Icarus and the Auto

People land on cars. They just do. It’s how Daredevil and Crank end; it’s how Lethal Weapon begins. Pauly lands on a car in Darkman; Conan O’Brien lands on a car in South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. And then there’s George Costanza’s suit against the hospital whose mental patient landed on his automobile. Clinicians call it the Evelyn McHale Syndrome, or at least I do.

In December of 1941, Mrs. Charlotte Neill, 70, called the gas company to turn on service at 2536 Reservoir Street. The Gas Co. sent out Perry C. Butler, 48, who attacked her, causing shock and other injuries necessitating her hospitalization.

Arrested the 26th, arraigned the 29th and free on bail, Butler was five days later, for some reason, atop the Subway Terminal Building. But not for long. It’s unclear as to whether he fell or jumped the ten floors and crashed to the top of a car on the roof of Savoy Garage.

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Assuming Butler jumped, it makes one consider that the auto is the modern equivalent of the sword, which Saul so famously fell upon after battling the Philistines. But consider: Detective Lieutenant B. G. Anderson was lead investigator in the apparent suicide attempt. Because Anderson was also, by coincidence, arresting officer in Charlotte Neill’s attack case, it makes one wonder if this particular car-landing didn’t have an element of the Ness/Nitti to it.

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Above, the Subway Termial Bldg at right, adjoining the low-slung Savoy Garage onto which Butler made his car-smashing plunge.

The Ems — 321 South Olive

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In what will surely go down as the smarmiest piece of journalism in history, the Times recounts the travails of Toy Lane, dancer at the Chinese Junk, 733 North Main. She made her way over to the Junk from her pad at The Ems to shimmy for shekels on September 25, 1946. When she gets into the nightclub dressing room to “dress” for her act (the Times’s flippant application of quotation marks, not mine) she discovers her wardrobe has been stolen: G-string No. 1 (black and orange, beaded,) $35; G-string No. 2 (silver metallic cloth,) $23; beaded shaker, $20; rhinestone brassiere $20; an anklet and armband set, $25.

Miss Lane, it was reported, was mortified—she had to dance with her clothes on!

In a final piece of facetiousness, the Times noted “the police were searching for the burglars and the large van they must have used to carry away the loot.”

The Chinese Junk Café:

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Which was up in China City, a 1935 Chinesque development that predated New Chinatown, and had been the baby of wealthy socialite and “Mother of Olvera Street” Christine Sterling. China City was mostly burned out, literally and figuratively, by the early 50s.

And of Ms. Toy’s home, the Ems?

Remember the Palace/Casa Alta post, which was long on storytelling but short on pretty pictures? I even chided you for looking at a structure that was not our hotel-in-question, by tossing über-comely Bunker Hill lass The Ems smack dab into the mix.
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I even promised I’d talk about the Ems “next week,” but by next week it was President’s Day, and somebody had to make you mindful of your nation, despite all the patriotic work you were doing watching Obama informercials.

Well, now it’s the week after next, and it’s time for the Ems, which is replete with pretty pictures but sadly short on storytelling. Here’s what we know.

Charles Clayton Emswiler came to LA in the boom eighties and went into the apartment-house building game. In August of 1905 he pulled permits to build his eponymous Mission-style Ems, designed by none other than Joesph Cather Newsom.  Emswiler died in 1922, age 69, in the apartment house at 321 that bore his name.

It contains 110 rooms, divided into twenty-six apartments according to the 1939 census, sixty-five apartments according to the 1950 Sanborn map.  Here it is before its birth, from the 1896 Sanborn map (321, bottom), and postnatal from the 1906:

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Our earliest known shot, above. Pre-1908, because the Kellogg has yet to be built to the north. Notice the three round-arch traceried windows along the street, and the turreted house to the south.

We know that it had a large ballroom, for in 1909 the papers announced that sixty couples participated in the dancing at the inaugural ball honoring President Taft.

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The Ems were apartments-of-choice for a collection of colorful characters.

1914. “Mohawk Half-Breed” Daniel T. La Rae, alias Daniel T. Ray, was an Ems resident (Emsident?) with Miss Emma Ewalt—they stayed there together, but were (!) unmarried. Daniel spent a lot of time promising to marry Miss Ewalt, even going so far as to travel to Shelby, Ohio, to visit her father. Mostly what Daniel did, though, is borrow money—he needed these sums to purchase marble on bond to build post offices and such. Of course he could be trusted; he was a Federal Officer, after all.

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He had shown Emma a badge emblazoned “U. S. Marshal,” but never paid back the money nor made good on his promise of marriage. Of course his badge was a phony as his promises. Turns out his real job was for the Southern Pacific RR, guarding Chinese as they were ferried from San Francisco across the Mexican border line. Chinese actually go home to Mexico. Little known fact.

likkerseezed1924. Emsians Jack Hart and James Whitmore were no mere bathtub gin fanciers, nor busted-at-the-speak spuds; the Feds seized Hart & Whitmore’s forty cases of champagne, seventy-five cases of Scotch, and seventy-three cases of gin, crème de menthe and grain alcohol down at their warehouse, 1840 Lebanon. The liquor was valued at $40,000. In addition to the liquor, the drys seized a large truck, three touring cars and several rifles.

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Above, the Ems in 1912 and a William Reagh image ca. 1960.  Notice the rounded tripartite fenestration, which worked so well with the rest of the façade, has been changed to a single remaining arched window, a square window, and a doorway.  This is due to owner William Fisher’s February 1927 alteration—he hires architect B. N. Rickard, of whom you have never heard, and rightfully so, since this is pretty clunky work, to convert the lobby into two bedrooms and turn the ball room into a new lobby.  (Note too that the neighboring house—built in 1887-88 by Howard W. Mills, of real estate firm Mills, Crawford, Pauly & Clapp—at 327 South Olive has been reduced to a concrete pit, demolished for a parking lot in the summer of 1948. )

jaccuse1930. An employment agency sent Emsite Erma Gogleu, 16, to 903 West Twenty-First St. to fill a position as a mother’s helper. As soon as she got the job, she was attacked by mother’s son James D. Anderson. Erma wasn’t the first to have met with the fate of an Anderson Employee—one Marguerite Cooper, 23, also testified with Erma in Municipal Court about a similar sitch, and the Judge ordered Anderson held on $10,000 bail.

vroom1934. Emsman Joe Shaw, 26, was roaring along on his motorcycle on a Friday night down at 30th and Broadway, when he fatally struck Mrs. Marianna Valenzuela, 58. Hey, I warned you that the Ems lacked gripping and protracted tales. But look at those pretty pictures.

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exquisitedeadguy1942. Every hotel has a suicide. And despite Harold’s line to his Uncle Victor—“during wartime the national suicide rate goes down”—on Bunker Hill, there’s still wartime Selbsmord (the Belmont had two in ’42). It’s easy to posit that the suicide rate is a constant, and the papers make a point of reporting ‘em during wartime to detract the populace from all those incoming body bags. If you go for that sort of mass-media-control conspiracy. That notwithstanding, nine months after we got into the war, Joseph Buotha, a 58-year-old former private investigator, ate several bottles of pills in his Ems apartment. He had just written a long telegram to Eleanor Roosevelt, and this note: “Please let me alone. Let fate take its course. Notify John G. Wenk to take care of my belongings. Please don’t hurt the dog. May God forgive you.”

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rupinoida1949. Joe Rupino, 50, was leaning over the railing on the second story balcony, shaking the dust from a rug, when the railing gave way and he fell fifteen feet to the pavement. Rupino received possible fractures of the right wrist, forearm and shoulder, and a trip to Georgia Street and a transfer to General Hospital.

There’s that railing! The railing of DEATH!

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Ok, the railing of death. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Of course we know how the story ends.  The Ems gets its demo permit pulled in July 1965.  By the summer of ’66 it’s just a pile where a truck can pull up, while erstwhile neighbor the Casa Alta is undergoing a similar fate:

After the last few posts—piles of brick, crenellated castles, Neo-Classical noodling—I am happy to say look at all that stucco (stucco that’s supposed to be there, not stucco that was thrown over shingle—although to be honest, it wasn’t thrown over adobe brick, either). The deep arcades, the rounded arches, the low-pitched red tile roofs…Mission Revival sure oozes picturesque. Were the square flat roof to call a California antecedent to mind, you might think of the 1894 Burlingame train station. flatroofThe Ems is “twin tower”, á la the Santa Barbara Mission, and of course there’s the contemporary tri-tower version a couple blocks over, the somewhat less Mission and more Moorish St. Regis.

