Friday, December 24, 2021

Why The Taix Battle Isn't Really (Just) About Taix

Dear Readers:

I know, I know. I’ve written quite a bit already about the Taix situation. I have been researching an entry on a different family, but their surviving property isn’t in any imminent danger, whereas Taix is.

Spread this entry far and wide. Share it with the people who make excuses for bad development and the people who don’t know or care about developers’ misdeeds or City Hall corruption. Enough is enough.

Although the initial Taix landmark approval, with substantial alterations, was rescinded (the city violated the Brown Act), the battle is far from over.

Due to time limits at the 12/7 meeting, the nomination will be re-heard on 1/18.

As you consider your statements for public comment, I ask that everyone consider this: the Taix battle aims to save Taix, but it isn’t solely about Taix.

PLUM, or the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, wields considerable power in Los Angeles. Whether they have too much of it is a subject for another time. 

This is the case of a unique legacy property, sold off-market to an out-of-state developer with a questionable track record in LA, slated to be replaced with a development that has changed considerably from the original renderings. The nomination, altered to the extreme by City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell at the developer’s request, essentially turns landmarking into salvage. 

The whole thing stinks like a week-old serving of salmon dropped in the gutter on Sunset Boulevard and left to rot in the sun.

Exactly how much say should developers, especially non-local ones who aren’t invested in the community, have in Los Angeles, a city constantly losing the things that make it Los Angeles and also a city stuck with the results of irresponsible development? 

It’s not development per se that’s the problem. There’s an ocean of difference between responsible development (loft conversions, affordable buildings, designing with safety and residents’ needs in mind instead of flashy aesthetics…or the cheapest materials possible) and irresponsible development (too many luxury units, not enough windows - Charlie Munger, I’m looking at you - no security, nowhere to do laundry, in some cases no kitchen, too far away from anything to walk, no green space, tearing down affordable units with no tenant relocation plan and refusing to replace them with an equal or greater number of affordable units, etc.). 

And, of course, there is the Kafkaesque nature of appeasing a deep-pocketed developer by illegally sabotaging a landmark nomination in a way that would set a legal precedent for destroying an untold number of very important places.

Must every important place in Los Angeles be placed in potential danger of demolition because a Washington-based developer is determined to tear one of them down?

Unsure of my ability to get through on the phone (like many of you, I wasn’t called on at either of the two previous hearings), I submitted public comment via the online portal before Taix was moved to the January 18 meeting. 

In part:

“Would you tear down the Chinese Theatre and only keep the signs and forecourt? Absolutely not. Would you tear down the Avila Adobe and only keep the porch? No way. Would you tear down Central Library and only save the sphinxes and globe chandelier? You wouldn’t.”

I deliberately mentioned those three landmarks for specific reasons. The first is that two of them were nearly lost, and one would be affected by a zoning change City Council has been pushing. The Chinese Theatre would be affected by the proposed zoning change (and is uncomfortably close to the recently ruined Pig ‘n Whistle). Central Library, threatened with demolition since the 1960s, was damaged in a 1986 arson fire and could all too easily have been lost. The Avila Adobe was condemned almost a century ago and came far too close to disappearing forever, along with what survives of the Pueblo.

Can you imagine Los Angeles without any of these iconic places, all of which played a role in making the city what it is? (That would be my second reason for mentioning them.) 

They aren’t just a bunch of old buildings. They are part of our rich cultural heritage as Angelenos.

And what about Taix, a rare survivor from what was formerly Los Angeles’ biggest ethnic enclave, and one of its oldest? Does it cease to matter because the city’s French population was outnumbered by Yankees after the 1880s and the French Colony ceased to exist long ago? Shouldn’t that make its significance greater?

Is it really “just a building”? Or is the battle for Taix a microcosm of the battle for the city’s heart, its soul, its people, and its future?

Los Angeles does not belong to developers.

Los Angeles does not belong to its elected officials.

Los Angeles belongs to Angelenos.

God bless us, every one…and God help us, every one. 

(Except for the guilty parties referenced above. I’m pretty sure they’re all going directly to the Ninth Circle of Hell to face a fate worse than living in the dystopian Los Angeles they are helping to create.)

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Save Taix! Fundraiser THIS SATURDAY!

 Dear Readers,

If you’re reading this blog, you probably already know Taix is in danger. The site is large enough to develop without demolishing Taix (case in point: Dinah’s in Westchester or Santa Monica’s last Quonset hut). 

