An Evening at Angels Flight

At the golden hour, Gordon Pattison gazes into the Angels Flight station house
At the golden hour, Gordon Pattison gazes into the Angels Flight station house

Last evening, we met on Bunker Hill, old friends coming together for an old friend, Angels Flight. As the sun set, the orange and black station house along with the cars, Olivet and Sinai, were bathed in its soft, orange glow. As the evening darkened, Angels Flight’s arches and cars were lit by the low amber light of dozens of incandescent bulbs. It was a magical time, and for a moment, I was transported back to the time when I lived on Bunker Hill in its old Victorian neighborhood in the 1940’s – 1960’s. That neighborhood has been gone for more than 50 years now, and Angels Flight is all we have to remind us of it.

As I looked out over the city from the top of Angels Flight, the twinkling lights of Grand Central Market came on, beckoning to us longingly. The Market stays open until 10:00 pm now, and it was filled with people enjoying its attractions. I thought, how nice it would be to board Angels Flight to go down there as I did years ago, have a bite to eat and join the people who looked to be having such a good time. They seemed miles away, though, at the bottom of long, daunting flights of stairs. That’s exactly why Col. Eddy built Angels Flight 115 years ago, to join Bunker Hill and Downtown. What foresight! What a wonderful service to fill a civic need! And for decades, Angels Flight filled that need happily, faithfully, asking for little in return.

But sadly, Angels Flight is not running. For two years now, Angels Flight has sat quietly, waiting patiently for Los Angeles to come back to it. While Angelenos go busily about their lives, Angels Flight sits forlorn and vulnerable, largely ignored by the community it once served and we hope will serve again.

Richard Schave and Gordon Pattison scrub graffiti off Olivet
Richard Schave and Gordon Pattison scrub graffiti off Olivet

Angels Flight is not a nostalgic anachronism. It was and remains an important civic asset. Not just for its historic significance, but as an important piece of public transportation, carrying people from the heights of Bunker Hill to greater Downtown and back again.

When we came together at Angels Flight last evening, we came to pay attention to an old friend and to bear witness to its plight. We cleaned away graffiti that had thoughtlessly desecrated it. We had a 3-D scan done on Angels Flight so that anyone can board it online and take a vicarious ride. Angels Flight has served our city well and can again. But it needs our support and loving attention, or one day we will drive by and wonder why it’s not there anymore. Then all we will have are photographs and memories. It’s a lot more fun to actually ride it.

Two New Mann Images — Final Days of the Flight!

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

AF1

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

AF2

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

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

theseguys

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

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

weggie

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

afotherside

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

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

nowwee

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

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

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

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

down2nd

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.

sanborn1950

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.)

 

stanleyaerial

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 Monarch

GARAs has been noted, when it comes to Bunker Hill, there is no image as iconic as Union Bank Square—the Redevelopment Project’s first great endeavor—towering over remnants of antiquated Los Angeles. (One could argue there are few sights as telling when it comes to defining Los Angeles in general.) But while we’re all familiar with those 42 stories of mid-60s glory, who remembers what stood there before? It was that hitherto unsung monument of Los Angeles deco: the Monarch Hotel.monarkedelic

The Monarch opened in mid-October, 1929. It contained sixty-six hotel rooms, fourteen single apartments, twelve double apartments, a five-room bungalow on the roof, three private roof decks planted rich with shrubbery, and a lobby embellished with hand-decorated ceilings. It was entirely furnished by Barker Brothers with furniture of “modern type and design.”

modernistic

From the outset, crime dogged the Monarch. Sort of. The first occupants of the bridal suite, in November 1929, were Motorcycle Officer Bricker of Georgia-Street Traffic Investigation and former Miss Losa Pope (the now newly-minted Mrs. Bricker, a purchasing agent at Forest Lawn).
loveatfirsthandcuff
They met when he had arrested her for speeding. On their first morning together as Man and Wife, breakfasting on the roof garden outside their bridal suite, they were mobbed by twenty some-odd members of the Force who decided to burst in and make merry with fellow officer and his tamed scofflaw.

