Love(joy) and Death — 529 W. Third

youthadmits!1947project readers may remember this addition that King of Historians Larry Harnisch made to the blog back in its earliest incarnation. It’s the story of Gerald Richards, and, because you can read the story in full in the link, I’ll just toss out the particulars:

Gerald Richards is 19, and he hasn’t much in the world. He has a .25 auto that he picked up in Japan during his tour in the Maritime Service, and he’s got George Kirtland, 24, who he picked up in New Orleans during his postwar wanderlust. It’s 1947 and they’ve landed in Los Angeles—George is from Gardena, Gerald an Illinois boy—and George goes to visit Gerald at his digs in the Biltmore. Gerald should have probably chosen somewhere less tony, because his argument over the $32 hotel bill resulted in his shooting the assistant manager in the lobby. Once nabbed, he also copped to two more slayings—a Tom Nitsch in New Mexico, and LA’s own 52-year-old tailor Charles Vuykov, whose nude body was found on the floor of his room, 529 West Third.

In the 47p post, Larry made mention of the manner in which the Times heads off homosexual implications in Richards’ Kirtland relationship; but then, what was 19-year-old Gerald doing in the apartment of a 50-something tailor? Especially a nude one?

And let’s not let this particular address of Vuykov’s slip by…529 isn’t just any spot on West Third. That shot reverberated across the four corners of Third and Grand. That’s the Lovejoy Hotel.

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The Lovejoy is announced May 1903:

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142 rooms, divided into 78 apartments, it opens in November.

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It is immediately the scene of many a large society wedding, and home to the known (William O. Owen lived at the Lovejoy when it was finally decreed, in 1927, that it was in fact he who first reached the summit of the Grand Teton).

The Lovejoy is also a hotbed of lefty activity. It’s a center for the Equal Rights League and magnet for suffragists of various stripe. It’s where Professor Flinn’s “physical culture” class met in 1904. It also serves as the 1930s home for the American League Against War and Fascism.

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Above, looking north/east on Grand. (Nice crenellated parapets. Despite being against war, its residents were probably glad for defensible battlements.)

Now you see Angels Flight Drugs:

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Now you don’t:

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This being Third and Grand, the Lovejoy was also across the street from the Nugent. Below, the Nugent is on the left, and we peer down to Olive…there’s the top of Angels Flight, its neighbor the Elks Lodge, and the Edison/Metro Water Bldng at Third and Broadway in the distance.

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And, in our continuing effort to get you oriented, endless maps.

From the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, 1906:

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From the Birdseye:

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From the Baists Real Estate Atlas, 1926:

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And of course, the WPA model from 1940:

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Above, the Nugent has lost the top of its tower. And is also apparently falling over.

The Lovejoy stands strong, though painted yellow, as per its reputation for hosting pacifists.

The 1960s saw its demolition, and in its place, in the early 80s, the erection of a similarly formidable fortress, Isozaki’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Through true to the Hill, it’s styled less like a castle than it is bunker-like.

MOCA

Lovejoy images, from top to bottom: author; William Reagh Collection, California History Section, California State Library; Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library; William Reagh, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection; William Reagh, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

A Poor Choice

The Holy Trinity of Noir: the Tough Hood, the Tougher Cop, and the Dame. The Dame—in peril, and perilous to know.

Tonight’s tale takes this Trinitarian shape, but contains, oddly, but two players.

Our first adherent is Mr. X., aka Tough Hood. He heard the clip-clop of heels reverberate throught the misty night air of February 7, 1944. He followed his prey—the Dame, in peril, to her pad, and once she was inside, he attacked!
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Unfortunately for Tough Hood, Dame in peril, true to form, was perilous to know. She was playing double duty as Tougher Cop. Tough Hood had unwittingly attacked Miss Margaret Maguire, a deputy sheriff. Mr. X ended up with only a purse strap, and a heart pumping blood and terror; Maguire chased him all the way out of the neighborhood.

Maguire lived at the Carleton (across the street from the St. Angelo).

