Join Esotouric, L.A.'s most eclectic sightseeing tour company, for an immersive cultural history webinar that’s a deep dive into the artistry, history, oddities and infrastructure of the streetlights of Los Angeles.
Even when Los Angeles was a sleepy, dusty village of 5000 souls, its vibrant night life demanded a consistent source of illumination. The first privately financed gas lamps were installed along Main Street in 1867, a modern convenience that helped shape the development of Downtown’s commercial core.
In 1882, electricity arrived, not in the familiar form of a regular row of bulbs at second story height, but with spectacular 150’ poles that cast a spreading moonlight glow from 3,000-candle power arc lamps. Beneath them, Angelenos enjoyed all the benefits and troubles of a 24 hour city.
With the 20th century came an explosion of urban and suburban development, illuminated and accompanied by a fascinating assortment of artistically designed streetlights, many of them installed exclusively along one street or in a single neighborhood.
In this webinar, we’ll go on a then-and-now treasure hunt introducing you to some of those iconic streetlight designs, their history and evolution as a living part of the urban streetscape. These designs have poetic names like the Broadway Rose, the Vine Double, Metropolitan Standards, Wilshire and Hollywood Specials.
On an obscure stretch of East Los Angeles streetscape inches away from the Golden State Freeway, you’ll discover the charms and mysteries of the Commerce Historic Lighting District, a striking stand of obsolete streetlights left behind when modern poles were installed.
In Angeleno Heights, you’ll learn about the Carroll Avenue Historic Preservation Overlay Zone, and how the preservation-minded home owners worked with the city and utility companies to turn back the clock by hiding unsightly overhead wires, turning their time capsule street into a world class filming location. (This section of the webinar is informed by original, unpublished archival material that we purchased at the estate sale of the neighborhood’s premier historian.)
And we’ve got special guest streetlight lovers on hand to talk about the poles that beguile them.
After his undergraduate studies in art history at UC Santa Cruz, Richard Schave set out to explore the American interior as an itinerant brick mason. His return to his native Los Angeles coincided with a renewed acquaintance with Kim Cooper, a once-detested academic colleague who would become his bride. Together, fusing scholarly research with new digital tools, they launched the 1947project time travel blog, along with In SRO Land, and On Bunker Hill, as well as the Esotouric tour company. With the success of Kim’s True Crime tours, Richard developed a series of Literary and California Culture excursions. Richard is a dedicated preservationist, and the host of the LAVA Sunday Salon and the LAVA Literary Salon series, named Best L.A. Literary Salon by Los Angeles Magazine. He also curates an ongoing series of forensic science programs at Cal State Los Angeles. Richard is also a reader at the Huntington Library.
Kim Cooper (“one of L.A.’s brightest torchbearers” – Electric Literature) is the creator of 1947project, the crime-a-day time travel blog that spawned Esotouric’s popular crime bus tours, including Pasadena Confidential, the Real Black Dahlia and Weird West Adams. She is the author of The Kept Girl, the acclaimed historical mystery starring the young Raymond Chandler and the real-life Philip Marlowe, and of The Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles. Her collaborative L.A. history blogs include On Bunker Hill and In SRO Land. With husband Richard Schave, Kim curates the Salons of LAVA – The Los Angeles Visionaries Association. When the third generation Angeleno isn’t combing old newspapers for forgotten scandals, she is a passionate advocate for historic preservation of signage, vernacular architecture and writer’s homes. Kim was for many years the editrix of Scram, a journal of unpopular culture. Her books include Fall in Love For Life, Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, Lost in the Grooves and an oral history of Neutral Milk Hotel.
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!