The Battle of East 71st Street

The Battle of East 71st Street

January 3, 1927
South Los Angeles

The men came marching onto County land, with their boots and their buckets and their shovels and their poles, and the ladies of East 71st Street, just east of Hooper Avenue, came out of their little bungalows, leaving their babies and their breakfast dishes and their washboards and their bougainvilleas, and they met there, in the middle of the road, and looked each other up and down.

"Why have you come to our little street?" asked the ladies.
"To install high tension electrical wires," the men replied.
"Down the middle of our street?"
"Down the middle of your street."
"Like hell you will!" was the ladies’ retort. And when the workmen returned to sink their poles on Monday morning, they found an angry mob of females who congregated around the various spots where holes were to be sunk and planted their bodies in the way of any work. One octogenarian brought a chair out and sat atop the digging spot, while others stood their ground and glared. At lunch time, other women came out and changed places, so no child would go without its meal.

The men retreated, not willing to spill female blood or risk their own safety further. On further investigation, it was revealed the city has not obtained the proper county permit to plant any such power line down 71st Street, so any such erection would be delayed indefinitely. And the next day, a spokesman for the work crew said, "They not only won, they routed us altogether. There’ll be six feet of ice at Sixth and Broadway before some of our men venture on Seventy-first street again. We ceased operations because we are not putting up any poles or lines on any street where the people object to them. Nothing will be done unless we can come to some agreement with the women."

Here’s to the heroines of the Battle of East 71st Street: Mrs. P. R. Bottomly of 1348 East 71st Street, Mrs. H. B. Dawson of #1332, Mrs. M. M. Schnell of #1342 and Mrs. W.J. Kline of #1315 and those who sat for the photograph (L-R): Mrs. Louisa H. Orr (aged 82), Mrs. W. A. Grubbs, Mrs. G. S. McIntyre (provisional general), Mrs. M. Robertson (aide-de-camp), Mrs. R. Jackson (chief of staff) and Mrs. Louise Dixson. For sisterhood is powerful, NIMBYism is nothing new in Los Angeles, and who the hell wants power lines cluttering up their view?

The Battle of East 71st Street

Holy City Hi-Jinks

sued headline

December 31, 1927
Los Angeles Evelyn Rosenkrantz

Mrs. Evelyn Rosenkrantz has claimed in court that her dream to become the Queen of Holy City, California was reduced to ashes and bitter tears when the City’s self-anointed King, William E. Riker, retracted his marriage proposal. Evelyn is asking for $500,000 ($3.5 million USD 2007) in damages for breach of promise. The woman who would be Queen stated that William had sweet talked her in to posing as his wife. She said that they resided at a “love cottage” on 3679 Motor Avenue, Palms City.

Evelyn was not the first woman ever to have been disappointed by William. About 20 years ago, he fled to Canada to avoid bigamy charges. It was there that the former palm reader founded "The Perfect Christian Divine Way”. To achieve perfection, devotees adhered to a strict credo of celibacy, abstinence from alcohol, white supremacy and communal living. To make it easier for his disciples to concentrate on their spirituality, Riker required them to turn over all of their money and worldly possessions to him.

William RikerWilliam and his followers returned to California and set up his “New Jerusalem” near Los Gatos. Surprisingly, he never got around to building a church in Holy City, but he did manage to construct a gas station (which sold “holy water” for over heated autos), restaurant, and an observatory where visitors could view the moon for ten cents. Located on the Santa Cruz Highway, Holy City became a tourist destination and was eventually bringing in over $100,000 ($1.2 million 2007 USD) annually. Tourists were lured by signs with such catchy slogans as: "See us if you are contemplating marriage, suicide or crime!" and "Holy City answers all questions and solves all problems!" Riker sign

Things went so well that the city incorporated. There would eventually be a Holy City Post Office, newspaper, and radio station, KFQU. The radio station would lose its license in 1931 for “irregularities” (maybe it was the call letters).

Evelyn would lose her breach of promise suit, but she and William would tangle again in a couple of years.

In the spring of 1929 Evelyn was serving a life sentence in San Quentin for being a habitual criminal (her final conviction was for passing bad checks in Oakland). She swore in an affidavit that back in 1927 she had witnessed Riker strangle a Mrs. Margaret White to death in the cottage on Motor Avenue. Evelyn told the court that Mrs. White was another of Riker’s abandoned wives. Nothing would come of Evelyn’s affidavit, and she likely spent the rest of her life in prison.

