Odd Incarnations: The Bunker Hill of Towne’s Ask the Dust

fromthetrailerBunker Hill of old is gone, never to be again. Until we concoct some Disneyesque Colonial Williamsburgian simulacrum, complete with sullen teenagers hired to pose as grimy grifters, we’ll never be able to amble down Third toward Hill and catch Angels Flight up to battenboard and gingerbread. (Imagine, the collapse of the Vanderbilt will be repeated at two, four, and six! Visit the souvenir stand outside the Elmar! We gotta get Eco on board. Dang, too bad Baudrillard just died.)

But the Hill did rise again, for one brief moment, when Robert “Chinatown” Towne said full speed ahead, we’re building this thing. We’ve got Ask the Dust to film. And with all that devalued Rand, what did they build down in a Capetown rugby field? A presumptuous pastiche. A goofy Golem. A dopey doppelgänger.

Bear in mind this post is less a criticism than an investigation, because it’s not so much they got it wrong as they got it weird.

AtDWhat is this Asking of Dust, you ask? Fine, a little background. It’s the 1930s, and while the world was awash in novels of the mannered drawing-room variety, aspiring writer John Fante was banging out gritty realism, as best he could, considering that at every turn he’d find the “mechanism of [his] new typewriter glutted with sand.” This is the titular dust, the tiny brown grains that’d blow in from the Mojave, that’d get in his hair and ears and find its way into the bedsheets of his little room at the Alta Loma, his Bunker Hill flop.

Ask the Dust is Bunker Hill. And AtD’s protagonist Arturo Bandini is our displaced dago everyman, there at the Alta Loma, built on the hillside in reverse: he climbs out the window and scales the incline to the top of the Hill and walks “down Olive Street past a dirty yellow apartment house still wet like a blotter from last night’s fog.” Via Fante/Bandini’s description, the Hill takes on all necessary romance and despair:

I went up to my room, up the dusty stairs of Bunker Hill, past the soot-covered frame buildings along that dark street, sand and oil and grease choking the futile palm trees standing like dying prisoners, chained to a little plot of ground with black pavement hiding their feet. Dust and old buildings and old people sitting at windows, old people tottering out of doors, old people moving painfully along the dark street.

(In actuality, Fante wrote Ask the Dust in a [recently-demolished] pad on Berendo. But he had lived at the Alta Vista, seen here…

theAltaVista

….and whose plot is now here:)

theyellowofcowardice

Anyway. Robert Towne reads the 1939-published Ask the Dust in 1971 while doing research for Chinatown. Towne decides then and there to make a picture out of the novel; it takes him a while to do so. Come 2006, voila, Ask the Dust.

I won’t comment on the performances or the diegetic structure of this oft-maligned film. While the reviewers cobbled cranky critiques, none cast aspersions on this piece of celluloid for any abuse of architectural accuracy. I would, however, were I to have an appropriate forum to do so. This being barely it, we’re off to the races.

Towne beat his brains out making this movie, befriending Fante, writing the script on spec (unheard of for a man of his stature), jumping through every archetypally ugly financing hoop and unearthing some undiscovered ones in the process. But yes, this labor of love paid off, because I was there opening day, ignoring the performances and diegetic structure to sit gape-mouthed at—what else? Bunker Hill. And sit in wonder and disbelief I did, mostly at the sheer strange world into which I’d been injected: Bunker Hill was dementedly askew. Therefore I was dementedly askew. Well, Mr. D.A., I hear you say, if you’re so All That, you try to make period picture.

TreasureIslandI may only know the bare minimum about making period pictures, but at least it’s something. Ten years ago, Richard and I—Kim’s Richard, builder of this blog—were the art department for “indie” film Treasure Island. Treasure Island was shot on film and set in 1945—and who on earth has ever made a serious period feature with no budget? We built sets in a makeshift soundstage, shot at locations with cajoled props in a manner that would make Ed Wood blush, and shut down City streets (necessary when staging a riot). That’s how you make a big, sprawling period picture (which went on to win the top honors at Sundance, the “Special Jury Prize for Distinctive Vision in Filmaking,” aka the coveted “What the Hell was That?! Award”) for less than the latte budget of Beverly Hills Chihuahua: make sure you have neither money nor expertise. But I’m not here to impugn the excesses of studio excrescence. I’m just pointing out that we did more with less. We were historically accurate. To an annoying degree.

Ask the Dust, less so. Oh, it looks great, but it’s Bunker Hill Bizarro. Batman once pointed out to the Mystery gang that the Joker did first-rate counterfeiting, save for one thing: President Lincoln never wore a turtleneck sweater. Suffice it to say, Bunker Hill’s neck will never get cold.

Consider. Towne was in development on this project for thirty years. During that time he could have learned the difference between the Second and Third Street tunnels. Or spent an hour finding someone who did. Look, no-one is here to talk smack about Ask the Dust Production Designer Dennis Gassner. Many have gone into production design to be Dennis Gassner. And the production looks terrific—but there are those among us will forever be at a loss to understand what the hell it was that Towne/Gassner & his team/whoever’s responsible was doing.


Ask the Dust
—it’s not that it’s full of rampant anachronism (if The Sting is set in the 30s, why are they listening to 1890s Scott Joplin, and have 1970s hair?), nor does it feel just altogether wrong & parachronistic (Ha! Ha! Harlem Nights!)—no, it’s anatopistic, which is a ten-dollar word meaning strange as all get out. Instead of mere chronological anomaly, we have full-bore objet-out-of-place, for example, a tunnel that’s moved over. (I’m just talking about the giant corporeal set they built. The actual CGI they dropped on top of it is a monument to chronological anomaly. We’ll get to that.)

Let’s talk tunnels. The designers read the script, and it says Angels Flight, Third Street. Ok. Art Department gets to work. Now then:

This is the Third Street tunnel:
TSS

This is the Second Street tunnel:
SST

This is what they elected to build:

SST2000
Hence:
FancifulBH

Got it? It’s the Second Street tunnel with Angels Flight next to it. And other Third Street whatnot atop. Some of it, anyhow.

This is no mere clickety-clack of computer, or making of matte painting (do people still do those?), this was built:

tunnelofyore

1924 looked just like 2004…

sstunderconstruction

Yes, I find this peternaturally exciting, but then, I need to get out more. In any event:

fancifulsmaller

 

 

 

 

Let’s again turn our attention to AtD‘s world of Third and Hill, 1933.

 

3HCrock

Here then is your standard pre-June 1908 Crocker Mansion shot. There’s the Crock, the observation tower, no Elks gate of course. Down from the Crocker there’s the Nelson House and the Ferguson house. On the east side of the street, in descending order, the Hillcrest, the Sunshine Apartments, the McCoy House, and the St. Helena Sanitarium.

elksahoyWhat I find really intriguing in Ask the Dust’s interpretation is the inclusion of the six-bay arched entry to Angels Flight, up top on Olive Street (you can see four of the open bays because the two on the left were closed in for the ticket booth). This pavilion would naturally butt up against the Hillcrest, but because the tunnel below is now so wide, there exists this odd empty area. The six-bay pavilion up top also thrusts us into an all the more peculiar place within the time-space continuum; it only existed between 1910 and 1914. While the Crocker Mansion existed before 1908. And the here-absent Observation Tower was not removed until 1938, five years after the Ask the Dust shot was “taken.”

So why use the Second Street tunnel and not the Third? I have a possible explanation for this. Here is a passage from the book:

I took the steps down Angel’s Flight to Hill Street: a hundred and forty steps, with tight fists, frightened of no man, but scared of the Third Street Tunnel, scared to walk through it—claustrophobia.

So there you have it. They couldn’t build the Third Street tunnel because Bandini’s character was scared of…so they built the…OK, so there was a time when everyone was coked out of their skulls and something like that could have occured. But nowadays there’s oversight, and bottom lines, and so on. Right?

