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?