A Visit to Old Los Angeles and Environs

17. South of Downtown, and Some City Parks.


Brent C. Dickerson

Copyright © Brent C. Dickerson

Index to Episodes (click here).

South of Downtown, and Some City Parks.

• Papa, Anna, and I continued our visits to the various city parks over the next few days as Mother relaxed at Aunt Sigrid's—and watched over the welfare of the baby, Minnie, and Charley, "all of whom seem to be unusually in need of the mother's touch these days," while young FJ was turned loose upon the town to prospect for postcards and other items of interest. Aunt Sigrid, however, was meantime prohibited by Mother from "playing ragtime on the piano—it jangles my nerves, and gives me a tic in my left eye." As FJ recounted it, soon after Papa, Anna, and I had left, Mother, with a studied tone, advised him that he was free to go spend his pennies on what-nots, as long as he was home by dinner, as she wished to have a discussion with Minnie and Charley, an announcement which spread an unnatural pallor over the cheeks of the latter parties. Tumbling out of Aunt Sigrid's, he ran across Chester; and as it seems to me, the two of them simply followed their noses for the next several hours. Soon after they left, they were sitting on the curb tossing pebbles at, well, at nothing in particular. Chester cleared his throat. "Want to go to the hospital?", he asked. "Please don't throw anything at me!" "No, I mean, let's go walk over to the hospital. It's just a couple of blocks away. Maybe we'll see some dead people." "O.K."

• "So where are the dead people?", queried young Frederick Johan. Chester was aghast at his friend's lack of knowledge. "You don't suppose they just leave them lying around on the grass, do you? The very idea! Why, you have to go up to the counter and ask."—which is just what they did; and soon they were on the street again.
• Just half a block away, at the corner of Flower and Twelfth Sts., Chester and young FJ dallied on the steps of Christ Episcopal Church, idly watching the trolleys go by. "You know," Chester mused, "you could put little firecrackers on the tracks, and..." "Please don't," whispered a little voice coming from a small window behind them.

• Naturally, this made them curious, and Chester cautiously tried the door, then pulled it open. "See anyone?", was FJ's question. "Not a soul. Come on!" They crept into the cavernous room. "Now do you see anyone?" "Don't you have eyes too?" "I don't see anyone." "Maybe I should let out a yell," was Chester's proposal; and he took a deep breath. "No, don't!" "Why not?" "It, it's not nice." They took another few steps in. Chester stiffened and pursed his lips—it was a way he had—"It's in the air," he muttered to himself. FJ glanced about the aerial expanses, seeing nothing, and then looked at him quizzically. Chester continued, his eyes wide, "There's a ghost or something." Ever-enquiring FJ turned his attention fully to Chester and asked, "What do you mean? Where? Do you see a ghost?" "Sometimes I see things...I can't help it! I'm getting out of here!" And so it was that they were out on the street again.

• Chester recovered his self-possession quickly. "How 'bout another?", was his question this time. "Another dead person? Or another ghost?" "Don't be that way; they were probably out of stiffs at that first place. And never mind about ghosts, please. There's another hospital a block this way, down Grand." Soon they were striding through the doors of the Pacific Hospital at 1319 S. Grand Avenue.

• "Well, all I can say is that they all must be plumb out of dead folks, and too ashamed to admit it. Want to see some birds?", asked Chester as they sauntered along, back on the street much sooner than they had expected. "I've seen many birds," was young FJ's completely accurate reply. "Other birds." "What kind of other birds?" "Oh, all kinds of other birds." This proved sufficiently enticing, and thus it was that the two of them went eastwards on a vague quest to see all kinds of other birds. They passed the Cabrillo Club Building at Broadway and Eleventh St.

• Continuing along the southern perimeter of the general downtown area, they passed the German Baptist Church at Myrtle and 15th Streets.

• They came to the Dreamland Skating Rink at Twelfth and Main Sts., and looked in. Chester beamed, "This is lots of fun!" "Just a lot of rolling around," was FJ's comment, as he shrugged. Chester pointed off to the left. "What do you s'pose that fellow is looking so intense about?" "Oh, that's probably his girlfriend with him. People get like that sometimes." They both paused a moment to assess the situation. Chester cleared his throat and said, "My theory is that he's going to throw up. Motion sickness. Happens all the time." "I still think it's because he's with his girlfriend. Vomiting, love—it's much the same thing, as far as I can tell." Chester conceded the point, and they left.

• "This looks like somebody's house," quoth young Frederick Johan as Chester began walking up a driveway; "I hope we didn't walk all this way to sneak into someone's back yard!" Chester was exasperated. "Oh, you out-of-towners! Don't you see the sign?", he said, pointing rather urgently towards a little sign GRIDER'S BIRDLAND; "the main entrance is out front."