But go back to the Ask the Dust image. The (pre-1933) Ferguson home down on the street by Angels Flight is sort of correct, though its gable faced at an angle to the street. And where is the entry arch to Angels Flight, pre-1910 or post? The buildings on the other side of the street are entirely fanciful…vaguely correct in their massing, but that’s about it. The Hillcrest never had bay windows. The McCoy house wasn’t double gabled—and the Sunshine Apts are gone, presumably so that the Sanitarium could be shoved up the hill.

In theory Gassner made a conscious aesthetic decision to go with the Crocker because it played better visually. Or there was an unpaid intern who saw a stack of postcards and slapped this together.

whatthe
tookabath

 

 

(Someone apparently saw an image of the Bath Block, once on the SW corner of Fifth and Hill.)

 

 

 

walkin

It doesn’t seem to bother Bandini much that he lives in a counterfactual alternate time universe. (Also, the Confederacy won, and because of that we have gills. Perhaps, rather than being doomed to an episode of Sliders, Bandini’s existence in this new world of speculative fiction where the Crocker survives is more akin to Delenda Est, and isn’t, therefore, you know, that bad?)
cominhome
notonhillWhat’s also interesting is that Bandini doesn’t actually live on Bunker Hill. The Alta Loma slopes down to Hill Street, in the middle of the 300 block—to the right of the St. Paul neon.

Back in the day, in the 300 block, that St. Paul Hotel was the site of the Western Mutual Life Bldng, the Alta Loma where the Hotel Columbia stood.

lookdownthird

A shot from the Graf:

viewfromthegrafzep

The entrance to the tunnel is on the right; the Alta Loma, bottom center.

Let us note too that while they built this:
gatesofhell

gateindistance

It gets barely a nod in the film. (Probably because while they constructed a working PE Red Car that got lots of camera time, there were no Olivet or Sinai.) Nevertheless, it’s all the more effective when we’re not hit over the head with the thing.

 

 

 

 

I don’t even want to discuss the unexplainable “flying in” opening credits—which, of course, is exactly what I’m going to do. So we’re flying in, and Bunker Hill has all of, oh, nine structures, and Bandini’s Alta Loma on Third is one of them, which we recognize as 512 West Second Street, once just above the Second Street tunnel:

flyingin1

flyingincloser

almostthere

altawho

I could go on and on (haven’t even deconstructed Third Street) but think I’ve made my point: weird, and enjoyably so. It’s not that the sets were treif out of lack of effort. They had the opportunity to rebuild Bunker Hill from the Ground Up, something never attempted before and will likely never happen again (until I’m given thirty-six acres and a drunken bank president), and I commend them for doing most impressive work:

impressive

(The first rule of any period LA picture: when in doubt, stick City Hall in there.)

hello

cityhallvigilant
Yes, impressive, impressive work. Now consider, if all had been perfect, what would I have had to write about?

fromthefutureguy

 

 

I should point out as well that the costuming was first-rate (Albert Wolsky won the Oscar for Bugsy).

 

 

Bet when you got up this morning you weren’t wondering whether you’d see Arturo Bandini with his Discman today.

 

 

 

 

 

For more on Fante and Bunker Hill, ask a teacher or librarian. Or better yet, get on the bus.

Speaking of CGI, what’s next on deck? Again starring our City Hall, CGI removing modernity like debridement.changy
Yes, Changeling. Which yeah, I’ll see in the theater, but won’t be as good as Choke, because it’s about a woman yelling “Give me back my son!” and also because they shot it in San Bernardino and San Dimas.

changebackalready

I get so tired of hearing about you can’t shoot old LA because there’s no old LA left in which to shoot (yes, I know they’re not actually just sloppy and lazy; it’s just a disingenuous way to get around verbalizing that it’s cheaper to shoot in fill-in-the-blank). But give me a camera and some crazy people and twelve dollars I’ll make you the best damn Bunker Hill movie yet.

2nd St. tunnel 1923, TICOR/Pierce Collection, University of Southern California; Alta Vista, Bath Block, 215 W 2nd, 2nd St tunnel 1960, Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library; I especially want to thank Jon, Lead Fabricator for AtD’s Art Department and his collection of images without which this post wouldn’t have been nearly as complete; Bandini and his Discman, and the Third and Hill mock up, come from here; the shot of the set from above is from here; super special thanks to the good people at Viacom/Paramount Motion Picture Group for not sending their thugs and/or lawyers after me, because they are I’m sure very nice people. Oh, I also stole screen grabs from that GE/Vivendi "Changeling" thingy. I am so headed for an earthen dam.

The Nugent/New Grand Hotel – 257 South Grand

TheNugeOne cannot help but be enamored of the Nugent. Maybe it’s the big spooky tower. Maybe it’s the Nugent’s corner site at Third Street and Grand Avenue…3rd & Grand just purrs off the tongue, which only seems to further imbue that location with the status as Ground Zero, Bunker Hill.

But truth be told, the Nugent was never a hotbed of vice, should you be perusing our OBH blog to sate your currish needs. Heck, a 1905 article about the original White Ribboners who fought demon drink back in the early ‘70s mentions that crusading Quaker Josephine Marlatt chose the newly-opened Nugent as her home.

thatlllearnherThe Nugent’s most notable resident was a Southern Pacific brakeman by the name of Walter J. Dean. It was March 10, 1935, and Dean was busy plying his honest trade out in Pomona at a railroad right of way while a train crew was switching freight cars in the local yards. Then some woman, as high and as mighty as they come, decided to drive her automobile across said railroad right of way; this enraged Dean, who pitched his lantern through her car windshield. Unfortunately the woman was Mrs. Lois Browning, wife of Desk Sergeant Browning of the local police force, which might give some insight into her high-and-mightiness.

1940And so, while I’d like to say that every resident was a pill-pushing pedophilic grave-robbing ghoul (or at least you’d like to read such), we’ll just have to content ourselves with pretty pictures. I must admit, my inclusion of the Nugent (which became the New Grand some time in the 1940s, to be pulled down in the mid-1960s by the CRA, naturally, ad victoriam) is due in larg1961e part to the wonderful color image I am fortunate enough to here include.

 

August, 1903:
nuge1903

Sanborn, 1906:

sanborn06

Sanborn, 1950:

notbornofwoman50

(If you really must read of murder most foul, note the Alto [at 253] having been built just the other side of the New Grand.)

entrancegrand

 

Bunker Hill had, without question, the highest per-block concentration of Corinthian capitals in Los Angeles.

 

 

One does have to wonder as to whether the two-story Corinthian columns were always broken up by those fire escapes.

 

 

"Housekeeping/Sleeping ROOMS by the Day-Week or MONTH Phone MA 5-0507"

 

 

 

 

delikorner

kookooretch

The deli has become a KooKooRoo. I had half a mind to march in there and say yeah, gimme a couple of your Landjäger, and a Csabai Kolbász, and a half pound of something Italian, Sopressata maybe, sliced thick, and something Jewish for the wife, say a pound of brisket, then let me have a fist-sized thing of herring, in brine not cream, and a pickled egg to go but of course like the rest of Bunker Hill, there was no-one there.

upgrand

upitnow

holeinone

With the New Grand gone, the 1970s and 80s thrilled to this hole in the ground. (Here, we are facing the other way down Grand from the image above.) At left, the 1982 Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Crocker Tower II and at right, the 1973 AC Martin Security Pacific National Bank Plaza tower, butting up against Third (the road in the foreground would become  Thaddeus Kosciusko).  Then West-LA Nadel Architects (who are at present in charge of designing two thirty-story towers at Third & Beaudry) showed up in 1988 and said here:

 

beingbilt

 

 

 

 

And in went the Grand Promenade Towers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But that’s not why we’re here. Not really. As I alluded to earlier, this post is really all about the Nugent/New Grand, 1952—in color:

theNewGrandinLivingBloodColor

todayisnow

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which now looks a lot more like this.

