Bunker Hill WALKING TOUR!

The good folk at Esotouric—who, with the rest of the world, have been huddled in the collective basement these last couple years—are back with a vengeance! There are new tours to be had, and among the first is a walking tour of Bunker Hill.

As in, sign up for the tour, meet the group next Saturday, and spend the morning (and into the afternoon) walking around, and talking about, Bunker Hill’s past, present, and future. I’m leading the tour, jabbering away for a solid three hours, so, I guarantee a good time. In all honesty I’m second banana to the native son of Bunker Hill, Mr. Gordon Pattison, who will be there to tell you how it really was.

Because I like to do things with pictures, let me go over this for you again:

1) Click here and follow the directions → *click!*

2) Meet at Grand Central Market next Saturday:

Strictly speaking we’re meeting juuust south of GCM, in fact, right where it says “Pensioners Welcome”

3) And then we go up on the Hill. Excelsior!

Here’s the group walking west on Third from Olive. Hey! Stay together!
Images via Nadel at the Getty.

And that’s it. See you there!

The Wills Mansion

Most of Bunker Hill’s lost houses are known, and beloved, for being Queen Anne. The Hill had some two-dozen first rate Queen Anne structures, famed for their asymmetrical facades and profusion of gingerbread. Bunker Hill’s “top five” (if their appearance and reappearance on those “Old LA” Facebook groups is any indication) are the Crocker, Rose, Melrose, Castle and Bradbury. What’s not to love? Look at all those towers and porches and gingerbread!

Less well known is the Wills Mansion. It’s not in the “heart” of Bunker Hill, but rather, up on its northern reaches in the Fort Moore Hill area. It was not designed with that overtly romantic character so commonly associated with Queen Anne, devoid, as it was, of turretts and spindlework—rather, it is a large Shingle style house of remarkable architecture and history, and Shingle Style gets barely a nod here in Los Angeles.

The house soon after its completion, ca. 1887. This image, from the Los Angeles Public Library, was reproduced in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles on p. 87.

Pennsylvania attorney John Alexander Wills came to Los Angeles in 1884 and built this large shingled home on the northern edge of Bunker Hill in the Fort Hill neighborhood, on a large lot bounded by Buena Vista, Rock and Fort Streets.  

Los Angeles Times, 29 April 1886
Los Angeles Times, 28 September 1886

The house was designed by Saunders & Saunders, the husband-and-wife team of Charles Willard and Mary Alston Channing Saunders. (Though Caroline Severance informs us that the architect was, specifically, very much Mary on her own.) The Saunders team are perhaps best known for Villa Miramar, the incredible 1888 Shingle-style Santa Monica resort of Senator John Percival Jones:

Villa Miramar from Ocean Avenue. It was demolished in 1938. Wikimedia
LAPL
East facade of Villa Miramar, from Nevada Ave., now Wilshire Blvd. Huntington

Watters points out in his indispensable Houses of Los Angeles 1885-1919 that Mary Saunders, raised and trained in Rhode Island, had as her inspiration Robert Goelet’s Newport cottage (McKim, Mead & White, 1883), and that Miramar’s wide gable on the east facade was likely derived from Newport’s William Watts Sherman house (H. H. Richardson, 1875).

Charles and Mary Saunders’ house, on Walnut in Pasadena, was another Shingle wonder:

Mary Channing Saunders, architect. Now the site of a Honda dealership. Huntington

Had the Wills house survived, it would have been among the very few Shingles in our part of the world. Those that do exist are usually in the rarefied climes around Pasadena, like the McNally house in Altadena, and William Stanton’s Grace Hill, both designed by Frederick Roehrig.

The east facade of the Wills’, looking south across the south/east lawn, with the Baker house across Fort Moore Place in the distance. This image is cropped from a boudoir card, part of the “Gardens of Los Angeles at Midwinter” series published by James B. Blanchard & Co. about 1895. Reproduced in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles on p. 159.

So: Dr. John Wills, wife Charlotte, son William LeMoyne Wills and daughter Madeleine Frances moved into their vast manse, with its commanding view above the Plaza, in October 1886. The Wills family helped establish the Cremation Society of Southern California, and built the first crematory west of the Mississippi, in Rosedale Cemetery, in 1887. John Wills died in 1894 and the 1900 Federal Census shows Charlotte, William L. and Madeline F. living there with their four servants. 

After the death of patriarch John, the house went to Charlotte, who put it in trust to the two children. There was some squabbling, and a court case, so Charlotte dissolved the trust in 1903 and gifted the house to Madeline Frances, best known as “Fanny.”

Unlike many of the grand homes of the 1880s, the Wills house was never converted to apartments—in the 1920s the society pages made note of Fanny Wills’s lavish mahjong parties, complete with Chinese girls in authentic dress. Miss Wills was a famed suffragist; Susan B. Anthony was a noted house-guest.

Fanny Wills continued to live in the house until it was doomed by progress. The early 1930s saw North Spring Street extended as part of the Civic Center expansion, which cut much of the eastern edge of the hill. As the shovels dug they neared closer to the Wills house, called “one of the loveliest mansions ever built in Los Angeles” by the Los Angeles Times.

Fanny Wills took the County to court over the valuation of her property; experts testified her house and three lots were worth $275,000 ($4,189,254 USD 2018). The County gave her $165,000 ($2,513,552 USD 2018), condemned the property, and removed the social queen from her home in December 1930.

Los Angeles Times, 23 March 1930
Times, 23 March 1930

Before we go any further, we must answer the question, where was this house, anyway? It was on the corner of Rock Street, which would become Fort Moore Place, and Fort Street, which would become Broadway:

The 1894 Sanborn map
Castelar has become Hill Street, and Bellevue has become Cesar Chavez, and Spring St, which once stopped at Temple, was cut through, taking over New High and taking out Buena Vista. Anyway, red arrow says it was riiiiight about here. Only, now it would be floating way up in the air.

Now, through the magic of aero-plane photography, let’s look at exactly how the poor house got eaten away at before its ignominious end.

