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Across Jan's counter, from Esotouric on Instagram.
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Gentle reader... 

Driving back to the Eastside along Beverly after an afternoon's fruitful archival sleuthing, we spied the cheery striped facade of Jan's Family Restaurant and knew we had to stop.

The preservation threat to Norms up on La Cienega has gotten a lot of press in recent weeks, but the news that another beloved mid-city diner was on the ropes has mainly filtered out through the neighborhood grapevine. Jan's was busy enough when we walked in that we gave up on being seated by a host and perched ourselves at the counter. 

From this vantage, we watched the proud short order cooks turning out dish after dish of photo-ready comfort food and the swift servers whispering their concerns across the stainless steel, their elegant movements punctuated by occasional gusts of steam. 

We thought about the generations of Angelenos who had rested their elbows just so, and how there is something in the architecture of a diner counter that frees strangers to make conversation. Where else can a solo diner feel as comfortable? The solitary guy next to us was horrified to hear Jan's was ticking out its last days, and wasn't at all sure he'd tell his wife, resting up for surgery in a bed at Cedars Sinai. The couple down the way marveled that they'd come here on their first date, 54 years ago, around the time poor Gail Russell drove drunk through the front window, and that they'd miss Jan's very much. 

We worried we might be too sad to eat, but when our meals arrived -- Tuna Melt for Richard, Eggs Florentine for Kim -- we tucked in with delight. And when we looked up from our plates, we found the restaurant was packed with an SRO crowd, several of them ladies of a certain age, using walkers. 

Everyone was talking to each other, and the subject was what you'd expect. This was their local, it was going away, and it was terrible. The only small mercy was that many of the staff would be moving over to the owner's other diner, Astro in Los Feliz. But this might as well be on Mars for most of Jan's regular patrons.

When we asked, we were told that Jan's is closing, not due to the usual unsustainable rent increase or development-minded property owner, but because longtime owner Harry Siafaris is very hands on, and wants to devote his energy to Astro.  

These are hard times for the simple, traditional pleasures of our city, and for the ordinary folks who rely on them. And the narratives of loss are rarely as simple as good guys versus bad, little people versus big. 

When you make your last pilgrimage to Jan's, which you may do through this Sunday, consider this forgotten bit of Los Angeles lore… 

In 1984, when Harry Siafaris purchased Jan's from founder Jerry Cohn, he did so because his Astro restaurant at 6th & Vermont had been demolished over seismic concerns. He had a loyal staff to worry about, and brought them over to Beverly Boulevard. Jerry Cohn said he'd simply assumed his elderly unionized waitresses would be kept on. But they were all let go, and Jan's patrons were aghast to see their favorite servers marching the sidewalk in their familiar polka dotted uniforms, carrying signs reading RESPECT SENIOR CITIZENS - BOYCOTT JAN'S RESTAURANT. The National Organization for Women (NOW) joined the fight, and many regulars refused to cross the picket line.

Photo: Los Angeles Times

But Harry Siafaris held firm. He had his own menu and cooks and servers who knew his business. His Jan's was a new thing in an old shell. The self-proclaimed "granny waitresses" tired of marching and moved on. Jan's built up a new clientele, and somewhere along the line, lost much of its 1950s vintage style. And now, after 31 years, its day is done. 

Goodbye Jan's, in all your complexity. We love you. And Los Angeles is diminished by your loss.

We're off the bus this weekend, but will be at the teaching crime labs of Cal State Los Angeles on Sunday for the quarterly LAVA forensic science seminar, this one a cracker of a program called Hot Lead and Hot Leads. Join us, do! 
COMING SOON
 
PASADENA CONFIDENTIAL WITH CRIMEBO THE CLOWN - SAT. 3/21... The Crown City masquerades as a calm and refined retreat, where well-bred ladies glide around their perfect bungalows and everyone knows what fork to use first. But don't be fooled by appearances. Dip into the confidential files of old Pasadena and meet assassins and oddballs, kidnappers and slashers, Satanists and all manner of maniac in a delightful little tour you WON'T find recommended by the better class of people! From celebrated cases like the RFK assassination (with a visit to Sirhan Sirhan's folks' house), Eraserhead star Jack Nance's strange end, black magician/rocket scientist Jack Parsons' death-by-misadventure and the 1926 Rose Parade grand stand collapse, to fascinating obscurities, the tour's dozens of murders, arsons, kidnappings, robberies, suicides, auto wrecks and oddball happening sites provide a alternate history of Pasadena that's as fascinating as it is creepy. Passengers will tour the old Millionaire's Row on Orange Grove, thrill to the shocking Sphinx Murder on the steps of the downtown Masonic Hall and discover why people named Judd should think twice before moving to Pasadena. (Buy tickets here.)

