion farm. 

A different lion statue once stood at the entrance to the lion farm. When the Gays decided not to reopen the farm, they donated the statue to El Monte High School - still the "Home of the Lions", where it remains to this day.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

From Bayonne to Studio City: Jules Violé

Recently, we met newspaper editor and civil engineer Félix Violé, whose move to Los Angeles was inspired by the same newspaper he wound up editing.

Félix's brother Jules, also inspired by that fateful newspaper, joined his brother in 1888, less than a year after Félix's arrival. He was 24.

Jules was a pharmacist, and cofounded Violé & Clipfel at 100 Aliso Street, right in the heart of Frenchtown. He also partnered with German immigrant John Lopizich. The 1894 city directory lists the Violé & Lopizich pharmacy at 503 N. Main Street (with Jules living more or less onsite at 503 1/2). Fittingly, 503 N. Main Street would become the headquarters for another French pharmacist, Lucien Brunswig, in 1907. The building currently houses La Plaza de Cultura y Artes

By 1897, the building had been purchased by F.W. Braun and Co. The Violé & Lopizich pharmacy had already moved down the street to 427 N. Main (now a parking lot for the Plaza) the previous year. The pharmacy even had its own phone number (not a given in 1897): Main 875. Voter records indicate that Jules was living on the premises.

Jules married Angele DeGroote, a Walloon (French-speaking Belgian), in 1892. They had two daughters, Andree and Yvette, and a son, Pierre. Census records indicate Angele's brother Harry was living with them in 1900. 

By 1915, the Violé & Lopizich pharmacy had a second location further down Main Street. If it were still standing, it would be in City Hall's shadow at 242 N. Main. The city directory for that year lists elder daughter Andree as a pharmacist at this location. 

Pierre Violé became a doctor, and practiced medicine in Los Angeles for many years.

The 1930 census shows Jules and Angele living at 11901 Iredell Street with younger daughter Yvette, by then 27. I looked up the address. Records indicate the property dates to 1918, with a house built in 1926. Unfortunately you can't see it on Google Maps due to a privacy gate and a deep lot with abundant mature trees, but I for one am tickled to know the house still exists (and is in Studio City!). 

Jules Violé passed away in North Hollywood in 1948, and is buried at Calvary Cemetery.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Apply Now: Community Leadership Bootcamp

 Dear Readers:

By now, I'm sure most of you know that I feel quite strongly about preserving our historic places.

The LA Conservancy holds an annual Community Leadership Bootcamp to train preservationists. I was fortunate to be selected for last year's original bootcamp. It was very informative, and good practice for contributing statements to the Taix Historic-Cultural Monument nomination (I also shared my notes on Taix with the actual writer of the nomination). 

Apply by February 24 if you want to attend. I highly recommend it.

C.C.