January 1, 1929. Compare to the Sanborn two images above. New High at very bottom, and notice how Buena Vista actually peters out to become a dirt road leading to Bellevue/Sunset.
Notice how one ascends the majestic, Canary Island Date Palm-lined driveway up from the corner of Buena Vista and Rock Streets. The actual address of the house was 101 Buena Vista; this number was changed to 501 N Buena Vista with the Los Angeles street-renumbering ordinance of 1889; it thereafter became 501 Justicia Street when the street was renamed
January 29, 1934: Spring Street barrels through where Buena Vista used to be. The skinny street with the bend, bottom, is what remains of New High. The County did quite a job of defoliating the Wills’ yard.

August 14, 1941: and then it was gone. New HIgh, bottom, wiped out and Spring Street was made an overpass, a decade later when the Hollywood Freeway cut through. This and other aerials, above, from the UCSB Air Photos collection

So what happened to her? Progress! Spring Street must be straightened! The corner of Spring and Sunset was slated for a County office building. The dirt was needed as fill for the forthcoming Union Station.

19 April 1934
UCLA
Times, 11 December 1930
1 April 1934
1 April 1934
1 April 1934
The south facade, shot from the Milo Baker house, 1934
A similar shot of the south facade as seen from a Baker house veranda. LAPL

The real reason I wanted to do a post on the Wills mansion is because, well, I picked up some nifty negatives of the east façade, shot in April 1934, and they allow us to peer nice and close at some of the details.

The arrow indicates our photographer’s position. Now, you see that x-marks-the-spot up there? This aerial has captured the 1934 mining operation, in search of the lost gold of the Lizard People. The mining tower can be seen in the distance, here:

The tale of the Lizard People is covered, of course, in Bunker Noir!get yours today!

Some more tidbits:

Nifty detailing in that gable, and check out the eyebrow window—which you’ll note Mary also used to similar effect in her Pasadena house pictured above
Great leaded glass window, which we presume utilized stained glass, but it’s hard to tell
Leaded glass on the front door, too
The view from that balcony would be incredible—east over the Plaza, the burgeoning city and mountains beyond. Note the way the staggered shingle blends into the straight-edge shingle. And the color differentiation between those and the shingle above!

Looking south on Spring Street from Sunset:

Spring St has gone through, though the hillside east of the Broadway tunnel remains…for now. UCLA

And what’s that lurking o’er? It’s the Wills house! The rarely seen north side! Signs and wonders!

An image of the west façade alludes us still, of course. The giant sign in the background, btw, was a block south above the entrance of the Broadway tunnel
And, the only known image of its north AND west façade! Denver PL
And, just to give you an idea how it towered over the Plaza—
Two eyebrow dormers…makes the balcony between them sort of a third eyeUCLA

POSTSCRIPT

After this post went live, I got to thinking about poor old Madeleine Frances “Fanny” Wills. Aged, white of hair, shuffled off to her slow descent into senility and madness. Somewhere…out in the country. Somewhere mysterious, alone, with no-one to know where she’d gone. That’s how the papers made it seem, and that is, after all, what she said:

The country? Like…San Bernardino?

Only, that’s not what happened at all. Age 73 when her property was condemned and she was evicted, and she pulled up stakes and moved off the hill and into the void, Madeline Frances Wills was replete with pep and vinegar. First thing she did when they kicked her out in 1930 was say screw it, I’m going to Hawaii! (She departed Wilmington on January 11, 1930 and returned March 4—what I wouldn’t give to see shots of her wearing a lei beneath the Aloha Tower.)

Then, on her return, she purchased a house at 1075 Rose Avenue, San Marino. According to the 1940 census, which lists home values, the houses in the neighborhood ran in the $4,000-$7,000 range; Fanny’s was valued at $25,000. (The numbers on Rose jump from the 700 block to the 2000 block abruptly, so I’m having trouble finding the house, but, working on it.) 1075 was an enchanted place and, we should note, said Eden was not completely manless:

Times, 10 April 1934

Before her passing in August 1940, Fanny was in the papers continuously both here and up north, visiting her sistren in the League of Women Voters and hosting events at her picturesque San Marino home:

Holy cats, Carrie Chapman Catt and Esther Caukin Brunauer

Fanny passes August 18, 1940:

And, through the fall of 1940, many papers carried the story about how somewhere—”out there”—was a lucky fellow who would collect $250 ($5,220 USD2022) a month from Fanny’s will—

Should once conclude this George Baird is the “George Baer” she took in, in 1934?

Until finally, in mid-November, the real George Baird stood up:

Fanny is cremated (as we might imagine, given her family’s history vis-à-vis cremation) and her remains are also somewhere “out there” and thus we are unable to visit her. (Unlike her brother William, another San Marinoan, who’s at San Gabriel cemetery—and who was married to Susan Glassell Patton, whose mother was Susan Thornton Glassell Smith, whose husband George Hugh Smith built an incredible house three doors down Broadway from the Wills’s AND whose brother Andrew Glassell Jr., built an incredible house on Buena Vista a stone’s throw from the Wills mansion…but that’s a story for another time).

Cooper Do-Nuts, Pt. III

I hate to be that guy, but I mean, come on.

The Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council passed a letter requesting City leaders to formally recognize the site of the Cooper Do-Nuts Riot, specifically, at 215 South Main:

Irrespective of issues to be had with the alleged Cooper Do-Nut Riot (covered at length here and here)—the story always involves said uprising occurring on the 500 block of Main Street.

How and why DLANC elected to memorialize the Cooper’s Do-Nuts at 215 South Main is a mystery. After all, while there is conjecture as to whether the 500-block-of-South-Main-event even occurred (besides, there was no Cooper’s down there, and lone recounter Rechy has come out and said the story did not happen at a Cooper’s) the choice of 215 South Main as a location is in fact impossible, in that there was no Cooper’s there either, during the time Rechy contends the event transpired.