Real crime did, in fact, visit upon the Monarch. (This may have had something to do with opening two weeks before the Crash.) For example:

betrayalNight clerk H. N. Willey was behind the desk at the Monarch when, just after midnight on June 16, 1930, a bandit robbed him of $26. Willey phoned Central Station. Meanwhile, officers Doyle and Williams, on patrol, observed a man hightailing it through an auto park near the hotel. Deciding that he wasn’t running for his health (this being some years before the jogging craze), they gave chase and caught him in an alley. They next observed a patrol car flying to the Monarch. Putting two and two together, they took their prisoner to the hotel, where he was id’d by Willey. Turns out he was George H. Hall, 24, a recent arrival in Los Angeles.

H. N. Willey continued to ply the night clerk trade, and was doing so when two men entered on the early morning of August 31, 1931. When Willey showed them to their room, they pulled out a gun and tried to lock him in the closet. The attempt failed because the door had no outside lock, so the hapless crooks ran downstairs, recovered the $2 they had paid for the room and fled.

H. N. makes the papers again in November of 1931, when on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Los Angeles is hit by a massive crime wave, in which over a dozen brazen robberies of hotels, groceries, theaters, pedestrians, folks in autos, etc. are shot at and robbed; Willey looks down the barrel of a large-bore automatic and forks over $25.

drinkup
One thing that’s nice about the Monarch? It’s nice to have a bar downstairs. Edgar Lee Smith lived, and drank, at the Monarch.

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August 23, 1946. Smith, 51, had been drinking in the Monarch bar but neglected to keep to the cardinal rule of always keeping on the good side of one’s bartender. This resulted in an after-hours duel that left his bartender, James Donald Chaffee, 28, stabbed to death. When the Radio Officers Hill and Finn found Chaffee’s body on sidewalk, they went to Smith’s room, where they found him changing his clothes, and seized a penknife with a one-inch blade.

The fight began when, according to Smith, “Jimmy got sore because I stole his girl.” Smith added that barkeep Chaffee, in retaliation, cut Smith off. Smith, in counter-retaliation, cut Chaffee.
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Smith plead guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to one to ten in San Quentin.

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Gilbert Carvajal was a 17 year-old Marine stationed at Del Mar, part of Pendleton. He was at the Monarch on May 9, 1957, with his 45 year-old lady-friend Frances Nishperly when it all began. It was 1:15am and he decided it wise to hold up night clerk Frost E. Stacklager (H. N. Willey having retired, apparently) and make off with $22 and jewelry. A few minutes later the two robbed the Trent Hotel of $57.50; despite holding the clerk at knifepoint, the two next fled the Floyd Hotel empty-handed, but snagged $45 from the till at the Auto Club Hotel minutes later. At 23rd and Scarff Sts. the police began shooting into Carvajal’s car—he tried to make a run for it but was shot down in the street, taking one to the chest. Ms. Nishperly insisted Carvajal had kidnapped her from the corner of Pico Blvd. and Hope St., but police elected to discount this story.

Nishperly

plungingpooch
Now, people are forever plunging off the precipices afforded by tall structures (a quick peruse of On Bunker Hill proves that) and that’s a person’s right and due. But it’s different when it’s an excited doggy.

Buddy was one such excitable pooch, who went nuts and ran right off the top of the Monarch Hotel! Of course the Hand of God intervened, and Buddy—a 2 year-old fox terrier–fell one hundred feet, landing atop an auto roof, but emerged without a scratch, May 1, 1931. (Apparently Buddy had landed on one of the small unbraced portions of the auto top; parking station attendants ran out when they heard a windshield smash and found a confused dog standing on top the machine, looking for a place to descend.)

Buddy’s daddy, Jimmy Van Scoyoe, was looking frantically for his pooch and had no idea of his aerial adventure when he peered off the roof and saw his Buddy surrounded by a puzzled crowd. Jimmy is reported to have tightly clasped Buddy in his arms and vowed to never let him out of his sight again “even if I have to keep him in bed with me when I go to sleep.” Damn straight!

 

 

motoronCWLead architects on the Monarch are Cramer & Wise, who did pioneering auto-culture work with their 1926 “Motor-In Markets”—one at the NW corner of First and Rosemont (above, demolished 1962) and another at the NW corner of Sunset and Quintero (still there, vaguely recognizable):motorin

One can also go visit Cramer & Wise’s Van Rensellear Apartments,
SE corner of Franklin and GramercyVanRad…of course, what they’re best known for is La Belle Tour.

