Snapshots from the Melting Pot – Celebrating the Heritage of Folks Who Helped Make Los Angeles Great

National Latino Heritage Month is a month dedicated to highlighting the culture and contributions of Americans whose origins can be traced to Mexico plus Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and other Central American countries as well as Cuba and the Caribbean. This celebratory month runs from September 15 through October 15. Meanwhile, the entire month of October is Italian Heritage Month (formerly known as National Italian-American Heritage Month) and also German-American Heritage Month (which began as German American Day on October 6, 1987) and Polish-American Heritage Month.

Shades of L.A., a subset in the Los Angeles Public Library’s photo archives, is a collection of personal and family photos contributed to the Library by residents in the Los Angeles area. A perusal of this collection provides images of Southern Californians from the aforesaid ethnic groups raising families, running businesses, having parties, carrying on traditions, creating new ones, and leaving their mark on their communities.

(Note: The photos are in no particular order with some images representing more than one ethnic group. Such is the melting pot that we call home.)

Three young women prepare to graduate from Banning High School in Wilmington, California. The school is named after Phineas Banning, who is referred to as the “Father of the Port of Los Angeles” and was one of the founders of the town of Wilmington.

graduation from banning high school in wilmington, ca

Shades of L.A.: Mexican American Community, photo taken in 1957.

Adults and children gather for a picnic for the Concordia Club, a social group, at Verdugo Park in Glendale. The Concordia Club, a members only (and, originally, men only) club was established in 1889 to preserve German culture and heritage. When Los Angeles Jews found themselves excluded from admittance to the club, they incorporated their own Concordia Club in 1891 and built their own clubhouse on Figueroa Street.

concordia club

Shades of L.A.: Polish American Community, Shades of L.A.: German American Community,
Shades of L.A.: Jewish Community, photo taken in 1908 by the Graham Photo Company.

Karate expert Oscar Maldonado performs a flying side kick for young students in a karate studio.

oscar maldanado karate expert

Shades of L.A.: Guatemalan American Community, photo taken on September 19, 1996.

A young woman celebrates her 15th birthday with a quinceañera (fiesta de quince años), a Latin American tradition marking the transition from childhood to womanhood.

quinceneara

Shades of L.A.: Guatemalan American Community, photo taken on November 3, 1996.

Druggist Max Heller (standing) prepares to serve a customer at the soda counter in his first drugstore, located on Brooklyn Avenue (which was later renamed César E. Chávez Avenue) in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, forty percent of the population in Boyle Heights were Jews of Eastern European descent.

max heller's drugstore

Shades of L.A.: Jewish Community, Shades of L.A.: Polish American Community,
Shades of L.A.: Russian American Community, photo taken in 1928.

Tortillas are made by hand at a Mexican restaurant on Olvera Street, a part of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument, an historic district in downtown Los Angeles and the oldest section of Los Angeles. The plaza area on which it is located was under Spanish rule for 40 years and Mexican rule for 26 years before coming under U.S. rule in 1847.

tortilla making at olvera street

Shades of L.A.: Mexican American Community, photo taken in 1988.

Board members of the Italian Women’s Club of Los Angeles (Club Femminile Italiano di Los Angeles) hold a meeting, with press chairman Maria Ricci seated in the third seat from the left.

italian american womens club in los angeles

Shades of L.A.: Italian American Community, photo taken in 1975.

Alpha 66, an anti-communist organization working for the liberation of Cuba, conducts a meeting in Lynwood, California, on June 7, 1980. Alpha 66 was formed by Cuban exiles. The word “alpha” means beginning and the group started with 66 people.

alpha 66

Shades of L.A.: Cuban American Community, photo taken on June 7, 1980.

Two sisters relax outside a tent they are sharing with their husbands during a camping trip in Idyllwild, a town located two hours southeast of Los Angeles in the San Jacinto Mountains.

Shades of L.A.: German American Community; photo taken in 1934.

A group of young people enjoy an outing to Pacific Beach in San Diego.

pacific beach

Shades of L.A.: Mexican American Community, photo taken in 1920.

A Polish-American family poses for a photo in the parlor of their home on Wall Street in downtown Los Angeles.

polish american family on wall street in los angeles

Shades of L.A. Russian American Community, Shades of L.A. Polish American Community,
Shades of L.A. Jewish Community, photo taken in 1908.

