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About On Bunker Hill

Bunker Hill is a ghost, and though you may today walk streets named Grand and Hope and imagine that you stand where once were grand Victorian homes turned flophouses, you are in fact one hundred feet beneath the old roads, which the city shaved away to make a wider footprint for the high rise tenants that replaced them.

A Drive Through Bunker Hill and Downtown Los Angeles, ca. 1940s

An amazing discovery from the good folks at the Internet Archive. Visit the Off Bunker Hill list, where LA historians and former Bunker Hill residents have been identifying structures and dating vehicles. One person even thinks they've spotted their father leaning on a lampost!

Two New Mann Images — Final Days of the Flight!

Hillzapoppin' in the OBH!  A couple swanky new color images emerged from the greater Mann grotto and the good people at the archives wanted to share them with you.  Ain't they the best?

AF1

This image is later than the other Manns (Menn?) we've seen.  (Given the specific progress made on the Union Bank tower, I'd peg this photo at September 1966).  By comparison, here's one of late-50s vintage you've seen before:

AF2

The Community Redevelopment Agency got their wreckers and worked from top to bottom; started with the Elks in the autum of 1962, then hit the Hulburt (middle) and finished the Ferguson on Hill in '63.

With Angels Flight's Western Wall removed, you then see these two characters in images of the Flight, but they were chewed up pretty quickly.

theseguys

But back to our original Mann photo up top.  To the east of the flight on the other side of the tunnel, the Royal Liquor's still there, and so's the McCoy house above.  

Royal Liquor--AKA St. Helena Sanitarium--always amuses because before Los Angeles became last refuge for the hunted and the tortured, it was just a sunny place to go for salubrious living:

weggie

Now let's cross the intersection, down Hill a bit...

afotherside

...turn to see that Olivet and Sinai have passed each other.  The Hill Crest and the Sunshine, of whom we've spoken quite a bit recently, gone, again, the CRA working down from Olive to Clay, the HillCrest lost in the autumn of 1961 and the Sunshine goes ca. 1965.  There's the McCoy House and St. Helena, although now the latter, known as My Hotel for some time, became the Vista Hotel between 1942 and '47 (and the actual full name of its corner booze boutique, despite what the neon read, was Royal Gold Liquors).  Vaguely visible looming behind in the mist, the Belmont.

The former front door of the Ferguson Café apparently a swell place to park your faded yellow jalopy.  In September of 1966.  Now, not so much.

nowwee

Hey, at least the light pole and fireplug are still there. 

Thanks to George Mann's son Brad Smith, and daughter-in-law Dianne Woods, for allowing us to reprint these copyrighted photographs and tell George's story. To see George's photos of theater marquees, visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/brad_smith

For a representative selection of photographs from his archive, or to license images for reproduction or other use, see http://www.akg-images.co.uk/_customer/london/mailout/1004/georgemann/

St. Helena/Vegetarian Café, USC Digital Archives; Ems & Casa Alta, personal collection 

Street Hierarchy: 

All the More Mann

Ahoy Hill hipster!  It’s been an exciting time here On Bunker Hill.  Through the grace of George Mann’s family, the other day Kim posted twenty-one images of BH in living doomed color.  One of those featured the Sunshine Apts. with the Hill Crest looming o’er; a few days later the esteemed Jim Dawson posted all about the Sunshine, including a new Mann image that showcased a year’s worth of growth where the Hill Crest once stood.  And now, for your edification and delectation, more.

bhtime

I begin my post as did Kim not with shots of Bunker Hill, but with a George Mann image nonetheless.  This is the Sentous Block, designed in 1886 by R. J. Reeve; the same year Reeve designed the U. S. Hotel and the Phillips Block.

Louis Sentous was one of the great French pioneers of Los Angeles who’d arrived penniless, panned for a little gold and became a successful cattle rancher, trading meat and dairy at the Plaza until he bought the nearby piece of property (bounded by Sunset, Spring, Main and Macy) that was to bear his name.

