The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: June 17, 2007 - June 23, 2007

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1957_0623_weidner June 23, 1957

John, 42, runs a health food store on North Lake Street in Pasadena and lives at 861 Elizabeth St., The Times says in a feature story. Born in Holland, he is like many Europeans who came to America after World War II.  "I love it here," he says. "You have a spirit of freedom and liberty which is lost in Europe." 

But the man behind the counter at the health food store is different from most Americans in several ways: He's a Seventh-day Adventist. He's a member of the Order of the British Empire. He holds the French Croix de Guerre, the U.S. Medal of Freedom and the Dutch Order of Orange-Nassau.

His name is John Henry Weidner and for his heroism in saving more than 1,000 people from the Nazis, he will eventually be honored by Israel as one of the Righteous Among Nations. John's life makes for quite a story. His father, a Dutch Reformed minister, and sister died in concentration camps and John was tortured by the Gestapo, escaping from the Nazis five times.

But what interests us about him now is something other than his actions during the war.

Let's jump ahead 10 years. One of his regular customers, a woman named Mary, will ask John to hire her son as a stocker and delivery boy. He's a troubled young man and like John, a refugee--an Arab Christian from Jerusalem who is having a hard time fitting into American society. He's had a few odd jobs, but nothing has worked out. Since he's a small man, he even tried being a jockey at Santa Anita, but ended up filing a disability claim because he suffered a head injury when he was thrown by a horse.

Mary, a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, had taken her son to St. Nicholas, the Syrian Orthodox Cathedral, in Los Angeles; First Nazarene of Pasadena; and finally First Baptist Church of Pasadena, where she enrolled her son in Sunday school and a group for teenagers. The Baptists sponsored Mary's older sons for entry into the U.S. But the young man didn't like the Pasadena Baptist church, saying that the other teenagers were too frivolous in a place intended for reading the Bible and praying.

John will hire the young man and discover that he is bright, pleasant and witty, eager to please and so honest that John will trust him to handle some of the store's banking. The only problem is that the young man is extremely sensitive to anything that seems like criticism.

"He had a lot of pride, a lot of arrogance," John's wife, Naomi, will say. "We were always careful how we gave him an order. If you gave him an order he didn't like he became very resentful."

Still, John will reach out to the young man whenever he has a spare moment at the store. But the young man will be a test. "I would like to be like you but I cannot," he will tell John. "There is no God. You see in Israel what happens to the Arab. There is no God. How can you have a God?"

The young man and John will also argue over the Six-Day War, comparing Israel's victory to the actions of the Nazis. "You think Jews can't be cruel too?" he will ask John.

Eventually, there will be a dispute. John will insist that there was a misunderstanding and try to make amends, but the young man will be adamant and quit his job.

Shortly after that, on a night in June that's the first anniversary of the Six-Day War, the young man will go to the Ambassador Hotel, where Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy is celebrating his victory in California primary.

Sirhan Sirhan, who once earned $2 an hour as a stock boy at John Weidner's Pasadena health food store, will be waiting in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel's kitchen--with a .22-caliber, eight-shot Iver Johnson revolver.


"I think he was a man of revolt," John will say of Sirhan. "He was a kind of anarchist against society, against law and order, against those who possess. Against those who have more than he has and are more successful in life."

"In America, freedom does not exist,"  Sirhan told John.  "I agree with the violence." 

John H. Wiedner died in 1994. He once said: "During my father's lifetime he taught me, my family, his parishioners and the community that the most important quality in a human being was to love, respect and treat our fellow man as we wished to be loved, respected and treated.   

"I was a witness to the barbaric treatment of the Jews by the Nazis. I personally observed the crushing of the skull of a Jewish infant who was torn out of the arms of its mother. I was determined to heed the teachings and example of my father and I did everything that I could to save as many lives as possible."

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Saturday morning cartoons



It's Engineer Bill on the Cartoon Express! (But who is Skipper Frank? That's a new one on me).

Here's a couple of Bob Clampett cartoons:

"Porky in Wackyland," 1938. Wiki entry here.

"Russian Rhapsody," 1944. Wiki entry here.

Disney's "Der Fuehrer's Face," 1943.  Wiki entry here.

And Chuck Jones' "What's Opera Doc," 1957. Wiki entry here.

