Saturday, December 16, 2006

Green Eyes

Dec. 16, 1907
Los Angeles

And what ran on the sports pages in 1907? We certainly didn’t have the Lakers. How about a cat show at Chutes Park at Grand and Washington? I can just imagine the reaction of my distinguished colleagues on the other end of newsroom to this:

“In the class of white neuters, Col. Dunham Jr. was awarded the first place, and Tootsie, owned by Mrs. E.H. Coane, was a very close second. Mr. [Frederick] Story said he had never had to decide between two cats having so many equal points. The colonel was the finer and best furnished. The eyes and head of Tootsie were better than those of the colonel.”

Now this is intriguing:

“Judge and Mrs. Frederick Story will return to their home in Chicago in a few days. They brought out with them a fine cat for Mrs. H.A. Stearns of the Los Robles kennels. Mr. Stearns presented the cat to his wife, who owns several fine specimens. The new cat, a blue female, comes of an exceptionally fine strain. Her dam was Penelope, the famous Lincoln Park cat, known all through the East as a direct descendant from Spangles. The renowned Spangles is the cat that crossed the Great Sahara Desert upon a camel’s back and was later imported to the United States.”

Now I know nothing about the famous Spangles, but the image of a cat swaying on the back of a camel is too good to ignore. Let’s see what we can find. Alas, Proquest and Google are silent about Spangles the cat and its desert trek. We’ll just have to use our imaginations.

Bonus facts: The Times says that the cat with the greenest eyes was Amboy Lina Snow, owned by Miss A. Trahn.

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Adios Judy!

Judith Regan, the publisher of Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files,” has found a way to make Page 1 of The Times: Get fired by HarperCollins. (The New York Times story is here.)

I’m trying not to gloat. But it’s a challenge. As we used to say at my little old paper, The Arizona Daily Star, in a riff on the standard line in fire stories: “Champagne corks flew hundreds of feet into the air and could be seen for miles.”

By the way, I’m still waiting to hear from Wolfe about his bogus document.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

L.A. Rising

Dec. 15, 1905
Los Angeles

Anybody who sets out to study the development of the city’s neighborhoods can expect to do lots of driving. My recent travels have taken me to an obscure area of South Los Angeles to look for 1907-era houses mentioned in the Dec. 8 issue of The Times: one in the vicinity of 4615 Wesley Ave. and another around 124 W. 52nd St. (Bonus fact: Broadway in that area used to be known as Moneta).

I’ll post some pictures later. The buildings on Wesley are a mix of single-family homes and two-story apartments. As for preservation, you might as well call this neighborhood Stucco Heights.

The Dec. 15 issue pays another visit to South Pasadena and as these buildings involve a short walk rather than a long drive and time is short; well, you get the idea.

The Times says: “South Pasadena, just to the northeast, crowded by the bustling life of the great city to the south and penned in by the no less prosperous Pasadena on the north is one of the best examples of a suburban city.... South Pasadena has more handsome homes within the same area, about a mile and a half square, than any other similar place in the country. There are several modern business blocks also being erected, and a new library building.”

The Times notes 299 building permits in South Pasadena in the last year with a total valuation of $357,036 ($7,327,653.44 USD 2005).

One of the buildings noted is the First National Bank of South Pasadena at Mission and Diamond, now home to an antique store. And then there’s the library, where people are out doing Tai Chi every morning. I’ll post pictures when I get the film developed. We are old school around here....

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

No Christ in Christmas? Good Lord!

Dec. 14, 1907
Los Angeles

The madman who calls himself the superintendent of the Los Angeles schools has touched off an absolute firestorm of anger by ordering teachers not to mention Christ during Christmas pageants or other festivities.

“The town was agog with it yesterday,” The Times said. “It was the talk among both ministers and laymen of the 200 and more churches in Los Angeles.”

The order produced what a teacher called “a pagan celebration.” The Times said: “One little girl went home crying and said to her mamma: ‘We’re not to sing anything about Christ; there might be some little children there who do not believe in Christ, and so we’re not to sing anything about Him.’ ”

The superintendent’s order was not written, but made in a statement during the Dec. 5 meeting of school principals. An anonymous school official told the paper: “He said we were to make [Christmas] an occasion of good cheer; that the city schools are not Sunday schools. He did not say it in so many words, but the interpretation of myself and practically all the principals was that we were to see to it that no reference was made to Christ.”