 

 

 

 

 

Images 1 & 2, Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library; Images 3 & 4, William Reagh Collection, California History Section, California State Library; Images 5 & 6, California State Library; color image of the New Grand, Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection.

(The IU Archives were very kind in granting us permission to publish their images here on On Bunker Hill. You are advised to go to the Cushman temple and worship accordingly. Exempli…South Main on a Sunday…peering down Harlem Place at City Hall…a length of Broadway, including the Mason Opera House, before it was wiped out by a 1957 parking garage [which itself was recently razed]…and the corner of Wilshire and St. Paul, hardly changed a bit.)

Kartography Korner


Golly, I cain’t never remember, is the Dome right kitty-corner to the Melrose? Weren’t there the Richelieu ‘tween ‘um? I kin hardly recall. Reckon there ought to be a map.

Reader, we hear this sort of comment often, though we are yet to understand why it is forever posed à la Opie Taylor. That notwithstanding, it is a reasonable query, and rest assured we are working on a map of Bunker Hill, replete with requisite names and addresses and footprints, and in a perfect world, will also include neat stuff like topographies, chronologically morphing blocks, and rollover, uh, hyperlinks. While I cannot promise all or any of the futuristic ideas I believe I’ve heard bandied about, it should definitely have pretty colors, and by the next time you go to MOCA, you’ll be able to call up the map on your PocketEniac™ and say “ah yes, we’re just now on the site of the (tap tap tap) Lovejoy Apartments.”

Until such time, let me offer you this map. It has none of the aforementioned geegaws, save for the pretty colors, and only comes in one year: 1921. Behold, Baist’s Real Estate Atlas of Surveys of Los Angeles. You may have heard of the Baist’s map; you can get a good look at it here (and their 1910 outing here). Plat Seven is the one to click for Bunker Hill. I suggest you head down to Central Library in a couple weeks and take a gander at an in-the-flesh Baist’s. Please be advised that as regards pretty colors, red=brick, yellow=frame, beige=stone.
bunkermapoverview

 

Soooo…here you go!

 

Bunker Hill!

 

Bordered by Temple, Hill, Figueroa and Fifth!

 

Ok, so this doesn’t do you any good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s look at something up close. Something we can really sink our teeth into.

ZeldaEtAl

Now we’re cooking with gas. Above, Hope, Grand and Olive run north. There’s the Fremont and Zelda along Fourth. The Sherwood is yet to have the Edison as her neighbor. And T stands for Trenton. (Bottom right, note Neher & Skilling‘s 1910 Auditorium Hotel, which once existed in all its finial’d glory, before mid-30s streamliny reincarnation into the San Carlos hotel [dig the 1955 Armet & Davis Googies addition]…Neher had a hand in designing the hotel’s big brother, the Auditorium itself, which also underwent a cleanlining).

Alright, off somewhere else:

Fig2Grand

Between Second and Third; I’ve typed in street names up top to keep y’all oriented (that’s Bunker Hill Avenue between Hope and Grand). Familiar faces—façades? footprints?—abound: Marcella, The St. Regis, Van Fleet, The Elmar, the Brousseau Mansion, the Dome (still listed as the Minnewaska) and of course the Alta Vista, venerable home of John Fante, model for Arturo Bandini’s residences in Ask the Dust and Dreams from Bunker Hill. Many other tales on this blog occured in as-yet-unnamed locales; we now know from the particular slice of mappery above that this tale occured at The Raymond.

moremoremore

The Vanderbilt! The Imperial! Such regal names for two of my favorite places on the Hill. And the 300 block of South Flower is rich with goings-on, most notably at the Glenview. And yes, that’s the Hildreth down at the corner of 4th and Hope.

noelmsthere

I want to add that the footprints of the buildings are not Sanborn-quality; do not take them as gospel. And at 321 S. Olive, that’s the Ems, not the Elms. So, ok, not everyone at Baist’s was as exacting as a Sanborner. Nevertheless, gaze here upon the glory of the Northern! Places of unusual unusualness! Herein lurks the future CRA offices themselves. And more of the usual suspects–the Astoria, the BPOE.

worldofelmoro

In 1921, we still had 411 and 409 standing on West First, though the Hotel Locke is gone…and if you’re wondering what it is I’m talking about, you can always consult the egregiously over-detalied mapping on the subject in this post, and this. And notice how 425 was called the Rio Grande. There’re our old pals the Richelieu, Melrose, Argyle and Moore Cliff.

Well, you get the idea. As we cast our light on bulldozed hills and fallen homes (and as you get to know the forgotten folk whose culture was so different, but whose attitudes were so similar to yours) perhaps when you dream of Bunker Hill, you’ll be able to traverse the grand avenues (and dart down the alleyways) with surety. Because as much as we’d like to rebuild Bunker Hill on some empty acreage, we had too much self-respect to get one of those "Everyone Deserves Everything" loans so popular until recently. We may have to content ourselves with designing a 3D tactical shooter, with HLSL and dynamic tonemapping. Again, until such time, we have this map.

Special thanks to Kim Cooper, who hipped me to the Baist beast’s whereabouts, and without whom I couldn’t have snatched it up.

 

Of Munsters and Bunker Hill

1313They were eastern European immigrants, utterly integrated into the ways of American society. They were doting, loving parents; rarely does television depict such a highly functional family. They were the Munsters, and they existed to teach us valuable, eternal lessons: build hot rods out of hearses and caskets. Let your home be overrun by the Standells and their beatnik buddies. And see that your house is the biggest and spookiest on the block.

Aside from these eternal lessons, the Munsters also represented something particular to their time—to be exact, Sept.’64-May ’66. (No, I’m not talking about that despite their status as affable, upstanding citizens, the average American really didn’t want to live next door to someone whose skin was a different color.) For our purposes I want to look at another member of the Munster clan, the house itself: 1313 Mockingbird Lane.
MunsterPcard

lightningflashThe Munster manse is important to our topic at hand because it represents the attitude toward Victorian architecture at the time the CRA was in its wholesale frenzy of demolition: in a world blooming with Cliff May and Eichler knock-offs, 1313 was an ungainly, awkward embarrassment. It was, to many, nothing if not downright frightening. And those who would live in such a place? They must be odd in the extreme. Beyond curious. Again, frightening: those who dare knock on that door usually end up vaulting themselves over the gate and running down the street in terror. Besides having skin of a different color (in this case, green), the dwellers therein are, in fact, monsters.

The Addams Family also had a big creepy house, though it was more a museum (as noted in theme song, of course) than mired in decrepitude. If the Addams examination of landed gentry’s eccentricities has any bearing on Bunker Hill, it is only in illuminating the Bunker Hill of yore—therein lies no bearing on the Bunker Hill of 1965. (Interestingly, the shot of the Addams house in the first episode was filmed down at 21 Chester Place [and is now, sadly, demolished].)

The house at Chester Place, and its matte-painted addition:

HousedAddams

theeasywaytoaddon

001CemeteryRidgeNevertheless, while one could view Gomez as a demented Doheny, or a cracked Crocker, perhaps because (Charles) Addams’s work is so associated with the New Yorker, there’s something rather East Coast about the Addamses. After all, the Italianate Addams place was modeled after a house from Chas’s New Jersey boyhood, or a building at U-Penn, depending on whom you ask.

There’s something uniquely Angeleno about the Munsters—when you take the Koach out to Mockingbird Heights drag strip, you can smell the Pomona. The Munsters went to Marineland. Herman hung with Dodger manager Leo Durocher.
TheGreatTour
1313 was every bit Bunker Hill—dig the deep central Gothic-arched porch, the extensive use of shabby shingle, the patterned chimney. The asymmetrical double porches and widow’s walk are a nice touch. Its most notable feature might be the spook-faced gable. And inside; no well-intentioned postwar updates there—all spindlework and heavy drapes and art-glass lamps. The crumbling stone gates, the overgrowth…this was disrepair in all its Gesamkunstwerkiness. The gag, of course, was that 1313 was the one and only of its kind on the block. The standout. The sore thumb. Bunker Hill was a nest of these things.

