Far and Near: Images of Chávez Ravine

Housing Authority Collection, Image #00031398, 1952. Leonard Nadel, photographer.

Once upon a time there was a Los Angeles area called Chávez Ravine, a tightly knit group of three small neighborhoods made up largely of Mexican-Americans families and a few Caucasian bachelors. They farmed garden plots, raised chickens and goats, shopped at a local bodega, and attended mass at at Santo Niño Church.  There was a tortilleria and a woman who sold nopalitos. The children attended nearby Palo Verde Elementary School.

Goats grazed on the hillsides.

We raised chickens, rabbits, goats. We used to take the goats up the hill when the mama goat had little babies, so they could run around. We’d take formula in a bottle with a nipple and we fed them in the hills. We had a lot of good times. (Sally Anchondo)

Housing Authority Collection, Image #00033673, 1950. Leonard Nadel, photographer.

Weddings were celebrated.

When I got married I walked all that street of La Loma in my bridal gown and veil. I was an outsider, but it was like a family. Everybody came to the wedding. Everybody ate. They all knew each other. That night I was so tired I went into the home of one of his aunts. The women helped me with my dress and put me to bed so I could rest for the dance. And when they were looking for me, “Where’s the bride?” She was asleep in the house of someone she didn’t even know! That’s how people were. (Delia Aguilar)

Bridesmaids and best man at a wedding party in Chávez Ravine, Shade of L.A.: Mexican American Community, Image #00002754, 1929.

Children played in the dirt streets.

Housing Authority Collection, Image #00033695, 1950. Leonard Nadel, photographer.

It shows the way we used to live. Kids nowadays, they wouldn’t let them play like that. People were rougher then, even the kids. (Reyes Guerra)

Housing Authority Collection, Image #00033702, 1949. Don Normark, photographer.

The neighborhood overlooked, and was overlooked by, downtown Los Angeles, one mile to the south.

Housing Authority Collection, Image #00008229, 1949. Don Normark, photographer.

View Finders

Chávez Ravine found itself in the eye of the photographer several times for a variety of reasons.

Gilbert Rosales and his grandmother, Doña Martina Ayala, head to the family store where she sold chickens, home-made Mexican cheese, beans, and household essentials. Housing Authority Collection, Image #00033701, 1949. Don Normark, photographer.

Don Normark (1928-2014) stumbled onto the communities of Chávez Ravine in 1949 as a young photography student:

I was looking for  a high point to get a postcard view of Los Angeles. I didn’t find that view, but when I looked over the other side of the hill I was standing on, I saw a village I never knew was there. Hiking down into it, I began to think I had a found a poor man’s Shangri-la. It was mostly Mexican and certainly poor, but I sensed a unity to the place, and it was peacefully remote. The people seemed like refugees — people superior to the circumstances they were living in. I liked them and stayed to photograph. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was in Chávez Ravine. (Don Normark)

Of Normark’s hundreds of photos, five were displayed in a1950 exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of  Art. A few made their way into the files of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA). The rest were largely forgotten for many decades

In the mid-1990s, Normark returned to Los Angeles, this time seeing out the desterrados (the uprooted) from Chávez Ravine and collecting memories spurred by his photographs. The result was a 1999 book and a 2004 documentary narrated by Cheech Marin, both titled Chávez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story. In 2013 his photographs were included in an exhibit at the J. Paul Getty Museum titled “Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990.”

The Navarro family, Housing Authority Collection, Image #00033696, 1951. Leonard Nadel, photographer.

Leonard Nadel (1916-1990), a freelance photographer and journalist, was hired by HACLA in the late 1940s to document neighborhoods under consideration for housing projects. In the years 1950 to 1952, just on the heels of Normark, his work brought him to the neighborhoods that made up Chávez Ravine where he photographed both the structures and the people. Nadel went on to some fame documenting the Bracero Program for the Ford Foundation. His photos were featured in a 2009-2010 exhibit at the National Museum of American History titled ” Bittersweet Harvest.”

It should be noted that HACLA used the photos of both Nadel and Normark to promote its agenda — captioning them with buzzwords such as “slum,” “derelict,” “country-like,” “run-down,” and “ramshackle.”

Veteran William Nickolas with three of his six children in a home he and his wife share with her parents. Housing Authority Collection, Image #00062033, n.d. Leonard Nadel, photographer.

Residents of several low-income communities meet with L.A. Mayor Norris Paulson (at left) urging him to reverse the plans of the housing authority to raze their homes. In fact, Mayor Paulson worked to scale back the plans for housing projects, but too late to save Chávez Ravine. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00055873, July 20, 1953.

Remove and Replace

The post-war urban planning models called for slums to be cleared and replaced with planned communities of towers and garden apartments. The well-intentioned proposals of the urban planners often faced off against established, if indeed ramshackle, communities. The fight between social reformers and advocates of the status quo is one that continues today.

In July 1950 HACLA announced plans to build several housing projects in neighborhoods throughout the city, including Chávez Ravine. The 300-plus families inhabiting the hillsides were mailed notices, in English, informing them that they would need to sell their properties to the city or they would be taken by eminent domain. They were told they would be first in line for the new units once built.

Most families chose to comply after some initial protests proved ineffectual. People packed up and moved out; bulldozers moved in. By 1953 only a couple of dozen families remained on the dusty hillsides.

A man identified as “Julian” bids farewell to his friends in Chávez Ravine. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00041360, May 14, 1951.

The Hold-outs

But things were not so simple. Over the next several years plans for model subsidized housing faced a backlash from social conservatives, who, in the McCarthy Era, saw “creeping socialism” in them. Ultimately, housing projects across the city were scaled back and the plans for Chávez Ravine scrapped.

But the city still owned the bulk of the land. The death-knell for the dying community came in 1959 when the city handed the area over to the Brooklyn Dodgers for a new baseball stadium in a complicated business deal which brought the team to Los Angeles. The last few families in Chávez Ravine were sent eviction notices. Even then, a few tried to hold out. Led by the Arechiga family, they vowed to fight to the bitter end, leading to a field day for area reporters and photographers who sensed a cause célèbre.

On Friday, May 8, (“Ocho de Mayo“),  residents, along with their pets and belongings, were roughly removed from their dwellings as TV cameras rolled and cameras snapped. Even as bulldozers arrived to level the remaining homes, a number of neighbors camped out in makeshift tents from where they had to be evicted a second time. The story was picked up by the A.P. wire service under the headline “Dodger Victims.”

L.A. County Sheriff personnel carry Aurora Vargas-Arechiga from her home, May 8, 1959. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00041424.

 

News crews thronged the hill to document the eviction. Note the doghouse from where the Arechiga’s chihuahua was evicted. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00041423, May 8, 1959.

 

Members of the extended Arechiga family and supporters camped out on the property for a number of days following eviction. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00050956, May 8, 1959.

