Bringing the heat!

Man and boys horsing around at Santa Monica Beach. Image #00025341, Shades of L.A.: African American Community Collection, c. 1965.

The Los Angeles basin cannot escape the fact that it’s climate tends to extremes, particularly of the hot variety. Global warming and galloping urbanization have exacerbated the situation Temperatures have increased over the past century, while heat waves are becoming ever more common and last longer.

While the sunshine draws many to the region’s palm-lined shores, there are dark sides to the bright skies. In this post we’ll look at how Angelenos both meet and beat the heat. The essay features images from the photo collection of the Los Angeles Public Library and the captions that accompanied them when first published in the region’s newspapers.

 

This fellow has found a way to enjoy the beach while still keeping out of the direct sun under the Santa Monica Pier. “Beach temperatures in the 80s and highs in the 90s inland.” Image #00043682 by James Ruebsamen, Herald Examiner Collection.

 

Thanks to industrial pollutants, the sun is often visible in the daytime. “Visitors from France and Italy seek refuge form the heat and smog in the Hotel Bonaventure’s pool.” Image #00051486, Leo Jarzomb, Herald Examiner Collection, July 10, 1984.

 

“Vapor locks stall traffic: Hot impatient motorists pulled to side of Hollywood Freeway, enroute to Valley, as vapor locks caused by excessive heat stalled at least 200 cars. Later afternoon traffice was near standstill, with one lane blocked off for stalled cars. Extra police and tow cars were assigned to area.” Image #00058807, John Rinaldi, Valley Times Collection, 1955.

 

Quintessential Los Angeles in summer: Surf, sun, and youth. Except that this photograph was taken on December 21, 1972 at Will Rogers State Park. Image #00050694, Herald Examiner Collection.

 

Another classic beach scene — a bit sweatier than the one above. “The current Southland heat wave has sent thousands scurrying to local beaches, as witnessed here in Seal Beach. Another scorcher is on tap today, with temperatures expected again to eclipse the 100-degree mark.” Image #00083385, Chris Hosford, Herald Examiner Collection, June 28, 1976.

 

“Real cool pool: Little David Allan Siddon, 2 1/2, splashes happily in his plastic wading pool….while young David was cooling off, temperatures soared to highest this year — a scorching 107.” Image #00112664, Valley Times Collection, June 4, 1957.

 

Valley Times staff artist Bob Hyde gives us a hot dog. The accompanying article described a proposed “pooch cooler” at Hoover Dam in Nevada for dogs and other animals. It is unclear what the proposed cooler was to consist of and unknown if it was ever built. Today no dogs are allowed at the dam site, with the exception of service animals. Image #00112760, Bob Hyde, Valley Times Collection, May 19, 1961.

 

“Valley geyser gushes: The Van Nuys intersection of Oxnard Street and Ethel Avenue became the scene of a geyser-type eruption Monday afternoon when heat caused the concrete roadway to expand, breaking a valve of an eight inch water pipeline.” Image #00125918, W.F. Gaskill, Valley Times Collection, August 8, 1961.

 

Newspapers love to provide life hacks for “beating the heat.” Here “Charles E. Lambert, office manager at the Union Ice Co. in Van Nuys, beats record Valley heat which rose to 110 degrees outside with ice block chair in company’s ice storage building. Ice house’s coolest room registered 30 degrees below.” Image #00143286, Valley Times Collection, September 1, 1955.

 

“There wasn’t much point to the gag of placing a 100 pound block of ice on the sidewalk in front of the Valley Times office, but the hot weather stunt did give folks something cool to talk about.” Image #00143288, Valley Times Collection, September 7, 1955.

 

“Road collapses in heat: Valley heat proves too much for road patch at Sherman Way and Havenhurst. Blacktop gave way, dropping rear wheel of bus into three-foot hole.” Image #00143290, Valley Times Collection, June 28, 1956.

 

“Harold L. Schrock, Winnetka, takes amazed look at road at Saticoy and Mason avenue which was buckled by 105 degree temperatures in West Valley. Pavement rose two and one half feet above dirt bed.” Image #00143292, Valley Times Collection, June 19, 1957.

 

“Desperation over perspiration: Los Angeles City Councilment James Corman, left, and Lemoine Blanchard are just two of city’s officials about to break precedent and loosen collars and ties in heat wave that has ‘really hit City Hall.’ Officials say they have it in for weatherman, building’s executive elevator, and its air-conditioning system. Elevator is on blink, making men walk up to offices; air-conditioner is out of order, will be for three weeks, and weatherman, only one of three working, is busy predicting more heat.” Image #00144159, Dean Gordon, Valley Times Collection, August 4, 1960.

 

“Dog comforts heat victim: Kathren Noerr, 75, of San Fernando, lies on on concrete after being felled by Valley heat. Her dog, Cha-Cha, guards mistress. She was given first aid on scene.” Image #00154679, Valley Times Collection, July 16, 1957.

 

 

And finally, one lucky enough to have a private pool: “A resident polar bear at the LA Zoo cools himself off after a dip in the pool.” Image #00084299, Paul Chinn, Herald-Examiner Collection, August 2, 1987.

 

Tales of Deadman’s Island

Dead men do tell tales at times. Some have tales to tell about a small islet that once acted as a landmark in Los Angeles Harbor just off San Pedro. Photos in the library’s collection depict Deadman’s Island, or Isla de los Muertos, across nearly a century, while also giving glimpses at the rapidly evolving community of San Pedro. But don’t look for it now!

The earliest view we have of Deadman’s Island is this photo based on a daguerreotype by William Godfrey, dated 1850. Only the base of the island in the background can be seen. The very small collection of shanties is all that comprised San Pedro, at that time already the main port for the town of Los Angeles. Image #00033343, Security Pacific National Bank Collection.

Dana’s view

In 1836 Richard Henry Dana, a sailor by choice on the brig Pilgrim, described the island:

“…a small, desolate-looking island, steep and conical, of a clayey soil, and without the sign of vegetable life upon it; yet which had a peculiar and melancholy interest to me, for on the top of it were buried the remains of an Englishman, the commander of a small merchant brig, who died while lying in this port.”

Dana studied the island while guarding a stack of cowhides that his shipmates had just acquired from the local Californio ranchers. Hides and tallow were the lifeblood of commerce in Alta California, at that time a province of Mexico. It is likely that he heard the tale of the sea captain from the group of local men he spent time with that evening. He is able to provide lurid detail to the story:

“…the man died far from home; without a friend near him; by poison, it was suspected, and no one to inquire into it; and without proper funeral rites; the mate, (as I was told,) glad to have him out of the way, hurrying him up the hill and into the ground, without a word or a prayer.”

Dana must have speculated as to the cause of the man’s demise. His own skipper had a vile temper, and Dana describes many acts of cruelty, including floggings. He even admits to fantasizing about mutiny.

 

Detail from a WPA mural on display at Dana Middle School in San Pedro — It depicts sailors from Dana’s ship exchanging trade goods for hides. The Native Americans, in service to the rancheros, have brought the hides down by ox and cart to the seashore. In the background men are laboriously carrying the heavy hides down to the boats. The work of obtaining the valuable cowhides was called “hide-droghing.” Dana is famed for his book Two Years Before the Mast, a highly descriptive account of life in the days of sail. Works Progress Administration Collection, Adrien Machefert artist, c. 1929, Image #00070050.

 

Lost in translation?

