The Union Rescue Mission Archive Project on inSROland

It begins simply enough: as part of the ongoing project to document the forgotten history of Downtown Los Angeles, our present aim is to blog about a series of previously-unknown documents from archives of the Union Rescue Mission (URM).

We will begin by sharing some of the testimonials of faith made by those “saved” by the mission’s outreach. Each of these testimonials tells the story of a life run off the rails then back on again, and offers insights into fascinating historic subcultures which are infrequently documented.

We will also be presenting photographic documentation of the early buildings which housed the URM. These now-demolished sites will be placed in their historic and present-day contexts, to fill in some of the gaps in the century-long history of Downtown Los Angeles as a zone of poverty, addiction, redemption and transformation.

Along the way, we will introduce some of the interesting individuals whose work at the URM contributed to its mission, and uncover aspects of forgotten social history which were documented, sometimes inadvertently, by URM staff.

The URM exists to rescue men and women who have been utterly abandoned and become discouraged and helpless. It seeks to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ into their hearts, which will lead them out of temptation and to salvation. Within this lofty intent sits the more earthly goal of feeding and clothing the poor in areas which historically have been blighted, and giving them tools by which they can improve themselves.

Very quickly we already have two distinct aims by which we can distinguish and give context: that of public policy and that of Faith. These two aims cleave the problem space neatly into two parts: 1) the finite, delineated by its limited resources, clothes, energy, food, land, and those in authority who can allocate them, and 2) the infinite, that small, intangible part in all of us which is the gatekeeper to something bigger, delineated by its resources without limit: love, charity, compassion, strength. Those in authority have absolutely no control over the quality, quantity or allocation of these infinite resources.

Attempted solutions for improving the hardships faced by the poor are manifold in Southern California. They range from the official Public Policy for the County and the City of Los Angeles, Upton Sinclair’s EPIC movement, Job Harriman‘s Llano del Rio commune, the URM, and Sister Aimee Semple McPherson‘s Four Square Gospel. Note that of the solutions just listed only the first two are political, one is an attempt at a utopia, and two others come out of a literal reading of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

While the notion of a solution straddling the two kingdoms – one which feeds the stomachs and the souls of the masses – may seem fanciful, those leaders who have been most effective over the past century have had their feet planted firmly in both.

To start our exploration of the URM and the significance of its work in Downtown Los Angeles, let me lay out some important milestones in the form of dates and locations which will be helpful in understanding the context as our work begins.

  • The first rented building, 2nd & Main (1896)

    Operating under the name Pacific Rescue Mission, Col. M.C. Mason, since 1894 the superintendent of the Mission, rents a building (address unknown) at 2nd & Main in which to continue their good works.

    Beginning in 1891, the Mission work had gone on under temporary canvas tents in the area, and on the iconic gospel wagon which traveled up and down Main and Los Angeles Streets, 1st and 2nd Streets, stopping at the many saloons along the way seeking penitent souls who wished to “go on the wagon” and dry out.

    The only director listed in both the 1891 annual report and in the report for 1896 is Lyman Stewart, founder and president of Union Oil. His influence will be felt over the URM for decades.

  • The second rented building, 145 N Main (1903)

    Under Col. Mason’s successor, Mr. Jeffreys, a hall is rented at 145 N. Main, on what is today the lawn of City Hall. It continues to operate under the name Pacific Rescue Mission.

  • Street mission, 2nd & Los Angeles Street (1907)

    The Mission’s core outreach with their gospel wagon is curbed, as city ordinances are passed prohibiting street oration for the areas around 2nd & Los Angeles, and all area speaking permits are rescinded by the LAPD as well. These rules reflect the city’s public policy to curb the activisim of the emerging labor movement, with an unexpected side effect of curtailing the Mission’s work in the saloon district.

  • The second rented building becomes the first purchased building, 145 N Main (1907)

    After almost a decade of operating the ground floor hall in this narrow, two-storey building sandwiched between two saloons on a street of pawn shops and electric photograph parlors featuring various racy entertainments, the Mission purchases outright the building at 145 N Main, demonstrating its commitment to continued outreach to the community.

