From the Stacks: 'Bookmen and Their Brothels'
Dawson’s Bookshop on Grand Avenue in 1939.
Jake Zeitlin’s shop at 614 W. 6th St., 1936. Interior by Lloyd Wright.
In the 1930sLos Angeles was not exactly a small town, but it had an intimacy which the subsequent years have lost. There was such a concentration of businesses that one could run into a dozen acquaintances while walking no more than a few blocks. The big red Pacific Electric cars brought shoppers from miles around and the yellow street cars crisscrossed the city, all leading to the area we called "downtown."
To me the heart was where the bookstores were. Along with a few bars, and some mangy upstairs hotels of questionable morality, they lined both sides of west 6th Street from Grand Avenue nearly to Figueroa. A few shops hung on the fringes, such as Dawson's, a block away at the corner of Wilshire and Grand, and Louis Epstein's bookstore over on 8th Street. A half a million books or more were to be seen within this area of a few blocks and booklovers flocked to the lure. There was variety in both books and establishments.
For instance, in Ralph Howie's little English nook one could sink into a soft leather chair and chat about books while stroking a binding by Cobden-Sanderson or looking at the pages of an edition printed by Giambattista Bodoni. Each book was in its place, immaculate and carefully chosen. Or up the street a block one could gingerly slip into David Kohn's Curio Book Shop where a hundred thousand books were crammed helter skelter in bins, piled on the floor, stacked in the basement, with only a bare semblance of order. It was a grimy job searching here for a treasure, since more than a decade of dust was mingled with the books; but for the hunter it was a delightful challenge. No one could possibly anticipate what might be discovered in this melange. Kohn usually stood noncommittally in the doorway, hat pulled down to his ears, seemingly uninterested, while emitting an occasional eructation that echoed down the canyon of 6th Street and created minor disturbances in the hotel cribs on the upstairs floors.
Mingled with these shops were Bunster Creeley's Abbey Bookshop, Ben Epstein's Argonaut, Borden's, Rodger's, Lofland's, Holmes's huge emporium of books and several incidental shops whose names I have long forgotten, and, of course, Jake Zeitlin's bookshop and gallery.
The aficionados of books were regular visitors to most of these shops but there gradually developed a division of affection that found the serious, older and Californiana collectors gathering around "Club" Dawson while the younger writers, artists, and printers loitered at "Club" Zeitlin.