Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
Saturday's New York Times features an article by Craig R. Whitney about the enormous pipe organ at Macy's in Philadelphia, a massive instrument from the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair that was built in Los Angeles.
And indeed, the Los Angeles Times wrote about the achievement of the Los Angeles Art Organ Co. of East 7th Street, noting that once it was installed it would be the world's largest pipe organ.
"It is a church itself in size," The Times said, "as large as a four-story dwelling house, 30 feet wide and 63 feet long. Climbing about in it, one is almost lost in the maze of stairways, ladders, pipes and bellows."
Some of the pipes were 50 feet long and weighed 1,500 pounds each, The Times said.
In a performance by Arthur Scott-Brook of Stanford, the building was "shaken to the foundations by the notes of this organ." In a preview for ministers and reporters, "a goodly representation was present during the afternoon and stood spellbound while the heavy chords vibrated through the immense room, causing little thrills to creep up and down the spines of the listeners."
In addition to a keyboard console, the organ was equipped with an automatic player. "The rolls of paper are first stenciled and are then cut by hand," The Times said. "One piece of music for this organ makes a roll about two feet in diameter."
Unfortunately, the principal stockholder, Eben Smith, died in 1906 and the massive organ and several other instruments built by the Los Angeles Art Organ Co. were subject to bitter legal actions. The Times reported in 1907 that title to three expensive organs moldering in a Los Angeles warehouse had passed to the Wirsching Organ Co. of Salem, Ore., noting that a patent infringement lawsuit had prevented delivery of the instruments to purchasers.
Bonus fact: Eben Smith was a remarkable character who made a fortune in mining, then invested heavily in wireless telegraphy, seeing it as the dawn of a new era in communications.
June 9, 1957
James R. Shepard decided it was better to kill himself than be prosecuted for a crime so shameful that it could not be published in The Times. A few hours after the 32-year-old insurance investigator was arrested in a bar at 850 N. La Brea Ave. in Hollywood, he shot himself in the head.
Shepard was found on the floor of his apartment at 238 N. Cordova St.
in Burbank by Charles W. Barrickman, 8333 Spingford Drive, Sun Valley.
He had left a note insisting that he was in the bar as part of an
insurance investigation but couldn't prove it. "I do not have the name
or money that Mr. Mickey Cohen had, so I cannot fight the Los Angeles
Police Department," he wrote.
What was Shepard's offense? "A morals charge," The Times said. He was free on $500 bail pending a hearing in Municipal Court.
Given The Times' silence on the details of the alleged crime and Shepard's suicide over being arrested, it's easy to infer that he was gay. Unfortunately, it's impossible to locate the name of the bar at that address or find any further information on him or his friend Barrickman.
All we know is that whatever happened, his death was a tragedy. Rest in peace, James R. Shepard.
But he is a man of strong constitution. So far, he hasn't permitted his associations to drag him down the neck of a bottle.
And he has, through it all, maintained a level sense of humor. And justice.
By trade, Spencer is a public defender.
Not long ago, he spent a year in pursuit of his work at Lincoln Heights, where he was entrusted with the fate of as many as 450 drunks a day.
At present, he's working in Division 32, Van Nuys, where, he reports proudly, his wobble-kneed clientele has slimmed down to some 30 to 50 a week.
"It's an outstanding community," he admits, almost pompously.
It is general knowledge around the courts there that Spencer handles his now-limited clientele with dedication.
Even though most of his cases plead guilty, he works hard to earn a sympathetic ear from the judge.
As example, I cite his brilliant recent plea for a man whom he had the honor of defending more times than he can recollect.
Police records showed the man with some 88 drunk arrests and revealed that he had completed a 90-day sentence only hours before he was back in court with Spencer at his side again.
"In view of this man's past record," Spencer spoke out ably, "I think he deserves a suspended sentence."
And the stunned judge, I'm told, concurred.
Then, a short time later, there came another frequent repeater.
Except, he didn't exactly come.
He was too far under the weather to make it from the jail to the courtroom.
So, after conferring with his client in jail, Spencer stood alone against the court.
"My client wishes to enter a plea of guilty," he spoke in a brave voice, "but he is too ill to make an appearance.
"My client," Spencer's voice was now shaky with emotion, "is a victim of toxic poisoning."
The understanding judge didn't quite understand.
"Toxic poisoning?" he questioned.
"Spencer nodded. "A preliminary medical investigation shows that he has an overabundance of alcohol in his blood."
More sympathetic than ever, the judge gave the ailing man 10 days to recover.
But last week there came a case, and oratory by Spencer, which could easily stand for years as the high point of his legal career.
The accused was a small, thin man of 50 hard winters. Hanging from his shoulders was a piece of cloth which might once have been recognizable as a shirt. His trousers bagged and the thin legs covered by them knocked against each other uncertainly.
His hair was wispy and uncombed and a three-day stubble grew at random around his face.
"It was quite possible," Spencer related later, "that a strict judge might have observed that my client wasn't wearing a necktie.
"And permitted it to influence the harshness of his decision."
But the judge was Martin Katz, a magistrate noted for tempering justice with mercy.
And immediately he took a personal interest in the man's plight.
"What," he asked, "is your occupation, sir?"
The man grabbed unsteadily for the railing. His stoplight eyes blinked open and shut.
Bewildered, he looked around the court and asked:
"Did that man up there say something to me?"
The judge started to speak again, but Public Defender Spencer broke in:
"I'm sorry, your honor, but my client is hard of hearing."
Then, pushing his mouth against the client's ear, he shouted:
"What is your occupation?"
Beaming, the client shouted back:
"I pass bills sometimes."
Without hesitation, Spencer turned again to Judge Katz.
"My client," he said solemnly, "is a legislator."
