Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
I talked yesterday with two men.
One was fresh out of San Quentin, pardoned after nine months for a crime he didn't commit.
The second was a witness to the crime. His positive identification of the suspect helped in obtaining a conviction.
The charge--robbery and assault with intent to commit murder. For it, the suspect was given the maximum sentence--five years to life.
The cleared man's name is Edward Avila.
He told me yesterday that he never lost faith that someday he would be found innocent.
"Of course, I had that feeling before I was convicted," he said. "After all, if you haven't committed a crime, you just don't expect to take the rap for it.
"The whole thing was kind of like a"--he hesitated before adding the final word--"joke."
At his trial, Avila had witnesses to prove that he couldn't have been in the area where the crime was committed at the time it happened.
Unfortunately, they were members of his family.
It dropped a bomb into Avila's defense, but it's the way our courts have to work sometimes.
If the word of suspects' mothers and sisters and kin are believed in every criminal case, an awful lot of guilty men would be walking our streets today.
The second man I talked to yesterday was only one of [illegible] prosecution witnesses. But his identification of Avila as the sought gunman played a major role in conviction.
His name isn't important, but some of his statements are.
I asked him how positive he had been when he first identified Avila.
"I told them, 'It's either that man or he's got a twin brother.' "
"Did you say that in court?" I asked.
"No," he answered. "In court you have to be positive."
After a pause, he answered.
"Yes, I was."
The witness, possibly, had good reason to feel he was positive. Delbert Wilson, who later confessed the crime, is within an inch and a few pounds of Avila. Both have dark, curly hair, green eyes and slightly pocked complexions. Their facial features are not dissimilar. Each has a tiny, dark dot on his right cheek.
I asked the witness if he planned to talk to Avila.
"If I see him, I'll talk to him," he said.
"You don't plan to go see him, though?"
He paused. Then he answered, "No."
And after another moment, "I don't think I should. After all, it was an honest mistake."
"Is it true that you correctly identified the real gunman last week?"
The witness sighed.
"Yes," he said. "I picked him out of a police lineup. Avila was in it too."
"But this time you're really positive?"
"Yes. The eyes. Something about the eyes."
"Did you find it tough to admit that you'd made a mistake?"
He hesitated. Then he shrugged.
"Both times," he said, "I tried to do what I thought was right."
Avila's conviction was a freak mishap of justice.
His pardon, however, wasn't.
His freedom resulted from some clever detective work by Sheriff's Officers F.D. Villines and A.W. Bright. They're men, obviously, who know that their jobs of law enforcement don't end necessarily with court convictions.
Still, it took them a couple of lucky breaks and several months to free the imprisoned man.
Maybe I shouldn't ask this, but--
What if the victim of the shooting had died?
And what if Avila had been sentenced to death and executed before Villines and Bright had a chance to probe deep enough to uncover any substantial new leads?
Neither are questions I'd like to ask Edward Avila's wife or his two children.
Last April, work started on Reiner's showplace home at 2138 Micheltorena St. Located atop a high hill in the Silver Lake district, the home will encompass six lots, have a magnificent view, include a tennis court, swimming pool and a guest house and cost more than $100,000 ($716,528.38 USD 2006).
It will contain many architectural and engineering innovations. Reiner himself is an engineer and product designer.
The architect is John Lautner, highly regarded in his profession, and among the engineers associated in the job is T.Y. Lin, professor of civil engineering at Berkeley.
In due course, Reiner applied for a permit to build a pre-stressed concrete block wall for the guest house which would save him $5,000 in construction costs. It was a unique design but Lin, who created it, said its safety factor was greater than building code requirements.
The Building and Safety Commission, however, turned down the permit on the grounds that the type of construction was not covered in the code.
[Reiner's home, named Silvertop, in a 1963 photo. Note the "Unsafe at Any Speed" Corvair.]
Reiner asked for a rehearing. The Building Department replied that new evidence was required for a rehearing. Reiner submitted what he considered new evidence. The department ruled it wasn't new evidence.
Reiner could have solved the difficulty by accepting several alternative design methods but he decided to fight. He contends the department has a negative attitude toward unconventional design, that it is arbitrary in its decisions and unable to evaluate any departure from standard design objectively. The commission, of course, insists it must abide by code regulations.
