Playa Del Rey: The Last Beach Town

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

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

Water, water, everywhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watching change unfold

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Catalina Island – History, Mystery, Beauty, and Buffalo

Over 9,000 years ago, members of the Gabrielino/Tongva tribe built settlements on a rocky island located 25 miles off the coast of what is today Southern California. They referred to their homeland as Pimu or Pimugna and themselves as Pimungans. In the 1500s, Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo landed on the island and claimed it for Spain, naming it San Salvador (after his ship). In the early 1600s, another Spanish explorer, Sebastian Vizcaino, renamed the island Santa Catalina Island (in honor of St. Catherine). That name stuck.

Although the island fell under Spanish rule, American and Russian hunters set up camps on the island to hunt for seals and sea lions. Missionaries visited the island to teach the gospel. Miners searched for gold and precious minerals. Pirates of all nationalities used the islands to conduct smuggling activities. In 1846, mere days before the United States invaded Mexico, the Governor of Mexico granted ownership of Santa Catalina Island to Thomas Robbins, a naturalized citizen of Mexico. A few years later, Santa Catalina Island became part of the United States. Robbins sold the land in 1850 to Jose Maria Covarrubias. The island changed hands a number of times during the next several years with James Lick (at one point the richest man in California) purchasing the entire island in 1864.

Real estate developer George Shatto bought the island from the Lick family (James Lick had died) in 1887 with the idea of turning it into a resort. He defaulted on the loan and the property returned to Lick’s estate. Brothers Joseph and Hancock Banning (sons of Phineas Banning, “father of the Port of Los Angeles”) bought the island and did develop resort facilities, only to have them destroyed in a fire that eventually bankrupted them. In 1919, chewing gum magnate William Wrigley bought the island. He made many infrastructure improvements, built attractions (including the Catalina Casino), and made the island a destination for tourists and fun seekers. When William Wrigley died, the oversight of the island passed to his son, Phillip, who, in 1975, deeded 90% of the island to the newly formed Catalina Island Conservancy (which Phillip had created).

Today, Santa Catalina Island – generally referred to as Catalina Island or simply Catalina – is visited by over a million tourists per year. A perusal of the Los Angeles Public Library’s photo collection (TESSA) shows Catalina Island to be an archeological treasure trove, a seaside resort, a fisherman’s paradise, and a Southern California version of home on the range where the buffalo do indeed roam.

The Pimugnans mined the island’s vast reserves of soapstone, often traveling to the coastland (to what is today San Pedro) to sell this commodity. They had villages all over the island. In this photo, an anthropologist is seen with human remains he has unearthed from a Native American grave on Santa Catalina Island.

anthropologist on catalina

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1920.

The anthropologist (name unknown) displays a fire-making tool used by Native Americans who inhabited Catalina Island.

catalina island relics

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1920.

Pictured here is a panoramic view of Avalon Bay. The large ship in the harbor is the S.S. Catalina, also known as the Great White Steamer, which ferried passengers between Los Angeles and Avalon Harbor for over fifty years. If you click on the photo, you will be able to see a large circular building on the far right. This is the Catalina Casino, which houses a theater and ballroom (but no gambling facilities).

avalon bay

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken by Dick Whittington, date unknown.

The Catalina Casino (also known as the Avalon Casino Ballroom) was built in the Moorish Alhambra style and adorned with Art Deco fixtures. The Casino’s ballroom, as seen here, is the largest circular ballroom in the world and has a row of permanent seats surrounding it.

catalina ballroom

Herman Schultheis Collection, photo taken by Herman Schultheis in 1938.

The interior of the Catalina Casino features Art Deco styling. The building itself is surrounded by the sea on three sides. Here we see the Casino’s lobby and box office. (The Casino does not have any gambling facilities but does show movies and hold special events.)

catalina casino lobby

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1929.

With its temperate weather, Catalina Island is a great spot for outdoor events. Here we see an open-air theater on a hillside on the island. The theater was apparently used for concerts, as a sign on the theater shell stated: “Do not talk while band is playing.”

open-air theater on catalina island

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo undated.

Folks are also able to enjoy dining al fresco pretty much all year round on Catalina Island. Here we see tables set up outside the Paseo El Encanto, a market in Avalon that featured Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.

paseo el encanto catalina island

Herman Schultheis Collection, photo taken by Herman Schultheis in 1938.

Catalina Island is known for its great fishing spots. The crew of the fishing boat Diamond Jim chose the west end of the island to cast their nets and got an unexpected catch – a 4,200 pound great white shark!

shark caught catalina island

Herald Examiner Collection, photo taken by Michael Haering on September 20, 1985.

Zane Grey, author of many popular western adventure novels (the most famous being Riders of the Purple Sage), built a home on Catalina Island (which later became the Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel) to use as a place to get away, write, and fish. (His primary California residence was in Altadena.)  Grey served as president of Catalina’s exclusive fishing club, the Tuna Club of Avalon. Here he poses with a swordfish he caught off the shores of Catalina Island.

zane grey with swordfish

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo undated.

Of course, with all the fish available off the shores of Santa Catalina Island (tuna, mackerel, sardines), fishing was not only a recreational endeavor but also a commercial enterprise.  Pictured here are employees of Coast Fishing Tuna Cannery in Avalon.

cannery workers catalina island

Shades of L.A. Collection, photo taken in 1945.

Taxidermy of large fish was also popular. In this photo, a woman prepares a fish for mounting at a taxidermist shop in Avalon.

swordfish mounting

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1933.

Many residents built beautiful homes on the island.  The Banning brothers, who had ownership of Santa Catalina Island for over 25 years, sought to make Avalon (the only incorporated city on the island) a world-class resort. They built the Hotel St. Catherine and added attractions that included an incline railway, an amphitheater, and an aquarium. A huge fire swept through the city in 1915 and destroyed most of their property. This photo is of Descanso, the Catalina Island home of Hancock Banning.

banning residence on catalina

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken by Park & Co. Photo Studio, date unknown.

William Wrigley, Jr. (of Wrigley chewing gum fame) bought Catalina Island from the Banning brothers in 1919. He upgraded the island by installing utilities, building roads, planting trees and other flora, and building the Catalina Casino. He also oversaw the construction of his own personal residence which sat on a hill overlooking Avalon.

wrigley residence catalina island

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo undated.

The stately Victorian home known as the Lefmann Residence had a castle-like presence in the midst of tropical landscaping.

lefmann residence

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo undated.

While Avalon is the most populous city on Catalina Island, the town of Two Harbors — located at the Isthmus of Santa Catalina (18 miles from Avalon) and built between two harbors (Banning Harbor and Catalina Harbor) — offers beautiful views and a great place to unwind, as seen in this photo.

two harbors on catalina harbor

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo undated.

