Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ground Broken for New Coliseum!

On this date in 1921--December 30--ground was broken at Exposition Park to build our Coliseum at an estimated cost of $800,000. The Los Angeles Library confirms that the final cost was $955,000.  But both the library and Wiki claim that ground was broken on December 21, 1921.  I'm looking at the Proquest reproduction of the Los Angeles Times articles dated the 31st that begins "Ground was broken yesterday..."  so I'll go with that.

This intriguing photo was taken in 1925, at night. You can just make out the Coliseum's entrance at the end of the double row of cedar Christmas trees, put up by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. Hopefully, clicking on the picture will give a larger view.

A race track once occupied the Coliseum's land, but it had closed long before 1921. City builders had been hauling sand and gravel from the site for construction for so long that the Times reported the place "stands today as a region of hollows." Nevertheless, an additional 300,000 yards of earth had to be removed "by a five-yard scoop bucket in the formation of the great elyptical embankment." The plan was that the field of the Coliseum would sit 32 feet below ground level, and the stands would rise to 75 feet above the playing field.

LA hoped to snap up the 1928 Olympics--in fact, they were ready to go for 1924 just in case Paris bowed out (which I don't think anyone seriously expected). Amsterdam got the1928 Olympics, though. The 1932 Olympics were the first held in Los Angeles and at the Coliseum--sadly, we were the only city to bid for them because of the Depression. And LA is noted for building the first "Olympic Village" in Baldwin Park, but it was a community of MALE athletes only! Hmph!

Monday, December 28, 2009

When is a Mosaic Not a Mosaic?

A different Mosaic for Mosaic Mondays: A church sans mosaic, unless you count the congregation. According to Pastor Eric Bryant of the Mosaic Church, the Mosaic of their name is “a metaphor for describing the broken and fragmented lives that God brings together to form a beautiful picture."

That quote comes from the Hipster Church Tour blog.

The Mosaic Church meets all over the LA region each Sunday: at Beverly Hills High School, William Carey University in Pasadena, Knob Hill Community Center in Redondo Beach, an office building in Whittier...but the most intriguing meeting spot has got to be the Mayan on Hill Street near Olympic. Right...the Mayan Club serves as a church on Sunday mornings.

The theater was built in 1927 at a cost of $850,000.  It sat next to the Belasco at 11th & Hill--both theaters were owned by Edward Doheny, the oil gazillionaire. The Belasco presented dramas, and the Mayan, muscials. Because big discoveries of Mayan art were all over the papers when the building began in 1926, one of the managers/lessees decided to use Mayan-style art and motifs for the place. Mexican artist Francisco Cornejo designed the stonework facade and interior.

Its debut event on August 15th was a production of the Gershwins' Oh Kay! That's the musical that introduced "Someone to Watch Over Me" in 1926. Elsie Janis and John Roche starred.

By the 1980s, the Mayan Theatre had fallen on hard times and devolved to a porno movie house. In fact, porno movies were shot below the original stage! However, the building was sound and usable, so it became Club Mayan. Owner Sammy Chao did the renovations in a way to preserve the original architecture--so says the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation.

The new Mayan hosts the World Salsa Competition, disco concerts, and all sorts of things. You want hip-hop? Basement. Top 40 dance hits? Main floor. In the mood for a meranque? Mezzanine.

And on Sundays, it houses evangelical church services. Don't you love California?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A bit of Hollywood and Vine History

The spectacularly valuable real estate along Hollywood and Vine has been surprising people for decades, apparently. Here's what the October 14, 1928 Los Angeles Times had to say about one section:

When Carl Laemmle paid the Hoover estate $350,000 for the northwest corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine street in 1925, even the most optimistic realty men believed the high mark for Hollywood frontage had been reached. Recently Laemmle refused an offer of $1,000,000 for the property. In 1912, this lot was offered for sale at $15,000.

Well! Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal, financed the Laemmle Building on that corner in 1932. The architect was Richard Neutra, but the building itself is lost. Read about its history, up to its incarnation as the Basque Club, here on Allen Ellenberger's blog.  The Basque, and the building, were destroyed by fire in 2008.

This postcard picture above, held by the LA Public Library, shows the building in 1949 during its life as the Melody Lane Cafe. The Laemmle Building is the low ediface right under the big Chevron billboard.

And just for giggles, here's the Hollywood and Vine corner in 1926, when only the Taft Building (erected 1923) marked it. According to the Times, a lot adjoining the Taft building on Vine was offered for sale for $4,500--in 1920. The next year, Charles H. Christie (of Christie Comedies) bought it for $10,500 and resold it in 1923 for $35,000! Two years later, it got sold again for $135,000.

Really makes me wish for that time machine.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Byzantine Mosaic Monday

Twenty years ago, this building on Torrance Blvd near Amie (just east of Hawthorne) was an office. Now it's St. Mercurius and St. Abraam Coptic Orthodox Church in Torrance.

It stands only a quarter-mile from Toys R Us, which is the ultimate hot spot this time of year. Like several other stores, Toys R Us is opening at 6 a.m. this week.  I feel sorry for their employees, but my sympathy will not stop me from taking advantage of the expanded hours. No lines that early! At least, not yet.