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emsgoingThe Ems and the Palace, chunks missing from their plaster, give Bunker Hill the appearance of a city pockmarked by battle.

 

When it comes to architecture important to this part of the world, it can be argued that Spanish Colonial/Mission Revival is our own honest, expressive flowering, that’s crowd-pleasing but not childish, sometimes silly but never stupid, hard to notice sometimes and often hard to preserve.

It’s sad to lose Bunker Hill in general; we’re sorry to lose the Ems in particular.

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Early shots, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection; later b/w shots, William Reagh and Arnold Hylen Collections, California History Section, California State Library; color shots, Walker Evans, “439 Architectural Views for Time-Life Project ‘Doomed Architecture'”, metmuseum.org

The Kellogg/Palace/Casa Alta—317 South Olive

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May 22, 1930

William J. Stone, 38, was a Bostonian broker who’d moved to Los Angeles and into the Casa Alta Hotel and Apartments, 317 South Olive. In what may have partly been a case of Don’t Argue with a Janitor, or partly No-One Likes a Broker in 1930, Stone managed to get into a regrettable debate with the Casa Alta janitor, one Walter Dixon.

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The argument climaxed in Dixon taking a hatchet to Stone’s head and chasing him from the building. Stone wound up in Georgia Street Receiving Hospital with severe skull lacerations, but lived to broker—or, not—another day, and Dixon landed in the stir on suspicion of ADW.

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Here’s everything you didn’t know you needed to know about 317 S. Olive, aka The Kellogg, aka the Palace, aka the Casa Alta.

First of all, there are few photos of the place. Pity the poor Palace. It was too large and utilitarian to merit the lens of a Reagh or Hylen. Sure, everybody shot its neighbor, the Ems, and in nearly every Ems image, there’s the Great Wall of Alta looming in the background:

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(Don’t look at the Ems. Look at the building behind it. We’ll talk about the Ems next week, I promise.)

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Moreover, whenever one stood on the corner of Third and Olive, the temptation was apparently too great to turn one’s back on the Kellogg/Palace/Casa Alta and shoot the upper terminal of Angels Flight.

Before the advent of 317, it was 315 S. Olive, which was ground zero for the Burning Bushers.

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Then came the seven-story, 84-apartment Kellogg. It opens in April, 1908.

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Almost immediately it becomes the Palace Hotel and Apartments; the image at the top of this post, where it’s proudly emblazoned Palace Hotel, is from a card postmarked 1910.

Looking up Olive, ca. 1915: the most prominent, in ascending order, the Auditorium, the Trenton, the Fremont, and at top, the Palace:

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In 1926 the owner puts it out to lease—it is snatched up and becomes the Casa Alta (they have cleverly renamed this rather tall house "tall house," but in Spanish!).

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The 1929 City Directory:

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Here’s what we glean from this 1939 census report: the Casa, faced in brick, has 72 apartments (ok, so the Sanborn Map says 84) in its seven floors, and no business units. There’s no basement. It was built in 1906, though that doesn’t exactly jive with its April 08 opening date. A nice two-room unit will set you back $27.50 ($406.55 USD 2007), still pretty cheap, but the Hill had begun its downturn even by 1939. Slouching toward shabby though it may have been, nevertheless, that rent was for a furnished apartment, and included heat, water, and electricity.

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The 1956 City Directory:

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…quite a few folk in the 72 apartments had ‘phones. Two basement apartments, an office, eighteen tenants had the device. For Bunker Hill, that might have been some sort of record.

By 1965, there were fewer.

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And that’s the last time it appears in the directories.

Here it is as one of the lone survivors, in its final days, ca. 1967. Angels Flight hangs on until 1969.

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The Palace of Casa Kellogg, and its events of eventful eventfulness:

blinkyIn 1914, the Palace Hotel was where fancy ladies with big diamonds lived. Therefore, of course, sharps and cons knew where to prey. But Lillian Walker was ingrained with common sense and uncommon suspicions. Despite the big car with its monogrammed door, from which stepped the elegantly dressed man and woman who came to her apartment, despite their discourse about rare gems they’d purchased in the orient, and their winter home in Santa Barbara, Mrs. Walker just doesn’t trust people who blink rapidly when they talk. The man, who called himself Mullins, eagerly wrote her a fat check for a big diamond, but Mrs. Walker, seeing his blinky eye, said no. She took a $25 check for a small gem, and agreed to meet later to discuss further sales. She immediately verified her suspicions—the checks were false, and Lillian called the authorities—but the grifters got wise to the ambush set for them, and evaded being captured in the Palace.

andthentheresmaude1916 – you may remember the Percy Tugwell case, in which the proprietor of Hotel Clayton (a literal stone’s throw east at 310 Clay), Florence Cheney, testified. Florence Cheney’s daughter, Margaret Emery, had her deposition taken at her Palace Hotel sickbed.

Margaret testified that Maude Kennedy had been in a fine and jovial mood until very shortly before her death, lending weight to the argument that she committed suicide (Tugwell eventually served ten years in Quentin for manslaughter).

palacesuicideChristmas Day, 1918, Katherine Lewis quarreled with her husband Lester Lewis. She had been despondent ever since having departed Richmond, VA for Los Angeles; the best course of action, decided Katherine, was to eat bichloride of mercury tablets in their Palace apartment. The physicians at Receiving Hospital fixed her up just enough to try another Christmas.

 

We’re all aware that every so often, people sometimes just up and go missing. Dr. Harold E. Roy was a prominent New York dentist whose crushed canoe was found in the Hudson River (it was assumed he was torn asunder by a paddle steamer); his widow moved to Los Angeles and into the Palace Apartments. Then, a year later, in February 1922, a lowly workman at the Kansas City Union Station realized, hey, I’m a dead New York dentist. Where’s my wife? deadayearHe tracks her down through her family and shows up on the Palace doorstep, and she has to give back $10,000 ($122,730 USD2007) to Bankers Life Insurance Company.

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The Palace Hotel/Casa Alta was also the center of political activity for rebel rousers from Riga. Through the late 20s the papers were peppered with small notices about, for example, the precise method of sending packages to Latvia, and if you had further questions, contact the Latvian Consulate—317 S. Olive.

defied!Now, Ethel M. Rising had a thing or two to say about marrying into Baltic bliss. She divorced her husband, H. R. Rising, left him in the Casa Alta, and the State awarded her $50 a month from H. R. to support their two daughters. But with that dictate Mr. Rising did not comply. Ethel complained to the City Prosecutor, who hauled Rising into court, October 2, 1928. There declared Rising: “I have been appointed Vice-Consul for Latvia and your courts have no jurisdiction over me.” The court conferred with the District Attorney and Rising was, in fact, correct. One can only imagine he threw back his head and added a hearty Latvian bwa-ha-ha-ha!

wershallovercomeNovember 4, 1929. George McRoy, 31, was spraying the Casa Alta with insecticide—and nearly went to exterminator Elysium, but ended up at Georgia Street Receiving.

norelief“I’ve been taking it on the chin for five years. My chin won’t stand it any longer—” and, after penning that short note, and adding three $1 bills for his daughter in Vancouver, sixty-five year-old relief client Frank W. Blumie climbed to the top of the Casa Alta, December 1, 1935, and leapt to his death.

evictedChristmas cards to Mrs. Cecilia MacKinnon Moore are being marked returned to sender this holiday season. After being told by the Casa Alta landlord to vacate her quarters, she made her way on December 23, 1947 to the famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine and to the top of the Equitable Building, from where she made her own impression on Hollywood.

Two items were found in her pocketbook—a letter asking that her nephew be notified, and her eviction notice.

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thompsonandblackWhat was the relationship between Mrs. Beatrice Imogene Thompson, 23, and Sylvester Black, 34?

We may never know. All we know is that she was recently reconciled with her estranged husband, Willid Thompson. After two years she had returned to him, and for the past two weeks she and he were in domestic bliss at 317 S. Olive. That was, until, April 16, 1948.

