Cookin’ With First Congregational

When last I peeked in on Bunker Hill’s First Congregational Church, its membership was planning a halfway house for reformed prostitutes and marching to protest Los Angeles’s crib district, a hub of semi-legal prostitution in the late 1800s and early 1900s.


Now, it’s 1907, and things have been busy for First Congregational. For starters, they moved from the Hill in the early 1900s to 841 S. Hope Street.

But more exciting, the church’s Women’s Work Society has compiled a cookbook, Our Favorite Recipes, a remarkable collection of regional period recipes. Even more exciting, it’s been digitized at, along with a number of other Los Angeles cookbooks from the early 20th century.

Perhaps we’ll celebrate this collection with a helping of Harriet Burd’s Congregational Pudding:


1 cup molasses

1 cup chopped suet

1 cup cold water

3 cups graham flour

1 teaspoon soda

Flavor with cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and vanilla. Steam three hours in a three-pound lard bucket covered.

Or, on second thought, maybe we won’t.

He Rode Into the Sunset

February 14, 1924

62-year-old John Byrne, a character actor who typically played the role of the grizzled old sourdough in films, was found dead in his room at 509 Temple Street, a boarding house.  Police investigating the room found that a tube that connected the gas to a small heater had been pulled, or accidentally kicked, loose.

It was unclear whether Byrne, whose real name was John McGuire, had intended to die.

There was no suicide note, and it appeared that at his time of death, Byrne had been reading a western story in a popular magazine.  The magazine was opened to page 41, the last page of the story, and the last line read, "And so, with the same old cheery smile on his sun-cracked lips, Sagebrush Jim came to the end of the trail."

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!

Burning Bush on a Mount of Olives

burningbush1When the residents of Bunker Hill discovered that the Alameda Street crib district prostitutes were living in their neighborhood, they drafted polite letters to the City Council and the Police Commission complaining about it.

But when they discovered that a rowdy religious sect called the Burning Bush had set up its headquarters on Olive Street, they called the police straightaway.  Scarlet women were one thing, but cult leaders quite another.

burningbush2Based out of Denver, leaders of the Burning Bush flock came to Los Angeles in the spring of 1904, and wasted no time in luring converts.  In addition to their base of operations near Angel’s Flight at 315 Olive Street, they also established a revival tent at the corner of Spring and Seventh.  At meetings, their followers would regularly shout, leap up and down, speak in tongues, and fall into semi-catatonic states for hours at a time.  So enthusiastic were their cries that neighbors claimed they drowned out the sound of the streetcar as it rattled up the hill.

burningbush3Despite the leaping, members of the Burning Bush were not to be confused with the Holy Jumpers, another evangelical sect that had come to Los Angeles around the same time.  Though they operated on a similar set of beliefs, the Burning Bush was generally considered to be less objectionable than the Holy Jumpers because they were not quite so loud.  Additionally, while the Burning Bush had culled its leaders from respectable cities like Denver and Boston, the Holy Jumpers were from Alabama (gasp).

While the Burning Bush’s evangelical fervor made them strange in the eyes of their neighbors, it didn’t make them a cult.  What made them a cult was their practice of quickly separating initiates from all their money, real estate, and worldly possessions.

In 1906, a deaf man named Lorenzo Dunlap sued Burning Bush leader Charles Bryant to recover approximately $1000 worth of cash and property he’d signed over the cult with the agreement that they would hold the property in trust and care for him until he died.  He’d feared that his own family members would try to have him committed to an asylum and swipe the estate for themselves.

But instead, the Bryants did.  Dunlap claimed that once the money had changed hands, he found the Bryants cold and unwilling to support him.  Additionally, they promptly sold Dunlap’s property in North Dakota at a tidy profit and used the money to buy themselves a fine Los Angeles area home and a cow.

It wasn’t just property they took.  In 1905, a Mr. Vitagliano sent police to the Burning Bush house on Olive to find his 16-year-old daughter, Annie.  Vitagliano said that the Burning Bush had torn his family apart, sending his wife off to Europe to do missionary work, turning his daughter against him, and constantly pestering him for money.

