Haing Ngor Dies in the Killing Fields of L.A.

Location: 400 block of Beaudry Avenue

Date: February 26, 1996

Cambodian actor Haing Ngor, best known for his Oscar-winning performance in the 1984 film The Killing Fields, was gunned down last night outside his modest apartment building on the 400 block of Beaudry Avenue. L.A. police officers say his body was found next to his gold, late model Mercedes in the open parking garage; he was apparently shot as he arrived home. Investigators say they have no suspects or motive in Ngor”™s killing; Ngor carried a wallet and money, but neither was taken. Relatives and friends speculate that the killing was revenge for his continued opposition to the Khmer Rouge.

Haing Ngor”™s life was as dramatic ”“ and tragic ”“ as any found on the silver screen. Born in 1940, Ngor was trained as a physician and was practicing as a gynecologist in Cambodia at the time the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975. Under the guise of ridding Cambodia from foreign influence, the Khmer Rouge targeted for execution every educated Cambodian, anyone who spoke a foreign language, ex-soldiers and their relatives, even people who wore eyeglasses. The majority of the population ”“ all those who had not lived under the Khmer Rouge”™s control before it took power in 1975 ”“ were classified as ”˜”™new”™”™ people and reduced to the status of war slaves. Ngor was captured, tortured, and starved for four years. He survived by masquerading as a taxi driver, escaping to Thailand with his six year old niece after Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979. A year later, he immigrated to the United States.

Ngor”™s unlikely foray into acting began when he was selected to play Dith Pran, a Cambodian assistant who risked his life to save New York Times correspondent Sydney Schanberg during the Khmer Rouge”™s rise to power. In light of his lack of formal acting experience, Ngor”™s powerful performance stunned many of his professional colleagues ”“ but not the actor himself. The life-and-death training he received during Pol Pots rule, pretending to be someone else, surely honed his acting ability as no stint in Hollywood ever could.

Just how good an actor circumstances forced him to be was painfully illustrated in his 1988 autobiography, Haing Ngor: A Cambodian Odyssey. Fearing for his life if his level of education were revealed, Ngor constantly attempted to disguise his medical knowledge, hiding his glasses and ignoring atrocities in the Khmer camp. He avoided certain death by keeping silent as a fatal dose of the wrong medication was administered to an infant. He betrayed none of the agony he felt as his father was marched off to his death for stealing food. And he witnessed the painful death of his wife and child from a difficult, premature labor, knowing that any attempt to assist her would result in the immediate execution of all three of them. Like many survivors of mass atrocities, Ngor carried the guilt of the living and a responsibility to the dead throughout the remainder of his life.

Haing Ngor”™s scarred hands, with the missing half of his right little finger, were visible evidence of the suffering he endured under Pol Pot”™s regime. Less obvious was his emotional pain, though, that permeated ”“ and inspired ”“ his many successes after the war. It was his promise to his wife that he would bare witness to the Khmer Rouge crimes that fueled his will to survive, and, later, sparked his acceptance of the role that would open the world”™s eyes to Pol Pot”™s monstrosities. He never remarried, wearing a gold locket with the only remaining picture of his wife until the day he died. Perhaps most telling, in spite of his groundbreaking accomplishments as an award-winning actor, author, and human rights advocate, he most identified himself as a survivor of the Cambodian Holocaust.

While sustaining modest success working in various television and movie roles, Ngor continued to work helping improve the conditions in resettlement camps and attempting to bring the perpetrators of the Cambodian massacres to justice. He co-founded two major refugee aid societies and supported two medical clinics and a school in his Southeast Asian home country. He was an example of those survivors who cope most successfully appear to make conscious efforts to interpret their survival as a special obligation to give meaning to their lives, neither denying the trauma of their ordeal or succumbing to it.

Haing Ngor was the first nonprofessional to win an Oscar in 50 years. He was the second Asian actor to win an Academy Award and the first Buddhist. As a Buddhist, Ngor viewed his life according to principals of karma and rebirth, with each reincarnation reflecting the actions, thoughts and beliefs of previous lives. “Maybe in my last life before this one I did something wrong to hurt people,” he once said, “but in this life I paid back.” He also raised the consciousness of us all.

