The Ems — 321 South Olive

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In what will surely go down as the smarmiest piece of journalism in history, the Times recounts the travails of Toy Lane, dancer at the Chinese Junk, 733 North Main. She made her way over to the Junk from her pad at The Ems to shimmy for shekels on September 25, 1946. When she gets into the nightclub dressing room to “dress” for her act (the Times’s flippant application of quotation marks, not mine) she discovers her wardrobe has been stolen: G-string No. 1 (black and orange, beaded,) $35; G-string No. 2 (silver metallic cloth,) $23; beaded shaker, $20; rhinestone brassiere $20; an anklet and armband set, $25.

Miss Lane, it was reported, was mortified—she had to dance with her clothes on!

In a final piece of facetiousness, the Times noted “the police were searching for the burglars and the large van they must have used to carry away the loot.”

The Chinese Junk Café:

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Which was up in China City, a 1935 Chinesque development that predated New Chinatown, and had been the baby of wealthy socialite and “Mother of Olvera Street” Christine Sterling. China City was mostly burned out, literally and figuratively, by the early 50s.

And of Ms. Toy’s home, the Ems?

Remember the Palace/Casa Alta post, which was long on storytelling but short on pretty pictures? I even chided you for looking at a structure that was not our hotel-in-question, by tossing über-comely Bunker Hill lass The Ems smack dab into the mix.
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I even promised I’d talk about the Ems “next week,” but by next week it was President’s Day, and somebody had to make you mindful of your nation, despite all the patriotic work you were doing watching Obama informercials.

Well, now it’s the week after next, and it’s time for the Ems, which is replete with pretty pictures but sadly short on storytelling. Here’s what we know.

Charles Clayton Emswiler came to LA in the boom eighties and went into the apartment-house building game. In August of 1905 he pulled permits to build his eponymous Mission-style Ems, designed by none other than Joesph Cather Newsom.  Emswiler died in 1922, age 69, in the apartment house at 321 that bore his name.

It contains 110 rooms, divided into twenty-six apartments according to the 1939 census, sixty-five apartments according to the 1950 Sanborn map.  Here it is before its birth, from the 1896 Sanborn map (321, bottom), and postnatal from the 1906:

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Our earliest known shot, above. Pre-1908, because the Kellogg has yet to be built to the north. Notice the three round-arch traceried windows along the street, and the turreted house to the south.

We know that it had a large ballroom, for in 1909 the papers announced that sixty couples participated in the dancing at the inaugural ball honoring President Taft.

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The Ems were apartments-of-choice for a collection of colorful characters.

1914. “Mohawk Half-Breed” Daniel T. La Rae, alias Daniel T. Ray, was an Ems resident (Emsident?) with Miss Emma Ewalt—they stayed there together, but were (!) unmarried. Daniel spent a lot of time promising to marry Miss Ewalt, even going so far as to travel to Shelby, Ohio, to visit her father. Mostly what Daniel did, though, is borrow money—he needed these sums to purchase marble on bond to build post offices and such. Of course he could be trusted; he was a Federal Officer, after all.

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He had shown Emma a badge emblazoned “U. S. Marshal,” but never paid back the money nor made good on his promise of marriage. Of course his badge was a phony as his promises. Turns out his real job was for the Southern Pacific RR, guarding Chinese as they were ferried from San Francisco across the Mexican border line. Chinese actually go home to Mexico. Little known fact.

likkerseezed1924. Emsians Jack Hart and James Whitmore were no mere bathtub gin fanciers, nor busted-at-the-speak spuds; the Feds seized Hart & Whitmore’s forty cases of champagne, seventy-five cases of Scotch, and seventy-three cases of gin, crème de menthe and grain alcohol down at their warehouse, 1840 Lebanon. The liquor was valued at $40,000. In addition to the liquor, the drys seized a large truck, three touring cars and several rifles.

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Above, the Ems in 1912 and a William Reagh image ca. 1960.  Notice the rounded tripartite fenestration, which worked so well with the rest of the façade, has been changed to a single remaining arched window, a square window, and a doorway.  This is due to owner William Fisher’s February 1927 alteration—he hires architect B. N. Rickard, of whom you have never heard, and rightfully so, since this is pretty clunky work, to convert the lobby into two bedrooms and turn the ball room into a new lobby.  (Note too that the neighboring house—built in 1887-88 by Howard W. Mills, of real estate firm Mills, Crawford, Pauly & Clapp—at 327 South Olive has been reduced to a concrete pit, demolished for a parking lot in the summer of 1948. )

jaccuse1930. An employment agency sent Emsite Erma Gogleu, 16, to 903 West Twenty-First St. to fill a position as a mother’s helper. As soon as she got the job, she was attacked by mother’s son James D. Anderson. Erma wasn’t the first to have met with the fate of an Anderson Employee—one Marguerite Cooper, 23, also testified with Erma in Municipal Court about a similar sitch, and the Judge ordered Anderson held on $10,000 bail.

vroom1934. Emsman Joe Shaw, 26, was roaring along on his motorcycle on a Friday night down at 30th and Broadway, when he fatally struck Mrs. Marianna Valenzuela, 58. Hey, I warned you that the Ems lacked gripping and protracted tales. But look at those pretty pictures.

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exquisitedeadguy1942. Every hotel has a suicide. And despite Harold’s line to his Uncle Victor—“during wartime the national suicide rate goes down”—on Bunker Hill, there’s still wartime Selbsmord (the Belmont had two in ’42). It’s easy to posit that the suicide rate is a constant, and the papers make a point of reporting ‘em during wartime to detract the populace from all those incoming body bags. If you go for that sort of mass-media-control conspiracy. That notwithstanding, nine months after we got into the war, Joseph Buotha, a 58-year-old former private investigator, ate several bottles of pills in his Ems apartment. He had just written a long telegram to Eleanor Roosevelt, and this note: “Please let me alone. Let fate take its course. Notify John G. Wenk to take care of my belongings. Please don’t hurt the dog. May God forgive you.”

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rupinoida1949. Joe Rupino, 50, was leaning over the railing on the second story balcony, shaking the dust from a rug, when the railing gave way and he fell fifteen feet to the pavement. Rupino received possible fractures of the right wrist, forearm and shoulder, and a trip to Georgia Street and a transfer to General Hospital.

There’s that railing! The railing of DEATH!

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Ok, the railing of death. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Of course we know how the story ends.  The Ems gets its demo permit pulled in July 1965.  By the summer of ’66 it’s just a pile where a truck can pull up, while erstwhile neighbor the Casa Alta is undergoing a similar fate:

After the last few posts—piles of brick, crenellated castles, Neo-Classical noodling—I am happy to say look at all that stucco (stucco that’s supposed to be there, not stucco that was thrown over shingle—although to be honest, it wasn’t thrown over adobe brick, either). The deep arcades, the rounded arches, the low-pitched red tile roofs…Mission Revival sure oozes picturesque. Were the square flat roof to call a California antecedent to mind, you might think of the 1894 Burlingame train station. flatroofThe Ems is “twin tower”, á la the Santa Barbara Mission, and of course there’s the contemporary tri-tower version a couple blocks over, the somewhat less Mission and more Moorish St. Regis.

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emsgoingThe Ems and the Palace, chunks missing from their plaster, give Bunker Hill the appearance of a city pockmarked by battle.

