The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: June 2009

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Found on EBay -- J.W. Robinson's

J.W. Robinson's, EBay

Here's a bit of early Los Angeles opulence: The restroom at J.W. Robinson's, complete with a well. Purely decorative, I'm sure. Bidding starts at $7.99.

Matt Weinstock, June 30, 1959

An Arena At Last

Matt Weinstock Suddenly it seems, after a decade or more of anticipation, Los Angeles has its sports arena. It didn't come easily. One by one obstacles had to be knocked down. But obstacles are quickly forgotten when you inspect such a jewel as this beautiful, modern, postless stadium, which cost $5,950,000 and has a maximum capacity of 22,400.

No one person can claim credit for such a dream come true, but William H. Nicholas most merits the distinction. When Bill took over as general manager of the Coliseum Jan. 1, 1946, he told the Coliseum Commission that once the huge saucer was on a solid operating basis the goal should be a major indoor sports arena.

On Jan. 15, 1946, the commission authorized architects and engineers to make preliminary plans, but these were abandoned.

ON JULY 6, 1954, plans were revived. In April, 1957, Welton Becket was named architect. In 1958, L.E. Dixon was named contractor. But for a long time there was only an immense hole in the ground and an immense pile of dirt to remind passers-by that sometime in the future an arena would rise there. The hole was dug by Guy F. Atkinson Co., which paid $23,000 for the dirt. It was used for the Harbor Freeway fill, saving $200,000 in excavation cost. Construction finally began April 7, 1958.

Most difficult problem of construction, according to Ray Otti, project engineer, was spotting two huge cranes used to put the 1,550 tons of steel beams into place. The crane trucks had only a half inch leeway, and a surveyor's transit was used to locate the crane trucks.


SOME PEOPLE in the entertainment and advertising worlds make a great point about the tempo of New York being faster than Hollywood's. Not so for an easterner here briefly on a big exploitation deal. He has an ulcer but his doctor permits him one drink a day to relax his tension. The other day he groaned to a friend, "I've only been here four days and I'm already up to Feb. 22, 1960 in my drinking."


NOT EVERYONE can afford to indulge himself with the luxury of indignation but some persons are more impulsive and daring than others.

A man bought a portable T.V. set recently and connected his radio with the speaker so he could get stereophonic music. It wouldn't work on a recent Friday, he complained. He was told a service man would not be available until Monday. He tinkered with it some more but it still wouldn't work and on Sunday, in his fury, he dumped the offending set at the store's front door. Over the week someone stole it and the resulting hassle is still reverberating. Meanwhile, the thief is probably building up a bad case of frustration, too.


HOW FAST do you read? Normal speed is 200-250 words a minute. But you can train yourself to do better.

Classic example is Bob Kirsch, Times book editor and author of a best-seller, "In the Wrong Rain." He reads up to 1,700 words a minute and drinks in the average novel in less than an hour.

While taking graduate work at UCLA he was faced with studying a mountain of books in a short time for a comprehensive exam. He looked into speed reading and got up to 700 words a minute. He has kept improving. Confidence and practice, he says, are the most important things.

Most people are verbal readers. He isn't.

"The reading process isn't merely absorption of symbols on a page," he says. "It's remembering what you read and letting the impact form in your mind." He has to. Sometimes he reviews a book days after he has read it.


PUBLIC AT LARGE -- Harold Mallon says he found this message in a fortune cooky: "You are capable of anything -- see a psychiatrist immediately" ... Robert O. Atkins overheard a friend in this malaprop: "He looks emancipated but he's just naturally skinny" ... So-called patriots are protesting the appearance of Pete Seeger, noted folk singer, in Veterans Memorial Auditorium tomorrow and Pasadena Civic Auditorium Thursday.

Paul V. Coates -- Confidential File, June 30, 1959

Nobody Has Died Laughing Yet

Watch in Shark Just Sad Joke

Paul CoatesJoe St. Denis, occupation sea captain, swabbed the panic a little thicker and a little wider last week.

