The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: July 8, 2007 - July 14, 2007

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Literary diversions

Carey McWilliams, the author of "Southern California: An Island on the Land," catalogues a few morose, quirky poets in The Times, Aug. 9, 1931.



July 14, 1957
Los Angeles

The very name connotes elegance in home electronics: The Granada Hills.

Really. And an early American TV at that, back in the days when television sets were supposedly to look like fine furniture instead of big black boxes. And if you're really fancy, you might want the Palmdale.



Here's the entire ad:




The Nina mystery

July 11, 1957
Los Angeles

Here's a vintage Al Hirschfeld drawing done for "The Pride and the Passion," starring Frank Sinatra, Sophia Loren and Cary Grant. Hirschfeld is famous not only for being a fabulous artist but for hiding the name of his daughter Nina (born in 1945) in his drawings. In later years, he placed a number next to his name so people would know how many "Ninas" there were, but since this is an earlier drawing, there's no number to guide us.

There is at least one "Nina" in this picture, but it's reversed. The question is whether Hirschfeld flopped the artwork before adding his name or hid the "Ninas" as mirror images. (This is the only flopped "Nina" I have ever seen).

The original


The closeup


The closeup flopped


And the original flopped.


Was Hirschfeld saying that Frank Sinatra had something up his sleeve? I wish we could ask him. Note that the caption doesn't even identify Hirschfeld but refers to him as "the artist."

See any more? Let me know.

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One for the books



1957_0714_foy_pix July 14, 1957
Los Angeles

At 95, Mary Foy has the formula for longevity: Watch your health, keep mentally active and be Irish. 

The Times catches up with Foy and her "double cousin," Ella Foy O'Gorman, as the women celebrate their 95th birthdays in the home they share at 1706 S. Menlo Ave.

Foy is of special significance because she became the city's first librarian--in 1879--and where would we researchers be without librarians?

Born on July 13, 1862, Foy was the first of 10 children, The Times said in 1933, the daughter of Samuel Calvert Foy, a saddlemaker, and Lucinda Macy, who learned the alphabet while crossing the country to Los Angeles in a covered wagon in 1850. Foy was born in the family home at Macy and Main streets. Her family moved to 7th Street and Figueroa about 1904, then moved again to San Rafael Heights in Pasadena.

Foy was the sole employee of the library when it was above a saloon at Main and Temple streets, at a monthly salary of $74 ($1,512.56 USD 2006). "Miss Foy once recalled that patrons of the saloon often came to her and her books to settle their arguments," The Times said in her 1962 obituary.

Five years after graduating from Los Angeles High School, she returned as a teacher and became the principal before resigning in 1901 to fight for women's suffrage. She also attended law school. A lifelong Democrat, Foy served as a national committeewoman to the Democratic National Convention in 1919 and ran for Congress in 1934. She helped found the pioneer organization that became the First Century Families of California and was active in the Native Daughters of the Golden West.

For her, the most interesting time in local history was 1867 to 1876, when "Los Angeles awoke from being a sleepy pueblo and began to grow into a modern American city," The Times said.

At 95, she and her cousin were "smart as paint and wise as serpents," living in a home full of books, manuscripts and artifacts of the past, The Times said. "The orderly little house is neat and workmanlike, with a marked mental aura. The cousins betray a persisting love of adornment with their bright dresses with pleated ruffles at the necklines, strands of pearls and brooches."

As for never marrying, Foy said: "I wasn't prejudiced against it" (one story, in fact noted that she was "much too pretty to be a bluestocking"). "I was too busy to think of it."



In the 1940s, she led the unsuccessful fight to preserve the 1873 Los Angeles High School on Fort Moore Hill, which was demolished in 1949 to make way for the Hollywood Freeway. The redwood building was too expensive to move, the group decided. The wrecking company planned to cut part of the building into sections to be sold as storerooms.

Foy died Feb. 18, 1962, and was buried at Evergreen Cemetery after lying in state at City Hall. She was the oldest living graduate of Los Angeles High School.

I'll leave you with two memorable quotes:

When asked about their social lives, Foy and O'Gorman said they went out occasionally even at the age of 95, "However our constant companion is right in this house. It is the dictionary," they said.