After leaving, it was sad going back to visit. There were fewer and fewer places. Bulldozers working and trucks hauling stuff away. Weeds growing, streets going to hell. Abrana Arechiga, still holding out, would yell at us out her window, “What are you doing here? You abandoned us.” (Lou Santillan)

Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00081495, 1959.

Fade-out

Today the tale of Chávez Ravine is seen as a classic case of “urban removal,” albeit one with a twist. Four months following the final evictions, a groundbreaking was held, not for new housing but for a 23-million dollar stadium. As the hillsides were leveled for the stadium, nothing was left of the communities that had once occupied the land; even the street names were erased, the school building buried under tons of fill. Only the name, Chávez Ravine, survives as an access road to the stadium and in an occasional dateline about baseball.

 

Dodgers owner Walt O’Malley displays a ceremonial groundbreaking shovel with the words “Dodgers: Chávez Ravine.” Herald-Examiner Collection, #00055863, 1959.

 

Housing Authority Collection, Image #00017632, 1952. Leonard Nadel, photographer.

Selected sources

All quotations taken from Dan Normark, Chávez Ravine, 1949: A Los Angeles Story (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1999).

“Chávez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story,” video produced by Jordan Mechner, Bullfrog Films, 2004.

Elaine Woo, “Don Normark, who photographed Chávez Ravine residents, dies at 86,” Los Angeles Times, June 11, 2014.

Nathan Masters, “Chávez Ravine: Community to Controversial Real Estate,” KCET.org, L.A. as Subject, September 13, 2012.

AP Wire Service, “Dodger Victims: Homeless Huddle at Campfires,” May 9, 1959.

The Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

Marilyn Monroe — The Public Persona versus the Private Person

On Sunday, August 5, 1962, at 4:25 a.m., an ambulance was called to a private home in Brentwood, California. The current owner of the house had been found unconscious in a bedroom. Jack Clemmons, an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, arrived at the home at 4:45 a.m. The owner of the home was dead, lying face down on a bed with empty pill bottles scattered nearby, a possible suicide. The decedent’s name was Marilyn Monroe.

Born Norma Jean Mortenson on June 1, 1926, Marilyn Monroe (a name she started using in 1946 and changed to legally on February 23, 1956) started modeling in her teens, segued into acting, and became the most photographed women in her time. While her star image and persona were well known, she herself was an enigma, confounding friends and critics alike. She showed up late (or not at all) for film shoots and could not remember lines, yet she became a bona fide movie star and started her own production company. She had screen presence and drawing power, yet was poorly paid for her efforts, getting less than half the salary of her costars in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and being underpaid in other films. Her mother was institutionalized for mental illness and Marilyn lived in eleven different foster homes and also at the Los Angeles Orphans Home (she married her neighbor, James Dougherty, at 16 to avoid returning to the Home), yet she loved children and dreamed of being a mother.

She often played a shallow and silly blonde but was actually well read, owning a personal library of over 400 books including the works of James Joyce, Walt Whitman, Saul Bellow, John Milton, and Carl Sandburg. She was friends with authors Truman Capote and Isak Dinesen. When she met Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev during his 1959 American tour, they discussed the novel The Brothers Karamazov. (Marilyn dreamed of playing the part of Grushenka in a film version of the book.) She was reading To Kill A Mockingbird at the time of her death.

Even in death, she starts arguments. Rumors and conspiracy theories abound as to the true nature of Marilyn Monroe’s death, with many people believing it was murder. The list of murder suspects includes a psychiatrist, a mobster, a senator, a U.S. president, the FBI, and the CIA.

The photo collection of the Los Angeles Public Library contains publicity shots, caught-in-the-act images, and other photos that document Monroe’s life. In honor of the fifty-fifth anniversary of her death, let us take a look at Marilyn: the onscreen sex symbol and the next-door neighbor, the woman we saw all the time but never really knew.


Marilyn was born a blonde but her hair darkened to a light brown as she grew up. As an adult, she tried nine different shades of blond hair before deciding to become a platinum blonde. While her hair (and the rest of her) turned men’s heads, these young ladies wish to remind audiences that brunettes and redheads have a lot to offer also. Marilyn, who once said, “We are all of us stars, and we deserve to twinkle,” would most likely have supported them. (The first time Marilyn appeared onscreen as a platinum blonde was in her 1952 film Monkey Business with Cary Grant.)

gentlemen prefer blondes

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo dated August 6, 1953.

Marilyn’s fans treated her as if she were a friend or family member. When she had her appendix removed on April 28, 1952, fans sent flowers, magazines, cards, candy, and good wishes for her speedy recuperation. This is a publicity photo taken at Cedars Sinai of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles. (Note: When her surgeon, Dr. Marcus Rabwin, pulled back her hospital gown to begin the appendectomy, he found a note taped to her stomach asking him to do whatever he could to prevent a scar.)

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo dated Wednesday, May 7, 1952.

Marilyn loved children and would always help a child in need. In this photo, she attends a special premiere of the movie Journey to the Center of the Earth to raise money to benefit a clinic serving brain-damaged children.

marilyn monroe at movie screening

Valley Times Collection, photograph dated December 5, 1959.

Marilyn Monroe was an excellent cook and loved to cook for guests, often creating elaborate and complex recipes. Marilyn contributed her spaghetti sauce recipe to Celebrities’ and Citizens’ Cookbook, a cookbook sponsored and sold by the Women’s Division of the Sherman Oaks Chamber of Commerce. In this photo, Barbara Eden (the genie in the television show I Dream of Jeannie) tastes Monroe’s spaghetti sauce. (Incidentally, the cookbook is a reference book available for perusal at the Science and Tech Department of LAPL’s Central Library in downtown Los Angeles.)

Valley Times Collection, March 23, 1960.

While it is reported that, off the set and around the house, Marilyn preferred to go in the nude, she wore some stunning outfits onscreen. In this photo, Maurice Chevalier stops by to say hello to Marilyn on the set of Some Like It Hot and Marilyn is wearing a dress designed by Orry-Kelly (nee Orry George Kelly), the Australian-born costume designer who won three Academy Awards for Best Costume Design, one award being for the costumes in Some Like It Hot. (Marilyn herself never won any Oscars, but was crowned Castroville’s first Artichoke Queen in 1948.)

Herald-Examiner Collection, photograph dated November 20, 1958.

Marilyn took golf lessons at one time and was thus qualified to act as official scorekeeper at a golf tournament. In this photo (taken at the California Country Club in Whittier, California), she poses with Layne “Shotgun” Britton, a Texan who came to Hollywood and had a lengthy career as a makeup artist, prepping stars such as Marilyn, Jane Russell, Frank Sinatra, Dan Aykroyd, and John Belushi for the screen. He also had a short career as an actor. (He is the old man in the film The Blues Brothers who asks for his Cheez Whiz.)

marilyn monroe at golf tournament

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo dated October 5, 1954.

