The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: December 30, 2007 - January 5, 2008

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Dirty streets

The question arose as to the cleanliness of streets in 1908. As I noted, a half-ton animal can make a fairly large mess. Interestingly enough, The Times complained that the newer paved avenues were more of a problem than the old dirt streets.

You see, with dirt streets, the horse manure disintegrated and was mixed into the dirt, The Times said. However, with paved streets, the horse manure stubbornly remained horse manure--but in smaller and smaller bits.

The problems were so dire that The Times launched one of its innumerable beautification projects in 1908, listing the eyesores of the day.






Found on EBay



This is even better than the Pacific Electric detective badge: An envelope addressed to my old friend Victor Segno!

Segno was an early 20th century mentalist who conned people into sending him $1 a month in exchange for a daily "success wave" sent telepathically around the world.

No, I mean it.


I already wrote about him for the 1947project, so I won't rehash it all.  But he is an amazing character. In addition to  "The Law of Mentalism," of 1902, he wrote "How to Be Happy, Though Married" and "How to Have Beautiful Hair."


Professor A. Victor Segno transmitting a global success wave. Note the beautiful hair.

A few of Segno's books have apparently been reprinted and he continues to generate some interest, though, thankfully, not much. People who have read his works occasionally find me through Google and ask me if I think he was legitimate. Of course not! He was an utter fake. But a really amusing one.

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Jan. 5, 1958

Note: Carl Sandburg died at the age of 89, despite his predictions.*



* Of course, if you figure he lived 32,703 days, he was right. It is divisible by 11.

Health spa

Jan. 5, 1908
Los Angeles

I love looking through the early 20th century issues of The Times. For one thing, they are only about 26 pages and the ads are amazing. Here's a shout-out to Nathan Marsak of the 1947project. Feeling a little run down? Nothing like a swig of radium and sulfur to perk you up. "Sparkles like champagne AND it's radioactive." I kind of like that. 



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(Bonus fact: Colegrove was named for Sen. Cornelius Cole and was bounded by Melrose Avenue, Sunset Boulevard, Gower and Sewart streets, according to The Times).

Jan. 5, 1908

Here's what we looked like 100 years ago. Notice we have the eight-column grid, and illustrations instead of photographs. I don't believe the dropcaps on those stacked headlines will come back anytime soon. Most important, there's almost no local news on the front page, except for the index and three-bullet items in the first column.


110 revisited

Jan. 5, 1908
Los Angeles

1908_0105_traffic_2 Journey back with me now to the simple, carefree days of life in Los Angeles in 1908.

You might wonder what our great-grandparents were up to 100 years ago, or 30 years before the ground-breaking for the Pasadena Freeway.

Perhaps you imagine your great-uncle in the parlor serenading the family on the mandolin or winding up the Victrola while great-grandma was opening the kitchen door for the iceman and wondering if great-grandpa had stopped off at the saloon on the way home.

In a word: No.

Strangely enough, what they were really doing exactly a century ago was complaining about the awful traffic in Los Angeles. But wait, you say, we're talking about 1908. Traffic couldn't have been all that terrible, could it?

Indeed, it was.

"At every corner where two streets cross, we used to see an express wagon, as many as four at a junction, standing there most of the day waiting for business to come to them. And at some places were these big furniture vans almost as big as a house," one unidentified councilman said, according to The Times of May 16, 1908.

The councilman was speaking about the results of an ordinance described in The Times on Jan. 5, 1908, that established a downtown "business district" and a "congested district," where traffic was to be tightly regulated.

The business district was a large chunk of downtown from Los Angeles Street to Hill Street and generally Temple to 10th Street. (It's more complicated than that, but I don't want to overly tax anyone's knowledge of local geography--the Google map is complicated by the fact that I have to approximate where Marchessault Street was).

I wonder if you can guess the boundaries of the newly designated congested district.

Oh, come on. Try.

Did someone say "Spring Street and Broadway from 1st to 7th?"  How about "1st through 6th streets from Hill to Main?"

It's painfully familiar, isn't it?

Now remember, this is 1908. Was our new friend, the automobile, the problem?

Mostly, no. In general, it was freight vehicles drawn by animals, which were banned from the congested district from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week.

