Seduction, Corruption, Deception, and Protection – The Black Widow and the Vice Queen (Part 2)

After Ann Forst, the Black Widow, was sentenced to serve time for pandering, one of her protégés, Brenda Allen (born Marie Mitchell and going under a number of aliases including Brenda Allen Burns, Marie Brooks, Marie Cash, Brenda Burris, and Marie Balanque) wasted no time in setting up her own prostitution ring. Having learned a thing or two from her years as a streetwalker and then working for Ann Forst, Allen made a few changes. She concentrated on catering to high class clientele and screened her customers carefully. She paid her girls a decent wage and saw to it that they lived in comfort. (Many of Ann Forst’s former employees came to work for Allen.) A teetotaler with a slight Southern drawl, she was always well dressed and well-groomed, never appearing in public without perfectly manicured nails and dark glasses. She treated everyone with unfailing politeness. By 1948, Allen was taking out display ads in Hollywood trade papers for her “escort service,” which featured over a hundred girls.

“Allen was Hollywood’s most prosperous madam, in part because she was so cautious. Rather than take on the risks that came with running a ‘bawdy house,’ Allen relied on a telephone exchange service to communicate with clients who were vetted with the utmost care. She prided herself on serving the crème de la crème of Los Angeles. By 1948, she had 114 ‘pleasure girls’ in her harem.”

John Buntin, Author of L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City

brenda allen

Allen’s professional manner of dress included tailored skirts and dark glasses. (Allen stated in an interview years later that she wore dark glasses so that she was unrecognizable to her family back East. She wanted to spare them any embarrassment her actions [and chosen profession] might cause.)
Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated July 16, 1949.

 

Vice Queen Brenda Allen

Allen sports a suit cut from imported black gabardine and a hat adorned
with primroses. As always, she wears dark glasses.

Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated October 31, 1949.

Like Forst, Allen protected her business from shutdown and other problems by paying off members of the Los Angeles Police Department. (She loved to brag that she had been arrested 18 times, but never served a day in jail) Unlike Forst, her professional protection had a personal side to it. Allen became romantically involved with Sergeant Elmer V. Jackson of the LAPD’s vice squad, who became her lover and business partner. For protection from raids and other legal actions, Allen paid Jackson $50 a week (which equals $500 a week in 2017) for each woman she employed. She could easily afford to do this, as her team was bringing in between $4,500 to $4,700 per day (the equivalent of $80,000 today). Allen took a 50% cut from the profits and 30% went to paying off cops, doctors, lawyers, judges, and bail bondsmen who provided protection and other favors. The rest of the income from the ring was divided amongst the girls. (Even with all this overhead, her girls were still paid well by standards of the day.)

brenda allen in fur coat

Brenda Allen attends to legal business wearing a fur coat, one of many
luxuries affordable to her during her heyday.

Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated May 12, 1948.

Allen also had protection of a less legal sort. Whereas Ann Forst had connections to Jack Dragna and Johnny Roselli, Allen’s mob connections were to Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel. Ironically, it was because of Dragna and Roselli’s decision to divvy up vice operations in Los Angeles that Allen wound up under the thumb of two of the most ruthless members of organized crime on the West Coast. If a call girl or a client made a wrong move, they could wind up disfigured or dead. Allen was well aware that she could suffer the same fate. (Interestingly enough, Mickey Cohen claimed during a 1949 trial that LAPD Sergeant Elmer V. Jackson [Allen’s business partner and lover] and Lieutenant Rudy Wellpot were constantly extorting money from him.)

Mickey Cohen

Mickey Cohen and bodyguards.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated February 22, 1951.

Bugsy Siegel at one of his many court dates.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated May 26, 1941.

Brenda Allen’s illegal empire became the subject of scrutiny due to an unexpected random occurrence – a crime in which she was the intended victim. On the evening of February 21, 1947, Allen and her lover Jackson were sitting in Jackson’s car in front of Allen’s apartment at 9th and Fedora streets. Suddenly, Roy “Peewee” Lewis stuck a gun through an open window of the car and demanded money. Jackson pretended to reach for his wallet but retrieved a pistol instead. He then shot and killed Lewis. Although Jackson had protected Allen and himself, he had exposed their relationship to others in the LAPD. Jackson told responding officers that Allen was a police stenographer, but someone in the press who covered the story realized that Jackson’s sweetheart was no such thing. LAPD officials became suspicious and placed wiretaps on Allen’s phones and surveillance on her.

