Doug Robertson was a mainstay in Hawthorne for some 50+ years. He and his family came to Hawthorne from Canada in 1923 seeking a new life in the sunny Southern California. They made the trip in a used 1918 Paige automobile and what a trip it was, but I’ll let his journal tell that story.
Doug’s early schooling was Ballona Av. School (Washington) and Inglewood High School, graduating in the mid-30s. He was a school board member for many years in Hawthorne and a loyal Rotarian. He wrote many versions of Portraits of a Memory before his passing in the early 2000s, but I believe this to be the original, written in 1986.
This particular “Portraits” was given to me by George Key, Principal of Hawthorne High School from 1972-80. I read it from cover to cover not being able to put it down for any length of time.
Thinking this book has to be shared and the only way to get it on the Hawthorne Historical website was to scan the entire book, that’s exactly how it happened.
I sincerely hope you’ll enjoy this trip back to early Hawthorne as much as I did, and as much as I know Doug enjoyed writing the journal. Although Doug Robertson later lived in Montecito and Fresno — Hawthorne California is where these, his favorite memories were forged.
I am very thankful to have known you, Doug. Hopefully “A Portrait Of A Memory” will stand for many years, as to how it was “growing up” in our little settlement — Hawthorne California.
Sincerely, John Baker
HAWTHORNE–A PORTRAIT OF A MEMORY is actually a byproduct of a previous journal I wrote in 1981 involving the Robertson family history. Now living in restless retirement on a 240 acre “spread” in beautiful Montecito California with a breath-taking view of the Santa Barbara harbor in the near distance, the task of journaling family history proved a truly enjoyable effort. By placing the typewriter in a favorable position which afforded an inspirational view of the placid harbor, far below, the task became even more pleasant.
In a few weeks, the ROBERTSON FAMILY AS I REMEMBER IT was completed to the unbounded delight of our children and grandchildren. The family history I had recounted, of course, was for just these offsprings plus the emerging generations of Robertsons, still too young to be concerned as to the musings of an aging member of the Robertson Clan.
Of gratifying surprise, this humble family documentary proved of greater interest than I had anticipated. I only had a limited number of these crudely bound books which I distributed among our numerous progeny. Before long, however, I began to receive requests for copies from as far away as Florida. Why anyone would display interest in a family they didn’t know baffled me.
I suppose the answer is not too remote; any personal memories, simply stated, could be of general interest
to nearly everyone.
In any event, upon completing THE ROBERTSON FAMILY, I began to dwell upon wistful memories of Hawthorne where I spent 60 years of a long and interesting lifetime. As I sat before an empty typewriter, scenes of early life in Centinela Valley passed before my eyes. Before long, I was overcome with nostalgic reflections of Hawthorne and home.
Easily confessed: Hawthorne and Centinela Valley are never far from my thoughts. Even any attempt to compare comparative opulence with the struggling realities of youthful years in Hawthorne fail to produce lasting satisfaction. Plain and simple, Centinela Valley will always be home.
Seated before my idle typewriter in contemplative reflections of other days, I glanced at the peaceful harbor below. Perhaps, I asked myself, there could be hundreds of elderly and not-so-elderly residents in Centinela Valley who might possibly enjoy an unhurried journey back through the dusty corridors of time when Hawthorne and the Centinela Valley presented a vastly different style of life. Even Centinela Valley’s younger set, I mused, might find such a journal involving the nostalgic journey of interest.
Ironically, while time is indeed a relentless tyrant, constantly chipping away the days of our very existence, it invariably leaves behind a velvety leavening which strikes us through our vulnerable emotions. Events which were, in reality, difficult and unpleasant often, with the passage of time, emerge in our memories as memorable and pleasant.
I readily admit, life in my advancing years is far from dull and unrewarding.
While attempting to divide my time between a home in Fresno where our children live and the attractive Montecito property, I “stash” a spare car near Los Angeles Airport for purely sentimental reasons and objectives. Due to the generous considerations of the Hawthorne Rotary Club, I still maintain an honorary membership which I cherish dearly. This membership provides me with a single silver strand which serves to bind me permanently to Hawthorne and home.
On these visits to Hawthorne, which is quite frequently, I am never able to resist the impulse of driving down the familiar streets and avenues which have, partially at least, survived the ravages of time and continual change. Of special interest, I drive slowly past our old home on E. 141st Street where our children grew to maturity. With little difficulty, I can still visualize them playing at games on the once-lightly traveled street.
Driving north on Hawthorne at the bowling alley, the absence of onceefamiliar landmarks provokes melancholy memories of times gone, never to return. Near 139th and the Boulevard, I remembered the Burleigh Tract where the Pacific Electric had erected a small waiting room for passengers on the way to Los Angeles or Redondo Beach. I can still hear the distinct horn which announced the arrival and departure of these Red Car monsters.
With the sun moving ever westward, it is time to move on in the direction of the airport. Almost automatically, I turn westward at 118th Street (Wallace) and pass the awesome Robert Kennedy Medical Center on the corner of Grevillea.
When my children were born in this hospital, the building was little more than an enlarged, private home. I smiled to myself; my wife was confined for a period of ten days at an overall cost of thirty dollars. Veering north on Grevilla, I am now in what was once referred to as the “Grove” since, in early Hawthorne history, some individual or company had planted the whole north end of the city with a thick stand of tall eucalyptus trees for reasons never fully understood.
However, once again, the ever-present is peeking over my shoulder. My plane is scheduled to depart in about an hour. For this visit at least, my journey down memory lane must come to a close.
Reaching the bustling airport, there is no longer time or inclination
for further contemplation. Parking the car in a convenient lot, I reluctantly shake off the dusty thoughts of the past and prepare to deal with the present. In just a half hour, I am seated in the idling jet on the south runway awaiting clearance for take-off.
As the aircraft soars off into the gathering twilight, I am momentarily freed from the restricting tenacles of time. Far below, I can visualize Andrew Bennet’s endless fields of yellow barley with threshing machines nearby.
Soon we are above the sand hills of El Segundo and the craft wings northward. I have just time left to turn my gaze eastward in the direction of Centinela Valley and home.
Of course, I will return again and again. In a week or two, I will pick up my little car and drive to the Cockatoo and Hawthorne Rotary tor the usual fun and friendship. Still, I am all too well aware of the mortality of us all. There will come the day when time will intervene and I will join the majority who have already passed from this life. In the meanwhile, I am in no hurry. As my Scottish father often stated (he lived until nearly 90) take each day at a time. Good advice, Dad!
I always knew when Dad had something of relative importance to relate to the family. He would wait for all present to be seated before he began to disclose the particular item of family life. As he spoke in his rich Scottish brogue, his eyes shifted from one family member to another to deterrmine the amount of attention he was receiving. Sometimes the disclosure was of limited importance and, like most children, our minds drifted to other thoughts.
On Christmas Day, 1922, however, he called us together for such a family gathering around the kitchen table. This time, Pop’s revelation was indeed earthshaking enough to alter family life forever. With an obvious display of thoughtfulness, Dad told us this would be our last winter in Walkerville, Ontario. By July, 1923, he continued with characteristic baldness, we would be on our way to a far-off settlement called Lennox, California.
