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Church shooting

November 11, 2007 |  7:00 am

Nov. 11, 1957

Los Angeles
Thomas J. Tophia and James Wallace were arguing outside a bar when Tophia drew a gun and hit Wallace over the head with it. The gun fired, sending a bullet through the open door of a church across the street at 1722 E. 102nd. The bullet pierced a partition and struck Lela (a.k.a. Lula) M. Glenn, 1542 W. 48th St., in the head, killing her instantly. Tophia, 1667 E. 114th St., was convicted of manslaughter.

This seems like a perfectly straightforward story in The Times.

But it's not.

1957_1109_baptist First of all, our friend Mr. Tophia lived a block and a half from the Nickerson Gardens housing project in Watts. The shooting occurred--well, wait, where exactly did the shooting occur?

Google maps is most unhelpful in locating 1722 E. 102nd St. In fact, the address doesn't exist today. A trip to the Daily Mirror's 1946 Thomas Bros. Guide shows the street was once there, so we'll have to assume something happened to that neighborhood. Without a field trip, it's a bit unclear as to what. But we can tell the shooting occurred a few blocks west of the Jordan Downs housing project.

The online Los Angeles city directory from 1956 tells us that the bar in question was apparently Paul's Place, 1723 E. 102nd St. At least that part of the story seems correct.

However, the directory is most unhelpful in identifying the church at 1722 E. 102nd, as is The Times.

Let's look at the street:

1716 E. 102nd is a couple of apartments.
1720 E. 102nd is Watts Auto for Hire and Taxi Co.
1720 1/2 E. 102nd is Campbell Garrett Plumbing.
1722 E. 102nd is the reported site of shooting.
1750 E. 102nd is the South L.A. Mortuary.

1957_1109_methodist Maybe you're starting to think: Taxi company... plumbing company... church... mortuary... Wait a minute. Shouldn't there be some sort of zoning regulation prohibiting a bar across the street from a church? You'd think. I don't happen to have a copy of the city of Los Angeles zoning regulations for 1957, so this is not a question I can answer at the moment.

But let's keep digging and look at the street directory for 1960.

Paul's Place has become Bob's Place.

What's this?!

The Watts Auto for Hire and Taxi Co. has been replaced by Mount Calvary Assembly Apostolic Faith. I'm starting to wonder if this was a storefront church, which might explain my question about zoning. 

The 1700 block appears in the 1963 city directory, but the 1964 and 1965 city directories show a gap between the 1500 and 2000 blocks of East 102nd Street. I know what you're thinking. But the Watts riots were in August 1965 and the city directory dates from April 1964.

The unidentified reporter who turned out this three-paragraph brief seems to have been an incurious sort--and it makes a grimly amusing story for a woman in church to be an unintended victim of a bar fight. The name of the church must have seemed irrelevant.

Unfortunately, getting more answers would involve a trip to the library to check the other papers (especially the California Eagle and the Los Angeles Sentinel) and that's beyond the call for this small item (as I've said before, there are so many stories and only one Larry Harnisch).

But sometimes, you just have to wonder. At least I do.

According to California death records, Thomas J. Tophia died Jan. 19, 1981, at the age of 63.

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