Case of the Missing Consul

I’ve discovered another mysterious disappearance tied to the Cecil Hotel. This one somehow eluded all previous archival searches, and it’s quite an odd and interesting case. I call it The Case of the Missing Consul.

Galbraith feel grave concern over missing headline

Around noon on December 31, 1947, Alexander M. Galbraith, 50, stepped out of the office where he had served for the past four years as the British Consul for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and vanished. His daughter Jean, who was his secretary, said he’d been brooding about the possibility of losing his position to one of the career diplomats who’d been freed up by the end of the war. He was right to worry. That very morning, he’d been informed that his services were no longer needed. The reason given was that, though Scottish-born, he was a naturalized American.

Galbraith, who’d been a WW1 flying ace and had a fiery reputation, was incensed. He was passionate about his position, giving pro-British speeches to local men’s clubs, dedicating long hours to aiding war brides whose American grooms had abandoned them. And now some bureaucrat was going to take his place? It was too much for him to stand.

On New Years Day, Deputy Coroner Ken O’Toole said Galbraith had come in, asking about a pair of missing spectacles. But a search of the neighborhood came up empty. A Pullman porter saw a photograph of the missing man, and told police he was certain he’d served him on a train bound for Chicago. Chicago authorities were alerted, but Galbraith was nowhere to be found. Searches in Washington and Cleveland also turned up nothing.

His wife and daughters were frantic. Weeks passed with no word. The shame of losing his job must have been too much. Had Galbraith killed himself?

He had not.

On January 27, 1948, Galbraith sent a telegram to George B. Stelluto, proprietor of The Green Grill near the Pittsburgh morgue, asking for a loan of $50. Stelluto, a friend, went to the police.

former Greens Grill no Common Plea 310 Ross Street Pittsburgh Google Street View copy

Later, Galbraith told reporters in Los Angeles that he’d only wired Stelluto because he didn’t have any money for food. He needed a stake to get back on his feet.

So what had happened to him?

Galbraith pale AP image

“I blew my top when I was informed I had been relieved. I packed my bag with several suits and came by train, although I have very little recollection of my departure or arrival. I don’t remember much until I came to here in this hotel. I vaguely recall being in Canton, Ohio and Chicago, but I’m not sure how I got here or what I did during that week.” He said he hadn’t wanted “to be a burden” to his wife of daughters. As for the telegram, he supposed that Stelluto, thinking “he was serving my interests best” had gone to the Chief of Police. “Maybe he was serving my best interests. I hope so.”

Reached at home, his daughter Jean said “We’re all very much relieved that Daddy’s been located. We certainly don’t feel that he’ll be a burden on us and we’re going to send him the money to fly home. I’m sure he won’t have trouble finding another job.”

Galbraith was one of the lucky ones. Many other troubled souls had found a bed at the Cecil and lacked the courage to ask for help. He went home. Reporters, who always want more, asked after him. Jean said that he was somewhat unwell from his travels, and was resting. Jean protected her father well. We hear nothing more about him, and sometimes hearing nothing is the happiest ending of all.

 

February 26, 2013 at 9:18 pm Leave a comment

Ghosts of the Cecil

It was with shock and no small amount of horror that we learned that a body, believed to be that of Canadian tourist Elisa Lam, last seen behaving strangely in an elevator security video recorded on February 1, had been discovered today within one of the water tanks on the Cecil Hotel’s roof. A complaint about low water pressure had prompted an employee to look inside. 

Cecil Hotel roof helicopter screen shot february 19 2013

 

Hotels by their nature are the backdrop for extreme behavior, and any public building that stands for the better part of a century will collect its share of tragedies. The Cecil (established 1927) is notable among true crime aficionados as the short-term residence of serial killers Jack Unterweger and Richard Ramirez, and in all the attention paid to those grim gentlemen, the hotel’s other heartbreaks too often go unmourned. 

The probable fate of Miss Lam inspires us to compose a memorial note, to the five prior ladies (and one unfortunate fellow) who left this world on the grounds of the Cecil Hotel, and whose wraiths may yet haunt the place.

hotel-cecil-ad for web

On June 4, 1964, “Pigeon Goldie” Osgood, retired telephone operator and well known protector and feeder of the birds in Pershing Square, was found dead in her room by a hotel worker distributing phone books. She had been stabbed, strangled and raped, and her room ransacked.  Near her body were found the Dodgers cap she always wore and a paper sack full of birdseed. Soon after, Jacques B. Ehlinger, 29, was seen walking through Pershing Square in bloodstained clothing. He was arrested, but cleared of the crime, for which no one was ever arrested. 