Of course, not all residents of Catalina Island are human. Buffalo were brought over to the island for the filming of a movie and remained on the island after the film shoot ended. (Note: Popular consensus is that the film which introduced buffalo to the island was the 1925 silent film The Vanishing American. That film, however, has no bison in it. Some theorized that the film The Covered Wagon brought the creatures to Catalina, yet that movie (which does feature buffalo) was not filmed on the island. Another film, The Thundering Herd (released in 1925) may have brought buffalo to Catalina Island, as the Catalina Islander (the island’s newspaper) mentioned in its October 6th, 1938, edition that the herd had been brought over by the filmmakers who then gifted the herd to the island.)

buffalo on catalina island

Valley Times Collection, photo dated July 22, 1962.

Spanish missionaries brought a few goats to Catalina Island in 1827, ostensibly as food for natives living on the island. The missionaries and the natives eventually all left the island, but the goats stayed and multiplied. (The goat population on Catalina Island in the 1950s was approximately 25,000.) The goats lived on the rugged terrain at the west end of the island, surviving on any and all vegetation — grass, cacti, flowers, tree leaves and bark. In the early 1990s, efforts were made to eliminate the goat population as they were decimating the top soil and negatively affecting Catalina’s ecosystem. Today, there are no goats (other than a few pets) on the island.

mountain goats on catalina

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo undated.

Not all the goats on Catalina were wild. Some were downright friendly and loved company — particularly if said company brought them something to eat. And since goats eat just about anything, it is not hard to find a snack to entice them!

goats eating hats

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1928.

The Santa Catalina Bird Park covered eight acres, housed over 8,000 different species of birds, and was Catalina’s biggest attraction for over 35 years. Known as the world’s largest birdcage, it was constructed from remnants of the Sugarloaf Dance Pavilion which had been demolished to create space for the Catalina Casino. The bird park closed in 1966 and all birds were transferred to the Los Angeles Zoo.

santa catalina bird park

Works Progress Administration Collection, photo taken by Alma Overholt on March 18, 1940.

For the Chicago Cubs, beautiful Catalina Island was not a vacation destination but rather a place of grueling exercise and intense work. William Wrigley owned the baseball team and had them come to the island for their Spring training.

chicago cubs on catalina island

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1930.

Abelardo Luis Rodriguez (man on the right), son of General Rodriguez (former President of Mexico), chose Catalina Island as a place to marry and have a honeymoon. After arriving at Catalina Island’s airport with his wedding party, he and his companions were taken to Toyon Bay where he and his fiancée, actress Lucille Bremer (female in middle of photo), were married by a Justice of the Peace. Toyon Bay is two and a half miles northwest of Avalon and was once the site of a boy’s boarding school. During World War II, the school site was used to house the Office of Strategic Services (which would later become the Central Intelligence Agency) where soldiers were trained in guerrilla warfare. The site is now occupied by Catalina Island Marine Institute which offers educational programs and summer camps for children.

Abelardo Luis Rodriguez

Valley Times Collection, photo dated August 6, 1948.

As the number of vehicles allowed on the island is restricted (and obtaining a permit to import a car or truck can take more than ten years), most people – particularly those staying in Avalon – walk, bike, or use golf carts to get around. Natural beauty and no traffic — now that is paradise!

golf carts on catalina island

Shades of L.A. Collection, Shades of L.A.: Mexican American Community, photo taken in 1962.

 

 

Oh Let’s Do Lunch! Dining Out During the Day (Maybe) in Los Angeles

There are many ways to “do lunch” in L.A., from a power lunch with your agent to a quick bite from a cart while you run errands. Peruse the photo collection of the Los Angeles Public Library and you’ll get an idea of where folks in Los Angeles – from traffic cops to studio executives – enjoy their midday meal (sometimes in the middle of the night).

Philippe’s, established in 1908 by Philippe Mathieu, created its signature sandwich – the French Dip –by accident in 1918. A police officer came to the eatery for lunch and ordered a roast beef sandwich. Mathieu – rushing to get the sandwich made quickly as the officer was in a hurry – accidentally dropped the French roll (used for all sandwiches in his restaurant) into a roasting pan filled with hot juice. The policeman said he would take the sandwich anyway. He returned the next day with fellow officers who wanted to try this new sandwich which was dipped in juice. The sandwich became known as the French Dip – perhaps because Mathieu was French, perhaps because the officer’s surname was French, or perhaps because of the French roll. No one is certain of the origin of the name, but 100 years later, Philippe’s still serves up French dips (beef, pork, lamb, turkey, or ham) to city workers, shoppers, stars, students, senators, and those wanting a good lunch with a cheap cup of coffee.

Philippe's

Herald Examiner Collection, photo taken by Michael Haering on November 18, 1986.

Nick’s Café was opened in 1948 by Nick, a Navy vet, who served breakfast from early morning until early afternoon (when the café closed). Nick offered bone-in ham sliced to order (earning the restaurant the nickname “the Ham House”) in his eatery across from the River Station freight yards. Business was brisk. After a bit, Nick sold the restaurant to two LAPD homicide detectives and the diner became a regular for cops and DWP workers. Today Nick’s Café still serves up breakfast all day to its eclectic crowd. The menu has some new items, but the day for Nick’s Café still ends at 3:00 p.m.

Nick's Cafe

Gary Leonard Collection (Los Angeles Photographers Collection), photo taken
by Gary Leonard on October 21. 2005.

Of course, Los Angeles has people – cops, film crews, hospital workers, firefighters – working all hours of the day and night, so lunch might be at 3:00 a.m. or 6:00 p.m. or midnight. Snap’s Coffee Shop was open 24/7 to serve hungry customers classic diner fare – fried chicken, meat loaf, grilled cheese sandwiches, French fries, and pie and coffee.

snap's coffee shop

 

inside snap's coffee shop

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, both photos undated.

Want to take a trip but cannot get away? Lunch inside the Zep Diner in South Los Angeles could help you feel as if you’re traveling high above the clouds (and your worries).

zep diner

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo dated March 21, 1931.

If you wanted a bit of fun with your lunch, the Merry Go Round Café was the place for you. Sit at the counter and watch as various meals slowly slide past you. Grab the one you want. Gustav and Gertrude Kramm had the idea of a cafe that served home-cooked food presented on a rotating conveyor belt and accessible by lifting a glass door and selecting the item. Items on the merry go round included salads, sandwiches, desserts, and relishes. Hot food was delivered by servers and fresh coffee was available every ten minutes. Lunch was 35¢; a full dinner (including two salads, a dessert, and all the rolls you wanted) was 50¢.

merry go round cafe

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1932.

