The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: July 2008

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July 26, 1908


Above, developer Samuel A. Selover buys a home at Bonnie Brae and Miramar streets. Selover, whose projects included Belmont Shore in Long Beach, died in 1939. Below, Bonnie Brae and Miramar via Google maps' street view. Email me

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Nuestro Pueblo


'Discovering' Chavez Ravine

1958_0725_cobbBy Keith Thursby
Times staff writer

The Times published a tidbit about the Hollywood Stars and their owner, Bob Cobb, that made me go looking deeper for more details.

Jeane Hoffman reported that Cobb "discovered" Chavez Ravine as a potential home for a baseball team and in 1954 proposed building a stadium and leasing it back to the city for $1 a year. Hoffman said the plan didn't work because it was for minor league baseball and Cobb was just a little ahead of his time.

The Dodgers' plans to build a stadium were still on hold at this point in 1958 after a Superior Court judge ruled the contract between the team and the city was invalid. But what of Cobbs' idea?

I found a Times story from Dec. 17, 1954, in which Yankees manager Casey Stengel, longtime baseball owner Bill Veeck and Cobb talked to a City Council committee about bringing big league baseball to Los Angeles. According to Paul Zimmerman's story, the discussion focused on whether the city should expand Wrigley Field or build a ballpark in Chavez Ravine.

"No city in the United States can offer what Los Angeles does," Cobb said. "We need something new, something modern and a place to park 25,000 cars."

Cobb and his Hollywood Stars have long fascinated me. My mom grew up in Los Angeles and her family's baseball allegiances were split down the middle between fans of the Stars and the Angels. Photos of Gilmore Field made the experience look glamorous and any search of Pacific Coast League games can find tales of wild fights and long doubleheaders. And Cobb was no ordinary owner, with his connection to the Brown Derby--and what other baseball owner had a salad named after him?

After the Dodgers decided to move to Los Angeles--moving the minor league Stars and Angels out of the Southland--Cobb remained civic minded. In searching the website for any connections between the two owners, I stumbled on a 1957 Times story where Cobb came to O'Malley's defense.

"I'm shocked at the unbelievable position in which Walter O'Malley finds himself," Cobb told The Times' Hoffman. "We invited this man to Los Angeles. He didn't solicit us."

Hoffman said Cobb's plan for Chavez Ravine was ahead of his time. The 1957 story had another example. "But you can't stop progress," he said. "We're going to have not one but two major league clubs here within five years. Where? Well, this second club will settle in Orange County, probably Anaheim. That's where the Hollywood Stars were going if the majors hadn't come."

Too bad it didn't work out. I can seem them now--the Hollywood Stars of Anaheim. Wonder how much they'd charge for a Cobb salad?


July 25, 1938



Dropcap_j_1932 oe Shaw resigns as personal secretary to his brother, Mayor Frank Shaw, and elopes to Reno with Buelah M. Fuller of the mayor's secretarial staff. Curiously enough, Joe Shaw is identified as a lieutenant, which I haven't encountered before. Perhaps it refers to his former rank in the Navy.

"I have never fully agreed with your expressed desire that I remain an attache of your office during the recent period when heaven and earth have been moved by political malcontents and enemies to find fault with you because of my presence on your staff," Joe Shaw wrote.

"For me to ask to be relieved of service under these conditions has been repugnant to both of us alike, for, whatever the personal desires might be in the premises, they would be distorted and misunderstood by political critics sadly lacking in their makeups any sense of American fair play.

"In spite of their slander, you have continued to repose confidence in me and I cannot adequately put in words what this loyalty has meant to me, especially because of our relationship and in the light of my unblemished record in the United States Navy for 25 years prior to becoming your secretary....

"It seems a curious commentary upon human nature that a small group of gossips would assume that they could convince any considerable proportion of the people of Los Angeles that a man trained as I had been for 25 years in the code of an officer of the United States Navy could be capable of the actions that have  been charged against me by innuendo.

"I now resume my status as a private citizen. As a private citizen I shall be at liberty to answer the slander that has been directed toward me."

