Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
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Councilman Ira McDonald's attempt to regulate tattoo shops brought this anonymous response, which I unearthed in the city archives.
Los Angeles City Council File 15670
September 2, 1943
I recently made an investigation of the tattoo shops here and the persons who operate them, for a friend of mine, whose young son, age 13, had been marked up like a circus freak by a so called (professor) Freaser.
Of course I knew nothing and cared less about this business until I saw the filthy conditions under which they operate, which are just about as filthy and unsanitary as the restaurants in which I am compelled to eat. Of course I know that no one in the city or state govt. is interested in their sanitation or the filth of the foods they serve. As long as they pay their license they can poison any one they want to and get away with it.
Doctors can perform any operation they want to to get money, dentists can extract all your teeth if you pay him, Jew (businessmen) can rob you if they want to and so on down the line as long as they pay a license. Poor old John Citizen gets his teeth kicked out any way he goes, so why pick on the tattoo man, he is no dirtier, unsanitary or criminal than the government under which he operates.
Of course it isn't justice, no more than it is just to allow a boy under 18 to go to war and get his brains shot out protecting something that belongs to some big fat skunk who wouldn't spit on him if he were on fire. Altho the Army is full of kids and no one raises a big stink if some 16-year-old kid gets his arm shot off in some stinking jungle but let him walk into a tattoo shop of his own free will to get some little silly picture put on his arm or leg and all sorts of people (who can make political fodder out of it) start frothing at the mouth. They don't realize that no one can get those pictures unless they pay for them, no one is ever dragged in off the streets, as I have had Jew hockshop operators try to drag me into their stinking joints if I happened to walk close to their door.
Why don't some of you smart politicians investigate yourselves first and then get the saloon keepers who sell booze to young boys and girls, get the race horse bookies who rob people of millions every month, close up all picture shows who show lewd and degenerating exhibitions prettied up with sweet music and trick photography and passed off on children of (all) ages as some stirring smash hits, the filthier they are the more money they make the less chance they run of being closed up.
Why don't the law stop all publication of pictures of a lewd and degenerating nature. Every magazine a person looks at has a nearly nude woman smeared all over the front page exposed to public view. What do you think this does to a boy or girl at that impressionable age? Every billboard you see has a 16-foot picture showing a young girl with a cigaret in her mouth and or a bottle of beer in her hand. All this filth and degenerating influence is graciously permitted by a governing body who scream to high heaven if some kid happens to get a tattoo, I don't get it. The whole setup looks lopsided to me.
The following is a short history and location of shops of the tattooers in this city.
At 101 E. 1st St. is Jack Julian, whose true name is William Jackson, is Negro but claims to be Indian about 60 ex-circus roustabout and wild man about 5/8 175 lbs light brown skin short nose with large growth near base. This man is dangerous always carries pistol in shoulder holster and wears badge like police.
Claims to have killed 5 men was tried here some years ago for shooting his partner over dope selling, sold dope in San Francisco, served sentence for same, charged for murder in San Diego not convicted, insufficient evidence served time here two years ago claims Mann Act, is wanted in Seattle, I am told.
This man is very abusive and flourishes pistol when mad lives in filthy back room of tattoo shop with young son, wife, also tattooer is half breed Negro has served time in Seattle for (offering) and drunk also bad character all around.
At 234 1/2 Main St. in front of filthy restaurant is located Mr. O'Connor is ex-prize fighter, also has pistol in shop, very abusive and pugnacious fights often was from British Empire is not citizen has very filthy place knows little about art spent many years at sea is about 45 years old walks with stumbling gait as most ex fighters came here from Canada no known police record.
At 243 Main St. in Arcade is Sailor Jim was forced to leave San Diego because of some trouble, nature unknown, has been here but short time, is house painter, is drunkard and has record for same, said to have had discharge from Navy very poor artist, untrustworthy, claim new place of business but unsanitary.