Beatrice and Black knew each other from their place of employ, she a waitress, he a cook, at a downtown restaurant.

hamicideThe pair boarded an LA Transit Lines car at 11th and Broadway, and for a while argued in low tones. She was against the window, sobbing, and muttering “Leave me alone, please leave me alone.” When she rose to leave at 4th and Broadway, Black pushed her back in the seat and shot her four times. Also on the car was James F. Patrick, Special Officer, Metro Division, who pulled his piece and handcuffed Black at gunpoint, during which Black pleaded “Shoot me, please shoot me.”

The Thompson killing by Black, who was black, gets surprisingly little press. Perhaps the concept that this interracial killing was presaged by an interracial love affair meant that propriety demanded ignorance.

 

explodotheboilerAs mentioned above, the Kellogg/Palace/Casa Alta had its relationship with the Central/Clayton/Lorraine via the mother/daughter team in the 1916 Percy Tugwell trial. The two hotels also have cranky boilers. The Central tried to blow itself up in November 1953; the year before, in November 1952, the Casa Alta boiler felt the hands of Frank Dauterman, 43, tinkering within its works. So the boiler blew itself up, failing to kill Dauterman or take down the Alta, but sending Dauterman to Georgia Street with second and third degree burns to his head, chest and arms.

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A month later, December 20, 1952, residents heard screams from the apartment of Willie Kohl, 79. His apartment was aflame; he was found on the floor near the bed, and died en route to Georgia Street.

Kohl’s conflagration is the Casa Alta’s final appearance in the Times. The remaining tenants are relocated in the late 60s and it soon becomes a tall pile of brick.

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And atop the old site, the 1990 Omni Hotel, in which one can sense a vague hint of the old Alta. Vaguely.

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Washington hatchet from here; bloody hatchet from Hatchet; Palace postcard, author; 1910 Ems, Los Angeles Public Library; 1960 Ems, Metropolitan Museum of Art; view up Olive, USC Libraries Digital Archives; census card, USC Libraries Digital Archives; Casa Alta with Angels Flight, Los Angeles Public Library. Bottom image you remember from Subject: Narcotics.

The Old Switcheroo

May 6, 1915. Mr. H. J. Robinson, of 210 South Flower, met long-time acquaintance Ernest Lightfoot at another house Robinson owned at 121 South Flower. While the two were inspecting 121—Lightfoot had proposed Robinson trade him the house for some land in the Imperial Valley—Lightfoot slugged the elderly Robinson, knocking him unconscious.

Robinson recovered consciousness enough to feel someone tugging at his diamond ring—which he’d never been able to get off himself, though Lightfoot was able to do enough of a number on Robinson’s finger to effect removal.

While Robinson recovered in Westlake Hospital, suffering contusions of the head and a concussion of the brain (and a bruised finger), Lightfoot was picked up by detectives. Turns out this Lightfoot was the same charmer who in 1910 was charged with rape and given five years probation, and who in 1914 was arrested for child abandonment.

…210 South Flower?1922Stan

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From the collective neuron firings of OBH readership comes the query where have I heard that before?

 

Why, you read about that just the other day, in Miss Joan’s wonderful tale of the Fry Cook Killa.

Yes, 210 South Flower, which we know as the Stanley Apartments, as pictured here and here.

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jimandbunkerIn November 1979, the Times ran a piece about Angelus Plaza, Bunker Hill’s subsidized housing project for seniors. For the article they dug up one of the original uprooted persons, a Jim Dorr, 73, who’d been sent a notice by the CRA to vacate the Stanley Apartments on November 15, 1965. He’s glad he saved those displacement papers all these years: HUD will give him priority in the otherwise random lottery.

Sez Jim:

“I’ve been around Bunker Hill off and on now for forty or fifty years. They say it was nice once. But they let it run down for years. The Stanley was a very old place, well kept, but they didn’t spend much money on it.”

(Just for the record, despite what it says in the caption at right, the Bunker Hill Towers are not on the spot of the Stanley. The Stanley is at the red hatched box below; Dorr’s standing at the blue dot.)

 

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Looking down 2nd toward Hope. (Needless to say, Bunker Hill Avenue has removed itself from the equation.)  (But then, so has pretty much everything else.)

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The Auditorium/San Carlos Hotel — NW Corner of Fifth and Olive

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Dodge City. Tombstone. The OK Corral.  Wyatt Earp will also be remembered as a guy who ran a piece of two-bit flimflam on Bunco Hill. And got popped for it—but then, this was no 1880s gambling saloon. This was the grandest new hotel in Taft-era Los Angeles. Perhaps Earp was a little out of his element.

After the turn of the century, Earp was based out of Los Angeles, trying his hand at the kind of gambling grown-ups do—oil exploration, mining ventures, real estate—with considerable less success than he’d had at the card table. Occasionally he’d work with LAPD on outside-jurisdiction work, like chasing fugitives into Mexico, but inveterate gambler Earp’s core motivation remained gambling. This would on occasion put lawman Earp on the wrong side of the straight and narrow—e.g., his refereeing of the Fitzsimmons-Sharkey boxing match of ’96, generally regarded to be fixed. And when Earp and his con-rades would set up their fleece outfit, where else would they go but that anchor of Bunker Hill, the brand-new Auditorium Hotel?

petersonRealEstateheadlineSharperCallsCops

The Auditorium had been open a scant six months when on July 21, 1911, a J. Y. Peterson sat down for game of faro with three sharpers from San Francisco—W. W. Stap, Waller Scott, and E. Dunn. But all would not go as planned.

Seems that Peterson—a real estate agent with an office at 407 Stimson Building—got hinkey at the trio’s far-out tale that they were sore at their SF syndicate, and wanted to stiff their own backers by rigging the game to let Peterson win big. Peterson would thus play the rigged game—pinpricked odd cards, the dealer placing a finger on the table when an even card was to show—in front of others, and make a hefty profit on the $2,500 ($54,985 USD2007) he’d invest at the outset in chips. Realizing he had nothing to lose except his roll, he called in the coppers.

Stap, Scott, and card-dealer Dunn engaged club rooms 425-426 at the Auditorium, installed their faro bank outfit and all kindred paraphernalia, and were ready to get down to the business of swindling Peterson—who was further tipped off to that fishy smell in Denmark as there were no other players present—when Johnny Law busted in.

Down at the station-house, the W. W. Stap who inveigled Peterson into buy into a fixed bank game turned out to be none other than Wyatt Earp. Released from City Jail on $500 bond, Earp’s explanation was that it was purely accidental that he should be there during the raid. The police, in their infinite wisdom, elected to bust into the room before any gambling actually begun, which sank the conspiracy to defraud charge; the courts couldn’t make a vagrancy charge stick, either.

itJustHappenedBuncoExplanationIn the end, the City Prosecutor decided there wasn’t enough evidence against Earp. Waller Scott pleaded guilty and demanded a jury trial, but the City Prosecutor “didn’t have the time” to take it up and let the whole thing drop. Dunn, aka Harry Dean, pleaded guilty and was given a six month sentence, suspended, on condition that he leave the city. And so Wyatt Earp went on his six-shooterin’ way: he hung around Hollywood and hit up William S. Hart to publicize his life. That never happened, ended up dying down on 17th Street, and was buried in a Jewish cemetery in 1929.

Finest New Hotel in Modern Christendom

“It will command a view of perennial green, unsurpassed in the heart of any great city!”

What was this this hotbed of vice, the Auditorium Hotel? Only the finest new hotel in Christendom, mister. (“It will command a view of perennial green, unsurpassed in the heart of any great city!”)

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It all began with the northwest corner of Fifth and Olive, facing Central Park. (I know, the purist in you wants to object that we’re not technically on Bunker Hill. Well, think of the Auditorium Hotel as our landmark edge to the south. The Jaffa Gate, if you will. Angels Flight is the Dung Gate and we’ll call the Monarch Hotel Damascus Gate while we’re at it. Naturally you’re continuing to argue that the Edison Building makes a better Jaffa Gate than the Auditorium Hotel. Well, you would say that.)

