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Documenting LA's Historic And Abandoned Buildings Before They Turn Into Chipotles

A store in Granada Hills, from the book Abandoned & Historic Los Angeles: Neon and Beyond. (Alixan Gorman/Courtesy Jason Horton)
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Los Angeles plays itself in a new book by Ghost Town podcast host Jason Horton. "Los Angeles is the main, and really only character," he told LAist.

For Abandoned & Historic Los Angeles: Neon and Beyond, Horton stitched together essays, collected images, and commissioned shots of recognizable L.A. landmarks and lesser known locations.

The abandoned Hawthorne Plaza Mall. (Courtesy Jason Horton)
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The kind of site that excites him the most: the abandoned Hawthorne Plaza Mall.

He was working on a film the first time he saw it. "I was freaking out, even though I was supposed to be working. But I was like, I don't care about your dumb movie, I care that I'm in this very awesome mall."

Horton's excitement and sense of happenstance exploration carries through the book.

"The whole time I worked on this book, I did not have a car. So any photos that I've taken, or anything that I've done, either I've had them, or I just happened to be somewhere," Horton said.

For example, the Wonder Bread store "sitting between Glendale and Burbank that I passed so many times ... I was always like, I need to capture those photos, because eventually this is going to be a Chipotle," Horton said.

The remnants of an old J.C. Penney. (Alixan Gorman/Courtesy Jason Horton)

Some of Horton's other highlights include the neon signs found in the San Fernando Valley and an image of an old mint green J.C. Penney.

"Some of it is just a wall -- maybe an advertisement that's been faded from the 1950s, and you can tell it's Levi's Jeans or something like that, in downtown L.A.," Horton said.

He says he's always been someone who loves reading plaques and historical markers.

"Standing where someone has stood, or something has happened -- for me, I just thought I was a weirdo that was into that," Horton said. "My wife's like, we can't go anywhere without me going, 'We've got to stop. They filmed Drive here at this pizza place, so we've got to stop, and for fun, I'm going to try to match Ryan Gosling."

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At the Safari Inn in Burbank. (Alixan Gorman/Courtesy Jason Horton)

Horton hopes that the book helps people see and feel the depth of Los Angeles, beyond the most well-known locations.

"I have a lot of pride in the city, and the people, and its history. When people say L.A. has no culture -- that outdated thing -- that is so narrow-minded ... I wanted this book to be example of a very few pages of what could be a million pages of why that's wrong," Horton said.

The COVID-19 pandemic made Horton feel awkward about promoting this new work.

"It's a tough time right now, and the idea of promoting a book, I just didn't feel good about it -- I didn't want to bother anybody with a stupid book," Horton said.

But as a project that excites him, he still wanted to share it with the world.

The vacant Woodland Hills Promenade mall. (Alixan Gorman/Courtesy Jason Horton)

And he has one request of his fellow Angelenos.

"If you live in Los Angeles, maybe instead of just going from Point A to Point B, which we all do robotically -- myself included -- stop, and look," Horton said. "Maybe slow down for a second and realize how great this city is."

Abandoned & Historic Los Angeles: Neon and Beyond is available now.