Angels Flight and the Flickers

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As an addendum to my Angels Flight post, below, I got to thinking about AF”™s relationship to cinema after OnBunkerHill’r John wrote to the other contributors:

How many of you have seen the 1965 film, "Angel’s Flight"? Here is how the program of the Egyptian Theater’s 2006 Film Noir film festival described it:

ANGEL’S FLIGHT, 1965, 77 min. Dirs. Raymond Nassour and Ken Richardson. A Super Rarity! Listen up lovers of Los Angeles Noir! Be here for an unprecedented screening of this long-lost, locally-made feature. This oddball noir-horror-crime hybrid concerns a psychically scarred stripper (Indus Arthur) who turns homicidal whenever she gets horny. The real attraction is the seedy splendor of pre-development Bunker Hill and the focus on the famed funicular trolley that gives the film its title. Shown off of digital format, as 35mm and 16mmprints no longer exist! Starring and produced by the original "Marlboro Man," William Thourlby. NOT ON DVD. Discussion following film with writer, Dean Romano.

”¦and I realized, jeez, there”™s a picture named after Angel(‘)s Flight, but whenever our Flight is mentioned vis-a-vis film, everyone is quick to mention Criss Cross, and rightfully so. Any picture in which a sultry Yvonne De Carlo skulks around Bunker Hill should win the Oscar for, you know, Best Use of Everything.

So on the assumption that You Our Reader were at the Egyptian for Angel”™s Flight, and dutifully have the Betamax of Criss Cross on your shelf, you still might appreciate a heads up about Indestructible Man and The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?

Indestructible Man stars Lon Chaney Jr., who so masterfully skulked around El Mio in Spider Baby. You can actually watch the movie in its entirety right here, right now.
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See! Marian Carr want off Angels Flight!

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Thrill! In screaming blood terror as master of horror Lon Chaney walks past beer neon to get on Angels Flight! Then get off!!! (To be fair, he does throw a guy down some stairs by the Hillcrest. It’s pretty cool.)

And of the wonders and glories of TISCWSLABMUZ there”™s simply too much to say. Many have heard of yet few have actually viewed this spectacular (I was lucky enough to see it in a San Francisco picture-house when a knife-brandishing Jello Biafra & Boyd Rice exploded from the screen–in gore-soaked living 3-D!). The only other people known to have seen this film are Joel Hodgson, Tom Servo, and Crow T. Robot:
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Jerry has just tried to strangle his girlfriend. Because she spun an umbrella. Don’t ask. Suffice it to say, he has to go here:

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And for that we are thankful.

Dome Denizen Smith

July 14, 1949

Grace E. Smith made the Dome her home. From there she made the trek to work down to the Belmont Grill. It”™s 1949. She”™s a B-girl.

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Vice has been coming down on prosties of late and joints like the Belmont that run B-girl operations are a thorn in the side of decent society. The racket is simple: the gals chat up the fellas, and as a gal mingles with the patrons she induces them to buy more drinks. Her bourbons are colored water or ice tea; she gets a commission of those sales. And if she takes off with her new friend, we”™ll call him, oh, John, the tavern owner gets a cut of her earnings. Repeat.

After a while Vice gets tired of dealing with pimp beat downs, or customers given the mick finn, so it”™s time to round up the ladies. Grace E. Smith, 28, won”™t get to go home to her little room at the Dome tonight, popped as she was at the Belmont for violating the municipal B-girl ordinance. Tomorrow morning she”™ll be out on $100 bail.

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Grace’s boss Nathan Bass, owner of the Belmont, has been supbeanoed to testify before the county grand jury in its current vice inquiry into the Brenda Allen police pay-off probe. (Bass had been in the news last month when he, as a pal of LAPD Lieutenant Wellpott, had wiretaps of his phone calls played at the PD/Allen vice hearings.) Bass went on to testify that famously dirty Sgts. Stoker and Jackson would meet in the Belmont.

The next mention of Grace E. Smith–one wonders if it’s she and the same–is in 1953: a Lena S. Reed, 72, was to leave her $8,000 estate ($61,857 USD 2007) to her family but just before her demise opted to bequeath it to Mrs. Edna W. “Mail Fraud” Ballard (aka St. Germain, aka Joan of Arc, aka Lotus Ray King), cofounder of the I AM religious movement. A judge blocked probate when the family filed contest, accusing Mrs. Ballard of “exerting undue influence on Mrs. Reed while she was in ill health and mentally disturbed.” The same accusations were made against the secretary of the organization”™s St. Germain Foundation, and executor of the will, one Grace E. Smith.

No mention as to whether this Grace E. Smith lived in the Dome.

Angels Flight

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Angels Flight–everybody”™s favorite FUNicular–is there a more iconic piece of Bunker Hilliana? All aboard! proclaims the city of LA!

