Lost and Found in Rare Books

Juan Avalos, Digitization & Special Collections
The Rare Books Room at LAPL
"Books can hide more than just written words between pages, but can also bring unexpected tales in the form of forgotten items."

There is something special about visiting the library and losing yourself in a good book. It can become more special when you find a surprise inside that book. An item meant to be forgotten, found again and given new meaning. It can be as if you found another chapter to the book, a hidden story only you get to know. Working at the Los Angeles Public Library's Special Collections department, we have found many ephemeral items tucked away in books, and in this blog, we get to share some of those hidden chapters.

The simple basis of today's library is to borrow an item and return it in (hopefully) the same condition. Many people do just that, but humans can be forgetful and sometimes leave behind items inside a book. The usual culprits are items that were used as a bookmark. Take, for example, this check found inside the book Dora's Cook Book. The check is for delivery to the San Diego Union and is dated 1942. We can only imagine how this check made this cookbook its home, but a good guess would be it was used as a bookmark. They are both long rectangular items that can mark where you left off in a book. This check was easy to find in this book because, just like a good bookmark, the book opened straight to the page it was on.

Newspaper clipping depicts a man dressed in military attire with his name, Perez Castro

Cookbooks seem to be a good source to find ephemera. In La Cocinera Poblana, we found an envelope filled with recipes from an old newspaper. It is fitting that someone looking at a cookbook would have other recipes to compare; however, the envelope also had a newspaper clipping of a cartoon. It depicts a man dressed in military attire with his name, Perez Castro, on the top and at the bottom, the word "Razurese," or shave yourself in English, printed at the bottom. The reverse side of the cartoon has a partial Mexican address, so we can conclude the newspaper is probably from Mexico. We can only wonder why this cartoon was included in the envelope and what its importance was to whoever cut it out.

a card of a cute cat

An inscription on a card reads: To Uncle George on his birthday. Man happy returns. Kate and Topsy.

It is this wonderment that makes finding something such a pleasant surprise, no matter how mundane the item might be. Take, for example, a birthday card found inside a copy of Reminiscences of a Ranger. The card, featuring a cute cat, is for "Uncle George" given to him by Kate and Topsy. We once again can let our imaginations run wild about the lives of Uncle George, Kate, and Topsy. We can infer that Uncle George must have really loved the card to keep it with him whenever he read the book. Alternatively, perhaps Uncle George did not care much about the gift and just shelved the book, never noticing the card. The truth might never be known.

photo inside pages of the book

Some found items open up a new chapter of mystery. Take, for example, a poetry book written by Herbert Hoover High School students titled Flights. The "verse book" written in 1931 has a photograph between its pages. The photograph is of three young children sitting on the floor. The photograph itself is blurry, and the film is in poor condition. The mystery is not only who the people in the photo are but how did this photo end up in this book? Does the photograph belong to a student featured in the book? Perhaps the photograph has no relation to the book and was just forgotten. As a verse on the page where the photograph was found says, "That unsolved puzzle - we all want to understand."

Postcard of the majestic El Capitan mountain found at Yosemite on its front

Reverse of a postcard of the majestic El Capitan mountain found at Yosemite on its front

Not everything is so mysterious; some found items can make you feel a direct connection to the book and its previous handlers. Looking through an Illustrated Guide to Yosemite Valley by Virginia and Ansel Adams, a postcard was found at the beginning of the guide. The postcard has a photograph of the majestic El Capitan mountain found at Yosemite on its front, while the back offers a photo description and an oil company advert. The guide was probably used for its purpose, to guide a traveler through the wonders of the national park. Looking through the guide, with the addition of the postcard, we can feel as though we went to Yosemite ourselves. We can imagine looking through the guide, deciding what hiking trail to take, and reminiscing about our imagined time there.

newspaper clippings related to UCLA football. One of the articles features the date, December 31st, 1937

Not only can you be transported to a place, but a found item can transport you to the past. The book California Football History by Brick Morris recounts the history of UCLA football, and inside its pages, history comes alive. Tucked away at the end of the book are a couple of newspaper clippings related to UCLA football. One of the articles features the date December 31st, 1937, the same year the book was published. Looking through the articles makes one feel transported to that moment in time. The flip side of one article features advertisements for New Years' Eve events and dinners. We can only imagine how it must have been to attend these events and how it compares to our modern world.

As we have shown you, books can hide more than just written words between pages, but can also bring unexpected tales in the form of forgotten items. This is especially true for library books that are shared among many. So next time you borrow a book from a library, please return it how you found it, and do not forget your valued items.

Community Crowd Sourcing for the Rolland J. Curtis Collection

Maria Novoa, Library Assistant, Digitization & Special Collections
Self-portrait of Rolland Curtis, taken at an unidentified location in Los Angeles, [ca.1960]. Rolland J. Curtis Collection

Rolland J. Curtis needs your help—well, ok. Maybe photographer Rolland J. Curtis does not need your help, but the library certainly does!

Let me set the scene for you:

Have you ever looked at a digitized historical photograph and exclaimed, 'Hey! I know that man!', only to look for his name and not have it listed on the description? Or looked at a photograph of several women attending an event, only to notice your Auntie Jean is pictured but not identified? If you answered no, then you are in the majority. But if you answered yes, then Rolland Curtis...and the library...needs your help!

And this is where your help may be of utmost value to us here at the Los Angeles Public Library, and especially to us in the Digitization and Special Collections and Photo departments, but yet more specifically, to us photo catalogers, who could use all of the help we can get with a particular collection in our holdings. What collection, you ask? The Rolland J. Curtis collection.

So, who is Rolland J. Curtis?

Rolland Joseph 'Speedy' Curtis was born in Louisiana in 1922. After serving three years in the Marines during World War II, he and his wife, Gloria, relocated from New Orleans to Los Angeles in 1946. Curtis served four years with the Los Angeles Police Department, but resigned from the force in order to pursue both a Bachelor's and Master's degree from the University of Southern California, where he also played football and obtained the nickname “Speedy.” He later became involved in city politics, as an associate of Sam Yorty, and later a field deputy to City Council members Billy G. Mills and Tom Bradley, who were two of the first African-American men to be elected to the Los Angeles City Council, with Bradley later becoming the first black mayor of Los Angeles. In 1973 Curtis was appointed director of the Model Cities program, a comprehensive five-year plan to address the social, economic, and physical problems of poor and underserved neighborhoods using public and private resources. He resigned from the Model Cities program in 1974 and opened a publicity shop. He later began working for Billy Mills again, remaining on the councilman’s staff until Governor Ronald Reagan appointed Mills to the California Superior Court. Curtis ran for Mills’ vacant council seat but was defeated. He ran a second time, in 1978, but was defeated again. Tragically, Curtis died in his home on Mother’s Day in 1979, the victim of homicide during a burglary. An affordable housing complex on Exposition Blvd. near Vermont Ave. was named in his honor in 1981, along with a nearby street and park.

While serving as Field Deputy, Curtis took photographs that documented African-American life in Los Angeles during the 1960s and 70s, particularly in the political realm. These photographs are now part of the Los Angeles Public Library's Rolland J. Curtis Collection of Negatives and Photographs.

And this is where you come in. This is where your help can be invaluable to us and the Rolland J. Curtis Collection:

  • Did you have any family or friends with political ties in the 1960s and 70s?
  • Did you have any family or friends that were prominent, or possibly attended prominent events in the 1960s and 70s?
  • Do you know if your parents, older family members, older friends, or maybe even older neighbors held events whose stories may have been featured in the newspaper in the 1960s and 70s?

We would love it if you could browse our Rolland J. Curtis Collection and take a look at the photographs. Only a very small handful of these photos include Rolland, his wife Gloria. or even his mother, Mathilda. But, all of the photos were taken by Curtis, himself. However, not all of them have information identifying people pictured. And, wouldn't it be great if we could give those faces proper identification?

To view the photographs in the collection with unidentified individuals, follow this link. If there is anyone you recognize, write down the Order Number (toward the top left of the description section), and the name of the person you recognize (with any other identifiable description if there are several people pictured). Send your information to rarebook@lapl.org and once confirmed, we will adjust our descriptions to include names of those pictured.

I know Rolland would appreciate your help, and I know the library would as well.

So thank you in advance, and we look forward to cataloging many, many, more Rolland J. Curtis photographs in the very near future—to the tune of at least 12,000!

Her Book, My Book

Sung Kim, Digitization & Special Collections

Out of approximately 1,400 bookplates in the Los Angeles Library’s Bookplates Collection, about 120 distinctive bookplates have female names imprinted on them. Even though the number is small and little is known about some of these women, the bookplates manifest self-identity and the intellectual ambition of their female owners. I would like to pay homage to these women for Women's History Month and highlight this highly uncharted research area despite the difficulties in researching on the topic of the history of women’s book ownership with the hope that it may inspire researchers to explore this area and around the body of knowledge.

The History of female book ownership goes back to the early 16th century in Europe, often evident in the form of signatures on endpapers or title pages and genealogical information, or memos on blank areas of pages. The earliest bookplates owned by women are documented from the late 17th century, mostly attached to religious and literary books. However, the stories about these women are hidden and overshadowed by their patriarchal representatives such as their fathers and husbands. There is ambiguity in whether women’s libraries or books truly belonged to women themselves or were collective possessions of male-led households.

“Katherine Rouse Her Booke” written on Forme of prayers and ministration of the sacraments &c. sed in the English Church at Geneva and approved by the famous and godlye learned man John Calvin (1561).
Photo credit and source: Rainford & Parris Books via this website

There is more documented evidence of women’s book ownership demonstrated through bookplates in the early 18th century in Europe as printing technology became more accessible and some women had the means to own and maintain libraries. The printers often would reuse already existing wooden plates initially made for husbands or fathers and modify the first names in order to produce bookplates for some females in the family. However, there were prominent women in high society who had independent intellectual capacity and financial means to own large book collections of their own. Yet, they were often noble and unmarried women or widows left with large estates by wealthy husbands. Elizabeth Percival’s grand bookplates signify her position in the society and financial capacity as her bookplate was big enough to fill an entire page of an endpaper in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1596). However, some authors such as Norna Labouchere who wrote Ladies bookplate: An Illustrated handbook for collectors and book-lovers (1895) argued that bookplates with women’s names may not guarantee their ownership of books even in the 18th century.

Bookplate of Elizabeth Percival on Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1596)
Photo credit and source: Images reproduced courtesy the Rare & Special Books Collection of the University Libraries, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York

Bookplate of Elizabeth Percival on Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene(1596). Images reproduced courtesy the Rare & Special Books Collection of the University Libraries, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York"

As for the make-up of female readers’ libraries in the 18th century in Europe, some scholars still characterized the nature of women’s book collections to be religious and literary. However, there is also a counter argument that women in this early modern era started to read and own books about professional matters and topics that matched their intellectual curiosities.

Entering the 19th century, some women in this period were able to own relatively larger numbers of books on various topics. Some women even owned impressive libraries as books became more affordable and some educational opportunities became available to women. Consequently, the meaning of women’s bookplates may have progressed to self-expression and intellectual identity in addition to physical ownership of books in this time period.

Widespread availability of paperback books slowed down interest in and necessity for bookplates in the 20th century. Yet, many institutions’ collections consist of women’s bookplates from this time period, perhaps due to increased interest in collecting and trading bookplates in general. Some notable women’s bookplates from the Los Angeles Public library’s Bookplate Collection are also from the early 20th century. The following are selected bookplates of women from California that deserve our attention.

Dolores Machado Barrow

The LA Times obituary for Dolores Machado de Barrow (unknown - 1937) describes her as a graduate of University of Southern California who valued education and viewed it as progress for women’s rights. Her accomplishments included serving as “the chairman of History and Landmarks of California Parlor, member of the ‘Faculty Wives’ of the University of Southern California, Women’s Service Auxiliary of the Chamber of Commerce and the Los Angeles County Medical Association in which she was largely responsible for founding the library, and the state program Chairman of the California Women’s Medical Auxiliary.”

Eleanor Sims Boone

Eleanor Sims Boone (1905 - 1954) was a Stanford graduate and Professor of Biology at Mills College and her family estate was well known as “Forest Home” located in San Ramon, Contra Costa County, California. Her attachment for the family farm / home and love for books is expressed through her bookplate.

Ruth Thomson Saunders

Ruth Thomson Saunders was an artist, typographer, and also a printer active in the 1920s and 1930s in California. Saunders and her husband ran the Saunders Studio Press in Claremont, California. She designed her own bookplates as well as for many others, including for friends and libraries. Eileen King, a librarian from Los Angeles Public Library’s Art, Music, and Recreation department talks about Ruth Thomson Saunders in more detail in this video.

Leota Woy

Leota Woy (1868 -1962), originally from Indiana and lived in Glendale, California in her later years, was a painter and artist who also designed bookplates for herself and others.

Bookplates from other women

There are some bookplates owned by women who were less known or simply unknown. The designs are so intriguing that they call your attention. However, no information about these women beyond their names and the designers who created these bookplates can be found.

It requires imagination to picture the lives of these unknown women, as the plates have been removed from their original contexts. What kinds of books did these women read? What were their interests? What were they curious about? What were they trying to tell about themselves through their bookplates? We invite you to imagine and keep researching with us. Please share if you find any interesting information about these women and their bookplates.

