From the George Mann Archives: Bixby Knolls Restaurant Row

In the first installment of our series on George Mann’s newly-discovered vintage Los Angeles restaurant photos, we introduced you to Mann’s custom 3-D photo viewer, which provided free entertainment to patrons as they waited to be seated in numerous L.A. restaurants, and to images of the Malibu restaurants that were displayed inside the viewers.

In mapping the restaurant exteriors that George selected to feature in his viewers, we discover he traveled widely throughout Southern California, and that when he found a subject that appealed to him, he’d explore the area looking for other sites worth photographing.

Today, let’s tag along as George immortalizes the 1950s-era dining options of the tony Bixby Knolls neighborhood of Long Beach, in a short but colorful cruise down Atlantic Boulevard.

GM R-043

photo: George Mann

Our first stop is Grisinger’s Drive In Coffee Shop, a classic of the Googie style designed circa 1953 by the great Wayne McAllister, and a popular stop on the teenage automotive cruising circuit of its day.

Somewhat miraculously, the elliptical stucco, brick and redwood restaurant survives as George’s ’50s Diner–but with a weird paint job and its dazzling neon script replaced by a cheesy backlit plastic car hop. The building became a Long Beach historic landmark in 2004, and perhaps one day will get the sympathetic restoration it deserves. For now, if you’ve got a hankering for biscuits and gravy and can stomach dining amidst stylized paintings of Marilyn Monroe and ledges lined with tiny pink Cadillacs, George’s kitschy counter awaits.

Grisingers Google Street View April 2011

photo: Google street view

Diagonally across Atlantic from Grisinger’s was the famous Welch‘s, which billed itself as Southern California’s Most Beautiful Restaurant (not to be confused with The World’s Most Beautiful Restaurant, which was the slogan of The Chandelier, just one block south.

GM R-044

photo: George Mann

George first photographed Welch’s from the sidewalk in front of Grisinger’s (note the palm fronds), before creeping closer to immortalize the jazzy lobster-up-a-tree neon on the barrel-shaped facade–a sign we really wish he’d hung around until nightfall to capture in its illuminated glory.

GM R-045

photo: George Mann

welchs port cochere detail

photo: George Mann (detail)

And wow, what a gorgeous building! We’re struck by the overhanging walkway with its circular window onto the parking lot, a detail which leaves us wanting to see more. Happily, that hunger is partly satisfied by Maynard L. Parker’s fantastic black and white photographs of the building, in the Huntington’s collections.

Parker’s undated photographs, commissioned by architect Larry Saunders soon after completion, reveal how the barrel formed the semi-circular well of the Japanese-style cocktail bar, the meandering interior water feature dotted with aquatic flowers and, mysteriously, an apparently unbroken roof line leading out to the parking lot, while George’s undated photo shows a clear break with the sections at different heights and possibly shortened, apparently a later remodel.

welchs parker detail


photo: Maynard L. Parker, Huntington Library, Photo Archives (detail)

GM R-040

photo: George Mann

One block south on Atlantic, Bob Lemon’s Ricarts Restaurant proudly hangs the Lion’s Club medallion on its beige massing, and the standup on the sidewalk promises buffet service from 11:30 to 2. Some sort of live entertainment is on hand to aid in your digestion.

In the background, a young palm shades some buffet-skimming Lion’s Caddy, the black and gold Richfield gas station hums with activity, a handsome two-tone bus makes an awkward turn into traffic, and the Towne Theater’s proud vertical sign beams down from among the clouds.

ricarts match book

San Berdoo-born, Long Beach-bred Bob Lemon was a right-handed pitcher in the Major Leagues, playing for the Cleveland Indians from 1941-1958. Ted Williams rated Bob as a fantastic pitcher, and after he retired from playing ball, Bob had a successful coaching career. In the off-season, we imagine he spent a lot of time in his namesake restaurant, entertaining the regulars with tales of his time on the mound. Bob Lemon died in Long Beach in 2000.

Bob Lemon baseball card

Towne Box Office Magazine 1946

Towne Theater, 1946, Box Office Magazine. Now playing: The Big Sleep
The Towne Theater opened in September 1946, a 1308-seat venue owned by the Cabart Theatres Corporation and designed in the modern style by local architect Hugh Gibbs, whose firm survives.