Southern Californians have always been on the move and their lunch counters are no exception! Here we see a lunch wagon parked by the parking lot of a local employer (believed to be a local aviation manufacturer). During lunch hour, an employee could grab a cold drink, a hot sandwich, and a pack of smokes all in one visit to this lunchmobile. lunch wagon

Ansel Adams Fortune Magazine Collection ( Los Angeles Photographers Collection),
photo taken by Ansel Adams in 1940.

Shoppers, workers, and beach goers in Venice could enjoy delicious seafood tacos and burritos from Tania’s Catering truck, seen here parked on Lincoln Boulevard.

catering truck

Los Angeles Neighborhoods Collection, photo taken by Cheryl Himmelstein in October, 2002.

The L.A. Mission has been serving meals to homeless individuals since 1936. In this photo we see a typical lunch crowd (approximately 250 people) on a typical day.

l.a. mission

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo taken in October of 1986.

If you were in Hollywood and got hungry, you could not go wrong with the lunch counter at Schwab’s Pharmacy (generally called Schwab’s Drug Store). Located near the corner of two boulevards (Sunset and Crescent Heights) for fifty years, Schwab’s was frequented by celebrities, screenwriters, set designers, directors, locals, and tourists who stopped in for ice cream, coffee, sandwiches, and light meals. Syndicated columnist Sidney Skolsky used the drug store as his office; his column for Photoplay magazine was titled From a Stool at Schwab’s. (Marilyn Monroe would leave messages bearing the signature “Miss Caswell” for Skolsky at Schwab’s.) Angela Lansbury stopped in to enjoy ice cream sodas, James Dean had prescriptions filled there, and F. Scott Fitzgerald stopped at Schwab’s to buy cigarettes and had a heart attack. Contrary to popular legend, Lana Turner was not discovered at Schwab’s (but at another eatery on Sunset Boulevard), but she did stop there to pick up her favorite lipstick. Chances are good that she also enjoyed a malted or cup of coffee while she was there.

schwab's drug store

Roy Hankey Collection (Los Angeles Photographers Collection), photo taken by Roy Hankey in 1980.

The El Rey Café at 417 E. 6th Street in downtown Los Angeles was ready for the lunch crowd with silverware settings on the counter, hot coffee perking in the kitchen, and a selection of cigars at the cash register – everything needed to serve and satisfy the hungry crowd. As the Pacific Mutual Life Building was a couple blocks away (just behind Pershing Square) and the street was lined with clothing shops, loan offices, and hotels, the café would do a brisk business serving clerks, bankers, insurance salesmen, executives, secretaries, and sightseers.

el rey cafe

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo undated.

Busy? Cranky? Don’t want to get out of the car for lunch? No problem. Tiny Naylor’s Drive In served delicious food – sandwiches, malts, patty melts – and you never needed to leave your car. With the original drive-in located at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, this eatery (one of the original Googie-style restaurants) was a favorite of film stars who wanted to grab a bite to eat without being noticed. (A chain of Tiny Naylor’s restaurants dotted greater Los Angeles at one time, with one attached to a car wash in Studio City where many a celebrity had their vehicle washed.) Tiny Naylor (who was 6 foot 4 and weighed 320 pounds) realized that folks got hungry at all hours, so this drive-in was open 24/7.

tiny naylor's drive in

Roy Hankey Collection (Los Angeles Photographers Collection), photo taken by Roy Hankey in 1980.

For an elegant lunch surrounded by tranquility and beauty, you might choose to dine at the Huntington Gardens. Here we see a couple enjoying lunchtime tea brought by a kimono-clad server. While there are no longer carts offering tea in the garden, you may still enjoy lunch at Huntington Gardens, inside or outside, by yourself, with friends, or with a party.

huntington gardens tea

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo undated.

Grab some lunch and then grocery shop for meat, fish, fresh produce, spices, handmade tamales, and baked goods at downtown L.A.’s Grand Central Market. Housed in the Homer Laughlin Building (which once held offices for architect Frank Lloyd Wright), Grand Central Market still provides hungry visitors with victuals ranging from ice cream to egg rolls to oysters, chile rellenos to fried chicken to sticky rice.

grand central market

William Reagh Collection (Los Angeles Photographers Collection), photo taken by William Reagh in 1966. 

Lunch goers in Los Angeles have the luxury of enjoying authentic Mexican cuisine. Lalo’s Birrieria y Taqueria on Main Street serves up birria and other Mexican dishes with homemade tortillas. (Birria is a spicy stew traditionally made with goat meat but which may also be made with beef or pork.)

lalo's

Stone Ishimaru Collection (Los Angeles Photographers Collection), photo taken by Stone Ishimaru in 2007.

Frank Toulet opened Frank’s Francois Café on Hollywood Boulevard in 1919. Four years later, restauranteur Joseph Musso became Toulet’s partner. The two entrepreneurs hired French chef Jean Rue to create a menu and cook for their fine establishment. The restaurant was christened Musso & Frank Grill (often referred to as Musso & Frank’s by locals). Three years later, Toulet and Musso sold the restaurant to two Italian immigrants, Joseph Carissimi and John Mosso, who retained the name but moved the eatery from 6669 Hollywood Boulevard to 6667 Hollywood Boulevard where it still stands. Musso & Frank’s would become an integral part of Hollywood’s entertainment industry, serving lunch to movie stars, studio execs, screenwriters and writers of all types (including F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Raymond Chandler, and William Faulkner, who used to go behind the bar to mix his own mint juleps). From humble beginnings sprang a historic venue that is still open today.

francois cafe

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo undated.

frank & musso's

William Reagh Collection (Los Angeles Photographers Collection), photo taken by William Reagh in 1991.

What better way to advertise your lunch offerings than to do so with your eatery’s architecture? The Tamale was a lunchroom in East Los Angeles that featured tamales, chili, hot dogs, malts, and other fare in a uniquely shaped building. It was just the right place for a quick lunch in a place you would not soon forget.

the tamle restaurant in east los angeles

Security Pacific National Bank Collection,  photo undated.

And you also would not forget Tail O’ The Pup in West Hollywood!

tail o the pup

Gary Leonard Collection, (Los Angeles Photographers Collection), photo taken by Gary Leonard, photo undated.

Of course, location and menu are only part of a great lunch. The right dining companion can make the most mundane meal magnificent. Angie the dog and Casey the duck – the best of friends – meet in a parking lot in Studio City for a fine lunch of watermelon. (No reservations needed.)

angie and casey meet for lunch

 

watermelon!

Valley Times Collection, undated photograph taken by Dave Siddon.