As in: the first Cooper Donuts—as evolved from the Evans Cafeteria—was at 215 South Main, in the Albert Cohn Building. That structure was demolished in toto, January 1958. On a corner of the newly-blacktopped parking lot, the Cooper Donut folk built a little standalone shop, which opened in late October 1959. Rechy has stated that the uprising occurred in both May 1958 and May 1959. Whichever it may have been, there was in any event no Cooper’s at 215 South Main between January 1958 and October 1959.

Evidentiary whatnot: the demolition permit from November 1957, the application to build the new structure in January 1959, which passed final inspection and received its Certificate of Occupancy in October 1959.

Again, to be clear:

213-223 South Main, the Albert Cohn block, seen in the 1953 Sanborn map, top, made a parking lot in January 1958. Below, in the recent aerial, note the presence of the little 1959 donut stand adjacent the Higgins Building.

Ok? Sorry to be persnickety about the thing, but a group like the DLANC, with their hearts in the right place and all, are still not allowed to play recklessly with historical truth. No-one is. This guy taught me that, and I stand by it.

ADDENDUM

After I penned the above post a couple weeks ago, the good folk over at Esotouric linked to it on Reddit. That post prompted this reply, and, though not going to do a whole ‘nother post about it, I do feel the need to address it.

Let’s “unpack this” as the kids say. First of all, Ms. Dilberian contends “it seems they are not creating a monument to the riot that may or may not have happened but rather focusing more on the fact that Cooper Do-nuts was a safe haven for all, regardless of their gender affiliation” although, in fact, the opposite is true. The DLANC letter, and the Facebook post to which Ms. Dilberian links, are solely about creating a monument to the riot, and not focused on any “safe haven” element; that idea goes unmentioned in both documents.

Secondly, the site of the first Cooper Do-nuts was not demolished by Jack and Margaret Evans—Ms. Dilberian states Evans Cafeteria structure was “torn down and rebuilt as a Cooper Do-nuts by the same owners”—when that structure was, rather, demolished by the building’s owner, Martin Lee, Inc. (In fairness, Ms. Dilberian’s syntax is unclear, so we don’t know whether she intended to connote the “same owners” tore down and rebuilt, or just rebuilt.)

In any event, the new structure was not completed “before early 1959” since the building permit was applied for in early 1959 and the location didn’t even get its Certificate of Occupancy, thus allowing it to open, until the late fall.

Lastly, one point is correct—said location stands to this day, which I pointed out in my post from over a year ago:

As we know, there was no uprising at Cooper’s, especially given as the one and only witness we have to any such event has stated it was not at Cooper’s.

With that out of the way, what we are now led to believe is that Cooper’s was unique for its inclusivity:

from here

And we are supposed to accept that Jack C. Evans was a 1950s ally to the trans community because…why? We have no evidence, save for the family says so. Is there an oral history they took from Jack before he passed? Are there eyewitness declarations? (Mind you, oral histories are routinely contradicted by archival evidence, and anyone in the legal or law enforcement biz will inform you that eyewitness testimony is the most unreliable of evidence.)

Ms. Dilberian, who started today’s conversation, is Evans family, after all, her being wed to Keith Evans, Jack’s grandson. The move to push the City to designate a “Cooper’s Do-nut Square” is motivated, it would seem, by the need to shine a kind, modern light on the family. However, the contention that these 1950s Evanses were trailblazing LGBTQIA+ supporters seems…forced.

Consider, there were twenty-six Cooper locations in Los Angeles, and they were all “safe havens”? With, presumably, the one at Second and Main as top safe haven banana, despite its location directly across from the Cathedral of St. Vibiana and the Union Rescue Mission. Point being, it’s a bit much to imagine men in tight capris, their shirts knotted at the midriff (as Rechy describes young donut aficionados) parading, seventy years ago, directly across from the seat of the Archdiocese, and rubbing elbows with the Rescue Mission habitués, which (unlike today) consisted of hard-bitten older white alcoholics.

On top of which, the gay bars were three blocks south, closer to The Run. (Yes, Survey LA’s LGBT Historic Context Statement states that in the 1940s there was one gay bar in the area—Smitty’s at 242 South Main, but even that claim is suspect, in that a) the Navy went out of its way to state Smitty’s was not included on the infamous “off limits to military personnel” list, and b) it was the scene of b-girl busts, which, had the arrests been same-sex, would certainly have made what was already lengthy coverage all the more newsworthy.)

So, again, we have only the family to believe. The remaining Evanses are proud of some sort of legacy, but their grasp on history is, perhaps, tenuous: for example, the above screengrab states that Jack and Marge were married in 1955, whereas the 1950 census shows them to already be husband and wife.

Ultimately, history is about evidence, and in discerning the wheat from the chaff we build a hypothesis, from which we gauge likelihood. As my buddy the forensic scientist says “all your history is just forensic science with more goddamn epistemology.” And the Cooper tale keeps being, over and over again, added to and morphed into ever-increasing unlikelihood, raising repeated questions of belief vs. knowledge, and piling on more of that g-d epistemology. In short, one sniff test after another, it just smells worse and worse.

The Great Wall of Bunker Hill

While Bunker Hill was famously wiped clean, it does contain a small quantity of interesting archaeological sites. The telling soil contours at Second and Hill. A remaining bit of retaining wall at Fourth and Olive. Less known (or at least not as yet mentioned by me) is the retaining wall at Fourth and Hill.

You may be familiar with this wall; let’s say you’ve gone to Angels Flight and on your stroll back to the car parked beneath Pershing Square—you passed by, glanced over and wondered hey, is that, something?

It most certainly is. Today our wall hides behind chainlink because once, it was part of a park, but the City couldn’t figure out how to keep the park clean of needles and human feces, so they closed it off for all and sundry. It’s still filled with needles and human feces, of course—the only difference being regl’ar folk are kept at bay.

To understand our wall, we have to go way back, to Old Hill Street. It was once quite residential—

Left to right, 337, 333, 331/329, 325, and 321 South Hill Street, ca. 1890. Huntington Library. A similar image may be found in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles.