But don”™t get too excited. It”™s not open, so you”™re not riding it today. Despite what you may hear, you”™re not riding it anytime soon.

Toodle down Hill Street between 3rd and 4th and eavesdrop on the guy with the clipboard, yelling at the zinc oxide”™d folk, and get the five-cent explication:

earlyaf“Up there”™s Bunker Hill, folks, and what a pain it was to shlep from your gracious home down to the Grand Central Market below, there, behind you. But then came riding up lawyer, engineer, friend of Lincoln, Colonel James Ward Eddy, who was sixty-nine when he convinced the city that it needed a funicular in the 3rd street right-of-way between Hill and Olive. Eddy built ”˜The Los Angeles Incline Railway,”™ known to all and sundry as Angels Flight, no apostrophe thank you, complete with a hundred-foot observation tower that housed a camera obscura. Mayor Snyder made the inaugural 45-second journey on January 1, 1902. The cars were biblically named ”˜Olivet”™ and ”˜Sinai”™ and were painted a saintly white, though later orange and red, and a trip up the 325 feet of 33% grade was originally a penny, though they jacked that up to a nickel. What”™s with the BPOE arch, you ask? Did the Benevolent Protective Order of Elk have a hand in all this? Not really. A hundred years ago the Elk’d go nuts during ‘Elk Week’ and spend lavish sums all over the city with fireworks and aflatercarnivals and since their lodge replaced the Crocker mansion at the top of Angels Flight in September 1908, they elected to donate this swell gate here around 1909. The BPOE lettering on the arch was actually covered up for many decades when the building above became a Moose lodge in 1926. Anyway, as the city moved west, the gingerbread private homes of the 1890s were cut up into rooming houses, and Bunker Hill took on all that charm we now call shabby chic. In 1950, large insurance companies, the Building Owners and Managers Association, and the Community Redevelopment Association proposed the razing of Bunker Hill to develop 10,000 rental units. In 1959 the City Council declared Bunker Hill blighted, a slum to be cleared and redeveloped. The Elks Lodge/Moose Lodge gets wiped away in 1962. In 1969 Angels Flight was finally removed and stored, with a promise to return it shortly. It was reinstalled here, half a block down, a mere twenty-seven years later, though a tragic accident in 2001 has closed it temporarily.”

These are the nuts and bolts to be sure, though what they don”™t add are the drops of blood that oil the gears of doom and the cogs of death!

That may be a bit dramatic. There is the small matter of the 1913 derailment, of course.

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Everything was running smoothly during a September evening rush hour, when the control shaft connecting the safety winch leaphostetterleaphoist busted, sending Sinai plummeting down the incline. The worst injury was actually a Mrs. Hostetter (of the Lovejoy Apartments at Third and Grand) who, had she not elected to leap from Sinai, wouldn”™t have broken her collarbone. All other injuries were comparatively minor.
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Subsequent death and (near) dismemberment wasn”™t the Flight”™s fault–in 1937 Jack Claus, 54 year-old salesman, decided to take a midday siesta on the tracks.

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When a car traveling down the incline suddenly stopped, the operator had to amble down, reverse the motors, and find Sleepy Claus. Claus had been dragged fifteen feet, his clothing torn from his body, but luckily no limbs; he survived with a crushed chest. Less fortunate was the sailor who in 1943 decided to walk up the tracks:
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There”™s no such repeat incident in the remaining twenty-six years of our hero”™s tenure. Dismantled in 1969, reinstalled in ”™96, she returns to kill after a scant five years. Why? The Germans, who have a word for everything, have a word for what happened here. Schlimbesserung. Which roughly translates to “the farther ahead we go, the further behind we fall.” It was just this sort of “worse bettering” that has put Angels Flight out of service. In the seventy years Angels Flight did its thing, 1913 notwithstanding, all was fine: it was a funicular like any other, and you don”™t improve upon perfection–counterbalance, a cable, a safety cable. It”™s not rocket science. But then: as is always the case with people, who feel like they have to do something when they have a job, and therefore complicate matters (if this wasn’t a case of trying to "save money," then it’s got to be nepotism), some City someone crashhired an entity absurdly ill-suited to the task of restoring Angels Flight: Lift Engineering. Lift Engineering built ski lifts. Ski lifts that killed people. This character Kunczynski worked on Angels Flight, added a whole system of independent cables with brake drums interlaced with various gears, which stripped and made the drums useless, and guess what folks, if we”™d retained our Edwardian technology, we”™d have a surviving survivor (Leon Praport, RIP, survived a Polish death camp, only to be taken out by another piece of ultra-modern cleverness). Kunczynski has fled to Mexico with a briefcase full of your tax dollars.

