The Bunker Hill Bookie

There are those folk who are Bunker Hill royalty, their noble lineage descended from Old Bunker Hill. You are of course familiar with Gordon Pattison, he of royal blood.

Back when a group of us were writing for OnBunkerHill (which is how we met monarch Gordon), Kim Cooper thought it prudent to come up with a discussion group called OffBunkerHill. In doing so, a fellow wrote in and said well, *I* lived on the hill as a child, and here’s a shot of me with my Bunker Hill baseball team. Holy cats! A new sovereign!

I put some effort into contacting our poster, William Aurther, about the image he’d sent:

The Bunker Hill Boy’s Club, outside 516 West Third St., 1940

—which, I don’t have to tell you, is the greatest image ever photographed. It took a little time and doing, but I tracked down King Aurther—now 84, and a resident of Texas—and have a whole bunch more to report.

Right off the bat, let’s tackle the Bunker Hill Boy’s Club HQ at 516 West Third St., the home of Keeble Plumbing. While a pearl-clutching City famously exclaimed “well we have to tear down Bunker Hill, it’s full of dope fiends and slatterns and worst of all, juvenile delinquents!” there was, after all, the 1950 youth recreation center on Hope Street, and before that the Bunker Hill Boys Club. The club was founded in 1937 (or so would indicate this notice from 1940)—no less than Fletcher Bowron attended its 1940 installation. While a 1941 notice indicates they had moved from Keeble Plumbing a half-block down the street to new club headquarters in the Moose Lodge at Third and Olive, Keeble kept involved with the kids; through 1942 he is part of the YMCA program for Bunker Hill boys.

The Bunker Hill Boy’s Club was founded and sponsored by Cecil Albert Keeble, born in Antwerp, Belgium in 1885, although his father, Samuel Keeble, was an English restaurateur from Essex; they emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1895. Cecil Albert made his way to Los Angeles, living in Montebello in 1930 and moving to downtown LA in 1931 to establish a successful plumbing business on Bunker Hill, on Third between Olive Street and Grand Avenue. The baseball image above image dates to 1940—that’s Keeble in the suit—he lived above the shop at 516, with wife Sarah Kathrine and daughter Marguerite Genevieve.

Here’s a shot of 516—the structure was a project of John R. Vogel, designed by Julius W. Krause, and built in 1907. (A year later, around the corner on Olive, Vogel would use Krause again to build the Kellogg.)

Circa 1936. Courtesy Chris Rini Collection

Below, the interior of Keeble Plumbing. If Bunker Hill was such a terrible slum, how is it the interior of a simple lowly plumbing concern there, then, was nicer than some fancy plumbing place in Beverly Hills is, now? Oh, right. Damn Schlimmbesserung.

Yep, that’s Cecil back there! With daughter Genevieve. The display between/below them is of Mueller bronze faucets. Note at right the neon sign advertising Hoyt water heaters.
Courtesy Chris Rini Collection.

Cecil Keeble was an interesting fellow—opinionated—adding to his signage in the early-1950s:

Huntington Library
Can’t argue with that

Below, in an image from the mid-1950s, the truck doors indicate Keeble’s new second location, on Figueroa in Highland Park. Cecil knew an ill wind was blowing and time was short for his perch on Bunker Hill.

Courtesy California State Library

Which was correct. Cecil Keeble was lucky enough to pass from our realm in April 1964, before he could see his old business on Third demolished by the Community Redevelopment Agency in February 1965.

If you’re asking yourself, where was Keeble Plumbing exactly, well, let’s see:

Huntington Library, Theodore Hall Collection

In the image above we look east on Third across Grand toward the upper terminus of Angels Flight at Third and Olive. Note Keeble’s white signboard, in the center of the block at 514/516.

Grand at left, Olive at right; that commercial strip of 500-512 I go on about here. Note the “Lodgings” at 524—that comes into play later.
And an overhead, because, why not. August 1941. Thanks to UCSB Air Photos

By the way, Keeble—also president of the Bunker Hill Business Association—organized the Christmas Tree Lane on this block of Bunker Hill. Kodachrome was introduced in 1935; this happened in 1938. You find me color slides of said event, and I’ll see to it your descendants never go hungry.