Consulting architects on the Monarch were Hillier & Sheet, probably best known for Beverly Blvd. landmark the Dover.
NewAlohaWhile Mediterranean in manner, their 1929 complex on the NE corner of McCadden and West Leland Way is mysteriously named the Aloha.

 

This 1929 31-unit Mediterranean complex in the Wilshire District still stands: 837ssandrewz
But this one on El Cerrito was demolished; an 80s building of unusual blandeur has taken its place. elcerritodemo

dijon

 

Hillier & Sheet announce this height-limit Norman job will go up at Fountain and Sweetzer; it does not materialize.

S. Charles Lee’s El Mirador, though, does.

 

 

 

 

Who loves the lost Monarch? People are quick to fetishize the felled Richfield Tower, and with good reason (I, too, am an ardent obsessive—even owning parts of it); but isn’t it a bit…New York? Doesn’t it owe a major debt to Hood’s American Radiator Building? Sure, some might argue that the Streamline Moderne is more natively Angeleno, but not only was that industrial-inspired application an Internationalist movement, but one also feels in its nautical element a particular evocation of our neighbor to the north, San Francisco.

What is elementally endemic to the land, here, is the Ziggurat Moderne of the Monarch Hotel—that there is something in the setback style that elicits a feeling for the indigenous, the “really” American, in that the mock-Mayan comes closest to the true architecture of this part of the world. The core of this argument comes, of course, from Francisco Mujica’s 1929 History of the Skyscraper, where he hints at just that—that pre-Columbian pyramids are the correct expression of modernity, and vice versa (hence the natural evolution of the 1916 New York setback laws…glorious mother of what Koolhaas termed the Ferrissian Void).

Thus—where one might see the Monarch as somewhat squat:
nomaggieolmec
…we should take that as monumentality in its most impressive (if not oppressive, if that’s what reverberates in your Incan blood) form.

1906, the NW corner of Fifth and Figueroa at bottom right:

fifthandfig1906

1950, twenty years after the installation of the Monarch:

theMonarchisintheHouse

1953, with the addition of the Harbor Freeway:

harbornot

After fifteen years of Sturm n Drang, on February 3, 1964, the $350 million Bunker Hill Urban Renewal Project got its first bite—Connecticut General Life offered $3.3 million for the block-square site that housed the Monarch Hotel.

sold

CRA Chairman William T. Sesnon Jr., expressed his elation: “The sale is virtually completed. We are overjoyed by this development. It’s our hope it will serve as the real kickoff for the entire Bunker Hill project.”

Thirty days later—March 4, 1964:
downitgoes

On March 30, 1965, red-jacketed attendants ushered dignitaries under a white-fringed canopy, where they watched a bulldozer tear up some concrete. “Welcome to Bunker Hill—at last,” proclaimed Sesnon. “This is the start of something dramatic.”
monarchacrossfremont

acrossfremont
Some of the luster of Sesnon’s kickoff was dulled when in 1966—with the Union Bank half built—City Administrative Officer C. Erwin Piper and his staff issued a scathing report on the CRA. It sited faulty operational control, an absence of clear-cut policies and poor internal coordination, at terrific taxpayer expense. By the end of 1967 no more land had been disposed of, the CRA had lost half its department heads, had no executive director, and Sesnon had been replaced by Z. Wayne Griffin.

flyinghigh
fromabove
The Battle of Bunker Hill would continue to be waged—that long, slow, protracted engagement, which like its previous fifteen years, would need another fifteen years before things shifted into high gear again.

lordofthetoilet

 

Images courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection; opening Monarch shot (1930), Mott-Merge Collection, California State Library, and back of Monarch shot across Fremont St., Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library

CRA Relocation Offices – 232 South Grand Avenue

By the spring of 1968 only three of the great mansions on Bunker Hill were still standing. The Castle (325 South Bunker Hill Ave) and Salt Box (339 South Bunker Hill Ave) were soon to be moved to their new home, Heritage Square in Highland Park (and subsequently burned down by vandals).  The days were definitely numbered for the Victorian beauty at 232 South Grand Avenue and smaller house behind it whose address was 232 ½.  The only reason the residences on Grand Avenue stood as long as they did is because the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) made the front house the location of their Bunker Hill Relocation Project Office. Once the residents had been removed from the neighborhood and the CRA no longer had a use for the mansion, it too was removed.