Hill Street grew increasingly commercial. During the uptick of building that occurred after the fallout from the financial crashes of 1893 and ’96, but before the next downturn of 1907, there was a good bit of construction. Note in the comparison between the 1894 and 1906 Sanborn maps, how the area has much of its yellow (wooden) street frontage removed, and replaced by pink (brick) structures.

Sanborn Maps at the Library of Congress

And note, for our purposes, the STONE WALL 20′ that come 1906 (I believe the wall was built ca. 1903) runs from 343 South Hill, to the north. That stone wall still exists, here:

The Sanborn map of 1953. The Sanborn folk have it a bit wrong; the wall extended to the end of 329
From the air, August 1941. UCSB

So: you say, Nathan, there were once buildings lining Hill Street, north of Fourth? Really? What did they look like?

Left to right: Mary Doran Block, AKA Pembroke Hotel, 339-343 S Hill (Austin and Brown, 1904); Anna Higgins Steere Block, AKA California Eclectic Medical College/Los Angeles College of Osteopothy, 333-337 South Hill (Robert Brown Young, 1904); and the Dunn-Albright-Ames Block, 331-329 South Hill (Albert C. Martin, 1913). Note the Nick Peters neon boxer on the Steere Block! Boy I wonder if he had animated boxing arms. The signage was fabricated by Interstate Neon, an outfit in Van Nuys, and installed in early 1954.
The larger image. From left, Roberts Block, 353-355 South Hill (Robert Brown Young, 1904); the Gilbert S. Wright Block, AKA the University Club, 349-351 South Hill (John Parkinson, 1904); the Wright & Callender block, 354-347 South Hill (Parkinson & Bergstrom, 1905). This image was shot by Leonard Nadel in November 1955. Getty
Looking from the other side, in an image by Hall at the Huntington. Between the previous image and this one, notice the removal of the cornice from the Pembroke Hotel; owner David Rissman shed the structure of John C. Austin’s wonderfully ornate corbeled cornice in February 1956 to conform with the City’s parapet ordinance (similarly, see here for a 1939/1963 comparison of the Steere and Dunn-Albright-Ames block—remember, whenever you feel underwhelmed by a building, consider what may have been done to the parapet). This image gets a full page in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles—plus there’s a nifty shot of the Pembroke’s pool parlor (note Larby looking at it here). This image was shot by Hall in 1962; the structures, purchased by the CRA, were demolished in 1963.

So the block went on minding its own business, surviving through the decades—heck, few if any people knew that stone retaining wall lurked behind…until the structures were demolished via the Community Redevelopment Agency’s bulldozer policy, leaving and revealing the wall once hidden behind 329-343 South Hill St. If you really wanted to crawl behind there, you’d see this:

Behind the Pembroke during its demolition, May 1963. CRA

Here for example is the void left by the removal of the Steere Block, leaving A. C. Martin’s Dunn-Albright-Ames all on its lonesome:

Note the jutting retaining wall buttress at far left.

And soon all the structures were at the bottom of a landfill, leaving only our wall:

A slide from my collection, ca. 1975
Side note: the area was used to great effect in 1978’s Escape from Witch Mountain. That large Moreton Bay Fig tree looming over Clay Street was supposed to be saved and moved down the block to Angelus Plaza; from what I can tell it never made that trip… Compare the tree on Clay in this shot to it on its lonesome two images above
Another mid-70s slide from my collection
Did I call these buttresses? Strictly speaking this type of engaged buttress would be called a counterfort.
Compare to today. Via Bing Maps.
Top, “Retaining Wall Park” in its glory days. Middle and bottom, its degeneration after ten years of being fenced off.
Much of the time the Hill Street retaining wall lies hidden behind foliage, but WE know it’s there, lurking, reminding us of Hill Street’s urban past…

My pressing need to write about/share photos of this wall stems, of course, from the wall’s fate: imminent destruction. Of course, that corner of Fourth and Hill has long been the proposed site of…something.

In this curious rendering, the new track of Angels Flight spans Hill Street; one boards from atop Grand Central Market?
Note the placement of Angels Flight near the corner of Fourth and Hill, rather than further north up Hill Street

Then, when the California Plaza project got underway, there were plans for three matching towers, with one on the Fourth and Hill property:

Office Tower I being One California Plaza; Office Tower II being Two California Plaza; Office Tower III, unrealized.
Members of development team Cadillac-Fairview, and Shapell Government Housing, Inc., admire their model in the early 1980s. The proposed lower third tower, behind pointing guy’s shirt cuff.

That third tower, however, fell victim to the economic downturn of the early 1990s. Downtown Los Angeles, especially, through the 1990s, experienced an office glut and high vacancy rates. Despite eventual recovery from the 90s recession, the property went undeveloped and became a park (briefly famed as a location in 500 Days of Summer). Finally, about six weeks ago, the City rubberstamped the Angels Landing development.

Los Angeles Times, March 28, 2022

Thus, at some point in the near future, expect a vast number of demolition crews with earth movers to begin tearing up the parcel, and, in time, it will look (presumably) something like this:

Note in the rendering the vast shadow our new tower will cast over the hundreds of elderly in Angelus Plaza

Thereafter, this remaining remnant of Edwardian-era Hill Street will be gone. Of course, we still still have our beloved Angels Flight clattering adjacent, but, that notwithstanding…I for one will be sad to see this piece of vintage Bunker Hill erased.

Bunker Hill GOOGIE!

Googie architecture, in all its flamboyant space-age grandeur, has as its namesake the Lautner-designed 1949 Googies coffee shop at Sunset and Crescent Heights.

There were four Googies in the coffee shop chain; the second of the four was designed by legendary coffee shop architects Armét & Davis, with all the atomic-era exuberance that had come to define Googie style—an angular roofline, ebullient signage, lots of flagstone, and walls of glass that erased the boundaries between inside and out.