Madonna and child seems appropriate for Christmas week, right? Almost as appropriate as, say, Geoffrey the Giraffe of Toys R Us?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Santa Monica Canyon Cemetery Award

The Pascual Marquez Family Cemetery in Santa Monica Canyon dates back to the 1840s, a little after Mexico granted 6,656 acres to Francisco Marquez and Ysidro Reyes in 1834. That acreage, including both Santa Monica and Rustic Canyon, became the Rancho Boca de Santa Monica, a cattle ranch.

The graveyard holds the remains of probably thirty Marquez family members, as well as friends and servants--possibly the servants were local Gabrielino Indians. According to the cemetery's website, Francisco Marquez and his wife Roque Valenzuela lost six infant children over the years, and they certainly would have been buried there.

The most gruesome burial took place almost a century ago.

This coming New Year's Eve will mark the 100th anniversary of a dinner party at the Marquez adobe at which canned peaches were served--peaches infested with botulism. Over the next five days, twelve people died after eating the peaches, and ten of them are buried in one long grave at the Pascual Marquez Family Cemetery. An infant died of exposure when left unattended during those days, bringing the death total to thirteen.

Until now, the exact location of all the graves had been lost--all but two of the original grave markers, mostly wood, long since turned to dust.

Last January, a team from UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology used ground-penetrating radar to ID fifteen (possible) graves there, as well as a (possible) mass burial pit. (here's a link to an LA Times story on that. This is their photo, too, by Louis Sinco.) They even brought trained cadaver dogs out to help locate the graves! The identifications will help with the restoration of the cemetery, and the UCLA team has earned a Governor's Historic Preservation Award. That'll be presented in Sacto in January.

In fact, the great-grandson of the original owner is still around. That owner was Francisco Marquez. His son Pascual died in 1916 and was buried at the cemetery--the cemetery is named for him. Ernest Marquez, Pascual's grandson, is 85 years old. He and his relatives are thrilled about UCLA's work and award--the cemetery is the only bit of the original landgrant still owned by the Marquez family.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

First Supermarket, December 17, 1927

At 43rd and Western, Isadore M. Hattem built a store so grand we needed to coin a new word to describe it: Supermarket. These pictures show the grand opening. The store featured a fountain out front and a deli, cigar counter, flower mart, and coffee shop inside, with lavish offices on the second floor. Cost to build? $30,000. And it was open day and night!

Walter Roland Hagedohm was the architect, and he also built Hattem's Shopping Center on Vermont and 80th Street about four years later. In between, he designed the Balboa Inn of Newport Beach, which became a trendy getaway of Hollywood movie stars in the 1930s.

Look at those cans! No one stacks cans like that anymore!

Isadore M. Hattem (originally spelled Hatem, but he changed it during the WWI years) was a Sephardic Jew and founding member of what is now the Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel. Before opening his supermarket, Hattem was one of the early merchants in the Grand Central Market, which opened in 1917.

Back in those days, apparently, customers asked for merchandise at a counter, and it was the clerk's job to fetch items and put the order together. Around the time that Grand Central Market opened, though, self-service markets were becoming popular. Self-service simply meant that the customer strolled along aisles and picked up items, instead of sending a store clerk off to get things. Piggly-Wiggly in Tennessee was the first self-service market, but the trend spread west.

Wikipedia cites the Smithsonian as saying that King Kullen Markets, started in 1930 in New York, was the first supermarket. Hah! Dumb ol' Smithsonian! Hattem's Market beat King Kullen by three years!

What made a store a supermarket? As near as I can tell, it was the concept of selling canned goods, produce, and meat in the same shop. Before the supermarket, meat was something you bought from a butcher.

The Los Angeles Library has lots more pictures of the Hattem grand opening--close-ups of the produce section, the bakery department, the deli, the floral displays...and allowing for black and white and old signage, most of the pictures look pretty much like what you see when you walk into a store today. The cigar counter was rather unique, though. Like today's cigarette displays, most of the merchandise was behind locked glass display cases. I think that's the cigar counter in the lower right.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mosaic Monday: Olde City Hall, Torrance

The original Torrance City Hall on Cravens Avenue was designed by architects Walker & Eisen and built with WPA funds in 1936. The City Hall was an efficient, standard moderne building that served for 25+ years--with no mosaic. That came later.

Walker & Eisen were a well-known and successful firm by the 1930s. They actually helped construct the Oviatt Building in on 6th and Olive in Los Angeles--now the Cicada Restaurant. According to PublicArtInLA, they were "primarily responsible for the shell of the building and the Olive Street facade. Percy Augustus Eisen (1885-1946) and Albert Raymond Walker (1881-1958) were in partnership from 1919 to 194-. . . . Their later works were mostly government buildings, theaters, and branch facilities carried out in the moderne style. Major commissions included the Fine Arts Building (1925), United Artists Building (1927), Title Insurance Building (1928), National Bank of Commerce (1929), Fruit Growers Exchange (1934), Beverly-Wilshire Hotel (1926), El Cortez Hotel (San Diego, 1927), El Mirador Hotel (Palm Springs 1927), Mar Monte Hotel (Santa Barbara 1927), Torrance City Hall, Jail, and Municipal Building (1936), . . . " (text prepared by Martin Eli Weil, A. I. A., Restoration Architect, for Ratkovich, Bowers Incorporated, October 1982, for nomination of the building to the National Register of Historic Places.)

Well, that confirms a story I've heard from people who grew up in Old Torrance--that the basement served as a jail. Children who walked by the City Hall on their way to school in the 1950s and early 60s remember that the prisoners would call to them from small, sidewalk-level windows: "Hey, kids! Let us out of here!"