• "What's a grider?" was FJ's question now; "Do we have to be griders to go in?" "I'll swear on any stack of bibles that you're a first-class grider. And much much more. Now, get walking. Ain't it pretty in here?"

• Young Frederick Johan was quite impressed: "Gee, look at them chickens!", which made Chester roll his eyes; "Ducks, too! I wonder what Aunt Sigrid's making for dinner...?" "Yo"—Chester called him "Yo"—"Yo, these are special chickens and ducks; and look at these other fancy birds. They're from jungles and things." But by now FJ was inspecting the construction of the aviary. "I've never been in a bird cage before—something to tell the folks at home!" "Calm down, Yo; I'm sure they'll be putting you in a cage sooner or later." Chester muttered to himself, "Those hospitals may get their dead body yet today..."

• At length, having put Grider's Birdland behind them, and wandering vaguely with some idea of "getting back into town," the boys arrived at the Japanese Christian Institute at 936 Wall Street (nearing the wholesale district and Los Angeles Street, which we visited a while ago). Sitting down on the curb across the street to rest their weary legs for a moment, they contemplated the building in front of them. "What do you suppose this is?", asked young Frederick Johan. Chester stared at it for a moment. "Hard to tell. Looks pretty sober. The folks going in look awful serious. I bet it's another hospital . . . Hey, I wonder if they have a corpse or two on hand." "My legs are pretty sore. Why don't you go in and ask, and I'll wait here?" "For a country boy, you sure tire out quick." "It's my blue eyes. Didn't anyone ever tell you that people with blue eyes have weak ankles?" "The heck you say!?!" "No, it's perfectly true," said young FJ; "Can you think of a single Scandinavian who is known for having strong ankles?" "Why, you're right. I never thought about that before. O.K., you stay here; I'll be right back." Dodging a wagon, Chester ran across the street and marched up the steps into the building's foyer, and asked the first person he met, "Where do you keep the dead bodies?", thoughtfully adding, "Maybe in the cellar?" Moments later, FJ observed him exiting the building, "At what I would call a high rate of speed."

• As young Frederick Johan told it at the table that night, with more animation than I can write here, dear: "'This way!' said Chester as he ran past; and after we had trotted I'd say about four and a half blocks, he led me up an alley, past some piles of old bricks and a broken bottle or three hundred, to a very undistinguished-looking door, held it open, and added—between pants—'In here!'. Now he mended his pace to a strut, said 'Hi, Pops,' to a very thin, sharp-eyed old lady sitting just inside the door, and went to a murky corner of what seemed to me to be a big room full of odds and ends of all sizes. I followed him; and, as soon as we had both tossed ourselves down on some burlap bags piled behind some crates, I said, 'Why did you call that old lady "Pops"?'. 'Well, you are a particular young creature, Yo. Strictly speaking, she would be "Mrs. Pops," I suppose.' This seemed at least decent, so I proceeded to my next question. 'And where are we?' 'This is backstage at the theater on Main Street where your aunt is rehearsal pianist. It's just about quitting time for today, I'm thinking, and we can hop a ride home with her and her friend Arthur in his car.' This was a reasonable plan, in my estimation; and after we had rested for a few moments, I started exploring, because there were all sorts of interesting things about. I found and put on a crown which, as it was a little large for my head, tended to fall down over my eyes as I walked around; and then I found a sword. After I had brandished it a few times, it seemed eminently fit for despatching villains with. I made a few lunges, then broke out into chasing any villains who might be on the premises, the dramatic effect of which was perhaps diminished by the fact that, after a step or two, the crown fell over my eyes again, and I tumbled over some rope—which made some Negroes who were standing nearby laugh. 'A horse! A horse!', said one of them between laughs; and I'm not sure what he meant by that. I suppose I was blushing pretty red, and I stammered out, 'Are you janitors?', because I didn't know what else to say. 'Man alive,' said this same one, '—Mrs. Colburn, did you hear this child call us "janitors"? Oh, my prophetic soul!' Well, this didn't make a whole lot of sense to me either, so I just looked at them, wide-eyed, one after another: a middle-aged man, the middle-aged woman he called 'Mrs. Colburn', and a teen-aged boy and girl. Well, in a few minutes we had all established our identities to each other. These were theatrical people in a song-and-dance act. 'We,' said the man, 'are Smoke and Cinders.' Having said this, he cast a sidelong glance at me, evidently expecting me to reel back in recognition and surprise, which I didn't. He jerked his thumb in the direction of the woman, and said, 'We used to be "Coal and Colburn" twenty years ago; but it all went up in smoke when we had a couple of little cinders'—jerking his thumb in the direction of the younger two."