With the natural exuberance of childhood, we responded to Dad’s plan with unbounded enthusiasm. Admittedly, Walkerville was a pleasant place to live and was populated by other Scottish people who had left Scotland at about the same time as Mom and Dad. We had always felt quite at home in Essex County. Still, the winters were truly fierce and the prospect of leaving Walkerville for the magic of California stirred our young imaginations beyond reality.
Another very serious consideration played an important part in the decision to leave Ontario for the warmth of California. Brother Adam, age five, suffered from repeated attacks of bronchitis which doctors indicated could only be relieved by a milder climate. California, of course, was considered superior for those suffering from such respiratory problems. I still consider Adam’s illness the prime motivating factor behind our move to California.
Of considerable importance, we would not be without friends in Lennox.
A few years previously, most of Dad’s family, including his aging mother and father, had sold their considerable real estate holdings in Walkerville and purchased some fine acreage on Inglewood Avenue near Imperial Highway (Bellvue).
Making the resettlement in California by Dad’s family in 1919 was rather an uncomplicated affair. The entire move was made by train in considerable comfort. Furniture and personal possessions were also sent by rail. By pooling adequate finances, they were spared any financial discomfort during the move. Even after paying for the train trip, the purchase of land and other expenses, there was still considerable money left over. Regrettably, we would have none of these advantages in making our painful relocation.
Without real estate to sell and little more than furniture and other personal effects in our possession, the move to Lennox would be much different than that of the Robertsons of Lennox. Still, we had some things going for us which helped spur us on. The folks in Lennox promised initial cash to help make the journey. In this promise they proved far more than generous.
As we sat in a circle on Christmas Day, 1922, Dad dropped another small bomb in our midst; we would travel to California by a used automobile he planned to purchase after the first of the year. So this is how Pop was planning to use our limited finances to reach Lennox! Once again, we kids roared with approval at this decision bordering on recklessness. Mom, I noticed, kept silent and greeted the whole proposal with unspoken misgivings.
As we quieted down, Mom, always the cautious partner, began asking the crucial questions which must be answered. For instance, had Pop ever heard of a large family making such a prolonged auto trip with a used car? Did we have enough money to take on such a foolhardy expedition? All of dear Mom’s inquiries would be painfully answered in a few weeks as we fought the twin adversaries of bad weather and poor roads.
On the other hand, Pop fired up the kids with prospect of great adventure we would experience in crossing the continent by auto. With a dramatic wave of his hand he dubbed us “Kings of the Open Road.” Just 39, Pop was still filled with the optimism of youth and felt the task of safely delivering his family to Lennox was well within his resourceful capacity.
With considerable irritation, Pop dismissed any suggestion of failure.
He was a skilled mechanic which indeed proved indispensable during the long journey.
True to his word, on March 1, 1923, a 1918 seven-passenger Paige was parked in front of our house in Walkerville. Pop had purchased it from a dealer in Detroit for 250 dollars which he considered quite a bargain. On the huge copper radiator, an oversized logo indicated the car was a PAIGE and manufactured in Detroit: Filled with excitement, we kids crawled all over the aging touring car. Not only were there seats for seven passengers, there was ample room for luggage with provisions at the rear for other items such as tents and other traveling equipment.
The seats, however, displayed evidence of considerable wear and the speedometer indicated the vehicle had had lots of use. Still worse, the motor emitted a plume of smoke when running, indicating worn piston rings and valves. All too obviously, the Paige would need an overhaul before we could begin the journey to far-off California.
Since cars were still somewhat of a novelty in 1923, our Scottish neighbors in Walkerville took considerable interest in our new purchase. Several volunteered to help Dad overhaul the ailing engine. The Paige responded gratefully to all this kind attention and performed accordingly. Before long, we were taking short trips out of town to determine how the overhauled Paige would perform under traveling conditions. Since Essex County is totally flat, we had no way of determining how the Paige would perform on mountain ranges in excess of 10,000 feet.
By this time, Dad had received a series of strip-maps from the Southern California Auto Club. The colorful maps suggested two routes of travel which we might consider. For endless nights, the family gathered around the kitchen table and studied these maps as if they possessed divine revelation. Mournnfully, in just a matter of weeks we would discover the bold black lines indicating major highways bore no resemblance to the muddy farm roads encountered.
Maddeningly, the Auto Club airily assured us we would have no difficulty in making the “pleasant” journey in a period of two weeks. Instead of two “easy” weeks, we barely completed the hair-raising safari in five. By the end of three weeks we were out of money, patience, and almost out of hope of ever reaching Lennox and the Pacific Coast. But back to Walkerville and our preparation for departure.
By now Dad had boldly set the day of destiny, July 5, 1923. Painfully, of course, this meant we would reach the blistering deserts of the southwest in the dead of midsummer with the heat reaching well over 100°. Remember, we had no air-conditioning and only a thin canvas top between us and the blazing sun. Small wonder our kindly Scottish neighbors in Walkerville considered us a little mad. Some friends even went so far as to predict we would return to Walkerville within a few days.
Disposing of the limited family assets must have been a painful experience for Mom and Dad. They had been married for 15 years and had so little to show for it other than four children and a host of memories. By selling family furniture and adding some modest savings accounts, there was just over 400 dollars on hand. As events were to prove, not nearly enough to
reach California. All was not bleak, of course. The folks in Lennox were now quite sound financially and had committed themselves to helping us reach Lennox. We would not have made it except for them and their boundless generosity.
True to Dad’s word, on the cool morning of July 5, 1923, all hands were aboard the lumbering Paige and tearful farewells were all too abundant. Some of our gloomy, Scottish neighbors continued to predict we would be back in Walkerville in a few days. In this prediction, they could not have been more mistaken.
Crossing the river into Detroit, we wandered southward seeking those “pleasant” highways the Auto Club had so glowingly marked in bold black lines. They simply did not exist, but that is another story, previously told.
For the benefit of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I have already chronicled a detailed account of our hazardous trip to California in a previous publication called THE ROBERTSON FAMILY AS I REMEMBER IT. If any non-family member should have an interest in pursuing this circa 1923 story, I would be pleased to furnish one. In the meanwhile, I will delete the devastating travel details in order to move on to the subject of more universal interest to Hawthorne and those who remember the days narrated IN HAWTHORNE–A PORTRAIT OF A MEMORY.
Still, in order to properly lay a proper foundation for our life in California, some of the debilitating events of our transcontinental adventure must stand repeating. After turning westward at Toledo, Ohio, misfortune became our constant companion. Totally unanticipated, rains converted passable roads into impossible quagmires. A mere 50 miles a day became the norm for such treacherous road conditions but wholly unacceptable for the limited family budget.
While disappointed at these unexpected turn of events, Mom never seemed to lose heart. When the situation deteriorated noticeably, Mom would pull out pictures of Lennox and the accompanying letters extolling the eternal sun of California and the absence of brutal winters. Mom was born in Bombay, India and thrived on the mere promise of sunshine and warmth. Just the pictures and letters seemed to inspire her with ever-greater ability to endure the unpleasant present. And the present was almost more than we could endure.
The roads disintegrated from the persistent rain making significant progress an impossibility.