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Auditorium architect Otto Neher, with partner Chauncey Fitch Skilling, produced the New Auditorium Hotel, designed in what the papers for lack of a better term called the “Modern Classic” style. It was 60×162’, faced with light-colored granite, the lobbies lavished in marble, mahogany and mosaic tile. The six floors of 150 rooms are paneled in birch.
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A look up Olive—the three biggest buildings behind the Auditorium are the Trenton, the Fremont, and the Palace Hotel:

viewUpOliveAuditorium

The Auditorium is leased by Bernard Frank Green and his mother, Mrs. Mary Sells Green; in 1919 M. Drake Perry takes over the lease and buys the hotel from R. D. Wade in 1921. He puts in a grill room and makes another $100,000 in improvements. But the shock of the Biltmore Hotel being built on the opposite corner apparently killed Perry, and Probate Court sold the Auditorium Hotel to George Roos.

(The Biltmore to the left; the 1924 Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company Mutual Exchange is under construction. The Deaconess/Clara Barton Hospital between the Methodist church and the new telephone building doesn’t have many days left before conversion to an auto park.)5thOliveRemodel

Roos (vintage clothing collectors out there certainly know the Roos Bros. label—George was one of those Rooses) eventually sells to Charles Harris, who held the lease and ran the hotel through the 20s.

It’s an exciting time: everyone’s abuzz about the sale of the California Club at Fifth and Hill to the Title Guarantee and Trust Company, and the forthcoming home of California Edison at Fifth and Grand. Harris refurnishes 100 rooms and renames the Auditorium the San Carlos in January 1929. Why? Because at that point he was spending most of his time in Phoenix, directing the opening of his mighty San Carlos there. Just as there were once matching Auditoria, there were now Sister San Carloses. Charles Harris in 1931 departs the Phoenix San Carlos for yet his third San Carlos, this one in Yuma. He eventually sells his Los Angeles SC in toto to G. G. Joyce, owner of the Hazlewood restaurant chain in Portland.

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Here, in this mid-30s image, check out the San Carlos neon blade affixed to the wedding cake that is the former Auditorium:

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The San Carlos then went through a streamlining much in the way the Auditorium did:

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Now we all know that the redoubtable Claud Beelman was the architect-at-helm for the 1938 Philharmonic Auditorium redesign. This author is yet to discover when (and by whom) the San Carlos had its cleanlining:

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The San Carlos made its way into the Modern Age, even acquiring a 1955 Armet and Davis Googies:

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…so what became of our Jaffa Gate? Unlike most of Bunker Hill, it made it all the way through the mid-1980s. Here, you could hang at Googies and get a room at the Carlos to boot, ca. 1986; that’s the Biltmore Tower going up in the background:

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(But first, a map, so as to explicate the many addresses of the Auditorium/San Carlos.)

baistMapSanCarlos

bookieRaidsWilliam Friedland was a cigar store clerk at one of the San Carlos’s sidewalk shops. At least he was until February of 1939, when he got popped for making book therein. The establishment at 513 West Fifth had been raided many times for horserace betting, and in November 1940 Friedland had to go before the LA County Grand Jury to dish the dirt on a crooked horserace racket. He was grilled by none other than Jerry Gielsler, chairman of the Horse Racing Board, who disclosed the racing scandal. Swirled into the mix of our tobaccoshop/bookstore at the San Carlos were bribe-taking jockeys and horse owners, as well as local sharpies Benny Chapman, I. W. Kivel, aka Doc Kebo; Bernard Einstoss, alias Barney Mooney; and Saul “Sonny” Greenberg. Mooney and Kebo gave horse owner Irving Sangbusch (alias James J. Murphy) over $20,000 to bribe jockeys at Hollywood Park in 1939; by the end of 1940 the take was up to $180,000 on a single race.

witnessWilliam

disclosedJuryThe jury heard testimony from a Clay Selby, manager of the Biltmore Garage, adjacent to the San Carlos. He asserted that the clicking of chips and rattle of dice could be heard from 511 West Fifth as early as 1925 (he remembered the date because that was about the time habitué-of-the-place Eddie Eagen was shot there in a holdup). Selby said that when 513 was in operation, he could hear loud-speakers announcing race results in the garage. When asked if it was loud enough for a policeman on the street to hear it: “Oh,” said Selby, “they all knew about it.”

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Things got even saucier when the horse trainer for Don Ameche and Chester “Lum” Lauck testified that he was approached by Bernard Mooney, and that Mooney wanted to fix Ameche’s horses to lose races. Apparently Mooney enlisted his pal George Raft to have a friendly discussion with Ameche about the subject.

Of five defendants, only Bernard Mooney got nicked—for contributing the delinquency of minors. Minor jockeys, which legally should cancel itself out. Some $1,000 fines were assessed, but then, that’s what these fellows spent on shoes in a month. Sure, the Black Socks made finageling baseball illegal, but what was so wrong with a little racetrack gratuity? Giesler went all nuts afterward and called for laws protecting boxing, football, wrestling…wrestling has, for example, been unhindered by money and scripting ever since. (One may read more about the scandal here.)

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Let’s stay on the subject of crime.

The Auditorium wasn’t open six months before the help developed sticky fingers; in July 1911 bellboy Raymond Perry was nabbed in his hotel down on Grand between 5th and 6th, secreting stolen diamonds in his socks.

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In 1919 Harry Royse decided to give up the life of a minister. The life of a Methodist clergyman—which he’d led for ten years—lost its kick apparently, so he spent most of that ’19 checking into hotels and burglarizing the stores therein, and sending ill-gotten gains to his new lady-friend up in San Francisco.

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Royse was finally nabbed in the act with his fifteen-year-old nephew in tow, pilfering typewriters from the Auditorium’s shop on the corner of Fifth and Olive. He was given one to fourteen at Q; the nephew went to juvenile hall, and the gal up north got no more pretty things.

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The early morning of Dec 21, 1924 saw a the arrival of the “variety bandits.” Two men hit the Moon Drug Store at 3526 West Washington, forcing the soda clerk into the closet and making off with $200; they hit the Barnett Drug Store at 3723 South Vermont, where they locked up two women and emptied the register of $75 (during which time a customer entered; one of the bandits took off his cap and waited on the gent, selling him a magazine and pocketing the proceeds); they hit the Zenith Drug Store at 4929 Moneta, and made off with $60; and when they then hit Harry Spooner’s drug store at 4493 Beverly Blvd, they got $30 and eight pints of whiskey. Maybe it was the whiskey. Maybe it was getting late. Maybe it was just time for their luck to change. Because things didn’t go so well at the Auditorium Hotel.

Just before dawn, these two heavily armed gents muscled night clerk J. C. Evans into the back to open the safe. Though threatened with instant death, Evans claimed he didn’t have the combination. As the two holdup men argued, Evans slipped away, and the bandits took right after him. Unfortunately for them, Evans had a good knowledge of the many doorways and halls of the lower floor, and got a good lead on them, long enough to turn, produce his own hand cannon, and open fire. The robbers, one of them apparently hit, had to make it out of the hotel in a mad dash and into their touring car and speed away into the first morning light, never to be heard from again.

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August 14, 1927 was a red-letter day for crime in Los Angeles: armed men stole $2,000 in cash and jewelry, and a $1,500 car, from a auto dealership at 1355 South Main; two men were beaten and robbed by a gang of thugs at West Tenth St. near Georgia; two men in an automobile drove up alongside—a reverend, no less—Rev. Joseph Curran at Eightieth and Moneta, and robbed him without even getting out of their car.

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Lastly, later that night, three gunmen showed up at the auto rental concern in the Auditorium Hotel to relieve manager D. C. Huff of $85 ($1,007 USD2007).

Reprobate gaming came back into fashion at the San Carlos in 1948…in the form of pinball. In March of 1948 nine men were arrested by the administrative vice squad for owning these marble contraptions, in flagrant violation of the City’s antipinball ordinance. Asst. City Atty. Donald Redwine, however, doubts the arrests should have been made until someone comes up with a “clear-cut decision” on the legality of these newfangled games. Of course, pinball isn’t exactly new, but if there’s one thing 1947 gave us it’s a pinball machine that (distributors claim) is a “game of science and skill.” That notwithstanding, one LaVerne Murphy is cooling his heels in the tank after vice squad raiders came down on his newfangled “flippered” machine in the San Carlos. (Even if they are just games of “science and skill,” you still can’t own one without a permit.)