 

When it comes to architecture important to this part of the world, it can be argued that Spanish Colonial/Mission Revival is our own honest, expressive flowering, that’s crowd-pleasing but not childish, sometimes silly but never stupid, hard to notice sometimes and often hard to preserve.

It’s sad to lose Bunker Hill in general; we’re sorry to lose the Ems in particular.

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Early shots, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection; later b/w shots, William Reagh and Arnold Hylen Collections, California History Section, California State Library; color shots, Walker Evans, “439 Architectural Views for Time-Life Project ‘Doomed Architecture'”, metmuseum.org

The Old Switcheroo

May 6, 1915. Mr. H. J. Robinson, of 210 South Flower, met long-time acquaintance Ernest Lightfoot at another house Robinson owned at 121 South Flower. While the two were inspecting 121—Lightfoot had proposed Robinson trade him the house for some land in the Imperial Valley—Lightfoot slugged the elderly Robinson, knocking him unconscious.

Robinson recovered consciousness enough to feel someone tugging at his diamond ring—which he’d never been able to get off himself, though Lightfoot was able to do enough of a number on Robinson’s finger to effect removal.

While Robinson recovered in Westlake Hospital, suffering contusions of the head and a concussion of the brain (and a bruised finger), Lightfoot was picked up by detectives. Turns out this Lightfoot was the same charmer who in 1910 was charged with rape and given five years probation, and who in 1914 was arrested for child abandonment.

…210 South Flower?1922Stan

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From the collective neuron firings of OBH readership comes the query where have I heard that before?

 

Why, you read about that just the other day, in Miss Joan’s wonderful tale of the Fry Cook Killa.

Yes, 210 South Flower, which we know as the Stanley Apartments, as pictured here and here.

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jimandbunkerIn November 1979, the Times ran a piece about Angelus Plaza, Bunker Hill’s subsidized housing project for seniors. For the article they dug up one of the original uprooted persons, a Jim Dorr, 73, who’d been sent a notice by the CRA to vacate the Stanley Apartments on November 15, 1965. He’s glad he saved those displacement papers all these years: HUD will give him priority in the otherwise random lottery.

Sez Jim:

“I’ve been around Bunker Hill off and on now for forty or fifty years. They say it was nice once. But they let it run down for years. The Stanley was a very old place, well kept, but they didn’t spend much money on it.”

(Just for the record, despite what it says in the caption at right, the Bunker Hill Towers are not on the spot of the Stanley. The Stanley is at the red hatched box below; Dorr’s standing at the blue dot.)

 

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Looking down 2nd toward Hope. (Needless to say, Bunker Hill Avenue has removed itself from the equation.)  (But then, so has pretty much everything else.)

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Le Miserable

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Joe Chavez was busted down on Bunker Hill. ’Twas late in the Decembertime (the holiday season, for the Love of Mary), and Joe, 50, hungry, hunkered down in his pad at 221 South Bunker Hill, went and thought, I’m going to go liberate a little something from a nearby market to ease my gnawing gut. What’s the worst that could happen?

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December 29, 1954. Joe exits 221, heads down to a small grocery at 108 South Broadway. Unfortunately for Joe, somebody called in his little lift, a 484, as a 64 (that’s a petty theft blossomed into an armed robbery to the KMA367). So the coppers arrived a-blazing, but store owner Carl Johnson, 28, already had things handled. Johnson, evidently an ex-footballer, hit Chavez—ham neatly tucked under one arm—with a flying tackle.

Joe rang in the New Year at City Jail, after a trip to Georgia Street Receiving; his tackle resulted in a broken nose.

So what do we know of 221 South Bunker Hill? That it appeared between the 1888 and 1894 Sanborn maps. That it changed comparatively little between 1894 and 1955:

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221 was photographed as having a wall in front in the mid-1950s:

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Which it lost in favor of this lacework-laden thicket theme:

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GC221About which Bunker Hill photographer Arnold Hylen described as “a touch of old New Orleans along the sidewalk.” He’s right not only about that wrought iron, which lends a decided Royal Street flourish. This is a shockingly New Orleans house in general. Granted, the steep cross gables are more Gothic Revival than archetypal Crescent City, but this style of roof treatment is seen frequently in New Orleans. The two-tiered porch with full-length windows are a Gulf Coast hallmark. Doubly remarkable is that this house, with its gingerbread at the upper gallery, choice of board over shingle, and single light in the center gable—evocative of the Creole cottage—was constructed contemporary to New Orleans’s residential blanketing via the shotgun house (the four-bay arrangement of this home mirroring the double shotgun, though the door placement lends and air of the famous New Orleans centerhall villa). Granted, it’s a little out of place here; those tall windows are intended to dispel mugginess, hardly a chief concern in the realm of Ask the Dust. Nevertheless, this wasn’t a celebratory tribute to quaint olde New Orleans—it was built by and for Victorians.

Sad to think that as Disney was building his homage to all things bayou down in Anaheim, this little piece of oddball Angelenism was ground up for landfill.

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Color image by Walker Evans, shot in October 1962 for the Life magazine piece “Doomed…It Must Be Saved” published July 15, 1963.

B/W image courtesy Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, U.C. Los Angeles

Image at right, courtesy Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library

 

The Auditorium/San Carlos Hotel — NW Corner of Fifth and Olive

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Dodge City. Tombstone. The OK Corral.  Wyatt Earp will also be remembered as a guy who ran a piece of two-bit flimflam on Bunco Hill. And got popped for it—but then, this was no 1880s gambling saloon. This was the grandest new hotel in Taft-era Los Angeles. Perhaps Earp was a little out of his element.

After the turn of the century, Earp was based out of Los Angeles, trying his hand at the kind of gambling grown-ups do—oil exploration, mining ventures, real estate—with considerable less success than he’d had at the card table. Occasionally he’d work with LAPD on outside-jurisdiction work, like chasing fugitives into Mexico, but inveterate gambler Earp’s core motivation remained gambling. This would on occasion put lawman Earp on the wrong side of the straight and narrow—e.g., his refereeing of the Fitzsimmons-Sharkey boxing match of ’96, generally regarded to be fixed. And when Earp and his con-rades would set up their fleece outfit, where else would they go but that anchor of Bunker Hill, the brand-new Auditorium Hotel?

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The Auditorium had been open a scant six months when on July 21, 1911, a J. Y. Peterson sat down for game of faro with three sharpers from San Francisco—W. W. Stap, Waller Scott, and E. Dunn. But all would not go as planned.

Seems that Peterson—a real estate agent with an office at 407 Stimson Building—got hinkey at the trio’s far-out tale that they were sore at their SF syndicate, and wanted to stiff their own backers by rigging the game to let Peterson win big. Peterson would thus play the rigged game—pinpricked odd cards, the dealer placing a finger on the table when an even card was to show—in front of others, and make a hefty profit on the $2,500 ($54,985 USD2007) he’d invest at the outset in chips. Realizing he had nothing to lose except his roll, he called in the coppers.

Stap, Scott, and card-dealer Dunn engaged club rooms 425-426 at the Auditorium, installed their faro bank outfit and all kindred paraphernalia, and were ready to get down to the business of swindling Peterson—who was further tipped off to that fishy smell in Denmark as there were no other players present—when Johnny Law busted in.

