The Girl Who Knew the Numbers

Location: 220 South Grand Avenue
Date: June 18, 1929

It is a thirsty Bunker Hill that laments the arrest of the bright and brainy Shirley Winters, 23-year-old resident of 220 South Grand, on suspicion of conspiracy to violate the Volstead Act.

Shirley was popped in a South Hill Street hotel room after Georgia Street vice squad Detective Lieutenants Shoemaker and Kearner overheard her take two telephone orders, one for two and another for three quarts of hooch. (In case you’re wondering, it’s $3.50 each for two quarts, and just $3 more for lucky number three.)

Shirley was paid $50 a week, and not just for her lilting telephone voice—her specialty was keeping the day’s orders (including delivery addresses!) in her head until she could convey them to the bottling plant on West Seventh Street. She would have gotten away with it, too, but her boss got popped and spilled everything, and the cops have been picking off the little fish for weeks. Today they caught a live one, the gal with the million dollar hippocampus. She pled not guilty, and in November was sentenced along with other small fry in the gang to  eleven months (suspended).

Hollywood Comes to The Sherwood

Bunker Hill has had many landmarks, but perhaps none so little remembered as the massive foundations lain at 431 South Grand many years ago. They were great concrete things, poured about the time of the Great Panic, or the Lesser Panic, and served as Hill touchstone and reminder of ambitious building projects halted by devious economies. But L. H. Mills and J. G. Talbott have come along and said fooey! We reject these in their totality and all they represent, and with that utterly destroyed the foundations and have, in the style of all that is great and noble of the year 1912, set out to build from the ground up the finest apartment hotel available.

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The building is 75×176’ and contains 160 rooms. Despite its vaguely
French Renaissance air, it is named the Nottinghamshire-evoking
Sherwood.

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The lobby is 50×41’, finished in mahogany, its inglenook containing a large fireplace. Each Sherwood apartment contains a private dressing room with built-in dresser and mirror. Whereas law stipulates the minimum space for apartment living rooms as 120 square feet, the Sherwood’s are 190; where the legal minimum for hallways is three feet six inches, Mills and Talbott see that theirs will be six feet across. Just because.
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In June of 1915, the Sherwood hosted the wedding of P. C. Hartigan and Peggy Hart, in the apartments of their pal, Sherwoodian Mrs. Dick Ferris, and in the company of Judge Summerfield and many a jolly Hollywood pal.
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Soon after, however, the quality of Hollywood Type there began to decline. Even in our TMZ era that abjures accomplishment and rewards reprobation, dag, that Helen Lee Worthing gave society a run for its money. And surely set Sherwood tongues a-wagging.

HLWWorthing was a statuesque Bostonian-by-way-of-Kentucky who’d become a Ziegfeld Follies girl—the toast of New York, and lady-friend of a New York mayor, it was said. Darling of the rotogravure section, it was then on to Hollywood, where she made pictures galore while at the same time gracing nightly Ziegfeld’s well-known assemblage of pulchritude.

She’d always had a tempestuous time of it…in 1922, after a Hearst paper described in detail Worthing’s New York catfight with another chorus girl—including a cartoon depicting the biting and clawing—she elected to end her life by swallowing bichloride of mercury. Ended up in Bellevue.

Once in Hollywood she made the papers in more light-hearted ways; in 1925 she drove her car off a cliff and from there atop the roof of a house in Whitley Heights.

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But her career continued to blossom; Mary Pickford called her the most beautiful woman in the world, and Harrison Fisher adjudged her the most beautiful profile in America. In 1926—the year she starred with Barrymore in Don Juan—she demanded $100,000 from a perfume company that had used her image.

But 1927 was to change all that. In April she was the victim of a violent beating, administered by an intruder, which left her with a broken nose, knocked-out tooth and discolored eyes. And five days of delirium. Her colored maid called Dr. Eugene Nelson, noted Negro physician, to see after her famous employer.

And it was love! They threw society’s strictures aside (it was still forty years before Loving v. Virginia and eighty til Seal n Heidi) and set about on a whirlwind romance that resulted in a secret Tijuana wedding in June. The fact that there was no intruder, and Nelson had to care for someone in a mad fit of drunkenness (or, more precisely, a drunken fit of madness) should have given him pause.

helooksasblackasIdoThey keep the wedding secret but is revealed to the world late in 1929, after their estrangement becomes known. His philandering, cruelty, jealously, and threats of confining her to some sort of institution are apparently too much for her.

In 1930 she returns from a New York “Neurological Institute” where she’s been treated for…the blues. She is outted by a reporter as being shacked up at the Mayfair, and she moves into an unnamed apartment-house; likely The Sherwood, as she turns up there in short order.