The mansion at 232 South Grand Avenue and its backyard neighbor at 232 ½ were built in 1894 by Bernard Sens, a German immigrant who came to Los Angeles and set up shop as a tailor on Broadway. He had initially been residing a couple of doors down at 224 S. Grand, but apparently needed a more suitable dwelling for his wife, four sons, and six daughters. He held onto his former residence and began renting out its rooms, and presumably did the same thing with the house at 232 ½.  

Sens was a well respected tailor about town and had provided the city’s police force with their uniforms. The business was a family one, with the Sens sons contributing at one point or another. Matriarch Kate and her daughters received mention in the society pages and the Sens were a typical Bunker Hill family of the Victorian era. Bernard passes away in 1903 and his widow and their daughter Emma resided in the mansion until Kate’s death around 1923.

Like most of the other neighborhood mansions, in the mid-1920s, 232 S. Grand Ave became a boarding house. Unlike many of the Victorians that were divided into numerous single room residences, the division of the former Sens home provided lodging for only four separate households. Around 1928, Dr. James Green, his wife Elizabeth, their three daughters, and two grandchildren moved in and had enough room for the doctor to also set up his practice.

Dr. Green, who had been born in England and spent time in Colorado before moving west, would serve Bunker Hill residents as their physician for nearly thirty years. Dr. Green seemed to have done a fine job taking care of his patients, with the exception of sixty-five year old Theresa Dawson who, while under the doctor’s care, strangled herself with her own bandages at her home down the street. By 1939, the mansion had once again become a single family home with the Greens as its sole tenants. The doctor was paying a whopping $100 a month (around $1,200 in today’s dollars) to live in and run his business out of the ten room mansion. Dr. Green lived and worked on Bunker Hill until his death in 1956. His wife, Elizabeth, continued living on Grand until her death a few years later.

Since the house was not inhabited by numerous boarders, it proved to be an ideal place for the CRA to set up its relocation headquarters in 1963. It was here that Bunker Hill residents, some of who had lived in the neighborhood for decades, received their walking papers. When the dirty work was completed in 1968, the houses at 232 and 232 ½ South Grand Avenue went the way of the rest of the grand mansions of Bunker Hill.

 

Photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

North by Northwest: The Dirt Patch of Second and Hill

TheOlympia

Folk will on occasion ask me what, if anything, is left of Bunker Hill. Glad you asked, I’ll reply, answer being, nothing really, but I am awfully fond of this particular dirt contour. If they don’t politely turn away, I’ll commence upon a detailed discourse on said excrement-laden dirt contour in question, and then they’ll politely turn away.

Strange as it sounds, I love this dirt. I have since I was one day idling in my auto adjacent this, the northwest corner of Second and Hill, when I saw this form and it recalled an image lodged in some dim grotto of my brain:

TheOdalisque
And I thought, I know that form. That contour. Like a beautiful woman in repose. Debased somehow, but still noble. Ingres’ Odalisque has become Manet’s Olympia.

So here I am in pith helmet and plus-fours, poking around the strangely stained abandoned sweatpants and taking in the stench of urine steaming away on a hot summer’s day. My own Persepolis, only with more recent death and egesta. A remaining honest remnant of Bunker Hill, carved in dirt. There’s an old Yiddish proverb—Gold’s father is dirt, yet it regards itself as noble.

SculptedbytheMaster

Let’s take a detailed look at the block our patch of dirt calls home.

2ndHill1888

In 1888, on the 30-40′ bluff overlooking Hill there’s a large house, center, and another (with a “old shanty”, it is noted) at the corner of Second and Hill. The round structure above the house on the right reads “arbor lattice.” Note the porches on the Argyle.

2ndHill1894
1894, and 133 Hill has built terraced steps up to its manse. Our house in the corner has sadly lost its shanty. Notice the addition of the Primrose hotel at 421/419 West 2nd. At the bottom it reads “Vertical bank 30’ high.” The house near 1st has been razed but 109 Hill has been added. 104 Olive has shown up, top right. And yes, that says “Lawn Tennis Courts.”

