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

Jett Jackson - Part 2 (Interviewed March 29, 2014)

Painter Jett Jackson lived in the American Hotel for most of the 1980s, getting to know the lore, the characters and the landscape intimately. What she calls “tragic romantic decay” was a palpable attribute of the area now known as the L.A. Arts District. Her paintings capture it all. “You’ve got to be able to look at the trash in the gutter and go, ‘Wow, that’s kind of interesting looking!' ’’ she says, “because that’s your flora and your fauna. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Jett Jackson - Part 1 (Interviewed March 29, 2014)

In 1981, painter Jett Jackson was a student at California Institute of the Arts when she trekked to downtown L.A. to experience Al’s Bar for the first time. That visit didn’t win her over, but later, a CalArts classmate brought her back. “One night in Al’s Bar,” Jackson says, “and the next thing you know, I’m renting a room in the American Hotel!" She surrounded herself with vibrant paintings and even more colorful friends & neighbors. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Rick Hudson - Part 2 (Interviewed Jan. 25, 2014)

When Rick Hudson moved back to L.A. after 7 years with Cirque du Soleil, he returned to the Arts District, if not the American Hotel. His dream of re-staging the 1987 Drive In Drama — a play seen from the comfort of one’s car — was realized in 1998, when he co-produced “Mayhem at Mayfield Mall” in a parking lot near the 6th Street bridge. The result was nationwide news coverage. “What you need is a good gimmick,” Hudson says. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Rick Hudson - Part 1 (Interviewed Jan. 25, 2014)

Rick Hudson moved to Downtown L.A. in 1984 after falling in love with “the gritty beauty you can find here and nowhere else in the city.” He moved into the American Hotel the following year and established himself as part of the art community which had Al’s Bar as its hub. In 1987, a Canadian novelty act made its U.S. debut a few blocks from the hotel, and Hudson was hooked. He ran away with Cirque du Soleil for the next seven years. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Gus Hudson (Interviewed June 23, 2014)

Gus Hudson was covering the local music scene in Los Angeles for Flipside when he first visited Al’s Bar in the1980s. He went on to produce records for such homegrown talents as Paper Tulips, POPDeFECT and Beck. In 1998, Hudson was instrumental in starting live streaming of the nightly shows at Al’s Bar. On a site called liveclubs.net, people all over the world could log onto the renowned dive’s “anything can happen” experience. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Lindsay Hollister (Interviewed March 27, 2014)

Lindsay Hollister had a career as an actor when she, her husband and her mother-in-law fulfilled a lifelong dream of opening a pie shop. They rented a space in 2011 on the ground floor of the American Hotel — at the heart of L.A.’s then-burgeoning Arts District — and The Pie Hole was born. It was an instant success with locals and visitors alike, and Hollister went on to oversee expansion of the company to a dozen locations around the world. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

David Hollen (Interviewed Feb. 12, 2017)

Sculptor David Hollen came to the Arts District in 2005, moving into the basement of an industrial building near 3rd & Traction. The space was a “perfect romantic artist’s studio,” he says, with room for working, exhibiting his pieces and living with his husband, Frank Theobald. The two married on Nov. 11, 2008, and established themselves as the hosts with the most, as their studio became a hub for gatherings of the creative community. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Jason Ha (Interviewed April 9, 2014)

Korean-born Jason Ha came to Los Angeles in 1988 and established a successful apparel business in Downtown. In 2000, he opened Zip Fusion, serving sushi and other Asian-influenced cuisine to the community surrounding the corner of Traction Avenue and East 3rd Street. With affordable prices (and a spectacular Happy Hour menu), Zip Fusion was a favorite meeting place and hangout of local artists until it closed in June 2016. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Carlos Guitarlos (Interviewed Nov. 20, 2015)

In 1980, Carlos Guitarlos was a bouncer at the Hong Kong Café when he met singer James Paul Koncek, known as Top Jimmy. Guitarlos — whose given name is Carlos Ayala — formed an alliance with his new friend, and L.A. music history was made. Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs was one of the most popular bands to play Al’s Bar and every other punk venue of the ’80s, often being joined onstage by members of X, Dave Alvin and David Lee Roth. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Steve Grody (Interviewed Feb. 4, 2015)

San Fernando Valley native Steve Grody began photographing graffiti around Los Angeles in 1991, shooting the “LA” that local legend Skate had thrown up on the exterior wall of Al’s Bar at the American Hotel. Since then, he has captured more than 50,000 murals, productions and tags across the Arts District and throughout the city, gathering his shots in the encyclopedic book “Graffiti L.A.: Street Styles & Art,” published by Abrams in 2007. (Click photo to watch interview.)

Teresa Grenot (Interviewed Feb. 3, 2015)

In 1984, Teresa Grenot was a 24-year-old working at the Los Angeles Theatre Center when she moved into the American Hotel at the corner of Traction & Hewitt. Her room was right above Al’s Bar, which meant she didn’t have to hang out at the legendary punk rock club because “everything that happened there, I heard anyway. It all floated up to my room.” Born in Los Angeles, Grenot now works as a librarian. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Irving Greines (Interviewed March 5, 2014)

Having dabbled with a camera since boyhood, Irving Greines — a retired appellate attorney — started photographing graffiti in San Francisco and Manhattan, reframing the evolving layers of posters, tags and paintings, to create new works of art. Around 2004, he turned his lens on his hometown of L.A. to find the American Hotel, and a love affair began between him and the Hewitt Street wall he calls a “living, breathing organism.” (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Paul Greenstein (Interviewed March 26, 2014)

For someone who never lived in downtown L.A., Paul Greenstein in the 1970s made a huge contribution to its cultural milieu. Instrumental in putting the Atomic Café on the map, he was the first to book bands at Madame Wong’s, and he had a hand in scouting locations for Al’s Bar. His associations with those legendary venues turned out to be fleeting, but as the LA Weekly put it in 1979, “he has made places special to him special to others. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

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