"I've lived through dozens of depressions," Foy said in 1933. "Whenever the rains failed we had 'em for one thing. Californians have faced disaster too often to be scared about this one. We always bounce back."

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Time warp to 1910

Dec. 10, 1910
Los Angeles

I came across this article in looking for something else and found it too fascinating not to share. That's why I love research.


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Sea bag murder



1957_0713_covel July 12-13, 1957
Los Angeles

Two men from the Harbor Department were picking trash out of the main channel at Terminal Island when they saw the big canvas bag--twice the size of a Navy sea bag--drifting against the pier of Berth 233, so heavy that they could barely pull it aboard.

The bag was slit and they could see a human head. Upon investigation, police found the nude body of woman who had been tied with cord and put in the bag, which was filled with rocks and the weights from a set of barbells.

She was 35 to 40 years old, 5-feet-5, 117 pounds, with brown eyes and dark hair streaked with gray, officials said. She had been in the water about three weeks, they said. "A half-inch cord looped around her neck and knees jackknifed the body almost double," The Times said. "A second cord was wound around the body."

There were no bullet wounds or cuts and nothing was found beneath her fingernails to indicate a struggle, authorities said.

In response to news reports, police were contacted by a harbor guard who told them about a woman who had been missing from her job at St. Mary's Hospital in Long Beach. She was Virginia Covel, 42, a nurse's aide who had previously worked at Harbor General Hospital in Torrance. The Torrance hospital provided Covel's last known address, 419 S. Walker St., San Pedro, and a set of fingerprints that matched the body.

Further investigation found that the house on Walker Street had been rented by Knute Berg, 43, a marine firefighter. Berg told police that Covel had been involved with a fisherman named Hilding Fridell, but left him because he went into jealous rages.

1957_0713_fridell When Fridell, 50, returned to his home at 2225 S. Gaffey St., San Pedro, and found Officers Hayward Johnson and Charles Burgin waiting, he broke into sobs.

"I loved her, but she was running around with another fellow," Fridell said.

Fridell said he beat Covel to death on the Fourth of July, took 60 sleeping pills in a suicide attempt, but woke up in the morning next to her body. He bought the canvas bag and weights at a San Pedro war surplus store and dumped the body off the end of Berth 233 on July 6. Pretending to be her landlord, Fridell called St. Mary's Hospital and said Covel had made an emergency trip to Logan, Utah, to see her mother, Vada Blair.

According to police, Covel was the daughter of an Army colonel and had worked at several Bay Area hospitals before coming to Southern California.

Fridell pleaded guilty to manslaughter, but The Times never reported his sentencing. No trace of him can be found in public records.

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A bill of goods



July 12, 1957
Los Angeles

Harold D. Jensen was apparently quite a salesman, because he certainly sold his fiancee a bill of goods.

Before marrying Barbara Jean Burton, 26, 8343 Clarence Ave., Jensen wrote a prenuptial agreement promising her a new car, $337,000 ($2,414,700.63 USD 2006) , a new diamond ring, $1 million on the birth of her first child and sole ownership of a dress shop in San Marino.

And for good measure, he threw in $3.5 million in uranium holdings in Guatemala, plus half of all the oil, mineral and lumber interests he had there. Which was zero.

In reality, Jensen was a former World War II flier who managed a lumberyard in Eureka until it was destroyed in a fire a year earlier.

Burton was one of his co-workers at the lumberyard, but left Eureka for San Gabriel when the business burned down. She had been studying at the Loretta Young Way modeling school, 233 1/3 Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, and working as a photographers model when she married Jensen July 9, 1957, in Las Vegas.

Their bodies were found in a 1956 T-bird on Route 66 three miles south of Victorville. Jensen had shot Burton with a .22-caliber rifle and killed himself. It was unclear how long they had been there, their heads resting next to one another.

San Bernardino County Sheriff's Detective R. H. Waite said Jensen's prenuptial agreement was "ridiculous on the face of it."