Riker became known as “The Comforter” and made four failed attempts to become governor of California. He would be arrested in 1943 for his pro-German sentiments – he was writing letters of support to Adolf Hitler! Defended by well known attorney Melvin Belli, who constantly referred to his client as a “crackpot”, Riker managed to skate on the charges. The ungrateful crackpot would sue Belli for defamation of character, and lose.

Riker made it to the ripe old age of 93, when he shocked his few remaining followers by converting to Catholicism shortly before his death in 1966.

If you’re interested in owning a piece of California history, Holy City went on the market in 2006 with an asking price of $11 million. Maybe it’s still for sale.

At Least We’ll Avoid Black Tuesday


December 29, 1927

Over there in Paris, noted astrologer and seer Professor Pav has pronounced that as years go, 1927 will pretty much be our last.  Pav’s millenarianistic prognostication has it all:  Biblical foretelling, global warming (in this case, cooling), even the sky falling.  I don’t want to spoil the ending, but we may just come out of this all kinder and gentler.  Uh-huh.  

“The end of the world is imminent, but the globe will not be totally destroyed,” said Pav the Prof.  “The constellation Lion, from the effect of some unknown force, will explode.  A tremendous noise will be heard all over the world.  Multitudes of stars composing the Fubulae will smash and a rain of falling stars will be visible in the sky.
“An immense block, like a gigantic meteorite, will fall on the earth.  The rupture of the planetary equilibrium will not cause disaster to the entire system, but the same night a bitter cold wave will be felt, and in the morning there will be ice and snow, although the catastrophe is due to occur in summer.
“A large number of people will die in all corners of the globe, crops will be frozen and famine will conclude the hecatomb.
“The most terrible part will be the falling on the earth of a colossal meteorite.  The earth itself will be jolted from its orbit by the shock, but a magnetic force will prevent it falling and colliding with another planet.  Large areas of land will disappear and new continents will appear.
“At the end of the cataclysm only a relatively few people will survive.
“Afterward nature will resume her task and man will become wiser and more tender.  The bases of the present civilization will not be destroyed entirely.  The survivors will create a new social system, based on the respect of human life and confraternity.
“All holy scriptures and writings point to the year 1928 as being marked with the year 1928 as being marked with a special sign.  It is possible that, owing to changes in the calendars during the centuries, there is a discrepancy, but the catastrophe will certainly happen during a summer night.
“Savants will be able to warn us in advance of the approach of the bolide.”

(Speaking of savants, interestingly, 1920s Scottish pyramidologist and BI posterboy David Davidson posited the Beginning Of The End would commence in 1928; he then foresaw the Great Depression, and World War II, and a “union of Britain and America” in 1947-8 [must’ve had something to do with the Arab-Israeli Conflict].  Oh yeah, and he predicted that the “millennial reign of righteousness” would begin on September 17, 2001.  Well, close enough.)

Our Seasonal Gift Selections

Gentle reader,

Comes the season when the people who put up with you all year begin to make subtle and not so subtle suggestions that they expect to be compensated for this. Are you going to be one of those bad dads or dull honeys whose gifts end up in the hall closet, only to be regifted in some humiliating Secret Santa scenario? Or are you going to listen to your pals from 1947project, and make the holidays a little more interesting? 

Does your beloved enjoy tales of historic American misery and death? Why then, they’ll be wanting the gorgeous new box set compilation People Take Warning! Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs 1913-1938. It’s packed with ships a-sinking, trains derailing, prisons a-burning, mines a-blowing, rain not falling, weavils munching, fiends, quakes and nightmares galore.

Or do their tastes run more towards Continental miseries? If so, Luc Sante’s new translation of Felix Fénéon’s Novels in Three Lines will pique their schadenfreude. Fénéon was a fascinating Parisian character who, as a sideline to his involvement with bomb-throwing anarchists, editing of Rimbaud and Lautréamont and discovery of Georges Seurat, contributed an extraordinary series of brief criminal and oddball news stories to the daily paper Le Matin in 1906. Imagine one of the more complex 1947project tales compressed down to its suggestive essense and you have Fénéon’s evocative and poetic formula. Sante’s elegant translation captures the poignancy, mystery and eternal grace of the otherwise forgotten traumas of one hundred years ago.

Cuddle up together and cock yer ears to the sounds that made great-grandad guffaw: Actionable Offenses: Indecent Phonograph Recordings from the 1890s,  featuring "The Tapeworm Story," "The Virtues of Raw Oysters" and "Learning a City Gal How to Milk." Or read aloud from The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps: The Best Crime Stories from the Pulps During Their Golden Age, The ’20s, ’30s & ’40s, which has short stories by recognized masters Chandler, Hammett, Cain, Gardner and Wollrich, and some newly unearthed rarities.