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Let’s move on from crime to death and despair!

carbolicAcidIn June of 1914, Mrs. H. G. Purcell, 50, a woman of wealth and taste, had come from Chicago to buy a lot and build a home in sunny Los Angeles. For two years she lived in the Auditorium Hotel, well-liked and highly sought after for social and cultural gatherings. And yet, her father having died of cancer, she believed, rightly or wrongly, that it was going to get her too, and drank a phial of carbolic acid in her room.

February 1940, insurance man Jesse Edward Patty, 47, left his home at 1227 S. Plymouth Blvd. and checked into the San Carlos with murderous intent. Self-murderous. Several letters to his wife and friends later, he took poison. insuranceSalesman

L. D. Roberts, a 50-year-old lumber man, left his home at 7024 Mission Place in Huntington Park, July 1942, to check into the San Carlos. Roberts had problems, but brought with him a traditional problem-solver, the .32 automatic.lumber

manWifeJoe Guiterrez, 45, lived at the San Carlos. He’d been separated from his wife Rafaela Uriarte Guiterrez, 46, for two years. It was Sept. 3, 1941, and Joe had had enough of the San Carlos. He wanted to come home to their house at 1314 Sunset Blvd. He wanted a reconciliation. Always bring a gun to a reconciliation.

Rafaela’s kids from a previous marriage were home—Rosie, 24, Lydia, 20, Mario, 16, and Carmen Uriarte, 14. Mom and “dad” hadn’t been talking long when they heard the shot. Joe came out firing, the girls fled, Carmen took one through the knee and Lydia through the shoulder before Joe was tackled by Mario. Gutierrez shoved the gun into Mario’s side and pulled the trigger, but the gun was empty. Mario kicked dad out the back door. Gutierrez reloaded his .25, and gave himself the same treatment he gave mom: one to the head.

And lest we forget “Miss Dale Erwin, 22, of Trenton, NJ” who checked into the San Carlos in August of 1946 and promptly leapt—or fell—from her window. As she landed in a second-floor courtyard, and there were plenty of taller hotels around, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt.fifthFlorr

establishingShotLet’s go back in time a bit and take a look at some of the folks who make the Auditorium so special.

One is Frederick Jordan, vice-president of the Entomological Society of England. The esteemed zoologist, whose soul is one with butterflies and moths and whose body is dedicated to the netting of terebrant hymenopterae—those that fly, of course—is a welcome additon to the Auditorium. But not as a guest. He’s the night porterbushel.

Seems his English doctor told him to get some sun, and not work too hard. Despite the lateness of the season—October, 1911—Jordan found Los Angeles choked with butterflies, especially the Spring Beauty, the Holly Blue, the Zebra Swallowtail, the Checkered Skipper, the Brown Argus, the Clifden Nonpareil, the Tortoiseshell, the Mother Shipton and the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary. That’s great Jordan, now get back to work.

oldFriendsIn the vein of any grand hotel (or, say, Grand Hotel), the Auditorium lobby was always full of great excitement, chance meetings, tearful partings, tearful reunions. Such was the case when Dr. D. A. Gildersleeve of Richmond was in town for a 1911 AMA conference to deliver the stirring paper “Hook-worm and What Has Been Done In the South Toward Its Eradication” when he was approached by none other than “Uncle Joe,” who had been residing on East Ninth St. for some years. Joe, it seems, had been a Gilderslave, childhood playmate of the good doctor’s, had been Gildersleeve’s servant in battle in all the campaigns of Lee, but had ended up “disenfranchised” after The War. Joe stayed with Gildersleeve for some years but eventually went up North; and now, some thirty-five years later, they were reunited by chance in the Auditorium. An hour of gossip followed between the two in the big chairs; when the doctor bade the older man farewell he was observed slipping him what appeared to be a roll of banknotes. In describing the meeting, the Times writer showed his considerable cultural acuity—or vacuity of cultural sensitivity—in any event, I’m not going to transcribe it, but will here attach a clip of the encounter between what the Times describes as the “shambling darky” and what I imagine as a Harland Sanders/Maurice Bessinger-looking old ofay:

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Yep, that’s what it says.

Not all sightings at the Auditorium are happy ones. Leo Julofsky was a messenger for E. D. Levinson & Co., 52 Broadway, New York. He was walking down the street one day—September 19, 1919—with another messenger and $330,000 in Liberty bonds. On their way to Mabon & Co., 45 Wall St., Julofsky handed his satchel over to the other messenger to go in and wash his hands at 71 Broadway. The other messenger waited…and waited…and opened the satchel. It was empty. Julofsky, and $141,000 ($1,676,761 USD2007) were gone.nabbed

juloskyJulofsky rented an apartement on East 38th, just off Madison Ave. for a month, and then headed west. He met an ex-policeman named John J. Stoney in a Detroit YMCA and they began to travel together. (In answer to a question about girls, he was adamant that no girls were mixed up in the plot whatsoever. Make of that what you will.) Julofsky and Stoney were shacked up together at the Auditorium when Julofsky was nabbed in the lobby on December 27. “I don’t know why I did it,” said the son of a retired cloak and suit maker, “no girls were mixed up in it and no one is to blame but myself.” He was given three years and change in Sing Sing. He won’t be alone, though, as his brother Milton and a bond dealer from the Bronx named Arthur Miller were also sent up for criminally receiving his bonds.

The Lobby of Convergence:

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The Auditorium Hotel features itself in a roundabout way as a minor footnote in the famous 1922 Klan raid of Volstead-violating Mexicans in Inglewood, wherein a police shootout ended up in the cops shooting—guess what!—three of their own, one fatally (the town constable), discovered only when the hoods were opened.

keagleIn the depths of the lengthy trial, a stylishly dressed woman began to moan loudly, and when the bailiffs attempted to escort her out, she twisted and fought and screamed “Help! Help! Help! Let me go, I want to see a Kleagle, I want to see a Kleagle!” in tones so loud it brought people out from several floors above and below. She was carried out fighting and taken to the psychopathic ward for observation. Found in her handbag? Her Auditorium Hotel room key. (FYI, the Kleagle there at the time was Nathan A. Baker, then a deputy sheriff for Los Angeles County.)feegle

And for the last time, that’s Kleagle, not Fleegle.

fairyTaleFebruary 7, 1923. P. C. Steckel, a boilermaker, and prominent in organized-labor society, was in court today, telling the judge a tearful story all about how he’d been awarded the Carnegie medal of honor for rescuing some child from an oncoming train. The judge took this in, told Steckel that Scheherazade had nothing on him, but that it had precious little to do with violating the Miller-Jones narcotic law. Seems Steckel sold four ounces of morphine to a narcotics enforcement officer at the Auditorium Hotel. Nevertheless, Judge Bledsoe said that Steckel was due some consideration for possession of the medal, and gave him only two years at McNeill Island instead of the customary four.

Then there was the matter of Charles Harris, whom you remember as owner-operator of the Auditorium in the 20s and orchestrated its change into the San Carlos, tossing Rev. George Chalmers Richmond out on his ear. Harris entered Richmond’s chamber on January 3, 1923, removed the pastor’s clothes and by force of threats kept him from his room. Richmond alleged his good reputation had been damaged and sued for $15,000. We don’t know what raised Harris’s ire, though we can speculate: Richmond was a defrocked Episcopal rector, Bolsheviki refusenik and IWW nogoodnik, and mortal enemy of Methodist “Fighting Bob” Shuler. The Auditorium did have Methodists as neighbors, after all. (Why then he elected to rename the place San Carlos, which would vaguely reference some guy named Charles canonized by Papists, is beyond me.)sues

decipherThe Auditorium was also an exhibition hall, of sorts. It was where you’d go in 1925 if you wanted to see, on display, Frank Prevost’s decoding machine. Weighing only half a pound, but with a limitless capacity for sending mechanically coded messages, it represents twelve years of study and effort. See it at the Auditorium before it’s snapped up forever by the War Department!

Also, go visit Bill Bonelli at his (1932) HQ in the San Carlos, where he’ll enlist you in his cause against snooperism:

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So what became of this wonderland of wonders, you ask?

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The San Carlos crept her way into the Future, turning her back on the demolition of Bunker Hill behind.

