Bunker Hill: A Desperate Race of Men

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Hats off to those contemporary “pulse-pounding” pictures what depict early-fifties dope and/or early-fifties Los Angeles for they are certainly the tingliest of films, though, let’s face it, they will never match the breathless, depthless pleasure of going straight to the source, of going straight to the Subject: Narcotics.

Subject: Narcotics. Though no movie critic has ever heard of it, Subject: Narcotics is the Greatest Film Ever Made. Do not confuse this film with Narcotics: Pit of Despair (also the Greatest Film Ever Made) or even Narcotic, which is no slouch either.

Let me say at the outset, unless you are a representative of our law enforcement community, you are not allowed to view this film:

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So feel especially naughty in watching it, like sneaking into an R-rated picture when only sixteen. (Believe me, if the Narcotic Educational Foundation of America and their pal Lt. Ray Huber of LA County Sherrif’s Narcotic Detail were asked if the general public should be allowed to view this in fifty-eight years, they’d say no. No.)

This picture has everything—prosties, junkies, pushers, neon signs:noblegas

LA: one big shooting gallery.
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He lives from fix to fix and if he is lucky, he dies early, maybe from an overdose, maybe from an infected needle.

Shifty characters plan nefarious deeds on Court Street:

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Til the coppers roar upon the scene:

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The last part of the picture concerns a hype that gets sprung from stir, only to wander the rain-slicked streets of Bunker Hill (and be passed by a Roadmaster fastback):

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He passes by the industrial heart of the Hill, Fourth and Olive

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And we turn and look behind him up to Third and Olive. Looming large and tall in the far distance The Palace Hotel, aka the Casa Alta, aka the Kellogg, at 317 S. Olive; below that, just at his shoulder, the Ems, at 337, and to the far left, the Olive Inn at 343.

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Narcotics have weakened his character. Ninety-nine out of 100 slip back.

Alright already. Go watch Crime Wave.

And don’t tell Ray Huber what’s going to become of society.

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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

The Hotel Elmar — 235 South Hope St.

There was a place, once, a place people called home—the Hotel Elmar. Not much of a place, 230 rooms, built in 1926, facing a retaining wall, small matter of a 1953 shotgun holdup you’ll read about, sure—but you see, it was the people that made the Hotel Elmar what it was. The Hot L Baltimore of its day. Of its dope-addled, nudie pinup, shotgun-toting Postwar day. Let’s meet some of them now.

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lewiscantloseFebruary 21, 1947. Our first resident of the Elmar, Ex-Cpl. Roy (Peewee) Lewis, 23, formerly of Joliet, Ill, is one of those war vets who came to Los Angeles. Los Angeles, the promise of the good life. You could become anyone. Your face could be up on the big screen! Plastered on billboards! Peewee at least got his plastered all over the corner of Ninth and Fedora.

Lewis and his pal Paul Allen, 19, of 647 West 98th Street, were up in San Francisco a while back, where they managed to boost sixteen machine guns from the San Francisco Armory. Back in Los Angeles, they went on a taxi driver-robbing crime spree. Then they came upon an unusually hard piece of luck. While motoring along they espied a man who’d just parked, drove by and gave him the eye a couple more times…this tickled the cop-sense of the car’s occupant, Det. Sgt. Elmer V. Jackson, of administrative vice squad. He drew his pistol and held it under his coat.

Lewis approached, leveling a paratrooper’s machine gun at Jackson. “I’ll take that” were Lewis’ last words, for though he was referring to Jackson’s wallet, Jackson pushed the door open, knocking the machine gun aside, and Lewis took a service revolver blast to the face. Allen burned rubber and Jackson emptied his gun at the fleeing car.
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Police found an Elmar Hotel room key on Lewis’ body and they lit out for Hope Street, just in time to catch Allen leaving with his arms full of clothing. Allen—whose upper arm was grazed by one of Jackson’s bullets—said Lewis had persuaded him to commit the holdups after meeting him in a bar, and Allen had agreed since he needed the money to marry a 17 year-old girl. So much for their next planned venture, which was knocking over a store at Slauson and Vermont.