The Towne was distinguished by its front-of-the-house soda fountain, walled on three sides with glass, and providing views of its social scene to passing automobiles, and to arriving patrons, whose waits were shortened by the novel two-cashier ticket booth.

towne lobby

Towne Theater lobby, 1946, Box Office Magazine.

In keeping with the modern philosophy, the design of the screen was treated minimally, with no fussy decorative elements, just a simple curtain skimming a carpeted rise.

The Towne Theater served its suburban clientele well for three decades, and was demolished in the 1970s.

GM R-023

photo: George Mann

Two blocks south, and our next stop is Ernie Glaser’s Chandelier, which was billed as The World’s Most Beautiful Restaurant and featured “food on the flaming sword” — torched tableside by waiters in evening dress bearing custom-forged weapons equipped with special hilt-cups filled with volatile liquors.

You’d be forgiven for thinking “how cute, they put a restaurant in one of those 1930s storybook cottages” — but, in fact, The Chandelier was purpose-built for Ernie Glaser in 1955 by architects Francis Osmond Merchant and J. Richard Shelley, at a reported cost of more than $100,000. (Merchant and Shelley would soon build the 12-story modernist co-op Royal Palms Apartments, near the shore in Long Beach.)

chandelier ad

Now what was so darned beautiful about The Chandelier? Certainly the three namesake light fixtures, each with a dazzling Old World back story, glittered attractively. And who doesn’t dig fairy tale architecture? Or a French buffet luncheon? Or Parisian torch singers strolling among the diners? Mais oui!

But we suspect the aesthetic highlight of any meal might well have been interacting with the two lovely hostesses decked out in their microscopic French maid costumes. Meet blonde Vicky Dyer, who with brunette Kathy Burns was on hand to escort diners to their tables and ensure that no guest felt unappreciated as the theatrical experience that was an Ernie Glaser meal began.

chandelier hostess charicature

German-born Ernie Glaser was a popular host, always dreaming up something spectacular to leave his guests bedazzled. Ernie was good with a nickname, too: who wouldn’t want to dine at a restaurant run by the “caterer to kings”? (Italy, Greece and Albania if you’re keeping count, and if you’re thinking Italy doesn’t have a king, think again.)

And energetic: at the time he was overseeing the building of The Chandelier, he was managing the Cellar Club at Long Beach’s landmark Wilton Hotel, where he’d opened Conrad Hilton’s Sky Room lounge in 1938, and working for the civil defense program as a survival training chief.

Heidi Glaser

Glaser also had a Swiss-Bavarian restaurant on Ocean Boulevard, Heidi’s (named for his wife, its hostess), featuring one wall decorated as a miniature Alpine village with wee chalets and real waterfalls, and membership cards proclaiming regular customers citizens of the imaginary nation of Swissany.

ernie glaser flaming sword

After a few years, Ernie and Heidi moved out to Palm Springs with their teenaged daughters. In 1959, Heidi was driving with her daughters near Murrieta Hot Springs when her car hit a boulder in the road and overturned. Heidi was killed and her children badly hurt.

In later years, Ernie remarried and had two more children, managed a luxury restaurant chain in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and hotels in St. Louis, returned to the Wilton Hotel as catering manager, was GM of the El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, and launched a gourmet popcorn company offering bleu cheese, bacon, enchilada and chili-flavored varieties.

The Chandelier continued on under owners who lacked Ernie’s flair. It was Puccini’s for some years, then the Chalet, then the Chandelier again. Don’t go looking for this Norman charmer, formerly found at 4205 Atlantic Boulevard; today the site holds a mini mall anchored by a Trader Joe’s market.

GM R-004c

Photo: George Mann

We’ve struggled to identify the location of this charming little drive-in, all the cuter for its placement against a threatening sky. The Clock in Bellflower was famously a stop along the 1950s teenaged automotive cruising circuit, but seldom if ever photographed, so we can’t say with certainty if this is that most famous Clock.

A foreclosure auction listing from April 1961 lists no fewer than 14 Clock drive-ins scattered across the Southern Californian landscape… and on the list was one Clock located smack dab along George Mann’s short photographic route down Atlantic Boulevard.

Since we know George would have passed the location, and in the absence of evidence to the contrary*, we’re provisionally placing this restaurant at the intersection of Atlantic and Carson. Signs on the front instruct visitors that the few parking spots are reserved for car service customers, which on this gloomy day consists entirely of the couple in the white and green Chevy Bel-Air or Impala (1959 model). Here’s hoping they enjoy their meal and have a safe trip home.