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With a nod to its severe symmetry, Corinthian columns, and pointy pediment, Hill chronicler Hylen made sure to photograph Carleton’s backside as to juxtapose Neoclassical majesty with good old American tenement living:boweryboyz
Some quick views of the east side of the 200 block of North Grand:

fromthebe1909At left, from the Birdseye, the block in 1909; it’s a bustling part of the world.

Below, the Sanborn Map, 1906.

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In 1950, most of the block was gone. Only the Carleton, and a paltry few other structures, remain:

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By 1952, they’d broken ground on the Hall of Administration. So the 1953 Sanborn Map would have nothing to show for the Carleton’s time on Earth.

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Carleton Apartments images courtesy Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library

The Nugent/New Grand Hotel – 257 South Grand

TheNugeOne cannot help but be enamored of the Nugent. Maybe it’s the big spooky tower. Maybe it’s the Nugent’s corner site at Third Street and Grand Avenue…3rd & Grand just purrs off the tongue, which only seems to further imbue that location with the status as Ground Zero, Bunker Hill.

But truth be told, the Nugent was never a hotbed of vice, should you be perusing our OBH blog to sate your currish needs. Heck, a 1905 article about the original White Ribboners who fought demon drink back in the early ‘70s mentions that crusading Quaker Josephine Marlatt chose the newly-opened Nugent as her home.

thatlllearnherThe Nugent’s most notable resident was a Southern Pacific brakeman by the name of Walter J. Dean. It was March 10, 1935, and Dean was busy plying his honest trade out in Pomona at a railroad right of way while a train crew was switching freight cars in the local yards. Then some woman, as high and as mighty as they come, decided to drive her automobile across said railroad right of way; this enraged Dean, who pitched his lantern through her car windshield. Unfortunately the woman was Mrs. Lois Browning, wife of Desk Sergeant Browning of the local police force, which might give some insight into her high-and-mightiness.

1940And so, while I’d like to say that every resident was a pill-pushing pedophilic grave-robbing ghoul (or at least you’d like to read such), we’ll just have to content ourselves with pretty pictures. I must admit, my inclusion of the Nugent (which became the New Grand some time in the 1940s, to be pulled down in the mid-1960s by the CRA, naturally, ad victoriam) is due in larg1961e part to the wonderful color image I am fortunate enough to here include.

 

August, 1903:
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Sanborn, 1906:

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Sanborn, 1950:

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(If you really must read of murder most foul, note the Alto [at 253] having been built just the other side of the New Grand.)

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Bunker Hill had, without question, the highest per-block concentration of Corinthian capitals in Los Angeles.

 

 

One does have to wonder as to whether the two-story Corinthian columns were always broken up by those fire escapes.

 

 

"Housekeeping/Sleeping ROOMS by the Day-Week or MONTH Phone MA 5-0507"

 

 

 

 

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The deli has become a KooKooRoo. I had half a mind to march in there and say yeah, gimme a couple of your Landjäger, and a Csabai Kolbász, and a half pound of something Italian, Sopressata maybe, sliced thick, and something Jewish for the wife, say a pound of brisket, then let me have a fist-sized thing of herring, in brine not cream, and a pickled egg to go but of course like the rest of Bunker Hill, there was no-one there.

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With the New Grand gone, the 1970s and 80s thrilled to this hole in the ground. (Here, we are facing the other way down Grand from the image above.) At left, the 1982 Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Crocker Tower II and at right, the 1973 AC Martin Security Pacific National Bank Plaza tower, butting up against Third (the road in the foreground would become  Thaddeus Kosciusko).  Then West-LA Nadel Architects (who are at present in charge of designing two thirty-story towers at Third & Beaudry) showed up in 1988 and said here:

 

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And in went the Grand Promenade Towers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But that’s not why we’re here. Not really. As I alluded to earlier, this post is really all about the Nugent/New Grand, 1952—in color:

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Which now looks a lot more like this.

 

 

 

 

 

Images 1 & 2, Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library; Images 3 & 4, William Reagh Collection, California History Section, California State Library; Images 5 & 6, California State Library; color image of the New Grand, Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection.