The Sentous Block is best known around noirsville as where Mike Hammer cruises over to the Jalisco Hotel in Kiss Me Deadly; it also contained the Bamba Club, which doubles as the Round-Up in Criss Cross.  (Both on the Spring St. side of the Sentous; our image shows the Main St. side.)  For more than you would ever want to know about this, go here (seems like contributor Beaudry needs a girlfriend or something).

Louis lasted until 1911; his building til 1957.  

Just goes to show.  Not everything ornate that was torn down in the last fifty years was on Bunker Hill.  You owe it to yourself to learn the names and faces of the Amestoy Block.  The Bath Block.  The Gollmer Block.  The Wilson Block.  The Stimson Building.  The Westminster Hotel.  The Martz Flats.  Ad nauseum.

But on to Bunker Hill!

Ah, the Astoria.

Astorian

Nothing says deep arcaded entry and red-tiled bell tower like “Astoria”.  Yes, one can not help but marvel at the incongruity of Bunker Hill naming systems.  I wrote earlier in OBH about the red-tiled onion domed Minnewaska, the fairly Franco-Renaissance Sherwood, and while it hasn’t been explored yet, the decisively Mission-styled 1904 Mission Apartments at Second and Olive spent much of its young life known as, of course, Castle Craig.

Astoria, the Greek word for quail, is also the part of Queens known for being full of Greeks.  That notwithstanding, at the time of its construction, Astoria connoted the Astoria, Queens that was then the “Hollywood of the East.”  Plus it had been named for John Jacob Astor.  All sorts of cachet.  Perhaps the developers thought that despite the arches and fauxdobe, the rather otherwise traditional use of the bay windows prevented naming the structure something vaguely Missiony like “Ramona Hotel” or “Portolà Apts.

In any event, of the Astoria much has been said

Next to the Astoria is the 1916 Blackstone Apartments, with the nice Beaux Arts garlands upon’t.  Not a whole lot happened there, an ex-cop caught violating the Wright Act, and there were some lady bootleggers; while the Widows Protective League Los Angeles Branch Council met at the Blackstone, a widow took poison and offed herself there the very same year (1929); and Ross Page, younger brother of the widely-known “Farmer” Page, was busted there by the vice squad while running two bridge games and a poker game in August of ‘25.

I will let Matt Weinstock of the Times do the talking for me:

That din emanating from Bunker Hill these days is the relentless pounding of the jackhammers tearing down the ancient Blackstone Apartments, 244 S Olive St., next door to the top of Angel’s Flight.

Until the demolition crew went to work on it, the Blackstone was nine stories high, counting the floors from the back entrance in the alley, which was kept locked.  However, if you entered on Olive St., as most people did, you were on the third floor, and from there it was only a six story building.  I learned this many years ago in visiting a departed colleague, J. Farrington Barrington Arrington, who lived there.

And so another quaint landmark passes and now, when I go into a building on what purports to be the main floor it will really be the main floor, not the third.  Progress marches on.

– July 2, 1964

The Sawyer Apts:

Sawyer

Not one of the gingerbreaded, parapeted wonders of the Hill.  So where was it?  327 South Hope, that’s where.  (God bless City Directories and old phone books.)  And bless George Mann for shooting something other than the Usual Suspects.  Sure, 327 is on The Map, but this is a color pic.  And yet…again, one always needs more; there’s something about placing oneself in the landscape.  So, comparing maps, and building outlines, and digging through photo archives…

…in this William Reagh photo, ca. 1955:

atHope

The tree in our color image is the tree dead center above, and the large building jutting out to the right of the frame (Richfield tower visible behind) from Hope and plunging down the hill toward Flower, that’s the Sawyer.