Two girls pose in their Halloween costumes which were made by their mother, a Cuban émigré.

halloween in los angeles

Shades of L.A.: Cuban American Community, Shades of L.A.: Mexican American Community,
photo taken in 1976.

Here we see a variety of breads, pastries, and finger sandwiches made for an open house in Beverly Hills by the mother of Michael Giuliano, an American of Italian heritage. A braided breadbasket features prominently in this catering spread.

catering for open house

Shades of L.A.: Italian American Community, photo taken in 1969.

Members of Alpha 66, a group formed by Cuban exiles working for the liberation of Cuba, assist Vietnamese refugees at a rally in Camp Pendleton in San Diego County.

alpha 66 meets with vietnamese refugees

Shades of L.A.: Cuban American Community, Shades of L.A.:
Vietnamese American Community,
photo taken in 1964.

A young girl helps her mother hang the laundry in their backyard in Southern California.

hanging out the wash

Shades of L.A.: Ukrainian American Community, Shades of L.A.: Polish American Community,
Shades of L.A.: Jewish Community; photo taken in 1956.

A charitable event is held at Little Joe’s Restaurant, an Italian family restaurant located on North Broadway in Chinatown. Attendees to the fundraiser included fitness guru Jack Lalane (third from left) and crooner Rudy Vallee (far right).

little joe's restaurant in los angeles

Shades of L.A.: Italian American Community, photo taken in 1970.

Angelina, her husband Kenneth, and daughter Lucinda pose for a Christmas photo at Angelina’s parents’ house in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles. Kenneth has just returned home after being stationed in Thailand for a year during the Vietnam War.


christmas in echo park

Shades of L.A.: Mexican American Community,
Shades of L.A.: German American Community, photo taken in 1967.

A mother, daughter, and son enjoy an outing to the Fairfax branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.

fairfax library

 

Takin’ It To The Streets (and Parks and Schools) — The Los Angeles Public Library’s Bookmobile

The Los Angeles Public Library has always made it their mission to make library materials accessible to everyone. In today’s virtual and electronically-enhanced world, such a goal is accomplished with e-books, audiobooks, digital downloads, online catalogs, blogs, and video services that make using the library very convenient. You don’t even have to leave your chair! Before the Internet, however, those seeking to use the library had to go to the library. The Los Angeles Public Library, however, was willing to meet you halfway.

As early as 1949, bookmobiles began bringing library materials to various areas in the City of Los Angeles that were not served by community branch libraries. The Los Angeles Public Library’s fleet of bookmobiles included three large vans carrying a collection of 4,000 books plus one smaller van that carried 3,000 books. These libraries on wheels had 28 scheduled stops each week, visiting housing developments, shopping centers, schools, and parks. It is estimated that almost 250,000 books were checked out of LAPL’s bookmobiles in any given year.

The collection of materials in the bookmobiles included literature, the latest novels, children’s books, magazines in various languages, cookbooks, movies, and materials to help library patrons become U.S. citizens, study for their GED, pass the SAT, fix their vehicle, and find a job. Many library patrons credit the bookmobiles that visited their neighborhoods with improving their literacy and English language skills; others state that librarians in the bookmobiles fostered a love of reading in their childhood.

Budget cuts, an increase in branch libraries (nine were built between 1989 and 2004), rising fuel costs, and technological advancements caused the Los Angeles Public Library to retire its bookmobiles in 2004. (Note: The County of Los Angeles Library system still operates bookmobiles.) A perusal of the Los Angeles Public Library’s photo collection provides a look at and into the Library’s bookmobiles, the vehicles that brought information and entertainment to patrons all over the city.

Four young women pose in front of one of the first bookmobiles utilized by the Los Angeles Public Library. The staff of a bookmobile generally consisted of one adult librarian and/or one children’s librarian, a clerk typist, and a driver.

 

LAPL bookmobile in 1949

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1949.

Two unidentified library employees replenish the shelves of a Los Angeles Public Library Traveling Branch Bookmobile.

Restocking the Bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1949.

A librarian reads to a group of youngsters in front of the bookmobile parked at the Lincoln Heights branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.

Children's books in the LAPL bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1964.

