Taschen Books Editor Jim Heimann Salutes LA

0 Comments 24 March 2015

TASCHEN Executive Editor Jim Heimann is walking LA history. In our in-depth interview he talks about his favorite memories, hotspots, and the hidden gems you need to know about.

By Justin Maurer


Jim Heimann is the executive editor for TASCHEN America. He is also a historian, cultural anthropologist, memorabilia collector, writer, graphic designer and an instructor at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Heimann has written over a dozen books on pop culture, architecture and California culture and history. His works include Los Angeles, Portrait of a City, California Crazy and Beyond and Sins of the City, the Real Los Angeles Noir. He is currently working on the most in-depth cultural history of surfing that has ever been undertaken. His vast private collection of collectible memorabilia has been featured in museum exhibitions across the globe. A true native Los Angeleno, Heimann not only loves the city he lives in, he cherishes the history and the heart of the place. It is often difficult to find the heart of Los Angeles and sometimes it takes a master like Jim Heimann to unveil the unpolished raw beating heart of a city where utopia and dystopia coexist and thrive.



Do you see yourself as a designer, historian, archivist or a cultural archaeologist?
I see myself as all of those descriptions including teacher, author, and writer. My primary career for thirty years was as a freelance illustrator and designer. In addition to doing that work, I pursued book publishing, had gallery shows of my work, did some public art pieces and lectured extensively. I loved and still like the idea of doing a bit of everything and being multi-disciplined. This was not a popular idea at the time I was doing it in my field but it is now what we encourage our students to pursue.


What is your biggest challenge as Executive Editor for TASCHEN America?
Keeping deadlines and rejecting proposals. We get so many great ideas but most are not appropriate for us. It’s hard to pass on many of them and have to suggest they seek out other publishers.


What was your favorite TASCHEN book to work on?
Los Angeles, Portrait of a City was a great project to see published mostly because it was subject matter I was very familiar with having researched images of the city for decades. Also the fact that it was the first book to show the photographic history of the city from the first known photo from 1862 to the most current images of the city. I tried to find pictures that no one had seen before and succeeded! There was so much terrific stuff we could have done five volumes. Also the Grannis book. I was really happy to bring Leroy Grannis fame and fortune in the final years of his life.



Are you still teaching Art or Design in Pasadena?
I have been teaching in the illustration department at Art Center since 1988, so I am going on twenty-seven years there. I taught editorial illustration for about twenty of those years, but currently I teach a survey class for incoming freshmen and also a professional practices/business class for illustrators. It’s a great gig.


What is your favorite part of Los Angeles history?
The obscure and unexplored history. I love turning up little known facts and places. As one example, I have a large collection of match covers dating from the 1920’s that serve as a gateway to all of these bars, nightclubs and restaurants that have evaporated from the city. I also find on occasion business cards or pamphlets of places and events that are mysteries. Some great cult stuff has floated up and been the source of deep research to find out what they were all about. This is what keeps me trolling flea markets every Sunday!


What is your favorite bar in LA defunct and existing?
Without a question Yee Mee Loo’s in Chinatown was the best bar in LA. From Richard the bartender, who made “Tidy Bowls” and “Root Beer Floats,” to the clock that ran backwards and the best jukebox ever that hung on the wall. The Quon Yin Temple bar was the signature piece in the bar and in the adjacent restaurant there were 8 x10 sepia photos of 40s B-movie stars. It was Raymond Chandler, John Fante and James Cain all rolled up into one cool place. I once saw Bob Dylan there. They condemned the building after the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

Best bar today? It’s a toss up. In Chinatown Hop Louie’s is the best bet. Housed underneath the old Golden Pagoda tower, it’s a no nonsense place, sometimes jammed, sometimes empty. Loaded with dive bar atmosphere and a good jukebox. Healthy pour. The signature Scorpion Bowl will throw you for a loop. Sean the barkeep treats you indifferently and could care less if you were there or not.

Another favorite is Musso and Frank’s. It is always 1934 there. I make it a habit to be there on my birthday at 3 pm and see who drops in to help celebrate. I go to Joe Jost’s in Long Beach once a month. I like straightforward places where you don’t have to wait and they don’t make mixologist cocktails. Make ‘em fast, strong and simple. I don’t need bitters!



What is your favorite restaurant in Los Angeles defunct and existing?
Although I was there only a handful of times, Chasen’s was the epitome of fine dining in the movie capital of the world. The minute you walked through the doors you knew you were in a rarefied world. The service was impeccable, people dressed up, the food prepared at the table. The experience was timeless and the history of the place was deep. It was truly a bit of Hollywood that will never be replicated. Today I eat almost weekly at El Coyote. I know, I know. Most people either hate it or love it. We have been going there since the 70s. My daughter grew up there. And now my two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter is a regular. Lucy, our regular waitress, has served us for over thirty years. It’s home.