By the 1970s, a new, bigger-by-a-factor-of-maybe-twenty City Hall complex was built and the old building became a Home Savings. That's when this mosaic was added. I have not been able to confirm that the work is Millard Sheets'--the Torrance Historical Society and the main library weren't sure, and the local newspapers are not indexed or online.

However, I'd put five bucks on it being Sheets' handiwork. In fact, I believe there were once more mosaics, but this is the only one that remains on the outside. Home Savings moved away in the 80s, and the building is now the local office of Time Warner Cable.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Perry Mason and the Hall of Justice

Harkening back to that building with the loaded mice, our own somewhat empty Hall o' Justice. . .

Gunnar and Sherry of the Eccentric Roadside blog remind us that the Hall of Justice served as the backdrop for many TV shows, most notably Perry Mason. In fact, the Wiki site has a page showing shots of the Hall of Justice as it appeared in various episodes! I like this one (from episode #269) with the big ol' cars.

What other TV shows has it been in? Get Smart and Dragnet. I'd be interested in finding more movie and TV location trivia. Pursuing that, I came across Armand's Rancho del Cielo blog, with this post showing the basement of the Hall of Justice this year. Cool!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Main Street 1899

Another great picture courtesy of Shorpy!

If this doesn't enlarge by clicking, you can go to the Shorpy link (above) and click. The Vienna Buffet--which served beer and appears in quite a few stories of disorderly conduct and petty crime in the 1890s--is shown in the lower left corner-- the leftiest bit of actual street in the picture. St. Vibiana's bell tower is identifiable--it's a bit right and above center.

But if you're craving twenty-two minutes of 1890's Los Angeles with musical accompaniment, you can't beat this:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

UCLA History of Mathematics Mosaic

In 1968, artist Joseph Louis Young installed a 16-panel mosaic illustrating the History of Mathematics at UCLA. This pictures shows a small portion of that on the Math Science Building.

Young died in 2007. Much of his work was done back east, though he and his wife lived in LA and West Hollywood for decades. He lectured in Europe, and his murals adorn buildings in Chicago, Boston, and his hometown, Pittsburgh. Here's a tribute to Young from the Mosaic and Glass Art blog.

This picture--which really shows the work up close--is from the Los Angeles Murals Project website. I hope they don't mind me using it as more of a tease than a real representation of the work. To see more of the Mural Projects' pictures of Young's work, click here.

Los Angeles County Hall of Justice

This building on primo real estate (Temple and Broadway ) has been closed for fifteen years now--ever since the 1994 Northridge quake. Damaged to the point that hundreds of millions of dollars are required to fix it. Maybe.

According to USC's Geography page, the 1925 Hall of Justice is undergoing a $200 million renovation even as we blog. According to a Los Angeles Times' story this week, our Board of Supervisors has just ordered a report on the feasibility of repairing and reusing the building. The LA County Sheriff wants to move back in, since this building was their home for many years.

This picture is from the USC site, but here's an even better one from, which claims the building went up in 1922, not 1925. And the Los Angeles Conservancy calls it a "1926 Beaux Arts Building." The top five floors were once a jail and housed Sirhan Sirhan, Charles Manson, and other dark souls; Marilyn Monroe's autopsy was done at this address. Wonder if it's haunted?

On a lighter note, a November 5, 1963 Times story implied that mice in the building were getting high on marijuana stored in the county clerk's narcotics locker. "Those mice are addicts," complained Peter J. Talmachoff, chief criminal division deputy. "They run riot all night, then stagger off to their nest leaving the floor littered with marijuana."

I did not make a word of that up; it's taken verbatim from the news story. The room held several hundred pounds of weed for use as evidence in pending trials. Talmachoff said an exterminator and a plasterer had been called in and went to work, but "The next day the mice were back in the marijuana just the same." and "We have trapped about 50 of them, but the mice multiply faster than we can catch them."

That was 55 years ago! What if the real reason the building's been shut down for so long is not earthquake damage but drug-crazed mutant rodents? Just wondering. With Flash Forward and other dramas showing reruns this month, wouldn't it be cool to watch a series about mutant mice in the Hall of Justice plotting the overthrow of democracy?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Mosaic Monday--Claremont

I'm cheating; these pictures were taken a couple of years ago and went with another blog post about Millard Sheets' Centennial. But as I have made the jump from Penniless-Writer to Working-and-Writing-When-I-Can, time is short.

This mosaic of Cleopatra and Isis is one of several Shakespeare scenes that decorate the Garrison Theater in Claremont, now owned by Scripps College. It was built in 1963, but refurbished, enlarged, and tricked out with fabulous acoustics less than ten years ago. Sheets created the mosaics for the original building in his Claremont Studio.

Here's another of the mosaics--the duel between Tybalt and Romeo. That's the sky and surrounding trees reflected off the Italian marble facade and the mosaic. Claremont, after all, is the city of trees & PhD's, or so they say, and the theater's in a beautiful area, with a patio roof that shades the building and frames the reflection.

Scripps, btw, is still the Women's College of Claremont. How quaint! It was founded in the 1920s by a woman--Ellen Browning Scripps--and shares facilities and classes with the other Claremont Colleges.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mosaic Mondays

WELL, why not?

Mosaics are beautiful, though most fall into two categories: religious art, and Millard Sheets's work. There are some exceptions, and I'll try to find them. Every Monday. . . unless I forget.