One of the saddest Burning Bush casualties was a Mrs. Elizabeth Northcutt, who was committed to the State Hospital for the Insane at Patton in 1908, after years tangled up with the Burning Bush and another group, the Pillar of Fire.  Northcutt’s husband, a butcher, had exhausted all of his resources trying to nurse her back to health, even after she had emptied his bank account and abandoned him and their son for the Burning Bush, before finally returning home, frail and raving.

At her insanity hearing, Northcutt flew into a rage against his wife’s father, the wealthy James Murdoch, saying, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself for letting them send your only child to a public asylum when you are amply able to provide for her comfort."

Murdoch coldly replied, "She is your wife and it is your duty to support her.  I have done much for her in the past.  I have had financial losses and have large expenses of my own.  I see no reason why the State should not care for her."

The examining physicians reported that "previous to ‘getting religion,’ Mrs. Northcutt was plump and merry.  In two years, she has become a nervous wreck."  However, they expected she would recover her senses in time.

Bunker Hill and the Crib Wars

They called it the red light district, the tenderloin, Little Paree, Hell’s Half Acre, and my favorite, the crib district.

From the late 1800s until the turn of the century, prostitution in Los Angeles was more or less legal, and centered in a district that included Alameda, New High, Main, and a few other streets in the area east of Bunker Hill.  Most of the classier parlor houses that catered to wealthy and well-connected Angelenos were located on New High Street, including the one belonging to Los Angeles’s first storied madam, Pearl Morton.  The brothels on Main Street were more modest, mostly rooming houses.

cribsHowever, the most notorious eyesores were the single-story, ramshackle cribs on Alameda, long rows of narrow rooms that prostitutes could rent by the night, at exorbitant rates, designated here on the Sanborn maps as "female boarding."  The Alameda cribs were visible from the nearby Southern Pacific line, and rail passengers on their way to Los Angeles would gawk out the windows at prostitutes soliciting business from the sidewalks.

The prevailing line of thought among civil leaders and Los Angeles’s many, many police chiefs during this period was that prostitution was a social evil that could not be eradicated, but could be contained and regulated.  Better to have vice located within a few city blocks rather than scattered throughout the city where it would be impossible to police.

Los Angeles residents, however, felt differently about it.  In a June 1895 article, the Times reported that Police Chief John Glass had received numerous complaints from Bunker Hill residents complaining of the crib district’s proximity to their tony neighborhood.

And since the prostitutes were making fairly good money, and since crib living was both expensive and unpleasant, many prostitutes managed to pay the rent on their cribs and also rented lodging in nearby Bunker Hill hotels and rooming houses.

Due to its proximity, Bunker Hill would serve as a staging ground for the movement in the early 1900s to clear out the crib district.  The social purity crusaders included the Reverends Wiley J. Phillips and Sidney Kendall, as well as Friday Morning Club founder Caroline Severance.

In 1903, about 200 Angelenos met at the First Congregational Church at Hill and Third to discuss building a halfway house for prostitutes who wished to reform.  The facility, called the Door of Hope, opened on Daly Street in East Los Angeles later that year, around the same time that the movement was successful in getting the Alameda Street cribs shut down.

That mission accomplished, the social purity crusaders turned their attention to the parlor houses, a tougher nut to crack, partly because they kept a lower profile, and partly because they counted no small number of politicians, attorneys, and other civic leaders among their clientele.

The crusaders put these houses, including Morton’s at 327 1/2 New High Street, the Antlers Club, Stella Mitchell’s, and Viola’s Place, under surveillance, and pestered the Mayor and Police Commission until finally winning a small victory.  At the end of March 1904, the parlor houses would be shuttered.  Almost all of them went along with the ordinance, and the Times reported that "the keepers of dives did not wait for the police to call, but quietly folded their tents and departed."