Down at the station-house, the W. W. Stap who inveigled Peterson into buy into a fixed bank game turned out to be none other than Wyatt Earp. Released from City Jail on $500 bond, Earp’s explanation was that it was purely accidental that he should be there during the raid. The police, in their infinite wisdom, elected to bust into the room before any gambling actually begun, which sank the conspiracy to defraud charge; the courts couldn’t make a vagrancy charge stick, either.

itJustHappenedBuncoExplanationIn the end, the City Prosecutor decided there wasn’t enough evidence against Earp. Waller Scott pleaded guilty and demanded a jury trial, but the City Prosecutor “didn’t have the time” to take it up and let the whole thing drop. Dunn, aka Harry Dean, pleaded guilty and was given a six month sentence, suspended, on condition that he leave the city. And so Wyatt Earp went on his six-shooterin’ way: he hung around Hollywood and hit up William S. Hart to publicize his life. That never happened, ended up dying down on 17th Street, and was buried in a Jewish cemetery in 1929.

Finest New Hotel in Modern Christendom

“It will command a view of perennial green, unsurpassed in the heart of any great city!”

What was this this hotbed of vice, the Auditorium Hotel? Only the finest new hotel in Christendom, mister. (“It will command a view of perennial green, unsurpassed in the heart of any great city!”)

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It all began with the northwest corner of Fifth and Olive, facing Central Park. (I know, the purist in you wants to object that we’re not technically on Bunker Hill. Well, think of the Auditorium Hotel as our landmark edge to the south. The Jaffa Gate, if you will. Angels Flight is the Dung Gate and we’ll call the Monarch Hotel Damascus Gate while we’re at it. Naturally you’re continuing to argue that the Edison Building makes a better Jaffa Gate than the Auditorium Hotel. Well, you would say that.)

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Auditorium architect Otto Neher, with partner Chauncey Fitch Skilling, produced the New Auditorium Hotel, designed in what the papers for lack of a better term called the “Modern Classic” style. It was 60×162’, faced with light-colored granite, the lobbies lavished in marble, mahogany and mosaic tile. The six floors of 150 rooms are paneled in birch.
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A look up Olive—the three biggest buildings behind the Auditorium are the Trenton, the Fremont, and the Palace Hotel:

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The Auditorium is leased by Bernard Frank Green and his mother, Mrs. Mary Sells Green; in 1919 M. Drake Perry takes over the lease and buys the hotel from R. D. Wade in 1921. He puts in a grill room and makes another $100,000 in improvements. But the shock of the Biltmore Hotel being built on the opposite corner apparently killed Perry, and Probate Court sold the Auditorium Hotel to George Roos.

(The Biltmore to the left; the 1924 Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company Mutual Exchange is under construction. The Deaconess/Clara Barton Hospital between the Methodist church and the new telephone building doesn’t have many days left before conversion to an auto park.)5thOliveRemodel

Roos (vintage clothing collectors out there certainly know the Roos Bros. label—George was one of those Rooses) eventually sells to Charles Harris, who held the lease and ran the hotel through the 20s.

It’s an exciting time: everyone’s abuzz about the sale of the California Club at Fifth and Hill to the Title Guarantee and Trust Company, and the forthcoming home of California Edison at Fifth and Grand. Harris refurnishes 100 rooms and renames the Auditorium the San Carlos in January 1929. Why? Because at that point he was spending most of his time in Phoenix, directing the opening of his mighty San Carlos there. Just as there were once matching Auditoria, there were now Sister San Carloses. Charles Harris in 1931 departs the Phoenix San Carlos for yet his third San Carlos, this one in Yuma. He eventually sells his Los Angeles SC in toto to G. G. Joyce, owner of the Hazlewood restaurant chain in Portland.

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Here, in this mid-30s image, check out the San Carlos neon blade affixed to the wedding cake that is the former Auditorium:

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The San Carlos then went through a streamlining much in the way the Auditorium did:

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Now we all know that the redoubtable Claud Beelman was the architect-at-helm for the 1938 Philharmonic Auditorium redesign. This author is yet to discover when (and by whom) the San Carlos had its cleanlining:

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The San Carlos made its way into the Modern Age, even acquiring a 1955 Armet and Davis Googies:

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…so what became of our Jaffa Gate? Unlike most of Bunker Hill, it made it all the way through the mid-1980s. Here, you could hang at Googies and get a room at the Carlos to boot, ca. 1986; that’s the Biltmore Tower going up in the background:

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(But first, a map, so as to explicate the many addresses of the Auditorium/San Carlos.)

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bookieRaidsWilliam Friedland was a cigar store clerk at one of the San Carlos’s sidewalk shops. At least he was until February of 1939, when he got popped for making book therein. The establishment at 513 West Fifth had been raided many times for horserace betting, and in November 1940 Friedland had to go before the LA County Grand Jury to dish the dirt on a crooked horserace racket. He was grilled by none other than Jerry Gielsler, chairman of the Horse Racing Board, who disclosed the racing scandal. Swirled into the mix of our tobaccoshop/bookstore at the San Carlos were bribe-taking jockeys and horse owners, as well as local sharpies Benny Chapman, I. W. Kivel, aka Doc Kebo; Bernard Einstoss, alias Barney Mooney; and Saul “Sonny” Greenberg. Mooney and Kebo gave horse owner Irving Sangbusch (alias James J. Murphy) over $20,000 to bribe jockeys at Hollywood Park in 1939; by the end of 1940 the take was up to $180,000 on a single race.

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disclosedJuryThe jury heard testimony from a Clay Selby, manager of the Biltmore Garage, adjacent to the San Carlos. He asserted that the clicking of chips and rattle of dice could be heard from 511 West Fifth as early as 1925 (he remembered the date because that was about the time habitué-of-the-place Eddie Eagen was shot there in a holdup). Selby said that when 513 was in operation, he could hear loud-speakers announcing race results in the garage. When asked if it was loud enough for a policeman on the street to hear it: “Oh,” said Selby, “they all knew about it.”

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Things got even saucier when the horse trainer for Don Ameche and Chester “Lum” Lauck testified that he was approached by Bernard Mooney, and that Mooney wanted to fix Ameche’s horses to lose races. Apparently Mooney enlisted his pal George Raft to have a friendly discussion with Ameche about the subject.

Of five defendants, only Bernard Mooney got nicked—for contributing the delinquency of minors. Minor jockeys, which legally should cancel itself out. Some $1,000 fines were assessed, but then, that’s what these fellows spent on shoes in a month. Sure, the Black Socks made finageling baseball illegal, but what was so wrong with a little racetrack gratuity? Giesler went all nuts afterward and called for laws protecting boxing, football, wrestling…wrestling has, for example, been unhindered by money and scripting ever since. (One may read more about the scandal here.)

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Let’s stay on the subject of crime.

The Auditorium wasn’t open six months before the help developed sticky fingers; in July 1911 bellboy Raymond Perry was nabbed in his hotel down on Grand between 5th and 6th, secreting stolen diamonds in his socks.

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In 1919 Harry Royse decided to give up the life of a minister. The life of a Methodist clergyman—which he’d led for ten years—lost its kick apparently, so he spent most of that ’19 checking into hotels and burglarizing the stores therein, and sending ill-gotten gains to his new lady-friend up in San Francisco.

