Posts filed under ‘200 Block Hill Street’

Dress for Success

 hatpin headline

January 6, 1907

 

Ladies – never underestimate the importance of accessorizing.  Not only can the right accessory take an outfit from drab to fab, but it may also successfully repel a mugger.

 

gibson girl in hat

In the early 1900s the standard for female beauty was set by the fictional “Gibson Girl”. Created and popularized by the illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, the Gibson Girl was depicted as a subtle teaser of men.  She was statuesque and graceful with an impossibly tiny waist. Her long hair was styled in a sophisticated cascade of curls piled high upon her head.  It was a challenge to wear a hat on such big hair, so the clever Gibson Girls used hatpins which were more than a foot long.

 

It was 11:30 pm on the evening of January 6, 1907, when Miss Florence Young and two of her actress pals were walking home from the Grand Opera House on Main Street where they had appeared in the popular play “Buster Brown” (based on the comic strip character of the same name). They’d nearly reached their lodgings at 219 South Hill Street when a highwayman leaped out from behind an embankment and demanded that the women hand over their valuables.

Florence was standing behind her two friends, but as soon as she heard the bandit’s command she pulled out her hatpin, and then lunged forward and stabbed him. Florence grappled with the wounded outlaw and even managed to shout out “hold him girls” to her fellow thespians.

girls with hatpin

 

The gutsy gals did their best to restrain their attacker but, even though he was wounded, he proved to be too strong for them. He wrenched himself from their grasp and hastily exited stage left.

 

 

September 11, 2008 at 8:01 pm Leave a comment

Hotel Belmont — 251 S Hill

BelmontLinen
The Belmont was a behemoth at the base of Bunker Hill, its situation on the southern center beckoned folk who—were we to paint in purely lurid hue—simply sought a thieves den, or that final refuge before the big self-snuff. Was there more to this big, beautiful building? Why, naturally.

It all began with the YWCA, an organization that sought to harbor white Christian women from the williwaws of urban iniquity. And where better to do so than that hillock of high-mindedness, Bunker Hill?

A colony of civic-minded women formed the LA-YWCA in 1893 in two rooms at 212 S. Broadway, then moved into the Schumacher Building at 107 S. Spring in 1894. They then shuttled off into the shelter of the old City Hall at 211 W. Second, and finally took over a whole floor of the Conservative Life building at the NE corner of Third and Hill in ’06. They were renting out a small building as their annex, on the same side of Hill, forty feet north of Third, and decided enough of this penny-ante gynoprotection, we’re purchasing that property and erecting an sky-scraping HQ.

Higher

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They dropped cornerstone in 1907 and moved in aught-eight. Its basement held an auditorium for 500, a gymnasium, and a 30×50’ swimming pool. It was most noted for its gargantuan light well, which formed an open-air patio famous for its flower boxes filled with color-coordinated flora cascading to a fancy tile floor.

 

 

 

 

 

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4,000 women, including 1,600 students engaged in the study of the domestic sciences, swam and ate and sewed and so on and all was fine and good until 1919, when the Y gals sold the building, deciding “to be nearer the shopping.”

(In 1926 they opened their grand Y-hotel at 939 S. Figueroa, moving their offices into this building on the right [now the site of the Hotel Figueroa’s pool].)

 

251 South Hill was purchased by the Union League Club of Los Angeles, where the Republican Women’s Club (the incipient CFRW). often met.

The Union League held on to 251 until 1924; its conversion into the Hotel Belmont begins in April of that year. Alexander Mayer spends $400,000 ($4,812,791 USD2007) in the remodel—remaking 200 rooms, all with shower and bath, all with hand-painted furniture.
BelmontCa1939
malaikaxmas
One of the Belmont’s most notorious residents was Santa Claus. Motley Flint, Los Angeles Postmaster and Illustrious Potentate of the city’s Al Malaikah Temple (our local Shriners, AAONMS), arranged with postal authorities to have all letters addressed to Santa (which theretofore had gone to the dead-letter office) sent to the Belmont Hotel, as that was where the Shrine set up their annual Christmas relief drive. The basement would fill with donated toys, clothing and fruit cakes; everyone could come and receive yuletide relief at the Belmont. And the Shriners special Santa squad found each and every letter-penning tot and saw to it that the hoped-for toy made it from the Belmont basement into their needy hands.

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Another fun member of the Belmont clan was Walter Maloof, 55, a familiar sight among the Downtown shuffling class, a gent who spent his days peddling watches and other odd articles on street-corners. Apparently there’s good money in the odd article, as after he died in his Belmont hotel room in February 1963, his bankbook showed he had some $19,000 ($127,399 USD2007) squirreled away.