I want to stress again the wonder of finding the unexpected.  Mann shot what others did not.  After Angels Flight, arguably the most photographed structures on the Hill were the Castle and the Salt Box.  Which meant photographers turned their collective back on this:

SBH

We stand adjacent to a bit of spindlework at 333 South Bunker Hill, between, of course, the Salt Box behind our left shoulder and the Castle on the other side of 333.  Whitey there on the right with the dentils is 326 South Bunker Hill, but its real address is 325 South Grand, as this is the backside of the Kenneth Apts.  Its blue neighbor with the deep columned entry is 322/318; it had a non-conjoined counterpart of 319/323 at Grand and together they were known as the Alta Cresta.  Its beige neighbor to the north with the porch is 310 and there’s a small house behind it that’s either 306 or 302 South Bunker Hill.

And then the white house with the cross-gabled red roof, that’s 256 South Bunker Hill.  That one is extra cool because it’s where Liz the exotic dancer/modern painter/serial killer (Indus Arthur) lives in Angel’s Flight.  In fact, it’s not two minutes into the movie when Liz commits a murder right on the benches above the Third St. tunnel, and the landlady sticks her head out and screams!  To wit:

nosylandlady

And the big brick building behind that is the backend of the Alto Hotel, 253 S. Grand.

And last but not least…

Mystery House!

 

mysteryhaus

At least it’s a mystery to me.  It’s not within a gallon of Ethel of the DT, of that I’m pretty certain.  Mann shot all over, Point Loma, Catalina…so here’s this Victorian Exotic Revival that’s going for something Indo-Moorish, though what that is I can’t say – do you know?  There’s what appears to be a “701” on her stairs.  OBH readers are the best and the brightest:  whence came this sweetheart and whither did she go?

William Reagh photo courtesy California State Library Digital Archives

Thanks to George Mann's son Brad Smith, and daughter-in-law Dianne Woods, for allowing us to reprint these copyrighted photographs and tell George's story. To see George's photos of theater marquees, visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/brad_smith

For a representative selection of photographs from his archive, or to license images for reproduction or other use, see http://www.akg-images.co.uk/_customer/london/mailout/1004/georgemann/

Sunshine and Noir

The recent release of George Mann’s 50-year-old color photographs to this site is one of the most remarkable troves of Bunker Hill ephemera we’ve seen in decades. The accompanying photo, for instance, shows just how dilapidated the neighborhood around Angels Flight on

Third Street
had become by November 1962, when Mann made his final pilgrimage to the doomed neighborhood. The wrecking ball has already claimed the Hill Crest Hotel at the top of the hill on
Olive Street
, and the Astoria Hotel is a hulking shell of a firetrap just waiting for a match. Standing near the center of the photo is the Sunshine Apartments, looking empty and haunted, but who knows whether a few derelict souls are still inside, refusing to leave until the bulldozers come growling down the hillside?

Bunker Hill’s Sunshine Apartments at

421 West Third Street
has been gone now for over forty-five years, but it’s still one of the most familiar unknown houses in Los Angeles. Perched on a ten-feet-high retaining wall above a narrow alley called
Clay Street
, it sprawled halfway up a steep hill adjacent to a stairway, its only access, opposite Angels Flight. The Sunshine was the sort of multilevel dwelling that novelist John Fante described in Ask the Dust (1939): “It was built on a hillside in reverse, there on the crest of Bunker Hill, built against the decline of the hill, so that the main floor was on the level with the street but the tenth floor was downstairs ten levels.” The only difference is that the Sunshine was only four stories tall and its front, not its sides, conformed to
Third Street
’s slant, so that the first floor was only half as wide as the second floor.

 

Constructed on vacant property around 1905 to accommodate downtown Los Angeles’s growing need for cheap housing, the Sunshine looked like a huge clapboard farmhouse, with a stack of three unadorned verandas and a couple of Queen Anne touches around the front entrance, which was on the third floor. Midwestern migrants probably found the place comfortably familiar. Inside, a labyrinth of odd-angled hallways, step-downs and staircases connected the Sunshine’s many small apartments.