This picture is found on the facade of St. Lawrence Martyr School in Redondo Beach. The parish dates back to 1956, I think, and the church was dedicated in 1957. The school followed shortly after, and I believe this mosaic was part of the original construction. It shows St. Lawrence, a third century martyr who died during the persecution of Roman Emperor Valerian, distributing alms to the poor.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sometimes Vintage Bars Really ARE Vintage

Marbella, JazzMatazz, Bar Chloe, The Kress. . . these and other retro bars were featured in a Friday the 13th article in the Los Angeles Times about . . . well, retro bars. Specifically, pre-WWII retro bars, as well as bars that have theme nights--like the upcoming December 5th Repeal Day. Lots of lounges will celebrate the 76th anniversary of the end of Prohibition on that day with costumes and vintage drinks.

Some of these retro venues, though, have a legitimate claim to history. One that caught my attention--mainly because of the Times' gorgeous photographs--is the Marbella, which was once the Montmartre Cafe on Hollywood Blvd. between Highland and McCadden. The picture to the right is not dated, but the one below, showing the interior, was taken in 1930. (both were found at the LA Library's online collection).

Eddie Brandstatter opened the Montmartre Cafe in early 1923, and a year later celebrated its first anniversary with a gala event and over 150 film and stage stars. Vince Rose led the Montmartre Band in those days (Mel Pedesky filled in when Vince and the band toured), and every Wednesday was Bohemian night--all the artistes, musicians, and actors visited to see vaudeville dance acts. "Flapper Night" on Fridays brought the tourists in--later, Friday nights were dedicated to screenwriters. Brandstatter even printed in his ads: "SEE--colorful Hollywood nite life with the movie stars at play."

Here's a July 25 list of the films stars who'd made reservations for the cafe that night (yes, they announced them in advance): Dorothy Devore, Vola Vale, Shannon Day, June Marlowe, Lois Wilson, Helen Lynch, Viola Dana, Lefty Flynn, Rex Lease, Alice Day, Edna Mae Cooper, Cocille Evans, William Eugene and Tom Moore. Alice Calhoun was to give away the dance trophy to the contest winners.

Only a few weeks later, though, the police raided the Montmartre and other watering holes of the film set--remember, this was during Prohibition. The police found no liquor and only two people were arrested. Pola Negri and Ernst Lubitsch were honored guests a few nights later.

It really was the hot spot of the day, but by 1932, Eddie Brandstetter hit hard times. The Montmartre Cafe was auctioned off to pay his bills, and he stood trial for grand theft--accused of making off with the drapes, artwork, and even a marble nude statue that had once adorned his cafe. He was found guilty on some (not all) counts of theft and was given two years' probation. He ended his own life a few years later (1940) and his obituary credits him as being the owner of Sardi's in New York at one point!

His beautiful and storied club became the "New Montmartre Cafe." A November 28, 1935 article in the Times announces the OPENING of the new, new Montmartre Cocktail Lounge and Restaurant soon. Don't know what happened then, but the Montmartre has resurfaced as the Marbella, restored to glory and available for events.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fretting in '42

Here's a "this day in non-history" featurette:

The November 8, 1942 edition of the Los Angeles Times ran the headline:

"Children's Lessened Library Use Deplored"

(I know it's juvenile, but certain words make me snicker. Deplore, whilst, appall--I guess I heard the nuns use them in fits of righteous anger once too often.)

This story fretted that children were visiting Los Angeles' libraries less frequently than the previous year. Yes, there was a war going on, the article acknowledges, but Miss Gladys English of the library felt that now, more than ever, children needed the diversion of reading! She was "considerably concerned."

Under new rulings made by the public schools, children must now go directly home from school. Before Pearl Harbor, many of them dropped into the nearest branch immediately after school and spent an hour or so in reading... Another rule makes it impossible for them to now come in classes or groups" to the library--on field trips, to hear stories or see exhibits.

OK, snickering aside, that really is deplorable. Were there really such rules? Gas was on the verge of being rationed, the article points out, but I was not able to learn anything more about these restrictions. Were the school authorities worried about bombs? Air raids? Were libraries considered unsafe?

Here are some of the restricted little darlings, a picture I found at today's Los Angeles Public Library photo collection of a first grade class at Joaquin Miller School in Burbank...cause what's a post without a picture?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mayor Bradley's Costume

Here's the one I've been saving for Halloween.

This pictures hangs on the wall of the Lighthouse Cafe in San Pedro. That's Mayor Tom Bradley disguised as the Phantom of the Opera, back in 1991. The other folks are the old owners (long since retired to some tropic isle) and staff.

Great food at the Lighthouse, btw, but a very informal...dare I say lunch counter-type ambiance? A place for friends, rather than dates and bosses.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Minstrel Shows in Los Angeles

Yes, scary, huh? On October 29, 1901, a minstrel show was performed at the Elks' Hall by the "Native Sons" and "Native Daughters" of Los Angeles. Pick your poison; there are so many ways to be offended!

It was followed by a vaudeville performance of "professional talent", although the quartet that sang was made up of afore-mentioned Native Daughters. The Natives Sons/Daughters of the Golden West still exist as a statewide organization involved in preserving California history and doing charitable good works. They no longer espouse racist ideas and would definitely distance themselves from minstrel shows.

But back then in the halcyon days of yore...

