BUKOWSKI’S RED GARTER ~ FROM EAST HOLLYWOOD TO VENICE

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A few months ago I’m heading North on Lincoln Blvd. when, on an impulse, I jump out of my car to pixellate The Red Garter’ sex-appealing logos.

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As soon as I see the closed door and the yellow notice my natural born protector-of-the-small hops back into my car, grabs my cell phone and contact the real estate broker. “Hello, I’m calling about The Red Garter in Venice. I was wondering if you could put me in touch with the seller because I write for an LA blog and would love to preserve a little bit of LA history by photographing the interior of this vintage “cocktail lounge” (before it gets recycled into another retail store.)” I keep the last portion to myself as I hear a voice in my head arguing that what I call “a vintage cocktail lounge” most people would call “a dive,” including the real estate agent at the other end of the line judging by the awkward silence. “The property’s been sold.” “So maybe I could talk to the new owner?” Upon my insistence, the broker reluctantly gives me her e-mail address, gets mean on me when I ask her to repeat it and hangs up before I have a chance to deliver a spirited: “Thank you for your commitment to…” She didn’t commit to anything but I nonetheless rush home to pen a passionate appeal to the new owner while I fail to swat the annoying buzz in my head that keeps repeating “Frankie, it’s a dive!”

This incident takes an unpredictable turn when I learn that at about the same time, a young woman by the name of Lauren Everett answers her own maternal call for the preservation of the human over the commercial when she sees an ad on Craigs List for the sale of an apartment complex where LA’s own dirty old poet, Charles Bukowski, once lived. Everett and other preservationists contact the Cultural Heritage Commission and manage to halt the sale of the East Hollywood property long enough to attempt to build a case for the designation as Historic Landmark of the DeLongpre Avenue bungalow where USPS worker Henry Charles Bukowski became, at 49, a full-time writer. Just as I assume my e-mail to the Red Garter’s new owner was dragged across the real pain in the esstate’s broker desktop and dumped in her Trash Bin, I don’t believe for one moment the author of “All the Assholes in the World and Mine” will get the seal of approval from the City and when I see a picture of the building in question I even wonder: “Why? It’s a…”

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Photo by Phil McCarten for Reuters.

I look online for an answer and give to my dear Taco readers a story in quotes almost as unpredictable as a Bukowski title:

Blogger AF Duncan of Kung Fu Rodeo.”The impulse to make Bukowski’s home a monument comes from a feeling that he was a more accurate chronicler of the city than other writers, said David Fine, author of “Imagining Los Angeles: A City in Fiction.” Raymond Chandler, Aldous Huxley, Nathanael West and F. Scott Fitzgerald are far brighter literary lights, along with others who came here to toil as screenwriters. But they tended to portray an apocalyptic landscape of crime noir and empty celebrity. Bukowski grew up here and saw it from a less cynical, more authentic down-to-earth vantage point.”

Councilman Eric Garcetti: “Hollywood is famous not because everybody has been a saint or a nun… It’s always attracted complicated and important people and Charles Bukowski certainly fits that mold.” Garcetti added he was worth remembering but “he was not necessarily a guy you’d want to be friends with.”

Richard Schave of www.esotouric.com: “Esotouric’s “Haunts of a Dirty Old Man” bus tour on the anniversary of (Bukowski) passing included a stop for donuts and coffee at Pink Elephant Liquor, though many opted for beer in a paper bag instead. “

LA Weekly’s Matthew Fleischer: “Suddenly, the rumble of a large diesel engine can be heard, and moments later a tremendous white tour bus pulls to a stop outside. The doors swing open and out steps John Dullaghan, director of the acclaimed Charles Bukowski documentary Born Into This, and his fellow tour guide, Richard Schave. Trailing behind them is a diverse group — black, white, brown and even some pasty Brits, each of whom has paid 55 bucks to stand in the rain and snap pictures of an empty, trash-strewn bungalow (DeLongpre.) None of them seem disappointed though. They’re here for a piece of Charles Bukowski, and this is the biggest, coldest, wettest piece there is.”