A raid was conducted on a house at 8436 Harold Way (just above Sunset Boulevard); it was one of the sites used by Allen’s girls. Police confiscated a box of index cards on which were recorded names, addresses, phone numbers, and notes regarding the sexual predilections of over 200 “notables of the film colony.” Brenda Allen was arrested and charged with pandering. The Los Angeles Times’ headline of May 5, 1948, read Names Found in Vice Raid Set Hollywood Agog.

brenda allen's records of clients

Vice Sergeant C. W. Bates inspects a file of index cards confiscated during
a raid on a house of prostitution managed by Brenda Allen.

Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated May 8, 1948.

It is interesting to note that during the trial in which the box of cards was an exhibit, Judge Joseph Call ordered that the box be sealed because “In the box are names of dignitaries of the screen and radio and executives of responsible positions in many great industries. Publication of their names would be ruinous to their careers and cause them great public disgrace.” Whereas her customers were spared further scrutiny, Brenda Allen was not.

While law enforcement officials wanted to charge Allen with pandering, they simply could not get anyone to admit to any coercion or intimidation on the part of the Vice Queen. Whereas Ann Forst’ girls had gladly given testimony that put their Forst behind bars, not one of Allen’s girls spoke out against her. (Allen treated her girls and other staff members well, so they protected her.) The LAPD wiretapped Allen’s phone and now instructed Audre Davis, a female police officer, to call and pretend to be a woman interested in becoming a prostitute. This was an attempt to set Allen up for a charge of pandering. Davis gave testimony under oath to the Grand Jury that Allen solicited her to exchange sex for money. Allen denied the charge. The judge found Allen guilty and sentenced her to five years’ imprisonment.

brenda allen guilty of pandering

Brenda Allen learns that she has been found guilty of pandering.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo taken August 11, 1948.

At her trial, Allen testified about the payoffs she made to police for protection, exposing her lover, Sergeant Jackson, and Hollywood vice squad sergeant Charles Stoker as the main recipients of the money. She not only made claims against members of the LAPD, but provided financial records to prove her claims. (Interesting note: Sergeant Jackson did not speak against or offer incriminating advice against Allen. He apparently loved her very much.)

brenda allen visits vaults

Brenda Allen is escorted by police to the sites where she stored records of payments
made to police officials for protection from raids and other legal action.

Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated June 16, 1949.

 

brenda allen goes to jail

Allen is taken to the jail in Lincoln Heights to begin her sentence for pandering.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated August 11, 1948.

Months after the trial, policewoman Davis recanted her testimony, admitting she lied under oath. The account she gave in court was a complete fabrication designed to entrap Brenda Allen. In May of 1949, Allen appeared in court with an appeal to have her sentence reduced.


brenda allen waits for audre davis

Brenda Allen waits for policewoman Audre Davis to appear at hearing arranged
by Judge William McKay. Davis never showed up in court.

Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated July 9, 1949.

Less than four months later, on Friday, September 2, 1949, Allen was released from jail on order of the California Supreme Court. It was noted that she had been a model prisoner. She returned to incarceration, however, in 1951 to serve the remainder of an eight-month sentence.

Brenda Allen returns to prison, escorted by a sheriff’s detective.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated March 5, 1951.

Brenda Allen finally became a free woman in the summer of 1951.

brenda allen leaves jail

Brenda Allen is freed from incarceration.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated July 11, 1951.

On May 5, 1949, gangster Mickey Cohen was also in court (on a legal action unrelated to Brenda Allen). He casually mentioned that he possessed taped recordings of telephone conversations between the Vice Queen and Sergeant Jackson of the LAPD Vice Department. These calls had came to and from Jackson’s office at LAPD headquarters. This pointed to more people knowing about Allen’s payments than just Jackson and Stoker. Before the summer was over, Police Chief Clemence Brooks Horrall (Chief since 1941) resigned under threat of a grand jury investigation for investigation of perjury on his part related to the Brenda Allen scandal. (Ironically, Horrall had become chief when the previous chief, Clarence Hohmann, took a demotion to deputy chief after he became involved in a police corruption trial.) Assistant Chief Joe Reed also resigned. (Note: Assistant Chief Reed was instrumental in the creation of a radio show about the LAPD titled Dragnet, with Jack Webb starring in the program.)

police chief horrallPolice Chief Horrall is seen at a nightclub raid; he is the man in the middle wearing a hat.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated January 29, 1941.