Read about it here, as it was reported in the Los Angeles Herald. The names of performers are given; presumably all white (with names like Adoph Ramsch and Herman Lichtenberger, I think the assumption is valid). The Times did not cover this show, but there are plenty of notices and reviews about other minstrel shows in the 19th and 20th century. Billy West's Minstrels, for example, played at the Los Angeles Theatre in mid-October to rave reviews. Of their star, Billy Van, the Times said: "Billy of the limitless range, many tongued cymbal voice and the gutta percha countenance [I have no idea what that means]. . . the audience laughs and keeps on laughing. He is such a good thing that he ought to be patented."

I did my masters thesis on minstrel shows (that's why I happened to have a copy of the above announcement of a minstrel show in Sacramento, in which Christy's Minstrels performed and gave the box office take to one Lewis Mairs, a famed blackface, female impersonator) and I have a strong opinion that we should not forget them. They are racist, immoral, and an embarrassment, but here's the kicker: They were once, and for decades, the most popular form of entertainment in America.

Scary, right? We should remember that, and know how easily we as a crowd/mob/audience can be made to laugh at abominations.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pre Halloween Book Signing

Another Arcadia book! I guess that could be scary.

Early Universal City by Bob Birchard, though, looks quite interesting, and the author will be signing books and giving a presentation on the early days of Universal City this Friday, October 30, at Larry Edmunds Bookstore in Hollywood. Also on hand will be Carla Laemmle, celebrating her personal centennial, and Rick Atkins--Carla's biographer.

Carla is the niece of Carl Laemmle, the early movie-making giant who founded Universal City. She was also an actress--this is her picture. According to imdb, she starred...ok, she appeared in everything from the Lon Chaney version of Phantom of the Opera in 1925 (she was the prima ballerina) to Dracula (THE Dracula, with Bela Lugosi) (Carla was a "coach passenger"), then retired from film in the 1940s, only to reappear as an elder vampire in a 2001 short called Vampire Hunters Club.

What a career! The rest of us can only dream...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pasadena's Broom Brigade

A black and white photograph taken in 1886 shows women of the Pasadena Broom Brigade--stern looking ladies in black-on-black ornamented dresses, with pillbox hats, all shouldering brooms like rifles. Ten of them line up, staring at the camera and not daring to blink, while one Lt. Rockwood sits on the ground before them, hat in hand.

This was one of many photos put on exhibit by the Pasadena Museum of History. The Los Angeles Times, in an October 18, 2009 article, reprints it as emblematic of the many historical oddities on display at the Los Angeles Archives Bazaar. No one seems to know anything about the photo.

Sillies! Haven't they heard of Google?

Google books brought up this passage from a 1917 book titled Pasadena, California, Historical and Personal, by J. W. Wood, a 19th century businessman and memoirist: "The "broom brigade" was a composite of young ladies who, in costume and with brooms, performed a very attractive drill, etc., at Williams Hall. Allie Freeman, Velma Brown, Bertha McCoy, and others whose names cannot now be remembered, were conspicuous figures in this "pageant." It made a hit."

Earlier, Wood had identified the Williams Building as part of the Williams Block, built in 1883 by R. Williams. Wood himself opened a drug store in February of that year, calling it the Pasadena Pharmacy. There's even a picture of Williams Hall, next to the Masonic Hall, on page 118 of his book.

There's also this caption in the Arcadia volume Old Pasadena by Cedar Imboden Phillips (great name!), which identifies Lt. Rockwood as a retired military fellow who trained the girls in their drills:

"The girls performed at fund-raising events held by the Pastoral Aid Society of the Presbyterian church. The brooms and other accessories were sometimes auctioned off to the enthusiastic audience, thereby raising more money for the organization. Many of these girls were of wealthy backgrounds and would not have to use brooms in their regular lives, adding a greater element of fun and exoticism to their broom-and-dustpan drills."

Well, it's not everything you might ever want to know about these women, but it's something. And since I found something to address the questions in the Times, I do not feel guilty over reprinting their reprint of the photograph. Which, by the way, is cropped. The original, reprinted in the Arcadia book, shows about 20 young ladies, including a drummer.

Is this where the founders of the Doo-dah parade found their inspiration? Are the great-grandkids of the Broom Brigade the briefcase-wielding marchers of today? Maybe there's just something in the Pasadena air.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tanning Beds O' Death

Patricia Ellis

Those who use tanning devices before age 30 have a 75% increase in risk of melanoma, according the the World Health Organization, and duly reported by the Los Angeles Times and Time Magazine. The focus of the most recent stories is that--while some regulations are in place to limit tanning among minors--most salons ignore the rules.


The cutie in this picture, Patricia Ellis, was a big-time movie star in the 1930s. You've probably not heard of her because she retired at the height of her fame, in 1939. She married and left Hollywood, but sadly died of cancer in her mid-fifties. This was an early tanning bed--more correctly, a sun lamp setup. No idea whether Ellis used sunlamps frequently or not.

The first real tanning salon opened on August 28, 1978, in Searcy, Arkansas: Tan-trific. By the fall of 1979, Tan-trific had 81 salons in 16 states--and lots of competition. In California, Plan-A-Tan opened in July 1979 in Orange County, and the Tan Factory of Temple City debuted in September. Rather than beds, paying customers stood in 3-foot-square cubicles, basking in the glow of large ultraviolet bulbs shining from each corner. Westinghouse had actually developed the bulbs in 1949.

