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.”

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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

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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

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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:
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…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:

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1950, twenty years after the installation of the Monarch:

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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.

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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:
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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.”
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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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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.

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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

Angels Flight

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Angels Flight—everybody’s favorite FUNicular—is there a more iconic piece of Bunker Hilliana? All aboard! proclaims the city of LA!

But don’t get too excited. It’s not open, so you’re not riding it today. Despite what you may hear, you’re not riding it anytime soon.

Toodle down Hill Street between 3rd and 4th and eavesdrop on the guy with the clipboard, yelling at the zinc oxide’d folk, and get the five-cent explication:

earlyaf“Up there’s Bunker Hill, folks, and what a pain it was to shlep from your gracious home down to the Grand Central Market below, there, behind you. But then came riding up lawyer, engineer, friend of Lincoln, Colonel James Ward Eddy, who was sixty-nine when he convinced the city that it needed a funicular in the 3rd street right-of-way between Hill and Olive. Eddy built ‘The Los Angeles Incline Railway,’ known to all and sundry as Angels Flight, no apostrophe thank you, complete with a hundred-foot observation tower that housed a camera obscura. Mayor Snyder made the inaugural 45-second journey on January 1, 1902. The cars were biblically named ‘Olivet’ and ‘Sinai’ and were painted a saintly white, though later orange and red, and a trip up the 325 feet of 33% grade was originally a penny, though they jacked that up to a nickel. What’s with the BPOE arch, you ask? Did the Benevolent Protective Order of Elk have a hand in all this? Not really. A hundred years ago the Elk’d go nuts during ‘Elk Week’ and spend lavish sums all over the city with fireworks and aflatercarnivals and since their lodge replaced the Crocker mansion at the top of Angels Flight in September 1908, they elected to donate this swell gate here around 1909. The BPOE lettering on the arch was actually covered up for many decades when the building above became a Moose lodge in 1926. Anyway, as the city moved west, the gingerbread private homes of the 1890s were cut up into rooming houses, and Bunker Hill took on all that charm we now call shabby chic. In 1950, large insurance companies, the Building Owners and Managers Association, and the Community Redevelopment Association proposed the razing of Bunker Hill to develop 10,000 rental units. In 1959 the City Council declared Bunker Hill blighted, a slum to be cleared and redeveloped. The Elks Lodge/Moose Lodge gets wiped away in 1962. In 1969 Angels Flight was finally removed and stored, with a promise to return it shortly. It was reinstalled here, half a block down, a mere twenty-seven years later, though a tragic accident in 2001 has closed it temporarily.”

These are the nuts and bolts to be sure, though what they don’t add are the drops of blood that oil the gears of doom and the cogs of death!

That may be a bit dramatic. There is the small matter of the 1913 derailment, of course.

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Everything was running smoothly during a September evening rush hour, when the control shaft connecting the safety winch leaphostetterleaphoist busted, sending Sinai plummeting down the incline. The worst injury was actually a Mrs. Hostetter (of the Lovejoy Apartments at Third and Grand) who, had she not elected to leap from Sinai, wouldn’t have broken her collarbone. All other injuries were comparatively minor.
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Subsequent death and (near) dismemberment wasn’t the Flight’s fault—in 1937 Jack Claus, 54 year-old salesman, decided to take a midday siesta on the tracks.

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When a car traveling down the incline suddenly stopped, the operator had to amble down, reverse the motors, and find Sleepy Claus. Claus had been dragged fifteen feet, his clothing torn from his body, but luckily no limbs; he survived with a crushed chest. Less fortunate was the sailor who in 1943 decided to walk up the tracks:
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There’s no such repeat incident in the remaining twenty-six years of our hero’s tenure. Dismantled in 1969, reinstalled in ’96, she returns to kill after a scant five years. Why? The Germans, who have a word for everything, have a word for what happened here. Schlimbesserung. Which roughly translates to “the farther ahead we go, the further behind we fall.” It was just this sort of “worse bettering” that has put Angels Flight out of service. In the seventy years Angels Flight did its thing, 1913 notwithstanding, all was fine: it was a funicular like any other, and you don’t improve upon perfection—counterbalance, a cable, a safety cable. It’s not rocket science. But then: as is always the case with people, who feel like they have to do something when they have a job, and therefore complicate matters (if this wasn’t a case of trying to "save money," then it’s got to be nepotism), some City someone crashhired an entity absurdly ill-suited to the task of restoring Angels Flight: Lift Engineering. Lift Engineering built ski lifts. Ski lifts that killed people. This character Kunczynski worked on Angels Flight, added a whole system of independent cables with brake drums interlaced with various gears, which stripped and made the drums useless, and guess what folks, if we’d retained our Edwardian technology, we’d have a surviving survivor (Leon Praport, RIP, survived a Polish death camp, only to be taken out by another piece of ultra-modern cleverness). Kunczynski has fled to Mexico with a briefcase full of your tax dollars.

When will she return? It’s instructive to recall the 27 years she was gone after having been promised a speedy boomerang.

In 1962 taxpayers gave the CRA $35,000 ($240,000 USD2007) to “buy” Angels Flight, so that the CRA could, according to its chairman William T. Sesnon Jr., relocate the railway in Griffith Park or the Hollywood Bowl.

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CRA officials change the plan slightly when they announce in September 1968 that Angels Flight would have to come down—temporarily—to be stored for two years, and then replaced at the same site (shortened, of course, given as they were grading thirty some-odd feet from the Hill). By the time of the CRA’s brief civic ceremony “dismantling event” held in May 16, 1969, they’d already realized the railway would have to be stored until the Hill was completely developed. Surely that wouldn’t take so long.

clatterclatterCertainly many breathed a sigh of relief. Gone was that clattering anachronism, garbed in the orange and black of an Edwardian Hallowe’en, which could no longer connect the downmarket quaffers of cheap chop suey with the newly ensconced deadbolted seniors and senior bankers and the like.
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But still, a promise was a promise, and in a scant twenty-seven years, the CRA did in fact make good on its promise. With the needling of one John Welborne, and the Conservancy, and some other interested parties.
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Waiting for their return, once more:

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Many long for the return of the cars and restoration of the Flight, and demand that the City get involved—again. Granted, that Angels Flight is privately run (Welborne’s Angels Flight Railway Foundation) can mean problems, as anyone who’s ever passed a hat can tell you. Fears of an MTA takeover appear to have been unwarranted, however, and apparently, the long road toward repair may be at an end. People can take all the potshots they want at Mr. Welborne, or execrate the heavens for the very existence of delays in general, but if it takes another ten years, the fact that we’d have Angels Flight in Los Angeles at all would be nothing less than a miracle.

Photo credits:  from top, author’s collection; courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection; author’s collection; courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection; author’s collection; (grouping of three) William Reagh Collection, California History Section, California State Library; author’s collection; all newspaper images from Los Angeles Times

The Rise and Fall of the Dome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newspaper images and quote from the Los Angeles Times