An Interview with Etan Rosenbloom
By Liz Leshin
Etan Rosenbloom is a blogger on L.A. history, a lifelong Angeleno, and a new L.A. Conservancy member! His blog Etan Does L.A. follows his journey to visit all of the L.A. County landmarks listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
He has graciously shared his “L.A. story” with us and explains how the Conservancy’s resources have enriched his life and work.
As a lifelong Angeleno, tell us a bit about where you are from and what sparked your passion for Los Angeles history?
My family lived in Silver Lake in the early ‘80s, back before it was hip. My parents like to tell the story of the unstable neighbor next door who enjoyed throwing statues into our pool! We moved to Altadena when I was 4, where my parents still live. After college, I moved into the infamous Alexander Ruler of the World apartments, right across from Paramount Studios – I was “lucky” enough to move in just a couple of months before the owner started painting it dark magenta. Since then, I’ve lived in Echo Park, Highland Park, and now Valley Village.
Whenever I moved to a new neighborhood, I would read a book or two about local history. But my passion for Los Angeles history really took off in September 2021, when I launched my Etan Does LA project (more on that later). As I dug into the backstories of the LA landmarks I was visiting, it became clear very quickly that there were giant gaps in my knowledge of how this city became itself. I’ve been hooked ever since.
How did your love of L.A. history and Last Remaining Seats motivate you to join the L.A. Conservancy?
It felt natural to join an organization that does so much important work educating people like me about L.A. history. The endless resources on your website and social media feeds have informed my blog, Etan Does LA, and helped to make connections for me that I might not have made on my own. For that alone, the cost of membership is far more than worth it! My first year of membership was a gift from my mom for my 40th birthday. Couldn’t have asked for a better present.
Last Remaining Seats was actually how I first heard of the L.A. Conservancy. Back in 2014 a good friend of mine invited me to an Last Remaining Seats screening of Citizen Kane at the Orpheum. I had never seen the film before, so to be able to see the genius cinematography and all that incredible visual framing on the big screen was an absolute privilege. Plus, I was seated in the balcony – so I quite literally had a different perspective of Citizen Kane than most people will ever get!
Why do you think it’s important for folks to experience classic movies inside historic theatres?
Going to a movie in a theatre is a wholly different experience than streaming it at home, no matter how immersive your system is. I love the idea of moviegoing as an experience, something you get dressed up for, something as exalted as seeing a play or a concert, something you talk about before and after the film is over. That experience is enhanced immensely by being in a theatre as dramatic and artful as what’s on screen. It encourages you to engage with the building and its history, and also gives you a sense of what moviegoing was like back before we all had 4k TVs.
Tell us about your blog and what prompted you to start it.
My blog, Etan Does LA, documents my quixotic attempt to visit each of the Los Angeles landmarks on the National Register of Historic Places (there are around 600 of them). It started off in September 2021, a time when the pandemic had me feeling pretty disconnected from my city, and I was looking for a safe way to feel like a part of it again.
I was setting off on a short bike ride to the Portal of the Folded Wings Shrine to Aviation in Burbank, and figured I’d look up a bit of information about it first (fun classic movie fact: the Portal features ornate sculptures by Federico Giorgi, who designed the epic Babylonian sets in DW Griffith’s Intolerance). I noticed the Portal was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which got me thinking about all the other things that might be on the list. If a lifelong Angeleno like me has never heard of many of these places, I bet I’m not the only one, right?
What started as a few photos and a few sentences of history for each site, posted on my Instagram page, has expanded to a website with written histories, videos, and photo galleries. I’ve visited eyepopping modernist homes and humble post offices, missions and bridges, fire stations and funeral homes, craftsman bungalows and Hollywood high-rises, churches and adobes, plus playgrounds, libraries, Civil War-era mountain passes and of course, historic theatres. Every single visit fills in a detail about Los Angeles history that I didn’t know, and more often than not, learning about one site will send me down a joyous research rabbit hole. Like, when you learn that Grammy-winning record producer Joe Henry owned Greene & Greene’s Lucretia Garfield home for over a decade, you want to know which albums he recorded there, yeah? And if you can hear anything craftsman-y on those records?
How is the Los Angeles Conservancy a resource for you, as well as Angelenos in general?
I do a lot of research on L.A. landmarks for my blog posts and videos. The information you find online is often too poorly researched to be reliable, or so impenetrably dense with facts and figures that it’s hard to decide where to start. The L.A. Conservancy’s backgrounders on historic sites and architects are consistently the most accurate and concise that I’ve found. They’ve helped deepen my understanding of the importance of the buildings I visit, and they ground each site in aesthetic and social contexts.
I reference your website all the time in my blog posts.
It’s super important that Angelenos experience L.A.’s history as living history. Buildings change over time, and old ones continue to be relevant to different communities in different ways. So I value all the programs that the L.A. Conservancy offers to help people engage with historic sites – whether it’s your regular walking tours, Last Remaining Seats, or one-off events like the Griffith Park 125th anniversary celebration last year. I went to a couple stops on that, learned a ton, and met some fellow L.A. history buffs that I’ve kept in touch with.
I also love how the Los Angeles Conservancy comes into all of this with a preservation mindset. That wasn’t necessarily the outlook I had when I embarked on my project. But I’ve come to understand how fragile history can be, even when it’s embedded in massive buildings of brick and steel! And the L.A. Conservancy plays such an active preservation role – not just through education and advocacy, but also by holding conservation easements. I recently posted about Frank Lloyd Wright’s Harriet and Samuel Freeman House, which was bought in February by a developer who we hope will invest in a complete restoration. The easement that L.A. Conservancy holds on that home is a vital way of preserving its integrity and holding the owner accountable, so that the public can learn from this building for generations to come.
Do you have a favorite historic theatre in Los Angeles and/or a favorite Last Remaining Seats experience?
It’s a tossup between the Mission Playhouse in San Gabriel, and the Alex Theatre in Glendale. In addition to its swoonworthy architecture, the Mission Playhouse was built as a permanent home for a single production, the Mission Play, a three-hour epic about the history of the California missions, written by LA Times columnist, poet and politician John S. McGroarty. I love the idea of an entire building constructed to house a single work of art!
The Alex Theatre just screams classic with every fiber of its Greek/Egyptian-inspired look, and that giant floral spire erupting from its marquee. I’ll admit it though, this is a nostalgic pick…my high school graduation was held at the Alex Theatre. I wore a skintight silver disco outfit and performed Chick Corea’s “Armando’s Rhumba” on piano onstage. The Alex hasn’t been the same since.
As for my favorite Last Remaining Seats experience, I have to say that Blade Runner in July 2022 stands out. It’s not just a classic sci-fi film, it’s a classic Los Angeles sci-fi film. It was so fun to spot famous LA landmarks like Union Station, the Bradbury Building and the Million Dollar Theatre in the film, especially at a time when I’m thinking a lot about how we use and reuse old buildings. And I was sitting at the Orpheum Theatre, just blocks away from all those spots! Unforgettable.
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Learn about some of Etan Rosenbloom's favorite historic places in L.A. County.
Harriet and Samuel Freeman House
San Gabriel Mission Playhouse
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