Lastly, this blog post is limited to discussing women’s book ownership / bookplates from the perspective of European and North American heritage. I am challenged to seek out information and research about women of color who were bibliophiles and left unprecedented legacy through intellectual pursuits in the era in which they may have experienced insufferable oppressions of all kinds.

You can see the entire Los Angeles Public Library Bookplate Collection on Tessa. Please check out the following resources if you would like to learn more about women’s book ownership and their bookplates.

Books in Los Angeles Public Library’s Collection
Digitized Books in Public Domain:

Boyle Heights Oral History

Anita Martinez, Digitization & Special Collections

Boyle Heights Oral History Project: Nancy Oda

Six Jewish Girls in Boyle Heights - Oral History

Studio portrait of television producer Pete Rodriguez taken in Los Angeles in 1949. Saldaña, Shades of L.A. Collection/Los Angeles Public Library. view original Oral History Interview - Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

You may be already familiar with the robust and diverse digital collections on the Los Angeles Public Library’s online archive, Tessa. Tessa hosts various collections of photographs, maps, menus, and graphic illustrations from travel posters to fashion plates. I would like to introduce you to a collection you may have overlooked, our oral histories. LAPL has collected a number of oral histories over the years as part of ongoing projects, including the Shades of LA collection and LA Made. For this post, I will highlight oral histories from the Eastside neighborhood of Boyle Heights.

Boyle Heights is integral to the historical fabric of the City of Los Angeles. Yet for many years, many in our city have ignored or disregarded the Eastside neighborhood. Segregation and racism, supported by federal redlining practices, are two important reasons that Boyle Heights has not been prominent in the global view of Los Angeles. However, in recent years, residents and former residents have endeavored to give this historic neighborhood the recognition it deserves. One of the best ways to learn more about the rich and diverse history of Boyle Heights is by listening to the stories shared by the neighborhood’s proud residents.

Multicultural musical group, Boyle Heights. Still from Boyle Heights Oral History Project: Nancy Oda (0:52)

Boyle Heights has sometimes been described as the 'Ellis Island' neighborhood of the West Coast. Many immigrant and ethnic groups excluded from other Los Angeles neighborhoods found a place to establish homes in this area east of downtown Los Angeles. While Boyle Heights has been home to diverse working class communities for the past century, the neighborhood was established as a well-to-do suburb of Los Angeles for the primarily Anglo residents who were moving outward from the downtown city center in the 1880s. By the early 1900s, new populations began to settle in Boyle Heights, including immigrants from Mexico, Japan, Armenia, Russia, and Europe. Other major populations who contributed to the life of the community include indigneous people, descendents of Californios, people of the Jewish diaspora and African-Americans. The original residents of Los Angeles, the Kizh-Gabrieleño, or Tongva, if you prefer, lived near the Los Angeles River and other smaller waterways in the Eastside area prior to European settlement and continue to live in the area.

The boundaries of Boyle Heights are now more or less established by official City markers and neighborhood organizations. However, locals, non-locals, and old-timers sometimes have their own markers for delineating where the neighborhood begins and ends. Current residents of Eastside neighborhoods generally accept that Boyle Heights is a neighborhood inside the City of Los Angeles. To the east, Indiana Avenue is the dividing line between Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles. The Los Angeles River defines the neighborhood’s western boundary. In these oral histories, both East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights are used interchangeably by the subjects to refer to the same area. Pete Rodriguez states in his oral history, “East Los Angeles is from Main Street to Ford Blvd.” Interestingly, he makes a distinction between Boyle Heights and neighborhoods like Belvedere and Maravilla which he deemed as being more “dangerous.” Cesar Chavez Avenue, the main thoroughfare and business district of Boyle Heights was formerly known as Brooklyn Avenue until the name change in 1994, and is also used interchangeably in the oral histories.

Brooklyn Avenue neighborhood sign. Gary Leonard, Gary Leonard Collection/Los Angeles Public Library. view original

The oral histories presented in this post provide a unique and engaging perspective on Boyle Heights’ history, particularly in the 1940s and 1950s. They represent three of the significant ethnic groups who have historically called Boyle Heights home. Pete Rodriguez discusses growing up in Boyle Heights as a Mexican-American. Nancy Oda chronicles her experiences as a Japanese-American youth. Helen Bialeck, Arlene Dunaetz, Charlotte Gussin-Root, Armony Share, Joyce Sindel, and Jackie Waterman are childhood friends who collectively share their remembrances of Boyle Heights’ Jewish community. Listening to the oral histories together, one begins to gain an understanding of how early multicultural Los Angeles developed and grew. Additionally, these stories illustrate how even small cultural exchanges can contribute to a more egalitarian and welcoming Los Angeles.

A recent photo of the childhood friends from Boyle Heights. Still from Six Jewish Girls in Boyle Heights - Oral History (40:47)

Journey to Boyle Heights

For many new residents, Boyle Heights was a safe and welcoming place to start their lives in Los Angeles. Many other neighborhoods were off-limits to non-Anglo ethnic groups in the early part of the 20th Century due to racially restrictive covenants and federal redlining. In Boyle Heights, Jewish, Japanese, Russian, and Mexican residents found a place to continue their cultural traditions, attend religious services, and start new businesses.

While the oral history participants come from different ethnic and religious groups, and from different parts of the world, the similarities between their stories and backgrounds are striking. Both Pete Rodriguez and Armory Share’s parents ended up in Boyle Heights after fleeing their respective home countries due to political persecution and radical political activity. Pete’s Mexican father was involved with Ricardo Flores Magon and the Magonista movement in Los Angeles and Mexico. Armory’s Jewish parents were “peaceful anarchists” who fled Bolshevik Russia, moved around Europe, established themselves in Mexico, and finally ended up in Boyle Heights.

Nancy Oda’s father worked as an ice deliveryman. Still from Boyle Heights Oral History Project: Nancy Oda (8:45)

Nancy Oda’s Japanese-American father, Tatsu Inouye was born in Montebello and worked his family’s farm near the Rio Hondo River until he moved to Japan for his education. He eventually returned to Los Angeles and settled in Boyle Heights with his Japanese-American wife, Lily, Nancy’s mother, who was from Lancaster. Pete also talks about the importance of the Rio Hondo River in his young life, since it was one of the few recreational areas where Mexican-Americans were allowed to congregate and swim. Mexican-Americans fondly called this part of the river Marrano Beach.

Japanese-American community picnic. Still from Boyle Heights Oral History Project: Nancy Oda (5:49)

Joyce, Arlene, Helen, Charlotte, and Jackie’s respective parents came to Boyle Heights from different parts of Europe and the U.S., eventually settling in Boyle Heights, where they found an open community, shared cultural organizations, and a place to establish businesses.

Cultural Life

Shared cuisine has often been the first way Angelenos learn about each other's cultures, and in midcentury Boyle Heights it was no different. Pete fondly remembers his visits to Canter’s Jewish Deli, originally located on what was then, Brooklyn Ave. Nancy Oda talks about her Japanese-American mother’s love of Mexican food and their pilgrimages to the Eastside landmark eatery, Manuel’s El Tepeyac. She also recalls how neighbors would share homegrown vegetables and invite each other over for meals. The childhood friends recall their visits to the many Jewish bakeries that lined Brooklyn Avenue, like the Warsaw Bakery, Detroit Bakery, and Rosner’s Bakery. Currie’s was the spot to go for ice cream. For fancy occasions, they visited Joyce Sindel’s family restaurant, the only white tablecloth eatery in 1940s Boyle Heights, The Famous, located on Brooklyn Ave and Cornwall Street.

Exterior view of El Tepeyac in Boyle Heights. Still from Boyle Heights Oral History Project: Nancy Oda (12:15)

It was in high school, namely Roosevelt, where many of the teenagers really began their multicultural explorations and friendships. They attended dances together at places like the recently closed International Institute which was established as a place to assist immigrants to assimilate to their new country and to formally share in the cultural experiences with other newly arrived immigrants. Pete talks about a city-wide baseball championship in which he participated, and in which a team of Japanese, Russian, Jewish, and Mexican students took home the winning trophy. Residents of all ethnicities shopped at Zellman’s on Brooklyn Avenue, a business started by Armony’s uncle. It began as a haberdashery and eventually grew into a clothing store. Zellman’s remained popular among residents of Boyle Heights until 1999 when it closed after almost 80 years in business. While the oral history participants’ parents created businesses, community spaces, and organizations to continue their cultural and religious practices, there was still space and freedom to share and explore their neighbors’ traditions and cultures.

Zellman’s, Boyle Heights. Shades of L.A. Collection/Los Angeles Public Library. view original

Workmen’s Circle Yiddish School, Boyle Heights. Still from Six Jewish Girls in Boyle Heights - Oral History (40:47)

Armory learned Jewish cultural traditions and Yiddish at the Workmen’s Circle Yiddish School on Soto Ave. She fondly remembers writing letters in Yiddish to her aunts in Mexico. Many of the group of childhood friends attended the Congregation Talmud Torah, more commonly known as the Breed Street Shul. More recently, there have been initiatives by the Breed Street Shul Project to rehabilitate the Shul and honor the multicultural history of Boyle Heights.

Congregation Talmud Torah. Security Pacific National Bank Collection/Los Angeles Public Library.view original

Armory’s Hollenbeck Middle School yearbook from Summer 1947. Still from Six Jewish Girls in Boyle Heights - Oral History (9:22)

Mexican-American youth in Boyle Heights adopted the Pachuco style, imported from El Paso, Texas, as a way to differentiate themselves from everyone else. Pete admired the Pachucos for their sharp fashion and cool slang, called Caló. Some of this slang is still used in Boyle Heights today. The Pachucos were known for their zoot suit fashion, which was frowned upon during the war. Officials perceived the oversized suits’ use of fabric as excessive during a time of government-ordered rationing. Like other subcultures started by urban youth of color, Pachucos were looked down upon by mainstream society - their cultural pride and fashion was an affront to Anglo society. Armony recalls a chilling experience of being at the Meralta Theater on 1st in Boyle Heights when a marauding group of servicemen walked through the aisles with flashlights looking for zoot suiters to beat up. This incident would come to be known as the Zoot Suit Riots.

Zoot Suits at Hollenbeck. Virgil Mirano, Los Angeles Neighborhoods Collection/Los Angeles Public Library. view original

World War II was a formative event for many of the interviewees, whose descriptions of how the period affected their families and community underline its importance. Nancy Oda shares her family’s experience of forced relocation to internment camps during World War II. When Nancy’s family discovered that they would be interned, they turned to the Gomezes, a local Mexican-American family, to watch over their Boyle Heights home and business. The forced relocation affected the whole Boyle Heights community and Pete shares the pain he felt when his Japanese-American friends were forced to leave. Helen and Arlene talk about the fear they felt for their family in Europe during World War II and the Holocaust.

Their experiences growing up in Boyle Heights continue to inform and influence the oral history interviewees’ perspectives today. Nancy Oda talks about her commitment to “activate” the next generation and her continuing connection with the communities of Boyle Heights. Pete Rodriguez went on to become one of the first Mexican-American TV producers and used his personal struggles to help inform his news coverage of the Latino community in Los Angeles.

Pete and Helen Rodriguez with Catherine Bach. Shades of L.A. Collection/Los Angeles Public Library. view original

These oral histories provide the listener with opportunities to understand how multicultural experiences can benefit individuals and communities, increasing inclusivity, diversity, and cultural exchange. People may consider their memories and stories insignificant, but in fact their perspectives are a unique record that enriches our sense of history. Sharing your personal history can enhance our understanding of local history and impart deeper meanings to well-known events from LA’s past.

A Mexican-American family in Boyle Heights. Shades of L.A. Collection/Los Angeles Public Library. view original

Oral Histories

“Memory cannot be reconstructed after a person passes away. After a community’s elders pass away they take with them a history we can’t replicate any other way. Recording a verbal history is so superior to anything a writer can accomplish later.” - Helen Bialeck, Six Jewish Girls from Boyle Heights.

Do you feel inspired to start recording your own oral histories? Many of us are at home and spending more time with our families and loved ones. Now is the perfect time to start recording your own oral histories. I have provided some resources below to help you start.

Oral History Interview Form

This interview form can be used as a guide for oral history interviews. Open ended questions and free flowing conversations can also be great ways to help the interviewee recall memories and experiences. Try and plan for more than one interview session. Oftentimes remembrances and details are recalled at a later date and the interviewees might be eager to share more recollections.

Audio Resources

There are many free and low cost apps available to download which can assist with audiovisual recordings. Google Voice is a free and easily accessible audio recording utility and has been used in the past for oral history projects. Ocenaudio is a free software that is easy to use for editing. Another good audio editor is Audacity.

Online Oral History Resources

For more on best practices and oral history principles, please see the The Oral History Association website. Capturing the Living Past - An Oral History Primer is an easy to follow basic primer for oral history interviews. Just remember, the goal is to record memories and personal histories before they are gone, so even if you don’t have access to a recording app or have the time read over any of the oral history primers, that’s fine. If your family member or neighbor wants to talk and share some memories, take out your mobile phone or notebook, and start recording - with their permission, of course. You never know what they know, until you ask.