Marilyn professed not to care for outdoor sports (and she definitely did not want to get a tan!), yet was the top player on the softball team at the orphanage in Hollywood where she stayed as a young girl. Here we see Marilyn accompanying Chicago White Sox third baseman Hank Majeski to the field during spring training on Catalina Island. (Majeski was traded from the Philadelphia Athletics to the Chicago White Sox before the 1950 season and would return to the Athletics in June of 1951.)

marilyn monroe at spring training on catalina island

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo dated March 8, 1950.

Of course, Marilyn’s connection to baseball is forever tied to her connection to “Joltin’ Joe” DiMaggio, the Major League Baseball center field for the New York Yankees. Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio met in 1952 when DiMaggio was introduced to Marilyn through a friend. Marilyn originally did not want to meet DiMaggio as she felt he would be arrogant and spoiled. (DiMaggio had just ended his legendary career as a New York Yankee.) Instead, she found him to be quiet and attentive. They dated and then eloped in San Francisco on January 14, 1954. This photo, published the day after their elopement but taken at an earlier date, shows the two of them as a happy, smiling couple.

Herald-Examiner Collection, dated January 15, 1954.

While the marriage of Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe did not last long (less than a year), their love endured. Several sources hinted that Marilyn was considering remarrying the Yankee Clipper (as DiMaggio had been known) at the time of her death. DiMaggio (on the left in this photo) was devastated by her death. According to Morris Engelberg, DiMaggio’s attorney and friend who was at the Yankee outfielder’s bedside when he died, DiMaggio’s last words were, “I’ll finally get to see Marilyn.”

Joe DiMaggio at Marilyn Monroe funeral

Valley Times Collection, photograph taken on August 9, 1962, by George Brich.

Marilyn discusses baseball with Herald-Examiner sports writer Bud Furillo on June 1, 1962, her 36th (and last) birthday.

Herald-Examiner Collection, photograph taken June 2, 1962.

In early 1951, Marilyn began work on the film As Young As You Feel. It was during the filming of this movie that she met Arthur Miller, the playwright who would become her third husband. In this photo, Marilyn enjoys a glass of champagne after hearing some good news regarding legal issues faced by Miller. (Miller was investigated by the House Committee on Un-American Activities for pro-Communist sentiments. He refused to discuss the political leanings of anyone other than himself, a refusal which led to him being found guilty of contempt of Congress, denied a passport, and sentenced to a $500 fine or 30 days in jail. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, overturned his conviction.)

Herald-Examiner Collection, photograph taken in 1958.

Marilyn bought her home in Brentwood in February of 1962, just six months before her death. It was the only home that she ever owned. Theories abounded that the house was wiretapped in order to get incriminating evidence on U.S. President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert Kennedy, both of whom Marilyn supposedly romanced.

Herald-Examiner Collection, photograph dated August 7, 1983.

Another actress, Veronica Hamel (who portrayed attorney Joyce Davenport on the television series Hills Street Blues), bought the house in 1972 and she and her husband proceeded to renovate it. While doing so, they discovered an extensive system of wiretaps. According to a retired Justice Department official with whom they consulted, such equipment would have been unavailable for public purchase in 1962 but would have been standard issue for FBI surveillance. Davenport is seen here; she is the female protestor on the left holding the sign.

veronica davenport

Herald-Examiner collection, photo dated October 15, 1981.

Various accounts describe Marilyn Monroe as being a prisoner in her home during the last few days of her life, unable to leave the house because of anxiety, depression, and an altered state due to barbiturate use. Her career was tanking (she’d just been fired from her latest film, Something’s Got To Give) and she was suffering from chronic depression (having spent time in a padded cell at Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic a year earlier). It was entirely believable that she was suicidal. Other accounts refute this notion of Marilyn at the end. She was starting over, happily decorating her home, and was planning to set up an independent film company with Marlon Brando. She had been rehired for Something’s Got To Give and was considering remarrying Joe DiMaggio. She stayed at home on her last day as she was busy renovating her new house.

Here we see her bedroom as it appeared on the day after her death.

Herald-Examiner Collection, photograph taken August 6, 1962.

Due to the unknown cause of her death, Marilyn’s body was taken to the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner to be autopsied. The Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Theodore Curphey, did not examine Marilyn’s body but instead assigned junior medical examiner, Dr. Thomas Noguchi, to conduct the autopsy. (Noguchi later became the Chief Medical Examiner for Los Angeles, a position he held for fifteen years. He was the known as the “Coroner to the Stars” and was the inspiration for the coroner-themed television show “Quincy” which starred Jack Klugman.)

marilyn monroe's body taken to coroner

Herald-Examiner Collection, dated August 6, 1962.

Marilyn’s funeral was held on August 9, 1962, at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles. The service was arranged by Joe DiMaggio and attended by 31 people, none of whom were movie stars.

Valley Times Collection, photographed on August 9, 1962, by George Brich.

For twenty years after her death, Joe DiMaggio arranged to have roses sent to Marilyn’s crypt in the Westwood Memorial Park three times a week. He stopped sending flowers because anonymous admirers were stealing the bouquets.

crypt 33 at westwood memorial park

Herald-Examiner Collection, photographed August 5, 1982, by Mike Mullen.

Nonetheless, fans still decorate Marilyn’s crypt with flowers to the present day. The lady is long gone, but her legend survives.

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo taken sometime in the 1970s.

More Stars than there are in Heaven: Alicia Mayer in conversation with Danny Miller

More Stars then there are in Heaven 1

More Stars than there are in Heaven: Alicia Mayer in conversation with Danny Miller

Saturday, August 05, 2017
2:00pm to 3:30pm
Central Library
Mark Taper Auditorium

Reservations not required. Doors open approximately 15 minutes before the start of the program.

More Stars then there are in Heaven 2

Louis B. Mayer was the legendary head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio with “more stars than there are in heaven.” Under his direction, MGM gave the world Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, and Norma Shearer, among scores of other fabled actors, producers, directors, and designers. Mayer’s sister, Ida Mayer Cummings, devoted her life to Jewish causes and was a powerhouse fundraiser in Los Angeles. Bob Hope once quipped Ida was, “the only woman I know who can grab a man by the lapels through the telephone!”

Mayer and Cummings made their indelible marks on Los Angeles and later saw cinema become the family business through the likes of Jack Cummings (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Kiss Me Kate, Three Little Words), Sol Baer Fielding (Bright Road, Jeopardy, Trooper Hook), Mitzi Cummings (MGM writer and Photoplay columnist), Ruth Rowland (interstitial and MGM writer) and Roy Rowland (Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, The 5,000 Fingers of Mr T, Meet Me in Las Vegas).

Alicia Mayer (great-grandniece of Mayer) has taken on the responsibility of maintaining the Louis B. Mayer legacy as the family historian and custodian of hundreds of photos and documents relating to the Cummings and Mayer families. Join us for a conversation between Alicia and Danny Miller (Cinephiled) as she shares never before seen photos, memorabilia and insights into MGM and one of Hollywood’s first families.