When will she return? It’s instructive to recall the 27 years she was gone after having been promised a speedy boomerang.

In 1962 taxpayers gave the CRA $35,000 ($240,000 USD2007) to “buy” Angels Flight, so that the CRA could, according to its chairman William T. Sesnon Jr., relocate the railway in Griffith Park or the Hollywood Bowl.

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CRA officials change the plan slightly when they announce in September 1968 that Angels Flight would have to come down–temporarily–to be stored for two years, and then replaced at the same site (shortened, of course, given as they were grading thirty some-odd feet from the Hill). By the time of the CRA”™s brief civic ceremony “dismantling event” held in May 16, 1969, they”™d already realized the railway would have to be stored until the Hill was completely developed. Surely that wouldn”™t take so long.

clatterclatterCertainly many breathed a sigh of relief. Gone was that clattering anachronism, garbed in the orange and black of an Edwardian Hallowe”™en, which could no longer connect the downmarket quaffers of cheap chop suey with the newly ensconced deadbolted seniors and senior bankers and the like.
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But still, a promise was a promise, and in a scant twenty-seven years, the CRA did in fact make good on its promise. With the needling of one John Welborne, and the Conservancy, and some other interested parties.
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Waiting for their return, once more:

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Many long for the return of the cars and restoration of the Flight, and demand that the City get involved–again. Granted, that Angels Flight is privately run (Welborne”™s Angels Flight Railway Foundation) can mean problems, as anyone who”™s ever passed a hat can tell you. Fears of an MTA takeover appear to have been unwarranted, however, and apparently, the long road toward repair may be at an end. People can take all the potshots they want at Mr. Welborne, or execrate the heavens for the very existence of delays in general, but if it takes another ten years, the fact that we”™d have Angels Flight in Los Angeles at all would be nothing less than a miracle.

Photo credits:  from top, author’s collection; courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection; author’s collection; courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection; author’s collection; (grouping of three) William Reagh Collection, California History Section, California State Library; author’s collection; all newspaper images from Los Angeles Times

The Rise and Fall of the Dome

The Minnewaska, aka The Dome, played host to no small quantity of characters over the course of her life. Over the course of this blog you”™ll be introduced to your fair share of them. Here then is a brief introduction to this, their home.

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Our first mention of the Minnewaska comes in the form of this notice regarding building permits, January 11, 1903:
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She is completed within the year and on December 20 described in the Times thusly:

”¦recently completed by J M Shield on the southwest corner of Grand avenue and Second street”¦the location, only three blocks from Broadway and Second street, and near the highest point of Olive Heights, is one which is both desirable and commanding.
The house is a four-story combination frame and cement structure with tower.
Its foundation is a heavy brick wall imbedded in solid red gravel. Very heavy dimension timbers were used as the owner contemplated adding two or more stories to the building at some time in the future. The outer walls are covered with heavy diagonals and on this surface is placed steel lath and two coats of cement plaster. The latter is tinted a delicate cream color, which gives the building a very pleasing exterior.
The interior is arranged in flats of two and four rooms each, which are supplied with private baths, marble-topped wash stands, electric bells, steam heat, and such other modern conveniences as are usually found in the best apartment hotels.
The house contains 122 guests”™ rooms and thirty-seven bathrooms, besides dining-room, kitchen, storeroom, cold-storage and furnace rooms, office and reception-room. The latter are finished in paneled oak and have decorated ceilings.
The apartments are finished in white cedar, and are so arranged that each room can be entered from a hall. The building could therefore be easily converted into a regular commercial hotel.
Its main hall is arranged as an open court, and its roof garden affords a view of the surrounding country that extends from the mountains to the sea.
The building cost about $65,000. The lot on which it stands extends westward to Bunker Hill avenue and affords space for an extension to the present building that would give it a frontage of about 400 feet on the three streets and a total of 200 guests”™ rooms.

Sold in 1905, the Minnewaska remains so named in the city directories until 1907, when she becomes, simply and more descriptively, the Dome.