(The IU Archives were very kind in granting us permission to publish their images here on On Bunker Hill. You are advised to go to the Cushman temple and worship accordingly. Exempli…South Main on a Sunday…peering down Harlem Place at City Hall…a length of Broadway, including the Mason Opera House, before it was wiped out by a 1957 parking garage [which itself was recently razed]…and the corner of Wilshire and St. Paul, hardly changed a bit.)

Of Munsters and Bunker Hill

1313They were eastern European immigrants, utterly integrated into the ways of American society. They were doting, loving parents; rarely does television depict such a highly functional family. They were the Munsters, and they existed to teach us valuable, eternal lessons: build hot rods out of hearses and caskets. Let your home be overrun by the Standells and their beatnik buddies. And see that your house is the biggest and spookiest on the block.

Aside from these eternal lessons, the Munsters also represented something particular to their time—to be exact, Sept.’64-May ’66. (No, I’m not talking about that despite their status as affable, upstanding citizens, the average American really didn’t want to live next door to someone whose skin was a different color.) For our purposes I want to look at another member of the Munster clan, the house itself: 1313 Mockingbird Lane.
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lightningflashThe Munster manse is important to our topic at hand because it represents the attitude toward Victorian architecture at the time the CRA was in its wholesale frenzy of demolition: in a world blooming with Cliff May and Eichler knock-offs, 1313 was an ungainly, awkward embarrassment. It was, to many, nothing if not downright frightening. And those who would live in such a place? They must be odd in the extreme. Beyond curious. Again, frightening: those who dare knock on that door usually end up vaulting themselves over the gate and running down the street in terror. Besides having skin of a different color (in this case, green), the dwellers therein are, in fact, monsters.

The Addams Family also had a big creepy house, though it was more a museum (as noted in theme song, of course) than mired in decrepitude. If the Addams examination of landed gentry’s eccentricities has any bearing on Bunker Hill, it is only in illuminating the Bunker Hill of yore—therein lies no bearing on the Bunker Hill of 1965. (Interestingly, the shot of the Addams house in the first episode was filmed down at 21 Chester Place [and is now, sadly, demolished].)

The house at Chester Place, and its matte-painted addition:

HousedAddams

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001CemeteryRidgeNevertheless, while one could view Gomez as a demented Doheny, or a cracked Crocker, perhaps because (Charles) Addams’s work is so associated with the New Yorker, there’s something rather East Coast about the Addamses. After all, the Italianate Addams place was modeled after a house from Chas’s New Jersey boyhood, or a building at U-Penn, depending on whom you ask.

There’s something uniquely Angeleno about the Munsters—when you take the Koach out to Mockingbird Heights drag strip, you can smell the Pomona. The Munsters went to Marineland. Herman hung with Dodger manager Leo Durocher.
TheGreatTour
1313 was every bit Bunker Hill—dig the deep central Gothic-arched porch, the extensive use of shabby shingle, the patterned chimney. The asymmetrical double porches and widow’s walk are a nice touch. Its most notable feature might be the spook-faced gable. And inside; no well-intentioned postwar updates there—all spindlework and heavy drapes and art-glass lamps. The crumbling stone gates, the overgrowth…this was disrepair in all its Gesamkunstwerkiness. The gag, of course, was that 1313 was the one and only of its kind on the block. The standout. The sore thumb. Bunker Hill was a nest of these things.

Making matters worse, a Munster stood for something. A Munster stood for his home, protecting it with his or her life (undead though they may be). In “Munster on the Move,” (Season 1, Episode 27, airdate March 25, 1965) Herman gets a promotion at the parlor whereby the family must sell the house and move to Buffalo. Grandpa inadvertently sells to a wrecking company; when the Munsters find out the house’s fate, they put the good of the house before their own self-interest. When the bulldozers show up, the family is out front, cannons packed with Grandma’s best silver. The head of the wrecking crew shakes his head in disgust, but not disbelief; says it reminds him of the little old ladies who threw themselves in front of the bulldozers when they were tearing down their homes for the freeway system. “Look Jack, I bought this place to wreck it and put in a parking lot. Now move it, because we’re coming through.” After the wreckers see that Herman can swing a wrecking ball around, they turn tail and flee.

