Here at Nook, we have a passion for people, places and properties. Welcome to #TastemakerTuesday, where we’ll feature the visionaries in our favorite nooks who are dedicated to building a better community through their talents.
“In our 100 year old building, there are fissures, doorways to other times and faraway places. We have tried to protect you, our dear guests, by obscuring these dangerous portals with a labyrinth - to keep you here - and Others out. But certain times of the year, the building groans under forces older and deeper than us.”
When I heard that The Last Bookstore was hosting an immersive Halloween party to benefit the Downtown Women’s Center, I knew it would be top of my holiday list. The Last Spookstore will have lush soundscapes, a costume contest and interactive game. More importantly to us, however, they will take full advantage of the phenomenal building on Spring Street and what it offers to Halloween spooks.
I spoke with Eric Larkin, Editor at Large of Dwarf+Giant, a blog of The Last Bookstore, and the creator of this inaugural DTLA Halloween Haunt.
Cindy Marie Jenkins: What's a brief history of your building and how did TLB came to live there?
Eric Larkin: The building is called the Spring Arts Tower, and it was built in 1914/15 by two architects who were pretty important for Los Angeles: Parkinson & Bergstrom. These guys, either during their partnership or separately, designed places like Union Station, the Memorial Coliseum, the Hollywood Bowl and even the Pentagon. It was a bank from the beginning all the way up to the mid 80s. From then until we took over the first floor and half the mezzanine, it was a haunted, cavernous shell, filled with lost souls. Actually, I don't know what was happening for those 30ish years, but I do remember wandering into the building around 2010 during Art Walk, and it was full of pop-up art and craft displays, which sounds cool, but it was not in good shape. Barren, ugly - not really using the amazing native interior features - and, worst of all, not a book in sight.
The Last Bookstore actually started in Josh Spencer's loft only a block or two away. When the Tower became available - combining with the Spring Arts Collective and Gather DTLA (the 5 artist group and the yarn art/craft workshop) who took the other half of the mezzanine - we were able to make the leap to a vastly larger space.
I imagine [the owners] saw that it wouldn't work if it was just a bare bones, throw-up-some-cheap-shelves kinda thing. They probably figured out that if they respected the original building interiors but also involved local artists who could create new installations and accents that riffed off it, they would have a place worth visiting on its own merits. Ergo, all the spruced-up original details, the art installations (mostly from Dave Lovejoy and Jena Priebe, who have shops in the mezz), the labyrinth in general, book tunnel, mammoth head (my cousin made that, actually), and so forth.
Josh's dad is a human tornado of carpentry, and he came in and transformed those boring, corporate shelves into something that, again, connects with the original space, but is also something new. With maybe a glance to steampunk.
CMJ: You really tout the intricacies of TLB's interior for this event. How did the idea develop?
EL: This is not the first idea I've developed for the store, it's just the first one the boss said I could actually do! The short answer is it just came out of trying to figure out a) a story that makes sense in The Last Bookstore as The Last Bookstore.
I think there are a thousand more stories and ideas waiting to be fleshed out. The hardest part about this one, for me, is in the puzzle aspects. I don't know what other people know or don't know. How can I tell if it's too easy or too hard? An imagineer friend of mine encouraged me to play-test it - which seems really obvious now - so we did that and got great notes. Another friend who's a serious gamer offered a few thoughts. You take notes and ideas from other people about the mechanics and try to fit them into a story in a way that doesn't pull the veil off the world-building. But always: clarity beats style, right?
CMJ: What would you like people to leave your event knowing?
EL: Hmm.. more feeling than knowing. For example, I hope they leave feeling smart: either they knew more than they thought or they were able to figure things out. I hope they at least have that feeling where you almost got something, but you were so close, you'd just kill for another shot. Of course, that's a frustrating feeling, but it's also motivational, I think. I also hope they feel a little more bonded with their group, like, "I hang out with cool, smart people." Also, I hope their interest is piqued a bit for authors or books they haven't read. ALSO, I hope they want us to do more events like this; we're sunk if my boss doesn't think, "Huh, I guess people are into this whole immersive thing that Eric won't shut up about."
CMJ: What's unique about your store in relation to DTLA? Something that's kind of funny is that folks often think we've been here forever, but we haven't. The building has, but we're still relatively new.
A lot of places downtown are pricey, but you can hang out in the Last Bookstore, attend some really cool events, and spend as much or as little money as you like. We have a full range of artistic/cultural experiences: literature of every type (including a comic book store), music (not only events but our vinyl shop), both arts and crafts up on the mezzanine and in a variety of media, and sometimes (like with this event) even forms of theater. In what other single location can you do all those things, mostly for free on almost any given day? Plus we're surrounded by food and coffee and booze.
Photo: The Last Bookstore