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Then, in 1983, David Houck, president of Auditorium Management Co., which purchased the Philharmonic from Temple Baptist, announced demolition to make way for a new office building, hotel and residential condominiums. (Interesting management style, and it remains a parking lot.) Physicians Pharmacy, which opened in the Auditorium Office Bldng. in 1906, moved its vast pharmacy museum—endless Edwardian prescription books, grinders and corkers, bottles full of arcane lotions and potions—across Olive to the San Carlos. That was a bad move: the San Carlos’s days were numbered.

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What’s there to tell? Somewhere around 1987 the corner was cleared. Not a word in the papers to mark its passing. Nobody cried for First German Methodist, either.

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The Southern California Gas Company thought their headquarters would be nifty there.

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Richard Keating of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill thought it would be cool to design the top to look like a blue flame. Which it sort of does. At least you can eat at their Blue Flame cafeteria.

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Why its crown does not light up blue at night is a mystery to all.

In any event, it is finished in 1991.

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That then is the tale of the Auditorium/San Carlos Hotel.

Walk in the Gas Co. tower sometime and ask for the Wyatt Earp suite, you’re late for the faro game.

Images courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection, USC Digital Archives, and California State Library; postcards, author, except Auditorium lobby, for which I owe my usual debt to Brent C. Dickerson; sleek shots of the Gas Co. Tower from the sleek e-brochure found here; tower under construction photo from the skyscraperpage forum; and the Earp images are just all over the place.

2nd & Hill Block Round-Up

hillfromthezepIn that our post about the earth carvings (the Cuscans have nothing on us) at Second and Hill garnered some interest, I thought it worthwhile to detail salient features and goings-on sundry of other buildings on the block.

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One notable structure looming over Hill was the El Moro. The Sanborn Maps in the Dirt Patch post show us the house at 109 South Hill was built between 1888 and 1894. This was the home of prominent Los Angeles druggist, and President of Western Wholesale Drug Company, Howard M. Sale, who had arrived from Pueblo, Colorado in 1886. Mr. and Mrs. Sale built Castle Crag in 1888 but decided Bunker Hill was the proper place to be, so sold out in ’89 to build 109 South Hill. This house on the bluff was a center of Society for some years before Mr. and Mrs. Sale decided to turn it into a hotel in 1901 (moving into a larger house at Ninth and Union in 1902).

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With the Sale’s three-story addition to the now-named El Moro, the structure extended back 133 feet and included a total of thirty-five rooms.
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The El Moro’s location, some 150’ above the sidewalk, made firefighting a little tricky, which aided in a near-total loss of the front portion of the mansion in January 1914. There were thousands of spectators at the scene, and whether they turned out for the dramatic blaze or the sight of sixty some-odd guests in an early-morning state of deshabille is a matter of conjecture.

andatowelunderthedoorNot a lot of Postwar noirisme at the El Moro, if you’re after that sort of thing. Mrs. Mollie Lahiff, 50, died of (what the papers termed) accidental asphyxiation after a gas heater used up all the oxygen in her tightly sealed room, February 26, 1953. Should you be so inclined, consider how drafty these places tend to be. Tightly sealed takes some doing. Just saying.

And now, for your edification and delectation, the unhappy end of a streetcar just below the El Moro, 1937.

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132/134 South Olive is one of the oldest stuctures on the block, dating to before ’88. Here’s a shot of the H-shaped building, next to our old pal, the Argyle.

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January 24, 1895. Mrs. Josie McGinn, a widow of 28 with a well-grown girl of 10, was sitting with her stepsister Grace in their home at 134 (in the image above, the one on the right), and Josie mentioned she was feeling poorly. Grace suggested a walk. At the foot of the terrace steps on Broadway Josie complained of feeling weak, but they continued down Franklin nonetheless. When they hit New High Street, Josie collapsed altogether. When asked what her trouble was, Josie replied, “I have taken laudanum.” She was taken to Receiving Hospital, where her life was saved, and there explained that while she was fixing her hair at the bureau in preparation for the walk downtown, there sat her glycerine and laudanum—intended for her ear condition—and in a moment of impulsive despair drank the laudanum. Such is the torment of modernity.

sneaks!A favorite phrase of Edwardian Angeles is “sneak thief,” and Bunker Hill sneak thieves were forever securing some silver coinage here and a jeweled stick-pin there; on August 17, 1903, for example, during Mrs. H. Ware’s temporary absence from 132, a sneak thief entered and stole $10 and a gold watch (a similar burglary occurred that same day, where at 104 S. Olive a room occupied by Mrs. Case was ransacked and liberated of $20).

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Mrs. Frances Valiente, about 25, lived in 132 with her two boys, Frankie, about 2, and a one year-old infant, unnamed. Frances went out one Friday night in April of 1951 and didn’t elect to return. Frank went to Juvie and the infant to the nursery at General.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

homealoneisfunnyJuly 30, 1954. Jesus Chaffino is a 2 year-old with a talent for opening doors. Apparently his mother, Maria Avila, didn’t tell her sister-in-law that when she left her place at 121 North Hope and dropped of the Jesus at 132 S. Olive. He was turned over to juvenile officers when he was found wandering near First and Olive at five a.m.

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Let’s cast an eye on the buildings around the block from the Argyle down Second (the $1.50/day and weekly rates on your left is the Northern):

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In a shot obiviously taken from the Northern, we have the Argyle on our left, 425 West Second center, and 421/419 West Second on the right. (Olive Street stretches away north, left; the Moore Cliff with El Moro behind are upper right; the pile of dirt in back is where they’d put the court house.)

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sneakersSneak thiefs! enter 425 in 1902 and make off with a stand cover and a fine wall picture. Is nothing sacred? The answer is no. Not to the sneak thief.

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Harry Wilson was an actor who decided to take up newspaper work. He was assigned to the police news, was as such often exposed to suicides down at Receiving Hospital. This, it is thought, had a disturbing, destabilizing influence on his mind; Harry left a note for his wife on what he thought was going to be the last day of his life, October 8, 1904, and with that took the gas-pipe in their apartment in 425. He survived, and with luck returned to neither tread board nor sling ink.

shotfailsJuly 16, 1907. A burglar was detected working the window at Mrs. M. M. Clay’s apartment house, 425, by her daughter, Clara Clay. She exclaimed under her breath to a Mr. Charles See, who kept the apartment above hers, “There’s a man trying my window.”

So See fetched his revolver and leaned out the upper story and commanded the man to hold up his hands. With a great bound the man leapt over a tall fence some four feet away, while See fired and missed. The burglar, well-dressed and polite as could be, broke through the back screen door at the adjoining apartment house at 421, strode lightly through the hall; he tipped his hat to a young lady in the hall and she replied “Good evening.” He stepped out on to the front porch where several roomers were sitting. He bade them all a good evening and, tipping his hat, walked slowly down the street. Moments later it was Charles See, feverish and gun-waving, who threw terror into the hearts of the tenants.

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July 22, 1924. Roy Shellington called 425 home, or at least he did until Federal prohibition officers noticed he was overly cautious in handling his suitcase while little doggies nipped at his heels. Shellington bunked in the hoosegow after the Feds found twelve bottles of Scotch inside, verboten in Volstead America.

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Alex Markovich, 33, lived at 425, but had the misfortune of making his way down to Third and Spring on December 28, 1953. There he was jumped and beaten by hoodlums Alphonso Ruiz, Ramon Zaavedra, Gilbert Garcia, and…Mrs. Eleanor Talkington. Luckily, while Markovich was in critical condition at General with a basal skull fracture, the perps were charged with suspicion of robbery and ADW after having been ID’d by eyewitnesses, who were none other than Joaquin Aquilar Robles, former Police Chief of Tijuana, and Rafael Estrada, ex-Mayor of Ensenada.

Not much to tell about 421/419, other than recommending one leap upon well-dressed gents tipping their hats with a “good evening,” as they’re bound to be window-pryers from next door. Another piece of good advice is that once you’ve checked in, it’s best to never set foot outside again. Especially if you’re an elderly gentleman. On November 4, 1944, killercarMattie Mitchell, 70, departed his apartment at 421 and was run down by an LA Railway streetcar at Fifth and Hope. Joseph Erolet, a 77 year-old news vender ventured outside of 421 on May 23, 1946, and was clobbered by an auto at Brand and Wilson in Glendale.

And so concludes today’s report from this block, and the particular concavity that spawned the ongoing completist account of its whats and wherefores.