Who do you think gave the most to Los Angeles and who destroyed the most?
I think the LA Conservancy has given a tremendous amount of effort in retaining not only the history of the city but serving as a conscience against the rampant development that is slowly choking greater Los Angeles. For current residents and those of the future only the vigilance of organizations such as the Conservancy will serve as beacons of sanity.

On the flip side, unenlightened developers are slowly destroying not only the fabric of the city but its soul. The runaway development of residential and commercial buildings raises the ugly head of politicians current and past who continue to collude with developers in exchange to fill their election coffers. It is a scandal of major proportions that Angelenos continue to ignore as they sit everyday in gridlocked traffic and wonder why. Politicians and developers offer up mass transit and mixed use retail and residential complexes as a solution for the mess they have created. Mass transit will NEVER be a solution in 450 square miles of urban glut and they know it. Meanwhile these developers live above it all or in other cities, states and countries while shoving money in the pockets of politicians and leaving residents to fend for themselves.


How long did it take you to do the TASCHEN Los Angeles, Portrait of a City book? What was the most challenging obstacle in completing it?
That book took about two years to complete from start to finish, which is a pretty typical timetable. Obtaining rights and permissions is always a challenge. Many individuals and institutions want remuneration that is often impossible for us to pay due to the number of photos we have to obtain. The high cost of rights is what killed this series.


Why surfing? Did surfing capture your imagination as a child?
I wasn’t really a child. The operative word at that time for a eleven-year-old was “pre-teen.” I grew up near the beach (Playa Del Rey, ”D&W”, “Toes”) and that was the dominant culture at the time. When I was about twelve I was saturated with the music and the clothes. The uniform was white Levis, Pendleton shirt, Jack Purcell tennis shoes and a St. Christopher medal. Real Pendleton shirts were expensive, about $10 or $15. So guys would raid their grandfathers closets, clip the label out and sew it on cheaper Penny’s knock offs and sell them for a couple of bucks profit. I also picked up Surfer magazines at Sav-Ons, a nearby drugstore, and was turned on to cartoonist Rick Griffin and his character “Murphy.” I drew him on my school notebook.

Griffin was the reason I pursued an arts career. I wanted a surfboard but two things prevented it, access to the beach (no “wheels”/no drivers license) and the price of the board. New boards ran about $100. I had a $1 a week allowance plus money I made mowing lawns so there was no way that I could I afford one. I took my dad to Jacob’s surf shop in Hermosa Beach to hunt for a birthday present and when he saw the price tag it was thumbs-down. I got a $12 “Phil Edwards” competition striped jacket instead. Still I was at the beach every day during summer, bodysurfed, and danced the surfers stomp at night. By the time I was in high school I drifted towards the dance scene and by senior year I was a hippie (about the same time Rick Griffin started doing psychedelic posters in San Francisco) and the surf years were behind me. Still it was a very impressionable period for me and I always stayed informed about the sport.


Do you remember the Watts Riots? Do you see this period as the most turbulent part of LA history?

I do remember the Watt’s Riots. We stood on the roof of our house and could see the clouds of smoke in the distance from the fires. It was the first time I felt really threatened in L.A. The riots in 1992 were far worse and much more devastating. Historically Los Angeles has always had a violent side to it.



Growing up here, what music did you listen to and did you see any memorable concerts?
I was very into music. I was also a dancer during high school which meant in the early 60s being part of a clique that went to teenage dance TV programs. Think Hairspray. Being in LA we were privy to a host of programs; 9th St. West, Shindig, Hullabaloo, Shebang, Where The Action Is, Shivaree and more. I was on The Lloyd Thaxton Show. Buffalo Springfield played live on the show previous to the one I was on. I won the dance contest which was broadcast nationwide. My cousins in Nebraska thought it was a pretty big deal.

As far as concerts, I saw the Beach Boys get egged in 1962 at a homecoming carnival at Loyola University. They were from Hawthorne. This was Westchester territory. Hawthorne and Westchester were crosstown rivals. The Beach Boys didn’t even finish one song before the eggs flew and they walked off stage. I didn’t see Love but I did see The Seeds. The small clubs on Sunset were hard to get to if you didn’t have a car. They became so jammed that tickets sold out immediately. The Seeds played January, Friday the 13th 1967 at the Hawthorne “Drop In.” I remember because I was jumped outside the hall by a gang and was in a coma for 24 hours! I saw the Rolling Stones at Hollywood Bowl. I also saw Sonny and Cher, The Doors and Jefferson Airplane. A series of concerts at the Shrine Auditorium in 1968 to 69 hosted everyone from the Who to the Grateful Dead to Big Brother and the Holding Company and more. I also saw James Brown at Dave Hull’s Hullabaloo which later became Kaleidoscope. Their opening concert featured Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead and they had an elephant on a rotating stage.