Of course, the Belmont also harbored the likes of Achilles N. Bororas, 41, whose not only knocked over markets and service stations up and down California in 1954, but robbed churches and nabbed narcotics from drugstores.

You don’t mess with the Belmont when it comes to committing crimes. James Rader, 28, led a gang of hotel robbers. His accomplices were Gordon Edwards, 18; Frank Darrow, 22; Miss Margie Petrie, 18; and a sixteen year-old girl. They’d knocked over fifteen downtown hotels when they thought they’d take on the Belmont, March 9, 1957. The gang were in mid-rob when Edwards was clobbered by 71 year-old Belmont dontmesswthebelmontelevator operator William Patterson, who struck Edwards with his stool (that is, the small stool he sat on in his elevator) and knocked the knife from his hand. Rader struck Patterson with the butt of his gun; the robbers then tangled with 65 year-old Belmont desk clerk A. B. Cramer and eventually fled the scene empty handed—even more so than they came in with, as one of the crew lost their wallet, and they were all easily traced to a downtown roominghouse and arrested.

And there are always those who seek permanent solutions to temporary problems. They, as such, instead of waiting for God to fire them, will raise their fists to the heavens and yell “I quit!”
deadinbed
On March 29, 1936, employees of the Belmont were alarmed that Jeanette Stevenson, 45, wouldn’t answer her telephone. The note she left described domestic difficulties; she’d decided a bottle of poison was the antidote to that particular issue.

foiledagainIn January 1938, Mrs. Veronica De Shon Miller, 47, recently of Kansas City, divorced, despondent over the death of a friend, and an out-of-work beautician to boot, soaked a towel in ether and smothered herself in her Belmont flat. She was saved there by a friend. Fearing that the Belmont was conspiring to keep her alive, she left a note regarding the disposition of her belongings and made her way to the building at Fourth and Broadway where she once operated a beauty parlor, and flung herself to the concrete floor at the bottom of the light well.

leapingdentistsSeptember 28, 1942. Dr. Robert E. Hunsaker, 45, was due in court to face a hearing in a suit filed by his third wife for divorce. So he got a room at the Belmont. Top floor. Desk clerk Bernardo Sargil noticed Hunsaker on the window ledge and called the cops; when they got there they found dancer Ruth Rex in his room, pleading with him not to jump. The cops tried to grab him but Hunsaker ordered them back; finally he said “So long boys, this is getting tiresome,” and loosened his grip, falling the length of the building to meet Hill Street below.

maybeshethoughtshewasabee

 

November 1, 1942. Anne Kennedy, 18, was despondent over ill health, or so letters left in her Belmont hotel room indicated. Nevertheless she was still gaily dressed in her black-and-yellow Halloween party costume when she leapt, or fell, from her sixth-floor window at the back of the hotel.

Third and Hill, 1906, pre-YWCA: Angels Flight “inclined cable tramway” at far left; the St. Helena Sanitarium (perhaps you’ve noticed the “Vegeterian Café” signage in images of Angels Flight?—that’s these folk); and some residential structures at 251 and beyond (including one labeled “old & vacant”). The shingled structure in the vintage image above (that’s a “Berlin Dry Cleaning” truck in front), seen below as 247, was the Kensington. Above, the Astoria.
3rdHill1906

Belmont19501950: Behold, the 1907 YWCA, though it’s been the Belmont now for twenty-five-some years. St. Helena’s was redubbed “My Hotel” and has a liquor store in its corner. The structures to the east have been wiped for parking; the Kensington is now the Belmont garage. Above, the Astoria has a neighbor, the 1916 Blackstone Apartments.
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A close-up from an image in last week’s post. A glimpse of Angels Flight heading down to the corner of Third and Hill. There’s the Belmont and her giant light well. Behind, the Hillcrest, Astoria and Blackstone face Olive Street.

The Belmont is leased to hotel chain operators Porter and Knapp in 1941, who sink scads of dough in her, reopening the pool, enlarging and refurbishing the roof garden, refurnishing and redecorating the rooms. But all that money couldn’t stem the decline of the neighborhood.
codgerscadge
Two codgers stroll Hill in the early 60s; they’ll cadge together enough for a fifth and head to Pershing Square to argue Bay of Pigs for the afternoon. Then it’s back to the Belmont for a nap.

fireatthebelmont67A fire that would have felled a lesser building broke out November 3, 1967. The sixth-floor room of John Riles, 69, believed to have been smoking in bed, went up in flames, engulfing a good bit of that floor and part of the seventh, and all of the late John Riles.
ortegas
What fire couldn’t do to the Belmont, the CRA could; the summer of 1971 saw the Bunker Hill Redevelopment Project at the tail-end of its demolitions and the YWCA/Union League/Belmont, one of the last standing Stalwarts, tumbled under wreckers’ hammers.

geriatriccheeseFind the big red awning—across from the MTA bus parked at the Third Street curb—jutting out from Angelus Plaza: that’s 255 S. Hill, once the address that marked the western edge of the Belmont. As can be seen, near the site of the Belmont, there’s a building of vaguely similar size and shape. Close, but as a gal from the YWCA might point out, no cigar.
255angfromair

Photos from the USC Digital Archives, save for the “old codger” pic, William Reagh Collection, California History Section, California State Library; Belmont and lobby postcard, author; the image of the YWCA interior court borrowed from this page of A Visit to Old Los Angeles. As always, mad props to the Sanborn surveyors.

