Monday, May 25, 2020

It's Not Too Late to Save Taix

Regular readers (and anyone paying attention) know that Taix's longtime home, a French Country-esque building on Sunset Boulevard, is doomed.

But what if it doesn't have to be?

There are few surviving remnants of Old French Los Angeles. Of the 500 French-associated sites I've catalogued on a Google Map over the past 7 years, there are only about 25 still standing in Los Angeles County.*

Does Taix - one of those rare survivors - really have to be demolished so this revolting abomination can dwarf everything else in Echo Park?

New owners Holland Partner Group** initially claimed they would preserve some of Taix's current features. The newer rendering indicates that isn't the case.

According to a former tenant, Holland Partner Group is also a bad developer and a bad property manager (the company is vertically integrated).

Well, what do we really expect from out-of-town developers? They're not invested in the community. They don't care about Los Angeles or its people. They see "LA" and get dollar signs in their eyes.

But what if we could landmark Taix and give the building some protection? What if it could even be incorporated into a (hopefully far less ugly) housing complex?

I'm not anti-housing. I'm against housing misuse. Apartments should never be illegally run as hotels, livable vacant homes should never sit empty and rot by the thousands while ordinary Angelenos struggle to afford inflated rents, and shiny new luxury apartments (which we have more than enough of) should never displace existing affordable housing. Successful cities have a mix of housing at a mix of pricing levels for every class of resident. That problem can't be solved by one new development. Although I dislike excessive taxation, a vacancy tax might provide landlords with a stronger long-term incentive to keep units filled with full-time renters.

Want to save Taix? Sign the petition here.

Join Friends of Taix if you're on Facebook.

And if you're close enough, help the restaurant keep going by ordering takeout or delivery.

*Not counting street names, park names, school names, memorial plaques, or cemeteries.

**To clarify: the Taix family still owns the restaurant business. Holland Partner Group owns the building, the land it's on, and Taix's overflow parking lot nearby.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The King of the Castle

It's no secret that the Pyrenees Castle is up for sale. It's been on the market for so long that the asking price was recently reduced.

Nor is it a secret that the fabled chateau is a notorious murder site. Phil Spector purchased the property in 1998, and just five years later, killed Lana Clarkson inside the mansion.

I won't get into THAT ugly mess, as it's been done before. I will say that I wasn't surprised when it happened, since one of my parents had a terrifying firsthand experience with Phil Spector's bizarre behavior and hair-trigger temper.

Instead, let's go back to simpler times and meet the castle's original owner, Sylvestre Dupuy.

Sylvestre Julien Dupuy was born August 4, 1878 on the Rancho Rosa de Castille (modern-day Cal State LA - my dad taught there and never knew the property's history). When Sylvestre's mother passed away, his father took him and his siblings back to France.

As a young boy growing up in the Pyrenees, Sylvestre admired a large and elegant chateau close to where he lived. Someday, he would build one of his own.

Sylvestre wouldn't see Los Angeles again until he was 14 years old, returning with an older brother. Several years later, his uncle Jean Pedelaborde decided to return to France, leaving Sylvestre his grazing land on Rancho Rosa de Castille's hills. Sylvestre would soon lease neighboring plots and plant grain fields - in addition to raising sheep, of course. (I'm pretty sure every French Basque Angeleno must have raised sheep at some point). According to an old newspaper article, he found it cheaper to rent or lease grazing land than to own it outright. Sylvestre's sheep grazed everywhere from the Plaza area to the eastern suburbs.

Sylvestre married Anna Candelot in 1899. The couple had four children - Frank (1902), Marie (1903), Peter (1904), and Henry (1905). By 1910, the Dupuy family had relocated to the San Gabriel Valley, where land was still plentiful. Sylvestre was patriotic - he registered for the World War I draft  despite being 40 years old. He was also active in the Lafayette Club.

Sylvestre's agricultural activities were successful, but he also invested in oil and worked for Walter P. Temple's Temple Townsite Company (developers of Temple City). He helped convince the Pacific Electric company to extend a Red Car line to Temple City, and a street was named for him (it was later changed to Primrose Avenue). There is a reference to Dupuy owning a general store.

In the 1920s, with business booming and Los Angeles expanding, Sylvestre decided to build a grand home on a three-acre hilltop property overlooking his ranch lands in Alhambra.

Scottish-born architect John Walker Smart was commissioned to bring Sylvestre's childhood memory of that elegant chateau to life. Thirty rooms - ten bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a basement AND a wine cellar (the Dupuys made their own wine), and more made up the 8,600 square foot mansion.

Artisans were brought over from Europe to work on the Pyrenees Castle, and work on it they did: the elegant interior boasted maple floors (recycled from Alhambra High School's original building) and elegant wood paneling, crystal sconces, chandeliers, marble floors in all eight bathrooms, and a marble foyer.

The grandeur continued outside - a massive fountain in the courtyard, tennis courts, recreation areas for the Dupuy children, and strategically placed guard towers to protect everything. The property was so vast and elaborate that the landscaping still wasn't quite complete when Sylvester passed away.

The Pyrenees Castle cost Sylvester Dupuy $500,000 (or about $7.3 MILLION in 2020 dollars). He paid IN CASH.

Locals and tourists alike have gawked at the Pyrenees Castle ever since it was built. And since the Dupuys liked their privacy (apart from the occasional celebration, i.e. entertaining French athletes during the 1932 Olympics), rumors began to circulate about the big, beautiful, mysterious castle on the hill.

One of the more common stories was that the house's owner was an automobile mogul who never let anyone see him enter or leave the property.