Returning from Catalina Island waters, he reported that he landed a 750-lb. white killer shark, split open its belly and removed a corroded wrist watch.

No doubt, you read the story. It made all the papers.

A Death Watch

The mangled watch, which St. Denis later turned over to the Sheriff's Dept. for study, was checked against the timepieces worn by persons lost at sea over the last half-dozen years.

A Compton housewife feared it belonged to her husband, who's been missing since June 4, the date his small boat disappeared between Catalina and Santa Barbara Island.

X Marks Something

There were other theories, too. Plenty of them.

But forget theories for a moment, and listen to the true story, as related to me by Capt. St. Denis.

I met the captain, a flashily dressed, jive-talking young man in Newport Beach's Berkshire Restaurant a couple of nights ago. Or, more accurately, he met me.

With my wife and kids, I was having dinner when he approached and squatted on his haunches next to my chair.

"I've got a story for you, Dad," he began. "I'll give you the X on it."

Drink Perching

"The X?" I asked him.

"The exclusive, man. Exclusive. You read that bit about the watch in the shark's stomach? I'm the oaf that story was about."

Capt. St. Denis perched the drink which was traveling with him on the edge of our table and produced a business card from his pocket.

Allowing me a moment to study it, he picked up his drink again and continued:

"What a mess that caper got me into.

"What happened," he said, "is I had this charter party out, and it was laughs, you know? Well, with the shark scare on and everything, we got this idea.

"I called in to the radio station -- it's a station that I do a weather report on -- that we caught a huge shark, cut it open, and found a man's watch in its stomach." 

The Jolly One

Sea Capt. St. Denis smiled wryly. "At that time, it sounded very funny. Trouble is, by the time we got back to the mainland, it had already been broadcast over the radio -- and reporters, wire services, everybody wanted more dope on it. Man, I had to get me a watch real fast."

My kids halted their dinner and listened as the fascinating mariner related how he went from jewelry store to jewelry store in the Newport-Balboa area, trying to hustle up a cheap, broken watch.

"Finally, a jeweler gave me some old parts. I smacked them around a bit, and dipped them in acid to make it look more real," St. Denis explained.

"That's the watch," he added, "that the reporters took the picture of -- the one I finally had to turn over to the sheriffs. Once the story started building, I had to stick to it."

(Roger Lacy, head of the sheriff's crime lab, confirmed today that the timepiece had never been in the stomach of a shark. There was no organic material clinging to it, said Lacy, but there was evidence it had been tampered with to give an impression of long immersion in salt water.)

I asked St. Denis if he didn't think it was a pretty grim practical joke.

"Man, I know it," he answered. "Like, this one woman whose husband's boat has been missing out there -- she must have called me half a dozen times.

"I tried to tell her, 'Lady, you're going the wrong route. That isn't your husband's watch. Forget it, lady.' "

St. Denis sighed. "Everybody's been bugging me. There was no shark. There was no watch. There was nothing. It was just a joke, a gag.

"It sounded," Capt. Joe St. Denis said sadly, "funny at the time."

A Kinder, Simpler Time Dept: Your Mideast Conflict

June 30, 1985, Hostages

June 30, 1985: A stipulation that the U.S. not retaliate ends an agreement that would have freed 39 hostages taken during the hijacking of TWA Flight 847.

Nuestro Pueblo: The Pico Adobe

June 30, 1939, Nuestro Pueblo, Pico Adobe

June 30, 1939: Nuestro Pueblo visits the Pico Adobe.

May 9. 1889, Pio Pico Lawsuit

May 9, 1889: Pio Pico is back in court.
Feb. 12, 1891, Pio Pico

Feb. 12, 1891: A Times editorial soliciting aid for Pico after his courtroom defeat.

Today's Nuestro Pueblo sent me in search of the story of Pio Pico. One of best things about ProQuest is that I don't need to turn to a  book in which the facts have been diluted, filtered through an author's viewpoint or mangled through shoddy research.  I can go back to the first draft of history.

