The Argyle: Wayward Youth, Beatings and the Slit Throat That Wasn’t

When we last visited the Argyle, it was the a first rate Bunker Hill rooming house, artists’ salon, and night spot besieged by troubled management and unpredictable closings.  This week, we turn to the Argyle’s tenants, and their various encounters with local law enforcement.

urchinsAt first, the hotel attracted the sort of person who perhaps wished for a bit more intrigue and drama than life at the Argyle provided.  And being artistic types, they were perhaps prone to overactive imaginations.

On December 22, 1887, police were summoned to the Argyle at 2:30 in the morning, and greeted at the door by a hysterical landlady who claimed that the house was full of burglars, and "one of them is standing in a guest’s room with his throat cut!"

When we last visited the Argyle, it was the a first rate Bunker Hill rooming house, artists’ salon, and night spot besieged by troubled management and unpredictable closings.  This week, we turn to the Argyle’s tenants, and their various encounters with local law enforcement.

urchinsAt first, the hotel attracted the sort of person who perhaps wished for a bit more intrigue and drama than life at the Argyle provided.  And being artistic types, they were perhaps prone to overactive imaginations.

On December 22, 1887, police were summoned to the Argyle at 2:30 in the morning, and greeted at the door by a hysterical landlady who claimed that the house was full of burglars, and "one of them is standing in a guest’s room with his throat cut!"

A small army of police officer, reporters, and curious tenants rushed down the hall, storming into the room where the fiend had been sighted.  Behind the door, however, they found a startled-looking, 100-pound man mopping up a bloody nose.  And the kicker?  He lived there.

Another early morning disturbance drew police on September 15, 1892.  When they arrived at the scene, they found another crowd gathered around a door, listening to the anguished moans of a woman.  After some heated debate, they decided to break down the door, and police were about to do just that when a man’s voice shouted, "Don’t kick that door open.  She is alright."

As the Argyle residents exchanged scandalized whispers, a half-naked man flung the door open and attempted an escape, but succeeded only in running into the arms of police officers.  Though both parties remained unnamed, the shirtless gentleman was a prominent local artist, and the woman a handsome widow "too far gone under the influence of ‘cold tea.’" 

After a few incidents like this, the Argyle residents needed to step up their game, and how better than to take a page from Dickens?  On June 29, 1901, Charles B. Howe was arrested and charged with enlisting two of the Argyle’s youngest residents to steal for him.  Howe approached Raymond and Harry Neismonger, 11 and 9, respectively, with a proposition that they steal from local department stores, and he would purchase the fenced goods at bargain prices.  Raymond was intrigued, and promptly took a job as a cash boy at the Broadway Department Store where he had easy access to all manner of tempting items.  Not to be outdone, the younger boy took to lifting watches from Tufts-Lyon.  Howe was caught red-handed with several watches, a bathing suit, and an assortment of leather goods in his possession.

Though our tale has run long, there’s room for one more Argyle crime, a sad, though routine tale of domestic violence immortalized in perhaps the purplest headline ever penned by a Times writer: 

"CAUGHT BY STRATEGY:  COWARDLY WIFE-BEATER WITH BLOOD IN HIS EYE AND MURDER IN HIS DRUNKEN HEART"

Charles Gregory stumbled into the Argyle drunk and proceeded to beat his wife.  Police were summoned, and Gregory was locked up for disturbing the peace, though not for assaulting his wife.

Don’t know that the story lives up to the headline, but somehow, it fits the spirit of the Argyle Hotel perfectly.  

Photographs from the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Dome Wrap-Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chaneywalks

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

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

All That Glitters

Location: 360 South Hill Street
Date: June 29, 1931

Mrs. W.H. Gadd of this address (presumably a relation of manager S.J.) was driving near 12th Street and Burlington Avenue when a couple of boyish creeps hopped onto her running board, shoved guns in the window and demanded the two fabulous rings on her left hand. She obliged, and later told police the crooks had stolen paste, and gosh, isn’t it amazing how good a $2 ring looks these days?

Driving Angels Flight

Location: 300 Block Hill Street
Date: September 1, 1934

We cannot know how many times mechanic Herbert Stockwell gazed from his window at 316 Clay Street over the steps adjoining the Angels Flight Railway and dreamed, but this was the night he partook of some liquid courage and attempted to drive down the steps. He crashed about 50 feet shy of Hill Street, knocking his teeth out and bloodying his nose, and was discovered wandering confusedly by Officer Hull. Hull took him to Georgia Street police station, where Stockwell was charged with grand theft auto and drunk driving. The wrecked car belonged to Doris George, wife of a physician in the Black Building at Fourth and Hill.