A Good Appetite is a Blessing in Life: A conversation with Vikki Wong

Steven Kilgore, Digitization & Special Collections

Earlier this year I learned that my colleague Vikki Wong had a collection of menus she has been collecting since 1989, and wasn’t sure what to do with them. We encouraged Vikki to donate her menus to the menu collection. After several conversations and 300 menus collected over 30 years we have a unique addition to our menu collection from a veteran member of the Los Angeles Public Library. To get to know more about her thoughts on restaurants and the menus she donated I asked Vikki some questions to find out more about her background and the menus she collected. The following paragraphs are a result of these conversations.

Vikki Wong is an Administrative Clerk in the Catalog Department at Central Library where she assists in cataloging Chinese and juvenile books. Vikki, like her parents and two younger brothers, was born in the Philippines; her grandparents were from Guangdong, China. She speaks Tagalog, Mandarin, Cantonese, Toisanese, Fookienese, Taiwanese, and English. Vikki earned a Bachelor of Science in Commerce, majoring in Accounting at the Far Eastern University before immigrating to the United States. She was a bookkeeper in an accounting firm, an underwriter in an insurance company, a receptionist/secretary at a bank in Chinatown, and then an Administrative Clerk at the library. It was here she had the opportunity and freedom to continue learning while working in an atmosphere of like-minded knowledge enthusiasts.

Vikki has been collecting menus for over 30 years. This collection of menus spans a period of time starting in 1989 when Vikki started at Central Library in the Business and Economics Department, and started as a quick reference collection of local restaurants for staff. Keep in mind this was in a time before the Internet, when information about restaurants was more word-of-mouth. Vikki brought her menus with her when she transferred to the Catalog Department in 2000 and continued collecting menus, which became a hobby. This palette of menus highlights restaurants primarily in downtown Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley, and reflects the ever-changing landscape of food trends. Vikki Wong is a food enthusiast who loves the adventure of a new restaurant and likes recommending her finds to friends and colleagues.

Her food philosophy is Chinese in nature and can be summed up in a Chinese saying: “Neng Chi Shi Fu” (能吃是福) that loosely translates as “a good appetite is a blessing in life.” As an omnivore she looks for ambience, food quality, and presentation that reflects the taste and service of a restaurant. These are the elements that draw her back to her favorite eateries. She looks for restaurants around Central Library that are fast and casual places, which cater to working people, who have limited time to enjoy a good, quick bite to eat.

Over the past 30 years, Vikki has observed the ever changing food trends that come with the diverse cultures of Los Angeles. These trends range from the Vietnamese restaurants that became popular in the 1980s and 90s to the food trucks that emerged as a result of the 2008 recession. These fusions and flavors bring people together, and highlight the palette of food at our fingertips. Vikki thinks Filipino food is really starting to trend in 2019, but in the nearly 300 menus Vikki has donated you will find everything from a McDonald’s delivery menu to a variety of Filipino, Thai, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, American, Italian, Mexican, French, Hawaiian, Indian, Greek, Indonesian, Malaysian, and even Singaporean cuisines.

Working at Central Library for 30 years, Vikki has seen restaurants come and go. As we had a conversation about her thoughts and philosophy on food and menus in general, she reminisced about Betty and Jack’s Sandwich Shop on the corner of 5th and Spring Streets. Vikki and a co-worker would buy breakfast there every day, and loved their wonderful grilled cheese and egg salad sandwiches. Reminiscing, Vikki would like to see a place like McCormick & Schmick’s and its happy hour return, a place many library staff were rumored to have spent time after work. Food trends and influences will forever change, but food is one of those universal axioms that will always bring people together, because like Vikki says: “A good appetite is indeed a blessing in life.”

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Jack and Betty's Sandwich Shop (1989 Menu from Jack and Betty's Sandwich Shop--the place that had the best egg salad sandwich downtown Los Angeles.)
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McDonald's Delivery Menu (1 of 2) (At one time McDonalds would deliver in downtown Los Angeles, for a mininum order of $5.00. Four convenient locations to serve you.)
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McDonald's Delivery Menu (2 of 2) (At one time McDonalds would deliver in downtown Los Angeles, for a mininum order of $5.00. Four convenient locations to serve you.)
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Thanh Vi Restaurant (1 of 3) (Thanh Vi Restuarant was a popular Vietnamese in Chinatown, with a loyal following and great yelp reviews, it closed in 2016.)
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Thanh Vi Restaurant (2 of 3) (Thanh Vi Restuarant was a popular Vietnamese in Chinatown, with a loyal following and great yelp reviews, it closed in 2016.)
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Thanh Vi Restaurant (3 of 3) (Thanh Vi Restuarant was a popular Vietnamese in Chinatown, with a loyal following and great yelp reviews, it closed in 2016.)
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Terrace Cafe (The Terrace Cafe was very popular with library staff, this was one of the places where you could get a good bite to eat.)
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Yorkshire Grill (1 of 3) (The Yorkshire Grill was an old school diner with a wrap around counter and booths that had great pastrami sandwichs, and tasty breakfast specials like the redline special. Unfortunately it closed in 2015.)
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Yorkshire Grill (2 of 3) (The Yorkshire Grill was an old school diner with a wrap around counter and booths that had great pastrami sandwichs, and tasty breakfast specials like the redline special. Unfortunately it closed in 2015.)
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Yorkshire Grill (3 of 3) (The Yorkshire Grill was an old school diner with a wrap around counter and booths that had great pastrami sandwichs, and tasty breakfast specials like the redline special. Unfortunately it closed in 2015.)
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The Fisherman's Outlet (1 of 3) (The Fisherman's Outlet is an an old school seafood hangout, that has been in business for 58 years and counting. Better know what you want to order when you go here.)
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The Fisherman's Outlet (2 of 3) (The Fisherman's Outlet is an an old school seafood hangout, that has been in business for 58 years and counting. Better know what you want to order when you go here.)
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The Fisherman's Outlet (3 of 3) (The Fisherman's Outlet is an an old school seafood hangout, that has been in business for 58 years and counting. Better know what you want to order when you go here.)

Saigon Coming Home

Steven Kilgore, Digitization & Special Collections

In the Night

In this stifling night
There lies in wait a sun!
Unspoken suffering
Hides nothing but thunder and lightning!
In the starved and shivering millions
Are a thousand armies!
When a new era comes
All will go off like an atom bomb.

-Nguyễn Chí Thiện, 1976

My first memory of Vietnam as a concept was when I was 7, when my auntie was dating my uncle Bobby who came home from Vietnam in a wheelchair. My auntie met my uncle while volunteering at the VA hospital in Long Beach. Uncle Bobby had joined the Marines, to be with his brother, who had been drafted. They told him he would be a war artist, and made him a machine gunner. He thought he was fighting for freedom. He was never bitter, and he was the most unhandicapped person I have ever had the privilege to be around. He was one of the best wheelchair bowlers and basketball players in the world. He competed in the California Wheelchair games, and taught John Voight how to be in a wheelchair for the movie Coming Home.

The Vietnamese population in Los Angeles makes up the third largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam. Orange county has the largest population, centered in the communities of Westminster and Garden Grove, better known as Little Saigon. Vietnamese immigration to the United States was a direct result of the Vietnam war and the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, when the first wave of Vietnamese refugees came to the melting pot of California. Through tragedy, strife, and grief, we inherited the gifts and culture of the Vietnamese people to the ever-changing palette of our City of Angels.

I remember being a kid lying down on red shag carpet in Sylmar, watching the Fall of Saigon on the news. I wondered what my uncle must have been thinking, and what a waste the whole war was, with the desperate people trying to climb into helicopters from the rooftops, and the dumping of helicopters and machinery into the ocean to make room for the refugees. I felt a profound sadness in the silent room as the drama unfolded on the television screen. Then the refugees started arriving, and drove home the reality that the United States had lost the war, and what the cost of war really is: the turmoil and chaos that is left behind, the crippled men and broken families. We may have been left with wheelchairs and tears, but from the tragedy rose a strength and renewal. When my uncle was on the operating table half conscious he heard the doctor say to someone, “He is a goner.” My uncle grabbed the doctor's coat and declared, “F@#% you, I am not.”

South Vietnamese immigration to the United States initially came in three waves. The first wave started just before the fall of Saigon by air, followed by massive evacuations by air and on Navy ships to Gaum and the Philippines for processing. From here, refugees were sent to the mainland United States, and stayed at U.S. bases like Camp Pendleton. 125,000 refugees left South Vietnam in 1975, followed by an additional 5,000 in 1976-1977. The overwhelming nature of the humanitarian crisis created by the end of the Vietnam War resulted in the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act, signed by President Gerald Ford on May 23, 1975. This act allowed the first wave of 130,000 refugees from South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia to enter and settle in the United States.

The second wave started in 1978 due to the brutality of the North Vietnamese Communist regime, causing refugees to flee Vietnam, mostly in small fishing boats, for asylum camps in Southeast Asia. This period of the “boat people” was the catalyst for the Refugee Act of 1980, which brought down barriers, and aided in the resettlement of Vietnamese refugees. By 1990 there were 543,000 Vietnamese immigrants in the United States. Originally the refugees were scattered around the country, and with sponsor families organized through religious organizations. By the 1980s the diaspora congregated in California, Texas, and Washington State, forming communities, opening businesses and revitalizing old China Town centers. During this period many Vietnamese restaurants opened, popularizing Vietnamese cuisine. One of the first and best known in Little Saigon, Orange County, is Pho 79 opened by Tho and Lieu Tran in 1982.

The often forgotten part of the chaos of war and its long term effects, especially for refugees, are the Amerasian children. These progeny were borne by Vietnamese mothers and U.S. military fathers and were a result of, and caught up in the aftermath of the Fall of Saigon. These children were often not recognised by their American servicemen fathers, abandoned by their mothers, and discriminated against by Vietnamese culture. However, it was relatively easy to obtain safe passage for Vietnamese women and their children who were married to American servicemen. Single Vietnamese women who kept their children had an extremely arduous path to refugee status. As diplomacy between Communist Vietnam and the United States broke down, these children and their family members were left in limbo. It wasn’t until the passage of the American Homecoming Act in 1988 did their plight become easier. Thirteen years after the Fall of Saigon, 23,000 Ameriasian children and 67,000 of their relatives were granted refugee status.

The Vietnam War divided nations, causing grief and heartache to this day among veterans who came home to a hostile public, not to mention physically and mentally scarred. The refugees who came to our shores as people at the end of their ropes, rising to a new reality in the same way my uncle Bobby came home to a new reality. Refugees and veterans took broken situations and created a new world with new opportunities. In the process our refugees have blended their ancient culture to the American experiment that continues in ever unfolding chapters and layers of nuance, tastes, and aromas. Here in the collections at Central Library we have items which highlight the influence and fusion Vietnam has brought to our greater collective. Here are some of the images, menus, and books, which reflect these influences, flavors, and beauty.

They Exiled Me

“They exiled me to the heart of the jungle
Wishing to fertilize the manioc with my remains
I turned into an expert hunter
And came out full of snake wisdom and rhino fierceness.
They sank me in the ocean
Wishing that I would remain in the depths
I became a deep sea diver
And came up covered with scintillating pearls.
They squeezed me into the dirt
Hoping that I would become mire
I turned instead into a miner
And brought up stores of the most precious metal
No diamond or gold, though
The kind to adorn women’s baubles
But uranium with which to manufacture the atom bomb.”