An LAPL bookmobile arrives in Chinatown decorated for the Lunar New Year Parade. The banner in Chinese reads, “Gung Hay Fot Choy” which is a traditional greeting for the New Year meaning “Good luck, may fortune come your way.”

bookmobile in chinatown

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1974 (Year of the Tiger) by Joe Friezer.

Johanna Sutton, a bookmobile librarian, is interviewed at a Books on Wheels inauguration at Avalon Gardens, a housing project in Southeast Los Angeles. Larry Burrell of KTTV asks Mrs. Sutton questions while cameraman and reporters tape and record the interview.

bookmobile interview

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken on July 19, 1966, by McClain’s Photo Service.

Children at Stonehurst Avenue Elementary School in Sun Valley check out books from one of the Los Angeles Public Library’s bookmobiles on the eighth anniversary of the library’s traveling branch service. Shortly after this anniversary, voters voted for bond funding to finance construction of a branch library in Sun Valley.


sun valley bookmobile

Herald-Examiner Collection, photographed by Milton Martinez on May 18, 1957.

Little Toot, a bright blue and yellow vehicle, was the smallest of the Los Angeles Public Library’s fleet of bookmobiles. Little Toot was constructed on a truck body and staffed by three librarians and a driver. Its collection included approximately 3,000 books for students from kindergarten through the eighth grade. The name for this bookmobile came from the children’s books by author Hardie Gramatky, one of America’s greatest watercolorists (according to watercolor legend Andrew Wyeth) who wrote and illustrated a series of children’s books about Little Toot, a feisty and helpful little tugboat.

In this photo, school children browse through shelves of books in Little Toot. The bookmobile is constructed much like a food truck with flaps raised to show bookshelves on the side of the truck. Little Toot visited schools in areas where there was no branch library.

little toot

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1956.

Children stand outside a Los Angeles Public Library bookmobile while Bert Thomas (library employee) hands out balloons. The bookmobile is decorated for Christmas and a boy dressed as Santa Claus is part of the crowd.

christmas celebration at the bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken by Joe Friezer in 1955.

Librarian Joyce Cantrell shows off some of the books offered by the Los Angeles Public Library bookmobile servicing the Platt Ranch area of the West Valley. The bookmobile had just started service in this area and would park in a lot at the corner of Victory Boulevard and Platt Avenue every Tuesday.

Valley Times Collection, photo taken October 22, 1962.

A Los Angeles Public Library bookmobile, parked at an unidentified location, offers books, a place to sit, and shade for the entire family.

library bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken by Jacques Moon in 1955.

Here we see the interior of the San Fernando Valley bookmobile with librarian Helen Jenks at the desk and checking out materials.

san fernando valley bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, date of photo unknown.

Several people peruse the collection inside this LAPL bookmobile. Materials available range from comic books to classic literature.

comics and classic literature in bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1955.

Adults look over the materials displayed on the exterior shelves of the Los Angeles Public Library Traveling Branch. Note that the collection includes magazines shelved in interior shelves located just inside the doorway.

magazines in the bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken by Dick Whittington in 1955.

This Los Angeles Public Library bookmobile participated in an annual Korean parade. Those photographed include two actresses, President of the Koreatown Association, a library patron, and two library staff employees.

koreatown bookmobile

Shades of L.A.: Korean American Community, photo taken in 1980.

Librarian Harold Hamill (who headed a 1957 municipal bond issue that resulted in the building of 28 branch libraries) and Los Angeles City Council Member (and then acting mayor) Harold Henry inspect the bookmobile and its collection.

Harold Hamill and Harold Henry inspect bookmobile

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo taken by Howard Ballew on November 15, 1951.

The Los Angeles Public Library bookmobile is parked and patronized in MacArthur Park.

macarthur park bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, date of photo unknown. 

LAPL’s bookmobile is parked in Chatsworth, a community located in the northwestern part of the San Fernando Valley.

chatsworth bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo undated.

A man (who may be a librarian or a driver or both) enters into the New York Public Library Bookmobile which came west for the 1930 Los Angeles Library Convention. It is seen here parked on 5th Street facing Grand Avenue, with the Engstrum Hotel Apartments in the background. (These luxury apartments were located at 623 West 5th Street in downtown Los Angeles and housed many prominent citizens.)

new york bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1930.

