A Visit to Old Los Angeles

11. Hill Street Part 2 and Central Park.


Brent C. Dickerson

Copyright © Brent C. Dickerson

Index to Episodes (click here)

A Visit to Hill Street from Fifth Street south to Eighth Street; and Central Park.

• The fine location of the California Club becomes apparent as we see that it overlooks Los Angeles' Central Park (later to be renamed Pershing Square); but it is not enough to take in this view during the daytime; Charley insists that we return and see it at night, as "doubtless everything will change—different vehicles on the streets, different people, doing different things." Papa agreed, mainly because "there is nothing so fine of an evening as enjoying a good cigar out in the open." Mother agreed that it was indeed very fine for Papa to enjoy his cigars out in the open; "and I wish you would do so more often."

South on Hill from 5th, night-time
• In this view from the west, the intersection of Hill and Fifth Sts. is at center. We can see the buildings on the north side of Fifth all the way to its corner with Broadway and a little beyond. The California Club dominates at left, as the greenery of Central Park does in the right foreground.

• A view of the low- and mid-500s of Hill Street. In the upper left-hand corner of this view, at the intersection with Fifth Street, is a bit of the California Club building. In the lower right-hand corner is the Hotel Lillie, of which we'll get a better view in just a moment...

• At 524-534 S. Hill Street, we find the B. & M. Cafeteria looking out on Central Park. "'Continuous service from 6:30 a.m. to 8:00p.m.'," read young Frederick Johan from a sign on the window, "'the largest cafeteria in the world.' They seem to have several world's largests in this place!" I thought for a moment and said, "Perhaps it's the world's largest collection of world's largests." "'All poultry here is fresh-killed stock'," continued young FJ. "There's nothing like a fresh chicken," volunteered a leering young man just stepping out of the cafeteria. "Keep walking, girls," advised Mother.

• The Hotel Lillie, about three-quarters of the way down the east side of Hill Street on the 500s block, also looks out on Central Park.

• From the Hotel Lillie, there is indeed a fine view over the park to the Auditorium at Olive and Fifth Streets.

• We reach the corner of Hill Street and Sixth Street, and turn to look north up Hill. One of the peaks of the California Club Building looms over the trees at left; the Hotel Lillie is hidden by its neighbor the First Methodist Episcopal Church at the intersection (but you can see one of its palm trees behind the white light-pole). We have seen the roof of the church before, when we took our look westward from on high back on Broadway. In the far distance, you may see Hill Street's eponymous hill.

• But before proceeding south on Hill Street, let's visit Central Park so that Minnie can sit on a bench and rest her feet! Returning to the corner of Hill and Fifth, where the California Club occupied the northwest corner, here is the entrance to Central Park on the southwest corner, meantime looking west on Fifth Street, where in the distance we see the State Normal School at the intersection of Hope Street and Fifth Street.

• We go in, past the Soldiers' Monument. The park is well-lit, with lamps all along the paths.

• But the lamps are relatively new; here is a picture from just a few years previous to our visit.

• The park is filled with exotic trees and palms. "I would call it verdant and umbrageous," remarked Charley. "I imagine you would," replied Minnie. Papa just looked off into the distance.

• We reach the fountain at the center of the park, and look back northeast along the walk we used. With some difficulty, we can see the California Club through the trees, and, to the left, the roof of the auditorium. The park is popular as an escape from the many offices to the east, and as an outing from the many residences to the west and northwest a few blocks away.