The next day, Goldie’s friends came together in Pershing Square to express their grief. Jean Rosenstein, a retired nurse, told a reporter “We were all her friends, all of us here at the square. I was just standing here this morning, thinking about what had happened, when somebody suggested we get some flowers. No one has much money around here, but all of a sudden everyone started giving me what they could. We just wanted her to know we remembered.”

Pigeon Goldie, we remember you, too. 

It was October 12, 1962 and Pauline Otton, 27, had been arguing with her estranged husband Dewey in a room on the ninth floor when he decided he’d had enough and went out to get some dinner. She decided she’d had enough, too, and jumped from the window. She landed on top of a pedestrian, George Gianinni, 65, and both were killed instantly. Since no one saw Pauline jump, police initially thought they had a double suicide on their hands–but on closer examination, George had his hands in his pockets and was still wearing shoes, which would have been unlikely if he’d fallen ninety feet. 

Pauline, and George, we remember.

On February 11, 1962, Julia Moore climbed out of her eighth floor room window and landed in a second story interior light well. She left no note, just a bus ticket from St. Louis, 59 cents in change, and an Illinois bank book showing a balance of $1800. 

Julia, we remember.

On October 22, 1954, Helen Gurnee, 50-something, stepped from her seventh floor window and crashed to her death atop the hotel’s marquee. She had registered as Margaret Brown a week before.

Helen—or Margaret, as she preferred—we remember.

Elisa Lam, 21, left her home in Vancouver for a solo trip to California. Her plans after visiting Los Angeles were to continue north to Santa Cruz, but it seems that she never left Main Street.

She had the great misfortune to vanish while the Los Angeles Police Department was absorbed with one of the largest manhunts in its history, and one cannot but wonder what impact the search for Christopher Dorner had upon the search for Elisa Lam. 

Perhaps she climbed up the side of the water tank, lifted the hatch, slipped inside, drowned, and then floated there for weeks until her body sank and blocked the pipes. Maybe someone who knew the nooks and crannies of this very old establishment put her there. In time, the answer will come, but it will make no great difference. She is gone, and she remains.

Elisa, we remember. And hope the souls that went before can lend some comfort now to yours.

elisa lam in elevator

See also The Case of the Missing Consul.

February 25, 2013 at 9:15 pm Leave a comment

Sleuthing A Presidential Mystery in Downtown Los Angeles

Should you step into the lobby of the King Edward Hotel at the corner of 5th and Los Angeles Streets in L.A.’s historic Skid Row, and pause to admire the black and gold Egyptian marble fixtures, ionic columns and sweeping mezzanine stair, the odds are better than good that the fellow behind the counter will draw your attention to the clock above the desk and the fancy raised initials just below it.

King Edward Hotel IMG_4833 for blog

 

And in answer to your predictable question, he’ll reply: “Teddy Roosevelt! He stayed here when he visited Los Angeles.”

 

King Edward Hotel IMG_4833 TR crop

 

A Presidential sleepover would be a point of pride for any establishment–all the more so in a young city in the far west. How marvelous a fact, and no wonder the King Eddy’s staff is so quick to share it. (We’ve confirmed that this information has been passed down through oral tradition since at least the mid-1970s.)

 

King Edward Hotel fiesta pinback 1903

 

There’s only one problem. Theodore Roosevelt’s famous visit to Los Angeles was on May 8, 1903. He attended the Fiesta de las Flores parade, and stayed that night at the fashionable Westminster Hotel at 4th and Main Streets, two blocks away.

 

King Edward Hotel May 9 1903 LAT page 45 Roosevelt at Fiesta screen grab

 

The King Edward didn’t open until 1906.

Oh, but then Roosevelt must have stayed at the King Edward on a later tour of the Southland, right?

Well, historical records do show that Roosevelt return once more to Los Angeles, for two days in March 1911, when the ex-President spoke at Occidental College and Throop Polytechnic.

His stay at Pasadena’s Hotel Maryland was well publicized, and included a poignant meeting with an aged slave who had been owned by Roosevelt’s maternal family in Antebellum Georgia.

But there appears to be no documentation of a stop at the King Edward or any other Los Angeles hotel.

So why in the name of all that’s historical are the initials T.R. stuck up above the desk of the King Edward Hotel today?

We’ve been wracking our brains, and have come up with a few theories worth floating.

Perhaps before the Westminster Hotel fell to the wrecking ball in 1960, someone went to the auction and bid on a piece of commemorative marble, transporting the legend of a Presidential visit along with the physical artifact back to the nearby establishment?