All but one.  All but one that had been operating right on Bunker Hill, not a block away from the First Congregational Church.

parlorhouseOn March 31, 1904, police raided an establishment at 355 South Hill Street, operated by Ethel Wood.  She was arrested along with three women, Mabel Stone, Dolly Long, and Hattie Jones.  The  four appeared in court the next day, all wearing long black veils to frustrate the looky-loos.

Wood was fined $100 for selling beer without a license, and the three women were "vagged," or charged with vagrancy, the usual charge for prostitutes until the charge of "offering" came into use in the 1920s.

After the raid, the other parlor houses reopened quietly, and would remain open for another four years.  Pearl Morton, famed for her lavish parlor with two Steinway pianos, as well as her hourglass figure, flamboyant style, and hennaed hair, would be shut down in 1908, and move north to re-establish her operation in San Francisco.

The last quasi-legal parlor houses would close down in 1909, in tandem with the recall and subsequent resignation of Mayor Arthur Harper, a frequent brothel client.

And after that, prostitution did exactly what city leaders in favor of a containment strategy had predicted all along.  It scattered throughout the city and into residential neighborhoods, before falling under the jurisdiction of organized crime in the 1920s.

Women and Whisky

barfightThe scene was a bar at 822 West Third Street, the players, a group of hard-drinking Bunker Hill regulars, but the story would turn tragic on July 22, 1956.

Harold J. McAnally of 230 South Flower (the Van Fleet Apartments) tried to buy a drink for a woman in the bar, when he was pushed from his barstool by a jealous rival.  McAnally fell, cracking his head on the bar’s concrete floor and fracturing his skull.  As you can see in the picture here, though McAnally is lying prone on the ground, no one seems to be all that concerned.  Perhaps the regulars were callous, or didn’t care for him, but it’s also possible that McAnally was already dead, and nothing was left to be done.

He arrived DOA at the Georgia Receiving Hospital, and shortly thereafter, Frank Swope, 33, turned himself in to the police, confessing that he was the one who had shoved McAnally at the bar.  Swope hadn’t meant to hurt him; he was just angry about McAnally’s flirtation.

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.

Only Angels Have Wings

It is said that the Lord protects drunks, fools, and children, and it would seem that He had his hands full keeping watch over the residents of 316 Clay Street, known variously as the Patterson Hotel and Luckenbach Estate over the years.

fivestoryplungeIn the wee hours of August 31, 1934, one of its residents, a 31-year-old mechanic named Herbert Stockwell, decided to live out the sort of feat that is irresistible in daydreams and drunken hazes.  I’m speaking, of course, about stealing a car and attempting to drive it down the steps of Angel’s Flight.

It was a bold plan, but things soon went very ill for Herbert Stockwell.  Police were summoned to the scene by a loud crash, and discovered the vehicle wrecked on the steps, and Stockwell sprawled on the ground nearby.  His front teeth were knocked out, but he was otherwise unharmed.

A few years later, another resident at 316 Clay would require divine intervention as she toyed with the boundaries of human frailty.

Maryan Ellis was a 27-year-old waitress at a S. Hill Street cafe, and a relative newcomer to Los Angeles.  She was homesick, missed her mother, and was despondent that she couldn’t raise the money for a trip home to San Antonio.

When Ellis returned to her fifth story room at the boarding house on July 18, 1940, her roommate, Jerry Bills, decided to give Ellis a few moments of privacy.  Shortly after she left the room, however, she heard a scream, and returned to find that Ellis had thrown herself out the window.

Astonishingly, Ellis survived the fall with relatively minor injuries.  She fractured both heels and her pelvis, and had a few cuts and bruises, but it should have been much worse.

Presumably, Ellis got to see her mother after all, and hopefully, a trip back to Texas.


“Otto Liebman Is Alive and Well Instead of Being Burned to Death”

George Roughton’s boarding house at 324 Clay Street was advertised as possessing a "most healthful locality" and "very fine view."  However, it’s unlikely that it appeared that way to tenants who were awakened at dawn on July 2, 1894 to find the place engulfed in flames.

