Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Picture Post

Ever see a ficus tree with a wedge out of it--like a cauliflower that's half-cut up?

Don't know the history of this venerable tree on PCH. I suspect the gash on the trunk was once a might branch that simply broke under its own weight.

It makes an eerie sight.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Waveriders and George Freeth

George Freeth, the guy who brought surfing to Southern California (and organized the first life guard service too) hung out around Redondo Beach a lot. That's why a bronze bust of Freeth was mounted at the entrance of the Redondo Beach pier. As I wrote in a post over six months ago, the bust was stolen August 7th. It's still not been recovered.

Now, as the Daily Breeze reports, a prize winning documentary called Waveriders is making the rounds at film festivals--including Santa Barbara's in January, and Newport Beach just last week. The film's become the highest-grossing Irish documentary of all time.

That's right--Irish. George Freeth brought surfing from his native Hawaii to California, but Freeth's father was Irish. Filmmaker Joel Conroy combined Freeth's story with modern day surfers in Ireland riding waves over 50 feet high, showing the full history of Ireland's participation in the sport. And just to be nice, Conroy also had the cast autograph a poster that was auctioned off for $600. The money went into the fund to replace the Freeth bronze in Redondo Beach.

Waveriders Trailer from Waveriders on Vimeo.

Unfortunately, although Waveriders has technically been released just this month, it's not playing anywhere. The official site shows only Ireland locations, and Moviefone doesn't even list the movie. Sorry. Hopefully that will change soon, because I want to see it!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Los Angeles Homes in the 1920s

California History Magazine is a bit academic for my tastes (which means the articles are long and like most people in the 21st century, I have the attention span of a grasshopper), but here's an interesting tidbit I learned from a article in the December issue: Silent movies had a huge influence on residential homes built in Los Angeles during the 1920s.

Yup.By the 1920s, silent movies excelled in creating interesting backdrops. Their sets told the audience a ton about the stories. Filmmakers had learned to add props and shadows to give perspective. Since they couldn't work with color, they used textures and contrasts of dark and light to evoke moods.

The first picture, btw, is of an old adobe home--a real adobe home--in 1916, give or take a year. There's actually a smaller, second adobe home that has collapsed. The location was Boyle Avenue near 9th Street.

So. Now that you've seen a real, unromantic adobe, think of Ramona or Zorro--or any movie. Remember that in the 1920s, lots of homes were being built here. (L.A.'s population doubled between 1920 and 1925. )

This is a newish Hollywood house photographed in 1928. Like a good movie set, it's crowded with motifs that scream mission revival schmaltz. The woodwork and roof trim jut out to provide contrast and drama, the plants and pillars crowd each other, the stucco is thick and uneven, simulating adobe.

This is the new style. Like in the movies, stucco on new homes got laid on rough; the style was called Jazz Stucco. Elements like wrought iron railings, sconces, tiles, and foliage--used sparingly in the past--were crowded into the facades of new homes. And those facades jutted and retreated into nooks and alcoves. Often, design elements were shrunk down so that more could be crammed into a view. These were all tricks from the movies, to make scenes interesting.

These pictures are from the LA Library's photo collection. The article by Merry Ovnick is titled "The Mark of Zorro: Silent Film's Impact on 1920s Architecture in Los Angeles." It has tons of great pictures too, but it's not online. See if your library has a copy of California History for December 2008 if you want to read it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Farmers Market Cookbook

Brilliant! Someone has actually written a cookbook for the Farmer's Market, just in time to celebrate the market's 75th Anniversary! In L.A.'s Original Farmers Market Cookbook: Meet Me at 3rd and Fairfax Joann Cianciulli gathers recipes and history from many shops, like Bob's Donuts (wouldn't you love to know how to make caramel and chocolate glazed cake doughnuts? Not that any of us would ever get our lazy butts in gear to actually mix and fry them, but wouldn't it be nice to have the recipe so we could pretend?)

There are recipes for Mama Voula's Spanikopita, Fried plantains from Pampas Grill, barbecue sauce from Bryan's Pit Barbecue, chocolate fudge from Littlejohn's, falafel sandwiches from Moishe's, apple dumplings from the Country Bakery...and all the history of the market and its denizens as well. A perfect Mother's Day gift!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Traffic at Wilshire and Western . . . in 1926

What a nightmare! Of course, it is rush hour--5:20 P.M. In this shot, I believe we are looking east along Wilshire Boulevard, from just west of Western Avenue, and the date is April 20, 1926.

These pictures are part of a traffic study done from April 13 to 20th in 1926. Most of the shots are either of Wilshire and Western, or Washington and Western.

The second photo is labeled clearly--a view north. The Packard billboard is still there. The second shot was taken on April 13th at 1:25 P.M. The building right at the corner, below the Packard billboard, is labeled James A. Donahue.

According to the record at the Los Angeles Public Library, which has these pictures online, the Donahue business was a Packard dealership. North of it (with awnings) is the Standard Public Market. This, I believe, is the northeast corner, which is where the Solair Wilshire Towers are now.