To be sure, the newspapers have flaws and one must always be alert for them. But even so, the newspaper accounts have an immediacy, authenticity and comprehensiveness that books rarely match.

For that matter, the biases of the original reports constitute their own type of history. Coverage of Pico is rather typical in the attitude that the Spanish of early California were idlers who threw away their fortunes on grand fiestas and that the region would have been nothing but raw land had it not been for the influx of shrewd white businessmen.

Sept. 12, 1894, Pio Pico

Sept. 12, 1894, Pio Pico

Sept. 12, 1894: The Times' obituary of Pio Pico, the last Spanish governor of California.

Street Sweeping -- Cut to Save Money -- Resumes

June 30, 1899, Street Sweeping

June 30, 1899: The city will resume sweeping streets after a two-month suspension to cut expenses.

Neighbors Accuse Foster Mother of Beating Boy With Buggy Whip

June 30, 1889, Hard Times in Los Angeles

June 30, 1889: Mrs. Noles is accused of beating a 3-year-old boy with a buggy whip. Nonsense, she says, she doesn't own a buggy whip. She was just correcting the lad, as good parents do ... and zanjas are for sleeping.

Found on EBay -- One Magazine

One Magazine, 1953

The inaugural January 1953 issue of One magazine, published in Los Angeles, has been listed on EBay. One was a historic magazine that dealt with gay issues. It was declared obscene by the Postal Service, resulting in a landmark 1st Amendment ruling. Bidding starts at $9.99.

Update: This item sold for $455.

Matt Weinstock, June 29, 1959

Those Plastic Bags

Matt Weinstock There are times when public servants feel they aren't getting through to the public they're trying to serve.

Not long ago George M. Uhl, city health officer, warned of the dangers of permitting children to play with plastic bags, from which three children in his area have died. They use them as helmets in playing spaceman. Infants elsewhere in the nation have been suffocated by plastic coverings on mattress pads.

In his warning Dr. Uhl said the plastic material apparently set up an electrostatic charge, causing it to cling to the face.

A housewife phoned a few days later and said she used the bags to store fruit and vegetables, first scrubbing them out with hot, soapy water. What she wanted to know was would this kill the dangerous germs from outer space the health department had warned about.

June 29, 1959, Teens "What was that again?" a startled health man asked.

"You should know!" the irate woman said, "you warned us to watch out for static germs from outer space in plastic bags!"

You can't win them all.


AS HE prepared to depart on a trip for New York a business executive had a violent quarrel with his wife. So, to let her know she couldn't push him around, he took out $125,000 in accident insurance at the airport naming himself as beneficiary and mailed it to her.


Gals appear in summer frocks,
The mercury is rising.
Vacation time! Good-by to clocks
And hard-sell advertising.


June 29, 1959, Consumers THE ULTIMATE ignominy has come to a proud small car owner. He drove into a downtown hotel parking lot, accepted the receipt from the attendant and went to his appointment. When he returned to retrieve his tiny Metropolitan he noticed that the attendant had written opposite "Make of car" the word "Bug."


SANTA MONICANS may be interested to learn that North Young has traced the origin of a classic slang expression to the loading dock of the Bay City Mask Co. HalO'Ween, the firm's president, confided to him recently that one of his shipping clerks, U. Snow Hooks, had been shouting this expression a decade before it became popular.

As Hooks was said to clam up around the idly curious, North borrowed the company's Mask No. 99 and, posing as a time-study engineer, stationed himself on the loading dock. Soon some chickens from a neighboring poultry shop flew up onto the platform and began pecking holes in the cardboard boxes awaiting shipment. Hooks rushed out and shouted toward the poultry shop, "Keep your carton-pecking hens out of here!"


June 29, 1959, Abby A WHILE BACK Bill Sanella, Burbank auto dealer, called attention here to the unfairness of the state sales tax on autos. For instance, suppose you are allowed $2,000 on the car you turn in on a $3,000 car. Only $1,000 cash is involved, but you must pay sales tax on the full $3,000.