That second Googies was downtown, at Fifth and Olive, attached onto the San Carlos hotel; it made an appearance in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles in “Modern on the Hill,” as part of how the San Carlos (née Auditorium) Hotel was stripped of its Edwardian ornament and brought into the atomic era. Page 148:

Pumpkin Patch, Edwardian to her core, is not amused

A close-up of our coffee shop in question:

Its rendering—

I bring this up specifically because the most amazing book has been recently published. No, not my book—though yes, I’m not ashamed to say this new book also hails from Angel City Press, titans of book publishing. The book to which I refer is Googie Modern:

And, holy moly, this book is killer. If you’ve any interest in mid-Century—you may have a familiarity with Hess’ two books on Googie—this is essential. 208 pages! It’s got interviews and essays and tons of images no-one has ever seen. More to the point for our purposes here, it contains the rendering reproduced above—in a nifty “then and now” configuration the book utilizes—

—plus SIX PAGES of Googies downtown renderings and design studies! Not to mention a freakin’ essay on the Fifth & Olive Googies!

I’ll just tempt you with the mere mention of those images…no, I’m not going to actually SHOW them to you; to see them in all their glory you have to in fact BUY the dang book, ya bum. Rather, I’ll obscure them, and the essay, with this nifty Fifth & Olive menu. Ha!

Oh, and you might remember the other day I mentioned you should come by USC for some Bunker Hill book-signin’ fun? Well, my pal Alan will be there too:

In fact, he and co-author Michael Murphy will be there both days! They along with all sorts of literary luminaries:

So, to sum up, go get Googie Modern, or better yet go to USC this weekend and get Googie Modern, and then I’ll see you at Pann’s!

Cooper’s Do-Nuts — Addenda

Last June I posted We Need to Talk About Cooper Do-Nuts regarding John Rechy and the famed, alleged uprising.

Six months later theLAnd published this interview with Rechy wherein he states “There was no riot at Cooper’s.”

Which is an important statement. Remember, Rechy is the sole, lone source of the story. It’s his story: there’s no other evidence, so he alone dictates canon.

When I say it didn’t happen, much less at Cooper’s, so what, who am I but a lowly historian? But when the guy who actually came up with the story now says nothing happened at Cooper’s, that’s a major wrench in the cultural consciousness—when you consider the hundreds of descriptions of Cooper’s presently on the web. The t-shirts and patches. The enthusiastic artwork. Cooper’s Do-nuts even re-opened, in a fashion. Heck, people are getting Cooper’s tattoos.

So, where was this other, not-Cooper’s donut shop? According to the 1959 Yellow Pages the only other downtown donutery was Angel Food Donut at 423 South Hill, in the Subway Terminal Building. If we’re married to Main Street, Pat’s Donuts, at 654 South Main, opened in March 1959; too late if the riot happened in 1958 (Rechy told Los Angeles Magazine, and others, it had occurred in 1958) but in time for “spring of 1959” as Rechy originally told the story in 2005—though Rechy did insist his donut place was between Harold’s and the Waldorf, placing the action across the street and a block north from Pat’s.

On to other things: of the collection of Coopers around downtown, there were two a stone’s throw from Pershing Square, Rechy’s renowned haunt. One was just north of the park, on Hill above Fifth, which I covered extensively in the aforementioned post, and of which I provided a nifty color photo, about which I was pretty happy.

The other Cooper’s was down Olive, just south of the park, the other side of Sixth. And I struggled to find an image of that 628 South Olive Street location. For the darnedest time the only shot I had was this one:

Painted in good ol’ Cooper Yellow. From here.

Then, I recently picked up a new Clifton’s slide, and we have now been blessed with this:

Red-bordered Kodachrome, ca. 1958

And there you have it! As far as I’m aware, the first sighting of the Olive Street Cooper’s.

As long as I’ve got you here. I also searched for an image of the initial incarnation of Cooper’s Donuts at 215 South Main, when it was still in the Albert Cohn Bldg (Morgan & Walls, 1908), before that location went out of business in January 1958. All of a sudden, this site popped up: https://www.cooperdonuts.com/ And on said site is this shot:

That’s demo scaffolding in front; the building owner applied for a demolition permit in November 1957. It’s made a parking lot in mid-January 1958; in 1959 the Cooper folk take out a permit to build a little standalone on corner of the site:

213 South Main gets its Certificate of Occupancy on October 28, 1959; it stands to this day. USC Digital Archive

Those, then, being some further tidbits about Cooper Do-nuts. Yes, I know, this is ostensibly a Bunker Hill site, and these nuggets of Old LA are perhaps merely tangential to the Hill—but I say we get a pass since there were two Cooper’s on Bunker Hill, and hey, it’s all grist for the mill (nudge nudge, if you want an image of the Cooper’s on Bunker Hill’s Third Street flats, go buy Bunker Noir).

Theodore Hall has a Finding Aid!

You’re of course familiar with the Big Four—Crocker, Huntington, Hopkins and Stanford—well, the Big Five, actually, as people always forget Edwin Crocker, since he’s Charles’ brother.

Similarly, when it comes to the great Bunker Hill photographers, there’s the Big Four—Hylen, Reagh, Connor and Hall—well, the Big Five, actually, as people always forget Nadel, since he was a pro on a mission for the City rather than a Bunker enthusiast.

Bunker Hill’s Big Five are, by and large, accessible out there in internet-land. Hylen is well-represented at the Cal State Library, as is Reagh; there’s no shortage of Reagh over at LAPL, either. Palmer Connor is digitized in all his Kodachrome glory over at the Huntington, and Nadel’s work can be found online at the Getty.

The photography of Theodore Seymour Hall, however, has remained in the shadows, undigitized at the Huntington, viewable only to those with the gumption to go to the library and see his work in person. The best place to see a selection of Hall’s work is in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles. So, grab your copy and check out pages 6, 41, 97 (bottom), 108, 134 (left and right), 135, 155 (bottom right), 158, 159 (bottom right), and 174. Those are all Hall images. Heck, a Hall even graces the back cover!

A classic Hall shot: the pensioners of Bunker Hill sun themselves and discuss current events on the benches at the end of Third Street where it dead-ended at Bunker Hill Avenue. This image gets a nifty two-page spread on pp. 108-9.

