Posts filed under ‘300 Block Olive Street’

An Evening at Angels Flight

At the golden hour, Gordon Pattison gazes into the Angels Flight station house

At the golden hour, Gordon Pattison gazes into the Angels Flight station house

Last evening, we met on Bunker Hill, old friends coming together for an old friend, Angels Flight. As the sun set, the orange and black station house along with the cars, Olivet and Sinai, were bathed in its soft, orange glow. As the evening darkened, Angels Flight’s arches and cars were lit by the low amber light of dozens of incandescent bulbs. It was a magical time, and for a moment, I was transported back to the time when I lived on Bunker Hill in its old Victorian neighborhood in the 1940’s – 1960’s. That neighborhood has been gone for more than 50 years now, and Angels Flight is all we have to remind us of it.

As I looked out over the city from the top of Angels Flight, the twinkling lights of Grand Central Market came on, beckoning to us longingly. The Market stays open until 10:00 pm now, and it was filled with people enjoying its attractions. I thought, how nice it would be to board Angels Flight to go down there as I did years ago, have a bite to eat and join the people who looked to be having such a good time. They seemed miles away, though, at the bottom of long, daunting flights of stairs. That’s exactly why Col. Eddy built Angels Flight 115 years ago, to join Bunker Hill and Downtown. What foresight! What a wonderful service to fill a civic need! And for decades, Angels Flight filled that need happily, faithfully, asking for little in return.

But sadly, Angels Flight is not running. For two years now, Angels Flight has sat quietly, waiting patiently for Los Angeles to come back to it. While Angelenos go busily about their lives, Angels Flight sits forlorn and vulnerable, largely ignored by the community it once served and we hope will serve again.

Richard Schave and Gordon Pattison scrub graffiti off Olivet

Richard Schave and Gordon Pattison scrub graffiti off Olivet

Angels Flight is not a nostalgic anachronism. It was and remains an important civic asset. Not just for its historic significance, but as an important piece of public transportation, carrying people from the heights of Bunker Hill to greater Downtown and back again.

When we came together at Angels Flight last evening, we came to pay attention to an old friend and to bear witness to its plight. We cleaned away graffiti that had thoughtlessly desecrated it. We had a 3-D scan done on Angels Flight so that anyone can board it online and take a vicarious ride. Angels Flight has served our city well and can again. But it needs our support and loving attention, or one day we will drive by and wonder why it’s not there anymore. Then all we will have are photographs and memories. It’s a lot more fun to actually ride it.

June 6, 2016 at 11:16 pm 1 comment

The Ems — 321 South Olive

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In what will surely go down as the smarmiest piece of journalism in history, the Times recounts the travails of Toy Lane, dancer at the Chinese Junk, 733 North Main. She made her way over to the Junk from her pad at The Ems to shimmy for shekels on September 25, 1946. When she gets into the nightclub dressing room to “dress” for her act (the Times’s flippant application of quotation marks, not mine) she discovers her wardrobe has been stolen: G-string No. 1 (black and orange, beaded,) $35; G-string No. 2 (silver metallic cloth,) $23; beaded shaker, $20; rhinestone brassiere $20; an anklet and armband set, $25.

Miss Lane, it was reported, was mortified—she had to dance with her clothes on!

In a final piece of facetiousness, the Times noted “the police were searching for the burglars and the large van they must have used to carry away the loot.”

The Chinese Junk Café:

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Which was up in China City, a 1935 Chinesque development that predated New Chinatown, and had been the baby of wealthy socialite and “Mother of Olvera Street” Christine Sterling. China City was mostly burned out, literally and figuratively, by the early 50s.

And of Ms. Toy’s home, the Ems?

Remember the Palace/Casa Alta post, which was long on storytelling but short on pretty pictures? I even chided you for looking at a structure that was not our hotel-in-question, by tossing über-comely Bunker Hill lass The Ems smack dab into the mix.
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I even promised I’d talk about the Ems “next week,” but by next week it was President’s Day, and somebody had to make you mindful of your nation, despite all the patriotic work you were doing watching Obama informercials.