September 6, 2008 at 1:16 pm 2 comments

2nd & Hill Block Round-Up

hillfromthezepIn that our post about the earth carvings (the Cuscans have nothing on us) at Second and Hill garnered some interest, I thought it worthwhile to detail salient features and goings-on sundry of other buildings on the block.

elmorofromair
One notable structure looming over Hill was the El Moro. The Sanborn Maps in the Dirt Patch post show us the house at 109 South Hill was built between 1888 and 1894. This was the home of prominent Los Angeles druggist, and President of Western Wholesale Drug Company, Howard M. Sale, who had arrived from Pueblo, Colorado in 1886. Mr. and Mrs. Sale built Castle Crag in 1888 but decided Bunker Hill was the proper place to be, so sold out in ’89 to build 109 South Hill. This house on the bluff was a center of Society for some years before Mr. and Mrs. Sale decided to turn it into a hotel in 1901 (moving into a larger house at Ninth and Union in 1902).

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With the Sale’s three-story addition to the now-named El Moro, the structure extended back 133 feet and included a total of thirty-five rooms.
notthemorocastle
The El Moro’s location, some 150’ above the sidewalk, made firefighting a little tricky, which aided in a near-total loss of the front portion of the mansion in January 1914. There were thousands of spectators at the scene, and whether they turned out for the dramatic blaze or the sight of sixty some-odd guests in an early-morning state of deshabille is a matter of conjecture.

andatowelunderthedoorNot a lot of Postwar noirisme at the El Moro, if you’re after that sort of thing. Mrs. Mollie Lahiff, 50, died of (what the papers termed) accidental asphyxiation after a gas heater used up all the oxygen in her tightly sealed room, February 26, 1953. Should you be so inclined, consider how drafty these places tend to be. Tightly sealed takes some doing. Just saying.

And now, for your edification and delectation, the unhappy end of a streetcar just below the El Moro, 1937.

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132/134 South Olive is one of the oldest stuctures on the block, dating to before ’88. Here’s a shot of the H-shaped building, next to our old pal, the Argyle.

132/34SO

deliciouslaudaunum
January 24, 1895. Mrs. Josie McGinn, a widow of 28 with a well-grown girl of 10, was sitting with her stepsister Grace in their home at 134 (in the image above, the one on the right), and Josie mentioned she was feeling poorly. Grace suggested a walk. At the foot of the terrace steps on Broadway Josie complained of feeling weak, but they continued down Franklin nonetheless. When they hit New High Street, Josie collapsed altogether. When asked what her trouble was, Josie replied, “I have taken laudanum.” She was taken to Receiving Hospital, where her life was saved, and there explained that while she was fixing her hair at the bureau in preparation for the walk downtown, there sat her glycerine and laudanum—intended for her ear condition—and in a moment of impulsive despair drank the laudanum. Such is the torment of modernity.

sneaks!A favorite phrase of Edwardian Angeles is “sneak thief,” and Bunker Hill sneak thieves were forever securing some silver coinage here and a jeweled stick-pin there; on August 17, 1903, for example, during Mrs. H. Ware’s temporary absence from 132, a sneak thief entered and stole $10 and a gold watch (a similar burglary occurred that same day, where at 104 S. Olive a room occupied by Mrs. Case was ransacked and liberated of $20).

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Mrs. Frances Valiente, about 25, lived in 132 with her two boys, Frankie, about 2, and a one year-old infant, unnamed. Frances went out one Friday night in April of 1951 and didn’t elect to return. Frank went to Juvie and the infant to the nursery at General.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

homealoneisfunnyJuly 30, 1954. Jesus Chaffino is a 2 year-old with a talent for opening doors. Apparently his mother, Maria Avila, didn’t tell her sister-in-law that when she left her place at 121 North Hope and dropped of the Jesus at 132 S. Olive. He was turned over to juvenile officers when he was found wandering near First and Olive at five a.m.

olivegarden

Let’s cast an eye on the buildings around the block from the Argyle down Second (the $1.50/day and weekly rates on your left is the Northern):

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In a shot obiviously taken from the Northern, we have the Argyle on our left, 425 West Second center, and 421/419 West Second on the right. (Olive Street stretches away north, left; the Moore Cliff with El Moro behind are upper right; the pile of dirt in back is where they’d put the court house.)

