Check out the latest news about "Tales of the American" and the Arts District community.
"Tales of the American" had a very successful run at the Downtown Independent, topped off with a special appearance on April 4 by Girl George, who played with her band, the Dragons, at the Redwood Bar after the movie. Filmmakers Pamela Wilson and Stephen Seemayer thank everyone who came to see the film.
Check back here about possible future screenings. "Tales of the American" will be available on DVD and streaming in July.
Girl George 'made an impression as herself that was larger than the material that she played or her performance.'
— Bob Cantu in "Tales of the American"
By Kevin Roderick April 2, 2018
There's a terrific new LA history documentary running through Thursday at the Downtown Independent. Tales of the American tells the origins of what we now call the Arts District through the hotel at the corner of Traction Avenue and Hewitt Street — it has gone under various names since it opened in 1905 as the first LA hotel for African Americans, but the name that has stuck is the American Hotel. It's been a center of African American night life, including the site of jazz clubs, and a Japanese American corner when Little Tokyo extended into the area. After the Japanese were interned during World War II, that part of LA became Bronzeville, home to thousands of black workers from the South.
The film documents the social and ownership changes through the years, but the driving energy is the story of the American as the vortex of the first Arts District east of Alameda Street — and as the home from 1980 to 2001 of Al's Bar, the legendary punk venue where a lot of Los Angeles musical history took place. Filmmakers Pamela Wilson and Stephen Seemayer, former residents and veterans of the first Arts District, gathered dozens of former residents and Al's Bar regulars to tell stories. The film picked up a new executive producer, the mystery novelist Michael Connelly, after the director's cut was screened last year. The final version includes interviews with photographer Gary Leonard, artists Richard Duardo, Colette Miller and Kent Twitchell, musicians who played Al's Bar, ex-bartenders and downtown fixtures. John Rabe of KPCC narrates the documentary.
This is the building where Pie Hole is located, across the street from Wurstkuche, and both symbols of the new gentrified Arts District came in for hissing from the opening night crowd of friends and family. But if you wondered why the street corner is named for the late Joel Bloom, and why there is a mural of Ed Ruscha on the side of the hotel, and why people still come looking for Al's Bar, "Tales of the American" will explain it for you.
An iconic part of the downtown landscape, his “Bride & Groom” has adorned the Victor Clothing Building on Broadway for more than four decades. Twitchell lived on the top floor while he was
working on it, paving the way for the historic building’s other creative tenants, such as artists Andy Wilf, Linda Frye Burnham and Richard Newton.
An avid movie buff, Twitchell moved to L.A. from Lansing, Mich., in the mid-1960s, after serving as an illustrator in the Air Force. He studied at Cal State L.A. and Otis Art Institute, all the while pioneering “street art” with murals featuring frank, bold portraits culled from popular culture.
His earliest efforts include stunning depictions of his movie heroes, Steve McQueen and Strother Martin. Both murals were completed in 1971 and still exist in their original locations.
Twitchell’s “Freeway Lady” graced the Hollywood Freeway in Echo Park for 12 years after its debut in 1974, before being illegally painted out in 1986. The
Afghan-draped woman was recently re-created at L.A. Valley College on Fulton Street in Valley Village.
From 1978 to 1987, Twitchell toiled on a labor of love, an imposing and impressive monument to one of the greats of Los Angeles art, painter Ed Ruscha. For nearly two decades, the portrait of a civic and national treasure confronted passersby from the building near 11th and Hill, only to be mistakenly painted out without warning in 2006.
Earlier this month, Kent Twitchell began installing his new “Ed Ruscha Monument” on the western wall of the American Hotel in the Arts District. His subject is depicted as older and perhaps wiser, peering over adjacent rooftops with laced fingers and an even, reassuring gaze.
In Michael Connelly’s new novel, “The Wrong Side of Goodbye,” iconic detective Harry Bosch follows the trail of his case into L.A.’s Arts District. He’s a private eye now, after being forced out of the LAPD, and his investigation draws him to Traction Avenue and landmarks such as the American Hotel and the triangle lot between 3rd & Rose.
Bosch is one of the great characters of mystery fiction, right up there with Philip Marlowe, and like Marlowe’s creator, Raymond Chandler, Connelly paints a haunting and vivid picture of Los Angeles and the Southland in all his Bosch books, including “The Wrong Side of Goodbye.” As the New York Times writes, “the settings will be etched into the Bosch road map of California life.”
Pamela Wilson and Stephen Seemayer, filmmakers of “Young Turks” and “Tales of the American,” are very proud and honored to have shared some insights with Michael Connelly in the preparation of this book.
“Tales of the American” is in post-production, but “Young Turks” can be viewed on all digital platforms, including Amazon Prime, which also is producing the TV series, “Bosch,” now filming its third season.
Coagula Art Journal was produced for many years in a small room at the American Hotel. Starting in 1992, Editor and Publisher Mat Gleason singlehandedly produced the rebellious, often controversial, underground take on the art world, distributing it free in galleries and museums throughout the Southland.
As a tenant of the hotel, Gleason says, “If someone wanted to put an ad in Coagula, they had to stand out in the street and yell up, ‘Mat! Mat!’ There was no email, there were no cellphones. It was like the 19th century.”
A few years ago, Gleason began publishing Coagula as a digital-only journal. Now it is now in print once again, and available all over the country.
Gleason also runs a Chinatown gallery, Coagula Guratorial, on Chung King Road.
In two recent articles, Los Angeles Times writer Carolina A. Miranda reminds Angelenos that there were artists, galleries and others in the Arts District before it was called the Arts District.
Stephen Seemayer, artist, filmmaker: "It was very bleak. There wasn’t crack yet. There wasn’t AIDS. But there was a sense of desolation. It was so desolate that even the cops didn’t really want to deal with you. I was 3 to 4 blocks away from the Newton Division and it’s famous in the LAPD. They were called the 'Shootin’ Newton.' I was like 22 at the time. I would be there at my studio and they’d see me out of my car and they’d roust me and said, 'What are you doing in this neighborhood?' And I’d say, 'I live here.' And they’d say, 'Get out!'"
Early in the production stage, filmmakers Pamela Wilson and Stephen Seemayer were interviewed by punk rock legend Girl George for her radio blog.
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