Los Angeles is probably the most hated city in the US. People hate what they do not understand. Most outsiders see LA as either Beverly Hills and Malibu or Compton and South Central; they cannot imagine that a world exists in between these polar opposites. How would you describe Los Angeles to an outsider?

I don’t know if it is the most hated city in the US, but it does have many detractors. As you say, mostly it is ignorance. LA is a complex place. It is not a city that reveals itself to you. You have to reach out to it. It’s a city that comprises 450 square miles which makes it difficult to experience, hence people gravitate to the places they have heard about and those places aren’t necessarily representative of LA. Unlike New York where the city is outside your door, LA demands you to discover it. Once you get out there and roam, the city reveals itself and it becomes one of the most stimulating places in the world. You can literally find anything you want here. I have been doing this my whole life and I still find incredible stuff.


jim heimann2

Like every big city, Los Angeles morphs and changes very rapidly. Where can someone go to find an authentic piece of old LA or old Hollywood?

Musso and Frank’s restaurant in Hollywood is a time warp. The main dining room has not changed since 1934. Union Station also is basically unchanged since it opened in 1939. The Bradbury Building, the Frolic Room, City Hall, the Pantages Theater, the Glendale train depot and Pann’s Coffee Shop. All of these places are a diminishing breed unfortunately.


What are some of your favorite pieces of literature about Los Angeles?

Certainly all of the classics like Day of the Locust, The Big Sleep, Mildred Pierce, Bright Shiny Morning, True Confessions, Holy Land, LA Stories by Ry Cooder, and all of Kevin Starr’s books on California which also include LA. For contemporary detective fiction, Bob Crais is tops.


When someone visits you and asks you to give a personal tour of LA where do you take them, what is the abridged Jim Heimann tour?

I have multiple tours under my belt for a variety of visitors. The Westside/Venice/Santa Monica. Murder/Sins of the City. Architecture, Downtown pub crawl and 1930s LA. Typically I usually start in Hollywood and hit Howard Hughes’ headquarters, down Vine Street past Man Ray’s apartment and Marilyn Monroe’s grade school. Then we shoot past the El Royale and a couple of film locations, through Hancock Park, down Wilshire pointing out the Ambassador, the sad remnants of the Brown Derby and Bullock’s Wilshire. Then it’s downtown through the fashion district and a stroll through Pinataland. I then turn around and go up to Broadway for a stop at Grand Central Market and the Bradbury Building and then on to Union Station. We’ll eat at Phillipe’s or Homegirl Café for lunch. Depending on the time we do Bunker Hill or the arts district and then take Sunset back to Hollywood stopping for “a coffee” in Silverlake. First time visitors are blown away! Currently I am preparing a tour of Man Ray’s Hollywood for Paris Photo VIP’s.



Besides the surfing book, do you have any other projects you are currently working on?

Next up is a third version of California Crazy, the first book that I did on roadside vernacular architecture. The second version expanded to include the whole of the US and this third version, being a Taschen book, we are making it international in scope. There are some very crazy buildings in China, Australia, and Japan.

I am also working on a walking tour map of Hollywood for a new hip hotel in Hollywood and finishing up some menu designs for my friend Warner’s 101 Coffee shop and MiniBar. Also finishing an essay for my friend Ryan Mungia who is a small edition publisher. I write the text for most of his visual books and his latest project is a vintage photo essay about Honolulu during the war and the crazy activities of sailors in the red light Chinatown district of tattoo parlors, cafes, gambling dens and houses of prostitution. It’s killer. There is also a back burner project of doing a series of books on obscure LA subjects such as cults. It’s been on the back burner for over ten years!


I understand you collect rare photographs and memorabilia. What are some of the most prized pieces in your collection?

I have so many great things it’s hard to nail them down. I just found an 8 x 10 photo of Raymond Chandler at a Hollywood party around the time he was writing scripts. I have 5,000 menus and there are some gems in there. I have a very decent collection of Tijuana photos and ephemera. I know I have the most complete archives on pre- 1960 night clubs and night life in LA, several thousand great snapshots, and on and on. It is pretty overwhelming



As a native Angeleno could you live anywhere else?

No. Maybe Santa Barbara in the twilight years


Where do you like to go on vacation?