 

Though it made its film debut as one of Angels Flight’s neighbors in a 1920 comedy called All Jazzed Up, the Sunshine didn’t get its first close-up until 1932, when director James Whale cast it as the home of two downtown working girls (Mae Clark and Una Merkel) in The Impatient Maiden, his follow-up to Frankenstein. Because sound cameras in those days were large and unwieldy, he used a smaller silent camera to shoot the movie’s opening scene on the

Third Street
steps, as the actresses came out of the Sunshine Apartments and walked up the concrete steps to the Angels Flight station on
Olive Street
. (The dialogue and traffic sounds were dubbed in later.) Whale shot another scene on the front steps near
Clay Street
and in the rear of the apartments, where a second set of concrete stairs from Clay to Olive ran between the Sunshine and the much larger Astoria Hotel.

 

But what turned the Sunshine Apartments into a fairly steady (if nameless) character actor was film noir, the mostly post-World War II crime genre that, in its focus on documentary realism, introduced the use of smaller, combat-tested cameras and gritty urban locations to Hollywood cinema. And since—by the mid-1940s—Bunker Hill was a run-down neighborhood of crumbling Victorian mansions, rambling flophouses, and mean, vertiginous streets, it became the perfect setting for film noir’s fascination with the dark side of American prosperity. Despite the Sunshine Apartments’ sunny moniker and relative youth (less than fifty years old), it did a great job portraying a shabby boarding house for desperate and worn-down people.

 

In Paramount’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948), the Sunshine offered low-rent anonymity to a con man (Edward G. Robinson) hiding from his past. Director John Farrow pointedly established its location with an amazing 180-degree shot—taken from Clay Street—that followed one of the Angels Flight cars up from Hill Street, and panned across the top of the hill to catch Robinson’s character hurrying down the concrete steps and up onto the third-floor porch and into the boarding house’s front door. Another shot showed John Lund and Gail Russell approaching the Sunshine’s wooden porch steps from below.

 

That same year, in Universal Pictures’ Criss Cross, director Robert Siodmak used the Sunshine as a rendezvous spot for criminals plotting an armored car robbery. Whereas the protagonists’ apartments in the earlier films were obviously studio creations, some of Criss Cross’s seedy flophouse interiors were shot on location. Granted, a couple of shots that showed either Burt Lancaster or Yvonne DeCarlo standing next to a bay window, with the Angels Flight trolleys moving in the background distance, were done on a sound stage. The footage of the incline railway cars passing each other above Clay Street was taken from the Sunshine (most likely from the third-floor porch, judging from the angle), but the building itself didn’t have any bay windows facing Angels Flight, so the scenes had to have been process shots. On the other hand, the maze of dingy hallways—whose atmosphere one character mockingly dismissed as “Picturesque, ain’t it?”—most likely belonged to the Sunshine Apartments.

 

In another Paramount film, Turning Point (1952), as crusading reporter William Holden and gal pal Alexis Smith ride up Angels Flight, the camera riding with them turns to look across to the Sunshine, where a witness is hiding. But when they walk down the steps from the funicular’s Olive Street station toward the house, they have to duck into a doorway of a nearby building to avoid several thugs standing guard on the Sunshine’s porch.

 

In the low-budget Angel’s Flight (1965), among the last of Bunker Hill’s noirs, Indus Arthur played a stripper and “Bunker Hill serial killer” avenging an early rape by slashing the throats of men who put the moves on her. The scene of that rape, we eventually discover, had been at her one-time home in the Sunshine Apartments.

 

The building also showed up briefly in Act of Violence (MGM, 1949), Joseph Losey’s M (Columbia, 1951), and the cheap Lon Chaney Jr. horror film The Indestructible Man (1956), among others. Documentary filmmaker Edmund Penney introduced his lyrical fifteen-minute film, Angel’s Flight Railway (shot in the early 1960s and again in 1969; released in 1997) by looking across

Third Street
through the ornate woodwork of the Sunshine’s doorway.

 

The Sunshine Apartments finally had its appointment with the bulldozer around 1965, after Los Angeles’s Community Redevelopment Agency had already torn down many of the other buildings around it. By the time the CRA carted away Angels Flight and the last two surviving houses on

Bunker Hill Avenue
four years later, the nearly century-old neighborhood of Bunker Hill had ceased to exist.

