Posts filed under ‘200 Block Olive Street’

Hey Buddy — Got a Match?

hey buddy headline

October 26, 1921

A wrestling match between two men, one of whom claimed to be the champion of the world, would cost George Katis of 100 South Olive Street his pride and $2,250 ($26,701.42 in current dollars), when the match turned out to be a fake.

George had been out for a stroll in a local park when he bumped into a pair of wrestlers. The men said that they had a way for George to make a bundle; all he had to do was to put up $1000 as a forfeit, make a side bet of $1250 on a match between them, and back up the truck to cart off his winnings. This sounded like a sure thing to George who promptly ponied up the cash, and agreed to meet the wrestlers at their hotel on Hill Street the next day for the bout.

The following day George arrived at the designated meeting place as promised, but neither the wrestlers nor his money turned up. The hotel desk clerk informed the poor sucker that the men he’d described were not even registered there.

George may be forgiven for taking a tumble on the fake match, because during the 1920s wrestling was extremely popular and there were many wrestlers and promoters touring the country. Unfortunately not all of them were on the up and up, as George had discovered.strangler lewis

There were crooks and con artists in wrestling, but there were some honest Joes too. Some of the straight shooters were showmen, and would become legends. Wrestling as entertainment originated with the "Gold Dust Trio". The trio included wrestler (and REAL World Champ) Ed "Strangler" Lewis (see photo), promoter Toots Mondt, and Lewis’ manager Billy Sandow. Modern wrestling owes a huge debt to the Gold Dust Trio, and especially to Toots, who convinced Lewis and Sandow to implement a new form of wrestling which combined features of boxing, freestyle, and most importantly, theater. Dubbed "Slam Bang Western-Style Wrestling", it was a huge hit with fans.

So, the next time that you’re parked on your sofa in front of your big screen TV enjoying a WWF Friday night Smackdown, send up a silent thank you to Strangler, Toots, and Billy.

December 19, 2008 at 12:13 pm Leave a comment

Baby Needs A New Pair of Pants

Location: 230 South Olive Avenue
Date: September 3, 1913

Even hardened cops grew misty as they heard the woes of poor Mabel Tracy, the downtown waitress whose every coin earned went into the kitty meant to buy her infirm child Leonard a new suit of clothes.

In the months since Mabel came out from Chicago, leaving behind her deadbeat husband and wee Leo in the charity hospital, she’d made a little home for the tyke in rooms on Bunker Hill. Then she sent for her child, and warned him never to leave the safety of his aerie while she toiled away downtown.

The child didn’t know his weak heart could give out if he ever dared take the steps down by Angels Flight, only that his mother had begged him not to exert himself. And so the child waited, crawling along Olive Street to peep out over the Third Street hill to the teeming town below. His little knees grew raw beneath his shabby trousers, and each night mama put a little more money in her purse, including the penny she saved by walking up the steps, to eventually replace Leonard’s costume.

And then, the unthinkable: Mabel’s boss told her that her own uniform was unsuitable and must be replaced. Of course she could sew the uniform herself, but the cost of the fabric would exhaust Leonard’s clothing fund. And so Mabel did what mothers have always done when the bills exceeded the cash on hand: she went into a department store, milled around cagily, and snatched up the yardage needed to craft her new attire.

But Mabel was no criminal, and her furtive movements attracted the attention of a Nick Harris detective, who delivered the lady to the police department. There, Mabel spilled her sorrows, and the cops and independent detectives all gathered around to marvel at the pretty lady who would rather steal than whore herself—for in her place, any one of them would have taken that easier road. Then they arranged to have the charges dropped, then passed the hat and rewarded their little criminal with $15, a sum sufficient to buy a new uniform.

And then Mabel went back to her little son, and their grim life on Bunker Hill.