Someday a sociologist at USC (you know who you are) will make a study of the fad of bombing Los Angeles barbershops, which began about 1952 and ended about 1971 with the advent of long hair.
The bombings occurred across Los Angeles in an apparent attempt to force barbers to adopt union prices. W.H. Siebert, whose Compton barbershop was destroyed in 1954 by a bombing, said:
"At one time three guys who said they were from the union visited me and told me, 'You'll either get up to our prices or else.' On another occasion I was picketed for eight weeks. Then they used to park 20 cars bumper to bumper in front of my place and that was stopped when the area was rezoned to one-hour parking." Siebert charged 95 cents ($6.92 USD 2006) for a haircut instead of the union price of $1.50.
Union officials said they picketed Seibert's shop in 1953, but denied any knowledge of a bombing. "We do not countenance that sort of action in any form," the union's Frank LeCain said.
Richard A. Mills, whose Sherman Oaks shop was bombed in 1954, said he originally tried to charge union scale, but that he couldn't get customers so he cut his price to $1. "They said I'd better get back up to the $1.50 price," Mills said of the union. "They kept reminding me of what happened to 'that fellow up the street,' " apparently referring to a shop at 4824 Van Nuys Blvd., that was bombed in 1952.
In the June 1957 bombing, barbers Gene Franks and his father, Artie, were charging $1.25, a quarter less than the union price.
After an 11-year gap, the attacks resumed, with an unidentified bomber setting his arm on fire as gasoline spilled from the Molotov cocktail he threw into a barbershop at 10855 Magnolia Blvd., in North Hollywood.
The last documented bombing occurred in Azusa at an address published in The Times as 323 N. Seninoke Ave., which does not exist.
In the following years, the advent of long hair put many barbershops out of business and the bombings ceased.
June 7, 1957
Max Cossak, an abstract artist, hates the modern art on display at the Los Angeles County Museum. He hates the artworks so much that he is picketing a juried show because he believes "the abstract paintings chosen to be shown are trash and giving abstract art a black eye," the Mirror says.
Assistant Chief Museum Curator James Elliott defended the panel that chose the paintings by saying: "The jury was asked to select solely on the basis of quality without regard to stylistic tendencies and as representative as possible of the best work recently produced. In this regard, I believe they have done a very good job."
Cossak, of 1321 N. Harvard Blvd., disagreed vehemently, calling the jury "partisan, blind and stupid." He noted that he submitted six paintings for exhibition using his own name and three pseudonyms and none of them were picked.
He also wrote a letter to The Times stating his complaints about the show:
"There are 166 pictures in all, 98 of them abstract. Out of the 98, 52 were so bad that I wonder if the jury was blind.
"Six paintings actually had the paint run on the canvas. Some were painted with a house brush. Others were infantile, sloppy and tasteless. It is a disgrace to hang such work in our top museum which is supposed to show the best work of L.A. artists.
"It seems to me that the pictures were picked more for the name of the painter than purely on their own merits. Proof of that is the test I made. I submitted six paintings under three false names and not even one was accepted. Among them was one that won a prize at a former exhibit. So I have lost faith in the methods and fairness of the jury.
"Next year I suggest that the names of the artists be taped over so that the jury will be forced to choose each work on its own merits. The silence of our art critics in Los Angeles amazes me; don't they have enough courage to criticize bad art?"
Cossak died Feb. 21, 1974. He was 64.
Note the Michio Takayama artwork in the background of the top picture.
Richard Schave, one of my friends from the 1947project, writes that Councilman Herb Wesson has become involved in the situation regarding the John Fante building at 826 S. Berendo, and is seeking a historical marker for the structure. Stay tuned....
And as a treat, here's a John Fante story that appeared in The Times in 1940. Enjoy!
June 6, 1957
Just in time for Father's Day, 16-year-old Barbara Davis Chilton was reunited with her dad, whom she had never seen, thanks to a Paul Coates column.
"I remember her saying, 'This is my daddy. I just know it is.' And then she fell into my arms," Lester said. "I guess we were both crying."
Lester said that he and Barbara's mother separated shortly before his daughter was born. "I did get to see her at the hospital in Inglewood when she was a few days old, but on later attempts I was told that I wasn't wanted. And, eventually, I lost complete track of her."
Barbara was bounced from one relative to another and finally placed with foster parents. Whenever she asked about her father, she was told that he had moved out of state. Barbara finally ran away from a foster home in Lancaster to marry a mechanic named Jack Chilton, 21.
The break came when Lester's mother read Coates' column and contacted her son, who lived in Yucaipa. At the same time, Barbara's sister-in-law Cloa Chilton also contacted Lester's mother.
Upon being introduced to his new son-in-law, Lester said: "A wonderful boy and a real fine addition to our family."
According to California death records, Lester E. Davis died Feb. 5, 1977, at the age of 65. As for the newlyweds? There's no further information. We can only hope for the best. Barbara would be 66 now and her husband would be 71.
June 6, 1957
Former vice squad Detective Sgt. Philip Barnes was convicted of molesting a 13-year-old girl, according to The Times.
Barnes, of 3811 W. Avenue 41, presented an unusual challenge to prosecutors. Because he waived his preliminary hearing in Municipal Court and said he planned to plead guilty, there was no transcript of the girl's testimony. When Barnes changed his mind and pleaded not guilty, the girl had vanished and there was not enough evidence to go to court.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Joseph T. Powers located the girl after a nationwide search and personally brought her back to Los Angeles from the East Coast, but she refused to testify until a recording of Barnes' confession was played in court.
Barnes was convicted, but The Times failed to report the sentence imposed by Judge LeRoy Dawson.
Bonus fact: Dawson, who lost his left foot after being wounded in World War I, collapsed and died in 1964 after 33 years in the Municipal and Superior Courts.