The Silver Lake Heritage Trust is kicking off a fundraiser for legal representation this Saturday, December 18. All donations are tax deductible. (Images and info courtesy of Carol Cetrone and the Silver Lake Heritage Trust.)

The fundraiser begins at 8pm Saturday at Luxe de Ville (no website), Pazzo Gelato, Spacedust, and Cosmic Vinyl.

No donation amount is too small - every little bit helps.

Do you know a good attorney who can help save Taix? Reach out to the Silver Lake Heritage Trust, or email me and I’ll relay your message.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Last Call to Save Taix: Tuesday, December 7, 2 PM

Regular readers already know that Taix French Restaurant is one of the final surviving links to the French Colony.

And that it was sold to a developer with a well-earned bad reputation. 

And that Mitch O'Farrell colluded with the developer to effectively gut preservation in LA. Said developer spent six figures on Mitch (this is a matter of public record, not mere rumor). The City Council blatantly ignored the Brown Act, too (granted, they do this more often than not...).

And that the LA Conservancy filed suit (along with Silverlake Heritage).

But there's still hopethe city has rescinded its previous vote, and will rehear the nomination next Tuesday, 12/7, at 2pm. (The Chili Bowl will also be on the agenda.)

As I've mentioned, I was not called on at either of the two previous meetings, and quite a few other people reported that they were also never called on in reference to Taix. 

So yes, flood the phone lines at 2pm on Tuesday. But don't JUST call in. 

Flood those inboxes, too. You can't make PLUM take your call, but they can't stop you from sending emails. Follow the LA Conservancy's list here. If you live in the City of Los Angeles proper, be sure to contact your Councilmember.

I'm not giving up. I hope you'll join me, and many others, by calling in on Tuesday and sending emails in the meantime. Echo Park CAN gain new housing WITHOUT losing Taix - or destroying legal protections for landmarks.

Monday, November 8, 2021

BREAKING: Gless Farmhouse At Risk!

I was shocked and dismayed to hear from my pals at Esotouric that the landmarked 1887 Gless farmhouse just flipped. I had to see it to believe it.

When I wrote about Simon Gless 22 months ago, the house had been a boarding house for many years.

The story of the Gless farmhouse is the story of Boyle Heights in a nutshell: a well-to-do French Basque family's farmhouse, then for a number of years the Hebrew Shelter Home and Asylum, then divided into apartments and lived in by mariachi musicians (the house is spitting distance from Mariachi Plaza).

Boyle Heights residents have been fighting back against gentrification for years (listen to Smoke Screen: The Sellout). But it’s very hard to fight against opportunists with deep pockets (especially if they play a little too nicely with City Hall).

The Gless house, long lived in by low-income renters, has most recently been operating as a hotel. Where are the tenants? Where could they realistically afford to go, with rents spiking in Boyle Heights and neighborhoods like it?

The house, listed as an “investment opportunity”, has now sold for over $1.8 million. Whoever bought it may very well intend to make a lot more than that.

I am very worried about this house. Yes, it was landmarked (Boyle Heights residents pushed to landmark several buildings in the neighborhood to guard against developers tearing them down). But landmarking isn’t enough to save a building. In Los Angeles, landmarking a building doesn’t actually prevent demolition. It adds a couple of extra requirements and allows the city to delay demolition for up to a year. That’s IT. Landmarks can indeed be demolished, and sometimes, it does happen.

Don’t get me started on the fact that illegal demolition takes place on an all-too-frequent basis in LA, with the perpetrators almost always going unpunished. It’s entirely possible that a bulldozer will just show up one day, sans permit, and knock down the house, with zero consequences for anyone involved.

The Gless house, therefore, could very well be demolished and replaced. I doubt the largely working-class people of Boyle Heights will be able to afford to live in whatever might replace it. 

Do I even need to comment on the house formerly being billed as “Mariachi Plaza Hotel” when whoever turned it into a hotel displaced mariachis to do so? (There’s a reason one of the characters on Netflix’s series “Gentefied” is a mariachi living in a van with his young son, unable to find an affordable apartment.)

Does anyone out there know Sharon Gless or her management team? Sharon is Simon Gless’ great-granddaughter and had a hand in getting the house landmarked in the first place.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

A Very Brief History of French Bakeries in Old Los Angeles

Once upon a time, a long long time ago by Los Angeles standards, the city was just a tiny pueblo that lacked a proper bakery.

You might assume that the first bakeries in Los Angeles specialized in Mexican baked goods. You would, however, be mistaken. For LA's first 72 years of existence, the ONLY bread baked in the city was French bread.