It was the hottest thing, tanning--even though the link between tanning and skin cancer was already well known.

According to an LA Times story of October 1979, Plan-A-Tan "already boasts 1,153 members." 70 % of the members were female, some as young as 15. Dermatologists prescribed trips to the salons for their psoriasis patients, and most doctors considered the tanning salons safer than long afternoons sunning on the beach. In a November article, the Times did find a couple of dermatologists who sounded the alarm though, calling tanning "a dumb thing to do," and saying "It causes skin cancer." But, the Times pointed out, "Skin cancer . . . is almost always curable."

Ouch. Here's my favorite paragraph, a quote from the VP of Marketing for Sunburst International, a company that planned to build 1000 salons by 1985: "For a dermatologist to say that [the booths are harmful] is like me saying that we should start building a big umbrella all over the United States and keep people out of the sun."

Wonder whatever happened to him? Sunburst International and tanning salons got written up in Time Magazine the next year as the "hottest franchise field around." But after 1980, I don't see much. Anyone?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mozian Photos, Part 2

To tie this in with Scary October Halloween Stories:

It was a dark and stormy night. . . a bloodcurdling scream split the inky darkness. With a crack and a flash of lightning, the website crashed . . and vanished for weeks!

That's what happened to Karen Mozian, anyway. I can relate, having been deprived of the internet at home for a week once. A week! It was awful; I'm breaking out in hives thinking about it. Like Mozian, my income depends on internet access--in may case, to do research on fascinating topics like aerial photography or chastity belts. In her case, to sell her products.

Mozian takes great photos of local signs and sells prints of them through her website--I blogged about her recently.

After months, she's sorted out the nightmare of a downed site, is back online, and you can see (and purchase) her work here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Interest Rates in the 1980s--Tricks, not Treats

Here's something I had mercifully forgotten about--how high interest rates on homes once were. Just ran across a 1982 ad for a home in Coldwater Canyon. $439,000. Charming little two-story on a private road, so the price didn't seem too bad. Then this: "Financing includes an assumable $44,000 note and first trust deed with Bank of America at an annual variable interest rate of 12-1/4 %..."

Yikes! A year later, according to HSH Financial Publishers, an adjustable danced around that figure, sometimes higher, sometimes lower--but a fixed, 30-year mortgage carried an interest rate of up to 13.95%. The peak seems to have been July 1984, when a 30-year mortgage went out at 14.75%.

The RE market had crashed in 1982, btw. But still--14.75%? Interests rates are!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Montrose Chemical...Boo! Hiss!

Since Halloween is coming, let's blog about scary things.

Wikipedia now has a Montrose Chemical entry that seems pretty thorough. Montrose Chemical, based at 20201 S. Normandie (between Del Amo Blvd and Francisco, I believe) made DDT in the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s, right up to 1983.

DDT stands for Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane. It's a pesticide. It's also the substance that, when ingested by bald eagles, caused the eagle eggs to crack before the chicks are ready to be born. Nasty stuff; causes cancer. Its production peaked just about the time that Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring was published, which alerted people to the danger of DDT.

A few months ago I blogged on fishing off the Southern California coast in 1907--the Los Angeles Times actually reported weekly on what was being caught by local anglers. Fish like croakers and corbinas, barracuda, mackerel, even halibut and yellowtail.

The fist are still around--but don't catch them, and don't eat them, unless you want to get very, very sick. They are contaminated with the chemicals dumped into the ocean. This posting from LAist gives details, and you can also check the California State Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment website, here. Even better is a website about the area and the toxins, made for consumers and the public, the FCEC--Fish Contamination Education Collaborative, here.

From 1947 through 1971, Montrose Chemical discharged 110 tons of DDT through sewers and channels, into the ocean and onto the Palos Verdes Shelf. According to an EPA page, the PV Shelf sits offshore from Point Fermin (San Pedro) up to Palos Verdes Point. The DDT becomes part of the underwater food chain--the circle of life, if you will. Seventeen square miles of ocean have been declared a Superfund Site, and in 2000, Montrose and other companies were ordered to pay $73 million to help restore the coastline.

Montrose also dumped about 10 tons of PCBs, or Polychlorinated biphenyls, further endangering fowl, fish, and our own humble selves.

In June, the Environmental Protection Agency came up with a plan to spend millions of dollars to address the problem (that's a terrible oversimplification. The list of decisions and actions is a mile long, as you might expect after forty years of litigation.). The site is back in the news because of a new plan, capping the worst concentration of DDT with sand and silt, 18 inches thick. Starting in 2011, the cap will be spread over 9 square miles of the PV Shelf. Read the Daily Breeze story for more details.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Groutsing Around

Such a fleeting thing, history. If you write on a wall, is that history? Yes, if you wrote on the wall just before it collapsed to be dug up a millennia or so hence. No, if you write on a wall and janitors perform their time-honored task of removing graffiti while clucking about the destructiveness of modern day youth.

So it is with a ladies' room in the basement of Bunche Hall at UCLA. With painstaking care, vandal femmes in pursuit of an education have written in the one-eighth inch wide grout between tiles, exercising their creativity while sitting on the john.

Some phrases were quite elaborate, but I confined myself to the easily captured...and also my posture when aiming my camera. There are some things I won't lean into, not even for my blog.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Aircraft Workers, 1942

Another of those wonderful photos from Shorpy, this one taken at the Douglas Aircraft facility in Long Beach. Check out the army-green lunchbox!