Wreckers arrive:

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Herman reasons with them to great effect:

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Bunker Hill had its Frank Babcock, but even he was no Herman Munster.

One last thing. In “Herman Munster, Shutterbug,” (Season 2, Episode 4, October 7, 1965) Herman inadvertently snaps a photo of two bandits running out of the Mockingbird Heights Bank. And where do these bank-robbing low-lifes lay low? We see in an establishing shot that they’re staying at “The Grand”—

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—which we of course we know as none other than the Dome.

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Dome Image, Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library; postcards, author; everything else courtesy the beneficent glow of the CRT

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

The Pensioner Showgirls of Melrose

By 1952, most of the lovely Melrose Hotel’s 200 occupants were elderly pensioners — elderly pensioners with exciting, glamorous, Auntie Mame-esque pasts.

First there’s the Melrose Hotel’s parttime switchboard operator, Anna Pearce, a former singer on the Considine vaudeville circuit around the turn of the century.

The hotel is also home to Juliet de Grazi, a Swahili-speaking Austrian-born soprano who toured with a Belgian opera company through the cities of East Africa. In 1952, de Grazi was simply passing
through the Melrose. She had recently won a large settlement in an automobile accident, and was planning to return to East Africa where her husband was buried.

And Beulah Monroe was a fixture on the local theatre scene, making her debut in Oscar Wilde’s The Ideal Husband in 1919, opposite Edward Everett Horton. She appeared frequently at the Little Theatre at Figueroa and Pico, and also acted with Florence Roberts, Wallace Beery, and Neely Edwards during her career.

For more on the Melrose and its exciting inhabitants, take a look at what Joan and Nathan have had to say about mysterious fires, rowdy teen girls, and the tragic march of progress.

Dome Wrap-Up

DomeupGrandAfter our initial report on The Dome, we promised there’d be more, and there was—the Little BGirl Who Could, a couple of jumpers, a self-slashing Simons pilferer, even the owner of the Dome itself, who Fought the Power like an Eisenhower-era Radio Raheem, rolling his Grafanola down Grand…

…so now it’s time to sew things up, recounting a collection of other Dome-flavored contretemps:

CookFight
April 7, 1940
. Mike Scaiola, 29, and Rocco Spagnuolo, 35, both cooks, were roomies at the Dome. Over what they argued in their Domeroom is lost to time; all that’s known is what Scaiola later told the cops—during a scuffle he saw the .32 automatic protruding from Spagnuolo’s shirt and attempted to wrest it from him. Oldest story in the world: accidental discharge, someone takes one in the chest, and Spagnuolo’s DOA at Georgia Street Receiving.

jackiejailed
September 18, 1941
. Mrs. Cleo (Jackie) Wooten, 19, was a plucky gal, but take this as a warning: having pluck in spades gets the FBI involved. Cleo was visiting friends in Cunningham, Kan. for some time and was there driving the car owned by Eddie Palzo of that city. He had no objection to her driving the car around Cunningham, but swore out a felony complaint when the Dome resident decided to Dome home. She was picked up at Third and Figueroa when an officer noticed the license on his stolen car list.

JoeSlasher
July 4, 1942
. The character of Dome resident Joe Barron, 28, cook (another cook? Too many cooks really do spoil the pot), did not reflect well on the Dome’s nobility. He was strolling down Fifth Street and passed between one William O. Smith, 37, and Smith’s 21 year-old wife Dorothy when he elected to make an off-color remark to the wife. That didn’t go over well with Mr. Smith, a recent transplant from Arkansas, who slashed Barron’s throat, severing an artery. Luckily, Dorothy instructed William to press his thumb on the artery to stanch the flow of blood, and they hauled Barron into a room at 107 E. Fifth until medical aid could be summoned. Barron survived, we trust, wiser and more gentelmanly.