2ndHill1906
It’s 1906, and much has changed: our little friend in the corner has disappeared. In its place, just to the north, two lodging houses at 411 and 409. To the west, Hotel Locke. (Hotel Locke shows up in the Times in 1897 and disappears in 1912.) Olive Court has wrapped around and filled in, and the tennis lawn has given way to our old friend the Moore Cliff. The former single family dwelling at 109 has been enlarged to become the El Moro Hotel. Note the Hotel Cecil in the upper right. Hill now has a 15’ retaining wall; the houses average 30’ above grade.

2ndHill1953
But now it’s 1950 and the drastic has occured. Where once Second Street was sixty feet across, it is now 100, due to the construction of the Second Street tunnel, which opened in July of 1924. (As Mary mentioned in her post, the Argyle lost its porches.) Also lost were the two structures below the Primrose at 411 and 409, not to mention the Hotel Locke. These were even gone before the great excavation. The Hotel Cecil has, as you might imagine, been renamed, so as not to be confused with the Hotel Cecil. We even have a little gas station.

In a nutshell, ca. 1952: the Moore Cliff front and center, the bipartite El Moro, and the Hotel Gladden up the block in the corner. And there’s the Texaco station that popped up. (Faithful Bunker Hillers will recognize the looming backside of the Melrose Annex and the Dome up top.)

MC52

But back to the “great excavation.” Remember, once Hill had, well, a great hill looming o’er. It was true here, at our corner in question:

2ndHIll1932

2ndHilltoday

What happened to the giant pile of dirt (upon which 411 and 409, and the Hotel Locke once
sat) as seen in the 1932 photograph?

excavation

As can be barely viewed just below the Moore Cliff in the ’32 shot, a lot fronting Hill has already been excavated for auto parking, and in May of 1935 the two adjacent lots at the corner were leveled by Los Angeles Rock and Gravel, removing 40,000 cubic yards of earth adjoining the tunnel ramp, measuring some 45hx82wx157d’. One lot owner, C. J. Heyler, rented the space to P. F. Drino for automobile parking; Heyler stated that construction on the lot was planned. That, of course, never happened.

This, then, is how we ended up with Hill carvings that have remained unchanged for seventy-three years.

2ndHill

And still fulfilling the same purpose.looknorth2H

Looking southeast at our dirt, 1967, before her Hill Steet side had her top shaved off:

atthedirt67

HStunnel

HS08

A quick word about the Second Street tunnel—with the millions the CRA is again pouring into Bunker Hill, do you think we could throw a few bucks toward a new railing? To refashion the original concrete couldn’t run that much, and if not an aesthetic improvement, would be arguably safer than chain link. Right?

TunRail1950

rail08

CRABunker

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.

 

 

 

 

In any event, such is the tale of some simple dirt on a single block. Tune in next week for tales of terror as they relate to this part of the world.

dirtfromheaven

patchfromzeparchaeologizing

And now, you can launch into your own spiel about the dirt contours of Hill Street. I suggest a visit and have a whiff for yourself of what once was Bunker Hill. Serves to add that dose of realism guaranteeing the polite turning-away of cocktail party folk.

Images courtesy Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library and USC Digital Archives; special thanks of course to D. A. Sanborn, his map company, and the anonymous field men who toiled on the fire insurance maps Sanborn Co. produced.

You Know, For Kids! – The Bunker Hill Playground and Recreation Center

On May 27, 1947, Proposition B, a $12 million bond issue passed, allowing the city to sink some serious dough into its woefully inadequate parks, playgrounds, and municipal pools. One of the first neighborhoods slated to get a new playground and community recreation center was Bunker Hill, with a site at the corner of 2nd and Hope, just over half an acre, selected and purchased by the City. After a November 14, 1949 groundbreaking, the $121,646 modern recreation facility was dedicated on August 21, 1950.

bunkerhillplayground

In addition to grounds with a wading pool, basketball courts, and playground equipment, the nearly 9000-square foot recreation hall featured a stage for movie screenings and theatrical productions, classrooms, a kitchen, showers, and handball courts (on the roof, no less). Sure, it’s a little institutional-looking, and sure, it could do with a little less concrete, some foliage that doesn’t look so spindly and diseased, and maybe some wood chips under the monkey bars to protect tender young heads, but still, it’s a pretty spiffing playground.