We go to Hawaii every year, New York every year or so and San Francisco three or four times a year. But recently we have been doing four and five day weekends to such places as Albuquerque, Portland and Seattle. Planning on Austin, New Orleans and a few others. All places I have never been.


What would you like to be remembered for? What will be your legacy?
I hope the books, research and art I have done, as well as my collections, will add to that untapped history of LA, as well as the other topics I have tackled. I remember once showing my young daughter my name in an LA Library card catalog and her saying, “That’s you?” That is a nice legacy.



You attended Long Beach State. Long Beach is a pretty underrated corner of LA County. What are some of your favorite spots in Long Beach?
By far Joe Jost’s, a bar that has been there since 1924. I have been going there since my college days and I continue to visit it once a month after I go to the Long Beach flea market. A schooner of beer, a pickled egg in a nest of pretzel sticks, and a Joe’s Special, a sandwich consisting of a sausage sliced down the middle, stuffed with some kind of white cheese and a pickle wedge. It’s wrapped in two pieces of soft rye bread. As you can tell I’m not much of an adherent to the California cuisine of quinoa and kale. On 4th Street is Hot Cha, a café that is a remnant from the 1930’s which is in the shape of a stylized coffee pot. Currently it’s closed.

Unfortunately most of the good stuff is gone. When I was going to school there, The Pike amusement zone was in its death throes, but there was enough there that made it a creepy cool place. Loof’s Lite-A-Line was a carnival type game housed in a big round building unchanged from the 20s. It was borderline gambling, but the place and the people there smacked of a film noir novel. Downtown Long Beach still had some great buildings from when it was major Navy base. There were cool bars and tattoo parlors and the Fox Theatre. But it’s all gone. Long Beach has not been a very good ward of its history.


You did a book in 1980 called California Crazy. In 2015 what are the craziest parts of California? Anything crazy that comes to mind first?
What about the traffic? Looking at the more positive aspects of “crazy” it continues to boggle my mind the amount of fucked up architecture this city produces. Just driving around through neighborhoods I constantly scan residential architecture and it’s just plain nuts what people create for their domicile. I should have a blog of just the impossible stuff that is in Southern California. Really, it would be hard to find any other place with unreal architecture save some 3rd world country.

Currently the craziest bar in town is my friend Bobby Green’s “Idle Hour.” He bought the old La Cana bar in North Hollywood at Lankersheim and Vineland. It was a giant barrel created in 1941 and it was falling apart. He painstakingly restored it to mint condition circa 41 and brought back its original name. In the back patio he saved the recreation of the Bulldog Café which in the Peterson Automotive Museum. With their new renovation they were going to scrap it but Bobby was able to secure it, cut it up in pieces and meticulously re-assemble it. It will be open for small private parties. So now there are two programmatic buildings on the same property. That is pretty crazy!



What is your favorite Raymond Chandler book?
Boy, they are all so good, it’s hard to choose one. If forced, I would say The Big Sleep.


What is the relationship between Tijuana and Hollywood? Do you ever venture down to Tijuana?
Interestingly enough the ties between Hollywood and Tijuana are very deep. It was pretty much gringo money that got the place going as a respite from Prohibition during the ‘20s. Hollywood moguls invested heavily in gambling and racing venues and the glorious resort, Agua Caliente, was a joint venture of entertainment capitalists. Musicians and performers also flocked to Tijuana as a pre-Vegas opportunity to showcase their talents. In the ‘80s I used to go down there about four or five times a year. But just like their neighbors to the north, progress and developers trump history and they have pretty much wiped out what was interesting for me. Plus I hate lines and traffic and the thought of sitting at the border for three hours is a huge turn off. It’s been about twenty-five years since I have ventured across the border. But I am still fascinated with the pre-war history and I have amassed a very large collection of ephemera, photos and printed matter relating to the city



I have heard some Taschen books sell for upwards of $12K. What are these books that cost about the same as my Honda Civic?
Helmut Newton’s Sumo was a gamble to publish one of the largest books of its time. It originally sold for $1,500, which seemed an impossible price point. But along with many of Taschen’s deluxe books, they are viewed more as art objects than reading material and those premium publications inevitably are seen as investments and increase in value. We did publish a book (Moonfire) with a “moon rock” as part of the package. On our website it has a 75,000 Euro ($80,000) price tag.


Jim Heimann 1 photo by Jimmy Mchugh

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- who has written 7 posts on Yay! LA | Arts & Culture Magazine.

Justin Maurer was born in Los Angeles but came of age in the Pacific Northwest. American Sign Language was his first language. He has written 2 chapbooks and 3 novels. He plays in punk bands like Clorox Girls, LA Drugz and Maniac. He sells digital X-ray devices to dentists. See more of his music and writing here:

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