Since, readers have been pointing out that when the car is resold each new buyer must pay sales tax on the full purchase price. The refrain: "Where did they get that name -- Board of Equalization?"


AT RANDOM -- Every time a new Explorer satellite is sent aloft Tom Cracraft has a countdown of his own -- only he enumerates them differently: Expenditure III, Expenditure IV, Expenditure V ... Helen Hall, the real estate lady, asked for a compass in a dime store and the clerk replied, "We have compasses for drawing circles but not for going places." Fortunately, she was not going anywhere ... A man at a sidewalk stand declined mustard on his hot dog. "Ulcer," he explained. When the lady handed it to him he said brightly, "As soon as I divorce her I can have mustard again" ... When she doesn't feel up to par a lady addicted to adult westerns says, "I feel like just another notch in a killer's gun." 

Paul V. Coates -- Confidential File, June 29, 1959

 June 29, 1959, Gordo

Confidential File

Kid Racketeers Outdoing Mafia

Paul CoatesI can tell by looking at you that you are a wide-awake member of this community.

When you read this daily newspaper you don't limit yourself to the dated happenings of the Paleolithic Age, as reported by Alley Cop. Nor do you think the open sesame of all knowledge is when you "Ask Andy."

You are the rare type who -- on occasion, at least -- turns from the comic pages to digest the more significant text of the news pages.

And since you do, you are well aware that Page 1, in recent weeks, has been devoted to the hue and cry about an alleged fraternity of bocce ball players called the Mafia.

It's being intensely investigated by congressional committees, state Senate subcommittees, women's clubs, Sunday supplements and Sam Katzman.

June 29, 1959, Bury I am not unsympathetic to this widespread probing.

 If there is a Mafia, we should know about it at once and do something about it.

What we do, we make a movie on it starring Julius La Rosa as the nice Italian kid whose old lady always hoped he would be an opera star, but he winds up being a torpedo for the mob. However, he goes straight in the last three scenes and marries Anna Maria Alberghetti, a nice Italian kid.

But look at me. I digress.

What I started to say is that I don't object to their looking into crime. Trouble is, they haven't come up with anything conclusive about the Mafia.

The authorities disagree. Parker says there is one. And Cohen says there isn't one.

 Or, more specifically, there ain't none.

And while they've been haggling, another syndicate has moved in right under their very noses.

It has come to my attention from a number of sources that a mob made up of little 11-year-old moppets is working the old Girl Scout cooky racket all over town.

First reports came from South L.A. where citizens began calling in complaints that pre-teen youngsters were knocking at their doors and representing themselves as bona fide Brownies. They announced that they were taking orders for Girl Scout cookies at 50 cents a box.

Collect Money and Lam

They collected in advance, lammed, and you know the rest -- no cookies.

The MO has been pretty well defined. The smallest one in the mob makes the pitch and affects an appealing lisp. They work a neighborhood dry in approximately one week and then move to another section.

For example, after South Los Angeles, they were reported in the central district. After that in the vicinity of Melrose and Virgil. And just yesterday I got a call from a lady in the heart of Hollywood, saying she and all her neighbors had been taken by the little tykes.

The situation is really out of hand.

If you ask me, our law-enforcement agencies should stop debating the existence of the Mafia and concentrate on bringing these phony Girl Scouts to justice.

And once we get them, what we do, we make a movie on it, starring Judy Garland as the nice little kid whose old lady always hoped she would be an opera star, but...

A Kinder, Simpler Time Dept: Your Mideast Conflict

June 29, 1983, Beirut

June 29, 1983: In Lebanon, rebels trying to displace Yasser Arafat as head of the PLO attack positions held by loyalists in fighting along the Beirut-Damascus highway. Note the byline: J. Michael Kennedy, now of NPR.

Holy Barbarians

Lawrence Lipton, Holy Barbarians
Above, the dust jacket of Lawrence Lipton's "Holy Barbarians" that's in pretty good shape. Obviously owned by a square.