On many occasions, our aging auto actually veered off the muddy road and wound up hopelessly mired in the bordering ditch. Invariably, a passing farmer would obligingly unhitch his team and tow us to the center of the road. On a few occasions, we hazily contemplated giving up and settling in some intermediate community when the possibility of further progress seemed doubtful. Happily, we resisted such inclinations and continued on to the west. Putting it mildly, the ultimate sight of San Bernardino and the prospect of wide paved roads all the way to Los Angeles brought lusty cheers from the tired occupants of the old Paige.
With a broad smile on his tanned, young face for the first time in weeks, Pop accelerated our rapidly-deteriorating car up to 30 miles an hour. By now the tires were worn bald from the constant exposure to the fierce desert heat and sharp rocks.
For the first time we noted another new and welcome development; all the streets had proper signs. We were now on Valley Boulevard, the main road leading west to Los Angeles. After these long weeks on the road, the car and its contents were generously covered with layers of fine desert dust. As we neared Los Angeles, people on sidewalks began to stare at us as if we had suddenly descended from another planet.
Far more lethal than stares, however, we unexpectedly found ourselves on Pico Boulevard near the center of Los Angeles. To make matters still worse, the brakes on the Paige were worn and Dad had to depend on the hand brake in close quarters. Fortunately, as Pico neared Western Avenue, the traffic became almost non-existent. As a matter of fact, it appeared we were about to enter an area given over exclusively to small farms. After the Los Angeles experience, the return to a rural atmosphere furnished relief.
Without the benefit of a local map, Dad decided to turn southward on Western Avenue since he knew Inglewood lay to the west and south of downtown Los Angeles. At an almost deserted intersection with another dirt road, Pop stopped to ask an idler if he knew the direction to Inglewood. Dad could have saved his breath–the walker shrugged his shoulders and continued his aimless walk.
Before long, we crossed what appeared to be the main Santa Fe tracks. By this time, Western Avenue was merely a country road, lined on each side with tall, graceful trees. Cattle and sheep grazed in undisturbed silence.
There were no cars on Western Avenue which indicated we might have gone too far south and thereby missing the city of Inglewood. There was no need for concern, however. The next cross trail was plainly marked with a wooden sign nailed to a tree–Pine Street. While Pine Street was destined to eventually be renamed Century Boulevard with thousands of cars moving over it daily, in 1923 it remained a narrow dirt road bordered by widely scattered poultry farms and dairies.
Starting down Pine Street, we soon noticed another sign which sent the car’s tired occupants into unrestrained pandamonium–INGLEWOOD 2 MILES. It was an emotional moment.
Soon we were crossing a set of narrow street car tracks bordered by dirt roads on each side. It, too, had a street sign–HAWTHORNE BLVD. There were almost no buildings in sight and Mom thought someone must have had a misplaced sense of humor dubbing this cow trail a “Boulevard.”
Continuing west on Pine, the Paige stirred up considerable dust since it was now August and no rain had fallen for weeks. The land north of Pine Street contained a number of scattered dwellings but to the south, many cattle could be seen in the fields. Huge hay stacks were everywhere. This was indeed, da~ry country.
In moments, Inglewood Avenue came into sight which brought us to halt. Which direction should we turn? The street was very narrow but had been paved with wooden blocks which had been covered with a thick layer of bitumous oil. This odd combination of street material gave the road an unusual dimpled appearance. Making a left hand turn, we were soon parked in front of 10900 South Inglewood Avenue, my Aunt and Uncle’s large farm house. There were two additional houses on the property the uncles had constructed for themselves. Directly across the little street a huge dairy was in full–operated by a family called Nolkers which had come from Germany after the war.
Soon there was great commotion as the family sat breathlessly while Pop generously recounted the hair-raising events of the journey to his eager parents. The Robertson acreage was considerable and, of course, we were escorted over every inch of it. As a ‘sideline, they raised hundreds of Muscovy ducks, a breed we had never seen. Much larger than the Pekin breed, they were silent and easy to care for. Grandpa and Grandma took care of the entire operation while the younger men commuted daily to Los Angeles where they worked as skilled carpenters.
Bordering their farm to the south was the largest chicken farm I had ever seen. It was called Slinacks Poultry Company and fronted on Inglewood Avenue all the way to what is now Imperial Highway. In those days Imperial was known by the more modest title of Bellvue Street. Bellvue consisted of just a faint set of tire marks running eastward to the car line. To the west, there was no sign of civilization other than a row of tiny houses labeled “Greenwood Park” by some adventurous developer.
ON TO HAWTHORNE!
In a matter of days, of course, the excitement of our arrival subsided and weightier matters became of prime importance. The Robertson men had found Pop a steady job in the Consolidated Building on Spring Street in the center of Los Angeles. They themselves were employed in the building but only on a temporary basis. They would soon move on to other carpentering jobs in the city. Dad’s assignment, however, was of a maintenance nature which meant he would stay with Consolidated after his brothers had moved on.
While this comforting news was most welcome, it also contained one disturbing factor; Dad would have to locate a dwelling near the 5 car line which would transport him to work and back each day. The Paige was no longer reliable, and the roads to Los Angeles were not the best. Securing a loan from Grandmother, our family started out in the old Paige in search of a suitable dwelling. We had already covered Lennox without success. The town was devoted to chickens and dairies with no thought of additional housing for out-of-towners. There were a few rental units in Inglewood but one look at our large family and the answer was always no. Besides, Inglewood, being more settled, took on a superior attitude about people coming from rural Lennox and Hawthorne.
In subdued desperation, Dad pointed the tired Paige southward from downntown Inglewood in the direction of Hawthorne. It was not too difficult to locate Hawthorne since friends had indicated it lay at the very end of the 5 car line which ran from the center of Los Angeles to Hawthorne.
Since the west side of the car track was not at all passable, Pop drove on the eastern edge which was totally unpaved beyond Arbor Vitae but at least the ground was solid. Bone dry from the lack of recent rain, however, our Paige once again stirred up prodigious quantities of dust which soon covered the vehicle. By the time we cared little about the annoyance of dust.
In a matter of minutes, we reached the end of the Yellow Car Line which also appeared to be the center of what was then Hawthorne. Pop veered the Paige to a stop in front of an all night diner called Bill’s. With the engine turned off, complete silence prevailed. No one seemed inclined to leave the familiar interior of our auto. We kids could think of no fate worse than permanence in this forsaken “outpost.” Instinctively, we moved closer to each other. Dad, quite naturally, viewed the situation with considerably less emotion. We had little money and he was to report to work within a few days. There was no room for sentimentality or personal preference. Hawthorne was our last chance if, indeed, any housing was available. Leaving us in the car, he and Morn entered Bill’s and told our story. The owner carne out to the car and surveyed our diminished position. Tightening his apron, he pointed to a real estate office on the west side of Hawthorne Boulevard next to a drug store. In moments, Pop was on his way back to the Paige with the lone operator of the real estate office. With a comforting smile showing from under his ample moustache, he introduced himself as Mr. Garton and assured
us he had just what we were looking for. On the west side of Hawthorne Boulevard, just a couple of hundred yards to the north, he had three identical rentals. One was now rented but the other two were available and would fit nicely
into our tightly restricted budget.