  • A new name (1908)

    On January 23, 1908, The Union Rescue Mission is incorporated as a California Public Benefit Corporation. Union Oil’s Lyman Stewart sits on the board of directors.

  • Enter BIOLA (1908)

    On February 25, 1908, Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA) is founded, with Rev. T.C. Horton as President. Horton had been on salary at URM for two years as an assistant pastor in charge of bible teaching.

    Lyman Stewart of Union Oil will be BIOLA’s principal benefactor, giving the institution over a million dollars in his lifetime.

    In addition to being the principal financier of BIOLA’s 1914 Italian Revival auditorium and Bible college at 550 South Hope Street (behind the Central Library), Lyman and his brother Milton would at the same time sponsor, at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars, the publication of the 90-chapter volume of scriptural study “The Fundamentals,” sent free to Christian workers all over the world.

  • Exit 145 N Main Street (1926)

    The City of Los Angeles finalizes its seizure by imminent domain of 145 N Main in preparation for groundbreaking on the new City Hall. With just weeks remaining before the URM must vacate, new quarters are secured just to the south at 226 S Main, next door to the Cathedral of St. Vibiana (1876).

  • Public Policy and the Depression (1931)

    The City of Los Angeles passes a $5 Million bond measure to create a much-needed work relief program. Although 16,000 jobs were created, the program was seen as inadequate by critics.

    Los Angeles Supervisor John R. Quinn believed that there were 200,000-400,000 non-citizens living in California. If local governments could only get rid of those free-loaders, he believed unemployment would no longer be a serious issue, and crime rates would plummet. Charles P. Visel, Director of Unemployment Programs for the city began to explore the option of deportation as a solution to unemployment.

    The Los Angeles County Welfare Bureau used up its entire fiscal appropriation in April. Its director requested more funds, but was denied. Upon his announcing he has no choice but to to close the department, the Board of Supervisors comes up with $250,000 to keep it afloat.

    Meanwhile, the URM considers merging with BIOLA at the direction of some of BIOLA’s supporters, but ultimately the URM board resolved the issue by recognizing that the Mission is well adapted to its location on Main Street, and would best continue to serve its soul-saving purpose there.

  • Public Policy and the Depression (1932)

    It is estimated that 344,000 people are unemployed in metropolitan Los Angeles. The city has an $11 million deficit, and appears to be out of money and ideas. Civic leaders begin to warm to the notion that the destitute should be kept out of Southern California.

    City Council passes an ordinance forbidding begging on the streets of Los Angeles. The LAPD begins to meet incoming freight trains in the city’s rail yards. The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce recommends that the National Guard be stationed along the State’s borders to keep out undesirables.

    Statistics for the Union Rescue Mission from 1932:

    Meals served: 179,084
    Shelter beds provided: 37,725
    Baths given: 11,650
    Fumigated for vermin, &c.: 470
    Accounts of aid given to needy families: 225
    Worship services held: 2,038
    People attending the Mission’s worship services: 182,959
    Professed conversions: 3,070
    Gospels of John given out: 3,094
    Pieces of clothing given out: 5,988
    Pairs of shoes given out: 735
    Number of pieces washed in laundry: 48,415
    Men registered for work (Mission’s employment center): 3,314
    Men found jobs through the Mission’s employment services: 493
    From Oct. 10, 1932 to Jan. 23, 1933, sent 183 men to state work camps
    Motto still “No Creed but Christ”
    For every $7.10 spent by the Mission, a man came to Christ

    Total expense $21,816.41

     

    ***

     

    Independent of any particular location or points in time are two last important concepts: the notion of Skid Row itself as a neighborhood which has always had a rapidly changing demographic and numerous forces at work in its shaping, and the rise of Urban Redevelopment as public policy.

    It is estimated that only about 5% of the homeless in Los Angeles occupy the roughly 50 square blocks of what is now known as Central City East (Skid Row). It is that concentration in such a small area which helps create the area’s unique characteristics. Skid Row is demarcated to the east by Alameda, to the west by Main Street, to the north by 2nd, and to the south by Olympic.