Well, now it’s the week after next, and it’s time for the Ems, which is replete with pretty pictures but sadly short on storytelling. Here’s what we know.

The Ems is born about 1905-06. It contains 110 rooms, divided into twenty-six apartments according to the 1939 census, sixty-five apartments according to the 1950 Sanborn map.  Here it is before its birth, from the 1896 Sanborn map (321, bottom), and postnatal from the 1906:

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Our earliest known shot, above. Pre-1908, because the Kellogg has yet to be built to the north. Notice the three round-arch traceried windows along the street, and the turreted house to the south.

We know that it had a large ballroom, for in 1909 the papers announced that sixty couples participated in the dancing at the inaugural ball honoring President Taft.

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The Ems were apartments-of-choice for a collection of colorful characters.

1914. “Mohawk Half-Breed” Daniel T. La Rae, alias Daniel T. Ray, was an Ems resident (Emsident?) with Miss Emma Ewalt—they stayed there together, but were (!) unmarried. Daniel spent a lot of time promising to marry Miss Ewalt, even going so far as to travel to Shelby, Ohio, to visit her father. Mostly what Daniel did, though, is borrow money—he needed these sums to purchase marble on bond to build post offices and such. Of course he could be trusted; he was a Federal Officer, after all.

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He had shown Emma a badge emblazoned “U. S. Marshal,” but never paid back the money nor made good on his promise of marriage. Of course his badge was a phony as his promises. Turns out his real job was for the Southern Pacific RR, guarding Chinese as they were ferried from San Francisco across the Mexican border line. Chinese actually go home to Mexico. Little known fact.

likkerseezed1924. Emsians Jack Hart and James Whitmore were no mere bathtub gin fanciers, nor busted-at-the-speak spuds; the Feds seized Hart & Whitmore’s forty cases of champagne, seventy-five cases of Scotch, and seventy-three cases of gin, crème de menthe and grain alcohol down at their warehouse, 1840 Lebanon. The liquor was valued at $40,000. In addition to the liquor, the drys seized a large truck, three touring cars and several rifles.

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(A William Reagh image ca. 1960: notice the rounded tripartite fenestration, which worked so well with the rest of the façade, has been upgraded with a door and a square window. The turreted house to the south, a concrete pit.)

jaccuse1930. An employment agency sent Emsite Erma Gogleu, 16, to 903 West Twenty-First St. to fill a position as a mother’s helper. As soon as she got the job, she was attacked by mother’s son James D. Anderson. Erma wasn’t the first to have met with the fate of an Anderson Employee—one Marguerite Cooper, 23, also testified with Erma in Municipal Court about a similar sitch, and the Judge ordered Anderson held on $10,000 bail.

vroom1934. Emsman Joe Shaw, 26, was roaring along on his motorcycle on a Friday night down at 30th and Broadway, when he fatally struck Mrs. Marianna Valenzuela, 58. Hey, I warned you that the Ems lacked gripping and protracted tales. But look at those pretty pictures.

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exquisitedeadguy1942. Every hotel has a suicide. And despite Harold’s line to his Uncle Victor—“during wartime the national suicide rate goes down”—on Bunker Hill, there’s still wartime Selbsmord (the Belmont had two in ’42). It’s easy to posit that the suicide rate is a constant, and the papers make a point of reporting ‘em during wartime to detract the populace from all those incoming body bags. If you go for that sort of mass-media-control conspiracy. That notwithstanding, nine months after we got into the war, Joseph Buotha, a 58-year-old former private investigator, ate several bottles of pills in his Ems apartment. He had just written a long telegram to Eleanor Roosevelt, and this note: “Please let me alone. Let fate take its course. Notify John G. Wenk to take care of my belongings. Please don’t hurt the dog. May God forgive you.”

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rupinoida1949. Joe Rupino, 50, was leaning over the railing on the second story balcony, shaking the dust from a rug, when the railing gave way and he fell fifteen feet to the pavement. Rupino received possible fractures of the right wrist, forearm and shoulder, and a trip to Georgia Street and a transfer to General Hospital.