As Mom and Dad followed the agent, who kept up a never-ending chatter extolling the wonders of Hawthorne and its fabulous future, we kids followed at a sullen distance. Sure enough, there were the three little houses sitting just a few feet back from the unpaved street. I’m sure Morn and Pop were as shocked as we. The vacant house was a sickly green and could boast of very little in the way of amenities. A privy served for sanitation and a lone water faucet lurked among the long grass in the front yard–no water or plumbing. Mr. Garton never ceased his constant sales pitch. In any event, the family was out of options. Dad handed Garton 15 dollars and the agent returned to his office. With the single key, we entered the side door and looked inside. I think it was the last time we every used the key. It was a far cry from what we left in Walkerville but still better than living in the car. We had no other choice. We were Hawthorne residents. Hawthorne would be my home for the next half-century.
Dad and Mom returned to Bill’s Diner, picked up the car, and started back to the house on Inglewood Avenue to fetch some of the belongings we had stored there. As the old Paige resumed the return journey on the opposite side of Hawthorne Boulevar~ for the first time, we kids were alone. To our surprise, we discovered the house contained considerable articles of old furniture. A bunk bed stood boldly against one wall and a day bed lined a front room wall. It was easily apparent the Robertson family fortunes could only rise from here since it was impossible to sink any further.
After a cursory look inside the house, we boys retreated to the yard while Sis attacked the dust-covered floors with an old broom left over from the former tenants. As usual, Sis, just 13 years old, seemed to contain considerably more energy than her younger brothers. It was still early in the afternoon, and with the exception of the clatter of an occasional street car, there was nothing to disturb the stillness. Hawthorne Boulevard was almost devoid of cars but I noticed a few parked in the vicinity of Bill’s Lunchroom on the corner. Between our dilapidated dwelling and Wise’s Billiard Hall, there were two other houses of similar construction–crude California boards. The house next door was vacant but the other seemed occupied and a miniature lawn even adorned the narrow lot near the cement sidewalk.
While sizing up our new location, a boy suddenly wheeled into our yard and sprawled his big feet on the ground while remaining seated on his bicycle. With poorly concealed envy, I noted his bike was brand new and carried a RANGER label. Unfortunately, the youngster wore a puzzled look of superiority on his young face which I found annoying. His first questions added to his immediate unpopularity. Were we all going to live in this little house?, he inquired. Did we come from Europe? Did I own a bicycle? By this time we boys were most hopeful this character would cut his visit short and return to his house which he told us was just up the street behind his father’s glass shop. Seeming to sense our lack of cordiality, he returned to the sidewalk and started home. As he left, he looked over his shoulder, “My name is Ralph Tetzlaff,” he called. As the ensuing years were to prove, Ralph became one of my dearest friends and I, along with hundreds of others, mourned his untimely death from an accident on Catalina Island in the 1970s.
Long before sunset, we could hear Pop and the old Paige rattling down Hawthorne Boulevard from the north. Making a wide U turn around Bill’s lunchhroom, the light cloud of dust was now on our side of the street. Somehow, Dad had managed to cram enough household articles to begin housekeeping. In a matter of an hour or two, beds were made and assigned water buckets
were filled from the faucet in the front yard, and the family was prepared for the first night in our California “home.”
Following the modest evening meal, we kids took to the front yard where Dad had parked the car. Sitting in the auto, we noticed unusual activity across the street near the Barton Plumbing Company. Facing on Hawthorne Boulevard, someone had constructed a raised platform a little larger than a boxing ring. At this moment, young people were covering the platform with bright paper and hanging an assortment of gala lanterns as if some important gathering was about to occur. With customary juvenile curiosity, we asked our parents if we could cross the quiet street to determine the nature of the preparations. Of course, Pop suggested we bridle our curiosity and observe the proceedings from our own yard.
With the appearance of the first pale stars, however, the answer to our questions came suddenly. A three-piece orchestra took up positions on edge of the stage and began to play pleasant dance music of the day. Before long a few couples were waltzing along the somewhat crude dance platform.
As night descended, even Mom and Dad joined our little circle near the porch to observe the merriment. While the music and dancing continued until midnight, we kids were ushered off to bed at ten. Mom and Pop, however, hummed along with the music until the musicians turned off the feeble lights and the event was over for the night.
For an hour or two, the click of car wheels over the jointed tracks kept us awake. By midnight, however, either the passing of street cars became less frequent or we were beginning to adjust to this disturbance. In any event, before long we learned to ignore this noise which never seemed to cease.
Early the following morning, we kids crossed the deserted street to
have a closer look at the little dance platform. The morning dew had depleted some of the bunting but we discovered the platform was larger than we had calculated. There appeared to be enough room for 10 couples at a time.
As we surveyed the little dance area, another boy came into view. He seemed more curious about us than the improvised dance area. His hair was quite blonde and closely cropped. I noticed he was heavily built and had a tendency of thrusting his head forward in a pugnacious manner as he walked. With a ready smile and gentle manner, he asked the usual questions. He said his name was Bill Hartzell and his father owned the barber shop on our side of the street. As years passed, Bill and I would become good friends.
With little to do for the balance of the long summer day, brother Don and I decided to explore the little settlement. There really wasn’t very much to explore. Most of the business establishments seemed to be on our side of Hawthorne Boulevard. A few feet south of our house an unpretentious line of buildings housed an assortment of business operations. The first was Wise’s Billiard Parlor which seemed to be the principle gathering place for the men of Hawthorne. As we were soon to discover, any event of importance was formulated within the darkened confines of Mr. Wise’s establishment.
In our first saunter through the business area, we poked our heads into the pool hall which, of course, was off limits to youngsters. A hail of men’s shouts soon indicated we were in adult territory. Meekly, we withdrew and continued with our exploration. The next building contained the Hawthorne Community Market which appeared to be a collection of retail stores in the same building. The irresistible fragrance of newly baked bread gave unmistakable evidence the building contained a bakery. We soon discovered Becker’s Bakery was located at the rear of the establishment. The front of the market was given over to vegetables while a meat market occupied the southern section of the same market.
The next building was occupied by Newman’s Grocery which dealt in the staple grocery items such as flour, canned goods and sugar. On the northwest corner of Hawthorne Boulevard and Broadway, a lone house perched on the rear of a long, thin lot. Shaded by a cluster of bushy trees, the brown and white dwelling was also the office of the town’s only doctor. Amid a cloud of unkind and unfounded rumors, the doctor, his wife and teenage daughter suddenly left town some time in 1924.
Moving further south on the boulevard, we peeked into Garton’s Real Estate office which failed to disclose any occupant. Perhaps Mr. Garton was once again extolling the virtues of Hawthorne to prospective buyers.
The next building contained the Ramage-Henerson Drug Store. Little of interest here except the tempting sign on the window awning–REFRESHING FOUNTAIN SERVICE. The thought of cold and delicious ice cream sodas crossed my mind. As a 10 year old boy with empty pockets, the enticing sign meant little. South of Ramage’s Drug Store just the Hawthorne Hardware seemed of any consequence.
Between the P.E. tracks and Hawthorne Hardware, however, a well-established lumber yard was in lively operation. While this yard was eventually purchased by E. H. Gregg, in 1923 it was owned by Hawthorne Lumber Company. On Hawthorne Boulevard, south of the Pacific Electric tracks, little remained of the business community. The site of the present Bank of America was then one of the community’s largest feed stores which supplied animal feeds to the poultry raisers of IHawthorne. As difficult as it might be to accept, most of the scattered houses of early Hawthorne had their own chicken houses which supplied the occupants with fresh eggs and fryer chickens. A remarkable number of the early settlers also owned a family cow which they “staked” out each morning in the lush grass growing in the abundant fields.