 

December 19, 2008 at 8:56 am Leave a comment

Lucinda Andrews meets the Long Beach Car

Location: 240 South Olive Street
Date: December 2, 1903

After the dust cleared on the foggy tracks of the Pacific Electric Railway and the smashed Long Beach car was extricated from its unwelcome union with the Whittier car, Motorman F.A. Brewster was asked why the heck he’d stopped dead and allowed his machine to be smashed. The cause, it transpired, was a deranged old resident of the address above, Mrs. Lucinda Andrews, who had bolted from her relatives’ home "while suffering a temporary aberration" and wandered aimlessly through the night before presenting herself "staggering about unsteadily" immediately ahead of the oncoming Long Beach car. Brewster set his air brakes and reversed, but fearing the woman had been struck, stopped and ran back with Conductor A.L. Healgon to see if they could help her. Lucinda was hiding in a nearby field and refused to come when called. Returning to their car, Brewster and Healgon heard the Whittier train approaching and went to start their own, only to hear the crackle of the "overhead" burning out. The Long Beach car was a doorstop, and the Whittier car came on inexorably. Attempts to flag it down failed due to the fog, and the crash followed. Lucinda ended up in distant Dozier a couple days later, where she caught a ride home with Conductor F.M. Bickenstein. When questioned by police she professed complete ignorance of the past days events… though when pressed, confessed the spectacle of the train crash had lingered with her. A call went out to Olive Street, and her relatives came and took the old gal home.

September 3, 2008 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

Residence – 221 South Olive Street

 

The house that stood at 221 South Olive may not have been as ornate as some of its Bunker Hill neighbors, but unlike the homes of Margaret Crocker and L.J. Rose, the residence on Olive survived from the earliest days of the neighborhood until the bitter end. Set back from the street, up two small sets of stairs, and surrounded by foliage, the fading Victorian beauty was a popular subject of the photographers who documented the Hill in its waning years.

The mansion was built in 1887 by Herman F. Baer, a real estate developer who was responsible for a number of residences in the area. The original address of the Baer home was 117 South Olive, but soon became 221 South Olive due to further development of the area and an 1889 ordinance renumbering street addresses. When the property was surveyed prior to its demolition, the American Institute of Architects noted that the house bore a striking resemblance to the design style of local architects Samuel and Joseph C. Newson.

By 1891, Baer was out and the Doran family was in. John J. Doran operated a stationary shop on Main Street which also provided the city with school supplies, fine pictures, candles, vegetable & olive oil, magazines and a well assorted stock of Catholic books. Doran passed away in 1892, but his widow Mary, their son, and three daughters continued to live on Olive and threw parties worthy of the society pages. The Dorans left Olive Street around 1905, selling the property to R.A. Fowler who unloaded it a couple of years later for $26,500 (over half a million in today’s dollars). By this time, the residence had been converted into a boarding house.

 

Compare to many boarding houses in the neighborhood, the Baer/Doran house witnessed very little excitement. In 1926, resident Albert V. Herndon bought a train ticket to Kansas to visit his ailing father and was never heard from again. On a less morbid note, boarder Thorsten Anderson left his Olive Street room in 1930 on Labor Day to go to the Plaza for a pro-Communist demonstration. He and seventeen other participants spent the night in the slammer when they were arrested for disturbing the peace. In keeping with the public disturbance theme, resident James C McLean was hauled out of  his room and arrested in December 1934. At that time, the City was in the midst of a transportation strike and McLean was accused of setting a streetcar at Third and Bixel on fire. Though he denied being responsible for the incident, the burns on his hands made the police think otherwise.

While the neighborhood continued its downward decline, the house on Olive street maintained its peaceful existence. By 1939, the house had been divided up into fourteen different residences. According to the WPA household census, boarders paid from six to twenty dollars a month in rent and had lived in the house for a month up to sixteen years. Unlike many of the Victorian mansions getting on in their years, the Olive house was in decent condition, only requiring minor repairs.

 

The picturesque mansion house survived without incident into the mid-1960s. In 1964, the Community Redevelopment Agency purchased the property from owner Louis Swiatel in order to demolish it. After fifty seven years, the house at 221 South Olive Street was no more.

Photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection, the California State Library Photo Collection, and the Library of Congress

September 1, 2008 at 8:22 pm Leave a comment

The Door Busters of Olive Street

Location: 230 South Olive Street

Bounced from Della Davis’ rooming house for excessive drinking, William Thomas Brown (plasterer, 36) vowed to "get" her. On January 16, 1917 around noon, he broke down her apartment door. Inside, Della waited with her trusty revolver, and as William entered, she shot him three times. When Motorcycle Officer Luth came to enquire, he found Della reloading. William, meanwhile, had run down Olive Street in search of a doctor. Taken to the receiving hospital, non-fatal bullets were removed from his right breast and shoulder, and a grazed chin was cleaned. They brought Della down to the operating room, and William promptly identified his assailant. She didn’t deny it, stating "I have no regrets for shooting him. I feared him and when he broke into my room I felt I had a perfect right to defend myself. I hope he does not die, but I can’t see that I did anything wrong." She was released on her own recognizance after a stop at the Central Police Station, and we hear no more of the matter

Something about this address bred door busters. Late on November 11, 1919, resident Frank Murch was popped trying to force entry into his lady friend Ida E. Wilson’s flat at Fifth and Flower. After a day’s society, she’d simply had enough of his company. Frank was loud, obnoxious, and less skilled at the craft than William, so instead of a bouquet of bullets—though Ida did take one crack through the door with her little .22–he merely received a disturbing the peace arrest.

August 9, 2008 at 9:16 am Leave a comment

The Argyle: A Slow, Steady Decline, Part 1

argyle1

Situated at the corner of Olive and Second, the Argyle House was built in the 1880s by a Scottish gentleman, and quickly became as respectable a salon (and saloon) as could be found on Bunker Hill. Parties, weddings, and cotillions were frequently held here, and as a rooming house, it tended to attract musical types who frequently advertised their services as voice and piano instructors in the pages of the Times.

In October 1887, the Argyle House opened its doors under new management, advertising for roomers. Almost immediately after, however, it closed them, citing a need for renovations. The hotel reopened in June 1888, boasting 61 "large and sunny" rooms, but it was an auspicious beginning for the Argyle, and not the last time it would close abruptly.

With its adjoining restaurant and parlor, the Argyle was a lively and welcome addition to Bunker Hill. The Times wrote, "A good many pleasant people stop at this establishment and they go in for a good time socially," and "The Argyle people are convivial, if anything."

But after a few years of good times, the Argyle closed suddenly in 1893, and nobody knew why until news of a lawsuit leaked out. In November of that year, the owner, W.A. Nimock, sued D.E. Barton, who held the lease on the property. Nimock sought to recover possession of the Argyle, plus $3000 in damages.

And then, there were the assault charges.

It seems that Mr. and Mrs. Nimocks had leased the property to the Abbott family, parents of renowned opera singer Emma Abbott (who had died in 1891, shortly after her 40th birthday). When the Abbotts had to return East suddenly, they transferred their lease to Barton who promptly commandeered the place and began extensive renovations without the Nimocks’ approval. He shuttered the windows, kicked out the tenants, and ripped out the carpets.

The Nimocks wanted the Abbotts running the Argyle, but when they returned from the East, Barton refused to leave. What’s more, he told Mrs. Nimock (who handled most of the day-to-day on the property) that she could not enter the building, and locked himself in.

Thus thwarted, Mrs. Nimock did the only reasonable thing, and broke in through a window, tearing off a screen in the process. Mr. Barton was inside at the time, and proceeded to throw Mrs Nimock out the window through which she’d entered.

Hence, the assault charge.

But, as neither Mrs. Nimock nor her counsel appeared in court, the charges were dismissed. Barton said he would stay until his lease expired, which he apparently did. However, by early 1894, the Abbotts were once again running the Argyle as a rooming house, throwing fabulous parties, and holding court.

Over the next five years, the Argyle would change hands three times, finally ending up the property of Chicago native John Woelke in 1899. Like those before him, Woelke said he planned to remodel it into a "first class hotel," then lease it to a "responsible tenant." Easier said than done.

By 1936, the Times was lamenting the fallen state of the building, which once had been lovely and frequented by the best sorts. Regrettably, its best features, the porches and front wing, had been taken off when the road was widened for the Second Street Tunnel, and like most Bunker Hill establishments, its residents were no longer so glittering and well-connected.

Next week: crimes and misdemeanors at the Argyle, including beatings, wayward urchins, and the slit throat that wasn’t. Stay tuned!

Photo from the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

August 6, 2008 at 12:13 am Leave a comment

Lewis the Light, accident preventer

Location: 230 South Olive Street

Louis Burgess Greenslade, a native of Devon, England and better known as Lewis, The Light, was already balmy in January 1889, when Doctors Field and Fitch of Bellevue Hospital sent him to the Hart Island asylum, off Manhattan.

