Wednesday, January 30, 2008

L.A. Traffic and Drivers

On 1/29/08, our mayor gave out the details of his plans to alleviate traffic in Los Angeles, while admitting that public transportation is the only real long-term solution.

His press conference is a good excuse to dredge up previous complaints about traffic, or at least about drivers. How about the pet peeves of movie stars who needed to get around the city . . . back in 1938 ?

According to the CBS write-up on Mayor Villaraigosa’s announcement: “Right- and left-turn pockets, new street lights and landscaping will also be added to the city's most congested intersection at Highland and Franklin avenues.”

That’s good, because Carole Lombard hated drivers who made left turns from the right-hand lane.

Other irritants, according to a Los Angeles Times piece of Jan 4, 1938:

“Gary Cooper could murder the road hog who drives about ten miles per hour in the center lane and will not give an inch. George Raft dislikes the gent who blows his horn and speeds by, and then slows up.” That's George, driving Humphrey Bogart and--I think--Ann Sheridan in the aptly-named They Drive by Night.

Joan Crawford complained of drivers who hit stop signals at high speeds and rear-ended other cars. Can’t say I blame her. That's her in 1935, a thumbnail of a movie still found on

My favorite peeve came from Fred MacMurray.

He “gets sore at the person who fails to give a hand signal when stopping or turning.”

Hand signals? Would anyone flip off Fred MacMurray?

Of course, hand signals meant something slightly different in 1938—which was 22 years before My Three Sons debuted on television. Back then, cars weren’t equipped with turn signals. According to Wikipedia, those weren’t offered to buyers until 1939. Drivers tootled along with their windows down, and stuck their arms out to indicate right or left turns, and stops.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Old Los Angeles in Postcards

Two posts ago I mentioned an online exhibit: A Visit to Old Los Angeles, told through text and vintage postcards.

Turns out there is a book, Old Los Angeles & Pasadena, Ca (Postcard History), by Elena Zimmerman and C. Milton Hinshilwood.

What melodic names. . .

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Ink Well Officially Recognized

On February 7, 2008, at 11 am, a plaque acknowledging the Ink Well will be dedicated at Bay Street and Ocean Front Walk in Santa Monica--where Bay Street meets the bike path.

For years, the Ink Well was the only beach in Santa Monica where people of color were allowed to gather, swim and surf. The 200-foot stretch beach was roped off for decades, as different races were not allowed to mix. California prides itself on liberal and progressive thought, but segregation was a common practice before the Civil Rights Movement. (A previous post has more details about the Ink Well and Nick Gabaldon, the great African American surfer who died in 1951.)

Thanks to the efforts of Rhonda Harper, this plaque ensures that we won't forget the less flattering parts of L.A. history. Those are the bits that teach us the most, after all, and show us that progress has been made.

This picture (another from the online collection of the Los Angeles Public Library) was taken in 1924. The cuddlers are Verna Williams and Arthur Lewis. Verna entered beauty pageants in the 20s, and the library has several pictures of her--one with her son, Arthur Lewis Jr., in the 1950s.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Voting Day Approaches

Here are some photos of Los Angeles voters doing their civic duty--the first taken on November 3, 1936, at the height of the Depression. (Roosevelt won a second term in that one.)

The second picture shows the same polling place (check the floor and the brickwork) on April 3, 1945. Those aren't newspapers the men are studying, but ballots. This was a municipal election, with low turnout--the line exists because only one voting booth was available.

Both these photos were copied from the LAPL's online Herald Examiner Photo Collection.

The building is the Los Angeles YMCA, which sat at 715-729 S. Hope Street for many years. Since the 1970s, though, the Sheraton Hotel Downtown has taken up the site, and then some.

Finally, here's a much older picture of the same lobby room, with the distinctive floor and brickwork.

The last picture is part of an online, annotated postcard collection held by CA State University Long Beach, called "A Visit to Old Los Angeles." This website, credited to Brent C. Dickerson, has a half-dozen views of the building, interior and exterior. You can see more pre-1920s postcards showing other buildings on Hope, such as the still-standing J.W. Robinson store (right across the street from the YMCA/Sheraton, at Grand).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Del Amo Center: The Beginnings

Old-timers in Torrance will tell you that Sam Levy, owner of Levy's Department Store in the old downtown area, was indirectly responsible for the building of Del Amo Center. Levy was approached by Sears, Roebuck & Com in the 1950s. Sears wanted to build a store in downtown Torrance, and Levy fought them tooth and nail. Unable to get a lease in their first choice location, Sears moved out to the oil-pump riddled, undeveloped area east of Hawthorne Blvd. Or so the story goes.

According to the Mall Hall of Fame blog, Del Amo was the 11th shopping mall in Los Angeles County. The caption to this picture (orginally from CSUDH) says

"A circa-1962 view of DEL AMO[pronounced "duh-lah-mow"] CENTER. Sears, the south anchor, faces the Hawthorne and Sepulveda Boulevards intersection seen in the fore-ground."


Here's another shot. Broadway's (now Macy's) is the big 2-story on the right. Beyond it is Hawthorne Blvd. . . beyond that, nothing. Weird.