Making matters worse, a Munster stood for something. A Munster stood for his home, protecting it with his or her life (undead though they may be). In “Munster on the Move,” (Season 1, Episode 27, airdate March 25, 1965) Herman gets a promotion at the parlor whereby the family must sell the house and move to Buffalo. Grandpa inadvertently sells to a wrecking company; when the Munsters find out the house’s fate, they put the good of the house before their own self-interest. When the bulldozers show up, the family is out front, cannons packed with Grandma’s best silver. The head of the wrecking crew shakes his head in disgust, but not disbelief; says it reminds him of the little old ladies who threw themselves in front of the bulldozers when they were tearing down their homes for the freeway system. “Look Jack, I bought this place to wreck it and put in a parking lot. Now move it, because we’re coming through.” After the wreckers see that Herman can swing a wrecking ball around, they turn tail and flee.

Wreckers arrive:

TheArrival

Herman reasons with them to great effect:

ManOfReason

Bunker Hill had its Frank Babcock, but even he was no Herman Munster.

One last thing. In “Herman Munster, Shutterbug,” (Season 2, Episode 4, October 7, 1965) Herman inadvertently snaps a photo of two bandits running out of the Mockingbird Heights Bank. And where do these bank-robbing low-lifes lay low? We see in an establishing shot that they’re staying at “The Grand”—

Munsterwaska

—which we of course we know as none other than the Dome.

DomeoftheRock

Dome Image, Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library; postcards, author; everything else courtesy the beneficent glow of the CRT

The Monarch

GARAs has been noted, when it comes to Bunker Hill, there is no image as iconic as Union Bank Square—the Redevelopment Project’s first great endeavor—towering over remnants of antiquated Los Angeles. (One could argue there are few sights as telling when it comes to defining Los Angeles in general.) But while we’re all familiar with those 42 stories of mid-60s glory, who remembers what stood there before? It was that hitherto unsung monument of Los Angeles deco: the Monarch Hotel.monarkedelic

The Monarch opened in mid-October, 1929. It contained sixty-six hotel rooms, fourteen single apartments, twelve double apartments, a five-room bungalow on the roof, three private roof decks planted rich with shrubbery, and a lobby embellished with hand-decorated ceilings. It was entirely furnished by Barker Brothers with furniture of “modern type and design.”

modernistic

From the outset, crime dogged the Monarch. Sort of. The first occupants of the bridal suite, in November 1929, were Motorcycle Officer Bricker of Georgia-Street Traffic Investigation and former Miss Losa Pope (the now newly-minted Mrs. Bricker, a purchasing agent at Forest Lawn).
loveatfirsthandcuff
They met when he had arrested her for speeding. On their first morning together as Man and Wife, breakfasting on the roof garden outside their bridal suite, they were mobbed by twenty some-odd members of the Force who decided to burst in and make merry with fellow officer and his tamed scofflaw.

Real crime did, in fact, visit upon the Monarch. (This may have had something to do with opening two weeks before the Crash.) For example:

betrayalNight clerk H. N. Willey was behind the desk at the Monarch when, just after midnight on June 16, 1930, a bandit robbed him of $26. Willey phoned Central Station. Meanwhile, officers Doyle and Williams, on patrol, observed a man hightailing it through an auto park near the hotel. Deciding that he wasn’t running for his health (this being some years before the jogging craze), they gave chase and caught him in an alley. They next observed a patrol car flying to the Monarch. Putting two and two together, they took their prisoner to the hotel, where he was id’d by Willey. Turns out he was George H. Hall, 24, a recent arrival in Los Angeles.

H. N. Willey continued to ply the night clerk trade, and was doing so when two men entered on the early morning of August 31, 1931. When Willey showed them to their room, they pulled out a gun and tried to lock him in the closet. The attempt failed because the door had no outside lock, so the hapless crooks ran downstairs, recovered the $2 they had paid for the room and fled.

H. N. makes the papers again in November of 1931, when on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Los Angeles is hit by a massive crime wave, in which over a dozen brazen robberies of hotels, groceries, theaters, pedestrians, folks in autos, etc. are shot at and robbed; Willey looks down the barrel of a large-bore automatic and forks over $25.

drinkup
One thing that’s nice about the Monarch? It’s nice to have a bar downstairs. Edgar Lee Smith lived, and drank, at the Monarch.

deltadawn
August 23, 1946. Smith, 51, had been drinking in the Monarch bar but neglected to keep to the cardinal rule of always keeping on the good side of one’s bartender. This resulted in an after-hours duel that left his bartender, James Donald Chaffee, 28, stabbed to death. When the Radio Officers Hill and Finn found Chaffee’s body on sidewalk, they went to Smith’s room, where they found him changing his clothes, and seized a penknife with a one-inch blade.

The fight began when, according to Smith, “Jimmy got sore because I stole his girl.” Smith added that barkeep Chaffee, in retaliation, cut Smith off. Smith, in counter-retaliation, cut Chaffee.
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Smith plead guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to one to ten in San Quentin.

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Gilbert Carvajal was a 17 year-old Marine stationed at Del Mar, part of Pendleton. He was at the Monarch on May 9, 1957, with his 45 year-old lady-friend Frances Nishperly when it all began. It was 1:15am and he decided it wise to hold up night clerk Frost E. Stacklager (H. N. Willey having retired, apparently) and make off with $22 and jewelry. A few minutes later the two robbed the Trent Hotel of $57.50; despite holding the clerk at knifepoint, the two next fled the Floyd Hotel empty-handed, but snagged $45 from the till at the Auto Club Hotel minutes later. At 23rd and Scarff Sts. the police began shooting into Carvajal’s car—he tried to make a run for it but was shot down in the street, taking one to the chest. Ms. Nishperly insisted Carvajal had kidnapped her from the corner of Pico Blvd. and Hope St., but police elected to discount this story.

Nishperly

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Now, people are forever plunging off the precipices afforded by tall structures (a quick peruse of On Bunker Hill proves that) and that’s a person’s right and due. But it’s different when it’s an excited doggy.

Buddy was one such excitable pooch, who went nuts and ran right off the top of the Monarch Hotel! Of course the Hand of God intervened, and Buddy—a 2 year-old fox terrier–fell one hundred feet, landing atop an auto roof, but emerged without a scratch, May 1, 1931. (Apparently Buddy had landed on one of the small unbraced portions of the auto top; parking station attendants ran out when they heard a windshield smash and found a confused dog standing on top the machine, looking for a place to descend.)

Buddy’s daddy, Jimmy Van Scoyoe, was looking frantically for his pooch and had no idea of his aerial adventure when he peered off the roof and saw his Buddy surrounded by a puzzled crowd. Jimmy is reported to have tightly clasped Buddy in his arms and vowed to never let him out of his sight again “even if I have to keep him in bed with me when I go to sleep.” Damn straight!

 

 

motoronCWLead architects on the Monarch are Cramer & Wise, who did pioneering auto-culture work with their 1926 “Motor-In Markets”—one at the NW corner of First and Rosemont (above, demolished 1962) and another at the NW corner of Sunset and Quintero (still there, vaguely recognizable):motorin

One can also go visit Cramer & Wise’s Van Rensellear Apartments,
SE corner of Franklin and GramercyVanRad…of course, what they’re best known for is La Belle Tour.

Consulting architects on the Monarch were Hillier & Sheet, probably best known for Beverly Blvd. landmark the Dover.
NewAlohaWhile Mediterranean in manner, their 1929 complex on the NE corner of McCadden and West Leland Way is mysteriously named the Aloha.

