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What Happened To The King Eddy's Magnificent Fire Door Mural?

A composite image of the murals on both sides of the steel fired door in the basement of the King Eddy Saloon in downtown Los Angeles. (Photo by Chinta Cooper)
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Something major is missing from what was once Los Angeles's most illustrious dive bar.

A large oil painting of an old timey cop rousting a drunk has disappeared from the basement speakeasy of the King Eddy. Described as "Skid Row's own American Gothic" by the history buffs at Esotouric, the comedic image -- like something Norman Rockwell's raunchy brother might've created for a proto Mad magazine -- was painted on a large Weirton Steel fire door. The other side of the door, which separated the speakeasy from the hotel's basement, featured a painting of a Dutch girl serving a beer to a sailor. Now, both images are gone and no one knows where they went or how it happened.

A mural in the basement of the King Eddy Saloon, seen in 2012. The basement of the downtown Los Angeles bar was a speakeasy during Prohibition. (Andres Aguila/KPCC)

Richard Schave helped rediscover the mural in 2008, while filming an episode of "Cities of the Underworld." You can see it staerting round 3:33 in the video below.

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Earlier this summer, Craig Sauer was down in the junk-filled basement, shooting footage for one of his immersive 3D tours, when he noticed the fire door was gone, taken off its hinges and removed -- not an easy feat given how heavy those massive, steel doors are.

The crime happened sometime after the summer of 2012 and before the summer of 2017.

On its blog, Esotouric writes, "According to hotel staff, one day several years ago, they noticed that this integral piece of building safety infrastructure had been removed. They put a large piece of plywood up to cover the hole in the wall between the bar and the hotel basement, securing it on the hotel side." The plywood panel is visible in the video of an Oddity Odysseys tour in June 2017.

Now filled with junk, the basement of the King Eddy Saloon served as a speakeasy during Prohibition. Circa 2012. (Andres Aguila/KPCC)

The building's current owner, the Healthy Housing Foundation, is offering a reward of $300, a round of beers and a behind-the-scenes tour of the building to anyone who helps return of the King Eddy's historic fire door. Esotouric will also throw in four tickets for one of its DTLA true crime or literary tours.

What's so special about these paintings and this bar? A little backstory...

The King Eddy Saloon has survived in downtown L.A. for more than a century, since opening in 1906 as the bar for the posh King Edward Hotel. During Prohibition, the watering hole became a piano store and the action moved downstairs, operating as a bona fide basement speakeasy -- one of the last remaining ones in Los Angeles. On Repeal Day in 1933, it officially becamethe King Eddy.

Patrons watch television at the bar in the King Eddy Saloon, circa 2012. (Andres Aguila/KPCC)

It became a haunt for that particular American literary archetype, the hard-drinking, macho yet sensitive writer exemplified by John Fante and Charles Bukowski. The former immortalized the King Eddy in his 1939 novel "Ask The Dust" when struggling writer Arturo Bandini (aka Fante's alter-ego), blows a royalty check on one of the B-girls working in the speakeasy. Some people claim that Bukowski was also a patron -- but that's probably bullshit.

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Located spitting distance from Skid Row in the heart of what is now downtown L.A's Historic Core, the bar held steady until the 1950s, when its fortunes went downhill along with the city's Red Car railway system.

Dustin Croick, part of the family that owned the King Eddy Saloon since the 1950s, stands next to photos of his father and grandfather. The Croiks had to sell the downtown Los Angeles bar in 2012. (Andres Aguila/KPCC)

In the early 1960s, the Croick family took over the King Eddy and kept it preserved in amber, even as cupcake shops, art galleries and high-end lofts sprung up all around. The family was forced to sell the bar in 2012, after the landlord wouldn't renew their lease.

The bar has changed hands a couple of times since then but the King Eddy's basement speakeasy has never been revived.

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