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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: June 1, 2008 - June 7, 2008

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June 5, 1958




Here's where we have a rare convergence: The Dodgers, columnists Matt Weinstock    and  Paul Coates, and Jack Searles writing about Chavez Ravine residents' reaction to the passage of Proposition B. How can you not love an interview with Mrs. Barden Scott, who lives (or supposedly lives) at what will become home plate at Dodger Stadium?

What does she say: "Someone's going to pay a darn good price to get us out of here now."

My favorite part of the story is the name of her dog: Sandy.

Six in a row for Drysdale

June 5, 1968

By Keith Thursby
Times staff writer

1968_0605_sports This time, no ninth-inning escapes were needed for Don Drysdale to continue his remarkable season.

The Dodgers defeated the Pirates, 5-0, as Drysdale passed Carl Hubbell's record for scoreless innings en route to his sixth consecutive shutout.

Drysdale faced little of the drama he survived in his last start, when he hit the Giants' Dick Dietz with the bases loaded in the ninth inning only to see the umpire rule the batter didn't try to avoid the pitch.  Drysdale eventually got out of the inning without giving up a run.

Against the Pirates, he broke Hubbell's mark of 46 1/3 scoreless innings in the second when he struck out Bill Mazeroski. It was apparently all downhill from there, although stories in The Times credited second baseman Paul Popovich with making three outstanding plays to help protect the shutout.

Some of the Pirates praised Drysdale but at least one spoke openly about suggestions that he was using something extra on the baseball.

"He had the best sinker in baseball, no rotation, just like a knuckleball," Don Clendenon told The Times' Dwight Chapin. "He was great. His Vaseline ball worked real good. Was it a Vaseline ball? I don't think. I know it was.

"But more power to him. Great, tremendous. I hope he gets 200 innings in a row."

Former teammate Maury Wills started at third base for the Pirates that night. "Give him credit, he pitched a good game," Wills said. "There's no use trying to pick apart what he was throwing or what he was doing." 

New home for Dodgers

June 5, 1958

By Keith Thursby
Times staff writer

1958_0605_cover So it was close, but a win is a win.

A day later, participants in both sides of the battle over building a baseball stadium in Chavez Ravine seemed to agree that the measure to approve the city's deal with the Dodgers had passed. The Times reported June 5 that with about half of the city's precincts reporting Proposition B was being approved by about 15,000 votes. Mayor Norris Poulson said the measure would ultimately win by 30,000 votes. A story the next day in The Times put the margin at 24,293 votes.

"The vote appears to be conclusive," City Councilman Earle D. Baker said in the story written by Carlton Williams. Baker said he considered the result a mandate and would no longer oppose the project.

The main story in The Times gave lots of room to the winning side, with quotes from Poulson and other city officials.

Councilwoman Rosalind Wyman, an early backer of bringing the Dodgers to Los Angeles, was understandably elated. "I sincerely hope the City Council will now pull together and assist the Dodgers with their plan to build the finest baseball stadium in the nation as soon as possible,"  she said.

She might have been thinking of Councilman John Holland, a fierce opponent of the Chavez Ravine deal. He was not quoted in the June 5 story, but a day later in The Times sounded like a man not ready to give up the fight. Among other things, Holland said the close results in his district were "a clear mandate from my constituents to continue the fight against the Dodger contract."

Dodger owner Walter O'Malley, pictured with a victory cigar, said construction on the ballpark could start as early as July 5 "if there are no roadblocks such as problems of proper clearance or delays due to litigation."

Voices--Eric Malnic

Above, one of the more curious aspects of the Robert F. Kennedy shooting: The search for the "Girl in the Polka Dot Dress."

By Eric Malnic
Special to The Times

1968_0608_polkadot02 Things were busy in the Times newsroom on primary election night in June 1968, and a lot of people were shuffled around to fill in the gaps.

Bud Lembke, from the San Francisco bureau, was down in Los Angeles to cover the anticipated victory of Robert F. Kennedy.   Bill Drummond, a cityside reporter who normally worked general assignment, was on night rewrite.

They needed someone to work the night city desk.  Nothing ever happens on primary election night.  Why not try some kid who had never worked the desk before?  I was that kid.