There’s that railing! The railing of DEATH!

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Ok, the railing of death. It’s not much, but it’s something.

After the last few posts—piles of brick, crenellated castles, Neo-Classical noodling—I am happy to say look at all that stucco (stucco that’s supposed to be there, not stucco that was thrown over shingle—although to be honest, it wasn’t thrown over adobe brick, either). The deep arcades, the rounded arches, the low-pitched red tile roofs…Mission Revival sure oozes picturesque. Were the square flat roof to call a California antecedent to mind, you might think of the 1894 Burlingame train station. flatroofThe Ems is “twin tower”, á la the Santa Barbara Mission, and of course there’s the contemporary tri-tower version a couple blocks over, the somewhat less Mission and more Moorish St. Regis.

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emsgoingThe Ems and the Palace, chunks missing from their plaster, give Bunker Hill the appearance of a city pockmarked by battle.

The final appearance of the Ems in City Directories is July 1965.

When it comes to architecture important to this part of the world, it can be argued that Spanish Colonial/Mission Revival is our own honest, expressive flowering, that’s crowd-pleasing but not childish, sometimes silly but never stupid, hard to notice sometimes and often hard to preserve.

It’s sad to lose Bunker Hill in general; we’re sorry to lose the Ems in particular.

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Early shots, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection; later b/w shots, William Reagh and Arnold Hylen Collections, California History Section, California State Library; color shots, Walker Evans, "439 Architectural Views for Time-Life Project ‘Doomed Architecture’", metmuseum.org

February 21, 2009 at 1:52 pm 1 comment

The Kellogg/Palace/Casa Alta—317 South Olive

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May 22, 1930

William J. Stone, 38, was a Bostonian broker who’d moved to Los Angeles and into the Casa Alta Hotel and Apartments, 317 South Olive. In what may have partly been a case of Don’t Argue with a Janitor, or partly No-One Likes a Broker in 1930, Stone managed to get into a regrettable debate with the Casa Alta janitor, one Walter Dixon.

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The argument climaxed in Dixon taking a hatchet to Stone’s head and chasing him from the building. Stone wound up in Georgia Street Receiving Hospital with severe skull lacerations, but lived to broker—or, not—another day, and Dixon landed in the stir on suspicion of ADW.

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Here’s everything you didn’t know you needed to know about 317 S. Olive, aka The Kellogg, aka the Palace, aka the Casa Alta.

First of all, there are few photos of the place. Pity the poor Palace. It was too large and utilitarian to merit the lens of a Reagh or Hylen. Sure, everybody shot its neighbor, the Ems, and in nearly every Ems image, there’s the Great Wall of Alta looming in the background:

Ems1909

(Don’t look at the Ems. Look at the building behind it. We’ll talk about the Ems next week, I promise.)

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Moreover, whenever one stood on the corner of Third and Olive, the temptation was apparently too great to turn one’s back on the Kellogg/Palace/Casa Alta and shoot the upper terminal of Angels Flight.

Before the advent of 317, it was 315 S. Olive, which was ground zero for the Burning Bushers.

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Then came the seven-story, 84-apartment Kellogg. It opens in April, 1908.

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Almost immediately it becomes the Palace Hotel and Apartments; the image at the top of this post, where it’s proudly emblazoned Palace Hotel, is from a card postmarked 1910.

Looking up Olive, ca. 1915: the most prominent, in ascending order, the Auditorium, the Trenton, the Fremont, and at top, the Palace:

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In 1926 the owner puts it out to lease—it is snatched up and becomes the Casa Alta (they have cleverly renamed this rather tall house "tall house," but in Spanish!).

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The 1929 City Directory:

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Here’s what we glean from this 1939 census report: the Casa, faced in brick, has 72 apartments (ok, so the Sanborn Map says 84) in its seven floors, and no business units. There’s no basement. It was built in 1906, though that doesn’t exactly jive with its April 08 opening date. A nice two-room unit will set you back $27.50 ($406.55 USD 2007), still pretty cheap, but the Hill had begun its downturn even by 1939. Slouching toward shabby though it may have been, nevertheless, that rent was for a furnished apartment, and included heat, water, and electricity.