November 14, 1947
. Edna Grover, a raven-haired 20 year-old model, calls the Elmar home. But it was at the home of photographer William Kemp, 1830 Redesdale Avenue, where investigators from the DA’s office found over 1,000 lewd photos of Edna. Kemp was fined $350 ($3,678 current USD) and given a 180-day suspended jail sentence, while our Elmarette was granted probation for her provocative posing.

speedspreeMarch 21, 1952. Martin Salas, 23, left the Elmar’s confines for an early morning spin this day. At Fifth and Main he hit a truck and injured the driver; he had an argument over right-of-way with a parked car at Sixth and Spring, and another wouldn’t get out of the way at Third and Spring, and he had a metallic argument with another parked car at Second and Spring. Undaunted, he piloted smack dab into an RKO movie shoot at Third and Figueroa (Sudden Fear? Beware, My Lovely?) where a motorist that’d tailed him flagged down a cop. The officer jerked open Salas’ door, only to have Salas step on the gas, forcing the cop to run alongside until enough cops tackled the car and forced it to stop. At some point during Mr. Salas’ wild ride he’d had a passenger who ditched in an awful (in every sense of the word) hurry—hair was found on the windshield of the passenger side. Salas was booked on felony hit-and-run.

March 4, 1953. Jack Hodges is 26, an unemployed aircraft worker, and lives a stone’s throw from the top of Angels Flight at 314 South Olive. His pal Dean Coleman, 22, is in school to learn television repair, and bunks at the Elmar. When Coleman isn’t in school, the two of them visit the local hotels. With their signature sawed-off shotgun and a briefcase. The only robbery Coleman didn’t accompany Hodges on, of course, was the time Hodges robbed the night clerk of the Elmar.

Coleman’s money wore thin and he’d pawned his television repair apparatuses, and went shotgun-brandishing to get the stuff out of hock. Unfortunately for Coleman, Hodges pawned a stolen wristwatch, which led police to an old mugshot of Hodges; a little police work later and Hodges was caught in a bar at Sixth and Hill, his sawed-off shotgun and briefcase found in his Olive St. hotel room closet. He gave up Coleman, who was arrested while watching television in the lobby of 235 S. Hope.
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Coleman, who studied dramatics before his decision to become a television repair man, was never meant to be a shotgun-wielding, hotel-clerk robbing gunman in real life. “As you see I don’t appear to be a tough guy,” said Coleman, “but I can act the part when the occasion warrants.”


July 22, 1956
. Elmar resident Frank Swope, 33, took offense at fellow Bunker Hiller Harold J. McAnally, 57—McAnally lived one block west at 230 South Flower—buying a lady a drink one summer day in a bar at 822 West Third Street. So Swope walked up and pushed McAnally from his stool, whereupon McAnally landed head-first on the concrete floor. A few hours after McAnally died from his skull fracture, Swope surrendered to authorities at the Elmar.

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February 7, 1957
. LAPD went to investigate a disturbance in a bar at 731 West Third and there arrested “Allan Ayers,” 32, a resident of the Elmar…

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…turns out our Elmaree was in reality August Gerbitz, two years on the lam from a double murder rap in Evansville, where in December 1954 he gunned down his girlfriend, Mrs. Nadine Martin, 21, and one George Temme, 38.

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March 20, 1957
. Salvador Perez and Jesus Cruz, both 27, had been popped by narco and were up on the fourth floor of Police Administration, having been photographed at the lab. They were walked into the hallway by officers Hernandez and Ruddell to be cuffed and led to the first-floor Central Jail for booking.

That’s when both of them made a break for it. Cruz, of 4923 Gratian Street, was tackled by Ruddell right out of the gate. Perez, he of 235 South Hope, dashed down the stairway. Officer Hernandez slipped and fell, broke his ankle, but continued to give chase nevertheless. Perez ran down to the ground level and made a wrong turn toward Central Jail, turned and ran past Hernandez, but unfortunately, into the arms of Lt. Arroyo. Another vacancy at the Elmar as Perez (and his buddy Cruz) are booked by an out-of-breath, broken-ankled cop on felony violation of the State Narcotics Act.

elmarafarKind of makes you want to check into 235 South Hope, doesn’t it? Perhaps you too can soak up enough of its magic to place you on this honored roll.

Alas, the City has wiped Hope clean, and thereafter had it thoroughly disinfected, as one would to so much egesta on a cracked tile floor. They have left us with the most barely readable of palimpsests. Let’s take a look.

Hope Street had two levels between Second and Third; here, we are looking north toward Second, standing above the west end of the Third Street tunnel. The Elmar was midway along the block.

ElmarTodayToday, the bilevel nature of Hope Street is five decades gone. The Ghost Elmar floats roughly above an intersection made by a new street, named after a Lithuanian-Ruthenian nobleman-turned-revolutionary. I betcha Frank Swope or Edna Grover never woulda guessed.

The City doesn’t screw around when they want something bad enough. They’ll move mountains, quite literally, to which these images taken across from the Elmar (looking south down Hope toward the library) attest:

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The Elmar, gone, but perhaps now a bit less forgotten. For this blog is a little like the Elmar itself. Like it says on the cigarette pack. Wherever particular people congregate.

 

 

 

 

 

Hope Street images courtesy William Reagh Collection, California History Section, California State Library