Esotouric might be the strangest of Los Angeles tour companies, with trip titles like “Haunts of a Dirty Old Man: Charles Bukowski’s Los Angeles” and “South LA Road Trip: Hot Rods, Adobes, Googie & Early Modernism.” Owners Richard Schave and Kim Cooper, a husband-wife team, both have a background in deep Los Angeles history, often serving as consultants for the film and television industries. So unlike many Hollywood bus tours, Esotouric’s offerings are the kinds of day jaunts frequented by locals and tourists alike.
In one of their most popular tours, Pasadena Confidential, guests are driven through the wealthy, elite city of Pasadena and delivered to the doorsteps where some of the most mind-boggling crimes have taken place. From the home of rocket fuel inventor Jack Parsons’ occultist sacrifice space to the scene of the great Rose Bowl Parade collapse, Pasadena’s short history is an endless catalogue of oddities.
Founded in 1875, Pasadena was once an enclave of citrus trees and valleys, with a rushing Arroyo Seco River cutting the town off from the larger Los Angeles hub. This seclusion—combined with year-round temperate weather—drew the wealthy from the Midwest and Northeast as a winter vacation paradise. For many years, Pasadena’s economy was driven by a three-month period of growth in the colder months, but lay mostly dormant for the rest of the year, until some vacationers asked themselves why they couldn’t just stay permanently. This early transience, coupled with the extra time the wealthy had on their hands, created a hotbed of curious happenings, from murders and cults, to–most famously–Jack Parsons’ “sex magic.”
In the 1930s, Parsons, a collaborator and friend of L. Ron Hubbard, took leave from his position at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (also in Pasadena) and dove headfirst into the occult. To this day, Parsons is an enigmatic figure, a man responsible for the invention of solid rocket fuel and for the myth that the gates of hell existed on the Arroyo Seco. In Esotouric’s Pasadena Confidential tour, passengers are shown Parsons’ house, where all his pagan experiments took place.
Schave and Cooper’s near-encyclopedic knowledge of this place, along with its neighbors like the Suicide Bridge and the Murder House, creates more than just a tour. It’s a full-immersion campfire story, based on facts stranger than fiction. As an added bizarro bonus, the tour includes accompaniment by one Crimebo the Crime Clown.
A creepy and crusty presence with one-liners galore, Crimebo spins balloon Gattling guns and art deco crowns for tour-goers, but underneath the smudged makeup is another LA history aficionado, the seedier counterpoint to Schave and Cooper’s balanced storytelling. His hilarious interruptions make the whole experience seem closer to an elaborate vaudeville act than a simple tour.
By the time you’ve been deposited back at your meeting spot, you’ll have submitted yourself to a crash course in LA history for fun. But the true treasure in the Pasadena Confidential tour is your becoming a part of Pasadena history yourself. When years have gone by, you’ll be able to recall the exact time and place when you enjoyed a morning coffee and cookie with Crimebo the Crime Clown, looking out from Suicide Bridge to a gorgeous view of the Gates of Hell.
Welcome to Los Angeles.
“Pasadena Confidential” takes place December 6, 2014. Details here. Photos courtesy of LA Confidential, homestead-pasadena.com, Yelp, and Wikipedia.