OK, one more shot looking south along Western, so you can see the two corners. The Pellissier Square Real Estate office is on the southeast corner; looks like pure residential on the southwest. This was taken at 8 A.M. on April 13. What's there now?

In 1929--three years after these photos were taken,--construction began on the Wiltern Theater and the 12-story Pellissier Building, which sits on the southeast corner to this day. Pellissier, as in Monsieur Germain Pellissier, the original owner of the property, was long gone when the Wiltern was built. His grandson, Henry de Roulet, operated Pellissier Square Real Estate in 1926. (merci beaucoups to Carissa Marsh and the Pepperdine U Graphic, for their article about concert venue histories in L.A.)

This last photo shows the kind of stop signs used back then--a very small printed sign that flipped up and down. Don't imagine they were terribly effective.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Los Angeles Map of 1916

Here is a map of Los Angeles, showing rail lines and all its annexed territory as of 1916.

The map was drawn by Homer Hamlin, a city engineer, under the supervision of one J. R. Prince, chief draftsman.

Took me a while to figure this out, but I'm dense: to zoom in on the map you must click on one of the zoom in/zoom out buttons at the bottom, and then click on the map itself. It will get magic.

The city's 1850 boundaries are shown in the center, and every annexation of land up through 1916 are noted and dated. Did you know that until 1896, the city limits stopped at Hoover and extended no further west? Or that until the Shoestring Strip was added in 1906, the city's southern boundary was Santa Barbara (MLK) Blvd., or, for a few blocks, Slauson?

The map is part of the American Memory project of the Library of Congress. They have an online exhibit titled "Los Angeles Mapped" which shows all sorts of beautiful, zoomable, old maps.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

State of the City Addresses

Seems to me that a "State of the City" address is a pretty recent tradition--but maybe I just haven't been paying attention. So I ran the phrase through Proquest and here's what I learned:
  • While there are references to the mayor's annual report, reviewing the year past and setting goals for the year coming up, no one seems to call it a State of the City speech...or even pay much heed to it, for that matter. However, the City Charter (adopted in 1925) did require the mayor to report on the "condition and affairs of the City" to the City Council, before presenting the budget to the council. Lots of leeway there--the report didn't have to be given in person.

  • Mayor Sam Yorty used the term in 1963 to refer to four talks he gave in January, in four different parts of the city. By 1965, Yorty's State of the City talks were being televised on NBC.

This picture shows two of our illustrious past mayors--the not-yet-elected Sam Yorty, attempting to shake hands with Mayor Norris Poulson, who reportedly said "Not interested!" as he turned away. The man on the right is Poulson's lawyer. The date was May 11, 1961, and the occasion was a court hearing. Yorty, ever the scamp, had filed a $2.2 million dollar lawsuit against Poulson, charging slander--which, understandably, could put a damper on conversation.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Shoestring Corridor Begats Harbor Gateway

The Harbor Gateway is the newish name for what used to be called the LA City strip: the strip of land connecting the city to its harbor in San Pedro.

And what does this picture have to do with that? Well, this 1908 shot (from the Los Angeles Library's photo collection) shows speedsters awaiting the starting gun at the original Ascot Park, one of the notable showplaces in that strip. Most of the drivers are identified; that's Ralph Hamlin in the Franklin Model H with "Greyhound" printed on the hood. Ascot Park hosted horse races and boxing bouts too.

Basically, the strip runs between Vermont and Figueroa, separating Gardena from Compton, then jumps a few blocks west to run between Western and Normandie, separating Torrance from Carson. The Los Angeles Times "Mapping LA" project shows it here. Or, if you don't mind waiting for the full-color pdf, try this one from the City Planning Commission.

The section between Del Amo and Torrance Blvds. has its own separate history highlighted by gang violence; the Times' Sam Quinones wrote a first-page feature on the area March 4, 2007, with a lot of the history. Before World War 2, the place was mostly empty fields. Folks who lived there (Quinones gives the whole ethnic breakdown of which groups moved in when) knew and accepted that their cheap real estate meant they were left out of many city services and had to wait longer for police and fire response. Things have improved--because the gang violence grew so bad that the media and mayor got involved a couple of years ago.

But why is that strip of land there in the first place? Well, everyone knows it's so Los Angeles will always have a clear right-of-way to the harbor, right? Like most "everyone knows" items, this was hard to track down.

In Andrew Rolle's book Los Angeles (Golden State Series) I learned that "By 1906, the city's access to the sea had been legally assured by annexation of a strip of land about 20 miles long and a quarter mile wide. This passageway came to be know as "the shoestring corridor"." Aha! Another phrase to google!

With few results. This military history site gives 1909 as the date that the Shoestring Corridor was annexed, mixing it in with the year when Wilmington and San Pedro became part of Los Angeles. A minor misstatement. I'll have to return to that site someday, which describes how naval submarines were stationed on our coast in the early 1900s.

From one article in the Times that referred to the "Shoestring Strip," I did learn that in 1910, the Pacific Electric car took folks from Los Angeles to San Pedro--a distance of 22 miles--in 45 minutes. Nice bit of trivia. In that article, the Shoestring Strip was defined as being 11 miles long, and the recent annexation of San Pedro and Wilmington added another 5 miles.