Retracing our steps back in the direction of our house, we noticed a miniature, red trolley parked on the Pacific Electric tracks adjacent to the Hawthorne Lumber yard on the west side of Hawthorne Boulevard. This one-man street car made the trip from Hawthorne to El Segundo on an hourly basis.
As we paused to look over the diminutive trolley we could hear an odd sound coming from the opposite side of the boulevard. A huge red trolley was approaching Hawthorne Boulevard from the east. Instead of the polite street-car bell, these cars were equipped with strange sounding whistles which emitted short blasts as if mimicking a braying donkey. As the approaching red monster neared Hawthorne Boulevard, the tracks swerved southward in the direction of Redondo Beach.
In the center of Hawthorne Boulevard, Pacific Electric had erected quite an adequate shelter for passengers awaiting P.E. trollies. As the red car came to a halt in front of this station, passengers either remained aboard for the balance of the trip to Redondo or disembarked and ran for the El Segundo Toonervlile or leisurely walked to their homes in Hawthorne. For a number of years, this little station was an important point of interchange for those using the Pacific Electric rail system. Many city planners still consider the dismantling of the Pacific Electric system a serious error in judgement. When trapped in lines of traffic on the nearby San Diego Freeway, I am inclined to agree.
As Don and I walked down the center of Hawthorne Boulevard, we noted the scene at the end of the 5 car line has changed considerably during the course of the afternoon. The arriving cars were now heavily loaded, and we noted with considerable Scottish interest, the paper boys were doing a land office business. A short thin lad with a cap pulled well down over his ears seemed to be selling his Los Angeles Heralds as fast as he could gather them up from a huge stack by the bench.
When time seemed appropriate, we advanced and introduced ourselves. The youngster told us his name was Bill Perry and his whole family lived not far from the end of the car line. Brother Don, always the boldest, inquired if any other spots were open where we could also do what he seemed to be doing so successfully. At this point, Perry became somewhat evasive. As
we extended our impromptu friendship, however, he disclosed that both the Los Angeles Examiner and Times were looking for two youngsters to sell papers in the early morning here at the end of the Yellow Line. In order to fully acquaint us with the discomfort of such a venture, he reminded us we would have to be on the corner at 5 a.m.
Before we raced home in our bare feet to seek permission from our parents, we inquired of Perry what we could possibly earn from selling both the Times and the Examiner in the early morning. Ten dollars a week was his laconic reply. Remember, he cautioned us, summer and fall were agreeable for this morning occupation but winters were either cold or rainy. The ten dollars or so a week would be earned at a price of early morning comfort. On our way home, Don and I discussed the certain shortage of family funds in the immediate future. The sale of these morning papers would provide the only opportunity to earn something for ourselves.
With breathless enthusiasm, we approached the folks with our proposal. Dad could find no reason for turning down the opening but Mom, quite correctly, wondered how these early hours would affect our schoolwork in September. As it turned out, this anxiety was unwarranted. The next two years clearly indicated we could sell papers in the early morning and still score well in school.
Returning to Bill’s lunchroom–the closest telephone–we called the Examiner distributor for the Inglewood-Hawthorne area. Mr. Dawson himself answered the phone in his combination real estate office and paper distributor. The end of the car line was a busy area for the sale of morning papers and he wanted to know more about us. In a matter of an hour or two, Mr. Dawson parked his maroon Marmon auto in our front yard.
We rushed out to talk to him in his auto so as to avoid asking him into our rickety house. Then and later, Dawson proved to be a kind and considerate man with a delicate appearance as well as manner. He spoke softly with great sincerity. The whole Dawson family were Inglewood Realtors and were held in much respect by the northern community.
The following morning, he assured us, he would recommend us to the Times distributor in Inglewood and finalize our arrangement with both papers. Don and I would soon be starting our first jobs after less than a week in Hawthorne.
For the next 50 years, I don’t believe either of us was unemployed for very long. Our friendship with the Dawsons developed into a pleasant association for a lifetime.
As newsboys, we prospered within the usual limitations of the occupation and were able to purchase articles of school clothing as well as pocket money. Mr. Dawson proved most generous in his commissions and our inate Scottish tendancy to treat money with inordinate respect served us well.
Working on this important corner in the summer of 1923 provided an unanticipated element of reward which has remained locked within me for more than 63 years. Hawthorne and its memories became an inseparable part of my adult life. Even today, it holds an unexplainable magnet on my thoughts and emotions. Time seems to have failed in tarnishing either.
But back to 1923 and early morning tasks as newsboys. One afternoon, the distributor for the Los Angeles Express and the Los Angeles Record contacted us and asked if we would like to sell their papers at the same location but in the afternoon. Since it sounded like a little extra money, we agreed but soon discovered neither the Express or the Record were much in demand at the end of the car line. Still, there were some sales which made the undertaking at least marginal. Without knowing it at the time, however, the experience was far more valuable from an entirely different viewpoint.
We were now spending much of our time in the very nerve center of the little village which, one day, would be home to nearly sixty thousand scurrying people. We were destined to be part of the city’s history for the next half century. Always sensitive and reflective, I would live to remember both the city’s development and the domestic structures of those early families who called Hawthorne home in the fullest sense of the word.
Things at home had settled into what could be called a truce with our primitive surroundings. Before the beginning of school, the landlord had replaced the privy with a cesspool and city water had been connected to the house. On the matter of repainting, however, he drew the line. With few houses available, we kept our complaints in the form of suggestions, some of which he agreed; others he ignored.
One morning in early September 1923, we sauntered through the vacant lots in the direction of Ballona Street, the location of our school. There seemed to be two Ballona Schools. One was an older wooden structure which faced on Washington Boulevard. The other was of much later vintage and faced more firmly on Ballona (El Segundo Boulevard). The yellow building appeared new in comparison to the wooden structure on Washington. Ironically, following a massive earthquake in 1933, the new building collapsed while the old wooden school stood firm until it was mismantled by volunteer workers from the Hawthorne Kiwanis Club in about 1955.
We soon learned the school was well staffed and open for enrollment. Miss Hall, the principal was comfortably seated in her office at the entrance of the building. I can still recall her new, red Overland touring car parked near the flagpole. Certainly not like our old Paige, rusting away in front of our sickly green dwelling near the pool hall.
Alma, Don and I presented her with a problem she had never experienced. We were immigrants with education formed upon the British principle which differed considerably. I could sense the young principal felt uncomfortable with this new situation. Miss Woodward, Miss Merrit and Miss McClain were sent for in an effort to determine in which class level each of us belonged. After answering a series of lengthy questions relating to elementary education, we were all assigned to different rooms. Miss Merrit, a kind but strict disciplinarian was to be my teacher when school began in a few days.
On the way home, it occurred to me I knew neither the American Pledge of Allegiance or the Star Spangled Banner. Even worse, the kids at the school were sure to notice our peculiar accent. Don and I both correctly anticipated a few fisticuffs might be in order should the necessity arise. In any event, there was little we could do but remain friendly with the other students at Ballona School. Across from the school, a small store offered candy items of interest to all kids. The friendly O.K. Market remained on that corner for countless years. Only a few years ago it disappeared from sight and probably met the fate of all old buildings.
