Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
Category: April 12, 2009 - April 18, 2009
I thought it would be fun to explore the story of the "Lizard People," which is to say the excavations on Fort Moore Hill in an unsuccessful search for gold. G. Warren Shufelt usually gets the credit for the enterprise, but his partners deserve equal attention. The Times reported that Rex. I. McCreery and Ray Martin provided an ancient parchment map showing the Lizard People's underground empire, which allegedly stretched from the Central Library on 5th Street to the Southwest Museum, which you must admit is a lot of digging.
Earlier Times clips report that Shufelt had been a mining engineer employed by a mine in Kingman, Ariz., so evidently he was legitimate. Unfortunately, The Times' stories about the gold excavation are vague and conflicting about the origin of the map. Most stories say it belonged to McCreery and Martin, who presumably brought in Shufelt as a partner because he was a mining engineer. Our later story says Shufelt got the map from "Little Chief Greenleaf" alias L. Macklin.
Aug. 15, 1897: An early story about gold buried on Fort Moore Hill.
March 3, 1933: Gold hunters are excavating directly over the Broadway tunnel, a long-gone downtown landmark that was just north of the Hall of Justice. Evidently they didn't question why the crews digging the tunnel didn't find anything.
March 4, 1933: Gold hunters consult their ancient map.
March 7, 1933: Onlookers apparently heckled the diggers.
March 9, 1933: They're close!
March 27, 1933: The hunters are secretive about their map, attributing it to the Spanish rather than the Lizard People.
April 10, 1933: The Board of Supervisors allows digging to continue.
Sept. 7, 1933: Shufelt, McCreery and Martin have given up, but Alfred Scott comes forward to carry on the search.
Dec. 22, 1938: Times columnist Ed Ainsworth takes a look at various legends of lost California gold as engineer Roger J. Adams begins digging. According to The Times' clips, a fair amount of dirt from Fort Moore Hill was used as fill during construction of Union Station. The job was done mostly by hand, with men using picks and shovels as a public works project to provide jobs during the Depression.
Photograph by R.L. Oliver / Los Angeles Times
Sept. 21, 1949: Demolition of the Broadway tunnel failed to reveal any buried gold.
Cans! Cans! Cans!The man on the phone, asking a moment of my time, sounded reasonable -- at first.
"You might want to write about this," he said. "I think I know why people are so tense and nervous and jumpy."
Pencil poised, I waited.
"Cans!" he said.
Right there I began cringing.
"It started with the incinerator ban," he said. "Until then all a person had to worry about was putting out the garbage can on Mondays and Thursdays and the bottles and cans on alternate Wednesdays, at least in my neighborhood.
"All of a sudden," he continued, "people had to gather their old papers and wrappings and cartons and leaves and twigs and put them out at the curb on Tuesdays -- three canfuls for me.
"A person needs a bookkeeping system to keep up with what day is which. I get so mixed up I catch myself putting the garbage out on combustible rubbish day and sometimes I forget can day entirely."
"And," he scolded, "we've still got smog!"
A FUNERAL DIRECTOR out toward San Gabriel a few days ago engaged a travel agent to arrange to ship the remains of the recently deceased elsewhere for burial, with a slightly macabre result.
The travel agent called an airline and inquired about procedure. The airline man, apparently reluctant to handle this type of business, said one way was to ship the deceased air freight, otherwise a regular ticket would be required. The travel agent said this might not always be satisfactory because of the time element. "What about C.O.D.?" he pursued.
"Suppose the people at the other end refused to accept the remains?" the airline man countered.
The travel agent, sensing he was losing ground, retorted, "I guess it's like anything else -- if they don't pay, you just keep the merchandise."
YOU KNOW all those jokes about the Fuller Brush man? Well, today we have a slight case of rebuttal.
John Owen, who has a territory in Hollywood, knocked on a door and a lady invited him in. He realized she had been expecting someone else who hadn't appeared.
He went ahead displaying his brushes and cleaners and cosmetics, but it was obvious she was not in a buying mood. Her mind was on romance. He fled with the reputation of all Fuller Brush men intact.
WEIRD EXCHANGE between two women overheard on the veranda of the Coronado Hotel:
"You know, my son is a normal child."