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The 1956 City Directory:

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…quite a few folk in the 72 apartments had ‘phones. Two basement apartments, an office, eighteen tenants had the device. For Bunker Hill, that might have been some sort of record.

By 1965, there were fewer.

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And that’s the last time it appears in the directories.

Here it is as one of the lone survivors, in its final days, ca. 1967. Angels Flight hangs on until 1969.

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The Palace of Casa Kellogg, and its events of eventful eventfulness:

blinkyIn 1914, the Palace Hotel was where fancy ladies with big diamonds lived. Therefore, of course, sharps and cons knew where to prey. But Lillian Walker was ingrained with common sense and uncommon suspicions. Despite the big car with its monogrammed door, from which stepped the elegantly dressed man and woman who came to her apartment, despite their discourse about rare gems they’d purchased in the orient, and their winter home in Santa Barbara, Mrs. Walker just doesn’t trust people who blink rapidly when they talk. The man, who called himself Mullins, eagerly wrote her a fat check for a big diamond, but Mrs. Walker, seeing his blinky eye, said no. She took a $25 check for a small gem, and agreed to meet later to discuss further sales. She immediately verified her suspicions—the checks were false, and Lillian called the authorities—but the grifters got wise to the ambush set for them, and evaded being captured in the Palace.

andthentheresmaude1916 – you may remember the Percy Tugwell case, in which the proprietor of Hotel Clayton (a literal stone’s throw east at 310 Clay), Florence Cheney, testified. Florence Cheney’s daughter, Margaret Emery, had her deposition taken at her Palace Hotel sickbed.

Margaret testified that Maude Kennedy had been in a fine and jovial mood until very shortly before her death, lending weight to the argument that she committed suicide (Tugwell eventually served ten years in Quentin for manslaughter).

palacesuicideChristmas Day, 1918, Katherine Lewis quarreled with her husband Lester Lewis. She had been despondent ever since having departed Richmond, VA for Los Angeles; the best course of action, decided Katherine, was to eat bichloride of mercury tablets in their Palace apartment. The physicians at Receiving Hospital fixed her up just enough to try another Christmas.

 

We’re all aware that every so often, people sometimes just up and go missing. Dr. Harold E. Roy was a prominent New York dentist whose crushed canoe was found in the Hudson River (it was assumed he was torn asunder by a paddle steamer); his widow moved to Los Angeles and into the Palace Apartments. Then, a year later, in February 1922, a lowly workman at the Kansas City Union Station realized, hey, I’m a dead New York dentist. Where’s my wife? deadayearHe tracks her down through her family and shows up on the Palace doorstep, and she has to give back $10,000 ($122,730 USD2007) to Bankers Life Insurance Company.

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The Palace Hotel/Casa Alta was also the center of political activity for rebel rousers from Riga. Through the late 20s the papers were peppered with small notices about, for example, the precise method of sending packages to Latvia, and if you had further questions, contact the Latvian Consulate—317 S. Olive.

defied!Now, Ethel M. Rising had a thing or two to say about marrying into Baltic bliss. She divorced her husband, H. R. Rising, left him in the Casa Alta, and the State awarded her $50 a month from H. R. to support their two daughters. But with that dictate Mr. Rising did not comply. Ethel complained to the City Prosecutor, who hauled Rising into court, October 2, 1928. There declared Rising: “I have been appointed Vice-Consul for Latvia and your courts have no jurisdiction over me.” The court conferred with the District Attorney and Rising was, in fact, correct. One can only imagine he threw back his head and added a hearty Latvian bwa-ha-ha-ha!

wershallovercomeNovember 4, 1929. George McRoy, 31, was spraying the Casa Alta with insecticide—and nearly went to exterminator Elysium, but ended up at Georgia Street Receiving.

norelief“I’ve been taking it on the chin for five years. My chin won’t stand it any longer—” and, after penning that short note, and adding three $1 bills for his daughter in Vancouver, sixty-five year-old relief client Frank W. Blumie climbed to the top of the Casa Alta, December 1, 1935, and leapt to his death.

evictedChristmas cards to Mrs. Cecilia MacKinnon Moore are being marked returned to sender this holiday season. After being told by the Casa Alta landlord to vacate her quarters, she made her way on December 23, 1947 to the famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine and to the top of the Equitable Building, from where she made her own impression on Hollywood.