He had been institutionalized after his neglected wife came from Pasadena in response to a letter from Louis stating that one of their sons, who was traveling with him, was dying. She sold everything she had to finance the trip, where she discovered her child was quite well, but Louis —not so much.

Some time later Louis left the asylum to rejoin his family in California, where he found his wife had died after telling neighbors she was a widow, and that his children had been put into public care. He moved to downtown Los Angeles, where he grew a long beard, dressed "in fantastic garb," declared himself a messiah and lived on the donations of true believers.

An investigation resulted in him being declared unfit to rear his daughter Calla Lily (aged 14 in 1891), and he went to court seeking her release, then tried to snatch her from Mrs. Watson’s Home. He was tried on grounds of insanity, but freed because the thrifty law required homicidal or suicidal tendencies if a madman was to be cared for in an asylum. He tried to make a speech to the court, was rebuffed, and in January 1892 was determined to be in fact dangerous and committed to the State Insane Asylum at Agnews (a village later absorbed by Santa Clara).

But by June he was reported to be handing out peculiar circulars outside Metropolitan Hall in San Francisco, and in October arrested in that city on a charge of having torched the Turnverein Hall. In April 1894 he was sent back to the asylum at Agnews, a place he claimed was ideal for "resting and fattening up." (Lucky Lewis was not at the trough in April 1906, when the institution collapsed in the great earthquake, killing 117 patients and staff. All were buried on the grounds, which now comprise the supposedly haunted Sun Microsystems campus.)

Satisfied with his care and the width of his belly, Lewis escaped and returned to San Francisco, where he was arrested after ripping open his clothing and asking passersby to witness the divine light that burned in his breast.

For the rest of 1894, through 1895, 1896 and 1897 there was no sign of Lewis the Light. But in January 1898 he made a triumphant return to Los Angeles, tossing down a hand-written message at the feet of the deaf-mute newsstand operator Max Cohn at 124 ½ South Spring Street.

"Max: Read this intelligently and with interest! Deaf mutes are caused by the unnatural crime of rebelling against Lewis the Light! All nature, together with humanity, groans for lack of using Lewis the Light! Whilst people are such unnatural fools as to breed mules, there will also be deaf mutes to suffer for it. Greater than the ram’s horn is the horn of the he-goat." LEWIS THE LIGHT

He was at this time living at  230 South Olive Street with two of his sons who worked as messengers and supported the family. By July 1898, the L.A. Times already sounded sick of him when reporting "Los Angeles is again afflicted with [his] prophecies."

Lewis the Light, you see, what a newspaper reader and a letter writer. He’d comb the papers for reports of some personal catastrophe, then send a note (or many notes) preaching doom and damnation to the unfortunate sufferer, with the promise that future traumas could be avoided if they could only consult him, and tithe accordingly. (That fire in San Francisco was just another subject that drew his interest, but only after the fact.) Hence in July ’98, E.T. Earl had to contend not only with the loss of his Wilshire boulevard home to fire, but with an original missive from Lewis, The Light:

"Armageddon, allegorically and literally. Now Earl: count yourself as having been subjected to one variety, at least of Fire, and liable to many others through utterly failing to do your duty in personally and practically recognizing and rendering his due to the Lord of Life. Deut. 3-15, 32-22."

The message was signed with a rubber stamp showing a horse and an invitation to visit "Lewis, the Light, accident preventer" at this address. Mr. Earl called the cops, and Louis was warned to knock off with the nasty notes (particularly the letters to women, which were especially racy) or he’d be shipped back to the bug house. A record was made of his business card, which read, "Accident preventer, central civilizer, longevity promoter; subject to nothing; terms a tithe."

In May 1899, one of Louis’ sons, his 22-year-old namesake, flipped out after reading too deeply in the scientific section of the public library. The young man, who fancied himself an inventor, went into the basement offices of his employers, the California District messenger service beneath the Los Angeles National Bank and began smashing windows, furnishings and bicycles. He was subdued and taken to the County Hospital, where he raved he had "been doped." Facing the judge, young Louis frothed maniacally and tore at his chains while the father calmly answered questions about his son’s mental state. The boy was committed to the Highland asylum after becoming so unruly he had to be removed from the courtroom.

