The Birth of Noir: James M. Cain's Southern California Nightmare

Southern California 1931: Amongst the burgeoning urban sprawl built atop bulldozed orange groves and the bitter realization that you can’t eat the sunshine, recent emigré James M. Cain found a kernel of truth and his voice, which would eventually distill through his novels, ”The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Mildred Pierce” and “Double Indemnity” and subsequent film adaptations into the unique American genre: Film Noir.

How did this East Coat sophisticate go from managing editor of “The New Yorker” to populist novelist accused of writing dirty books? The tour explores Cain’s L.A. from Hollywood to Glendale and along old Route 66, and includes illuminating visits to Forest Lawn Memorial Park (a Glendale institution and site of the funeral of Mildred Pierce’s “other” daughter, Ray), the Glendale Train Station where the “Double Indemnity” murder plot played out, and the punch line to a Billy Wilder joke so subtle, it’s taken 63 years for anyone to get. The tour will also cover the artisans who transformed Cain’s tales into film, including Billy Wilder, Raymond Chandler, Joan Crawford and Lana Turner, each an important contributor to the Film Noir canon.

Crash and Spatter

To purchase a ticket for this special event, click here. If you'd like to be contacted when another crime lab tour and lecture are scheduled, subscribe to LAVA's occasional Crime Lab Newsletter.

Join us in the Cal State Los Angeles teaching crime lab for an afternoon’s inquiry into the development of new breakthroughs in forensic science coming out of the Criminalistics Department.

We are delighted to announce the debut crime lab appearance of Prof. David Raymond, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at CSULA. Prof. Raymond will provide an overview of Forensic Engineering with a focus on his specialty, Forensic Injury Biomechanics. The presentation will introduce attendees to the field of forensic engineering and subspecialties; including injury biomechanics. Dr. Raymond will provide some historical background on the genesis of this field along with modern applications of injury biomechanics in engineering design and in forensic applications. Finally Dr. Raymond will demonstrate the utility of biomechanics in forensic science through the presentation of real-world cases.

For the second presentation, LAVA crime lab host Prof. Donald Johnson will provide an overview of Blood Stain Patterning through his long working relationship with Dr. Raymond.

The first topic covered will be the development of an Automated Imaging System for Blood Stain Patterning, demonstrating their work in producing more sophisticated mathematical models—recognizing that trajectories are arcs, not straight lines, for example — leading up to a means by which wound origin and trajectories can be quickly processed by forensic investigators at crime scenes. Numerous real-life case examples will be used to illustrate this discussion.

Next Prof. Johnson will discuss their work on micro RNA, which is leading to determination of wound of origin for blood stains. Using the 1990s-era British murder case against Sion Jenkins as a jumping off point, Prof. Johnson will explain the methodology and instruments by which his graduate students are learning how to pinpoint proteins in RNA specific to respective organs and account for them in blood stain patterns.

By proving the wound of origin for blood evidence, forensic scientists can discount the claims of suspects who insist a victim’s blood at a crime scene got there by innocent means (nose bleed, minor accidental injury, etc.). Using the new analytical methods developed in Prof. Johnson’s lab, a scientist can prove that the blood stain in question originated with bleeding from the lungs, and not from the mucus membrane in the victim’s nasal passage.

Crawling Down Cahuenga: Tom Waits' L.A. bus tour

This is the definitive tour of Tom Waits' formative creative life in Los Angeles, and the people, places and late night pastries that shaped it.

 Click here to purchase David Smay's book about Tom Waits. Press clips: Leonie Cooper of The Guardian got an emotional weather reporton the once-a-year Tom Waits bus adventure. The 2013 edition of our once-a-year Tom Waits tour is L.A. Weekly's Go >> L.A. pick of the week.  

Calling all rain dogs, gin-soaked boys and Gun Street girls! Climb aboard as your hosts David Smay (author of the new 33 1/3 series book on "Swordfishtrombones") and Esotouric's Kim Cooper (a Zoetrope Studios intern who'll tell how she used teenage subterfuge to arrange a private concert by Tom) lead you on a scrupulously researched ride through Tom's epic misdeeds and shenanigans, from the Trashing of the Troubadour to epic nights at the Tropicana.

And oh, there are such tales to tell, from food fights with L.A. Punks and smackdowns with L.A. Police. We'll crawl through the Sewers of Paris, tattle on the Ivar Theater, and get the lowdown on Tom's legendary performances at the Wiltern and elsewhere. Before departing for points rural, Tom left his mark all over L.A., from Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope Studios to Sunset Sound to Skid Row. We'll show you where Tom found his true love and collaborator, Kathleen Brennan, and how all the pieces came together to transform a drunken, desperate singer into the multi-faceted, multi-media artist he'd become.