It would be almost 20 years before the City of Los Angeles had its own bookmobiles, and, of course, LAPL’s bookmobiles had that California style, with books shelved both in and outside of the bookmobile, offering everyone a chance to browse indoors or outdoors in the Southern California sun.

Patrons gather to read and study outside the Los Angeles Public Library Traveling Branch in the San Fernando Valley. This bookmobile service, headquartered in North Hollywood, made 17 weekly stops in the Valley.

reading outdoors

Valley Times Collection, photo taken on May 25, 1949.

 

 

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.

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.

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 

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.

Law Enforcement, Public Safety, and Modernist Style — A View of Parker Center

Designed by architect Welton Becket, the Police Administration Building served as police headquarters for the Los Angeles Police Department from 1954 until 2009. Groundbreaking for the downtown facility began in 1952, with construction finishing in 1955. When Police Chief William Parker died in 1966 (after 15 years in office), the building was renamed Parker Center in his honor.

The facility was designed in the Modernist fashion which encouraged the union of indoor and outdoor space and elements. As time passed and the police force grew and technology changed, the building needed retrofitting and updating, all of which proved to be more expensive than building a new facility. Construction for new LAPD headquarters (located at the corner of Main and First Streets) began in 2007 and finished in 2009.

Despite having a shiny new police headquarters, many people still think of Parker Center when the subject of LAPD headquarters comes up. Besides serving the citizens of L.A. for 55 years, Parker Center is known by people the world over due to being showcased in films, television shows, video games, music videos, novels, and true crime stories. Like many in L.A., Parker Center was in the biz.

In 2015, the Cultural Heritage Commission recommended that Parker Center be made a protected city landmark. While the city reviewed that nomination, a city councilman put forth a motion to demolish the building. Alas, this motion passed without any fierce opposition and the building is set to be razed. (Note: The date for the demolition of Parker Center was postponed due to a clerical error.)

The photo collection of the Los Angeles Public Library has many images showing the interior, exterior, and outer grounds of Parker Center, giving viewers a glimpse of its style and showing major events and everyday workings of this slice of L.A. history.

Here is the plaza at Parker Center as seen from the parking lot. Note the clean lines and modern glass windows which earned the structure the nickname “the Glass House”. 

landscaping at parker center

Heritage Documentation Programs Collection, Historic American Landscapes
Survey Collection, photographed by Brian Grogan in 2005.

A panoramic view shows Parker Center (to the right) with City Hall in the background (tall white building to the left).

los angeles city hall and parker center

Security Pacific National Bank Collection (photographer and date unknown).

A view of the landscaping near the parking area shows well-manicured hedges with plants in planters surrounding the main lawn.

landscaping of parker center

Heritage Documentation Programs Collection, Historic American Landscapes
Survey Collection, photographed by Brian Grogan in 2005.

Parker Center serves as the backdrop for the art installation titled “Eye of the Storm” while looking quite artistic itself with palm tree shadows accenting the structure.

eye of the storm art installation

Heritage Documentation Programs Collection, Historic American Landscapes
Survey Collection, photographed by Brian Grogan in 2005.

A gun is laid out for photographing and then tested by a lab technician for the L.A.P.D. Scientific Investigations Unit at Parker Center.

;a[d scientific investigations unit

Ralph Morris Collection, photographed by Ralph Morris (date unknown).

A policeman speaks into a radio at Parker Center, providing information for officers in patrol cars.

police radio dispatcher at parker center

Security Pacific National Bank Collection (photographer and date unknown).

A worker stands inside a safe at Parker Center.

parker center

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photographed by
Jack B. Kemmerer (date unknown).

A mosaic depicting landmarks of Los Angeles graces the lobby of Parker Center.

parker center mosaic

Ralph Morris Collection, photographed by Ralph Morris in 1955.

A bank of telephones is ready for use by the public and reporters at Parker Center.

parker center

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photographed by
Jack B. Kemmerer in 1955. 

The Hillside Strangler Task Force had a room of its own at Parker Center where investigators could review photos and discuss leads and evidence.

hillside strangler task force

Herald-Examiner Collection, photographed by Michael Haering on January 15, 1978.

William H. Parker was Chief of Police for the Los Angeles Police Department from 1950 until his death in 1966. Here is seen at his desk in Parker Center.

police chief william parker

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photographed by
Jack B. Kemmerer (date unknown).