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Royse was finally nabbed in the act with his fifteen-year-old nephew in tow, pilfering typewriters from the Auditorium’s shop on the corner of Fifth and Olive. He was given one to fourteen at Q; the nephew went to juvenile hall, and the gal up north got no more pretty things.

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The early morning of Dec 21, 1924 saw a the arrival of the “variety bandits.” Two men hit the Moon Drug Store at 3526 West Washington, forcing the soda clerk into the closet and making off with $200; they hit the Barnett Drug Store at 3723 South Vermont, where they locked up two women and emptied the register of $75 (during which time a customer entered; one of the bandits took off his cap and waited on the gent, selling him a magazine and pocketing the proceeds); they hit the Zenith Drug Store at 4929 Moneta, and made off with $60; and when they then hit Harry Spooner’s drug store at 4493 Beverly Blvd, they got $30 and eight pints of whiskey. Maybe it was the whiskey. Maybe it was getting late. Maybe it was just time for their luck to change. Because things didn’t go so well at the Auditorium Hotel.

Just before dawn, these two heavily armed gents muscled night clerk J. C. Evans into the back to open the safe. Though threatened with instant death, Evans claimed he didn’t have the combination. As the two holdup men argued, Evans slipped away, and the bandits took right after him. Unfortunately for them, Evans had a good knowledge of the many doorways and halls of the lower floor, and got a good lead on them, long enough to turn, produce his own hand cannon, and open fire. The robbers, one of them apparently hit, had to make it out of the hotel in a mad dash and into their touring car and speed away into the first morning light, never to be heard from again.

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August 14, 1927 was a red-letter day for crime in Los Angeles: armed men stole $2,000 in cash and jewelry, and a $1,500 car, from a auto dealership at 1355 South Main; two men were beaten and robbed by a gang of thugs at West Tenth St. near Georgia; two men in an automobile drove up alongside—a reverend, no less—Rev. Joseph Curran at Eightieth and Moneta, and robbed him without even getting out of their car.

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Lastly, later that night, three gunmen showed up at the auto rental concern in the Auditorium Hotel to relieve manager D. C. Huff of $85 ($1,007 USD2007).

Reprobate gaming came back into fashion at the San Carlos in 1948…in the form of pinball. In March of 1948 nine men were arrested by the administrative vice squad for owning these marble contraptions, in flagrant violation of the City’s antipinball ordinance. Asst. City Atty. Donald Redwine, however, doubts the arrests should have been made until someone comes up with a “clear-cut decision” on the legality of these newfangled games. Of course, pinball isn’t exactly new, but if there’s one thing 1947 gave us it’s a pinball machine that (distributors claim) is a “game of science and skill.” That notwithstanding, one LaVerne Murphy is cooling his heels in the tank after vice squad raiders came down on his newfangled “flippered” machine in the San Carlos. (Even if they are just games of “science and skill,” you still can’t own one without a permit.)

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Let’s move on from crime to death and despair!

carbolicAcidIn June of 1914, Mrs. H. G. Purcell, 50, a woman of wealth and taste, had come from Chicago to buy a lot and build a home in sunny Los Angeles. For two years she lived in the Auditorium Hotel, well-liked and highly sought after for social and cultural gatherings. And yet, her father having died of cancer, she believed, rightly or wrongly, that it was going to get her too, and drank a phial of carbolic acid in her room.

February 1940, insurance man Jesse Edward Patty, 47, left his home at 1227 S. Plymouth Blvd. and checked into the San Carlos with murderous intent. Self-murderous. Several letters to his wife and friends later, he took poison. insuranceSalesman

L. D. Roberts, a 50-year-old lumber man, left his home at 7024 Mission Place in Huntington Park, July 1942, to check into the San Carlos. Roberts had problems, but brought with him a traditional problem-solver, the .32 automatic.lumber

manWifeJoe Guiterrez, 45, lived at the San Carlos. He’d been separated from his wife Rafaela Uriarte Guiterrez, 46, for two years. It was Sept. 3, 1941, and Joe had had enough of the San Carlos. He wanted to come home to their house at 1314 Sunset Blvd. He wanted a reconciliation. Always bring a gun to a reconciliation.

Rafaela’s kids from a previous marriage were home—Rosie, 24, Lydia, 20, Mario, 16, and Carmen Uriarte, 14. Mom and “dad” hadn’t been talking long when they heard the shot. Joe came out firing, the girls fled, Carmen took one through the knee and Lydia through the shoulder before Joe was tackled by Mario. Gutierrez shoved the gun into Mario’s side and pulled the trigger, but the gun was empty. Mario kicked dad out the back door. Gutierrez reloaded his .25, and gave himself the same treatment he gave mom: one to the head.

And lest we forget “Miss Dale Erwin, 22, of Trenton, NJ” who checked into the San Carlos in August of 1946 and promptly leapt—or fell—from her window. As she landed in a second-floor courtyard, and there were plenty of taller hotels around, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt.fifthFlorr

establishingShotLet’s go back in time a bit and take a look at some of the folks who make the Auditorium so special.

One is Frederick Jordan, vice-president of the Entomological Society of England. The esteemed zoologist, whose soul is one with butterflies and moths and whose body is dedicated to the netting of terebrant hymenopterae—those that fly, of course—is a welcome additon to the Auditorium. But not as a guest. He’s the night porterbushel.

Seems his English doctor told him to get some sun, and not work too hard. Despite the lateness of the season—October, 1911—Jordan found Los Angeles choked with butterflies, especially the Spring Beauty, the Holly Blue, the Zebra Swallowtail, the Checkered Skipper, the Brown Argus, the Clifden Nonpareil, the Tortoiseshell, the Mother Shipton and the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary. That’s great Jordan, now get back to work.

oldFriendsIn the vein of any grand hotel (or, say, Grand Hotel), the Auditorium lobby was always full of great excitement, chance meetings, tearful partings, tearful reunions. Such was the case when Dr. D. A. Gildersleeve of Richmond was in town for a 1911 AMA conference to deliver the stirring paper “Hook-worm and What Has Been Done In the South Toward Its Eradication” when he was approached by none other than “Uncle Joe,” who had been residing on East Ninth St. for some years. Joe, it seems, had been a Gilderslave, childhood playmate of the good doctor’s, had been Gildersleeve’s servant in battle in all the campaigns of Lee, but had ended up “disenfranchised” after The War. Joe stayed with Gildersleeve for some years but eventually went up North; and now, some thirty-five years later, they were reunited by chance in the Auditorium. An hour of gossip followed between the two in the big chairs; when the doctor bade the older man farewell he was observed slipping him what appeared to be a roll of banknotes. In describing the meeting, the Times writer showed his considerable cultural acuity—or vacuity of cultural sensitivity—in any event, I’m not going to transcribe it, but will here attach a clip of the encounter between what the Times describes as the “shambling darky” and what I imagine as a Harland Sanders/Maurice Bessinger-looking old ofay:

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Yep, that’s what it says.