And a long time coming, too. Residents of Bunker Hill had been clamoring for a neighborhood recreation area for over 25 years, lamenting the fact that children in the neighborhood lived in cramped quarters and had no place to play safely. A playground, residents said, would help alleviate the truancy, delinquency, and other youth problems in the neighborhood.

But the thing was, until 1923, Bunker Hill had a very fine recreation area for children… until the City tore it down to make way for the new Central Library.

After the Normal Hill School area was razed, Mrs. Harry White wrote to the City Council, pleading for a playground for the neighborhood’s children:

"They are not permitted to play in the streets, and as most of them live in rented houses without grounds there is no provision for any sort of recreation, or for the care of these children. Many of the parents are working people and the children are alone all day."

In the 25 years without a recreation area, kind-hearted Bunker Hill residents did their best to fill in the gaps. Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Abbott of 220 S. Bunker Hill Avenue organized beach outings, holiday parties and free movies for hundreds of children in the neighborhood, while Mrs. Pearl Alcantara founded the Children’s Community Garden in a vacant lot at California and Grand, after her son was killed by a car while playing in the street. About 50 boys and girls helped her to clear the lot of trash and rocks (although some adult neighbors who weren’t keen on the idea would scatter more trash and rocks at night).

playgroundsoldDuring the 12 years that the Bunker Hill Playground served the neighborhood, its facilities were tremendously popular, and its programs well-attended. However, it wouldn’t last long. In 1962, the Department of Parks and Recreation recommended sale of the playground and recreation center to the CRA for $325,000. Within a year, the City Council would approve the sale, cash the check, and soon, the playground was just another Bunker Hill ghost.

Image from the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Dueling Babcocks

bunkerairThe history of Bunker Hill could not be written without mention of a man who stood up to face the foe. Who fought City Hall; who fought the law, and sure, the law won. But let’s remember the man. Firebrand. Gadfly. Babcock.

It’s 1951, and we’re faced with Proposition C, which sounded just swell: clear the city’s slum areas and replace “ramshackle” tenements with modern apartments. The Times ran large pieces urging the voters to back C, citing a litany of political, business and union leaders supporting the measure (veterans’ organizations termed the measure “a solution of a vital civic problem in the American way”).

poopCBut one fellow didn’t think the idea so all-American—owner of the Dome, president of the Bunker Hill Property Owners Association, Frank Babcock. The Association met before the election and passed a resolution announcing their opposition to Prop C (which would raze Bunker Hill, to be replaced by “12 blocks of new apartment houses”) whereby property owners would be forced to sell at condemnation prices; BHPOA also saw C as a scheme to take their property for the benefit of insurance corporations. Be that as it may, the voters decided Proposition C was the American Way (despite the Stalinist overtones of a government taking private property) and it passed. But you hadn’t heard the last of Frank Babcock.

It’s important not to confuse our Frank Babcock with the anti-Babcock, or Babcock-Bizarro, if you will. Henry Babcock. Whether they’re related we do not know, but it does tickle the imagination to think so. Why? Because Henry Babcock had been involved in the wholesale demolition of Bunker Hill since 1930. He arrived in Los Angeles from Chicago as one of William Babcock & Sons, real estate valuators and consultants, to study the feasibility of the “Bigelow Plan” (C. C. Bigelow’s 1928 scheme for removing the Hill using hydraulic mining equipment) and how quickly a regraded Bunker Hill could be absorbed into downtown. Henry Babcock in-a-nutshell:

babcockreport
“There is no community, it is found, that is entirely free from spots or sections that by reason of antiquated structures, topographical conditions or congestion have depreciated in value and also are having an adverse effect on adjacent areas. This is on the principle of the spoiled apple in the barrel. In fact, directly or indirectly, these depreciated areas threaten a bad effect on entire municipalities.
“They cannot by fenced off and left to their fate. They cannot be segregated to work out their own salvation regardless of the rest of the community. Consequently they present a problem of concern to the entire city in which they are situated. Naturally, the rehabilitation of blighted areas is governed entirely by the conditions involved.
“In the instance of Bunker Hill the matter of topography enters largely into consideration. Admittedly it is a traffic barrier not only for itself but for extensive and growing sections at every side of it. Architecturally it has not kept pace with the modernly growing parts of the city. It apparently presents a striking need for rehabilitation if it is to share in the indicated improvement in realty values. Modern engineering methods lend themselves expeditiously to the razing of this are or any part of it and without undue interference with a natural volume of traffic with the work is under way.”