LeonasPurse
December 21, 1942
. Mrs. Leona Smith was followed home from a café last November 7, only to have her purse snatched—a purse containing $1600 in cash and checks and $4800 worth of jewelry ($6400=$89,216 USD2007). After a month of searching by cops based on Leona’s description of the man and his car, they finally popped Clifford Allen Payne, 32, at the Dome. He took them to the 3500 block of Helms in Culver where he dug up a glass jar containing the checks and jewelry. The real mystery is what she was doing with that sort of booty in her purse.

afbarshootMarch 11, 1961. Alfred Carrillo, 33, was a Dome resident in good standing who had the bad luck to be sitting in a bar at 301 South Hill Street one early Friday morning. Victor F. Jimenez, 26, unemployed truck driver, shot Alfred and then drove off, later to be arrested at his home. (The bar at 301 South Hill, by the way, was the bar at the base of Angels Flight—seen here with Lon Chaney Jr. in the 1956 outing Indestructible Man🙂

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That’s what we have for now. Can’t promise it’s the last of it, as tales and details may still bubble up from the cracked core of time. What about you? Remember your great aunt Nell? The one you socked away at Shady Pines? (The rest home, not the cemetery.) She may harbor descriptions of devious Dome debauchery from back in the day. Go find out before you have to shift Shady Pines.

Photograph courtesy the Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library

The Richelieu Hotel – 142 South Grand Avenue

 

Richelieu Hotel

For nearly seventy years the Richelieu Hotel resided next door to the better known Melrose. The pair of Queen Anne Victorian buildings were two of the most stunning structures on the Hill, but the Richelieu always stood in the shadow of its counterpart. The Melrose once played host to President McKinley, was memorialized by artists like Leo Politi, and was covered by local press when the wrecking crews came. The Richelieu on the other hand, was far less celebrated but no less important, making its small mark on the history of a neighborhood that no longer exists.

Richelieu Hotel

The Richelieu Hotel was built by Richard E. Larkin and his wife Helen, and opened around 1891. Apparently the hotel was not particularly plush, for when the Larkins sold it to a Chicago business man a mere two years after it was built, the Times reported that “the purchaser will spend considerable money giving the house a thorough overhauling, and will run it as a first class hotel.” The overhaul was successful, and the Richelieu played host to society gatherings, and many local families and single residents would call the hotel home.  

LA Times HEadline

For the most part, the Richelieu maintained a relatively tranquil existence, with a bit of color thrown in here and there. In March of 1901, a bold burglar successfully struck Bunker Hill five times in one night, including the room J.F. Currier was occupying at the Richelieu. The cagey criminal was an expert lock picker who entered Currier’s room and made off with $150 in cash and a gold pocket watch without disturbing the resident’s slumber. The hotel was the victim of another burglary in 1904 when thieves entered the room of Mr. & Mrs. Bob Northam. The culprits were lucky that the Northams were out. The couple had been robbed a few months earlier and the Mrs had responded by lodging a bullet in the fleeing burglar. Of the more recent crime, Mrs. Northam expressed regrets that she was not around to take a shot at the thieves.

LA Times Headline

In May of 1949, the Times reported that a pair of detectives were investigating a narcotics lead at the Richelieu, when Ricardo Rameriez walked in on the pair. He attempted to quickly walk out, but was nabbed by the detectives who found $800 worth of heroin on him. One of the detectives spotted Rameriez’s wife waiting in a car down the street and asked her if she wanted to join her husband in jail. “Might as well,” she said and off she went. The next day, the detectives found the couple’s $36,000 smack stash at a hotel on Figueroa.

LA Times Headline

No Bunker Hill boarding house history would be complete without at least one suicide. The Richelieu’s came in 1933 when Sylvia Norris, a 55 year old trained nurse, strangled herself in her room with a hose. According to her husband who found her, Mrs. Norris was despondent over ill health.

