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.

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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.

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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.”  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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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

And last but not least…

Mystery House!

 

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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 http://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 http://www.akg-images.co.uk/_customer/london/mailout/1004/georgemann/

Life and Death Of and In the Astoria

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The Astoria Apartmentsthe advantages of the city’s tourist hotels with the quiet of the residence section. Plus, at no extra charge to you, grewsome murder.


The Astoria contains over 125 guest rooms, beautifully furnished. Many are en suite, with parlor, bedroom and bath, dining-room and kitchen. A number of single rooms are also provided, both with and without private bath. Among the attractive features of the Astoria is the beautiful view of the city to be obtained from practically every room of the building. A spacious office and lobby, a dainty ladies’ reception-room, and a dancing hall are some the features which have been provided by E. W. Smith, the owner of the building. These are handsomely decorated and furnished, and will undoubtedly serve to make the Astoria popular.

—December 17, 1905

 

Before Bunker Hill hit its cinematic skids, t’was the place of purloinery more aligned with the tony climes of Monte Carlo than El Monte: cat-burgling jewel thieves were at purloinerywork! In October of 1911, Astoria resident Mrs. W. F. Sapp returned to her room one afternoon to find…nothing amiss. But her mother, Mrs. W. W. Loomis, of the adjoining apartment, called attention to having heard her daughter next door at her writing desk while said daughter was supposed to be absent. They opened the locked writing desk…to behold…gasp! The chatelaine bag, lockets and bracelets and the like were gone, as was the ancestral family tin box (found later in the lavatory, a can opener found on the fifth floor above) once filled with gold watches, fobs, and diamond-set pieces, now scattered to the underworld of crooked, loupe-wearing bangle merchants.

But not all crimes at the Astoria were so quaint.
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Edna A. Worden lived in the Astoria. Forty-eight, New Hampshirite, kept to herself mostly, known around the place as a woman of culture and refinement. Kept the bookshelves of her one-bedroom in the Astoria lined with Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, Dickens, Byron, Poe, the Greek philosophers, and many a Bible. She made a meager wage as a WPA worker, and with the monthly $30 sent to her by her ex-husband back east, made a good life for her and her twelve year-old daughter Marguerite.

Marguerite, a student at Belmont Junior High School who, had she made it to Monday, was to have entered a Beverly Hills school for girls.

MargueriteWSunday, April 4, 1937. Little Marguerite made a habit of always coming down to the desk to borrow the Sunday paper. This morning she did not. A concerned John Riley, the elevator operator, put an ear to the Wordens’ door and ascertained a low moan; he summoned Astoria manager J. E. Harrigan, who, with his trusty stepladder, peered through the transom. After what he saw police arrived in short order and even hardened Detective Lieutenants Ledbetter, Bryan and Lopez, after kicking in the door, had to halt in their tracks at the horror that lay in wait.

Edna lay sprawled over a cot in an array of splatter, her head against the floor. Marguerite was on the bed, her head covered with a pillow, topped with a discarded brickbat, mortar glued to its sides, sticky with blood and gore. The room was cluttered, revealing a desperate struggle during their sexual assaults and skull shatterings. Edna’s purse was turned inside-out, otherwise, the room was unrifled—Marguerite’s mute witness rag doll, her ivory-bound prayer book with a shiny dime atop, her freshly washed and ironed blue gingham dress on a nail above the bed. The fates conspired to aid their attacker; on one side of the apartment was a storeroom, on the other, the apartment of old Harry Tutin, partially deaf.

downoliveThe Wordens’ attacker or attackers had climbed the Angels Flight stairs and forced entry through the kitchen window just below Olive Street. Shoes were removed before climbing in—traces of sock wool were removed from the plaster casts. (The feet, size eleven.) The assailant is almost certainly responsible for the March 2nd rape and brick-administered basal skull-smashing of Rose Valdez, 20, attacked while her year-old baby slept in a crib by her side.
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Bunker Hill was blanketed by the entire homicide squad assigned to all-night duty, with four squads of regular detectives and fifty men from Metro combing the City for suspicious Black Men—not exactly racial profiling, since it was a black man who ran from the scene of the attempted January 25 brick-attack on Mrs. H. W. Koll in Monte Sano hospital; the February 3 Barclay hotel room skull fracturing of Elizabeth Reis (again, leaving his brick behind); and the March 28 Zoe Damrell attack in her home at 1026 Ingraham, she left barely alive by a brick-bearing assailant who bore remarkable resemblance to the large black gentleman seen lurking by the Valdez house immediately before her murder.

Assorted Los Angeles sickos—alleged—were brought in for questioning, their faces and addresses plastered throughout the papers (doubtlessly tarnishing their lives forevermore) but all were cleared, not only through their alibis, but because the Worden killer had the bad fortune of leaving something else behind besides his brickbat: before putting on his gloves, he moved a milk bottle. Fingerprint central.

So if the killer skipped town, there’s a good chance he could have, would have never been caught. But a certain Robert Nixon just had to kill women. With bricks. This time in Chicago, on May 28, 1938, the nineteen year-old Nixon brick’d Mrs. Florence Johnson, wife of a Chicago city fireman, and gets popped for it, and confesses. A little digging revealed that during the time of the Worden and Valdez killings, he lived at 803 South Central Avenue.

Nixon initially denied involvement with the crimes, but after LA Police Chief Davis announced that comparison of fingerprints made positive identification of Nixon, Nixon admitted to the whole brick-laden shebang—the Wordens and Valdez, plus the Chicago murders of Mrs. Florence Thompson Castle in her hotel room in 1936, and the rape/murder of student nurse Anna Kuchta in August 1937, and assaults on at least seventeen other women.

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In June 1938, Howard Jones Green, Nixon’s sometime accomplice, was shipped from Chicago to view the murder scene at the Astoria. He admitted to beating little Marguerite on the head (with his pistol butt, and not the brick) but denied partaking in the sexual assault, and admitted they grossed all of eight dollars from the venture. He ‘fessed up to the March ’37 Zoe Damrell attack and for that was given five to life; what became of his Marguerite trial we’re not told.

On June 16, 1939, Robert Nixon went to the chair at the Cook County Jail. Thus, he did not live to read 1940’s smash lit-hit Native Son, which explained that his predicament was destiny, a societal byproduct of racist racial conditioning. So argued the lawyer for Native Son‘s protagonist Bigger Thomas, accused of killing a white woman in Chicago, as penned by Richard Wright, who made great use of the sensationalistic Robert Nixon newspaper reporting at the time.

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Less than a decade later, plans were underway to remove every trace of Bunker Hill’s 136 acres from existence. After a four million dollar increase in annual taxes, and a grant from the federal Urban Renewal Program, oil tycoon William T. Sesnon Jr. finally began his twelve-year-in-the-making dream of wholesale land acquisition in October 1960. Nine thousand persons were eventually displaced, and the first building to be demolished was the Astoria’s neighbor, the Hillcrest, in September 1961. The Astoria went soon after. The land sat barren for eighteen years until the federally subsidized, Dworsky modular prefab Angelus Plaza (designed with a 1200′ People Mover) broke ground in 1979.

 

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Astoria images courtesy of the Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library

Shot between Astoria and Hillcrest courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Newspaper images from the Los Angeles Times