At 316 Main is Soldier Russell true name unknown, circus roustabout and saloon musician known pimp was at time terrible drunkard dirty place very unsanitary pictures pasted on wall no known police record.
At 326 Main in photo shop, rear is (Prof.) Fraser born in British Empire non citizen traveled for years as circus and carnival musician lived in and raised family of 4 children in truck about 65 consumptive always coughing and spitting was arrested in New York for affixing signature of old master to cheap imitation was arrested in Boston for accepting stolen govt. property from soldiers and sailors, also suspected of handling bogus money forced to leave L.A. 1917 for refusal to send children to school owns many pictures of boats, fancies himself a great artist terribly filthy and unsanitary flagrant violation of code against tattoo young boys and girls.
At 429 Main St. in rear of jewelry store is Mr. Lawson very old man has palsy and wry [?] neck very nervous, bad heart coughs a lot has clean shop newly remodeled has good pictures on wall painted by fine artist a Mr. Ben Corday now dead, fancies self as dean of tattooers, at one time was said to be very good, hates other tattooers, talks mostly of race horses and money he made on suckers in San Diego from where he came two months ago, was forced to leave there because unable to pass physical examination for license which has recently been put into effect by Naval order was born in British Empire no police record here. Wants high license fee.
At 433 Main Mr. Dimides old man about 65 pleasant, old time Navy man, has been in the business many years, disabled in Navy in last war, is fair tattoer, but has no art training. Shop is clean, observes code against tattooing young boys and girls was at one time terrible drunkard several arrests for some no other police record known.
At same address 433 Main is Mr. Duff is about 50 fat, inoffensive knows nothing about art very poor tattoer worked most of life as pitch man and sidewalk salesman also house to house, many arrests for this work because of no license no other police record.
At 432 Main St. upstairs is Frank Cramer terrible drunkard when half drunk will tattoo children when sober not too particular has dirty place in which he sleeps allows prostitutes to bring men there, poor workman, many arrests for drunk no other police record.
Also 432 Main St. works for Cramer followed carnivals, gambler type, consumptive looking poor workman, occasional drunk no known police record goes by name of Rosell true name unknown.
At 458 1/2 upstairs in flophouse hotel is Mr. Steele about 6ft 4 simpleminded childish type knows nothing of art or profession sober no known arrests.
At 105 5th St. Tony Pratus born in Portugal, former merchant seaman non citizen, drunk most of time, many arrests, very argumentative, small man poor workman will tattoo young boys and girls, dirty shop.
Also at 105 working for Pratas is Mr. Leon born in Spain, non citizen very pleasant little man about 50 has had art training fair workman but dirty and unsanitary no known police record.
Well there you have a short record of the persons and characters of the men in the tattoo business.
Some of this information I obtained from the men personally some I observed but mostly the information came from other tattooers with the aid of a pint of whisky and the assurance that I was a carnival man and talked their language.
These men are representative citizens no better nor worse than a like number of bankers ... politicians, policemen, preachers, publishers, health camp operators, boys counselors, doctors, dentists, lawyers, mothers, fathers, and so on. The jails are bulging with all of them so why froth at the mouth over a tattooer.
If you want to cure the trouble make a law to control who can or cannot be tattooed, eliminate all men who have been criminals. After all a dope peddler or user or murderer or receiver of stolen govt. goods belongs in jail and not in a tattoo shop or any other place of business.
These tattooers should have at least one year residence here in L.A. 6 months in local accredited art school, instruction in first aid and sanitation, a certificate of health on syph, nerves, TB, eyesight, a man can be partially disabled and still do this type of work after all many fine artists are crippled.
A license fee of say $50 or $100 dollars for shop and $10 for individual operator will cure this violation of children's personal welfare, make it six months in jail for each violation.
If you want to check on this report it can easily be done by simply asking each operator about the other.
I am giving you this information hoping you will use it for the purpose that it is meant, to clean up an unpleasant situation.
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