The Hotel Elmar — 235 South Hope St.

There was a place, once, a place people called home—the Hotel Elmar. Not much of a place, 230 rooms, built in 1926, facing a retaining wall, small matter of a 1953 shotgun holdup you’ll read about, sure—but you see, it was the people that made the Hotel Elmar what it was. The Hot L Baltimore of its day. Of its dope-addled, nudie pinup, shotgun-toting Postwar day. Let’s meet some of them now.

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lewiscantloseFebruary 21, 1947. Our first resident of the Elmar, Ex-Cpl. Roy (Peewee) Lewis, 23, formerly of Joliet, Ill, is one of those war vets who came to Los Angeles. Los Angeles, the promise of the good life. You could become anyone. Your face could be up on the big screen! Plastered on billboards! Peewee at least got his plastered all over the corner of Ninth and Fedora.

Lewis and his pal Paul Allen, 19, of 647 West 98th Street, were up in San Francisco a while back, where they managed to boost sixteen machine guns from the San Francisco Armory. Back in Los Angeles, they went on a taxi driver-robbing crime spree. Then they came upon an unusually hard piece of luck. While motoring along they espied a man who’d just parked, drove by and gave him the eye a couple more times…this tickled the cop-sense of the car’s occupant, Det. Sgt. Elmer V. Jackson, of administrative vice squad. He drew his pistol and held it under his coat.

Lewis approached, leveling a paratrooper’s machine gun at Jackson. “I’ll take that” were Lewis’ last words, for though he was referring to Jackson’s wallet, Jackson pushed the door open, knocking the machine gun aside, and Lewis took a service revolver blast to the face. Allen burned rubber and Jackson emptied his gun at the fleeing car.
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Police found an Elmar Hotel room key on Lewis’ body and they lit out for Hope Street, just in time to catch Allen leaving with his arms full of clothing. Allen—whose upper arm was grazed by one of Jackson’s bullets—said Lewis had persuaded him to commit the holdups after meeting him in a bar, and Allen had agreed since he needed the money to marry a 17 year-old girl. So much for their next planned venture, which was knocking over a store at Slauson and Vermont.

November 14, 1947
. Edna Grover, a raven-haired 20 year-old model, calls the Elmar home. But it was at the home of photographer William Kemp, 1830 Redesdale Avenue, where investigators from the DA’s office found over 1,000 lewd photos of Edna. Kemp was fined $350 ($3,678 current USD) and given a 180-day suspended jail sentence, while our Elmarette was granted probation for her provocative posing.

speedspreeMarch 21, 1952. Martin Salas, 23, left the Elmar’s confines for an early morning spin this day. At Fifth and Main he hit a truck and injured the driver; he had an argument over right-of-way with a parked car at Sixth and Spring, and another wouldn’t get out of the way at Third and Spring, and he had a metallic argument with another parked car at Second and Spring. Undaunted, he piloted smack dab into an RKO movie shoot at Third and Figueroa (Sudden Fear? Beware, My Lovely?) where a motorist that’d tailed him flagged down a cop. The officer jerked open Salas’ door, only to have Salas step on the gas, forcing the cop to run alongside until enough cops tackled the car and forced it to stop. At some point during Mr. Salas’ wild ride he’d had a passenger who ditched in an awful (in every sense of the word) hurry—hair was found on the windshield of the passenger side. Salas was booked on felony hit-and-run.

March 4, 1953. Jack Hodges is 26, an unemployed aircraft worker, and lives a stone’s throw from the top of Angels Flight at 314 South Olive. His pal Dean Coleman, 22, is in school to learn television repair, and bunks at the Elmar. When Coleman isn’t in school, the two of them visit the local hotels. With their signature sawed-off shotgun and a briefcase. The only robbery Coleman didn’t accompany Hodges on, of course, was the time Hodges robbed the night clerk of the Elmar.

Coleman’s money wore thin and he’d pawned his television repair apparatuses, and went shotgun-brandishing to get the stuff out of hock. Unfortunately for Coleman, Hodges pawned a stolen wristwatch, which led police to an old mugshot of Hodges; a little police work later and Hodges was caught in a bar at Sixth and Hill, his sawed-off shotgun and briefcase found in his Olive St. hotel room closet. He gave up Coleman, who was arrested while watching television in the lobby of 235 S. Hope.
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Coleman, who studied dramatics before his decision to become a television repair man, was never meant to be a shotgun-wielding, hotel-clerk robbing gunman in real life. “As you see I don’t appear to be a tough guy,” said Coleman, “but I can act the part when the occasion warrants.”


July 22, 1956
. Elmar resident Frank Swope, 33, took offense at fellow Bunker Hiller Harold J. McAnally, 57—McAnally lived one block west at 230 South Flower—buying a lady a drink one summer day in a bar at 822 West Third Street. So Swope walked up and pushed McAnally from his stool, whereupon McAnally landed head-first on the concrete floor. A few hours after McAnally died from his skull fracture, Swope surrendered to authorities at the Elmar.

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February 7, 1957
. LAPD went to investigate a disturbance in a bar at 731 West Third and there arrested “Allan Ayers,” 32, a resident of the Elmar…

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…turns out our Elmaree was in reality August Gerbitz, two years on the lam from a double murder rap in Evansville, where in December 1954 he gunned down his girlfriend, Mrs. Nadine Martin, 21, and one George Temme, 38.