“The supervisor of music in the city schools rose to her feet and stated that she did not know that such was the position of the managers of the schools; that she had been explaining ‘The Messiah’ to the children, not thinking it possible that there could be any objection to it, and she wished to know what she should do.

“To this the superintendent made reply: ‘Well, you must use nothing that will give offense to anyone.’ It was apparent all the way through what he meant to convey, and many principals, like myself were almost afraid to say anything yesterday.”

The Boyle Heights Men’s Meeting issued a resolution, calling the order “unnecessary, uncalled for and therefore a gratuitous insult to the faith of a great majority of the patrons of our schools” and urged the board of education to ensure that such an affront never occurred again.

The Times raged in a news story, describing the offense: “That the superintendent of the Christian schools of a Christian city in a Christian nation should unwarrantably forbid the teachers to make the Messiah a feature of the exercises celebrating His birthday—that the Christ significance must be left out of Christmas in exercises not a part of the legal school curriculum, but coming after the close of school—it was this that aroused the Christian people of Los Angeles to indignation.”

The superintendent replied, charging the newspaper with false accusations, explaining that there was feud between him and Gen. Otis of The Times. The superintendent, in editing a guide book for Los Angeles, had edited the general’s essay on “industrial freedom” so that it was suitable for print. Otis retorted that “no one should edit his material but himself.”

As for what was construed as an order, the educator said: “I did make a request, which from year to year has been made in the city and which, I understand, is made in practically every city of the land that the teachers should, in arranging their exercises remember that the public schools are secular schools and that only those forms of religious reference which give offense to no one have any place in them.” He also cited the California Constitution’s ban on the use of public money for a sectarian or denominational school.

The superintendent survived this crisis and lasted three more years at the Los Angeles schools. In 1918, he was inaugurated as head of the Los Angeles State Normal School, the beginnings of what became UCLA. Eventually a campus building was named for him.

And when Ernest Carroll Moore died in 1955, he was eulogized by The Times, which once called him “erratic and untruthful” with “long, dull, callous ears,” as a distinguished educator and scholar.

Moore resigned as UCLA’s provost in 1936 so that “I can spend my last days in teaching.”

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Dissecting 'Messiah'

Los Angeles
Dec. 13, 1907

What do we find in music criticism of another era? Let’s take a good look.

“ ‘The Messiah’ was presented at Shrine Auditorium by the Apollo Club last night, and the production, which moved expeditiously, apparently gave pleasure to an audience numbering nearly 3,000 persons.”

Not a good beginning for our anonymous critic. First, the title is wrong (it’s “Messiah”) and he or she dodges any complaints by stating up front that the audience had a good time. We’re clearly not going to get any first-rate writing or telling insights; at best, we can expect a workmanlike cataloging of who was there and what happened. And I’ll save you the trouble of wondering whether the critic mentions that “Messiah” is by Handel. The answer is no, so we’ll drop our expectations even further.

“The most delightful feature of the evening was the singing of Mrs. Genevieve Clark-Wilson, who proved fully her claim to rank among the great oratorio sopranos of the present day.

“From the first pure, deliberate superbly sustained note, casually filling all the reaches of even this immense audience chamber, Mrs. Wilson’s complete mastery of her specialized art was in full evidence. Seldom has any singer, either man or woman [illegible] here such real [illegible] or oratoric style, which is a species of lyric poetry, a constantly [illegible] tranquility.”

“A large woman, she has a large voice, a voice conveying a most restful sense of reserve power and ample breadth and volume. She sings at all times with the most delightful ease and utterly without the vocal and physical rigidity which is deemed a necessary part of dramatic expression by too many of today’s recital stars. Her interpretations of the [illegible] airs and recitatives were [illegible] full of meaning and apparently as near classic tradition as she could bring her director’s tempo.

“Further hearing of Mrs. Wilson would be a [illegible] event indeed.”

Translation (minus all the padding): She’s a big woman with a huge voice who can fill a barn like Shrine Auditorium, which seats 3,000, without amplification. That’s a serious instrument, folks. And she mostly followed the conductor but not always.

I’ve never heard of Wilson so let’s see what Proquest says about her. Hm. Not much. Apparently she was based in Chicago and was a fairly prominent soloist in liturgical music. I’m a bit curious about “From the first pure, deliberate superbly sustained note” because the soprano’s initial number is “There Were Shepherds.” Ah well.