For the record, Jaime Del Amo (then President of Del Amo Estate Co. and adopted son of the Dominguez land grant family) joined the President of Broadway Hale Stores and the VP of Sears, Roebuck & Co. to announce--on March 19, 1957--that a shopping center called Del Amo would be built, at a cost of $40 million.

Not sure which of the bigwigs said it, but the project was called “the prototype for future shopping centers." For the first time in this area, according to the Los Angeles Times story, two large department stores were linked in a single project.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

MultiTasking Sacred Ground

It's not just an old church--it's a venue!

Sorry, but who can resist the lure of Los Angeles' cathedral bowdlerized into Vibiana Place: a theater/salon/banquet hall. Can't you imagine George Carlin hawking the site to concert promoters, dressed in his cardinal's robes from Dogma?

Does this happen in other cities? Does Italy rent out unused cathedrals for hot ticket events? Maybe they could afford to pay their garbage collectors a decent wage if they did.

Holy cow! Is that a waiter or a priest pouring the bubbly? Or just a seminarian in a work/study program?

Since award shows are on hold due to the WGA strike, glitz-lovers resort to charity events for those dressed-up celeb photos. Sally Field, Ellen & Portia, Harrison and Calista , the Olsen twins--or one of them--all gussied up for the cameras in from of Vibiana's, as if it were the trendiest nightclub in town.

Check out the photos for Art of Elysium (the charity du jour); they're all over the web. The best is in the print edition of January 20 Los Angeles Times--but not reprinted online. It shows the restored interior of the venerable church with candlelit banquet tables instead of pews.

I borrow the top picture from a wedding-planning site ( The altar is now a stage, and the old confessionals can be turned into photo booths. Just one of those LA things that couldn't be made up.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Clippers, 24 Years Here

The Clippers played their first game as a Los Angeles team, and the first game of the NBA season, on October 27, 1984, against the Utah Jazz, in SLC. Starting lineup: James Donaldson, Bill Walton, Marques Johnson, Norm Nixon, and Derek Smith.

Their first home game (home being the Sports Arena) was against the Knicks—a game they won.

This picture of Bill Walton facing off with Kareem was taken on December 30, 1984, and is part of the LAPL's Herald Examiner photo collection. Don't we all miss short shorts?

Before that, they were the San Diego Clippers, and before that, the Buffalo Braves. (The new team name was bestowed after a contest in San Diego.)

Owner Don Sterling tried to move the Clippers to Los Angeles in 1982, but the NBA had a tizzy and sued the commission managing the Sports Arena for $10 million, claiming that they tried to woo the Clippers there without permission. (David Stern was VP of Legal Affairs in 82.) Then the commission countersued the NBA for $50 million, and for good measure they sued Lakers owner Jerry Buss for objecting to the move.

In 1984 none of that mattered. Forgive and forget.

You can buy this October 15, 1979 cover of Bill Walton of the San Diego Clippers for $19.95 at this SI site.

Here’s another laugh: in 1984, season tickets at the Sports Arena for the Clippers cost $630, or $15 a home game—about half of what Laker tickets cost. I will quote from an LA Times article back then:

“At the Sports Arena [Casa Clipper] there are seats available for $15, $12, $8 and $4 in the upper level and $12 behind the basket.
“At the Forum [Laker Land] there are seats available for $9.50 and $7 in the upper level and $13.50 behind the basket. There are also $5 seats in the upper level for children, students and senior citizens.”

Splurge for a program: $3. Oh, and the Sports Arena sold hot dogs and burritos, while the Forum ticket-holders could munch on pizza, burgers, and ham and cheese sandwiches. Plus, the Forum had Chick Hearn, not to mention Kareem et al.

In 1984, the average salary of an NBA player stood at $240,000. a year. Just a point for reference. Don't suppose any of the athletes on the floor here would consider that a living wage.

This is the tip-off from the January 15, 2008 game against Suns. Another Clipper victory.

Monday, January 14, 2008

LAX Theme Building Progress

As of Friday, January 11, 2008, we see that the work is proceeding apace:

The latest news still targets fall 2008 as a completion date . . . though that's a 3-month wide span.

Although the scaffolding and debris-shoots are an ugly distraction--you get a hint of that from the second picture--the restaurant itself is well worth visiting.

For lunch on Friday, the Cobb Salad was great, with a pressed layer of bleu cheese on top, and sides of sliced avocado holding the lettuce in the shape of a precious little pillbox hat. Other ingredients were in neat piles on the plate.

That and coffee cost $25. No bread, but a filling meal anyway. Efficient and courteous service. Valet parking's $6, which seems reasonable.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Voting Machines in Los Angeles

Last summer, a UC study revealed that hackers could easily break through security and control most of our state's voting equipment.

Of course, "stuffing the ballot box" in various ways has been done since people began voting.

This picture was taken in November 1928. It's of an old voting machine in Los Angeles.

Upton Sinclair's name is printed as a potential elector for the Socialist party candidate for President. Hopefully, if you click on the picture you'll get a big enough version to see that.