Sponsored by Photo Friends. Presented by the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

Images courtesy of Alicia Mayer.

Finding magnificence in the mundane — Ansel Adams and the Fortune Magazine Collection

Many people know photographer Ansel Adams for his majestic landscape photos of the American West – moonlit mountains in Yosemite, aspens in New Mexico, cacti in California. Yet few know that Adams did extensive commercial photography, doing photo shoots for magazines, fruit distributors, women’s colleges, and the phone company. When Fortune, a business magazine, approached Adams in 1939, they wanted him to capture the burgeoning aviation industry in Southern California on film, photographing workers, their workplaces, their homes, and other habitats. These images would accompany the article titled City of Angels which would run in the March 1941 issue of the magazine.

Adams shot 217 photographs in 1940 for the assignment, some taken on factory grounds, others taken while he roamed throughout greater Los Angeles seeking the environs of the average employee. When the shoot was finished, he judged most of the photos to be of subpar quality. (He blamed bad weather.) Only a few photographs were published in the magazine. The entire Fortune photo collection was shoved in a desk drawer in the Adams home where they languished for over 20 years.

In the early 1960s, Adams offered to donate most of the Fortune collection to the Los Angeles Public Library, stating that the photos were probably worth about $100 in total. The Library gladly accepted the 135 contact prints and 217 negatives, appraising them at $150 for tax purposes, and added them to their photo collection.

There is a beauty in the rhythm of everyday life that we often don’t notice. Even ordinary moments hold a bit of magic, which is evident in photos of aviation workers on the job, at home, and at play as well as the images of ordinary Los Angeles. Ansel Adams may have been disappointed with this photo shoot and his output, but the images capture a pivotal moment in L.A. history. The economy was growing, the aviation industry was booming, and the sky was indeed the limit.

NOTE: All photographs in this blog post are from the Ansel Adams Fortune Magazine Collection and were photographed by Ansel Adams in 1940.


Lockheed Aircraft, established in 1926, had its facilities on a parcel of land in Burbank surrounded by orange groves and lush farmland. Douglas Aircraft Company was founded in 1921 in Santa Monica, close to the beach. Both companies manufactured commercial and military planes. With the United States’ entry into World War II, aviation production increased dramatically, and people came from all parts of the country to help build the planes used during wartime. Adams’ photos were taken before this surge in production, but it is evident that the aviation industry and related businesses were building up commerce and communities.

Employees of Lockheed Aircraft – some in suits, others in shirt sleeves – are seen outside of the plant in Burbank. The manufacturing output of the plant was relatively modest in its early years, but increased dramatically after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

 

lockheed aircraft plant

Hard work called for a good lunch, as witnessed by this photo of Lockheed workers enjoying lunch outdoors – chatting, smoking, relaxing, and eating food brought from home or bought at one of the food trucks serving the factory grounds.

lockheed employees enjoy lunch

Douglas Aircraft employees in Santa Monica headed to local eateries to grab some lunch. The crowds were so thick that police were required to keep order.

douglas aircraft employees eat lunch

Some Douglas Aircraft employees cooled off and added a bit of sweetness to their day with a visit to the Good Humor man.

aviation employees get some good humor

A good day’s work (and a decent paycheck) called for a good meal. A popular restaurant at the time was the Brown Derby, which had four locations: Beverly Hills, Los Feliz, Hollywood, and Wilshire Boulevard (just across from the Ambassador Hotel). The Wilshire Brown Derby, pictured here, was the only one of the four restaurants that actually resembled a bowler derby hat. Offering good food and superb service, the Brown Derby attracted those diners seeking American cuisine in an upscale yet inviting environment.

brown derby

Pat Murphy’s Chicken House advertises its claim to fame – the finest chicken dinner in the world – plus other dishes and their prices. (Diners had a choice as to the size of their chicken dinner.) Homes can be seen in the background, as well as an oil derrick. As the derrick belongs to the Beverly Oil Co., it is probable that the restaurant would be in what is today known as the Fairfax District.

pat murphy's chicken

Should a person want a quick snack or a meal to go, The Pup Café offered up fast food and curb service. As this snack shop was located in Venice, it no doubt served many Douglas Aircraft employees on their way to or from work.

pup cafe

An attendant at the Mobil gas station near the Lockheed Air Terminal in Burbank chats with a customer. (Note the puzzling oddities in the background. Is that a man sitting on the roof of the building in back? Is the sign behind him [just under the sign that ends with “SHOP”] for a Shell filling station – or somewhere more sinister?)

A newsstand in the parking lot of the Lockheed Air Terminal offered customers a variety of reading material plus goods from razor blades to raincoats to remedies for balding. It also provided a place to chat about the weather, the latest game, and current events in general.

lockheed newsstand

A drugstore in Burbank advertises one of the top remedies of the day: Alka-Seltzer. The sign indicating that Lockheed Aircraft is located down the street shows the importance of the plant to the area. Such a sign would guide those going to the plant without their need to stop for directions. It also connotes that many people would indeed be looking to go to Lockheed.

burbank drug store

The Olympic Trailer Court in Santa Monica was home to many employees of Douglas Aircraft. (Note: By 1941, California had the second highest number of trailer parks in the country, surpassed only by Florida.) A mobile home was comfortable, customizable, and affordable, allowing working people a chance to own property in a beautiful area. The section of land where Olympic Trailer Court was located (2121 Bundy Drive in Santa Monica) is now prime real estate (commercial and residential) with homes that sell for $1 million and up.

A couple and their dog enjoy the shade of their patio in Space 23 at the Olympic Trailer Court in Santa Monica.

The Olympic Trailer Court housed individuals, couples, and families. In this photo, a young girl (accompanied by her doll) stands by Olympic Grocery, the local market for the trailer court.

olympic trailer courts

Two Douglas Aircraft employees who reside at Olympic Trailer Court enjoy a good laugh.

douglas aircraft employees

Cole Weston, a metalsmith at Lockheed Aircraft Company, pauses outside his house to kiss his wife Dorothy before heading off to work. Cole was the son of photographer Edward Weston, a friend and huge inspiration to Ansel Adams. (Cole would eventually follow in his father’s footsteps and become a photographer.)

cole weston and wife

Many Lockheed executives and engineers settled in homes in Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Brentwood, and other surrounding neighborhoods. (Frank Lloyd Wright designed the only Usonian-style home in Southern California for Lockheed engineer George D. Sturges; it was built in Brentwood Heights.) The Van de Kamp’s Bakery in Beverly Hills, located at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Crescent Heights, provided many Lockheed employees with fresh-baked bread, pies, cookies, and donuts plus baked beans, egg noodles, and oversized potato chips.

van de kamp's bakery

The aviation industry brought a new level of financial stability to the Los Angeles area which in turn created new communities. A sign advertises new homes being built in what appears to be the Burbank or Glendale area – a prime spot for Lockheed employees to buy a home.

new homes

Oil wells were a prominent feature of the industrial landscape of Los Angeles. As oil was used in the manufacture, testing, and use of airplanes, the oil industry was a partner in the aviation industry. Here we see several large oil derricks standing guard over Sunnyside Cemetery in Long Beach and an Italian-style mansion in an unknown section of town. In spite of being industrial tools, the derricks display a sense of strength and style with an intricate elegance.

oil derricks by sunnyside cemetery

With steady work and stable income, aviation workers were able to focus on self-improvement as well as entertainment.