Now, however, there is a rather detailed finding aid. I’ll admit I’m a little proud to have lent a hand on the project. But the real credit goes to Huntington archivist Suzanne Oatey, who did all the heavy lifting. In short, Hall put out three self-published 11×14 photobooks in 1962-63 of various Bunker Hill scenes, and now you can read what’s in ’em.

The finding aid is here. Here it is expanded in PDF and in HTML.

Someday, of course, I’d like reissue all three books in one volume with deeper commentary and so forth, à la Hylen’s Bunker Hill: A Los Angeles Landmark but, all in good time.

One last thing. Strictly speaking we should include Virgil Mirano, the least-known of the Bunker photographers. So, from the Big Four to Five to Big Six. But now we risk confusing our photographers with the Big Six, so, we’ll call them the Bunker Six. Mirano is also undigitized, and his finding aid doesn’t tell you much, but you can see some of his work in BHLA on pages 38 (left), 68 (left), 112 (bottom), 156 (left), 156 (top right) and 163 (top).

Oh, and George Mann. The Bunker Seven!

Bunker Hill Film Festival!

How is it that, to go to the Greatest Los Angeles Film Festival of All Time, you have to go to Minneapolis?

Proving once again that at being Los Angeles, we continually and embarrassingly fail.

Thus, I lift a hefty Arbeiter Moneymaker and toast the greatness of Minneapolis, and the Trylon Cinema-in-conjunction-with-The Heights, the only theater(s) brave enough, cool enough, to have a Bunker Hill Film Festival, starting two weeks from tonight.

More information here and here and here.

Robert Frank Goes to Bunker Hill

Europeans invented photography; it took Americans to perfect it, of course. It is therefore appropriate that a European immigrant/naturalized American produced a defining work in the medium, with a book titled, appropriately enough, The Americans.

Robert Frank criss-crossed the United States in 1955-57, shooting some 27,000 images, famously capturing tensions of race and class against the backdrop of wealth and patriotism in mid-century America. Of all the images Frank shot, eighty-three made it into the book; some are bone fide classics you’ll likely recognize, like these:

Trolley—New Orleans
Parade—Hoboken, New Jersey. Good summations of The Americans can be had here and here.

For my money, the best photo from the book is this one:

This one being simply titled Los Angeles

See how it contrasts a big happy neon arrow that connotes progress! forward! with the man trudging toward an aimless future. The neon sign also an innate touchstone of noir, is it not?

So, being merely titled Los Angeles, through the years, have you not wondered, where was this image shot? Glad you asked!

Frank was standing at the yellow X, peering over the four-foot parapet from the top of this retaining wall, looking down at the neon arrow, attached to the Hope Street side of 701 West Third Street.

701-09 W. Third St. was designed by Dennis & Hewitt and built in 1914. Oliver Perry Dennis, with Dennis & Farwell, designed Bunker Hill’s famed Moore Cliff, and the F. P. Fay building at Third and Hill. Dennis designed Almira Hershey’s Châteauesque home (which went on to become the Castle Towers), and, again for Hershey, a matching Châteauesque commericial/residential structure across the street. Henry Harwood Hewitt, Dennis’ partner from 1913-1916, is known for many important Los Angeles structures. USC Library

Between Second and Fourth Streets, Hope Street split into an “Upper Hope” and “Lower Hope.” Frank stood on Upper Hope, just south of Third Street, looking down onto Lower Hope. From above:

The large white structure is the Alta Vista apartments, which fronts on Bunker Hill Avenue; Frank stood on Hope Street with his back to the rear of the Alta Vista, and peered down to Third & Hope below. The Alta Vista is famed, in part, as the home of John Fante; it is covered liberally in both my books. USC Library
Visualize Upper Hope continuing on to the right; X marks the spot about where Frank was peering over the concrete railing. Getty/Nadel

And a map:

From the 1953 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, courtesy Library of Congress

A great image by William Reagh, shot in 1956, the same year Robert Frank captured his:

California State Library

Frank was peering down at the neon arrow, which told drivers coming out of the Third Street tunnel they should make an immediate right turn so as to get to the Hotel Elmar a half-block up Hope.

See? You’re driving west through the tunnel looking for a cheap place to flop. There’s that “Hotel With Bath $1.00” up ahead but the Hotel Elmar neon says No! Hang a right and the magical neon arrows will direct you to us!

Now it’s time to fly in real close, because here’s something you wouldn’t know unless you really looked—there were THREE of these neon arrows hanging off the side of the building!

Incredible, right? I’m obsessed with the idea that they flashed in sequence.

Given its position vis-à-vis the stairway structure on the roof, we conclude Frank’s arrow is the center arrow of the three arrows:

About the three arrows: on July 3, 1946, the Hotel Elmar, 235 South Hope, pulled a permit to install some neon signage. They called up Pacific Neon Maintenance Company.

And these were there plans:

This projecting blade sign was, unlike the arrows and other sign, actually on the Elmar, as can be seen in the Reagh photo below

Now then, lets take a look at another shot by Reagh, shot from the other direction, captured four years later, in 1960:

California State Library. Oh, and I bet you’re just itching to know more about that retaining wall! Well, it was built by the California Ornamental Brick Company in the summer of 1909, that’s right, the same outfit that built Train & Williams-designed Angels Flight’s upper and lower stations in 1910.

It would seem we have lost Frank’s arrow. A close examination (very bottom left) reveals what appears to be the tip of the first arrow, but the second two arrows appear to have disappeared:

You know, just up Hope at Second Street was the Bunker Hill playground and youth center. One wonders if a collection of young miscreants didn’t delight in tossing rocks at the things.

Mind you, the “arrow” image was not the only Los Angeles image to appear in the The Americans; it wasn’t even the only Bunker Hill image. Frank shot a few rolls around Los Angeles (producing eight that ended up in The Americans, including this and this and this and this) and this one, titled Rooming House–Bunker Hill, Los Angeles:

Another iconic Frank shot. Half-a-pensioner in a decaying world.

