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.

 

Helping everyone to help themselves — Andrew Carnegie and Libraries

Andrew Carnegie was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1835 and immigrated to the United States in 1848. Landing in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, 13-year-old Andrew Carnegie started working as a bobbin boy, changing spools of thread in a cotton mill. He worked twelve hours a day, six days a week. Like any young man, he looked forward to Saturday night, but not to get into mischief, but rather to visit the home of Colonel James Anderson, a wealthy local man who allowed working boys to use his personal library for free on that night. As the U.S. did not have a system of free public libraries and Carnegie could not afford to patronize a private library, this was his chance to read for entertainment, education, and enlightenment. He was forever grateful to Colonel Anderson for his generosity and vowed that, were he ever able to do so, he would arrange it that “other poor boys might receive opportunities similar to those for which we were indebted to the noble man”.

Carnegie went on to invest in railroads, oil, and steel, becoming one of the richest people in the world. He also became one of the world’s greatest philanthropists, giving away 90% of his wealth in later life. In an article written in 1889 titled The Gospel of Wealth, Carnegie noted that “In bestowing charity, the main consideration should be to help those who help themselves.”

He never forgot how Colonel Anderson’s generosity helped him to gain knowledge and learn about the world. He also never forgot his vow to help others have such an opportunity. Carnegie granted approximately $60 million in total to fund a system of public libraries (open to all) across the United States and also in Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain, and Canada. Carnegie’s grants helped build libraries in many communities that were unable to do so due to lack of funds. Moreover, libraries help people further their education, expand their horizons, and entertain themselves, so his charity was indeed helping people help themselves.

Six Carnegie libraries were constructed between 1913 and 1916 in Los Angeles. Three remain, three have been demolished. The photo collection of the Los Angeles Public Library contains photos of these libraries plus other Carnegie-funded libraries in surrounding communities. Carnegie was feared and hated (during the worst labor dispute in history he refused to raise wages for his workers), but he was also revered and feted (high schools, concert halls, a cactus, and a dinosaur have been named after him). Nonetheless, many who never knew him (or even knew of him) and hold no opinion whatsoever of him have benefited from his charity with free use of their local public library.

The Cahuenga Branch Library of the Los Angeles Public Library (situated on Santa Monica Boulevard in East Hollywood) was built in 1916 with a $35,000 grant ($820,400 in today’s economy) from Andrew Carnegie. Built in the Italian Renaissance style, it served the local community of agricultural workers who tended the nearby orange and avocado groves and wheat fields. The Cahuenga Branch Library has been designated as a Historic-Cultural Monument and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is still a fully functioning library.

cahuenga branch library

Entrance of Cahuenga Branch Library on Santa Monica Boulevard.
William Reagh Collection, photo taken in 1977 by William Reagh.

interior of cahuenga branch library

Interior of Cahuenga Branch Library. 
Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken by Kenneth E. Lohman, date unknown.

The Lincoln Heights Branch Library was also built in 1916 with a $35,000 Carnegie grant. Designed by architects Hibbard & Cody, its Italian Renaissance design is based on Papa Giulia, a villa near Rome. Designated as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, it originally featured an outdoor reading room. The Lincoln Heights branch is still in use as a public library today.

lincoln heights branch library

The front entrance of the Lincoln Heights Branch Library.
Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken by Joe Friezer in 1966.

posada at lincoln heights branch library

A posada is held at the Lincoln Heights Branch Library.
Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken December 14, 1971.

lincoln heights library

Interior of the Lincoln Heights Branch Library.
Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1916.

The Vermont Square Branch Library, located on 48th Street, was built in the Renaissance revival style. Designed by Hunt & Burns, it is one of the three Los Angeles public libraries funded by Andrew Carnegie that is still operational.

The exterior of the Vermont Square Branch Library features a large lawn.
Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken by Dick Whittington in 1945.

vermont square branch library reading room

Children’s room of Vermont Square branch library.
Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1913.

The Arroyo Seco Branch Library, funded by a grant from Andrew Carnegie and completed in 1914, was located at 6145 Figueroa Street. The original building was torn down in 1959 and the new Arroyo Seco Branch Library built on the same location.

arroyo seco branch library

The Arroyo Seco Branch Library, free to all.
Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken by Berne Miles in 1928.

The Benjamin Franklin Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library (known as the Boyle Heights Branch Library until the early 1920s) was designed by architect W.J. Dodd in the Classical Revival style. It was one of the libraries funded by a $210,000 grant (the equivalent of slightly more than $5 million today). It was demolished in 1974.

benjamin franklin branch library

Councilman Art Snyder poses with librarian and library patrons
on demolition day for the Benjamin Franklin Branch Library.

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo dated January 20, 1974.

The Vernon Branch Library on South Central Avenue was built in 1915 with a Carnegie grant of $35,000 ($836,645 in today’s dollars). Boasting the Classical Revival style, it had an open air reading room with a sliding sash that would convert the space into a closed room. The building suffered severe damage in the 1971 Sylmar earthquake and was demolished in 1974.

Vernon branch library

An exterior view of the Vernon Branch Library.
Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo dated March 30, 1928.

Vernon branch checkout desk

Check out desk in Vernon Branch Library.
Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1915.

earthquake damage at vernon branch

Earthquake damage at Vernon Branch Library.
Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1971.

Watts was a small working man’s city with no library of its own. The city applied for Carnegie funding. A grant of $10,000 was received in 1913 (the equivalent of $242,000 today) and the Watts Public Library was built in 1914. Architect Elmore Jeffery designed the building in the Classical Revival style. Watts became the only Los Angeles County municipality to join the county library system before 1917. In 1926, Watts was annexed by the City of Los Angeles and the Watts Library became the Watts Branch Library. A new Watts Branch Library was opened in 1960 and the Carnegie building was razed in the 1970s.

watts branch library

Watts Branch Library as seen through the trees surrounding it.
Security Pacific National Bank Collection; photo taken by Dick Whittington in 1945.