In those very early days, Andre Mano and Pierre Domegue set up shop in the Plaza area, baking French sourdough around the corner from the Plaza Church. 

Andre Mano was born in France around 1809, is listed in the 1850 Federal census as a baker, and shared a house with 28-year-old Pedro Dornes (or Domec), a cooper who was also from France. Ten years later, the 1860 census still listed Andre as a baker, with another French housemate, laborer Martin Echepare.

Little seems to be known about Pierre Domegue, except that he was married to, and also baked bread with, a Native American woman whose name and nation aren't mentioned in the few sources I've found. 

Joseph Lelong, who set up shop in 1851, inexplicably named his French bakery after Swedish opera superstar Jenny Lind. There was a Lelong Block on Spring, south of Fifth, at least as late as 1890. If Lelong did indeed own property on that block (tax assessments suggest he had assets), he would have counted two other French bakers (Augustus Ulyard and Louis Mesmer) and a French grocer (Auguste Chauvin) as his neighbors. 

Lelong was the busiest baker in town...for a couple of years, anyway. He faced strong competition when Augustus Ulyard arrived in 1853. Ulyard, born in Philadelphia to French parents, started out with French bread, but soon added German and American breads and pastries, appealing to the growing Yankee and German communities. Ulyard added fresh crackers in 1860, filling another market gap (crackers shipped from San Bernardino or San Francisco tended to arrive stale). The former site of his bakery is now home to the Alexandria Hotel.

Ulyard eventually retired from baking, selling his bakery to Louis Mesmer. 

As Louis Mesmer merits his own entry, I'll restrict this to his activities as a baker. 

Besides the former Ulyard bakery, Louis Mesmer owned the New York Bakery at Sixth and Spring (the very first Ralphs Bros. Grocery stood next door). Mesmer, a devout Catholic, was the first baker in Los Angeles to bake matzo for the local Jewish community.

Los Angeles gained an army camp in 1861 in case local Confederate sympathizers revolted (Southern California had a lot of ex-Southern residents, and Los Angeles in particular leaned Confederate during the Civil War). An army marches on its stomach, and Camp Latham needed baked goods. Louis Mesmer got the contract, and erected a bakery at the camp along Ballona Creek (he also sold baked goods to neighboring rancheros). He was still operating the New York Bakery downtown. When Camp Latham moved to Highland Park, he supplied baked goods from the New York Bakery instead of building another bakery location.

Sometime around 1870, the Taix family arrived in Los Angeles. The Taix French Bread Bakery opened its doors in 1882 at 321 Commercial Street. Later, Adrian and Joaquin Taix owned The French Bakery at 1550 West Pico Boulevard. When the family tore down their bakery in 1912 to build the Champ d'Or Hotel (which would house the original Taix restaurant beginning in 1927), the Taix bakery moved, ending up in Northeast Los Angeles.

Dominique Foix, born in Haut-Garonne, arrived in 1882. He established a tannery and saddlery in his Macy Street home, later founding Foix French Baking Company downtown in 1886 and delivering bread door to door with a horse-drawn wagon. Foix often traded goods with customers who were short on cash, and received so many live frogs as payments that he was able to start a frog farm and sell frogs' legs to the many French restaurants in town. This led to Foix supplying bread to restaurants, which necessitated moving the bakery into a bigger facility in Highland Park. The bakery's flour came from Capitol Mills, housed in the oldest industrial building in the city - a three-story brick flour mill erected by Abel Stearns in 1831.

Foix turned over the bakery to his son in his later years, and Foix's grandsons were running the bakery at least as late as 1941. That same year, a broken water main below Elysian Park's reservoir flooded the bakery. Louis Foix evacuated all 15 employees, but the water and mud ruined 6000 pounds of flour. The bakery unfortunately seems to have closed down in the 1990s.

French Basque immigrant Jean-Baptiste Garacochea founded the National French Bakery in 1908, later changing the name to Pioneer French Baking Company. Pioneer operated in Venice from 1920 to 2006, operated by several generations of the Garacochea family. Great-grandsons John Baptiste and Charlie Garacochea co-own the Etxea Basque Bakery, which supplies bread to restaurants.

To hell with counting carbs - good French bread is an LA tradition! Pass the sourdough.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Erasing Frenchtown in Maps

I have been mapping historic French LA for 8.5 years.

It's harder than it looks. Among the many, MANY changes to the street grid, the intersection of Alameda and Aliso was erased, with Aliso rerouted into Commercial at Alameda Street in the 1950s to accommodate the 101 Freeway.

I get a lot of questions about this, and I think it's easier to explain with maps.