Two items were found in her pocketbook—a letter asking that her nephew be notified, and her eviction notice.

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thompsonandblackWhat was the relationship between Mrs. Beatrice Imogene Thompson, 23, and Sylvester Black, 34?

We may never know. All we know is that she was recently reconciled with her estranged husband, Willid Thompson. After two years she had returned to him, and for the past two weeks she and he were in domestic bliss at 317 S. Olive. That was, until, April 16, 1948.

Beatrice and Black knew each other from their place of employ, she a waitress, he a cook, at a downtown restaurant.

hamicideThe pair boarded an LA Transit Lines car at 11th and Broadway, and for a while argued in low tones. She was against the window, sobbing, and muttering “Leave me alone, please leave me alone.” When she rose to leave at 4th and Broadway, Black pushed her back in the seat and shot her four times. Also on the car was James F. Patrick, Special Officer, Metro Division, who pulled his piece and handcuffed Black at gunpoint, during which Black pleaded “Shoot me, please shoot me.”

The Thompson killing by Black, who was black, gets surprisingly little press. Perhaps the concept that this interracial killing was presaged by an interracial love affair meant that propriety demanded ignorance.

 

explodotheboilerAs mentioned above, the Kellogg/Palace/Casa Alta had its relationship with the Central/Clayton/Lorraine via the mother/daughter team in the 1916 Percy Tugwell trial. The two hotels also have cranky boilers. The Central tried to blow itself up in November 1953; the year before, in November 1952, the Casa Alta boiler felt the hands of Frank Dauterman, 43, tinkering within its works. So the boiler blew itself up, failing to kill Dauterman or take down the Alta, but sending Dauterman to Georgia Street with second and third degree burns to his head, chest and arms.

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A month later, December 20, 1952, residents heard screams from the apartment of Willie Kohl, 79. His apartment was aflame; he was found on the floor near the bed, and died en route to Georgia Street.

Kohl’s conflagration is the Casa Alta’s final appearance in the Times. The remaining tenants are relocated in the late 60s and it soon becomes a tall pile of brick.

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And atop the old site, the 1990 Omni Hotel, in which one can sense a vague hint of the old Alta. Vaguely.

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Washington hatchet from here; bloody hatchet from Hatchet; Palace postcard, author; 1910 Ems, Los Angeles Public Library; 1960 Ems, Metropolitan Museum of Art; view up Olive, USC Libraries Digital Archives; census card, USC Libraries Digital Archives; Casa Alta with Angels Flight, Los Angeles Public Library. Bottom image you remember from Subject: Narcotics.

February 4, 2009 at 8:06 pm 5 comments

Burning Bush on a Mount of Olives

burningbush1When the residents of Bunker Hill discovered that the Alameda Street crib district prostitutes were living in their neighborhood, they drafted polite letters to the City Council and the Police Commission complaining about it.

But when they discovered that a rowdy religious sect called the Burning Bush had set up its headquarters on Olive Street, they called the police straightaway.  Scarlet women were one thing, but cult leaders quite another.

burningbush2Based out of Denver, leaders of the Burning Bush flock came to Los Angeles in the spring of 1904, and wasted no time in luring converts.  In addition to their base of operations near Angel’s Flight at 315 Olive Street, they also established a revival tent at the corner of Spring and Seventh.  At meetings, their followers would regularly shout, leap up and down, speak in tongues, and fall into semi-catatonic states for hours at a time.  So enthusiastic were their cries that neighbors claimed they drowned out the sound of the streetcar as it rattled up the hill.

burningbush3Despite the leaping, members of the Burning Bush were not to be confused with the Holy Jumpers, another evangelical sect that had come to Los Angeles around the same time.  Though they operated on a similar set of beliefs, the Burning Bush was generally considered to be less objectionable than the Holy Jumpers because they were not quite so loud.  Additionally, while the Burning Bush had culled its leaders from respectable cities like Denver and Boston, the Holy Jumpers were from Alabama (gasp).

