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.

There and back: Los Angeles Japanese and Executive Order 9066

Seventy-five years ago, in the spring of 1942, the City of Los Angeles experienced a population exodus triggered by a presidential executive order. Images in the Los Angeles Public Library’s Herald Examiner Collection and Shades of L.A. Collection tell the story of Executive Order 9066 and its impact on Japanese residents and on the city itself.

From the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941, many Americans lived in fear of a further assault or even an invasion. President Roosevelt’s Executive Order, while not naming the Japanese or any other group by name, gave broad powers to the Secretary of War to guard against the threat of sabotage and espionage. Within days of the February 19 order, a series of “Public Proclamations” and “Civilian Exclusion Orders” directed that Japanese and Japanese-Americans be removed from all West Coast states in order to prevent collusion with the enemy. Virtually all Japanese, by birth or ancestry, were rounded up with scant warning and sent to  ten internment camps far from the coast. Age, sex, or condition offered no exception to the rule. Having as little as 1/16th Japanese blood marked one for removal. Orphans of Japanese blood were gathered up and transported, even if they were in the care of Caucasian families.

Big Sale in Little Tokyo

In the spring of 1942 many Japanese lived and worked in a section of downtown Los Angeles dubbed Little Tokyo. When the order came down, families were given six days to dispose of their property and belongings; each person was allowed to bring only what they could carry with them. Japanese businesses held fire sales; families sought desperately for places to store their belongings and friends to care for their property and their pets. Cars were sold for pennies on the dollar.  Herald Examiner Collection, Image #00068543, March 21, 1942.

Many Japanese were anxious to show their loyalty to the United States and its institutions. The photo editor of the image above made sure to draw attention to the sign posted above the cash register in this Japanese-run drugstore: “Please no talk war!” Herald Examiner Collection, Image #00068538, March 1942.

Although internment was carried out in waves, by early summer the streets of Little Tokyo were empty. The newspaper photo above was captioned “Shops for rent on a deserted 1st Street in Little Tokyo.” Herald Examiner Collection, Image #00022054, June 18, 1942.

Exodus

Japanese families gather with their belongings at a departure point where they will be taken to an assembly center and, eventually, to an internment camp. All persons, including children, had to wear identification tags. The intention of the tags was to prevent families from being separated. Tags also identify bales of bedding which might or might not be reunited with their owners. Herald Examiner Collection, Image #00044031, April 2, 1942.

The caption for this photo from the Herald-Examiner reads “Young Japanese girls brave the early morning rain to bid farewell to friends leaving for Manzanar relocation camp.”  Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00034809, 1942.

Evacuees had to endure several weeks or months at assembly centers while basic camp structures were prepared for them in the hinterland. Assembly centers were located throughout the West at fairgrounds and racetracks where families often were crowded into horse or livestock stalls. As with all aspects of the relocation, government publicity outlets bent over backwards to give a favorable impression of their actions. The photograph above, from the Herald Examiner, is accompanied by a highly colored optimism: “A little Japanese girl meekly submits to a hair wash while a woman nearby also washes her hair on June 25, 1942. A far cry from the Axis concentration camps ravaged with torture, starvation and death, is the Santa Anita Assembly Center, where 18,500 Japanese are quartered on the grounds of the luxurious Santa Anita Race Track.” Herald-Examiner Collection, Image # 00043915, June 25, 1942.

This image (with crop marks) shows rows of temporary housing erected in the parking lot of the Santa Anita Park racetrack. The track’s parade ring is at right. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00044039, 1942.

 

Home Away from Home

Aware of the mixed feelings on internment, government and media tried hard to style detention as something in the best interests of the internees, as well as the local populace. The term “internment camp” was often replaced with “relocation center” or “evacuation center.” (The preferred term among some historians today is “concentration camp.”) Some news accounts went farther to spin the reality of the forced move, referring to “new homes” awaiting the “evacuees.” The article accompanying the photo above calls Manzanar, the destination of the motor caravan, “the new boom town, Little Tokio of the Mountains.” Herald Examiner Collection, Image #00044026, 1942.