-Nguyễn Chí Thiện, 1972

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Vietnamese refugees arriving (1975). Vietnamese refugees arrive at camp Pendleton, which became a refugee camp almost overnight. The Marines had 36 hours to prepare the camp for the thousands of arriving refugees. In the summer of 1975, 20,000 refugees lived in tents at camp Pendleton, until sponsor families through churches and the Red Cross found homes for them, by October of 1975 the camp closed down. view original
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Vietnamese refugees at Camp Pendleton (1975). Two brothers arriving at Camp Pendleton. Many of the refugees in the first wave were well educated with a proficiency in english, only 5% of the first wave refugees were farmers or fishermen. view original
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Vietnamese refugee (1976). view original
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Vietnamese refugees and sponsor (1976). After the fall of Saigon in 1975 there was a lot of opposition to letting the refugees into the United States, or other western countries. The years of anti-war sentiment, the loss of the war, and discrimanation were all factors in these sentiments. Even with the opposition, there were also many host families, organized through churches and the Red Cross, who stepped up and provided the much needed bridge to the refugees. These sponsors provided aid, shelter, and in many cases lifelong friendship. view original
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Oil tanker rescues "Boat people" (1979). Persecution by the communist regime in Vietnam caused a mass exodus of people seeking asylum, mostly leaving Vietnam on small fishing boats creating the term “boat people” the people pictured here were rescued by the French Vessel, Ventrose in the South China sea. Many of the people who fled were Hoa people, Vietnamese who are ethnically Chinese and suffered persecution in Vietnam. Between 1975 and 1995 around 800,000 who fled Vietnam by boat found safe harbors. According to the United Nations between 200,000 to 400,000 Vietnamese died at sea seeking refuge. view original
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Americanization of a Family (1979). Vietnamese refugees, now settled in their California home are, from left: Le Son Thanh, Le Mai Quynh, Phong Do Le, Le Xuan Dinh and Le Trang Quynh, July 27, 1979. Naturalization among the Vietnamese community is around 86% the highest among all immigrant groups. view original
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Pho 79 was one of the first Vietnamese restaurants in southern California, opened in 1982 by Tho and Lieu Tran named after the street number of a Pho restaurant in Southern Vietnam. The numbers after a Pho restaurant always have a significance, it can relate to a historical event in Vietnamese history or the year a family arrived in the United States, or the year the restaurant opened. Pho 79 has received a James Beard Award for its contribution to American food culture.
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PHO 79. (1986)
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Ritual Ceremony for “100 Families” (1981). Buddhist priest perform the ceremony of “100 families” during Tet Nguyen Dan, better known as “Tet” Vietnamese New Year festival. view original
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Vietnamese Rally (1983). The Vietnamese community remained vocal and vigilant against the Communist regime of Vietnam, and the persecution against the South Vietnamese, where over 300,000 people were interned, and thousands were tortured. view original
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PHO HOA (1986). "A long time Pho restaurant in Chinatown with authentic Pho. The Hoa people owned many businesses in Vietnam before the Fall of Saigon. When Communist Northern Vietnam won the war, they began confiscating the property and businesses of Hoa people, who were forced to flee Vietnam, many via ships and later in fishing boats, becoming part of the refugee referred to as the “boat people.”
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Viet Buddhist vigil at City Hall (1984). Hung Cuong was a South Vietnamese Actor, Singer, and songwriter, who had a lot of fame in Vietnam. After the Fall of Saigon he repeatedly tried to escape the communist regime and was imprisoned, he finally made it to the United States in 1980, with the help of the Hoa Hao buddhist, who were also persecuted in Vietnam. view original
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Hollywood High School Homecoming (1984). Members of the Vietnamese club at the Hollywood High homecoming parade 1984. These refugee children embracing their culture while striving for success in their new home. view original
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PHO LE LOI (1986). Named after Emperor Le Loi of the Le Dynasty and Grand Prince of Dai Viet who drove the Ming army from Vietnam in 1428, Le Loi was from Thanh Hoa Province. The revolt against the Ming Dynasty began in 1418 the day after Tet with the support of the Trinh and Nguyen clans. Legend says Le Loi had a magic sword given to him by the Dragon King. The sword was engraved with the words Thuan Thien “the Will of Heaven”. view original
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Vietnamese Veterans (1988). Photograph captions reads, "Vietnamese veterans fighting the battle alongside the U.S. troops were, from left: Maj. Tho Hoai-le; 1st Lt. Cung Pham; 2nd Lt. Viet Dang, and Master Sgt. 1st Cl. Son Truong-Nguyen. All four men now live in the U.S. Hoai-le says he sometimes hears imaginary blasts, or sees his TV burst into hallucinatory flames." Photograph dated May 15, 1988. After the Fall of Saigon over 300,000 South Vietnamese were sent to “reeducation camps” many soldiers, along with Journalist, Catholic priest, Doctors, and civil servants. Thousands of Vietnamese veterans were granted political asylum through the Orderly Departure Program which was created in 1979 under the United Nations. view original

Tessa Kelso: Library Hall of Famer

James Sherman, Librarian, Literature & Fiction Department
Tessa Kelso (1863-1933), Sixth City Librarian of Los Angeles

As the Los Angeles Public Library celebrates Women’s History Month, it’s appropriate to remember Tessa Kelso, sixth city librarian for Los Angeles (1889-1895). Kelso may not have been the first female city librarian—that was the iron-willed teenager Mary Foy—but she was certainly the one most openly concerned with equal rights for women and least concerned with conventional practice in either libraries or society.

Mary E. Foy, Los Angeles' first salaried Librarian, who served from 1880 to 1884 (Security Pacific National Bank Collection) view original

Noting privately that Kelso was the “best man ever to hold the job” of City Librarian, Charles Lummis publicly described Kelso as, “a woman of extraordinary business ability, quenchless energy, and a great executive force—in touch with the young science of libraries, she gave the institution a character and impetus which brought it into national prominence.” She needed all that plus persistence to do all that was necessary to help the fledgling Los Angeles Public Library soar into national prominence.

Tessa Kelso was a career journalist in her native Ohio prior to striking out solo for California. She was a long-time supporter of libraries and became intrigued with the profession after covering the 1886 American Library Association (ALA) convention in Milwaukee for the Cincinnati Illustrated News, during which she joined the ALA.

In her job interview with the Los Angeles Library Board, Kelso dismissed her lack of experience, averring that she could hire people who had experience with the technical aspects of library work. She told the Board that, just as an editor of a newspaper didn’t have to know how to typeset, that as director, she didn’t have to know how to catalog. (Kelso was consistently somewhat dismissive of cataloging). The Board was looking for a businesslike executive to do the big things that they wanted doing, and Tessa was speaking their language, and so she was hired. Then she proceeded to walk the walk.

Adelaide Hasse, [ca. 1895] (U.S. Government Publishing Office)

In her first year as head of the library, with the assistance of Adelaide Hasse, Kelso oversaw the tremendous move to more spacious digs in City Hall. By the time she left six years later, she had transformed the Los Angeles Public Library into a true metropolitan library. During her term, the library collection had grown sevenfold, and circulation soared from 12,000 to 330,000. She adopted the Dewey Decimal System. She inaugurated a system of ‘delivery stations’ to keep up with the rapid growth of the Los Angeles population, from 11,183 in 1880 to 102,479 in 1900.

Kelso was committed to effective and efficient library services. Under her tutelage, the Los Angeles Public Library became known nationwide as “a progressive force and a pioneer in devising new means of serving its constituents.” Against the conventional wisdom, Kelso was an active proponent of making the library’s collections accessible to the public. She abolished membership fees and agitated for open stacks, at a time when both of these now-common ideas were radical. She expanded weekend hours and made current periodicals available for check-out.

In his book on Los Angeles City Librarians, Historian John D. Bruckman listed Kelso’s accomplishments—establishment of a local history collection, an art department, and the first public library music collection, including sheet music and operatic and orchestral scores, as well as the foundation of the first systematic training of any type for library employees.

Bruckman mentions also that Kelso helped develop a classification system for departmental documents, which later formed the basis of the present classification in use with the library of the Superintendent of Documents in Washington. Given her odd relationship with cataloging, it’s no surprise that her “helping development” was by having a good eye for talent, specifically hiring Adelaide Hasse, “Champion Fast Lady Bicycle Rider of Los Angeles,” to her first library job. Kelso encouraged Hasse, and they became fast lifelong friends, living together from 1892 until they both left Los Angeles. Kelso’s eye for talent, for hiring and cultivating librarians, perhaps reached its apogee with Hasse, whose classification system for documents at the Los Angeles Public Library began a career in documents that would lead her from bicycle hotshot to the creator of a documentation system that is still used today by the Government Printing Office and Federal Depository Library Program, where she helped implement it.

Kelso was interested in the profession as a whole and was an avid innovator for what libraries mean and are meant to do. She wrote an article that suggested that the library should move beyond the circulation of books and would have the public library become more actively “edited”, providing the public with “collated and unbiased data, and saved expensive individual experiments”, posting lists of pertinent cross subject information of “every coming dramatic or musical event” in order to provide a context with which to prepare for a deeper appreciation of the arts. And, as noted, Miss Kelso "goes so far as to suggest that by way of an antidote to trashy literature, public libraries should furnish the youth with tennis, croquet, football, base-ball (sic), indoor games, and magic lanterns, etc.” “Trashy literature” is apparently popular fiction, and in her opinion, physical exercise was obviously preferable.

Tessa Kelso was an early and vocal advocate of women’s rights and refused to hew to the time’s traditional gender roles. She wore her hair short—with no hat!—and smoked cigarettes “obviously not caring in the least for anyone’s opinion on the subject”, as Bruckman noted. She was quickly invited into the circle of “highminded” women of the clubs and civic associations of Los Angeles and taken under the wing of the formidable suffragist Caroline Severance and into the influential Friday Morning Club. Kelso was a strong believer in equal rights for women, protesting a proposed ALA women’s section, arguing that “sex should have no weight where ability is equal” and that “there is but one standard of management for a live business and sex has nothing to do with that standard.”

Exterior view of the Friday Morning Club building, Date built: 1924. Architects: Allison and Allison, [1926] (Security Pacific National Bank Collection) view original

Kelso was very much concerned with gender roles in the library profession. This concern was an important reason for her insistence of NOT separating children’s services from the rest of the library. As a result, as late as 1894, it was library policy to prohibit the separation of children’s and adult collections in the stacks; Kelso opposed children’s service in order to challenge “ the basic structure of librarianship as a feminized profession” in which women could be limited in their personal and professional development by being placed in what she considered a “maternal role.”

She was a devotee of California local history and a member of the Southern California Historical Society, was one of the earliest historical preservationists, with an eye towards shoring up the crumbling Mission architectures by recruiting first her fellow clubwomen and then Charles Lummis, her fellow reporter and Buckeye, into the California Landmarks Club, beginning another lifetime friendship. She organized the Association for the Preservation of the Missions, “the first serious attempt to preserve the California Missions,” according to George Wharton James. To promote awareness, Kelso held “stereopticon exhibitions,” led trips to the missions, and exhibited mission photographs at the library.

While Kelso’s unconventionality and energy helped her accomplish great things, it also made her a galvanizing public figure. The Library Board were quite pleased with their decision: In their end-of-the-year report in 1889, after only eight months at the job, the Board of Governors noted the poor shape the library was in at the time of Tessa’s hire in April and by the end of the year she was receiving fulsome praise for her “ability and experience”(!) and “showed a capacity and intelligence which make her remarkably well suited for the important position she occupies.” Four years after the departure of Kelso and Hasse, they were remembered in one Reader’s Letter to the Los Angeles Times, which stated how the new era of the library was born with a board of “scholarly tastes and requirements” who were “enthusiastic and devoted to books” and who:

…found two young women, of no special knowledge of library affairs, but of quickness to learn and of untiring industry. Of these, Miss Kelso… was gifted with great executive ability: the other, Miss Hasse, possessed actual genius for the work. Each had what the other lacked, each was conscious of her own deficiencies, and they worked in absolute harmony. When they went into office they found about five thousand books indiscriminately shelved, and an institution whose chief value was that it was the excuse for appointing one more city officer. That board and these librarians held office six years. In that time…the disorder had given place to one of the most perfect systems known in the world.

However, the expansion of the library and its programs cost money, which was fine when L.A. was riding a real estate boom. Unfortunately just as Kelso was hitting her stride, the Panic of 1893 threw the whole country into the Depression of 1893. It was also the year that Kelso attended the American Library Association and the World Congress of Librarians conference, both in Chicago, and also visited the World’s Fair. Despite the fact that her trip was approved by the library board, the City Auditor refused to reimburse her $200 in expenses (more than $5000 in 2019 dollars). She was forced to sue.

The local press took up the story, with the Herald dismissing the trip as a waste, using Kelso as a symbol to attack the Library as a scapegoat for the profligate government. The Herald kept up a steady drumbeat of attacks on Kelso and the library into the next year, stirring up the resentment of those thrown out of work by the economic downturn. In one editorial in particular, the Herald dismissed the work and expertise of librarianship, portraying librarians as shelvers, “Certainly this labor cannot be very arduous and exacting, and more certainly it should not cost the taxpayers $1000 per month in salaries.” City government spending was rapidly becoming an issue in the upcoming 1894 city election. Demagogues were quick to take up austerity, and the library was an easy target.

Kelso, in general, expressed herself in a way that was “witty, vehement and to the point”, and most importantly, she did not back down. Kelso and the library were also quick to defend themselves against charges of immorality that were leveled over the discovery of an extremely bohemian book in the collection, Le Cadet by Jean Richepin. The contretemps over this book, which led to a local clergyman very publicly praying for the city librarian to be “cleansed of sin ”, was answered confidently by Kelso: Using an innovative approach to the slander charge, Miss Kelso averred that, as city librarian, she managed “a large number of young female subordinate employees” and that the library is “daily visited by hundreds of young ladies hence it is indispensable” that she should be a “person of unblemished moral character and any impeachment of her character would mean that she was not fit for her office and even occupation”. Therefore, an unblemished moral character is not just a qualification but a requirement of the office of city librarian, thus any “impeachment of her moral character is to impose a disqualification which her office and profession peculiarly require.”

The case received national attention as a test of the First Amendment’s freedom of speech—in this instance, speech of the religious variety—which had paradoxically stemmed from an attempt to have books removed from the library collection. Some members of the press and clergy used the opportunity to make much of Kelso’s refusal to separate children’s and adult collections, with Reverend John Gray, a fan of book-burning for dirty novels, noting that other cities had restrictions on what books could be checked out by children and so should Los Angeles.

Kelso was very shrewd to show that she would not be steamrolled and was quite comfortable taking people to court, where facts could be measured rationally and legally, outside the overheated court of opinion that was boiling over, leading up to the hotly contested election of 1894, which was further stoked by women demanding the right to vote (it would be on the ballot in 1896). Kelso represented a handy symbol of the “New Woman” for men who were not in favor of suffrage.