While the Burning Bush’s evangelical fervor made them strange in the eyes of their neighbors, it didn’t make them a cult.  What made them a cult was their practice of quickly separating initiates from all their money, real estate, and worldly possessions.

In 1906, a deaf man named Lorenzo Dunlap sued Burning Bush leader Charles Bryant to recover approximately $1000 worth of cash and property he’d signed over the cult with the agreement that they would hold the property in trust and care for him until he died.  He’d feared that his own family members would try to have him committed to an asylum and swipe the estate for themselves.

But instead, the Bryants did.  Dunlap claimed that once the money had changed hands, he found the Bryants cold and unwilling to support him.  Additionally, they promptly sold Dunlap’s property in North Dakota at a tidy profit and used the money to buy themselves a fine Los Angeles area home and a cow.

It wasn’t just property they took.  In 1905, a Mr. Vitagliano sent police to the Burning Bush house on Olive to find his 16-year-old daughter, Annie.  Vitagliano said that the Burning Bush had torn his family apart, sending his wife off to Europe to do missionary work, turning his daughter against him, and constantly pestering him for money.

One of the saddest Burning Bush casualties was a Mrs. Elizabeth Northcutt, who was committed to the State Hospital for the Insane at Patton in 1908, after years tangled up with the Burning Bush and another group, the Pillar of Fire.  Northcutt’s husband, a butcher, had exhausted all of his resources trying to nurse her back to health, even after she had emptied his bank account and abandoned him and their son for the Burning Bush, before finally returning home, frail and raving.

At her insanity hearing, Northcutt flew into a rage against his wife’s father, the wealthy James Murdoch, saying, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself for letting them send your only child to a public asylum when you are amply able to provide for her comfort."

Murdoch coldly replied, "She is your wife and it is your duty to support her.  I have done much for her in the past.  I have had financial losses and have large expenses of my own.  I see no reason why the State should not care for her."

The examining physicians reported that "previous to ‘getting religion,’ Mrs. Northcutt was plump and merry.  In two years, she has become a nervous wreck."  However, they expected she would recover her senses in time.

October 14, 2008 at 10:04 pm Leave a comment

He's Alive! Alive!

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March 1, 1922

Death is a very dull, dreary affair, and my advice to you is to have nothing whatsoever to do with it.           W. Somerset Maugham

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No, the title of this tale doesn’t refer to the 1931 film version of Frankenstein; but rather to the experiences of Harold E. Roy, DDS of New York.

Dr. Roy had been canoeing in the Hudson River during March of 1921, when he mysteriously disappeared.canoes  Broken bits of his canoe had been recovered, but there was no sign of the dentist, and it was assumed that he had drowned. Mrs. Roy struggled to adjust to the loss of her husband, but the grieving widow found it impossible to continue living in New York – reminders of her husband were simply too painful, so she moved out to Los Angeles to stay with relatives.

Nearly a full year passed when suddenly Dr. Harold Roy, the man whom everyone thought was dead, was miraculously reborn in Kansas City. It was as if a cloud had lifted – he remembered who he was, but had no idea where he was, what he’d been doing, or how much time had elapsed. He looked down at his clothes and found himself in rough workingman’s attire.  He emptied his pockets and discovered some Canadian money.  When he finally looked at a calendar, he saw that he’d lost an entire year of his life!

mark twainThen came the biggest shock of all – he found that he’d been reported dead!  The same thing had happened to Mark Twain in 1897 when it was erroneously reported that he had succumbed to an illness in London. Twain wrote to a friend and told him that: “…the report of my death was an exaggeration.”  