LA Conservancy.org: “Myth #4: “Preservation is only for the rich and elite, and for high-style buildings.”Fact: Historic preservation isn’t just about house museums anymore. Today’s preservation movement is increasingly diverse: here in Los Angeles, many of our newest historic districts (Historic Preservation Overlay Zones, or HPOZs) home to economically and ethnically varied populations. Preservation today also addresses not just grand architectural landmarks, but more modest sites of social and cultural significance. Just look at the small Ralph J. Bunche House in South Los Angeles, boyhood home of the pioneering African-American diplomat, and Little Tokyo’s Far East Café, a beloved gathering place for the city’s Japanese-American community – both restored in recent years. Or, consider a current preservation effort to save the modest Vladeck Center, a Boyle Heights building that was the center of the Jewish labor and immigrant resettlement movements of the 1930s. Such sites underscore that preservation can be about the “power of place” found at sites containing rich social and cultural meaning.”

The Canadian Press: “The poet’s widow, Linda Lee Bukowski, said she did not think her husband would have appreciated seeing a fuss made over the house he rented. “He was not the kind of person whose ego needed a large edifice in his memorium,” she said. Linda Bukowski added she was sickened by earlier proposals that the house serve as a residence for writers and artists. “That would be repulsive to Hank,” she said, using the writer’s nickname. “It would be against all his natural human ways to have little writers and poets in bungalows together, little Bukowskis running around.”

The Long Beach Press Telegram: “As Linda Bukowski said, “The De Longpre address was but one of many that Hank rented and wrote in during his years in L.A. Indeed the novel `Post Office’ was written there, but so many more books were written at (another) address … After that, the rest of his work was written in San Pedro, in the home where he lived until his last precious breath, and where I still reside with nine cats.” But as has been noted, you aren’t going to sell many literary tour bus tickets to San Pedro.”

Victoria Gureyeva, owner of the property at the time the application was filed: “This man loved Hitler. He may be a great writer — I’m not a critic. But that’s what libraries are for. This is my house, not Bukowski’s. I will never allow the city of Los Angeles to turn it into a monument for this man. He never acknowledged his Jewish side. The rumor is that Hitler’s mother was part Jewish. Now we have Bukowski — Hitler number two.”

John Martin, publisher, Black Sparrow Press (and the man who gave an income to Bukowski so he could leave his post office job and write full-time): “(The Nazi claim) is ridiculous. Bukowski wasn’t a Nazi, he was a contrarian. Anything he could say to get people’s goat, he’d say — especially when he was young.”

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Bukowski pictures found on www.bukowski.net courtesy of Michael Montfort.

On February 26, as I drive once again past the The Red Garter and gaze into an empty hole where its luscious sign used to tease my natural born feline, the Los Angeles City Council ignored the property owner’s dubious (and self-serving) claim that Bukowski was a Nazi and approved the designation of 5124 De Longpre Avenue as a historic landmark on the recommendation of the Cultural Heritage Commission.

Charles Bukowski’s former home can now be found on the list of City Declared monuments next to, among others, the Val d’Amour apartments at 854 S. Oxford, Bob’s Market on Bellevue Avenue, the oak tree on Louise Avenue, 210 feet south of Ventura Boulevard, and the 76 mature olive trees on Lassen Street.

Unfortunately, my attempt at preserving in pictures a place where Bukowski may have shared drinks and stories with other Angelenos failed. The construction of a new retail store at 2536 Lincoln Blvd. is well under way. I don’t know why I dreamt of entering this deserted lounge – just another bar out of LA County’s 1000 documented drinking places. Maybe I was hoping to channel the departed and hear echoes of conversations dating back to the days when bars were called saloons. I wanted to be where generation after generation of Angelenos came to feel a little less lonely, a little more confident after a few drinks, maybe even a little happier? I fantasized about leaning back on its velour bench and the warm feel of a man’s hand making its way under my silk skirt in search of that red garter… before they put a price tag on it.

