The Elks and Their Annex

crackerOf all the oft-pictured sites of Los Angeles, Angels Flight is certainly up there amongst them, as who doesn’t go for those Oldey-Timey images? There’s probably postcards and ceramic trivets and refrigerator magnets featuring Angels Flight from here to Toledo to Timbuktu, and people probably prefer a pre-1908, pre-Elks Club Building image of the Hill topped with the Crocker Mansion because, again, Oldey-Timey.

So what of the Elks Lodge, which supplanted the Crocker (having its 100th anniversary demolition party in a few weeks), that squarish building noted more for giving the world the Angels Flight gateway than for being, well, a squarish building?
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There were in fact two BPOE buildings. The main building fronting Clay Street, at 60×90′, contained an auditorium, dance hall, dormitories and offices; the Annex above at 300 South Olive, on the site of the June ’08-demolished Crocker (where District Deputy Grand Exalted Ruler John Whichner placed Elks Lodge No. 99 roster, and copies of the September 2, 1908 newspapers in the cornerstone), was 54×64′, and full of reading and writing rooms, plus a billiard hall and card parlors—everything a fraternal organization needed.

At least for a little while. By 1925 the Elks had built much larger and schmantzier digs over by Westlake park.

300 South Olive wouldn’t go to waste, though, as the Elks’ brothers-in-fraternity, the Loyal Order of Moose, took over the buildings. They covered "BPOE" on the aforementioned Angels Flight archway and set about putting a lot of boxers to work. 1931:
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And 1951:

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No, not that Jimmy Carter.

The Moose hung on, and kept the building til the end, despite it becoming the Royal Club:
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Nice quoins.

In September of 1962 it was just one more structure on the business end of the CRA’s bulldozers:

hallfallsIn its small theater—now roofless and with one wall gone because the workmen’s hammer— tattered remnants of a once-fancy curtain hang over the stage.

An old-timer on the hill, Austin Blackburn, 59, of 529 W 3rd St, said the building was a lodge meeting place when he took up residence at the now-demolished Cumberland hotel, across the street at 243 S Olive, 35 years ago. “The Royal, and all the rest of the hill, was a wonderful place then,” he reminisced. “They used to put on free shows and boxing matches in the theater for the folks who lived here. Later it was a dance hall, and during World War II they made a hotel out of it. At one time boxers used to train in a small gymnasium there.”

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The question being, of course, what became of the cornerstone filled with 1908 newspapers and the Elks’ club roster?

Crocker Mansion image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Annex image courtesy Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library

Newspaper images from the Los Angeles Times

Life and Death Of and In the Astoria

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


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

—December 17, 1905

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Newspaper images from the Los Angeles Times 

The Crocker Mansion – 300 South Olive

Crocker Mansion

At the turn of the 20th Century, no building dominated Bunker Hill like the Crocker Mansion. Perched high at the corner of Third and Olive, the imposing 3-story Victorian structure overlooked the emerging metropolis for a mere 22 years. Though its reign over Bunker Hill was short, the Crocker Mansion remains an indelible part of early Los Angeles history.

Designed by architect John Hall and erected in 1886, the ornate residence was built by Mrs. Margaret E. Crocker at a cost of $45,000 (a little over a million in today’s dollars). Margaret was the widow of Edwin Bryant Crocker, a California Supreme Court Justice, who with his brother, Charles, amassed a fortune in the railroad industry. Following her husband’s death in 1875, Mrs. Crocker became a known social and civic leader who had donated the family’s impressive art collection to the city of Sacramento. At the time she commissioned the Los Angeles residence, Mrs. Crocker owned homes in Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco and New York.

Crocker Mansion View from Olive

In 1887, the mansion became the center of a scandal when Alma Ashe, Margaret Crocker’s granddaughter, was kidnapped from the residence.

LA Times Headline

Two-year-old Alma was the daughter of Amy Crocker and playboy Robert Porter Ashe, who had previously scandalized the family in 1882 by eloping. Rumored to have married Miss Crocker for the family riches, Amy soon grew weary of her groom, who spent plenty of time and money at the racetrack. The marriage soon went south and in April 1887, Ashe marched into the Crocker Mansion and marched out with his daughter, who was being watched by relatives while her mother and grandmother were out of town. Ashe and the child holed up in the St. Elmo Hotel on Main Street for a couple of days until a judge formally ordered he hand the child over to the Crockers. Ashe claimed he was protecting his daughter from her unfit mother, while Amy claimed her husband was attempting to gain leverage over her by imprisoning the child. Ultimately, grandma took Alma to live in Europe until she was old enough to decide which parent she preferred to live with. The Ashe-Crocker union was officially dissolved a few months later, and Amy (later going by Aimee) would ignore the incident altogether in her 1936 memoir …And I’d Do it Again.