Dr. Roy wrote to the Swathmore Alumni Association President, David Dwight Rowlands of Sheboygan, Wisconsin and said:  “Dear Dave: Sit down here before I knock you down with the news I am writing you. This is neither a ghost, nor story writing, but my own hand; just me – Harold E. Roy, Swarthmore, ’09."

The dentist had a fairly recent scar on his head, and pain in his right temple, but otherwise seemed to be none the worse for whatever he’d gone through in the year that he’d spent as a dead man. Roy went on to tell his friend Dave that since he had regained his senses and returned to life, he had telegraphed relatives and located his wife at her new home at 317 South Olive Street in Los Angeles. Dr. and Mrs. Roy had been reunited, and the couple was happy to be together again.

However, while Dr. Roy was speedily recovering from his ordeal, poor Mrs. Roy found it difficult to adjust tovillagers her spouse’s unprecedented resurrection. Perhaps it was the strain of being constantly on the lookout for torch-wielding villagers. 

 

August 6, 2008 at 10:10 am Leave a comment

Brother Can You Spare…?

Location: 330 South Flower Street
Date: September 21, 1937

Arrested on charges of stabbing J.T. Murray, 27-year-old laborer, as he stepped from a cafe at 234 East Fifth Street, was Charles Parsons, 19, of this address, captured with Victor Burk, 20, at Fifth and Spring Streets. Earlier, Murray had argued with two beggars who dunned him for a nickel, and a fistfight broke out. One of the beggars pulled a knife and stabbed Murray, who was taken to General Hospital with a belly wound that was expected to prove fatal. When frisked, Parsons’ pockets revealed a bloody knife.

May 24, 2008 at 4:00 pm Leave a comment

Boy Burglar Nabbed

Location: 330 South Flower Street
Date: December 22, 1904

Above, Hoyt Brown in 1910

Arrested at this lodging house in the act of burgling was the dapper, notorious Hoyt Brown (aka Frank Carlson), recently sprung from the Reform School at Whittier, but still rotten.

He was about 17 or 18 when, two Augusts back, while working as a bellboy at the Hotel Lillie at 534 Hill Street, Brown he was charged with having liberated valuables from rooms there, earning notice from detectives as "a sneak thief a grade above amateur at least" and "bearing the unenviable reputation of having made the biggest hauls of any local boy burglar in years."

Previously he’d been employed at the Hotel Savoy, and he confessed he’d made off with a watch and chain. But his biggest likely score was the Dice diamond robbery: he allegedly rifled the locked room of Mrs. F.H. Dice at the Berkeley Flats at Ninth and Main, stealing six still-warm diamond rings worth upwards of $1200 and numerous other gems while their owner chatted with a friend down the hall. Hoping to avoid publicity, Mrs. Dice hired her own detectives, and while a few baubles turned up in a local pawn shop, most of the rings were never found. Pawn broker I.J. Smith was himself convicted of a misdemeanor for buying two rings and sentenced to 50 days on the chain gang or a $50 fine. Smith doggedly gave the old gang a try, but came up with the cash after a few uncomfortable hours.

On the 1904 occasion, Flower Street residents had previously noticed Hoyt Brown hanging around suspiciously, and today he was found in the act of entering someone’s room. Arrested by Officer Hunter and frisked, his pockets revealed a variety of jewelry, including a wedding ring engraved within "John to Deed. May 1, 1890. Dec. 15, 1901" which no one in the house recognized.

Hoyt Brown will go on to spend his twenties robbing homes from San Francisco to San Diego, between stints in San Quentin and Folsom prisons. He next appears in the local record in June 1910, when he’s discovered lurking in the closet of Mrs. A. Maurice Low, a visitor from Washington D.C. who’s stopping at the Stratford Apartments at Sixth and Burlington. Chased from the room by the shrieking Mrs. Low, Brown became an object of interest to the neighborhood. The noise drew the attention of Leon Godshall, a skilled sprinter who was playing lawn tennis nearby. He tossed his racket aside and chased Brown for several blocks, then tackled and held him until police arrived. Brown would unsuccessfully plead insanity over this last pinch, but was almost certainly sent back to prison.