Shortly before midnight, Drummond was catching the last notes from Lembke, who was at the Ambassador, where Kennedy had just finished his victory speech.   All the top brass --  City Editor Bill Thomas, Managing Editor Frank Haven and their cohorts -- were in Haven's corner office, already enjoying the bourbon that was always broken out after election night was in the bag.

Drummond, who was seated opposite and facing me, suddenly looked up, straight at me, and shouted, "Kennedy's been shot!"

It was less than five years after JFK had been assassinated, and Drummond's shout sounded like a pathetic and totally inappropriate attempt at humor.

"Kennedy's been shot!" Drummond shouted again, his voice cracking and choked with emotion that made it clear he wasn't kidding.

I jumped up and dashed into Haven's office.

"Kennedy's been shot!" I yelled.

They looked at me as though I was clearly nuts.

"Kennedy's been shot!" I yelled again, and they knew it was true.

There was a silence that lasted a long second or two, and then Haven spoke.   "Tell them to stop the presses," he said quietly.

In my 47 years at the paper, it was the only time I ever heard anyone utter that phrase.

Haven strolled calmly out into the city room and started barking orders. Grabbing a pencil from the totally overwhelmed overnight editor, Bob Hoenig, who was supposed to be drafting plans for the normally scheduled "9 a.m. Final" edition, Haven deftly sketched out a dummy for a new version of the main "Home" edition, which was now on hold.  "Right here is where we'll put the picture, if we get one," Haven said.

Ten minutes later, someone dashed in with film that Boris Yaro had shot in the pantry at the Ambassador. "Boris said to tell you that he didn't have a flash," someone else said.

The film was given to Bill Murphy, a photographer who was a master craftsman at the arts of developing and printing.  Murphy came out of the lab moments later with a negative that looked like a plate of window glass.  Haven groaned.

Mumbling incantations and reaching into a bag of tricks that dated back to medieval witchcraft, Murphy returned to the lab.  Ten minutes later, he emerged with the print that marked Yaro's career.

In the turmoil that followed, a lot of people changed jobs.  I ended up working the city desk for the next 12 years.
Note: In response to my question about how long he worked at The Times, Eric writes:

That simple question results in a complex answer:

I started working for The Times as a copyboy in the summer of 1957.  I was considered a part-time employee.

I returned as a copyboy in the summer of 1958, being made a full-time employee in August 1958.  That is the date they used to compute my pension.

I was drafted into the Army in January 1959, and -- thanks to Kennedy -- my military service was extended until June 1962. The law then required The Times to give me my old job back, complete with any raises that I might have accrued during my military service.

In late June 1962, I returned to The Times as a copyboy.  In July 1962, I was made a reporter.  I worked both as a reporter and an editor until January 2006, when I retired.

You figger it out.

Voices--Juan Romero

Photograph by William Dietsch / Los Angeles Times
Juan Romero in a photo dated June 18, 1968.

"It is hard to understand. I did nothing. It just happened. Mr. Kennedy was there and he needed someone with him, that's all."
--Juan Romero in a 1968 interview with Ted Thackrey Jr.

By Steve Lopez
Times staff writer

Photograph by Steve Fontanini
Los Angeles Times

Juan Romero is led into the courtroom to testify against Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, in a photo dated Feb. 15, 1969.

When you write stories for three decades, occasionally someone asks if you had a favorite. I never did until five years ago, when I met Juan Romero.

An editor at Life magazine had asked if I remembered the busboy who knelt at Bobby Kennedy's side on June 5, 1968, when he was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Of course I remembered. The photos of that skinny kid in the angelic white service coat, cradling Kennedy, were searing.

Go find him, said the editor.

Romero wasn't hard to track down. I found him doing hard labor in San Jose, his strong hands callused by years of toil for a paving company.

But 30 years after the assassination, he was still haunted by that night, and talking about it was not one of his favorite things to do. We went out for a couple of beers, and Romero began squirming and twisting himself up. When he finally found a way to let it out, it was for his own sake as much as mine.

