Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Touring The NoMad Hotel, or... The Bank of Italy is alive, alive!

Three years ago, on the occasion of the announcement of its sale, I wrote a post entitled "A Conjurer's Guide to Lost Los Angeles" about the derelict Bank of Italy building (above), and how I'd had to rely on vintage photographs, stray glances through dirty windows and my imagination to use it as a setting in The Kept Girl.

Since that time, the Downtown landmark where Raymond Chandler worked as an oil executive has been lovingly restored and creatively reimagined for its new life, not as a bank and office building, but as a high-end NoMad hotel, with several restaurants and bars within.

Last week, I had the opportunity to finally set foot inside the building that holds such a particular place in my heart, as Carolyn Schneider, NoMad's Director of Guest Experience, graciously gave a tour of the public and private spaces.

My first reaction on stepping into the ornate lobby was to stop dead and make a joke about experiencing Stendhal Syndrome. But I wasn't entirely joking: it was startling to see in full, glorious color the elaborate ceiling that I know so well from the black and white images from opening day 1923. Time travel should be disorienting.

But there was more to see and no time for swooning. Come with me on a walk through a landmark brought back from the dead, through the subtle restoration work of Killefer Flammang Architects and the stylistic flair of interior designer Jacques Garcia.

As I explored, the burning question on my mind was: does Raymond Chandler's spirit still linger within? Answer: could be! Read on to see for yourself.
The historic basement vault is repurposed as public restrooms.
Locking wheels on the back of the vault door.
Emerald curtains hang in the mezzanine (originally the ladies banking department).

Looking down from the mezzanine to the 7th Street doors.
Jewel tones and fine finishes show great respect to the building's elegant bones.
While writing The Kept Girl, I agonized over the location and appearance of these elevators. 
A ship detail on the elevator door evokes the golden age of Italian exploration .
The view of 7th & Olive Streets from a corner room.
Looking north from the rooftop at James Oviatt's Art Deco penthouse and elevator tower. 
The once utilitarian roof now has a pool with a weird
fireplace inspired by the Italian Mannerist Gardens of Bomarzo.
Windows gaping, for years the building was home only to pigeons.
It seems they still think of it as home.
Spotted on the mezzanine: a framed copy of a 1970s motion picture tie-in edition of
Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. (Bob Mitchum is Philip Marlowe.) 
The author, mid-swoon, looks forward to returning.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Kept Girl Kept Days book sale - ebook and Paperback editions (8/29 - 9/4)

When I plotted The Kept Girl, I chose to set the action over seven sweltering summer days in late August/early September, 1929.  

To commemorate the fourth occurrence of this literary anniversary since publication, the ebook edition is on sale for .99 cents direct from Esotouric.   

Not an ebook reader? Save $5 off the paperback in the Esotouric Shop with the discount code "asmartgirl".  

Read Chapter One to get a taste, and see some reviews here. I hope you'll take advantage of the Kept Days Sale (August 29 - September 4, 2017)--and please, tell a book-loving friend.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The clews from Raymond Chandler’s war

Decades after his death, and with a shelf full of biographies, Raymond Chandler still hasn’t given up the last of his secrets. 

I know, because my own Chandler research sent me down the rabbit hole that ended in discovery of The Princess and the Pedlar, a comic operetta in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan that Chandler wrote in collaboration with Julian Pascal, the husband of Cissy, the woman who would become Chandler’s wife and lifelong muse.

The operetta was finished, or close to it, in summer 1917, when Chandler resigned his bookkeeping job at the Los Angeles Creamery and travelled to Vancouver. 

There he volunteered for the Canadian Expeditionary Force, which offered him a starting weekly benefit of $15, which he assigned to his mother, Florence. The money was sent to her new Los Angeles address, at 127 South Vendome Street, the residence of Julian and Cissy Pascal.

There was room for a boarder at 127 Vendome, because Gordon Pascal, Julian’s 20-year-old son by a previous marriage, also joined the CEF. He stood as his best friend Ray’s witness, and Ray his, as each took the oath of faith and allegiance to King George V, His Heirs and Successors. Gordon, British born, likely meant it, but I wonder if Ray was just going through the motions. But  in signing up, he ensured his mother’s support, and his own absence from a personal situation that had apparently become untenable.  

It’s startling to think of Raymond Chandler, whose brain would give us Philip Marlowe and so many deathless observations about Los Angeles, crossing the Atlantic to serve as cannon fodder in the war to end all wars. But there it is in elegant ink on Manila paper: Chandler, Raymond Thornton, Private in the 50th Regiment Reinforcements. 

And also, the declaration that he did not know if his father, the drunken Quaker railroad man who had abandoned the family and set Chandler on his own weird, stateless path, was alive or dead. (Maurice Chandler was in fact, still living.)

Private Raymond Chandler might so easily have died himself. Not just in battle, although the war was terrible for the Canadian Expeditionary Force, but of illness.

And indeed, his recently digitized military records reveal two bouts with influenza during the peak of the deadly pandemic. 

Chandler was sent to the infirmary twice in England, in July and October 1918. Each time, he recovered after six days. Millions of young people were not as hardy. Among the artists who succumbed in Europe, the painter Egon Schiele died October 31, 1918, poet Guillaume Apollinaire nine days later. 

Chandler was not previously known to be a survivor of the Spanish Flu, and I have added his name to Wikipedia’s list of notables who fought off their infection.