 

Yet today the Sunshine Apartments survives in old movies, in countless photo- and postcard-tableaux of Angels Flight, and as the most prominent background feature—painted green—in Millard Sheets’ vibrant 1931 oil painting, Angel’s Flight, which is not only one of the most famous works on permanent display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, but also the logo of the OnBunkerHill.org website.

 

I welcome any further information you may have about the Sunshine Apartments, or any corrections to this blog entry. Even better, I’d love to hear from someone who actually lived or spent time there.

 

For more photos of the Sunshine Apartments, check out www.americanfilmnoir.com/page18.html and www.forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthread.php?p=4855115.

 

Thanks to George Mann's son Brad Smith, and daughter-in-law Dianne Woods, for allowing us to reprint his copyrighted photograph.

For a representative selection of photographs from his archive, or to license images for reproduction or other use, see http://www.akg-images.co.uk/_customer/london/mailout/1004/georgemann/

Street Hierarchy: 

Meet George Mann

George Mann's Bunker Hill photographs are now available, exclusively from this site.


Bunker Hill is a lost Los Angeles neighborhood, and On Bunker Hill is a memorial website that was born over the course of a year's collaboration. The contributors followed their own particular obsessions down the historical rabbit hole, coming up with aspects of the community's lore that were placed on a virtual map, so interested visitors could explore at their leisure.

Although On Bunker Hill is no longer being updated, people continue to discover the site and contribute their own insights and memories through the comment section. But occasionally, someone comes along who has something more to offer than a comment or a link, and so we bring the On Bunker Hill blog back to life for a brief moment, so this someone can take their rightful place among the ghosts.

Enter George Mann.

Born in Santa Monica in 1905, by his early 20s he was a vaudeville star as the hilariously taller half of the comedy dance team Barto & Mann. Dewey Barto [real name Dewey Smoyer and the pop of comedienne Nancy Walker] and George debuted their act on the west coast circuit in 1926 and by March 1927 were featured on the other Broadway, at New York's celebrated Palace Theatre.

Of their east coast debut, Zit's Theatrical Newspaper raved "Ten minutes before they went on at the Palace last Monday afternoon nobody thought very much about Barto & Mann; ten minutes after they came off stage, the whole Broadway world was talking about them... Acts like these only come along once in a while."

Appearing at L.A.'s Orpheum in March 1928, they were praised in the L.A. Times as "a knockout team," though their set at the Hillstreet the following month discomfited one reviewer: "The act presented by Barto & Mann was one of those hectic affairs in which the participants did everything from a climb up the proscenium arch to a near-back-flip into the orchestra pit. The excellence of the dancing and clowning in the early portions of the act led one to expect a much more worthwhile finale than the one offered, which, unfortunately, bordered plainly on vulgarity." 

One man's vulgarity is another's hilarity: scope out this rare filmed appearance, from the 1933 Texas Guinan vehicle "Broadway Through A Keyhole," and decide for yourself!

As Vaudeville faded, Barto & Mann joined the Broadway cast of Olson and Johnson's Hellzapoppin' (though they're not in the 1941 film), with featured billing from 1938 through 1942. The team split up in December 1943.

Around this time, George Mann married Powers Agency model Barbara Bradford and shot a series of film noir-inspired images of his young bride.  


In his post-performance life, George Mann turned his imagination to entrepreneurial enterprise and professional photography, which brought him to Bunker Hill. In the late 1950s, when the neighborhood's days were known to be numbered, he arrived atop the peak with his camera to document some representative scenes, returning in November 1962 for additional shots.

These never-before-published color images of old Bunker Hill were originally displayed in 3-D viewers of Mann's own design, which were leased to various Los Angeles businesses, including Hody's Drive-Ins, and other restaurants, bars and doctor's offices. Mann would swap out the photo selection regularly, so if these evocative scenes of Bunker Hill weren't available, one might peep at Calico Ghost Town, Catalina Island, Descanso Gardens, Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, Pacific Ocean Park, Watts Towers or Palm Springs.  

