Tag Archives: Pico House

Surviving (and ENJOYING) Jury Duty in Downtown LA!

I recently had the experience of having to do jury duty and…. had a great time!  I am one of those “lucky” people who have actually gotten called for jury duty three times in the last three years.  Yes, I have gotten out of it in the past with legitimate reasons I was unable to serve.  This time, however, I gave it a go.  Okay, I did try to get out of it a few times until it got to the point that trying to get out of jury duty was more of a nuisance than actually serving jury duty.
So, to show off the bright spots of jury duty and to provide you with a jury duty survival guide, I wanted to create this post.  If you’re on this site, I imagine you are interested in ghost stories, local history, crime history, Los Angeles and visiting museums.  If you keep an eye on these themes, then serving jury duty is downright exciting!  I know that sounds like BS, but stay with me here.

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The first part of jury duty and truly the only part that most people experience is being in the “jury pool.”  It’s just a big waiting room full of people hanging out.  Honestly, is that so bad?  Most people keep themselves busy with their iPads, phones, laptops, etc.  There is Wi-Fi, so it’s not a bad way to get some work done.  I, on the other hand, did a lot of reading.  I got deep into a fascinating book on the Prohibition era that deserve its own blog entry.  However, if you are serving jury duty in downtown LA, I would strongly suggest reading “A Bright and Guilty Place: Murder, Corruption & LA’s Scandalous Coming of Age.”  This amazing book covers the frequently lawless and corrupt age of life in Los Angeles, a town that was growing faster than its infrastructure was ready for. The book covers topics like the Castaic Damn disaster and Clara Bow’s blackmail case.
Back to jury duty.  Each day you get a 90-minute lunch.  That’s crazy!  What’s more crazy is that most people stay local or even eat in the building.  In 90 minutes, you can walk to a lot of great places, taking a nice tour in the process.

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 photo 20150507_121159_zpsu7jdkx7v.jpgAfter giving quite a few tours and frequently losing tour members to Mr. Churro, I decided that this was finally my time to check the place out.  Leaving 210 W. Temple (pictured, top with the white Pico House building visible on the far right) and walking North up Spring Street, you get a lot of great views of the Pueblo de Los Angeles area (pictured directly above).  This is our destination and also where the city of Los Angeles was born.  On your left, you walk past the largest cement military memorial in all of America, a tribute to the Mormon Battalion and the site of Fort Moore (pictured right).
 photo 20150507_120952_zpsazqueuok.jpgCrossing the next overpass gives you a great perspective on exactly how much of the original Moore Hill (specifically the land that was Moore Hill Cemetery) was dug out to make room for the 101 freeway.  Yes, in a tale straight from the movie Poltergeist, a cemetery was moved (said bodies are now located in Rosedale Cemetery in the West Adams neighborhood, by the way).  Yes, there was a school (that crazy stainless steel building) that was built on a former cemetery and yes, that is a haunted building.  Bodies from the original cemetery were found on this site from the original cemetery as recently as 2009.
Continuing down Spring, you’ll eventually make a right at the corner of Spring and Ord.  This is the site where, not all that long ago really, LA was gripped by the possibility that huge quantities of buried treasure was hidden underground throughout LA.  Who put this treasure here?  A now extinct species of 6 foot tall reptiles, of course (this is a true and strange footnote in LA’s already strange enough history).