• In the view which follows below, dear, you see the fountain itself. We look southeast; the church we saw at Sixth and Hill is hidden by the large tree. But before we come to the picture, I must report an interesting event and its aftermath. It was at just about this point in the park as we strolled along that suddenly I felt someone grab me by the collar as I heard a raspy voice saying, "Sir, I must ask you a question!". I turned my head and beheld a wiry man dressed all in black, with a very tan face and a very crooked tie. Rather more loudly than necessary, as I thought, he said, "Sir, I must ask you: Do you have the spirit within?" "Who, me?" I stuttered. Minnie said, "Of course he means you. If he had meant Charley, he would have said spirits plural within." I looked back at the man, who was agape with anticipation, and said, "Well, I, um..." The man turned to a small crowd which had gathered, and gestured towards me. "Observe, ladies and gentlemen. He blithers incoherently, looks down at his feet, and blushes in shame, abject shame. I put it to you now, and I put it to you for your eternal well-being, is this the mark of a man who has the spirit within?" The crowd looked at me with a sort of apprehensive horror, and whispered among themselves. Now he spoke to me again, with a theatrical tone of pity in his voice. "Tell me sir, and tell me without hesitation or evasion, for I am your friend: Do you drink the essence of pickled beets? Do you?" "No, I do not!" He sighed, looked me up and down two or three times, shook his head sadly, and turned to the growing crowd. "Ladies and gentlemen, I knew it at once, I knew it from a mile away. Had this young gentlemen, who no doubt was once upon a time a promising boy and source of hope to his parents—had he partaken of the essence of pickled beets regularly, he would have been infused with the sanctifying spirit of the earth and the water; and had he alternated this with orange juice—mere, simple orange juice, ladies and gentlemen, available on every streetcorner—he would have also imbibed the uplifting spirits of the sun and air..." Well! He went on in this vein for quite some time, as far as I could tell as I slithered and skulked away while the crowd was attending to his wisdom. As I told the tale at dinner that evening, Aunt Sigrid laughed and explained that Central Park was notorious for open-air crackpot orators. She did however offer to have the essence of pickled beets on hand should I feel I really needed it. I think that Mother felt humiliated by the whole episode; rather bleakly she said, "Oh, Mr. S.! Must we be public spectacles everywhere we go here? Vagabonds? Cigar-smokers? Drunkards? Hoydens? Spiritless I-don't-know-whats?" As the baby began to whimper and cry, Minnie looked down at her plate and said, "Mother, I am not a hoyden." Mother snorted and said, "Time will take care of that, I fear!" Now Charley took it up. "Say what you like about Minnie, I am certainly not a hoyden. In fact, it's linguistically impossible. And I'm almost certain that young Frederick Johan here is not a drunkard—are you?", he asked, turning to young FJ, who blinked once and said, "You won't find a single fingerprint of mine on your flask." I was going to remonstrate that I certainly wasn't an I-don't-know-what, nor indeed a spiritless one at that; but at that point Papa frowned and said, "I do believe that the baby is having a bad influence on us, yes that's what I do believe right now!" A silence fell over the table as Papa peered at each of us in turn, starting with Mother. Just then, Anna—a little infelicitously, I thought—asked Aunt Sigrid if there were any orange juice about. Papa took a deep breath, and declared, "Now I will say grace!", and suited his action to his words by doing so in very portentous-sounding Swedish.

• Returning to our travels of the day before the storm of the evening: We walk back towards Fifth, turn to the west, and see the State Normal School again in the distance (a site later to be occupied by the Los Angeles Public Library), about two blocks down Fifth Street, on higher ground.

• From nearly the same position, if we now turn to the north, we get a good view of the front of the Auditorium, which we will visit when we walk down Olive Street. "The many seated gentlemen appear to be studiously contemplative," observed Charley. Papa laughed to himself and said, "They're wishing they hadn't already smoked all their cigars." But I think I heard the photographer say, "Whatever you do, men, don't look into the camera!"

• North across Fifth Street from the park, in the middle of the block, is a little building which always looks to me as if it is being shouldered out by the Auditorium on the west, and the California Club on the east. This little building is the Los Angeles Business College; and certainly this college has a most delightful siting, looking down as it does on Central Park.

• Going to the other end of the park—the south end—and crossing Sixth Street, we ascend the building at the southwest corner of Hill and Sixth Streets—the Consolidated Realty Building—to take in a bird's eye view northwards over Central Park. We see up Hill Street on the right, and, on the left in the distance see the portion of the city which we have yet to visit. What you do not see here is the pickled beet man, whom we last saw, at some distance, handling out leaflets to a group of street-cleaners resting under a tree. Charley said, "Those would be the officers in charge of law and ordure."

• Let's go back to ground level; "Mother becomes vertiginous with excess elevation," says Charley, as Minnie rolls her eyes. From the southeast corner of the park, we look east on Sixth Street, to and past the church (left); from the steps of the church—which Charley notes as being "in most probability insufficiently elevated to induce vertigo"—we then look west on Sixth Street, past the park, towards Olive Street, our next destination.

• Here, from the top of the steps to the church at the northeast corner of Hill and Sixth, is a view of the building we ascended a little while ago at the southwest corner—the Consolidated Realty Building.

• Across the street is the Hill Street entrance of Sing Fat Co.; you'll recall that these premises go all the way east through the block to have a Broadway entrance as well.

Most of us went in, the ladies expressing an interest (and having forgotten, it seems, the peril of white slavery).

• We went through a door, and Mother exclaimed, "My word—enough knick-knacks to keep you dusting your whole life!" "And more," added Anna. Papa allowed as he'd be more interested if they could show him a jade plough, or a bronze pitchfork; but he bought a scarf for Mother.

• The Los Angeles School of Art and Design was, for a time, sited where the Sing Fat Company's Hill Street outlet was subsequently located, 614 S. Hill Street.

