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.
MunsterPcard

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

theeasywaytoaddon

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:

TheArrival

Herman reasons with them to great effect:

ManOfReason

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”—

Munsterwaska

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

DomeoftheRock

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

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🙂

chaneywalks

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

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).
councilready
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.

thelash

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.

The Dome’s Jumping Palomino

miltsavestheday

Monday, January 14, 1963

jumperlongBunker Hill’s final days, after its Official Designation as blighted slum, evokes not only decrepit dandified buildings like the Dome, but also its downtrodden denizens, shuffling along, infused with all the despair and longing and hopelessness you’d expect from folks in a blighted slum. It being Official, after all.

Victor Palomino, 29, was one such shuffler. He was another resident of the Dome, who’d actually been fine and dandy until Friday last when he was canned from his gig as a carpenter at the Civic Center project. He brooded over the wintry weekend and at mid-afternoon on a jobless Monday, thought to himself as had another of his carpenter brethren, why hast thou forsaken me? and decided to shuffle from the Dome a couple hundred feet to the northeast to the corner of First and Hope.

There stood the great steel frame of the Department of Water and Power building. Like King Kong, frustrated, recently out of a job, though trading Skyscraper Deco for Corporate Modern, Victor climbed fourteen stories of the skeleton and perched on a narrow I-beam 220 feet above the earth. Would the four children of his pregnant common-law wife Angie, 21, ever see him again? Would the seven children from his previous wife ever see him again? (Why is it residents of the Dome so like to leap?)

For three tense hours he screamed he was going to jump. Angie and his priest screamed back (presumably for him not to, not “Jump! Jump!”) but it was Milt Borik, project manager for Gust K. Newberg, who finally coaxed Victor down with the promise of his job back.

It was a ruse. After Victor came down, he didn’t go back to his home in the Dome, with is bays and spindles, its hands at two minutes to midnight, in direct aesthetic if not moral opposition to LA’s true Mulholland Fountain, no; Victor’s in Central Receiving under psych-ob, and he’ll be there for a little while.
gazingheavenward

Domeite Brannon

Date: March 26, 1947

Having described the Dome to you in some detail, we figured it would be in the interest of OBH readers to be kept abreast of the hotel’s tenants. Enter Carl F. Brannon.

Carl called 201 South Grand home. He worked down at the Simon’s Drive-In at 3607 South Figueroa, as manager no less. A man of quality. And bravery, to take on such a dangerous job.

notthesimonsonfigDangerous? Yes! Brannon was held up by two men, robbed of $1,000, and slashed with a razor blade when he courageously resisted.

Detective Sgts. Lambert and Thedens of Univeristy Division quizzed him all about the incident, and that fishy smell, the one that didn’t emanate from Simon’s deep-fryer. Police Forensic Chemist Ray Pinker gave Brannon’s superficial wounds a look-see, and let’s face it, it’s hard to slash yourself.

Turns out Brannon had lost heavily in the Vegas gambling houses (running afoul of the El Rancho, Last Frontier, and Benji Siegel’s newly opened Flamingo, no doubt) and took the money to make good on his losses. $861 was found in a crock in Simon’s storeroom.

Brannon’ll spend a little time in stir before he slinks his sad-slashed self back to the Dome.

Simons Drive-In image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

A Sick Man Jumps

Location: 201 South Grand Avenue
Date: June 9, 1931

Richard Veit, mechanic, resident of the Minnewaska, aged 67 (or so it appears, through the blotchy ink of the news clipping), took his life today by leaping from the eastern end of the Second Avenue tunnel. He was gravely injured, but managed to tell detectives he had been chronically ill for many years and wanted to die, which he soon did after arrival at Georgia Street Receiving Hospital. He left a note to a Mrs. F.A. Schofield in Chicago directing her to dispose of his property there.

Dome Denizen Smith

July 14, 1949

Grace E. Smith made the Dome her home. From there she made the trek to work down to the Belmont Grill. It’s 1949. She’s a B-girl.

domeup2ndfromolive

Vice has been coming down on prosties of late and joints like the Belmont that run B-girl operations are a thorn in the side of decent society. The racket is simple: the gals chat up the fellas, and as a gal mingles with the patrons she induces them to buy more drinks. Her bourbons are colored water or ice tea; she gets a commission of those sales. And if she takes off with her new friend, we’ll call him, oh, John, the tavern owner gets a cut of her earnings. Repeat.

After a while Vice gets tired of dealing with pimp beat downs, or customers given the mick finn, so it’s time to round up the ladies. Grace E. Smith, 28, won’t get to go home to her little room at the Dome tonight, popped as she was at the Belmont for violating the municipal B-girl ordinance. Tomorrow morning she’ll be out on $100 bail.

b-elmont

Grace’s boss Nathan Bass, owner of the Belmont, has been supbeanoed to testify before the county grand jury in its current vice inquiry into the Brenda Allen police pay-off probe. (Bass had been in the news last month when he, as a pal of LAPD Lieutenant Wellpott, had wiretaps of his phone calls played at the PD/Allen vice hearings.) Bass went on to testify that famously dirty Sgts. Stoker and Jackson would meet in the Belmont.