I THINK I have finally figured out why TV car salesmen mispronounce it "Chevalay." They think it was named for Maurice Chevrolet.
PUBLIC AT LARGE -- What this country needs, Seymour Mandel contends, is a credit card Uncle Sam will honor for taxes ... Of a lady executive he has encountered, Paul Grimes says, "She's easy to talk to -- if you can interrupt her."
Tomorrow's blinds are drawn --
And yesterday? So what!
Go scratch your back, and yawn--
Today's all that you've got.
--JOSEPH P. KRENGEL
AROUND TOWN -- A young man at 5th and Hill carrying a pair of skis and ski boots drew some yoo-hoos from the sun worshipers who abound there ... It isn't generally known that Edd Byrnes, the hair-combing Kookie of "77 Sunset Strip" played a jive-talking killer in the series' pilot film. He was so good they made him a nice guy. Now the teenage girls adore him ... Anyone else besides Blanche von Aspe notice that the new president of Family Service in Pasadena is Mrs. Willis Stork?
The Time the Earth Shook So GaudilySome of us live a lifetime clinging to one moment.
John C. Crowe has.
Fifth-three years ago tomorrow, he was a lonely boy of 17, orphaned by the death of both parents. He was living in a tiny room on the third floor of a rooming house at 6th and Howard Streets in San Francisco.
At exactly 5:13 a.m. on April 18, 1906, John C. Crowe's moment came.
"Even though it was 53 years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday afternoon," he told me.
What he remembers is the San Francisco earthquake and fire, which killed countless scores (the exact number has never been tabulated) and leveled one of the world's great cities.
"The quake lasted one minute and 45 seconds," Mr. Crowe recalled. "But the fire went on for days.
"It's a funny thing," he continued, "people up in San Francisco never like to talk about the earthquake. They always refer to it as 'the big fire.' But you wouldn't have had the fire without the quake, I always say."
I asked Mr. Crowe to tell me about those minutes right after the temblor.
"Well as soon as my bed stopped going from wall to wall, I jumped up and ran out into the street in my nightshirt. There was this big fissure. I stumbled over it and fell flat on my face.
"It was sort of silly, I guess. The sun was just coming up and as I look back on it now it was a beautiful morning. But I didn't think of that then.
"I looked up at the Brunswick House, a four-story hotel right across the street. As I lay there, that huge building cracked right in the middle. It cracked so easy like in slow motion.
"But all of a sudden the top came down with a terrific crash. Plaster and lime rose 145 feet in the air. Just like an atomic bomb cloud.
"Of course," he added, "we didn't have atomic bombs in those days."
The dazed youth got to his feet and, confident that the world was still in one piece, ran back to his room and dressed.
"When I got back out on the street," he continued, "there was this little Irish cop standing in front of the Brunswick House. In a voice thick with brogue he told me, 'If you've got any heart in you, help get these people out.' "
Young John accepted an ax and, in the company of his neighbors, began hacking away at the debris.
"We could hear people moaning and screaming inside," he told me. "It was just one big chorus."
Smoke began pouring from the demolished building and seconds later it erupted in flames.
Mr. Crowe and the brave Irish cop and the others were forced to retreat, the screams and moans still pounding at their ears.
"Only four people got out alive. Four out of more than 100," Mr. Crowe said.
That's part of the tragedy John Crowe recalls.
But there was grim humor, too.
"What was one of the major problems the city faced?" I asked him.
"Drunks," he answered. "Yes sir, drunks. We didn't have any water. So folks drank whisky. People who'd never had a drop, some of them."
The Few Who Were There
Three years ago Mr. Crowe, a retired druggist who has lived in Los Angeles for the last 40 years, was a guest of the city of San Francisco. I asked him what he did to mark the earthquake's 50th anniversary.
"I went back to 6th and Howard Streets and I lay down in the street and I thought about that other morning."
Mr. Crowe got up to leave. "Would you do me a favor?" he asked. "If you write something about me, tell everybody that all of us old-time San Franciscans living here are going to get together tomorrow at MacArthur Park to remember the quake.
"I don't expect many. There aren't a lot of us left."
Aug. 20, 1950: Coming soon: "Sunset Boulevard."