On March 2, 1901, at 2pm, there was a conflict in Central Park (now Pershing Square), when Lewis the Light’s prediction of the second coming of Christ was scheduled for the same hour as a concert by the Catalina Marine Band. This disrespect so incensed Lewis that J.M. Garrison, the park foreman, called for police protection at the holy hour. According to a petition then circulating (with 800 signatures to date), the park had become something of an eyesore due to the "[infestation of] loafers an bums to such an extent that its usefulness to the populace as an airing-place is destroyed."

The petition read: "We, the undersigned, residents of Los Angeles, respectfully petition that legal means be employed to abate the public nuisance of the large gathering of men and boys daily in the band stand at Central Park. We are persuaded that the public haranguing at the park destroys the attractiveness of the place, interferes with the rights of the public, and exercises an immoral influence, especially upon the young boys, whose minds are constantly filled with false views of nature and of life. Much of the talk at the band stand we believe to be blasphemous, although a few conscientious men do endeavor daily to antidote this poison, we believe their efforts are in the main futile, and we believe its abatement a great necessity." It was filed in city council, alongside a contrasting petition presented by John Murray, Junior of the Socialist Democratic Party, in support of free speech. And of course, Lewis the Light had an opinion about the matter.

As could be expected, the September 1901 assassination of President William McKinley drew the attention of Lewis the Light (then age 49), and after he penned some of his typical missives (signed "Umbilical Cord of the Universe, Potentate of Prosperity") convinced the Eastern recipients that he was a dangerous anarchist. Local detectives knew him as a harmless crank, but nonetheless took him into custody as a courtesy to their colleagues in the east. Arrested at his Olive Street abode, Louis snapped "You can’t do me any harm, for I am Jesus Christ." In court he proclaimed his opposition to anarchy, and claimed he was the only person to speak out against Red Emma Goldman during her visit to Los Angeles. Unimpressed, Judge Shaw proclaimed him insane

In 1907, Lewis the Light crossed paths with author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who inquired with Los Angeles police about some mysterious letters sent in his care to George Edalji, whose conviction false on charges of animal cruelty Doyle helped eradicate via a most Holmesian investigation. The Edalji family’s troubles had begun with anonymous letters, but local police were able to soothe their concerns when they assured Doyle that neither their local crank nor his recent roommate Frank Sharp had anything but an idle interest in their affairs. One side effect of Doyle’s interest was the discovery that Louis Greenslade had left England after annoying a Sir Henry Knight with weird letters.

In 1908, Lewis the Light was charged with vagrancy and sentenced to thirty days after annoying citizens who he threatened should they refuse to pay a tithe. This would be the last appearance of this colorful character in the pages of the L.A. Times, and before long, his name, once an object of glee and fascination, sank into obscurity.

August 3, 2008 at 6:46 pm Leave a comment

The Elks and Their Annex

crackerOf all the oft-pictured sites of Los Angeles, Angels Flight is certainly up there amongst them, as who doesn’t go for those Oldey-Timey images? There’s probably postcards and ceramic trivets and refrigerator magnets featuring Angels Flight from here to Toledo to Timbuktu, and people probably prefer a pre-1908, pre-Elks Club Building image of the Hill topped with the Crocker Mansion because, again, Oldey-Timey.

So what of the Elks Lodge, which supplanted the Crocker (having its 100th anniversary demolition party in a few weeks), that squarish building noted more for giving the world the Angels Flight gateway than for being, well, a squarish building?
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There were in fact two BPOE buildings. The main building fronting Clay Street, at 60×90′, contained an auditorium, dance hall, dormitories and offices; the Annex above at 300 South Olive, on the site of the June ’08-demolished Crocker (where District Deputy Grand Exalted Ruler John Whichner placed Elks Lodge No. 99 roster, and copies of the September 2, 1908 newspapers in the cornerstone), was 54×64′, and full of reading and writing rooms, plus a billiard hall and card parlors—everything a fraternal organization needed.

At least for a little while. By 1925 the Elks had built much larger and schmantzier digs over by Westlake park.

300 South Olive wouldn’t go to waste, though, as the Elks’ brothers-in-fraternity, the Loyal Order of Moose, took over the buildings. They covered "BPOE" on the aforementioned Angels Flight archway and set about putting a lot of boxers to work. 1931:
rockmsockmrobots
And 1951:

JC

No, not that Jimmy Carter.