And in fact, the day that the suit first came to court (December 3, 1894) was election day, and a new Republican mayor, Frank Rader, soundly defeated the Democratic ticket. Rader replaced board members who had hired and supported Kelso. In March of 1895, Kelso won her lawsuit against the city auditor and in April the court rejected the clergyman’s demurrer that “prayer” was privileged speech, and therefore Kelso’s defamation. On the same day, the new library board met as the old board left, with fulsome praise for Kelso and Hasse which was seconded by an L.A. Times editorial. One of the new board members, Director Henry O’Melveny, nominated Kelso to stay on:

We find what some of us, perhaps, did not know before, that this library has developed into a great educational factor. There are thousands of people who are obtaining an education from this institution. I believe that the main credit for the satisfactory condition of the library today is due to Miss Kelso and Miss Hasse.

Kelso had freed the library from the patronage hiring system by establishing civil service rules. The new Library Board flouted them, despite praising Kelso and Hasse’s accomplishments, not in the least by requiring a sort of 90-day probation for Kelso and Hasse. Feeling that they had earned better treatment, Kelso and Hasse offered their resignations. Not being prepared to replace Kelso, the Board asked her to withdraw her resignation at the same meeting, recognizing her experience as well as their inability to find replacements immediately. She agreed, but it was to be a short-lived peace.

The false economies that had been such an issue were reintroduced when Library Board members led by Director Frank Flint insisted on reducing Kelso and Hasse’s salaries; their resubmitted resignations were accepted at the next meeting, on April 30, 1895, reported the L.A. Times:

The indefatigable Mr. Flint, who certainly bore a cord of wood on his shoulders in place of a figurative chip, rose to the occasion. Miss Kelso entrenched herself behind her spectacles and calmly awaited the onslaught, and the fur flew in wads until the director subsided, leaving the deposed librarian mistress of the field.

Such were the times that Library Board meetings proved so high strung that they could be presented as a sporting event! Having deposed Kelso, the new Board immediately asked for her help:

Before adjournment Director Stewart suggested that Miss Kelso assist in every way possible in the induction of her successor into the duties of her new position. To this Miss Kelso objected; remarking that she could ill afford to do anything of the kind. “Mrs. Fowler is amply competent to look out for herself, else this board would certainly not have elected her librarian,” remarked Miss Kelso, looking straight at no one director in particular.”

Indeed Kelso had nothing lined up, but Hasse did—The Superintendent of Documents of the Government Printing Office realized the value of what had been created at the library, and so snapped up Hasse immediately.

Kelso left with Hasse to Washington, then settled in New York, where she worked for Scribner’s Publishing before she settled down to work in the library department of Baker and Taylor. She remained interested in the library world, and not only for professional reasons of working for publishers.

Kelso never stopped fighting for women’s rights and speaking her mind. In fact, she took on Melvil Dewey himself. Dewey may have supported the entry of women into the profession when he founded the first library school at Columbia, but his behavior towards women was so appalling that even in those times, and against a man of his power in the profession, some risked everything to report his behavior. He openly “squeezed” his assistants Florence Woodworth and May Seymour and harassed many more, including Hasse. One egregious event sticks out: In 1905, Dewey took a cruise to Alaska with several members of the American Library Association. Its purpose was to unwind after a long ALA conference and plan the future of the newly founded American Library Institute. But for some of the women on board, it was no vacation. Dewey’s sexual misconduct was serious enough for four women to accuse Dewey of harassment.

This had led to a movement to censure Dewey at the 1906 ALA conference and a number of women were named to provide testimony including Hasse, who declined. Even so, Dewey was “…ostracized from the organization that he had founded—in 1876, he had signed in as ALA member number one—for the next 20 years. He was such a persona non grata that in 1915, ALA President Mary Wright Plummer, who had been a student in his first class at Columbia, vowed to refuse to meet him as long as she remained in the profession.”

Dewey’s behavior did not change. Dewey still was part of The New York Library Association (NYLA) and in 1924 was angling to host the NYLA’s Library Week at his Lake Placid estate. But he had a formidable adversary: Tessa Kelso. Kelso protested to the NYLA Board. “For many years women librarians have been the special prey of Mr. Dewey in a series of outrages against decency,“ she argued, ”having serious and far-reaching effects upon his victims."

Kelso demanded an investigation or she would go to the press. During the investigative hearing, it surfaced that Dewey had supposedly harassed his own daughter-in-law to the extent that she moved out of his house, although this was denied by the family. Dewey’s son, Godfrey, attempted to protect his father, suggesting that Dewey had mere “disregard of conventions and indifference to appearances.” Kelso, also not one for convention, disagreed and characterized Dewey’s treatment of women as “of a vicious type of sexual depravity and criminal in the eyes of the law.” Kelso’s testimony was accepted—more likely to avert bad publicity than to protect the attendees—but as result of her protests, Library Week would not be at Dewey’s at Lake Placid but rather at Lake George. Dewey had no doubt who was responsible for this decision, writing with his curious spelling: “It is really pathetic when an unbalanst smoking drinking caracter can stampede a lot of sensible people.”

Soon after this epic if private confrontation, Kelso, “who was known in the book world for her originality and personality, as well as her knowledge of books”, returned to California and retired in Santa Barbara, where she died on August 13, 1933. After she passed, Santa Barbara Public Library created a memorial collection of books that belonged to her and on her varied interests (Persian art, Chinese porcelain, the Elizabethan period, the American circus); the bookplate reads ‘In memory of Tessa L. Kelso, 1863–1933, A Servant and Lover of Books’.”

As Bruckman states, Tessa Kelso proved to be the ideal person to preside over the first period of major library expansion in Los Angeles. He described Kelso as “Tough, practical, and dedicated, possessor of a large and liberal vision coupled with a healthy contempt for fussy detail, this thoroughly unconventional woman well supplied the energetic leadership which the moment required.” Much of what the library is today has to do with her hard work, professionalism, unconventional ideas and brilliant mind, and most of all, her belief in the library as a crucial educational institution for society. Her lifelong commitment to equal rights in the face of great institutional opposition is important to remember always, and especially during Women’s History Month.

Lost Land of Oz

Sye Gutierrez, Administrative Clerk, Photo Collection

Working in the photo archive of the Los Angeles Public Library has allowed me some great moments of discovery, learning random and often forgotten details about the city I live in. When discussing potential upcoming blog post topics, my supervisor was the first to inform me about a playground that existed once in the San Fernando Valley, built to resemble the wonderful land of Oz. Having spent my teen years growing up in and around the valley I was shocked to discover that I had never heard of such a place, so I set off to research. Diving into our digital archive we are fortunate enough to have The Valley Times Collection, which is comprised of valley-centric stories from the newspaper that ran from 1946 to their closure in 1970.

David Cowdrey and Fred Raio (Valley Times Collection) view original

In the early 1960s, the Van Nuys Junior Chamber of Commerce and the Valley Children's Play Park Association came together to create a playground that would eventually sprawl over five acres and would feature play structures resembling places found in the stories of Oz. Some proposed features included Dorothy's farm in Kansas, a yellow brick road surrounding the playground, and a train ride. The whole project was slated to cost around $250,000 in 1964 (which would be over two million in 2018 dollars). Above we see David Cowdrey (left), president of the Valley Play Park Association, and Fred Raio, luncheon chairman, studying a model of the first two acres to be constructed. The hope in rolling out the park in phases was getting the public to see how amazing the park could be if fully built, thus spurring on further donations.

Jim McNary (Valley Times Collection) view original

In this photo we see Jim McNary, Los Angeles industrial designer, assembling a portion of his model of the Land of Oz. As the park was originally proposed it was to be completely paid for by the community through fundraising then be handed over to the city who would take responsibility for maintaining the property.

Sam Yorty and Ernani Bernardi (Valley Times Collection) view original

The groundbreaking ceremony took place late in November 1964, with then Los Angeles City Mayor Sam Yorty and Councilman Ernani Bernardi, dressed as the Tin Man, in attendance. The ceremony included a children’s costume parade, the scale models on display, guest speakers, and rides in a flatbed truck around the park. It was reported that the children stole the show, and as you can see in the pictures below it was understandable.

(Valley Times Collection) view original

After the groundbreaking ceremony was over, it took over decade to get any construction work done on the project. Also during that time the Valley Times newspaper went out of business, and so no further photos of the park are in our collection. Being disappointed that my research seemed to hit a wall, my supervisor reminded me that as a Los Angeles Public Library card holder it allowed me access to all our e-media resources including The Los Angeles Times archive. You can visit our e-media page to check out the added benefits your library card has to offers you.

(Valley Times Collection) view original

In the Los Angeles Times archive I found construction photos and news articles documenting the decline in the parks completion. With the mounting expense, the city declined time and again to spend the money requested by the playground association, and there was no further construction. The only structures completed were the Over the Rainbow Bridge, a picnic area with Tin Man hat inspired canopies and the soon to be infamous Munchkin Castle.

(Valley Times Collection) view original

Over the years the area around the park had changed, and with a rise in crime the unsecured playground started to decline. The Munchkin Castle was uniquely designed with lots of tight places that children could explore and practically be unreachable by adults. This feature eventually led to undesirable night time activity in the castle leaving the interior littered with drug paraphernalia and broken bottles, and smelling of a well-used bathroom. The one-of-a-kind design also needed costly maintenance to keep up its appearance and repairs were slow and infrequent. I asked a friend who spent his summers in the park during day camp what his experience was like and he confirmed what I had read. He mentioned that older kids loved hiding out in the castle to escape adult supervision and that the castle was indeed very dirty. By the mid 1980s, the city decided to end the project and tear down the castle, replacing it with standard playground equipment. The picnic area and rainbow bridge survived with minor alterations to remove any remaining hints of Oz theming from them.

While researching online there seems to be a real absence in photo documentation of this park. The most I could find of images of the playground were from some stills from the "Fame Is Where You Find It" episode of 90210. Having my friend confirm that he attended many a birthday party there, I am surprised to see so few images. My research reinforced how grateful I am to archives as they were the only resources I could turn to for information and how important it is to support the preservation of history for future generations.

Bette Davis, a Life in One Archival Folder

Christina Rice

The library’s Los Angeles Herald Examiner photo collection spans seven decades, from the mid-1920s to 1989 and is a treasure trove of all things Los Angeles. For many years, the newspaper gravitated to stories of a more sensational slant which naturally drew them to city’s many residing movie stars. What resulted are mini collections documenting the lives and the careers of our glamour gods, reflecting early career triumphs, marriages (and often subsequent divorces), children, career zeniths, and transitions into honored legends (or slides into notoriety). It can be an odd feeling to hold an abridged story of someone’s life within the contents of an archival folder, though it’s always fascinating.

On Saturday, December 8th at 2pm, we are pleased to welcome Kathryn Sermak, former assist to Bette Davis, who will be joining us to talk about her book "Miss D & Me, Life with the Invincible Bette Davis." In preparation of Ms. Sermak’s visit, here’s a brief look at Bette Davis’ life in Los Angeles courtesy of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.

Academy Awards winners view original

Bette Davis received the Best Actress Academy Award for the 1935 Warner Bros. feature "Dangerous". This was also her first of ten official Academy Award nominations (she won a second award for 1938’s "Jezebel"), though she had also received a write-in nomination the previous year for in performance in "Of Human Bondage". She is pictured here on March 5, 1936 at the Biltmore Hotel with Irving Thalberg, producer, who accepted the Best Picture award on behalf of M-G-M for "Mutiny on the Bounty", Frank Capra, president of the academy, and Victor McLaglen, whose work in The Informer won him the Best Actor award. (Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection)

Birthday party for W.R. Hearst view original

By 1937, Bette was established enough to gain invites to the coveted costume parties thrown by William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies. Davis is pictured here at Davies’ Santa Monica “Ocean House” with (left to right) actress Irene Dunne (partially obscured by photo editing), Hearst, gossip columnist Louella Parsons, and actress Mary Brian. (Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection)

Bette Davis delivers welcome speech view original

In 1942, Bette and fellow actor John Garfield established the Hollywood Canteen, a club for wartime servicemen that was staffed by celebrities. Davis devoted a great deal of time to operating the club and considered it one of her greatest accomplishments. She is shown here delivering the welcome speech. Kay Kyser, whose band played at the opening, holds the microphone. (Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection)

Hall of Honor at the Hollywood Canteen view original

Another image of Bette at the Hollywood Canteen. Here, she is pictured with Marlene Dietrich and Bob Hope in front of the Hollywood Hall of Honor which paid tribute to actors serving in the military. (Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection)

Bette Davis and husband Arthur Farnsworth view original

Davis is pictured here in 1942 with husband #2, Arthur Austin Farnsworth (Davis’ first marriage to Harmon Nelson ended in divorce in 1938). Davis would become a widow in 1943 when Farnsworth died unexpectedly. (Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection)

William Sherry and new wife Bette Davis view original

Bette was married a third time in 1945. She is pictured here with her bridegroom William Sherry. This union would last five years and produce a daughter, Barbara (aka B.D.). (Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection)

All About Eve premiere at Grauman's Chinese view original

Bette arrives at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, with her mother Ruth, for the premiere of All about Eve in 1950. Bette’s performance as Margot Channing earned her an Academy Award nomination and gave the world the line, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” (Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection)

Bette Davis with husband and daughter view original

All about Eve not only gave Bette one of her most enduring roles, but also provided her with husband #4, co-star Garry Merrill. Here, she and daughter B.D. greet him at the airport upon his return from Germany where he was making a film. (Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection)

Bette Davis, daughter Barbara and canine companion view original

Bette, daughter B.D., and a canine friend in 1955. (Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection)

Bette Davis and daughter Barbara view original

Bette is shown with 16-year-old bride-to-be B.D. before the wedding in 1963. (Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection)

Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis view original

Bette greets former Warner Bros. alum, Olivia de Havilland, at LAX in 1964. De Havilland had flown in from Paris to replace an ailing Joan Crawford in the film "Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte" opposite Bette. Accompanying de Havilland are her children Benjamin and Gisele. (Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection)

Bette Davis and Charlton Heston view original

Bette is shown presenting the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award to actor Charlton Heston at the 50th Academy Awards, held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on April 3, 1978. (Chris Gulker/Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection)

Bette Davis and Elizabeth Taylor view original

Davis presents the Filmex Trustees Award to Elizabeth Taylor during a ceremony at the Ahmanson Theatre in 1981. The Herald Examiner captioned this image, "Bette Davis introduces La Liz.” (Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection)

Bette Davis signs books view original

Davis is surrounded by the press during a Hollywood book signing for the paperback release of This ‘N That. Assistant Kathryn Sermak is seated next to Davis. (Leo Jarzomb/Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection)

A Sweet Side of LA Architecture

Sye Gutierrez, Photo Collection

With sugary talk of Halloween treats in the office air, I was inspired to satisfy my archival sweet tooth with a hunt for some tasty images that I could share with you. Hopefully the assortment I put together is more treats than tricks, so grab your trusty plastic pumpkin pail and let’s hit the road.