But this is interesting, and perhaps the most telling item in the entire review:

“The Messiah” has become hackneyed in Los Angeles. Great as the work is [now here would be a fine place to mention that it was by Handel, but alas, no], reverenced as it is by hundreds of intelligent [illegible] there is no [illegible] that statement. It has been a yearly event of late and has even been vulgarized by the most blatant [illegible]. It has not always been well sung. So many things have happened to it, in fact, that it is to be hoped that it is shelved at least for a [illegible] term and that opportunity will be given for the hearing of new works.”

This would have been a good opportunity to note that although “Messiah” is usually done around Christmas, what we frequently hear is a truncated version and that the entire work deals with much more of Christ’s life (take “Worthy Is the Lamb,” for example). This distinction is going to be lost on our local critic.

“The Apollo Club, as it stood last night, contained but a few more than 100 persons—a sufficient number, of course, had all the units been of reliable powers. The body of tone as a whole was a pleasing musical quality but the climaxes lacked in vigor and life. The production was not a satisfying one.

“The cold critical discussion of an organization whose members sing for music’s sake, and not for hire, is always a hard and dubious matter. Yet while [illegible] the spirit of the Apollo Club members, who certainly are to be [illegible] for their devotion to the art-cause, candor compels the statement that the organization appears to have lost many of its old-time supports during the past year, and is really in need of sound, new timber to complete and solidify its melodious fabric.”

Translation: This is a community chorus so I don’t want upset anyone by being too hard on it. Some of the singers are iffy.

“Mr. [Eugene] Davis [presumably the conductor, although we are not told—ah, yes, he is] demonstrated one talent last night which calls for comment: It was the unvarying precision of his orchestral beat, certainly a delight to the 30 or 40 players grouped in front of the singers. Hitherto our oratorio conductors, or the most of them at least, have indulged in fanciful gyrations, which, while perhaps patent to the well-drilled singers, threw the [illegible] ranks into dreadful confusion and eventual panic.

“His interpretations were much slower than the metronome tempo indicated on the generally accepted scores of the work—save in one exceptional instance, the ‘Rejoice Greatly,’ whose dripping measures were rushed in one place almost to the danger limit.”

This raises an interesting question: What did performers do in the era before ubiquitous reference recordings? Apparently our critic, at least, could read music and had access to some copy of “Messiah.” I don’t happen to recall tempo markings in scores of “Messiah,” but I’m far from an expert and I don’t have a copy handy to check. “Dripping measures” in “Rejoice Greatly”? Yes, that’s what he or she wrote.

“The other three soloists, Miss [Estelle Catherine] Heartt, Mr. [Charles A.] Bowes and Mr. [Abraham] Miller, are locally well known and their work is such a familiar quantity that it does not call for extended comment. Mr. Miller’s unusually finished style and smooth delivery were again in evidence. Miss Heartt was at times covered by the orchestra and at other times sharped a little but in the main sang with much taste and intelligent interpretation. Mr. Bowes is more of a baritone than a bass but in one air succeeded in impressing with bass virility and resonance of voice.”

Translation: The critic takes a pass on saying anything about the other soloists. What’s the bass air in question in the preceding paragraph? We don’t get to find out.

“The car service was poor and the building was cold and draughty. But heaters will be installed today—and Mr. Behvmer vows that Calve’s concert will be afforded at least three-minute attention by the Huntington lines.”

And there you have it, “Messiah” in the big, cold, drafty Shrine Auditorium, as it was reviewed in 1907. There’s much fodder here for the question of what purpose is served by music reviews—at least those of this kind. And it is worth noting that even 99 years ago, some people were tired of hearing Handel’s most popular oratorio. But I won’t get into any of that here. I’ll just remember what The Times’ Martin Bernheimer once told me: “I know that my redeemer liveth.”

Click here for a photo of the 1920 Shrine Auditorium fire.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Where Children Played

Dec.12, 1907
Los Angeles

In the gritty, industrial heart of the 8th Ward at Holly Street and St. John, officials are planning a large recreation facility “as an oasis in the wilderness,” The Times says. The building, designed by the firm of Hunt, Eager and Burns, will offer an alternative to “those who have no pleasure grounds but the streets and the saloons,” The Times says, noting: “Happy people are nearly always good people.”

The center was to include a gymnasium, baths, bowling alleys, clubrooms, a stage, a regulation running track and organized athletics “to counter the influences of pool rooms [and] saloons,” The Times says.

The city’s habit of renaming streets makes it difficult to locate the center precisely. As best as I can tell, it was at 1546 St. John, a street that has disappeared but would be the northern continuation of Magdalena past Leroy. The facility survived at least into the late 1920s, according to news accounts.