The Moose hung on, and kept the building til the end, despite it becoming the Royal Club:
royalty
Nice quoins.

In September of 1962 it was just one more structure on the business end of the CRA’s bulldozers:

hallfallsIn its small theater—now roofless and with one wall gone because the workmen’s hammer— tattered remnants of a once-fancy curtain hang over the stage.

An old-timer on the hill, Austin Blackburn, 59, of 529 W 3rd St, said the building was a lodge meeting place when he took up residence at the now-demolished Cumberland hotel, across the street at 243 S Olive, 35 years ago. “The Royal, and all the rest of the hill, was a wonderful place then,” he reminisced. “They used to put on free shows and boxing matches in the theater for the folks who lived here. Later it was a dance hall, and during World War II they made a hotel out of it. At one time boxers used to train in a small gymnasium there.”

demoworld

The question being, of course, what became of the cornerstone filled with 1908 newspapers and the Elks’ club roster?

Crocker Mansion image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Annex image courtesy Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library

Newspaper images from the Los Angeles Times

April 26, 2008 at 10:23 am 1 comment

Life and Death Of and In the Astoria

theAstoria
The Astoria Apartmentsthe advantages of the city’s tourist hotels with the quiet of the residence section. Plus, at no extra charge to you, grewsome murder.


The Astoria contains over 125 guest rooms, beautifully furnished. Many are en suite, with parlor, bedroom and bath, dining-room and kitchen. A number of single rooms are also provided, both with and without private bath. Among the attractive features of the Astoria is the beautiful view of the city to be obtained from practically every room of the building. A spacious office and lobby, a dainty ladies’ reception-room, and a dancing hall are some the features which have been provided by E. W. Smith, the owner of the building. These are handsomely decorated and furnished, and will undoubtedly serve to make the Astoria popular.

—December 17, 1905

 

Before Bunker Hill hit its cinematic skids, t’was the place of purloinery more aligned with the tony climes of Monte Carlo than El Monte: cat-burgling jewel thieves were at purloinerywork! In October of 1911, Astoria resident Mrs. W. F. Sapp returned to her room one afternoon to find…nothing amiss. But her mother, Mrs. W. W. Loomis, of the adjoining apartment, called attention to having heard her daughter next door at her writing desk while said daughter was supposed to be absent. They opened the locked writing desk…to behold…gasp! The chatelaine bag, lockets and bracelets and the like were gone, as was the ancestral family tin box (found later in the lavatory, a can opener found on the fifth floor above) once filled with gold watches, fobs, and diamond-set pieces, now scattered to the underworld of crooked, loupe-wearing bangle merchants.

But not all crimes at the Astoria were so quaint.
astoria50s
Edna A. Worden lived in the Astoria. Forty-eight, New Hampshirite, kept to herself mostly, known around the place as a woman of culture and refinement. Kept the bookshelves of her one-bedroom in the Astoria lined with Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, Dickens, Byron, Poe, the Greek philosophers, and many a Bible. She made a meager wage as a WPA worker, and with the monthly $30 sent to her by her ex-husband back east, made a good life for her and her twelve year-old daughter Marguerite.

Marguerite, a student at Belmont Junior High School who, had she made it to Monday, was to have entered a Beverly Hills school for girls.

MargueriteWSunday, April 4, 1937. Little Marguerite made a habit of always coming down to the desk to borrow the Sunday paper. This morning she did not. A concerned John Riley, the elevator operator, put an ear to the Wordens’ door and ascertained a low moan; he summoned Astoria manager J. E. Harrigan, who, with his trusty stepladder, peered through the transom. After what he saw police arrived in short order and even hardened Detective Lieutenants Ledbetter, Bryan and Lopez, after kicking in the door, had to halt in their tracks at the horror that lay in wait.