Just down the street from Central Library on 620 South Broadway is the former Schaber’s Cafeteria. Built at a cost of $400,000 between 1927 and 1928 it was designed by architect Charles F. Plummer in a mix of styles ranging from Art Nouveau to Spanish Colonial Revival. The cafeteria stated it could serve up to 10,000 hungry customers a day with a great selection of sweet and savory items. Though the cafeteria’s motto was, “A good place to eat, a good place to meet” I think the best spot for doing both was located just to the right of the cafeteria’s entrance at the See’s Candy Store. The See’s family had opened their first candy store seven years earlier in 1921 near present day Koreatown at 135 North Western Avenue. By the middle of the 1920s, the See’s family had twelve stores in operation and continued to grow their success to thirty locations during the Great Depression.

Security Pacific National Bank Collection. view original

Over the years the cafeteria along with the adjoining store fronts changed names and owners. Later tenants included a Carl’s Jr fast-food restaurant and a Foot Locker shoe store. The building unfortunately had the distinction of being the only downtown structure destroyed during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The building was looted and nearly gutted by fire, with only the mezzanine and façade surviving. The owners had a long family history with the building and couldn’t let it be demolished, so they spent around $2.5 million on its restoration. Though mostly a recreation of the building, some of the original decorative wrought iron elements were restored and reused. Currently the closed building will see the return of a previous tenant when Foot Locker returns with an Air Jordan shoe store projected to open sometime this year. The new store will feature retail space, a VIP lounge, fitness room and roof top basketball court complete with bleachers and a snack bar.

Sye Gutierrez, 2018.

A quick stroll north to 540 S. Broadway between Fifth and Sixth Street and you’ll find the Arcade Building. The Arcade Building was built in 1924 by architects Kenneth McDonald and Maurice Couchot and is comprised of two twelve story towers connected by a glass-roofed three level arcade. Inspired by 19th century European shopping arcades, it’s said to be primarily based off of the Burlington Arcade in London. The Arcade Building was designed with Spanish Renaissance elements for the lower floors and Beaux Arts flourishes for the upper floors.

Security Pacific National Bank Collection. view original

The candy store is long gone, but luckily many of the building’s decorative elements still remain.

Sye Gutierrez, 2018.

Our next stop will need a little imagination, as our archives are sadly without any images of the next candy shop. At one time accessible from inside of the Arcade Building, the shop’s doorway was bricked up about sixteen years ago so the only way in now is through the original main entrance at 217 West 6th Street. Here we find Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #137, The Batchelder Dutch Chocolate Shop. Long closed, this former chocolate shop has to be mentioned due to its well-deserved strong fan following amongst Angeleno architecture buffs. Before the door was bricked up, I was able to see the chocolate shop when it was an assortment of stalls each selling various items from clothing to toys.

The four story building in which the shop was located in was built in 1898, and the shop was added to the first floor in 1914. Then it was a soda fountain simply called “The Chocolate Shoppe.” What made this shop unique was the chocolate brown and Dutch-themed floor-to-ceiling tile work created by Pasadena tile artist Ernest A. Batchelder. This shop was one of Batchelder’s early large projects and one of his best. For the windowless interior, he decorated the walls with 21 bas-relief murals depicting scenes of life in Holland. The low, groin-vaulted ceiling gave the shop a mini-cathedral look, while keeping the space very warm and soothing like a hot cup of cocoa. The store was supposed to be the first in a series of shops with different European country themes also done in tile, but became cost prohibitive as the tile work was very pricey.

Sye Gutierrez, 2018.

Over recent years, the shop has tried to reopen in some capacity but without it being brought up to modern day safety codes the space has limited use options. So I think it is well worth it to do an internet search for interior images of this architectural hidden gem as it may be a very long time before it has any more visitors. Batchelder’s other main notable work is coincidentally chocolate related, as his tiles are found in The Hershey Hotel in the land of chocolate Hershey, Pennsylvania. Below we see kiln foreman Harland Attlesey showing Ernest Batchelder a large statue.

Security Pacific National Bank Collection. view original

For the next leg of the journey let’s head south to 6600 S. Avalon Boulevard. Here we can find the Art Deco building that was once home to Hoffman’s Candy Company. Today the building appears to be vacant but still remarkably intact and hopefully can be restored and repurposed in the future. The most notable candy that Hoffman’s created during its time was Cup O’ Gold that still can be found today, now manufactured by the Adams & Brooks Candy Company.

Security Pacific National Bank Collection. view original

Finding our way on to Wilshire, we will head towards the beach to see the former sight of MacFarlane’s Store that sold some awfully fresh candy and nuts. While Wilshire Boulevard has plenty of architectural treasures to choose from I chose this photo because it was taken by Ansel Adams and it includes the still existing Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Around 1940 when this picture was taken, Adams was commissioned by Fortune Magazine to take photos relating to aviation history in Los Angeles. For his assignment he captured 217 images ranging in subjects from everyday life to business to street scenes.

The Fortune article, titled “City of Angels,” published only a few of Adams’ images and the rest of the images were filed away and forgotten. After twenty years Adams rediscovered the images in his home and contacted the Los Angeles Public Library asking if they would be interested in the collection. Adams didn’t particularly care for the series citing the poor weather at the time and said if the library saw no value in the photos to please incinerate them. Luckily for us the library didn’t do that and we still have the 135 contact prints and 217 negatives.

Ansel Adams Fortune Magazine Collection. view original

Though MacFarlane’s is now a parking lot its 1929 neighbor the Wilshire Boulevard Temple is still there to visit. The 135 foot high domed building is designed in a mix of Byzantine and Romanesque styles with its interior modeled after the Pantheon in Rome. The 320-foot-long interior mural depicting moments in Jewish history was painted by Hugo Ballin (who also painted Griffith Observatory’s mural) and was donated by siblings Jack, Harry and Abraham of Warner Brothers Studio fame. Other movie studio notables who helped in the construction of the temple were Universal Studios founder Carl Laemmle who donated the bronze chandeliers and MGM head Louis B. Mayer who donated the east and west stained-glass windows. The seating in the temple is missing the typical center aisle to mimic the layout of a movie theaters.

Security Pacific National Bank Collection. view original

Up next we head west to 450 N. Canon Drive in Beverly Hills to see the former location of the Mission Candy Company. The building’s Art Deco exterior still stands mostly unchanged today with the exception of a modern glass addition to the corner facade. I especially enjoy looking at photos that include the cars of the time. Speaking of cars, just a block away you can see the Mid-Century Modernist Googie gem the Union 76 Gas Station on the corner of Little Santa Monica Blvd and Crescent Drive.

Herman J Schultheis Collection. view original

Well. we’ve reached the end of our confectionery inspired tour and hopefully no one’s developed any stomach aches along the way. As you can safely guess that was just a small taste of our collection so please check out the rest of our archives for plenty of other amazing treats.

My Name is Aram: William Saroyan, An Armenian Native Son

Ani Boyadjian, Principal Librarian, Research & Special Collections

This year marks the 110th birthday of Pulitzer Prize and Academy Award winning author, maverick, playwright, uncommon storyteller, and humanist William Saroyan.

William Stonehill Saroyan was born in Fresno, CA, to Armenian immigrants Armenag and Takoohi Saroyan on August 31, 1908. At age 26, the publication of his first book, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze (1934), made him a literary sensation. The country was in the throes of the Great Depression, and Saroyan’s unabashedly sentimental style was an antidote to a solemn, often humorless time.

His first major play, My Heart’s in the Highlands, debuted on Broadway in 1939. A year later, his play The Time of Your Life, about a group of lonely drifters in a San Francisco bar, which he had written in only six days, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. He was the first writer ever to win the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for the same work. Saroyan rejected the Pulitzer—he railed against the commercialization of art, abhorring pomp and circumstance—arguing that “it is no more great or good than anything else I have written.” But the accolades would still come: his novel The Human Comedy (1943), which he dedicated to his mother, was made into an MGM film and won him an Academy Award for Best Original Screen Play.

Saroyan’s themes are timeless and universal: He extolled the innate goodness and equality of all people, celebrating their good humor in the face of abject poverty with steadfast messages of hope and resiliency. In the work Inhale and Exhale, Saroyan writes about his national identity, “I love Armenia and I love America and I belong to both, but I am only this: an inhabitant of the earth, and so are you, whoever you are.”

Saroyan was fiercely proud of his Armenian heritage. His first trip to what was then Soviet Armenia was in 1935 when he was a bright new light on the American literary landscape. In 1976 and 1978, Saroyan, his legacy now cemented, traveled to Armenia for the third and fourth (and final) time. He was accompanied on both trips by local photographer Boghos Boghossian, who took over a thousand black-and-white photographs with fast film, capturing the expressive wonder and awe of a man discovering his homeland again and again as if it were the first time. Boghossian’s photographs capture the impressions of the everyman as he visits ancient Armenian churches and villages. They reveal Saroyan just as at ease breaking bread with the villagers as he is meeting with the foremost authors of the time. He is simultaneously a diasporan outsider and at home in his Armenian heritage, defining and experiencing the world on his own terms in true iconoclast fashion.

William Saroyan died in Fresno, about a mile from where he was born, at the age of 72. His ashes were interred in Fresno, his home, and in Yerevan, Armenia, his homeland, just as he had requested. Five days before he passed away, he issued a statement to the Associated Press in true Saroyan style: “Everybody has got to die, but I always believed an exception would be made in my case. Now what?”

The following is a selection of images from the exhibit to mark the 110th anniversary of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright William Saroyan’s birth, featuring images taken by photographer Boghos Boghossian during the author’s visit to Armenia shortly before his death in 1981. This exhibit is in conjunction with a program in the Taper auditorium on September 15, where a play featuring Saroyan’s unpublished works—written and produced by Elly award-winning playwright Aram Kouyoumdjian, and made possible with the permission of Stanford University Libraries—will make its LA Made debut.

Exhibition made possible by the Armenian Museum of Fresno and sponsored by Councilmember Paul Krekorian.

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Unknown Photographer. Armenag and Takoohi Saroyan with their son William in Fresno, 1910. Courtesy Varoujan Der Simonian
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Unknown Photographer. Eleven-year-old William Saroyan in Fresno, CA, 1919. Courtesy Varoujan Der Simonian
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Unknown Photographer. A young William Saroyan on a Bike, Fresno, CA, no date. Courtesy Varoujan Der Simonian
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Unknown Photographer. William Saroyan with Typewriter, no date.
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Unknown Photographer. William Saroyan with James Cagney, ca. 1947
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Unknown Photographer. William Saroyan with his Wife Carol Marcus, mother of his two children Lucy and Aram, no date.
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Unknown Photographer. With his children Aram and Lucy on a Tractor in Fresno, CA, no date.
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Unknown Photographer. Hat and Glasses Study in a Photo Booth, no date.
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Boghos Boghossian. Saroyan with Mt. Ararat in the Background, 1976 or 1978. Courtesy Varoujan Der Simonian
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Boghos Boghossian. In the Highlands of Armenia, 1976 or 1978. Courtesy Varoujan Der Simonian
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Boghos Boghossian. Saroyan Riding a Bicycle in Talin, Armenia, 1976 or 1978. Courtesy Varoujan Der Simonian
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Boghos Boghossian. William Saroyan Poses in Front of a Stone Formation in Armenia, 1978. Courtesy Varoujan Der Simonian
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Boghos Boghossian. William Saroyan Pays his Respects at the Genocide Memorial in Yerevan. During his Fourth and Final Visit, 1978. Courtesy Varoujan Der Simonian
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Photographer Unknown. Portrait of Photographer Boghos Boghossian, no date. Courtesy Varoujan Der Simonian

Valley Times Newsboys invade Disneyland

Sye Gutierrez, Photo Collection

With all the recent Disneyland auction excitement swirling about we were inspired to take a little peek into our photo archive to see what historical photographic Disney treasures we have to share. Even though you may be a bit let down after losing your winning bid on an original Skyway Cab that topped out at $621,000 I still hope you join us on our free virtual nickel tour.