LA Times Headline

One of the Richelieu’s more interesting residents was Walter Hallowell, who resided at the hotel for at least ten years. In the 1930s, Hallowell was president of the Bunker Hill Non Partisan Voter’s League and held meetings in his room. By the 1940s, he had established his Richelieu residence as headquarters for the California Shut-In Stamp Club. The club sought donations in order to provide the state’s some 60,000 shut-ins with stamp collections.  Hallowell and the club also offered correspondence courses in short hand, as well as a complete booklet on a variety of ways to play solitaire. Hallowell hoped that the club’s efforts would “bring some pleasure to a shut-in.”

Unlike many of the Victorian structures on Bunker Hill which quickly fell into disrepair, the Richelieu was always well taken care of. In 1939, when the WPA performed a household census of the area, the Richelieu and its thirty-nine units were listed as in “good condition.” The hotel suffered a fire in 1954, but the damage appears to have been minimal.

In May of 1956, the Times reported that the interior of the Richelieu was being redecorated and modernized and “perhaps, once again will be a proud residence.” When the Times extensively covered the demolition of the Melrose a year later, the Richelieu was already gone.

All photos courtesy of the California State Library Arnold Hylen Collection.

Hollywood Comes to The Sherwood

Bunker Hill has had many landmarks, but perhaps none so little remembered as the massive foundations lain at 431 South Grand many years ago. They were great concrete things, poured about the time of the Great Panic, or the Lesser Panic, and served as Hill touchstone and reminder of ambitious building projects halted by devious economies. But L. H. Mills and J. G. Talbott have come along and said fooey! We reject these in their totality and all they represent, and with that utterly destroyed the foundations and have, in the style of all that is great and noble of the year 1912, set out to build from the ground up the finest apartment hotel available.

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The building is 75×176’ and contains 160 rooms. Despite its vaguely
French Renaissance air, it is named the Nottinghamshire-evoking
Sherwood.

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The lobby is 50×41’, finished in mahogany, its inglenook containing a large fireplace. Each Sherwood apartment contains a private dressing room with built-in dresser and mirror. Whereas law stipulates the minimum space for apartment living rooms as 120 square feet, the Sherwood’s are 190; where the legal minimum for hallways is three feet six inches, Mills and Talbott see that theirs will be six feet across. Just because.
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In June of 1915, the Sherwood hosted the wedding of P. C. Hartigan and Peggy Hart, in the apartments of their pal, Sherwoodian Mrs. Dick Ferris, and in the company of Judge Summerfield and many a jolly Hollywood pal.
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Soon after, however, the quality of Hollywood Type there began to decline. Even in our TMZ era that abjures accomplishment and rewards reprobation, dag, that Helen Lee Worthing gave society a run for its money. And surely set Sherwood tongues a-wagging.

HLWWorthing was a statuesque Bostonian-by-way-of-Kentucky who’d become a Ziegfeld Follies girl—the toast of New York, and lady-friend of a New York mayor, it was said. Darling of the rotogravure section, it was then on to Hollywood, where she made pictures galore while at the same time gracing nightly Ziegfeld’s well-known assemblage of pulchritude.

She’d always had a tempestuous time of it…in 1922, after a Hearst paper described in detail Worthing’s New York catfight with another chorus girl—including a cartoon depicting the biting and clawing—she elected to end her life by swallowing bichloride of mercury. Ended up in Bellevue.

Once in Hollywood she made the papers in more light-hearted ways; in 1925 she drove her car off a cliff and from there atop the roof of a house in Whitley Heights.

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But her career continued to blossom; Mary Pickford called her the most beautiful woman in the world, and Harrison Fisher adjudged her the most beautiful profile in America. In 1926—the year she starred with Barrymore in Don Juan—she demanded $100,000 from a perfume company that had used her image.

But 1927 was to change all that. In April she was the victim of a violent beating, administered by an intruder, which left her with a broken nose, knocked-out tooth and discolored eyes. And five days of delirium. Her colored maid called Dr. Eugene Nelson, noted Negro physician, to see after her famous employer.