The Collier School of Mind Science, run by the Reverend Hugh Christopher, practitioner and teacher of Mental Science, was located on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Mental Scientists stressed self-improvement in order to awaken one’s latent abilities. They utilized yoga, meditation and positive visualization but did not focus on any form of God or a divine being. (Many of the newer Mental Scientists were atheist or agnostic.)

collier school of mind science

Adams snapped this shot of San Vincente Boulevard in which the streetlights and castle-like structure project a fairy tale like appearance. While signs advertise the many filling stations ready to service drivers, another sign offers a chance to enjoy an older form of transportation.

Westjoy Dance Studios, consisting of Westjoy Dance Studio and Nancy White Studio, offered dance lessons to the average citizen who wanted to waltz at weddings or perhaps learn basic ballet steps.

Ocean Front Promenade, near the Santa Monica pier, no doubt attracted many employees of nearby Douglas Aircraft who brought their friends and families for an afternoon or evening of fun.

ocean front promenade

An employee of Lockheed shows superior bowling technique during a tournament at Burbank Bowl.

bowling

With work done for the day, a man and a woman enjoy a couple of beers in a bar in Los Angeles.

acme beer

A drummer plays jazz at an unidentified club in Los Angeles, no doubt entertaining many folks who have spent the previous day or night working at a store, school, office, eatery, or factory (perhaps Lockheed or Douglas) and now want to unwind with some good friends, fine music, and magnificent dreams.

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Photo Friends Events for July 2017

L.A. Landmarks: Lost and Almost Lost - Opening Reception

L.A. Landmarks: Lost and Almost Lost – Opening Reception

Thursday, July 13, 2017
6:00pm to 8:00pm
Central Library
History/Genealogy Dept. – LL4

Reservations not required.

From famous icons to hidden gems, Los Angeles has amazing architecture as diverse as the city itself. But L.A.’s long tradition of reinvention has left beloved landmarks in its wake. This exhibit highlights just a few of the many great buildings that fell to the wrecking ball, as well as some that narrowly escaped. The landmarks we almost lost might surprise you, and their survival offers hope for a future that celebrates our past.

Join us for light refreshments and brief remarks from curator Cindy Olnick as we celebrate the opening of the latest exhibit featuring images from the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

Sponsored by Photo Friends.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L.A. in Focus: The Wilshire Slides 1978-79, a Mother & Daughter Kodachrome Adventure

L.A. in Focus: The Wilshire Slides 1978-79, a Mother & Daughter Kodachrome Adventure

Saturday, July 15, 2017
2:00pm to 4:00pm
Central Library
Mark Taper Auditorium

Reservations not required. Doors open approximately 15 minutes before the start of the program.

It was a heck of an after-school project for a mother and daughter: do an informal photo survey of the Wilshire Boulevard from downtown to the ocean. Mother Marlene was a Michigan native who’d come to L.A. in the late 1950s and loved everything about the city, especially the architecture. Daughter Annie liked the architecture too, and loved using her mom’s Minolta camera. Together, they spent about a dozen Tuesday afternoons in 1978-9 walking Wilshire; Marlene taking notes and Annie taking pictures. The result was over 1000 Kodachrome slides, documenting L.A.’s iconic street from its great landmarks to its empty lots.

In 2010, Annie donated the Wilshire slides to the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection. Nearly 40 years later, the slides have turned into a unique time capsule of a boulevard that is in a constant state of change. Join Annie Laskey, Eric Lynxwiler, and Shannon Simonds as they take a closer look at some of the Wilshire slides, selected by Annie, as she looks back on those Tuesday afternoons she spent with her mom on Wilshire Boulevard.

Copies of the new book “The Wilshire Slides: A Mother & Daughter Kodachrome Adventure” will be for sale at the end of the program.

Presented by the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection. Sponsored by Photo Friends.

 

A Quiet Evening with a Quick Death — The Demise of Bugsy Siegel

On June 20, 1947, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, the East Coast mobster who had relocated to and prospered in Los Angeles and was now intent on building up Las Vegas, sat in his girlfriend’s living room in Beverly Hills. He chatted with his long-time friend and associate, Allen Smiley, while reading the Los Angeles Times. Suddenly, shots exploded through the front window. An unknown assailant wielding an M-1 carbine had fired point blank at the couch. Smiley took three bullets through the sleeve of his jacket, while Siegel took many more bullets, including two to the head. Smiley lived and became an oilman in Houston. Siegel died immediately. The assailant disappeared into the night. The crime was never solved.

The photo archives of the Los Angeles Public Library provide a photographic history of Bugsy Siegel’s life in Los Angeles (including its end), giving viewers a glimpse into a life that was as glamorous as it was dangerous.

Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was the second child born to Jennie and Max Siegel, poor Jewish immigrants from Russia who had settled in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Determined to overcome the poverty that permeated his life, Bugsy became a bootlegger, strong arm, and hitman in his teens. He became successful and enjoyed a cultivated life, visiting swanky New York nightclubs and wearing custom tailored suits.

In 1936, Siegel moved with his wife, Esta Krakower (also known as Esther or Estelle), and their daughters, Millicent and Barbara, to Los Angeles. Though the couple would eventually divorce and Siegel’s ex-wife and daughters would move back to New York, Siegel’s ex-wife always insisted that her ex-husband was a good man who helped others.

Bugsy Siegel's wife

Herald-Examiner Collection, photograph taken June 22, 1947, by Art Worden.

Siegel was known for his fearlessness, his quick reflexes, and his prowess with guns. He was linked to the deaths of many rival gangsters, including Joe Masseria, Salvatore Maranzano, three brothers in the Fabrizzo family, and Harry “Big Greenie” Greenberg, who was his personal friend.

Here, Siegel grabs a cup of water during a break in his trial for the murder of Harry Greenberg (aka Harry Schachter), a friend of Siegel and employee of mobsters Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. Greenberg was murdered in Hollywood on Thanksgiving of 1939. Siegel was acquitted of his death and no one was ever convicted for the killing.

bugsy siegel

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo taken on October 13, 1941.

Siegel worked in various endeavors in Southern California including the numbers racket (an illegal lottery), prostitution, and the U.S./Mexico drug trade. As charming as he was brutal, he became a fixture in Hollywood nightlife, hobnobbing with politicians, businessmen, attorneys, and entertainment figures including Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Frank Sinatra, and Louis B. Mayer.