Thursday marks the 35th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, so last week, I went to visit Romero again in San Jose. The father of four, now 53, was pouring concrete under a merciless sun. When he got off duty, we went out for a cold one, just like last time, and Juan Romero revisited the day that has shaped his life.

It was Juan's stepfather, an Ambassador waiter, who got him the job. Juan, whose family moved to L.A. from Mexico when he was 10, had been flirting with trouble in his East L.A. neighborhood, and his stepdad's solution was to get him off the streets.

"I wore black pants and a white shirt to Hollenbeck Junior High every day," says Juan, who caught the bus for the Ambassador after school. The routine continued when he moved on to Roosevelt High.

Juan worked room service and met scads of celebrities in the Ambassador's glory days, but for him, the arrival of presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy during the 1968 California primary topped the charts.

Juan remembered photos of a Catholic John F. Kennedy on the walls of homes in Mexico -- "next to Pope John Paul and the crucifix" -- and he knew Bobby Kennedy had championed the cause of California farm workers.

"Bobby rolled up his sleeves and walked with them," Juan says.

When Kennedy checked into the Ambassador and called for room service, Juan, then 17, cut a deal with the busboy who drew the job. Juan would retrieve all the other guy's trays that night in return for the Kennedy job.

"He wouldn't do it," Juan remembers of his stubborn colleague. "So I said, 'All right. I'll pay you too.' "

A Kennedy assistant answered the door of the Presidential Suite, and Juan, his eyes wide, pushed the food cart into the room and found himself standing next to Kennedy.

"He shook my hand as hard as anyone had ever shaken it," Juan says. "I walked out of there 20 feet tall, thinking, 'I'm not just a busboy, I'm a human being.' He made me feel that way."

The next night, Kennedy won the California primary. He made his victory speech at the Ambassador and headed through the kitchen to escape the crush of people, but there was a crowd in there too.

Juan, who wanted to congratulate him, used his skinny frame to knife through the pressed bodies. This man was going to be the next president, Juan thought, and he wanted to see if he could shake his hand once more.

Photograph by Bruce Cox / Los Angeles Times
Juan Romero, who gave his rosary to Kennedy. When Kennedy couldn't hold the rosary, Romero wrapped the beads around his thumb.

"People were six and seven deep," Juan says, but he got close enough to stick out his hand. As Kennedy grabbed it, Juan heard a bang and felt a flash of heat against his face. Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin, had fired from just off Juan's shoulder.

"I thought it was firecrackers at first, or a joke in bad taste," says Juan, but then he saw Kennedy sprawled on the floor and knelt to help him up.

Photograph by Boris Yaro / Los Angeles Times
Juan Romero and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, June 5, 1968.

"He was looking up at the ceiling, and I thought he'd banged his head. I asked, 'Are you OK? Can you get up?' One eye, his left eye, was twitching, and one leg was shaking."

Juan slipped a hand under the back of Kennedy's head to lift him and felt warm blood spilling through his fingers.

"People were screaming, 'Oh my God, not another Dallas!' "

Ethel Kennedy knelt down at her husband's side and pushed Juan away. Juan looked on, angry and stunned, fingering the rosary beads in his pocket.

"When I was in trouble, I would always go and pray to God to make my stepfather forget what I'd done, or to keep me out of trouble the next time. I asked Ethel if I could give Bobby the rosary beads, and she didn't stop me. She didn't say anything.

"I pressed them into his hand but they wouldn't stay because he couldn't grip them, so I tried wrapping them around his thumb. When they were wheeling him away, I saw the rosary beads still hanging off his hand."

Juan was taken to the Rampart police station and questioned about what he saw and what he knew. He was released, still trembling, headed for home, and went to school the next day. It was at Roosevelt High that he saw Kennedy's blood under his fingernails, and decided not to wash his hands.

"Then the mail started coming to the hotel," Juan says. "Sacks and sacks of mail. You couldn't believe the amount of it."

Most of it was supportive, addressed to the anonymous busboy. It was a kind of celebrity Juan never asked for or wanted, and he grew apprehensive about hotel guests asking to see him. He also heard from a handful of lunatics asking why he didn't take the bullet himself, or telling him Kennedy would still be alive if he hadn't stopped to shake Juan's hand.