The second building to serve as the San Pedro Branch Library was built with an initial grant of $10,000 from Andrew Carnegie, followed by a supplementary $375 from Carnegie and $500 from the City of Los Angeles. Designed in the Classical Revival style, it was used as a library from 1906 until 1923 when it became the site of the Chamber of Commerce. It later housed the Seamen’s Library. The building was demolished in 1966.

san pedro branch library

Front entrance to the San Pedro Branch Library.
Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1908.

The Long Beach Public Library, designed by F. P. Burnham in Classical Revival style, was funded by a grant from Andrew Carnegie. The original building served as the city’s public library from 1909 until 1972, when it was closed due to a fire. The Carnegie building was demolished in 1973.

long beach public library

Long Beach Public Library.
Works Progress Administration Collection, photo taken by Burton O. Burt on July 26, 1939.

The Glendale Public Library (in Glendale, California) was funded by a grant from Andrew Carnegie. Dedicated on November 13, 1914, it was enlarged to twice its original size in 1926. It was in service until 1973 when a new building was built. The original building, built in Classical Revival style, was demolished in 1977.

glendale california carnegie library

Patrons climb the stairs to the Glendale Public Library.
Works Progress Administration Collection, photo taken in 1937.

The Monrovia Public Library, designed by architect William J. Bliesner, was funded by a $10,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie in 1905, with the City of Monrovia providing $1,000 for furnishings built by a local craftsman. The library opened on January 27, 1908 and was demolished in 1956.

monrovia public library

The Monrovia Public Library and surrounding grounds.
Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo is undated.

The San Bernardino Public Library was funded by a grant from Andrew Carnegie and opened in 1904. Situated at the intersection of 4th Street and D Street, it was designed by architects Burnham & Bliesner. The building was declared unsafe in 1957 and razed in 1958.

san bernardino public library

Front entrance of the San Bernardino Public Library, a Carnegie library.
C.C. Pierce Collection, photo taken by C.C. Pierce in 1905.

The Riverside Public Library, designed by Burnham and Bliesner and built by J.W. Carroll, is California’s first Mission style Carnegie library. In 1901, the City of Riverside received an initial $20,000 Carnegie grant to build the library, with an additional $7,500 coming from Carnegie in 1908 for an extension. Riverside’s Chinese Memorial Pavilion now occupies the site of the original library.

riverside public library

A view of the Riverside Public Library from across the street.
Works Progress Administration Collection, photo taken by Burton O. Burt in 1939

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

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

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

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

brenda allen

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

 

Vice Queen Brenda Allen

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

Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated October 31, 1949.

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

brenda allen in fur coat

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

Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated May 12, 1948.

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

Mickey Cohen

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

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

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

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

brenda allen's records of clients

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

Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated May 8, 1948.

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

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

brenda allen guilty of pandering

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

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

brenda allen visits vaults

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

Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated June 16, 1949.

 

brenda allen goes to jail

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

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


brenda allen waits for audre davis

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

Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated July 9, 1949.

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

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

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

brenda allen leaves jail

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

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

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

 

jack webb

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

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

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

brenda allen divorce

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

She was never in the press or public eye again.

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

william a worton

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

Valley Times Collection, photo dated May 24, 1957.

lapd chief william parker

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

Brenda Allen died in obscurity, place and year unknown.

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

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

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

Ann Forest, the Black Widow

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

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

Home of Ann Forst

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

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

Mayor Frank Shaw

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

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

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


ann forrester (aka ann forst)

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

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

arrest of ann forst

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

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

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

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

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

Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated May 9, 1940.

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

bristol barrett

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

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

donna stewart

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

joan farrell

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

pauline skevenski

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

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

jane leggitt, patricia joapes

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

lorraine harvey

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

Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated July 23, 1940.

florine french

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

 

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

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

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

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

sara matthews

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

 

lupe brooks

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

mildred hinchcliff

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

 

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

ann forst speaks about guy mcafee

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

guy mcafee

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

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

ann forst goes to jail

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

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

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

Tehachapi women's prison

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

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

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

brenda allen

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

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

Grand Design: The Canals of Venice (California)

Early last century a developer had a bright idea.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

graduation from banning high school in wilmington, ca

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

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

concordia club

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

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

oscar maldanado karate expert

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

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

quinceneara

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

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

max heller's drugstore

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

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

tortilla making at olvera street

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

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

italian american womens club in los angeles

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

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

alpha 66

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

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

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

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

pacific beach

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

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

polish american family on wall street in los angeles

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

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

halloween in los angeles

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

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

catering for open house

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

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

alpha 66 meets with vietnamese refugees

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

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

hanging out the wash

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

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

little joe's restaurant in los angeles

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

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


christmas in echo park

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

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

fairfax library

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

LAPL bookmobile in 1949

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1949.

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

Restocking the Bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1949.

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

Children's books in the LAPL bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1964.

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

bookmobile in chinatown

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

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

bookmobile interview

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

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


sun valley bookmobile

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

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

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

little toot

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1956.

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

christmas celebration at the bookmobile

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

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

Valley Times Collection, photo taken October 22, 1962.

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

library bookmobile

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

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

san fernando valley bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, date of photo unknown.

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

comics and classic literature in bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1955.

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

magazines in the bookmobile

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

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

koreatown bookmobile

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

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

Harold Hamill and Harold Henry inspect bookmobile

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

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

macarthur park bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, date of photo unknown. 

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

chatsworth bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo undated.

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

new york bookmobile

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1930.

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

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

reading outdoors

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