Last month, he took his case to Superior Court, which, after expert testimony, ordered the commission to give him a full hearing and judge the proposed methods and materials on their merits and grant a permit if they were adequate. The court also ordered the commission to pay the court costs.
At the rehearing, the commission reaffirmed its previous decision. It also tried unsuccessfully to evade the court costs.
Reiner estimates he has spent around $5,000 for attorneys and other fees in his fight but he intends to continue it, even if it means going to court again. He admits he is a stubborn man. Meanwhile, his guest house remains unbuilt.
Naturally, he has acquired considerable nuisance value around City Hall in his one-man crusade. It's safe to state the Building and Safety people wish they'd never heard of him.
ONLY IN L.A.--A South Bel-Air matron phoned a downtown employment agency and said she wanted to hire someone who knew French and Chinese cookery.
"Yes," said the matron, with the feeling that she was being crowded by chaos, "but what kind of cooking can you do?"
"Best Irish cooking you ever had, madam," he replied.
He didn't get the job.
THE OTHER DAY a progress-minded representative of a firm which makes aluminum diving boards asked permission to demonstrate the board, using a model in a bathing suit. He was told there is no pool at the municipal auditorium where the commercial exhibits will be held.
"Well, could she just bounce up and down on a board?" he persisted.
"No!" was the horrified rejoinder.
AT RANDOM--Last semester, as he stopped his No. 4 bus at 3rd and Loma Drive to let the Belmont High students off, the driver would say, "Now get in there and work hard, kids, so you won't have to drive a bus when you grow up." This semester he's saying, "All off for San Quentin."...Word coinage note: Alfred Hitchcock's drama on KNXT Sunday was described in program notes as a "chilling macabrestry." Sounds awful, whatever it is... Barbara Snader is afraid that with underground nuclear explosions we'll have to worry about fall-in as well as fallout.
Sept. 26, 1957
Alas, the old Redwood at 234 W. 1st St. was demolished before my arrival at The Times, although it lives on in newsroom lore. One incident I'd never heard about was the arrest of Mickey Cohen at 2:30 p.m. as he was having breakfast -- that will give you an idea of what the Redwood was like.
Cohen, accompanied by bail bondsman Abe Phillips, was having his ham and eggs when an officer arrested him on charges of failing to register in Beverly Hills as an ex-convict.
Cohen was, as always, the model of decorum and diplomacy while in custody. Actually, "the fiery-tempered little ex-mobster [was] screaming protests and hurling epithets at arresting officers and Chief Clinton H. Anderson to such an extent that the chief angrily ordered him re-booked on charges of disturbing the peace and disorderly conduct," The Times said.
After being arrested at the Redwood, Cohen was booked at the Beverly Hills jail and bailed out, then became so profane and disruptive that Anderson arrested him again. (Among other things, Cohen yelled at Anderson: "I'll have you out of this town in 24 hours!") This time, Phillips didn't have the money to bail Cohen out of jail, so they borrowed money from a Beverly Hills clothier.
Earlier that day, Cohen had filed a reply to a $1.5-million defamation suit brought by Police Chief William H. Parker and Capt. James E. Hamilton over comments on "The Mike Wallace Interview." Cohen maintained that his comments were true and that his largely unprintable remarks were "fair comment and criticism of public officials."
He also noted that his real name was Michael, not "Mickey," as used in the police officials' lawsuit.
The old Redwood, which was featured in the Billy Wilder version of "The Front Page," lives on at 316 W. 2nd St. I'm told by people who should know that the layout is much the same as the old watering hole. In its latest reincarnation, it has a pirate theme.
Here's an ad from the Redwood's grand reopening in 1960:
Former Mirror reporter Cliff Dektar recalls:
The "burying" of the incinerator was interesting....It did wreck those who made and sold backyard incinerators. On Western, east side, just south of Santa Monica Blvd., was Safety Incinerator... which had a building which looked liked their product which had a patented screen on top.
Sept. 24, 1957
For many years they've had to be satisfied with getting "skunked" completely or with a few frustrating strikes or with hooking a few confused mackerel, tired bass, surprised flounder, goggle-eyed perch or bored tomcod.