Aliso Street always had a bend in it - now it's more of a long diagonal. Here we see, from top to bottom, Main, Los Angeles, and Alameda Streets intersecting with Aliso. This is from 1894.

Alameda and Aliso streets, 1894

As you can see, Aliso and Commercial Streets are still parallel (and would be for about another 60 years), and Frenchtown still had plenty of houses.

Map showing Alameda, Aliso, and Commercial Streets, 1894.

This 1894 map detail shows the Maier and Zobelein brewery, formerly the El Aliso winery, in the bottom left corner. By this point, Jean-Louis Vignes' vineyard (formerly ground zero for the French community in LA) had been thoroughly developed into a mostly-residential neighborhood, and was still full of French residents like the Ducommuns, the Lazards, and Joseph Mascarel (who died in his Lazard Street home just a few years after this map was made). Maier and Zobelein was rebranded as Brew 102 in the 1940s, with the brewery tanks easily visible from the freeway and in photos.

Zoom in and you can see that Ducommun Street (misspelled here as "Ducummen") and Lazard Street were once two separate streets. Today, it's all Ducommun and it no longer reaches all the way to Alameda Street.

Alameda, Aliso, Commercial, Vignes, Lazard, and Ducommun Streets

Republished in 1923, this map detail shows Aliso and Commercial are still parallel. Lazard Street is now Ducommun, which may be related to the fact that Ducommun Industries was, by then, headquartered along Ducommun Street (a bus parking facility now occupies the old Ducommun Yard).

Alameda, Aliso, Commercial, and Ducommun Streets

North of Aliso, Marchesseault, Apablaza, Napier, and Juan Streets still existed in 1923, although multiple corrections to this map (originally published in 1906) show Old Chinatown/Little Paree gradually being torn down. Today, this is Union Station, the Metropolitan Water District, a park, and (what else...) a parking lot.

This revision, added in December 1937, shows Union Station in place of Old Chinatown/Little Paree, and shows the rerouting of Bauchet Street and the disappearance of Marchesseault Street (renamed East Sunset Boulevard). A local Chinatown historian once told me that if you could walk Marchesseault Street today, you'd more or less be walking into Union Station's front door.

Venturing northeast to where Frenchtown, the Plaza, and Old Chinatown formerly collided, we can see that Sanchez Street used to be longer. The Jennette Block, which housed the Hotel du Lion d'Or and the Hotel de Paris at different times, is now gone, along with the western wing of the Garnier Block. (The Garnier Block houses the Chinese American Museum, and ironically now needs to be expanded because too much of the building was lopped off in 1953 and the Museum needs more space. Oh, the irony.) Note that the Pico House is still called the National Hotel here.

This map is from 1953. Here we see one-third of Sanchez Street missing - lost to the 101 (Hollywood) Freeway. Today, Arcadia Street stands between Sanchez and the freeway and Market no longer exists. Look for the words "being dismantled" - much of what is still shown was gone within five years. 

One more snippet from 1953 - this is closer to today's street grid, except widening of the freeway bumped this section of Aliso further south. El Aliso (the tree itself, not the winery where it stood) was about where Vignes Street dead-ends at Commercial Street today (and, again, this section is now Commercial Street).

Want to see the current street grid laid out over the old one? Wikimedia’s got you covered. (While I firmly believe that Wikipedia is unreliable and should not be used for serious research, this map corresponds with what you’ll see in old maps of LA.)

When the original street grid has been altered to this extent, mapping French LA is a bigger challenge than everyone thinks it is. On top of that, LA added numbering fairly late. I do still plan to reveal the Great Big Map of French LA someday; I'm just not sure when (or if) I'll ever be "done" enough. 

Thursday, October 7, 2021

The French Hospital in Maps

I've previously covered the French Hospital's long history, so I won't rehash it here. 

The building was originally a two-story adobe, shown here on an 1894 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map: 

Image of French Hospital building footprint on map

The hospital was rebuilt in 1915, to the highest standards of then-modern medicine, under the leadership of Louis Sentous Jr. This time, it had a longer, narrower design:

Footprint of French Hospital, 1953

Another wing was added in 1926.

An expansion was approved in 1985. The wings at the back of the building must have been rebuilt between 1953 and 1985, based on the building's current footprint (and the wood-framed nurses' home has long since disappeared). The building's current owners and operators, Allied Pacific, have kept the historic building and reopened it as an urgent care center.

The building changes...the signage and ownership changes...Jeanne d'Arc vanished from the front lawn...still, the hospital persists.

Up next: mapping the erasure of French LA.