Feb. 22, 1949: Swanson is cast in "Sunset Boulevard."
April 2, 1949, Erich von Stroheim returns to Hollywood to make "Sunset Boulevard."
June 1, 1949: Casting Hedda Hopper in "Sunset Boulevard" was a brilliant stroke of marketing as it ensured frequent plugs for the movie.
Jan. 3, 1950: A photo shows people on the set while Holden and Swanson film a key scene.
Aug. 25, 1950: "There is just one primary issue and that is of public receptiveness to a story of this kind. Will people welcome tearing aside the curtain on much that is sinister and terrible in Hollywood? ... 'Sunset Boulevard' ... tells a sordid narrative that might very well be duplicated in real life. It minces no issues. It is threaded with bitterness, disillusionment and hovers ever over the age of despair."
-- Edwin Schallert
Los Angeles Times file photo
Aileen Pringle in the play "Tons of Money," 1932.
Our mystery movie star of the week is Aileen Pringle, Please congratulate Diane Ely, Floradora, Bob Birchard, Dewey Webb, Peter Mintun, Dru Duniway, Cynthia Keillor, Sam, R. Ahuna and Alekszandr for correctly identifying her.
Check back Monday for another mystery photo!
Just a reminder on how this works: I post the mystery photo on Monday and reveal the answer on Friday. To keep the mystery photo from getting lost in the other entries, I move it from Monday to Tuesday to Wednesday, etc., adding a photo every day.
I have to approve all comments, so if your guess is posted immediately, that means you're wrong. (And if a wrong guess has already been submitted by someone else, there's no point in submitting it again.) If you're right, you will have to wait until Friday. There's no need to submit your guess five times. Once is enough. The only prize is bragging rights.
The answer to last week's photo: Diana Sands.
Los Angeles Times file photo
Update: Aileen Pringle, 1932.
Here's another photo of our mystery woman. Please congratulate Anne Papineau, Eve Golden and Diane Ely for identifying her. This print was butchered down to a one-column mug shot. Isn't it a great photo?
Los Angeles Times file photo
Update: Aileen Pringle and Helen Johnson in "Soldiers and Women," 1930.
Los Angeles Times file photo
Aileen Pringle, 1934. Her Mexican divorce caused trouble for ex-husband Charles McKenzie because it was not recognized under English law.
Photograph by the Los Angeles Times
Aileen Pringle discusses divorce from novelist James M. Cain, Sept. 5, 1946.
Aileen Pringle, 94; Star of Silent Screen
December 19, 1989
Aileen Pringle, an urbane socialite who became a silent-screen star and the darling of such literary figures as H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, died Saturday in her Manhattan home where she had entertained regularly since her retirement from movies nearly 50 years ago.
She was 94.
Miss Pringle played leading roles in more than 60 films. Two of her best known--"His Hour" and "Three Weeks"--were based on scripts by Elinor Glyn. Miss Glyn had hand-picked Miss Pringle for the latter role, that of a sensual heroine.
Known for her sometimes off-color wisecracks as the silent camera captured her movements, she was credited with a notable piece of Hollywood lore.
According to the book "The Movies," Miss Pringle and Conrad Nagel were filming a scene from "Three Weeks" in which he was carrying her horizontally. Her lips are seen to move and, according to the book, she was not whispering words of endearment to Nagel but was saying, "If you drop me, you bastard, I'll break your neck."
Her other leading men included John Gilbert in adventure movies and Lew Cody in domestic farces.
Among her other films were "Souls for Sale," "Earthbound," "Wife of the Centaur," "A Kiss in the Dark," "Soul Mates," "Beau Broadway" and "Puttin' on the Ritz."
She continued in films after the advent of sound but never with the impact of her earlier pictures.
She made brief appearances in two films of the 1940s, "Laura" and "Since You Went Away," before retiring.
Born Aileen Bisbee in San Francisco to a wealthy family, she was educated in private schools in Europe and first went on the stage in 1915. Her first film was "Redhead" in 1919.
Her first husband was Charles McKenzie Pringle, son of a former governor of Jamaica, and her second was James M. Cain, author of "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and "Mildred Pierce." Both marriages ended in divorce, the second in 1946 after less than a year. Cain died in 1977.