We hurried home to tell Mom of our enrollment which had been troubling her. Mom was a consistent worrier which probably accounted for her untimely demise at the age of 56. I could see her face lose its heavy concern as we related the events of the day. Sharing my inherited hypersensitivity, Mom gave me a big hug and smiled. Morn was indeed the possessor of a keen mind encased in an emotionally unstable body.
Not much time affordable to emotion and conjecture, however. The papers were now down at the corner and we sprinted the hundred yards to the end of the line. By this time we had become friends with many people operating businesses at the end of the 5 car line.
CENTINELA VALLEY–WHERE IS IT!
From those tender days as a newsboy until now, I am never–with any authority–able to outline Centinela Valley; where does it begin and where does it terminate’; It would be nearly impossible, however, to understand life in early Hawthorne without at least a little knowledge about this important segment of Los Angeles County which was eventually to be home for several hundred thousand residents.
Historically, of course, the Valley probably acquired its title from the free flowing water springs located in Inglewood’s Centinela Park. Since the Centinela springs were limited in nature and probably provided only enough water for the settlement of Inglewood itself, it is unlikely the name was ever intended to cover the vast area which assumed the colorful but meaningless title of Centinela Valley.
As a matter of geographical fact, Centinela Valley is not really a valley at all but rather a semi-flat plain stretching roughly from the Baldwin Hills on the north to Palos Verde Hills on the south. Perhaps the low lying sand hills near El Segundo provide just enough elevation to furnish a definition of a western rim to the non-existent valley. On the east, all the area west of Western Avenue falls gently to a lower elevation, giving the vague outlines of a valley below. While this description is indeed sketchy, it is about as good as any I have encountered.
In order for the present generation to understand life in Hawthorne during the somulent 1920s, a description of life in the entire Centinela Valley is indispensible. Essentially, most of the land mass west of Western Avenue to the Pacific was devoted to some form of agriculture.
Inglewood–on the north–was the largest settlement in the Valley and most important from the standpoint of goods and services. Its proximity to Los Angeles provided Inglewood with a better financial base than any of the settlements in Centinela Valley.
In spite of its comparative affluence, however, Inglewood continued to boast of itself as a rich agricultural community which indeed it was.
At the extreme southern portion of the Valley, the Palos Verde Hills stood boldly out in the summer sun. Essentially, only the Palos Verde Village near the beach was populated. The surrounding hills were given over to cattle raising. The balance of the rugged hills were filled with wildlife of every description.
Cities such as Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo were merely vacation retreats and of little economic importance to the surrounding area. On the other hand, El Segundo was a sturdy economy to itself since Standard Oil had established a wealth-producing refinery in that city in 1903. Torrance, with its stand of derricks produced modest quantities of crude oil which kept the community alive.
Photos taken from low flying planes in 1920 indicated little in the way of development between San Pedro and Inglewood which then hosted a population of 12,000 in 1919. In these old pictures, Hawthorne appears as a little village surrounded by endless fields of barley and beans. Lawndale was composed of small farms mixed with a few scattered business houses along unimproved Hawthorne Boulevard.
Lennox, to the south, was constantly plagued by the misfortune of being the low spot in the valley. In heavy rains of winter, only the 5 Car could negotiate the passage to Inglewood due to flooding. The area near Hawthorne Boulevard and 111th Street was often under 3 feet of water. The Yellow Car Line took this meteorological reality into consideration when constructing the trolley tracks through Lennox.
Hawthorne, of course, was not immune from the ravages of these occasional floods. I have some old family pictures of Don and me rafting on the flood waters on Broadway, just west of the intersection with Hawthorne Boulevard. While these occasions proved painful to merchants, busily stacking merchandise off the floor in their stores, we kids found these conditions a mixed blessing.
Quite understandably, for the present residents of booming Hawthorne, reconstructing what the economic and social life entailed in the unhurried years of the 1920s is probably a futile undertaking. Nevertheless, to commprehend the present Hawthorne and its importance to the national security and well being, at least a cursory peek into the city’s past is imperative. With the natural attrition of time, those of us who recall those early days of city formation shrink with the passing of each year. With this thought uppermost in mind, I put these recollections into this printed journal for those who will come after us.
As I stood on the corner of Hawthorne Broadway as a newsboy, Hawthorne’s economy was based on three distinct areas of activity. The town’s business community was not only limited in size, it provided little employment outside the owner’s family. Still, the earnings of these business establishments provided the area with goods and services which helped support the struggling town.
On the other hand, quite a number of business firms in Inglewood employed Hawthorne residents in their numerous banks and stores. It should be kept well in mind; Inglewood ~ the mercantile center of Centinela Valley and remained so almost till the outbreak of World War II. Lennox and Lawndale remained unincorporated and lagged far behind the rest of the valley as commercial centers.
With the ready availability of an excellent trolley system, however, many of Hawthorne’s early residents commuted daily to well-paying jobs in Los Angeles and vicinity. My dear father could be numbered among these commuters. Besides the ever-present 5 Car Line and the Pacific Electric, nearly all parts of Lo~ Angeles’ business and industrial areas were easily reached.
Some Hawthorne residents took employment with Standard Oil in El Segundo and commuted on the little red street car which left Hawthorne every hour for the beach community.
From the above account of economic life in early 1920s, one might mistakenly assume Hawthorne has always been, more or less, a bedroom community with its economic base formed by employment outside the city. While, up to a point, this assumption is valid, Hawthorne remained for decades an agricultural community with probably as much as one half its gross product coming from surrounding I fields.
West of the city, farmland unfolded as far as the eye could see. Nothing but a few farm houses and barns lay between Hawthorne and the Pacific.
Adolph Leuzinger (Leuzinger High), lived on a farm located on the corner of El Segundo and Redondo Boulevard (Aviation) and cultivated beans and barley on three sections of land he either owned or leased. Like a fearless sentinel of the past, the old Leuzinger home remained intact until replaced with a 20-story office complex in 1984. On the west side of Aviation at El Segundo, the Bennet Brothers took over and planted productive crops on more than four complete sections of farmland, most of which they owned. The present Los Angeles International Airport was then part of Bennet holdings.
Within the sparsely settled city of Hawthorne itself, dairies and poultry farms were an important source of income. Some will still remember Walt Berkheiser and his huge dairy near Prairie Avenue. Until many years after World War II, the Peterson Dairy continued to operate on Compton Boulevard near Hawthorne Boulevard. Many of the early settlers in the Hawthorne-Lawndale area sent cattle and pigs to several small packing houses where the May Company now stands. Here the meat was processed, often smoked in smoke houses and made ready for farmers from outlying areas.
Poultry, of course, was one of the mainstays in Hawthorne’s early economy.
Along with Lennox, the area had the reputation of Southern California’s Petaluma, which was then the designated egg capital of Northern California. The Slinack Egg Ranch on the corner of Inglewood and Bellvue was probably the largest in the area. Each week, more than 10,000 candled eggs were shipped to the wholesale markets on south Spring Street in Los Angeles. Since Slinacks owned about 20 acres on the corner, much of the green feed was grown on their own land. There were many other egg ranches in the area which rivaled Slinacks in production.