Not all sightings at the Auditorium are happy ones. Leo Julofsky was a messenger for E. D. Levinson & Co., 52 Broadway, New York. He was walking down the street one day—September 19, 1919—with another messenger and $330,000 in Liberty bonds. On their way to Mabon & Co., 45 Wall St., Julofsky handed his satchel over to the other messenger to go in and wash his hands at 71 Broadway. The other messenger waited…and waited…and opened the satchel. It was empty. Julofsky, and $141,000 ($1,676,761 USD2007) were gone.nabbed

juloskyJulofsky rented an apartement on East 38th, just off Madison Ave. for a month, and then headed west. He met an ex-policeman named John J. Stoney in a Detroit YMCA and they began to travel together. (In answer to a question about girls, he was adamant that no girls were mixed up in the plot whatsoever. Make of that what you will.) Julofsky and Stoney were shacked up together at the Auditorium when Julofsky was nabbed in the lobby on December 27. “I don’t know why I did it,” said the son of a retired cloak and suit maker, “no girls were mixed up in it and no one is to blame but myself.” He was given three years and change in Sing Sing. He won’t be alone, though, as his brother Milton and a bond dealer from the Bronx named Arthur Miller were also sent up for criminally receiving his bonds.

The Lobby of Convergence:

lobby

The Auditorium Hotel features itself in a roundabout way as a minor footnote in the famous 1922 Klan raid of Volstead-violating Mexicans in Inglewood, wherein a police shootout ended up in the cops shooting—guess what!—three of their own, one fatally (the town constable), discovered only when the hoods were opened.

keagleIn the depths of the lengthy trial, a stylishly dressed woman began to moan loudly, and when the bailiffs attempted to escort her out, she twisted and fought and screamed “Help! Help! Help! Let me go, I want to see a Kleagle, I want to see a Kleagle!” in tones so loud it brought people out from several floors above and below. She was carried out fighting and taken to the psychopathic ward for observation. Found in her handbag? Her Auditorium Hotel room key. (FYI, the Kleagle there at the time was Nathan A. Baker, then a deputy sheriff for Los Angeles County.)feegle

And for the last time, that’s Kleagle, not Fleegle.

fairyTaleFebruary 7, 1923. P. C. Steckel, a boilermaker, and prominent in organized-labor society, was in court today, telling the judge a tearful story all about how he’d been awarded the Carnegie medal of honor for rescuing some child from an oncoming train. The judge took this in, told Steckel that Scheherazade had nothing on him, but that it had precious little to do with violating the Miller-Jones narcotic law. Seems Steckel sold four ounces of morphine to a narcotics enforcement officer at the Auditorium Hotel. Nevertheless, Judge Bledsoe said that Steckel was due some consideration for possession of the medal, and gave him only two years at McNeill Island instead of the customary four.

Then there was the matter of Charles Harris, whom you remember as owner-operator of the Auditorium in the 20s and orchestrated its change into the San Carlos, tossing Rev. George Chalmers Richmond out on his ear. Harris entered Richmond’s chamber on January 3, 1923, removed the pastor’s clothes and by force of threats kept him from his room. Richmond alleged his good reputation had been damaged and sued for $15,000. We don’t know what raised Harris’s ire, though we can speculate: Richmond was a defrocked Episcopal rector, Bolsheviki refusenik and IWW nogoodnik, and mortal enemy of Methodist “Fighting Bob” Shuler. The Auditorium did have Methodists as neighbors, after all. (Why then he elected to rename the place San Carlos, which would vaguely reference some guy named Charles canonized by Papists, is beyond me.)sues

decipherThe Auditorium was also an exhibition hall, of sorts. It was where you’d go in 1925 if you wanted to see, on display, Frank Prevost’s decoding machine. Weighing only half a pound, but with a limitless capacity for sending mechanically coded messages, it represents twelve years of study and effort. See it at the Auditorium before it’s snapped up forever by the War Department!

Also, go visit Bill Bonelli at his (1932) HQ in the San Carlos, where he’ll enlist you in his cause against snooperism:

bonelli

So what became of this wonderland of wonders, you ask?

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The San Carlos crept her way into the Future, turning her back on the demolition of Bunker Hill behind.

sanCarlosGoodbye

Then, in 1983, David Houck, president of Auditorium Management Co., which purchased the Philharmonic from Temple Baptist, announced demolition to make way for a new office building, hotel and residential condominiums. (Interesting management style, and it remains a parking lot.) Physicians Pharmacy, which opened in the Auditorium Office Bldng. in 1906, moved its vast pharmacy museum—endless Edwardian prescription books, grinders and corkers, bottles full of arcane lotions and potions—across Olive to the San Carlos. That was a bad move: the San Carlos’s days were numbered.

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What’s there to tell? Somewhere around 1987 the corner was cleared. Not a word in the papers to mark its passing. Nobody cried for First German Methodist, either.

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The Southern California Gas Company thought their headquarters would be nifty there.

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Richard Keating of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill thought it would be cool to design the top to look like a blue flame. Which it sort of does. At least you can eat at their Blue Flame cafeteria.

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Why its crown does not light up blue at night is a mystery to all.

In any event, it is finished in 1991.

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That then is the tale of the Auditorium/San Carlos Hotel.

Walk in the Gas Co. tower sometime and ask for the Wyatt Earp suite, you’re late for the faro game.

Images courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection, USC Digital Archives, and California State Library; postcards, author, except Auditorium lobby, for which I owe my usual debt to Brent C. Dickerson; sleek shots of the Gas Co. Tower from the sleek e-brochure found here; tower under construction photo from the skyscraperpage forum; and the Earp images are just all over the place.

The Monarch

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

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

modernistic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nishperly

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

dijon

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

fifthandfig1906

1950, twenty years after the installation of the Monarch:

theMonarchisintheHouse

1953, with the addition of the Harbor Freeway:

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

sold

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

Thirty days later—March 4, 1964:
downitgoes

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

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

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

lordofthetoilet

 

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

Dress for Success

 hatpin headline

January 6, 1907

 

Ladies – never underestimate the importance of accessorizing.  Not only can the right accessory take an outfit from drab to fab, but it may also successfully repel a mugger.

 

gibson girl in hat

In the early 1900s the standard for female beauty was set by the fictional “Gibson Girl”. Created and popularized by the illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, the Gibson Girl was depicted as a subtle teaser of men.  She was statuesque and graceful with an impossibly tiny waist. Her long hair was styled in a sophisticated cascade of curls piled high upon her head.  It was a challenge to wear a hat on such big hair, so the clever Gibson Girls used hatpins which were more than a foot long.

 

It was 11:30 pm on the evening of January 6, 1907, when Miss Florence Young and two of her actress pals were walking home from the Grand Opera House on Main Street where they had appeared in the popular play “Buster Brown” (based on the comic strip character of the same name). They’d nearly reached their lodgings at 219 South Hill Street when a highwayman leaped out from behind an embankment and demanded that the women hand over their valuables.

Florence was standing behind her two friends, but as soon as she heard the bandit’s command she pulled out her hatpin, and then lunged forward and stabbed him. Florence grappled with the wounded outlaw and even managed to shout out “hold him girls” to her fellow thespians.

girls with hatpin

 

The gutsy gals did their best to restrain their attacker but, even though he was wounded, he proved to be too strong for them. He wrenched himself from their grasp and hastily exited stage left.

 

 

Hotel Belmont — 251 S Hill

BelmontLinen
The Belmont was a behemoth at the base of Bunker Hill, its situation on the southern center beckoned folk who—were we to paint in purely lurid hue—simply sought a thieves den, or that final refuge before the big self-snuff. Was there more to this big, beautiful building? Why, naturally.