    Post-1945, public policy in the City of Los Angeles changes dramatically. The creation of the Community Redevelopment Agency in 1949 will become the rock upon which Urban Redevelopment is built. This agency, an autonomous taxing authority, is charged with the dual—and conflicting—goals of commercial revitalization of blighted areas and the creation of affordable housing.

    The CRA will be the major force driving public policy in Skid Row from the 1950s through the present day. The policy of geographical containment of the disenfranchised, the formation of housing trusts, and the 1992 relocation of the URM to its current location at 6th & San Pedro, all are the work of the CRA.

    So get ready to discover the unwritten history of the Union Rescue Mission, Skid Row and Downtown Los Angeles. We’ve created a visual template to distinguish the posts which comes out of our work on the URM archives from other material presented on the In SRO Land time travel blog, and will be providing an RSS feed and a single link to the site to point interested visitors directly to the URM material.

    Finally, we must express our debt of gratitude and thanks to the staff of the Union Rescue Mission, particularly to Liz Mooradian, the self-selecting keeper of the archives, and to the Mission’s CEO, Rev. Andy Bales. It is due to their support of this project and belief in the historical value of the URM’s archives that we are able to share these extraordinary documents with you now.

145Nmain.png
5thGrandAnnex1932.png

September 7, 2011 at 2:10 am Leave a comment

Grave Embarrassment in the Alexandria Hotel

Tongues were wagging on every floor of the Alexandria Hotel this morning, following the delicious faux pas of conservative businessman Walter Dinmore, a resident of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Roused by his “Jap” valet to take an important long distance telephone call from Santa Barbara in the lobby, the tousled Dinmore hurried from his room, only to encounter barely supressed merriment at every turn.

 

First a crew of Catholic girls fresh from their worships chortled, then an elderly lady he waved into the elevator seemed about to perish from the giggles. A bell hop dropped a pitcher of water, so great was his glee upon seeing Mr. Dinmore.

Finally, the gentleman was alone in the telephone booth, where he had a moment to reflect upon the curious afflictions of his fellow guests… and gaze down his own legs, to see vast billows of pink silk pajama material covering his shoes. Mortified, he dashed for the elevators, but found them engaged. In rising horror, he grabbed a porter and demanded aid. The porter led the humiliated Dinmore into a secret nook below stairs where he could divest himself of his shameful sartorial sin, then slink upward, his errand quite forgotten.

Below, a place where pink pajamas are not welcome.

July 19, 2011 at 10:29 pm Leave a comment

Babies For Sale

A girl of 16, Sadie Engelmann, left her family to try her hand at fame and fortune on the stage.  In San Diego, her beauty, if not her craft, won her many admirers, among them a dashing stenographer with the US Navy by the name of John Harvey.

When Sadie found herself abandoned by John and in need of a midwife, she checked in to the Bellevue Avenue Lying-in Institute in Los Angeles, where she deposited a newborn boy, whom she left in the care of the proprietress, “Dr.” Catherine Smith. At this point a disagreement ensued between Sadie and “Dr.” Smith concerning the details of the babe’s status.  Sadie claimed she left the child temporarily in “Dr.” Smith’s care, in order to earn enough money to pay the bill she incurred during her delivery. She testified that once she had settled her debt she would re-assume custody of the child.  “Dr.” Smith alleged Sadie sold her the newborn outright to pay off her debts and to free herself from the undue burden of its care.  Whatever the exact nature of their understanding, “Dr.” Smith appears to have taken possession of the child, and in turn sold the baby boy to a Mrs. W.W. Wilson, who had already acquired three other infants in a nefarious plot to appear as if she were the mother of quadruplets.

Stole baby quartet

The miraculously sudden appearance of the quartet of babies attracted the attention of the authorities, who promptly summoned Mrs. Wilson, “Dr.” Smith, Sadie Engelmann, and other parents of the illegitimate infants in to court to sort out the affair.  During the course of the trial, Sadie Engelmann claimed to have been accosted and threatened by various burglars “of Mexican aspect,” who, she alleged, were sent by “Dr.” Smith to dissuade her from testifying.

