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.


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.

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