Tuesday, December 22, 2020

A Frenchtown Christmas Carol

(Dear readers: the following entry was inspired by my friend Kim Cooper's sizzling-hot take on the "wonderful life" of Eric Garcetti.)

Raymond Taix was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The beloved restauranteur had passed away a decade earlier.

There was no need to change the restaurant’s name; Raymond’s son Mike had taken it over when Raymond retired, just as Raymond had taken over for his father Marius Taix Jr. many years earlier.

Ten years on, Mike Taix still owned the restaurant. The business end, that is. He’d recently sold the restaurant’s building and property - a generously sized parcel fronting Sunset Boulevard, with an adjoining overflow parking lot opening onto Reservoir Street.

In an off-market sale. 

To a notorious out-of-state developer. 

For the whopping sum of $12 million. 

It was chilly in Utah, where Mike now lived. He poured himself a glass of wine before bed, ruminating over the past week.

His family’s restaurant had been nominated for landmark status months earlier. It had just passed the second hearing with a unanimous approval recommendation.

Mike was pissed. He’d made a deal with Holland Partner Group, which intended to build a five-story mixed-use complex on the site, and he did not want anything to get in the way of the plan. It was his business and it was his God-given right to sell what preservationists had called “a rare commercial example of the French Alpine style”, “the last link to old French LA”, “a beloved city institution”, and “the most charming building on the eastern end of Sunset”, among other things.

Mike put the glass in the dishwasher and went to bed. 

Well, he tried to, anyway. No sooner had Mike closed the bedroom door behind him than he heard the front door of his house fly open with a loud BANG!

Mike heard footsteps coming through the door and through the house. All of the color drained from his face as the visitor passed THROUGH the closed bedroom door.


“You don’t believe in me,” the ghost of Raymond Taix replied. 

“No…of course I do. Wait - don’t ghosts wear chains in this story?”

“Ghosts wear the chains they forged in life, and I have none. If you could only see the one you’re forging for yourself,” Raymond chided his son. “I can’t stay, Mike. But I had to tell you that you may have a chance of changing your fate.”

“Dad, what are you talking about?” 

“You will be visited by three spirits. Heed their warnings; they are wiser than you may think. Goodnight, son, and do try to have a Merry Christmas.”

And with that, the ghost of Raymond Taix departed. Upon inspection, the front door was locked, just as Mike had left it.

Mike made a mental note to take a better look at that wine in the morning and went to sleep.

A few hours later, Mike was awakened by the clock chiming one a.m. The room filled with light, and Mike found himself face-to-face with a spectral man in glasses, a frock coat, and impressive mutton chops.

“This can’t be real,” Mike groused.

“Oh, I assure you, young Taix, it absolutely can be,” the spirit replied in a faint Quebecois accent. “Good heavens, where are my manners?! I’m the ghost of Christmas Past. Come with me, I have much to show you.” 

Mike grudgingly accepted the ghost’s transparent hand and found himself whisked away to a place he had only seen in old pictures.

City Hall towered over the scene from a few blocks away, but Los Angeles Street was completely different. Gone were the government buildings. Gone was the strip mall. And was that - 

“The French-Mexican Drug Company,” the ghost announced. “Your grandfather’s pharmacy. Shall we drop in?”

Mike watched his grandfather, Marius Taix Jr., accept a shipment of medicinal wine, fill several prescriptions, and dispense instructions to a customer over the phone in his thick French accent. Why was the spirit showing him this?

“That wine is really for the restaurant, of course,” the spirit noted. “It’s 1928. Prohibition killed off every other restaurant in Frenchtown,” he added, gesturing to several vacant restaurant spaces nearby. “But, your grandfather could still get wine because he was a pharmacist. About 12 years from now, the rest of Frenchtown will be gone, and the restaurant will be the only thing left.”

Before too long, Marius Jr. locked up for the night, lugging a crate of “medicinal” wine bottles. The ghost and Mike followed him around the corner and down the street to a more familiar address. 

321 Commercial Street. 

At this point in time it was the Champ d’Or Hotel, housing Taix French Restaurant upstairs. 