According to court testimony, Mrs. Wilson grew despondent after many years of trying to bear her own children, and eventually conceived the plan to to fill her and her husband’s home with a readymade brood of abandoned youngsters. She enacted this plan years before the quadruplets affair, procuring three children, whom she presented to her husband as his own, each time using an ingenious series of pads and pillows to trick him into believing she had indeed carried each child to term. The children were in the couple’s possession at the time of Mrs. Wilson’s attempted quadruplets heist.

The trial ended with the conviction of “Dr.” Smith on the charge of child stealing. Upon appeal, the court handed down a sentence of 5 years probation, during which Smith was to cease and desist the practice of midwifery.

Eventually, Mrs. Wilson was permitted to adopt the three children in her care before the trial, and to become a foster-mother to the two girls among the quadruplets. The boys, including Sadie Engelmann’s son, did not survive infancy. Mrs. Wilson went on to take on more foster-children, and to run a daycare facility in Hollywood.

April 26, 2011 at 4:25 am Leave a comment

A successful, failed bank job

Bank of America, Broadway & 7th (LAPL)

The desperate man walked into the Bank of America branch and crossed the lobby to the second teller window–to Mrs. Joy Holker, 28, the one with the kind eyes. He handed her a brown envelope and a note which read “This is a holdup. Fill up the envelope. Also have a jar of acid.” She obeyed, quickly stacking $540 in $10 bills and passing them across the counter. But as she counted, she gave her robber the once-over. She didn’t buy it, not from this guy. As he turned away, she came out from behind the counter and chased him onto Broadway, screaming “Stop that man!”

victim

A motorcycle cop, Charles Randolph, heard her cries, as did patrolman R. Mierdiercks. They took off after the robber, who had darted east on 7th Street. He turned south down Spring, and tried to hide in a parking lot mid-block. They busted him there, and he surrendered peacefully.

robber

Kenneth St. Onge, 35, had a cap pistol, a bottle of colored water and a sob story. He said he’d come out from Detroit with his wife and seven sons last September, but couldn’t find any work. For three weeks, the family slept in their 1947 Studebaker, until wife Esther found work as a waitress. They’d then moved into a quonset hut at 1480 Landa Street, rent $25 a week plus utilities. After two months, the electric bill came. It was $67, which is how they learned their landlord had wired up an apartment, a trailer and a garage to their meter. With only one pair of decent shoes for all the children, he’d spend his days driving first one, then another child to attend a class or two, then pick up Esther. Whatever she made in tips, that was their dinner fund. Everything else went to the landlord.

Then Esther got pregnant again, and couldn’t stay on her feet all day. They had nothing left.  He didn’t know what else to do, so he did this.  “I guess I knew I’d get caught, but I figured at least the State would have to take care of my wife and kids,” he mused.

Los Angeles briefly fell in love with the sad sack, especially after he appeared on local television bemoaning his fate. Over $1000 in donations poured in, along with clothes for the kids and a job for daddy at City of Hope. The family was offered a furnished home in La Puente for nothing down.

family

Just over a month after his life of crime fizzled out, a proud Kenneth St. Onge celebrated Easter with his wife and children in court, as Judge Thurmond Clarke ruled “Because of your record, your family and your children, I am going to grant you probabtion in this case. For robbing a national bank, I’ve certainly been very lenient.”

“People have been so kind. I know everything is going to turn out all right now. This is,” said St. Onge, “the best break I ever had.”

And all he had to do to get it was to cross over to the dark side. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, we guess, maybe nothing more profound than that most folks like to hear about someone who’s got it even worse than they do.

 

Photos: Bank of America from LAPL, others Los Angeles Times

March 31, 2011 at 10:09 pm Leave a comment

Ghosts of the Menlo Hotel

The old Menlo Hotel, corner of Winston and Main, was the way station for many a visiting Angeleno, and the last exit for a few. The Menlo offered moderate weekly and monthly rates to appeal to the varied respectable folk who flocked to the growing city. Most of them are long forgotten, but it’s hard to feel badly about this obscurity. When the names are known, too often there’s tragedy attached.