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Now turning the corner and heading through Chinatown, you get a nice look at the ornate dragons that keep watch over the neighborhood before walking a couple more blocks to Olivera Street.
 photo 20150507_122756_zpsrsl8r5gx.jpgGetting here has only taken about 15-20 minutes out of the 90 minute lunch, so there’s even time to visit the free Old Plaza Fire House museum (pictured left, with City Hall in the background on the right edge of frame), which is really not much of a museum, but you do get to enter one of the original fire stations in LA and see some of the vintage fire fighting gear and impressive photos of the LAFD in action through the years.
To read more about this haunted history of the Pueblo de Los Angeles including Pico House, the Avila Adobe (also a free location to visit) and La Gondoloria Resuaturant, check out my article here.
I grabbed my lunch to go (it did live up to the hype) and walked back to and past the courthouse building to have lunch in LA’s Grand Park.  It’s no Grant Park in Chicago or Central Park in New York, but the city has done a lot to create a gorgeous, large park right in the middle of this portion of the city.  In addition to a nice aesthetic, there are exhibits worth viewing including quotes and pictures from survivors the Armenian Genocide (pictured below, right with City Hall looming in the center of the image and the criminal courts building on the left).
 photo IMG_2695_zps5skjclan.jpgDay 1 ended with me actually getting assigned to a case.  Though most cases are only 1-2 days, this one was estimated to take 6 days if I was selected to the jury.  This was not a lock as I was one of about 50 people to make it to this stage.

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Day 2

My second day of jury duty started around 11am or so and after just 60 minutes of jury duty, it was time for my 90 minute lunch.  It’s amazing anything gets done, really.

Unfortunately, on this day it was raining, so I decided to see what fun I could have in the building. Unfortunately there is no top floor observation deck, but I did find a museum-caliber display covering both the 17th and 18th floor of the building. It’s amazing!
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The displays are floor-to-ceiling and do cover every lady square inch of the walls on the two floors. The display is a timeline of crime in LA (technically, it’s about the district attorney’s office, since we are on the floor the D.A. is on).

 photo 20150508_124844_zpsm7rham6o.jpgThe perspective is interesting, looking at the history of Los Angeles as it relates to crime, from the 1871 Chinese Massacre through the Griffith J. Griffith attempted murder case in 1903, the 1910 LA Times building bombing, Bugsy and Mickey’s Mafia control in the ’30s, the career-ruining Pantages trials the Manson Family trial, through the modern age of the LA Riots and the OJ trial.  Among the more well-known stories are some tremendous events that today are largely forgotten.
Did you know that there were sea battles just a few miles beyond the Santa Monica Pier between authorities and floating casinos?  It’s a saga that went on for years and somehow we haven’t seen a movie based on these events yet(?).  Tony Stralla’s name appears on these walls a couple of times.  Before he went on to create the Stardust Casino on the Vegas strip, he was a prohibition-era bootlegger and casino operator in the soutland.

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This location also ties in beautifully with the afore-mentioned book, “A Bright and Guilty Place,” as pretty much every event covered in the book also appears on these walls, as well as personalities like Dave Clark (an LA City prosecutor who got his hands dirty and bloody more than once) and Burton Fitts.
LA’s DA office is about to move to another building, so this exhibit will not be here forever, so whether or not you have jury duty, this is a public building, so make sure you make time soon to go up and walk these halls.
Another must-do in this area is check out the observation deck on the LA City Hall building located just across the street from the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, named after the first female lawyer on the west coast.
 photo dd5f032c-321b-439a-8a36-385a14e11d60_zpsni4d9tzn.jpgJury duty or not, this location offers some of the best views of downtown LA and is a must visit.  Sadly, the view towards the Hollywood Sign and the Griffith Observatory is frequently obscured by smog and other larger buildings in the area block some other ideal sites, but it’s still well worth the visit.  West Hollywood, the Brewery artists lofts and, much closer Broadway and the Walt Disney Concert Hall.  This is specifically a way to handle jury duty here in downtown LA, but when it comes down to it, no matter where you are, you can find an interesting way to entertain yourself.  Turn it into an opportunity.  How often do you have 90 minutes to kill away from home?  We’re always in a rush nowadays and you can use this time to your personal benefit.  The fact that you’re also pridefully doing your duty as a US citizen…. also a nice perk.
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Photos: LA & Hollywood Ghost Tour at night!

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We recently conducted a private ghost tour of LA and Hollywood. During our escapades, these night time photos were taken. The above picture was the result of an impatient photographer (me) who set the shutter to be open far longer than the camera could be held motionless for. However, in all the eerie-ness that is the Knickerbocker Hotel, from love-lost-suicides to Houdini seances, this is a perfect representation of one of the most epically and historically haunted buildings in Hollywood.

