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Miniature Los Angeles: Meet the Artists Who Craft Tiny Versions of the Historic Landmarks Angelenos Love

About This Webinar

Join Esotouric, L.A.'s most eclectic sightseeing tour company, for an immersive cultural history and crafting webinar celebrating local artists who shrink beloved Southland architectural landmarks down to pocket size for fun, love and profit.

Model making from commercial plastic kits has long been a popular hobby, but in recent years there’s been an explosion of scratch built miniature production by Los Angeles artists who specialize in replicating vintage signs and buildings. Fans can vicariously enjoy watching the tiny treasures take shape on social media, buy a finished model, or even commission something completely original for their own collection.

In this webinar, we’ll meet some of the city’s most prolific miniature model makers to learn about their passion for replicating local landmarks both lost and still standing, their working methods, inspirations and research techniques, and some of the interesting experiences they’ve had while crafting and sharing L.A. history that fits on a tabletop.

Our special guest miniaturists are:

Mike Battle (@mikesbattle)— When Rochester native and “The Simpson’s” show color modelist Mike Battle started planning his wedding to Simi Valley’s Kelly Brooks, the couple cooked up a plan for him to build miniature L.A. and Rochester vintage signs as centerpieces for their guests’ tables. After the ceremony was postponed due to the pandemic, Mike just kept making more elaborate miniature places that have significance to the couple’s relationship, and taking the illuminated finished pieces out for night time photo ops with the originals that survive. Local landmarks that light up like real neon include Burbank’s Safari Inn motel, Felix Chevrolet, Samuel’s Florist, Larry’s Chili Dog, Compton Shoe Repair, the Brown Derby and, of course, NoHo’s towering and terrifying Circus Liquor clown.

Chris Casady - Chris is a retired Hollywood animator and Los Angeles native with a soft spot for L.A.’s cultural landmarks. After attending local California Institute of the Arts as a member of its first student body in the early ‘70s he lucked into a position as a Rotoscope artist at Industrial Light and Magic, then in Van Nuys, working on the first Star Wars movie, as his first job. This catapulted Chris into a career in “special effects" and he built his own studio patterned after the one he worked in at ILM, specializing in optical effects, hand drawn animation and rotoscope techniques, all before the advent of CGI. Chris worked on many iconic movies of the 1980s like TRON, The Empire Strikes Back, Galaxina, Battlestar Galactica, Airplane!, Piranha, My Science Project, Short Circuit, Beetlejuice, Dreamscape, Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Running Man, His directing credits include an animated music video for the Beastie Boys, and a duet video between Eddie Murphy and Michael Jackson. His animated film, Pencil Dance, won awards at festivals in Canada, France, Japan and Italy. His film Puddle Jumper was shown at MOMA, NY and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. He was a judge at the Ottawa International Animation Festival in 1990, where his film won first place in 1988. But for this webinar, Chris is going to talk about his personal work in Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI). In the mid 1990s, Chris bought a $100 software program for the Macintosh computer called Bryce, after Bryce Canyon. They called it a landscape generator, but you could do simple modeling with it. He became obsessed with this program because it was so easy to use and delivered great results. Driving around Los Angeles, Chris would see things that looked like good Bryce modeling challenges. He couldn’t resist making his own CGI versions of favorite landmarks, and Bryce delivered great results. Chris will share a selection of these virtual landmarks, including Griffith Park Observatory, the Shakespeare Bridge, Krotona Apartments and the original, since demolished, circular Velaslavasay Panorama in Hollywood. Chris used Bryce obsessively until around 2006. The program was discontinued in 2010.

C.C. de Vere (@littlelostangeles)—Historic preservation advocate and chronicler of the early French history of Los Angeles through her Frenchtown Confidential blog, C.C.’s Little Lost Angeles series honors architecturally and culturally significant structures that should never have been demolished. Among her recent builds are Henry's Tacos, Mrs. Von’s tiki hut from Clifton’s Pacific Seas, the streamline moderne Yolk store in Silver Lake, the 1904 Tabor farmhouse as featured in the Little Rascals and Ray Bradbury’s house encased in a vintage television set (now on permanent display at the writer’s local Palms Rancho Park Library). C.C. is currently working on The Brown Derby. She also makes illuminated Rainbow Bar and Grill signs and tiny programmatic lemons and Tail o’ the Pup models.