Los Angeles Times, 8 December 1938

So, having established where the baseball photo was taken, who was it, exactly, that sent it to us? This fellow, that’s who:

Li’l William Beryl Aurther, above, was born in September 1936 to William Dutch and Myrene (née Siegel) Aurther. In 1940, about when this image was shot, they were living, according to the 1940 census, at 524 West Third:

524, a block of flats built in 1891 and known in 1940 as the Illinois Hotel, was two doors down from Keeble:

Huntington Library, Palmer Conner Collection

Looking the other way, on Third near Olive west toward the intersection of Third and Grand—the Aurther’s 1940 home at 524 is just to the left of the auto, and Keeble has the two palms in front:

Screengrab from the film Cry Danger

But by February 15, 1942, when William registered for the draft (his registrar’s report indicates he is white, 5’8″, 150lb, with gray eyes, brown hair, and a ruddy complexion), he had moved the family three blocks west to 341 South Hope Street.

From 524 West Third to 341 South Hope Street

The complex of bungalows at 341 South Hope was built in 1911 by Mr. Ashley Sawyer (he of the nearby John Wright-designed 1907 Sawyer Apartments, 327 South Hope St.).

So now that we have established where William Sr., Jr., and mom Myrene lived, what was their story? Bill tells it:

“My dad, who took the picture, was a baker, worked at Globe Bakery [Globe Dairy Lunch, 248 Werdin Place, which had a bakery plant on premises; note also his contact on draft card—N]. But the money wasn’t so good so after a while he began to make book. He really knew the horses, so when I was growing up, I was in every track, Del Mar, Santa Anita, Bay Meadows in SF. So when he passed—he loved to drink and smoke Camel cigarettes, and died at age 45 of TB—we buried him so he could see Hollywood Park [William Dutch Aurther passed away 6 Jun 1947; he is interred at Inglewood Park Cemetery across Manchester Avenue from the famed, now-lost, Hollywood Park racetrack].”

“We’d moved into 341 South Hope. Into the front house, not the bungalows behind [seen again here and here]. It was called the Princess Apartments. There was a guy named Herb who lived there, a horse racing bookie, got dad into making book. Mom helped dad keep the bookie paperwork. My father’s boss was Mickey Cohen. Mickey used to come by our place, they’d talk business. Very well dressed, wore a hat. You’ve heard of him, right?”

Uh, yeah! I’d be a pretty sorry Angeleno to not know the Mickster!

Ed Clark Time/Life

“Once in a while we got raided. The cops would come in, rip the phone off the wall. Take Herb and my mom and dad away. That left me all alone there as a kid, I guess they wouldn’t do that now anymore. My dad got arrested two or three times. Being a bookie in LA, the drug store at Third and Grand was a bookmaking place; the hotel at Third and Grand was one of his stops; a grocery store at Fourth and Hope [in the Gibson Apts., NE corner]; there was a bookstore on Hill next to Fourth [the Berean Book Room, in the Wright & Callender Bldg., SW corner Hill and Fourth], there was a backdoor to that bookstore that went into a bookie area. The Clifton’s on Olive was a stop. Philippe’s on Aliso was a stop. Usual day, let’s say a guy says here’s forty bucks, put it on the nose, the horse loses, dad keeps the money but part of it goes to the mob. But if the horse wins, he pays the guys out. My dad would keep some earnings and hang out at the bar at Third and Olive, he’d get drunk and fall off the bar stool and my mom would drag him home.” [If you want to know what Wm. Aurther did—filmed, in fact, where Aurther actually made book, in the very hotel at the corner of Third and Grand—click here. Cry Danger‘s New Grand Hotel horserace bookmaking is so eerily similar that one wonders if Hy Averback’s Harry the Bookie wasn’t based on Aurther himself.]