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If the Pico House looks imposing in this picture, it should. This area witnessed the tragedies of the Chinese massacre and currently holds a violent and physically active spirit.

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In the heart of Hollywood stands a building that represents Hollywood’s heart. After all, this is where a young Marilyn Monroe did her first photoshoot. Since then, she went all over the world, becoming one of the most iconic actors of all time. However, it is here that she returned. People can still catch a glimpse of her in her personal mirror, now on display for all to see.

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There appears to be a storm gathering over the Jim Henson studios, but the biggest storm was a storm of creativity that happened here after Charlie Chaplin built this lot in 1917. His most well-loved films were shot here including “The Kid,” “City Lights” and “The Great Dictator.” Any place that has housed so much creative energy for 100+ years is bound to house some spirits and this place delivers.

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Hollywood is a town built on passion and dreams and long shots. Unfortunately, that means that it’s also a town built on shattered dreams. One dream died in this lobby when Sam Warner, one of the famed Warner Brothers, collapsed. He died shortly thereafter due to a cerebral hemorrhage that stemmed from an untreated sinus infection. What made the tragedy even more extreme was that his death happened the day before the premiere of “The Jazz Singer,” which was the first ever talkie and also cemented his company as a major Hollywood Player

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The Formosa Cafe, which was originally just this train car, holds countless Mafia secrets over the years. Since it’s located across the street from a studio, the clientele was and still is, largely famous actors. Who are the shadow people that now call this location home? Victims who fell on the wrong side of the mob or some of the many people who loved this place dearly in life?

Check out the reservations tab to book your ghost tour today!  You will see all of the sites shown here and dozens more!


The ghosts of Pueblo de Los Angeles… our tour starting point

Our weekly tour starts where LA started: the first settlement in what would become Los Angeles.  The area is full of history, both positive and very dark.  This location boasts at least three haunted sites (Pico House, La Gondoloria Cafe and the Avila Adobe) as well as the site of over a dozen executions that happened during the Chinese Massacre of 1871.

Los Angeles began at this site, inauspiciously, in 1781 when 11 Spanish families settled at this site, having crossed the Gulf of California.  Spain, have initially viewed California by ship 200 years earlier, felt it was time to develop California before Russia or France attempted to claim it.  The translated initial name for this settlement was “The Town of the Queen of Angels.”  The design of these original streets, emanating from this location at 45-degree angels to compass directions, is still how downtown LA streets operate today.

Three years later a mission was built.  This mission crumbled over time due to disuse.  In 1814 a Catholic church, The Church of the Queen of Angels, was built on the site, using much of the original building material.  It still stands today and was one of the first LA sites designated a cultural monument in LA.

Of course, over time, this land went from Spanish to Mexican and finally, American.  The neighborhood in this area has a long history of being occupied by different ethic groups.  For a large amount of time, in the 1800s and early 1900s, it was part of Chinatown.  Even today, the borders of Chinatown are nearby, but further north.

Avila Adobe

 photo IMG_2489_zps01212af3.jpgLocated on Olvera Street, this is the oldest standing residence in Los Angeles.  The house was built in 1818.  The house was built traditionally for the time and culture, originally featuring a flat, tarred roof, utilizing tar from the La Brea Tar Pits, which was grazing land for cattle rancher Francisco Avila.

This house was Avila’s family’s home, though he himself only visited the home on weekends.  However, it was also a grand house to entertain friends, which the Avila family did frequently.  Though, no battle took place here, American troops did take over the house for use as a headquarters until the Treaty of Cahuenga was signed.

Massive earthquakes in 1870 and 1971 damaged the frail house, making it uninhabitable for large stretches of time.  Today, thanks to tremendous preservation and construction efforts, a seven-room portion of the house has been restored and, can be visited daily and for free.