Of course stark reality was much different. The sites chosen were in remote, harsh environments. Accommodations were hastily erected with much work needing to be completed by the inmates themselves. Residents of Los Angeles might find themselves at Gila River on an Arizona Indian Reservation, at Heart Mountain in the sagebrush desert of Wyoming, at treeless Tule Lake in Northern California, or at Manzanar — a once fertile valley drained of its water by the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

It is not surprising that there are few, if any, images of the exodus in the Shades of L.A. Collection — photos shared with Los Angeles Public Library by minority families. Those caught up in the confusion would have other things to worry about than documenting their departure and a camera would have been a heavy luxury to carry along. However, once settled in the camps, Japanese families for the most part adopted a stoic resignation and worked to recreate some sense of familiarity and normality in bleak surroundings. In the photo above, James Otake celebrates his first birthday at the Gila River camp sitting on the lap of his mother, Mariko (Mary). A cake sits next to them. Since the photo is dated 1945, James must have been born in the camp. Shades of L.A. Collection, Image #00000735.

A panoramic view of Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. The mountain itself dominates the landscape. Army style barracks serve as housing for the internees. Shades of L.A. Collection, Image #00003694.

 

Residents of the Gila River internment camp in Arizona were able to find sardonic humor in setting up a “country club.” The writing on the photo reads “Tournament! March 5, 1944.” Shades of L.A. Collection, Image #00004306, 1944.

Touches of home are visible in the photo of this tar paper hut at the Tule Lake internment camp, including flowers in coffee-can pot and a two-wheeler for Grace Toya. Shades of L.A. Collection, Image #00004455, 1945.

Schooling continued in the camps. Here second graders at Manzanar pose with their teacher, 1945. Shades of L.A. Collection, Image #00004179.

This image is labeled “Yuki and James Toya at Tule lake internment camp during winter snow, 1945.” Perhaps they are the parents of Grace Toya pictured above. Shades of L.A. Collection, Image #00004453.

Changes at home

The wholesale removal of Japanese and Japanese-Americans meant the streets of Little Tokyo were deserted — but not for long. Real estate abhors a vacuum as much as nature does. Without paying tenants, the landlords of these buildings were able to re-lease the storefronts and apartments, in many cases to other ethnic minority groups. African-American families arrived in West Coast cities to work in the war effort. With racial covenants in place in many communities, and widespread discrimination in housing generally, the newly vacated Little Tokyo presented one of the few options available to them.

For approximately three years Little Tokyo took on the moniker “Bronzetown,” in recognition of the many African-American run businesses that sprang up there, including Schepp’s Playhouse, a nightclub. In this photo  Ruth David, William Love, and Bernice Patton (R.N., 2nd Lt., Army) relax at Schepp’s. Shades of L.A. Collection, Image # 00001830, c. 1944.

A man, identified as Alberto Munoz, prepares to re-open a cleaners established by a Japanese family. The movie poster at right advertises the Japanese film Joi Kinuyo Sensei (Doctor Kinuyo) from 1937. The star of the movie, Kinuyo Tanaka, was a popular actress in both pre- and post-war films and, later, one of Japan’s first female film directors. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00068523, June 17, 1942.

The Return

This photo accompanied an article titled “Japs leave to settle in freedom throughout the U.S.” The freedom referred to meant moving across state lines from California to Nevada. Toward the end of 1943 overcrowding at the camps forced authorities to relax some restrictions. However, this hardly meant full freedom. Those allowed to leave Manzanar had to swear they would not return to their homes on the coast. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00043908, November 17, 1943.

Tara Kawa was able to reclaim his fish market after returning from the Gila River internment camp. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image # 00043954, September 7, 1945.

In December 1944, with the war in the Pacific turning in favor of the Allies, President Roosevelt lifted Executive Order 9066. The process of re-integrating the Japanese back into the lives they’d left behind was complex; it would be another year before all the camps were completely closed. Many internees had lost everything, including friends, and did not return to California. Others were able to piece their lives back together with some help from public authorities and faith groups. The lucky ones, such as the man above, were able to re-establish their businesses.

Justice for all?

In 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the man who issued Executive Order 9066, visited internees at Gila River and then wrote a lengthy piece for Colliers Magazine about internment. While acknowledging the exigencies of war, the First Lady made clear her own feelings in the matter:

“We have no common race in this country, but we have an ideal to which all of us are loyal. It is our ideal which we want to have live. It is an ideal which can grow with our people, but we cannot progress if we look down upon any group of people amongst us because of race or religion. Every citizen in this country has a right to our basic freedoms, to justice and to equality of opportunity, and we retain the right to lead our individual lives as we please, but we can only do so if we grant to others the freedoms that we wish for ourselves.” (Eleanor Roosevelt, “A Challenge to American Sportsmanship,” Collier’s Magazine, October 10, 1943)

In 1989 the U.S. Government issued a formal apology to those interned during World War II and provided “redress” payments of $20,000 to each surviving internee.