Macabre note: Searching Proquest for "newlyweds found dead" brings up an array of gruesome stories:

  • "Hollywood Newlyweds Found Dead in Utah" (Oct. 30, 1947), cause of death under investigation.
  • "Carbon Monoxide Fumes Kill Newlywed Couple" (Jan. 21, 1948).
  • "Four Meet Death as Plane Crashes Into Residential Area" (July 18, 1952), a private plane crashed in Hawthorne.
  • "Newlywed, 20, Found Hanged" (Aug. 24, 1957), a recent bride was found hanging in a closet with her hands tied at her sides with leather belts.
  • "Newlyweds' Bodies Go Back to Iran" (Jan. 16, 1985), the groom killed himself after the bride suffocated as he was trying to smuggle her into the country in a suitcase.

And what of Clarence Avenue? It's been renamed Sheffield Road. San Marino, you know.

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Matt Weinstock

Matt_weinstockd July 11, 1957

There was a traffic tie-up at the Harbor turnoff the other day as Inspectors Ed Walker and Bob Houghton were traveling inbound on the Hollywood Freeway.

They threaded their way through it and came upon a woman behind the wheel of a T-bird, stopped on the Hollywood Freeway about 50 feet beyond the Harbor turnoff.

"Anything wrong, lady?" one asked, thinking she might be ill.

"No," was the determined reply. "I'm waiting for traffic to clear so I can back up--I want to go on that other freeway!"

PEOPLE ARE always asking Jamaica Elwood, who observed her 18th birthday on July 4 last week, about her unusual name. The answer is this corner's hot weather story of the month.

1957_0711_ads Jamaica was born in Chicago. The family had been pressuring her mother to name her Camille Theodora after relatives. Her mother had resisted.

Came the day when mother and child were to go home. The weather was sweltering. The hospital asked the baby's name. The mother said she hadn't decided. The hospital people said she had to name it, for their records, before she could take it home.

Perspiring profusely, Ma picked up a copy of Esquire magazine and became an enchanted by a beautiful ad showing a tall, cool drink made with Jamaica rum. And that's how Miss Elwood, girl Friday at the publication Motor Racing on North Western Avenue, got her name.

THINGS ARE a little tense around the stables at Hollywood Park, a spy whispers, since the scandal over doping horses.

Owners and trainers wear identification badges now, you know, and those who frequent the place are aware they are under scrutiny by a corps of operatives assigned by the Horse Racing Board.

These gentlemen are derisively referred to as the Keystone Gestapo.

Stable habitues contend a horse can be hopped if someone so desires no matter how closely he is watched. And you know what they call a race in which a hopped horse runs? The Drugstore Handicap.

AT RANDOM--Baffling fragment of conversation overheard in a Broadway lunchroom, one young woman to another: "I don't know him, but I know his brother and his brother is better looking."

Another plan for the Ambassador

July 11, 1957
Los Angeles

Yes, it's another architectural plan, this one for the site of the Ambassador Hotel. And no, it never got built, either. Somewhere in Los Angeles, there's a small library of designs that were shelved over the last century.

Perceptive readers may wonder if the David Schine mentioned in this story is the G. David Schine from the McCarthy hearings. The answer is, as a matter of fact, yes.


We get queries

Someone keeps landing on the blog because they're trying to find out when the palm trees were planted on Sherman Way.

Luckily, I have Proquest at hand, so let's see.

Hm. Someone apparently didn't like the palms because they were cutting them down, according to a 1985 story. Apparently half a dozen 60-foot Mexican palms disappeared one weekend from the south side of Sherman Way between Balboa Boulevard and Louise Avenue.

In 1970, Councilman Donald Lorenzen fought to save the 40-year-old palms on Sherman Way in Winnetka when a gasoline company sought to cut some of them down for access to a service station. Lorenzen sounds like a colorful character who was good for quotes. He apparently once said that homeowners had been against been against progress "since they drove the Indians out of the Encino hillsides."

A 1962 story says the palm trees were planted on Sherman Way in 1932. "We were trying to imitate Pasadena," according to Dick Speer of the Canoga Park Chamber of Commerce.

And here, in 1935, palm trees about to be planted.