Dana does not name the island and there is controversy about when and where the name “Deadman” or “Isla de los Muertos” (Isle of the Dead) first came into use. We know that sailing ships passed along the coast as early as the 16th century, including those of the well-known explorers Cabrillo, Drake, and Vizcaíno . It is possible, even likely that the islands and islets near to shore were used as convenient burying places for those who died at sea. We know that Cabrillo himself was likely buried on one of the channel islands, probably San Miguel, in 1543, after dying of gangrene.

Midshipman Robert Duvall of the USS Savannah believed he and his shipmates had first named the island. In his logbook, following the 1846 Battle of Dominguez Hills, he writes:

“Wm H. Berry, O.S. departed this Life from the effects of a wound received in Battle. Sent his body on “Dead Mans Island,” So named by us. Mustered the Crew at quarters, after which performed Divine Service.” [all punctuation sic]

There is also speculation that the original name of the rocky outcropping had nothing to do with death at all. One Narciso Botello (1813 – 1889), in his memoirs, refers to our island as Morrito. The editor of the published volume, Brent C. Dickerson, tells us that morrito is the diminutive of morro meaning “something jutting out” or simply “nose” or “snout.” One immediately thinks of the famed Morro Rock in San Luis Obispo County, a volcanic plug named by the explorer Cabrillo in 1642. According to the official website of the City of Morro Bay, the name means “crown shaped hill” in Spanish. If the 576-foot tall Morro Rock is a crown-shaped hill, perhaps the  55-foot tall Deadman’s Island was a smaller crown-shaped hill.

Yet other translations on offer for “morro” include dome, turban, and — perhaps the simplest of all — hill, in Portuguese. Cabrillo, after-all, was at least part Portuguese.

 

A similar view to that of the daguerreotype above, but taken some two decades later. A breakwater has been installed as an aid to navigation into the inner harbor and some temporary structures can be seen at the point where the island meets the breakwater. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00033342, 1873.

Our poor island’s name was taken in vain during the free port wars, beginning in 1889, when various interests vied for federal dollars to build port facilities at either San Pedro or Santa Monica Bay. Senator William B. Frye of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce had this to say about San Pedro:

“Deadman’s Island! Rattlesnake Island! I should  think it would scare a mariner to death to come into such a place! You people in southern California propose to ask the government to create a harbor for you, almost out of whole cloth. The Lord has not given you much to start with, that is certain. It will cost four or five million to build, you say: well — is your whole country worth that much?” (quoted in Hager, “A Salute to the Port of Los Angeles…”)

Despite the senator’s misgivings, San Pedro was chosen to be the deep water harbor for Los Angeles County. This decision ultimately sealed the fate of the little island, as we will see below.

 

This circa 1905 view of San Pedro provides a much clearer view of Deadman’s Island, now connected by rock jetty to Terminal (or Rattlesnake) Island. The port town of San Pedro, while still quaint, has docking facilities and rail service. A dredger works  at top left deepening the channel into the inner harbor. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00032600.

Toasting the dead

An interesting anecdote comes to us from one Horace Bell, a California ranger, who published his memoirs in 1881. It seems that Bell accompanied Juan Antonio Sepúlveda and a group of enthusiastic gentlemen on a little outing celebrating the Fourth of July in 1853. Sepúlveda was a prominent don who had served with José Antonio Carrillo in the California War. According to Bell:

“Don Juan, in the exuberance of his patriotism, had unearthed a venerable field piece which had enjoyed the silence of the grave since it had fired its last shot in defense of Mexican territory. Captain Sepúlveda mustered and embarked his command on a large boat and proceeded up Wilmington Bay, where he embarked his artillery and sailed for Dead Man’s Island, where, after infinite labor, he succeeded in mounting his battery on the highest point of the island, and all being ready, we let loose such a thunder as was never exceeded by one gun. It seemed that we would wake the seven sleeping heroes who so quietly reposed on the little barren rock…While paying our respects to our liquid ammunition, Don Juan proceeded to tell us how the seven sailors came to be killed. Their wooden head-boards stood in a line in front of us.”

The seven sleeping heroes were Americans who had been killed in the Battle of Dominguez Rancho, sometimes called the Battle of the Old Woman’s Gun, in October 1846. The battle between the American foot soldiers and sailors and a smaller force of mounted Californios had resulted in a rout of the Americans, largely due to the presence of an ancient piece of artillery brought to bear by the enemy (and later, allegedly, mounted by Sepúlveda on Deadman’s Island). It was the last true victory for the Californians before American forces made good their conquest of this outpost of the Mexican empire. One of the dead, a cabin boy, had been killed accidentally by friendly fire.

The little island, standing roughly where the the Americans’ ship, the USS Savannah, was anchored, proved a convenient place to deposit the remains of fallen comrades. The San Pedro coast was still closely watched by the enemy, not to mention coyotes.

This 1899 illustration depicts “San Pedro harbor as it will look when completed.” We can see a series of docks and jetties with Deadman’s Island clearly visible in the center, at the foot of the jetty connecting it to Rattlesnake Island. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00033175.

Reclaiming the dead

Primary and secondary sources detail a number of bodies interred on the island. Clearly the heroes of the battle were not alone. Some bodies were discovered in the late 19th century during the building of a jetty connecting the isle to Rattlesnake Island, really a large sand spit, just to the north in the harbor. Another story says that some young adventurers stumbled upon a coffin in 1893. At the time of the island’s demise, 1928-30, dynamite and bulldozers uncovered somewhere between 18 and 23 sets of remains. (The discrepancy could well be due to the intermingling of bones during or before the demolition.)

So who were these people isolated to a not-so-final burying place? Clearly all of them were buried far from home. Some may have lain in the ground for a century or more. Collecting up all the references we have been able to find, we come up with the following list (some duplication is entirely possible):

  • The six sailors and one cabin boy of the USS Savannah, killed during the Battle of Dominguez Rancho in 1846.
  • Black Hawk, one of the last members of the Nicoleño, the native people living on St. Nicholas Island in the Channel Islands who had been forcibly removed in 1835. Black Hawk died about 1845.
  • Two males who appear to have been Spanish soldiers based on their attire. Some have dated these remains to the 17th century or even earlier.
  • A blond female, buried next to the Spanish soldiers.
  • A white male, possibly a smuggler. According to a fourth-hand tale, he washed up on the island and died of starvation, his body found by local fisherman early in the 19th century.
  • An English sea captain.
  • The wife of an American sea captain, Mrs. Parker (or possibly Morton), who died of tuberculosis on shore at the same time her husband and crew were drowning at sea. The year was 1858 and the ship was the Laura Bevan, a clipper schooner bound for Santa Barbara.
  • A Native American woman.
  • A man with an arrowhead through his head
  • A passenger from a Panamanian ship in 1851.
  • And, of course, pirates!

The diversity of the populace hints at the storied history of the rock. Deadman’s Island was not merely a convenient place for burial. It served a number of purposes over the decades, including (briefly) a whaling station, a place of youthful exploration, a hideout for rum runners during Prohibition, a possible location of pirate treasure or smugglers’ contraband, and — in the 19-teens — a filming locale for several silent movies starring Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd.

What happened to the bodies? It is hoped that all the remains collected before and during the demolition of the island were re-interred elsewhere. Unfortunately, we cannot be sure. Certainly we can be sure that most were never identified. The earthly remains of the Americans from the Battle of Dominguez Hills are said to have been reburied at the Presidio in San Francisco. Others may have been repatriated to onshore cemeteries.

A dredger at work on the demolition of Deadman’s Island, 1928. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00033162.