*evidence has emerged! Thanks to the good folks on the “born and raised in long beach”group who did the digging to identify the Clock Drive-In pictured as one located three miles to the north in Long Beach at Atlantic and Artesia.

GM R-049

Photo: George Mann

Our final stop on this time travel trip to Bixby Knolls is to a restaurant that we could have visited quite recently. Sadly, in May 2010, after 59 years of service, Arnold’s Town House Family Restaurant lost its lease and was shuttered.

A cafeteria until the bitter end, Arnold’s was the urban flipside to restaurateur Miles Arnold’s popular Arnold’s Farm House in Buena Park, home of the giant neon windmill (demolished for redevelopment). In later years, Arnold’s was owned and operated by Ray Johnson, then by his son Mike.

We can live vicariously through the Yelp reviews, and learn that unlike some old school joints that trade on their reputations, Arnold’s was making folks (mostly older ones) happy with unpretentious comfort food and gracious service until the doors the locked for the very last time. Also in the Yelp comments, the troubling suggestion that Arnold’s was another victim of the ongoing mortgage crisis.
This sad note concludes our guided tour of Bixby Knolls as it was. We’ve traveled half a mile and fifty years, only to end up right back here in 2012, in a sometimes too-modern world where restaurants are “concepts” launched by investment consortiums, where signage is approved by committee and manufactured without artistry, but where the people are still hungry for well-prepared food, attractive surroundings, and for a place they can feel welcome. Here’s to the memory of great restaurants lost, and to the fantastic joints of today that our grandchildren will feel nostalgic for in decades to come.

Stay tuned to On Bunker Hill for our next trip in the footsteps of photographer George Mann, when we’ll be featuring the glamourous dining options along Restaurant Row, Hollywood, and a few surprises.

From the George Mann Archives: W.C. Fields in “Home Movies” (1928)

Today On Bunker Hill is proud to present another little something special from the archives of George Mann, an artifact that predates his astonishing color photographs of Bunker Hill by about thirty years.

If you enjoyed the recent posting of George’s silent footage of W.C. Fields on stage as a worried Mormon husband about to hop into the sack with a bevy of Earl Carroll showgirls, you’ll thrill to see the lively home movie footage of Fields yucking it up with a tennis racket, filmed when both performers were appearing in the Earl Carroll Vanities.

You met him here first, but our pal George Mann is becoming quite the internet sensation. Critic Leonard Maltin dedicated much of a recent blog post to Mann’s rediscovered silent film footage of Fields and the Three Stooges.

Keeping watching this space, as there more amazing short films coming from the George Mann Archives, starring some incredible entertainers. And for now… more Bill Fields!

A Drive Through Bunker Hill and Downtown Los Angeles, ca. 1940s


An amazing discovery from the good folks at the Internet Archive. Visit the Off Bunker Hill list, where LA historians and former Bunker Hill residents have been identifying structures and dating vehicles. One person even thinks they’ve spotted their father leaning on a lampost!

Two New Mann Images — Final Days of the Flight!

Hillzapoppin‘ in the OBH!  A couple swanky new color images emerged from the greater Mann grotto and the good people at the archives wanted to share them with you.  Ain’t they the best?

AF1

This image is later than the other Manns (Menn?) we’ve seen.  (Given the specific progress made on the Union Bank tower, I’d peg this photo at September 1966).  By comparison, here’s one of late-50s vintage you’ve seen before:

AF2

The Community Redevelopment Agency got their wreckers and worked from top to bottom; started with the Elks in the autum of 1962, then hit the Hulburt (middle) and finished the Ferguson on Hill in ’63.

With Angels Flight’s Western Wall removed, you then see these two characters in images of the Flight, but they were chewed up pretty quickly.

theseguys

But back to our original Mann photo up top.  To the east of the flight on the other side of the tunnel, the Royal Liquor’s still there, and so’s the McCoy house above.  

Royal Liquor–AKA St. Helena Sanitarium–always amuses because before Los Angeles became last refuge for the hunted and the tortured, it was just a sunny place to go for salubrious living:

weggie

Now let’s cross the intersection, down Hill a bit…

afotherside

…turn to see that Olivet and Sinai have passed each other.  The Hill Crest and the Sunshine, of whom we’ve spoken quite a bit recently, gone, again, the CRA working down from Olive to Clay, the HillCrest lost in the autumn of 1961 and the Sunshine goes ca. 1965.  There’s the McCoy House and St. Helena, although now the latter, known as My Hotel for some time, became the Vista Hotel between 1942 and ’47 (and the actual full name of its corner booze boutique, despite what the neon read, was Royal Gold Liquors).  Vaguely visible looming behind in the mist, the Belmont.