June 29, 1958, Lawrence Lipton

June 28, 1959: Lawrence Lipton uses a review of "The Beat Generation and the Angry Young Men," by Gene Feldman and Max Gartenberg to explore bohemian life of the 1950s.

The reading list at the Daily Mirror HQ is long and quirky: "Never So Few" and "Go Naked Into the World" by Tom T. Chamales, "Muscatel at Noon" by Matt Weinstock and EBay's latest contribution to my shelf of books by W.W. Robinson. Then there's the desiderata, like "The Bridal Night of Ronald and Thusnelda."

What jumped to the top of the list is Lawrence Lipton's "Holy Barbarians," a 1959 chronicle of the Beats in Venice, which I encountered somewhere in the clips, possibly a Weinstock column, although I can't find it now.

The book showed up in the mail a few days ago courtesy of EBay, so I've been playing Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and some Coltrane all weekend to create the right mood while I read it. To do the job right,  I suppose I should have a set of bongo drums somewhere, hang netting and sea shells on the walls and fill the place with stale marijuana smoke, but I'm not that much of a stickler for authenticity.

The former husband of mystery novelist Craig Rice, Lipton was born in 1898, so he was about 60 when he wrote the book, roughly the twice the age of the beatniks who considered him an elder statesman of their disaffiliated generation.

Lipton was the Boswell of these Beats, capturing their lives in exquisite and often excruciating detail. It's fair to say that the book wasn't written as much as it was tape-recorded. Many conversations, some of them quite long, are merely transcribed from tapes Lipton made of his friends.

Behold, actual hipster talk (Page 102):

"It isn't art or intellectualism, it isn't genius that's got me hooked. It's the life. Do you have any idea what it's like out there? Sure, it isn't Main Street any more. Sinclair Lewis' Gopher Prairie is a thing of the past. So is Zenith City, for that matter.Squareville is modern now. It's got network television and Life magazine culture. You can tune in the Metropolitan opera on the radio. You can stay out late and come home drunk once in a while without being hounded out of town. You can play around a little, if you're discreet about it, without too much talk. The drugstores carry paperback editions of Plato and Lin Yutang.

"But the tension! Wages go up three cents and coffee goes up ten. So they pipe sweet Muzak into the supermarkets and you go around in a daze loading up that cute little chromium-plated cart without looking at the price tags. And let most of it rot in the refrigerator before you get to it. Last year's car is out of style before you finish paying for the tail fins. It's a rat race. Who's got time to laze around in the sand for an hour, or take a quiet walk by the ocean in the evening, or watch a sunset?

"Here I can get away from it for a while, at least evenings and weekends. I can do without things. God! do you know what a relief that is? Not to have to keep up with anybody. Nobody to show off for. The people at the office, they don't even know where I live. I tell them I  live in Santa Monica. That's close enough, and it sounds respectable. It's got the same telephone exchange as Venice, so nobody suspects anything.

"This is the one place I've ever lived where you can take your skin off and sit around in your bare bones, if you want to. Only the rich, surrounded by acres of land and iron fences, can enjoy anything like that kind of privacy. That's what I mean by being hip. And staying cool."

Barbara Lane is part time square and part time hipster, but her heart is in Venice West. "In town, at the office, I work. Here I live," she will tell you. "It's like having one foot on each side of the tracks. But that's the only way I can make it."

Notice that there isn't a single "daddy-o." In fact, there isn't one in the entire book. If you think James Ellroy's novels are written in authentic hipster talk, you'll be shocked that their speech is so ordinary -- though they do ramble.

I have more to say about "Holy Barbarians," but I'm only halfway through it. You might want to read along. The book is available for free from in pdf and plain text format.

Is it worth reading? Consider these gems:

Page 20: By which I meant, I suppose, pretty much the same thing that [Kenneth] Rexroth meant when he wrote, apropos of Bird and Dylan, "Against the ruin of the world, there is only one defense -- the creative act."

Page 103: Like Jack Kerouac says in On the Road, "Mexico is a whole nation of hipsters!"

Comments? Send them along.


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