It’s interesting to note that his medical records show no affection of the Genito Urinary system, that is no infectious hangovers from the erotic adventures typical of soldiers facing death. His apparent chastity supports the theory that Chandler went to war because he was in love with Cissy and didn’t want to break up the Pascal marriage. 

There is another surprise to be found in Chandler’s wartime records. With my discovery of The Princess and the Pedlar, it wouldn’t be too unexpected if this full-time bookkeeper and amateur librettist chose to give his peacetime occupation as “writer” or “playwright.” 

But at the induction center in Vancouver, Raymond Chandler proudly declared himself to be a Journalist. 

It was in this analytic mindset that he set off on the great and terrible adventure that shaped his life in ways we will never know. But it is only from war that could come understanding of the deep masculine friendships that make The Long Goodbye his greatest book. The self-destructive drinking, the inability to handle stress and creative deadlines, may have had their roots here, too. 

And most profoundly, the decision to return to Los Angeles—to break up the Pascal marriage and to take gallant responsibility for the older, infirm Cissy until death did they part—must have been made in Europe. 

Perhaps he decided in the enlisted men’s infirmary in late October, returning to consciousness after days of delirium, and realizing that no matter how hard he tried, he wasn’t going to die young and heroic on a foreign shore. 

There was something bigger waiting for him among the palm trees and the oil seeps. So Raymond Chandler went home.

Written on the occasion of the writer’s 129th birthday, at El Sereno, Los Angeles

Friday, February 3, 2017

Kim Cooper on the Secret Library Podcast: weird crime, Raymond Chandler, archives & induced hallucinations

I was honored when Caroline Donahue recently invited me to appear on her literary podcast, The Secret Library, a congenial place where writers can let their hair down for an audience of readers and fellow scribes. 

Episode 36 is out now, featuring a wide-ranging conversation about using historic crimes and personalities in fiction, the subscription publishing model, research methods, channeling the voices of Raymond Chandler and his friends through induced hallucinations, historic preservation, the weird side of Los Angeles and more.

Give a listen on the podcast page or over on iTunes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Presenting: How To Find Old Los Angeles, a guidebook to the city that was... and still is!

I'm pleased to announce the release of How To Find Old Los Angeles, my second title from Herb Lester, the stylish London-based publishers of travel guides and folding maps too pretty to make notes on. Included are 153 historic places that will delight any seeker of cool, old Los Angeles.

Two years ago, I had the great honor to be asked to write the text for Paul Rogers' fold-out Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles. Like the map and my novel The Kept Girl (also with artwork by Paul Rogers), How To Find Old Los Angeles is available as a souvenir when you join us for an Esotouric bus adventure, or from Esotouric by mail. You can also find it wherever fine paperback books are sold, on Amazon or the bookstore supporting Bookshop site and direct from Herb Lester.

From the introduction: Los Angeles, its critics say, has no more respect for its past than for an empty paper cup. Like most digs aimed at the Big Orange, this simply isn’t true. All across its 503 square miles and 88 municipalities, you can find thriving historic establishments, dishing out chili dogs and cheesecakes, sidecars and self-realization, all with a heaping side of Southern California soul. This book is intended as a pocket guide to worthy pockets of old Los Angeles commerce and culture, from La Puente to La Cienega, Pacific Coast Highway to Hollywood Boulevard. It includes bakeries, bars, bookshops, bowling alleys and many fine things that don't begin with the letter B. Some of these iconic sites are featured on my Esotouric bus tours; others are personal favorites. Each one is a stamp in the informal passport of the true Angeleno.

To get your copy: click here, or join us on the bus.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Celebrating Raymond Chandler's 128th birthday with a noir book and bus tour sale

On July 23, 1888, Raymond Thornton Chandler was born in Chicago, a smart, sensitive kid dealt a strange deck that would, in time, make him the great chronicler of the dark side of the California dream.

Join me in celebrating the master's 128th birthday with a week-long sale on noirish things that you can enjoy in person or in the privacy of your own head.

From July 23-29, 2016:

  • Take $12.80* off on tickets on Esotouric's July 30 edition of the Raymond Chandler's L.A. bus tour with the discount code redwind
  • Take $12.80* off on tickets on Esotouric's The Birth of Noir bus tour on 9/10 with the discount code haytruck
  • The Kindle edition of my mystery novel The Kept Girl, starring the young Chandler on the trail of a murderous cult of angel worshippers, is on sale starting at 99¢. Use the discount code gimlet for $5 off the paperback edition. Read Chapter One to get a taste, and see some reviews here. I hope you'll take advantage of the Raymond Chandler birthday sale--and please, tell a noir-loving friend.

* Restrictions: These discount codes expire at midnight, 7/29. Limit four tickets per purchaser, but you may share the codes with friends. This discount can only be used on the tours listed above; if you need to reschedule, you may apply what you paid towards a full-priced ticket on a later regularly scheduled tour date. Discount cannot be combined with any other offer. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Noir scribes canoodle at the 37th Annual Los Angeles Vintage Paperback Show

It was a packed house at the Glendale Civic Auditorium on April 3 as collectors of pulp fiction, vintage paperbacks, weird art and exploitation converged for the annual Vintage Paperback Show.

Up on the author table,  between signing copies of their books and anthologies, two writers whose beat is the noir side of Los Angeles now (Denise Hamilton) and then (Kim Cooper) shared notes on vintage perfume, bizarre translation errors and and pleasures of the vendor tables.

Put the Vintage Paperback Show on your calendar; it's a blast!