Matt Weinstock

Matt_weinstockd June 22, 1957

By now, presumably, people who voted for the $40,000,000 bond issue to extend the city's park and recreation system and expand the zoo know that $2,000,000 of the money will go for roads into Chavez Ravine, where someday the Brooklyn Dodgers may have a ballpark.

Apparently many of them didn't know it on election day.

In fact, they were unaware of this allocation until the matter came before the City Council this week and was steam-rollered through there too.

Suddenly, indignation has taken hold.

A woman writes:

"I can't figure the voters. Maybe they live in boxcars and pay no taxes. Maybe their kids can pick up the tab. My husband and I sweat blood to get our house paid for. But, oh boy, we've got to have more taxes, no matter how unjustified, just so the politicians can take a bow on bringing major league baseball to Los Angeles. I feel like a dancing bear with a ring through my nose."

Another letter:

"That was a real sneaky job, letting the taxpayers foot part of the bill to bring the Brooklyn Dodgers, a private, moneymaking enterprise, to Los Angeles."


"No one has asked my opinion about the baseball situation in L.A. But here it is: Dodgers go home!"

ONE OF THE big problems of the day is what's going to happen to backyard incinerators when they're outlawed.

The other day, G.B., a Hollywood apartment dweller, put the question to the landlady:

"I'm going to leave it exactly as it is," she said firmly. "About the time I'd get it torn down the Supreme Court will declare the law unconstitutional. I figure the people who make incinerators aren't going to give up without a fight. They'll take their case to the highest court in the land."


June 22, 2007
Los Angeles

I got on the Red Line at the 7th and Figueroa station last night to find two teenage boys with skateboards at one end of the car. They called out an odd warning for all of us to keep our feet out of the aisle. "This is a dangerous car," they warned. We soon found out the reason. One of the boys was sitting astride his skateboard and as we left the station, the forward motion sent him shooting down the length of the car.

He did the same thing when the car came to a stop, shooting back to the front. This continued at each stop until the boy hit someone, thus ending the game until they got to Union Station.

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Melchior robbers caught


June 22, 1957
Los Angeles

Wayne Burke, Richard McFall and Alfred J. Pope fled into the night in what they thought was a clean getaway.


McFall said: "Burke and I got in my car and J. [Pope] took furs and jewelry and guns and hats, masks and gloves and so forth and we were to meet at Johnny Heath's apartment or bungalow or motel, whatever it was.

"So we drove--Burke and I drove together and we got there 10 or 15 minutes prior to the time that J. arrived. And I had a few items in my pocket of jewelry. Pill cases. Like a compact, something like that, and I don't believe Burke had any kind of jewelry. He had the money. So we divided the money up there. He and I divided the money and gave J. some of it. $30 or $40, something like that. Burke and I wound up with around $100 apiece.

"We discussed who was going to try and fence the stuff, or who was going to fence it and everything, and everything that had diamonds in it, plus the  one emerald ring we put it out there, and I was--I wanted to divide the stuff; let it go. Burke to either take and fence it all or I will. I didn't have any place to fence it and he said he did, so he took every piece that was worth anything. All the diamonds and the emerald.

"Originally [Burke] wanted to sit on it, and wait for, I don't know, a month or few weeks, or something until it cooled off. He thought he would get a better price. Everybody was pressed for money, so he made an agreement. He would go ahead and contact this fence the next day or same night or something to see what he could do to get rid of most of the stuff."

McFall said: "Later on I gave Spivak five or 10 bucks or something. That was all he wound up with." Spivak also apparently got a box of cigars.

But on June 19, 1957, the victims identified Burke's photograph. He was arrested the next day at 7023 1/2 La Tijera and identified by the victims.

"At first he denied any knowledge of the robbery whatsoever," Police Chief William H. Parker wrote, "but there were indications that he was involved. He did indicate that if possible he would like to cooperate, mainly to protect his wife and young baby, which was approximately one week old at the time.

"Mr. Manley Bowler, assistant district attorney, county of Los Angeles, was contacted and agreed that if Burke would cooperate fully in the recovery of property and testify as a witness for the prosecution, in return he would be granted immunity for his participation in the robbery."