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sneakersSneak thiefs! enter 425 in 1902 and make off with a stand cover and a fine wall picture. Is nothing sacred? The answer is no. Not to the sneak thief.

canyoublamehim
Harry Wilson was an actor who decided to take up newspaper work. He was assigned to the police news, was as such often exposed to suicides down at Receiving Hospital. This, it is thought, had a disturbing, destabilizing influence on his mind; Harry left a note for his wife on what he thought was going to be the last day of his life, October 8, 1904, and with that took the gas-pipe in their apartment in 425. He survived, and with luck returned to neither tread board nor sling ink.

shotfailsJuly 16, 1907. A burglar was detected working the window at Mrs. M. M. Clay’s apartment house, 425, by her daughter, Clara Clay. She exclaimed under her breath to a Mr. Charles See, who kept the apartment above hers, “There’s a man trying my window.”

So See fetched his revolver and leaned out the upper story and commanded the man to hold up his hands. With a great bound the man leapt over a tall fence some four feet away, while See fired and missed. The burglar, well-dressed and polite as could be, broke through the back screen door at the adjoining apartment house at 421, strode lightly through the hall; he tipped his hat to a young lady in the hall and she replied “Good evening.” He stepped out on to the front porch where several roomers were sitting. He bade them all a good evening and, tipping his hat, walked slowly down the street. Moments later it was Charles See, feverish and gun-waving, who threw terror into the hearts of the tenants.

bowwowglugglug
July 22, 1924. Roy Shellington called 425 home, or at least he did until Federal prohibition officers noticed he was overly cautious in handling his suitcase while little doggies nipped at his heels. Shellington bunked in the hoosegow after the Feds found twelve bottles of Scotch inside, verboten in Volstead America.

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Alex Markovich, 33, lived at 425, but had the misfortune of making his way down to Third and Spring on December 28, 1953. There he was jumped and beaten by hoodlums Alphonso Ruiz, Ramon Zaavedra, Gilbert Garcia, and…Mrs. Eleanor Talkington. Luckily, while Markovich was in critical condition at General with a basal skull fracture, the perps were charged with suspicion of robbery and ADW after having been ID’d by eyewitnesses, who were none other than Joaquin Aquilar Robles, former Police Chief of Tijuana, and Rafael Estrada, ex-Mayor of Ensenada.

Not much to tell about 421/419, other than recommending one leap upon well-dressed gents tipping their hats with a “good evening,” as they’re bound to be window-pryers from next door. Another piece of good advice is that once you’ve checked in, it’s best to never set foot outside again. Especially if you’re an elderly gentleman. On November 4, 1944, killercarMattie Mitchell, 70, departed his apartment at 421 and was run down by an LA Railway streetcar at Fifth and Hope. Joseph Erolet, a 77 year-old news vender ventured outside of 421 on May 23, 1946, and was clobbered by an auto at Brand and Wilson in Glendale.

And so concludes today’s report from this block, and the particular concavity that spawned the ongoing completist account of its whats and wherefores.

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pharyngealrecess

Images courtesy the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection and the Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library

August 24, 2008 at 3:09 pm Leave a comment

North by Northwest: The Dirt Patch of Second and Hill

TheOlympia

Folk will on occasion ask me what, if anything, is left of Bunker Hill. Glad you asked, I’ll reply, answer being, nothing really, but I am awfully fond of this particular dirt contour. If they don’t politely turn away, I’ll commence upon a detailed discourse on said excrement-laden dirt contour in question, and then they’ll politely turn away.

Strange as it sounds, I love this dirt. I have since I was one day idling in my auto adjacent this, the northwest corner of Second and Hill, when I saw this form and it recalled an image lodged in some dim grotto of my brain:

TheOdalisque
And I thought, I know that form. That contour. Like a beautiful woman in repose. Debased somehow, but still noble. Ingres’ Odalisque has become Manet’s Olympia.

So here I am in pith helmet and plus-fours, poking around the strangely stained abandoned sweatpants and taking in the stench of urine steaming away on a hot summer’s day. My own Persepolis, only with more recent death and egesta. A remaining honest remnant of Bunker Hill, carved in dirt. There’s an old Yiddish proverb—Gold’s father is dirt, yet it regards itself as noble.

SculptedbytheMaster

Let’s take a detailed look at the block our patch of dirt calls home.

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In 1888, on the 30-40′ bluff overlooking Hill there’s a large house, center, and another (with a “old shanty”, it is noted) at the corner of Second and Hill. The round structure above the house on the right reads “arbor lattice.” Note the porches on the Argyle.