Southern Californians Learn Their Trade: Images from the Los Angeles Trade-Tech Collection

Founded in 1925 as the Frank Wiggins Trade School, Los Angeles Trade–Technical College (commonly referred to as L.A. Trade–Tech) is a public community college in Los Angeles. (The school was renamed Trade–Technical Junior College in 1954 and became part of the Los Angeles Community College District in 1969.) The oldest of the nine campuses of the Los Angeles Community College District, L.A. Trade-Tech offers Associate Degrees, certification programs, and coursework for transfer to four-year colleges or universities. The school has a rich history of preparing Southern Californians for professional positions in industries such as Culinary Arts, Cosmetology, Construction Technology, and Fashion Design.

The photo collection of the Los Angeles Public Library offers a historical look at L.A. Trade-Tech and its predecessor (Frank Wiggins Trade School) which shows how students were trained for careers in various occupations. (Note: With the exception of the first photograph [portrait of Frank Wiggins], all photos in this post are from the Los Angeles Trade-Tech Photo Collection. Dates for the photos are given if available. )

Born in Richmond, Indiana, in 1849, Frank Wiggins came to California in 1886 for what he expected to be a short visit. A sickly 17-year old, he was not expected to live long. Instead of dying, he regained his health, fell in love with Southern California, and became the first Secretary of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce in 1890. Wiggins was influential in the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct and the Port of Los Angeles. He spearheaded the annexation of the City of San Pedro and traveled to various fairs with exhibitions showcasing the multitude of California’s agricultural products. (He created a large elephant out of 850 pounds of California walnuts for the 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair. When not exhibiting at a fair or other event, the pachyderm resided at the Chamber of Commerce headquarters.) Innovative and tenacious, he was relentless in his marketing of Los Angeles as the perfect place to build a business, improve your health, raise a family, and forge a new life. (William Mulholland, engineer of the aqueduct and a personal friend of Wiggins, is purported to have said that the only way to stop the growth of Southern California would be to kill Frank Wiggins.)

Wiggins held the post of Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce until 1924 when he died on a steamship returning to Los Angeles from Cuba. The Frank Wiggins Trade School (now L.A. Trade-Tech) was founded and named in his honor in 1925.

frank wiggins

Herald Examiner Collection, photo taken by the George Steckel Studio of Los Angeles,
used in article dated March 16, 1935.

A group of students pose at the grand opening of the Frank Wiggins Trade School. The banners they wear signify the programs offered and skills taught at the school.

grand opening of frank wiggins trade school

Photo taken in 1926.

The Walter L. Dodge House (commonly referred to as the Dodge House) was designed by architect Irving Gill and built between 1914 and 1916. Located in West Hollywood, the house was a Spanish Mission style home that many architects considered a prototype of the Modernist movement. It featured cutting-edge innovations such as a garbage disposal in the kitchen and automatic car wash in the garage. The Dodge House was purchased by the L.A. Board of Education and used for classes and instruction purposes. In this photo, we see a student of the Frank Wiggins Household Service Training Program put the finishing touches on a cake at the Dodge House.

dodge house used for frank wiggins trade school

Photo taken in 1940.

A young woman, a student of the Household Service Training Program, practices the art of properly making a bed in a bedroom setting at the Dodge House.

household service training program at dodge house

Photo taken in 1940.

A culinary student at L.A. Trade-Tech practices cutting up fruit in stylish ways.

culinary arts student at l.a. trade-tech

Photo is undated.

Students studying food services at Frank Wiggins Trade School learn to use pastry bags.

pastry chef training

Photo is undated.

Students prepare to bake rolls using an industrial oven while an instructor oversees their work.

industrial baking

Photo is undated.

Two students of Frank Wiggins Trade School assist in the building of a small house. A sign on the wooden building identifies them as apprentices of the school.

frank wigging trade school construction classes

Photo is undated.

Carpentry students build a roof for a model home.

carpentry students

Photo is undated.

Students work on various projects in a wood shop class.

woodworking classes

Photo is undated.

Pictured is the patio of a home built by students of L.A. Trade-Tech. Students designed, built, furnished, and landscaped the house.

home construction by students

Photo is undated.

A student studying the construction trade adds finishing touches to a plastered wall.

plastering instruction

Photo is undated.

Students receive hands-on training in radio operations.

radio operations training

Photo taken in 1940.

Students learn to maintain and repair machinery.

machinery repair classes

Photo is undated.

In 1925, the apparel industry in Southern California was in dire need of well-trained professionals, from seamstresses to tailors to costume designers. Local garment manufacturers offered financial support to Frank Wiggins Trade School in order to create a program in apparel arts that would produce qualified professionals ready to meet the demands of the ever-growing clothing industry. The Fashion Design program continues today at L.A. Trade-Tech, making it the oldest such program in Los Angeles. In this photo, we see students learning the art of dressmaking.

apparel arts training

Photo taken in 1940.

A student pins a jacket together with precision.

tailoring classes

Photo is undated.

A student in the tailoring class fits a jacket on a man.

clothing alterations

Photo is undated.

A student studying millinery arts at Frank Wiggins Trade School adds some stylish touches to a hat.

millinery

Photo is undated.

An aspiring fashion illustrator puts the finishing touches on a drawing of a model.

fashion illustrator

Photo is undated.

Students studying the laundry trade at Frank Wiggins Trade School practice pressing and folding shirts.

laundry services

Photo is undated.

An instructor teaches a class in laundry techniques, helping keep Los Angeles clean and pressed. (Note: Prior to the 1950s, many people did not have washers and dryers in their homes [particularly if one was renting a room or apartment] and relied on knowledgeable dry cleaners and laundry services to properly wash and press their garments.)laundering instruction class

Photo is undated.

A cosmetology student prepares to style the hair of a patron.

hair styling

Photo is undated.

A cosmetology student applies curlers to a patron’s hair in the school’s training salon.

hair styling instruction

Photo is undated.

Students paint commercial signs while an instructor oversees and evaluates their work.

commercial signage classes

Photo is undated.

A poster painted in the Art Department of the Frank Wiggins Trade School advertises Armistice Day (now called Veteran’s Day).

armistice day poster

Photo is undated.

The Fruits of Work: Los Angeles as Seen by the Works Progress Administration

In an effort to end the Great Depression that had plagued the United States since the stock market crash of 1929, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his administration created the New Deal, a series of programs, projects, and policies that would help citizens get jobs, businesses turn a profit, banks become more stable, and the country gain a better financial footing. The New Deal spawned many agencies (known as New Deal agencies and also referred to as alphabet agencies) with missions ranging from financial reform (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Farm Credit Administration, Securities and Exchange Commission) to increasing funding for the arts (Federal Theatre Project, Federal Art Project). The largest agency was the Works Progress Administration (eventually renamed Work Projects Administration) which built public roads, bridges, buildings, and other structures. The WPA employed over eight million people between its inception in 1935 and its disbandment in 1943, and almost every area in the U.S. was improved by the work of the WPA.