The next mention of Grace E. Smith—one wonders if it’s she and the same—is in 1953: a Lena S. Reed, 72, was to leave her $8,000 estate ($61,857 USD 2007) to her family but just before her demise opted to bequeath it to Mrs. Edna W. “Mail Fraud” Ballard (aka St. Germain, aka Joan of Arc, aka Lotus Ray King), cofounder of the I AM religious movement. A judge blocked probate when the family filed contest, accusing Mrs. Ballard of “exerting undue influence on Mrs. Reed while she was in ill health and mentally disturbed.” The same accusations were made against the secretary of the organization’s St. Germain Foundation, and executor of the will, one Grace E. Smith.

No mention as to whether this Grace E. Smith lived in the Dome.

The Rise and Fall of the Dome

The Minnewaska, aka The Dome, played host to no small quantity of characters over the course of her life. Over the course of this blog you’ll be introduced to your fair share of them. Here then is a brief introduction to this, their home.

minnie1903

Our first mention of the Minnewaska comes in the form of this notice regarding building permits, January 11, 1903:
minniebldngpermit
She is completed within the year and on December 20 described in the Times thusly:

…recently completed by J M Shield on the southwest corner of Grand avenue and Second street…the location, only three blocks from Broadway and Second street, and near the highest point of Olive Heights, is one which is both desirable and commanding.
The house is a four-story combination frame and cement structure with tower.
Its foundation is a heavy brick wall imbedded in solid red gravel. Very heavy dimension timbers were used as the owner contemplated adding two or more stories to the building at some time in the future. The outer walls are covered with heavy diagonals and on this surface is placed steel lath and two coats of cement plaster. The latter is tinted a delicate cream color, which gives the building a very pleasing exterior.
The interior is arranged in flats of two and four rooms each, which are supplied with private baths, marble-topped wash stands, electric bells, steam heat, and such other modern conveniences as are usually found in the best apartment hotels.
The house contains 122 guests’ rooms and thirty-seven bathrooms, besides dining-room, kitchen, storeroom, cold-storage and furnace rooms, office and reception-room. The latter are finished in paneled oak and have decorated ceilings.
The apartments are finished in white cedar, and are so arranged that each room can be entered from a hall. The building could therefore be easily converted into a regular commercial hotel.
Its main hall is arranged as an open court, and its roof garden affords a view of the surrounding country that extends from the mountains to the sea.
The building cost about $65,000. The lot on which it stands extends westward to Bunker Hill avenue and affords space for an extension to the present building that would give it a frontage of about 400 feet on the three streets and a total of 200 guests’ rooms.

Sold in 1905, the Minnewaska remains so named in the city directories until 1907, when she becomes, simply and more descriptively, the Dome.

domebigpic

And sure, you’re to read here about all manner of shady and shifty character who occupied 201 South Grand during the Dome’s heyday, but I’ll delight most in telling you of Frank Babcock, one of the Dome’s owners, the man who through the late 1950s took on the Community Redevelopment Agency in lawsuit after lawsuit pointing out, and correctly, that the CRA had no right to condemn the Hill’s habitable property and certainly not to use public money to do so (Babcock’s theory that oil bigwig/CRA chairman William T. Sesnon Jr. was after Bunker Hill for its oil reserves is a bit fanciful, but is, in fact, backed up by the area’s hydrocarbon geology—but all things in due time).

On the morning of July 25, 1964, the Dome burst into flame, and as mentioned by Richard here, there’s been some question as to just how and why the Dome, most prominent and distantly visible of the Bunker Hill structures, burned. While there had been some land purchases and building demolitions, despite the CRA’s inception in 1948, they had by 1964 accomplished very little. Was the burning of the Dome a "push" in the "right direction"? (After Mayor Yorty called for an audit of the agency’s redevelopment techniques, it was determined in 1966 that the CRA used shoddy business practices to achieve limited progress, despite simple goals that, according to a report four months in the making, myopically favored bulldozers over rehabilitation and conservation.)
burndomeyburn
Conspiracies aside, she burns, her cremains removed and scattered to the four winds:
beingrazed
“…will give way to a parking lot until the renewal project gets under way.” She’s been a parking lot since October 1964:
domeflyover
The Disney Hall and Colburn School (right and bottom) are new additions; on the left is the 1989 Grand Promenade Apartments, which, judging by the reviews, certainly indicates the CRA did a great job.

Forty-four years as a parking lot but not, perhaps, forever, given this hint from the planning department regarding the tract:
diezukunft
…and so on.

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

Newspaper images and quote from the Los Angeles Times 

Minnewaska Hotel (201 S Grand Ave)

This is the famous Minnewaska Hotel which sat at the corner of 3rd & Grand. On July 26th, 1964 fire engulfed the venerable old building, which hosted 63 units. The open central stairway was blamed on the blaze which spread like a blowtorch, killing one tenant and injuring six others.

Slated for demolition in 1967, it was rumored that the fire was intentionally started to stir up support for quicking the rehabilitation of the hill, which was simply another way of hastening it’s complete demolition to make way for commercial buildings which fit into the CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency)’s agenda.

<p><img src="http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1157/951773624_a9d342cb32_o.jpg" alt="" width="504" height="400" /></p>