Proquest (the only way to get at those old LA Times stories) responded to the term "Shoestring Strip" though. Which leads back to Ascot Park. The Shoestring Strip was annexed in 1906--by vote, on November 12 of that year. The city of Los Angeles population voted overwhelmingly in favor of annexation, but it was the approval of the "country district"--the actual inhabitants of the strip, many of them ranchers--that was really necessary. In one district (Green Meadows, which was mostly in the strip) the measure was approved by only ten votes: 213 to 203. Those votes were recounted several times, because the seal had been broken.

All sorts of reports of irregularities surfaced. The word had gotten out that if annexation passed, Ascot Park would close. No more horse more betting! Gamblers and employees of Ascot Park suddenly showed up to vote, swearing that they lived in the strip. In spite of that, the vote was to annex the strip. Los Angeles was now a seaport!

Ascot Park protested. They filed papers asking the Secretary of State of California to not validate the election. Why? Because once part of the city of Los Angeles, Ascot Park could not have races and betting. A compromise was reached in December 1906 allowing the horse racing (and the betting) to continue through the season, so the track dropped their suit.

I'm sure that's not the end of the story but it will do for now.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Meal Prices, 100 Years Ago

Here's something to take your mind off the price of food today. In 1909, you could go out and get dinner at the Natick House (First and Main Streets) for 25 cents, except on Sundays when a special chicken dinner went for 35 cents. On holidays, the price was doubled, but you got turkey or ham for your two quarters.

Here's a photo (courtesy of the LA Public Library collection) of the Natick House/Hotel in 1928, with a nearly-completed City Hall in the background.

You could also go up to the 4th floor of the Broadway Department Store (at 4th and Broadway) and get breakfast for 15 cents or lunch for a quarter--and that lunch included soup, drinks, and dessert, beside the main course. hundred years ago a meal cost about one-hundredth of today's price. Poetic.

Of course, if you were one of the 3600 men working at any of the 57 camps set up during the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, you got a huge meal for your 25 cents. A Los Angeles Times reporter travelled the line with Chief Engineer Mulholland back then and said he got this lovely dinner: "Cream tomato soup, fricassed veal, roast beef, baked beans, celery in cream, mashed potatoes, German salad, pudding, apricot pie, coffee."

Actually, I think that was what we'd call lunch, because then the reporter (Allen Kelly) lists his supper: "Corn fritters, meat pie, cold ham, cold roast beef, combination salad, fried potatoes, spaghetti, stewed prunes, cake, tea."

Why was Mr. Kelly so concerned with what the aqueduct workers were eating? Apparently some agitators were complaining about the food in order to stir up a ruckus (or, as the paper put it, a "ruction"). The new commissary contract for the aqueduct project had ruffled the feathers of a few who profited by earlier contracts, now void. The article went on about other areas where those nasty agitators had tried to stir up trouble or incite strikes. The righteous workers had quickly shown these "misguided chaps" the error of their ways. Those were very anti-union days.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

New History Blog for South Bay

The Daily Breeze has started a history blog that uses the newspapers' archives (which ARE NOT online, or even available through the libraries...grrr). Sam Gnerre of the Breeze maintains the blog and posts tidbits in the newspaper, especially on Thursdays.

Here's a recent entry, about the Cockatoo Inn of Hawthorne--whose sign still stands, though the Inn itself closed down thirteen years ago.

The LA Public Library has this photo on file, taken Feb. 15, 1988. Who could not recognize one of the three people? Trading punches with Muhammad Ali is Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, who was hosting a campaign brunch at the Cockatoo Inn.

Nice chandeliers. The lady with the coif is not identified.

The address of the new South Bay history blog is:

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Buying Real Estate in 1906

In a frustrating search to pin down the history of the Harbor Gateway (which will be a future post) I've come across some real estate ads dated May 1, 1906. They must be shared:

  • Alhambra Park Tract lots in the "latest and finest subdivision at Alhambra, $400 and up...You only pay quarter cash." The office was at 701 West 7th Street.

  • Vermont Avenue Square, SW corner of Vermont and Vernon: "The Largest and choicest subdivision in the southwest." $650 and up.

  • Huntington Park Junction Tract: "Where shrewd buyers are concentrating their investments."

  • FARM LANDS! These seem to be in Venice, sold by the Miller-Pike Land Co. in Los Angeles. $100 for ten acres ("no interest, no taxes"). Here's the clincher: The farmlands were already planted with alfalfa, and the buyers would get half the crop, without having to care for it that first season.

  • West Hollywood Boulevard Tract No. 2--these lots went for $800 and up, with a free ticket thrown in. Free ticket to what? The ad doesn't say.

There are more: Venice Gateway lots, for (I think) $500 and up, Hollywood Park Place (actually in the heart of Hollywood) going for $500 to $1500, Long Beach commercial sites at independent harbor being built...but the print on the copy becomes indecipherable fast.