Case in point, Mrs. Harriet Mortimer Palmer, aged 25. On the afternoon of April 10, 1890, she used a revolver to shoot herself through the heart in her room in the Menlo. Harriet and her husband, both invalids, had come from Toronto during the winter. They lived quietly in the hotel, he struggling with his heart disease and she with consumption.

In March, her condition worsened, but when Dr. T.J. McCarthy was called, she refused his care, and demanded to move into an adjoining room away from her spouse. Once alone, Mr. Palmer spoke candidly with the doctor, complaining that his wife’s nervousness and irritability were a torment, as were her regular threats to do harm to herself. The worry was impacting his own health.

On April 10, Mr. Palmer had a crisis, and the doctor came several times to attend to him. It was during one of these visits that a shot rang out in the next room, and when McCarthy rushed in, he found Mrs. Palmer dying, sprawled across the pillows she had heaped upon the bed to catch her as she fell. The bullet passed through her left breast, spine and shoulder, and was recovered about fifty feet down the hall. A note in her satchel read “I am thoroughly tired of life and so end it by my own hand. Please kindly send notice of my death to my aunt in Canada.” As for Mr. Palmer, he was reported to be in critical condition, and it was feared the shock of his wife’s death would kill him. But if it did, his passing did not make the papers. The maids came in and cleaned their rooms, and life at the Menlo went on.

 

menlo hotel palmer suicide headline

Late one evening in March 1896, a respectable looking young woman in a gown of black, woolen brocade and a matching cape lined with salmon silk made her way out to Westlake Park. She removed her cape and hat, placed them neatly on a bench, and drowned herself in the lake. In the morning, her things were spotted by gentlemen walking in the park, and after a brief search, her corpse was found floating near the shore.

Westlake Park Boat House, usc collection CHS-32466  

above: Westlake Park Boat House circa 1900, California Historical Society Collection, USC

Unidentified, her body was exhibited for most of the day in the undertaking parlor of Orr & Hines, where a stream of grim voyeurs trailed through, each pretending they hoped to give a name to the victim. In the afternoon, a friend finally gazed upon the face and knew it: William Davis, restaurant man, declared “This girl was until recently my mother’s chambermaid at the Menlo Hotel. She left a week ago last Sunday, giving us no reason.”

In her purse was found a pawn ticket from Mr. Morris’ shop, showing that she’d left a watch under the name Nellie Emerson. This was the name the Davises first knew her by, although over the five months of her employment they had accidentally found that she was really called Minnie Judy. Minnie was 24 with family in the Northwest, and had been out on her own since the age of 16. She was described as unfailingly good natured, so her departure and apparent suicide were a mystery.

 

menlo hotel judy suicide headline

Two men came forward with stories of having seen the girl before her fatal plunge. Veterinarian R.T. Whittlesay, offices on Broadway near Seventh (just a block from the funeral home where she lay on display), remembered a sad face gazing into his window on Tuesday night and was certain it was she. And an unnamed colored man who worked in a Winston Street corral and had known her for a year claimed he saw Minnie Judy the night of her death coming out of the old Los Angeles Theater with a dashingly dressed, dark-haired man. He said he heard the man suggest they catch a cab, as the last streetcar had passed. But officials had doubts about this tale, as the witness described the girl as wearing a large, feathered hat, not the small, modest one found on the bench in the park.

Why would a girl drown herself in 1890s Los Angeles? We have the usual suspicions. Had she been “ruined” by some cad, or did she have an inner sadness she didn’t show to other people? Was she really out at the theater with an unknown man the night she died? We’ll likely never know. But spare a moment to remember this poor lost girl of the city, and Messers Walters, Irving, Holt and Canserd whose morning constitutional was shattered by their discovery of the waterlogged lass, and the hundreds who took a few moments of their day to gaze upon a dead, drowned face for their amusement. And remember too the old Menlo Hotel, which was briefly home to thousands of anonymous souls, and to a very few whose names we know.

March 29, 2011 at 5:57 pm Leave a comment

The Case of the Medical Electrician aka Abortionist


“The girl was thirsty and wanted ice water constantly.  She wouldn’t eat much, and vomited black stuff.  She was in a great deal of pain on her left side and her abdomen.”  So ended the short life of Lillie Hattery, age 22, on February 5th, 1897, in the clinic of “Dr.” Calvin S. Hastings, Medical Electrician, according to testimony presented at his murder trial.

When Lillie Hattery came from San Bernardino to visit her sister in Los Angeles in late January, she arrived with the names of people rumored to perform “criminal operations.”  “Dr.” Hastings, who practiced without the benefit of a medical license, was third on the list.  According to testimony at the trial, Lillie paid $200 for Hastings’ services, which included multiple applications of electrical current to the back and abdomen, as well as a surgical procedure, which resulted in copious blood loss by the patient.  Lillie suffered from fever, convulsions, and severe pain for a week, during which Hastings treated her solely with electrical stimulation. Two licensed medical doctors examined Lillie’s body after it had been delivered to the morgue, and determined that the cause of death was septicemia due to blood poisoning.  They also determined that she had been pregnant and undergone an attempted abortion.

At his trial, Hastings testified that Lillie Hattery suffered from an injured ankle, which he treated with electrical stimulation.  He claimed that she appeared in good health until the very last moment before she succumbed to what he assumed must have been an internal abnormality such as a diseased heart or some other affliction.  Although the prosecution presented evidence of perjury and intimidation of witnesses on the part of both Hastings and his nurse, along with surgical instruments found in Hastings’ offices that were commonly used for abortion procedures, as well as closed court testimony from a young woman who had recently undergone the criminal operation in Hastings’ care and had almost died, the jury still found Hastings innocent in the death of Lillie Hattery.

Hastings was even able to post bond during the trial, thanks to the generosity of a female admirer, and re-located his Medical Electrician clinic for business down the street in the Hammond Block at 120 1/2 South Spring.  Hastings’ Medical Electrician Clinic’s Grand Opening so provoked a dentist in residence there that the man came to blows with the rental agent, and promptly moved out of the disgraced office building, where, he claimed, no decent woman would now darken a door.


Spring Street, looking south from First Street 1900-1910
USC Digital Archive

After his acquittal, Hastings married the woman who posted his bond.  In later years she turns up as one of the many sufferers who find miraculous relief at the hands of the great healer, Rama, of the Rama Institute at 305 ½ South Spring Streets, Los Angeles. One can only wonder why Mrs. Hastings’ own husband was unable to heal her deafness with his electrical stimulation.


LA Times Historical Archives

Dr. Calvin S. Hastings was still practicing medicine without a license in 1911 when the state attorney filed a complaint against him during a campaign to shut down so-called “Quack Chink Doctors.”

March 23, 2011 at 7:26 pm Leave a comment

Millie Christine McCoy

Millie Christine McCoy, the two-headed woman, “the eighth wonder of the world,” held receptions in Los Angeles during the month of December, 1894. Admission was 15 cents. Children’s tickets cost a dime. 

Siamese twins born into slavery, Millie and Christine were sold by their father to an entertainer in 1853 for the price of $1,000. During the course of their 30 year career as performers they learned to read, write, sing, dance and speak five languages. The two girls, often billed as “The Two-Headed Nightingale,”  would sing duets, one a sweet soprano, the other a low contralto. Throughout their lives they were referred to as one person rather than two separate people, and often spoke of themselves this way as well.

At one point a showman entrusted with exhibiting the twins stole them away from their third and most benevolent owner, Joseph Pearson Smith, and ran off with them to London. Smith recovered the girls and brought them back to North Carolina, where they elected to stay at the Smith homestead after Emancipation.

The Civil War, and Smith’s death in 1860 left the Smith family and the twins in dire financial straits. The twins decided to put themselves on exhibit again to ease their situation. The act was so popular that the the twins were able to help their father, Jacob, buy back Mr. Smith’s plantation, the same plantation where Jacob had once been a slave.

In 1869 the twins published their autobiography, “History and Medical Description of the Two-Headed Girl.” Millie died of complications from tuberculosis in 1912. Doctors administered morphine to Christine to help ease her death. She outlived her sister by 17 hours.   

November 5, 2010 at 1:02 am Leave a comment

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