Raised near San Diego, Tom Waits launched his musical career in L.A., signing with David Geffen's Asylum Records in 1972, living at the raunchy Tropicana Hotel (where he sawed off the kitchen drain board so his piano would fit), and building a reputation as a songwriter willing to risk his own health and sanity to get inside the sad sack characters that peopled songs like "The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)," "On The Nickel" and "Pasties And A G-string (At The Two O'clock Club)."

By 1980, Tom was 31 and starting to feel the effects of his hard living. While scoring the music to Francis Ford Coppola's "One From The Heart," he met Kathleen Brennan, whose influence would completely transform his life and his art. After a whirlwind courtship the pair married and began a 28-year creative and personal partnership, beginning with the revolutionary album "Swordfishtrombones," the subject of tour host David Smay's recent book.


"Crawling Down Cahuenga" spans Tom's personal city, from The Nickel (aka Skid Row) to once-ratty West Hollywood, favorite strip clubs and midnight diners, recording studios, night clubs, record labels and film studios, before rolling back downtown via the filming location of Waits' "In The Neighborhood" video.

ABOUT THE HOSTS: Longtime collaborators David Smay and Kim Cooper co-edited the books "Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth" ("quite simply the most fun music book I have ever read." -Bucketfull of Brains) and "Lost in the Grooves: Scram's Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed" ("the perfect book for the advanced record collector" -Ear Candy) before penning their solo 33 1/3 series books on Tom Waits and Neutral Milk Hotel. Kim gives Esotouric's rock history and true crime tours. David Smay lives in San Francisco, where he is working on a history of the Beats.

The Real Black Dahlia crime bus tour

"This bus tour... has established itself as an L.A. classic." -The Los Angeles Times

The Black Dahlia murder in 1947 is the most compelling unsolved crime Los Angeles has ever known. What Jack the Ripper is to London, the Torso Killer to Cleveland, the Black Dahlia is to L.A. And yet unlike those other cases, the name Black Dahlia refers not to the killer, but to the victim. What was it about Elizabeth Short that keeps her the object of obsessive fascination by writers, musicians, artists, filmmakers, cops and readers, more than sixty years after she was slain?

The Real Black Dahlia Crime Bus Tour seeks to answer this question by intimately exploring the last weeks of Elizabeth Short's life, asking not "who killed her?" but "who was she?"

The tour takes us from the human hustle of Main Street to the serene lobby of the Biltmore (the second-to-last place she was seen alive), to the newspaper offices and the Greyhound station where she checked her bags, and concludes at the site where her bisected body was found in Leimert Park and with a little known suspect who lived nearby.

From the few personal possessions she left behind to the friends who scarcely knew her, from the mass hysteria of the investigation with its fruitless leads, wacko suspects and false confessions, the tour reveals all that's known about this enigmatic black-haired girl who reinvented herself at whim, and shows how she came to be the unfortunate symbol of her time and place.


20 Years After: Charles Bukowski Memorial Gathering

Henry Charles Bukowski (August 16, 1920 – March 9, 1994)

You are cordially invited to join with friends, fans and followers of Charles Bukowski on the 20th anniversary of his death for an evening of poems, toasts and memories.

The evening is hosted by Richard Schave (Esotouric’s Haunts of a Dirty Old Man bus tour & the De Longpre bungalow preservation campaign) and will include readings from five notable Los Angeles poets and friends of the late writer: Dan Fante, S.A. Griffin, Suzanne Lummis, Joan Jobe Smith and Fred Voss.

The location for this free event is the King Eddy Saloon, a location celebrated in the fiction of Bukowski’s idol, John Fante, and located smack on The Nickel, where the young Bukowski came to learn about the world of men. The formal program is scheduled to run from 6:00 - 7:30pm, after which you are encouraged to remain and talk Bukowski into the night.

The Orange and the Dream of California

Cloaked in mystery and, until modern times, available only to the elite, the orange has been known as the fruit of the gods and a symbol of health, wealth, and love. The dream of California, since its discovery by Europeans, has been that it is a place of plenty, of potential, of personal opportunity. When the orange and California were finally linked, their partnership created a compelling fantasy and a fantastic reality. The Orange and the Dream of California takes a lively, literary, and extraordinarily visual look at the symbiotic relationship between the Golden State and its “golden apple.” The orange became a symbol of everything California promised, and California became the center of the Orange Empire. “The orange and California have built upon one another for hundreds of years,” explains author David Boulé, “crafting a vision that appeals to our universal desire for beauty, health, enchantment, and reinvention.” Books will be available for purchase and personally signed by the author.

LA in Focus is a free lecture series presented by Photo Friends of the LAPL and generously sponsored by Christy & Stephen McAvoy photofriends.org

The Flâneur & The City: Broadway On My Mind walking tour #7

To sign up for this free event: First register as a user on this site, or login, and then return to this page. Refresh the page and the signup tab will appear just to the left, above this paragraph. Click "signup" and reserve your spot. No plus-ones; each guest must register individually.