Juan left Los Angeles for Santa Barbara. He returned briefly to the Ambassador, but was finally driven away by ghosts. He worked at a hotel in Wyoming, then relocated to San Jose and married.

He settled comfortably into family life but lived with the cruel, nagging conviction that he'd been thrown into the path of history for a reason, and he hadn't been up to the challenge.

Juan was convinced he was supposed to find a way to express the hope Kennedy represented for him, but he couldn't find the words.

During the debate over California's Proposition 187, he felt that people were taking one look at his brown skin and figuring him for a freeloader. He wanted to scream that the ballot initiative was proof we needed another Kennedy, but he couldn't find a stage.

And that was just fine, because to remember that day in 1968, Juan ended up doing something more elegant and true. He took the faith expressed in that first handshake from Kennedy and honored the memory by working hard, providing for his family and living a life of tolerance and good deeds.

He doesn't always get it right. Juan's wife tells him he does so many odd jobs for others, it often comes at the expense of time with the family.

Maybe so, but Juan has to help those he can. And he has to keep moving, hurrying from one job to another like a man being chased. Especially around this time of year.

"For words to come out of my mouth that express how I really feel is so hard," Juan says, his eyes filling. "After years and years and years to think about what to say about that night, I can't figure out anything that does justice."

I tell him, once again, that he has said all the right things.

June 5, 1968

"Oh no! No! Don't. . . !"
--Robert F. Kennedy, on being put into an ambulance


"Get a doctor! Get a doctor!
What is America coming to?"

"Some people beat the guy's head and began tearing at his hair."
--Paul Houston, Times reporter, describing attack on Sirhan B. Sirhan

Los Angeles Times file photo

Above, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, beaten after shooting Robert F. Kennedy. Police scuffled with the crowd to protect Sirhan, The Times says.

"Some people said: 'Kill him, don't let him get away.' "

-- Pat Murphy, Ambassador Hotel security guard

"As Kennedy was borne on a stretcher from the hotel to an ambulance, people pushed near him, some of them crying. The senator's shirt was unbuttoned and he appeared to be conscious and alert.

"But by the time he arrived at Central Receiving Hospital he was bundled up in blankets and wearing an oxygen mask.

"He was taken into an operating room and moments later a priest entered the hospital."

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Voices--Sandi Gibbons




Above, a frame grab from a video of Robert F. Kennedy's speech at the Ambassador Hotel. Based on Sandi Gibbons' description the evening, I believe she is on the far right of the frame next to Ethel Kennedy and Rosey Grier. Update: Sandi confirms that she's the woman on the right.

It was hot.

We had been standing in the Embassy Room in the basement of the Ambassador Hotel for hours waiting for Bobby to appear. I was luckier than most. As a reporter for a local wire service that had an audio subsidiary, I had a tape recorder so I could record Robert F. Kennedy as he announced victory in the June 4, 1968, primary election. I was on the stage, along with assorted other broadcast media including a local radio newsman named Andy West and national broadcast correspondent Steve Bell. The three of us chatted for what seemed like hours as we hunkered down on the stage. There was what seemed like hundreds of people in that little reception room that was illuminated by very hot television lights. They were jammed together so tight that if someone fainted, he or she could not fall down. It would have been impossible.

And finally he came. It was just after midnight on June 5, 1968. With his wife, Ethel, at his side, he declared victory and said it was “on to Chicago” and the Democratic National Convention. He had the momentum and may have been the Democratic presidential nominee that summer…and in November the next president of the United States.

All of us on that little stage gathered around Bobby as the screaming, yelling, laughing, happy crowd of supporters surged forward. No one wanted the potential president to be crushed and injured. Being almost 6’ tall, I was part of the ring of people around the candidate. Jesse Unruh, California’s Assembly speaker and chairman of Kennedy’s California campaign, grabbed one of my hands and Rosey Grier, the football star-turned-minister, grabbed the other as we joined the ring of protection.

There was a door directly behind the small stage that led into the hotel kitchen. Kennedy was whisked away through that door and I headed to little bank of pay telephones on the wall to the right of the stage. We didn’t have cell phones then. I got to the phones – there were only three or four – when people started screaming and I heard what sounded like balloons popping. I dialed my office. I said, “This is Sandi. Something is happening….” Click. I was put on hold. Not even a word from the guy on the desk.