The photo was taken in October 1942 by Alfred Palmer of the Office of War Information. The silvery backdrops are Nacelle parts of a heavy bomber--a new word for me. Nacelle means the covering of an airplane's engine, fuel or other equipment, separate from the fusilage.

I signed up for daily delivery of Shorpy photos a few months ago. One of the pleasures of my day is to pause in my ritual deletions of pharmacy ads, job and stock offerings, warnings from banks I have no accounts with, and ads from stores I've never shopped at, so that I can look at three or four pictures that capture a time I will never know. Sometimes Shorpy sends shots of Civil War soldiers relaxing or washing out clothes in a river, or street scenes of turn-of-the-century Washington DC, or 1950's Christmas photos taken in suburbia. You never know what you'll find there in their emails.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers First Venue

Before Staples Center opened in 1999, where did the Lakers play? The Great Western Forum, of course--but before that?

The Lakers moved to Los Angeles in 1960, becoming the NBA's first West Coast team. That was also the year they acquired Jerry West. In their last year in Minnesota, the Lakers were 25 and 50--which is, quite frankly, the reason they were able to get West in the draft.

According to the team's history webpage, Lakers owner Bob Short was inspired by the financial success of the Dodgers, who'd moved here from Brooklyn in 1958. In Los Angeles, the Lakers were 36-43, and got to the Western Division Finals. Here's the team in 1961--that's Elgin Baylor, blocking the shot of Joe Roberts, who played for the Syracuse Nationals.

The new Los Angeles Lakers played at the Sports Arena, because the Forum didn't open until late in 1967.

Bob Short sold his basketball team to Jack Kent Cooke in 1965, and it was Cooke who planned, developed and built the Fabulous Forum. Charles Luckman--who also designed the LAX Theme Building--was the architect. The Los Angeles Public Library has these fabulous picture in their Herald Examiner Collection. The one just below shows Luckman and Cooke during the construction--March 5, 1967.

After fifteen months of work and $16 million, the building opened on December 30, 1967, a glorious event! Lorne Greene of Bonanza introduced Cooke to an opening night crowd of 14, 366 screaming fans. Harve Presnell sang the National Anthem. TV luminaries like Jim Backus (Thurston Howell III and Mr. Magoo) and Jack Palance (long before City Slickers and his one-handed pushups) were there, along with Broadway/movie stars like Janet Blair and Robert Morse.

But the home team lost! Dang. To the Philadelphia Flyers. Double dang. The home team in this case was not the Lakers, but Los Angeles Kings, a franchise started by Cooke and close to his heart.

The Sparks and Britney Spears are indirectly responsible for this post, btw. Thanks to a decided lack of faith combined with avarice, the Sparks are playing their third playoff game not at Staples, but at Pauley Pavilion, at UCLA. Why? Because Britney's Circus has booked Staples, and she draws a bigger crowd. Hometeam pride doesn't pay the bills, apparently.

But it did get me thinking about basketball venues.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fiesta in Westchester!

There's gonna be a fiesta in Westchester this Sunday, September 20: the Heritage of the Rancho Days.

Place: the beautiful 175-year-old Centinela Adobe, 7634 Midfield Avenue in Westchester.

Time: Noon to 4 pm


  • Folklorico Dances
  • Mariachis
  • Pinata Party
  • Historical demos: Butter-churning, wool spinning, lace making
  • Lots of historical talks about the area--the birth of the Aerospace industry, Air travel, the Poultry Colony, etc.
  • The Adobe, all the grounds, the Freeman Land Office (built 1884), and the Haskell Heritage Center will all be open.

Did you know there are only 43 adobes left in the county? That's according to Wikipedia's entry on the Centinela Adobe. The undated picture above is from the Los Angeles Public Library, but what I find more amazing is this view from the Adobe, over the Rancho Aguaje del la Centinela Adobe, looking north to were the 405 is now.

The Adobe is near La Cienega. If you take 82nd St. east from Osage or Hindry, it goes left and turns into Midfield.

The Historical Society of Centinela Valley may be the only Historical Society in the area that hasn't got its own website yet. They do get a mention by the City of Inglewood on a page connected to the Centinela Adobe, and in these belt-tightening times (what a dumb expression, huh? Like any of us are getting thinner for lack of budget dollars.) it's not likely that the Society will get its own site in the near future. (Prove me wrong, please!)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Trousdale Estates

Trousdale Estates remained part of the Doheny Estate up until the 1950s--it was the northernmost part of the Doheny Ranch. The Los Angeles Times describes it as "sprawling view properties limited to single-level homes." That's not too limiting.

Trousdale Estates --that's the entrance on the left, picture from city-data--is the 425 acres where Greystone Mansion sits. It's now part of Beverly Hills. Paul Trousdale bought 410 of the acres in 1954, and began parceling off land to celebs, who built custom homes throughout the 50s and 60s. Celebs like Elvis, Frank, Dean, ...

...and Groucho . I can never ignore a Marx Brother in the news. Groucho's home, designed by Wallace Neff in 1956, is on the market for $12.9 million. The Times says it's "updated but maintains its Neff footprint." Yes, I understand (snort). I can hear Groucho saying, "At that price, there'd better be no footprints. And no handprints either."

Actually, he'd probably say something a lot more clever. The picture on the right, borrowed from Classic Television Showbiz , is from Life Magazine in 1960.