Babcock, after presenting a ninety-six page report about razing and regrading Bunker Hill to the City Council, decided to stay in Los Angeles as a vice-president of the Mitchel-Brown & Co. Spring-Street investment house.

Then, there was to be a Babcockfight. Henry Babcock shows up again in 1951 as a consulting engineer for Proposition C. He outdoes the CRA by drawing up plans for thirty-seven thirteen-story apartment complexes on 73 acres, four 600-car parking garages, and open paved lots for 2560 autos. Parking and retail buildings were to be located in the center of Bunker Hill.

In February of 1955 Frank Babcock strolled down from his Dome to Superior Court and slapped the Community Redevelopment Agency with an injunction to block the development (the City, and all the members of the City Council [with the exception of Edward R. Roybal, who’d voted against BH redevelopment] were also named as defendants).
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Babcock asserted that the law was clear: the CRA could only demolish blighted areas. The structures and set-up of Bunker Hill, Babcock argued, met City ordinances’ standards and filled the economic needs of the community, and further contended that (despite common belief and literary assertions to the contrary) Bunker Hill’s buildings were safe for occupancy, not conducive to ill health, transmission of disease, juvenile delinquency, infant mortality or crime. And, owner of the Dome that he was, was proud to say that landowners on the Hill were planning development of their own properties and had no need for the “aid” of 40million+ condemnation dollars in taxpayer funds.

By June of 1956, William T. Sesnon, armed with Henry Babcock’s financial, economic and architectural surveys, presented final plans to the City Council. As required by law, there was a public hearing; Frank Babcock presented his alternate proposals—lost to time, now. It would seem there was nothing Frank Babcock could do to stem the tide that would wash away Bunker Hill and his beloved Dome. Until he realized that tide was suffused with brea.

bunkerhillteaOil, that is. William T. Sesnon Jr., chairman of the Community Redevelopment Agency, is an oil magnate, after all. (‘Twas he who proposed the plan to finance homes for those elderly residents who had to be relocated from Bunker Hill: the City would drill on property bounded by Temple, Beverly, Union and Edgeware—one of LA’s oldest oilfields—and the senior-citizen property owners would receive a one-sixth royalty interest with which they could pay their new rents.) And Sesnon wanted Bunker Hill for its mineral rights, you see. And Babcock could prove it were he able to inspect the Agency’s books and records, a request he’d been repeatedly denied. On June 23, 1958 Babcock demanded the issuance of a writ of mandate to compel the agency to allow him access. If the idea of oil beneath Bunker Hill sounds nutty, it’s not; but we won’t go into our petroleum reservoir wherefores here. Babcock should have restrained himself when he charged that the City Council was in on the conspiracy, though.

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ohnoyoudidnThis prompted some strong words on the Chamber floor, where the next day Sesnon himself stood and said in part: “I regret the necessity of speaking but the action filed yesterday makes it unavoidable. These charges are irresponsible, malicious, vindictive and utterly false. No member of the Council ever entered into such a deal. It is an outrage that we have to face such publicity and I completely resent such statements.”

Alas, that’s the last we hear of Frank Babcock. Henry Babcock is mentioned one more time, in August of 1958, testifying before the City Council about the estimated value of a regraded Hill.

The Babcocks go on to watch as the CRA, bit by bit, commandeers umpteen millions from City coffers, displaces 9,000 people, and eventually gobbles up 136 acres. In the Autumn of 1961 the first CRA-demo’d building goes down—the Hillcrest. Frank Babcock’s Dome stands proud until she burns in the Summer of ’64.

Henry Babcock’s city of apartment buildings on the Hill never quite materializes the way he planned it.

