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.

The Gift of Bunker Hill Makes for a Merry Christmas Time!

The gifting season is upon us! When you give unique and useful Christmas presents, you are remembered differently, because of the comfort they supply; they are as well every day reminders of your thought.

So remember folks, for that historically-minded person on your list, Angeleno or no, they are sure to be pleased by these swell, practical books.

  1. Bunker Hill, Los Angeles: Essence of Sunshine and Noir. Available at all fine booksellers, though if ordered here, can be signed by the author and, on demand and with instruction, personalized to the recipient of your choice.
  2. Bunker Noir! The 56-page vintage-style pulp digest regarding all manner of historic horrors upon the Hill. May I suggest you purchase yours at venerable, beloved Vroman’s? Or, again, if ordered here, the signature offer applies similarly.

The Bunker Hill book is $40 postpaid; the Bunker Noir! magazine $28 postpaid. They are, as a package, $65 together. Quite the holiday savings! And—you read that right! —we’ll pick up the sales tax and the shipping! ‘Tis a Christmas miracle!

Bunker Hill, Los Angeles is a nifty gift under any tree sure to please even those of the most discerning taste

Don’t be caught without the ideal Christmas gift this season! Let your loved ones know you care for them in the deepest of ways.

God bless us, everyone!

There are few things that speak to the holidays quite like compendia of crime!

Paypal is, as is the Venmo, or post your cheque to Nathan Marsak, PO Box 412636, Los Angeles, Calif. 90041.

Fun fact: St. Nicholas is the patron saint of pawnbrokers, and there were pawnbrokers on Bunker Hill, so there you go. Oh, and the bones of St. Nicholas have, for the last 1675 years, continuously oozed an ailment-curing viscous liquid.
Blow-mold Santa is thrown into a nervous excitement by the chimneys pictured in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles

The White Log at Fifth and Flower

Bunker Noir! details the crime and vice that occurred on the Hill, as well as all manner of dark goings-on: fires, car wrecks, cryptids, train derailments…up to and including its oddball architecture, specifically the roadside vernacular to be had in the early-1930s olde-tymie log cabins built by Kenneth Bemis for his White Log Coffee Shop chain.

The were three on the Hill; two standalones and, for a time, the commercial space just north of Angels Flight—which began life as a vegetarian café, and ended as the Royal Liquor Store—had concrete logs attached to become a White Log. One standalone was at Second and Figueroa; another, built in the autumn of 1933, was at Fifth and Flower.

The image I included in Bunker Noir! of 461 South Flower was okay, and depicted an elderly White Log, in its incarnation as the California Coffee Shop, shortly before its July 1964 demolition by the Community Redevelopment Agency.

Then, today, I stumbled across this nifty image in the online archives of Duke University.

There’s a lot to love in this shot. Behold, the Architects’ Building (with its advertisement, which reminds me of the old line “I drank Canada Dry, so I left”). On its opposite corner is the Monarch Hotel.

And, as we look west on Fifth Street, crossing Flower—

—we espy some Royal Crown Cola signage, competing rather meekly with the Canada Dry ad, on the rear of the Streicher/Striker Apts, which fronts on Figueroa. And then down below:

Note the original color scheme of the chimney and rockwork, before being whitewashed by California Coffee. And the jaggedy edges of its rooftop sign! Finding a vintage shot of this White Log fills me with no end of glee. But when was this shot? Hard to determine precisely, but I’d say into 1942 or thereafter, as we have a ’41 Studebaker driving past the USO Service Women’s Guest House—

In short, White Logs are the coolest. Heck, the Cranky Preservationist even did a video about them!

Hey! I should mention that given its dark and demented content, Bunker Noir! makes a fine Hallowe’en stocking stuffer. Pick up a copy and present it to your loved one before the end of spooky month! Available from the source, of course, but I always suggest you pick up your copy at Vroman’s, because that’s so much more fun (and who also carry the Big Book, by the way).

Postscript—while we’re on the subject, there’s still not a really good image of the White Log next to Angels Flight, nothing I’ve found yet better’n the one I published in Bunker Noir!, but I did turn up this snippet:

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

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—multiple police vehicles roared up 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, those times Rechy has repeated the Cooper tale since, major points—the year it occurred, and other fundamental details—have changed significantly.

b) there was no Cooper Do-Nuts on the 500 block of Main Street. (Yes, their first location 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 wailing, 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 as we continue our quest for historical truth!