In the Swim: The Wild Side

We wrote about swim fashions on Southland beaches in In the Swim. We will now take a look at the must-have accessory for your beachwear — an exotic animal!

In the land of Hollywood the exotic becomes almost commonplace. These photos from the archives of the Los Angeles Public Library show the wild side of California beach fashion. But first, we must add the disclaimer that exotic animals do not normally belong on  beaches and those who do should be left alone. Many of the stunts pictured here should carry the warning: Do not try this at home! (or anywhere else)

00009019 bear cub

Venice Beach is the location for many of our photos. Here a young woman feeds a bear cub from a bottle, 1936. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00009019.


00064163 alligator

Yes, there really was an alligator farm in Los Angeles  — until 1953. It was located right next door to the Ostrich Farm. Advertising from the Luna Park  Alligator Farm in Lincoln Heights proclaimed, with a bit of hyperbole, “Here are to be seen hundreds of alligators of all sizes, from little babies, hardly the size of a lizard, up to huge monsters, 500 years old or more. We make a specialty of alligator bags ornamented with genuine alligator heads and claws.” (LincolnHeightsLA.comSecurity Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00064163, undated.


00064425 woman with penguins

The photo was taken in Long Beach, “ca. 1920.”  We have no explanation for the penguins. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00064425.


00065006 boy with lion cub

This young man, protectively holding onto his lion cub, seems none to happy despite his trophy win at the Venice Beach Pet Show in 1936. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00065006.


00066776 seal

Strolling Long Beach with a seal, circa 1920. The young woman wears a beach coat with a nautical flair. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00066776.


00067860 baby elephant

An undated photo of a woman, probably a model, with a baby elephant. Her wool bathing costume places the photo in the late 1920s. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00067860.


00069336 piglet race


Piglets race on Hermosa Beach. The young porkers eagerly await the starting gun — well, perhaps not the one in lane two who appears ready for a nap. Although the photo is undated, the classic belted swimsuits place the event in the mid-1930s. Two girls standing at left appear to be twins. Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Collection, Image #00069336.


00066743 sea lion

Watch that shoe! Models feed a “sea elephant” (elephant seal) in an enclosure in Venice, probably mid-1920s. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, #00066743.


00071558 elephants at Long Beach pier

More elephants on the beach. The Long Beach Pier and Sun Pavilion form the backdrop for this photo shoot from about 1930. One of the keepers carries what appears to be a cattle prod. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00071558.


00117152 fawn

This 1954 photo from the Valley Times Collection is titled “Cute as a Bug,” probably the headline used in the paper. The caption used read: “Unafraid of children, this spotted fawn can be sweet and gentle but later on would not permit this type of petting without slashing out with razor sharp hoofs made for fighting off coyotes and other predators.”  Wise words. Valley Times Collection, Image #00117152.


We’ll end with a more appropriate way to celebrate the wild side of beach season — playing an accordion with a stuffed seagull!

00070574 seagulls

Miss California Bathing Beauty Contest, Venice Beach, 1936. This contestant displays her talent while serenading the wild life.  Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00070574.

In the Swim: Bathing suit fashions through the years

00070532 1914 woman

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

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

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

00012172 Williams Bros 1916

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


00070538 Rita Bell

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

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

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

00003251 woman at Long Beach

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

00070467 mother and daughter

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

00008999 fashion police 1930s

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

00070564 kayaks

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

00073428 fur coat

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

00003832 Miss Filipino

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

00119601 -- Teenagers 1963

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

00085350 - diving board girl

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