If it’s images of early Los Angeles that scratch your dear one’s itch, there are some fine new books to suit, among them Marc Wanamaker and Robert Nudelman’s Images of America compilation Early Hollywood and Sam Watters’ two-volume Houses of Los Angeles, for which you can pick your period poison: 1885-1919 or 1920-1935. (And you already gave ’em a copy of California Crazy and Beyond: Roadside Vernacular Architecture, right? Of course you did!) 

Then, too, you might wish to patronise the works of our 1947project contributors, like Nathan’s Los Angeles Neon or Lynn’s College Girls: Bluestockings, Sex Kittens, and Co-Eds, Then and Now or Kim’s Neutral Milk Hotel’s ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.’ Or get two of us in one go by picking up Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects with Unexpected Significance, Josh Glenn and Carol Hayes’ anthology of things and their stories from the collections of Kim, Lynn and 73 other deranged hoarders, among them Bill "Zippy" Griffith, James Kocholka, Lisa Carver, Thomas Frank, Tony Millionaire and Luc Sante. None of whom is the owner of the book’s most popular object, Christopher Walken’s bagel.

Or give ’em an Esotouric gift certificate, one, two, three or four seats aboard the most interesting bus tours in the Southland, and a Raymond Chandler Mystery Map by which to plot noirish adventures of their own. Or engage Crimebo to Clown to come over and put on a "private" show! And if you’ve ridden the Esotouric bus this year, don’t forget we’ve got a 2-for-1 seat offer on the James M. Cain tour on 12/15.

But whatever objects or adventures you exchange this season, it’s our sincere wish that the year’s end ushers in a time of peace and contentment for you, yours and all of ours. Thanks for reading, and take good care.

Whew, THAT’S a Relief!


December 1, 1927
Los Angeles

A couple decades ago there was the great quaking of earth up in San Francisco—that couldn’t happen down here?  Could it?  Could it?!

World Authority Doctor Robert T. Hill, geologist of International Repute, has spent years investigating the seismicity of Southern California, and today made public his findings.  The business and financial leaders of Los Angeles thronged to the Alexandria Hotel, as guests of Eli P. Clark, director of the Building Owners’ and Managers’ Association, and sat in rapt attention and feverish anticipation of what Hill, Eminent Authority, had to say after his exhaustive study.

Of Southern California, Hill declared:  “no other section in the United States enjoys greater freedom from major earthquake perils.”

strataperilfree!Whew indeed!  It seems that the menace of an earthquake disaster is greatly exaggerated, and we’ve erroneous data to thank for that (usually from the prophesies of Stanford’s Dr. Bailey Willis, who, Hill feels, is full of hooey)—and which is responsible for the marked rise in earthquake insurance rates.  Dr. Hill was corroborated in his assertions and supported with geological data by one Ralph Arnold, also a geologist of wide reputation, who went on to say that we have no need whatsoever for earthquake coverage at all in these parts.

Hill spoke long and hard about how the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey conclusively proved that Willis’ predictions regarding the movement of Gaviota Peak vis-à-vis the San Andreas rift are all wrong:  so there.  Moreover, Southern California belongs to the earth structure of Northern Mexico, and, as wholly dissimilar from Northern California geologically, whatever release of earth strain from Santa Barbara upwards has nothing to do with this part of the world.  And so forth.

And who is this Robert T. Hill?  Well, his paper on the Comanche Cretaceous is the foundation of our geological knowledge of the Southwest, and his studies of the Panama Isthmus were responsible for the location of the Panama Canal.  And he was certainly on target with the wholefree from major perilthing.

As one of the great geologists of our or anyone’s time, there’s a middle school named after him.  Which is, by all accounts, a really weird place.

Who’s Been Stealing Our Food?

stealing our food headline

November 26, 1927
Universal City Three Bears

A thief entered Alex Succetti’s home on Moorpark Street while Alex and his family were away. Behaving more like Goldilocks in the fairy tale “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” than a modern thief, the stranger made himself right at home. He pulled open the door to the ice box, stuck his head in, and poked around until he found a chicken cut up and ready for cooking. He lit the gas stove and fried the bird until it was crispy and golden brown on the outside and tender on the inside – in other words, just right. Then the bandit sat down at the dining table with his entrée and a few yummy (and just right) side dishes that he had found while rummaging about in the kitchen, and ate his fill.