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March 20, 1957
. Salvador Perez and Jesus Cruz, both 27, had been popped by narco and were up on the fourth floor of Police Administration, having been photographed at the lab. They were walked into the hallway by officers Hernandez and Ruddell to be cuffed and led to the first-floor Central Jail for booking.

That’s when both of them made a break for it. Cruz, of 4923 Gratian Street, was tackled by Ruddell right out of the gate. Perez, he of 235 South Hope, dashed down the stairway. Officer Hernandez slipped and fell, broke his ankle, but continued to give chase nevertheless. Perez ran down to the ground level and made a wrong turn toward Central Jail, turned and ran past Hernandez, but unfortunately, into the arms of Lt. Arroyo. Another vacancy at the Elmar as Perez (and his buddy Cruz) are booked by an out-of-breath, broken-ankled cop on felony violation of the State Narcotics Act.

elmarafarKind of makes you want to check into 235 South Hope, doesn’t it? Perhaps you too can soak up enough of its magic to place you on this honored roll.

Alas, the City has wiped Hope clean, and thereafter had it thoroughly disinfected, as one would to so much egesta on a cracked tile floor. They have left us with the most barely readable of palimpsests. Let’s take a look.

Hope Street had two levels between Second and Third; here, we are looking north toward Second, standing above the west end of the Third Street tunnel. The Elmar was midway along the block.

ElmarTodayToday, the bilevel nature of Hope Street is five decades gone. The Ghost Elmar floats roughly above an intersection made by a new street, named after a Lithuanian-Ruthenian nobleman-turned-revolutionary. I betcha Frank Swope or Edna Grover never woulda guessed.

The City doesn’t screw around when they want something bad enough. They’ll move mountains, quite literally, to which these images taken across from the Elmar (looking south down Hope toward the library) attest:

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The Elmar, gone, but perhaps now a bit less forgotten. For this blog is a little like the Elmar itself. Like it says on the cigarette pack. Wherever particular people congregate.

 

 

 

 

 

Hope Street images courtesy William Reagh Collection, California History Section, California State Library

A Tough Kid

Location: 336 South Flower Street
Date: January 28, 1932

Raymond Seccord, a 15-year-old Vancouver runaway, flipped out in City Hall’s juvenile court today after being busted in front of the above address. Refusing to answer any questions, he upended tables, lobbed an inkwell out the window and bit and scratched four detectives as they tried to tackle him. Seccord sneered "I’m plenty tough. I’ll probably hang for killing a copper." Suitably impressed, Judge Blake sent him to County Jail instead of Juvenile Hall, and we will hear no more of this plucky fellow.

Hildreth Mansion – 357 South Hope Street

Hildreth Mansion

The mansions of Bunker Hill were sometimes inhabited by colorful characters who provided the neighborhood with mayhem, madness or just plain entertainment. Others, like the Hildreth Mansion at the corner of Fourth and Hope led a peaceful, if sometimes melancholy existence, standing as the graceful pillar of a lost era until the wrecking balls came.

The residence that stood at 357 South Hope Street for over sixty years was built by Reverend Edward T. Hildreth, a Congregational minister and graduate of the Chicago Theological Seminary. Built in 1889 and designed by JC Newsom, the defining features of the Victorian Shingle style home were an ornate chimney and wrought iron circular balcony on the tower. Located at the northwest corner of the intersection, the exterior of the elevated house was finished off with a stone retaining wall and steps leading up the entrance.

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Happiness in the Hildreth household was short lived. In 1893, the Reverend’s youngest son Richard drowned in a nearby watering hole, and his body was brought back to the family residence after it was recovered. Edward and his wife Sarah soon made plans to donate an organ to the First Congregational Church as a memorial to their son, but instead the gift came to commemorate mother and child when Sarah suddenly died in October 1895. Reverend Hildreth never completely recovered from the double loss, and the beloved minister was cared for by his daughter Faith until he passed away at the Hope Street residence in 1907. One year later, the Reverend’s young daughter/caretaker died inside the house of an undisclosed illness.

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The mansion soon became a boarding house and stenographers, salesmen, teachers, real estate agents, carpenters, janitors, iron workers, seamstresses and many others passed through its doors. By 1939, the eighteen rooms of the house had been converted into nine residences. Boarders paid between thirteen and thirty-five dollars a month in rent and had lived in the mansion anywhere from one to twelve years. With the exception of the eighty-seven year old resident who was killed in an auto accident in 1940, the boarders of the once stately home lived a quiet existence and dried laundry on the grand wrought iron balcony.

By 1954, the Hildreth Mansion was but a beautiful memory, destroyed by the CRA’s visions of urban renewal.

All photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

All That Glitters

Location: 360 South Hill Street
Date: June 29, 1931

Mrs. W.H. Gadd of this address (presumably a relation of manager S.J.) was driving near 12th Street and Burlington Avenue when a couple of boyish creeps hopped onto her running board, shoved guns in the window and demanded the two fabulous rings on her left hand. She obliged, and later told police the crooks had stolen paste, and gosh, isn’t it amazing how good a $2 ring looks these days?