Parker Center saw its share of protests and public outrage. In this photo, Vietnam War protestors marching through downtown file past Parker Center.

vietnam war protests in los angeles

Herald-Examiner Collection, photograph taken July 9, 1967 (photographer unknown).

A group of people gathers outside Parker Center to protest the use of the chokehold by police officers.

protest against lapd using chokeholds

Herald-Examiner Collection, photographed by Rob Brown on April 28, 1982.

Here we see demonstrators kneeling in protest against the police action of rounding up and detaining day laborers.

protestors at parker center

Herald-Examiner Collection, photographed by Michael Haering on February 20, 1989.

In this photo, we see protestors angry about the outcome of the Rodney King trial.

rodney king riots

Gary Leonard Collection, photographed by Gary Leonard on April 29, 1992. 

A studio prop police car is parked in front of Parker Center, making the building ready for its close-up.

Valley Times Collection, photographed on December 7, 1963 (photographer unknown).

The Personal Side of History – Shades of L.A.: African American Community

Over 25 years ago, while organizing the photo collection of the Los Angeles Public Library, librarian Carolyn Kozo Cole found many photos that documented the city’s political and professional history – political rallies, building construction, front page stories – but few images showing the personal side of its history – church picnics, school fairs, family photos. Moreover, there was little (if any) photographic evidence of the rich ethnic diversity in greater Los Angeles.

When a patron came to the library in 1991 and asked for historic photos of the Watts neighborhood, the only photo in the folder marked “Watts” was of a railway station. For Cole, this was a watershed moment. Garnering assistance from librarian Kathy Kobayashi, project coordinator Amy Kitchener, and a team of volunteers (plus financial support from Security Pacific National Bank, Sunlaw Cogeneration Partners, California Council for the Humanities, the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation, and the non-profit organization Photo Friends), the Shades of L.A. project was launched to broaden the Library’s photo collection and showcase the City’s multicultural makeup.

The first year of the project (1991) focused on the city’s African American communities, with the first “Photo Day” occurring at the Vernon Branch on South Central Avenue. Local residents showed up bringing family portraits and personal snapshots. A large part of L.A.’s personal history – previously tucked away in shoeboxes, scrapbooks, desk drawers, and family bibles – was now to become part of the photo collection of the Los Angeles Public Library.

In honor of Black History month, here are photos that capture African American life in Los Angeles, from home life to high life.

NOTE: All photos in this blog post are from the Shades of L.A.: African American Community collection. Whenever possible, dates and photographers have been noted.

Emma Millhouse and friend at work

Emma Millhouse (right) poses with her friend at their after-school job in a record store. Millhouse had also worked at the National Youth Administration office in Los Angeles, a New Deal agency formed to assist young people between 16 and 25 years of age in finding jobs. This photo was taken in 1941.

Student with trophy

A student poses with the trophy he won in an architectural contest between students at Polytechnic High School and Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles. This photo was taken in 1917.

Sharp shooter Dr. Eugene and trophy

Dr. Eugene, the winner of a sharpshooting competition, poses with his trophy and his weapon in 1935.

Boy Scout and badges

Boy Scout William Legget poses with his merit badges in 1936.

Joe Louis and Gordon Sheppard in Shepp's Playhouse

Boxer Joe Louis (center) poses with a woman and Gordon Sheppard in Shepps’ Playhouse, a breakfast club (open all night until breakfast) in downtown Los Angeles that boasted the likes of Coleman Hawkins, T-Bone Walker, and members of the Duke Ellington band. Sheppard, a former Hollywood cameraman, opened the club in Bronzeville, a neighborhood that sprang up in Little Tokyo during WWII.
Rozier Family Store

Liney, a  store clerk, stands behind the counter at the Rozier Family Store, a family-owned grocery market in Los Angeles. This photo was taken in 1906.

Amanda, Joseph, and children

Amanda and Joseph pose with their children Grace, Raymond, Mildred, and Alphonso for a formal family portrait taken in 1907.

A girl enjoys Val Verde Park, also known as The Black Palm Springs. (Many African Americans frequented this area when they were barred from visiting public beaches and swimming pools.) This photo was taken in 1954.

Dr. Maye Jones poses in cap and gown at her graduation in 1957.

A woman attends the 42nd Annual Congress of the International New Thought Alliance. This photo was taken between July 21 and July 26 in 1957.