Rather than heading off to one of the bedrooms to take a nap following his hearty chicken dinner, the crook decided to pack up and head for home. He stole the family phonograph, as well as twenty five hens and twenty baby chicks from the henhouse in the backyard. But he wasn’t finished yet. The bandit loaded his car with the loot, then returned and disconnected the gas stove and took it away with the rest of the plunder!

A word of caution to the unknown bandit — in Roald Dahl’s retelling of the “Goldilocks” tale in “Revolting Rhymes”, the criminally minded little girl meets a cruel end. The little blonde fiend breaks into the home of the bear family and trashes it. Displaying an utter lack of regard for their belongings, she destroys their valuable antique furniture, gobbles up their food, and soils their freshly made beds with her muddy shoes. Thoroughly ticked off by the wanton destruction of their home, the bears administer a bit of rough justice and devour the little brat.

Salvation for a Nickel

salvation for a nickel

November 5, 1927
Chicago holy water dispenser

Have you been seeking a quick and inexpensive way to get spiritual enlightenment, a sugary treat, or a pack of smokes? Well, thanks to the field secretary of the Chicago Bible Association, Reverend G.K. Flack, you can satisfy all of your cravings in a few minutes with your spare change. (Except for condoms – you will surely burn for eternity if you purchase the Devil’s sheepskins!)

Reverend Flack has placed dozens of unique vending machines in Chicago area churches. They are stocked with Bibles, Testaments, and separate books of Scripture. That’s right brothers and sisters, simply press the button corresponding to your salvation needs and shout HALLELUJAH! (Does Elmer Gantry know about this?)

The good reverend may be surprised to learn that his idea has a precedent. The first coin operated vending machine was devised by ancient Greeks to dispense holy water.

Oh well, it’s all Greek to us.

Εσείς σατανική μηχανή! Μου δÏŽστε μια Βίβλο ή μου δÏŽστε την πλάτη χρημάτων μου!**

(**You infernal machine! Give me a Bible or give me my money back! )

Of weeds, critters, beards and burning

November 15, 1927
Los Angeles

All around town, the news is notable.

Off in Owensmouth (Canoga Park to you crazy modernists), the citizens complain there are so many stray dogs in the streets, it’s worse than Constantinople. Consider the deep valley as your next exotic vacation spot.

Mrs. Andria Reyes, 34, has eleven children and a husband who won’t work, and they all have the munchies. That’s more or less the excuse she gave Judge Westover for her small marijuana farming operation.

1120 East 32nd Street was burning, and Mrs. Frankie Weaver, 64, escaped unharmed. But once on the street, she realized she’d forgotten her canary Dickey. Back into the flaming second floor she charged, only to fall back, burned, inconsolable, without her little pet. They found her on the neighbors’ porch, badly injured but unaware of herself, gazing mournfully into the fire, and took her to Georgia Street for treatment.

And in Wahperton, North Dakota, comes the passing of Hans Langseth, who had not cut his beard since July 14, 1875. It measured 17 feet when he breathed his last, and he could not only wear it round his neck like a muffler (mmm, sexy!), but traveled the world as a circus exhibition and won the 1922 world’s longest competition at the Days of ’49 celebration in Sacramento. We hear these things grow posthumously, so let’s call Hans’ crowning glory 17 feet, 1 inch. Huzzah!

License to Ill

doctor1Rex H.W. Albrexstondare was not a doctor, but he played one in Southern California.

The pseudo-scientist claimed that he’d discovered the fountain of youth through proper diet and treatment, and had been restored from a 90-year-old man to a young man with a thick head of black hair.  He said he’d grown four sets of teeth in his life.  He was associated with a scheme to create a human body, saying he’d once crafted a 6 inch body, but had been unable to vivify it.   He said he’d discovered a medicinal herb that could rejuvenate human life.  And he claimed to be a Russian prince who had made millions during the regime of the Czar by devising a system of hydrating food.

Yes, Rex H.W. Albrexstondare said a lot of things, and oddly, some people believed him.

Unsurprisingly, the "doctor" made his living by preying upon women, preferably of the wealthy and lonely variety, and supposedly treating them for vague medical complaints, such as headaches and rheumatism.  However thin his ruse may seem, the doctor found plenty of willing customers until 1923, when he hit a patch of very bad luck.