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Images courtesy the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection and the Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library

Zelda — 401 South Grand

SeeZelda!
Accursed rings! Hammer-mad Japanese! Arms-manufacturing Baronesses! Welcome to Zelda.

Somewhere in Los Angeles there’s a burglar who’s made off with more than he’s bargained for…a maharajah’s curse. Somebody stole into the Zelda Apartments in March of 1941 and there into the room of Mrs. F. S. Tintoff, making off with a 400 year-old ring that held two large stones, a ruby and an emerald, surrounded by small diamonds.

DeathCurse!

“It was given to me by my husband, a jeweler, who purchased it from a maharajah. The ring formerly adorned an East India princess, and was supposed to have been given a mysterious Oriental curse which would bring death to the person who stole it,” said Mrs. Tintoff. The burglar took other jewelry which with the ring had a value of $560 ($8,196 USD2007), and two other tenants in the apartment building reported similartly burgled jewelry losses to police, but nothing thereof with a curse upon’t. The Tintoff ring thus joins other bloodstained jewels of the East, like the Dehli Purple Sapphire, the stolen-from-the-Eye-of-Sita Hope Diamond and the similarly snatched Black Orlov. And that deadly ring of Valentino.

Did our housebreaker lose this cursed thing to the ages as he writhed in some forlorn torment somewhere? Were his last days exactly like this? Or perhaps the curse was purely legalistic.

What, or who, is Zelda? Zelda La Chat (née Keil) was born in 1870, arriving in Los Angeles some time in the 90s. She builds the eponymous Zelda, a modest bargeboard affair at the southwest corner of Fourth and Grand, here, about 1904:

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steamfitting1907…which suffices only until she can fashion a thirty-nine unit brick apartment complex in 1908. She lives therein until she dies of cerebral hemorrhage in 1926; she leaves an estate valued at $300,000 ($3,521,554 USD2007).

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ZeldaCloseUp

baronesstodustZelda wasn’t the only wealthy woman to die in the Zelda—Baroness Rosa von Zimmerman, who with her husband the Baron were second only to Krupps when to it came to weapons manufacturing for various Teutonic scraps, lived at the Zelda and died there, an alien enemy, in 1917, leaving Rosamond Castle, on fourteen acres, across from the Huntington Hotel; eleven acres in Beverly Hills; and thirty-four acres in the Palisades near Santa Monica; and about $2.5million in mortgages, bonds and securities. Nine year-old Beatrice Denton, to whom Baroness von Zimmerman was benefactress, was supposed to be a beneficiary of the estate, but the Baroness never got around to those formalities. Foundling Beatrice became once again an orphan and was likely returned to the asylum from which she was plucked.

assaultsuccessorYes, there’s never a lack of excitement at the Zelda. Take by example the May 1916 discharge of Zelda’s porter George “an erratic Japanese” Nakamoto. Having been sacked by La Chat, and replaced by one K. Kitagawa, Nakamoto saw fit to return to the Zelda to seek out his successor. There was Kitagawa, crouched low, tacking down oilcloth in a cubbyhole beneath a stairway; Nakamoto grabbed a riveting hammer and struck him repeatedly on the head, injuring his skull, and sending him to Receiving hospital in critical condition.

damestooAnd then there was the night of March 10, 1939, when vice squads in Los Angeles in Beverly Hills came down on bookmaking establishments; seventeen were arrested, including James Adams, 48; George Taylor, 24; James Roberts, 26; Mrs. Agnes Meyers, 36, and Yvonne Lucas, 21, whom Central Vice took offense to the making of book in an apartment at the Zelda. (Interestingly, across Hollywood and Beverly Hills, the pinched bookmakers more often than not had names like Murray Oxhorn and Morris Levine and Saul Abrams and Joseph Blumenthal; could our Zelda perchance have been a bit…restricted?)

Postwar Zelda was full of fun too. Joseph M. Marcelino, 21, was just another ex-Marine who worked in a box factory. When he got nabbed on October 4, 1950, while burglarizing an apartment in the Gordon at 618 West 4th, he copped to having set fire to the Zelda, aflame at that very moment. He admitted as well to torching another hotel at 322 South Spring. He was freed without bail pending a psychiatric examination. But come April, when he broke into a factory at 1013 Santa Barbara Ave. and stole company checks, which he made payable to himself and cashed, the police came knocking.
andforgeryMarcelino had also attempted to lift a safe and had lost part of his fingernail in the process—the cops found they had the perfect match.

But the winds of change blew foul in 1954. Sure, people waved their arms and preached the evils of gingerbread ornament and its relationship to tuberculosis, but when you came right down to it, The Hill impeded traffic flow. A new project, known as the 4th Street Cut, began that Summer, involving a 687-foot viaduct shooting eastward from the Harbor Freeway, carrying four lanes of one-way traffic above Figureora and Flower, then biting into the hill and passing beneath bridges at Hope and Grand before dipping down into the business district. Through the early 1950s there was much controversy over this plan—proponents of a tunnel argued that a cut would “hopelessly bisect” Bunker Hill. What they didn’t realize was that soon enough, there’d be no Bunker Hill to bisect.

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Fourth Street, in becoming a cut, and Grand, in becoming a bridge, meant one thing: the surrounding buildings would have to go. And so they did. The Zelda was razed in August of 1954:

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Seen being demo’d next to the Zelda is the Gordon at 618 West 4th (you remember, the place Marcelino was nabbed in in ’50); the Gordon, the Bronx at 624 and the La Belle at 630 West 4th were all torn down to make way for the Cut—a trio built by the sons of Dr. John C. Zahn.

All this brought a twinge of regret to Percy Howell, the veteran city appraiser who spent two years tramping the Hill, working out fair payments for displaced property owners. Howell remembered his young bachelor days on Bunker Hill back in 1909, when he moved into the Zelda, “batching it” with three other gay blades. “I never dreamed then,” said Howell, “that I would live to see the day when I condemned the Zelda for the city.”
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The 4th Street Cut opened May 1, 1956.

A new an improved 4th St., looking east ca. 1964, foundation excavation for the Union Bank in the foreground:

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Another shot of the viaduct (I know, why-a no chicken?) ca. 1973, during erection of Security Pacific Plaza.

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For twenty-five years after Zelda’s demolition, nothing could stem the march of progress:

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It has filled in now, to be fair.

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And so goes Zelda La Chat, her Zelda, and 4th Street, though all we have to show for the former glory of 401 South Grand is the pointy backside of 400 South Hope.

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Photographs courtesy USC Digital Archive

Livin’ it up at the Hotel Lincoln

Location: 209 South Hill

Date: July 1905

Hotel Lincoln

W.D. Montgomery and his stepdaughter, Mary Meister, arrived in Los Angeles during October 1904. W.D. had purchased the Hotel Lincoln, at 209 South Hill, with funds provided by his wife, Laura. She soon followed the pair to Bunker Hill, and the three took charge of the day to day running of the hotel. At first everything appeared to be going well for the new owners, and they seemed to be an average hard working family. Yet beneath the surface the household was filled with discord and secrets, and it would take only a few months before everything began to unravel in a very public way.

 

W.D. had never been a teetotaler, but once in Los Angeles he’d started drinking heavily. Maybe it was the stress of W.D.’s drinking, but Laura’s rheumatism began to flare up to the point where she became bedridden. Mary was in charge of Laura’s care, but after downing several whiskeys, neat, W.D. decided that he would take over. His bedside manner left everything to be desired. When Laura felt too unwell to eat her lunch, he told her that she would eat every morsel if he had to “cram it down her throat”. Not surprisingly, Laura’s appetite didn’t respond well to this threat, and in a fit of pique W.D. grabbed the lunch dishes and hurled them out of the window!

Laura tried to persuade W.D. to attend one of Francis Murphy’s temperance meetings and take a sobriety pledge. W.D. wanted nothing to do with Francis Murphy or sobriety, and in a fit of rage at his wife’s suggestion, he smacked her.

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Everyone who came into contact with the couple thought that W.D. was nothing better than drunken brute, particularly when in full view of several hotel guests he chased Laura through the hotel, then grabbed her by the throat and throttled her. Although W.D.’s drinking and behavior had certainly spiraled out of control, he may have had good reason for behaving so badly. He’d become convinced that Laura was being unfaithful and had started following her. He trailed her several times to an obvious assignation in Ocean Park. Later, at home, W.D. confronted Laura and she confessed her infidelity. After 13 years of marriage, the couple divorced.