And where was this one shot? I’m sorry and frustrated to say, I don’t know. Let’s see if its contact sheet provides some answers. It looks like this:

First off, 1-13, not Bunker Hill (the arched structure, that you see upside-down, upper left, is the entrance to the Castle of Enchantment on Melrose). Then, 14-17:

#14, a Black woman labors at the carving station under some heat lamps, and then we’ve got the entrance of the Town Theater, 444 South Hill St. (only place Land of the Pharaohs and Naked Alibi ever double-billed; also conclusively pegging this shot to the first week of January, 1956), and then a lady passes under the canopy of Zeemans, immediately north of the Town, and then there’s negative #17. It’s very dark—looks like light at the end of a tunnel in the distance, and a car, and a couple electric globes up top; unless I miss my guess, he headed west into the Third Street tunnel.

And then, curiously, negatives #18-23 are missing. My supposition being Frank shot those inside the tunnel, and they didn’t turn out, so that strip was simply tossed. This theory is given some credence when we look at #24-28 and the first three shots are folk emerging from the tunnel.

Then we’ve got 27 and 28.

The Bishop Apts at 338 South Figueora at right. The tripartite back-end of the Lennox, 315-19 South Flower, left. The small structure next to the palm tree, the back of a duplex at 327 Flower. The white boxy structure in the distance is the Westmund Apartments, 322 South Flower.

Above, #27. Frank is standing here:

The X at right is where he came from, the mouth of the Third Street Tunnel. He made his way to the X on the left, standing next to the Bishop Apts, at 338 South Figueroa (which in this view is obscured by the ill-fated Vanderbilt Apts at 334), and shot east (arrow) toward Flower Street.

And the next shot is his rooming house shot(s). Frustratingly, it’s not a structure I instantly recognize. As I said, he shoots it from 28-32, and then come 33, he’s here:

The back of the Barbara Worth, 427 South Hope, at far left; the west side of the Sunkist on Fifth Street, far right

That is, the “Rooming House” from Frank’s famed “Americans” shot is somewhere between these two points:

He was now here, in the parking lot bounded by Fourth, Figueroa, Fifth, and Flower. Frank walked down Figueroa, and again stood with his back to it, about midway between Fourth and Fifth, and again shot facing east toward Flower and beyond.

I’m pretty sure our mystery roominghouse is 331 South Flower Street, which was here, immediately east of where he stood for image #27.

As in, over there

This assertion I base on the following. Old Man Hat is standing at a structure with two bays on either side, sheathed in battenboard, with and central porch.

Note that to the right there’s another structure. When Frank shot, that strip of Flower looked like so:

Note 331, with the two side bays, and the projecting central porch, and the structure to the right (325/27).

331 was the General Miller Hotel. I wish we had a decent picture of the thing, showing us those central stairs to really clinch the location, but unfortunately the extant shots from ca. 1963 have enormous amounts of foliage in front:

General Miller Hotel, ca. 1963. The Stewart Apartments to the north at 325-27, as glimpsed in Frank’s photo, were demolished for this auto park seen at right in the summer of 1957
The Westwood Apts over on the left there at 345, that ain’t it. The two crossed out, 333 and 337, were demolished in late 1952/early 1953 for a parking lot.

I wish the 1940 WPA drawing provided more concrete confirmation about those stairs, though. That said, the stairs also look like a later addition, possibly postdating 1940. So, the search continues. (And yes, I checked around 4:46 on the world’s greatest movie.)

Then, just to round out that roll, the last few shots—

Tough to gauge what 35-on are

#34, the Bur-Mar Hotel, was a half block from where Frank shot #33, at 514 South Figueroa St.

The Bur-Mar, originally the Mecca, was built by Mrs. E. P. Stone at the end of 1903; W. H. Enders was architect/builder/contractor. It had 45 rooms arranged into two and three-bedroom suites, all furnished, and was at the time of its completion one of the finest apartment hotels in the city. The colossal order of columns, the big French swags in a Roman pediment; you could not get more de rigueur in post-White City America

Oh, right. I am actually not here to talk about Frank’s “Rooming House-Bunker Hill” shot, though I seem to be doing a lot of that. You may remember I came here to talk about his “Neon Arrow Shot,” and it was acquiring that contact sheet and having it in had that sent me down this rabbit hole in the first place:

In 2009 Kazuhiko Motomura of the esteemed Yugensha publishing house thought it would be a cool idea to put out a limited-to-300 deluxe set of Frank’s contact sheets. They are rare in the wild and rarer parted out, but I still managed to get my hands on this sheet, without having to buy the whole set, which would have set me back about five grand.

Maybe it’s the same day in that first week of January 1956 like the roll discussed above. Maybe not. In any event and for whatever reason he’s on Hope above the tunnel. He looks around.

Right out of the gate, fresh roll of film loaded into his Leica, Frank gets lucky. He peers over the retaining wall and sees the fellow walking past and snap, shot #1, and it goes into the book.

Then, in shots #s 2-7 he shoots some more of the rooftop and the arrow. Then he turns to his immediate left and shoots #8 up a lonely Hope Street, one car headed his way. Then he turns his camera around and gets a couple shots, 9 and 10, at the looming backend of the aforementioned Alta Vista, which fronted on Bunker Hill Ave.

Then, in next strip, he shoots down the steps to his right, those steps built into the retaining leading from Upper Hope to Lower Hope—

Now note that he liked this one, and gave it a circling with the ol’ grease pencil, as it has our Lonely Fellow still trudging his way along Hope St:

The lonely trudger is headed past the Hotel Elmar at 235 South Hope Street; read all about the Elmar here.

Now on this next strip he gets another couple shots down the steps, then makes his way up the steps alongside the Alta Vista, to Bunker Hill Avenue. There he turns and nabs a shot of the side of the Alta Vista with its palms alongside and city in the west; he liked this one too, giving it a circle of the pencil but it also didn’t make the book. Then the next shot he attempts a snap of the facade but bungles it; looks like he got his camera strap in the way.

That shot alongside the Alta Vista reminds me of this

Then, he crosses the intersection at Third and walks a half-block down Bunker Hill Avenue to 315 and gets a couple snaps of the Foss/Heindel house.