King Edward Hotel Westminster roosevelt slept here wrecking

 

A tempting notion, but a rare 1920s-era promotional map printed by the King Edward includes a photo of the lobby, which while printed using the halftone technique which makes it impossible to “zoom in” and see finer details, certainly appears to already show a set of initials there beneath the clock.

King Edward Lobby circa 1920 from our map watermark

 

 

<King Edward Hotel clock detail circa 1920

 

Well, could they represent an owner of the hotel? The King Edward was built by architect John Parkinson and operated in its early years by Colonel E. Dunham, Tommy Law and Thomas L. Dodge. Not a “T.R.” in the bunch.

Having weighed and sorted these and other, less reasonable, possibilities, we’re prepared to come down on the side of one unsupportable, but eminently pragmatic solution: that the patriotic initials are merely a tip of the hat to a popular politician, and an answer to any testy patron who might question the red-blooded Americanism of a hotel named for a foreign king.

We reckon that’s as good a theory as any, and we’re sticking with it until and unless something better comes along.

Which leaves the initials “T.R.” above the desk of the King Edward, and the abiding oral tradition of the great man’s visit, something of a mystery–but no less beguiling for that. Since everyone who knew the real answer is dead, we’re free to craft our own myths to pass along to Angelenos who’ll come after. Why do you believe the initials “T.R.” are there under the clock in the King Eddy?

 

King Edward Hotel TR marches in King Edward VII funeral procession May 20 1910 Library of Congress

 

This meditation on time and memory was written on the occasion of the upcoming shuttering of the King Edward Saloon and the auction of its equipment and memorabilia.

 

November 28, 2012 at 3:28 am Leave a comment

The Los Angeles Prosperity Carnival and Indoor Fair of 1915

Here’s a thrilling bit of lost Los Angeles lore worth shining a torch on: after San Francisco’s celebrated Panama-Pacific International Exposition folded up its tents in late 1915, clever promoter H.W. Nixon brought quite a number of the midway attractions from “The Zone, the Street of Fun” down to Broadway, where they filled the old Boston Store building.

boston dry goods store facade

The Boston was the department store founded by the Robinson family; the building, missing its upper stories, today houses a wedding chapel.

<toyland on the zone 17731

Above: Some of the daffiness to be found on “The Zone.”

The Los Angeles Prosperity Carnival and Indoor Fair opened at 6pm on Saturday, December 11 to an audience of 5000 eager souls, and for the next 30 days, there was no place more amusing — or peculiar — in all the southland.

opening festivities LA Times

Above: Huge crowd celebrates the opening of the festivities. Photo: LA Times

The fair began with the “wedding” of Mr. Midget (real name: Lajos Matina, one of the Hungarian Matina triplets, all later Wizard of Oz Munchkins) to Miss Midget (Elise Broek). The couple were residents of Midget City, whose troupe appeared under the leadership of Prince Ludwig, whose professional bio had him a wee member of European royalty. Miss Midget, by the by, was a suffragette.

Prince Ludwig (Chicago Tribune)

Above: Prince Ludwig addresses his subjects at Midget Village, an attraction at the 1933 World’s Fair. Photo: Chicago Tribune

Prize rabbits and pigeons by the hundreds were exhibited, with Los Angeles husbandry clubs competing against those fuddyduds in Pasadena.

blanche payson colliers 1915

Above: Officer Payson at the PPIE, where she protected lady fairgoers from mashers. Photo: Collier’s.

Like large ladies in uniform? (Who doesn’t?) Then you won’t want to miss an audience with Mrs. Blanche Payson, popular 6’4″ PPIE policewoman, who was on display in her cute “coppette” garb. You can still enjoy Mrs. Payson in some classic short comedies.

Hold your nose on the third floor, where a grand cat show, organized by the Los Angeles Cat Fanciers Association, featured prize-winning kitties from overseas and around the country.

Turkish Harem

Above: Some of the pretties on display. Photo: LA Times.

The fifth floor was transformed into an Oriental Village staffed with young lovelies, each of them a “real Egyptian princess” and a talented dancer. They also had a pet serpent named Zoo, and Turkish cigarettes and water pipes available for male visitors to sample. This show was developed for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and had been touring ever since.

“In Old Hawaii,” a song and dance show, was considered one of the higher-class attractions of the fair.

siamese twins

Then there was a Human Fish, who appeared to eat, drink and sleep inside his tank. And a chance to coo at the three-year-old Cuban-born Siamese twins Josephina and Guadalupe Hinojosa.