The WPA also produced the American Guide Series, a collection of guide books written and compiled by the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) which employed more than 6,000 writers. The guide books were printed by individual states and provided historical information on each state, descriptions of major cities, and suggestions for road trips and sightseeing. The original guide book for California was titled California: A Guide to the Golden State and was sponsored by Mabel R. Gillis, the California State Librarian. (The original and updated versions are available at the Los Angeles Public Library.)

The photo collection of the Los Angeles Public Library (now housed under Tessa) proudly features the Works Progress Administration Photo Collection which features photos taken by the Federal Writers’ Project for possible inclusion into the California guide book. All photos in this blog post are from said collection. (Some of the structures pictured here have been built by WPA workers – a fact duly noted in the photo’s description.)

The following two photos show the mural created by artist Edward Biberman for the post office located in the Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles. The Federal Building was being built by WPA workers. Both photos were taken in 1939.


post office mural right half

Right half of mural on post office wall.

 

post office mural left side

Left half of mural on post office wall.

Philanthropist Griffith J. Griffith wanted to make astronomy accessible to the public and thus designated funds in his will to build an observatory. The Works Progress Administration began work on the Griffith Observatory and Planetarium in June of 1933 and finished in May of 1935. The observatory welcomed more than 13,000 visitors in its first week of operation.

griffith observatory

Photo taken in 1939.

St. Vincent de Paul, a Roman Catholic church built in the 1920s, was funded by local oilman Edward J. Doheny. It was located close to one of Doheny’s homes in the very posh neighborhood of West Adams in Los Angeles. It has been designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No. 90.

st. vincent de paul church

Photo taken in the 1940s. 

The Los Angeles Pet Cemetery (later renamed the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park), opened in Calabasas in 1928. One of the oldest pet cemeteries on the West Coast, it is the final resting place for celebrity pets including Hopalong Cassidy’s horse and Rudolph Valentino’s dog as well as the beloved companions of more ordinary folks.

los angeles pet memorial park

Photo taken on July 17, 1939, by photographer Burton O. Burt
who later became a newspaper columnist in Pomona.

The City of Whittier was established as a Quaker colony, and thus the Friends Church was foundational to its establishment and growth.

friends' church in whittier

Photo taken on May 29, 1939, by Burton O. Burt.

The Villa Riviera Hotel was built in 1929 in Long Beach, California. Stately and sturdy, it was the second tallest building in the West at the time. (Los Angeles City Hall was the tallest.) Its architect, Richard D. King, won a prize for its design and gained international recognition. It has survived numerous owners and more than a few earthquakes with the only damage being a few easily repaired cracks.

villa riveriera hotel

Photo taken in 1937.

RKO Radio Pictures Studio, one of the big five studios of Hollywood’s Golden Age, advertises the film “Victoria the Great” which featured Anna Neagle and Anton Walbrook.

rko studios

Photo taken in 1940.

Vasquez Rocks, an area located in the Sierra Pelona Mountains in the Antelope Valley in northern Los Angeles County, was used by bandit Tiburcio Vasquez as a hideout when evading law officials. Many people have visited the natural park with its odd rock formations and caves to hike, climb, shoot films, and look for any treasure left behind by Vasquez’s gang.

vasquez rocks

Photo taken on April 22, 1937.

The Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles was built in 1923 and was the largest hotel west of Chicago at the time of its opening. Located across the street from Pershing Square, it served as the “nerve center” for the 1960 Democratic National Convention.

biltmore hotel

Photo taken in 1937.

From its completion in 1928 until 1964, Los Angeles City Hall was the tallest building in Los Angeles. City Hall has classical details such as a Greek main entrance and Romanesque arcades at its base and the modern touch of a beacon light on top.


los angeles city hall

Photo taken in 1939.

The Bernheimer Estate in Pacific Palisades, designed by brothers Adolph and Eugene Bernheimer, resembled a pagoda and housed an extraordinary collection of Oriental art including priceless antiques, warrior helmets, silk tapestries, and beautiful wood carvings. The Bernheimer Gardens flourished as a tourist attraction until the outbreak of WWII. Landslides ruined the estate and it was demolished. The Bernheimer brothers built another Japanese-style estate in Hollywood which featured 30,000 species of trees, shrubs, flowers, and other plants plus koi ponds, aviaries, and monkey cages. That hilltop property was eventually sold and became the Yamashiro restaurant.

bernheimer estate

Bernheimer gardens with residence in background. Photo taken in 1939.

The Santa Catalina Bird Park on Catalina Island covered eight full acres of land. Built in 1928, it was known as the “world’s largest birdcage” and housed 8,000 different species of rare and exotic birds from all over the world. The Park was an extremely popular attraction, but travel restrictions to Catalina Island that were imposed during WWII caused attendance at the Park to suffer. Alas, the Park never regained its pre-war vitality and closed its doors in 1966. All the birds were transferred to the Los Angeles Zoo.

 

santa catalina bird park

Photo taken March 18, 1940, by Alma Overholt.

Sardi’s Restaurant in Hollywood, the sister of New York City’s Sardi’s, opened on Hollywood Boulevard in 1928 and became the favorite restaurant of Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Maurice Chevalier, and other celebrities plus regular folks looking for fine dining in an elegant atmosphere.

sardi's restaurant

Photo taken in 1937.

The mural titled “Orange Harvest” was painted by Frank Bowers while he worked for the Federal Art Project (a division of the Works Progress Administration). The mural was painted in the California Citrus Exchange Building (also known as the Southern California Fruit Exchange) which was originally located in downtown Los Angeles.

orange harvest mural

Photo dated September 22, 1937.

Scripps College, a liberal arts college for women in Claremont, California, was founded by philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps, who considered the college an experiment in education and desired a setting with an artistic connection between buildings and landscape. Scripps College is frequently described as one of America’s most beautiful college campuses and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

scripps college

Photo dated: August 10, 1937.

The Mission San Juan Capistrano was built in 1776, one year after Paul Revere’s ride. The grounds feature beautiful gardens including Garden of the Padres which is pictured here.

mission at san juan capistrano

Photo taken in 1937.

The First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles was built and dedicated in 1927, with the cornerstone being laid on September 18, 1927, in a ceremony officiated by the President of the American Unitarian Association, Samuel A. Eliot.

first unitarian church,

Photo taken July 21, 1937.

MacArthur Park was created in the 1880’s under the name Westlake Park. It featured tropical gardens and a large lake. It was later renamed in honor of General Douglas MacArthur.

macarthur park

Photo taken on June 21, 1939, by Burton O. Burt.

