Bukowski's Ruin?

It’s a miserable day in East Hollywood, and a cold rain is falling outside an abandoned, dilapidated bungalow on De Longpre Avenue. The bungalow’s doors and windows are boarded shut, and a tall chainlink fence surrounds the property. With the exception of a lone mailman sorting packages in the comfort of his postal van, the street and sidewalks are empty, the neighborhood silent. Suddenly, the rumble of a large diesel engine can be heard, and moments later a tremendous white tour bus pulls to a stop outside. The doors swing open and out steps John Dullaghan, director of the acclaimed Charles Bukowski documentary Born Into This, and his fellow tour guide, Richard Schave. Trailing behind them is a diverse group — black, white, brown and even some pasty Brits, each of whom has paid 55 bucks to stand in the rain and snap pictures of an empty, trash-strewn bungalow. None of them seem disappointed though. They’re here for a piece of Charles Bukowski, and this is the biggest, coldest, wettest piece there is.

The pre-eminent “station of the cross” on the Haunts of a Dirty Old Man Tour, this is 5124 De Longpre Avenue, the writer’s former home and the site where Bukowski the postal worker died and was reborn as one of Los Angeles’ most influential writers. His novels Post Office and Factotum were written here. He met his wife, Linda King, here, as well as his longtime publisher, John Martin. He also did most of the research for his novel Women here — “research” of course meaning humping every willing young woman he could get his hands on. If one is inclined to believe that even half of the encounters in the book actually happened, the bungalow stands as an inspirational monument to the carnal achievements of an old, alcoholic man.

“This is great,” says longtime Bukowski fan and Los Angeles native Carlos Perez. “This is the first place of his we’ve seen that hasn’t been turned into condos or a fast-food joint.”

That, however, may not be the case for long. If the current owners of the property have their way, the bungalow will be sold as a tear-down to make way for condos. Meanwhile, a team of preservationists led by office-temp-cum-photographer Lauren Everett has mounted an effort to save Bukowski’s most notorious haunt.

Still, as Dullaghan notes, “This place could be torn to the ground any day now.”

Hearing this news, Perez is perplexed. “In other cities famous writers have their homes marked on street signs,” he says. “In San Francisco, Jack Kerouac has an alley named after him.”

In Los Angeles, as it turns out, famous writers don’t get street signs, they get called Nazis.

THE EFFORT TO SAVE BUKOWSKI’S bungalow began this past summer when the 26-year-old Everett, a Bukowski fan, spotted an ad for the De Longpre house on Craigslist. “Approximately a 12,500 square foot lot — currently holds a completely vacant apartment building (bungalow style),” it read. “It is a REAL INVESTMENT, perfect for builders, investors, contractors, etc. You can easily tear down the old building and do new construction! This is a rare-find in a high-demand area; Hollywood — close to restaurants, studios, shopping centers, etc.”

Unwilling to let the home of her favorite author become a REAL INVESTMENT without a fight, Everett enlisted Schave’s help to get the building declared a cultural landmark. On September 20, with the backing of the preservationist group Hollywood Heritage, the pair successfully brokered a stay of execution with the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission.

According to Schave, after touring the building on November 1, the commission was set to approve the designation of the bungalow as a cultural landmark, which would have saved the building from destruction.

That’s when things got weird.

Days before the commission was to make its final decision, the hearing was temporarily put on hold. After not responding to the commission’s letters for more than a month, lawyers for the property’s owners filed a last-second extension, claiming they never received a notice of the hearing by certified mail. They also dropped a bomb — they were protesting the proposed cultural landmark status on the grounds that Bukowski was a Nazi.

“No one’s arguing that these famous books weren’t written at De Longpre,” Schave explains, “they’re arguing that Bukowski’s literary legacy isn’t worthy of historical distinction. If a developer wants to avoid an architectural landmarking for one of their properties, he hires a lawyer to point out the building’s various design flaws and egregious stylistic lapses. But for a cultural designation the only way to protest is to argue that the person whose legacy is being held up isn’t worthy of being recognized.”