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Woman, boy strangled

July 24, 1958

1958_0723_ireneHer name was Irene. She was a 40-year-old secretary at an ad agency, divorced with two sons. The younger boy was visiting his grandparents that summer and the older one, Craig, was living with her at their apartment, 4569 Edgewood Place. Her ex-husband was in Miami.

Irene didn't show up for work Monday or Tuesday, so two men from the office went to check on her. She and her son Craig had been lying there dead for two days, apparently.

She was face-down on the couch with a gag in her mouth. A nylon stocking had been used to tie her hands, and another one was used to strangle her. Her shorts had been ripped off and thrown on the floor, The Times said, and a nightgown had been tossed over her body. Craig was lying nearby on the floor, in his pajamas. He had been struck on the head and strangled with the antenna wire from the television set.

Detectives found hors d'oeuvres on the coffee table and the remains of dinner in the kitchen. They also found an empty vodka bottle and some mix.

Charles worked at a nearby gas station and told Detectives Herman Zander and E.V. Jackson that he met Irene on Friday when he started her car after it stalled. According to Charles, Irene invited him over for dinner Sunday and that everything was fine when he left at midnight or 12:30 a.m. Under further questioning, Charles said a man named John had come to the apartment about 11 p.m. and became jealous that he was there.

Neighbors said they had seen Irene and Charles together before Friday and recognized him from his job at the service station.

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Above, the Edgewood Place neighborhood via Google maps' street view.

After hours of questioning and a polygraph test, Charles Earl Brubaker confessed to killing Irene Potter Morey and Craig Morey. The Times said: "Brubaker held his nerve throughout the polygraph test but later collapsed emotionally and babbled his confession of the brutal slayings.... The boy awakened and caught him attempting to attack the woman and he killed them both." 

Brubaker was also questioned in the unsolved stranglings of Ruth Goldsmith, Marjorie Hipperson and Esther Greenwald, all LAPD cases, but there's no mention of him being a suspect in the Geneva Ellroy killing, which was a sheriff's case.

1958_0724_brubaker_pix Brubaker, who had served time for petty theft and trespassing, was convicted of murder and sentenced to the gas chamber. In 1964, the California Supreme Court overturned his death sentence and he was given life in prison by Judge Joseph A. Wapner. Although the court did not give a reason for overturning Brubaker's execution, The Times speculated that it was related to the Joseph Bernard Morse decision, which held that juries must not be told that convicted killers may be paroled if they receive a life sentence. 

In 1965, after the ruling that spared his life, Brubaker told The Times, "I'm glad to be alive."

1964_brubakerBrubaker, who had a job in the prison furniture factory, said: "There were times when I started to feel sorry for myself -- but I'd stop and think of my victims. They didn't want to die either, so I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I never intended anything like that to happen."

The Times added: "Technically, Brubaker could be paroled next January. By that time, he will have been in prison seven years. But his chances of getting out are nil."

Wapner said Brubaker should "spend the rest of his natural life in the state prison so that he may not be released to possibly prey on society or to commit another such heinous crime."

Brubaker told The Times: "I don't know when I'll get out -- but there's always a chance. I'm glad to see the courts acting. There have been a lot of cases before mine where they should have acted. People want to criticize you for fighting for your rights. If we didn't have those, the Constitution would be worthless."

It's unclear what became of Charles Brubaker after that. He never appeared in The Times again, and the Social Security Death Index lists a fair number of men by that name.

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Blind Tom dies


Dropcap_t_1938 he Daily Mirror overlooked the death of "Blind Tom" Wiggins, reported June 28, 1908. Blind Tom played the piano, but he was more than a pianist. He wrote music, but he was far more than a composer. Blind Tom was a sensation and a curiosity, a force of nature. I'm not even sure what term we would use for him today; perhaps "childlike genius" would be the most appropriate.

Whatever Blind Tom was, the piano was his connection to the world. According to accounts from the period, he could use the piano to reproduce any imaginable sound. He was apparently capable of mimicking performances of other pianists and seemingly never forgot anything -- at least about music. 

And as you might expect, living in the 19th century, being African American and developmentally disabled, Blind Tom did not have an easy life.