The former front door of the Ferguson Café apparently a swell place to park your faded yellow jalopy.  In September of 1966.  Now, not so much.

nowwee

Hey, at least the light pole and fireplug are still there. 

Thanks to George Mann’s son Brad Smith, and daughter-in-law Dianne Woods, for allowing us to reprint these copyrighted photographs and tell George’s story. To see George’s photos of theater marquees, visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/brad_smith

For a representative selection of photographs from his archive, or to license images for reproduction or other use, see https://www.akg-images.co.uk/_customer/london/mailout/1004/georgemann/

St. Helena/Vegetarian Café, USC Digital Archives; Ems & Casa Alta, personal collection 

All the More Mann

Ahoy Hill hipster!  It’s been an exciting time here On Bunker Hill.  Through the grace of George Mann’s family, the other day Kim posted twenty-one images of BH in living doomed color.  One of those featured the Sunshine Apts. with the Hill Crest looming o’er; a few days later the esteemed Jim Dawson posted all about the Sunshine, including a new Mann image that showcased a year’s worth of growth where the Hill Crest once stood.  And now, for your edification and delectation, more.

bhtime

I begin my post as did Kim not with shots of Bunker Hill, but with a George Mann image nonetheless.  This is the Sentous Block, designed in 1886 by R. J. Reeve; the same year Reeve designed the U. S. Hotel and the Phillips Block.

Louis Sentous was one of the great French pioneers of Los Angeles who’d arrived penniless, panned for a little gold and became a successful cattle rancher, trading meat and dairy at the Plaza until he bought the nearby piece of property (bounded by Sunset, Spring, Main and Macy) that was to bear his name.

The Sentous Block is best known around noirsville as where Mike Hammer cruises over to the Jalisco Hotel in Kiss Me Deadly; it also contained the Bamba Club, which doubles as the Round-Up in Criss Cross.  (Both on the Spring St. side of the Sentous; our image shows the Main St. side.)  For more than you would ever want to know about this, go here (seems like contributor Beaudry needs a girlfriend or something).

Louis lasted until 1911; his building til 1957.  

Just goes to show.  Not everything ornate that was torn down in the last fifty years was on Bunker Hill.  You owe it to yourself to learn the names and faces of the Amestoy Block.  The Bath Block.  The Gollmer Block.  The Wilson Block.  The Stimson Building.  The Westminster Hotel.  The Martz Flats.  Ad nauseum.

But on to Bunker Hill!

Ah, the Astoria.

Astorian

Nothing says deep arcaded entry and red-tiled bell tower like “Astoria”.  Yes, one can not help but marvel at the incongruity of Bunker Hill naming systems.  I wrote earlier in OBH about the red-tiled onion domed Minnewaska, the fairly Franco-Renaissance Sherwood, and while it hasn’t been explored yet, the decisively Mission-styled 1904 Mission Apartments at Second and Olive spent much of its young life known as, of course, Castle Craig.

Astoria, the Greek word for quail, is also the part of Queens known for being full of Greeks.  That notwithstanding, at the time of its construction, Astoria connoted the Astoria, Queens that was then the “Hollywood of the East.”Â  Plus it had been named for John Jacob Astor.  All sorts of cachet.  Perhaps the developers thought that despite the arches and fauxdobe, the rather otherwise traditional use of the bay windows prevented naming the structure something vaguely Missiony like “Ramona Hotel” or “Portolà Apts.”

In any event, of the Astoria much has been said. 

Next to the Astoria is the 1916 Blackstone Apartments, with the nice Beaux Arts garlands upon’t.  Not a whole lot happened there, an ex-cop caught violating the Wright Act, and there were some lady bootleggers; while the Widows Protective League Los Angeles Branch Council met at the Blackstone, a widow took poison and offed herself there the very same year (1929); and Ross Page, younger brother of the widely-known “Farmer” Page, was busted there by the vice squad while running two bridge games and a poker game in August of ‘25.