• "It was about at this point that Chester found me, and got a funny look on his face. 'I'll go tell your aunt we're here.' He paused for a moment, then added, 'Don't you want to come with me?'. But I was having a fine time with these folks, so I told him I'd wait there; and he got another funny look on his face as he walked away. After a moment of silence, Mrs. Colburn clapped her hands together and said, 'Coal, why don't you try out your new song on King Richard here?' Well, Coal didn't seem at first to get lit by this idea; but a little kindling warmed him up. It was called 'Much Obliged to You', and the lyrics went like this: When Sylvester Johnson Lee hit New York from Tennessee, he thought he'd make his fortune right away. He worked around in swell hotels a-shinin' shoes and hoppin' bells, but somehow couldn't seem to make it pay. One day to himself says he, something mus' be wrong with me. I can't seem to get a cent from no one, I wonder why. No one hands me any tips or nothin' else but heavy grips. I'm goin' to have to bid these swell hotels goodbye. And the chorus went: It's mighty strange! It's mighty strange! No one ever says "Sylvester, you keep the change." I try to do as folks tell me to; but they all get absent minded when my work is through. I don't know why, the more I try, somehow or other all the coin gets by. It's time I blew for some job that's new. All I get here is "Much obliged to you!" In the middle of this, Aunt Sigrid picked up the tune on the piano over somewhere it sounded like half a mile away; and, well, I felt pretty grand, all this entertainment just for me! Chester skulked on the other side of the piano talking to a buck-toothed girl about my age. 'You see her?' said Coal, after the song; 'That's Dorinda. When she goes to the zoo, the beavers stop and look!' Anyhow, I shook hands all round with the entertainers; and pretty soon after Arthur showed up and took us all home. Minnie and Charley seemed awfully pale and not very talkative, so I went upstairs and read until dinner."

• During young FJ's odyssey, the park party—that is, Papa, Anna, and myself—pursued its own wanderings. As we approached East Lake Park, we passed this modest domicile at 233 East Lake Avenue.

• East Lake Park, later to be known as Lincoln Park, had a noble avenue of palm trees.

• A few years, and changing tastes, brought replacement of the mound with a palm in its middle by a flattened but colorful flower-bed, in this view hosting mixed pansies. To give human interest to the postcard, some bystanders were dragooned into sitting on the benches, no doubt advised meantime not to look into the camera. What did the notice on the right-hand palm tree have to tell us? Anna began to walk over to it; but Papa hurried us onward before she had taken more than a few steps.

• Behind some greenery at the edge of the park, we ran across the old park gardener's house, the gentleman in question himself standing in the doorway just as you see him here. "Folk," said Papa, after scrutinizing him for several minutes, "that man is the spitting image of my old Uncle Frederick back in the homeland. All he needs is a wide-brimmed hat with a feather, and a hammer in his hand!" And so Papa went over to talk to him as Anna and I rested on a bench and took in the view. After a good twenty minutes of animated conversation and hearty handshaking, Papa returned to us, saying only, "This is a fine man, a fine man." And later Anna said that she thought she saw a tear in his eye.

• The park had its own little zoo.

• Papa stopped, sniffed, and said, "Ja, I tink I smell sulphur!" But young Frederick Johan said that he had noticed a sulphur baths establishment across the street. Anna touched my shoulder. "Isn't that the man who spoke to you at the Westminster Hotel?" "You mean the man who, said Minnie, spoke to me at the Westminster Hotel. I didn't see anyone." I looked around. "And I still don't see anyone. Where?" "There under the elephants—Oh! He's gone now. He was there under the elephants, behind the bars." Well, dear, as you might imagine, I don't know what to think of this person whom everyone but me sees, but only for a moment. We entered the zoo, me looking around to see someone I wouldn't know if I did see him.

• We went from cage to cage. The animals paced nervously behind the bars. Anna liked to "peer into the soul" of each animal, as she put it; that is, she would calmly pause before each cage and look into the animal's eyes for a period of time. Once when I was needling her about this peculiarity, she said, "But Ulf—is it any different from people who appreciate art pausing and coming to terms with each picture at a museum? And pictures aren't even alive!", to which I could summon no response.