Avila Adobe Haunted photo IMG_2464_zpsb3acb4ce.jpgToday the home is not only frequented by guests, but also by original owner Francisco Avila, who is said to talk the halls and plaza, continuing to look over his impressive homestead and the village he once presided over as mayor.  In addition to being seen clearly, people have also heard footsteps wandering the halls of the house and observed shadow people throughout.

Avila’s first wife, Maria, died in 1822.  He later remarried to a woman named Encarnacion.  It is Encarnacion’s ghost that is said to also inhabit the house long after her 1855 death.  Some witnesses have seen a female form sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch while others have heard the sound of feminine crying within the home, apparently coming from the master bedroom (seen above).

 La Gondoloria Mexican Cafe

LaGolondrina Haunts photo LaGolondrina_zps4f010920.pngAcross Olvera Street from the Avila Adobe is La Gondoloria Mexican Café.  The building itself was built in the mid 1850s.  However, the current incarnation opened in the 1920s in LA’s first brick building, this is the first Mexican restaurant in LA and is still under the operation of the original family.

LaGolondrina ghosts photo LaGolondrina2_zps98001527.pngI had lunch at this location recently and, after eating and snooping around as much as possible, I introduced myself to one of their managers to inquire about their ghost stories.  Though this manager was relatively new, he did joyfully proclaim “I’ve heard we’re one of the 12 most haunted buildings in LA!”  He has heard stories from maintenance workers that their tools will move around, thoroughly spooking the contractors.

He went on to talk about the original owner being a wine maker.  The fireplace and several aspects of the building still represent different aspects of the wine making process.  Additionally, there’s a large beam in the middle of the main dining room that is actually the recovered mast from a ship that ran aground near the Port of Los Angeles.

The most famous ghost at this location is a woman in white seen walking from the main floor up the staircase to the offices.

Pico House

Pico House haunts photo IMG_2494_zpse7613bb0.jpgThe largest building on the site is the Pico House, a building once considered the most luxurious hotel in Los Angeles.  The building was constructed in 1870 by successful businessman and the last governor of Los Angeles while under Mexican rule, Pio Pico.

The Pico House was an immediate success for years upon it’s opening.  The 82-room hotel was in high demand through 1900 when the business center of the city shifted south.  It was this shift that ended the glory days for this area.  Pico House, like the other buildings mention in this entry, was eventually abandoned and suffered from neglect.

However, the glory days of this town were not so glorious.  Just days after the city of Chicago burned to the ground in the great fire, a different kind of fire would rage in Los Angeles.  A fire made up of vengeance and anger.

Two warring Chinese immigrant associations were battling each other when Jesus Bilderrain, one of only six police officers in Los Angeles, arrived to investigate the sound of gunfire.  He found one Chinese gang member bleeding in the street when he was struck by a non-fatal bullet in the shoulder.  Nearby tavern owner, Robert Thompson, came to aid and was eventually shot in the chest upon taking chase.  A city already rife with prejudice against Asians, exploded.  A mob stormed Chinatown, indiscriminately attacking any inhabitant they could find.  Buildings and store fronts were damaged, easily hundreds of people were beat up and dozens more were hanged to death throughout Chinatown (which, at this time, did include the Pueblo de Los Angeles area).  The majority of the slayings took place on the land that is now Union Station.

Haunted Pico House and City Hall photo IMG_2496_zps46cd4de8.jpgIn the end, at least 17 Chinese were killed, including young boys.  Even Builderrain, long thought to be a hero cop shot in the line of duty, has many doubts cast over his role.  Regardless of how it all went down, there is belief that some of those killed are still present at the Pico House.  Some of the spirits are apparently vengeful, as an episode of “Ghost Adventures” talked to a person that claimed they were kicked in the back of the leg while walking down a staircase.

Additionally, Pio Pico himself is often seen looking over his land from the roof or upper windows of the Pico house.  Much like Avila, he’s keeping tabs on the land he presided over in life.

In short, the starting place for the City of Angels serves as the perfect place for the start of our tour.  In addition to the pueblo, a number of other notably haunted sites are nearby.  In the picture above, you can see haunted LA City Hall just a few blocks down the street from Pico House.