Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
Category: July 12, 2009 - July 18, 2009
By the nature of their work, artists are individualists. But they have become united as never before by the condemnation of Simon Rodia's Watts Towers. It has become a cause celebre to them, and every day those who can spare the time appear at the hearings in Room 216 of City Hall to back up their speakers.
The Building and Safety Department says the towers are unsafe and should be torn down.
Artists, art lovers and plain interested citizens say no. Their arguments go beyond the possibility that the 104-foot towers, built by immigrant stonemasonRodia of concrete, scrap metal, ceramics and seashells, may be toppled. To them the debate is one of culture vs. ignorance.
LET DENNIS M'CALIB, L.A. artist, have his say:
"Simon Rodia's towers are an expression of 33 years of a vision embodying the most instinctive verities of great art. Since 1921, through rain, sun, and the depredations of small boys, his monumental masterpiece, with its intricate embellishment representing grueling toil, has risen. Now a deadly shadow has fallen across his work, the shadow of persecution and official presumption.
"Simon Rodia's lifetime work of love and mystic devotion to the ideal of beauty is in danger of being cruelly destroyed. Why? Because he did not obtain a permit and because the Building and Safety Department maintains his towers constitute a danger to habitations and persons in the area. Mr.Rodia did not use his materials as building materials per se . He is an artist, not an engineer. If a danger exists, as is claimed, why not simply prohibit children getting near the towers without adult supervision?"
Meanwhile Simon, 81, sits in retirement in Martinez, Cal., aloof from the battle.
AT LAST REPORT rattlesnake hunters were closing in on the deadly reptiles, forced into the open by the heat and drought. If the hunters run out of inspiration, they might call for Marsha Hunt, the beautiful actress. She's an expert.
Not long ago she knocked off one with 10 rattles in her Sherman Oaks yard -- with a shovel. When disbelievers -- I was one -- sound off, she disappears for a moment and comes back wearing the handsome belt she had made of the skin.
A LATE afternoon plane was in position on the runway to take off from S.F. to L.A. the other day when it became apparent something was amiss. The pilot taxied back to the apron and after a systematic search the crew found what it was looking for -- a box marked "Dead case" containing a load of ice cubes.
The plane was a little late arriving here, reports a passenger, Sydney Rosenbert, American Building Maintenance president, but nobody cared.
FOR THE LAST couple of years, Natividad Vacio has played a Mexican gardener in the TV series "Father Knows Best." Jerry Hoffman, publicity man at Columbia Pictures, where the episodes are made, has become acquainted with him and unconsciously addresses him as Feliz. Natividad, who by the way teaches the third grade at Solano Ave. School, has never corrected him.
The other day Jerry saw him on the set and said, "How are you, Feliz?" Herb Wallerstein, assistant director, heard him and asked, "What's this Feliz business? You're mixed up. Are you trying to wish him a merry Christmas?" Feliz Navidad is Merry Christmas.
Made Jerry realized he'd built up a memory association blur. So he has compromised. He now calls Natividad Vacio Chris.
AT HOLLYWOOD Park one recent Saturday Mrs. Hazel Roberts of Highland Park met some friends who suggested she and her husband occupy their grandstand seats, which could be located by the white scarf over them. When they got to them Mrs. Roberts found her sister and family in the next row. They'd come down from Sacramento on a surprise visit and hadn't yet announced their presence. Suddenly it was reunion time. Quite a long-shot with 50,000 people at the track.
Stop the presses--Big Tiny Little quits the Lawrence Welk show. Below, Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" reduced to "rinky tink piano" crapola.
Mash Notes and Comments
(Press Release) "The Adventures of Learning in College," a guide for the young persons who seeks profit from his college years, will be published by Harper & Brothers on Aug. 5 . . ." (signed) Stuart Harris, Publicity Director, Harper & Brothers, New York City.
-- It were an adventure, weren't it, Stu.
"Paul, I got a letter from Memphis Ward. I want to get something straight. Memphis says one of your readers said I had hallatusions.
"Paul, I don't dream these things I write you about up. They happen to me.
"Every morning in this bar where I work a bird flies in the back door. He flies around the bar and chirps away at me. I feed him peanuts.
"Then he flies away but the next morning at 9 a.m. he is right back to see me.
"We are pals.
"Paul, people that think I have hallitousions have never been out in this world and seen things like me.
"I have been to the Grand Canyon. I went to Mexico to look for a gold mine. I have been to Colma Calif. where Sutter discovered gold.
"I have been a bouncer on the San Francisco water front. I started the first taxi on Bayshore highway south of San Francisoco. I started the first boys boxing club of Palo Alto my old home town I moved out of forever.
"I crashed Hollywood and worked in a movie with Greer Garson. In 1935 I was a beach comber at Santa Monica and boxing at Ocean Park and Redondo Beach. I was in the reform school Preston Calif.
"I could go on and on with the true story of my life, but anyway Paul tell your readers that I don't have hallitoutions." (signed) Parkey Sharkey, The Oasis Beer Garden, 241 El Camino Real, Menlo Park.
-- I would, Parkey, but I don't know how to spell it.
(Press Release) "Of the 36 million pounds of snuff consumed by Americans last year, less than 1% was sniffed.
"That's right! Twentieth century snuffers, following the lead of their pioneer forefathers who established the product's trend fromblueblood to redblood use, prefer to taste rather than smell the flavored tobacco.