For our tour we will be joining a group of Valley Times newsboys who’s outstanding salesmanship during a five week subscription drive won them transportation, entrance fee, eight attraction tickets and $4 is spending cash to Walt’s original park. Over the years the Valley Times held this contest for their newsboys so we are fortunate to be wandering around during the exciting times of the opening years from 1955 through 1957 to see some rare and extinct attractions.

Valley Times Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)

With a visit to the park, the first place most guests stop to pose for a picture at is right in front of the Main Street, U.S.A. Station. This 1957 dated photo shows an original cattle car parked behind our newsies awaiting its passengers. Before the Grand Canyon Diorama was installed in 1958, guests could stand in the cattle car for the duration of their twenty minute round trip. No seats were placed in these cars to give guests the feeling they themselves were the cattle. But with the installation of the diorama, the cattle cars were altered with bench seating added as well as the removal of the wall facing park side to allow guests a better view.

Valley Times Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)

Well, no trip is complete without a photo stop in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle. In this 1955 photo we can see that the castle is missing the stained glass windows we see today. With limited build time and finances, the castle’s interior was left empty until Walt could afford to challenge his Imagineers to come up with an attraction that would fit in the second floor. Once the cats and fleas were evicted, the Sleeping Beauty diorama walkthrough opened in the spring of 1957. This was two years before the animated film hit theaters and was a great way to promote the upcoming feature.

Valley Times Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)

Making our way from the vacant castle, we time travel to the far off future of 1986. Tomorrowland as viewed from a Sky Way bucket, opened with limited attractions, many of which were corporate sponsored showcases due to budget limitations. The icon of the area was the 76 foot tall TWA Moonliner rocket ship. Designed by Imagineer John Hench and German scientist Wernher von Braun who immigrated to this country during Operation Paperclip in 1945. The rocket was created to look like a commercial spaceliner that would be used to take travelers to the moon, hence the name. The TWA Moonliner sponsorship lasted until 1962 when Howard Hughes sold off his interest in the company.

Valley Times Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)

Visible in this December 1955 photo is a rare look at the first permanent attraction to close in Disneyland history. The Phantom Boats originally named Tomorrowland Boats operated from opening day July 1955 to August 1956. The attraction with its futuristic boat design was basically the Autopia but on water. Unfortunately because of design flaws, the boats generated a lot of smoke and the engine would overheat when guests floored the gas for speed. The overheated boats had to be towed back to the dock and the attraction suffered from constant down time. Eventually a cast member would have be seated with guests to captain the ship. The operating cost became too great and the attraction was closed for good. The bonus detail in the background of this photo is another short lived attraction, The Mickey Mouse Club Circus. We can see the striped tents occupying the area around where the Matterhorn sits today. The circus ran from November 1955 to September 1956. The circus had operating issues but mainly closed due to lack of interest as guest’s preferred to enjoy the parks unique attractions. To get another distant view of the circus tents let’s take an unlicensed drive around the Autopia shall we?

Valley Times Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)

Besides the circus tents in the background the other detail I enjoy in this 1955 photo is the shockingly unrestricted open road. In the beginning junior Autopia drivers cruised the open miniature multilane limited access highway of the future in full control until 1965 when thankfully the center guide rail was installed.

Valley Times Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)

Speaking of unique, let’s hop on over to Fantasyland to see if we can find an interesting place to eat. Lucky for us we find The Chicken of the Sea Pirate Ship and Restaurant. Here fish lovers could order a variety of things like tuna sandwiches, tuna burgers or even hot tuna pies. The sponsorship lasted until 1969 and with an updated menu the restaurant became Captain Hook’s Galley. Guests could still order a tuna burger but had other non-tuna based food options like clam chowder, chef salad and roast beef sandwiches. The ship was going to be moved closer to It’s a Small World during the 1982 Fantasyland overhaul but sadly over the years the ship’s original rotting wood base was replaced with concrete and couldn’t be moved without destroying it. So the ship was bulldozed and the Dumbo Flying Elephants attraction now occupies the space where this attraction was once docked.

Valley Times Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)

Maybe a little tea will help make that hot tuna pie we just finished settle. In this 1956 photo we can see the early version of The Mad Tea Party before the spiral paint scheme was added to the ride platform. Until the 1982 Fantasyland make over, the teacups spun guests in the spot where the King Arthur Carousel sits today. The shifting of the rides placement was done to help improve guest flow around the castle where traffic bottlenecked.

Valley Times Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)

With tired arms and dizzy heads let’s trek on over to Frontierland for maybe something a bit more relaxing. Here we see in 1955 the Stagecoach Ride which operated until 1959 to make way for the construction of Nature’s Wonderland. You could choose to travel by stagecoach or Conestoga Wagon and enjoy the views along the shores of the Rivers of America and the Living Desert.

Valley Times Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)

Let’s flash forward a bit to check in on that 1956 stage coach replacement the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train. The train took guest to see many naturally occurring desert scenery such as cacti that looked slightly like people waving and rocks that spun precariously overhead ready fall. This attraction lasted until Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland expanded the attractions size to included geysers, waterfalls, more humorous scenes and plenty of new animal animatronics. This attraction lasted until 1979 when Big Thunder Mountain replaced it to give guests bigger thrills.

Well Mouseketeers, I hope you enjoyed our mini-grand circle tour around vintage Disneyland with those newsboys! There are lots more Disneyland photos throughout the years in our archives so make sure you check them out.

The Movie Palaces of Last Remaining Seats 2018: Photographs from the Los Angeles Public Library Collections

Amanda Charles

Every year, the Los Angeles Conservancy presents the Last Remaining Seats classic film series in several historic Los Angeles movie palaces. Most shows in the series also present the opportunity to purchase a spot in a group architectural tour led by one of the Conservancy’s knowledgeable docents. While the tours will give you a rare, up-close view of the amazing design and ornate detail that have survived almost a century, have you ever wondered how the theaters looked when they were new?

Imagine what it must have been like to attend the October 21, 1927 opening night showing of Mary Pickford’s My Best Girl at the Spanish Gothic-style United Artists Theater, with its grotesque gargoyles, stained glass windows, intricate chandeliers, and an auditorium decorated with custom-painted murals featuring the founders of the United Artists in their most iconic roles.

While you can’t travel back in time, you can see historic images of the old movie palaces. TESSA has historic photos of every theater in the series. I’ve compiled a few below.

Loew’s State Theater

The West Coast flagship theater of Marcus Loew’s national chain, Loew’s State Theater was the largest brick-clad building in Los Angeles when it opened on November 12, 1921. Located at the busy intersection of 7th and Broadway, Loew’s State Theater was the most successful of all of Los Angeles’s Broadway theaters for more than half a century (Berger, Robert, The Last Remaining Seats: Movie Palaces of Tinseltown. 1997, P. 31).

The theater was originally styled after a Spanish castle. To capitalize on its excellent location, Loew’s State had two marquees and two entrances–one on Broadway and another on 7th Street. Unfortunately, a change in ownership in the 1930s resulted in several changes to the building, including the removal of the 7th Street marquee, and the replacement of the original Broadway marquee with the large, multi-line neon marquee you can still see today. While it is more visually arresting than its understated predecessor, the “new” Broadway marquee covers part of the row of distinctive arched second-floor windows.

Another change made during the remodel was to add Greco-Roman elements to the decor of the theater. Below, you’ll find photos of the original exterior and interior, as well as a photo of the “new” marquee.

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Loew’s State Theater Construction, under construction, 1921. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
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Stage view of Loew’s State Theatre, 1921. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)
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View of the “new” mezzanine at Loew’s State Theater, 1938. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)

The Million Dollar Theater

The Million Dollar Theater was originally named after its owner, Sid Grauman, who decided to rechristen it in honor of its supposed construction cost, though Robert Berger and Ann Conser’s 1997 book, The Last Remaining Seats reports it was rumored to have cost twice as much. Whatever its price, the theater, which opened in 1918 and features fantastical Spanish-palace architecture inspired by the fairy tale, “The King of the Golden River,” is truly amazing. It’s at the corner of 3rd and Broadway, across the street from the famed Bradbury Building, and next door to Grand Central Market.

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Original marquee, Million Dollar Theatre, 1918. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)
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Exterior, Million Dollar Theatre, date unknown. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)
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Interior, Million Dollar Theater, 1918. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)

United Artist Theater (Theater at Ace Hotel)

Located at the southern end of the Broadway theater district, between 9th and Olympic, architect C. Howard Crane’s 2,214-seat United Artists Theater opened in December of 1927 with the Mary Pickford film, My Best Girl. According to a Los Angeles Conservancy walking tour guide, the Spanish Gothic theater’s cast-plaster ornamentation is “complemented by a remarkable series of frescoes and murals by the firm of Anthony Heinsbergen. The vaulted ceilings of the foyer are painted to resemble tapestries, and those of the lobby imitate stained glass. In the auditorium, the original United Artists and their co-stars are depicted as characters from their most popular pictures.”

The United Artists Theater was restored by the Ace Hotel chain, and reopened to the public in 2014 as the Theater at the Ace Hotel. You can learn more about the Theater at the Ace Hotel history and restoration in this KCRW post.

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Exterior view of the United Artists Theater, Ca. 1928. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)
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United Artist Theater marquee, 1929. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)

The Los Angeles Theater

The most opulent and most recent of the Broadway theaters, the 2200-seat French Baroque style Los Angeles Theater opened in 1931, and became the Fox Studio’s flagship theater in 1932. The crowning achievement of famed theater architect S. Charles Lee, the Los Angeles Theater construction cost $1.2 million, and featured a number of interesting amenities such as an electric indicator of available seats, blue neon floor lights in the aisles, and sound-proofed “crying rooms” from which parents could soothe unruly infants without missing the movie.

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Los Angeles Theater exterior, 1931. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)
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Los Angeles Theater interior, date unknown. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)
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Los Angeles Theater restaurant, date unknown. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)
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Los Angeles Theater, lower level, date unknown. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)

Orpheum Theater

The fourth of four Los Angeles vaudeville theaters to bear the Orpheum name, architect G. Albert Lansburgh’s French Renaissance-styled venue opened in 1926 as a vaudeville theater, and continued as such for nearly thirty years. Known for its marble and faux-marble foyer, and sumptuous, European-styled appointments, the theater has long benefited from the work of preservation groups like the Friends of the Orpheum and the Los Angeles Theater Organ Society. It remains in excellent condition as an entertainment venue to this day, making it downtown’s longest-operational picture palace.

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Orpheum Theater, date unknown. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)
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Orpheum Theater, date unknown. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)

San Gabriel Mission Playhouse

Since it opened in 1927, the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse has been home to a world-renowned play about California history, a movie theater, and numerous civic events. During World War II, its dressing rooms were converted to apartments to help ease the housing shortage in Los Angeles. Near the end of the war, a citizens’ committee convinced the city of San Gabriel to purchase it, and the playhouse served as the San Gabriel Civic Auditorium until the original name was restored in 2007. 2018 was the first time that this well-preserved historic theater has been part of the Last Remaining Seats series.

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San Gabriel Mission Playhouse exterior, 1938. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)
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San Gabriel Mission Playhouse interior, 1912. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. (view original)

Read More

If you’re a fan of Los Angeles movie palaces, or just want to know more about them, check out the 1997 book The Last Remaining Seats: Movie Palaces of Tinseltown photographed by Robert Berger and Anne Conser, with an introduction by Stephen M. Silverman.

Resister in Sanctuary: We Won’t Go

Louise Steinman

In one glass case, what first draws my eye is a REMEMBER JOE MAIZLISH bumper sticker identical to the one I affixed to the bumper of my dad’s Ford Mustang in 1968. Yes, I do remember Joe Maizlish. Decades ago, I wrote to him in while he was in federal prison, where he served two and a half years of a three-year sentence for refusing induction to the draft. Joe, now a psychologist and mediator, in present-day, is my neighbor in Silverlake.

Joe Maizlish at Induction Refusal, 1968. L.A. Resistance Collection, Los Angeles Public Library

The item, along with posters in fonts of various degrees of psychedelia, is on exhibit at WE WON’T GO: The L.A. Resistance, Vietnam and the Draft (at the Central Library’s Getty Gallery until August 19). Curated by Winter Karen Dellenbach, an L.A. Resister, together with Ani Boyadjian, Research & Special Collections Manager for the Los Angeles Public Library, this inspiring display of civil disobedience was drawn from the Los Angeles Resistance Archives, acquired by the library in 2014. The collection includes letters, posters, still and moving images, diaries, mimeographed newsletters, draft cards and other ephemera donated by members of the L.A. Resistance and their supporters. Essentially, this is a chronicle of the non-violent anti-draft activities of the L.A. chapter of the Resistance, a nationwide movement.

