Touring Literary Los Angeles: City of Chandler, Bukowski and Fante

Travel Blog  •  Jim Benning  •  06.21.07 | 12:53 PM ET

imageIn some cities, like Dublin, visitors have little trouble finding a good literary tour. Los Angeles is not one of those cities, yet it has a compelling literary history. So I was happy to read Sunday’s Los Angeles Times story about a new tour of Los Angeles through the prism of novelist John Fante, focusing particularly on Fante’s old downtown haunts, including Bunker Hill. Fante isn’t as well known as L.A. novelists Raymond Chandler and Charles Bukowski (even though Fante’s classic novel Ask the Dust was recently made into a movie), so it would stand to reason, I thought, that the people behind the Fante tour were not your typical tour operators. I dialed up Richard Schave, co-founder of the recently formed tour company Esotouric (“bus adventures into the secret heart of L.A.”) to ask him about their adventures into L.A.‘s bookish heart. It turns out the Fante tour is just the beginning.

World Hum: How did Esotouric come about?

imageRichard Schave (pictured): It came out of my wife Kim Cooper’s blogging project, the 1947project, a time-travel blog featuring a crime a day. It quickly became obvious over dinners that there was a crime tour to be done. Larry Harnisch of the L.A. Times started working with the blog. He’s a Black Dahlia expert, and they realized they could do a Black Dahlia tour. The Dahlia tour has been running every couple of months since January of 2006. Then it became obvious that they had to do more crime tours, like Weird West Adams and a Pasadena tour.

And the literary tours grew out of that?

Yes. They did one called “Nightmares of Bunker Hill.” This was a very sad tour because it was about a neighborhood that doesn’t exist any more. I sat in the back of the bus and saw everyone lose interest after an hour or so. I thought, we’ve got to figure out a way to do a narrative on the tour. I thought we could invoke Bandini, Fante’s [recurring] protagonist, because it was getting hard to look at parking lots and skyscrapers instead of the gothic spires and cupolas that used to be there. About the same time, Julie Corman, Roger Corman’s wife, called and asked about a Raymond Chandler tour. I realized I needed to start writing my own literary tours. So the Chandler tour and the Fante tour and the Charles Bukowski tour very much came out of the first 18 months of crime tours. Beyond that, I grew up in Los Angeles, and Los Angeles was always a tour for me, I always felt like I had to explain the city. These tours really come out of my desire to explain Los Angeles.

The Fante tour sounds like a great start in explaining the history of downtown Los Angeles.

Fante’s Los Angeles maps really nicely with the kernel of everything I’m trying to do on my literary tours. The kernel is there are these two poles in Los Angeles, Hollywood and downtown. Downtown is this huge cultural center that’s almost invisible. Everyone looks at Hollywood. But what really shapes the city is Hollywood and downtown.

That’s why we want to do a Reyner Banham tour, too, based on his book Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. Kim and Nathan [Marsak] and I all studied art history under Banham at UC Santa Cruz. Kim and Nathan went on to take their master’s degree in art history. That book was a galvanizing force in the way we looked at Los Angeles. Reyner changed the way people thought about Los Angeles. He said, “I’m not interested in talking about the 10 most beautiful buildings. Let’s look at how Los Angeles is this juxtaposition of all these different contexts. All these different people have all these different uses and needs and ideas about Los Angeles and they all co-exist.” He said, “Let’s look at all those different influences and find a way to show that there is a great deal of history and culture and development to them. Reyner was the first person who said Los Angeles is confounding but if you look closely you’ll see there’s a lot here.

So what tours are now in the works?

We have a Charles Bukowski tour [Haunts of a Dirty Old Man] coming up in August, which will feature, among other things, a postal worker talking about post office life in the mid-‘80s. We want to do the Reyner Banham tour, and my wife is a rock ‘n’ roll writer and there’s a rock ‘n’ roll tour planned called Riot on Sunset Strip, based on the book of same name. We’ve got these walking tours now, which we’ve just added.  We’re going to create a virtual site about Bunker Hill, with maps and a block-by-block podcast about Bunker Hill.

That sounds great. Thanks for the time.

Related on World Hum:
* Los Angeles: Three Great Books
* The Literature of Los Angeles
Out: Palm Trees. In: Oak Trees.

Photo by amayzun via Flickr, (Creative Commons).

2 Comments for Touring Literary Los Angeles: City of Chandler, Bukowski and Fante

TambourineMan 06.22.07 | 2:46 AM ET

Thanks, Jim. And Richard. 1947 Project is a great site. I’ve been following it for some time now. Hope to take the Chandler tour in July.

Cassandra Genovese 06.24.07 | 6:40 PM ET

Thank you for this article about Richard and Kim.  They are an amazing and innovative couple. Each are an artiste in their own right. My chance meeting with them , I feel, was meant to be, and it is a priviledge and honor to read about his passion surrounding the lost L.A.  He brings it back to life in a beautiful and meaningful way.

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