But wait, there’s more! All the way from Van Nuys come… (wait for it)… 500 high-class chickens. Under the direction of W.P. Whitsett of the Chamber of Commerce, locals brought their best birds to show off the suitability of the SFV as a center of chicken ranching. The first such ranch opened just three years ago, and by 1915 there are 150 of them. The aim was to “make Van Nuys the Petaluma of Southern California.” Favorite entrants included Lord Roselawn I, a majestic White Leghorn rooster and Sport, a Barred Plymouth Rock. Also on view: fighting cocks who battled in cages.

And for the kiddies, Santa distributed gifts beneath one of the largest Christmas trees ever brought to Los Angeles.

One of the weirdest elements of the fair was the Baby Bollinger Show, a wax replica of the malformed Chicago infant whose death the previous month had been national news. Allan Bollinger had the misfortune to be under the “care” of Dr. Harry Haiselden, a proponent of euthanasia and eugenics who not only convinced the boy’s parents to let their “sure-to-become-a-criminal” infant die rather than attempt any lifesaving surgeries, but actively sought media attention for doing so. The controversy over the Bollinger case led an ethics complaint against Haiselden, who would later star in an autobiographical pro-eugenics film called The Black Stork.

101 Ranch WENONA (1913) Half-Sheet

And then there was Princess Wenona with her Miniature Wild West Show. Princess Wenona, previously called Lillian Smith, perched atop her piebald pony Rabbit, was a star marksman in the 101 Ranch wild west show and had appeared with Buffalo Bill Cody in the 1880s. Her theatrical back story claimed that her mother was kidnapped by Sioux Indians, and that Lillian was the result of a liaison with Crazy Snake, a chief.

She was of Indian ancestry, just not from the Plains. In fact, she was born in Coleville, near the California-Nevada border. At 7 she got her first rifle, and became the terror of the Yosemite bird population. In her teens she joined the Buffalo Bill show and played to crowds of up to 200,000 in Staten Island, NY.

Jim_&_Lillian

Above: Lillian Smith on the road, with performer friends and her rifle collection.

She was billed as “The California Huntress,” “Champion Girl Rifle Shot” and “The California Girl,” and a prize of $10,000 was offered to anyone who could out shoot Princess Wenona. They say nobody ever claimed that prize.

She had a great rivalry with the established performer Annie Oakley, who began lying about her age as Wenona’s star ascended. In 1887, both women performed in England on the same bill. At a special performance for the Queen, it is said that Victoria rose for the first time in her life to salute the American flag. While in London, Oakley quarreled with Bill Cody and left the show, leaving Wenona the sole star lady sharpshooter, until Oakley and Cody made up.

geronimo with princess wenona

Above: Princess Wenona with Buffalo Bill Cody and the famous Apache leader Geronimo, 1901

In later years she became rather plump, drank too much and had several unhappy marriages, so by the time she played the Prosperity Carnival, we can assume she was not the star she’d been. Still, such tricks as shooting out a candle flame or the ashes off a man’s cigar remained crowd pleasers.

She retired around 1925 and lived out her days on a ranch in Oklahoma with many former Wild West Show friends and dozens of stray dogs that she cared for. She died during the bitter cold winter of 1930, aged 59.

And these are just a few of the more than 150 shows and 200 concessions on display at the Los Angeles Prosperity Carnival and Indoor Fair. Don’t you wish you could have seen them all?

November 12, 2012 at 3:28 am Leave a comment

CRACL–Next Meeting Thursday, May 24th 7pm

CRACL, the Campaign for Real Ale and Common Lisp, will have its first meeting in many years on Thursday, May 24th from 7-10pm at the Los Angeles Athletic Club (LAAC) in downtown Los Angeles.

MAP LINK

The meeting will be held in the bar on the 3rd floor of LAAC. If you purchase a drink at the bar they will validate your parking (3 hours) in their lot. Attendees should look for familiar faces and a tell-tale LISP programming manual on the table. The parking lot for LAAC is just to the north of their building on Olive street.

In order to attend I need to put your name on the guest list at LAAC. Please use the site’s contact form in the above menu to let me know that you are planning on attending. Give your full name in the email. When you check in at in the lobby of LAAC, just give them your name and let them know that you are attending the CRACL meeting.

April 20, 2012 at 3:29 pm Leave a comment

CRACL Redux–Next Meeting Thursday, April 19th 7pm

CRACL, the Campaign for Real Ale and Common Lisp, will have its first meeting in many years on Thursday, April 19th from 7-10pm at the Los Angeles Athletic Club (LAAC) in downtown Los Angeles.

MAP LINK

The meeting will be held in the bar on the 3rd floor of LAAC. If you purchase a drink at the bar they will validate your parking (3 hours) in their lot. Attendees should look for familiar faces and a tell-tale LISP programming manual on the table. The parking lot for LAAC is just to the north of their building on Olive street.