This photo shows George Raft at the Desert Inn, a popular resort in Palm Springs. Raft was a very good friend of Bugsy Siegel and even testified on his behalf in court. It is curious to note that Raft portrayed a gangster in many movies of the 1930s and 1940s (including the original Scarface) and was so convincing that many speculated that he truly was a gangster. While he denied any involvement with organized crime, Raft was indeed friends with many mob figures. In 1967, he was refused entry to the United Kingdom due to his association with the Mafia.

george raft

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photographed in 1930.

Actress Jean Harlow was godmother to Siegel’s oldest daughter, Millicent.

Jean Harlow

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo taken on September 27, 1928.

Virginia Hill was born in Lipscomb, Alabama, on August 26, 1916. After running away from home at 17 (wearing the first pair of shoes she claimed she ever owned), she landed in Chicago and found work delivering messages and packages for gangsters. She eventually secured steady employment in the accounting office of Al Capone. She moved to Los Angeles, met Siegel, and became romantically involved with him in 1942. He nicknamed her “The Flamingo”. (It was rumored that he named the Las Vegas hotel after Hill, but the resort was actually named the Flamingo by a previous investor.) Some years after Siegel was murdered, Hill was ordered to testify in front of the Kefauver Committee, a Senate committee conducting hearings to explore the reach of organized crime. She eventually moved to Europe where she married, raised a son, and died on March 24, 1966, in Austria. (The cause of death was ruled to be suicide.)

 

virginia hill

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo dated November 21, 1939.

Despite his success in illegal activities, Siegel desired to be a legitimate businessman. His dream appeared to be within reach with his investment in the construction of the Flamingo Hotel. Backed with mob money, Siegel aspired to create a casino resort of the highest class, with world-renowned entertainment, gourmet food, imported liquor, and luxurious lodging. Unfortunately, the project was fraught with delays, material shortages, rising costs, and personnel problems caused by Siegel’s arrogance and violent outbursts. The resort did not turn a profit immediately upon opening, and many speculate that mob bosses, tired of waiting for a return on their investments, arranged for the hit that ended the life of Bugsy Siegel. This photo shows the bullet holes (center) in the window caused by the gunman or gunmen who shot Bugsy Siegel.

 

scene of murder of bugsy siegel

Herald-Examiner Collection, photographed June 23, 1947, by Harold Ballew.

This photo shows a coroner’s aide examining the body of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel as it lies on the floor of the house at 810 N. Linden Drive in Beverly Hills, the residence of Siegel’s companion, Virginia Hill. [NOTE: There are two copies of this photo, with one highlighting key points of the murder scene.]

bugsy siegel murder

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo dated June 21, 1947.

As noted, Siegel’s friend and associate Allen Smiley was sitting on the couch next to Seigel when the shooting occurred but escaped unharmed. This photo shows Smiley leaving the police station in Beverly Hills during the investigation of Bugsy Siegel’s murder.

allen smiley

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo dated June 23, 1947.

At the time of the shooting, Siegel’s pal Smiley was in the house along with Virginia Hill’s cook, brother, and secretary. These three people had retired for the evening and were in other parts of the house when the shooting occurred.

witnesses to bugsy siegel murder

 

Herald-Examiner Collection, photographed June 21, 1947.

Of course, it goes without saying that Siegel had plenty of enemies.

Two Brooklyn gangsters, Al Tannenbaum and Abe ‘Kid Twist’ Reles, told the Los Angeles Grand Jury that Siegel was a much bigger threat than anyone knew and that he did indeed kill Harry Greenberg (Schachter). Here, Kid Twist arrives to speak with the Grand Jury.

abe "kid twist" reles

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo dated August 20, 1940.

It was widely speculated that the killing of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel (and Siegel hated to be called “Bugsy”) was a mob hit, carried out when Mafia bosses became fed up with the runaway construction costs and slow profits of the Flamingo Hotel. One major suspect for the killing was Tony Brancato, a mobster from Kansas City who relocated to Los Angeles and was involved in prostitution, gambling, and narcotics. After robbing the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, Brancato himself became a target and was killed in a gangland-style killing in August of 1951 in Los Angeles along with associate Tony Trombino. This photo was taken hours after they were ambushed in their car.

tony brancato

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo taken on August 7, 1951.

Law enforcement created an information pool with the hopes of finding clues as to the killer of Bugsy Siegel.

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo taken on June 21, 1947.

Seventy years on, the murder case of Bugsy Siegel remains unsolved. While there were theories and suspects and questioning, no person or persons were ever charged with the killing. Siegel’s body went to the coroner and he was then buried in a silver-plated casket in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo taken on June 26, 1947.

Like anyone, Siegel had dreams and desires, triumphs and tragedies. He had glamorous friends and dangerous enemies. He looked out for his friends but could turn on them if they did him wrong. He appreciated luxuries and fine things but wanted others to have them. (He envisioned The Flamingo attracting both high rollers and average vacationers.) He was stylish and charismatic, quick-tempered and violent. He enjoyed drinking champagne with movie stars in nightclubs but also cherished a quiet night at home. Ironically, it was not a shootout, a fight, or a drive through a dark alley that proved his undoing, but a simple quiet night at home.

coroner's tag for benjamine bugsy siegel

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo taken on June 25, 1947 

Photographer’s Eye: Todd Blubaugh – Too Far Gone

Todd Blubaugh Image 1

Photographer’s Eye: Todd Blubaugh – Too Far Gone

Wednesday, June 21, 2017
12:15pm to 1:00pm
Central Library, Meeting Room A

Reservations not required. Doors open at approximately 15 minutes before the start of the program.

Author and photographer Todd Blubaugh quit his job in pursuit of adventure on the open road, driven by his twin passions for photography and motorcycle culture. All told, Todd spent six months on the road, touching down in various U.S. cities during his transcontinental trip. His time spent traveling marks a personal sea change, and a period of great self-discovery. Too Far Gone (Gingko Press, 2016) is the photographic and anecdotal account of his experiences, presented through short vignettes as well as personal letters and artifacts, creating a compelling memoir of freedom, loss, and the search for human identity.

Todd Blubaugh was born and raised in McPherson,Kansas. His earliest interests were in art and motorbikes and since the age of 12, Todd has been pursuing these two passions. He currently works in film, writes, shoots and pursues collaborations with his roommates at The Chun, a motorcycle warehouse and art space in Los Angeles.

Sponsored by Photo Friends. Presented by the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

All images © 2017, Todd Blubaugh.

On the Job in the City — the Industrial Los Angeles Collection

Mention the word “industry” in Los Angeles and you’re liable to wind up talking about showbiz – studios, stars, grips, gaffers, and box office returns. Yes, entertainment is a major industry in L.A., but there is much more being created and sold in our city as showcased by the Industrial Los Angeles Collection of the photo archives of the Los Angeles Public Library. Founded by a grant from the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation (the oldest private foundation in Los Angeles), this collection features photos of workplaces – the machines and the manpower – and captures the strength and beauty of L.A. at work.