HAWTHORNE’S JAPANESE FARMERS–
HOW DID THEY PERFORM A MIRACLE
No one seems certain as to when the Japanese immigrants came to the Centinela Valley for the purpose of making California home. By the time we reached Hawthorne, they were already here and well established in the community. As a new immigrant to this country myself, I brought little prejudice with me. I remember distinctly some of the Caucasians of the Valley muttered disparaging views regarding “Orientals.” One should remember certain laws prevailed in the earlier part of this century which forbade Orientals to own land in America. From these absurd restrictions, perhaps, the Caucasians assumed a superior posture over the hard-working Japanese.
With a limited knowledge of English, the Japanese remained pretty much to themselves. Most attended modest Buddist Temples and continued to encourage their children to use Japanese at home. This only added to further isolation of the Japanese community from the social life of early Hawthorne.
Even in school, the Japanese students seemed to congregate among themmselves with little attempt to mix with the Caucasians. It is easier to compreehend this social separation when one considers the revealing fact some of these Japanese students were born in Japan and came to America with their parents. With Japanese spoken at home, learning the intricacies of English in school presented special problems. Within a generation, however, these often-despised “Orientals” not only had mastered the English language, they were walking off with special awards at graduation. One Japanese student by the name of Masao Osiki spent many hours instructing me in the elementary use of Japanese. I mastered every sentence only to learn from the Japanese girls in my class I was spouting hideous profanity, not fit for the ears of our Japanese coeds. Masao, indeed, possessed a lively sense of humor.
Incidently, despite the passage of 63 years, I can still recite these offensive phrases without difficulty.
Quite naturally, by employing native intelligence with persevering desire to learn and improve their lot, the next generation of Japanese contained many who excelled in such matters as law, medicine and dentistry. For reasons not fully understood, as the well-educated Japanese set up an urban community, Gardena was the location of preference. However, the earlier generation of Japanese I remember as a youngster remained in agriculture in the Hawthornee-Lawndale area.
“Jap Gardens”–as we unkindly referred to them in the early 1920s–were in themselves small agricultural monuments to hard work and family sacrifice. While there is no way one can determine the actual number of these garden plots that existed in the 1920s, there must have been more than a hundred. Since Orientals were forbidden to own land, all the parcels were leased from American owners. Anyone who has tried to manage the stubborn characteristics of adobe soil in Centinela Valley, even for the purpose of putting in a lawn, can attest to the difficulty of handling this same earth for agriculture.
The Bennets and the Leuizingers were dry farmers and could only see the adobe useful for field crops such as beans and barley. The immigrant farmers from Japan, however, saw the way to farm small plots of this adobe soil far more profitably. On plots of ground, seldom more than ten acres, these sturdy families accomplished a near miracle. By working nearly around the clock, the Japanese farmers produced valuable crops of vegetables for much of the metropolitan area of Los Angeles. This hard work and dedication also added to the economic total of Centinela Valley. Within a few years, the Japanese opened little vegetable stands along Cypress Avenue (Crenshaw). Many of us will remember the fine Jow family and their market in Lawndale.
In order to keep these meager plots producing the year around, water was always of critical importance. Since rainfall was missing for half of the year, the Japariese farmers saved every drop that fell. Using the natural tilt of the terrain, they constructed diked reservoirs capable of storing three or four feet of water. An ingenious idea, of course, which served
the farmer well.
Regrettably, during the hot summer months, we newsboys would wander over to Cypress Avenue and sneak into the reservoirs for a cooling swim. On most occasions the farmer was either out of sight or too busy to chase us off his property. Since we often ran around the dikes, the farmers would often charge in our direction cursing us in Japanese. We in turn would hurl the phrases we had carefully memorized from the mischievious Masoa Oshiki. In retrospection, what a callous disregard for these hard working Japanese farmers! Looking backward in mellow reflection, I’m certain these admirable small farmers could have done without our thoughtless intrusion marked by our departing profanity.
In the early 1920s, these Japanese gardens were far more numerous than I had once thought. Little roads led both north and south from Cypress Avenue leading to these small plots of ground. The houses were often little more than shelters, and other outbuildings were nearly nonexistent. I’m not at all certain they even had electricity in all of the dwellings.
In addition to the many plots running off Cypress, others were located in what is now Wiseburn. These gardens were reached by the same dusty roads but the operations were reached by dusty trails leading off Redondo Boulevard. On the other side of Redondo, the bean and barley field began.
For decades, these little Japanese communities continued to exist in a self-chosen form of separation from the mainstream of life in Centinela Valley. As time passed, some of the old Japanese customs began to lose their hold on the younger generation. When I arrived in the Valley, most marriages were still family arranged. The preservation of these customs served to further alienate the Occident and Orientals in the Valley. I never really knew why it should, however; the Japanese had been using this system of marriage for centuries and, for them at least, the arrangement worked well. In any event, the contribution these early Japanese farmers made to our local economy is impossible to overestimate.
Before closing this segment of memories of Hawthorne and the Japanese gardens, it would be unfitting to fail mentioning the Satow family and the flower business which has been a part of Hawthorne history almost from the beginning. Quite unlike the Japanese gardeners out on the adobe plots, the Satows developed a bustling carnation business from the beginning. As a tribute to the Satows, they remain to this day in almost the same location they began their business. No one could estimate how much the Satows have contributed to our local economy. To my lifetime friend, Hideo (Gibo) Satow, I send warm greetings. Centinela Valley owes the Satows a vote of thanks.
BACK TO MY NEWSSTAND
By mid-September, 1923, all we Robertson children were enrolled in Ballona Street School. No longer did we open the classroom with God Save the King as in Essex. Not surprisingly, the history was somewhat different from that which we learned in Canada. I found it difficult to understand my Scottish ancestors were the “heavies” in the War for Independence and some group called the “Minutemen” were the real heroes who defeated the British at Yorktown.
To make matters worse, we kids still displayed a slight accent which became a persistent source of mutual annoyance. Thanks to the natural forebearance of American kids, these differences soon became of little importance. On one occasion, I noted a tall youngster sitting dejectedly on the front step of the school. For some minor infraction he had been struck by his fourth grade teacher. Still smarting from the physiological results of this personal attack, he was in a laconic mood. His name? Richard Fraser.
Corporal punishment in school was not unusual in Canada but was always applied with the Principal present. Ballona School ~ the only place I had witnessed a teacher slapping a student in the classroom. Even worse, I discovered the practice was quite common at Ballona Street School. Even today, when the subject of harsh, classroom punishment comes up, I inevitably reflect back to those days when a noisy entry into classroom could result in an arbitrary slap on the face. In addition to the discomfort, I often think how many young minds were brutalized by merely being a witness to such punishment.
Our busy schedule which now included selling papers in the early morning, as well as the afternoon, left little time for mischief. Dad worked steadily in his new job but the pay remained little more than enough to meet the family’s basic needs. Our paper jobs provided brother Don and rnewith personal earnings which proved gratifying. In customary Scottish tradition, we contributed part of our earnings to the family’s well-being. As Christmas approached, we became well acquainted with the merchants at the end of the track. In the course of our jobs, we soon met the children of these businessmen who became our lifetime friends. Art Becker, the baker’s son helped at his father’s place of business–the Community Market.