• The parks we had been to—Central Park in downtown, Elysian Park, now East Lake Park—each had a different character to them. Central Park, for all its greenery, still felt very urban, surrounded as it was by skyscrapers and such city buildings; Elysian Park was at the other extreme, a hilly piece of wildlands with some gruff nods to civilization. East Lake Park seemed to us like the country estate of a European aristocrat, flowery and tasteful and varied. As we approached the lake, Anna liked the rustling sound which the leaves of the Pampas Grass clumps made as the breeze filtered through them. That evening, at the dinner-table, in describing the park Papa referred to Pampas Grass as "Sorghum in need of a haircut."

• We heard the voices of small children from somewhere on the other side of the clumps of Pampas Grass, and found what we took to be a group of schoolchildren hopping from stepping-stone to stepping-stone over the water. A sudden splash focused our attention; and great indeed was our surprise to see first our little friend from the previous day, the orphaned Virginia, assisting someone who had fallen into the shallow water, and then, arising from the foam like Venus, the sad young Miss who had been Virginia's keeper, steadying herself holding onto Virginia's hand as she stepped back up onto one of the stones. "Let's say Hello," said I with some spirit, only to be grabbed gently by the collar by Papa and pulled into the shade. I looked at him, no doubt quizzically; Anna thought for a moment, and said, "Papa, would you say that sometimes discretion is the better part of valor?" "Anna," said he, "you are my pearl."

• We stepped along, and came upon a reach of the lake with water-lilies floating placidly among the glinting ripples.

• The old gardener had invited Papa and us to lunch with him at his cottage. I'm afraid that, as they reminisced about the old days in their respective home towns, Anna and I were examining the components of our meal with a curiosity which was perhaps a bit unmannerly. The food was unfamiliar—with a smell I found hair-raising. The gardener saw our hesitation, and said, "My ducks"—and I could not say why he called us ducks—"what you have there is your right and proper Angeleno feast, pure and simple, just as your finest señor would have sat down to seven days of the week on the finest rancho hereabouts fifty or a hundred years ago." And he rattled off half a dozen names for the various dishes which, impressive-sounding as they were, proved beyond my ability to understand or remember. But an admonishing eye from Papa prompted us to dig in with as much evident delight as even the most sensitive chef could hope for; and I must say that, with an adequate amount of water to keep down the flames and smoke sprouting from our mouths, noses, and ears, it proved quite delicious. The old gardener advised us as to our road to our afternoon destination, Hollenbeck Park; and with warm feelings all the way round, we took our leave. We recalled the Hollenbeck Hotel at Spring and Second in downtown; now the first thing we saw of our destination was The Hollenbeck Old Ladies' Home. "The Hollenbeck Old Ladies' Home?", questioned Anna. "That's what the sign says," said I. Both park and home arose from the generosity of the Hollenbecks and their relatives the Workmans, the latter too modest to allow their name being attached to their gifts.

• As we found as we walked up the driveway, the Home really did have a homey feel—that is, the homey feel of a quite well-to-do family's home.

• In best Angeleno tradition, we felt like having a siesta, and didn't do much more at Hollenbeck Park than to throw ourselves down onto a bench in the shade!

• After perhaps half an hour of our sitting drowsily in the shade, now and then opening our eyes for a moment to watch the ducks glide across the water, I heard Papa say, "Well, folk—I must say that this is the quietest, most deserted park I have ever been to in my life. Did we miss a sign saying, 'Parkgoers shall be shot on sight!'?". But Anna and I were too drowsy to answer.

• The park was in a pleasant middle-class neighborhood. This house was at 449 S. State Street, just about a block from Hollenbeck Park. As we rode along, I took the occasion to ask Papa about Charley's pocket-flask. "Ulf," he said, adjusting the throttle, "we pay for our mistakes; and those we don't pay for, we get for free." This was too oracular to admit of any response. I opened my mouth two or three times to say something, but found nothing there to tumble out. After an awkward moment, Anna looked off into a clump of trees and quietly said something about birds being on the wing and snails being on the thorn, observations pertaining to Natural History which also seemed beyond any comment from me, so I contented myself with counting palm trees.

• A few blocks further, and we passed this home at 1944 Pennsylvania Avenue.

• The house's residents posed for us, so I thought I'd show you a closer view of them. Young Frederick Johan—who is, most annoyingly, reading over my shoulder— reminds me that, strictly speaking, we do not know that these are the residents. "They could be a group of people who wander around deceiving innocent photographers such as ourselves," quoth he.

• We noticed at home that evening that Charley and Minnie were pale and unusually quiet, while Mother was conducting herself with a chillingly superior air. Young Frederick Johan pulled us aside and repeated the punch-line of an anecdote from back home in the Midwest: "Speak thee of things indifferent," advised he, as Papa winked his grasp of the situation. The next day, we same three went early—not to say "fled"— to little St. James Park to the south of downtown, not too far from Aunt Sigrid's.