In his 3-Dimensional Bunker Hill set, created to distract anxious patients and hungry tourists, George Mann captured a seldom seen side of this lost Los Angeles neighborhood: the gracious avenues and genteel decay, the old people, their cats and their gardens, abandoned newspapers, vacant lots, the shadows and the sunlight. We are in his debt.

George Mann died in 1977, and his extraordinary photographic archives are currently being organized, scanned and made available for licensing. We trust you will enjoy these rediscovered images from old Bunker Hill from the George Mann Archives.


Note: a few more George Mann Bunker Hill photos have been discovered since this entry was first written! See this blog post by Jim Dawson and this one and this other one by Nathan Marsak for more.

Thanks to George Mann's son Brad Smith, and daughter-in-law Dianne Woods, for allowing us to reprint these copyrighted photographs and tell George's story. To see George's photos of theater marquees, visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/brad_smith

For a representative selection of photographs from his archive, or to license images for reproduction or other use, see http://www.akg-images.co.uk/_customer/london/mailout/1004/georgemann/

InSROLand, an LA Time Travel Blog, wants you

Greetings, history geek:

Are you fascinated by the forgotten social history of Los Angeles, from low life to high society? Do old buildings make you swoon? Are you a good writer and a careful researcher, able to cite sources and bring old tales to life? Do you have or wish to develop a specialized knowledge of some neglected aspect of Los Angeles lore (for example: Vaudeville performers, streetcar routes, obsolete restaurants, political scandals)? Is time travel your dream date?

If the answer to most of these questions is yes, then you are a good candidate to be part of an ambitious new blog called In SRO Land, and we would like to hear from you. Read on for more information, and instructions on how you can apply to join the blog team.

The newest time travel blog project from the social historians behind 1947project, On Bunker Hill and Esotouric bus adventures, In SRO Land explores the forgotten history of Downtown Los Angeles, up the grand entertainment boulevard of Broadway (where SRO means "Standing Room Only") and down the mean streets of Main (where SRO stands for "Single Room Occupancy," shorthand for a rented room with a sink in the corner, shared toilet down the hall). Between these two poles, modern Los Angeles was born. (And yes, Spring Street stories will also be featured, for those who dig banking history.)

InSROLand, the blog, you'll find the real stories behind legendary theaters, hotels and shopping destinations, from the developers and visionaries who built them, to the celebrities and ordinary citizens who enjoyed them. You'll also meet the long-dead lowlife elements whose misuse of public space is as fascinating to contemporary readers as it was offensive in its time.

InSROLand is home to cops and killers, stars and fans, architects and decorators, dancers nude and clothed, freak shows, classic Vaudeville, street preachers and blues shouters, dreamers and schemers, shoplifters, slumming millionaires, pulp writers, bar keepers, finger men and B-girls, the innocent and the profane. It is, we hope, home also to you.

To contribute to In SRO Land, you'll be expected to write at least 12 posts during the yearlong project, although of course you would be welcome to write more often. Photographic and map-based contributions would be welcome, as would musical compositions, drawings, theater handbills, vintage menus, anything that increases our understanding of the city of Los Angeles. As a contributor, you are welcome to promote your other projects in your online bio, and to announce your special, appropriate events on the site.

The format will be the same as the blog's predecessor, On Bunker Hill, so please have a look at that site, at http://www.onbunkerhill.org

To apply, please email toursATesotouricDOTcom with 200-400 words telling us why you would like to be a part of in SRO Land, what sort of material you would like to cover, and how often you can contribute. Please also tell us about yourself in a bio of 200-400 words.

The site launched in June 2009 and will run for at least a year. Contributors can join soon after launch, or come aboard at a later date. Interested in being part of this? Drop us a line and let us know where you fit.

best regards,
Kim
Editrix
In SRO Land

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