Basically, the big handle closed the curtain. The handles to the left could be pulled for a straight-party ticket--all Republican, for example. Otherwise, each candidate had a handle, and propositions had handles that moved to "Yes/No" positions.

The top picture is from the Los Angeles Library's Herald Examiner Collection of photos; the one at left is from the Secretary of State's site on Elections.

That site says that all equipment must have a paper trail. With the Inka-Vote system, it's all paper in the precincts, with the exception of the machines for the handicapped--which often don't work, btw.

What sort of clue or irregularity would lead to an actual audit of that paper trail?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Olympic Hotties and Einstein at the Rose Parade

Pretty girls and Rose Parade floats have been paired up for about 118 years, but here is a nifty picture from 1932. That was the year Los Angeles was set to host its first Olympiad, so "Nations and Games in Flowers" was the theme of the parade that year.

Bit o' trivia: the parade had no themes until 1918. Guess what the first theme was, that year--as the U.S. joined the Allies in WWI? Patriotism.

This picture is from the Los Angeles Public Library's online photo collection of the 1932 Olympics.

1932 was also the first year that a shortwave radio broadcast of the parade was heard--internationally, according to the official Rose Parade history. Gee, I'll be that was exciting.

Here's another picture from the 1932 parade--of Albert Einstein. This one's from the Rose Parade History Timeline.

Although he had not emigrated to the US at that time, Einstein visited CalTech in Pasadena in 1930, 1931, and 1932 as a visiting scholar. He'd already won the Nobel Prize and was a superstar; thousands of people gathered to hear him speak.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Film History of City Hall, Graystone Mansion

The Los Angeles Times has been rich with L.A. history pieces the last couple of weeks:

  • December 27: the history and film history of Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, built in the 1920s by Edward Doheny. The article focuses on There Will be Blood and the manse's bowling alley, but mentions Austin Powers, and The Big Lebowski. Imdb lists 50 movies and TV shows filmed there--from Small Talk in 1929 through Forever Amber, Jerry Lewis' Disorderly Orderly, Ghostbusters, X-Men , and so on. This picture is from the City of Beverly Hills' website, which owns the property.
  • January 2: the film history of City Hall, from it's first appearance in a 1928 Lon Chaney movie through the current National Treasure Book of Secrets and beyond.
  • January 3: a piece about the follow-the-actors play performed for six years at Greystone Manor in Beverly Hills--shades of Tamara! The Manor is based on the murder-suicide scandal of Doheny's son, for whom Greystone was built.
  • Another January 3 article about the toppling of Hollywood's oldest tree, with pictures from 1923 showing the building that the tree just missed as it fell--the Hollywoodland Realty Company office.

And since I'm told it's unhealthy to dwell completely on the past, "Watch This Space" in the L.A. Times Magazine of January 6,2008 features the four new public squares installed in our fair city:

  1. The L.A. County Museum of Art expansion designed by Renzo Piano (who designed the Pompidou Center in Paris), opening soon
  2. Wilshire-Vermont Station (one annoying website, I admit)
  3. Nokia Plaza
  4. The new LAPD Headquarters (Pictures at CurbedLA and the Times, but nothing showing the public plaza itself.)

The article by Christopher Hawthorne is not full of hope that our future public places are being any better planned, executed, or utilized than previous unsuccessful attempts to build community gathering places in Los Angeles (other than shopping malls).

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Mines Field (LAX) in 1928 Time

Here is a description of the first air races held at Mines Field, which is what LAX was a mere 80 years ago. This comes from Time Magazine, September 24, 1928:

Two months ago, in a field, not far from Los Angeles, Calif., they were harvesting barley. Then came hordes of men bearing tons of wood, truck loads of nails, 9,000 barrels of oil, 2,000,000 gallons of water, The wood and nails they made into a grandstand (capacity 17,000) into an exposition building, ultra modern, larger than a city block. The oil and water they sprinkled on the field so that whirling hundreds of propellers would not raise a dust.

Last week the National Air carnival at Mines field reached its climax. A Navy aviator climbed 10,000 feet in four-and-a-half minutes. An Army flier, Lieut. J. J. Williams was killed in formation stunt flying, Col. Charles Augustus Lindbergh took his place, continued Immelman turns, loops, barrel rolls. But a Navy trio gave a superior exhibition of stunts.

In the exposition hall were 300 brightly colored booths, housing nearly every design of plane or accessory on the market. A professor demonstrated a fool-proof self-landing, self-balancing plane, dubbed "the flying pickle."

There were many races, the most important of which was the non-stop transcontinental derby. Col. Arthur Goebel in a Wasp-motored Lockhead-Vega Yankee Doodle was the first to arrive. But he won no prize because he had stopped once to refuel. Even so his time from New York to Los Angeles was a record; 23 hours, 50 minutes. The other entrants in the race had been forced down. Col. William Thaw seriously injured, had said before starting on the race: "I'm fat, I'll bounce."

The carnival was attended by 400,000 (75,000 on the last day). Five million dollars worth of airplanes were sold. A statue of Col. Lindbergh was always a centre for a crowd.

(The picture, btw, is from the website and was taken in 1930)