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

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

5 thoughts on “The Bunker Hill Bookie

  1. Congratulations, Nathan! Another classic case of sleuthing brought to a successful conclusion. We who love Old Bunker Hill, and those of us who remember it first hand, applaud your work. We look forward to your next case and revelation.

    Liked by 1 person

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