I recognize a black and white photo of General Hershey Bar, with his signature plastic B–52’s worn as medals. The real General Hershey, a Nixon advisor, was head of the Selective Service, and General Hershey Bar was a familiar sight at anti-war rallies in the sixties. “Fixin-to-Die Rag” (Country Joe and the Fish) cues in my head:

Well, come on all of you big strong men

Uncle Sam needs your help again

Got himself in a terrible jam

Way down yonder in Vietnam

Put down your books and pick up a gun

We’re going to have a whole lot of fun

But what sends my memory into overdrive is “RESISTER IN SANCTUARY,” in bold black letters across a legal size flyer. It’s a manifesto written by Gregory Nelson, then nineteen years old and briefly my high school sweetheart. Greg had openly refused to register a year earlier, as required by law, when he turned eighteen. In the fall of 1968, he asked the minister and congregation of Grace Episcopal Church in South Los Angeles to grant him sanctuary, a medieval tradition, for an act of conscience. His language is simple and direct:

This is a period of deep disunity in our country.

One source of that disunity is the war in Vietnam. I have refused to participate in that war—even to the degree of refusing to register for the draft. Now I am charged with a crime for that refusal. I feel that my refusal is an action consistent with the moral precepts and teachings of my society, an action directed toward ending the present war and healing the wounds of discord. I ask you, a visible guardian of our moral teachings and a main source of guidance to the people of our society, to consider my plea…

I was a junior in high school when I met Greg spring of 1968, through my volunteer work for the Resistance. I’d trade my pastel shirtwaist school uniform and saddle shoes for jeans, denim work shirt, jeans and sandals—then hurry down to the Resistance office in the red brick colonial on Westwood Blvd. There were a few other high-schoolers, but most of the supporters working there were college-aged. They impressed me as energized, purposeful and very cool. Lives were on the line.

I’d join them in stuffing envelopes, or we’d pile into someone’s VW bug and head off to a local draft board with a pile of leaflets, trying to interest those young men who’d arrived for a draft physical in alternative actions, draft counseling. It was my first taste of communal activism and I cherished the palpable sense of “family” among those who planned to take a stand of conscience and those who supported them.

Many Resisters were galvanized after hearing David Harris, the charismatic anti-draft activist and former Stanford student body president (then married to Joan Baez), speak about non-violent non-participation as a way to end the Vietnam War. I’d heard Harris at the Stanford campus, the summer I attended Junior Statesman Summer School there. His was a voice of persuasive moral passion, drawing from the ideas of Thoreau, Gandhi, and King, and Mario Savio. Harris called for young men to resist the draft openly and be willing to take the consequences, that ‘The way to do is to be.’

I hung out with Greg early that summer of 1968. It was the summer after the assassination of MLK in April at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. It was the summer after the assassination of RFK in L.A at the Ambassador Hotel in June the night of the California Primary. It was the summer before Nixon was elected president. The casualty count in Vietnam was rising and the government’s need for more bodies to feed the “Buzz Saw of War,” to use my dad’s phrase from WW2– seemed insatiable. It was also a summer for young lovers to lie entwined under an Indian-print bedspread in a darkened studio apartment near the Venice Boardwalk, to listen to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds twelve times and not care that the needle was sticking; to make midnight runs to Tomy’s Burgers on Ramparts; to dance wildly to the Jefferson Airplane at the Cheetah nightclub on the Pacific Ocean Park pier.

… Since I cannot turn to the courts for justice, I turn to the church. I ask you to lend your church for a role that churches once played. I ask you to grant me sanctuary.

Nelson’s plea was granted by Grace Episcopal Church on W. 78th Street in South Los Angeles. On the day Nelson and his supporters gathered in the church, one of the Episcopal priests, Reverend Harlan Weitzel, was joined to Greg with a length of chain. In my journal from that day, October 2, 1968, I noted that it was Yom Kippur, that the bitter taste in my mouth was less from fasting than from fear and distress.

Resistance founder David Harris was there to speak, to support Greg, and to lift our spirits. Greg said, ‘you sure rap well, Dave, who then yelled amen! Amen! And urged us all to sing’ Two young men burned their draft cards that day, I remember the packed crowd of supporters—including many of those whose papers are now in the archives at LAPL. I didn’t remember, until I read the notes to the exhibition, that Michelangelo Antonioni, the Italian film director, was in attendance that day as well, which made some kind of surreal sense. Oh, of course he was.

In a letter to Joe Maizlish in prison, I described feeling hysterical when I learned what Greg was going to do, and how another, older Resister, helped to calm me. “I stood next to Greg’s mother in front of the church,” I wrote Joe. “… we were passing out flowers. The church was surrounded by federal marshals and police and Greg’s mother wondered aloud, ‘Why all these men for my one small boy who hasn’t even a comb in his pocket?’”

No one who was there will ever forget the approach of the U.S. marshals with their ridiculously over-sized bolt cutters, how they hesitated before approaching the dais, stepping over and even on bodies—to where the slight long-haired young man was chained to his friends and supporters. “I saw Greg, his bright eyes stare the marshal in the face and he said, I will go don’t hurt anybody please. And they still dragged him. They cut the chains and took Greg away and crammed him into a waiting car.”

On a video clip playing on the wall of the Getty Gallery, a grey-bearded Greg Nelson—fifty years later—recalls how the chains were actually so loose he could have slipped out of them; that the church had been locked that day and he’d had to sneak in, in order to get arrested– a fact the uniformed Marshals found amusing.

“Each draft card turn-in was performance art, each refusal to register a brazen repudiation of coercion,” wrote Winter Dellenbach. “It was so much fun, and it was deadly serious, and it had deep consequences.”

The scene in the sanctuary though, was not child’s play, not performance art, it was high drama: the chains; the supporters singing under the cross; the representatives of the State with their weapons; the violated sanctuary; the palpable communal determination to resist.

Greg’s trial was on Friday, Oct 4th, at the downtown Federal Courthouse. When I arrived, I was surprised to see so many reporters. I assumed they were there for Greg. In fact they were covering the more sensational hearing for Sirhan Sirhan, who’d fired the shots that killed Robert Kennedy.

Greg represented himself at trial. “All the prosecutor had to do was to prove Greg was 18,” I wrote to Joe Maizlish at Safford Prison,

…That he hadn’t registered. That he lived at 1018 Pacific St. in Santa Monica. Greg didn’t present a defense, but he cross-examined the witnesses: His high school vice-principal who testified Greg had indeed gone to Santa Monica High. Greg started lacing into him for making him salute the flag. (later the judge said he couldn’t blame anyone for getting a chance to get back at their high school Vice Principal.) His father, to testify he’d been born. The draft board lady—to testify she had not received his registration (might you have lost it?) asked Greg. The FBI agent who had warned Greg of the consequences of his action a year ago. The prosecutor was moved by Greg’s muteness on his defense. So was the judge. Greg made one statement—which the judge allowed—on the draft and the selective service system. Quite a natural, down-to-earth speech. And that was it. He was sentenced the same day and when led away said ‘I’ll say hello to Joe for you all.’


In conjunction with the exhibit, the library hosted a panel discussion on July 19th with three Los Angeles resisters—Geoff Fishman, Paul Barnes Lake, and Joe Maizlish. All served time in prison. Historian Jon Wiener, host of The Nation podcast, was the interlocutor.

Wiener asked them each why they’d chosen to refuse the draft, what they experienced in prison, how it impacted the trajectory of their lives. How did they make their initial decision to resist?

Geoff Fishman described how, when he was already at the induction center , waiting to be “processed” for the draft, there came a “moment of truth”:

When all were asked to acknowledge allegiance and acceptance into the army, to step forward to accept, I surprised myself. Everyone stepped forward except me.

Joe Maizlish’s decision came in stages, the first revelation in 1965: “I was crossing a street in Berkeley with my brother. We looked at each other and said, ‘There’s no way we’re ever going to be in this war.’ Three years later, he became “completely unable” to send in the form to renew his UCLA graduate student deferment, that “political free ticket,” as Dave Harris termed it, knowing others would be drafted to serve in his stead. “It wasn’t an actual decision,” he said, “it was my whole being—I can’t do this.”

As it was for Joe fifty years ago, our whole beings tell us that children shouldn’t be separated from parents, our whole beings tell us that asylum seekers should not be sent to back to their deaths, that torture is wrong, that the earth itself is worth saving and fighting for.

In these treacherous times of eroding civil liberties and rising authoritarianism, the L.A. Resistance Archive can serve as blueprint to help guide and inspire us. Exhibition co-curator Ani Boyadjian aptly summed up the enduring value of the collection: “It’s the intensity and passion of doing the right thing and it is a thing of beauty.”

So thank you, Greg Nelson and Joe Maizlish and Paul Barnes Lake and Geoff Fishman and all the other Resisters who were willing to give up so much to take a stand against America’s immoral war in Vietnam. And, thanks to the Los Angeles Public Library, for preserving these stories for future generations– who will face such difficult decisions of their own.

Louise Steinman is the author of three non-fiction books, most recently The Crooked Mirror: A Memoir of Polish-Jewish Reconciliation. She has been curator of the award-winning ALOUD at Central Library series for the Los Angeles Public Library— twenty-five years this fall.

We Won’t Go: L.A. Resistance, Vietnam and the Draft on exhibition from June 22 through August 19, 2018 in the Getty Gallery, Central Library.

Lummis Collection: Can We Get Your Autograph?

Rudy Ruiz

Former City Librarian Charles F. Lummis approached the Library Board of Directors in October of 1905 and recommended that a system of collecting autographs be put in place:

There are few intelligent people who have not some interest in distinguished autographs. At a very small expense for stationery, postage, and clerical work, this library could found an autograph department, using uniform sheets to be bound up in volumes. To contemporary autographs, which this institution would readily secure by proper request, important historical autographs could, from time to time, be added by gift and purchase; and with the natural growth of this institution, there would be in time a collection genuinely interesting and of large historical and monetary value.

The motion to put in place a system for collecting autographs was moved by Director Isidore B. Dockweiler and Lummis’s request was approved.

In 1906 the Autograph Collection was instituted. Blank stationary with the letterhead “Los Angeles Public Library Autographs,” an autograph solicitation letter, and a mailing tube or flat with prepaid return postage was sent to “people who count.” Those who count included artists, authors, and statesmen such as Theodore Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington, and Clara Barton. The letter that Lummis mailed asked these special individuals to “improve” the enclosed blank page, and improve they did. Lummis collected roughly 750 autographs that contained original watercolors, sketches, written music, poems and moving sentiments. The library continued to collect autographs after Lummis’s departure as City Librarian in 1910. The post-Lummis collection includes poems from Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps and correspondences from Helen Keller. The combined autograph collection totals 1700 autographs.

Today we are continuing to grow Lummis’ collection, but with an important twist. The library is inviting you to “improve the page” in order to leave your own mark on the city of L.A. Visit a participating library on June 2, 2018, to add your name, drawing, poem or memory to the library’s autograph collection. The library will provide blank stationery that is a replica of the original paper and a few samples of the original collection to help spark ideas.

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An unconventional portrait of Charles Fletcher Lummis by Richard Elwood Dodge, 1907
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Autograph solicitation letter, 1910
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“Shere Khan” by William Henry Drake, 1907
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Cartoon by Edmund Waller “Ted” Gale of the Los Angeles Times, c.1907
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Portrait by Elbridge Ayer Burbank, c.1906
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“America the Beautiful” by Katherine Lee Bates, c.1906
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Painting by Alexander Francis Harmer, c.1907
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Watercolor by Emile Sterns Perry, c.1909
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Cyanotype portrait of John Muir
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“Youth” poem by Langston Hughes, 1935
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“The Daybreakers” poem by Arna Bontemps, 1935
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Correspondence from Helen Keller to City Librarian Althea Warren, 1944

Ex Libris: Bookplates From Around the World

Central Library

During the Middle Ages and the early modern era, owning a book was a rare and precious thing.

Reserved only for the very wealthy, books were expensive, prestigious, and showed a certain status in society. If you were rich enough to own books, you wanted to make sure that anyone seeing them knew the books were yours.

Enter the ex libris (Latin for “from the books of…”), or bookplate. The earliest known examples come from Germany around the 15th century and were designed by famous artists of the time. They were pasted inside the front cover and often incorporated a name, motto, or coat of arms to better identify the book’s owner.

The library’s Bookplate Collection contains over 1,300 bookplates and includes a wide variety of graphic and illustrative styles, both color and black & white, ranging from the formal to the whimsical.

If you would like to learn more about ex libris, we invite you to visit Central Library on Sunday, April 22 at 1:30 p.m. for a presentation on bookplates from around the world by writer and bookplate collector Ruben Angaladian.

The Liberator: Librarians Work to Preserve Early 20th-Century L.A. African American Newspaper

Neale Stokes

The Liberator is an early 20th-century Los Angeles African American newspaper, whose owner and editor, Jefferson Lewis Edmonds, was born enslaved and spent twenty years in bondage before Emancipation. Edmonds was educated in Mississippi Freedmen’s Bureau schools and served two terms in the Mississippi State Assembly before moving to Los Angeles after the end of Reconstruction due to threats against his family.

Edmonds established The Liberator in Los Angeles in 1900 and was an early booster of Los Angeles as a destination for African American migration. While speaking out against racism and injustice in Los Angeles, he also touted the city as a haven compared to the South’s discrimination and violence.

The library has partnered with Jefferson Edmonds’s descendants, Paul and Arianne Edmonds, who loaned their family collection to be digitized through the California Revealed Digitization Program, to make publicly available as many issues of this influential publication as possible. Digitization work will begin in early 2018. We spoke to Arianne Edmonds and librarian Amanda Charles about their work to make sure Jefferson and The Liberator are not forgotten. Watch below to learn more:

Further Reading: