The Many Faces of 123 South Figueroa

After the DWP and Dorothy Chandler went up, postcard photographers said whoopee! something to shoot besides City Hall and the Chinese. So they cruised up to the bluff on Huntley, trained their lenses across Second and Beaudry toward First and Flower and fired away. The day view is a Plastichrome by Colourpicture, the night view by Western Publishing & Novelty, both circa 1965.



Dig the Union station in all its 76 ball glory (the SoCal station with its backlit chevron seems to be of an earlier vintage; they‘re both gone now). Printers shops and giant spools line Beaudry. Were it not for the necessity of capturing Becket and Martin‘s latest accomplishments, would we have any record of these? Not likely.

Across the Pasadena Freeway, on Bunker Hill proper, on the west side of Figueroa between First and Second, that big white structure? That‘s 123 South Figueroa, built in 1925. Whatever the most photographed buildings on Bunker Hill were–the Castle, the Brousseau, the Dome?–if there‘s another image of this structure, I‘d love to see it.

123 was erected as an office building, but in 1934 is turned into “one of the largest and most modern” government relief centers in the West. The Federal Transient Service converted the building into its Southern California headquarters, i.e., a shelter for non-resident jobless men, outfitting it with an enormous cafeteria and dormitories that slept 500. It became a veritable city in itself: showers, lockers, hospital, educational and recreational facilities were installed, as were a laundry, shoe repair and tailor shop. It was also a warehouse for materials and supplies used in the camps. Yes, the camps. Itinerant men had forty-eight hours to stay at Figueroa, max, before being assigned out of the city to transient work camps in forest and mountain areas.

Families, bands of “wild boys,” vagabonds on freight cars”¦in 1935 32,000 new transients came to California each month, 12,000 of those to Los Angeles. July of 1935 alone saw a load of 20,000 paupers arrive in LA seeking State and Federal aid. (And, one supposes, oranges that grew on palm trees.) 1,200 boys were sent to forestry camps, 4,000 men to the Federal aid camp near San Diego, but many of LA‘s transients–12% of the national and 60% of the State‘s burden–after being processed here at 123 South Fig, ended up in squatter‘s villages and squalid encampments. Many went to homes and camps, were absorbed to into County Welfare healthily, found employ in the works relief programs or went back from whence they came, but either way, it does show and say something about the class shift of the Hill that such a major locus of poverty and despair should be located within its confines.

123 is converted to the police department‘s traffic division headquarters building in 1942. The City Council gave the Police Commission $78,000 for the building and another $47,000 for the alterations.

deadicationAt the dedication, during a luncheon given on the third floor, attended by Mayor Bowron, Chief of Police Horral, and numerous high ranking police officers, Deputy Police Chief Caldwell announced that Los Angeles led the nation in the decrease in auto fatalities–which occurred through “strict, scientific enforcement of driving regulations.” (Reports from 123 show that pedestrian fatalities in the first half of the 40s skyrocketed–dimouts for the war effort, don‘t ya know.)

The biggest piece of drama attached to the building came when in 1950 Parry Cottam, 27, a maintenance man at the police garage in the building, was moving a police motorcycle and it went out of control. It plunged him through a large plate-glass window on the building‘s street level, and he was found unconscious on the sidewalk.

In March of 1964, the Board of Supervisors authorized sale of the county building to the CRA. The CRA said they intended to develop the site into a motel. The garage equipment goes up for auction in April 1971 and the 123 is presumably demolished failry soon thereafterward. While the CRA didn‘t build a motel after clearing the site, the Promenade Towers have at least been described as a “roach motel.”



It‘s a $60million dollar complex, the first mixed-use apartment complex in downtown Los Angeles and the area‘s first privately owned residential rental complex. It has its formal opening June 16, 1986, the name Promenade intending to connote the era of pedestrian-oriented urbanism this project will usher in.


The Promenade becomes a favorite of Union Bank; they keep sixteen apartments there for visiting businessmen. Tommy Lasorda himself keeps a pad in the Prom. They‘re all drawn by the health club and gymnasium, market, pharmacy, dentist, café/restaurant, the 24-hour reception and valet and garage attendants and so forth.

It remains to be seen whether the 123 regains its Reagan-era splendor, or if its residents, with their dry cleaner and little shop of sundries, doesn‘t harken back to its forgotten days as a haven for homeless men and law enforcement.


Nov. 3, 1908: Election Day on Bunker Hill

"This kindly greeting to all we waft;
Get a move on you, and vote for Taft."

-Los Angeles Times, Nov. 3, 1908






Election Day in Los Angeles, and the sweet smell of democracy is thick in the air.  Perhaps a little thicker for you if you were a Bunker Hill resident voting in the 30th or 31st Precinct.

Though Democrat William Jennings Bryan would sweep the Southeastern U.S., Republican William Howard Taft would win the White House with 51.6% of the popular vote and a commanding 321 electoral college votes.  Taft took California in a landslide with 55.5% of the popular vote, compared to Bryan’s 33%.  The Socialist voter turnout in California was lighter than had been predicted.

Interesting issues on Californians’ ballots included amendments to move the state capital from Sacramento to Berkeley, to limit funds generated by the state school tax to elementary school spending only, and to give state legislators a raise.  The Times recommended a "No" vote on all three measures, stating that "many thoughtful citizens, realizing that the present State Constitution is a fearfully patched and inconsistent instrument, have resolved to vote against all further patching, stamping "No" against every amendment."