This photo shows the Farmers and Merchants Bank of Watts being picketed in 1948 for not hiring African American or Mexican American tellers.

 

Raymond Austin in front of home

Raymond J. Austin poses in front of his home in Pomona, California, in 1945.

A young soldier poses in front of a fireplace. This photo was taken in 1943.

 

Crowds gather outside RKO Hillstreet Theatre (located at 8th and Hill Streets in downtown Los Angeles) to see a 1945 appearance by Josephine Baker, the African-American chanteuse who mesmerized France and openly discouraged segregated audiences.

L'Tanya Griffin

Fashion designer L’Tanya Griffin, who once designed gowns for Ida Lupino and ran her own dress shop in Hollywood, strikes a pose in this publicity photo. Photographed by John E. Reed in 1945.

Sebastian's Cotton Club

Sebastian’s Cotton Club (originally named the Green Mill) was owned by Frank Sebastian and located in Culver City. It boasted three dance floors and full orchestras, including an orchestra featuring “the world’s greatest trumpet player, Louis Armstrong, with the world’s fastest drummer, Lionel Hampton.” In this 1931 photo, you see an orchestra with Lionel Hampton, the drummer, at the top.

Zenda Ballroom

A trio gather at the Zenda Ballroom, a huge nightclub at 936 West 7th Street in downtown Los Angeles. This photo was taken in 1939.

Tola Harris at Wedding

Tola Harris attends a wedding reception. The photo is dated November 9, 1996.

NAACP awards

Five women pose in front of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for the NAACP Awards. Photographed by Robert Douglas in 1968.

children of rodger young village

The Small Town in a Big City – Life at Rodger Young Village

During WWII, thousands of men and women left Southern California to serve their country wherever they were needed. Thousands more men and women came to Southern California to work in factories supporting the war effort. As raw materials were needed for weapons, aircraft, and other related goods, construction of new housing ceased during the war. This created a housing shortage for veterans returning to the area after the end of WWII. This housing shortage spurred a housing boom, but veterans needed housing immediately. The Los Angeles City Housing Authority responded by building housing projects that offered affordable yet temporary housing for veterans and their families.

Rodger Young Village (also referred to as “RYV”) was one such public housing project. Built in Griffith Park and dedicated on April 27, 1946, RYV was named for Rodger Wilton Young, an infantryman in the U.S. Army killed during World War II. Rodger Young Village consisted of 750 Quonset huts, with most residents being young couples with children. RYV boasted a market, drug store, and theater plus delivery service for milk, diapers, and baked goods. Telephones were located outside throughout the village; a ringing phone would be answered by the nearest bystander who would then fetch (or get a kid to fetch) the intended recipient of the call. Churches came to conduct services in the theater (with the Catholics bringing their own kneelers), the Fuller Brush man made rounds throughout the compound, RYV had its own firefighters. Perched inside a park, it offered children plenty of space to play and explore.

Open to veterans of all races and branches of the military, Rodger Young Village was one of the most diverse communities in Southern California at the time. Adults and children befriended their neighbors with little regard to their ethnic background, educational levels, or personal beliefs. (One exception was the couple of Sidney and Libby Burke. There were evicted as it was determined that Sidney did not hold the proper veteran status but also because Libby had distributed supposedly communist literature.) Such acceptance of diversity helped end the practice of racial segregation in many local restaurants. (RYV residents often went to nearby eateries to dine with their neighbors. If a restaurant refused to serve someone in their party, the entire group would leave and often never return. Restaurants, faced with losing business, dropped discriminatory policies.)

As veterans bought homes or found housing elsewhere, the Rodger Young Village began to lose residents. RYV was demolished in the early 1950s. The parking lot for the Los Angeles Zoo and part of the Autry Museum now occupy the site where returning WWII vets and their families lived while waiting to move into their dream home. No physical trace of this housing project exists on the grounds today, but the photo archives of the Los Angeles Public Library can help you see how life was in this small town inside a big city.

With housing scarce and veterans returning en masse to the Los Angeles area, construction (conducted by William Radkovich Company and Zoss Construction Company) of Rodger Young Village was made a top priority by the Housing Authority.

The building of a Quonset hut is seen here.

building of quonset hut

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Edwin Eichelberger on April 22, 1946.