Bruce Heller (@cornerstonebrickdesigns)—A professional Lego block artisan and fan of the architecture of John Parkinson, Bruce has crafted meticulous miniature replicas of two of the architect’s iconic Los Angeles landmarks: City Hall and Bullocks Wilshire (both of which have been exhibited on site), with Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Union Station in the works. Bruce’s City Hall was honored with the Best Microscale award at the 2016 BrickCon convention. He has made a microscale LAX Theme Building from 47 Lego pieces, and builds custom replicas of private homes on commission. His Lego miniature of the historic house where Brentwood Sunshine Preschool operates was the grand prize in their fundraiser auction.

Donna Williams – After graduation from Claremont Graduate University with an MFA in sculpture, Donna translated her experience in the fabrication and repair of three-dimensional art objects to establish Williams Art Conservation, Inc., a private art conservation studio located in Hollywood, where she has lived since 1979. Over twenty years of private practice has given Donna a wide variety of hands-on experiences with many kinds of art objects. She has travelled the world to treat and maintain objects owned by museums as well as private, government and corporate collections, and has worked with many well-known artists, including Chris Burden, Donald Judd and Jaume Plensa. Donna has experience with every scale of three-dimensional art, from twenty-foot-tall Calder stabiles to microscopic fragments of Roman glass. When Hollywood Heritage leased a retail space and installed Hollywood in Miniature, as a board member, Donna assisted in formulating plans for its conservation and restoration, and the challenge and thrill of bringing this historically accurate model of Hollywood’s core from the 1930s, into the present day.

Kieran Wright (@smallscalela)—A newcomer to miniature model making and to Los Angeles, the New Zealand native took up the craft in earnest after he was laid off from his travel marketing job early in the pandemic. Kieran’s models honor iconic Los Angeles businesses and cultural touchstones, and have been offered as prizes in charitable fundraisers. His miniatures include the Black Cat gay bar, Philippe The Original, Fugetsu-do Sweet Shop, Rae’s coffee shop, Morgan Camera Shop, The Apple Pan, Taix French Restaurant, Tiki-Ti, Beverly Cinema, Tail o’ the Pup, the Hollywood Bowl’s curved clock sign, the Frolic Room and Fry’s Electronics flying saucer crash entryway.

Also joining us is architectural historian Nathan Marsak — author of Bunker Hill Los Angeles: Essence of Sunshine and Noir and Bunker Noir! to share the curious history and educational possibilities of the city of Los Angeles’ famous 3-D Downtown Los Angeles architectural model, a hands-on urban planning tool developed under the Works Progress Administration that is on permanent display at the Natural History Museum.

This webinar is an illustrated lecture packed with rare photos that will bring the work of the city’s miniature architectural crafting community to life. And you'll find the look of an Esotouric webinar is a little different than your standard dry Zoom session, with lively interactive graphics courtesy of the mmhmm app.

During the presentation, our guests will answer your questions, so get ready to be a part of the show.

Can't join in when the webinar is happening? You'll have access to the full replay for one week. Please note: the 90 minute running time is just an estimate, and we often run long because the stories take on a life of their own. You can always come back and watch the last part of the webinar recording later.

So tune in and discover the incredible history of Los Angeles, with the couple whose passion for the city is infectious.

FYI: Immediately upon registering, you will receive a separate, automated email containing the link to join the webinar. The webinar is reliable on all devices, Mac, PC, iOS and Android.

About Esotouric: As undergraduates at UC Santa Cruz, Kim Cooper and Richard Schave inexplicably hated one other on sight. (Perhaps less inexplicably, their academic advisor believed they were soul mates). A chance meeting 18 years later proved much more agreeable. Richard wooed Kim with high-level library database access, with which she launched the 1947project true crime blog, highlighting a crime a day from the year of The Black Dahlia and Bugsy Siegel slayings. The popular blog’s readers demanded a tour, and then another. The tour was magical, a hothouse inspiring new ways for the by-then-newlyweds to tell the story of Los Angeles. Esotouric was born in 2007 with a calendar packed with true crime, literary, architecture and rock and roll tours. Ever since, it has provided a platform for promoting historic preservation issues (like the Save the 76 Ball campaign and the landmarking of Charles Bukowski’s bungalow), building a community of urban explorers (including dozens of free talks and tours under the umbrella of LAVA) and digging ever deeper into the secret heart of the city they love.