No Place for a Child: The Collapse of the Vanderbilt

Location: 334 South Figueroa

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It is unlikely that the overcrowded, structurally unsound, 5-story Vanderbilt apartment-hotel at 334 S. Figueroa was a happy home for many of its tenants. However, children living in, or even passing by, the ramshackle building seemed to fare particularly badly. On April 5, 1939, 18-month-old Harvey Fish fell from a fourth story window, landing at the feet of his mother who was standing on the sidewalk below. The child suffered a fractured skull, and died later that day. 6-year-old Anna Lee Norton fell five stories shortly after Christmas in 1952. While playing on the apartment balcony, Anna lost her balance and crashed through a loose board, falling on a paved alleyway. Perhaps this should have been a sign to the Department of
Building and Safety and the CRA that the building was in trouble.

Other incidents at the Vanderbilt could be chalked up to sad or unfortunate chance. In 1949, Robert Lee Gordon, age 6, was killed when he darted out from between two cars parked in front of the building. And in 1955, 1-year-old Gloria Howard was reunited with her family, residents at the Vanderbilt, after a harrowing evening in juvie. Lucille Parker, 33, wandered into a bar with the child, saying Gloria had been "given" to her in another local bar. The child’s wisecarverfather, William Howard, later reported that he’d left a very intoxicated Lucille and his daughter alone in a car while he made a phone call. When he returned, the car was missing, as were Lucille and Gloria.

The most bizarre story of child endangerment at the Vanderbilt brings us to 1945, when Elaine Wisecarver was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor after abandoning her 3-year-old daughter with the building manager. It wasn’t the first time Wisecarver earned this charge. The previous year, the 22-year-old woman had eloped to Yuma with a 14-year-old boy, Ellsworth (Sonny) Wisecarver. The marriage was later annulled, and Wisecarver was sentenced to 3 years probation.

However, on the evening of March 3, 1959, the Vanderbilt’s legacy came to an end in dramatic fashion when rotted underpinnings caused the floor joists to slip, and the 48-year-old building to slide off of its foundation, moving 3 feet sideways and dropping 2 feet. The side walls buckled, and plaster rained down on the buildings occupants, most of whom were at home at the time. In all, 200 of the hotel’s residents, 70 of them children, evacuated the building. One man was trapped in his apartment, but miraculously, only three people suffered injuries, all of them minor. In the days leading up to the collapse, several residents had complained to the building manager that they had trouble opening and closing their apartment doors.

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The Red Cross immediately set up at the Fremont Grammar School, where approximately 40 adults and 60 children sought shelter.

Though the collapse came as a surprise to the Vanderbilt’s tenants, the building had actually been inspected a few weeks earlier and declared a hazard by the Department of Building and Safety. A hearing was being scheduled where the building’s owners would have to show cause why it should not be demolished.

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Following the collapse, the building’s condition was downgraded to "immediate hazard," and demolition was scheduled. In fact, the building was declared so unsafe that no one was initially permitted to enter it, including the wrecking crew.

In the aftermath, the City Council asked Mayor Poulson to "define specifically the CRA’s activities," and to meet with its building and safety commission to discuss CRA procedure. This came as a result of the general manager of the Department and Building and Safety, Gilbert Morris’s report to the Council that the CRA had told his people to "keep out" of Bunker Hill. The Department also reported that the CRA had brought routine inspections of Bunker Hill properties to a standstill, after a "request" that these inspections only be carried out in response to specific complaints.

Councilman Edward Roybal stated, "I would like to put a stop to the dictatorial activities of the CRA."

William H. Claire, a CRA spokesperson, denied allegations that the agency had neglected the health and safety of residents, saying, "We in the Community Redevelopment Agency are very interested in what happens to the people in our project."

Images of the Vanderbilt courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Angels Flight

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

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

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

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

These are the nuts and bolts to be sure, though what they don’t add are the drops of blood that oil the gears of doom and the cogs of death!

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

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

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

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

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

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CRA officials change the plan slightly when they announce in September 1968 that Angels Flight would have to come down—temporarily—to be stored for two years, and then replaced at the same site (shortened, of course, given as they were grading thirty some-odd feet from the Hill). By the time of the CRA’s brief civic ceremony “dismantling event” held in May 16, 1969, they’d already realized the railway would have to be stored until the Hill was completely developed. Surely that wouldn’t take so long.

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

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

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