And here, in all his summertime glory, is William Aurther Sr. himself:

William Dutch Aurther, 22 Sept 1901—6 Jun 1947

“Where did I hang out? Me and my buddies hung out down on Broadway, and a lot at the Woolworth’s on Hill Street [across from Bunker Hill, between Fourth and Fifth]. Pershing Square was a hangout, we’d go watch the guys preaching. We used to hang out on the corner of Fourth and Hope, northwest corner, that was our hangout, the local kids would go up into this one big house, and get up into the steeple area, we had a way of getting in.” [This was the Hildreth Mansion, which the Hildreth family occupied from its 1886 construction until they put it up for sale in 1945-46. It sold it to old-house enthusiasts John and Mabel Haufe in 1946; William Aurther Jr. was ten years old and getting into mischief with his pals in the old house as it was emptied and waited for a buyer. The steeple he mentions—its corner tower—can be seen below.]

The Hildreth before its purchase and restoration by the Haufe family
Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

“We’d hang out on the cliff, where the freeway is today, that was our playground, we’d play cops and robbers.” [It’s difficult to say what embankment that was, since the Harbor Fwy took out so much. To give us some flavor, here are some kids playing on the dirt adjacent the Second Street tunnel entrance at Flower, now the site of Promenade West.]

William Aurther Sr. dies in 1947—”my dad passed away from TB, he smoke and drank too much, but as a local horse racing bookie working for the underworld you did all your work in the local bars”—and Myrene met one Oscar L Goodale, a lineman, marrying him in September 1949, and moving herself and little Wm. Jr. to El Monte.

William grows up, moves to Texas, and gets in touch with us Bunker Hill fanatics. Here he is today, sharing his reminiscences—

And oh! Added bonus: Bill sends along this image, his class from the Fremont Avenue Public School, where Bunker youth did their elementary education. It depicts an absolutely lost world. The kids march east, on the north side of the 900 block of West Third Street—

Bill Aurther with his sixth grade graduating class, 1948

The Fremont Avenue Public School is out of frame to the right. Fremont Avenue School was designed by Robert D. Farquhar and built in 1922, with major additions in 1925 by Lloyd Rally.

238, right, by Farquhar; 232-222 center and left by Rally
The intersection of Third and Fremont. X is where the kids are and the arrow indicates the direction in which the image was shot, up Third toward Beaudry.

Their playground was sliced into by a 1952 freeway onramp:

Freeway onramp still extant, I might add
Getty/Nadel

The school itself hung on until demolished in the spring of 1964. Everything in the photo with them, though, disappeared in the late 1940s in preparation for freeway construction.

Take a look here again, from left to right, there’s the Magalia Apts at 1010 W 3rd, the (former DelMar Garage)/paper company at 1016, the DelMar Hotel (“HOTEL” painted upon’t) on the corner at 1026 W 3rd, and then across the street at far right are apartments at 1017 W 3rd. The intersection is that of Third and Beaudry.

To give you an added sense of these structures, couple early-30s shots, click here and here

And now, note their disappearance—

Top, 1939, William Reagh, Cal State Library; bottom, 1955, Leonard Nadel, CRA/Getty. And in case you’re wondering what this view—looking west from atop the Third Street tunnel—now looks like, here you go.

And such is today’s tale of mobsters, kids clubs, bookies and buildings. If you like that sort of thing and haven’t yet picked up your hard copies of Bunker Noir! and/or Bunker Hill, Los Angeles might I humbly suggest you click here. Bunker Noir! is also available at Vroman’s, which I suggest because a trip to your local brick-and-mortar bookstore is good for the soul.

Lastly, a huge debt of thanks to my buddy Bill Aurther, without whom this post would not have been possible.

Oh, and a nod of thanks to Pumpkin Patch and Ghostie, who always infuse the production of these posts with their charm.

Punkie reclines while Ghostie attempts to eat one of Keeble’s toilets

Hill Street Tunnel, Single Bore

As you know, in 1906 the Los Angeles-Pacfic Railway petitioned the City to construct two single-bore tunnels; one ran up Hill from roughly First to Temple, the other from just above Temple to Sunset. They opened in September, 1909. 