Bonus fact: Hunt, Eager and Burns also designed the Los Angeles Country Club in 1910.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Wachet Auf!

Part 1

Part 3

Part 4

Part 6

Part 7

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The .45-Caliber Ombudsman

Dec. 12, 1907
Los Angeles via the Associated Press

Goldfield, Nev.—J. Holtman Buck, editor of the Western Nevada Miner in Mina, Nev., shot Francis L. Burton to death during a fight over a scathing editorial in which Buck said Burton should be run out of town.

Burton had a long record of fraud and was paroled from a Montana penitentiary after he conned the warden out of $7,000 in one of his investment schemes. In another case, Burton disguised himself and robbed his own bank, and he barely escaped being lynched after bankrupting an entire mining camp in a fraudulent scheme.

More recently, Burton had been in Mina, “jumping town lots and raising trouble generally. He was mixed up in ... quarrels and in court continually,” The Times says. A mass meeting was held as soon as he went to Rawhide, and the miners ran him out of town.

The fatal fight was provoked by Buck’s editorial, which said that if the people of Mina had the nerve of those in Rawhide, “Burton would not be anywhere within a thousand miles of the place.”

Apparently all charges against Buck were dropped. The Western Nevada Miner stands by its story.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006


Dec. 10,1907
Los Angeles

Mayor Arthur C. Harper happens to be in all sorts of trouble. He’s telling the newspapers that he has had enough of politics and won’t seek another term. The district attorney is trying to shut down the local red light district and eventually these efforts will reveal allegations of City Hall corruption involving Harper, Police Chief Kern, a police commissioner, a police captain named Broadwood and Nicholas D. “Nick” Oswald, one of the biggest leaders of the city’s underworld.

The 1909 Broadwood case is complicated (he was found not guilty, by the way, despite accounts of payoffs from the earnings of Los Angeles bordellos) and in researching the mayor’s life, I came across the following incident.

The word “homosexual” is a rarity in The Times, appearing exactly twice in editorial content between 1900 and 1940: a 1912 review of “The Candle and the Flame” by George Sylvester Viereck; and a 1939 health column by Dr. William Brady.

So what does the paper do when “purity squad” raids the former mayor’s home, 1128 W. 28th St.? Like this, from Feb. 1, 1920:

“Twenty Los Angeles men, some said to be prominent in social and business circles, were arrested last night by police at a stag party in the home of former Mayor Harper and were booked at the police station on the charge of social vagrancy.

“Seven of the men, including the host, Joseph Harper, 24 years old, are alleged by the officers making the raid to have been gowned in feminine apparel.”

After a few paragraphs, the paper says: “According to Police Sergeant Gifford and the officers of the ‘purity squad’ who conducted the raid, a degenerate orgy was in progress when they entered the house.”

The men were taken to jail as they were dressed, meaning that some of them spent the night in women’s clothing. Early the next morning, The Times says, the dresses were taken into evidence, so some of the men were given bathrobes and others draped themselves with jail blankets. Of the 16 arrested, four were released to the Navy (they were in uniform, The Times said) and eight were held in custody because they tested positive “for infectious disease.” And yes, their names or pseudonyms, addresses and occupations were published.

When asked about his son Joe, the former mayor said: “The only party he has given lately that I know of was given by him on Halloween night. His mother was present that night and among the guests during the evening, so I know nothing wrong took place.”

One of the sailors said: “I came in for my liberty and met a fellow at a downtown street corner. He asked me if I’d like to attend a nice party with dancing and girls and refreshments and said for me to bring some of my friends along.”

The Times said: “The sailors declare they did not know for a long time that the ‘girls’ were men and when they did learn of the fact, some thought it was just a good-natured masquerade ‘stunt.’ ”

A later story says: “All the men are charged with lewd and dissolute conduct. Seven were dressed as women and the police say their acts were such that the charges against them can be upheld in court.”

Police said that officers learned about the party several weeks ago. “Arrangements were made to have some of the officers in the house,” The Times said.

“The raiding officers in plain clothes gained entrance to the house and mixed with the strange guests. Several other officers climbed into the house by way of a rear window and concealed themselves beneath beds. After watching the ‘party’ for over two hours, whistles were blown and the raiding party rushed into the residence.”

Two months later, the case against the "Lady Men" was dismissed.

Bonus fact: One of the earliest occurrences of “gay bar” in The Times appears in a Oct. 15, 1953, story about the extortion trial of Jimmie Tarantino and refers to a bar on Market Street in San Francisco.

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