Fortunately, we had a second news operation at the Registrar of Voters headquarters. I got a live person when I called, grabbed the arm of a hysterical, crying woman and said, “Please talk to the nice man on the other end and don’t give this phone to anyone.” She did, I found out what happened and dictated to the “nice man on the other end.” To my surprise, little insignificant City News Service had the first bulletin out on the assassination. Of course, NBC showed it live on television, so we didn’t really have it first – just the first wire bulletin.

Kennedy was first taken to Central Receiving Hospital (closed many years ago). I suppose you’d now call it a trauma center – Central Receiving was where they took Los Angeles police offices wounded in the line of duty. After emergency treatment at Central Receiving, he was then taken to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan.

I spent the night sitting on the hood of a police patrol car in front of Good Sam, watching along with other reporters the parade of family members who went into the hospital. Every once in a while, I’d find a pay phone and dictate an update. A room was opened in the hospital for the press around 8 a.m. My office sent me home to get some sleep. In what seemed like minutes after drifting off into a deep sleep, the phone rang. Kennedy was dead and his body was being flown home. I was to go to LAX to cover it.

I did. And at a hastily constructed row of pay phones, I dictated the goodbye story as the plane roared over my head, then banked and turned east. Tears were running down my face. It was the first time that I had cried covering a news story.

Note: Sandi Gibbons is public information officer for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

Matt Weinstock

June 4, 1958


Paul Coates

June 4, 1958


Snapshot of history

Photograph by Howard Decker

Robert F. Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel, a few minutes before he was shot. Thanks, Howard! Check out his blog.

Dodgers leading

June 4, 1958

By Keith Thursby
Times staff writer

1958_0604_mirror Too close to call?

The election night story on Prop. B, the controversial measure to approve building a baseball stadium at Chavez Ravine, didn't have a lot of details. That might have been because of time constraints but also because both sides were still hoping for the best and didn't want to say anything concrete.

The Times said Prop. B piled up a steady lead, but the voting was so close "a nearly complete count of all votes cast in the city might be necessary before the issue is settled."

The story said Mayor Norris Poulson said he had expected a close race and wasn't surprised by the early numbers. And opponents such as City Councilman John Holland refused to concede defeat, The Times said, because opposition to Prop. B was centered in outlying areas (such as the San Fernando Valley) where the vote count will take longer.

Things will be very different a day later.

June 4, 1968

1968_rfk_0604_cover Nat_turnerLiterature: William Styron's "The Confessions of Nat Turner" wins the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

At left, the late Times staff writer Richard Bergholz says that a large voter turnout will probably favor Sen. Eugene McCarthy in his race against Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in the state's presidential primary. A large turnout would also help Republican Sen. Thomas H. Kuchel, who is being challenged by state Supt. of Public Instruction Max Rafferty, the story says. 

The Times notes that the primary will be the first election in Los Angeles County to use punch card ballots rather than rubber stamps.   
Now Playing:
"The Graduate"


And in Orange County ...


Above, Ray Charles performs at Melodyland across from Disneyland ... At left, Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft in "The Graduate." What's on the 8-track tape player? The Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour," the Doors' "Strange Days" and Jefferson Airplane's "After Bathing at Baxter's."

Quote of the Day: "Iron Butterfly would be my nominees for the worst group of the year if I hadn't seen the Hook, Smokestack Lightning and Blue Cheer, but the crowd seemed to like them."
--Pete Johnson, reviewing Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin at the Hollywood Bowl, Sept. 9, 1968.

McCarthy challenges Kennedy on approving wiretapping of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Kennedy said he merely approved the FBI's requests.



New York Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller says he will take the Republican presidential nomination and win the 1968 presidential race. Richard Nixon, he says, cannot win big cities in key states.


"Kennedy will relax today at the Ambassador here to await election returns." Andy Williams, Shirley MacLaine and Rafer Johnson are among the celebrities backing Kennedy.


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McCarthy would ask a person he trusts to examine the closed archives on the John F. Kennedy assassination to see if they should be opened to the public.



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