I will let Matt Weinstock of the Times do the talking for me:

That din emanating from Bunker Hill these days is the relentless pounding of the jackhammers tearing down the ancient Blackstone Apartments, 244 S Olive St., next door to the top of Angel’s Flight.

Until the demolition crew went to work on it, the Blackstone was nine stories high, counting the floors from the back entrance in the alley, which was kept locked.  However, if you entered on Olive St., as most people did, you were on the third floor, and from there it was only a six story building.  I learned this many years ago in visiting a departed colleague, J. Farrington Barrington Arrington, who lived there.

And so another quaint landmark passes and now, when I go into a building on what purports to be the main floor it will really be the main floor, not the third.  Progress marches on.

– July 2, 1964


The Sawyer Apts:

Sawyer

Not one of the gingerbreaded, parapeted wonders of the Hill.  So where was it?  327 South Hope, that’s where.  (God bless City Directories and old phone books.)  And bless George Mann for shooting something other than the Usual Suspects.  Sure, 327 is on The Map, but this is a color pic.  And yet…again, one always needs more; there’s something about placing oneself in the landscape.  So, comparing maps, and building outlines, and digging through photo archives…

…in this William Reagh photo, ca. 1955:

atHope

The tree in our color image is the tree dead center above, and the large building jutting out to the right of the frame (Richfield tower visible behind) from Hope and plunging down the hill toward Flower, that’s the Sawyer.

I want to stress again the wonder of finding the unexpected.  Mann shot what others did not.  After Angels Flight, arguably the most photographed structures on the Hill were the Castle and the Salt Box.  Which meant photographers turned their collective back on this:

SBH

We stand adjacent to a bit of spindlework at 333 South Bunker Hill, between, of course, the Salt Box behind our left shoulder and the Castle on the other side of 333.  Whitey there on the right with the dentils is 326 South Bunker Hill, but its real address is 325 South Grand, as this is the backside of the Kenneth Apts.  Its blue neighbor with the deep columned entry is 322/318; it had a non-conjoined counterpart of 319/323 at Grand and together they were known as the Alta Cresta.  Its beige neighbor to the north with the porch is 310 and there’s a small house behind it that’s either 306 or 302 South Bunker Hill.

And then the white house with the cross-gabled red roof, that’s 256 South Bunker Hill.  That one is extra cool because it’s where Liz the exotic dancer/modern painter/serial killer (Indus Arthur) lives in Angel’s Flight.  In fact, it’s not two minutes into the movie when Liz commits a murder right on the benches above the Third St. tunnel, and the landlady sticks her head out and screams!  To wit:

nosylandlady

And the big brick building behind that is the backend of the Alto Hotel, 253 S. Grand.

And last but not least…

Mystery House!

 

mysteryhaus

At least it’s a mystery to me.  It’s not within a gallon of Ethel of the DT, of that I’m pretty certain.  Mann shot all over, Point Loma, Catalina…so here’s this Victorian Exotic Revival that’s going for something Indo-Moorish, though what that is I can’t say – do you know?  There’s what appears to be a “701” on her stairs.  OBH readers are the best and the brightest:  whence came this sweetheart and whither did she go?

William Reagh photo courtesy California State Library Digital Archives

Thanks to George Mann’s son Brad Smith, and daughter-in-law Dianne Woods, for allowing us to reprint these copyrighted photographs and tell George’s story. To see George’s photos of theater marquees, visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/brad_smith

For a representative selection of photographs from his archive, or to license images for reproduction or other use, see https://www.akg-images.co.uk/_customer/london/mailout/1004/georgemann/

Sunshine and Noir

The recent release of George Mann’s 50-year-old color photographs to this site is one of the most remarkable troves of Bunker Hill ephemera we’ve seen in decades. The accompanying photo, for instance, shows just how dilapidated the neighborhood around Angels Flight on

Third Street
had become by November 1962, when Mann made his final pilgrimage to the doomed neighborhood. The wrecking ball has already claimed the Hill Crest Hotel at the top of the hill on
Olive Street
, and the Astoria Hotel is a hulking shell of a firetrap just waiting for a match. Standing near the center of the photo is the Sunshine Apartments, looking empty and haunted, but who knows whether a few derelict souls are still inside, refusing to leave until the bulldozers come growling down the hillside?