Bonus facts: Antonio Sanchez was killed in 1959 when he crashed into a palm tree at Sherman Way and Sepulveda Boulevard. In 1953, Dorothy Roberts was killed when she hit a palm tree at Sherman Way and Haskell Avenue. In 1942, a car full of youths overturned while circling a palm tree in the 15100 block of Sherman Way, killing 12-year-old Ronald Case.

There ya go.

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Paul Weeks, in memoriam

I am informed that Paul Weeks, whose stories appear on the Daily Mirror blog, notably his profile of Police Chief William H. Parker, has passed away at the age of 86 due to liver cancer. Services are pending.

He leaves a widow, the former Barbara Rasmussen, whom he married in 1990, and his first wife, Ruth Looney, the mother of his two children, Bill Wells and Barbara Huntington. He also leaves four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Bar brawl



1957_0710_sica_times July 10-11, 1957
Los Angeles

There isn't much in doubt about what happened that night in North Hollywood; the only mystery comes much later. That night, Frank "Puggy" Sica, 40, and Salvatore Di Giovanni, 39, were having a few drinks with Ronnie Kopp at the Club Shobah, 4923 Lankershim Blvd.

As it turned out, Kopp was a waitress at the club and neglecting the rest of her customers while chatting with Sica, a man with no convictions and many arrests, and Di Giovanni, who had been convicted of burglary.

Unable to get Kopp's attention, Ann T. Burgess, 23, approached Sica's table and requested some service.

According to police, Di Giovanni punched Burgess twice and knocked her out. Then he told Kopp: "If you be a witness to this thing remember you have two kids and I'll take care of them." Authorities said Kopp resisted Di Giovanni's attempt to drag her out of the Club Shobah, so he knocked her down and he and Sica kicked her.

Police had been to the bar earlier that night but were told there was no trouble.  Before they arrived a second time, Mike Sboto, the bartender, pulled a gun from under the counter and fired several shots because the men were kicking Kopp. Di Giovanni punched Sboto and Sica threw a drink at him, police said.

1957_0710_sicaa In response, Sboto punched Di Giovanni and Sica. "I hit them with everything I could lay my hands on," he said. Di Giovanni had two black eyes, and "one detective had to chase the terrified Sica two blocks before he caught up with him," the Mirror said.

The Times, meanwhile, said that when police arrived, Di Giovanni had Sboto under a shuffleboard table and was punching him in the face.

Burgess signed a complaint against Di Giovanni. And then, of course, all the witnesses got amnesia. The bar was mysteriously burglarized and trashed. Without witnesses' statements, the district attorney's office was forced to file misdemeanor charges accusing Sica and Di Giovanni of battery, disturbing the peace and being drunk.  They pleaded guilty and  were fined $100 each.

Two years later, Sica began trying to get a piano bar at his restaurant, Sir Sico's, 8351 San Fernando Road, in Sun Valley, but he always ran into trouble because of his record and because his brothers, Joseph and Fred, were involved in organized crime.

Not until 1967, after numerous hearings and appeals, did a judge order the Police Commission to approve a piano bar at Sica's restaurant.

The real mystery is what became of Frank Sica,  who vanished from the pages of The Times about 1970. California death records list three men named Frank Sica. Frank A. Sica, born in 1909, died  in 1976 in Los Angeles County. Frank Ralph Sica, born in New Jersey in  1917, died  in Los Angeles County on April 4, 1987. (This is presumably the Sica in question). Frank Rocco Sica, born in 1926, died Sept. 19, 1999, in El Dorado County.

The site of Sir Sico's is apparently occupied by La Herradura Restaurant, according to Google. The site of the Club Shobah is occupied by the Lodge, which appears in "Reservoir Dogs," (thank you, Google). 

No further trace can be found of Mike Sboto or Ronnie Kopp.

Update, Dec. 18, 2008: Michele Kamleiter writes:

I can across this article accidently while looking for an obituary on my neighbor.  I believe (based on the picture) that my neighbor was the Mike Sboto, bartender, of your article.

Mike was a retired stage hand who had worked on a number of productions including the original Grease movie.  For at least the last 15 years, he had lived in Las Vegas.

He was a true gentleman and a kind soul who passed suddenly on December 2, 2008.  He will be deeply missed.

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