 

This 1929 31-unit Mediterranean complex in the Wilshire District still stands: 837ssandrewz
But this one on El Cerrito was demolished; an 80s building of unusual blandeur has taken its place. elcerritodemo

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Hillier & Sheet announce this height-limit Norman job will go up at Fountain and Sweetzer; it does not materialize.

S. Charles Lee’s El Mirador, though, does.

 

 

 

 

Who loves the lost Monarch? People are quick to fetishize the felled Richfield Tower, and with good reason (I, too, am an ardent obsessive—even owning parts of it); but isn’t it a bit…New York? Doesn’t it owe a major debt to Hood’s American Radiator Building? Sure, some might argue that the Streamline Moderne is more natively Angeleno, but not only was that industrial-inspired application an Internationalist movement, but one also feels in its nautical element a particular evocation of our neighbor to the north, San Francisco.

What is elementally endemic to the land, here, is the Ziggurat Moderne of the Monarch Hotel—that there is something in the setback style that elicits a feeling for the indigenous, the “really” American, in that the mock-Mayan comes closest to the true architecture of this part of the world. The core of this argument comes, of course, from Francisco Mujica’s 1929 History of the Skyscraper, where he hints at just that—that pre-Columbian pyramids are the correct expression of modernity, and vice versa (hence the natural evolution of the 1916 New York setback laws…glorious mother of what Koolhaas termed the Ferrissian Void).

Thus—where one might see the Monarch as somewhat squat:
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…we should take that as monumentality in its most impressive (if not oppressive, if that’s what reverberates in your Incan blood) form.

1906, the NW corner of Fifth and Figueroa at bottom right:

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1950, twenty years after the installation of the Monarch:

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1953, with the addition of the Harbor Freeway:

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After fifteen years of Sturm n Drang, on February 3, 1964, the $350 million Bunker Hill Urban Renewal Project got its first bite—Connecticut General Life offered $3.3 million for the block-square site that housed the Monarch Hotel.

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CRA Chairman William T. Sesnon Jr., expressed his elation: “The sale is virtually completed. We are overjoyed by this development. It’s our hope it will serve as the real kickoff for the entire Bunker Hill project.”

Thirty days later—March 4, 1964:
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On March 30, 1965, red-jacketed attendants ushered dignitaries under a white-fringed canopy, where they watched a bulldozer tear up some concrete. “Welcome to Bunker Hill—at last,” proclaimed Sesnon. “This is the start of something dramatic.”
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Some of the luster of Sesnon’s kickoff was dulled when in 1966—with the Union Bank half built—City Administrative Officer C. Erwin Piper and his staff issued a scathing report on the CRA. It sited faulty operational control, an absence of clear-cut policies and poor internal coordination, at terrific taxpayer expense. By the end of 1967 no more land had been disposed of, the CRA had lost half its department heads, had no executive director, and Sesnon had been replaced by Z. Wayne Griffin.

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The Battle of Bunker Hill would continue to be waged—that long, slow, protracted engagement, which like its previous fifteen years, would need another fifteen years before things shifted into high gear again.

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Images courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection; opening Monarch shot (1930), Mott-Merge Collection, California State Library, and back of Monarch shot across Fremont St., Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library

Hotel Belmont — 251 S Hill

BelmontLinen
The Belmont was a behemoth at the base of Bunker Hill, its situation on the southern center beckoned folk who—were we to paint in purely lurid hue—simply sought a thieves den, or that final refuge before the big self-snuff. Was there more to this big, beautiful building? Why, naturally.

It all began with the YWCA, an organization that sought to harbor white Christian women from the williwaws of urban iniquity. And where better to do so than that hillock of high-mindedness, Bunker Hill?

A colony of civic-minded women formed the LA-YWCA in 1893 in two rooms at 212 S. Broadway, then moved into the Schumacher Building at 107 S. Spring in 1894. They then shuttled off into the shelter of the old City Hall at 211 W. Second, and finally took over a whole floor of the Conservative Life building at the NE corner of Third and Hill in ’06. They were renting out a small building as their annex, on the same side of Hill, forty feet north of Third, and decided enough of this penny-ante gynoprotection, we’re purchasing that property and erecting an sky-scraping HQ.

Higher

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They dropped cornerstone in 1907 and moved in aught-eight. Its basement held an auditorium for 500, a gymnasium, and a 30×50’ swimming pool. It was most noted for its gargantuan light well, which formed an open-air patio famous for its flower boxes filled with color-coordinated flora cascading to a fancy tile floor.

 

 

 

 

 

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YWCAteens

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4,000 women, including 1,600 students engaged in the study of the domestic sciences, swam and ate and sewed and so on and all was fine and good until 1919, when the Y gals sold the building, deciding “to be nearer the shopping.”

(In 1926 they opened their grand Y-hotel at 939 S. Figueroa, moving their offices into this building on the right [now the site of the Hotel Figueroa’s pool].)

 

251 South Hill was purchased by the Union League Club of Los Angeles, where the Republican Women’s Club (the incipient CFRW). often met.

The Union League held on to 251 until 1924; its conversion into the Hotel Belmont begins in April of that year. Alexander Mayer spends $400,000 ($4,812,791 USD2007) in the remodel—remaking 200 rooms, all with shower and bath, all with hand-painted furniture.
BelmontCa1939
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One of the Belmont’s most notorious residents was Santa Claus. Motley Flint, Los Angeles Postmaster and Illustrious Potentate of the city’s Al Malaikah Temple (our local Shriners, AAONMS), arranged with postal authorities to have all letters addressed to Santa (which theretofore had gone to the dead-letter office) sent to the Belmont Hotel, as that was where the Shrine set up their annual Christmas relief drive. The basement would fill with donated toys, clothing and fruit cakes; everyone could come and receive yuletide relief at the Belmont. And the Shriners special Santa squad found each and every letter-penning tot and saw to it that the hoped-for toy made it from the Belmont basement into their needy hands.

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Another fun member of the Belmont clan was Walter Maloof, 55, a familiar sight among the Downtown shuffling class, a gent who spent his days peddling watches and other odd articles on street-corners. Apparently there’s good money in the odd article, as after he died in his Belmont hotel room in February 1963, his bankbook showed he had some $19,000 ($127,399 USD2007) squirreled away.

Of course, the Belmont also harbored the likes of Achilles N. Bororas, 41, whose not only knocked over markets and service stations up and down California in 1954, but robbed churches and nabbed narcotics from drugstores.

You don’t mess with the Belmont when it comes to committing crimes. James Rader, 28, led a gang of hotel robbers. His accomplices were Gordon Edwards, 18; Frank Darrow, 22; Miss Margie Petrie, 18; and a sixteen year-old girl. They’d knocked over fifteen downtown hotels when they thought they’d take on the Belmont, March 9, 1957. The gang were in mid-rob when Edwards was clobbered by 71 year-old Belmont dontmesswthebelmontelevator operator William Patterson, who struck Edwards with his stool (that is, the small stool he sat on in his elevator) and knocked the knife from his hand. Rader struck Patterson with the butt of his gun; the robbers then tangled with 65 year-old Belmont desk clerk A. B. Cramer and eventually fled the scene empty handed—even more so than they came in with, as one of the crew lost their wallet, and they were all easily traced to a downtown roominghouse and arrested.