Crocker Mansion view from Clay

In 1891, the Crocker Mansion became a boarding house/hotel, though far ritzier than the faded Bunker Hill boarding rooms of the 1940s/50s. Though Mrs. Crocker was no longer residing there, she still maintained ownership of the stately structure that played host to many a member of society’s elite. Even as a commercial property, rooms were always advertised as located in the “Crocker Mansion.”

LA Times Headline

Construction on the Third Street tunnel began in 1900, and Mrs. Crocker filed a petition claiming that the mansion was endangered by the street tunnel which was “unsafe, improperly constructed and a veritable death trap.” According to the Los Angeles Times, “the walls of her house are settling, the foundations giving way and the plaster is falling off…Unless something is done, the building is liable to topple into a hole.” The house never did topple and was alive and well in 1902 when Angels Flight began operating and dropping riders off practically on the Crocker doorstep.

Crocker Mansion Before the Tunnel
Before and after the Third Street Tunnel
Crocker Mansion next to tunnel and Angels Flight

Margaret Crocker died in 1901 and possession of the mansion was assumed by her children, except for hell-cat Aimee who had been left out of the will. The mansion was sold in 1905 for $50,000 along with the land that ran 120 feet on Olive and 150 feet on Third, down to Clay Street. The Crocker Mansion subsequently closed its doors as a boarding house and plans were soon drawn up to renovate the residence for use as social quarters for the Elk’s, who were putting up a new building on the eastern portion of the property. When the frame of the “old” house was deemed too weak, the Crocker Mansion was scheduled for demolition, to be replaced by a reinforced concrete structure.

The Victorian building was razed in June 1908 and the cornerstone for the Elk’s Annex was laid the following September.

All photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

Angels Flight and the Flickers

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As an addendum to my Angels Flight post, below, I got to thinking about AF’s relationship to cinema after OnBunkerHill’r John wrote to the other contributors:

How many of you have seen the 1965 film, "Angel’s Flight"? Here is how the program of the Egyptian Theater’s 2006 Film Noir film festival described it:

ANGEL’S FLIGHT, 1965, 77 min. Dirs. Raymond Nassour and Ken Richardson. A Super Rarity! Listen up lovers of Los Angeles Noir! Be here for an unprecedented screening of this long-lost, locally-made feature. This oddball noir-horror-crime hybrid concerns a psychically scarred stripper (Indus Arthur) who turns homicidal whenever she gets horny. The real attraction is the seedy splendor of pre-development Bunker Hill and the focus on the famed funicular trolley that gives the film its title. Shown off of digital format, as 35mm and 16mmprints no longer exist! Starring and produced by the original "Marlboro Man," William Thourlby. NOT ON DVD. Discussion following film with writer, Dean Romano.

…and I realized, jeez, there’s a picture named after Angel(‘)s Flight, but whenever our Flight is mentioned vis-a-vis film, everyone is quick to mention Criss Cross, and rightfully so. Any picture in which a sultry Yvonne De Carlo skulks around Bunker Hill should win the Oscar for, you know, Best Use of Everything.

So on the assumption that You Our Reader were at the Egyptian for Angel’s Flight, and dutifully have the Betamax of Criss Cross on your shelf, you still might appreciate a heads up about Indestructible Man and The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?

Indestructible Man stars Lon Chaney Jr., who so masterfully skulked around El Mio in Spider Baby. You can actually watch the movie in its entirety right here, right now.
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See! Marian Carr want off Angels Flight!

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Thrill! In screaming blood terror as master of horror Lon Chaney walks past beer neon to get on Angels Flight! Then get off!!! (To be fair, he does throw a guy down some stairs by the Hillcrest. It’s pretty cool.)

And of the wonders and glories of TISCWSLABMUZ there’s simply too much to say. Many have heard of yet few have actually viewed this spectacular (I was lucky enough to see it in a San Francisco picture-house when a knife-brandishing Jello Biafra & Boyd Rice exploded from the screen—in gore-soaked living 3-D!). The only other people known to have seen this film are Joel Hodgson, Tom Servo, and Crow T. Robot:
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Jerry has just tried to strangle his girlfriend. Because she spun an umbrella. Don’t ask. Suffice it to say, he has to go here:

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And for that we are thankful.