Calling someone a Nazi is a pretty good way to do it.

The charge seemed to arrive out of nowhere. Bukowski was born in Germany, and in his semiautobiographical novel Ham on Rye he writes that he used to harangue classmates and teachers at L.A. City College with fascist diatribes to antagonize them. But Buk a full-fledged Nazi?

“That’s ridiculous,” says longtime Black Sparrow publisher John Martin on the phone from his home in Santa Rosa. “Bukowski wasn’t a Nazi, he was a contrarian. Anything he could say to get people’s goat, he’d say — especially when he was young.”

The Nazi charges stem from a 2003 article in the Hollywood Investigator by longtime Bukowski acquaintance Ben Pleasants titled “When Bukowski Was a Nazi,” which was later expanded into the 2004 biography Visceral Bukowski. Pleasants claims that Bukowski “loved Hitler” and that, as a young man, he wrote several Mein Kampf–inspired stories that were confiscated by the FBI during World War II. But years later, when Bukowski’s FBI file was made public, the stories never appeared.

Compounding the improbability of the Nazi claims is the fact that Bukowski’s maternal grandmother was Jewish — her last name was Israel. Pleasants writes that he was the one who actually made the trip to Germany and then informed Bukowski of his Jewish heritage. Describing Bukowski’s response to this discovery, Pleasants makes the dubious statement, “The idea that he could betray Hitler by being Jewish was too much for him to bear.”

For his part, Pleasants, reached by phone at his Los Angeles apartment, is sticking to his story. “I think Bukowski had a lifelong flirtation with Nazism and that he believed in certain Nazi theories of racial purity.” Yet in a seemingly contradictory statement, Pleasants admits Bukowski had several Jewish friends, himself included, and that Hollywood was the main source of his ire. “If he was a Jew-hater,” says Pleasants, “the Jews in Hollywood were the ones he hated.”

“Ben doesn’t know his left foot from his right elbow,” says Martin. “They were acquaintances but Bukowski didn’t even like him.”

Bukowski’s widow, Linda, was unavailable for comment but is said to have been so outraged by Pleasants’ accusations that shortly after the book was published she showed up at a signing and left Pleasants a two-word note saying, “Fuck you.”

A source also says that Linda thought the efforts to save De Longpre were silly to begin with. Now two Bukowski legacies — not just his house but his reputation — are under assault.

The De Longpre preservationists, however, are undeterred.

“I recognize that Bukowski himself wouldn’t have cared less about trying to save this place,” Everett acknowledges. “He would have thought the whole thing was ridiculous. But we’re not trying to save his house in accordance with what we think his wishes would have been. This building is part of our city’s history, a history that’s being destroyed piece by piece every day. Somebody has to take a stand somewhere.”

Everett and Schave hope to work with the Cultural Heritage Commission to find a nonprofit that will turn the bungalow and surrounding property into a writer’s colony. For his part, Schave is confident that the commission will see through the Nazi allegations. “They’re not buying it,” he says. “I think they recognize that this is one of Los Angeles’ most important writers and they won’t be led astray by one dubious source.”

Whether the commission believes the charges may be immaterial — it’s how much grief its members are willing to put up with. The bungalow’s owner, Victoria Gureyeva, says she and her lawyer have no plans to ever allow a cultural monument to Charles Bukowski on her property.

“This man loved Hitler,” she insists, citing Pleasants’ writing. “He may be a great writer — I’m not a critic. But that’s what libraries are for. This is my house, not Bukowski’s. I will never allow the city of Los Angeles to turn it into a monument for this man. My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor. I’ll bring the whole Jewish Westside into this debate if I have to. Then what will the city of Los Angeles do?”

As for Bukowski’s own Jewish roots: “He never acknowledged his Jewish side,” Gureyeva argues. “The rumor is that Hitler’s mother was part Jewish. Now we have Bukowski — Hitler number two.”

And so what began as an effort to preserve a part of the city’s literary history has suddenly become a referendum on the author himself.

“If you let them kill you,” Bukowski once wrote, “they will.”

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