Archive for November, 2012

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


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