It all began with the YWCA, an organization that sought to harbor white Christian women from the williwaws of urban iniquity. And where better to do so than that hillock of high-mindedness, Bunker Hill?

A colony of civic-minded women formed the LA-YWCA in 1893 in two rooms at 212 S. Broadway, then moved into the Schumacher Building at 107 S. Spring in 1894. They then shuttled off into the shelter of the old City Hall at 211 W. Second, and finally took over a whole floor of the Conservative Life building at the NE corner of Third and Hill in ’06. They were renting out a small building as their annex, on the same side of Hill, forty feet north of Third, and decided enough of this penny-ante gynoprotection, we’re purchasing that property and erecting an sky-scraping HQ.

Higher

interiorcourt

 

 

They dropped cornerstone in 1907 and moved in aught-eight. Its basement held an auditorium for 500, a gymnasium, and a 30×50’ swimming pool. It was most noted for its gargantuan light well, which formed an open-air patio famous for its flower boxes filled with color-coordinated flora cascading to a fancy tile floor.

 

 

 

 

 

YWCAFacade

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YWCAteens

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4,000 women, including 1,600 students engaged in the study of the domestic sciences, swam and ate and sewed and so on and all was fine and good until 1919, when the Y gals sold the building, deciding “to be nearer the shopping.”

(In 1926 they opened their grand Y-hotel at 939 S. Figueroa, moving their offices into this building on the right [now the site of the Hotel Figueroa’s pool].)

 

251 South Hill was purchased by the Union League Club of Los Angeles, where the Republican Women’s Club (the incipient CFRW). often met.

The Union League held on to 251 until 1924; its conversion into the Hotel Belmont begins in April of that year. Alexander Mayer spends $400,000 ($4,812,791 USD2007) in the remodel—remaking 200 rooms, all with shower and bath, all with hand-painted furniture.
BelmontCa1939
malaikaxmas
One of the Belmont’s most notorious residents was Santa Claus. Motley Flint, Los Angeles Postmaster and Illustrious Potentate of the city’s Al Malaikah Temple (our local Shriners, AAONMS), arranged with postal authorities to have all letters addressed to Santa (which theretofore had gone to the dead-letter office) sent to the Belmont Hotel, as that was where the Shrine set up their annual Christmas relief drive. The basement would fill with donated toys, clothing and fruit cakes; everyone could come and receive yuletide relief at the Belmont. And the Shriners special Santa squad found each and every letter-penning tot and saw to it that the hoped-for toy made it from the Belmont basement into their needy hands.

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Another fun member of the Belmont clan was Walter Maloof, 55, a familiar sight among the Downtown shuffling class, a gent who spent his days peddling watches and other odd articles on street-corners. Apparently there’s good money in the odd article, as after he died in his Belmont hotel room in February 1963, his bankbook showed he had some $19,000 ($127,399 USD2007) squirreled away.

Of course, the Belmont also harbored the likes of Achilles N. Bororas, 41, whose not only knocked over markets and service stations up and down California in 1954, but robbed churches and nabbed narcotics from drugstores.

You don’t mess with the Belmont when it comes to committing crimes. James Rader, 28, led a gang of hotel robbers. His accomplices were Gordon Edwards, 18; Frank Darrow, 22; Miss Margie Petrie, 18; and a sixteen year-old girl. They’d knocked over fifteen downtown hotels when they thought they’d take on the Belmont, March 9, 1957. The gang were in mid-rob when Edwards was clobbered by 71 year-old Belmont dontmesswthebelmontelevator operator William Patterson, who struck Edwards with his stool (that is, the small stool he sat on in his elevator) and knocked the knife from his hand. Rader struck Patterson with the butt of his gun; the robbers then tangled with 65 year-old Belmont desk clerk A. B. Cramer and eventually fled the scene empty handed—even more so than they came in with, as one of the crew lost their wallet, and they were all easily traced to a downtown roominghouse and arrested.

And there are always those who seek permanent solutions to temporary problems. They, as such, instead of waiting for God to fire them, will raise their fists to the heavens and yell “I quit!”
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On March 29, 1936, employees of the Belmont were alarmed that Jeanette Stevenson, 45, wouldn’t answer her telephone. The note she left described domestic difficulties; she’d decided a bottle of poison was the antidote to that particular issue.

foiledagainIn January 1938, Mrs. Veronica De Shon Miller, 47, recently of Kansas City, divorced, despondent over the death of a friend, and an out-of-work beautician to boot, soaked a towel in ether and smothered herself in her Belmont flat. She was saved there by a friend. Fearing that the Belmont was conspiring to keep her alive, she left a note regarding the disposition of her belongings and made her way to the building at Fourth and Broadway where she once operated a beauty parlor, and flung herself to the concrete floor at the bottom of the light well.

leapingdentistsSeptember 28, 1942. Dr. Robert E. Hunsaker, 45, was due in court to face a hearing in a suit filed by his third wife for divorce. So he got a room at the Belmont. Top floor. Desk clerk Bernardo Sargil noticed Hunsaker on the window ledge and called the cops; when they got there they found dancer Ruth Rex in his room, pleading with him not to jump. The cops tried to grab him but Hunsaker ordered them back; finally he said “So long boys, this is getting tiresome,” and loosened his grip, falling the length of the building to meet Hill Street below.

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November 1, 1942. Anne Kennedy, 18, was despondent over ill health, or so letters left in her Belmont hotel room indicated. Nevertheless she was still gaily dressed in her black-and-yellow Halloween party costume when she leapt, or fell, from her sixth-floor window at the back of the hotel.

Third and Hill, 1906, pre-YWCA: Angels Flight “inclined cable tramway” at far left; the St. Helena Sanitarium (perhaps you’ve noticed the “Vegeterian Café” signage in images of Angels Flight?—that’s these folk); and some residential structures at 251 and beyond (including one labeled “old & vacant”). The shingled structure in the vintage image above (that’s a “Berlin Dry Cleaning” truck in front), seen below as 247, was the Kensington. Above, the Astoria.
3rdHill1906

Belmont19501950: Behold, the 1907 YWCA, though it’s been the Belmont now for twenty-five-some years. St. Helena’s was redubbed “My Hotel” and has a liquor store in its corner. The structures to the east have been wiped for parking; the Kensington is now the Belmont garage. Above, the Astoria has a neighbor, the 1916 Blackstone Apartments.
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A close-up from an image in last week’s post. A glimpse of Angels Flight heading down to the corner of Third and Hill. There’s the Belmont and her giant light well. Behind, the Hillcrest, Astoria and Blackstone face Olive Street.