HOLLYWOOD! - SAT. 3/28... A brand new bus adventure! Climb aboard the Esotouric crime bus and discover the unwritten history of the sleepy suburb that birthed the American dream factory. From literary lions to criminal masterminds, terror plots to teenage thrill seekers, music mavens to abiding mysteries, the neighborhood is packed to the rim with with fascinating lore and architectural marvels. You won’t see the stars’ homes or hear about their latest real estate deals, but we’ll show you where some colorful characters breathed their last, got into trouble that defined the rest of their lives and came up with ideas that the world is still talking about. So for unforgettable stories you won’t hear on anyone else’s Hollywood tour, climb aboard and discover the secret heart of the city we love. Tour stops include Crossroads of the World (Robert V. Derrah, 1936), the Château Élysée (Arthur E. Harvey, 1927) and the sites of the legendary Garden of Allah hotel and Schwab’s Drugstore. (Buy tickets here.)

HOTEL HORRORS & MAIN STREET VICE - SAT. 4/11... From the founding of the city through the 1940s, downtown was the true center of Los Angeles, a lively, densely populated, exciting and sometimes dangerous place. After many quiet decades, downtown is making an incredible return. But while many of the historic buildings remain, their human context has been lost. This downtown double feature tour is meant to bring alive the old ghosts and memories that cling to the streets and structures of the historic core, and is especially recommended for downtown residents curious about their neighborhood's neglected history. (Buy tickets here.) 

THE REAL BLACK DAHLIA - SAT. 4/18... Join us on this iconic, unsolved Los Angeles murder mystery tour, from the throbbing boulevards of a postwar Downtown to the quiet suburban avenue where horror came calling. After multiple revisions, this is less a true crime tour than a social history of 1940s Hollywood female culture, mass media and madness, and we welcome you to join us for the ride. This tour always sells out, so do not delay. (Buy tickets here.) 

ECHO PARK BOOK OF THE DEAD - SAT. 4/25... New from the deranged minds of Esotouric, an historical crime bus tour meant to honor the lost souls who wander the hills and byways of the "streetcar suburbs" (Echo Park, Silver Lake, Elysian Park, Angeleno Heights) that hug Sunset Boulevard. Climb aboard to see seemingly ordinary houses, streets and commercial buildings revealed as the scenes of chilling crimes and mysteries, populated by some of the most fascinating people you'd never want to meet. Featured cases include Edward Hickman's kidnapping of little Marion Parker and the bizarre "Man in the Attic" love nest slaying, plus dozens of incredible, forgotten tales of Angelenoes in peril. Guests will also see some of the most beautiful historic architecture in Los Angeles, including a visit to Sister Aimee Semple McPherson's exquisite Parsonage, her one-time home, now a museum. (Buy tickets here.)

CHARLES BUKOWSKI'S LOS ANGELES - SAT. 5/2... Come explore Charles Bukowski's lost Los Angeles and the fascinating contradictions that make this great local writer such a hoot to explore. Haunts of a Dirty Old Man is a raucous day out celebrating liquor, ladies, pimps and poets. The tour includes a visit to Buk's DeLongpre bungalow, where you'll see the Cultural-Historic Monument sign that we helped to get approved, and a mid-tour provisions stop at Pink Elephant Liquor. (Buy tickets here.)

RAYMOND CHANDLER'S LOS ANGELES - SAT. 5/9... Join us for a journey from the downtown of Chandler's pre-literary youth (but which always lingered at the fore of his imagination) to the Hollywood of his greatest success, with a stop along the way at Tai Kim's Scoops for unexpected gelato creations inspired by the author. We'll start the tour following in the young Chandler's footsteps, as he roamed the blocks near the downtown oil company office where he worked. See sites from The Lady in the Lake and The Little Sister, discover the real Philip Marlowe (the inspiration for Kim's novel The Kept Girl) and get the skinny on Chandler's secret comic operetta that we discovered in the Library of Congress nearly a century after it was written. (Buy tickets here.)