NOTE: All photographs in this blog post are from the Industrial Los Angeles Collection; photographers and dates of photos are duly noted.


Symmetrical and sleek, this machine is a can washer at Walker Foods, Inc., sanitizing and preparing cans to be filled with salsa, vinegar, or other condiments.

Can washer

Photographed in 2009 by Tom Zimmerman.

An employee of Robinson Helicopter Company in Torrance, California, carefully assembles the main rotor gearbox for the Robinson R44, the most-widely produced and best-selling general aviation helicopter produced today.

Helicopter manufacture

Photographed in 2009 by Gary Leonard.

Two women bag the fresh hot tortillas and tortilla chips made daily at La Fortaleza in East Los Angeles, a wholesale company that originated as a Mexican deli founded by Trinidad Garcia and Ramiro Ortiz.

Wholesale tortilla bakery

Photographed in 2009 by Tom Zimmerman.

Meticulously organized, buttons of varying size, shape, and color are ready for use by the tailors at High Society, a shop in downtown L.A. offering professional clothing alterations, European tailoring, and custom-designed suits.

buttons at high society

Photographed on July 13, 2009, by Cheryl Himmelstein.

Employees at Cosmos Food Co. are suited up and ready to make kimchi, a traditional Korean dish of cabbage and other vegetables.

making kimchi

Photographed in 2009 by Tom Zimmerman.

A candy maker carefully initials handmade chocolate candies created at John Kelly Chocolates, a chocolatier located in Hollywood.

handmade chocolates

Photographed in 2009 by Tom Zimmerman.

A conveyor belt extends to the horizon, carrying raw materials to be made into asphalt, concrete, and other construction and landscaping materials produced at Reliance Rock in Irwindale, California.

construction materials

Photographed in 2009 by Gary Leonard.

A swirl of circles framed with straight lines, this photo displays food storage containers being manufactured at Impress USA, Inc. on Terminal Island.

food container manufacturing

Photographed in 2009 by Slobodan Dimitrov.

An employee utilizes care and precision while slicing fillets at State Fish Company, a processing plant started by brothers Sam, Jack, and Frank DeLuca in 1932.

frozen fish distributors

Photographed in 2009 by Slobodan Dimitrov.

A dress designer partakes in the creative process at Dina Bar-El, a shop in downtown Los Angeles specializing in custom-designed evening gowns.

evening gown designers

 Photographed on July 14, 2009, by Cheryl Himmelstein.

With its layout of levers and pivots and valves, this control panel at a plant of the Sunlaw Energy Company (formerly located in Vernon, California) displays an ornate architecture.

control panel

Photographed in 2009 by Slobodan Dimitrov.

Bolts of fabric wait to be made into women’s clothing at Karen Kane, Inc., a clothing company headquartered in downtown Los Angeles and started by a graduate of L.A’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.

womens clothing design

Photographed April 23, 2009, by Cheryl Himmelstein.

A craftsman at Coppa Woodworking, Inc. in San Pedro, California, carefully sands a circular wooden frame to be used as part of a door.

woodworking, los angeles artisans, door makers

Photographed in 2009 by Slobodan Dimitrov.

Author Program: The Marx Brothers in Vaudeville (1905-1932)

Four Marx Bros Cocoanuts

The Marx Brothers in Vaudeville (1905-1932)

Saturday, May 13, 2017
2:00pm to 4:00pm
Central Library
Mark Taper Auditorium

Reservations not required. Doors open approximately 15 minutes before the start of the program.

 

Four Marx Bros
The Marx Brothers were known for wreaking their special kind of havoc on movie screens, but it was on the stage where they perfected their craft.Through rare images and video clips, author Robert S. Bader (Four of the Three Musketeers: The Marx Brothers on Stage, 2016) traces the gradual formation of the team as each teenaged Marx brother enters show business. Over a ten-year period they slowly develop the act that would make them stars and move them out of the difficult lifestyle of vaudeville and onto greater success on Broadway and in Hollywood.

 

Four of the Three Musketeers

 

Copies of Four of the Three Musketeers will be for sale after the presentation.

ROBERT S. BADER is the editor of Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales. He is the curator of the Bing Crosby Archive and produced the television special The Legendary Bing Crosby. In addition to producing Dick Cavett’s Watergate and Dick Cavett’s Vietnam for PBS, Bader is also the writer and producer of the Warner Bros. documentary The Dawn of Sound: How Movies Learned to Talk. He has also produced numerous archival DVD releases, including two sets of You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx. His recent DVD productions include the Marx Brothers TV Collection; The Honeymooners: Lost Episodes, 1951–1957; and The Best of the Danny Kaye Show. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and several dogs.

Presented by the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection and the Literature & Fiction Department. Sponsored by Photo Friends.

All images courtesy of Robert S. Bader.

There and back: Los Angeles Japanese and Executive Order 9066

Seventy-five years ago, in the spring of 1942, the City of Los Angeles experienced a population exodus triggered by a presidential executive order. Images in the Los Angeles Public Library’s Herald Examiner Collection and Shades of L.A. Collection tell the story of Executive Order 9066 and its impact on Japanese residents and on the city itself.

From the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941, many Americans lived in fear of a further assault or even an invasion. President Roosevelt’s Executive Order, while not naming the Japanese or any other group by name, gave broad powers to the Secretary of War to guard against the threat of sabotage and espionage. Within days of the February 19 order, a series of “Public Proclamations” and “Civilian Exclusion Orders” directed that Japanese and Japanese-Americans be removed from all West Coast states in order to prevent collusion with the enemy. Virtually all Japanese, by birth or ancestry, were rounded up with scant warning and sent to  ten internment camps far from the coast. Age, sex, or condition offered no exception to the rule. Having as little as 1/16th Japanese blood marked one for removal. Orphans of Japanese blood were gathered up and transported, even if they were in the care of Caucasian families.

Big Sale in Little Tokyo

In the spring of 1942 many Japanese lived and worked in a section of downtown Los Angeles dubbed Little Tokyo. When the order came down, families were given six days to dispose of their property and belongings; each person was allowed to bring only what they could carry with them. Japanese businesses held fire sales; families sought desperately for places to store their belongings and friends to care for their property and their pets. Cars were sold for pennies on the dollar.  Herald Examiner Collection, Image #00068543, March 21, 1942.

Many Japanese were anxious to show their loyalty to the United States and its institutions. The photo editor of the image above made sure to draw attention to the sign posted above the cash register in this Japanese-run drugstore: “Please no talk war!” Herald Examiner Collection, Image #00068538, March 1942.

Although internment was carried out in waves, by early summer the streets of Little Tokyo were empty. The newspaper photo above was captioned “Shops for rent on a deserted 1st Street in Little Tokyo.” Herald Examiner Collection, Image #00022054, June 18, 1942.