The Belmont is leased to hotel chain operators Porter and Knapp in 1941, who sink scads of dough in her, reopening the pool, enlarging and refurbishing the roof garden, refurnishing and redecorating the rooms. But all that money couldn’t stem the decline of the neighborhood.
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Two codgers stroll Hill in the early 60s; they’ll cadge together enough for a fifth and head to Pershing Square to argue Bay of Pigs for the afternoon. Then it’s back to the Belmont for a nap.

fireatthebelmont67A fire that would have felled a lesser building broke out November 3, 1967. The sixth-floor room of John Riles, 69, believed to have been smoking in bed, went up in flames, engulfing a good bit of that floor and part of the seventh, and all of the late John Riles.
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What fire couldn’t do to the Belmont, the CRA could; the summer of 1971 saw the Bunker Hill Redevelopment Project at the tail-end of its demolitions and the YWCA/Union League/Belmont, one of the last standing Stalwarts, tumbled under wreckers’ hammers.

geriatriccheeseFind the big red awning—across from the MTA bus parked at the Third Street curb—jutting out from Angelus Plaza: that’s 255 S. Hill, once the address that marked the western edge of the Belmont. As can be seen, near the site of the Belmont, there’s a building of vaguely similar size and shape. Close, but as a gal from the YWCA might point out, no cigar.
255angfromair

Photos from the USC Digital Archives, save for the “old codger” pic, William Reagh Collection, California History Section, California State Library; Belmont and lobby postcard, author; the image of the YWCA interior court borrowed from this page of A Visit to Old Los Angeles. As always, mad props to the Sanborn surveyors.

Fremont Hotel (Part 2) – 401 South Olive Street

 

When we last discussed the Fremont Hotel, we took a look at the antics of some of the hotel’s residents over it’s five decade existence. This time around, the Fremont employees get to bask in the OnBunkerHill spotlight.



First up is Harry Stewart, the Fremont bellboy who was arrested on grand larceny charges in 1903. Apparently Mr. Stewart supplemented his income by stealing valuables from the rooms of hotel guests. The jig was up when a valuable diamond pin was removed from the room of Owl Drug president D.W. Kirkland (who would live out his days at the hotel). While the jewel was not recovered from the bellboy’s living quarters, some other items were discovered, including a sock. For some reason, Stewart had also lifted the sock from Kirkland’s room and left behind its mate. The footwear was enough to implicate him in the crime and he served the next six months in jail. Upon release, the former Fremont bellboy just couldn’t give up his wicked, wicked ways and was immediately arrested again for stealing five bucks out of a purse.

Next is S.J. Messing, a clerk at the Fremont Hotel who was arrested in 1910 for embezzlement. It seems that Messing had had a business partnership in San Francisco the previous year and his partner, Frank Smith, felt he had been embezzled out of a whole $25. Mr. Smith felt so wronged by his former partner that he repeatedly had Messing arrested, hoping the charge would stick. The first arrest came when Messing was recovering from malaria in a Napa hospital and the second arrest occurred while he was enjoying a show at the Orpheum. The final time came when Messing was in his bed at the Fremont. He was taken out of the hotel all the while proclaiming his innocence and swore he would go back up to San Francisco to clear his good name. No word if they ever came to a settlement over the $25.



In their defense, it’s probably hard for bellboys and clerks to behave when the management did not always set a good example. In 1913, proprietor Richard A. Von Falkenberg was accused of drastically raising the rent on a female tenant when she refused his unwelcome advances. Von Falkenberg proclaimed his innocence. Three months later, when the hotel was in, as the Los Angeles Times stated, "a precarious financial position," Von Falkenberg and his wife mysteriously dissappeared. Turns out, he was just suffering from ill nerves and decided to rest up in Ventura without notifying anyone.


It is worth noting that just because someone was the owner of the Fremont, does not mean they were immune from the shadier goings on. In February of 1913, Fremont owner Mary Jauch (former resident of the Rose Mansion) reported $8,300 in jewels stolen from her room. The burgler had also entered the room of E.H. McElroy who caught the bandit red handed and the two scuffled until the theif got away.



The antics of the Fremont Hotel abruptly came to an end in the mid-1950s as the building was an early victim of the Community Redevelopment Agency’s grand plan for urban rewewal. By 1955, all that remained at the Southwest corner of 4th and Olive was the retaining wall that a long time ago separated the Fremont Hotel from the Olive Public School.

Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

2nd & Hill Block Round-Up

hillfromthezepIn that our post about the earth carvings (the Cuscans have nothing on us) at Second and Hill garnered some interest, I thought it worthwhile to detail salient features and goings-on sundry of other buildings on the block.

elmorofromair
One notable structure looming over Hill was the El Moro. The Sanborn Maps in the Dirt Patch post show us the house at 109 South Hill was built between 1888 and 1894. This was the home of prominent Los Angeles druggist, and President of Western Wholesale Drug Company, Howard M. Sale, who had arrived from Pueblo, Colorado in 1886. Mr. and Mrs. Sale built Castle Crag in 1888 but decided Bunker Hill was the proper place to be, so sold out in ’89 to build 109 South Hill. This house on the bluff was a center of Society for some years before Mr. and Mrs. Sale decided to turn it into a hotel in 1901 (moving into a larger house at Ninth and Union in 1902).

conversion

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With the Sale’s three-story addition to the now-named El Moro, the structure extended back 133 feet and included a total of thirty-five rooms.
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The El Moro’s location, some 150’ above the sidewalk, made firefighting a little tricky, which aided in a near-total loss of the front portion of the mansion in January 1914. There were thousands of spectators at the scene, and whether they turned out for the dramatic blaze or the sight of sixty some-odd guests in an early-morning state of deshabille is a matter of conjecture.

andatowelunderthedoorNot a lot of Postwar noirisme at the El Moro, if you’re after that sort of thing. Mrs. Mollie Lahiff, 50, died of (what the papers termed) accidental asphyxiation after a gas heater used up all the oxygen in her tightly sealed room, February 26, 1953. Should you be so inclined, consider how drafty these places tend to be. Tightly sealed takes some doing. Just saying.

And now, for your edification and delectation, the unhappy end of a streetcar just below the El Moro, 1937.

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132/134 South Olive is one of the oldest stuctures on the block, dating to before ’88. Here’s a shot of the H-shaped building, next to our old pal, the Argyle.

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January 24, 1895. Mrs. Josie McGinn, a widow of 28 with a well-grown girl of 10, was sitting with her stepsister Grace in their home at 134 (in the image above, the one on the right), and Josie mentioned she was feeling poorly. Grace suggested a walk. At the foot of the terrace steps on Broadway Josie complained of feeling weak, but they continued down Franklin nonetheless. When they hit New High Street, Josie collapsed altogether. When asked what her trouble was, Josie replied, “I have taken laudanum.” She was taken to Receiving Hospital, where her life was saved, and there explained that while she was fixing her hair at the bureau in preparation for the walk downtown, there sat her glycerine and laudanum—intended for her ear condition—and in a moment of impulsive despair drank the laudanum. Such is the torment of modernity.

sneaks!A favorite phrase of Edwardian Angeles is “sneak thief,” and Bunker Hill sneak thieves were forever securing some silver coinage here and a jeweled stick-pin there; on August 17, 1903, for example, during Mrs. H. Ware’s temporary absence from 132, a sneak thief entered and stole $10 and a gold watch (a similar burglary occurred that same day, where at 104 S. Olive a room occupied by Mrs. Case was ransacked and liberated of $20).

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Mrs. Frances Valiente, about 25, lived in 132 with her two boys, Frankie, about 2, and a one year-old infant, unnamed. Frances went out one Friday night in April of 1951 and didn’t elect to return. Frank went to Juvie and the infant to the nursery at General.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

homealoneisfunnyJuly 30, 1954. Jesus Chaffino is a 2 year-old with a talent for opening doors. Apparently his mother, Maria Avila, didn’t tell her sister-in-law that when she left her place at 121 North Hope and dropped of the Jesus at 132 S. Olive. He was turned over to juvenile officers when he was found wandering near First and Olive at five a.m.

