Three weeks ago, Nathan Marsak, a Los Angeles historian and preservation advocate who often works with the Esotouric historic tour company (under the persona, “The Cranky Preservationist“), saw an Instagram post by Los Angeles magazine writer Chris Nichols, showing photos of six old LA houses for which demolition permits had been pulled in just the last 10 days. Marsak looked a the photos of the lovely old buildings, soon to disappear forever, and a lightbulb went on. A bit later, he told Esotouric founders Richard Schave and Kim Cooper about Nichols’ post, and the more general idea that every new demo permit signals the impending loss of another old building with a story to tell. “Someone needs to do a blog about this!” said Marsak to Schave and Cooper. They readily agreed, said Marsak…and added, “And that person is you!”
So, as Marsak told the Buzz, “the next thing you know, it’s happening.” And on September 1, 2019, R.I.P. Los Angeles was born. Its purpose is to chronicle the many demo permits being pulled in Los Angeles these days, the stories of the buildings that will be lost to each permit, and what will replace them.
Of course, most of us hear about it when L.A.’s biggest, most famous landmarks are lost or threatened, but Marsak’s territory is rest of our landscape – the more ordinary homes and buildings that form the collective historic fabric of our city’s history, which is increasingly and rapidly being unraveled as more and more of these everyday buildings fall to the wrecking ball.
As Marsak says in the introduction to R.I.P. Los Angeles:
“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.)”
But historical documentation isn’t the only point, Marsak said. For example, he fully acknowledges our city’s current housing issues, but also says “it doesn’t mean you can make Los Angeles a better place to live by running roughshod over our neighborhoods…The idea that you can tear up communities…and throw communities out the window…that’s just madness.” And this blog, he says, while highlighting what we’re losing as we search for new solutions, “opens up a lot of avenues for having conversations about housing,” especially the idea that our current housing crisis can be solved simply by tearing down older, more affordable buildings and constructing more, and more expensive, units where our older, more affordable communities used to be.
So far, there are only three demo permits/building stories chronicled in R.I.P. Los Angeles…but then the blog has only existed for four days now. And already one of those stories, about 371-377 N. St. Andrews Place (at the SW corner of St. Andrews and Elmwood), is in our Greater Wilshire area. Plans are to replace the 1919 fourplex, designed by noted architect Edward Butler Rust (who also designed the Los Altos apartments), with a new four-story, 56-foot-tall, 15 unit apartment building under the city’s Transit Oriented Communities guidelines…which means it will likely pop up for review soon on the agenda of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s Land Use Committee. But until then, and until that new project pushes aside both thoughts of the old building and the building itself, R.I.P. Los Angeles will give the 100-year-old beauty a final chance to shine before she disappears forever.
As Marsak says on the R.I.P. site:
“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…
And who knows, one might even be saved. Excelsior!”