And there are always those who seek permanent solutions to temporary problems. They, as such, instead of waiting for God to fire them, will raise their fists to the heavens and yell “I quit!”
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On March 29, 1936, employees of the Belmont were alarmed that Jeanette Stevenson, 45, wouldn’t answer her telephone. The note she left described domestic difficulties; she’d decided a bottle of poison was the antidote to that particular issue.

foiledagainIn January 1938, Mrs. Veronica De Shon Miller, 47, recently of Kansas City, divorced, despondent over the death of a friend, and an out-of-work beautician to boot, soaked a towel in ether and smothered herself in her Belmont flat. She was saved there by a friend. Fearing that the Belmont was conspiring to keep her alive, she left a note regarding the disposition of her belongings and made her way to the building at Fourth and Broadway where she once operated a beauty parlor, and flung herself to the concrete floor at the bottom of the light well.

leapingdentistsSeptember 28, 1942. Dr. Robert E. Hunsaker, 45, was due in court to face a hearing in a suit filed by his third wife for divorce. So he got a room at the Belmont. Top floor. Desk clerk Bernardo Sargil noticed Hunsaker on the window ledge and called the cops; when they got there they found dancer Ruth Rex in his room, pleading with him not to jump. The cops tried to grab him but Hunsaker ordered them back; finally he said “So long boys, this is getting tiresome,” and loosened his grip, falling the length of the building to meet Hill Street below.

maybeshethoughtshewasabee

 

November 1, 1942. Anne Kennedy, 18, was despondent over ill health, or so letters left in her Belmont hotel room indicated. Nevertheless she was still gaily dressed in her black-and-yellow Halloween party costume when she leapt, or fell, from her sixth-floor window at the back of the hotel.

Third and Hill, 1906, pre-YWCA: Angels Flight “inclined cable tramway” at far left; the St. Helena Sanitarium (perhaps you’ve noticed the “Vegeterian Café” signage in images of Angels Flight?—that’s these folk); and some residential structures at 251 and beyond (including one labeled “old & vacant”). The shingled structure in the vintage image above (that’s a “Berlin Dry Cleaning” truck in front), seen below as 247, was the Kensington. Above, the Astoria.
3rdHill1906

Belmont19501950: Behold, the 1907 YWCA, though it’s been the Belmont now for twenty-five-some years. St. Helena’s was redubbed “My Hotel” and has a liquor store in its corner. The structures to the east have been wiped for parking; the Kensington is now the Belmont garage. Above, the Astoria has a neighbor, the 1916 Blackstone Apartments.
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A close-up from an image in last week’s post. A glimpse of Angels Flight heading down to the corner of Third and Hill. There’s the Belmont and her giant light well. Behind, the Hillcrest, Astoria and Blackstone face Olive Street.

The Belmont is leased to hotel chain operators Porter and Knapp in 1941, who sink scads of dough in her, reopening the pool, enlarging and refurbishing the roof garden, refurnishing and redecorating the rooms. But all that money couldn’t stem the decline of the neighborhood.
codgerscadge
Two codgers stroll Hill in the early 60s; they’ll cadge together enough for a fifth and head to Pershing Square to argue Bay of Pigs for the afternoon. Then it’s back to the Belmont for a nap.

fireatthebelmont67A fire that would have felled a lesser building broke out November 3, 1967. The sixth-floor room of John Riles, 69, believed to have been smoking in bed, went up in flames, engulfing a good bit of that floor and part of the seventh, and all of the late John Riles.
ortegas
What fire couldn’t do to the Belmont, the CRA could; the summer of 1971 saw the Bunker Hill Redevelopment Project at the tail-end of its demolitions and the YWCA/Union League/Belmont, one of the last standing Stalwarts, tumbled under wreckers’ hammers.

geriatriccheeseFind the big red awning—across from the MTA bus parked at the Third Street curb—jutting out from Angelus Plaza: that’s 255 S. Hill, once the address that marked the western edge of the Belmont. As can be seen, near the site of the Belmont, there’s a building of vaguely similar size and shape. Close, but as a gal from the YWCA might point out, no cigar.
255angfromair

Photos from the USC Digital Archives, save for the “old codger” pic, William Reagh Collection, California History Section, California State Library; Belmont and lobby postcard, author; the image of the YWCA interior court borrowed from this page of A Visit to Old Los Angeles. As always, mad props to the Sanborn surveyors.

Field Trip!

nhmHey kids! Grab your duffels and get on the bus. We’re headed into the wilds of Exposition Park, to the Natural History Museum. No Timmy, and sorry Susie, no dinosaur bones or stuffed lions today; prepare to be shrunk like Bugaloos and fly! Fly over Bunker Hill! Bunker Hill—1940.

Woosh! We’re flying in! Over the Richfield Building now, we’re going to swoop down between the rooftops of the California Club and the Bible Institute, across the top of Central Library, soaring toward the Edison and the Sunkist Building…flyingin

(…ignore those strange giant floating numbers and letters, by the way; be advised they are as harmless as they are, for our purposes, useless.)

And now with a great dip we zip toward the corner of Fifth and Grand—eagle of eye will note that behind the Engstrum on Hope Street stands the Touraine and the rooftop of the Zahn’s Wickland Apartments …beyond that one can just make out the turreted Hildreth Mansion. Up Grand from the Edison are, of course, the Sherwood, the Granada, and the Zelda.
UpGrand

Blast off into the sky! We shoot up and over to the west, then point ourselves east to view Bunker Hill of the soul…devoid of light and life…the great red beast that appears ready to burst is the Elmar…the center slender building jutting from the Elmar is the Van Fleet . Note the dusty stretch of dirt to the north of the Elmar, where invisible children cavort—may someday there they plop a playground! (And see how Bunker Hill looms over the likes of the California State Building, the Hall of Records, the Hall of Justice!)

easttowardcc

 

Aha…down there…with the Clift Hotel on our left, the Stanley above the Second Street tunnel, that means that red T-shape is the Winton…shall we dare shoot down past its backside…?
wintonbackside

 

Ah! Blinded by sprites! Those who protect the Marcella! the St. Regis! Away! Away!
blindedbysprites

 

Let us retreat up Flower toward First, make a hard right just past, why, the s(t)olid rectangular yellowish edifice at the corner, if it isn’t the Rossmere in all its rectitude.
Rossmere

And wethinks we espy the Melrose beyond? Let’s glide down over Hope and have a look-see! That’s the Melrose all right, across Bunker Hill Avenue, sitting on the other side of Grand between First and Second.
closertowardMel

Now we’re aeronauting down Grand, looking across the intersection of Second…there’s the Dome on the corner…
downgrand
Raising the spyglass to your eye, you’ll see that at one o’clock above the Dome sits—with the green roof—the Brousseau. (The wide building beyond, spanning Grand to Bunker Hill Ave., is the Alto.)
brousseauthruspyglass

Sailing over the Melrose now! To its west, of course, the Richelieu. The yellow building behind is the Argyle.
likeanangel

Let’s fly up and swing wide—turn back to see Hill and Olive across First and Second…the Moore Cliff and El Moro perched on their Hill Street bluff. In the distance, at Second and Olive, the Mission Apartments
swingwide

Coasting out even further now, on the other side of Broadway, from here the raw maw of the Second Street tunnel looks like a tiny gasp…over which the Northern holds dominion.
outfurtherfarther

Venturing in closer now…that squat red building hiding behind the eerily-white seven-story Glove Cigar Mfg. Bldg. at 319 S. Hill is the Hotel Lorraine/Clayton/Central. L/C/C’s blocky red brethren over its left shoulder are the Elks Lodge and Annex.
towrd3rdolive

 

Now let’s aviate our way ever closer…closer…just a stone’s throw from Angels Flight…til we hover near the Astoria . What terrible deeds did there occur!overastoria
Granted, the streets may be deserted. But may we not still run afoul of Robert Nixon? He only went to the chair a few months ago. This is quite obviously a haunted place. We must turn tail and soar away with great urgency and return to our world…bid farewell…

flyingout

What have you just seen? A model of Los Angeles, built by the WPA from 1938-40, for the purposes of city planning (via which they evidently deduced “it all goes!”)…on a related note, this model was once many, many times larger. The County (whose infinite wisdom never ceases to inspire) dumpster’d the majority of it in the 70s.