2ndHill1894
1894, and 133 Hill has built terraced steps up to its manse. Our house in the corner has sadly lost its shanty. Notice the addition of the Primrose hotel at 421/419 West 2nd. At the bottom it reads “Vertical bank 30’ high.” The house near 1st has been razed but 109 Hill has been added. 104 Olive has shown up, top right. And yes, that says “Lawn Tennis Courts.”

2ndHill1906
It’s 1906, and much has changed: our little friend in the corner has disappeared. In its place, just to the north, two lodging houses at 411 and 409. To the west, Hotel Locke. (Hotel Locke shows up in the Times in 1897 and disappears in 1912.) Olive Court has wrapped around and filled in, and the tennis lawn has given way to our old friend the Moore Cliff. The former single family dwelling at 109 has been enlarged to become the El Moro Hotel. Note the Hotel Cecil in the upper right. Hill now has a 15’ retaining wall; the houses average 30’ above grade.

2ndHill1953
But now it’s 1950 and the drastic has occured. Where once Second Street was sixty feet across, it is now 100, due to the construction of the Second Street tunnel, which opened in July of 1924. (As Mary mentioned in her post, the Argyle lost its porches.) Also lost were the two structures below the Primrose at 411 and 409, not to mention the Hotel Locke. These were even gone before the great excavation. The Hotel Cecil has, as you might imagine, been renamed, so as not to be confused with the Hotel Cecil. We even have a little gas station.

In a nutshell, ca. 1952: the Moore Cliff front and center, the bipartite El Moro, and the Hotel Gladden up the block in the corner. And there’s the Texaco station that popped up. (Faithful Bunker Hillers will recognize the looming backside of the Melrose Annex and the Dome up top.)

MC52

But back to the “great excavation.” Remember, once Hill had, well, a great hill looming o’er. It was true here, at our corner in question:

2ndHIll1932

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What happened to the giant pile of dirt (upon which 411 and 409, and the Hotel Locke once
sat) as seen in the 1932 photograph?

excavation

As can be barely viewed just below the Moore Cliff in the ’32 shot, a lot fronting Hill has already been excavated for auto parking, and in May of 1935 the two adjacent lots at the corner were leveled by Los Angeles Rock and Gravel, removing 40,000 cubic yards of earth adjoining the tunnel ramp, measuring some 45hx82wx157d’. One lot owner, C. J. Heyler, rented the space to P. F. Drino for automobile parking; Heyler stated that construction on the lot was planned. That, of course, never happened.

This, then, is how we ended up with Hill carvings that have remained unchanged for seventy-three years.

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And still fulfilling the same purpose.looknorth2H

Looking southeast at our dirt, 1967, before her Hill Steet side had her top shaved off:

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HStunnel

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A quick word about the Second Street tunnel—with the millions the CRA is again pouring into Bunker Hill, do you think we could throw a few bucks toward a new railing? To refashion the original concrete couldn’t run that much, and if not an aesthetic improvement, would be arguably safer than chain link. Right?

TunRail1950

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CRABunker

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.

 

 

 

 

In any event, such is the tale of some simple dirt on a single block. Tune in next week for tales of terror as they relate to this part of the world.

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patchfromzeparchaeologizing

And now, you can launch into your own spiel about the dirt contours of Hill Street. I suggest a visit and have a whiff for yourself of what once was Bunker Hill. Serves to add that dose of realism guaranteeing the polite turning-away of cocktail party folk.

Images courtesy Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library and USC Digital Archives; special thanks of course to D. A. Sanborn, his map company, and the anonymous field men who toiled on the fire insurance maps Sanborn Co. produced.

August 10, 2008 at 4:48 pm 13 comments

Major Undertaking at the Moore Cliff

novelplanMarch 31, 1912

That the Moore Cliff has glorious views, no one can debate. From her lofty perch sixty feet above Hill Street, midway between First and Second, she gazes over the business district, and every room commands a panorama extending to Boyle Heights. But her grand position is also her undoing; since she was built in aught-four, her inhabitants have had to trek up that dang’d winding six-story staircase set into the retaining wall. Even Dr. S. G. Moore, who apparently added cliff to his eponymised hotel just so you’d remember how high you were, has tired of scaling the thing. No view can compensate for the loss of revenue occasioned by those with an aversion to shlepping.