Join us the latest installment of The Flaneur & The City: Broadway On My Mind walking tour series. (This tour series was originally titled Broadway Streetscape Master Plan Awareness walking tour.)  

About This Tour:

This tour will focus on buildings designed by Claud Beelman around 8th & Broadway. Our goal with these tours is to explore the history of the built environment on Broadway, while seeking to understand the scope of the work of Strategy One, Phase One of the Broadway Streetscape Master Plan and the “Road Diet,” which has recently begun.

Press clippings: the walking tour series is featured in Mike Sonksen's KCET Departures report, "Punk Rock, Poetry, and Public Policy." 

Video from previous Broadway On My Mind walking tours: tour #1, tour #2, tour #3, tour #4, tour #5.

ABOUT THE TOUR SERIES: In July 2013, LAVA launched a series of monthly walking tours along Broadway meant to raise consciousness about the Broadway Theater and Commercial District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the pending implementation of Strategy One, Phase One of the City of Los Angeles’ Broadway Streetscape Master Plan (PDF). Each walking tour will follow and depart from the free LAVA Sunday Salon.

Stretching from 2nd Street to Olympic, the District contains the most intact collection of Beaux-Arts buildings in Los Angeles, and the largest collection of historic theaters anywhere in the United States.

As Broadway’s vast scope and scale can be overwhelming, on each walking tour we will look closely at several different historic buildings, in order to acclimatize the observer to better understand and appreciate the whole. We will also be looking at the historic streetscape, with attention paid to street lights, sidewalks (terrazzo in particular), basement hatches, sidewalk vents, glass blocks, manhole covers, granite curbs and signage.

Motivation for this tour series:

With City Council’s June 2013 approval of funding for Strategy One, Phase One of the Broadway Streetscape Master Plan, we believe that it is it is imperative to develop a greater public awareness and understanding of Broadway’s architectural and scenic qualities, and to bring the informed voices of the community into discussion of the proposed changes and alterations. We believe that no element of Broadway’s streetscape can be altered without causing a transformation of the whole, requiring careful consideration before any permanent or semi-permanent changes are made. Broadway’s architectural character is defined not by any single feature (uniform height limits, predominance of theaters) or single landmark building (Eastern Columbia, Bradbury Building, Los Angeles Theater), but upon the concord of all of it, and the strength of the impression which all together they provide. No feature or building is of dominant importance, but each contributes, and all are vitally fused together into our National Register landmark district. Many of the salient architectural and streetscape features which will be the focus of this tour series are proposed to be impacted by the yet-unfunded Strategy One, Phase Two of the Broadway Streetscape Master Plan. The evolving situation demands public input and public awareness. We hope that you will join us on the tour series to better understand Broadway and become an advocate for its continued preservation, stewardship and vibrancy.

LAVA's 35th Sunday Salon

Join LAVA for our revived free monthly Sunday Salon series. We return to South Broadway, to the mezzanine of Les Noces du Figaro, which was recently opened by the family behind Figaro Bistro in Los Feliz. This handsome space was formerly Schaber’s Cafeteria (Charles F. Plummer, 1928), and the mezzanine features wonderful views of the Los Angeles Theatre.

On the last Sunday of each month, LAVA welcomes interested individuals to gather in downtown Los Angeles (noon-2pm), for a structured Salon featuring formal presentations and opportunities to meet and connect with one another. If you’re interested in joining LAVA as a creative contributor or an attendee, we recommend Salon attendance as an introduction to this growing community. We also recommend the eclairs.

Read about the original Sunday Salon at Clifton's Cafeteria here.

The Salon will be broken into two distinct presentations each lasting about 45 minutes. You are encouraged to arrive early if you wish to order food and beverages from the counter downstairs, and bring your meal upstairs. 

Presentation One: In celebration of National Poetry Month, Suzanne Lummis, Cece Peri and Dale Raoul will present a series of readings in the vein of Poetry Noir. The readings will explore the themes of this genre: crime, decay, anonymity, hauntings from the past and a palpable sense of place and feel unique to Los Angeles.

Presentation Two: Architectural historian Nathan Marsak, author of Los Angeles Neon, will present on Los Angeles's great public mausolea. In this cultural and architectural history of how Los Angeles came to understand the community mausoleum, Marsak will chart the southland's parallels with and digressions from America's developing mores and attitudes toward the space of death.

Emerging from the early 20th-century Garden Cemetery movement, Los Angeles not only contributed the concept of the memorial park, but also many of the finest--and sometimes strangest--grand public mausolea known. Los Angeles, long noted for its mimetic "California Crazy" and futuristic Googie architecture, needed, in its funerary architecture, to strive for solemnity and sublimity.  Nevertheless, its cemetery buildings betray a peculiar and genuinely Southern Californian ethos in their expression.