Bunker Hill’s Sunshine Apartments at

421 West Third Street
has been gone now for over forty-five years, but it’s still one of the most familiar unknown houses in Los Angeles. Perched on a ten-feet-high retaining wall above a narrow alley called
Clay Street
, it sprawled halfway up a steep hill adjacent to a stairway, its only access, opposite Angels Flight. The Sunshine was the sort of multilevel dwelling that novelist John Fante described in Ask the Dust (1939): “It was built on a hillside in reverse, there on the crest of Bunker Hill, built against the decline of the hill, so that the main floor was on the level with the street but the tenth floor was downstairs ten levels.” The only difference is that the Sunshine was only four stories tall and its front, not its sides, conformed to
Third Street
’s slant, so that the first floor was only half as wide as the second floor.

 

Constructed on vacant property around 1905 to accommodate downtown Los Angeles’s growing need for cheap housing, the Sunshine looked like a huge clapboard farmhouse, with a stack of three unadorned verandas and a couple of Queen Anne touches around the front entrance, which was on the third floor. Midwestern migrants probably found the place comfortably familiar. Inside, a labyrinth of odd-angled hallways, step-downs and staircases connected the Sunshine’s many small apartments.

 

Though it made its film debut as one of Angels Flight’s neighbors in a 1920 comedy called All Jazzed Up, the Sunshine didn’t get its first close-up until 1932, when director James Whale cast it as the home of two downtown working girls (Mae Clark and Una Merkel) in The Impatient Maiden, his follow-up to Frankenstein. Because sound cameras in those days were large and unwieldy, he used a smaller silent camera to shoot the movie’s opening scene on the

Third Street
steps, as the actresses came out of the Sunshine Apartments and walked up the concrete steps to the Angels Flight station on
Olive Street
. (The dialogue and traffic sounds were dubbed in later.) Whale shot another scene on the front steps near
Clay Street
and in the rear of the apartments, where a second set of concrete stairs from Clay to Olive ran between the Sunshine and the much larger Astoria Hotel.

 

But what turned the Sunshine Apartments into a fairly steady (if nameless) character actor was film noir, the mostly post-World War II crime genre that, in its focus on documentary realism, introduced the use of smaller, combat-tested cameras and gritty urban locations to Hollywood cinema. And since—by the mid-1940s—Bunker Hill was a run-down neighborhood of crumbling Victorian mansions, rambling flophouses, and mean, vertiginous streets, it became the perfect setting for film noir’s fascination with the dark side of American prosperity. Despite the Sunshine Apartments’ sunny moniker and relative youth (less than fifty years old), it did a great job portraying a shabby boarding house for desperate and worn-down people.

 

In Paramount’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948), the Sunshine offered low-rent anonymity to a con man (Edward G. Robinson) hiding from his past. Director John Farrow pointedly established its location with an amazing 180-degree shot—taken from Clay Street—that followed one of the Angels Flight cars up from Hill Street, and panned across the top of the hill to catch Robinson’s character hurrying down the concrete steps and up onto the third-floor porch and into the boarding house’s front door. Another shot showed John Lund and Gail Russell approaching the Sunshine’s wooden porch steps from below.

 

That same year, in Universal Pictures’ Criss Cross, director Robert Siodmak used the Sunshine as a rendezvous spot for criminals plotting an armored car robbery. Whereas the protagonists’ apartments in the earlier films were obviously studio creations, some of Criss Cross’s seedy flophouse interiors were shot on location. Granted, a couple of shots that showed either Burt Lancaster or Yvonne DeCarlo standing next to a bay window, with the Angels Flight trolleys moving in the background distance, were done on a sound stage. The footage of the incline railway cars passing each other above Clay Street was taken from the Sunshine (most likely from the third-floor porch, judging from the angle), but the building itself didn’t have any bay windows facing Angels Flight, so the scenes had to have been process shots. On the other hand, the maze of dingy hallways—whose atmosphere one character mockingly dismissed as “Picturesque, ain’t it?”—most likely belonged to the Sunshine Apartments.

 

In another Paramount film, Turning Point (1952), as crusading reporter William Holden and gal pal Alexis Smith ride up Angels Flight, the camera riding with them turns to look across to the Sunshine, where a witness is hiding. But when they walk down the steps from the funicular’s Olive Street station toward the house, they have to duck into a doorway of a nearby building to avoid several thugs standing guard on the Sunshine’s porch.

 

In the low-budget Angel’s Flight (1965), among the last of Bunker Hill’s noirs, Indus Arthur played a stripper and “Bunker Hill serial killer” avenging an early rape by slashing the throats of men who put the moves on her. The scene of that rape, we eventually discover, had been at her one-time home in the Sunshine Apartments.

