Tales of the American Interviews

"Tales of the American" filmmakers Pamela Wilson and Stephen Seemayer interviewed more than 100 artists, musicians, writers and others who have lived, worked and partied in and around the American Hotel over the past four decades. As new development and a growing population drasticallhy change the downtown landscape, Wilson and Seemayer hope to preserve memories of the vibrant art community that flourished there in the 1970s, '80s, '90s and early 2000s. These are the people who created the Arts District. Their recollections will be released (in alphabetical order) below and on a new YouTube channel, Tales of the American Interviews

Peter Greco (Interviewed Feb. 12, 2014)

In the late 1980s, Peter Greco — then a graphic designer of movie logos — moved into the desolate eastern end of Downtown Los Angeles and discovered a passion for painting on walls. Since then, he has honed a singular style, and his unique brand of “calligraffiti” graces buildings and other public spaces throughout what is now known as the Arts District. “To me, a blank wall is boring,” he says. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Keith Greco (Interviewed June 23, 2014)

Keith Greco was working at a frame shop while studying art at UCLA when he first visited the corner of Traction and Hewitt. It was the early 1980s, and he had come there to deliver stretcher bars to a resident of the American Hotel. “There was some type of Kismet I felt with the corner, for sure,” Greco says. Before long, he had shed his belongings and was starting over in a room on the fourth floor of the American Hotel. (Click on photo to watch interview)

Zoey Grayce (Interviewed Jan. 29, 2014

Actress Zoey Grayce got a room at the American Hotel in 2011, a few years after moving to Los Angeles from New York City. Living at the heart of the Downtown Arts District, Grayce became friends with a variety of visual and performing artists in the community. “I liked the support, the psychological support,” she says. After the hotel was renovated, Grayce moved out, but she remains in Los Angeles. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Ed Glendinning (Interview June 27, 2014)

Photographer Ed Glendinning was a student at ArtCenter College of Design in 1981 when he came to Downtown L.A. to shoot a portrait of his teacher, who had a studio in the Citizens Warehouse at Banning and Center streets in what is now the Arts District. After the teacher moved out, Glendinning took over the loft, joining a burgeoning artistic community whose epicenter was the punk dive Al’s Bar and the raucous American Hotel above. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Mat Gleason - Part 2 (Interviewed Jan. 5, 2014)

A lot has changed about the Arts District since Coagula publisher Mat Gleason lived in the American Hotel in the 1990s. He credits neighborhood activist Joel Bloom with getting restaurants and shops into an area once barren of businesses. But attracting commerce also brings developers, and what was once a low-rent “Zone of Freedom” is now a real-estate bonanza that excludes experimental artists in favor of “predictable successes.” (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Mat Gleason - Part 1 (Interviewed Jan. 5 2014)

Writer Mat Gleason lived in the American Hotel in the early 1990s and served for a while as manager of both the hotel and Al’s Bar, the legendary punk dive on the ground floor. By then, he had been a patron of Al’s for nearly a decade, and he had founded Coagula Art Journal, an irreverent underground tabloid featuring often biting criticism of the art world. Gleason has produced a TV series and opened an art gallery, as well. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Girl George (Interviewed Aug. 20, 2014)

She walked into Al’s Bar in 1984 wearing a red velvet cape and knee-high boots, a three-foot sword dangling from her waist. Girl George quickly became the queen of No-Talent Night, strumming guitar and belting out songs that are indelibly etched into the memories of everyone that saw her there. “I found a home at Al’s Bar,” she says. “The crazier I got, the more they liked it.” She still performs regularly at the Missouri Lounge in Berkeley. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Jomar Giner (Interviewed Feb. 13 & March 30, 2014)

Born in the Philippines, Jomar Giner moved with her family to San Francisco before settling in Salt Lake City and earning a BA in political science at Weber State University. She moved into the American Hotel in October 2013, got a job serving coffee at the nearby Novel Café and began learning the lore of the neighborhood from her fellow residents at the American. She now is a social worker in Vancouver, WA. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Annie Freeman (Interviewed April 29, 2014)

Annie Freeman is an actor and yoga instructor who, in 2011, opened — along with husband Steven Sabel — the Archway Theatre Company & Yoga Studio in the space formerly occupied by Al’s Bar. For three years, Freeman and Sabel mounted productions of Shakespeare and classical plays in the three-room ground-floor space. Freeman also held yoga classes, many of her students being Arts District residents and former patrons of Al’s Bar. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Tara Fondiler (Interviewed Aug. 17-18, 2016)

Tara Fondiler moved to Downtown L.A. in 1980 while studying at Otis Art Institute. She lived for a time at the American Hotel and worked at Al’s Bar, one of the first female bartenders at the storied Arts District hangout. Fondiler is an accomplished painter of surreal, expressionist canvasses, often depicting fantastical or classical themes. She now lives in Hawaii, but her exuberant spirit is legendary among longtime neighborhood artists. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Jim Fittipaldi — Part 2 (Interviewed Sept. 23, 2014)

In 2008, Jim Fittipaldi and his Bedlam art salon moved into the space that had been home to Al’s Bar until its demise in 2001. “No one in Downtown would think of that as Bedlam,” Fittipaldi said. “They’d just think of it as Al’s Bar, it would be Al’s Bar, I guess, forever!” Fittipaldi, an avid art collector and a painter in his own right, forged many friendships in the community he called “the greatest neighborhood I’ve ever lived in.” (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Jim Fittipaldi — Part 1 (Interviewed Sept. 23, 2014)

In 1989, TV art director Jim Fittipaldi turned his Downtown L.A. loft into a speakeasy, hosting all-nighters of cocktails, poker, music and conversation. With a dress code and “no plastic cups,” Bedlam was a sophisticated alternative to the punk vibe at Al’s Bar. In 2001, Bedlam moved to 6th Street and blossomed into a legendary, if unpermitted, nightspot. A fan of gangster lore, Fittipaldi said, “What we were really doing was racketeering! (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Miriam Feldman (Interviewed Feb. 5, 2014)

Miriam Feldman (known as Mimi) moved downtown to a loft at 3rd and San Pedro streets in 1981 after graduating with an MFA from Otis Art Institute. While her work belies a subtle subversiveness, Feldman says she was “just an old-fashioned painter” in a burgeoning community of performance artists, provocateurs and punk rockers. She paid her rent by serving beers at Al’s Bar, where she met her future husband, gallery director Craig O’Rourke. (Click on photo to watch iinterview.)

Ramiro Fauve (Interviewed Feb. 1, 2014)

In 2010, designer Ramiro Fauve was renovating Cole’s, L.A.'s oldest bar. Tired of the commute from Woodland Hills, he took a room at the American Hotel, joining a historic art community at Traction Avenue and Hewitt Street in the Arts District. From his second-floor loft, Fauve had a bird’s-eye view of the changing neighborhood, and his dog — Cash, the Hewitt Husky — became a social-media star on Fauve’s window sill. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Abramovitch - Aston

Baiza - Burke

Callahan - Cruze

Davis - Duck

Earl - Ellsworth

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© Pamela Wilson & Stephen Seemayer / Seemayer Studios LLC 2021