The 16 best presents for Los Angeles history buffs
This is part of the L.A. Times 2022 Gift Guide. See the full guide here. If you make a purchase using some of our links, the L.A. Times may be compensated.
Shopping for an L.A. history geek is always rewarding. As you look for the perfect gift, you’re sure to learn some fascinating tales and tidbits in the process.
Here’s a wide variety of gifts for that certain someone who’s riveted by the ups and down of Pío Pico, the way Sam Yorty used to say “Los Angle-eez,” the dueling design influences upon Union Station and the idea that Griffith Park is named for a man who shot his wife in the face.
Toy clown marionette from Bob Baker Marionette Theater
This marionette comes from Bob Baker Marionette Theater, an L.A. institution for nearly 60 years. It has five strings and a pair of wooden clown shoes, enabling it to walk, wave and dance, if your fingers are up to the challenge.
$10 at Bob Baker Marionette Theater
All the Buildings in Los Angeles *That I’ve Drawn So Far
You know these places — Griffith Observatory, the Getty Museum, Rodeo Drive, Walt Disney Concert Hall and so on — but this collection of witty drawings makes them new again. James Gulliver Hancock’s sketches capture some of our favorite places and perhaps some we’ve started taking for granted (the Capitol Records building and TCL Chinese Theatres, a.k.a Grauman’s). Before he turned his attention to Los Angeles, Hancock did the same with books on cities including New York, London, Paris and Sydney.
$22.50 at Amazon
The Vernacular Architecture of Los Angeles poster
Never mind this city’s big, fancy buildings. This 12-by-18-inch screen print by Polkela includes drawings of 11 familiar-feeling homes and apartments — and one tent — in Hancock Park, the Fairfax district, Chinatown and beyond. The team behind Polkela is Max Podemski, a city planner, and Sarah Klinger, an illustrator and designer.
$48 at Polkela
Preserving Los Angeles: How Historic Places Can Transform America’s Cities’
The variety of buildings and neighborhoods in this 2021 book by Ken Bernstein with photography by Stephen Schafer will surprise even veteran roamers of the city. (Bernstein oversees the L.A.’s Office of Historic Resources.) There are more than 300 images to linger over and wonder about.
$50 at the Library Store, supporting theLibrary Foundation of Los Angeles
An L.A. Conservancy walking tour
The conservancy, formed in 1978 when the downtown Central Library was at risk of demolition, watches over hundreds of historic structures in the city and offers walking tours most weekends. The territory includes Angelino Heights, historic downtown, Art Deco, Union Station, Broadway and (a recent favorite) the “Don’t Call Me Ugly” tour of 1960s and ‘70s Modernism in downtown L.A.
$15 at L.A. Conservancy
An Esotouric walking tour
Kim Cooper and Richard Schave are the restless minds behind Esotouric, an enterprise that gives walking tours, creates webinars and probes L.A.’s legacies of literature, crime, design and more. This $50 gift certificate covers the cost of one walking tour or an on-demand webinar. (The company expects to resume bus tours soon.) Esotouric tours have covered the La Brea Tar Pits, Raymond Chandler’s downtown, the Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights and Hollywood’s Franklin Village. You can count on plenty of history — and spicier opinions than you’re likely to find on a typical L.A. history tour. The company’s Real Black Dahlia Crime Tour, tracking murder victim Elizabeth Short’s path across postwar Los Angeles, is a classic.
$50 at Esotouric
This 2022 book by Natalia Molina is an intimate study of how a family restaurant in Echo Park, founded in 1951, survived, evolved and sustained generations of Angelenos — including the author, granddaughter of the restaurant’s founder. Molina, a 2020 MacArthur fellow, is a USC professor of American studies and ethnicity. (This selection also appears on our nonfiction book gift guide.)
$29.95 at the Autry Store
‘Hollywood Bowl: The First 100 Years’
Ella Fitzgerald, the Beatles, John Williams, Gustavo Dudamel — everybody who’s anybody has played the Bowl. And for many of us, a summer isn’t complete until you’ve caught at least one performance there. This coffee table book, by Derek Traub, edited by Julia Ward and Robin Rauzi, celebrates the twists, turns and remarkable growth that brought the bowl to its current moment.