Dennis and Farwell
were veteran architects—and what’s more of a no brainer, in a rapidly growing city, than adding stories to a structure? D&F designed the Moore Cliff, and now here comes Moore again, wanting to convert her from a four-story apartment building to a nine-story hotel. But don’t add these floors to the top, says Moore, massaging his aching feet—add them to the bottom.
tolet
No problem, say Dennis and Farwell. All we need to do is remove a body of earth fifty-five feet in width by sixty feet in height, and fifty feet in depth. This will stretch under the present building which we’ll prop up until our five story steel-and-brick structure, with a façade to resemble the one up on the hill we designed eight years ago, gets slid in there. Dress the new lobby in mahagony-stained birch, throw on an iron marquise, and there you have your nine-story hotel, right there at terra firma, all blessed as it is with sidewalks and rail lines.
asitwillappear
Everyone’s quite excited that the length of Hill south of the tunnel is bursting with plans. (A stone’s throw from Hill up Second, Braun’s ten-story reinforced concrete hotel is pouring fourndations.) Judge Stephens intends to erect a substantial building of brick and steel just to the south of the Moore Cliff; and plans are afoot to build on the southwest corner of First and Hill, where a large cut was made years ago. “It is freely predicted that all of the frontage on the west side of Hill street will have been reduced to grade level within the next year or two.”

MC1932What do you notice here, from this 1932 image of the Moore Cliff?

It didn’t happen.

(Nor do we witness Judge Stephens’ proposed structure; no-one ever built on the SW corner of First & Hill, either.)

MooreCliffLooms

As can be seen, the Moore Cliff’s cliff has been almost, but not quite, brought down to grade level. (The tunnels up Hill were flattened something fierce, though.)
mooreclifffromheavens

theascent

And the jurors who park there command a terrific vista of that building.

Hill Street image courtesy USC Digital Archives

 

July 18, 2008 at 11:41 am 1 comment

What Goes Up…

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Lincoln Hotel

January 1903

Based upon his Theory of Universal Gravitation, Sir Issac Newton conducted a “thought experiment” that he dubbed Newton’s Cannonball.  In his experiment, Newton demonstrated that in most cases what goes up, must come down – unless the missile is traveling fast enough to either leave Earth entirely and head for deep space, or to pick up enough speed to begin its own orbit around the planet. There is another possibility that was not covered in Newton’s experiment; a projectile hurtling toward the heavens can be prevented from continuing its flight by a sufficiently dense object or, as in this tale, by the forehead of Mr. J.F. Jones.

The second hour of January 1, 1903 had just begun, and New Year’s Eve revelers were still celebrating in the streets of the city.  Three friends;  J.F. Jones, S.M. Schoonover, and Elsie Stahl were standing on an upper floor balcony of the Lincoln Hotel, enjoying each other’s company as well as the sights and sounds of nearby parties. They were unaware that beneath them on the sidewalk in front of the hotel, there were three young men; Lauren Hanna, John G. Todd, and W.W. Burton, who had decided to ring in the New Year by sending a fusillade of bullets into space. Todd and Burton were firing blanks, but Hanna’s pistol was loaded with live rounds.

The young men may have been drinking, or perhaps they were just too dumb to comprehend the consequences of blindly firing weapons above their heads into the pitch black sky. The initial burst of gunfire apparently did no harm, but the second round from Lauren Hanna’s gun found its trajectory impeded, and any dreams J.F. Jones may have had for the future died with him when a stray bullet lodged in his brain.

Moments after the shooting, Schoonover came running out of the hotel to inform the young men that their carelessness had resulted in a death. Todd stayed put, but cohorts Hanna and Burton slunk down Second Street toward Broadway, emptying their guns of ammunition as they went. Hanna may as well have left a trail of breadcrumbs to the door of his workplace, the Sunset Telephone Company, because that’s where the last of the discarded bullets was found. Detectives Flammer, Quinn, and Churchill quickly located Hanna, who soon confessed to the shooting. He was accused of involuntary manslaughter, and his bail was set at $2000 [$47,981.55 USD 2008].

The cops did some digging into Hanna’s life and uncovered a few unsavory details about him, which were then reported by the Los Angeles Times; “Hanna’s case is not strengthened any, nor public sympathy increased to any great extent, by the discovery of the police that Hanna had recently deserted his wife and baby at Santa Ana, and was living at a hotel in this city with another woman”.

Hanna acquittedFortunately for the accused, he was “…something of a cousin to the renowned Senator Marcus”. The esteemed senator from Ohio provided money for Lauren’s defense fund. Hanna was represented at trial by Charles S. McKelvey, Esq., and the firm of Davis & Rush.  Experts hired by the defense testified that a bullet fragment removed from Jones’ brain at autopsy could have come from a .22 caliber pistol. Hanna’s gun was a .32 caliber.

Were the Senator’s money and power merely coincidental in winning an acquittal for Lauren? We’ll never know. In any case, Judge Smith felt that there was enough reasonable doubt to instruct the jury to acquit Lauren Hanna.

J.F. Jones would be buried in his hometown of Greenville, Texas.