 

The building also showed up briefly in Act of Violence (MGM, 1949), Joseph Losey’s M (Columbia, 1951), and the cheap Lon Chaney Jr. horror film The Indestructible Man (1956), among others. Documentary filmmaker Edmund Penney introduced his lyrical fifteen-minute film, Angel’s Flight Railway (shot in the early 1960s and again in 1969; released in 1997) by looking across

Third Street
through the ornate woodwork of the Sunshine’s doorway.

 

The Sunshine Apartments finally had its appointment with the bulldozer around 1965, after Los Angeles’s Community Redevelopment Agency had already torn down many of the other buildings around it. By the time the CRA carted away Angels Flight and the last two surviving houses on

Bunker Hill Avenue
four years later, the nearly century-old neighborhood of Bunker Hill had ceased to exist.

 

Yet today the Sunshine Apartments survives in old movies, in countless photo- and postcard-tableaux of Angels Flight, and as the most prominent background feature—painted green—in Millard Sheets’ vibrant 1931 oil painting, Angel’s Flight, which is not only one of the most famous works on permanent display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, but also the logo of the OnBunkerHill.org website.

 

I welcome any further information you may have about the Sunshine Apartments, or any corrections to this blog entry. Even better, I’d love to hear from someone who actually lived or spent time there.

 

For more photos of the Sunshine Apartments, check out www.americanfilmnoir.com/page18.html and www.forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthread.php?p=4855115.

 

Thanks to George Mann’s son Brad Smith, and daughter-in-law Dianne Woods, for allowing us to reprint his copyrighted photograph.

For a representative selection of photographs from his archive, or to license images for reproduction or other use, see https://www.akg-images.co.uk/_customer/london/mailout/1004/georgemann/

Meet George Mann

George Mann’s Bunker Hill photographs are now available, exclusively from this site.


Bunker Hill is a lost Los Angeles neighborhood, and On Bunker Hill is a memorial website that was born over the course of a year’s collaboration. The contributors followed their own particular obsessions down the historical rabbit hole, coming up with aspects of the community’s lore that were placed on a virtual map, so interested visitors could explore at their leisure.

Although On Bunker Hill is no longer being updated, people continue to discover the site and contribute their own insights and memories through the comment section. But occasionally, someone comes along who has something more to offer than a comment or a link, and so we bring the On Bunker Hill blog back to life for a brief moment, so this someone can take their rightful place among the ghosts.

Enter George Mann.

Born in Santa Monica in 1905, by his early 20s he was a vaudeville star as the hilariously taller half of the comedy dance team Barto & Mann. Dewey Barto [real name Dewey Smoyer and the pop of comedienne Nancy Walker] and George debuted their act on the west coast circuit in 1926 and by March 1927 were featured on the other Broadway, at New York’s celebrated Palace Theatre.

Of their east coast debut, Zit’s Theatrical Newspaper raved "Ten minutes before they went on at the Palace last Monday afternoon nobody thought very much about Barto & Mann; ten minutes after they came off stage, the whole Broadway world was talking about them… Acts like these only come along once in a while."

Appearing at L.A.’s Orpheum in March 1928, they were praised in the L.A. Times as "a knockout team," though their set at the Hillstreet the following month discomfited one reviewer: "The act presented by Barto & Mann was one of those hectic affairs in which the participants did everything from a climb up the proscenium arch to a near-back-flip into the orchestra pit. The excellence of the dancing and clowning in the early portions of the act led one to expect a much more worthwhile finale than the one offered, which, unfortunately, bordered plainly on vulgarity." 

One man’s vulgarity is another’s hilarity: scope out this rare filmed appearance, from the 1933 Texas Guinan vehicle "Broadway Through A Keyhole," and decide for yourself!

As Vaudeville faded, Barto & Mann joined the Broadway cast of Olson and Johnson’s Hellzapoppin’ (though they’re not in the 1941 film), with featured billing from 1938 through 1942. The team split up in December 1943.

Around this time, George Mann married Powers Agency model Barbara Bradford and shot a series of film noir-inspired images of his young bride.  


In his post-performance life, George Mann turned his imagination to entrepreneurial enterprise and professional photography, which brought him to Bunker Hill. In the late 1950s, when the neighborhood’s days were known to be numbered, he arrived atop the peak with his camera to document some representative scenes, returning in November 1962 for additional shots.