The fire was caused by an oil stove explosion in the basement rooms of "a colored family named Phoenix," and destroyed the entire building within minutes.  Roughton was only partially insured for the loss, which was estimated at between $3000-$4000 ($76,000-$102,000 2008 USD), and most tenants lost all of their possessions.

After making their escape, the residents of 324 Clay did a head count, and discovered one among their number to be missing.  Otto Liebman was recalled by his neighbors as elderly and a semi-invalid who had lived on the third floor for only a few months.

When Liebman failed to turn up, and his remains could not be found in the ashes, a concerned neighbor reported his disappearance… two weeks after the fire.  Within a day or so, however, the mystery was solved.

In perhaps the greatest understatement ever to find its way into print, the Times reported, "Otto Liebman is alive and well instead of being burned to death."  It turns out that on the morning of the fire, Liebman woke up choking from smoke inhalation, and crawled down the stairs to safety.  As soon as he reached the street, he passed out until he was discovered by a friend, who carried him home.  Liebman remained in bed for a week, recovering from the shock.  After his recovery, the friend did him a solid and found the penniless and now homeless man work in a fruit and tobacco shop.

But as for the good neighbors at 324 Clay, not only did they fail to report his disappearance for two weeks, they also gave police an entirely inaccurate description, Liebman being neither elderly nor gray-headed as they’d reported.

Bunker Hill Tackles L.A.’s Traffic Problem


In January 1924, inventor Raymond Ragsdell of 202 South Grand wrote a letter to the Los Angeles Traffic Commission about his idea for a collapsible car that would fold down to the size of a go-cart. "With an automobile of this type it will be possible to park millions of cars where we are now able to park but a few hundred."

At around the same time, Eugene Egbert Dobbs of 303 South Hope Street wrote a letter of his own, proposing that all automobiles and street cars be barred from the downtown area (he laid out Sunset, Pico, Los Angeles, and Figueroa as the perimeter). In the letter he stated, "The only objection to this plan would come from those who are too lazy to walk. Now, our modern race is unhealthy due to lack of exercise. This barring of all transportation in the downtown district would force Los Angeles people to exercise, whether they wanted to or not, and thus, increase the length of life of the average citizen."

Sure, Bunker Hill residents may have had a vested interest in the issue, but in fact, the Traffic Commission received hundreds of ideas for congestion relief that month from people all over the city. Were they an invested citizenry? Untapped urban planners? The ancestors of the City Council that would ban fast food franchises in South Los Angeles over 80 years later?


Unfortunately, they thought they were entering a contest.

An ad had appeared in local publications erroneously stating that the Traffic Commission would give a prize of $10,000 ($128,633 2008 USD) to the person who could solve Los Angeles’s burgeoning traffic problem. There was apparently some confusion, as the $10,000 in question had actually been appropriated by City Council for the formation of a Traffic Commission committee to look into issues of street parking and congestion.

The Los Angeles Traffic Commission was formed in 1922 in response to concerns about the city’s increasingly snarled and woefully inadequate roads. The group’s chairman said, "It is time for Los Angeles to solve her traffic problem… One can but guess at the conditions which will exist here within a few years unless relief is forthcoming."

Preliminary solutions to the problem were eerily similar to today’s: restricting parking in congested areas, requiring vehicles for hire to operate from private property, more one-way streets, and a subway system.

Following a report that traffic congestion on many Los Angeles streets was worse than New York City’s, a traffic relief ordinance was placed on the 1924 November ballot, allocating $5 million for the implementation of numerous streets projects and congestion relief programs, including the extensions of Figueroa and Olive from Bunker Hill into Elysian Park. It passed, but Mayor George Cryer vetoed it, and I promise, you will never guess why.

Actually, Cryer liked the ordinance a whole lot and thought it would be good for the city, but he vetoed it because he said it didn’t provide enough protections and accommodations for pedestrians.

Within a year, a new traffic plan was underway, and the city grid began to look a great deal more like it does today, but it does my Metro-riding heart good to know that even in 1924, someone was looking out for the walking man.