The Cranky Preservationist in Don’t F— With My Bunker Hill Retaining Wall (episode 25)


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 25 finds Nathan on old Bunker Hill, a once charming neighborhood of Victorian mansions turned rooming houses, wrecked in a moronic mid-century redevelopment scheme. But the development agency missed a spot, and failed to demolish the fine limestone ashlar retaining wall that was built to support John C. Austin’s Fremont Hotel (1902-1954).

And that well-built wall did what well-built walls do for 118 years, at least until some jackass spray-painted it black a few weeks back. The Cranky Preservationist public policy crew reached out to AT&T (the owner of the parking lots separated by the wall), to the graffiti abatement company under contract to the city, and to the famously recalcitrant office of Councilman Jose Huizar. Nobody cared, or expressed any interest in bringing in a skilled stone cleaning crew to strip the paint and restore the wall.

So imagine Nathan’s burning rage when he returned to at the southwest corner of Fourth and Olive Streets and discovered some well-meaning nincompoop had “cleaned up” the offending black spray paint by coating the historic stones with an additional layer of WHITE paint. You don’t have to imagine it, because Nathan’s entire temper tantrum, including calls for human rights violations and a gratuitous shout out to Teddy Roosevelt, was caught on tape. Tune in for a glimpse of a Cranky Preservationist’s dark side, and a desperate plea that the last bit of old Bunker Hill infrastructure is properly restored—before it’s too late!

For everything you ever wanted to know about lost Bunker Hill, but were afraid to ask, visit our original time travel blog and stay tuned for Nathan’s upcoming book.

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 and the Mystery of the Shrinking HPOZ at 1330 W. Pico (aka “The Albany”) (episode 24)


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 24 finds Nathan on the eastern edge of the Pico-Union Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ), a charming, low-slung early 20th century neighborhood of craftsman bungalows, apartment houses, churches and mortuaries that feels a world away from the Convention Center on the other side of the 110 Freeway.

But there’s big trouble brewing on this little block, all wrapped up in a land use mystery that’s had L.A.‘s preservation community scratching its collective head.

HPOZs are supposed to be protected, with historic buildings preserved and the rare new construction respecting what’s already there. So why did Gil Cedillo, the councilman who represents this impoverished district, file a motion carving a warehouse out of the HPOZ, upzoning it for high-rise hotel use? And how did zillionaire developer Eri Kroh of Sandstone Properties anticipate that the zoning would change when he spent $42 Million to aquire the property?

It just didn’t make sense.

But that was before public records activist Adrian Riskin of the Michael Kohlhaas blog“ got interested. He recently obtained emails from Gil Cedillo’s office that reveal exactly how Sandstone hit the real estate jackpot.

https://michaelkohlhaas.org/wp/2020/03/07/ever-wonder-how-one-of-these-super-sized-construction-projects-downtown-gets-built-here-is-an-unprecedented-look-into-how-city-councilmembers-and-developers-work-as-partners-to-subvert-and/

The infuriating answer is that Gil Cedillo’s staff worked overtime to look after the developer, even when it meant telling the Mayor’s office to back off on discussions about turning the warehouse into much-needed homeless housing. The talking points that planning director Gerald Gubatan used when encouraging “the zealot” Ken Bernstein at City Planning to break up the HPOZ were written by Sandstone’s lobbyists. So were the City Council motions submitted by Gil Cedillo. All Cedillo had to do was whip out a pen and sign his name, and a neighborhood’s doom was sealed.

Anyone who cares about the wretched state of our beloved Los Angeles, the demolitions and tent encampments, the illegal Airbnb listings and unaffordable rents, the squandered Measure HHH housing funds, the filth and the cruelty, should read the blog post describing these emails, and possibly the emails as well.

To get a taste of how special this block is, and why it’s entirely unsuitable for the enormous tower and sign district requested by Sandstone’s lobbyists and provided by their friendly councilman, let the Cranky Preservationist take you on a tour. You’ll see beauty, surprises, sorrow and a very special slice of sidewalk along the way.

Open your eyes, friends! Terrible people are bleeding Los Angeles dry with their Sacramento-style policy savvy and lack of compassion, and some of them will retire with government pensions. They’re destroying our neighborhoods and shortening our neighbors’ lives.

But we don’t have to settle for this twisted lack of representation. The only question is how much longer will YOU stand for it?

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 and Friends in Save 700 Normandie Avenue, Koreatown’s Little New York Street (episode 23)

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 23 finds Nathan on the 700 block of South Normandie, where his wee L.A. Preservation Imp has lured him to see the greatest interbellum street in all of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, this gorgeous landscape of elegant apartment houses, one of the most popular filming locations in town, is currently threatened by an enormous modern tower by Koreeatown mega-developers Jamison Properties. Only landlords, and none of the thousands of people who rent in the neighborhood, were notified of Jamison’s plans.

Discovering the fast-tracked project when it was nearly a done deal, longtime residents Carolyn Zanelli‎ and Spencer Jones filed a CEQA challenge. When their councilman, Herb Wesson, refused to meet, neighbors picketed his office and got on the evening news. Carolyn and Spencer have a lot to say about their special Little New York Street, and they want you to fall in love with it, too.

So take a time travel trip to a place that is teetering between the twin poles of its current timeless perfection and the arrogance of checked out politicians and their rapacious developer-donor pals. Can Angelenos fight back and Save Normandie together? With the Cranky Preservationist, his imp, Carolyn and Spencer, and YOU on the case, it’s very possible!

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 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!