 

jack webb

Actor Jack Webb on the set of Dragnet, a radio program (later to become an iconic television series).
Herald Examiner Collection, photo taken in 1953.

Brenda Allen served less than one year in prison. LAPD Sergeant Elmer Jackson was demoted but managed to stay on the force until his retirement in the 1960s. Vice Squad Sergeant Charles Stoker was fired from the LAPD when he was charged with burglary (a charge he claimed was trumped up and which resulted in a hung jury at a 1949 trial).

Allen’s last appearance in the newspapers was in 1961 when, amidst accusations of domestic violence, she divorced her husband, a former Navy pilot named Robert H. Cash. Cash had married Allen (who was going by the name of Marie Mitchell and working as a hairdresser) and knew nothing of her background or history. Upon finding out that she was the notorious Vice Queen Bee (another nickname given her), he promptly sought to end the marriage.

brenda allen divorce

Brenda Allen goes to court to get a divorce.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated March 17, 1961.

She was never in the press or public eye again.

One upshot of the Allen raid and trial was that city officials finally focused on ending the systemic corruption prevalent in the Los Angeles Police Department. Police Chief Horrall was replaced by a retired Marine named William A. Worton, who acted as interim chief until 1950, when William H. Parker became Chief of Police. Parker, who served until he died of a heart attack in 1966, made ending corruption and raising the standards of professionalism in the LAPD a top priority. He was known as Los Angeles’ greatest and most controversial chief of police and had the LAPD headquarters named after him.

william a worton

Interim Police Chief William A. Worton (on the right) meets with
City Council candidate James C. Corman.

Valley Times Collection, photo dated May 24, 1957.

lapd chief william parker

William Parker (on the right) is sworn as Police Chief of the Los Angeles Public Department.
Herald-Examiner Collection, photo dated August 9, 1950.

Brenda Allen died in obscurity, place and year unknown.

Seduction, Corruption, Deception, and Protection – The Black Widow and the Vice Queen (Part 1)

And now, a bit of real life noir compliments of the photo collection of the Los Angeles Public Library and the real lives of two L.A. femme fatales – the Black Widow and the Vice Queen.

No matter what your business or how great your profit, it pays you to treat your employees well. Just ask Ann Forst. Born Almerdell Forrester in 1907 in Paris, Texas, (and also known as Anne Forrester), Forst made a lucrative living during the 1930s by managing houses of prostitution in California and beyond. While her associate (Bristol Barrett) was in charge of procuring girls for their establishments, Forst acted as the madam, booking girls at the various sites, paying bills, ordering supplies, and making arrangements from her office in a hotel on downtown Spring Street. The business territory extended from El Centro (on the California/Mexico border) to Seattle, Washington. Clientele included prominent businessmen, public officials, and even high-ranking members of the LAPD. Forst became known as the Black Widow for the little black book she always carried that contained names, addresses, phone numbers, and incriminating information on various city officials.

Ann Forest, the Black Widow

Ann Forst at age 33.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated August 6, 1940.

Many of the women working in the houses of ill repute managed by Forst had been coerced into sex work with promises of high pay and a glamorous life. Once inside the white slave ring (a phrase often used for prostitution at that time), working girls had little luxury and little control over their own lives. A ruthless madam who quickly dismissed any girl who did not live up to her expectations, Forst did well for herself, living in a spacious home on ten acres in the San Fernando Valley. While her house cost $35,000 to build (it had central air conditioning, very upscale for the 1930s), Forst put it up for sale for $25,000 cash when she was arrested in 1940. She eventually reduced the asking price to $21,000 and sold the home in 1941.

Home of Ann Forst

Home of Ann Forst at corner of Devonshire Street and Tampa Avenue in Northridge, California.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated August 6, 1940.