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Let’s cast an eye on the buildings around the block from the Argyle down Second (the $1.50/day and weekly rates on your left is the Northern):

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In a shot obiviously taken from the Northern, we have the Argyle on our left, 425 West Second center, and 421/419 West Second on the right. (Olive Street stretches away north, left; the Moore Cliff with El Moro behind are upper right; the pile of dirt in back is where they’d put the court house.)

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sneakersSneak thiefs! enter 425 in 1902 and make off with a stand cover and a fine wall picture. Is nothing sacred? The answer is no. Not to the sneak thief.

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Harry Wilson was an actor who decided to take up newspaper work. He was assigned to the police news, was as such often exposed to suicides down at Receiving Hospital. This, it is thought, had a disturbing, destabilizing influence on his mind; Harry left a note for his wife on what he thought was going to be the last day of his life, October 8, 1904, and with that took the gas-pipe in their apartment in 425. He survived, and with luck returned to neither tread board nor sling ink.

shotfailsJuly 16, 1907. A burglar was detected working the window at Mrs. M. M. Clay’s apartment house, 425, by her daughter, Clara Clay. She exclaimed under her breath to a Mr. Charles See, who kept the apartment above hers, “There’s a man trying my window.”

So See fetched his revolver and leaned out the upper story and commanded the man to hold up his hands. With a great bound the man leapt over a tall fence some four feet away, while See fired and missed. The burglar, well-dressed and polite as could be, broke through the back screen door at the adjoining apartment house at 421, strode lightly through the hall; he tipped his hat to a young lady in the hall and she replied “Good evening.” He stepped out on to the front porch where several roomers were sitting. He bade them all a good evening and, tipping his hat, walked slowly down the street. Moments later it was Charles See, feverish and gun-waving, who threw terror into the hearts of the tenants.

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July 22, 1924. Roy Shellington called 425 home, or at least he did until Federal prohibition officers noticed he was overly cautious in handling his suitcase while little doggies nipped at his heels. Shellington bunked in the hoosegow after the Feds found twelve bottles of Scotch inside, verboten in Volstead America.

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Alex Markovich, 33, lived at 425, but had the misfortune of making his way down to Third and Spring on December 28, 1953. There he was jumped and beaten by hoodlums Alphonso Ruiz, Ramon Zaavedra, Gilbert Garcia, and…Mrs. Eleanor Talkington. Luckily, while Markovich was in critical condition at General with a basal skull fracture, the perps were charged with suspicion of robbery and ADW after having been ID’d by eyewitnesses, who were none other than Joaquin Aquilar Robles, former Police Chief of Tijuana, and Rafael Estrada, ex-Mayor of Ensenada.

Not much to tell about 421/419, other than recommending one leap upon well-dressed gents tipping their hats with a “good evening,” as they’re bound to be window-pryers from next door. Another piece of good advice is that once you’ve checked in, it’s best to never set foot outside again. Especially if you’re an elderly gentleman. On November 4, 1944, killercarMattie Mitchell, 70, departed his apartment at 421 and was run down by an LA Railway streetcar at Fifth and Hope. Joseph Erolet, a 77 year-old news vender ventured outside of 421 on May 23, 1946, and was clobbered by an auto at Brand and Wilson in Glendale.

And so concludes today’s report from this block, and the particular concavity that spawned the ongoing completist account of its whats and wherefores.

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Images courtesy the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection and the Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library

The Fremont Hotel (Part 1) – 401 South Olive Street

 

The Fremont Hotel that stood on the corner of 4th Street and Olive for five decades had 100 rooms. As previous posts on this site have shown us, no place on Bunker Hill with a lot of rooms and a long lifespan existed without a good amount mayhem. The Fremont is no exception.

The Fremont Hotel went up in 1902 and was designed by John C. Austin, who would later make a permanent mark on Los Angeles by co-creating City Hall, the Shrine Auditorium, and the Griffith Observatory. Plans for the ritzy new hotel were announced in November of 1901, and other than a brief skirmish with the neighboring Olive Street School over the erection of a retaining wall, construction went smoothly. The Mission style building opened its doors to the public in September 1902.

With so many residents floating in and out of the Fremont, it should come as no surprise that a few guests checked in and never checked out. Many residents who called the Fremont their final home were quite prominent. For example, Dr. Edwin West was a retired New York physician who settled in California when he found true love at age 79 and married his thirty-something paramour. It was the new Mrs. West who cared for the doc until he succumbed to illness in his room at the Fremont, and probably inherited his fortune. Then there was Harry Gillig, member of pioneering California family who was stricken down by a heart attack in 1909. Gillig was a onetime bridegroom of Amy Crocker, who we have heard about before. Finally, D.W. Kirkland, founded of the Owl Drug Company, lost a battle with pneumonia at the Fremont in 1915.

 

Final exits at the Fremont were not always so peaceful. The note in N.H. Cummings’ pocket indicated he was suffering from ill health, which is why the Fremont resident jumped from a rowboat into MacArthur Park lake and drowned. Financial troubles caused oilman William W. Stabler to put a bullet through his heart. His wife discovered him in the office he kept at the hotel. In 1952 when John Swiston’s horse betting system failed him, he went to Lincoln Park and slit his wrists. He survived, and was able to returned to his room at the Fremont Hotel, and probably the horse track.

It wasn’t all about death at the Fremont Hotel. There was also robbery, domestic disputes, arson, and much, much, more. After J.W. Aaron was arrested for public drunkenness in 1903, the police soon discovered that he was also the burglar who broke into Marie Kinney’s room at the Fremont and stole her opera glasses. The judge did not buy Aaron’s story that the glasses
were lent to him, and Aaron was held on $1,500 bail.

Next, we have Mr. & Mrs. Griffith, who were married in 1887 and spent the next 16 years occasionally threatening to murder each other. In May of 1903, Mr. Griffth allegedly held his wife at gunpoint in their Fremont room and the ensuing scuffle was broken up by an unannounced visit from their son. Four months later at a hotel in Santa Monica, Mr. Griffith went through with the dirty deed and shot the missus in the head. She responded by physically attacking him before jumping out an open window. Mrs. Griffith lived to tell her tale, and file for divorce. Col Griffith J. Griffith spent two years in San Quentin, having been convicted of attempted murder brought on by alcoholic insanity. Back in 1896, Griffith had donated 3,015 acres of land to the City of Los Angeles. In 1913, he set up a trust fund to construct a couple of structures on the land. The land and buildings are Griffith Park, the Griffith Observatory, and the Greek Theater.

The Fremont narrowly escaped a blaze when arsonist, George L. Gould was caught trying to set the place on fire. Police believed the 23 year old Gould to be the source of 20 fires started in the Dowtown area.

One of the more bizarre incidents at the Fremont occurred in March of 1927 when George W. Fellows was arrested for broadcasting a radio program from his room. The problem was not the content of his show, but rather the length of the waves he was using to broadcast it, which exceeded regulations. Fellows responded to the charges by fainting in court.

While the residents of the Fremont Hotel added a great deal of color to the goings on in the building, they pale in comparison to the employees. We’ll save their sordid tales for a future post…

Photo courtesy of the USC Digital Archive