At 5 a.m. on June 19, there was a knock at Pope's door. It was Burke--and a police officer. Burke asked Pope for the furs, which Pope had hidden underneath a sofa. Pope was arrested and Burke began helping officers recover the stolen items, which were spread over Los Angeles.

1957_0619_jokischLater that day, McFall stopped at a liquor store to buy some cigarettes and heard a radio broadcast saying that two men had been arrested in the Melchior holdup. The LAPD's Inspector Ed Walker mentioned McFall by name as being wanted in the robbery.

Abandoning his Chrysler in the parking lot of the Tyler Hotel, McFall had a friend take him to San Fernando, caught a bus to Bakersfield, then another bus to San Francisco and checked in at the Mentone Hotel.

With his cash running out, McFall began trading some of the jewelry for money. He drifted from San Francisco to Reno, to Ogden, Utah, and eventually ended up in Missoula, Mont.

Spivak, meanwhile, panicked when he saw his picture with the news stories about the Melchior robbery.

1957_0622_spivak_mcfall Spivak said: "I checked out of the hotel. I rushed out. I figured it was only a matter of time. Now that he [McFall] was mentioned and they knew McFall was in the hotel and they knew McFall had brought me over to the hotel. I said: 'The cops will be here any minute to grab me,' so I just ran and besides I had these checks out for the television sets and stuff and I said 'Gee, I got to get out of here quick.'"

Spivak and Howard "Blackie" Nichols spent a night in a hotel on Flower Street, then moved to the El Rey Hotel. Unable to sleep, Spivak fled, abandoning Nichols at the hotel.

Spivak said: "I was going up to the room and I saw a door open and a head stick out and I thought they were watching for me, that somebody had noticed my picture in the paper because my picture had been there in the paper, but this time--and I figured somebody might have recognized me, so instead of going to my room, I took the first staircase downstairs and checked out. I didn't even check out, didn't stop at the desk or anything. I just left."

He spent a night in a hotel on Alvarado, then two nights in Santa Monica. Finally, Spivak bought a bus ticket to Oakland and got a room at the Harrison Hotel. He bought a Hudson automobile in Oakland and two nights later, he checked into the Lyric Hotel in San Francisco. He stayed a week at the Governor hotel, then spent a night in Reno. The Hudson broke down on the way back from Reno, so he sold it for scrap and bought a bus ticket to San Francisco, where he was arrested Aug. 3, 1957.

Meanwhile, McFall met another addict, Frank Arriola, in San Francisco. Arriola introduced McFall to Shirley Zusa, whose boyfriend, one of McFall's drug sources, was in prison.  McFall and Zusa went to Reno and then Melchior_jewelscame back to the Bay Area. McFall stayed in Oakland because police had been to his room in San Francisco looking for him. Zusa took off for a rehab clinic in Los Angeles, leaving her car with McFall.

McFall went to Reno, where he spent a week in bed taking prescription drugs and using paregoric, which contains morphine. From there, he spent about 10 days in Ogden, picking apricots, then went to Missoula. He was arrested Aug. 10, 1957.

McFall said of his arrest: "The car had been parked there all night and all during the day or most of the day with the exception of the time I drove over to a doctor.... I was all full of cement. In fact, I didn't have a change of clothes. I left everything with Shirley in the same bag.

"I went to Penney's I think it was, and I bought this pair of Levi's and I had this clean shirt, and I had clean underwear. I bathed at night after coming back from work.

"The next day I went up and bought this. Saturday morning. Bought the Levi's and what-not, and I went down to Park Hotel Cafe, and had a milkshake, and I talked to the waitress.


"When I came back--I didn't know exactly what time it was, but I presume there was some time left before time passed where you didn't have to put money in the meter. I stepped up and put a couple pennies in the meter and Bud Lamaroux L-a-m-a-r-o-u-x, drove up and asked if it was my car. A police sergeant. I knew he was a policeman. I saw the car. And he radioed for some other cars. We stood there and talked--was it my car, and I told him no, it belonged to a friend. By that time a couple other patrol cars, radio cars, had come up and they searched me and handcuffed me. He looked in the car and reached up under the seat; the gun was in the car. He got that out."