Forst had up to 200 girls working for her at any time and little, if any, interference from the law. She was able to build and run such a huge prostitution ring without attracting trouble due to protection from then-mayor of Los Angeles Frank Shaw. Elected in 1933 and then recalled from office in 1938, Shaw is considered to be the most corrupt mayor in Los Angeles history, mishandling funds, offering protective favors for a fee, and turning a blind eye to rampant corruption. Mayor Shaw’s brother Joe, who was also the Mayor’s private secretary, sold LAPD jobs out of his City Hall office, the result being that the LAPD Central Vice Squad was on the take and under the thumb of the Mayor and his brother (who was very friendly with mob enforcers John Roselli and Jack Dragna.)

Mayor Frank Shaw

Mayor Frank Shaw in court.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo taken in 1938.

Jack Dragna in court.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo taken on July 30, 1949.

Forst also had protection in the form of her little black book (from which she derived her nickname, the Black Widow). This book, which she always kept on her person or in secured enclosures, contained the names and pertinent information of her customers who included the city’s business elite, the LAPD’s command staff, and several political figures. Forst’s little black book could be used to blackmail many a high-ranking man and this (she believed) would keep her safe from legal action.


ann forrester (aka ann forst)

Ann Forst enters court to testify in libel case involving (then-former) Mayor Frank Shaw.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo taken November 24, 1941.

Many of the women working for Forst had been coerced into sex work with promises of high pay and a glamorous life. Once inside the ring, working girls had little luxury and little control over their own lives. One woman targeted for employment was Maxine Rayle. On April 22, 1940, while being held against her will in one of Forst’s houses, Rayle managed to make a phone call to Captain Walter Hunter, an LAPD sheriff. She reported that she and another woman, Helen Smith, were being held captive and gave the address where they were located. The LAPD then rescued the two women and uncovered the white slave ring.

arrest of ann forst

Details of the ring’s operations and its takedown in Daring Detectives magazine. Maxine Rayle, who blew the whistle on the operations, is the woman with pencil in hand on the right in the far left photo. 
Herald Examiner Collection, July 13, 1940.

Forst was arrested for pandering, a felony which carried a punishment of one to ten years in prison. The definition of pandering was:

(A)ny person who by promises, threats, use of violence, or by any device or
scheme, shall cause, induce, persuade or encourage a female person to become
an inmate of a house of prostitution, is guilty of pandering.

Forst’s associates, Charles Montgomery and Bristol Barrett, were also arrested and charged with pandering.

Charles W. “Monty” Montgomery, leader of the operation (on the left), and his assistant,
21-year-old Bristol Barrett. 

Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated May 9, 1940.

Bristol Barrett was known as the “Lieutenant” to white slave ring boss Montgomery. He was often referred to as “Glamour Boy”.

bristol barrett

Bristol Barrett upon being charged for pandering.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated April 23, 1940.

While Forst felt protected by her little black book – surely no one mentioned in that book would dare to testify against her – she failed to take into account disgruntled employees, of which she had many. Forst, who was often demanding and short-tempered, was not well liked by her team. A number of women who worked in Forst’s houses were called to testify about their lives, livelihoods, and living arrangements. Once on the witness stand, they were quick to turn against Forst, revealing sordid details of their job including being forced to service several men a day, not being allowed to rest when ill, and only getting half their promised pay. The testimony of three women in particular – Donna Stewart, Joan Farrell, and Pauline Skevenski – sent Forst off to prison.

donna stewart

Donna Stewart (aka Donna Steward).
Herald Examiner Collection, April 29, 1940.

joan farrell

Joan Farrell, who was arrested in a downtown hotel two days after Ann Forst’s arrest.
Herald Examiner, photo dated April 24, 1940. 

pauline skevenski

Pauline Skevenski, who provided the court with shocking details of working for Ann Forst.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated July 12, 1940.

Many other women testified about the mistreatment (and underpayment) they received while working in houses of ill repute run by Ann Forst.

jane leggitt, patricia joapes

Jane Leggitt (left) and Patricia Joapes voluntarily went to the sheriff’s vice squad headquarters and gave detailed information about Forst’s houses and white slave ring.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated April 26, 1940.

lorraine harvey

Lorraine Harvey, a former car hop, told of being coerced into prostitution
by promises of high income and lavish living quarters.

Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated July 23, 1940.

florine french

Florine French spoke candidly about the white slave life.
Herald Examiner, photo dated May 9, 1940.

 

serena peine
Serena Peine testified that girls only got half their earnings.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated May 15, 1940.

Dolly Dupree, who ran one of the houses of ill repute in San Bernardino, testified against Forst.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo taken on May 8, 1940.

Irene Moore, who claimed she fell in love with “Jitterbug” (not known whether she
referred to a person or the dance), spoke about her life as a prostitute.

Herald Examiner Collection, photograph taken on May 2, 1940.

sara matthews

Sara Mathews gave testimony regarding the white slave ring and Ann Forst’s part in it.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated on April 24, 1940.

 

lupe brooks

Lupe Brooks took the stand during Forst’s pandering trial. 
Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated May 30, 1940.

mildred hinchcliff

Mildred Hinchcliff spoke of her life of shame due to being seduced into the white slave ring.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated May 15, 1940.

 

When Ann Forst took the stand, she had a few bombshells of her own to drop. She testified that she delivered money from the vice houses directly to Guy McAfee, who was then head of the LAPD vice squad (and also owner/operator of several brothels of his own). When Fletcher Bowron became Mayor of Los Angeles in 1938 and promised to rid the city of prostitution and gambling, McAfee left L.A. and moved to Las Vegas. He named the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas after the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.

ann forst speaks about guy mcafee

Ann Forst testifies in court regarding collaboration with LAPD Vice Squad.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated August 5, 1940.

guy mcafee

Guy McAfee, Head of the Vice Squad of the Los Angeles Police Department in the 1930s.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo taken on May 23, 1931.

Ann Forst was found guilty of pandering and sentenced to ten years in the State Institution for Women at Tehachapi. She left Los Angeles to begin serving her sentence in December of 1941.

ann forst goes to jail

The Black Widow leaves Los Angeles to begin her jail sentence. Accompanying
her (on the left) is Jail Matron Vada Russell.

Herald Examiner Collection, photo taken on December 9, 1941.

Ann Forst served five years at the women’s prison in Tehachapi. (Forst’s associates, Charles Montgomery and Bristol Barrett, also served time, but it is not known how long they were incarcerated nor what they did upon release.) The women’s prison, a modern facility at the time, had an administration building, a sewing and laundry building, full-size kitchens, and a printing press. Inmates lived in cottages that did not have barred windows.

Tehachapi women's prison

Detention building where new prisoners live at Tehachapi Women’s Prison. 
Herald Examiner Collection, photograph taken by Perry Fowler on March 29, 1935.

Upon leaving prison, Ann Forst slipped quietly into a less glamorous life. She married and helped her husband run a string of hotels in Arizona and Nevada. She died in obscurity in 1998.

Among the many accounts of the Black Widow pandering trial, there is the story that one of her girls, Brenda Allen Burns (later to become simply Brenda Allen), testified against Ann Forst. Yet there is also evidence that Allen spoke no ill of her madam, but rather stated that while she was unable to resist the sweet talk of “Glamour Boy” Bristol Barrett and eventually did become a prostitute, Allen was not coerced into being a prostitute by Forst. (This is an important legal distinction.) Many of the girls who had worked for Forst liked the way Allen handled her testimony – she was straightforward, well spoken, and accused no one of any wrongdoing. This opened a pathway for Allen’s future plans.

brenda allen

Brenda Allen Burns at the pandering trial of Ann Forst.
Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated July 18, 1940.

Check back to this blog in two weeks for Part 2 of the story of Seduction, Corruption, Deception, and Protection – The Black Widow and the Vice Queen.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

graduation from banning high school in wilmington, ca

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

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

concordia club

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

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

oscar maldanado karate expert

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

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

quinceneara

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

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

max heller's drugstore

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

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

tortilla making at olvera street

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

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

italian american womens club in los angeles

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

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

alpha 66

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

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

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

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

pacific beach

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

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

polish american family on wall street in los angeles

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

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

halloween in los angeles

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

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

catering for open house

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

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

alpha 66 meets with vietnamese refugees

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

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

hanging out the wash

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

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

little joe's restaurant in los angeles

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

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


christmas in echo park

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

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

fairfax library

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

LAPL bookmobile in 1949

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1949.