Nevertheless, your trip today showed you only a smidgen of Bunker Hill, and a fraction of the model. I guarantee that in the flesh—it, yours—you’ll stand gape-mouthed for an eternity staring deep into LA’s prewar theatre and financial and industrial districts.

Plus down at the museum they’ve endless tonnage of interesting old LA, e.g. the clock-face from the County Courthouse. (And in the same room as the WPA model there’s an ancient oil well beam pumping unit with a counter-balance one’d fill with river rocks—worth the price of admission right there. [Does this fan of vintage petroleum exploration a world of good, anyway.])

So go there now. The model and the rest of the LA stuff in the basement, in the California History room.

And yes, Timmy and Susie, there’s also lots of dinosaur bones and stuffed lions. And Bugaloo specimens in the insect gallery.

2nd & Hill Block Round-Up

hillfromthezepIn that our post about the earth carvings (the Cuscans have nothing on us) at Second and Hill garnered some interest, I thought it worthwhile to detail salient features and goings-on sundry of other buildings on the block.

elmorofromair
One notable structure looming over Hill was the El Moro. The Sanborn Maps in the Dirt Patch post show us the house at 109 South Hill was built between 1888 and 1894. This was the home of prominent Los Angeles druggist, and President of Western Wholesale Drug Company, Howard M. Sale, who had arrived from Pueblo, Colorado in 1886. Mr. and Mrs. Sale built Castle Crag in 1888 but decided Bunker Hill was the proper place to be, so sold out in ’89 to build 109 South Hill. This house on the bluff was a center of Society for some years before Mr. and Mrs. Sale decided to turn it into a hotel in 1901 (moving into a larger house at Ninth and Union in 1902).

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With the Sale’s three-story addition to the now-named El Moro, the structure extended back 133 feet and included a total of thirty-five rooms.
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The El Moro’s location, some 150’ above the sidewalk, made firefighting a little tricky, which aided in a near-total loss of the front portion of the mansion in January 1914. There were thousands of spectators at the scene, and whether they turned out for the dramatic blaze or the sight of sixty some-odd guests in an early-morning state of deshabille is a matter of conjecture.

andatowelunderthedoorNot a lot of Postwar noirisme at the El Moro, if you’re after that sort of thing. Mrs. Mollie Lahiff, 50, died of (what the papers termed) accidental asphyxiation after a gas heater used up all the oxygen in her tightly sealed room, February 26, 1953. Should you be so inclined, consider how drafty these places tend to be. Tightly sealed takes some doing. Just saying.

And now, for your edification and delectation, the unhappy end of a streetcar just below the El Moro, 1937.

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132/134 South Olive is one of the oldest stuctures on the block, dating to before ’88. Here’s a shot of the H-shaped building, next to our old pal, the Argyle.

132/34SO

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January 24, 1895. Mrs. Josie McGinn, a widow of 28 with a well-grown girl of 10, was sitting with her stepsister Grace in their home at 134 (in the image above, the one on the right), and Josie mentioned she was feeling poorly. Grace suggested a walk. At the foot of the terrace steps on Broadway Josie complained of feeling weak, but they continued down Franklin nonetheless. When they hit New High Street, Josie collapsed altogether. When asked what her trouble was, Josie replied, “I have taken laudanum.” She was taken to Receiving Hospital, where her life was saved, and there explained that while she was fixing her hair at the bureau in preparation for the walk downtown, there sat her glycerine and laudanum—intended for her ear condition—and in a moment of impulsive despair drank the laudanum. Such is the torment of modernity.

sneaks!A favorite phrase of Edwardian Angeles is “sneak thief,” and Bunker Hill sneak thieves were forever securing some silver coinage here and a jeweled stick-pin there; on August 17, 1903, for example, during Mrs. H. Ware’s temporary absence from 132, a sneak thief entered and stole $10 and a gold watch (a similar burglary occurred that same day, where at 104 S. Olive a room occupied by Mrs. Case was ransacked and liberated of $20).

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Mrs. Frances Valiente, about 25, lived in 132 with her two boys, Frankie, about 2, and a one year-old infant, unnamed. Frances went out one Friday night in April of 1951 and didn’t elect to return. Frank went to Juvie and the infant to the nursery at General.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

homealoneisfunnyJuly 30, 1954. Jesus Chaffino is a 2 year-old with a talent for opening doors. Apparently his mother, Maria Avila, didn’t tell her sister-in-law that when she left her place at 121 North Hope and dropped of the Jesus at 132 S. Olive. He was turned over to juvenile officers when he was found wandering near First and Olive at five a.m.

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Let’s cast an eye on the buildings around the block from the Argyle down Second (the $1.50/day and weekly rates on your left is the Northern):

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In a shot obiviously taken from the Northern, we have the Argyle on our left, 425 West Second center, and 421/419 West Second on the right. (Olive Street stretches away north, left; the Moore Cliff with El Moro behind are upper right; the pile of dirt in back is where they’d put the court house.)

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sneakersSneak thiefs! enter 425 in 1902 and make off with a stand cover and a fine wall picture. Is nothing sacred? The answer is no. Not to the sneak thief.

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Harry Wilson was an actor who decided to take up newspaper work. He was assigned to the police news, was as such often exposed to suicides down at Receiving Hospital. This, it is thought, had a disturbing, destabilizing influence on his mind; Harry left a note for his wife on what he thought was going to be the last day of his life, October 8, 1904, and with that took the gas-pipe in their apartment in 425. He survived, and with luck returned to neither tread board nor sling ink.

shotfailsJuly 16, 1907. A burglar was detected working the window at Mrs. M. M. Clay’s apartment house, 425, by her daughter, Clara Clay. She exclaimed under her breath to a Mr. Charles See, who kept the apartment above hers, “There’s a man trying my window.”

So See fetched his revolver and leaned out the upper story and commanded the man to hold up his hands. With a great bound the man leapt over a tall fence some four feet away, while See fired and missed. The burglar, well-dressed and polite as could be, broke through the back screen door at the adjoining apartment house at 421, strode lightly through the hall; he tipped his hat to a young lady in the hall and she replied “Good evening.” He stepped out on to the front porch where several roomers were sitting. He bade them all a good evening and, tipping his hat, walked slowly down the street. Moments later it was Charles See, feverish and gun-waving, who threw terror into the hearts of the tenants.

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July 22, 1924. Roy Shellington called 425 home, or at least he did until Federal prohibition officers noticed he was overly cautious in handling his suitcase while little doggies nipped at his heels. Shellington bunked in the hoosegow after the Feds found twelve bottles of Scotch inside, verboten in Volstead America.

id'd
Alex Markovich, 33, lived at 425, but had the misfortune of making his way down to Third and Spring on December 28, 1953. There he was jumped and beaten by hoodlums Alphonso Ruiz, Ramon Zaavedra, Gilbert Garcia, and…Mrs. Eleanor Talkington. Luckily, while Markovich was in critical condition at General with a basal skull fracture, the perps were charged with suspicion of robbery and ADW after having been ID’d by eyewitnesses, who were none other than Joaquin Aquilar Robles, former Police Chief of Tijuana, and Rafael Estrada, ex-Mayor of Ensenada.

Not much to tell about 421/419, other than recommending one leap upon well-dressed gents tipping their hats with a “good evening,” as they’re bound to be window-pryers from next door. Another piece of good advice is that once you’ve checked in, it’s best to never set foot outside again. Especially if you’re an elderly gentleman. On November 4, 1944, killercarMattie Mitchell, 70, departed his apartment at 421 and was run down by an LA Railway streetcar at Fifth and Hope. Joseph Erolet, a 77 year-old news vender ventured outside of 421 on May 23, 1946, and was clobbered by an auto at Brand and Wilson in Glendale.

And so concludes today’s report from this block, and the particular concavity that spawned the ongoing completist account of its whats and wherefores.