SPECIAL EVENT: CRAWLING DOWN CAHUENGA: TOM WAITS' L.A. - SAT. 5/16... In our very occasional guest tour series, a delightful excursion that only comes around once a year, the Tom Waits bus adventure hosted by acclaimed rock critic David Smay (Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, Swordfishtrombones). This voyage through the city that shaped one of our most eclectic musical visionaries starts in Skid Row and rolls through Hollywood and Echo Park, spotlighting the sites where Waits was transformed through the redemptive powers of love and other lures: the Tropicana Motel, Francis Coppola's Zoetrope Studios, the raunchy Ivar Theatre and so much more. Join us for a great day out in 1970s Los Angeles celebrating the music, the culture and the passions of Tom Waits. (Buy tickets here.)
SUPPORT OUR WORK
If you enjoy all we do to celebrate and preserve Los Angeles history and would like to say thank you, please consider putting a little something into our digital tip jar. Your contributions are never obligatory, but always appreciated.
 
yrs,
Kim and Richard
Esotouric
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RECOMMENDED READING
As L.A. bids farewell to beloved counter-service joints like Jan's and Twain's, and frets about the future of the vintage Googie Norms, why not catch up on the history of the American diner, in Richard Gutman's landmark illustrated study?
A novel set in 1929 Los Angeles, starring the young Raymond Chandler, his devoted secretary and the real-life Philip Marlowe in pursuit of a murderous cult of angel worshippers. Available on all Esotouric tours, or direct from Esotouric Ink, from Amazon and for the Kindle.
A collaboration between illustrator Paul Rogers and our own Kim Cooper, featuring 50 iconic noir locations and packed with surprising lore and gorgeous artwork inspired by the vintage Dell Mapback mysteries of the 1940s. Available from Kim or Amazon, and on our tours. (Looking for Aaron Blake's out-of-print 1985 map? Click here.)
FORENSIC SCIENCE SEMINARS
Four times a year, we gather in the teaching crime labs of Cal State Los Angeles under the direction of Professor Donald Johnson to explore the history and future of American forensic science. Your $36.50 ticket to the Hot Lead and Hot Leads presentation benefits graduate level Criminalistics research. Join us on Sunday, March 15. For more info, or to reserve, click here.
FROM THE VIDEO VAULT
Now on the Esotouric blog, a virtual visit to Clifton's Cafeteria, circa 2010. Click here to see.
In the latest edition of You Can't Eat the Sunshine, episode #100(!!), we dig Downey's vintage McDonald's drive in, and how artists are interpreting the complex narratives of water use in Southern California. Click here to tune in.
Help bring an L.A. icon back from the dead. Join the campaign to restore John Parkinson's 1910 design for our greatest lost park.
The LAVA Sunday Salon is our monthly cultural clearing house of new ideas presented by LAVA Visionaries, the most fascinating folks in town. Back from hiatus, the Sunday Salon returns on March 29 with LAVA Visionary of the Year for 2015 Nathan Marsak on L.A.'s lost Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. Free, reservations required.
We discovered Raymond Chandler's most delightful literary secret. Now we need your help to stage his comic operetta in Los Angeles!
Need an L.A.-centric gift in a hurry? Visit The Esotouric Emporium of L.A. Lore, our curated guide to the best in regional books, films and artifacts. How about a gift certificate for a bus adventure into the secret heart of Los Angeles, a solo 6-Pack or shareable 12-Pack? We also carry vintage photos of lost Bunker Hill as well as earlier scenes, Charles Bukowski-inspired fine art prints, Raymond Chandler maps (vintage) or (contemporary) and 76 ball antenna toppers.
AND FINALLY, LINKS

Sleuthing Hot Curl.

Primitive, but sweet. It's Rehearsal Time, a little remnant of what live local TV looked like in Los Angeles in September 1949.

For the birds.

Do you know me?

The Charnock Block abides.

A beguiling visit to the map cave.

The #SaveTacoBell campaign is preservation without tears. 

You can't take 'em with you.

Confidential to the Plaza excavators: the whole world is watching.

Help tell the untold stories of the women of Skid Row. Support the Game Girls project, from the director of the astonishing Songs from the Nickel.

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