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

Restocking the Bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1949.

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

Children's books in the LAPL bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1964.

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

bookmobile in chinatown

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

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

bookmobile interview

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

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


sun valley bookmobile

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

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

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

little toot

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1956.

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

christmas celebration at the bookmobile

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

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

Valley Times Collection, photo taken October 22, 1962.

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

library bookmobile

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

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

san fernando valley bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, date of photo unknown.

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

comics and classic literature in bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1955.

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

magazines in the bookmobile

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

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

koreatown bookmobile

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

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

Harold Hamill and Harold Henry inspect bookmobile

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

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

macarthur park bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, date of photo unknown. 

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

chatsworth bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo undated.

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

new york bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1930.

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

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

reading outdoors

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

 

 

Far and Near: Images of Chávez Ravine

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

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

Goats grazed on the hillsides.

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

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

Weddings were celebrated.

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

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

Children played in the dirt streets.

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

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

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

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

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

View Finders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remove and Replace

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

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

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

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

The Hold-outs

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00081495, 1959.

Fade-out

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

 

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

 

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

Selected sources

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

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

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

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

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

The Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

Marilyn Monroe — The Public Persona versus the Private Person

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

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

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

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

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


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

gentlemen prefer blondes

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

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

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

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

marilyn monroe at movie screening

Valley Times Collection, photograph dated December 5, 1959.

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

Valley Times Collection, March 23, 1960.

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

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

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

marilyn monroe at golf tournament

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

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

marilyn monroe at spring training on catalina island

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

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

Herald-Examiner Collection, dated January 15, 1954.

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

Joe DiMaggio at Marilyn Monroe funeral

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

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

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

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

Herald-Examiner Collection, photograph taken in 1958.

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

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

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

veronica davenport

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

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

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

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

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

marilyn monroe's body taken to coroner

Herald-Examiner Collection, dated August 6, 1962.

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

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

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

crypt 33 at westwood memorial park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

lockheed aircraft plant

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

lockheed employees enjoy lunch

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

douglas aircraft employees eat lunch

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

aviation employees get some good humor

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

brown derby

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

pat murphy's chicken

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

pup cafe

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

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

lockheed newsstand

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

burbank drug store

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

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

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

olympic trailer courts

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

douglas aircraft employees

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

cole weston and wife

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

van de kamp's bakery

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

new homes

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

oil derricks by sunnyside cemetery

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

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

collier school of mind science

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

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

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

ocean front promenade

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

bowling

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

acme beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bugsy Siegel's wife

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

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

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

bugsy siegel

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

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

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

george raft

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photographed in 1930.

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

Jean Harlow

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

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

 

virginia hill

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

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

 

scene of murder of bugsy siegel

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

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

bugsy siegel murder

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

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

allen smiley

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

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

witnesses to bugsy siegel murder

 

Herald-Examiner Collection, photographed June 21, 1947.

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

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

abe "kid twist" reles

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

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

tony brancato

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

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

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

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

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

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

coroner's tag for benjamine bugsy siegel

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

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

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

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


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

Can washer

Photographed in 2009 by Tom Zimmerman.

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

Helicopter manufacture

Photographed in 2009 by Gary Leonard.

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

Wholesale tortilla bakery

Photographed in 2009 by Tom Zimmerman.

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

buttons at high society

Photographed on July 13, 2009, by Cheryl Himmelstein.

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

making kimchi

Photographed in 2009 by Tom Zimmerman.

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

handmade chocolates

Photographed in 2009 by Tom Zimmerman.

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

construction materials

Photographed in 2009 by Gary Leonard.

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

food container manufacturing

Photographed in 2009 by Slobodan Dimitrov.

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

frozen fish distributors

Photographed in 2009 by Slobodan Dimitrov.

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

evening gown designers

 Photographed on July 14, 2009, by Cheryl Himmelstein.

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

control panel

Photographed in 2009 by Slobodan Dimitrov.

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

womens clothing design

Photographed April 23, 2009, by Cheryl Himmelstein.

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

woodworking, los angeles artisans, door makers

Photographed in 2009 by Slobodan Dimitrov.