On June 25, 1957, the Los Angeles County Grand Jury indicted Wayne Burke, Richard McFall, Alfred J. Pope and Louis Spivak in the Lauritz Melchior robbery. Pope and McFall pleaded guilty to robbery Nov. 20, 1957. McFall was given five years to life in prison, Pope was given six months in jail.

On Dec. 3, 1957, Spivak was found guilty of  kidnapping as well as robbery. Although he wasn't present when the crime occurred, Spivak was given the heaviest sentence imposed on any of the men: five years to life in prison, with a minimum term of seven years.

All charges against Burke were dropped because he cooperated with authorities and aided in the return of the property.

Note: I would like to thank retired Police Capt. Ed Jokisch for providing materials on the Melchior case.

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Van Gogh show


June 22, 1957
Los Angeles

Are you kidding me? Is that Van Gogh's "Portrait of Dr. Gachet" ... on the ground? LAX?

Why it certainly is.

The Times described the exhibit at Barnsdall Park as the first major showing of Van Gogh's works in Southern California. The show, which ran from July 3 to Aug. 4, 1957, was presented by the Municipal Arts Department in cooperation with the Wildenstein Galleries of New York.

The show featured 38 paintings, drawings and prints by Van Gogh, The Times said, including "The Zouave" (Van Gogh did several and it's unclear which one was in Los Angeles), "L'Arlesienne," "La Berceuse" and something titled "Cypress and the Flowering Tree" that I cannot readily identify. Almost as an afterthought, The Times mentioned that the exhibit also featured works by Degas, Gaugin and Renoir.


Now if you thought it was scary to have an original Van Gogh out in the smoggy air of 1957 Los Angeles, take a look at the gallery, which appears to be some sort of converted greenhouse. Tell me that's not a glass ceiling. Tell me that's not sunlight beating directly down on the paintings. Please.

Whew, it's not.

But the gallery is still not great. According to a letter to The Times complaining about the show, the exhibit was staged in a building with a translucent ceiling that made it miserably warm for the viewers--so much for climate control.

Aha. A little research shows that the gallery was designed in 1953 by Frank Lloyd Wright for a 1954 exhibit of his architectural drawings and models, and erected next to Hollyhock House. It was later suggested that the translucent roof on the building be covered with aluminum paint to reduce the heat. The building was demolished in the late 1960s. The current Municipal Art Gallery, desighed by Stephens and Wehmueller, opened in 1971. 

The Van Gogh show was extremely popular, with visitation averaging 1,650 a day. The exhibit was kept open to 10 p.m. to accommodate the crowds, with 3,979 attending on the final day. Total visitation was 59,061, according to Municipal Arts Department Director  Kenneth Ross, shown in the top photo at left with guard Gerald Roggeman.

ps. The first version of "Portrait of Dr. Gachet" sold in 1990 for $82.5 million. Its whereabouts are unknown. 

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1957_0621_churchJune 21, 1957
Los Angeles

If there was ever a headline that said: "Do Not Read Me," it would be "Chain-Reaction Tithing Adopted by Methodists."

The real news, buried down in the story, is that the Southern California-Arizona Conference of Methodists was going to appoint an African American minister to head a white congregation. The minister was not identified, but church officials said he would be assigned to Normandie Avenue Methodist, 3792 S. Normandie, a once-thriving church established in 1908 that was struggling to survive.

The Rev. L.L. White of the church's Urban Life Committee, said: "We share with our Latin American brothers that this conference has been called of God to set a pattern of integration for the rest of the church. To do this we must move beyond the superficial aspects of integration. We must see our relationship to each other not as a problem but as an opportunity to discover some new dimensions for our souls."

A little further digging shows that this was the second local white Methodist congregation to be headed by a black minister, the first being Lincoln Avenue Methodist Church of Pasadena.

In the true spirit of Christian fellowship, most of the white congregation abandoned Normandie Avenue upon learning of the appointment of the Rev. Nelson Burlin Higgins Jr., an ordained Baptist minister.  Not content with merely leaving, the white Methodists removed most of the furniture on the pulpit, which had been donated as memorials to various members of the congregation.

Apparently this was no surprise, except to us living in the modern era. The neighborhood around Normandie Avenue Methodist was 27.5% to 84% black, but the church refused to accept African American members, although black children were allowed to attend Sunday school, The Times says.

No, I'm not kidding.