Divorce proceedings stretch through the early 30s: she complains that he beats her and drugs her and forces her outside wearing only her negligee; he replies that they didn’t fulfill Mexican residential requirements and, as they’re not therefore legally wed, doesn’t owe her monthly monies. By November 1932 she’s hallucinating that objects are being thrown at her, and is threatening suicide, and lands in the psychopathic ward of General Hospital. The marriage is annulled in January 1933.

In June of 1933 she disappears from an eastbound Santa Fe train—it is assumed she jumped, or fell. A three day search ensues. Turns out she just got off at Pasadena, abandoning her bags and tickets.

sherwoodarrestOn August 16, 1933, the coppers come to The Sherwood to collect Helen Lee Worthing on violation of her parole to the psychopathic department. In a statement from her psych ward bed at General Hospital, Helen declared that she had been living quietly in her apartment, attempting to increase her income by writing poetry and short stories. “I can’t understand who would complain and have me returned here,” she said. “I have only been trying to get a start on my own ability. Incidentally, I have fallen in love with a man who has been typing my poetry, but that has nothing to do with this.”

If only the story could end with her returning to the Sherwood, marrying the typist, and living long enough to move into the Bunker Hill Towers. But it was not to be.

In 1935 she is arrested on a drunk charge in Venice, and can’t come up with the $5 bail, or even the pals to post the bail for her; she spend ten days in Lincoln Heights jail.
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In September 1935 she’s living in the Big Sister League Guest Home, when she again takes poison, this time over unrequited love.
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In 1939 she’s sentenced to five months in County on a narcotics charge—passing forged morphine scrips and carrying a hypo in her purse. In 1940 she’s given a year for the same MO. (Interestingly, while in stir, going about her duties as a trusty in the woman’s ward of County, only three flights below was her ex-husband Dr. Eugene Nelson, awaiting his murder trial—not only was he practicing without a license, having lost that—but he killed a girl while aborting her fetus.)

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In October 1942 she’s popped for public drunkenness outside a downtown roominghouse; she fails to appear in court for her hearing, but sends a note: “I am leaving the State. I do not feel I can get fair treatment in California courts.” Needless to say, she does not leave the state. Radio car officers were called to the scene of her beating by some “boyfriend” in her Centennial Street apartment in April 1944, and took her to Georgia Street Receiving where she was treated for half-inch laceration on the chin and a 1+1/2 inch cut on the back of her head; she does not press charges.

uhohIn 1946 she’s found downed and dazed at Portia and Sunset, and examination fails to find injury or illness. She talks vaguely of trying to obtain rest by “self-hypnosis.” Uh-huh.

Some would see this as a red flag; others as the checkered flag…the race is over. In any event, people will sit in the stands waiting for a spectacular crash. Most of the time, the car sputters and dies. It’s just a matter of time, now.

August 25, 1948. She dies of barbiturate poisoning, in a tiny house (1062 North Serrano, since wiped out by the Hollywood Freeway) surrounded by expensive scrapbooks bulging with clippings from her golden age. Inside were penciled notes: “I can’t stand another straw—it would be too much.” Say hello next time you’re in Inglewood.

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The Sherwood is now occupied roughly by the back side of the Welton Becket’s 1981 Mellon First Business Bank, and some miniaturized version of a street called “Hope Place.”
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For anyone who may gripe that the majority of this page deals more with Hollywood than it does with Bunker Hill, believe me, brother, this isn’t the last you’ve heard of The Sherwood.

Suicide Writ Large at Clay Central

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Before the Community Redevelopment Association swung its scythe across Bunker Hill, one building tried to do itself in. This structure was by all evidence a living, cursed thing, and like the House of Usher disappearing into the tarn, it acted to remove itself from this world. Shades of the Overlook Hotel—someone or something used the old exploding boiler trick to force this assembly of apartments from its supramortal coil.

I speak of the Hotel Central, aka the Clayton Apartments, aka the Lorraine Hotel. Change the names all you want, there’s something wrong at 310 Clay Street. Kim’s numerous posts about the place attest to that.

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The spot was a trouble magnet even before the hotel’s erection. Back when 310 was a double dwelling, it attracted kerchief-weilding lady-gagging burglars.

By 1910 the Hotel Lorraine stands on the site and Jerome Hite elects to shoot his wife in the neck.

Come 1914, proprietor-of-the-place Claude Mathewson—gets, what, tired of watching the walls bleed? listening to the screaming faces jutting from the washbasin mirror?—elects to pop two new holes into his lovely wife and one into his own head.

Shortly after, in that room where try as one might the blood just never quite washes out, a real estate titan is taken down for sordidness.

