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 26 finds Nathan and his wee pal The Los Angeles Preservation Imp at 11th & Hill, kitty corner from the Herald Examiner, at the scene of a recent fire that’s had fans of the faux log cabin diner that’s occupied the corner since 1933 worried sick.
But the diner’s designer Ken Bemis was a super genius, praised in Fortune Magazine for his “cat-like brain, which, dropped from anywhere, always lands on its feet.” The building might look like an old New England log cabin, but was in fact a patented ultra-modern fire-proof marvel, its concrete “logs” poured into versatile wall and window molds that could be reconfigured to taste, or packed up to move to a new site with ease. The fire had scarcely scorched the place.
While skipping happily around the undamaged log cabin, and letting the imp root around in the burned fixtures tossed around back, Nathan encounters a couple of interested parties, and lets loose with a little improvisational preservation advocacy.
We know it’s strange to see people walking around, coming up to talk to each other, touching their faces and so forth, yet this was our beloved Los Angeles just a month ago. And while we shelter in place and do our best to look out for one another and our beloved local landmarks from afar, there is just one ray of sunshine we can’t help but bask in: the perceived wisdom that every small, cool, historic building like the White Log Coffee Shop that sits on valuable Downtown L.A. real estate is doomed is over now. There are hard times ahead for Los Angeles, that’s certain, but we might just get to hang on to more of our landmarks. And what are we without them? Cranky, that’s what!
Where will the Cranky Preservationist turn up next? Stay tuned!
About Nathan Marsak
NATHAN MARSAK says: “I came to praise Los Angeles, not to bury her. And yet developers, City Hall and social reformers work in concert to effect wholesale demolition, removing the human scale of my town, tossing its charm into a landfill. The least I can do is memorialize in real time those places worth noting, as they slide inexorably into memory. In college I studied under Banham. I learned to love Los Angeles via Reyner’s teachings (and came to abjure Mike Davis and his lurid, fanciful, laughably-researched assertions). In grad school I focused on visionary urbanism and technological utopianism—so while some may find the premise of preserving communities so much ill-considered reactionary twaddle, at least I have a background in the other side. Anyway, I moved to Los Angeles, and began to document. I drove about shooting neon signs. I put endless miles across the Plains of Id on the old Packard as part of the 1947project; when Kim Cooper blogged about some bad lunch meat in Compton, I drove down to there to check on the scene of the crime (never via freeway—you can’t really learn Los Angeles unless you study her from the surface streets). But in short order one landmark after another disappeared. Few demolitions are as contentious or high profile as the Ambassador or Parker Center; rather, it is all the little houses and commercial buildings the social engineers are desperate to destroy in the name of the Greater Good. The fabric of our city is woven together by communities and neighborhoods who no longer have a say in their zoning or planning so it’s important to shine a light on these vanishing treasures, now, before the remarkable character of our city is wiped away like a stain from a countertop. (But Nathan, you say, it’s just this one house—no, it isn’t. Principiis obsta, finem respice.) And who knows, one might even be saved. Excelsior!””
Nathan’s blogs are: Bunker Hill Los Angeles, RIP Los Angeles & On Bunker Hill.