The House

They are building a house
half a block down
and I sit up here
with the shades down
listening to the sounds,
the hammers pounding in nails,
thack thack thack thack,
and then I hear birds,
and thack thack thack,
and I go to bed,
I pull the covers to my throat;
they have been building this house
for a month, and soon it will have
its people…sleeping, eating,
loving, moving around,
but somehow
now
it is not right,
there seems a madness,
men walk on top with nails
in their mouths
and I read about Castro and Cuba,
and at night I walk by
and the ribs of the house show
and inside I can see cats walking
the way cats walk,
and then a boy rides by on a bicycle
and still the house is not done
and in the morning the men
will be back
walking around on the house
with their hammers,
and it seems people should not build houses
anymore,
it seems people should not get married
anymore,
it seems people should stop working
and sit in small rooms
on 2nd floors
under electric lights without shades;
it seems there is a lot to forget
and a lot not to do,
and in drugstores, markets, bars,
the people are tired, they do not want
to move, and I stand there at night
and look through this house and the
house does not want to be built;
through its sides I can see the purple hills
and the first lights of evening,
and it is cold
and I button my coat
and I stand there looking through the house
and the cats stop and look at me
until I am embarrased
and move North up the sidewalk
where I will buy
cigarettes and beer
and return to my room.

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994)

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Click here for Taco’s review of the screen adaptation of Bukowski’s “Factotum.”

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Comments (11) to “BUKOWSKI’S RED GARTER ~ FROM EAST HOLLYWOOD TO VENICE”

  1. Is it any wonder I love LA?

    Great story, Frankie, and good try on getting the interior shots. I still hope you can weasel your way into the Red Garter.

  2. Excellent post! Congrats!

  3. Another nice article. Very well done.

    Also, I must admit that it has been a very long time since I was in the Red Garter, and I was only in it once, but I remember it because someone would only have to go into it once to remember it. It was cramped, sold overpriced beer and the people won’t particularly friendly. Some of my friends thought it was a classic, some thought it was a dive, but we all agree it had one of the best signs of any bar in Los Angeles.

    Peace

    s

  4. love the story and the passion behind your words!

  5. Great article…When i was a little kid we would skateboard past this bar all the time and wonder what it was they did in the “Red Garter”!?!?
    We always thought it was a strip club or something sexy.
    Years later as i became of drinking age, i finally got to see behind the front door. Not sexy at all…put they had 2 pool tables and so we would hang here a bit and play pool.
    When they first started with the “No Smoking” laws this place was one of the few bars you could still smoke in. They had a sign on the wall that said “Smoke at your own risk” and it was an unspoken rule that if you were smoking if and when they ever got checked…you had to help pay the penalty. It was a dive bar but one of the better…sad to hear it’s gone…although i think i haven’t been there in over 10 years!!

  6. Wow, i so love Bukowski and i think it sucks that some of the greatest landmarks of this most beautiful of cities is always getting destroyed. last year i went to Rome and saw history, real history for the first time and i thought it sad we don’t have any… WONDER WHY>>>>>>>>>>

  7. […] Continue   […]

  8. This is by far the best thing I’ve read about the reasons for preserving the De Longpre apartments. Great article!
    I grew up in Venice, and didn’t even know the Garter was gone. It had the best red velvet wallpaper in town. Sad.

  9. God thats beautiful stuff,i live in australia but i can still feel the warmth you have toward LA and Hanks poem just nailed it.

  10. Bukowski also lived in an apartment on Mariposa before he lived in the De Longpre place. The exact address is in the bio Wrapped in the arms of a crazy life. I was immenselly relieved when I got to the end of your piece and the De Longpre place ended up not being demolished, which is what you expect in LA. I use to go to the Red Garter when I was a cab driver to pick up customers and sometimes I would drink there. Lot’s of red inside. It’s a shame there tearing it down.

  11. I wanted to add that every once in a while I’ll drive by and look at De Longpre and think about that poem where he pissed off his Latino immigrant neighbors and comes home to find his cat floating dead in the broken toilet.