Built in the 1920s, this Spanish-style building was first owned by actor Fred Thomson. It served for a few years as a studio commissary and space for make-up and wardrobe departments for neighboring studios. It also housed shops such as Howard Greer Couturiers and Travis Banton Clothiers.

fred thomson shops

Photo taken in 1935, 50 years before the building would become the Cat & Fiddle Restaurant.

 

Tut arrives in L.A., 1978

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

TUT FEVER

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

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

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

TUT ON THE MIRACLE MILE

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

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

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

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

ENTERING THE TOMB

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

RETURN OF THE BOY KING

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

Sources for this essay include:

A Battle, a Victory, a Holiday: Cinco de Mayo Explained and Observed

Cinco de Mayo. It inspires parades and parties and sales and even special deals at restaurants, but what exactly does the Fifth of May commemorate and why do we celebrate?

The date is observed to memorialize the Mexican Army’s victory over the French Army at the Battle of Puebla, a battle which ended on May 5, 1862. (Mexican Independence Day, when Mexico was released from Spain’s grip, is celebrated on September 16.) The triumph of the Mexican army (led by General Ignacio Zaragoza) in this battle was surprising since France had a much larger and better equipped army. The French had landed in Veracruz the previous year, ostensibly to obtain reimbursement for debts owed by Mexico to France, but with an ulterior mission of establishing a French empire in Mexico. They promptly forced President Benito Juárez and his government into retreat. After their win at Veracruz, the French army moved towards Mexico City, expecting little resistance and an easy conquest. Instead of a swift victory, they encountered fierce fighting from the Mexican army at Fort Loreto and Fort Guadalupe near Puebla. The French were defeated and the victory of the Mexican army boosted the morale of the Mexican people and created a sense of national patriotism throughout Mexico.

In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is considered a date to celebrate Mexican-American culture. As Southern California boasts a large Mexican-American population, it also boasts a number of Cinco de Mayo celebrations, from family gatherings to community events. The photo collection of the Los Angeles Public Library reveals a wide assortment of Cinco de Mayo festivities – friendly, family, personal, public, and even political.

This Cinco de Mayo festival (like many similar events) features folk songs, traditional dance, native costumes, and native cuisine of Mexico.

cinco de mayo festival

Herald-Examiner Collection, photograph taken in 1943.

A Cinco de Mayo celebration takes place on the steps of City Hall. The event features a parade of people in traditional Mexican costume, with both the Mexican flag and U.S. flag at the head of the parade. A battalion of soldiers stands in formation while onlookers stand across the street. (NOTE: The building in the background is the Hall of Justice, built in 1925. It may look familiar as it has been featured in television shows such as Dragnet, Get Smart, and Perry Mason.)

cinco de mayo parade

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo is undated.

The Battle of Puebla is recreated for a Cinco de Mayo fete with a tug-o-war taking place between the French and the Mexicans in front of a men’s shop. As in the original Battle of Puebla, the Mexicans won.

tug of war for cinco de mayo

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo taken on May 5, 1960.

A group of Mexican-Americans celebrates Cinco de Mayo at the historic Avila House on Olvera Street. They placed flowers before a portrait of General Ignacio Zaragoza, who led the Mexican Army during the Battle of Puebla in 1862 where the French forces were defeated. (Note: Zaragoza died of typhoid fever four months after the victory on May 5, 1862.)

commemoration of ignacio Zaragoza

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo taken in 1953.

Members of the planning committee at Lawry’s California Center view advertisements for holiday celebrations. (Note: The Center closed in the early 1990s but has reopened as the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens.)

lawry's california center

Shades of L.A.: Mexican-American Community, photo dated 1983.

Dancers compete for the honor of reigning as queen over the Mexican-American colony’s Cinco de Mayo celebration in the Los Angeles Coliseum. The festival will feature song, dance, and athletic competitions.

dance competition for cinco de mayo

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo taken on May 2, 1940.

Two children hold a blanket displaying the Mexican coat of arms during a celebration in downtown Los Angeles that drew 40,000 people.

mexican coat of arms

Lucille Stewart Collection, photo taken by Lucille Stewart in 1945.

A beautiful senorita performs the Mexican hat dance for such luminaries as Mayor Fletcher Bowron (second from right) and actress Celeste Holm (middle) who were attending Cinco de Mayo festivities on Olvera Street.

mexican hat dance

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo taken in 1952.

Children attend a Cinco de Mayo celebration that features a maypole at Ramona Gardens, a public housing project built in Boyle Heights in 1939.

ramona gardens cinco de mayo festival

Housing Authority Collection, photo taken by Otto Rothschild in 1949.

Dancers perform at a Cinco de Mayo celebration at the Watts Health Foundation.

cinco de mayo festivities in watts

Los Angeles Neighborhoods Collection, photo taken by James W. Jeffrey, Jr. in 2000.

At a pre-Cinco de Mayo celebration, celebrants gather at La Golondrina Cafe on Olvera Street (Calle Olvera), a street in downtown Los Angeles that is part of the Los Angeles Plaza Historic District (El Puebla de Los Ángeles Historical Monument) which encompasses the oldest section of the city.

cinco de mayo at la golondrina cafe

Herald-Examiner Collection (Box 3692), photo taken in 1951.

A Cinco de Mayo dinner is held at Los Angeles City Hall to honor Dr. Ezequiel Padilla (pictured at right with cigar in hand), Mexico’s Secretary for Foreign Relations and a former Washington ambassador. The event was attended by Mayor Fletcher Bowron plus dignitaries and prominent citizens of Los Angeles.

ezequial padilla at cinco de mayo dinner

Lucille Stewart Collection, photo taken by Lucille Stewart in May of 1945.

Mayor Fletcher Bowron, Mexican Counsel Rodolfo Salazar, and California Governor Culbert Olson wear miniature United States and Mexican flags in their lapel while attending a Cinco de Mayo celebration.

mayor fletcher bowron celebrates cinco de mayo

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo is undated.

A group of young dancers entertains the crowds at William Mead Homes Housing Project in Chinatown.

william mead homes' cinco de mayo festival

Housing Authority Collection, photo is undated.

A member of Borde Arts Workshop speaks at a Cinco de Mayo celebration at Highways, a venue for dance, song, art, and music located in Santa Monica.

highways (art space) in santa monica

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo taken by Leo Jarzomb and dated October 1, 1989.

Joseph Kennedy (on the left), son of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, presents a bust of his father to Frank Serrano, principal of the newly opened Robert F. Kennedy Elementary School in East Los Angeles during a Cinco de Mayo celebration at the school.

robert f. kennedy school

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo taken by Sergio Ortiz on May 6, 1972.

Cesar Chavez (civil rights activist, labor organizer, and co-founder of the United Farm Workers union) speaks about Cinco de Mayo at U.C.L.A.

cesar chavez

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo taken by Ken Papleo on May 5, 1979.