Red Rowe, an ardent ocean fisherman, best expressed the situation the other day in describing a foray about a mile off Oceanside. Suddenly, all around the boat the water was rippling with a variety of eager, hungry fish.
"I remember during the lean years when we used to catch a few mackerel," he said. "I'd yearn for the hard, solid yank of a barracuda. Well, there I was, trying to get my bait through the barracuda without them grabbing it so I could get down to the yellowtail.
Red's more conspicuous talent, of course, is running the morning TV show, "Panoramic Pacific," at which followers consider him more casual than Como. Red, first name Ralph, will start his fifth year with the program Nov. 16--some sort of record.
Naturally, some unscheduled incidents have taken place during this interlude. There was the time the SS Monterey was about to set out on an inaugural voyage on a new run from Los Angeles Harbor. The ubiquitous Jayne Mansfield was present and during the proceedings Roy Maypole approached her with a microphone and announced:
"And here's Mamie Van Doren!"
Red elbowed him and whispered. "That's Jayne Mansfield."
"Aw, put them all in a sack and they all look alike," said Roy. He is no longer with the show.
Not long ago Red received undeserved credit from up north. During the station breaks each half-hour, distant outlets usually throw in local commercials and the San Francisco station had a pitch which concluded, "And more women wear this girdle than any other." At this moment the show cut back to L.A. where Red had just warmly introduced an accordion player who responded, "And it's all thanks to my good friend Red Rowe."
Red, by the way, has a solid musical background. He played guitar and trumpet with Tommy Dorsey and Johnny Long.
He broke into the kilocycle stuff with KRNT, Des Moines, and was a disc jockey for many years at KFWB.
As for the longevity of his program, Red says, "I guess the idea is to try to keep people from getting sick of you." His formula is treating viewers as over-the-fence neighbors.
Red lives in Encino and it's 13 miles to the studio. One thing he's certain of--no matter how hard you try, you never get used to getting up at 4 a.m.
A ROOKIE officer in an elevator bringing a load of passengers down from the eighth-floor cafeteria in the Police Building yesterday did a devastating job of creating consternation.
He said to another rookie, "Gee, I'm sorry you have the Asian flu. Shouldn't you be in bed instead of running around like this?"
He was kidding, of course, but apparently the other passengers, jammed shoulder to shoulder, didn't think so. By the time the elevator got to the fifth floor only the two rookies remained.
"AS LONG AS we seem to be acquiring the Dodgers, or vice versa," writes Monty Carlson, "I'd like to do my bit to add a touch of appropriate atmosphere. Everyone knows a ballgame is no good without Coney Island red hots.
"Now I wonder if the city fathers would please donate me some land for a hot dog stand somewhere near the ballpark.
"Nothing pretentious, just a couple of acres where I can hawk hot dogs out of a feeling of civic pride."
ONLY IN L.A.--One day last week, Jim Hansen asked one of the girls at the office if she'd seen the aurora borealis the previous night.
"Nope," she replied, "I stayed on Channel 9 all evening."
AT RANDOM--A hot rod garage on North Figueroa Street just south of Sunset has a sign. "Custom Lowering, Dual It Yourself Kit." ... On a recent trip up north Trudy Gustafson was fascinated by a sign in Montana stating, "Get over in right lane." And another in Washington, "Free right turn."... Observes Frank Goldberg: "There's no sound so ominous as that of a motorcycle officer revving his motor as you shoot through a yellow light."
Sept. 25, 1957
John and Beatrice Stone had been warned that their home at 16433 Chase St. would be condemned by 1959 for expansion of Van Nuys Airport. Although most of the houses had already been cleared away, the Stones' home was destroyed in the crash of a T-33 jet that killed two IBM typewriter salesmen flying with the Air National Guard.
While John was away at work, daughter Jan, 19, was visiting San Francisco and son Clint, 17, was attending classes at Valley Junior College, Beatrice was wearing a bathing suit and talking on the phone when the plane sheared off a utility pole, hit some trees and crashed through the roof. Beatrice, 42, suffered a cut knee but was otherwise unhurt.
The crash killed Capt. Joseph C. Bryant, 28, 941-E W. Huntington, Arcadia, and Lt. Edison B. Gaston, 32, 2423 Patricia Ave.
