Travel writers learn to notice sights even in their hometown.
Journalist and author Mimi Slawoff is a former Los Angeles Daily News reporter who writes for the likes of AAA, Travel + Leisure and LA Parent magazine.
She recently released a book called “Oldest Los Angeles” with Reedy Press.
The book acts as a travel guide for tourists and residents who want to learn more about their place of residence. Using the author’s photographs, the book takes readers on a journey through the city, showing the oldest buildings, businesses, neighborhoods and monuments.
When the pandemic temporarily halted Slawoff’s travels, she got a call from a publisher saying he was looking for a native Angeleno to write a book about the area.
They discussed several titles and finally arrived at a title that would focus the book on the city’s oldest sites, a focus that was more than just history and would have a creative angle.
Slawoff visited each site and carefully researched the stories told about it, sorting out legend and fact and filling her book with interesting tidbits in each vignette.
She peppers the book with surprising information, such as how the first California gold was discovered in Los Angeles County, not Northern California as many think.
Slawoff said Los Angeles was founded by 44 immigrants. Although she grew up here, she learned a lot while researching this book.
“Being a first-generation Bulgarian American, I’ve always been drawn to other immigrant stories,” Slawoff said.
“I know LA has a lot of old and first family businesses. So I started in downtown LA and worked my way out.”
Initially, she knew what she wanted to write about, but she still reached out to PR staff, local historians, and museums and historical sites she found on the Internet.
Although some sites were closed during the pandemic, she visited all the spots she recorded.
The project fell into her lap at the perfect time, as the pandemic kept Slawoff from traveling.
“It got me out of the house,” Slawoff said. “A lot of these places are great day trips.”
The book encourages day trips around the city, with sights grouped by region. She started with Downtown Los Angeles, then Greater Los Angeles, West Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, then the San Gabriel Valley.
In DTLA in 1932, Mexican artist David Securus was commissioned to paint on an exterior public wall what would become the first large-scale mural in the United States.
He was asked to paint an idealized tropical scene. Instead, he shot an 80-by-18 highly politicized photo of Mayan ruins, armed revolutionary soldiers, and a Mexican Indian crucified on a double cross with an American eagle on it.
The English translation of Securus’ title is “Tropical America: Oppressed and Destroyed by Imperialism.”
It was immediately whitewashed – literally.
Thirty years later, the paint began to flake off, and the Getty Institute teamed up with the city to save it.
Another landmark is the oldest working bar in the country – Golden Gopher, which opened in 1905.
“It’s a dive bar,” Slawoff said. “It’s the only bar in LA County that has a dual liquor license for its age. People can go out for a drink or buy spirits to take away.”
She said President Teddy Roosevelt rode his horse over there for a drink — and bought the bar. It was originally called the Golden Sun Saloon.
Slawoff also tells stories of the Bradbury Building, built in 1893. It is the oldest commercial building still standing in DTLA.
She handles Fugetsu-Do, the oldest confectionery in town, built in 1903. It specializes in mochi (rice cakes) and manju (flour cakes filled with bean paste).
A 192-page softback book that costs $20.95, “Oldest Los Angeles” has 84 vignettes of about 250 to 300 words, then each vignette has a sidebar with more landmarks. Slawoff hopes the book will give people new perspectives on the city and the richness of its history.
“Some people like LA, some don’t,” Slawoff said. “I feel like people generally see LA as Hollywood and beaches. That’s not all about LA. There’s so much history here. There are so many oldest monuments with great stories.”
“Oldest Los Angeles” by Mimi Slawoff