Preschooler Hilda Gutierrez assists the librarian at the Lincoln Heights branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. The two are filling the bookshelves in preparation for Cinco de Mayo, hoping that visitors will check out the festivities and check out some books!

cinco de mayo at lincoln heights library

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo taken by Myron Dubee in 1968.

 

 

Water and Power: the 1938 Los Angeles Flood

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

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

A man and his camera

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

After the deluge

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

Sources include:

Amelia Earhart – Flying Through the Blue and Into History

While attending the 1907 Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, ten-year old Amelia Mary Earhart saw her first airplane. She was not impressed. She described it as “a thing of rusty wire and wood and not at all interesting” and asked her father, Edwin Earhart, to take her back to the merry-go-round. Edwin could not interest Meeley (as tomboy Amelia was called) or Pidge (as her younger sister Grace was called) in an airplane ride. Ten years later, working as a nurse in Toronto during WWI, Amelia and a friend attended a flying exhibition. The pilot spotted the two women watching from an isolated clearing and dived the plane at them. Amelia stood her ground as the little red plane swooped by. She was delighted by the exhibit but was still not interested in taking flight. Three years later, on December 28, 1920, in Long Beach, California, Earhart took a ride in a plane piloted by Frank Hawks (who would gain fame as an air racer). The ride took ten minutes, cost ten dollars (paid by her father), and altered the course of her life forever. She began flying lessons less than two weeks later and in May of 1923 became the 16th woman in the United States to receive a pilot’s license.

Earhart went on to set many records, including the first female pilot to reach 14,000 feet altitude and the first woman to fly the Atlantic. Congress awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross; Earhart was the first woman to receive the award. As a tomboy growing up in Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, and eventually Chicago, Earhart kept a scrapbook of women who excelled in positions in law, medicine, and the sciences. She felt her own prowess in aviation proved that that men and women were equal in “jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness, and willpower.”

While Earhart undertook many flights and set (and broke) many records, she also opened a flying school (in Burbank, California), authored books, taught at Purdue University, and was a charter member and first president of the Ninety-Nines (an international organization championing aviation careers amongst women). In spite of all these accomplishments, however, she is probably best known for her disappearance. While attempting to fly around the world, Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, ran into foul weather and poor visibility over the mid-Pacific. Radio contact became problematic. On July 2, 1937, at 8:45 a.m. GMT, Earhart reported via radio to Coast Guard cutter ITASCA “We are running north and south.” This was her last radio message. Earhart, Noonan, and the plane disappeared.

Recent news stories purport that skeletal remains found on Nikumaroro Island have been positively identified as the remains of Amelia Earhart. (The island, known at the time as Gardner Island, was uninhabited and desolate and it is theorized that the aviatrix starved to death.) Other reports assert that Earhart was taken as a prisoner to a Japanese-controlled island and executed. Many people believe that Earhart’s plane ran out of fuel, crashed into the ocean, and both she and Noonan drowned. Whatever scenario occurred, Earhart’s life and work still intrigues and inspires people, both on the ground and in the air.

A perusal of the photo collection of the Los Angeles Public Library unearths images that show Earhart as an aviatrix, a friend, a young woman enjoying life, and an influence on people even after her disappearance. During this Women’s History Month, let us celebrate the adventurous spirit she possessed and passed onto others.

Amelia Earhart and technical expert Paul Mantz study the route Earhart undertook in a flight from the Hawaiian Islands to California, the longest over-water flight ever undertaken at that time.

amelia earhart with paul mantz

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo taken in 1935.

Lieutenant Commander Clarence Williams receives messages from Amelia Earhart as she flies from Honolulu to Oakland, California.

 

clarence williams communicates with amelia earhart

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo dated January 12, 1935.

Amelia Earhart poses with the Elks Drill Team from Jackson, Michigan, during a convention of the Fraternal Order of Elks.

amelia earhart with elks drill team

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo dated March 17, 1930.

Amelia Earhart (right) and Ruth Elder, an aviatrix and actress known as Miss America of Aviation, meet at an air race. Elder inspired the children’s book Flying Solo: How Ruth Elder Soared Into America’s Heart.

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo taken in 1928.

Amelia Earhart’s flight instructor, Neta Snook Southern, shares stories of flying in a visit to the Donald Douglas Museum – also known as the Museum of Flying – in Santa Monica.

neta snook southern

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo dated January 10, 1981.

Aviatrix Joan Merriam Smith, the first woman to circumnavigate the globe successfully, is a guest speaker at the annual Amelia Earhart dinner sponsored by the Zonta Club of North Hollywood.

zonta club meeting

Valley Times Collection, photo dated January 23, 1965.

A tribute to Amelia Earhart and Bert Acosta (a record-setting aviator who flew in the Spanish Civil War) is given by the Brookins Aeronautical Foundation in front of the Portal of the Folded Wings Shrine to Aviation, the burial site for fifteen pioneers of aviation.

amelia earhart tribute

Valley Times Collection, photo dated April 25, 1955.

Students at the Amelia Earhart School in North Hollywood create a mural celebrating the legend of the aviatrix and the field of aviation.

amelia earhart school in north hollywood

Herald-Examiner collection, photo dated February 15, 1976.

The North Hollywood Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library on Tujunga Avenue was named the Amelia Earhart Regional Branch in 1980. The Amelia Earhart Branch is a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.

amelia earhart library

Valley Times Collection, photo dated 1957.

The Lockheed 5B Vega, pictured here at the Lockheed Plant in Southern California, was utilized by Amelia Earhart (and many other aviators) and prized for its rugged design which made long distances more easily navigable.

lockheed 5b vega

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo dated August 25, 1928.

While Amelia Earhart is perhaps the best known of the early aviatrixes, we would be amiss not to mention those trailblazing female pilots who went before her. Gladys Roy was an aviatrix, barnstormer, and parachutist from Minneapolis who performed aerial stunts throughout the country during the 1920s and held the world’s low altitude champion record.

gladys roy

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo undated.

gladys roy the pilot and parachutist

Herald-Examiner Collection, photo undated.

Bessie Coleman was the first African-American woman to earn a pilot’s license. Unable to study aviation in the U.S. (no instructor or school would accept a female African-American student), she took flying lessons in France and earned an international aviation license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale in 1923.

bessie coleman, aviatrix

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1922.

Bessie Coleman with her plane and her pilot’s license.

bessie coleman and plane

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photographed by Dove & Poster (date unknown).

pilot license of bessie coleman

Aviation license for Bessie Coleman, 1921. 

In spite of racial prejudice, gender inequality, financial setbacks, and even health concerns (Earhart suffered chronic sinus problems and migraine headaches), these women proved that with determination, the sky is indeed the limit!