Discussed will be the 1903 Chapel of the Pines crematory and columbarium; the early community mausolea of the 'teens; the interbellum wonders of Forest Lawn's neogothic Great Mausoleum, Angeles Abbey's Arabian wonderland, and early-Christian meets Art Deco at Calvary Cemetery. Particular study will be given to the postwar era and the specific challenges mausoleum design faced adapting to Modernism--it is during this period they are routinely disparaged as filing cabinet necro-tenements--and how new considerations of population and land management influenced the building of open garden-court mausolea and columbaria.

Their legacy has left us with a means to gauge the city's development (as well as remarkable tile work and stained glass).  Through this lens, Marsak will reveal this significant, yet little-valued aspect of our architectural landscape.

Weird West Adams crime bus tour

On this guided tour through the Beverly Hills of the early 20th Century, Crime Bus passengers thrill as Jazz Age bootleggers run amok, marvel at the Krazy Kafitz family's litany of murder-suicides, attempted husband slayings, Byzantine estate battles and mad bombings, visit the shortest street in Los Angeles (15' long Powers Place, with its magnificent views of the mansions of Alvarado Terrace), discover which fabulous mansion was once transformed into a functioning whiskey factory using every room in the house, and stroll the haunted paths of Rosedale Cemetery, site of notable burials (May K. Rindge, the mother of Malibu) and odd graveside crimes. Featured players include the most famous dwarf in Hollywood, mass suicide ringleader Reverend Jim Jones, wacky millionaires who can't control their automobiles, human mole bank robbers, comically inept fumigators, kids trapped in tar pits, and dozens of other unusual and fascinating denizens of early Los Angeles.

There are even some celebrity sites along the route, including the death scenes of Motown soul sensation Marvin Gaye and 1920s star Angels baseball catcher Gus Sandberg. And the architecture too is to die for, as the Crime Bus rolls down the elegant streets of old West Adams, lined with gay mansions, adorable bungalows and signs of a century's decay which only enhance the neighborhood's charm.

Passengers on this eye-opening, funny and informative tour will forever see the West Adams district in a new light. It is highly recommended for natives and newcomers alike, crime and history buffs and anyone who likes to seek out the unexpected.

Haunts of A Dirty Old Man: Charles Bukowski's Los Angeles tour

"[This tour is] a poetic journey full of rare insight into the life of a man who's come to represent the ghettoized contingency of the City of Angels.” - Tanja M. Laden, Flavorpill

"Haunts of a Dirty Old Man: Charles Bukowski's LA" focuses on Bukowski’s great passions: writing, screwing and Los Angeles. We’ll take in the canonical locations of his life and myth: the Postal Annex Terminal where he gathered the material for “Post Office,” the De Longpre apartment where he briefly experimented with marriage and fatherhood, one of his favorite bars and liquor stores, and many other spots. Along the way, we’ll explore the people and ideas that made up the warp and weft of Buk’s rich inner life. This Esotouric bus adventure is hosted by Richard Schave.

The tour spans Bukowski's personal city, from Skid Row to once-genteel Crown Hill, to Bukowski's favorite East Hollywood liquor store, the Pink Elephant.

Esotouric has made its name with true crime bus tours (Black Dahlia, Pasadena Confidential) and explorations of literary LA (Raymond Chandler, John Fante, James M. Cain). Now they turn their creative attentions to Bukowski, the prolific poet, novelist and screenwriter whose rough-hewn tales of boozing, wild women and rotten jobs never obscure the deep vein of sweetness and hope that runs through all his work. In one of his finest poems, he described this as a bluebird he kept caged, and that bluebird is been represented in the Bukbird, a pale blue version of his beloved alcoholic crow character, represented by a logo created by cartoonist Tony Millionaire exclusively for this tour. The Bukbird is available on T-shirtsbeer coasters and fine art prints by plasticmuse.

Press clips:

Silver Birch press gives our Bukowski bus a most auspicious rating.

LA Weekly interviews Charles Bukowski tour host Richard Schave to compile a list of L.A. sites that were important to the writer.

Slake wonders if the Charles Bukowski tour is "'Fawlty Towers' on wheels."

Spike Magazine digs our literary tours.

Novelist Anna Stothard explores the hidden gems of Los Angeles for the London Guardian, including our Bukowski tour.

Annenberg News Radio covers our Charles Bukowski tour in a video/slideshow.

Marco Mannone on the Charles Bukowski bus: "Four hours after we departed, the tour drops us back off at Philippe’s. This is a terrible way to simplify the tour, filled with so much wit and insight into not only Bukowski, but lost parts of Los Angeles.&quot

Girls Gone Wild digs the Charles Bukowski tour.

For more info, see this short film on the landmarking of Bukowski’s former bungalow on De Longpre.