Jewish owner fight to destroy 'gutter poet' landmark

The alleged Nazi sympathies of author Charles Bukowksi may prevent his home from gaining landmark status in L.A.

Bukowski 88 224 (photo credit: )
Bukowski 88 224
(photo credit: )
The hard-drinking, foul-mouthed writer Charles Bukowski once described himself as a guy who wouldn't walk away from a brawl. Now it's up to fans of the gutter poet to take up the fight to have his beaten-down bungalow turned into a civic monument over the objections of the property's owners, who claim he was a Nazi sympathizer. Backers say the east Hollywood abode deserves recognition and the restoration that would go with it because it's where Bukowski banged out stories and poems that transformed him from a working stiff with a literary streak into an internationally celebrated author. "The great books that really started him on his career - that all happened on De Longpre," said Neeli Cherkovski, author of Bukowski: A Life and a friend of the writer. "It was where Charles Bukowski became the voice of Los Angeles." But the owners, who tried to sell the bungalow court as tear-down for $1.3 million, are poised to fight the proposal before a city commission Thursday based on allegations that Bukowski had Nazi leanings. Co-owner Victoria Gureyeva refused to discuss the issue on her lawyer's advice, but previously said she would enlist local Jewish activists in her campaign against landmarking. "This man loved Hitler," Gureyeva, who is Jewish, told the alternative newspaper LA Weekly. "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." The city's preservationist community is lining up behind the proposal, although some were bemused that a man known best for boozy excesses might have the place he once lived given the same landmark designation as City Hall and the Hollywood sign. Bukowski, who died of leukemia in 1994 at 73, has a cultish following around the world and the esteem of critics and fellow literati. Sean Penn, Tom Waits and Bono have professed their admiration for the writer. The movies Barfly and Factotum were based on his books and his papers join manuscripts and rare volumes from Shakespeare and Chaucer at the Huntington Library in San Marino. But he is as well known for his image as a down-at-the-heels drunk and for pronouncements like, "Sometimes you just have to pee in the sink." The impulse to make Bukowski's home a monument comes from a feeling that he was a more accurate chronicler of the city than other writers, said David Fine, author of Imagining Los Angeles: A City in Fiction. Raymond Chandler, Aldous Huxley, Nathaniel West and F. Scott Fitzgerald are far brighter literary lights, along with others who came here to toil as screenwriters. But they tended to portray an apocalyptic landscape of crime noir and empty celebrity. Bukowski grew up here and saw it from a less cynical, more authentic down-to-earth vantage. "He's writing about a city that people could recognize as a city of people - drifters and people that hang out at the library and on park benches," Fine said. Bukowski, who moved into the bungalow in his 40s, lived in the adobe-colored one-story home on De Longpre Avenue from 1963 to 1972. The windows and doors are now boarded up, along with those of its neighboring bungalows, and a tall chain link fence keeps the curious out. A dirty camper van was parked outside on a recent night with its door open to the breeze and a shopping cart heaped with stuffed garbage bags beside it. A chorus of children could be heard crying in the apartment building next door. The scene evoked images Bukowski described in the poem, "The Division": "I live in an old house where nothing/screams victory/reads history/where nothing/plants flowers." "It just fit Bukowski, the kind of self-invented cool-slash-fall guy surrounded by the ruined landscape of Los Angeles," Cherkovski said of the house, where Bukowski wrote his semi-autobiographical first novel, Post Office, and other works. The effort to preserve the house began this summer when literary tour guide Richard Schave was scouting an excursion based on Bukowski's life and found the bungalow court vacant, boarded up and for sale. Schave posted a screen shot of an online sale ad on his blog, where it was spotted by preservationist Lauren Everett. Everett's petition to have the ramshackle former rental declared a historic cultural monument gained the support of the Los Angeles Conservancy, which pushes for the preservation of significant properties, and city employees who advise the Cultural Heritage Commission. A vote earlier this month was postponed after the property's owners said they hadn't been notified enough in advance to oppose the landmarking. Attorney Joseph Trenk said their challenge includes the Nazi allegations, an issue raised by poet Ben Pleasants in the book Visceral Bukowski: Inside the Sniper Landscape of L.A. Writers. Pleasants, who has not been asked to appear at the landmarking hearing, said the author's sympathies toward Nazi Germany are crucial to understanding his writing. "There are many examples of him making the bad guys Jewish," Pleasants said in an interview, citing a sneering reference to Jewish lawyers in the book Ham on Rye. In his own book, Pleasants recounts a time he was interviewing Bukowski at a deli when the writer "gawked at the predominantly Jewish diners" and belted out "turn on the gas," a reference to concentration camp gas chambers. But Gerald Locklin, author of the biography Charles Bukowski: A Sure Bet, said he can't remember any evidence of anti-Semitism in Bukowski's work or correspondence he shared with the author. Still, Locklin said he didn't see the point of landmarking the home. "It seems to be kind of a nonissue," he said. "If I were to look around the place and say: 'Was there anything particularly remarkable about it?' No."