Speedy and His Camera: The Rolland J. Curtis Collection of Negatives and Photographs

Born in Louisiana in 1922, Rolland J. Curtis came to Los Angeles with his wife in 1946 after serving in the Marines during WWII. He worked as an LAPD officer for four years before attending USC where he played football and obtained the nickname “Speedy.” After earning a Bachelor’s degree and then a Master’s degree in Public Administration, Curtis ran a filling station with a friend before becoming Field Deputy to City Council member Tom Bradley. In 1967, he became the Field Deputy for City Council member Billy G. Mills. Bradley and Mills were two of the first African-American men to be elected to the Los Angeles City Council (with Bradley later becoming the first black mayor of Los Angeles) and Curtis (also African-American) served them proudly, assisting constituents, interacting with government agencies, and attending community events – always with camera in hand. Curtis served as Mills’ Field Deputy until 1973 when Mayor Sam Yorty made him director of the Model Cities program, a comprehensive five-year plan to address the social, economic, and physical problems of poor and underserved neighborhoods using public and private resources.

Curtis resigned from the Model Cities program in 1974 and opened a publicity shop. He later began working for Billy Mills again, remaining on the councilman’s staff until Governor Ronald Reagan appointed Mills to the California Superior Court. Curtis ran for Mills’ vacant council seat but was defeated. He ran a second time (in 1978) but was defeated again.

On Mother’s Day in 1979, Curtis spent his morning delivering Mother’s Day bouquets to mothers in his community. He then returned home while his wife, Gloria, remained at a Mother’s Day celebration. When Gloria entered their home later in the day, she discovered that her husband had been murdered, apparently during a burglary. The community mourned the loss of a great man. Two years later, an affordable housing complex on Exposition Boulevard as well as a nearby street and park were named in honor of Rolland Curtis.

While serving as Field Deputy, Curtis took photographs that documented African-American life in Los Angeles during the 1960s and 70s, particularly in the political realm. The Los Angeles Public Library is proud to feature the Rolland J. Curtis Photo Archive as part of its photo collection, and Photo Friends is proud to showcase Rolland Curtis’ talent during African American History Month (also known as African American Heritage Month).

All of these photographs were taken by Rolland J. Curtis and are from the Rolland J. Curtis Collection of Negatives and Photographs.

The Urban League of Los Angeles poses for a photo, with Perry Parks, its president, seated second from left in the front row.

Urban League

Photo undated.

Thousands of demonstrators gathered downtown to protest the LAPD’s use of excessive force during a raid of the Black Panther Party’s headquarters in Los Angeles. This protest underscored the poor relationship between the African-American community and the LAPD at the time.

Police brutality protest

December 11, 1969.

Political activist Angela Davis speaks at the protest.

ANGELA DAVIS

December 11, 1969.

Councilwoman Pat Russell stands in the center of a group of women involved in the Interim Assistance program which used funds from the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for neighborhood improvement.

Photo taken in 1970.

Councilman Billy Mills cuts a cake honoring the second year of operation for the Avalon Youth Opportunity Center which helped youths find employment and educational opportunities. Center Director Harry Halbandian is at the far left.


avalon youth opportunity center

Photo taken in 1968.

Curtis captures artist Charles White while painting at his home in Los Angeles. White was the third African American artist to become a full member of the National Academy of Design.

artist charles white

Photo taken in 1968.

Attorney General Robert Kennedy, acting as chairman of the President’s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime, speaks at Markham Junior High School in the Watts neighborhood. Standing nearby is Leon Aubry, Sr., longtime community activist and barbershop proprietor who was also known as “the mayor of Jefferson Boulevard”.

markham junior high school

Photo taken in 1968.

Supporters of Operation Breadbasket, an organization founded in 1962 to improve the economic conditions of African-American communities, gather to hear City Council member Billy Mills (at podium) and the Reverend H. Hartford Brookins of A.M.E. Church (at right holding paper) speak.

operation breadbasket

Photo undated.

Jazz musician Joe Lutcher (who played saxophone and was bandleader for such notables as Sammy Davis, Jr., Nat King Cole, and the Mills Brothers) receives a Los Angeles City Council proclamation. Councilman Billy Mills presents the proclamation while Lutcher’s family watches.

Joe Lutcher

Photo taken in 1966.

A youth group supports civil rights and equality for all.

civil rights youth group

Photo taken in 1965.

Joe Louis, world heavy-weight boxing champion, poses for Rolland Curtis’s camera.

joe louis

Photo taken in 1964.

Martin Luther King, Jr. poses for Rolland Curtis at the Second Baptist Church, where King delivered a sermon to a standing-room-only crowd of 2,000 people. Reverend Thomas Kilgore, pastor of Second Baptist, is standing to the left of King.

martin luther king, jr.

Photo taken in February, 1964.

Catholics United for Racial Equality (CURE) protest discriminatory treatment of minorities by the Catholic Church.

CURE - catholics united for racial equality

Photo undated.

Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson (second person from the right) is presented a bouquet of flowers. Reverend E. Boyd Ester, founder of Community Missionary Baptist Church, is at the far right of the photo.

mahalia jackson

Photo undated.

Wilson Riles was the first African American to be elected to a statewide office in California, serving three terms as California State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Born into poverty in rural Louisiana and orphaned at an early age, Riles attended high school in New Orleans (where he supported himself by delivering milk), received Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Northern Arizona University, and taught school in Arizona before relocating to Los Angeles. He became State Superintendent in a stunning defeat of Max Rafferty, a hardline back-to-basics educator who had held the office for eight years. Riles championed early education, parent participation in curriculum development, and special classes for disabled students. Here we see him campaigning with Tom Bradley outside of Magnificent Bros Hair Salon 2 in Watts.

wilson riles

Photo taken in 1970.

Activist and author Ron Karenga (on the left), the creator of Kwanza, meets with Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, the first Trinidadian to serve California as State Senator and Lieutenant Governor.

ron karenga

Photo undated.

Gloria Curtis, wife of Rolland Curtis, worked in the field of education for 35 years, with over 20 of those years being dedicated to writing biographies of famous African Americans for school textbooks. Due to Mrs. Curtis’s generosity, the Los Angeles Public Library is the proprietor of the Rolland J. Curtis Collection of Negatives and Photographs.

gloria curtis, wife of rolland curtis

Photo taken in 1960.

Rolland Curtis poses with his mother, Mathilda Curtis.

rolland curtis with mother

Photo undated.

Rolland Curtis was gregarious, generous, and always quick to smile. He was never one to deny financial assistance to someone in need. It was noted that his opening lines were never serious if he could make them comical. Here, Curtis captures a man napping while sitting on his suitcase. In spite of all the dignitaries he met and the historic events he attended, Rolland Curtis relished ordinary moments.

man napping on suitcase

Photo undated.