Another legend had it that East Coast gangsters lived inside the house (not the weirdest story that could have been invented, given that there were some real-life East Coast gangsters living in LA at the time).

Yet another rumor held that only two or three of the chateau's rooms were ever lit and that the rest of the vast home was kept in perpetual darkness. Ghost stories circulated, too.

But more than anything else, there were tall tales of secret entrances and secret passages - hidden garage entrances, an elevator inside the hill, tunnels, secret passages, and hidden rooms. (In fact, there was one secret passage - from Anna's closet to the attic.)

None of it was true, of course. In 1939, Anna and Henry Dupuy finally had to go on the record with the Los Angeles Times to explain that the Pyrenees Castle was just a very big family home. They didn't even give the house its nickname - to the unpretentious Dupuys, it was "the house on the hill", or even "the hill".

In 1928, Sylvestre took Anna and two of the children, Marie and Peter, on a trip to France. Passenger manifests show that they sailed through the port of Le Havre and returned via the port of New York.

Unfortunately, Sylvestre's oil investments tanked in 1936, wiping out most of the family fortune, and he passed away on April 22, 1937.

Sylvestre had left enough assets for Anna, three of the couple's children (Frank lived in another house), and their families to continue living in the chateau until they sold it in 1946 for the pittance of $60,000 ($847,000 today).

The mansion was then converted into eight large apartments. Anna Candelot Dupuy lived in one of the apartments until her own death three years later. (Records disagree over whether Anna financed the conversion or whether the next owner did.) The surrounding ranch lands were turned into tract housing. The Dupuys are buried at Calvary Cemetery.

As for the castle, it fell into disrepair, changed hands over and over, was abandoned and vandalized, and was purchased by Chris Yip in 1985.

The house had been treated abominably - broken windows, a leaking roof, severe scarring to the hardwood floors, and even holes in the walls and ceilings where vandals had torn out the sconces and chandeliers. Yip had the floors, paneling, and roof tiles restored, but updated the kitchen and bathrooms and added some modern conveniences.

Chris Yip bought the chateau for $585,000 and put $500,000 into fixing up the house and grounds. He intended to retire there. But in the end, it was all too much, and the Bank of Hong Kong foreclosed on the mortgage.

By now, you've heard the rest. One wonders what the Dupuys would think of the shocking murder that took place in their elegant marble foyer.

Alhambra doesn't have any historic preservation ordinances, and notorious murder sites are often altered or even demolished to deter gawkers. Can anyone spare $4.4 million?

Saturday, May 2, 2020

The Other Rémi Nadeau

(Dear readers: the ads are only supposed to appear in the sidebar. I am trying to get that fixed.)

When I began researching Old French Los Angeles seven years ago, one name came up again and again and again: Rémi Nadeau. Victorian Los Angeles aficionados should be familiar with Rémi as well.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there was another Rémi Nadeau - one still living. 

Rémi Allen Nadeau was born in Los Angeles in 1920, attended University High School (my mom's alma mater), and became an Eagle Scout. While majoring in American and World History at Stanford University, Rémi became an Army Air Corps officer through ROTC.

After completing his BA in 1942, Rémi served with the 320th Bomb Group, flying combat missions and serving as an intelligence officer. He was discharged in 1946, having achieved the rank of Major. 

Rémi returned to Los Angeles, where he met Margaret Smith. They married in 1947, and had three children - Christine, Barbara, and Bob.

Rémi had already completed his first manuscript, City Makers, in 1946. After its publication in book form in 1948, it would become a bestseller. City Makers details the people who made Los Angeles into a world city. Rémi Nadeau the freighter is mentioned, of course. (I have the 1948 edition. The city-map end papers are to die for.)

Rémi continued to write history books while working as an editorial writer for newspapers. In time, he became a public relations executive, then special assistant to the United States Attorney General. Rémi wrote speeches and statements for AG John N. Mitchell, AG Richard Kleindienst, and President Richard Nixon.

This would be an impressive career on its own, but Rémi continued to publish history books every few years. 

The Water Seekers followed City Makers in 1950. 

Los Angeles: From Mission to Modern City (one of my favorites) was published in 1960. Tellingly, the introduction is all about traffic. (Sometimes it's comforting to know my hometown hasn't changed that much.)

California: The New Society hit bookstore shelves in 1963. California had recently become the nation's most populous state. Was it really so different from everywhere else? Rémi seemed to think so. 

Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of California: A History and Guide followed in 1965. (I, for one, would love to use this book as the basis for a road trip...and not just because I'm under quarantine and have a bad case of cabin fever.)

Fort Laramie and the Sioux Indians came along in 1967, then The Real Joaquin Murieta: Robin Hood Hero or Gold Rush Gangster: Truth vs. Myth (too many colons, I know) in 1974.

In 1980, Rémi retired from the world of public relations and earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in History from UC Santa Barbara. He published Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt Divide Europe in 1990, then The Silver Seekers: They Tamed California's Last Frontier in 2003.

Rémi's longtime home was in Encino, south of the 101 and west of the 405, in a house high up on a hill overlooking the Valley. My family's neighborhood was less than 5 miles away. 

I always wanted to interview Rémi. But I put off contacting his publisher. No matter how much I read or how many hours I devoted to research, I still felt that I wasn't informed enough to pick his brain (I hadn't even launched this blog yet). I was aware of the fact that he was over 90 years old, but I still couldn't bring myself to reach out.

Rémi died of natural causes in 2016 in Santa Barbara. He was 95.

I wish I'd at least tried to get in touch with him.

If any of my dear readers have been wanting to do something or talk to someone - just do it when you get a chance. Life's too short to have regrets.