In 1958, the Stones received $31,457 ($217,565.96 USD 2006) from the state Board of Control for the destruction of their home.
Sept. 25, 1957
Henry Aaron hits the first grand slam of his major league career (his 44th home run of the season) on his way to being selected as the National League's Most Valuable Player on Nov. 14, 1957. (Aaron received 239 points in voting by the Baseball Writers Assn. of America; Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals was second with 230 points; and Red Schoendienst of the Milwaukee Braves received 221 points, The Times said).
Everybody had so much fun guessing about my last mystery photo (slain mobster Tony Brancato) that I dug through The Times archives and found something else intriguing.
OK, what are these men doing? And why?
Photograph by Edward Gamer Los Angeles Times
We have a winner:
It looks like they are getting ready to ceremonially bury an incinerator. Perhaps this is around the time private burning of garbage was outlawed.
These gentlemen are from the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce and are about to bury the last backyard incinerator in Los Angeles, which became illegal Oct. 1, 1957.
From left, S. Price Scott Jr., A. Edsel Curry, Karl R. Davis Jr. Victor Etienne, Roy Irvin, Delbert Gambill, Lynn H. Montjoy (blush)
Mongjoy Jr. and John Glass.
Bonus fact: I was doing blog research in The Times library over the Labor Day weekend and Rumble Seat columnist Dan Neil came by trying to find out how many Americans were named "Edsel." You can add A. Edsel Curry to the list.
Here are some more fun pictures of backyard incinerators I found in The Times archives:
Fire Capt. Harry E. Hjorth inspects a backyard incinerator, Oct. 4, 1948.
The original caption from July 31, 1955:
Villain or scapegoat? This lowly backyard incinerator must go, say supervisors. Smog experts call it poisonous; others say it's being used as a scapegoat.
Photograph by Bill Watson Los Angeles Times
What the well-dressed incinerator opponents were wearing: March 3, 1957. Mrs. George Hope, left, president of Ebell Juniors; Dr. Ben Frees, head of supporters on Proposition A, which called for the city to collect rubbish in exchange for banning incinerators; and Mrs. Ralph Lewis, PTA leader.
Sept. 24, 1957
Anthony and Jane Miller had argued and fought in their four years of
marriage, but never like this. So when he couldn't rouse her that
morning, he went next door and asked for help. The
neighbor woman came over, looked at Jane and called the police.
The Fire Department was unable to revive Jane, 46. Homicide detectives searching the home noticed a book on her nightstand: "Darling, It's Death."
Anthony, a 41-year-old unemployed mechanic, sobbed out his story at the police station. On the Sunday night before his stepson Gilbert Crane, 12, was due back from summer camp, he and Jane decided to get some Chinese food for dinner. She took the car while he waited at their home, 190 Freeman Ave.
Hours passed and Jane never returned, so Anthony went out on a bicycle to look for her. He discovered the family car parked near a bar about a mile and a half from home, but he couldn't find Jane. Maybe as he drove home in the car, he started thinking about how she had been drinking and taken off with some man.
He got home about 2:30 a.m. and she was waiting in the living room.
"She wouldn't tell me where she was or who she was with," he said. "She wouldn't tell me the truth. She lied."
Jane and Anthony fought for the next 90 minutes, then Jane went around the corner to ask Ruth McDonald, 518 E. 126th St., to call police. Jane had gone to the police station any number of times because Anthony had beaten her, but she always refused to sign a complaint so nothing ever happened. Jane and Anthony had reconciled two months earlier after a brief separation.
McDonald said, "it was only another of their drunken arguments" so she told Jane to go home and didn't bother to call the police.
After another hour of fighting, Anthony took off his belt and strangled Jane.
He said: "She went limp. I put her in bed with me and tried to warm her up. She didn't come around by 7 o'clock so I called the police."
The Times never followed up on this story, so we don't know whether Anthony was ever charged in the killing. In addition to the boy who was away at camp, Jane had an older son from a previous marriage, Clark Crane, 16, who was living with friends in Tacna, Ariz. When he told officers that Gilbert was due back from camp that day, Anthony said: "A fine homecoming that'll be."