September 1913 saw the opening of a second bore on the southern part of the tunnel, a municipal project for pedestrians and private vehicle traffic. I put a nifty picture of the twin-bore tunnel in the book.

How often, though, do you see an image of the LAPR-built First-to-Temple single bore, shot between 1909 and 1913?

Well here you go.

Bunker Hill wins a Foreword INDIE!

When Foreword Reviews placed Bunker Hill Los Angeles among its list of finalists for a prestigious INDIE Award, far be it from me to think we’d actually *win* one, being among such august company and all. But we did! BHLA earned a silver in Regional Non-Fiction. Drinks on me at the Angels Flight Café!

A glance at the Bunker Hill Instagram reveals our pro-animal sentiment…so, actually glad we placed behind a book about horses

We Need to Talk About Cooper Do-Nuts

This being Pride Month, there has been an uptick in journalistic chatter about the Cooper Do-Nut Riot (e.g., here/here/here).

The story, in a nutshell: Cooper’s was a little doughnut spot nestled between two venerable gay bars, the Waldorf and Harold’s Café (at 527 and 555 South Main, respectively). Cooper’s was LGBTQ+ friendly, populated by queens and hustlers and trans POC, which made it a frequent target of LAPD harassment. Aspiring writer John Rechy was hanging out one night in the spring of 1959 when LAPD officers arrived (they were known for checking IDs to make sure gender presentation and legal gender matched) and without reason hauled Rechy and two other patrons out toward the squad car. But the collected queens had had enough! They began pelting law enforcement with coffee and donuts and the officers ran scared. Patrons began yelling and singing and rocking police cars, allowing Rechy and his compatriots to escape; police backup was called, there quickly arrived multiple police vehicles with lights ablaze and sirens blaring, and rioters were arrested and jailed. Main Street was cordoned off and remained closed till the next day. This event was famously recounted in Rechy’s 1963 debut novel City of Night.

It’s a good story, but trouble is, as history, it has…issues. These are issues I cannot let go by unremarked upon because, after all, I detailed them in last year’s Bunker Noir!, which no journalist deigned to read, apparently. So, briefly:

a) no, the story does not appear in Rechy’s City of Night. (There are a couple passing references to a “Hooper’s” but nothing remotely riotous there occurs.) In fact, the Cooper’s story did not exist in any form until 2005, when Rechy told it to Stuart Timmons, for inclusion in Gay LA; the story was birthed as the 45-year-old memory of a 75-year-old man. Moreover, the couple times Rechy has repeated the Cooper tale since, major points—its date, and fundamental details—have changed significantly.

b) there was no Cooper Do-Nuts on the 500 block of Main Street. (Yes, their wholesale arm was up at 215 South Main, but that was in a larger building demolished in early 1958, and not rebuilt as a standalone Cooper’s [still extant] until the autumn of 1959; moreover, though only three blocks away, being across from St. Vibiana’s and the Union Rescue Mission made it a very different social landscape than the 500 block.) Though Rechy has never provided an address, some authoritative sources (e.g., QueerMaps, the One Archives) have chosen 547 South Main as its definitive location—a logical assumption, as it’s the only typically “little Cooper Do-Nut-type building” on the block. However, while the small standalone structure at 547 had been a restaurant, one of Peter DiNova’s Pete’s Burger Basket locations, by 1959 the structure had become a tailor shop. To give you an understanding of what that famed stretch “between Harold’s and The Waldorf” looked like, including the supposed Cooper-in-question, here are a couple shots from 1974—

c) Rechy’s first-hand account details rioters shaking police vehicles, riot police with sirens ablaze, multiple arrests, police cordons, the street shut down into the next day, etc. As someone who studies what Los Angeles newspapers reported on in the 1950s, I can say with some assurance that that would have made the papers. It is Mr. Rechy’s assertion that the reason it did not make the papers, is because the rioters were gay; that the papers kept homosexuals “invisible.” However—conversely—papers in the late ’50s/early ’60s delighted in discussing “the homosexual problem” with its “perverts” and “sex deviates” and other lurid language of the day (and, rather than consign them to invisibility, would in fact print their letters to the editor).