Sources for this essay include the website Densho.org and Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites, University of Washington Press, 2002.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

landscaping at parker center

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

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

los angeles city hall and parker center

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

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

landscaping of parker center

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

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

eye of the storm art installation

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

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

;a[d scientific investigations unit

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

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

police radio dispatcher at parker center

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

A worker stands inside a safe at Parker Center.

parker center

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

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

parker center mosaic

Ralph Morris Collection, photographed by Ralph Morris in 1955.

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

parker center

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

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

hillside strangler task force

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

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

police chief william parker

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

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

vietnam war protests in los angeles

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

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

protest against lapd using chokeholds

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

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

protestors at parker center

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

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

rodney king riots

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

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

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

Death at Midnight: The St. Francis Dam Disaster

11:58 p.m., March 12, 1928 –– Residents in the settlements of the San Francisquito Valley, some 45 miles north of Los Angeles, were shaken awake. The cause was not an earthquake, but the epic fail of the massive, newly-constructed dam looming over the valley.

When the St. Francis dam gave way, it went quickly and catastrophically. Dozens were killed in the first five minutes, inundated by a wall of water 140 feet high. As 12 billion gallons of water thundered out of the valley and on to the ocean near Oxnard, the torrent swept at least 400, and perhaps as many as 600, persons to their deaths. Following the disaster bodies were found everywhere from right up at the dam site (one) to the border of Mexico. A hundred or more of the missing were never found.

In addition to the human toll, the floodwaters devastated the towns of Castaic Junction, Piru, Fillmore, Santa Paula, and Saticoy in the Santa Clara Valley. Roads, bridges, and power lines were wiped out. Livestock died in the fields.

Eighty-nine years later it is worth recalling the devastation caused by miscalculating the power of water. Photos from the Los Angeles Public Library collections show the dramatic aftermath of the worst man-made disaster in California’s history.

The St. Francis Dam was built to store water from the Owens Valley Aqueduct System.  Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00009818

The state-of-the-art St. Francis Dam had been open two years and its reservoir had filled to capacity for the first time when tragedy struck. In the photo above, the reservoir lake is still several feet below the lip of the dam.

 

Shiny generators at Power Plant #2 in the vicinity of the St. Francis Dam stand ready to turn water into electric power. Ironically, the power plant was destroyed by the very waters it sought to harness. Unlike the dam, the plant was quickly rebuilt. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00009831, 1928. 

This photo, taken shortly before the collapse, shows the stair-step design on the face of the dam. Some “seeps” of water were considered to be no big deal. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00009832.

 

Eerie Monuments

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00009834 . Photo Credit, “Underwood & Underwood.”

The only major chunk of dam to remain standing following the break was dubbed “the Tombstone” by a reporter. The accidental landmark and surrounding ruins became a mecca for tourists shortly after the cataclysm. After the death from falling of one such thrill seeker, the Tombstone and other monoliths were dynamited.

 

Close inspection of this photograph reveals several people on the stair steps of the Tombstone. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00009821.

 

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00075797.

 

Enormous chunks of the dam were found thousands of feet downstream, turning the valley floor into a bizarre sculpture garden. A gentleman standing in front of this “concrete iceberg” provides scale. Security Pacific National Bank, Image # 00075796.

The Frightful Flood

The horror of the catastrophe cannot be understated. Communities around the country awoke to the shocking news:

County Farm Advisor H. A. Weinland left Tuesday for the southern part of the state upon receiving the sad news that his brother, William Weinland, and the latter’s wife and ten-year-old son had been swept to death in the frightful flood through San Francisquito canyon Monday night, caused by the breaking of St. Francis dam. Weinland received a telegram from his father, Rev. William H. Weinland of Banning, telling of the death of his relatives. Weinland’s body has been found but those of his wife and son are yet lost somewhere in the depth of silt which the rushing waters from the huge reservoir above the dam left behind. The Sonoma County man’s brother was employed at one of the power stations near the dam and lived in a cottage in the valley directly below the reservoir. It is believed the flood caught the little family as they slept like it did scores of other unfortunate families. (Healdsburg Tribune, March 15, 1928)