It was then that Albrexstondare treated two Orange girls, Myrtle Thompson and Evelyn Rohrs, who suffered from congenital heart disorders.  He gave them a paste made of mashed vegetables, alfalfa, and pea pods, which probably did the girls no direct harm, but certainly did them no good either.  Albrexstondare was charged with practicing medicine without a license.

doctor2Around the same time, a suit was brought by Jennie McFadden, a wealthy Altadena widow, who claimed that Albrexstondare had failed to repay over $20,000 in loans she’d given him over the space of a few months.  He had befriended her, announced plans to embark on a course of scientific research, and set up a lab in her home.  She periodically loaned him sums of money, which he perceived as gifts; he also claimed that during his stay, the 70-year-old McFadden made passes at him and tried to get him to marry her, as did her daughter.

Others came out of the woodwork, and by the middle of 1924, Albrexstondare had three suits filed against him totaling over $35,000.

But first things first.  He was found guilty of the case involving the Orange girls (the jury’s deliberation took only 5 minutes), and was sentenced to 180 days in prison.  He promptly set about raising the $3000 bond for his release.  There was no mention of the party who’d finally given Albrexstondare the money for his bond, but he or she must have been too embarrassed to make a stink about it when he failed to appear for his sentence in May of 1925.  On the lam for three months, he was finally apprehended in Ensenada and dragged back to Orange County to serve his sentence.

Then in December 1926, things took a turn for the weird.  Socialite and pianist Ruth Shaw, one of the women who’d previously filed suit against Albrexstondare back in 1924, pledged her loyalty to him and agree to help him with his legal troubles.  This would mark the beginning of Shaw’s second career as a professional swindler and full-time accomplice.

For reasons that were not specified, Jennie McFadden’s case did not come to trial until October of 1927, but Albrexstondare’s performance there may have been worth the wait.  Prior to the trial, he and Shaw had hinted that they had some surprises up their sleeves, and today, the doctor let out all the stops.

He claimed that he was beaten so severely in prison that he lost his hearing, memory, and consciousness of his surroundings for nine months.  He said that Jennie McFadden and her daughter had threatened to use their wealth and influence to have him arrested, and that McFadden herself had engaged the agents who followed him from San Diego to New York City and finally, to Mexico while he was a fugitive (although he never saw himself that way).

The judge didn’t see it this way, however, and ordered that Albrexstondare repay Mrs. McFadden’s money with 7% interest, as well as all court costs.  You might that all of this would teach the doctor a lesson, or at least slow him down; however, Albrexstondare continued his schemes in Los Angeles with little variation or discretion for at least the next seven years.

In May 1930, he was in trouble again, accused of swindling a woman who said she’d paid $275 for a medical treatment that she never received.  Ruth Shaw, who’d lined up a string of gullible female clients for the doctor, was charged as an accomplice.  Last heard from in 1934, the pair were still up to their old tricks.  They were again charged with swindling for their efforts to separate L.A. residents from their hard-earned cash, telling them that they were raising funds to file a federal suit — allegedly, the $43 million fortune of the deceased Czar had been deposited to a San Francisco bank.

And is it just my imagination, or does our own Nathan Marsak bear some small resemblance to the good doctor?  Watch he doesn’t slip you any vegetable paste!

Lacy Underthings and Seagull Wings


October 23, 1927
Los Angeles

John A. Horn was born to be a poet but Fate (O! cruel mistress she!) decreed he make his living as a lingerie salesman. Worse, he was married to a woman who did not understand the lyricism of his delicate artist’s soul. So he left his wife—but not before explaining himself in verse.

Martha Horn, seeking a divorce upon the grounds of desertion, recently handed her errant husband’s scribbled magnum opus to Judge Gates:

"I’ll wait here ’till the sun sets," I told her
"If you are hungry, there’s a stand upon the pier."
She nodded. "You can wait. I won’t be long."
And saying this, she left me with the sun.
I sat upon the sand and watched the gulls
Skimming the restless water striped with gold.
The rolling waves tossed foam upon the beach;
"The lacy underthings the Old World wears,"
I told myself, then smiled quite satisfied:
Not many a clerk in a department store
From seven to six could say such clever things.
. . . . the sun
Was almost gone, the rounded golden edge
Was sinking out of sight when my wife called
"John." I saw her coming down the beach
Munching a bun. "I’ve one for you," she said.
I turned. The sun had sunk into the sea.

"And when I gave him the hot dog, he got sore," Mrs. Horn clarified for the court.

"This is just another example of the ancient controversy between rhyme and reason," chortled Judge Gates before granting a divorce to the long-suffering Mrs. Horn.