• While everyone else was looking through the orientalia at the Sing Fat Co., young Frederick Johan slipped out to go south on Hill Street for a block or two. Across the street was the building housing the Benham Indian Trading Company, a firm which was active from about 1903 to 1914, in which latter year it was acquired by the Burns Indian Trading Company, which then promptly went bankrupt. The company not only sold Indian souvenirs but also published postcards which had a unique sketchy quality, making them instantly recognizable. Here the company's artist populates the street with his idea of the Angeleno bon ton. The other tenant in the building was the Frank B. Long Piano company. Frank B. Long had started as a piano tuner in 1889 at 8 N. Spring Street, and his company was to last until he retired in April 1912, when his inventory was acquired by Barker Bros. furniture store. In 1908, The Benham Company and the Frank B. Long Company had shared a building at 514 S. Hill Street.

• The Los Angeles Gas and Electric Company's building was a few doors down on the west side of the 600s block, near the corner with Seventh Street.

• Looking north on Hill Street from just above Seventh. The Los Angeles Gas and Electric Company's building is at the extreme left; the Consolidated Realty Company's building dominates on the left in the middle distance; and the California Club can be discerned in the far distance beyond.

• This view looks west on Seventh, with the Pantages Theater prominent in the foreground; just beyond it on Seventh is the Los Angeles Athletic Club building. To the theater's right, on Hill Street, is the Los Angeles Gas and Electric Company again.

• The headquarters of the newspaper The Express—formerly The Evening Express—can be found a little down the 700s block at 719-721 S. Hill Street.
• Across the street, at 736 S. Hill Street, was the Citizens Trust and Savings Bank. "They could probably offer a higher interest rate to their depositors," said young Frederick Johan to no one in particular, "if they didn't spend so much money on fine appearances." A businessman standing next to him in the doorway—he kept fingering his pocketwatch anxiously, darting a glance out to the street every few minutes—took him up on this and said, "Would you feel comfortable depositing your hard-earned money in a place that operated out of stacked fruit crates?"

• At 744 S. Hill Street was the restaurant Neve's Melody Lane. "The dining room," so the postcard tells us, "is a replica of the 'Room of the Parrots' in the restored Davanzati Palace at Florence, Italy. Patrons are entertained daily with music from a huge pipe organ." "To the best of my recollection," said young FJ to himself, "I am not familiar with either the restored or the unrestored Davanzati Palace. It would seem that my education has been defective." The premises would be sold shortly to the Pig 'n Whistle chain.

• The Union Bank Building would arise in 1922 at the northeast corner of Hill and Eighth Sts. This bank grew out of the fabric and clothing business of Prussian immigrant Kaspare Cohn, who arrived in Los Angeles in 1859. At his office, Mr. Cohn would perform banking duties for friends and other businesses, and at length formalized this by starting a bank proper.

• The Hotel Woodward would be found on the north side of Eighth Street between Hill and Olive streets.

• Lobby of the Hotel Woodward. "How come there's never anyone sitting in these lobbies?", wondered young FJ to himself.

• Hamburger's Department Store reaches along the south side of Eighth Street from Broadway to Hill. Here Old Glory waves over the southern corners of Eighth and Hill, the department store on the southeast corner dwarfing the residences on the southwest corner.

• Those residences at the corner herald the fact that Hamburger's is right at the very edge of downtown. This neighborhood scene is just around the corner on Hill Street, midway on its east face between Eighth and Ninth Sts. The black milkman is making his deliveries on a cow-drawn cart, while the woman in the black dress is probably a nurse, as she's walking past a residence towards a private hospital next door. A very quiet scene, considering that downtown Los Angeles is in full swing a mere block away.

• The fact that it was the Lily and Milk delivery company, and that the driver was black, as was the cow, was not lost on young FJ. "Hey, Snowball!" he called out, good-naturedly. The driver gave a deep sigh, and pursed his lips. "Hottentot," quoth he, wearily, "leave me be, unless you're wanting milk." When young Frederick Johan told the story at dinner that night, Aunt Sigrid frowned and said, "How many times a day do you suppose that poor man has to listen to someone calling him 'Snowball' or 'Cotton Boll' or such?". Mother added, "It was bad enough that you were wandering the streets alone like a . . . a . . . " "'Vagabond'?", I suggested, which earned a frigid glance from her. "'Ragamuffin!", she continued, with a toss of her head.

• While the east face of the mid-800s block is decidedly homey-looking, the west face at that point has commenced its urbanization. Here, directly across the street from the milk delivery above, is the Percival Apartments building. Indeed, this is the family of the photographer of the image before last, who took the shot from the indicated window. Young Frederick Johan did not see them, however, as he had to rush back to the Sing Fat Co. before his own family missed him!

Return to Hill Street part one; or on to Olive Street . . .

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