This wonderful story comes to us from our friends at Esotouric, the offbeat tour company run by local historians and preservation activists Kim Cooper and Richard Schave, who are widely known for their crime, literary, architecture and rock and roll tours of the city. The story of how these amazing terrazzo sidewalks were saved first appeared on their Substack newsletter. It’s rare that we get to share a preservation story with a happy ending, so we are delighted to share this with Buzz readers and we thank Esotouric for letting us repost the story on the Buzz.
Ladies & Gentlemen, We Give You The Greatest (And Only) Show On Broadway: Terrazzo Restoration! by Esotouric Los Angeles, Published May 21, 2023.
At the corner of Sixth and Broadway, in the very heart of the National Register Broadway Theater and Commercial District, there’s a stretch of sidewalk so gorgeous, it makes us giddy.
It’s a rectangular checkerboard that wraps around the southwest corner, alternating panes of pinkish-gold and green, ending just shy of the Los Angeles Theatre. Herman J. Schultheis, whose unknown mid-century photo archive was digitized by L.A. Public Library a decade ago, captured three views of the sidewalk in its original context, guiding strollers to enter The Owl Drug Co. corner store.
So we were gutted to see Chris Nichols’ tweet last month, calling out a massive section of the Broadway sidewalk that had been removed, presumably to access electrical gear for the new apartments above.
We reached out to the city’s Office of Historic Resources to find out if the work was permitted, and got a swift reply: it was not permitted, and “We notified Public Works staff, which has already been out at the site & in contact w/the contractor. We’re following up to coordinate [OHR] role in reviewing appropriate in kind replacement of the removed terrazzo.”
This is all happening by virtue of geography: The Owl Drug Co. terrazzo serves as a stretch of sidewalk within the borders of a nationally designated historic district, which gives the city the discretion of overseeing visible construction work. OHR doesn’t always act to hold a property owner accountable, but we’re always grateful when they do.
Los Angeles has some of the most beautiful and interesting sidewalks anywhere, but there is absolutely no mechanism by which they can be individually protected as landmarks.
The only way to make sure these underfoot treasures stick around is for all of us who care to keep our eyes open and advocate—even if that means stepping in front of a work crew and demanding to talk to the boss before they fire up the jackhammer.
But we didn’t have to do anything like that at Sixth and Broadway. When we visited earlier this month, we found Jose Elvira’s skilled crew from El Verde Terrazzo replacing the missing checkerboard panes in the traditional manner: laying a clay-like matrix of ground stone by hand, then flattening it with a damp weighted roller.
Jose was kind enough to stop and talk about his career, starting out with an Italian owned L.A. terrazzo firm, training his younger family members in the traditional art, working on luxury mansions in Malibu and the grittier environs of Broadway. He was understandably proud having restored the Clifton’s Cafeteria terrazzo, the greatest sidewalk in Los Angeles.
We returned to Sixth and Broadway a week later to find the crew grinding down the top layer of dried terrazzo to even out any bulges. And here’s a snap of the gorgeous finished job, shared by happy Broadway stroller Jeremy Triggs!
Too often these days, beautiful things that Angelenos love get destroyed, and nobody is held accountable. They’re just gone. How much sweeter it is to see something made beautiful again, just like new.
While we watched the work, we thought about all the Angelenos who stopped to watch the original sidewalk’s installation in the 1930s, and then brought knowledge of the process along with them on every stroll in years to come. We bet at least one was a little kid who grew up to be an artist after seeing what beauty can be made from modest tools and materials.
So here’s to Sixth and Broadway and everyone who helped! We hope you find the process of terrazzo installation as interesting as we did, and that you’ll give El Verde a call if you’re in the market for a new flooring solution, or have some vintage terrazzo that needs a little love.
yours for Los Angeles,
Kim & Richard
Visit Esotouric’s Instagram page for a short video showing the terrazzo repair.