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

Gary Lloyd (Interviewed Feb. 5, 2014)

In the 1970s & ’80s, Gary Lloyd’s “surveillance sculpture” was unlike anything others in the burgeoning Downtown L.A. art community were doing. His coin-clad installations not only raised questions about art’s value, but also about how a person’s worth is measured. The pieces — each equipped with a radio transmitter — listened in on those around them, and broadcast conversations and events over pirate airwaves to passersby. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Wild Don Lewis (Interviewed Sept. 6, 2014)

In the late 1970s, Wild Don Lewis learned of the creative scene taking root in Downtown L.A., an abandoned industrial zone where “you could do whatever you wanted because nobody cared.” He moved there in 1990 and still lives in the Arts District. Lewis photographed the punk scene before realizing that his calling was music. In 2008, he began Small Drone Orchestra, and still performs sound compositions at venues and festivals. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Drew Lesso (Interviewed Feb. 13, 2014)

Composer Drew Lesso moved to Downtown L.A. in the 1970s after hearing of the art community taking hold in the empty warehouses and factories of what is now the Arts District. He and a partner leased a floor of a building on Los Angeles Street and split it into four units, renting out the extra spaces to subsidize expenses and turn a profit. It was the first of several artist buildings Lesso would helm in more than 40 years downtown. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Gary Leonard (Interviewed Jan. 11, 2014)

“People don’t recognize me if I don’t have a camera!” says photographer Gary Leonard. For more than 50 years, the photojournalist has been capturing moments both epic and intimate for a historical record of Los Angeles. In the 1970s and ’80s, Leonard became known for documenting the punk scene spreading throughout venues from Hollywood to Long Beach, but he always harbored a fondness for what he calls “the Al’s Bar district.” (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Mona Lee (Interviewed July 1, 2014)

Mona Lee had lived all over L.A. before she decided to settle in Downtown. While not an artist herself, she enjoyed the creative community that thrived among the warehouses and other old buildings being converted into lofts in the early days of what would become known as the Arts District. While holding down a day job, Lee bartended at Bedlam and amassed a collection of works by local artists, such as Becca and Jett Jackson. (Click on photo to watch interview.) 

Steven Lamprinos (Interviewed Feb. 6, 2014)

When actor Steven Lamprinos moved into the American Hotel in 1994, the idea was he’d save some money to start his own theater group. Staying for 12 years in the smallest room in the building was definitely not the plan! But Lamprinos has never regretted a minute of it. “Everything I do is formed from this place,” he says. “If I hadn’t gotten engaged in 2007, I’d probably still be here.” (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Emery Lambert: A Vignette (Interviewed Feb. 12, 2014)

One evening while filming “Tales of the American,” director Stephen Seemayer encountered an artist named Emery Lambert at the corner of Traction Avenue and 3rd Street. Lambert was in a wheelchair drawing pictures of Jesus to sell to passersby. Seemayer, ever ready with his Elph Powershot, filmed this short interview. (Click on photo to watch vignette.)

Lili Lakich (Interviewed March 27, 2014)

Neon artist Lili Lakich is an O.G. of the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District, having set up her studio on Traction Avenue in 1980, just as the art community was taking root. She has fabricated her glowing works there ever since, from intimate political pieces to mammoth public installations. Lakich also founded the Museum of Neon Art there and still teaches workshops in “all things neon” to students from all over the world. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Jake La Botz (Interviewed March 11, 2014)

As a bluesman from Chicago, Jake La Botz came to L.A. in 1996 hoping to kick heroin. When he moved into the American Hotel, “the dope spot was just down the street” and many of the residents had similar habits. In exchange for a room, La Botz played downstairs at Al’s Bar. After a few tries at rehab, he got clean and got busy. A favorite of blues and rockabilly fans, La Botz also acts in movies such as “Rambo” and "DOA" with John Doe. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Loretta Minjarez Kraft (Interviewed Jan. 31, 2015)

Loretta Minjarez came to the American Hotel in 1990 when she was hired to manage the tenants, help run the American Gallery, and step in when Al’s Bar needed tending. Though she was in her early 20s, she “felt like a parent sometimes” in dealing with the diverse creative personalities who called the American home. “I found my people,” Minjarez says, including filmmaker Chris Kraft, who she met in Al's Bar and married in 1996. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Faye Konrad (Interviewed April 12, 2014)

Faye Ochsenreiter grew up in a Pittsburgh but felt right at home when, in 2001 — while working as an insurance executive — she was introduced to L.A.’s Downtown Arts District. Ochsenreiter fell in love, not just with the community, but with painter Emmeric Konrad, who was living at the time in the American Hotel. One whirlwind romance and bohemian wedding later, Faye and Emmeric Konrad moved into a loft in the Old Bank District. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Emmeric Konrad (Interviewed Jan. 19, 2014)

In 1990, Emmeric Konrad was a student at Otis when he rented a loft in what would soon be called the Arts District. His youthful love of comic books blossomed into a successful career, and his paintings — marked by wit and grotesquely cartoonish imagery — are colorful, manic reflections of the DTLA community he called “a wild safari safe place for these critters called artists.” Konrad died in August 2022, survived by wife Faye. He was 58. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Alex Koiv (Interviewed Jan. 23, 2014)

Alex Koiv moved to Los Angeles because it was the city she hated so much that she knew she would be able to focus on her art there. Within days, she was a regular at the Clubhouse and Al’s Bar, where distractions abounded. Changing her medium from painting to metalwork, Koiv “found a home … people like me” in the Downtown Arts District, a community "where you could be completely free." (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Tim Keating (Interviewed May 7, 2014)

Artist Tim Keating moved to Los Angeles in 1982, convinced that “world culture would evolve on this stage before anywhere else.” He has worked toward that end ever since, and in 2002, he co-founded LADADSpace, a nonprofit supporting creative endeavors in the Downtown Arts District. Keating has helped bring world-renowned muralists to the area and raise money for arts programs from film production in the neighborhood. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Jen Kater (Interviewed April 24, 2014)

For nearly two years, aspiring actor and comedian Jen Kater worked her day job at the Novel Café on Traction Avenue in the Downtown L.A. Arts District. She found support for her dreams in the regulars she got to know there, many of whom were artists, writers, musicians and others who made her feel part of a creative community. After the Novel Café closed in November 2014, Kater found success as a comedic actor in movies and television. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

George Joaquim (Interviewed Jan. 4, 2014)

George Joaquim is a painter who moved into the American Hotel in 1988, attracted by its “bohemian milieu” and the creative community it housed. He quickly fell in with the artists of the 50 Bucks collective and got a job at Al’s Bar, working the door at the punk rock venue in the 1990s. “When you live at the American Hotel,” he says, “you tend to think of Al’s Bar as your living room.” (Click on photo to watch interview.)

Jonathan Jerald (Interviewed March 8, 2014)

While a producer for the History Channel, Jonathan Jerald rented a loft on East 3rd Street in the late 1990s. Quickly becoming a key member of the creative community, he founded LADADSpace, along with artists Tim Keating and Lucy Jensen. The nonprofit focuses on keeping art in the Arts District and has sponsored plays, festivals and artists’ grants. From 2012 to 2018 Jerald ran the District Gallery, featuring the work of local artists. (Click on photo to watch interview.)

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.)

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