While no huts had individual telephone service, all homes in Rodger Young Village had electricity. Here we see an electrician connecting wires to the Quonset hut homes.

construction of rodger young village

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Louis Clyde Stoumen (no date given).

The main entrance for Rodger Young Village was on Riverside Drive, with the Santa Monica Mountains providing a dramatic backdrop for the housing project.

rodger young village in griffith park

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Edwin Eichelberger on April 22, 1946.

An aerial view of Rodger Young Village shows its size and layout.

Shades of L.A.: Mexican American Community, photo taken by
White’s Studio circa 1940.

The dedication ceremonies for Rodger Young Village were held on April 27, 1946. Here we see a map showing how to get to the festivities.

Security Pacific National Bank Collection (photographer and
date of photograph unknown).

Many new and prospective residents attended the dedication festivities.

post-war veteran housing

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Louis Clyde Stoumen
on April 26, 1946.

Mrs. Nicholas Young, the mother of Rodger Young (the war hero for whom the housing project was named) attended the Village’s dedication ceremony as well as then-Mayor Fletcher Bowron.

mrs. nicholas young

Herald-Examiner Collection, photographed on April 26, 1946.

Each family would occupy one-half (front or back) of a Quonset hut, with two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen in their living space. Single veterans or childless couples would share a Quonset hut with each having their own bedroom but sharing the rest of the hut.

A family lounges in a model unit of the newly-built Quonset huts to see if it meets their needs.

post-wwii los angeles

Herald-Examiner Collection, photographed by Howard Ballew on April 26, 1946.

A model unit also showcases a child’s bedroom in a housing unit in Rodger Young Village.

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Otto Rothschild on February 21, 1950.

While RYV was designed as temporary housing, residents took pride in their surroundings, planting gardens to add a homey touch.

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Leonard Nadel on July 19, 1950.

John Barnes and his family pose outside their home (Unit 606) in Rodger Young Village.

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Leonard Nadel on February 4, 1952.

Mrs. Lourdes Benigno and her children gather by the garden at their home (Unit 1147) in Rodger Young Village.

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Leonard Nadel on February 4, 1952.

Mrs. John Breslin, a German war bride, helps her children dress for the day in their home at Unit 1279.

life in Rodger Young Village

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Leonard Nadel in 1952.

As most residents of Rodger Young Village were young families, children were everywhere – playing by their homes, in the park, at the zoo, and at events organized for them. Here we see kids playing outside their homes, having fun and making friends in their temporary neighborhood.

children of rodger young village

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Leonard Nadel on November 16, 1951.

Children always enjoy dressing up for Halloween, and the kids at Rodger Young Village were no different.

Housing Authority Collection, photographed in October of 1947
(photographer unknown).

Santa Claus knew there were plenty of children in RYV, so he flew (via helicopter!) to visit them and their parents.

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Louis Clyde Stoumen
on December 21, 1948.

Adults also had plenty of activities to attend at Rodger Young Village. Here, Bette Davis confers with Rodger Young’s mother during a luncheon at RYV.

Bette Davis at Rodger Young Village

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photographed by
Floyd McCarty (date unknown).

People mingle and look at exhibits during a Negro Week program held in RYV.

negro week

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Louis Clyde Stoumen (date unknown).

Negro Week (also referred to as Negro History Week) at Rodger Young Village also included a firefighters’ parade that featured a marching band.

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Louis Clyde Stoumen (date unknown).

The arrow in this photo points to Rodger Wilton Young, the war hero for whom Rodger Young Village was named. This is the last photo taken of him before he died on July 31, 1943, in the Solomon Islands. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Herald-Examiner Collection, photograph dated 1946 but
taken in 1943 or earlier (photographer unknown).

An End to the Dry Spell

In 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. One year later, prohibition began. The production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages was now illegal. America went dry – or so it was thought.

Supporters of prohibition believed that getting rid of booze would get rid of America’s social ills – alcoholism, public intoxication, petty crime, poverty, mental illness, venereal disease. Prohibition would also reduce taxes as there would be less need for courts, jails, hospitals, asylums, and other institutions supported by tax dollars. The country would be richer and safer if it were sober.

Unfortunately, as journalist H. L. Mencken noted in 1925:

“Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. … Not only are crime, poverty and disease undiminished, but drunkenness itself, if the police statistics are to be believed, has greatly increased. The land rocks with the scandal. Prohibition has made the use of alcohol devilish and even fashionable, and so vastly augmented the number of users.”

