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.