“Before your grandfather and great-grandfather built this place, the Taix bakery stood on this lot,” the ghost added. “I remember when your family first came to town and when they set up shop about 10 years later. Los Angeles was much smaller then. My brother Victor and I helped change that, of course, along with our friend Remi.”

Despite the long day at the pharmacy, Marius Jr. wasn’t done for the day yet. The restaurant needed attending to before the family could depart for midnight Mass.

As the Taix family walked into St. Vibiana’s, the cathedral’s bell began to toll.

“Your time with me is up, young Taix,” the spirit replied. “I’ll leave you in the capable hands of the next spirit." 

And with that, the spirit strolled into the cathedral himself.

“Michael Taix, I presume,” stated a woman’s voice.

Mike turned around to see a transparent brunette in a black dress, black beaded gloves, black boots, and a dainty silver guillotine-blade necklace.

“Come with me, Mike. We need to talk.”

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

She scoffed. “Who’s the Ghost of Christmas Present, you or me?”

The spirit removed one of her gloves and snapped her fingers.

In an instant, Mike was back on Commercial Street. But now it was 2020 again, and Taix was gone.

In its place were a jail, courthouse, and parking garage. Commercial had been rerouted into Aliso Street to accommodate a curve in the 101 freeway. 

The spirit guided him on a quick tour of the neighborhood. More government buildings, parking garages, weedy empty lots, a scuzzy strip club, a bus parking lot, an old industrial building...

“This was a thriving French enclave for over 80 years. Unfortunately Beaudry didn't have time to show more of it to you. And now it’s gone forever. Only one thing remains.”

She snapped her fingers again and they were whisked by unseen forces to Sunset Boulevard.

This being Christmas eve under pandemic lockdown, Taix was only open for takeout. But that didn’t stop customers from chatting while waiting for their food.

“Man, I love this place. I don’t want it to go.”

“I moved across the street to be closer.” 

“Do you really think Taix will come back?”

“What, if the complex gets built?”

“Yeah. I mean...it just seems like Mike doesn’t care anymore. And I heard he tried to sell out a long time ago. Echo Park’s a lot more expensive now, of course.”

“I feel you. He doesn’t even live here.”

“So he sells the property. He’s got the money. Why is he involved with the development plan?”

“No one knows. But the whole thing is fishier than last week’s leftover salmon.”

“Off market sale, shady developer, bigger price tag than expected.”

“Yeah, I think something’s up.”

"Did anyone actually fall for those giant glossy flyers he sent to everyone in Echo Park?"

“I just want to know what his end game is. What’s the point of all this?”

The spirit snapped her fingers again, muting the conversation.

“Mike, do you even want to continue with the business? Philippe Mathieu sold his sandwich shop and retired when he turned 50, you know. There’s no shame in it.”

"It's not your business."

"Damn right it's not. It's YOUR family's legacy business. Mike...do you understand how all of this looks to people?”

He didn’t answer.

“Do you even care what HPG is doing to this city?”

“Building housing,” Mike snapped. 

The spirit scoffed again. “Oh, they build, all right. But it’s not enough to build housing. The city needs good housing, managed well, with an appropriate mix of price points.”

“And what do you know?”

“I was an apartment manager,” she replied. “And I was a small business owner after that.”

Mike was surprised.

“That took the wind out of your sails, didn’t it? Now watch closely.”

She snapped her fingers again.

An image appeared on the wall before them, like a projection. It was a hallway in a sleek new apartment building.

People with suitcases and bags came and went, in time lapse speed, from sunrise until the following sunrise.

“This is one of HPG’s buildings, Mike. They’re allowing illegal short-term rentals on the site. Every short-term rental is a space that’s not lived in by long-term tenants. That drives down occupancy, keeps rents high in cities like LA, and does nothing for the community. You do know the value of community, right, Mike? Frenchtown was obliterated decades before I was born.”

“The building is coming down,” Mike replied. “It’s too big for the restaurant now.”

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” the spirit shot back. “But our time is up. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come will take over from here.”

And with that, she floated down Sunset Boulevard and out of sight.

Mike heard a low, raspy voice. “Mike...MIKE...” He nearly jumped out of his skin when a clammy hand came down on his shoulder.