These never-before-published color images of old Bunker Hill were originally displayed in 3-D viewers of Mann’s own design, which were leased to various Los Angeles businesses, including Hody’s Drive-Ins, and other restaurants, bars and doctor’s offices. Mann would swap out the photo selection regularly, so if these evocative scenes of Bunker Hill weren’t available, one might peep at Calico Ghost Town, Catalina Island, Descanso Gardens, Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Pacific Ocean Park, Watts Towers or Palm Springs.  

In his 3-Dimensional Bunker Hill set, created to distract anxious patients and hungry tourists, George Mann captured a seldom seen side of this lost Los Angeles neighborhood: the gracious avenues and genteel decay, the old people, their cats and their gardens, abandoned newspapers, vacant lots, the shadows and the sunlight. We are in his debt.

George Mann died in 1977, and his extraordinary photographic archives are currently being organized, scanned and made available for licensing. We trust you will enjoy these rediscovered images from old Bunker Hill from the George Mann Archives.

Note: a few more George Mann Bunker Hill photos have been discovered since this entry was first written! See this blog post by Jim Dawson and this one and this other one by Nathan Marsak for more.

Thanks to George Mann’s son Brad Smith, and daughter-in-law Dianne Woods, for allowing us to reprint these copyrighted photographs and tell George’s story. To see George’s photos of theater marquees, visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/brad_smith

For a representative selection of photographs from his archive, or to license images for reproduction or other use, see https://www.akg-images.co.uk/_customer/london/mailout/1004/georgemann/

InSROLand, an LA Time Travel Blog, wants you

Greetings, history geek:

Are you fascinated by the forgotten social history of Los Angeles, from low life to high society? Do old buildings make you swoon? Are you a good writer and a careful researcher, able to cite sources and bring old tales to life? Do you have or wish to develop a specialized knowledge of some neglected aspect of Los Angeles lore (for example: Vaudeville performers, streetcar routes, obsolete restaurants, political scandals)? Is time travel your dream date?

If the answer to most of these questions is yes, then you are a good candidate to be part of an ambitious new blog called In SRO Land, and we would like to hear from you. Read on for more information, and instructions on how you can apply to join the blog team.

The newest time travel blog project from the social historians behind 1947project, On Bunker Hill and Esotouric bus adventures, In SRO Land explores the forgotten history of Downtown Los Angeles, up the grand entertainment boulevard of Broadway (where SRO means "Standing Room Only") and down the mean streets of Main (where SRO stands for "Single Room Occupancy," shorthand for a rented room with a sink in the corner, shared toilet down the hall). Between these two poles, modern Los Angeles was born. (And yes, Spring Street stories will also be featured, for those who dig banking history.)

InSROLand, the blog, you’ll find the real stories behind legendary theaters, hotels and shopping destinations, from the developers and visionaries who built them, to the celebrities and ordinary citizens who enjoyed them. You’ll also meet the long-dead lowlife elements whose misuse of public space is as fascinating to contemporary readers as it was offensive in its time.

InSROLand is home to cops and killers, stars and fans, architects and decorators, dancers nude and clothed, freak shows, classic Vaudeville, street preachers and blues shouters, dreamers and schemers, shoplifters, slumming millionaires, pulp writers, bar keepers, finger men and B-girls, the innocent and the profane. It is, we hope, home also to you.

To contribute to In SRO Land, you’ll be expected to write at least 12 posts during the yearlong project, although of course you would be welcome to write more often. Photographic and map-based contributions would be welcome, as would musical compositions, drawings, theater handbills, vintage menus, anything that increases our understanding of the city of Los Angeles. As a contributor, you are welcome to promote your other projects in your online bio, and to announce your special, appropriate events on the site.

The format will be the same as the blog’s predecessor, On Bunker Hill, so please have a look at that site, at https://www.onbunkerhill.org

To apply, please email toursATesotouricDOTcom with 200-400 words telling us why you would like to be a part of in SRO Land, what sort of material you would like to cover, and how often you can contribute. Please also tell us about yourself in a bio of 200-400 words.

The site launched in June 2009 and will run for at least a year. Contributors can join soon after launch, or come aboard at a later date. Interested in being part of this? Drop us a line and let us know where you fit.

best regards,
Kim
Editrix
In SRO Land