A few fortunate souls survived the onslaught. The Associated Press paraphrased the words of an 80-year rancher plucked from the raging waters by one of his sons:

“When the water hit it, the house crumpled as though it were built of cards. I could not see a thing in the darkness and found myself clinging to what turned out to be a part of the roof of our home. Down, down with the current we went. I held on desperately. I kept saying to myself every second was my last. Then … somebody grabbed my arm in the darkness. ‘Is it you, dad?'” (Seattle Daily Times, March 13, 1928)

The report goes on to inform readers that the man’s other two sons lay in a temporary morgue nearby.

 

The clean up begins. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00017361, dated March 16, four days after the disaster. Photo credit “Underwood & Underwood.”

 

People survey the devastation along the Santa Clara River, the path the dam waters took to the sea. A railroad bridge lies in ruins. Security Pacific National Bank Collection #00070192, 1928. 

 

Schist happens

 

William Mulholland (1855-1935) in an undated photo. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00043872.

The man behind the dam: William Mulholland  was Chief Engineer of the Los Angeles Bureau of Water Works and Supply (now the Department of Water and Power). His towering reputation earned in the “water wars” of Southern California was largely wiped out, along with his career, after the St. Francis Dam disaster. Mulholland had personally inspected the dam only 12 hours before the disaster at the urging of the dam’s caretaker, and had pronounced it sound.

Any number of inquiries have attempted to find the cause of the disaster. While Mulholland initially clung to the theory of an earthquake, this was ruled out early on. Most experts point to geologic factors, especially the unstable hillsides that abutted the dam made up of landslide-prone schist (a type of metamorphic rock that splits easily) on one side and softened conglomerate (a type of gravel-like sedimentary rock) on the other. In short, the  rock at the dam site was bad rock for a massive construction project.  There were also errors in design. Mulholland had twice raised the height of the dam during construction without allowing for the increased water pressure that would result. 

 

This photo from the Los Angeles Evening Herald is dated March 28, 1928, two weeks after the dam collapse; the caption reads “From districts swept by the St. Francis dam flood came more stories of heroic phone operators who stuck to their posts and saved scores of lives at risk of their own. Louise Gipe received and spread the first alarm at Santa Paula.” Image Herald Examiner Collection #00095916, Photo credit “Moss Photo.”

Even more than with the Long Beach Earthquake five years later, the St. Francis Dam disaster played havoc with communication. The disaster unfolded in the dark of night, taking power lines with it. The wave of water took five and a half hours to reach the sea, arriving just before dawn near Oxnard. For those in San Francisquito Canyon there was no early warning and no escape from the tsunami of water. Farther along the waters’ path, as the height of the wave lessened, some folks were able to escape to higher ground thanks to intrepid individuals such as telephone operator Louise Gipe who stood by her post and relayed a warning to residents of Santa Paula. Alerted by Gipe, California Highway Patrol officers went house to house to wake residents. At a work camp in the path of the deluge, the night watchman raised the alarm upon seeing the approaching wave. He is credited with saving half the sleeping workforce, at the cost of his own life.

The St. Francis Dam was never rebuilt. Lessons learned from the disaster informed the design, construction, and inspection protocols of dams throughout the country.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emma Millhouse and friend at work

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

Student with trophy

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

Sharp shooter Dr. Eugene and trophy

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

Boy Scout and badges

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

Joe Louis and Gordon Sheppard in Shepp's Playhouse

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

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

Amanda, Joseph, and children

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

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

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

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

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

 

Raymond Austin in front of home

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

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

 

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

L'Tanya Griffin

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

Sebastian's Cotton Club

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

Zenda Ballroom

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

Tola Harris at Wedding

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

NAACP awards

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

children of rodger young village

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

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

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

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

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

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

The building of a Quonset hut is seen here.

building of quonset hut

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

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

construction of rodger young village

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

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

rodger young village in griffith park

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

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

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

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

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

Many new and prospective residents attended the dedication festivities.

post-war veteran housing

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

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

mrs. nicholas young

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

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

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

post-wwii los angeles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

life in Rodger Young Village

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Leonard Nadel in 1952.

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

children of rodger young village

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bette Davis at Rodger Young Village

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

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

negro week

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

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

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

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

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