 

June 5, 2008 at 12:48 pm Leave a comment

Livin' it up at the Hotel Lincoln

Location: 209 South Hill

Date: July 1905

Hotel Lincoln

W.D. Montgomery and his stepdaughter, Mary Meister, arrived in Los Angeles during October 1904. W.D. had purchased the Hotel Lincoln, at 209 South Hill, with funds provided by his wife, Laura. She soon followed the pair to Bunker Hill, and the three took charge of the day to day running of the hotel. At first everything appeared to be going well for the new owners, and they seemed to be an average hard working family. Yet beneath the surface the household was filled with discord and secrets, and it would take only a few months before everything began to unravel in a very public way.

 

W.D. had never been a teetotaler, but once in Los Angeles he’d started drinking heavily. Maybe it was the stress of W.D.’s drinking, but Laura’s rheumatism began to flare up to the point where she became bedridden. Mary was in charge of Laura’s care, but after downing several whiskeys, neat, W.D. decided that he would take over. His bedside manner left everything to be desired. When Laura felt too unwell to eat her lunch, he told her that she would eat every morsel if he had to “cram it down her throat”. Not surprisingly, Laura’s appetite didn’t respond well to this threat, and in a fit of pique W.D. grabbed the lunch dishes and hurled them out of the window!

Laura tried to persuade W.D. to attend one of Francis Murphy’s temperance meetings and take a sobriety pledge. W.D. wanted nothing to do with Francis Murphy or sobriety, and in a fit of rage at his wife’s suggestion, he smacked her.

pledge

Everyone who came into contact with the couple thought that W.D. was nothing better than drunken brute, particularly when in full view of several hotel guests he chased Laura through the hotel, then grabbed her by the throat and throttled her. Although W.D.’s drinking and behavior had certainly spiraled out of control, he may have had good reason for behaving so badly. He’d become convinced that Laura was being unfaithful and had started following her. He trailed her several times to an obvious assignation in Ocean Park. Later, at home, W.D. confronted Laura and she confessed her infidelity. After 13 years of marriage, the couple divorced.

 

By July 1905, Laura had run off with the railroad man with whom she had been having an affair. The hotel had been sold to Mrs. Belle McWilliams, and W.D. and Mary were running it while the deal was being finalized.

 

Mary Meister

Suddenly, Mary came forward with shocking allegations against W.D. She said that he had ruined her (early 1900s doublespeak for seduced), and that he had been going around town telling anyone who would listen that he was in love with her. One day at the corner of First and Broadway, W.D. began to shout at his stepdaughter, saying that if she turned her back on him he would kill her and then himself.

 

It was his downtown outburst that compelled Mary to have her stepfather arrested on a charge of insanity. The two appeared in court to try to settle the unholy domestic mess. Mary broke down on the witness stand and began to sob. All eyes were on her as she turned to W.D. and said “You have ruined my reputation, and now I don’t know what to do”. W.D. Montgomery looked astonished. “I didn’t do anything of the sort” he replied, “I would marry you tomorrow”. Then W.D. went on to shock the courtroom further by saying “I thank God that the railroad man ran away with my wife”, adding, “I didn’t love her and she knew it”.

 

By the time Mary and W.D. were finished testifying, the spectators were left wondering what exactly had been going on at the Hotel Lincoln, especially before Laura arrived to join W.D. and Mary in 1904. Could they have been having a relationship then? Was that the reason Laura had become involved with the railroad man? Mary was tight lipped, but wouldn’t deny that she and W.D. had been engaged to wed! Meanwhile, W.D. continued ranting and raving in court, and finally had to be taken to the County Hospital for observation.

 

With Mary embarrassed to be seen in public and W.D. babbling away in the County Hospital, the story maytangled web have ended there – but one more bizarre chapter remained to be written.

 

Someone contacted police, telling them that the reason W.D. Montgomery’s behavior had been so erratic was because he had been drugged by a person (or persons) who wished to gain control of his property! The former hotel owner had been deeply in debt when he sold the Lincoln to Belle McWilliams, and it was later learned that he had borrowed against furnishings that he didn’t own. Not one single bill was paid by the Lincoln during June, even though receipts showed that $1000 had been received from patrons, and that W.D. had obtained a loan of several hundred dollars.

Then, one night in early July, W.D. crept down to the safe and made a hasty $1100 withdrawal. He was discovered later in the gutter – drunk, disheveled and penniless. Shortly thereafter, bankruptcy proceedings would be instituted against him.

 

A bankruptcy hearing would be held, and the judge would hear varying accounts of the deal to purchase the Hotel Lincoln. According to Mrs. McWilliams, she’d been given a bill of sale by W.D. in the amount of $8000, but she would actually pay only $6900 for the hotel. That shady little sleight of hand was intended to defraud W.D.’s creditors to the tune of $1100. Belle told the court that she wasn’t wild about the plan, but she’d gone along with it because W.D. owed her money.