Not to say something didn’t happen, somewhere. It’s an intriguing story and would be an important part of our collective memory. But as history this story has too many holes to be repeated as fact; of course that it has been enshrined in journalistic and academic canon without even the most basic fact-checking is, unfortunately, routine. I’m not saying Mr. Rechy made it up, necessarily, but consider the source: the first time Rechy tells the story, in his 2005 interview with Stuart Timmons, it was soon after he shrugged off his guilt for making up fake book reviews praising his own work.

At this point you’re thinking, that’s all very interesting, but this being a Bunker Hill blog, what’s it got to do with Bunker Hill? Excellent question, answer being, because among the some half-dozen Cooper locations around downtown, two were on Bunker Hill!

One location was at 807 West Third Street, in the stretch west of the Hope Street tunnel entrance (I detail some of the frightful happenings there in the Bunker Noir! section “Third Street—Haven of the Thirsty Reprobate”), and in the entry about the doughnut riot you may view the only known image of said Cooper’s on West Third.

Another was at 441 South Hill Street. This one, you actually know very well. That’s because it’s the most-seen of all the Cooper locations, although no-one has ever seen fit to mention its address. It’s the image used on the Wikipedia page; it’s the image used by Los Angeles Magazine (in describing “downtown’s Cooper Do-nuts,” seemingly content to allow you to think you’re looking at the famed, fabled Main Street location); it’s just absolutely everywhere, e.g. here and here and here and here.

Few mention it is an image plucked from Kent Mackenzie’s docudrama The Exiles, when Yvonne goes on her desultory walk about downtown:

Which is a Cooper’s location on Hill Street just north of Fifth, on the southeast corner of Bunker Hill:

Looking south on Hill across Fifth into the sunlit, cruisey banana palms of Pershing Square, October 1957
Built by the Meal-O-Mat Corp in 1952; it is demolished in May 1977

Particularly interesting about this location is that unlike all the other Cooper locations, this one was actually adjacent Pershing Square, AKA central hub of The Run, the circuit of gay-friendly bars and cruising destinations. (However, at that time Fifth and Hill was one of the busiest intersections in Los Angeles, and a major civil disturbance there would unarguably have left a footprint.)

So, that’s my take on the thing, which is why I wrote about it in Bunker Noir!

—therefore, might I suggest, if you are intrigued by tales of Old LA’s marginalized people (but, you know, backed by actual historic research) and other such Bunker debunking, you might want to pick up a copy; it is available here.

Postscript: unlike most historians, I love to be proven wrong! You might be the one who has photographic evidence of Rechy’s Main Street Cooper’s — so do not hesitate to drop me a line at oldbunkerhill@gmail.com as we continue our quest for historical truth!

High Praise!

There was a post recently on Facebook’s Historic Los Angeles page, which is a subset of the https://losangeleshistory.blogspot.com/ blog. (Strictly speaking, blogs, since the link leads you to the eight finest blogs on Los Angeles you’ll ever have the pleasure to read.) In any event, said post being:

The image of the Bradbury from p. 88 of Bunker Hill Los Angeles

I can’t help but blush a little and feel absolutely unworthy of such praise buuut…I’m still not so humble as to not share it here.

Conversely, my pal Tracy’s buddy Plissken casts an watchful, dubious eye on Bunker Noir!:

Yes, Plissken should have an eye patch

Plissken knows that Bunker Noir! is seamy, steamy stew of sex and violence and he furrows his brow in worry over the heinous horrors brought into his home. If he’s a good boy he’ll chew it to bits. Good boy!

Zoom Presentation, Thursday!

If on your Thursday evenings you enjoy lengthy discourses replete with pretty pictures and ugly invective, you could do worse than to join me for the evening’s Powerpoint.

It’s fun! It’s free! Click here!

This is being presented by the San Fernando Valley Historical Society—who deserve your attention. Be it known, I love the Andrés Pico adobe so much if often makes me weep.