 

By July 1905, Laura had run off with the railroad man with whom she had been having an affair. The hotel had been sold to Mrs. Belle McWilliams, and W.D. and Mary were running it while the deal was being finalized.

 

Mary Meister

Suddenly, Mary came forward with shocking allegations against W.D. She said that he had ruined her (early 1900s doublespeak for seduced), and that he had been going around town telling anyone who would listen that he was in love with her. One day at the corner of First and Broadway, W.D. began to shout at his stepdaughter, saying that if she turned her back on him he would kill her and then himself.

 

It was his downtown outburst that compelled Mary to have her stepfather arrested on a charge of insanity. The two appeared in court to try to settle the unholy domestic mess. Mary broke down on the witness stand and began to sob. All eyes were on her as she turned to W.D. and said “You have ruined my reputation, and now I don’t know what to do”. W.D. Montgomery looked astonished. “I didn’t do anything of the sort” he replied, “I would marry you tomorrow”. Then W.D. went on to shock the courtroom further by saying “I thank God that the railroad man ran away with my wife”, adding, “I didn’t love her and she knew it”.

 

By the time Mary and W.D. were finished testifying, the spectators were left wondering what exactly had been going on at the Hotel Lincoln, especially before Laura arrived to join W.D. and Mary in 1904. Could they have been having a relationship then? Was that the reason Laura had become involved with the railroad man? Mary was tight lipped, but wouldn’t deny that she and W.D. had been engaged to wed! Meanwhile, W.D. continued ranting and raving in court, and finally had to be taken to the County Hospital for observation.

 

With Mary embarrassed to be seen in public and W.D. babbling away in the County Hospital, the story maytangled web have ended there – but one more bizarre chapter remained to be written.

 

Someone contacted police, telling them that the reason W.D. Montgomery’s behavior had been so erratic was because he had been drugged by a person (or persons) who wished to gain control of his property! The former hotel owner had been deeply in debt when he sold the Lincoln to Belle McWilliams, and it was later learned that he had borrowed against furnishings that he didn’t own. Not one single bill was paid by the Lincoln during June, even though receipts showed that $1000 had been received from patrons, and that W.D. had obtained a loan of several hundred dollars.

Then, one night in early July, W.D. crept down to the safe and made a hasty $1100 withdrawal. He was discovered later in the gutter – drunk, disheveled and penniless. Shortly thereafter, bankruptcy proceedings would be instituted against him.

 

A bankruptcy hearing would be held, and the judge would hear varying accounts of the deal to purchase the Hotel Lincoln. According to Mrs. McWilliams, she’d been given a bill of sale by W.D. in the amount of $8000, but she would actually pay only $6900 for the hotel. That shady little sleight of hand was intended to defraud W.D.’s creditors to the tune of $1100. Belle told the court that she wasn’t wild about the plan, but she’d gone along with it because W.D. owed her money.

 

Sadly, there would be no further reports of W.D.’s colorful exploits in the Los Angeles Times.

A Masher Mashed

Location: 330 South Flower Street
Date: September 1, 1930

A young woman named Natalie residing at 1212 Wilshire Boulevard was menaced by a masher who followed her for several blocks in the early morning hours before finally succumbing to his urges and making a grab. Natalie defended herself, bashing her assailant over the head with a sack of grapes and then slashing his face with her keys. Hearing screams (it’s unclear who was screaming), neighbors called police, and at the above address they found Roy Roberts, 24, a transient, with bloody scratches all over his puss. He was arrested on suspicion, not of mashery, but of robbery. Perhaps he snatched the grapes?

Suicide Writ Large at Clay Central

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Before the Community Redevelopment Association swung its scythe across Bunker Hill, one building tried to do itself in. This structure was by all evidence a living, cursed thing, and like the House of Usher disappearing into the tarn, it acted to remove itself from this world. Shades of the Overlook Hotel—someone or something used the old exploding boiler trick to force this assembly of apartments from its supramortal coil.

I speak of the Hotel Central, aka the Clayton Apartments, aka the Lorraine Hotel. Change the names all you want, there’s something wrong at 310 Clay Street. Kim’s numerous posts about the place attest to that.

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The spot was a trouble magnet even before the hotel’s erection. Back when 310 was a double dwelling, it attracted kerchief-weilding lady-gagging burglars.

By 1910 the Hotel Lorraine stands on the site and Jerome Hite elects to shoot his wife in the neck.

Come 1914, proprietor-of-the-place Claude Mathewson—gets, what, tired of watching the walls bleed? listening to the screaming faces jutting from the washbasin mirror?—elects to pop two new holes into his lovely wife and one into his own head.

Shortly after, in that room where try as one might the blood just never quite washes out, a real estate titan is taken down for sordidness.

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A year later, the establishment, now named the Clayton, has become a veritable den of iniquity. The new proprietor is a Mrs. Florence Cheney. According to her, the property is owned by Leon Levy, “about whom no one concerned could give any information.”

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Mrs. Cheney shows up again as a witness in the 1916 Percy Tugwell trial; Percy robbed and murdered Senator’s-daughter Maud Kennedy, and while Mrs. Cheney asserted that Maud may have committed suicide because she was being threatened by boxer Louis “Cyclone Thompson” Astosky, her character and thus credibility were attacked mercilessly.

Leon Levy decides to get out of the 310 Clay business after changing its name again to the Hotel Central.

Things stay quiet at 310 Clay for the next couple decades or so…acts of ill fortune befall its residents elsewhere.
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In 1922, for example, Frank Macey, son of a wealthy Phoenix shoe dealer, dropped from sight for a week after staying in the Central. He ended up as a nameless bloody pulp in County Hospital, hovering in and out of consciousness, until at last identified as the prodigal Frank.

In 1923, Sander Serrano, 22 year-old graduate of USC, was playing pool at 155 East First when he was accused of jostling another player. For this he nearly lost his arm to his penknife-wielding opponent, who severed a slew of arteries and stabbed him in the throat.

A 1936 beer parlor fight at 121 South Main resulted in the stabbing of Hotel Central resident Walter Paine.

And so it goes, until the hotel could take no more, or had claimed enough souls, or something otherwise unknowable to mere man.

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Mid-day, November 27, 1953. O. B. Reeder, a 73 year-old retired printer, was bent over a table preparing Christmas gifts for mailing. Houses of Hell hating the Christmas season and all, the boiler exploded in rage, sending Reeder’s door across the room and into his back. Directly across the hall, from where resident Gus Poulas’ guardian angel had guided him elsewhere, the room was completely wrecked, all tumbled furniture and great cakes of plaster torn from the walls.

The boiler room itself was obliterated into a mass of twisted metal and piles of timber and concrete wall blocks. Plaster from walls and ceilings was concussed to floors throughout the hotel. The windows and doors in the first three floors were cracked or blown out by the explosion, which attracted a large lunchtime crowd of spectators to the Hill Street section of the Grand Central Market. (The back of the hotel towered over a Hill St. parking lot:)
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Making the incident all the eerier is owner/manager William Ogawa’s statement that while the boilers were under repair, he was certain that gas to the boiler room had been turned off when the boilers went out of order several days previous.

In any event, everything was rebuilt, doors rehung, windows reglazed. Less than a decade later the scythe swung and all that was 310 Clay was at the bottom of a landfill, the CRA accomplishing what the Lorraine/Clayton/Central couldn’t do itself.

But remember what I said about the spot being a trouble magnet even before the hotel’s erection? Is there some sort of Poltergeist-style burial-ground whatnot at work here? Flash forward a hundred years from our tale of the simple double residence.

310 Clay at lucky number 13:

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The site of 310 on the Ghost Street that is Clay:
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On that very spot. February 1, 2001. What spanner of the underworld was tossed into the heavenly works of a newly-located Angels Flight?

This is the ground zero of Clay Street. Clay Street, the street that had to be destroyed. The street whose very name—clay—symbolizes (via Nebuchadnezzar’s dream) the division of an empire, and the end of a kingdom.

Hotel Cental photographs courtesy Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library

Newpaper images from the Los Angeles Times