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Here are selections from the 1908 traffic ordinance:

"Between the hours of 8 o'clock a.m. and 7 o'clock p.m. of any day, it shall be unlawful for any person to drive or propel upon any street in the congested district of the city of Los Angeles, excepting 3rd Street:

Any freight vehicle drawn by more than four animals

or any two freight vehicles hitched in tandem

1908_0106_ads or any wagon loaded with hay

or any crude oil wagon

or any freight vehicle, the bed, body or carrying part of which shall exceed 20 feet in length or 8 1/2 feet in width

or any freight vehicle carrying a load, which load, together with the bed, body or carrying part of said vehicle shall at any point occupy a space greater than 20 feet in length or 8 1/2 feet in width.

The law also banned furniture vans, express or other wagons waiting for hire.

And at last, the regulation mentions automobiles: The number of cabs, autos or other passenger vehicles that may "stand on any block in the congested district" is limited to six, not more than three on one side of the street, nor within 75 feet of a corner.

And notice this: "They must have permission of the occupant of the property and a license from the Police Commission."

In addition, the speed limit for all vehicles was 12 mph in much of the downtown area (again, it's more complicated than that but that's the basic principle). The speed limit at intersections in the business district was 6 mph.

Not surprisingly, the new provisions of the complicated ordinance sowed confusion among the courts, police officers and drivers (of wagons, apparently).

Did it help ease traffic? The unidentified councilman thought so, but the drivers of freight wagons fought hard against the law.

Interestingly enough, the regulations made parking permits from the Police Commission a valuable commodity that sold for $500 to $1,500 ($10,433.26-$31,299.77 USD 2006).

Yep. I was thinking the same thing.

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Photograph by Larry Harnisch / Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Police Department headquarters under construction, 1st Street and Spring, Jan. 3, 2008.

110 revisited


Photograph by Larry Harnisch / Los Angeles Times

Every year, in the middle of broken glass, bits of metal and trash, these California poppies come up in a crack in the pavement at the Salonica Street entrance to the southbound Pasadena Freeway. There's no on-ramp, just a stop sign and a right turn, so I always have time to admire them while I'm waiting for a break in traffic. 

Found on EBay

Here's an interesting curio I found on EBay: A badge purportedly issued by the Pacific Electric Railway. I'm always suspicious of items like this because reproductions are common and frankly I wasn't sure the PE had a police force.


However, a quick trip to ProQuest reveals several stories in 1906 and 1907 about Pacific Electric Police Detective George Churchill, who investigated the theft of copper wire from the trolley system, the mysterious death of a car conductor and chased down a man who threw a rock through the window of Car No. 353 on the Long Beach line. He also arrested two men on the Santa Ana line who amused themselves by ringing up $30 in extra fares when the conductor wasn't looking.

(Given stories like these--and there are many more--I find it a miracle that the streetcar system has acquired sainthood in contemporary Los Angeles. Have you ever wondered what happened when a trolley car hit a horse? Think about it. The carnage on the streets of early 20th century Los Angeles is not to be believed).

And no, I don't get a percentage on this item or anything of the kind. Rather, this is another example of the amazing trove of history that turns up on EBay. It isn't a can of smog or photos of Julian Eltinge, but interesting in its own way. EBay has certainly offered me an outlet for excess cash in procuring copies of Confidential magazine for the Daily Mirror. (And to all of you who have asked: No, to the best of my knowledge no library or archive owns a complete run of Confidential).

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Editor kills self

Jan. 4, 1958
New York


Photographs by Dan McCormack / Los Angeles Times

Howard Rushmore on Aug. 12, 1957, during the Confidential magazine trial.



I already touched on Howard Rushmore's suicide when writing in May about another tragic figure in the Confidential magazine case, Ronnie Quillan.


Howard Rushmore testifies, Aug. 9, 1957.

And as a bonus, courtesy of Steven Bibb, here's the famous Robert Mitchum "I'm a hamburger" story from Confidential, July 1955. Although Mitchum brought a $1-million suit against Confidential over this story, I cannot find any accounts in The Times reporting on the outcome.




Note the July 1955 cover in this photo of Deputy Dist. Atty. William Ritzi from the trial.

Page 1


Page 2


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Jan. 4, 1958


Bimini Baths

The Bimini Baths, 3rd Street at Vermont Avenue, Dec. 28, 1902. Note the reference to being part of an old oilfield. Also note the 225-volt lights.



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