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And sure, you’re to read here about all manner of shady and shifty character who occupied 201 South Grand during the Dome”™s heyday, but I”™ll delight most in telling you of Frank Babcock, one of the Dome”™s owners, the man who through the late 1950s took on the Community Redevelopment Agency in lawsuit after lawsuit pointing out, and correctly, that the CRA had no right to condemn the Hill’s habitable property and certainly not to use public money to do so (Babcock”™s theory that oil bigwig/CRA chairman William T. Sesnon Jr. was after Bunker Hill for its oil reserves is a bit fanciful, but is, in fact, backed up by the area”™s hydrocarbon geology–but all things in due time).

On the morning of July 25, 1964, the Dome burst into flame, and as mentioned by Richard here, there”™s been some question as to just how and why the Dome, most prominent and distantly visible of the Bunker Hill structures, burned. While there had been some land purchases and building demolitions, despite the CRA”™s inception in 1948, they had by 1964 accomplished very little. Was the burning of the Dome a "push" in the "right direction"? (After Mayor Yorty called for an audit of the agency”™s redevelopment techniques, it was determined in 1966 that the CRA used shoddy business practices to achieve limited progress, despite simple goals that, according to a report four months in the making, myopically favored bulldozers over rehabilitation and conservation.)
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Conspiracies aside, she burns, her cremains removed and scattered to the four winds:
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“…will give way to a parking lot until the renewal project gets under way.” She”™s been a parking lot since October 1964:
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The Disney Hall and Colburn School (right and bottom) are new additions; on the left is the 1989 Grand Promenade Apartments, which, judging by the reviews, certainly indicates the CRA did a great job.

Forty-four years as a parking lot but not, perhaps, forever, given this hint from the planning department regarding the tract:
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…and so on.

Photograph courtesy the Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library

Newspaper images and quote from the Los Angeles Times 

Driving Angels Flight

Location: 300 Block Hill Street
Date: September 1, 1934

We cannot know how many times mechanic Herbert Stockwell gazed from his window at 316 Clay Street over the steps adjoining the Angels Flight Railway and dreamed, but this was the night he partook of some liquid courage and attempted to drive down the steps. He crashed about 50 feet shy of Hill Street, knocking his teeth out and bloodying his nose, and was discovered wandering confusedly by Officer Hull. Hull took him to Georgia Street police station, where Stockwell was charged with grand theft auto and drunk driving. The wrecked car belonged to Doris George, wife of a physician in the Black Building at Fourth and Hill.

Bunker Hill History Part 1

Bunker Hill History Part 1 traces the history of Los Angeles (The Plaza and its immediate neighborhoods) through the founding 1781, the passing of California into United States hands, the Gold Rush of 1849 and subsequent bust of the 1850s which laid the groundwork for Prudent Beaudry purchase of Bunker Hill (20 acres) in 1867.

This is part one of a nine part series which was authored by Yukio Karawatani, a giant in the CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency), and a major strategist in the evolution of the modern Bunker Hill. The project appeared as a series of nine posterboards, and also were reprinted in the Downtown News in mid 1998. The large body of original documents which served as the basis for the exhibit now reside in UCLA special collections.

The Castle – 325 S. Bunker Hill Avenue

Photo Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

The most haunting image of old Bunker Hill’s final days depicts a fenced off Victorian mansion awaiting its doom with “progress” looming in the background in the form of the Downtown’s first skyscraper, the Union Bank Building. The residence, affectionately known for years as “the Castle” and located at 325 S. Bunker Hill Avenue, was one of two residences on the Hill to escape the wrecking ball, only to meet an even more tragic end.

Located on Lot 16, Block L of the Mott Tract, early owners of the property were tee-totaling Los Angeles pioneer Virginia Davis and her husband John W., who sold the land for $450 to G.D. Witherell in March of 1882. It has long been believed that the Castle was built around this time, but an 1888 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map reveals the structure as being constructed. In 1887 the property changed hands again, so it probably was capitalist Reuben M. Baker who built the large Victorian structure that would be a mainstay on Bunker Hill for over 70 years.

Designed in the Queen Anne style, the residence had 20 rooms, both a marble and a tile fireplace, and a three story staircase winding up the center of the house. Two of the mansion’s most recognizable features were the stained-glass front door and an overhang on the north side for carriages to pass through to the rear of the property. The curved Mansard roof on the tower and the triangular crown of a front balcony were removed after sustaining damage in the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. The original address of the home was actually 225 S. Bunker Hill Avenue until an ordinance, passed in December 1889, changed street numbering throughout the City, much to the irritation of many an Angeleno.