Edna lay sprawled over a cot in an array of splatter, her head against the floor. Marguerite was on the bed, her head covered with a pillow, topped with a discarded brickbat, mortar glued to its sides, sticky with blood and gore. The room was cluttered, revealing a desperate struggle during their sexual assaults and skull shatterings. Edna’s purse was turned inside-out, otherwise, the room was unrifled—Marguerite’s mute witness rag doll, her ivory-bound prayer book with a shiny dime atop, her freshly washed and ironed blue gingham dress on a nail above the bed. The fates conspired to aid their attacker; on one side of the apartment was a storeroom, on the other, the apartment of old Harry Tutin, partially deaf.

downoliveThe Wordens’ attacker or attackers had climbed the Angels Flight stairs and forced entry through the kitchen window just below Olive Street. Shoes were removed before climbing in—traces of sock wool were removed from the plaster casts. (The feet, size eleven.) The assailant is almost certainly responsible for the March 2nd rape and brick-administered basal skull-smashing of Rose Valdez, 20, attacked while her year-old baby slept in a crib by her side.
lookingdowntowardhill
Bunker Hill was blanketed by the entire homicide squad assigned to all-night duty, with four squads of regular detectives and fifty men from Metro combing the City for suspicious Black Men—not exactly racial profiling, since it was a black man who ran from the scene of the attempted January 25 brick-attack on Mrs. H. W. Koll in Monte Sano hospital; the February 3 Barclay hotel room skull fracturing of Elizabeth Reis (again, leaving his brick behind); and the March 28 Zoe Damrell attack in her home at 1026 Ingraham, she left barely alive by a brick-bearing assailant who bore remarkable resemblance to the large black gentleman seen lurking by the Valdez house immediately before her murder.

Assorted Los Angeles sickos—alleged—were brought in for questioning, their faces and addresses plastered throughout the papers (doubtlessly tarnishing their lives forevermore) but all were cleared, not only through their alibis, but because the Worden killer had the bad fortune of leaving something else behind besides his brickbat: before putting on his gloves, he moved a milk bottle. Fingerprint central.

So if the killer skipped town, there’s a good chance he could have, would have never been caught. But a certain Robert Nixon just had to kill women. With bricks. This time in Chicago, on May 28, 1938, the nineteen year-old Nixon brick’d Mrs. Florence Johnson, wife of a Chicago city fireman, and gets popped for it, and confesses. A little digging revealed that during the time of the Worden and Valdez killings, he lived at 803 South Central Avenue.

Nixon initially denied involvement with the crimes, but after LA Police Chief Davis announced that comparison of fingerprints made positive identification of Nixon, Nixon admitted to the whole brick-laden shebang—the Wordens and Valdez, plus the Chicago murders of Mrs. Florence Thompson Castle in her hotel room in 1936, and the rape/murder of student nurse Anna Kuchta in August 1937, and assaults on at least seventeen other women.

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In June 1938, Howard Jones Green, Nixon’s sometime accomplice, was shipped from Chicago to view the murder scene at the Astoria. He admitted to beating little Marguerite on the head (with his pistol butt, and not the brick) but denied partaking in the sexual assault, and admitted they grossed all of eight dollars from the venture. He ‘fessed up to the March ’37 Zoe Damrell attack and for that was given five to life; what became of his Marguerite trial we’re not told.

On June 16, 1939, Robert Nixon went to the chair at the Cook County Jail. Thus, he did not live to read 1940’s smash lit-hit Native Son, which explained that his predicament was destiny, a societal byproduct of racist racial conditioning. So argued the lawyer for Native Son‘s protagonist Bigger Thomas, accused of killing a white woman in Chicago, as penned by Richard Wright, who made great use of the sensationalistic Robert Nixon newspaper reporting at the time.

demotime

 

 

Less than a decade later, plans were underway to remove every trace of Bunker Hill’s 136 acres from existence. After a four million dollar increase in annual taxes, and a grant from the federal Urban Renewal Program, oil tycoon William T. Sesnon Jr. finally began his twelve-year-in-the-making dream of wholesale land acquisition in October 1960. Nine thousand persons were eventually displaced, and the first building to be demolished was the Astoria’s neighbor, the Hillcrest, in September 1961. The Astoria went soon after. The land sat barren for eighteen years until the federally subsidized, Dworsky modular prefab Angelus Plaza (designed with a 1200′ People Mover) broke ground in 1979.

 

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astoriafromback

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Astoria images courtesy of the Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library

Shot between Astoria and Hillcrest courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Newspaper images from the Los Angeles Times 

April 18, 2008 at 2:20 am 2 comments


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