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Images courtesy the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection and the Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library

The St. Regis – 237 South Flower

StKidnapSay “mother fixation” and dollars to donuts you mean, or are taken to mean, a fixation on your mother. Mrs. Emma Rupe was fixated on being a mother. So much so that on July 5, 1936, the Denver waitress took a fancy to John, the two year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. John Richard O’Brien. John, it seems, looked just like Emma’s own toddler who’d died nine years previous. On the pretext that she was going to take the little darling out to buy him a playsuit (the O’Briens being trusting souls, and near penniless, so how could they refuse?) Emma thereupon took John shopping…as far from Denver as she could get, and with as great a chance of disappearing as possible. Because clichés are born of truth, noir clichés especially, she beelined straight for Los Angeles, Bunker Hill specifically, and checked into the St. Regis.

EmmaAndSon

For ten weeks the FBI combed the States until they were tipped off by an acquaintance of Emma’s, and on September 19 the Feds descended on 237 South Flower. Emma, 30, was pulled from the St. Regis hysterical and weeping; the boy, whom she called “Jackie,” appeared impassive. Emma Rupe broke down again when a Denver jury gave her twenty to life.

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The 38-apartment St. Regis opens at the end of 1904.

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Much in the way a French Renaissance building might be dubbed the Sherwood, this Missionesque structure is named after a French nobleman—J. F. Regis, tireless converter of Huguenots, and advocate of lacemaking for wayward girls.

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The St. Regis leads a fairly quiet life. Other than the aforementioned FBI intrusion in 1936, there was the small matter of the coppers showing up to collect Elmer Hudson, 32, and his wife Betty, 20, in 1928. When two bad guys held up a café at 200 Dillon Street and made off with $300 ($3,554 USD2007), Betty made the mistake of not keeping her bad-guy self in the shadows. Café owner C. V. Anderson recognized her as a former waitress.

What is it about these wayward gals—waitresses both—that can’t keep their clutchy paws off money nor baby? Maybe they’ll learn some lacemaking in the pen. Make St. Regis proud.

 

 

 

fireforcesfleeThe early 1960s were no more kind to this little niche of the Hill than any other. The Bozwell Apartments (which seem to shoot for Greek Revival but, oddly, come off as Monterrey) next door at 245, abandoned, burn on May 22, 1962.

boznotwell

SanborneofMan

The blaze, reported the Times, was believed to have been “touched off by hobos.”

While firemen kept the conflagration from spreading to the St. Regis, its days were just as numbered as if it were the Bozwell itself.

For these were heady days: the Lesser Festivals of Abandoment, The Princial Feasts of Official Neglect, and the Commemorations of Escalating Mysterious Fires. Obligatory for the observant.

St. Regis photo courtey USC Digital Archives. Smaller images from this piece of greatness.

North by Northwest: The Dirt Patch of Second and Hill

TheOlympia

Folk will on occasion ask me what, if anything, is left of Bunker Hill. Glad you asked, I’ll reply, answer being, nothing really, but I am awfully fond of this particular dirt contour. If they don’t politely turn away, I’ll commence upon a detailed discourse on said excrement-laden dirt contour in question, and then they’ll politely turn away.

Strange as it sounds, I love this dirt. I have since I was one day idling in my auto adjacent this, the northwest corner of Second and Hill, when I saw this form and it recalled an image lodged in some dim grotto of my brain:

TheOdalisque
And I thought, I know that form. That contour. Like a beautiful woman in repose. Debased somehow, but still noble. Ingres’ Odalisque has become Manet’s Olympia.

So here I am in pith helmet and plus-fours, poking around the strangely stained abandoned sweatpants and taking in the stench of urine steaming away on a hot summer’s day. My own Persepolis, only with more recent death and egesta. A remaining honest remnant of Bunker Hill, carved in dirt. There’s an old Yiddish proverb—Gold’s father is dirt, yet it regards itself as noble.

SculptedbytheMaster

Let’s take a detailed look at the block our patch of dirt calls home.

2ndHill1888

In 1888, on the 30-40′ bluff overlooking Hill there’s a large house, center, and another (with a “old shanty”, it is noted) at the corner of Second and Hill. The round structure above the house on the right reads “arbor lattice.” Note the porches on the Argyle.

2ndHill1894
1894, and 133 Hill has built terraced steps up to its manse. Our house in the corner has sadly lost its shanty. Notice the addition of the Primrose hotel at 421/419 West 2nd. At the bottom it reads “Vertical bank 30’ high.” The house near 1st has been razed but 109 Hill has been added. 104 Olive has shown up, top right. And yes, that says “Lawn Tennis Courts.”

2ndHill1906
It’s 1906, and much has changed: our little friend in the corner has disappeared. In its place, just to the north, two lodging houses at 411 and 409. To the west, Hotel Locke. (Hotel Locke shows up in the Times in 1897 and disappears in 1912.) Olive Court has wrapped around and filled in, and the tennis lawn has given way to our old friend the Moore Cliff. The former single family dwelling at 109 has been enlarged to become the El Moro Hotel. Note the Hotel Cecil in the upper right. Hill now has a 15’ retaining wall; the houses average 30’ above grade.

2ndHill1953
But now it’s 1950 and the drastic has occured. Where once Second Street was sixty feet across, it is now 100, due to the construction of the Second Street tunnel, which opened in July of 1924. (As Mary mentioned in her post, the Argyle lost its porches.) Also lost were the two structures below the Primrose at 411 and 409, not to mention the Hotel Locke. These were even gone before the great excavation. The Hotel Cecil has, as you might imagine, been renamed, so as not to be confused with the Hotel Cecil. We even have a little gas station.

In a nutshell, ca. 1952: the Moore Cliff front and center, the bipartite El Moro, and the Hotel Gladden up the block in the corner. And there’s the Texaco station that popped up. (Faithful Bunker Hillers will recognize the looming backside of the Melrose Annex and the Dome up top.)

MC52

But back to the “great excavation.” Remember, once Hill had, well, a great hill looming o’er. It was true here, at our corner in question:

2ndHIll1932

2ndHilltoday

What happened to the giant pile of dirt (upon which 411 and 409, and the Hotel Locke once
sat) as seen in the 1932 photograph?

excavation

As can be barely viewed just below the Moore Cliff in the ’32 shot, a lot fronting Hill has already been excavated for auto parking, and in May of 1935 the two adjacent lots at the corner were leveled by Los Angeles Rock and Gravel, removing 40,000 cubic yards of earth adjoining the tunnel ramp, measuring some 45hx82wx157d’. One lot owner, C. J. Heyler, rented the space to P. F. Drino for automobile parking; Heyler stated that construction on the lot was planned. That, of course, never happened.

This, then, is how we ended up with Hill carvings that have remained unchanged for seventy-three years.

2ndHill

And still fulfilling the same purpose.looknorth2H

Looking southeast at our dirt, 1967, before her Hill Steet side had her top shaved off:

atthedirt67

HStunnel

HS08

A quick word about the Second Street tunnel—with the millions the CRA is again pouring into Bunker Hill, do you think we could throw a few bucks toward a new railing? To refashion the original concrete couldn’t run that much, and if not an aesthetic improvement, would be arguably safer than chain link. Right?

TunRail1950

rail08

CRABunker

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.

 

 

 

 

In any event, such is the tale of some simple dirt on a single block. Tune in next week for tales of terror as they relate to this part of the world.

dirtfromheaven

patchfromzeparchaeologizing

And now, you can launch into your own spiel about the dirt contours of Hill Street. I suggest a visit and have a whiff for yourself of what once was Bunker Hill. Serves to add that dose of realism guaranteeing the polite turning-away of cocktail party folk.

Images courtesy Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library and USC Digital Archives; special thanks of course to D. A. Sanborn, his map company, and the anonymous field men who toiled on the fire insurance maps Sanborn Co. produced.