Here's the listing to his sparkling white, airy estate on Hillcrest.

I can't help but correct the Times on one point. It claims Groucho "shared the home with his third wife, actress Eden Hartford, until his death in 1977." Ummm, no. Eden and Groucho were ancient history by then. Groucho was living with Erin Fleming in his 80s, and that created quite a family scandal, if I remember.

I'm sorry, but isn't the idea of scandalizing the Marx Family a bit of a joke in itself?

BTW, Groucho's home is a real steal. Even on the one website (Hilton & Hyland Properties) there are several other celebrity-owned properties at much higher prices. Like Pickfair at $60 mil (I know; a shadow of its former self), or the King Vidor Estate for $19.95 mil. Nothing sells like knowing a long-dead famous person once sat in space kinda near your remodeled kitchen, right?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Greek Fest Next Weekend

At St. Sophia's. I've blogged about the elaborate church before so I won't repeat myself (here's the link to my post). The site for the Greek Festival information is here, but turn your speakers down if you're at work. Unless you want everyone to think that Tom Hanks is in your cubicle.

However, Tasting Table LA came up with a new angle. They say that in 1986, to celebrate the opening of Zorba the Greek (Anthony Quinn in a touring company at the Pantages), a contest was held to find the best baklava in Los Angeles. Helen Zachario won that contest. What's the tie-in? Well, Helen's sister, Georgia Vasila, is leading this year's baklava-making crew at St. Sophia's this weekend.

According to Tasting Table, "The bakers go through almost 100 pounds of phyllo, 100 pounds of honey, 150 pounds of walnuts and 50 pounds of almonds for the pastries alone."

They have the recipe for the baklava too. You can click here for the pdf, but if you go through the Tasting Table LA link, you get Georgia Vasili's tips for making it perfect.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ballona Lagoon and Grand Canal

The signs describing the Ballona Lagoon are a bit ragged--ok, trashed--but it's still an oasis hinting at the olde days in the midst of constant construction. Take out the buildings (which I would have done, if I still owned a copy of Photoshop) (or, come to think of it, if I were God), and most of the area used to look like this.

Then Abbot Kinney came along, bless his heart. I'm not being sarcastic. Let's face it, someone was bound to develop the real estate as a playground, and at least Abbot Kinney had a kooky vision in mind. Venice of the Pacific. He put in the canals that still stand (and some that have vanished).

These pictures were taken on Labor Day Weekend, 2009, at low tide. Which means, around 5 or 6 in the afternoon, because the moon had been full, or just past full, the night before. This shot is looking north from the Lagoon along the Grand Canal, ultimately to Washington Blvd. Via Dolce is the next street to the right.

All these photos should become huge if you click on them.

While looking for Historical Facts to pad this entry (I really just wanted to post my own photos) I learned that the lagoon is where two creeks--Centinela and Ballona--once emptied into the Pacific, and that people have been camping around here for at least 8,000 years. From what I hear, it's still possible to catch halibut near shore.

These drawings show the place about 2000 years ago (a best scientific guess) and in 1861. They are brazenly copied from the site of Statistical Research, Inc. a company contracted by developers to provide "cultural research management."

From reading their website (which has lots of interesting historical information), I gather that they somehow protect the archaeological sites in the Ballona Wetlands, as well as the buildings from the days when Howard Hughes had his aircraft business here.

Hmmm. I really should be doing other work, but this is more fun. For those interested, here's a link to a 1996 story in the Los Angeles Times about the problems facing the Ballona wetlands thirteen years ago--garbage, eroded banks along the canals, etc. Most of those problems have been addressed.

The Environmental Protection Agency says it awarded a $15,000 Five-Star grant for the restoration of this area. That's not that much, but other agencies--such as Heal the Bay, the Coastal Conservancy, and the City of Los Angeles Public Works--are also on board with funding. The project began years ago.

This is another shot of the canal looking north. I can point you to more pictures and text on the Adventures in La-la-land blog. The really gorgeous photos are here at California Photo Net.

There are at least 60 species of water fowl that use this are. Besides the ducks that cruise the canals, I saw this great egret. I think. Great Egret is the name, not just me resorting to my favorite adjective. Snowy egrets have black beaks.

Birdwatching is one of the things I've always wished I had time for. Seriously. He's almost lost in this picture, but isn't he a remarkable creature?

Monday, August 31, 2009

UCLA and the Internet

September 2, 1969--UCLA became the first node on the ARPANET, the ancestor of the Internet.

On that date, a team of engineers established the first network connection in the world. The connection was made via a IMP--an Interface Message Processor, a mainframe (SDS Sigma 7) and a 15-foot gray cable. The IMP is pictured at right, with Prof. Leonard Kleinrock. He led the team of about 20 men at UCLA who developed the fledgling network, and he still teaches there.

For his pioneering efforts--as UCLA Today announced--Kleinrock will receive the National Medal of Science from President Obama in a gala celebration at the White House, on September 29.

Linking up with another location took a few more weeks, but on October 29, a connection was established between UCLA and Stanford Research Institute. UCLA is waiting for the October date to celebrate--you can see their plans here.

In case you're interested, ARPANET's name came from the Advanced Research Projects Agency, started in 1958 to fund computer research and other scientists in the U.S. By the 1960s, they'd floated the idea of linking the computers in different research facilities so that research could be easily shared.