• Reserving our strength for the remainder of the day, we quickly found a bench and sat down together. "Peace and quiet," exclaimed Papa, "are wonderful things!" "Especially as compared to the alternative," said I. "And," added Anna, mysteriously, "no broken crockery." —At which the three of us heaved a sigh simultaneously.

• The plantings of St. James Park seemed to revel in tropical-looking plants.

• The neighborhood was calm and shady.

• Further south, towards the edge of the city, was South Park. "I must admit," I said as we left the park, "all of the flower-beds, palm trees, and lawns are beginning to run together in my mind!". Papa took me by the shoulder and said, "Ulf, my boy, you remember them by the people."

• On our way back to Aunt Sigrid's, we passed this elaborate rooming house at 2007 S. Grand Avenue. "The Netherwood Apartments," quoth I; "trees seem pretty scarce—shouldn't it be the Neverwood Apartments?" "Well," said Papa, "I'm sure that the landlady would tell us that, in the matter of paying their monthly rent, she's had many a tenant who 'never would.'" Anna only sighed at our prattle.

• About block and a half further or so, we passed this magnificent structure, the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, at the southwest corner of Cherry and Eighteenth Sts. "I guess, indeed I do, that this town is full of Lutherans; perhaps we are taking over the world," said Papa, with a shiver, I seemed to note. Anna thought that it might be best to keep this church under our collective hat, lest Mother be inspired to go to two churches every Sunday. "Anna!," I said, "Don't be ridiculous. She wouldn't do that." Papa gave me a look, which made me add, "—still, one should be prudent, I suppose."

• Having visited to the north with Elysian Park, to the east with East Lake Park and Hollenbeck Park, and to the south with St. James Park and South Park, we were anxious to complete the compass with the western West Lake Park. On the way, we first passed by the classical-looking Hotel Westmoore at the corner of Seventh and Francisco . . .

• . . . And then by the handsome Spanish-Moorish design Hotel Pepper near Seventh and Alvarado . . .

• . . . A block or two later, the West Lake Hospital at the corner of Alvarado and Orange Sts. . . .

• . . . With the Alvarado Hotel not far away at the northeast corner of Alvarado and Sixth Sts.

• We arrived, and much of the expanse of the park opened out before us. "Quite a bustling scene, after Hollenbeck Park," said I.

• Just beyond the lower left-hand corner of the previous image, there was a sort of pond with seals playing around in it. Anna despaired that she couldn't get the seals to look her in the eye. Papa pointed out that they were busy looking at people's hands, as it seems that half the people were tossing them food; "At this rate," he continued, "they'll soon be whales."

• Looking things over, Papa promptly said, "I wish I had a nickel for every palm tree we've seen."

• We took the pony-cart through most of the park; but Papa had the driver let us out near the band shell, where a smartly-dressed band was playing waltzes into the wind. "Strictly speaking," said Anna, with a wink, "this does not comprise peace and quiet." Papa thought a moment, and said, "But no broken crockery."

• A little ways away, there was a small pavilion where it appeared that one could sit neatly and out of the sun, and gaze at the lake with its boaters. "Oh, do let us stop there!", cried Anna.

• It proved to be, however, the territory of "the better sort," whose cool looks at us drove us out as soon as we were in. " 'Tis the privilege of the leisured," said Papa, philosophically, as he had in so many similar situations in the past, leading us to a bench outside.

• "And," continued Papa, "do you see those boats? Those are the privilege of the doing class!" Whereupon we rented one, and spent what Anna declared to be "the most delightful afternoon" splashing around the lake. The three of us decided that there could be no better occasion than this to stay out quite late indeed into the evening before returning home—the later, the better; and so, after a nice restaurant meal at a hotel across the street, we stayed until dark, to see the colored lights come on and enjoy the novel sight of seeing boaters on the black lake slipping through the darkness. Upon our "immeasurably late" return home, as Mother put it—we could see her sitting alone on the veranda, profiled against a window, as we approached—Papa turned aside further remonstrance with the simple words that "It was wise, very wise" for us to have stayed out late; and I think I saw Mother give a pert nod of agreement. Aunt Sigrid was softly playing a song on the piano—oh, you won't guess what, dear: "That Precious Little Thing Called Love,"—I am to be haunted by it, it appears! Despite the entertainment, Minnie and Charley had retired to their respective rooms; and Charley very successfully feigned sleep when I walked in. Young FJ simply winked at me, and pulled the covers over his head.

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