Blind Tom performed in Los Angeles and Santa Ana several times and drew large crowds, according to The Times.  Above left, a program from one of his concerts.

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Warning: The "N-word" appears several times in his obituary, below. 

Woman disappears

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3714 W. Pico Blvd., via Google maps' street view

  July 23, 1958

Dropcap_r_witness1958_0723_ruth_mercadouth lived in a room at the Shari Hotel, 3714 W. Pico, that she shared with a little dog and a couple of parakeets. The landlord realized she hadn't been around for a few days, and when he checked on her, he found her pets were nearly dead.

But nothing was written about her until October, when he was finally caught. The Times said investigators searching her belongings learned that she had been a "wartime member of the WAF" and was originally from Plattsburgh, N.Y.* Apparently she worked as a stripper and a model, using the name Angela Rojas. The most important thing about Ruth was that unlike the other victims, she could disappear and no one would notice.

The only person The Times interviewed about her was someone who took her newspaper ads: "She was a seemingly clean-cut, nice kid who was anything but the kind of person you'd expect in that kind of business. She was reliable, the sort who always paid her bills on time."

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* The Times gave Ruth's age as 24 and California death records say she was born Dec. 19, 1933. If she had served in World War II she would have been much older. Possibly she served during the Korean War.

Nuestro Pueblo


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Dropcap_n_1933 ow this was truly a happy discovery: Someone turned two streetcars into a house. Alas, it's not there anymore. I would love to know the story behind the home, I'm sure it's an interesting one.

At left, an update on the campaign to recall Mayor Frank Shaw and federal charges are filed against Peter Pianezzi in the Les Bruneman killing.

Oh, and those $12 dresses at the Broadway? $171.59 USD 2007.

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And commuting was born


Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Except this was published in The Times on July 1, 1901. Today, we shake our heads when we read about someone who works in Santa Monica or downtown Los Angeles and lives in the Inland Empire or the Antelope Valley or in South Orange County. But it's no different than what people were doing more than a century ago. And we can't blame the automobile in this era. It's the streetcar system that allows people to live far from where they work.

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Spring Street revisited

Photograph by Munsey Studios, winter 1900

Here's another detail from the photo I wrote about yesterday. These people are on the sidewalk just to the left of the fellow sitting in the wagon.

Here's a closer look at the people on the sidewalk. It's easy to make out the man's watch chain. The young boy seems to have something pinned to his shirt and the woman appears to be looking directly at the photographer.


What caught my eye were the signs, "Furnished Rooms," "Cut-Rate Cigar" and my favorite: "Platform Psychic, Independent [Illegible] and Trumpet Medium." I'm going to have to research trumpet mediums and see what they were. Hm. A Times editorial from April 18, 1902, refers to an "independent typewriter and trumpet medium." I wonder if it's something like "independent writer." The Times editorial writers don't seem to think much of the paranormal.


Mystery photo

Los Angeles Times file photo

Well, who is she?
  • Joan Davis? Alas, no.
  • Tempest Storm? I'm afraid not.
  • Lucille Ball? Sorry, no.
  • Hedy Lamarr? Alas, no.
  • Susan Hayward? I'm afraid not.
  • Paulette Goddard? Alas, no.
  • Martha Vickers? I"m afraid not.
  • Florence Rice or Madge Evans? Sorry, no.
  • Bette Davis? Sorry, no.
  • She is sort of a Lilli Palmer type. (Alexa Foreman). Yes, this is the former Mrs. Rex Harrison (one of them, anyway) in a 1937 photo. Congratulations!

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July 21, 1958


Dropcap_r_ironworks_3 ather than even make an attempt to explain what's going on in the Mideast in this period, I'll defer to Robert G. Neumann, below. I can only echo what Hanson W. Baldwin said Feb. 21, 1958, when he referred to the  "military and political quicksand of the Middle East."

Here's a quote from Neumann's piece:

"... but all the other Arab countries, with the qualified exception of Lebanon, live under dictatorships, certainly Egypt above all others. Nor is democracy a meaningful concept among the Arabs."

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