Fortunately, the furniture for the pulpit was replaced with items salvaged from Bethany Methodist Church, 1025 W. Olympic, which was demolished for the Santa Monica Freeway.

"I am confident we can reverse the trend of the past 20 years and climb back up to a peak membership much more swiftly than the course down," Higgins said. At Higgins' first service, 1,000 people crowded into the sanctuary, the social hall, the basketball court and milled around outside. In 1959, baseball player Duke Snider spoke at the church about integration in sports.

But by 1961, The Times says, Normandie Avenue Methodist was all-black and had a new minister, the Rev. Alexander C. Austin, who replaced  the Rev. Wilbur Johnson, Higgins' successor.

There were still some whites listed as members, but they never attended, Austin said. Although he hoped Normandie Avenue would become integrated, Austin said, "It's one of those things that will have to work itself out. The more you force it, the worse it gets. It will have to work itself out."

Nelson Burlin Higgins died in Los Angeles in 1984 at the age of 67.

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William Parker, Part 5



June 21, 1957
Los Angeles

William Parker, below left, and Jack Webb. Note that Parker says he would have never given permission for "Dragnet," which was initially approved in the Clemence "C.B." Horrall administration.

On July 16, 1966, Parker suffered a heart attack after receiving an award from the 2nd Marine Division Assn. during a banquet at the Statler Hilton Hotel. He died 35 minutes later at the age of 64.

His obituary includes this quote: "Man is the most predatory of all (in) the animal kingdom. He must have restraints."

There are those, especially officers I know who served under him, who say that if Parker were alive he would still be police chief (they often add that Eugene Biscailuz would still be sheriff). One of the most vivid remarks I ever heard about Parker came from the late federal Judge David Williams, the first African American on the federal bench west of the Mississippi. During an interview, Williams called Parker: "The king of bastards."

You don't hear federal judges talking like that every day--certainly not on the record.




Part 1


Part 2



Retro moment

The Puppini Sisters...  Here's a video with some nice (uncredited) retro animation


A blast

The Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West is hosting a two-day conference in August on the history of the aerospace industry in Southern California. Speakers will include writers, historians, pioneers in the aerospace industry and military officials.

"Rocket Science and Region" will be held Aug. 3-4, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Huntington. Cost is $40. Information is available from

Here's a list of the institute's upcoming programs.

Ay caramba!

Update: The 1957 Chevrolet featured earlier this month in the post about decoding production numbers sold on EBay for $35,999. That is some serious change. How much? About $5,024.09 USD 1957.

Let's check in with Weird Al.

Battling movie stars



June 20, 1957
Los Angeles

1957_0620_franciosa For battling Hollywood celebrities, it's hard to surpass Shelley Winters and Anthony Franciosa. They were only married a few years, but they made up for it in brawls between themselves, other actors (like Ava Gardner) and the press.

In this instance, Franciosa was given 10 days in jail for kicking Herald-Express photographer William Walker on April 19 after a court appearance.

Franciosa and Winters were trying to bid on a house at 618 Hillcrest Drive, Beverly Hills, and Franciosa objected to being photographed because he was still married to his wife, Beatrice, who was in Reno getting a divorce.  Franciosa was wrestled to the ground and arrested after kicking Walker as Winters cried and sobbed: "Please don't have him arrested! You've ruined our lives!"

He was originally sentenced to 90 days in jail and a $250 fine, but the judge agreed to give him two years' probation if Franciosa spent 10 days in jail. The actor fought the sentence in court--in proceedings that revealed a record of arrests for theft and intoxication--before beginning his term on Dec. 12, 1957.

Winters and Franciosa were married in May 1957. In April 1958, Franciosa suffered a 2-inch cut behind his ear when Winters threw a perfume bottle at him. Then in August the Italian press reported that there was a brawl between Winters and Ava Gardner over rumors of Gardner's involvement with Franciosa while filming "The Naked Maja." (Not true, Winters said. They were all good friends. Gardner was curiously silent about the matter).

In July 1960, Winters sued for a legal separation, and filed for divorce in November. The wild ride was over.

Shelley Winters died Jan. 14, 2006.

Anthony Franciosa died five days later. 

"I would be prefer to be judged my work alone," Franciosa said in 1961. "It's nobody's business what I'm like except the people I have to live with or work with."

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