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A year later, the establishment, now named the Clayton, has become a veritable den of iniquity. The new proprietor is a Mrs. Florence Cheney. According to her, the property is owned by Leon Levy, “about whom no one concerned could give any information.”

goodstart

wellpassoverthat
Mrs. Cheney shows up again as a witness in the 1916 Percy Tugwell trial; Percy robbed and murdered Senator’s-daughter Maud Kennedy, and while Mrs. Cheney asserted that Maud may have committed suicide because she was being threatened by boxer Louis “Cyclone Thompson” Astosky, her character and thus credibility were attacked mercilessly.

Leon Levy decides to get out of the 310 Clay business after changing its name again to the Hotel Central.

Things stay quiet at 310 Clay for the next couple decades or so…acts of ill fortune befall its residents elsewhere.
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In 1922, for example, Frank Macey, son of a wealthy Phoenix shoe dealer, dropped from sight for a week after staying in the Central. He ended up as a nameless bloody pulp in County Hospital, hovering in and out of consciousness, until at last identified as the prodigal Frank.

In 1923, Sander Serrano, 22 year-old graduate of USC, was playing pool at 155 East First when he was accused of jostling another player. For this he nearly lost his arm to his penknife-wielding opponent, who severed a slew of arteries and stabbed him in the throat.

A 1936 beer parlor fight at 121 South Main resulted in the stabbing of Hotel Central resident Walter Paine.

And so it goes, until the hotel could take no more, or had claimed enough souls, or something otherwise unknowable to mere man.

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Mid-day, November 27, 1953. O. B. Reeder, a 73 year-old retired printer, was bent over a table preparing Christmas gifts for mailing. Houses of Hell hating the Christmas season and all, the boiler exploded in rage, sending Reeder’s door across the room and into his back. Directly across the hall, from where resident Gus Poulas’ guardian angel had guided him elsewhere, the room was completely wrecked, all tumbled furniture and great cakes of plaster torn from the walls.

The boiler room itself was obliterated into a mass of twisted metal and piles of timber and concrete wall blocks. Plaster from walls and ceilings was concussed to floors throughout the hotel. The windows and doors in the first three floors were cracked or blown out by the explosion, which attracted a large lunchtime crowd of spectators to the Hill Street section of the Grand Central Market. (The back of the hotel towered over a Hill St. parking lot:)
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Making the incident all the eerier is owner/manager William Ogawa’s statement that while the boilers were under repair, he was certain that gas to the boiler room had been turned off when the boilers went out of order several days previous.

In any event, everything was rebuilt, doors rehung, windows reglazed. Less than a decade later the scythe swung and all that was 310 Clay was at the bottom of a landfill, the CRA accomplishing what the Lorraine/Clayton/Central couldn’t do itself.

But remember what I said about the spot being a trouble magnet even before the hotel’s erection? Is there some sort of Poltergeist-style burial-ground whatnot at work here? Flash forward a hundred years from our tale of the simple double residence.

310 Clay at lucky number 13:

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The site of 310 on the Ghost Street that is Clay:
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On that very spot. February 1, 2001. What spanner of the underworld was tossed into the heavenly works of a newly-located Angels Flight?

This is the ground zero of Clay Street. Clay Street, the street that had to be destroyed. The street whose very name—clay—symbolizes (via Nebuchadnezzar’s dream) the division of an empire, and the end of a kingdom.

Hotel Cental photographs courtesy Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library

Newpaper images from the Los Angeles Times 

Red Light Raid

Location: 310 Clay Street
Date: June 15, 1915

The Redlight Abatement Act is now law, and the first establishment to be entered by crowbar, ax and the strong arms of police and DA’s men was the Hotel Clayton, formerly the Lorraine. The authorities interrupted a gay midnight dinner party and made prisoners of all 25 inside, including some panic-stricken ladies who begged to be turned loose as their husbands didn’t know they were out. In all, 17 men and 8 women were seized.

Among those arrested, 75-year-old proprietress Mrs. Florence Cheney (held on $5000 bail for pandering and $2000 for contributing to her 16-year-old granddaughter Florence Emery’s delinquency). Florence is now in the hands of juvenile authorities and her mother Ella Emery is being held on vagrancy charges.

Also arrested were Special Officers W.C. Becker and A.S. Ross of the Nick Harris Detective Agency, both in the process of devouring sandwiches and claiming to be doing some investigating of their own, attorney Chauncey Gardner, who refused any comment, a fellow named Jones who had no trousers, and a number of people named Smith or Jones. All came before Police Judge Frederickson and were bailed at $50 each after pleasing not guilty, save Mrs. Cheney, jailed on the statutory charges, and the two detectives, released on their own recognizance.

When the place was called the Lorraine it was site of the murder of the notorious Nellie Buck, Hite’s shooting of his wife and several suicides, and seems to still be a place of notable ill favor.

Dome Denizen Smith

July 14, 1949

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

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

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

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

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

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