The hand of man

Deadman’s Island performed its last service as a sacrifice for the greater good. The building of breakwaters and jetties in the late 19th century had already taken a toll on the rock when the powers to be decided to remove it entirely to accommodate expanded port facilities. Dynamite and bulldozers did their work, leveling the islet and using the detritus as landfill to expand the flat Rattlesnake Island, at this time dubbed Terminal Island after the Los Angeles Terminal Railroad. The interests of commerce and industry were well-served: today the Port of Los Angeles, centered at San Pedro, is the top sea port facility in this country, measured by volume and value of goods shipped.

1928 aerial view of the harbor. Deadman’s Island is gone and a rectangular extension to Terminal Island is being created out of the remains. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Spence Air Photos, Image #00033126.


Sources for this post include:

Campo de Cahuenga: Overlooked Landmark

This undated postcard in the Security Pacific National Bank Collection, labelled “Fremont house, Hollywood, Cal.”, purports to show the original adobe on the grounds of Campo de Cahuenga in North Hollywood, with Cahuenga Peak behind it. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, #00070855. Photographer, M. Rieder Studio.

Nestled at the juncture of North Hollywood, Studio City, and Universal City, at the north end of the Cahuenga Pass, sits a small fenced-in heritage park.  Campo de Cahuenga is in the care of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks in partnership with the Campo de Cahuenga Memorial Association. It is believed to be the location of the signing of the Treaty of Cahuenga (otherwise known as the Capitulation of Cahuenga), a landmark event in the history of California. The treaty, which ended hostilities between American armed forces and the resident “Californios,” was signed 172 years ago, January 13, 1847, long enough past to make memories hazy. It effectively made the Mexican state of Alta California a military-ruled territory of the United States and, three years later, a state.

The Significance of the Treaty

Folks like to refer to the Campo as “The Birthplace of California.” However, there is much more to the tumultuous history of the Golden State. Prior to the treaty signing, the territory that is now the state of California had endured decades of shifting claims of authority: Spain until 1822, Mexico from 1822 to 1847. Russia established a short-lived colony at Fort Ross in northern California. Of even shorter duration was the California Republic in northern California, the dream of a ragtag band of American settlers with support from John C. Frémont and his soldiers. This “Bear Flag Republic” lasted 25 days in the summer of 1846. And let us not forget — for six days in 1818, the town of Monterey sat under an Argentine flag! All of these authorities ran rough-shod over the rights of the indigenous populations.

The story of the Bear Flag Republic speaks to the character of Frémont , one of the most famous men in both the history and mythology of the American West. By all accounts, Frémont was an ambitious man who saw himself as a major player in the future of California and perhaps the nation. He had burnished a reputation as an explorer, surveyor, Indian fighter, and man of destiny, specifically manifest destiny. In 1846 he was asked to bring his motley crew of mountain men, freebooters, and Native Americans into the fight for control of California.

Frémont is pictured here late in life standing next to a giant redwood tree, the so-called Frémont Tree. A legend that Frémont encouraged has it that he and a group of his men took shelter in the burned-out roots of this tree during a driving rain storm in 1846. The tree still stands in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz County. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, #00043846, undated.

The second man in our story is Andrés Pico, the brother of Pío Pico, the last governor of Mexican-controlled Alta California. Andrés Pico led the last stand of the Californios in Los Angeles. As Frémont and his California Battalion closed in from the north, and the American military commanders Stockton and Kearny approached from the south, Pico made the decision to surrender to Frémont , expecting greater leniency from that quarter than what had been rumored to be in store for him and his men from Stockton and Kearny. Through fast-riding intermediaries the outlines of a peace plan were sketched out and an appointment made to meet at “a deserted rancho at the foot of Couenga [sic] plain.” (Edwin Bryant journal) The rancho in question was a property connected to, though some distance away from, the Mission San Fernando Rey, where Frémont and his men were encamped.

A studio portrait of Andrés Pico. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, #00043874, undated, likely 1870s.

A Woman’s Touch?

Much has been made of the story of Bernarda Ruiz de Rodriguez, a widow living in Santa Barbara when Frémont and his men trudged into that town at the very end of 1846 on their way to Los Angeles. In Frémont’s memoirs, written forty years after the fact, he mentions that a woman “of some age” (she was 42) came to him and advised him to be lenient in his dealings with the Californios he was sure to conquer.

“In the interview I found that her object was to use her influence to put an end to the war, and to do so upon such just and friendly terms of compromise as would make the peace acceptable and enduring.”

Frémont gives the lady some credit in persuading him to act graciously toward the soon-to-be vanquished. He goes on to write, “Here began the Capitulation of Couenga [sic].”

Historians and journalists have latched onto this anecdote, adding much detail both possible and decidedly unlikely: Bernarda has been credited with everything from swaying Frémont from leveling the town of Santa Barbara to personally dictating the terms of the Treaty of Cahuenga. Many versions of the story have Bernarda traveling with Frémont and his men to Los Angeles and witnessing the signing of the treaty. This writer has yet to find evidence to back up this assertion in the primary sources.

 

An early hand-drawn map of Campo de Cahuenga, showing the as yet unchannelized Los Angeles River, the Camino Real running diagonally from top to bottom, meadows (llanos), and a field of chamisa plants, sometimes called rabbitbush, a yellowish flowering plant which may have provided fodder for cattle. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, #00031280.

Whether or not Bernarda was present in body at the signing of the treaty document, she was there in spirit. The terms agreed upon by both sides that rainy Wednesday were quite generous to the vanquished. They were to be allowed life, liberty, and property, as well as the right to remove themselves from the territory should they wish to. They would, of course, have to forfeit their weapons and swear off further violence.

The Treaty, or Capitulation, of Cahuenga was remarkable in that it had no official sanction from the superiors of either side, yet it was generally accepted and even became the model upon which the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the  pact that officially ended the wider Mexican-American War in 1848, was based.

The Significance of the Campo

Campo de Cahuenga is one of the lesser-known landmarks in the Los Angeles basin. Nonetheless the site offers a wealth of historical and archaeological significance. What was an abandoned structure at the time of the treaty signing continued to weather away until it was completely demolished in the 19-teens to make way for Universal City. It has been the site of a number of archaeological excavations, beginning with the efforts of a group of high school students in 1931 who uncovered a portion of foundations and some floor and roof tiles, enough to establish a rough approximation of the forgotten adobe and to qualify it for landmark designation by the State of California in 1935. A few years later the City of Los Angeles built a replica structure on what they believed was the footprint of the adobe. This structure and surrounding gardens were made available for use by the community.

This photo from 1928 shows the city-built walls surrounding a small memorial park. The original adobe structure of the Campo was long gone at this time, but a new structure was built about 1950 to serve in its stead. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, #00032431.

Sixty years later progress on a Los Angeles Metro project was halted when digging uncovered additional flooring materials under the street and sidewalk outside the new Campo gates along Lankershim Boulevard. Professional preservation practices were called into play resulting in the excavation of the original footprint of the adobe running crosswise to the re-imagined structure. These efforts uncovered artifacts of both Native American and Mexican/Californio origin.

Today, while the original foundations have been re-buried, one may see the outlines of the adobe walls adjacent to the reconstructed building and extending out onto the boulevard! An iconic bell-shaped markers identifies the spot as a location on El Camino Real, the original dusty road that connected the California missions and their growing communities.

Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes, the “Mother of the Campo.” Mrs. Forbes was a well-known advocate of preservation of California mission-era structures. She is credited with tracing the route of El Camino Real, the road that linked the California missions. She is sometimes known as the “Bell Lady” for designing and installing antique-looking bells along the route of the Camino, including at the Campo de Cahuenga. Her influence is credited for preservation and interpretation of the Campo site. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, #00043839, undated.

 One of the famous El Camino Real bells, designed by Mrs. Forbes, marks the site of Campo de Cahuenga. Herman J. Schultheis Collection, #00010012, c. 1937.

A Place for All

Although not well known to the general public, Campo de Cahuenga has been popular with a number of civic and heritage-minded groups in the San Fernando Valley area. A sampling of photos from the Los Angeles Public Library gives us a peek at the many happenings that have taken place at the Campo over the decades.

 

For many decades, the Campo de Cahuenga Memorial Association has held an annual re-enactment of the treaty signing at the adobe. Here James M. Sutton, left, of the Los Angeles Parks Department, and Geoge E. Shipley of the Memorial Association dust off the plaque on the in preparation for the event in 1963. Valley Times Collection, #00114275. Photographer, Bob Martin.

 

The Pan-American Friendship Club, North Hollywood chapter, celebrates Mexican Independence Day in 1957. The man standing at left is a representative of a Mexican airline, probably Mexicana. Valley Times Collection, #00124747.

 

A meeting of the San Fernando Valley Historical Society takes place at Campo de Cahuenga in 1959 with musical entertainment by Rudolph M. Garza. A plaque commemorating the treaty signing can be seen on the wall. Valley Times Collection, #00133101. Photographer, William H. Wilde.

 

The Daughters of the American Revolution, Peyton Randolph chapter, learn to duck and cover from Major William Koons, an Armed Forces Information Officer. The news article accompanying the photo was entitled “Learns atomic test lore.” Valley Times Collection, #00141406, 1957.

 

Ingrid Goude, a 19-year old starlet from Sweden, demonstrates how to re-set your sundial for the end of daylight savings time, September 29, 1956. Ms. Goude went on to find fame, of a sort, as the star of “The Killer Shrews” in 1959. Valley Times Collection, #00143191.

 

The Kappa Delta Sorority Alumnae Association, San Fernando Valley chapter, held Easter egg hunts at the Campo during the 1950s. This photo appears to be staged for publicity of the event which was to be the next day. Valley Times Collection, #00142142, 1955. Photographer, Dave Siddon.

 

Sculptor Henry Van Wolf presents a scale model of a proposed sculpture commemorating the Cahuenga Treaty signing to women representing the San Fernando Valley Historical Society and the North Hollywood Women’s Club. Van Wolf offered to create a full-scale monument for display at the Campo at his cost. It does not appear that the work was ever carried out. Efforts to interest the federal government in a national park at the site foundered. Valley Times Collection, #00133104, April 3, 1965. Photographer, Gordon Dean.

 

Sources consulted for this essay include Memoirs of My Life and Times by John C. Frémont (1887); What I saw in California, the journal of Edwin Bryant (1848); The Private Journal of Louis McLane, U.S.N., 1844-48; Bear Flag Rising by Dale L. Walker (1999); Old Spanish Santa Barbara, From Cabrillo to Frémont by Walker A. Tompkins (1967); “Doña Bernarda Ruiz de Rodriguez, Santa Barbara’s Forgotten Heroine” by William G. Lockwood, in Ancestors West: Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society, Fall 2009/Winter 2019; “San Juan to Cahuenga: The Experiences of Frémont’s Battalion” by William H. Ellison in the Pacific Historical Review, August 1958; “When the System Works, The Campo de Cahuenga,” by Roberta S. Greenwood, in the Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly, Spring and Summer 2002; the website CampodeCahuenga.com;

Mr. and Mrs. Schultheis go to Santa Barbara

We have written before about Herman Schultheis, the German-born photographer and jack of all film-related trades. With his wife, Ethel, Herman arrived in Los Angeles in 1937 with high hopes of a career in the film industry. He did find work with Disney where, for a few short years, he had a hand in the special effects magic used to create Fantasia, Pinocchio, and other animated classics. Today he is best remembered for several secret notebooks he put together documenting the processes used to create that magic, as well as for his mysterious disappearance in a Guatemalan jungle in 1955. Following the death of Ethel in 1990, conservators found a trove of thousands of photographs in the Schultheis home in the Los Feliz neighborhood. Documenting a wide swath of life in the Southland, these snapshots were deeded to the Los Angeles Public Library. Nearly 6,000 have been digitized. A handful are presented here. All contemporary photos are by the author.

Sometime in 1938 Herman and Ethel made a trip to Santa Barbara, that charming town up the coast from Los Angeles along El Camino Real (now the 101 Freeway). It may have been a day trip, or perhaps the couple spent the weekend. The trip was, no doubt, a chance for the Schultheises to relax and indulge their favorite activities — exploration and photography. Without realizing it, they were also documenting the newly reinvented Santa Barbara, now fully committed to honoring, and capitalizing on, its Spanish colonial roots.

 

The Mission Santa Barbara, church front. Herman J. Schultheis Collection, #00097380.

 

The Mission Santa Barbara: this photo shows the northern flank of the colonnaded Mission , with a fountain and lavanderia in front. The washing trough was built by Chumash Indians in 1808, and was fed by an aqueduct system bringing water from Mission Creek. Schultheis Collection, #00097372.

 

 

Schultheis image #00097377 shows Ethel Schultheis peering into the fountain where she is reflected alongside one of the mission’s iconic twin bell towers.

 

Colonnade at the Queen of the Missions. Schultheis Collection, #00097375.

 

Our contemporary photo shows the original lavanderia still in place in front of the mission. The mission’s second bell tower is obscured by the tree. The bear’s head spout is a re-creation, but may have been original at the time Schultheis took his photo. The mountain lion spout, pictured below, is an original Chumash carving.

 

 

 

Herman and Ethel visited the splendid Santa  Barbara Courthouse. This working county courthouse was built in the late 1920s in Spanish Colonial Revival style. Following a devastating earthquake in 1925, the city elders decided to rebuild much of the town in this style, creating what to this day appears as a white washed, red-tiled Spanish theme park on the California coast.

The front entryway of the massive courthouse is flanked by the sandstone fountain sculpture entitled “Spirit of the Ocean.” According to a history of the courthouse*, two local “children,” brother and sister, acted as models for the sculptor, Ettore Cadorin. Schultheis Collection, #00036425.

 

The contemporary version appears much the same, but in fact is a re-creation put in place in 2011, as the original sandstone had deteriorated. In addition, despite the watery appearance of the green tiles, there is no water in the fountain, a casualty of California’s persistent drought.

 

The monumental entrance to the courthouse. Schultheis Collection, #00038217.

 

Courthouse from the interior courtyard and sunken garden, showing the entry way from the opposite end. Schultheis Collection #00038205.

 

Our contemporary photo doubles the Schultheis snapshot above. The Schultheises may well have taken in the panoramic view of Santa Barbara afforded from the upper deck of the clock tower, although no photos from that location have been found.

 

The Casa de la Guerra, Schultheis Collection, #00097366. The silhouette of a protruding Spanish-style balcony can be seen at upper left. Schultheis may have taken this overhead shot from another balcony.

Once a large hacienda, with many outbuildings and a tower room, the Casa de la Guerra is much reduced in size and circumstance, but is now managed as a museum by the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. Built by a commandante of the Santa Barbara Presidio, José Antonio de la Guerra y Noriega (1779-1858), the Casa was a center of social activity in the young pueblo through much of the 19th century.

The Casa de la Guerra today.

The El Paseo shopping arcade, established during Santa Barbara’s Spanish Colonial Revival in the 1930s, surrounds the Casa on all sides except its front. Schultheis and his wife no doubt explored the charming alleys and plazas of this planned attraction. The particular alley pictured above was dubbed “Street in Spain.” Schultheis Collection, #00097367.

 

Schultheis took a number of photos of an area the cataloger dubbed “Santa Barbara Square.” In fact, this is the area called Plaza de la Guerra. Comparing the photo above with current photos it is clear that this is the Oreña Adobe, just down the block from the Casa de la Guerra and across the street from Santa Barbara City Hall. Built in the 1850s, the Oreña Adobe is now home to the Downtown Santa Barbara Association. Schultheis image #00097370.

 

The Biltmore Hotel, Montecito, Schultheis Collection, #00097333.

The Schultheises were clearly taken with the architecture and landscape of Santa Barbara. There are many photos in the collection of architectural detail. Schultheis took photos at both the posh Biltmore Hotel (now a Four Seasons resort) in Montecito and the nearly as grand Hotel Vista Mar Monte (now the Hyatt Centric Santa Barbara), although it is doubtful that the couple stayed at either. Money was tight. Herman had just started work at Disney after a lengthy period of unemployment.

The Hotel Vista Mar Monte, Schultheis Collection, #00097347.

 

A picnic under the palms, Schultheis Collection, #00097356. The ladies may be at a beachfront park on Cabrillo Boulevard. Ethel Schultheis is at left. One of the women at right may be her mother, Marie Wisloh, who, along with her husband Theodore, visited her daughter about this time.

 

Channel Drive, Schultheis Collection, #00097337.

The photos Herman took of the historic buildings and hotels are not his best work. There was no plan to publish them or use them to inspire his work at Disney. However, they nicely reflect a happy weekend for the couple.

 

*Gebhard and Masson, The Santa Barbara County Courthouse, 2001.

Playa Del Rey: The Last Beach Town

Surf, sand, sun: the key ingredients for a California beach town. Playa Del Rey has all these in abundance. Yet the tiny community also has had perhaps more than its share of fallout from both the force of nature and the hand of man. What was once a vast complex of wetlands south of Santa Monica, and the estuary for the Los Angeles River, is now a narrow slice of coast squeezed between man-made Marina Del Rey on the north, the huge upscale housing complex known as Playa Vista to the east, and LAX so close on the south that jets soar directly over the beach.

Fredie Martel gets sand between his toes, 1942. Although the photo is labelled Playa Del Rey, it could easily be another beach community. The confines of Playa Del Rey have changed so much over the decades that names tend to get lost in the mix. Photo, Shades of L.A. Collection – Mexican American Community, #00002789.

Water, water, everywhere

Playa Del Rey is a community defined by water. Ballona Creek, once a major river, cuts through the landscape as it courses from the Santa Monica Mountains down to the sea. Two centuries ago, the creek bed also channeled the Los Angeles River before that water course jumped its banks about 1825 due to earthquakes and flooding and began flowing south to San Pedro. Even without the waters of the L.A. River, Ballona Creek was a formidable stream, creating swaths of freshwater wetlands upland and saltwater wetlands as it approached the sea. A wide estuary ballooned into a lagoon surrounded by sand dunes, an ideal spot for recreational boating.

A century ago entrepreneurs dreamed dreams of pleasure pavilions, hotels, car-racing and other attractions. About the turn of the 19th century, an abortive effort was made to dredge out the wetlands and create “Port Ballona” where the railroad would meet shipping lines. Storm and tide foiled this effort and the port of Los Angeles went to San Pedro.

Dreams of a resort town had more success. The first decades of the 20th century saw a hotel and pavilion built on the lagoon with a pier on the oceanfront. Palm trees were trucked in from Santa Monica. Storm gates shielded the lagoon from ocean currents. The Pacific Electric Railway brought day trippers to the shore on its Red Cars. A funicular railroad took the adventurous straight up the bluffs. Housing started going up on the hills and along the shore to the south.

By the 1930s, things started to go sideways. The Great Depression played a part, but there were other factors. Oil was discovered in Venice, just to the north, bringing pollutants and unpleasant smells. At roughly the same time, Ballona Creek was straightened and channelized with concrete, reducing the threat of flooding, but forever changing the character of the wetlands. The lagoon shrank to a fraction of its former size. Two decades later, massive infrastructure projects to the south put the squeeze on the little beach town: the Hyperion Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Scattergood Steam Plant, and, of course, the expansion of Los Angeles International Airport. In the mid-1960s, the airport had hundreds of homes in the Surfridge neighborhood of Playa Del Rey condemned. The runways never extended quite as far as that beachfront community; one can still see ghost sidewalks and streets through a chain-link fence along Vista Del Mar, the coast road. The 1946 construction and 1955  expansion of the Hyperion plant dumped tons of sand and sediment off the coast of Playa Del Rey. While this may have compensated somewhat for beach erosion, it permanently stunted the already sleepy lagoon, cutting it off from all ocean tides.

The most significant change for Playa Del Rey, however, came when the Army Corps of Engineers began work on the project to be known as Marina Del Rey, a huge dredging project that created berths for 5,000 pleasure boats just across the Ballona Creek channel from the heart of Playa Del Rey. In effect, the Marina project, completed in 1965, cut off Playa Del Rey, geographically and ecologically, from its sister beach towns, Venice and Santa Monica, and from the northern lobe of the lagoon. The massive project destroyed 900 acres of wetland; in addition, tons of earth dredged out for the boat channels were deposited off Playa Del Rey. Once again the town became a dumping ground.

In more recent years, residents have had to fight to keep even a small portion of the wetlands that defined the community from falling to development. Beginning in 2002, the Playa Vista development threatened to destroy a good chunk of the remaining freshwater wetlands for upscale housing, businesses, and offices.  Negotiation and mitigation has allowed for the preservation and interpretation of some 600 acres of wetlands, now in the care of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Plans are afoot to restore the much changed wetlands to some version of their former selves.

Meanwhile, in the lowlands, the little community of Playa Del Rey retains a relatively low profile among beach towns.

Watching change unfold

Photos from the Los Angeles Public Library’s collection show the startling transformation of Playa Del Rey over the past century.-

Del Rey Lagoon (aka “Lake Ballona”) with canoes, about 1902. Photo, Graham Photo Company, Security Pacific National Bank Collection, #00022968.

 

The reconfigured lagoon with a pleasure pavilion (left), ocean pier, and hotel, 1907. Throngs of people along the shore provide the scale. The Hotel Del Rey, pictured center right, burned to the ground in 1924 killing two dozen, including 22 young people. At the time the wooden structure was being used as a home for special needs girls. While stories vary, it appears that the fire was started by one of the teenagers living in the home. Photo, Security Pacific National Bank Collection, #00022975.

 

A contemporary photo, taken from roughly the same angle, shows the much reduced size of the lagoon. Photo, Alan Humphrey.

 

Real estate developers have set up shop at the base of the bluffs along Culver Boulevard, 1925. Dickenson and Gillespie had their headquarters in the large building at middle right, between Pershing Drive and Vista Del Mar Lane. This structure, the Dickenson & Gillespie building, still stands, though much altered, and is the home of Tanner’s Coffee. The small huts in the photo, adjacent to a grandstand, were temporary structures set up to be used by salesmen. The photo appears to be taken during some event, likely the advertised “New Model City Addition” sale held August 2, 1925. During land “booms,” prospective buyers were often lured in to hear a sales pitch with free transportation, food, and other incentives. Dickenson and Gillespie dubbed Playa Del Rey “The Last of the Beaches.” Security Pacific National Bank Collection, #00023000.

 

Pacific Electric street cars bound for Playa Del Rey and points south. Photo, Security Pacific National Bank Collection, #00006774.

Remnants of the old Pacific Electric street car tracks can be spotted in the Ballona Saltwater Wetlands. A viewing platform atop the piers allows school groups and others to get a close up look at the flora and fauna of the wetlands. The yachts and condos of Marina Del Rey can be seen in the distance.

“All year play ground of happy healthy children: Palisades Del Rey.” So reads the slogan written on this photo dated 1930 in the library’s collection, perhaps a bit of promotional literature. Photo, Security Pacific National Bank Collection, #00070514.

 

Oil spills and the resulting sludge are common problems on California beaches. Playa Del Rey is no exception. This photo of Ileana Sanchez was taken in 1979. Photo, Toru Kawana, Herald Examiner Collection, #00044224.

 

Playa Del Ray beach about 1938. A crude rock jetty extends into the sea at left. Photo, Herman J. Schultheis Collection, Los Angeles Photographers Collection, #00022982.

 

The structure is called the McGurk Beach Jetty, for reasons unknown. It was likely built to protect swimmers from high tides. Photo, Alan Humphrey.

 

The Playa Del Rey Stables were a fixture in the community from approximately 1910 to 1988. The last days of the riding stables came when the land was optioned for a retirement home that never materialized. Here, one Jim Doggett rubs down his horse, Beau, April 30, 1988. Photo Leo Jarzomb, Herald-Examiner Collection, #00084387.

A circular area of trampled grounds is what’s left of the riding stables. Local lore has it that a young Elizabeth Taylor trained for her role in National Velvet in this corral. Photo, Alan Humphrey.

Bridge over Ballona Creek near its outflow, 1941. The photo is taken after the creek has been channelized and before the creation of Marina Del Rey. The channel is swollen due to torrential rains. Photo, Herald Examiner Collection, #00043329. (The photo shows editor’s crop marks.)

 

Today’s Ballona Creek Bridge, used by bikes and pedestrians only, links Playa Del Rey to a jetty and bike path. A wide boat channel on the other side of the jetty leads to the eight basins of Marina Del Rey. Photo, Alan Humphrey.

Tut arrives in L.A., 1978

Portions of this essay were first published on the website HistoryLink.org.

Jerry Anne DiVecchio, Food and Wine Editor for Sunset Magazine, admires the statuette of Selket. The sensuous goddess was one of the most popular artifacts in the collection, as testified to by sales of replicas. The photo is dated February 15, opening day, but was likely taken the day before at the press preview which was attended by some 600 reporters, editors, and photographers. Photo by Michael Haering, Herald-Examiner Collection, #00078081.

In 1974, United States President Richard Nixon, just a few months shy of his abrupt departure from his office, traveled to Egypt to negotiate a bilateral agreement with that country’s President Anwar Sadat. Among other minor matters, such as peace in the Middle East, the pact included provision for an American tour of artifacts from the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun (c.1341-c.1323 B.C.) so famously unearthed by British archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922. In exchange, the United States would remit a share of retail sales to Egypt to help renovate the Cairo Museum, the home of the Tut trove.

 

One of Tut’s canopic coffins. This one held the boy king’s intestines. Photo by Michael Haering, dated February 15, 1978, Herald-Examiner Collection, #00078083. A photo editor has indicated how the photo is to be cropped.

A year later curators from the U.S. and Egypt selected 55 artifacts for the 1976-1979 tour – the number symbolic of the number of years, roughly, since the opening of the tomb.

The arrival of Treasures of Tutankhamun was planned to coincide with America’s bicentennial celebration in 1976; the show opened first at Washington D.C.’s National Gallery of Art on November 17, 1976. The U.S. State Department, in consultation with Egyptian authorities, asked the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to coordinate the tour. Tut touched down in seven U.S. cities: Washington D.C., Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York City, and San Francisco (a last-minute addition).

A shawabty — one of 413 “servants” left for Tut in his tomb. This one appears to be modeled after the pharaoh, himself. Photo by Michael Haering, dated February 15, 1978, Herald-Examiner Collection, #00078085.

TUT FEVER

It is impossible to overstate the phenomenon that was Tut during the run of the blockbuster exhibition. As Egyptomania goes, perhaps it can only be compared to the excitement that greeted the discovery and unveiling of the young pharaoh’s tomb in 1922.

In the late 1970s, during and immediately after Treasures, Tut appeared in movies, documentaries, television series, cartoons, and an unforgettable bit of Americana – comedian Steve Martin’s costumed musical send-up “King Tut,” which premiered on Saturday Night Live on April 22, 1978. (“Now if I’d known they’d line up just to see him/I’d have taken all my money and bought me a museum.”)

Leonard Nimoy devoted an episode of his show In Search of to examining the alleged Tut curse. Jim Rockford of The Rockford Files mounted a fake Tut exhibit to entrap a corrupt businessman (“Never Send a Boy King to do a Man’s Job”) in an episode that included footage of the real Los Angeles Museum of Art. The 1978 film Death on the Nile, featuring Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot, had nothing to do with Tut, but was released in the United States with his image on the poster. Meanwhile Steve McGarrett of Hawaii Five-O investigated the theft of the famous Tut mask from a fictional exhibit in Honolulu (“Death Mask”).

TUT ON THE MIRACLE MILE

Treasures of Tutankhamun broke attendance records at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) – including the record for attendance of a single exhibit at that museum that is yet to be broken. Some one and a quarter million folks toured the show in Los Angeles between February 15 and June 15, 1978. Thinking to get out in front of the crowds that had thronged the exhibit in other cities, LACMA allowed advance sale of tickets. Nonetheless, long lines and waits were the reality.

Opening Day of Treasures of Tutankhamun in Los Angeles. The patient people appear to have their tickets in hand. Photo by Michael Haering, dated February 15, 1978, Herald-Examiner Collection, #00078077.

On opening day, a colorful crowd lined Wilshire Boulevard waiting for the doors to open: According to one reporter, “there were scenes more suited to the movie ‘Abbott and Costello meet the Mummy.’ A ventriloquist walked around with a dummy dressed up like King Tut. A man in a chicken outfit handed out T-shirts publicizing an FM radio station. A woman in a gold lamé dress, colorful feather-pattern headdress, and Egyptian-style make-up said she was Tut’s mother incarnate.” (Los Angeles Times, 2.16.1978) And, of course, there were vendors hawking Tut memorabilia.

As in other cities, the Tut craze was great for museum publicity. Membership doubled during the run of the exhibit and people were still looking for Tut merchandise three months after the show closed. The glass enclosed Tut gift shop built for the exhibit was converted to a permanent retail space.

ENTERING THE TOMB

Treasures of Tutankhamun was configured to mimic the layout of the tomb itself and its five rooms – corridor, antechamber, burial chamber, treasury, and annex. Artifacts were placed in the space corresponding to the chamber in which they had been discovered. Photomurals created by the Metropolitan Museum of Art from original glass plate negatives taken by the exhibition photographer Harry Burton were placed on the walls to re-create the atmosphere of the newly opened tomb. One of these showed Tut’s unwrapped mummy in situ, some consolation for those who might have expected to see an actual mummy.

The white lotus chalice, made of alabaster. Photo by Michael Haering, dated February 14, 1978, Herald-Examiner Collection, #00078080.

The first object visitors laid eyes on upon entering was a wooden image of Tut, the same artifact Howard Carter viewed in his first glimpse into the antechamber. Other popular objects were the slinky statuette of the goddess Selket, an alabaster unguent vase in the shape of a rearing lion, the canopic “coffins” that held Tut’s internal organs, and, of course, the piece that came to symbolize the entire exhibit – the golden death mask of Tutankhamun.

The famous death mask of King Tut. Photo by Michael Haering, dated February 15, 1978, Herald-Examiner Collection, #00078086.

 

National Endowment for the Humanities chair Joseph Duffey speaks with LACMA director Kenneth Donahue on the exhibit’s opening day. The men are standing in front of one of the photo murals showing Howard Carter’s excavation. Photo by Linda Brundige, dated February 15, 1978, Herald-Examiner Collection, #00078084.

 

RETURN OF THE BOY KING

In 2018 Los Angeles prepared to welcome Tut once more. The exhibition King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh opened at the California Science Center in Exposition Park on March 24 and will run until January 6 of next year. The latest traveling Tut exhibit boasts three times the number of objects of the 1978 tour, including many that have never left Egypt before. Don’t miss it!

Sources for this essay include:

Water and Power: the 1938 Los Angeles Flood

Eighty years ago this month the greater Los Angeles area was hit by two massive storms resulting in a “50-year*” flood event. Rainwater from the sky combined with torrents cascading down mountain canyons to overwhelm the Los Angeles, San Gabriel, and Santa Ana Rivers, along with numerous smaller rivers and creeks. The resulting floodwaters inundated much of the Southland, swamped low-lying land with mud, and caused widespread destruction of homes,  farms, bridges, and power lines. At least 115 people died. Several small towns east of Los Angeles were wiped off the map. As a result of the catastrophe, much stronger flood control measures were adopted and the character of the Los Angeles basin was forever changed.

*a flood of a size to be expected only once in fifty years.

A man and his camera

Herman Schultheis was a young German immigrant and photographer who, with his wife, moved from New York to Los Angeles in 1937 to find work in the studios. By early 1938 he had obtained a position at The Walt Disney Company, at the old Hyperion Avenue Studios close to the course of the Los Angeles River in Silver Lake. Schultheis is remembered for his contributions to special effects photography at Disney, including work on the films Pinocchio and Fantasia. He is also known for a mysterious notebook he kept detailing some of the processes used on these films and for his equally mysterious death in the jungles of Guatemala in 1955. But we’ll save those stories for another day.

When the waters came down, Schultheis was on the scene with camera in hand. In fact his job at Disney began just as the first of the two storms hit. The photo collection of the Los Angeles Public Library contains nearly 6,000 digitized Schultheis photos, many of them of the receding flood waters and the damage they caused. As still photos, they only begin to tell the tale of the disaster. (All photos by Herman J. Schultheis, 1938, unless otherwise indicated.)

We have attempted to recreate some of Schultheis’s shots. The “now” photos clearly show the effects of both flood-control efforts and new transportation corridors on the landscape of a city.

This pair of photos show the Arroyo Seco in Highland Park at the point where the East Avenue 43 Bridge was completely washed out by floodwaters and the adjacent roadbed heavily degraded. The second photo must have been taken after the bridge debris had been cleared. Schultheis Collection, #00099605 and #00099603.

 

In 1939 a new bridge was dedicated — one that extended not only over the Arroyo, but also over the newly built Arroyo Seco Parkway (Pasadena Freeway), the first freeway in California. The Arroyo Seco itself, on the right, has been channelized in concrete, as was the entire L.A. River system following the 1938 flood.  The bridge is immediately adjacent to the Lummis Home and Garden, the subject of another LAPL Photo Friends blog post. Photo: Alan Humphrey, 2018.

 

Riverside Drive, sandwiched between the Los Angeles River and Elysian Park, took a massive hit from flooding and mudslides. Schultheis Collection, #00082329.

 

Roughly the same spot as above. The Golden State Freeway, to the right, makes it impossible to get Schultheis’s angle. Our “best guess” intersection is Riverside and Fernleaf, facing southeast. Photo: Alan Humphrey, 2018.

 

The Lankershim Bridge across the Los Angeles River was destroyed except for a 20-foot stretch on the south side. Schultheis Collection, #00099542.

 

Four of Schultheis’s flood photos feature a dachshund, in spots ranging from El Monte to North Hollywood. Could this perhaps be the photographer’s own dog on the stub of the Lankershim Bridge? Across the channel, Lankershim and Cahuenga Boulevards come together in a vain attempt to cross the river. Schultheis Collection, #00099539.

 

The new Lankershim span. The trickle of water that is the Los Angeles River can be seen in its concrete channel. Photo: Alan Humphrey, 2018.

 

The Southern Pacific railroad bridge at Dayton Avenue (a portion of Figueroa Street) hangs twisting over the swollen Los Angeles River along with railroad tracks. The Figueroa Street Viaduct, only just constructed as part of the planned Arroyo Seco Parkway, is in the background. Schultheis likely took this picture from the deck of the Dayton Avenue traffic bridge, at that time called the Riverside-Dayton Avenue Bridge. Clear as mud? Schultheis Collection, #00082304.

Multiple new transportation corridors, including the Golden State Freeway, make it impossible to safely capture the low-lying railroad bridge today. The old Figueroa Street Viaduct, now part of the Arroyo Seco Parkway, in the background, appears substantially the same as in the historic image. The bridge in the foreground was newly built in 2017, replacing the old Dayton Avenue traffic bridge, or the Riverside-Dayton Avenue Bridge, or the Riverside Drive Bridge. In sum, the current bridge is the fourth iteration of a bridge at this point.  Photo: Alan Humphrey, 2018.

 

A massive landslide swept down on Hyperion Boulevard in the Silver Lake neighborhood (and very close to the old Disney Hyperion Avenue Studios.) Amazingly the houses in the photo survived where many elsewhere were destroyed. The contemporary photo below shows that both the center home and the one to its left remain to this day. Schultheis Collection, #00082317.

 

 

A lesson learned. The developer constructing new homes on Hyperion Avenue is buttressing the hillside. Photo: Alan Humphrey, 2018.

 

 

Pacific Coast Highway (then called the Roosevelt Highway) suffered heavy damage from the floodwaters. Crews work to stabilize the roadbed where Santa Monica Canyon Creek and Rustic Creek come together. Herald-Examiner Collection, photographer unknown, 1938, #00028399.

 

Our contemporary photo shows that the large building against the hillside still stands. A portion of the concrete creek channel can be seen on the beach side of the highway.  The sign announcing the community of Huntington Palisades is gone and the hillside appears somewhat diminished. Today a pedestrian tunnel connects the cliff side to the beach. Photo: Alan Humphrey, 2018.

 

Schultheis and his wife visited a hog farm in El Monte where flood waters left behind a muddy mess and destroyed farm structures. Here Schultheis photographed relief workers on a break. Schultheis Collection, #00099523.

 

A few folks didn’t mind the muck. Schultheis Collection, #00099521.

 

After the deluge

In the wake of the 1938 flood, authorities went to work in earnest to prevent another disaster; the U.S. Corps of Engineers got into the act, channelizing the Los Angeles River into concrete troughs. In addition, bridges were rebuilt, flood control dams constructed, and Los Angeles’s famous deep street curbs installed. But recent extreme weather events in the Southland raise the question: is it enough?

Men begin the job of mucking out the Los Angeles River in North Hollywood. Schultheis Collection, #00099556.

 

Later stages of the flood control project undertaken by the Army Corps of Engineers, south of downtown Los Angeles. Boulders are being placed in the river channel. Herald-Examiner Collection, #00045099. December 2, 1938.

 

As for our photographer — Herman Schultheis was a talented and ambitious man who struggled to find a toe-hold in “the industry.” After only three years at Disney he was asked to move on. Disney had money concerns, and Herman’s German citizenship as war loomed may not have helped matters.  In 1955 Schultheis took his camera to Guatemala to photograph the ruins at Tikal and disappeared. Some 18 months later his remains were found in the jungle. In many ways his life mirrored that of the down and out songster (minus the 747):

Got on board a westbound seven forty-seven
Didn’t think before deciding what to do
Oh, that talk of opportunities, TV breaks and movies
Rang true, sure rang true
Seems it never rains in southern California
Seems I’ve often heard that kind of talk before
It never rains in California, but girl, don’t they warn ya?
It pours, man, it pours
(Albert Hammond)

 

Schultheis with camera on a movie set — possibly Warner Brothers’ film The Sea Hawk (released 1940). Photographer unknown, but possibly Ethel Schultheis. Schultheis Collection, #00101367.

Sources include:

Grand Design: The Canals of Venice (California)

Early last century a developer had a bright idea.

Those words might be written about many developers and many bright ideas. The wide swath of territory in the Southland, bounded by oceans and mountains, was fertile ground for those looking to make a name for themselves, or simply make a buck.

Our story is about one Abbot Kinney (1850-1920), a man who made a fortune in the tobacco business and ended up dying of lung cancer. In between, he put his name on the community of Venice, California. Like many of the bright ideas that abounded around greater Los Angeles, Kinney’s vision did not play out exactly as he had hoped; nonetheless it made its mark. Beginning in 1905 he and his heirs transformed a beach village, just south of Ocean Park/Santa Monica, into pleasure grounds styled after the great Italian water-bound city of Venice.

This essay is about the canals of Venice, so we won’t go into the the details of the many attractions the Kinneys installed in their theme-park like community — the pier with its roller coasters, games, and rides, the miniature railroad line used to tour prospective real estate buyers, the bath house, amphitheater, midway, circus and sideshow performers, exotic animals, beauty pageants, restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops. Suffice it to say that Kinney succeeded in creating a carnival-like atmosphere that prevailed along the shore for four decades.

Digging of the canals gets underway with horses and mules, 1904. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00057203.

 

In laying out the community he called Venice-of-America, Kinney designed a network of interconnected canals filled with tidal water from the Pacific. Throughout history canals have been dug for many purposes — shipping and transportation, irrigation, and flood control. The Venice canals are examples of canals dug largely for aesthetic and recreation purposes. (The trenching did serve to drain the marshy land destined for building projects.) The promotional diagram below indicates seven named canals intersected by streets and all connected to each other. The largest of these was named the Grand Canal after the famed canal of Venice, Italy. The Grand Canal terminated in a lagoon (called a Bathing Lake in the image below).

Not shown here is another set of four named canals, closely parallel to each other, which were built a bit later by anther concern on the south side of town. The so-called Short Line Canals — a rectangle formed by the Carroll, Linnie, Howland, and Sherman Canals, bounded at the top by Eastern Canal and at the bottom by the Grand Canal, are what survive today as the Venice Canal Historic District. They were nicknamed for the Venice Short Line Railway which brought throngs of visitors to the coast.

Kinney was keen to bring the Venetian spirit to Southern California. His canal system came complete with gondolas and singing gondoliers. Some say he imported the gondoliers directly from Italy, although in Los Angeles it seems likely he would have found many young men willing to play the part. His canals were spanned by a number of delicately arches bridges a la Venice, Italy.

A mother takes her well-swaddled child for a ride in a gondola on the Grand Canal. Shades of L.A. Collection, Image #00005810, circa 1907.

 

A colorized photo, probably a postcard, shows an idyllic scene on the canals of Venice, circa 1909. The canals were nicely landscaped with floral borders, walkways, and night lighting. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00009227.

 

Bathing beauties on a gondola. The same party can be seen in several images in the collection, recognizable by their bathing suits. One suspects the women may be part of a publicity campaign. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00009230. The photo is undated, but is likely from about 1920. The girl on top appears to take her hairstyle from actress Mary Pickford, “the girl with the curls.”

 

Aerial view of Venice Beach about 1925. The pier, rebuilt after a 1920 fire, featured not one, not two, but three elaborate roller-coasters. The lagoon and a portion of the canal system can be seen on the right hand side. Look for the arched bridges. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00009129.

 

This photo, dated approximately 1935, shows Venetian-style performers overlooking a muddy Grand Canal. The decline of the canal system is apparent from the broken timbers on what is clearly a rudimentary footbridge. Poor maintenance, the Great Depression, and the pressing needs of the automobile combined to doom the main section of canals. In 1929 the City of Los Angeles, which had annexed Venice four years earlier, paved over the original canals, leaving the Short Line Canals and a portion of the Grand Canal.  Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00009197.

 

Children fish in a canal on the edge of the Grand Lagoon, circa 1925. The Hotel Antler appears on the right . The Grand Lagooon was filled in about 1929. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00009222.

 

By the late-1920s, the gondolas were gone, but folks still found ways to have fun on the water. These canals are identified as Altair Canal on the left and Cabrillo Canal on the right, with “United States Island” between them, a development with rental bungalows each named for a state. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00009240.

 

By the time this photo of a garbage scow on the Grand Canal was taken in 1953, the waterways were not so grand. A forest of oil rigs has sprung up behind the the canals. Sidewalks were falling apart and the water was oily and polluted. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00057305.

 

This 1960 photo was taken for the Herald-Examiner for an article about sulfur fumes emanating from the canal. The canals have clearly lost much of their romantic appeal at this point. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image # 00057284.

 

Three “men” in a tub and a girl on shore find amusement in the decaying Grand Canal. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00057279, 1962. The newspaper mentioned that the “city dads” were hoping to make improvements to the canals.

 

 

The Short Line Canals spent most of four decades in a state of slow decline, despite a number of proposals to restore them. In the 1980s residents banded together to clean and improve the remaining canals. Here a group of neighbors pull trash from the canals. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00043234, 1985, Photographer, Mike Sergieff.

In the late 1980s restoration efforts gained traction with the support of Los Angeles Councilmember Ruth Galanter and others. In 1992 work began in earnest to dredge out the heavily-silted canals, replace the walls with eco-friendly materials, and rebuild the crumbling walkways. The result was to make the canal district a more desirable, and therefore higher-rent, neighborhood.

 

A view of Carroll Canal in 2003. The caption in our catalog speaks of the changes that had taken place along the canals in recent decades. According to the caption, the neighborhoods surrounding the remaining canals were “favored by beatniks and artists in the 1960s.” The photo above displays an eclectic mix of architectural styles, as small bungalows were remade to suit a more affluent population. Los Angeles Neighborhoods Collection, Image #00066952, July 17, 2003. Photographer, Cheryl Himmelstein.

 

Muralist David Legaspi III pays homage to the canals of Old Venice on the walls of the Ocean View Adult Day Health Care Center. Legaspi was a prolific artist whose murals appear all over the Southland. He passed away in 2012. Los Angeles Neighborhoods Collection, Image #00066969, February 7, 2003. Photographer, Cheryl Himmelstein.

 

We’ll close with a portrait of the man with the plan: Abbot Kinney. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00075783, undated.

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.

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.