 

Sadly, there would be no further reports of W.D.’s colorful exploits in the Los Angeles Times.

May 28, 2008 at 5:14 pm Leave a comment

Trouble at the Bella Napoli

Location: Second and Hill Streets
Date: September 2, 1917

When George Luvich walked into the Bella Napoli Cafe with the intention of encouraging Mrs. Ethel Vluanik to leave with him,  he certainly didn’t expect to make the next morning’s headlines as a "crazed Austrian" who had "[run] Amuck." But you know how these things can escalate.

Sure, Ethel didn’t want to go, but she would have, if it wasn’t for that do-gooder movie actor Eugene Corey (presently residing at the Hotel Northern, real name Gino Corrado), who took it upon himself to come to the lady’s aid and remove Luvitch from the building.  

Well, what would you do? Luvitch pulled a gun, went back in and chased Corey out the back door, where he hopped the fence and went straight to the cops, the dirty fink. Patrolman R.P. Marks, several colleagues and a few newspapermen drove towards the Bella Napoli, arriving on the scene just after Luvitch shot at a man standing across the street, then ran south down Hill Street. As Marks pursued him, Luvitch wheeled out of a doorway and pulled his trigger twice, but the gun misfired. Marks managed to disarm the gunman, and he was marched off to the pokey on charges of attempted murder and assault.

If you’re a serious L.A. crime buff, you have been reading this tale with a slight sense of familiarity. Bella Napoli, you muse, isn’t that the place where the visiting New York mobsters got it and went face down in their ragu? Ah, but that was a different Bella Napoli, on Vermont Avenue, in the distant year 1933. Here’s a nice little apology ad the proprietor took out in the Times after the incident.

And the photo at the top is Eugene Corey in middle years, channeling George Luvich for a role.

May 2, 2008 at 9:31 am Leave a comment

The Strange Tale of Ladda's Captivity

ladda headline

215 North Hill Street
April 18, 1911

LaddaLadda Trcka didn’t realize when he played in the vacant lot adjacent to his home in Columbus, Ohio, that he was being watched. The angel faced ten year old boy was too young and innocent to find anything sinister in the behavior of his forty-four year old widowed neighbor, Nellie Hersey. He thought nothing of being invited into her parlor, where she would caress him and offer him more candy than he could consume in a single sitting.

One day Nellie suggested to Ladda that they go off together and see the world. How could any ten year old boy pass up an adventure like that? Ladda crept stealthily out of his family home one night and biked to Toledo, where he was joined by Nellie. It was then that Ladda’s slavery began.Nellie

At first Nellie and Ladda moved from town to town, and he did see some of the world as he’d been promised. Then in 1898 he and Nellie arrived in Redondo Beach, where he was immediately forced to go to work. He worked every day, and each week he dutifully turned his paycheck over to his captor. Keeping Ladda as her slave proved simple for Nellie – she provided the boy with few clothes and no pocket money, and didn’t even take him to a barber to have his hair cut.

For several years the boy followed the routine dictated to him by Nellie. To prevent him from becoming restless and attempting to leave her, the woman told Ladda that she had heard that his entire family had passed away. Making him believe that he was an orphan was another way in which Nellie made the boy dependent upon her.

The boy was unaware that his family was alive and that, even as the years rolled by, they continued to search for him. Ladda’s brother Otto even became a detective so he could solve the case of his missing brother.

215 N Hill

Finally, in April 1911, Nellie was at her home at 215 North Hill Street when she received word that she was being sued by Ladda for damages in the amount of $13,090 – payment for his years of captivity.

The news that Ladda was alive and well in Southern California reached Ohio. Otto came out to offer his support as a brother, and his services as a detective.

Evidently, Ladda’s circumstances first began to change when he fell in love with a girl, Belle Strathorn, whom he’d met on the beach. Belle helped him to acquire new clothes, and a haircut!

The Los Angeles Times’ coverage of the twisted tale made veiled references to some of the darker aspects of Ladda’s years as Nellie’s slave. The newspaper described details of the law suit as “lurid” — the story hinted that Nellie’s interest in Ladda had been anything but maternal, yet never went further.

That Nellie was infatuated, even obsessed with the boy seems obvious. Less obvious is the date when he and Nellie cease to cohabitate. When did she move to Bunker Hill? And why did Ladda decide to sue for eleven years, and not the full sixteen years that he appears to have been a captive? Also, according to Ladda, Nellie had been married several times, and she’d taken many lovers as well. Was Nellie married or involved in affairs while simultaneously keeping Ladda as a prisoner?

There were so many tantalizing questions without answers, as the newspaper never followed up on the story beyond the initial report.

May 1, 2008 at 8:37 am Leave a comment


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