Main Street Xmas Eve: A Wake for Craby’s Joe’s

Dear Friends,

As Musso & Frank and their employees are a living testament to Hollywood and its golden age, so Craby Joe’s is to downtown Los Angeles’ tenderloin on Main street.  At the corner of 7th and Main since 1933, it will close it doors for good on Xmas eve.  It has served as a watering hole to John Fante, Charles Bukowski, and many other great souls who drew from this well of characters and atmosphere from the wrong side of the tracks.

The dance to the march of time has changed tempo of late, and commercial property owners humming gentrification and other popular tunes of the day have moved into the neighborhood.  The Cecil Hotel, already on the skids when Raymond Chandler described it in his early short stories, can boast of two known serial killers as residents in the 1980s and 90s, Richard Ramirez one of them, is now a self described boutique hotel–a destination for the discerning European traveler.  This fragile coral reef on Main Street of artists, galleries (the hub of art walk is two blocks away at 5th and Main at Bert Green’s), SROs and their long time residents and encroaching development will suffer a severe blow with the close of Craby Joe’s.

Please join us there around 10 pm this Xmas eve for what Hemingway wrote of the custom in his beloved Spain, "La Penultima–the next to last drink," for the last one is too bitter a thought. . .

I remain,

Vive Calle Principal

June 13, 1927
Today, Los Angeles’s Main Street extends over 20 miles from Lincoln Heights to Wilmington.  But in 1927, Main Street almost wasn’t.
A group of the city’s business interests, bonded together under the name of the Central Improvement Association, petitioned the City Council to change the name of Main Street to Huntington Blvd., in honor of the recently deceased Henry E. Huntington.  But they had other reasons as well.
The name change would have created a continuous thoroughfare from Pasadena to the Los Angeles Harbor.  It would be good for business.  It would be good for property values.  Plus, Main Street evoked images of a one-horse town; it was a name that belonged to a pueblo, not a thriving, young metropolis.  Even the Times reporter covering the story (who was almost certainly reincarnated as a writer for Gilmore Girls) summed up the proposal as a desire to change the street name "to something less Sinclair Lewisy."
So, who comes out of the woodwork to defend the name of Main Street?  Preservationists, that’s who.
Among them, Joseph Mesmer of the Los Angeles County Pioneer Society complained to the Council that too many historic city street names were in danger of being discarded.  Florence Dodson Schoneman, a member of the Sepulveda family and chairman of History and Landmarks Committee for the Native Daughters of the Golden West, suggested that the city revert Main Street to its original name, Calle Principal.

In the end, however, it was bureacracy that saved Main Street.  The City Engineering Department informed the Council that a name change would significantly delay road-widening projects, since "Main Street" was designated as the area to be improved on all the relevant ordinances, notices, and triplicate forms.  These would all have to be changed, to say nothing of the cost involved with changing maps and street signs.

The proposal died a quiet, bureaucratic death, but rumors persisted that the City Council had actually passed the measure and suspended it until the roadwork was completed.  J.A. Graves, president of the Farmers’ and Merchants’ National Bank, collected over 1500 names in a petition to repeal the non-existent ordinance, including many notable citizens. 

With his signature, Reverend John J. Cantwell, bishop of Los Angeles and San Diego, wrote, "The tendency of the present day to change street names as a means of paying tribute to the memory of some distinguished citizen tends to mar the historic connection between the old and the new."

Graves’s petition ended with these rousing words:  "Leave us something of the flavor of the original pueblo for all the years to come… With the cry, ‘Vive Calle Principal‘ on our lips, we submit this petition to you, hoping that you will give it your earnest consideration."

In closing, some images from the Los Angeles Public Library photo collection of bustling Main Street as it appeared in 1870 and in 1926.

His Bags are Being Sent

sewerratOctober 3, 1907
Los Angeles

During tonight’s dinnertime—the fashionable hour for society at the Hotel Van Nuys at Fourth and Main (Morgan & Walls, 1896) a furry friend decided to hobnob with the upper crust.  Strolling in through the Fourth Street entrance like the most gracious of chaps, of which there were many in the lobby, came a great husky sewer rat.  vannuys

Pandemonium ensued:  “Dainty Parisian lingerie and open-work stockings appeared on view.  Gallant gentlemen dropped their cigars and ladies jumped on chairs, but still the rat stood his ground.”

Porters and elevator boys descended, and Mr. Rattus fled the scene through a hole in some missing wainscoting (the Van Nuys undergoing some changes to the lobby).  Immediately the house ferret, kept in the engine room for just this sort of affair, was thrust into the opening.  

A loud, chilling three-round bout ensued inside the wall, and the ferret emerged bloody and beaten.  The rat stuck his nose out his hiding place as if to challenge all comers, and another ferret, this one less soft and over-weight, was sent in to dispatch the venturesome intruder. 

The story headline says the rat was killed, but the actual tale makes no such mention.  Without a body, I’d say Mr. Ferret merely bragged about besting his opponent, and Mr. Rat went off to the Rosslyn, or perhaps the King Edward.

(The Van Nuys became the Hotel Barclay in the 1930s [adding a magnificent art deco neon blade sign]. The Barclay is now one of the many “28-day-shuffle” transient hotels in the area, where monthly rent is $360.)


Alcoholiquality During Fiesta

May 6, 1907
Los Angeles

The rough-necked gentry of the Seventh Ward are known for the signs in their saloon windows that read “No Colored Persons Served Here” or just “No coons wanted.” When the City Council decided to abolish race discrimination during Fiesta, the removal of these signs was of primary importance, so the powers that be got to work on the matter without the usual requisite public discussion. This made those in the bartending profession feel persecuted, and the number of these signs, especially in the many bars along East Main Street, greatly multiplied.

In response, black leaders began organizing “runs” on various white bars, wherein black patrons would mob selected establishments as an example and warning. One of our trademark race riots seemed imminent. Luckily, instead, black delegates from the Sixth and Seventh wards mobbed City Hall, where Mayor Harper and City Attorney pushed through an official legal ordinance banning race discrimination and making the signs unlawful.

Theaters, of course, remain segregated.