In the Swim: Bathing suit fashions through the years

00070532 1914 woman

This blogger set out to write a post about a century of swimwear on Southland waters using images from the Los Angeles Public Library’s collection. But where to start? The collection includes hundreds of photos that would lend themselves to any number of angles: Beauty pageants? Swimsuit models? Movie stars poolside? Or how about beach-goers with exotic animals?

That last we’ll likely revisit in a later post, but for now we’ll offer a selection of images focusing on the evolution of the swimsuit.

Perhaps the earliest swimsuit image in the collection dates from about 1914 and depicts a woman in a bathing ensemble complete with tights and laced shoes. Accessories have always been a vital part of the bathing “look.” Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00070532.

00012172 Williams Bros 1916

About the same time, these brothers sport two-piece suits. Until the early 1930s male swimmers typically wore outfits that covered their upper bodies (if they wore anything at all!). Modesty was preserved via an A-line top over shorts. The Williams brothers enjoy Seal Beach, ca. 1916. Shades of L.A Collection: the Greek-American Community, Image # 00012172.

 

00070538 Rita Bell

About 1920 Rita Bell, perhaps a model, sports a wool suit much more revealing than that of the gal from 1914. She also wears sheer stockings with ankle-strapped sandals, rocks a swim hat, and deploys a swim robe. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00070538.

Young sisters Mary and Imogene Myers wade at Lake Elsinore in 1928 wearing simple woolen tunic-style suits typical for youngsters of the day. Shades of L.A. Collection: the African-American Community, Image #00001791.

By the 1930s, bathing costumes for both men and women were decidedly more revealing. Stockings were left at home. Arms, cleavage, and legs were bared. Suits were more form-fitting. The belted look became popular. Bathing suits began to be a fashion statement.

00003251 woman at Long Beach

In this photo, a young woman poses for a photograph that will become a postcard at Long Beach, 1932. Shades of L.A.: Korean American Community, Image #00003251.

00070467 mother and daughter

A mother and daughter at an unidentied beach, ca. 1937. The woman wears a conical straw topper sometimes referred to, unfortunately, as a coolie hat. A man in the background wears the belted style of suit popular with both men and women. The Herman J. Schultheis Collection, Image #00070467.

00008999 fashion police 1930s

The Fashion Police at Venice Beach, 1930s. The photo collection contains a series of pictures of both men and women wearing badges and measuring suits on those of the opposite gender. Notes with the images inform us that “pretend tickets were handed out when the swim suit was too skimpy.” Here both a man and a woman wear the popular belted style of suit, while the second man appears to have forgotten his belt. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00008999.

00070564 kayaks

Young women with kayaks, ca. 1930. These women sport a variety of bathing suit styles. This was likely part of a photo shoot ordered up by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00070564.

00073428 fur coat

The 1940s brought more styles, new elasticized fabrics, and the two-piece suit. The bikini itself was “invented” in 1946, although it would be unrecognizable as such today. Here Annie Jung dresses up her two-piece with a fur coat and heels, February 18, 1945. Harry Quillen Collection, Image #00073428.

00003832 Miss Filipino

The library files includes dozens of beauty queens in bathing costumes, a tradition that has endured for well over a century. Here Miss Filipino Community of Los Angeles, Janet Bernardino, wears a strapless one-piece, along with the requisite pumps, in 1955. Her publicity photo is signed “To a real fine guy, Roy. Love, Janet.” Shades of L.A.: Filipino American Community Collection, Image #00003832.

00119601 -- Teenagers 1963

The Valley Times published this photo, dated July 18, 1963, with the caption “Valley teens splash it up at Pickwick Pool, illustrating a few of the activities on this summer’s busy agenda.”  Patterned prints and tailored trunks were clearly in vogue. Valley Times Collection, Image #00119601. This community pool in Burbank was abandoned some years later and the land turned into Pickwick Gardens, with its ice rink and bowling alley.

00085350 - diving board girl

Whatever you wear, it’s all about making a splash: Six-year old Brenda Villa takes the plunge at Camp Commerce (still operated by the City of Commerce), Lake Arrowhead, July 27, 1986. Photo by Leo Jarzomb, Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00085350.

A Tale of Two Ranchos

Rancho Los Cerritos, c. 1890 (Security Pacific National Bank Collection, order# 00032266)

Rancho Los Cerritos and the Centinela Adobe are two of a number of historic landmarks dating to the age of the ranchos in Southern California. These historic sites are reminders of a time when Los Angeles was little more than a tiny pueblo with far flung agricultural outposts.

Today both are operated as heritage parks. As such they are nicely landscaped and staged to reflect the best of the rancho era. Images from the Los Angeles Public Library’s collection offer glimpses of a past that was as rough and tumble as it was romantic.

Rancho Los Cerritos (little hills) in Long Beach is a remnant of a 1786 land grant from the crown of Spain to its loyal leather-jacket soldier Manuel Nieto. The current adobe was constructed about 1844. After passing into American hands shortly thereafter, the estate transitioned from cattle ranching to sheep ranching. The image above gives a sense of the still desolate surroundings at the turn of the century.

Sheep dipping at Rancho Los Cerritos (Security Pacific National Bank Collection, order #00032263)

The American ranchers, the Bixby family, employed Basque sheepherders. This undated photo from the collection shows a flock of sheep readied for “dipping,” a time-honored method of ridding the animals of nasty pests in the fleece. The sheep were led one by one into a trough where they would be immersed in a noxious chemical bath. Despite concerns about damage to both humans and the environment, sheep dipping continues to be a standard practice in many places.

September 19, 1931. Rancho Los Cerritos Adobe, back view with gardens. At this date the home was still occupied by members of the Bixby family. (Security Pacific National Bank Collection, order # 00032265)

Today the Rancho is owned by the City of Long Beach and operated by the Rancho Los Cerritos Foundation.

Docent Laura of the Rancho Los Cerritos Foundation gave the author an excellent tour of the adobe.

About 1834 Ygnacio Machado built a home on his 25,000-acre rancho in the area already called Centinela Valley, a place where watchman (sentinals) kept a look-out for pirates along the coast. Some ten years after building the adobe, the lands of Rancho Aguaje de Centinela (the sentinel spring) were formally deeded to Machado by the Mexican government of Alta California. The rancho lands were used variously for cow pasture, sheep grazing, growing wheat and barley, orchards, and raising horses, and even as a riding academy.

Centinela Adobe, c. 1889. Note the hammocks swinging from the veranda posts. (Security Pacific National Bank Collection, order# 00019908)

Centinela Adobe from the front, 1927. The Adobe, with additions, was a private residence at the time of this photograph. (Security Pacific National Bank Collection, order #00019909)

The Centinela Adobe, c. 1937. Schultheis earned fame as a photographer and technician employed in Walt Disney’s special effects department. (Herman J. Schultheis Collection, order #00097850)

Today the Centinela Adobe is operated by the Historical Society of Centinela Valley and owned and maintained by the City of Inglewood. In a geographical twist of fate, the adobe considered the birthplace of the City of Inglewood is actually located just outside the city boundary in the Westchester neighborhood of Los Angeles.

 

Centinela Adobe today. Entrance to the park is from the back of the adobe, pictured here. The front faces directly onto the 405 Freeway, built in the early 1960s.

Despite the great difference in size, these adobes share a number of features. Covered porches, thick adobe (mud brick) walls punctuated with wooden frame doors, deep-set windows, patios, and hanging lights fixtures. Each has undergone periods of improvement alternating with periods of decline. Each was rescued from possible demolition by preservation minded individuals in the 1950s.

Both sites are open to the public during published hours.

http://www.cityofinglewood.org/depts/rec/centinela_adobe/

http://www.rancholoscerritos.org/

In future posts we will visit more adobes and heritage sites in Los Angeles County.

 

Sources for this essay include visits to the sites, various websites, and the following:

Iris H.W. Engstrand, Rancho Los Cerritos, A Southern California Legacy Preserved, 2009.

“Centinela Adobe Docent Tour Information,”1972, typescript in the possession of Westchester-Loyola Village Branch Library, Los Angeles Public Library.

A Historic House through the Years: El Alisal

Renaissance man Charles Fletcher Lummis (1859 – 1928) designed and built his Highland Park home over a period of some 13 years beginning in 1897, doing much of the labor himself. The name he gave his homestead was El Alisal, place of the alders — or sycamores — or California sycamores. The actual meaning is a bit lost in translation, but the important thing is it was a Spanish name and Lummis loved the Spanish influence in California. He also loved Native American culture and dedicated a portion of his very active life to preserving both.

Much has been written about Lummis the man. We’ll confine ourselves to describing him as a collector, writer, preservationist, founder of the Southwest Museum, advocate for Native American rights, and booster for all things Old California.

One of Lummis’ day jobs was Los Angeles City Librarian. Despite lack of any formal training, Lummis was appointed to the position in 1905 based on his reputation as a “noted scholar and practical leader (Blitz). In five years Lummis worked to build the library’s collection of rare books and manuscripts, particularly, of course, those reflecting the city’s Spanish heritage. He also found himself embroiled in a boatload of office politics which led to his resignation in 1910. He left behind him the well-established and respected Department of Western History Material.

In addition to collecting books, terra cotta pots and Indian blankets, Lummis collected friends….local and national luminaries from the worlds of art, letters, music, and politics.  And he held court at El Alisal.

Exterior 1905

Security Pacific National Bank, Image #00062061

A Man’s Home

The Los Angeles Public Library’s digital photographic collection contains a number of images of El Alisal over a century of life. Most of the photos are from the Security Pacific Bank Collection and the Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection. The image above, dated February 5, 1905, taken while the house was still under construction, shows the castle-like embellishments Lummis craved: towers, crenellations, slit windows.

Lummis’ taste for romantic and vernacular architecture is apparent. His design for El Alisal was part medieval castle, part California rancho, part Native American pueblo. Much of his building materials were locally-sourced, including river rock taken from the nearby Arroyo Seco and discarded railroad telegraph poles used as ceiling support beams. The nomination form that successfully placed El Alisal on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 described it as “a rambling 2-story random rubble stone, masonry and concrete structure,” and noted that the building did not “meet present day requirements of the Los Angeles City Building Code.”

Security Pacific Bank Collection, Image #00062064

Security Pacific Bank Collection, Image #00062064

The dining room at El Alisal, 1910, displays an eclectic assortment of china and artwork, as well as a pair of muskets mounted on the wall. Many of the pictures and objects displayed in the house were created for Lummis by his coterie of artist friends. Others Lummis collected on his travels throughout the Southwest.

 

Security Pacific Bank Collection, Image #00062066

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00062066

This 1905 photograph shows the backyard courtyard of the home, including a large sycamore and the central lily pond traditional to California rancho style. The kitchen wing is on the right.

 

Image # 00062058

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image # 00062058

An undated photo of the front room at El Alisal, plentifully adorned with photos, artwork, mission style furniture, and Indian rugs. A portrait of Lummis by Gerald Cassidy, now at the Autry National Center, hangs on the far wall. Lummis was very much a part of the Arts and Crafts movement in California which championed rusticity, natural materials, and folk art.

 

Image # 00062058

Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection, Image # 00047541

This 1949 photograph is an excellent study of the fenestration at El Alisal. Lummis enjoyed designing windows; some windows were placed at child’s-eye level. The same year the Southern California Historical Society took up the idea of turning the derelict building into a museum. Although things did not pan out that way at first, in 1965 the society finally was able to acquire use of the house as their headquarters, in an arrangement with the city that lasted 50 years. SCHS offered docent-led tours of the home’s exterior and a few interior rooms. Safety concerns and the need to use some rooms for offices made a full tour impossible.

 

Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00050164

In the 1980s the exterior of the Lummis Home took on a different look as the group Friends of the Lummis Home and Garden took on responsibility for landscaping and maintaining the surrounding acreage. Lummis’ rough two plus acres were transformed into a demonstration garden of drought tolerant plants. The image above shows an editor’s crop marks indicating that the photo was destined for publication, probably in the Herald-Examiner.

 

Security Pacific National Bank Collection Image #00062085

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00062085

An undated interior shot of the ground floor tower niche shows Lummis’ own glass photographs used as small window panes. The photographs in this set of windows are now gone; however, others exist in the main room of the house and make fascinating viewing (below).

 

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Security Pacific National Bank Collection Image #00031210

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00031210

The King in his Castle

Lummis in his “Lion’s Den”: the framed photo of him with Teddy Roosevelt taken during the president’s visit to Los Angeles in 1912. This image was probably captured toward the end of Lummis life; he died in 1928 at the age of 69. His home survives in the care of the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks and is open for public tours. There have been changes since the City of Los Angeles took over direct management of this cultural treasure and the Historical Society of Southern California moved out early in 2015. To check it out, see https://www.laparks.org/historic/lummis-home-and-gardens .

 

Select sources

Special thanks to the welcoming and friendly Saturday docents who gave us a wonderful tour January 23, 2016!

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