"Seeing as they modernized the ancient snuff-taking ritual -- eliminating the cumbersome snuffbox, the lace hanky and other distracting frills -- it's little wonder that present-day snuff users call to mind the spirit of the rugged, independent Colonists whenever this one's heard: 'I've Had It!'" (signed) Snuff Information Center, 250 Park Ave., New York City.
-- So have I. Let's get the hell out of here.
"Dear Mr. Coates,
"I've never written a fan letter before in my life, but I enjoy your column so much I felt an urge to write and let you know.
"I appreciate your frankness and your worthwhile items about things that concern all of us, or should. You bring things to light that most writers would not dare. It's very seldom that you run across a man as good-looking as you are who also has brains.
"I wish they would write about you in the movie magazines so we could find out if you're married and where you are from and all. By the way, do you have a wife?" (signed) Kathleen M., Los Angeles
-- Yes, but she doesn't understand me like you do.
The 1979 All-Star Game in Seattle.
I'm not quite sure why I still have my ticket to the 1979 All-Star game in Seattle. I'm not much of a saver and the game doesn't rank among the most memorable. But I'm glad it managed to survive in a little plastic bag with a few other old items, none very valuable but all with memories attached.
The first thing I noticed is the price--all of $7. That is ridiculous and impossible now, but back then a college student with a free week could drive to Seattle, see the game and not have to rob a bank somewhere in between.
The mere fact that my brother and I could buy tickets at any price is also impossible now. We heard one day while watching an Angels game that tickets were available. We checked the calendar, figured why not try and sent off a check.
All-star games are now appointment viewing. My sons are making plans for next year's game in Anaheim, hoping they'll be able to get into one of the various events that surround the real game. They don't even consider watching the actual game because those tickets are out of reach for anyone with a budget or a sense of priorities.
But things were much, much simpler in 1979. The tickets arrived and we drove to our eldest brother's house in Portland. After staying a few days, we drove to Seattle straight for the Kingdome, the Mariners' stadium that's long gone now.
We missed most of the game's top play when Dave Parker's throw from right field got the Angels' Brian Downing at home. Parker was in right field and our seats seemed about 1,000 feet above him. He went after a ball in the corner, disappeared from our view and then a throw came out of nowhere headed to the plate. We were probably more surprised than Downing.
My younger son still has a shirt I bought at the game with my last $5. The players are retired now and I couldn't fit half my frame into that shirt.
The memories of the trip linger, of course. Being at an event in a strange city. Fun times with one of my brothers before we both went off to more adult pursuits. The stupidity of driving home from Seattle stopping only for food and gas.
I wish my kids could find adventures that cost so little but are worth so much.
July 18, 1979: The meltdown of the U.S. auto industry foretold -- GM may recall 60,000 X-Cars (that was the Chevy Citation, Buick Skylark, Oldsmobile Omega and Pontiac Phoenix). And what's in the news? Illegal immigrants on Page 1 and the Metro cover (below).
Anaheim Stadium was a mess in 1979 as the stadium was transformed during the season into one of those classically bad combination stadiums. While the Angels played, the ballpark became something almost unrecognizable so the Rams could begin playing there the next football season.
How big was the change? They sent the stadium's landmark scoreboard packing.
Back in the stadium's quaint early days, the scoreboard looming over the center field fence was the perfect centerpiece. But when the renovations started, they unplugged the Big A and eventually moved it out to the parking lot. Progress.
That was no easy feat in 1979. The first moving day ended early when once of the dollies under its base started to tilt.
The scoreboard wasn't much by today's standards, of course. But it seemed like a lot then.
"That big board was nice because when you're not pitching and just sitting there for nine innings you get the trivia question of the day and a few stats to keep your mind occupied," pitcher Dave Frost told The Times in 1979.
Without the big board, the stadium's announcers had to talk more, bringing back memories of the Dodgers' early days in the Coliseum. Which wasn't exactly a good thing.
"They had a small board in the peristyle and it got to the point where there were so many announcements that they were distracting people from the game," Dennis Packer said.
Walter Cronkite, May 19, 1971: "Many of us see a clear indication on the part of this administration of a grand conspiracy to destroy the credibility of the press. No one doubts the right of anyone to seek to correct distortion, to right untruths ... but the present campaign, spearheaded by Vice President Agnew and Republican National Chairman Sen. Robert Dole goes beyond that."
Walter Cronkite, May 12, 1970: "As news disseminators, nobody can touch us. And we have the best informed society in the world's history." He smiled wryly: "That's what worries the Establishment. No Establishment likes the people to be too well informed."
Then with a sigh, he said: "Our glaring weakness is as news gatherers. We are distinctly third-rate. without the newspaper news services, we'd die."
Nov. 26, 1969: "It's not reaction to a charge made against us that is the question that is at stake here. It's the reaction to an implied threat to freedom of speech in this country."
--Walter Cronkite, on Vice President Spiro Agnew's criticism of TV news. During his speech, Agnew noted that radio and TV stations are federally licensed.
Walter Cronkite, April 28, 1966: "I am annoyed though, when I see reviews of our specials on Vietnam criticizing us because, as they put it, we didn't clarify the issues. How can we clarify the issues? Washington itself hasn't, so why would we be expected to? All we can do is throw some light on the debate."