On December 5, 1933, prohibition was repealed, with President Franklin D. Roosevelt declaring, “What America needs now is a drink!” People across the U.S. celebrated and Los Angeles, never a city to miss a party, joined in. The online photo archives of the Los Angeles Public Library show that while certain public officials in L.A. took prohibition very seriously, most of the public took its repeal even more seriously.

Members of the Coast Guard unload 1,200 cases of illegal whiskey found on a fishing boat in San Pedro.

Coast Guard unloading contraband liquor

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo dated March 25, 1932.

An officer takes inventory of liquor that was seized in a raid on a warehouse in Long Beach, California. Police believed the warehouse was being used as a distribution center by bootlegger Tony Carnero (a/k/a The Admiral and Tony the Hat). The liquor was valued at $62,000 — $910,781 in today’s currency.

bootlet liquor distribution by Anthony Carnero

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo taken in 1931.

John L. McDonnell of the District Attorney’s enforcement squad and Pearl Stephenson, secretary to Chief Investigator Lucien Wheeler, dump $45,000 worth of bootleg liquor used as evidence in liquor arrest cases. (Incidentally, that would be the equivalent of $635,000 worth of booze today.)

disposal of liquor during prohibition

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo dated February 16, 1929.

Members of the Sheriff’s office dump wine, whiskey, imported champagne, and various liquors they had confiscated. The alcohol – most of it high-end and meant for Christmas, New Year’s, and other holiday parties – was valued at $150,000 at the time. Today, this contraband booze would be worth roughly $2,004,500.

christmas spirits seized in raids

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo dated January 17, 1927.

Unable to buy a drink legally, many people resorted to partaking of Jamaica Ginger – also known as Jake – in place of a cocktail. Sold as a medicine, this concoction included an additive that affected the nerve cells that control movement, leading to paralysis for some unlucky imbibers. The Herald-Examiner alerted Southern Californians as to the dangers of drinking Jake.

Jamaica Ginger and the trouble it causes

Herald-Examiner Collection, drawings photographed in 1931.

As grapes were no longer becoming wine (with the exception of a select crop used for sacramental wine), the California Vinyardists’ Association created National Grape Week in an effort to dispose of a bumper crop of grapes during Prohibition.

National Grape Week

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo dated September 14, 1928.

In spite of the law, Los Angelenos (like folks everywhere) still liked to discuss business, meet friends, and relax over drinks. This elegant home at 4412 Wilshire Boulevard served as a speakeasy during Prohibition.

speakeasy in los angeles residence

Los Angeles Photographers Collection, Marlene Laskey/Wilshire Boulevard Collection,
photographed by Annie Laskey in 1978.

While the complete repeal of Prohibition occurred on December 5, 1933, the Beer and Wine Revenue Act (commonly referred to as the Beer Bill) was put into effect on April 7, 1933. It gave states the right to sell beer and wine. In this photo, crowds wait to enjoy a beer at the Belmont Grill in downtown Los Angeles.

belmont grill

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo dated April 7, 1933.

Here is the scene inside the Belmont Grill that same day.

belmont grill and the beer act

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo dated April 7, 1933.

When the Beer Bill came into effect, Eastside Brewery in Lincoln Heights wasted no time getting back into business. The first truckload of beer rolled away as movie star Jean Harlow christened it with a bottle of (what else?) beer.

jean harlow christens beer truck

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo dated April 7, 1933.

People couldn’t wait until prohibition was repealed to celebrate its repeal! Here, revelers at Club Airport Gardens celebrate the repeal of prohibition on November 8, 1933, with a skeleton of the 18th amendment.

club airport gardens celebrates repeal of prohibition

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo dated November 8, 1933.

With prohibition repealed, the quaint Malamute Saloon, designed to resemble a cozy log cabin, reopened after 13 years. Los Angeles residents and visitors could imbibe while enjoying a somewhat rustic experiment.

malamute saloon

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo dated 1933.

A group of Mexican-Americans celebrates the end of Prohibition and the freedom to enjoy a drink with family and friends.

mexican-americans celebrate repeal of prohibition

Shades of L.A.: Mexican-American Community, photo taken by Harvey
(see lower right corner) in 1934.