And it was love! They threw society’s strictures aside (it was still forty years before Loving v. Virginia and eighty til Seal n Heidi) and set about on a whirlwind romance that resulted in a secret Tijuana wedding in June. The fact that there was no intruder, and Nelson had to care for someone in a mad fit of drunkenness (or, more precisely, a drunken fit of madness) should have given him pause.

helooksasblackasIdoThey keep the wedding secret but is revealed to the world late in 1929, after their estrangement becomes known. His philandering, cruelty, jealously, and threats of confining her to some sort of institution are apparently too much for her.

In 1930 she returns from a New York “Neurological Institute” where she’s been treated for…the blues. She is outted by a reporter as being shacked up at the Mayfair, and she moves into an unnamed apartment-house; likely The Sherwood, as she turns up there in short order.

Divorce proceedings stretch through the early 30s: she complains that he beats her and drugs her and forces her outside wearing only her negligee; he replies that they didn’t fulfill Mexican residential requirements and, as they’re not therefore legally wed, doesn’t owe her monthly monies. By November 1932 she’s hallucinating that objects are being thrown at her, and is threatening suicide, and lands in the psychopathic ward of General Hospital. The marriage is annulled in January 1933.

In June of 1933 she disappears from an eastbound Santa Fe train—it is assumed she jumped, or fell. A three day search ensues. Turns out she just got off at Pasadena, abandoning her bags and tickets.

sherwoodarrestOn August 16, 1933, the coppers come to The Sherwood to collect Helen Lee Worthing on violation of her parole to the psychopathic department. In a statement from her psych ward bed at General Hospital, Helen declared that she had been living quietly in her apartment, attempting to increase her income by writing poetry and short stories. “I can’t understand who would complain and have me returned here,” she said. “I have only been trying to get a start on my own ability. Incidentally, I have fallen in love with a man who has been typing my poetry, but that has nothing to do with this.”

If only the story could end with her returning to the Sherwood, marrying the typist, and living long enough to move into the Bunker Hill Towers. But it was not to be.

In 1935 she is arrested on a drunk charge in Venice, and can’t come up with the $5 bail, or even the pals to post the bail for her; she spend ten days in Lincoln Heights jail.
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In September 1935 she’s living in the Big Sister League Guest Home, when she again takes poison, this time over unrequited love.
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In 1939 she’s sentenced to five months in County on a narcotics charge—passing forged morphine scrips and carrying a hypo in her purse. In 1940 she’s given a year for the same MO. (Interestingly, while in stir, going about her duties as a trusty in the woman’s ward of County, only three flights below was her ex-husband Dr. Eugene Nelson, awaiting his murder trial—not only was he practicing without a license, having lost that—but he killed a girl while aborting her fetus.)

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In October 1942 she’s popped for public drunkenness outside a downtown roominghouse; she fails to appear in court for her hearing, but sends a note: “I am leaving the State. I do not feel I can get fair treatment in California courts.” Needless to say, she does not leave the state. Radio car officers were called to the scene of her beating by some “boyfriend” in her Centennial Street apartment in April 1944, and took her to Georgia Street Receiving where she was treated for half-inch laceration on the chin and a 1+1/2 inch cut on the back of her head; she does not press charges.

uhohIn 1946 she’s found downed and dazed at Portia and Sunset, and examination fails to find injury or illness. She talks vaguely of trying to obtain rest by “self-hypnosis.” Uh-huh.

Some would see this as a red flag; others as the checkered flag…the race is over. In any event, people will sit in the stands waiting for a spectacular crash. Most of the time, the car sputters and dies. It’s just a matter of time, now.

August 25, 1948. She dies of barbiturate poisoning, in a tiny house (1062 North Serrano, since wiped out by the Hollywood Freeway) surrounded by expensive scrapbooks bulging with clippings from her golden age. Inside were penciled notes: “I can’t stand another straw—it would be too much.” Say hello next time you’re in Inglewood.

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The Sherwood is now occupied roughly by the back side of the Welton Becket’s 1981 Mellon First Business Bank, and some miniaturized version of a street called “Hope Place.”
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For anyone who may gripe that the majority of this page deals more with Hollywood than it does with Bunker Hill, believe me, brother, this isn’t the last you’ve heard of The Sherwood.

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:

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“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.