Rights and permissions: By attending an Esotouric webinar, you acknowledge that the entirety of the presentation is copyrighted, and no portion of the video or text may be reproduced in any fashion.

Who can view: Everyone
Webinar Price: $10.00
Featured Presenters
Webinar hosting presenter

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.

Webinar hosting presenter
As our hometown has gotten bigger, it's become harder to recognize.

We're dedicated to digging up our lost/forgotten/paved-over past and preserving precious memories of the people, places, and events that shaped Los Angeles - then and now.

Other people have social lives...we spend Friday nights digging through old city directories and digitized issues of long-defunct newspapers.

When a local heritage group needed information on a forgotten local figure for an event, they called us. When another historian was searching for the final resting place of a long-ago politician, he called us. And we have never been more flattered than when a Ph.D called one of us "an extremely careful researcher".

We are best known for scale models of lost Los Angeles landmarks (hence "Little Lost Angeles"), although we haven't found a good way to exhibit them (yet).

We also lead history tours, which are on hold until the COVID-19 risk has passed.
Webinar hosting presenter
My first memory in life was playing with LEGO. I collected LEGO sets and built my own creations (mostly houses) throughout my teenage years. In high school, I entered my “Dark Ages” (the period of time when one stops playing with LEGO) and began pursuing a career in character animation. I graduated from the California Institute of the Arts and worked in and out of the animation industry — Disney’s Hercules, Nickelodeon’s Spongebob Squarepants, FOX’s The Cleveland Show and Netflix’s Big Mouth are among my credits — for over 20 years. During that time, I also taught animation to kids around the world, studied woodworking, and lamented giving my nephew my childhood LEGO collection.

Then I saw The LEGO Movie, and everything changed. I walked out of that theater in happy tears, my love of LEGO rekindled. Within a couple short years I had built up my collection of LEGO again and started building my own creations. Spurred on by my love of Los Angeles history and architecture, I chose Los Angeles City Hall as my first big project. It won an award for Best Microscale at its first convention, and it was featured in an article in BrickJournal Magazine (Issue #42, October 2016). After adding a pedestal which showcased the history of the building, I was interviewed by the folks at “Beyond The Brick” on YouTube when I attended BrickCon 2016 in Seattle, Washington.

My next model was another building by Architect John Parkinson, the Art Deco masterpiece known as Bullocks Wilshire (now the Southwestern Law School). The model won an Honorable Mention trophy at its first convention, and it is now on display at Southwestern Law School.

I have taught building techniques to kids, and continue to show my work publicly. I am currently at work on two more personal projects — the façade of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Union Station — to complete a set of four Los Angeles landmark buildings by John Parkinson.
Webinar hosting presenter
Originally from New Zealand, Kieran Wright has been calling Los Angeles home since 2016. He quickly developed a deep appreciation for Southern California's iconic architecture and rich history. Whether it's the Googie style of Rae's Restaurant or the Mid-Century graphic design on Morgan Camera Shop's facade, LA's buildings are more than just brick and mortar; they are time capsules that allow us to reminisce and learn about the fascinating history of the city.

In late 2019, Kieran took his love of LA's iconic architecture to the next level, when he began making miniature versions of his favorite buildings to adorn his Miracle Mile apartment. Met with an appreciation of his work online, Kieran began accepting commissions that allowed for others to have their own miniature version of LA history on their bookshelves.
Webinar hosting presenter
The 42-year-old, who grew up on the Rochester/Greece border and in Honeoye Falls and since 2003 has called Burbank, California, home, is a creative guy. For more than 15 years he has worked as a color modelist — what he's described as a digital cleanup artist and painter — on the long-running animated TV series The Simpsons.

His process for creating a miniature of a beloved Los Angeles location is as follows: “I typically start by collecting photographs online or … I will drive to them and take photographs for reference. I then create a stencil in Photoshop which I trace onto ¼-inch plywood (and use a jigsaw) to cut them out.”

He uses thick foil to contain some of the signs’ channeled letters and recently bought a 3-D printer to create smaller elements that would be too difficult to create by hand.

Some of Mike's miniatures of Los Angeles locations:

Felix Chevrolet

Samuel’s Florist

Compton’s Shoe Repair

Circus Liquor

Brown Derby

Larry’s Chili Dog

Webinar hosting presenter Kim Cooper

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.

Webinar hosting presenter

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!

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