Mike whirled around to see a tall, thin spirit in gray jeans and an oversized black hoodie, both having seen better years.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come hacked and coughed, finally clearing his throat. “Sorry about that. You get a lot of colds living in a public park. Especially with limited access to sanitary facilities.” 

“You’re homeless?”

“I wasn’t always. I had a place on Alvarado. But when the mixed-use complex went up, a lot of landlords raised rents, and there weren't enough low-income units in the complex to meet the demand. Not by a long shot. I was an essential worker, but I suddenly couldn’t afford rent anymore. And I work right down the street. You know how hard it is to commute and park in LA.”

“So what do you want with me? The property is sold. I can’t stop the developer.”

“You’ve still got some pull with HPG. And the building doesn’t have to disappear.”

The spirit waved his hand.

In an instant, the property changed. The restaurant now shared the lots with a bigger, French Alpine-inspired apartment building that matched it perfectly. 

“Come on,” the spirit urged, waving Mike through the door of the restaurant and towards the banquet rooms.

Mike was stunned to see a lawyer’s office in the first room...an accountant in another one...the CD13 office in the biggest one...small businesses in the other three.

“In this future, the building was adapted and the extra space rented out. You saw the apartments on the way in. The people who hated HPG’s original plan love it. This is what the project could be, Mike.”

The spirit waved his hand again. They were back out on Sunset. 

“Or this could happen,” the spirit added.

With one more wave, the proposed development appeared. It was, to be fair, ugly, and already suffering from visible maintenance problems. Traffic backed up in either direction as residents and patrons waited to access the underground parking garage. It was noisy, too, owing to its acoustics. And something was missing.

“Where’s the restaurant?”

“It never reopened, Mike. There were delays, there was red tape, there were disagreements, and you finally just gave up.”

Mike was stunned.

“You may not own the building anymore, Mike...but you can still put in a good word.”

The spirit vanished.

Mike woke up in his bedroom in Utah. What the hell had just happened?

Friday, December 11, 2020

Erase, Rewind, Erase Some More

I've previously written at length about the Beaudry brothers' vital roles in developing early downtown LA. 

The houses built under the Beaudrys' downtown development plans are all gone - except for the home of John J. Ford, which was moved to Heritage Square Museum. The Ford house stood on Beaudry Avenue, at a corner shared with Mignonette Street.

The surrounding neighborhood, Temple-Beaudry (formerly the Park Tract), echoes Bunker Hill a mile away. Originally a middle class neighborhood filled with modest Victorian homes, it slowly became less fashionable, less expensive, and less valued to city leaders who didn't live there. The original buildings were lost to freeway construction or redevelopment over the years. Only the Beaudry brothers' street names remained.

Until now.

Beaudry Avenue and Victor Street are still here, but we'll be saying goodbye to at least part of Mignonette Street.

The city has not only approved, but accelerated, a street vacation for about 230 feet of Mignonette Street. A street vacation is a type of easement giving a public street's right-of-way to a private owner. The City of Los Angeles requires about $15,000 in deposit fees to the Bureau of Engineering, environmental review, public investigation, and public hearings to proceed with a street vacation, and the process normally takes at least a year.

It took all of three minutes for me to find this and this

Long story short, it appears that billionaire developer Geoffrey H. Palmer is building another one of his big, faux-Italian complexes. The street vacation was most likely requested to turn that portion of Mignonette Street into a parking garage entrance (or something similar).

I have concerns about this. I'm surprised the city doesn't. 

Oh, wait, no I'm not. City Hall only cares about money, developers, and lobbyists.

Besides the $20 million negligence lawsuit against Palmer filed in 2016 (which the city settled for a mere $400,000), there's the matter of his buildings being a little pricey. Currently, a small studio at the Orsini will set you back at least $1600. While that's certainly not as expensive as some downtown apartments, it does nothing to fulfill the city's need for affordable units. Which isn't surprising

So we're losing at least part of a surviving French-named street. I will need to update my street-name list (and, possibly, my parking-lot list). I should be upset about that, but I'm more irritated that a billionaire who appears to despise historic preservation and poor people has seemingly been given carte blanche to do as he pleases, regardless of how that affects anyone else.

I used to manage two apartment buildings. I took my role as a housing provider very seriously, and if every landlord did, Los Angeles would probably not be facing such a severe housing usage crisis.