Exodus

Japanese families gather with their belongings at a departure point where they will be taken to an assembly center and, eventually, to an internment camp. All persons, including children, had to wear identification tags. The intention of the tags was to prevent families from being separated. Tags also identify bales of bedding which might or might not be reunited with their owners. Herald Examiner Collection, Image #00044031, April 2, 1942.

The caption for this photo from the Herald-Examiner reads “Young Japanese girls brave the early morning rain to bid farewell to friends leaving for Manzanar relocation camp.”  Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00034809, 1942.

Evacuees had to endure several weeks or months at assembly centers while basic camp structures were prepared for them in the hinterland. Assembly centers were located throughout the West at fairgrounds and racetracks where families often were crowded into horse or livestock stalls. As with all aspects of the relocation, government publicity outlets bent over backwards to give a favorable impression of their actions. The photograph above, from the Herald Examiner, is accompanied by a highly colored optimism: “A little Japanese girl meekly submits to a hair wash while a woman nearby also washes her hair on June 25, 1942. A far cry from the Axis concentration camps ravaged with torture, starvation and death, is the Santa Anita Assembly Center, where 18,500 Japanese are quartered on the grounds of the luxurious Santa Anita Race Track.” Herald-Examiner Collection, Image # 00043915, June 25, 1942.

This image (with crop marks) shows rows of temporary housing erected in the parking lot of the Santa Anita Park racetrack. The track’s parade ring is at right. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00044039, 1942.

 

Home Away from Home

Aware of the mixed feelings on internment, government and media tried hard to style detention as something in the best interests of the internees, as well as the local populace. The term “internment camp” was often replaced with “relocation center” or “evacuation center.” (The preferred term among some historians today is “concentration camp.”) Some news accounts went farther to spin the reality of the forced move, referring to “new homes” awaiting the “evacuees.” The article accompanying the photo above calls Manzanar, the destination of the motor caravan, “the new boom town, Little Tokio of the Mountains.” Herald Examiner Collection, Image #00044026, 1942.

Of course stark reality was much different. The sites chosen were in remote, harsh environments. Accommodations were hastily erected with much work needing to be completed by the inmates themselves. Residents of Los Angeles might find themselves at Gila River on an Arizona Indian Reservation, at Heart Mountain in the sagebrush desert of Wyoming, at treeless Tule Lake in Northern California, or at Manzanar — a once fertile valley drained of its water by the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

It is not surprising that there are few, if any, images of the exodus in the Shades of L.A. Collection — photos shared with Los Angeles Public Library by minority families. Those caught up in the confusion would have other things to worry about than documenting their departure and a camera would have been a heavy luxury to carry along. However, once settled in the camps, Japanese families for the most part adopted a stoic resignation and worked to recreate some sense of familiarity and normality in bleak surroundings. In the photo above, James Otake celebrates his first birthday at the Gila River camp sitting on the lap of his mother, Mariko (Mary). A cake sits next to them. Since the photo is dated 1945, James must have been born in the camp. Shades of L.A. Collection, Image #00000735.

A panoramic view of Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. The mountain itself dominates the landscape. Army style barracks serve as housing for the internees. Shades of L.A. Collection, Image #00003694.

 

Residents of the Gila River internment camp in Arizona were able to find sardonic humor in setting up a “country club.” The writing on the photo reads “Tournament! March 5, 1944.” Shades of L.A. Collection, Image #00004306, 1944.

Touches of home are visible in the photo of this tar paper hut at the Tule Lake internment camp, including flowers in coffee-can pot and a two-wheeler for Grace Toya. Shades of L.A. Collection, Image #00004455, 1945.

Schooling continued in the camps. Here second graders at Manzanar pose with their teacher, 1945. Shades of L.A. Collection, Image #00004179.

This image is labeled “Yuki and James Toya at Tule lake internment camp during winter snow, 1945.” Perhaps they are the parents of Grace Toya pictured above. Shades of L.A. Collection, Image #00004453.

Changes at home

The wholesale removal of Japanese and Japanese-Americans meant the streets of Little Tokyo were deserted — but not for long. Real estate abhors a vacuum as much as nature does. Without paying tenants, the landlords of these buildings were able to re-lease the storefronts and apartments, in many cases to other ethnic minority groups. African-American families arrived in West Coast cities to work in the war effort. With racial covenants in place in many communities, and widespread discrimination in housing generally, the newly vacated Little Tokyo presented one of the few options available to them.

For approximately three years Little Tokyo took on the moniker “Bronzetown,” in recognition of the many African-American run businesses that sprang up there, including Schepp’s Playhouse, a nightclub. In this photo  Ruth David, William Love, and Bernice Patton (R.N., 2nd Lt., Army) relax at Schepp’s. Shades of L.A. Collection, Image # 00001830, c. 1944.

A man, identified as Alberto Munoz, prepares to re-open a cleaners established by a Japanese family. The movie poster at right advertises the Japanese film Joi Kinuyo Sensei (Doctor Kinuyo) from 1937. The star of the movie, Kinuyo Tanaka, was a popular actress in both pre- and post-war films and, later, one of Japan’s first female film directors. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00068523, June 17, 1942.

The Return

This photo accompanied an article titled “Japs leave to settle in freedom throughout the U.S.” The freedom referred to meant moving across state lines from California to Nevada. Toward the end of 1943 overcrowding at the camps forced authorities to relax some restrictions. However, this hardly meant full freedom. Those allowed to leave Manzanar had to swear they would not return to their homes on the coast. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00043908, November 17, 1943.

Tara Kawa was able to reclaim his fish market after returning from the Gila River internment camp. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image # 00043954, September 7, 1945.

In December 1944, with the war in the Pacific turning in favor of the Allies, President Roosevelt lifted Executive Order 9066. The process of re-integrating the Japanese back into the lives they’d left behind was complex; it would be another year before all the camps were completely closed. Many internees had lost everything, including friends, and did not return to California. Others were able to piece their lives back together with some help from public authorities and faith groups. The lucky ones, such as the man above, were able to re-establish their businesses.

Justice for all?

In 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the man who issued Executive Order 9066, visited internees at Gila River and then wrote a lengthy piece for Colliers Magazine about internment. While acknowledging the exigencies of war, the First Lady made clear her own feelings in the matter:

“We have no common race in this country, but we have an ideal to which all of us are loyal. It is our ideal which we want to have live. It is an ideal which can grow with our people, but we cannot progress if we look down upon any group of people amongst us because of race or religion. Every citizen in this country has a right to our basic freedoms, to justice and to equality of opportunity, and we retain the right to lead our individual lives as we please, but we can only do so if we grant to others the freedoms that we wish for ourselves.” (Eleanor Roosevelt, “A Challenge to American Sportsmanship,” Collier’s Magazine, October 10, 1943)

In 1989 the U.S. Government issued a formal apology to those interned during World War II and provided “redress” payments of $20,000 to each surviving internee.

Sources for this essay include the website Densho.org and Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites, University of Washington Press, 2002.