It’s a Frankian shot—”neglected rocking chair peers pensively at untended flower bed”—but an unusual composition in that more often than not those who photographed the house included its weather-beaten boards and distinctive tower

Therefore, thus far, his trek on this roll has been from Third and Hope, to Third and Bunker Hill Ave, to 315 South Bunker Hill:

And then the next two on the strip, “Lonely Walking Guy”—

Note between the pointed tower of the library and the Richfield there’s some open girder construction. That’s the Superior Oil Company Building at 6th & Flower; it’s at bottom right in the aerial below.

Frank has walked south on Bunker Hill Avenue to where it dead-ended. There was a deep trench where engineers were cutting in the Fourth Street Viaduct. The fellow is walking down in it; if Frank really wanted folk trundling along in pits and among demolition he should have made the short hop north to the Fort Moore area of the Hill where land was being razed and prepped for the Civic Center expansion and Hollywood Freeway incursion.

Then #s 26-28 Frank has crossed over the trench and has shot a woman who has taken her dog off leash.

Could be a wintry Muscovite and her sabacka
Most touchstones are gone of course, but at least the distinctive roofline of the Subway Terminal in Frank’s “Woman & Dog” image can still be seen, if one looks east from Fourth and Grand

Then he walks over to the Fifth Street stairs and shoots south:

Frank is atop the retaining wall along Fifth Street. In #29 he gets a corner of the Sunkist bldg; the other two prominent structures are the Jonathan Club at left, and, with the Earl Times ad, the Architects Building. In #30 Frank turn a bit south and captures a corner of Central Library and one can spot the tower of the Richfield poking up behind. As long as we’re on the subject of the retaining wall and its steps up onto Bunker Hill, were you aware there were plans for a bridge from the other side of the street?

So Frank trundles down the fabled Fifth St steps and makes his way to the library, where he shoots this fellow—

Did he carry that baby with him the whole time he dug through the stacks for those books?
Note how the bench has “stretched” vertically like the Haunted Mansion foyer. Unless I’m mistaken, they dug out and dropped the sidewalk in conjunction with the 1993 addition.

Then, the final strip from that roll:

Another of the fella and his baby and library books, also circled, but also didn’t make it into the book

He continues on Fifth, hangs a left on Flower, heads south. Across the street is the recentish-built State Department of Employment at 525, so he shoots that:

A fascinating Late Moderne building; another view of it here. It opened April 22, 1949. Who was its architect? The best I can ascertain it came out of the office of the State Department of Public Works Division of Architecture; however for reasons I won’t go into I have my suspicions that Austin, Field & Fry were involved. USC.

Suitably joyless shot of a blank wall, but sans human element it doesn’t tell a story, does it? Not much of a Frank photo without the requisite dispossessed American. So Frank trotted another hundred feet down the sidewalk, to 555 South Flower, for the final three shots on his roll:

Aha! There’s a forlorn fellow! Oy, but where’s the pathos? Trouble is, you can’t sell America’s doleful descent into disenfranchisement when you’ve got the wonder and beauty of the Richfield Building, and your shlub is protected by Haig Patigian’s angels!

So Frank’s final three stops on this roll were:

The Architects Building (bottom left), the Employment building, and the Richfield, all demolished in 1969-70 for the block-square ARCO complex

And that, then, was that roll. We know said roll from its contact sheet; and we only know that contact sheet because one of the images from that roll/sheet managed to make it into the book. But Frank shot 757 rolls of film on his cross-country trip and only 81 contact sheets were put into the 2009 Yugensha book. I’m at a loss to discover where the negatives for the other 676 rolls of film reside, for there are certainly more Los Angeles and likely more Bunker Hill, and thus more fun trips to be taken along with Frank as he navigates the place.

Gauged only by these two rolls, it’s curious that Frank traversed the Hill, and its most picturesque part, and yet barely shot the place. He had a terrific opportunity to capture its vanishing architecture and that Hillian mixture of nobility and poverty in its denizens.

But maybe that was the problem wiht the Hill; it just didn’t fit Frank’s narrative. There was too much nobility up there. Other photographers certainly captured it. There was the prolific Theodore Seymour Hall:

See? These fellas, sunning themselves on the benches next to the Alta Vista where Third Street dead-ended at Bunker Hill Avenue in 1955, are far too devoid of dark irony for Frank’s taste (despite the encroaching modernity of Unocal rising in the distance). Huntington Library

And the ever-present Arnold Hylen:

Another of the “lone guy walking” school—but rather than a trudge toward a bleak and desolate future, Mr. Hat is sauntering off to Grand Central Market to buy some stew meat. The beloved bleakness of Frank’s America would have worked better in May 1964 when 512-14 West Second St. was undergoing demolition…

And even Leonard Nadel, tasked by the Powers That Be to make the Hill look crummy, even he couldn’t help but infuse its enfeebled residents with dignity:

Walking north on Clay Street from Fourth, 1955. CRA/LA

That being said, I still dig Robert Frank something fierce, and at some point will locate and sit down with all those other negatives, and report back.

If you like these sort of images, perhaps I should mention the Hall, Hylen and Nadel above are all reproduced in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles—along with another 250+ shots that’ll tickle your fancy. Pick up your copy at any fine bookstore. I would also heartily recommend Bunker Noir!, a little tougher to find, but I do know you can waltz into Vroman’s Pasadena and grab one off the shelf.

Postscript: On a similar note…in 2008 I composed a post for OnBunkerHill called Walker Evans visits First & Flower. It recounted how Life magazine sent Evans around America to document its threatened built landscape, and while in Los Angeles, he did a nice job shooting Bunker Hill for the piece, appropriately-titled “Doomed…It Must be Saved.” Although only a single Hill image appeared in that July 1963 Life magazine spread—in black and white—Evans shot an impressive array of Hill structures in color, which sit unannotated at the Met, but which I have identified and compiled for you here and here.

Postscript II: This post was updated December 29, with the addition of information from the WPA drawings and the DBS neon permits. Much thanks for the kind and generous help of Mike Callahan and Rick Mechtly.