May 24, 2008 at 3:44 pm Leave a comment

The Crocker Mansion – 300 South Olive

Crocker Mansion

At the turn of the 20th Century, no building dominated Bunker Hill like the Crocker Mansion. Perched high at the corner of Third and Olive, the imposing 3-story Victorian structure overlooked the emerging metropolis for a mere 22 years. Though its reign over Bunker Hill was short, the Crocker Mansion remains an indelible part of early Los Angeles history.

Designed by architect John Hall and erected in 1886, the ornate residence was built by Mrs. Margaret E. Crocker at a cost of $45,000 (a little over a million in today’s dollars). Margaret was the widow of Edwin Bryant Crocker, a California Supreme Court Justice, who with his brother, Charles, amassed a fortune in the railroad industry. Following her husband’s death in 1875, Mrs. Crocker became a known social and civic leader who had donated the family’s impressive art collection to the city of Sacramento. At the time she commissioned the Los Angeles residence, Mrs. Crocker owned homes in Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco and New York.

Crocker Mansion View from Olive

In 1887, the mansion became the center of a scandal when Alma Ashe, Margaret Crocker’s granddaughter, was kidnapped from the residence.

LA Times Headline

Two-year-old Alma was the daughter of Amy Crocker and playboy Robert Porter Ashe, who had previously scandalized the family in 1882 by eloping. Rumored to have married Miss Crocker for the family riches, Amy soon grew weary of her groom, who spent plenty of time and money at the racetrack. The marriage soon went south and in April 1887, Ashe marched into the Crocker Mansion and marched out with his daughter, who was being watched by relatives while her mother and grandmother were out of town. Ashe and the child holed up in the St. Elmo Hotel on Main Street for a couple of days until a judge formally ordered he hand the child over to the Crockers. Ashe claimed he was protecting his daughter from her unfit mother, while Amy claimed her husband was attempting to gain leverage over her by imprisoning the child. Ultimately, grandma took Alma to live in Europe until she was old enough to decide which parent she preferred to live with. The Ashe-Crocker union was officially dissolved a few months later, and Amy (later going by Aimee) would ignore the incident altogether in her 1936 memoir …And I’d Do it Again.

Crocker Mansion view from Clay

In 1891, the Crocker Mansion became a boarding house/hotel, though far ritzier than the faded Bunker Hill boarding rooms of the 1940s/50s. Though Mrs. Crocker was no longer residing there, she still maintained ownership of the stately structure that played host to many a member of society’s elite. Even as a commercial property, rooms were always advertised as located in the “Crocker Mansion.”

LA Times Headline

Construction on the Third Street tunnel began in 1900, and Mrs. Crocker filed a petition claiming that the mansion was endangered by the street tunnel which was “unsafe, improperly constructed and a veritable death trap.” According to the Los Angeles Times, “the walls of her house are settling, the foundations giving way and the plaster is falling off…Unless something is done, the building is liable to topple into a hole.” The house never did topple and was alive and well in 1902 when Angels Flight began operating and dropping riders off practically on the Crocker doorstep.

Crocker Mansion Before the Tunnel
Before and after the Third Street Tunnel
Crocker Mansion next to tunnel and Angels Flight

Margaret Crocker died in 1901 and possession of the mansion was assumed by her children, except for hell-cat Aimee who had been left out of the will. The mansion was sold in 1905 for $50,000 along with the land that ran 120 feet on Olive and 150 feet on Third, down to Clay Street. The Crocker Mansion subsequently closed its doors as a boarding house and plans were soon drawn up to renovate the residence for use as social quarters for the Elk’s, who were putting up a new building on the eastern portion of the property. When the frame of the “old” house was deemed too weak, the Crocker Mansion was scheduled for demolition, to be replaced by a reinforced concrete structure.

The Victorian building was razed in June 1908 and the cornerstone for the Elk’s Annex was laid the following September.

All photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

April 8, 2008 at 7:49 pm Leave a comment


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