Los Angeles County voted a straight Republican ticket in 1908, placing not a single Democrat in any elected office.  Different times.

So, enjoy yourselves tomorrow night as the results pour in, but don’t become so engrossed that you fall victim to the sad fate of the politically engaged Mrs. E.S. Kimball.  Kimball, a Bunker Hill resident, went down the Hill to the Times Building, where election bulletins were projected on an enormous curtain to an audience of approximately 50,000.  In her absence, burglars broke into her house, and stole about $800 worth of diamond and gold jewelry.

Bryan supporters, no doubt.

So, get out the vote – Taft in ’08!

A Fix By Any Other Name

From the files of "Where’d that law come from?" we turn to Section 11352.1b of the California Health and Safety Code, which makes it illegal to sell "any material represented as, or presented in lieu of, any dangerous drug or dangerous device."

The story behind the legislation takes us to a Chinatown street in the early 1950s where two undercover police from the narcotics division were attempting to score marijuana, and arranged a "hand-to-hand go" of $300 for 5 pounds of "manicured tea."  They had their street lingo down, but I’m sure you can see where this is going.  The dealer took their money, and proceeded to hand over exactly what he’d promised — 5 pounds of tea.  At those prices, let’s hope he at least sprung for Twinings.

Once the crime lab revealed their folly, the two officers rushed back to Chinatown to arrest the enterprising young dealer until realizing that they didn’t know what to arrest him for.  Finally, they settled on the somewhat dubious charge of grand theft.

At first, there was some concern that undercover police officers would have to make their buys using specific, literal language, tipping off any half-wise dealer to their ruse.  An apoplectic police force lobbied the California legislature for provisions that would prevent this kind of misunderstanding in the future, and in 1953, they got their wish.

bellhoptrialOne of the first  people to stand trial under the new law was a resident of our very own Bunker Hill, Conrado M. Fragoso, a bellhop at 244 South Figueroa.  Fragoso arranged to sell $10 of a substance he referred to only as "junk" or "stuff" to Officer Manuel Gutierrez.  The "junk" in question was nothing but headache powder twisted into small paper bindles.  As the arrest took place on April 1, 1954, Fragoso missed his opportunity to declare the whole thing an April Fool, and was arrested.

At his trial, the public defender argued that Fragoso had never claimed to be selling heroin, as he never uttered the word; however, the judge was unmoved.  In 1954, a conviction for selling a substance under the pretense that it was a narcotic substance carried a sentence of up to one year in the County Jail.

A Stone Whodunit

February 28, 1954
205 South Figueroa

James Saul Pauge, a 60-year-old newspaper vendor and retired railroad conductor, was murdered in his apartment today under exceptionally puzzling circumstances.  Help couldn’t have arrived any sooner, but it was still too late.

Pauge’s neighbor Louis Jaralillo, a former boxer, heard a shot fired and ran upstairs to Pauge’s apartment to investigate.  Pauge stood in front of his open front door, swaying and gesturing towards his back, unable to speak.  Almost immediately, he fell over dead of a gunshot wound.  The can of soup Pauge was preparing for his dinner was still simmering on the stove.

The window in Pauge’s apartment overlooked 2nd Street, and had been left open.  Police suspected that a sniper had fired in through the window, and hit Pauge in the back as he stood at the stove.  No motive could be established for the killing, and no suspects were apprehended.

Whole New Meaning to the Term “Hollow Leg”

August 6, 1923
240 South Figueroa

hiddenhoochPolice came to the apartment of William Fisher and Walter J. O’Connell, responding to neighbors’ complaints of a loud party. When they arrived, they found seven men and a woman seated primly around a large round table, and grinning like mad. However, police could not help but notice "the odor of synthetic gin was in the air."

At first, police were stumped. There was no evidence of a party, and no bottles to be seen. But then, one of the detectives noticed a stream of liquid trickling out from the thick center leg of the table, and a sniff revealed it to be contraband booze.

Quickly, the detectives dismantled the table and discovered that its leg had been hollowed out, and a hooch tank and spigot installed. In all the excitement, some careless partygoer had neglected to twist the spigot shut, leading to the telltale leak.

A more thorough search of the apartment turned up two copper tanks, designed to be fitted into an automobile gas tank and used for the illicit transport of bathtub gin. Fisher and O’Connell were booked on charges of violating the Volstead Act.

Kiddie Cop on the Beat

kiddie copMore than anything, 5-year-old Ronnie Bell wanted to be a police officer when he grew up.

Six weeks ago, he and his mother moved to 111 S. Figueroa, right next door to the local traffic division, and Ronnie was overjoyed. He started hanging around the station, and got to know the officers, who adopted him as a mascot of sorts. He also followed them out on the streets, mimicking their lingo and actions. Rather than being annoyed, the officers were so impressed with little Ronnie that they gave him a hat and a whistle, and put him to work. Today, Ronnie directed traffic at 2nd and Figueroa, and Sgt. C.W. Nanney declared that his performance would be a credit to any veteran traffic cop.

However, Ronnie proved surprisingly easy to lure from his post. When his mother appeared at the corner with an ice cream bar for her son, the hard-working lad went AWOL.