In March of 1894, grading contractor Daniel F. Donegan purchased the property for $10,500 and moved in with his wife Helen and four children. Though the family lived there for less than ten years, the name Donegan became the one most associated with the house and it has long been believed that the clan were the ones who nicknamed the mansion “the Castle.” A piece of neighborhood lore involved Donegan attempting to clear a nearby rat infested property by offering local children 25 cents for each cat brought to him, to be used as four footed exterminators. Residents were soon irked when their feline pets began to disappear. By 1902, the Donegans had moved, and new owner Colton Russell soon converted the mansion into a boarding house, a role the Castle would play for the next six decades.

 

The Castle in Better Days

During its 60-plus year tenure as a multi-unit residence, the Castle would play host to all walks of life of the City of Angeles. Salesmen, doctors, waiters, elevator operators, miners, firemen, tailors, printers, hotel food checkers (well maybe just one of those), and many others called the Castle home at some point in their lives. When the WPA conducted a census of the area in 1939, 325 S. Bunker Hill Avenue was comprised of fifteen separate units, including a small guest house, built in 1927. The landlord’s family resided in four rooms while the rest of the tenants occupied single rooms and shared six toilets. The majority of the occupants were single, white and over 65 years of age. Rent ranged from $10 to $15 a month and occupancy at the Castle was anywhere from six months to eight years.

What the 1939 census failed to mention, however, was the Castle’s resident ghost.

 

The spook who haunted the Castle could possibly have been a former resident who met their ultimate doom in the mansion. In 1914 Hazel Harding, a 28 year old former school teacher with a history of mental problems, lit herself on fire and jumped out a second story window. She survived the fall, but succumbed to her burns. In December 1928, 66 year Charles Merrifeld shot himself to death with a revolver in one of the rooms. Merrifeld, who committed suicide to escape the effects of poor health, had been the Castle’s landlord with his wife Bertha since 1919. The Widow Merrifeld would continue to oversee, what she advertised as, the Castle Rooms for an additional eight years following her husband’s death. According to residents interviewed for a 1965 Herald Examiner piece, for years the ghost contented himself with one type of action; “Everytime one of the sculptured wooden decorations falls off the wall, Mr. Spook catches it before it can shatter on the ground and deposits it neatly and safely on the front porch. So the crash doesn’t wake up the tenants.” Perhaps Mr. Merrifeld wasn’t quite ready to give up his duties as landlord.

 

The Castle & Salt Box Prepare to Move

In 1955, the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) announced its plans to overhaul Bunker Hill, and by 1968 the only residences of the bygone era that remained were the Castle and the Salt Box, located at 339 S. Bunker Hill. Both structures were set to be demolished on October 1st of that year, but were saved in the eleventh hour when the Recreation and Parks Commission voted to let the homes reside on city owned land at Homer and Ave 43 in Highland Park. Additionally, the Department of Public Works agreed to move the structures to their new home which would become known as Heritage Square. For the Cultural Heritage Commission, the decision came after a six year battle to save the structures. Once moved, the CHC would then face the task of raising enough money to restore the age-worn buildings.

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The Castle and Salt Box were relocated to their new home in March 1969 using $33,000 appropriated by the City Council and $10,000 from the CRA. Almost immediately the structures were invaded by vandals. On October 9, 1969 both houses were set on fire. Within minutes, the lone survivors of Bunker Hill’s Victorian era were gone forever.

All photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Gregory Perez survives construction collapse, 1915

Location: Cinnabar Street between First and Second Streets
Date: March 19, 1915

Construction worker Gregory Perez narrowly escaped death when the dirt walls of the apartment house basement he was excavating for contractor Philip Younger collapsed on top of him. Trapped beneath tons of dirt, he was protected by a network of collapsed wooden banks which came to a point above him. His frantic colleagues were able to introduce a sharp stick through the soil, letting sufficient air in that Perez was able to offer encouraging commentary during the struggle to free him, and after four hours he emerged, grateful and uninjured, into the light of day

Minnewaska Hotel (201 S Grand Ave)

This is the famous Minnewaska Hotel which sat at the corner of 3rd & Grand. On July 26th, 1964 fire engulfed the venerable old building, which hosted 63 units. The open central stairway was blamed on the blaze which spread like a blowtorch, killing one tenant and injuring six others.

Slated for demolition in 1967, it was rumored that the fire was intentionally started to stir up support for quicking the rehabilitation of the hill, which was simply another way of hastening it’s complete demolition to make way for commercial buildings which fit into the CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency)’s agenda.

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