In order to attend I need to put your name on the guest list at LAAC. Please use the site’s contact form in the above menu to let me know that you are planning on attending. Give your full name in the email. When you check in at in the lobby of LAAC, just give them your name and let them know that you are attending the CRACL meeting.

March 29, 2012 at 9:25 pm Leave a comment

The URM’s First Home – 145 North Main

The Union Rescue Mission is well-remembered for its historic home at 226 South Main, where it held forth for fifty-plus years.  That site, a labyrinthian place made up of two large linked structures, was famously felled for parking in the mid-1990s, though continues on in the memories of many.  Before 226, the Mission spent a near quarter-century in another structure:  it is long forgotten, as is the streetscape around it, all obliterated in the name of Civic progress.

Truth be told, the Mission had a collection of “first homes.”  There was an office at 431-433 South Spring, larger rooms in a converted saloon near Second and Main, and through the 1890s, a nomadic tent life under canvas roofs on lots located at Second and Spring, First and Los Angeles, and/or First and Spring. The Depression of ’93 and the Panic of ’01 certainly helped send men into the tents.

In March of 1903, the Pacific Gospel Mission set down roots in a narrow, two-story structure at 145 North Main.  (This is a view of Main in 1891, from out the window of the Natick, looking north across First, our Mission at 145 would be up the block, flush against the left side of image.)  After they move into 145, the Pacific Gospel Union AKA Pacific Rescue Mission becomes, under the able hand of Union Oil (besides Lyman Stewart’s tutelage, many early Mission movers and shakers were UO bigwigs, e.g. Giles Kellogg and Robert Watchorn, or Union friendlies like Herbert G. Wylie, et al), the Union Rescue Mission.

Though 145 was not large, the rented rooms there and its evangelical crew produce great work — in 1906 they held 1,800 services; gave food, clothing and shelter to 2,700; saw 3,201 men and women converted to Christ; and reunited 132 families.  The next year Union Rescue buys the building outright.  Testimonials from those turned from drink and crime blossom.  It is at this time, 1907, that indignant saloon keepers and liquor wholesalers took their protests to the City Council and had the Mission’s colorful public enterprises curtailed. 

In 1908 the Mission on Main boasted “one of the cleanest, brightest mission halls to be found anywhere.”  From its reading and class rooms, dining and lecture hall, poured a thousand-plus every year, who, lost and helpless, found salvation.  At this time Stewart and Thomas Corwin Horton, Bible teacher at the Mission, begin a Bible institute, whose fundamentalist evangelical work stretch world-wide (but that is another story).

The ‘teens and ‘twenties continue without great incident (see men get their 1917 Thanksgiving turkeys here); there are moments of financial hardship, usually relieved at last minute by a healthy pledge.  There was even some worry (as it could be called) that they’d done their job too well; they were preaching to good-size congregations of the saved (as was their newly-formed Church of the Open Door), and, in 1920, alcohol was made illegal — certainly THAT was going to quiet things?

Of course, in short order, the Mission realized the need for a relocation:  services in helping the needy were growing both in demand and taxed by their quarters at 145.  Then, in June 1923, the citizens of Los Angeles authorized $7.5 million in bonds to raze a large parcel of land at Spring, Temple and Main for a City Hall.  This sealed the fate of 145.  Much of 1924 is spent arguing with the City over value (the URM estimated 48k, the City offered 37:  the two parties settled on 43k in 1925). 

Thus what was once a rather vibrant block — this being a shot of some of it, from the 1906 Sanborn, showing our Mission at 145 (upper right) surrounded by vaudeville, and liquor wholesalers, and female boarding, that euphamism for one of those less savory occupations — well, just go and compare it to that same square of land from the 1950 map, post-City Hall.

Not that we all don’t have a deserved fetish for our City Hall; but 145 was a charming little building, with its elliptical transoms, spindlework’d porch, with another balcony and railing across an open-pediment roofline (this was lost a bit with the addition of their larger sign) and its slender pilasters leant the whole affair a sense of lightness. 

Not to mention the whole rest of the block — here we see it from 115 up to the hotel at 151, the large building across Court St. is the 1896 J. A. Bullard Block.  Because there’s what looks to be demo fencing, nor does the Bullard appear to have any windows, I think it’s fair to assume this was during the early moments of her removal.  Which means time is limited for everybody

postSmall.jpg
145NmainDiningHall.jpg

October 20, 2011 at 1:42 pm Leave a comment

Older Posts


Categories

  • Blogroll

  • Feeds