$29.95 at L.A. Phil Store
David Hockney’s ‘Pearblossom Hwy., 11-18th April 1986, #2′ poster
The image says all you need to know, but here’s more for anyone who has ever wondered: Hockney shot the photos, more than 800 of them, over eight days in April 1986. The magazine that commissioned the project — Vanity Fair — never published the collage. Now it’s one of our most iconic desert images.
$20 at Getty Museum Store
Los Angeles 1969 relief map
This geological map of Southern California was made by the state in 1969. But the real star is the relief shading, added later by the people at Muir Way. It makes a flat map look like a three-dimensional wonder: ridgelines sharp, San Andreas fault ominously long, clouds hovering above, a couple of Channel Islands visible offshore. The only drawback is the cropping, which leaves in the mountains and deserts of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties but omits every place east of Arcadia and south of East L.A.
$99 (for the 29-by-18 print) at Muir Way
Dodgers Hawaiian shirt by Reyn Spooner
MLB has teamed with Hawaiian shirt fashion brand Reyn Spooner to produce this sartorial celebration of the Dodgers. It is not subtle, nor is it recommended for wearing in public in San Diego or San Francisco. But it is bold, and the sign for Vin Scully Avenue is among its foremost details.
$120 at MLB Shop
Bauer Ringware teapot
J.A. Bauer, born in Kentucky, moved to L.A. in about 1910 and started a venture that lasted until 1962, making tableware in bold solid colors and tussling for customers with West Virginia-based Fiestaware. In 2000, Bauer admirer Janek Boniecki resurrected the brand. Bauer 2000 dinnerware, beverage ware, petware and garden items are designed to echo Bauer pieces from years past. Its merchandise is sold at outlets including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Autry shops, but the great secret find is the highly colorful Bauer showroom at 3051 Rosslyn St. in Glassell Park, open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and selected weekends. Inventory includes “seconds” for 30% off and a limited number of items in Bauer orange glaze, which is otherwise unavailable because of problems sourcing formula ingredients. And in December, there are deep discounts on firsts and seconds.
$95 at Bauer Pottery
Licorice Pizza vintage-style T-shirt
The Valley Relics Museum gift shop in Van Nuys has T-shirts advertising a bevy of long-gone businesses. The graphics are striking and the underlying message is Deep Angeleno. One design is Licorice Pizza (the record store, which existed long before the movie). Others include Pup ‘N’ Taco, KNAC 105.5, Saugus Speedway, the Palomino (club) in North Hollywood, Soo Way Chinese Kitchen, Pepe’s Kartland, Love’s Wood Pit Barbecue, the Van Nuys Drive-In Theatre and Zodys department store. And if you’d rather give an experience than merch, consider a visit to the museum, which is a pair of reclaimed Lake Balboa airplane hangars whose walls are crowded full of atmospheric old signage.
$24 at Valley Relics Museum
‘Urban Light’ print
Chris Burden’s collection of 202 old L.A. streetlights, “Urban Light,” has been installed in front of LACMA on Wilshire since 2008, lighting up nightly. It might now be the most iconic view on the boulevard. With this poster, the artwork’s mystery and elegance can dress up your living room. For impact, you should get the LACMA Store’s 20-by-30-inch version.
$95 at LACMA Store
Lapel pins of L.A. icons
These pins celebrate old L.A. signs and buildings, including the Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport, the Cinerama sign and Morgan Camera Shop in Hollywood, the Miracle Mile sign and the Orpheum Theatre on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. The Merch Motel website also has a great list of vintage local signs and structures.
$8-$13 at the Academy Museum gift shop and Merch Motel
‘Metro Past and Present’ T-shirt
There’s something transporting about public transit graphics, whether they’re from near or far. And as it happens, Metro (the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority) has some tempting offerings in its store. I like this black T-shirt with stylized versions of bright-color Metro vehicles past and present, but you might rather give a subway-map beach towel, or lapel pins, keychains and cufflinks made from recycled tokens.
$21 at Los Angeles Metro