Jack Ramage, son of the Ramage Drug store owner, was another of our early friends. In recent years, Jack moved to Bakersfield, California, but still owns real estate in Hawthorne. Like the rest of us, Jack lives in retirement which he has justly earned over the years.
Just east of the boulevard, Andersen’s Shoe Repair was a busy place.
In the Andersen establishment, I made a lifetime friendship. Larry Andersen, the owner’s son, was a few years older than me but this seemed to make little difference to Larry. In this sterling youngster I noted a calm and kind manner which affected everyone who knew him in his lifetime. In his adult years, he maintained generous in judgement and served his community well
as a school board member for more than 30 years. To many of us, Larry was synonymous with early Hawthorne, and his passing a few years ago left a jagged hole in our memories and emotions.
Next door to Andersen’s Shoe Repair was probably the most important building in town. Dave Rector operated the Hawthorne Theatre which was the center of entertainment. The theatre probably seated less than two hundred and, on most nights, the house was filled. On Saturday nights, Rector put on a stage event called COUNTRY STORE. On these nights, th~re was standing room only due to the nature of the special event which followed the picture.
COUNTRY STORE was the brainchild of an elderly actor who tired of the stage and decided to cover the outlying theatres of the Los Angeles area with an idea which proved highly successful from the beginning. Dressed as a “hick” farmer, he would dispense boxes of groceries to the holders of lucky numbers issued along with the price of admission. I became acquainted with this broken-down huckster who told me how he made the whole thing work.
First of all, the whole event cost Dave Rector nothing since Country Jack secured all the food and candy items from local merchants who received free commercial messages from the raucous Country Jack who employed the most elementary display of rude showmanship. With a community starved for some entertainment, Country Jack filled the bill. On one occasion, I traveled on the street car to another location where Jack put on the same routine in the Huntington Park Theatre with the same thunderous reception. Country Jack was a welcome visitor to the Hawthorne Theatre for many years. The merchants in each community paid Country Jack a small stipend for his service. Eugene Rector, son of Dave Rector was a frail and overprotected youngster. When away from his parents he could be jolly and good company. Gene was of considerable intellect and devoted most of his life to the engineering field where he received considerable notice. In time, Rector closed the Hawthorne Theatre and left the area.
For a few years the Hawthorne Theatre remained dark until new owners opened it as the Rex. Under either name, however, the arrival of a bigger theatre spelled doom for our old picture show and the obiquitous Country Jack. Dave Rector, years later, built the Lennox Theatre on the corner of Hawthorne and Lennox Boulevard. It is now used for the storage and sale
of used furniture. During his years in Hawthorne, Dave Rector proved a sterling citizen who willingly associated with a number of worthy causes.
TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME
In a small settlement such as Hawthorne, the early 1920s provided a limited assortmeat of public entertainment. Dave Rector changed the movie once a week at the show which remained closed on Sundays. While the radio had made a shaky appearance, the receivers consisted of oatmeal boxes encased in strands of copper wire and totally dependent upon a small piece of crystal called a galena. When the atmosphere was perfect, a semblance of sound could be received from Los Angeles.
For this and other reasons, Mr. Wise, owner of Wise Billiard Parlor had an idea which provided the whole community with exciting Sunday afternoons. Wise volunteered to organize a semi-professional baseball team which would perform at the local ballpark, which was centrally located on Grevilla, just south of the Pacific Electric tracks. The property was not a part of city holdings and no one even bothered to locate the owner to secure permission to install a very elementary ball park. No one would really object since the entire area was just a patch of weeds. In any event, the kids had been playing ball on this property for a number of years and no one seemed to raise objections. Mr. Wise seemed to have had a prior knowledge of professional baseball plus a great deal of energy and confidence. Wise prevailed upon local lumber dealers to supply just enough wood to construct minimal seating capacity. Even construction labor was donated and in a matter of a week or two, Hawthorne had a ball park. The field was unfenced which was of little importance since no admission was to be charged; at the end of each game, the hat was passed and the onlookers donated generously.
After a rump session at the Billiard Parlor, a name for the new team was chosen: THE HAWTHORNE MERCHANTS. Starting with himself as their first sponsor, Wise agreed to pay 10 dollars a week for some player to wear a shirt with his name on the back. Since a fair crowd of onlookers was anticipated, Wise had little difficulty in signing up other merchants on similar conditions. Even after this interlude of more than a half-century, I can still envision the ballplayers who wore such banners as Hawthorne Sash and Door on the back of their jerseys.
Far more than Wise had even anticipated, these Sunday afternoon games continued until the Great Depression of 1929. The Hawthorne Merchants drew a surprisingly gifted player list. Many had, at one time, been associated with Class A baseball organizations allover America. While the ten dollars meant little to the players, they loved the game and some stayed on the team for years. Quite wisely, no attempt was ever made to start a regular league with proper standing, etc. A series of opponents was determined as the season went along. Inglewood, of course, was on the list each year. The CCMO Oil Company of Torrance always fielded a team. No one kept the tiresome statistics such as batting averages or ERA. The game was an enjoyable Sunday afternoon for everyone–players as well as spectators.
With the improvised ballpark unused on Saturdays, we kids would choose up sides and occupy the diamond for the afternoon. One kid had a wicked curve ball which fascinated us 11-year-olds. While we kids remembered him a pitcher, thousands of others would some day make him Lieutenant Governor of California–Glenn Anderson.
Another youngster would drop by to join the fun. His mother and mine were friends and Ross was easy to know. His mother had a detestation of shortened nicknames and chose the name of Ross to avoid any such departure from his given name. With the unpredictable nature of kids, however, Ross failed to escape a nickname which is known in every town and hamlet where baseball is played. “Rosey” Gillhousen pitched for one of the major league teams but is better known for his lifetime scouting activities for such teams as the Angels and the Kansas City Royals. Ross lives in Rancho Mirage, and I see him seldom. Well past 70, Rosey has no intention of giving up his much-loved profession. I think of him with warm affection.
In addition to good baseball, these weekly games provided the community with a chance to stage get-together and exchange the news of the day. At the conclusion of the game, those from the outlying farms had a chance to talk crops, rain and other subjects of mutual interest. On some occasions, idle riding horses could be seen tied to trees while the riders watched the contest. Remember, Hawthorne had only been incorporated for less than a year and Lawndale had less than a thousand people and most of these scattered over a wide area. With Hawthorne nearing the 60,000 mark in 1986, it is difficult to imagine what the city and its community life was in the early 1920s when the population was just a little over 4,000. Unhurried placidity would be a fairly accurate description. Those of us who grew to adulthood in this atmosphere share a local affection which as remained with us over the intervening decades.
As New Years, 1924, neared–in typical Scottish fashion– we prepared for a nonsensical, “first-footing” custom which was supposed to bring good luck to the family in the ensuing year; if the first one entering our house after the stroke of twelve midnight was by nature, a lucky individual.
All such superstition aside, we had been most fortunate since leaving Essex in the summer of 1923. While we still longed for a bigger house to rent, we made do with what we had. Dad, a deeply religious man, offered the family prayer at bedtime that God would provide for his little brood with the necessities of life. While, at the time I doubted it, we had much to be thankful for. Pop’s job was steady and plus, what brother Don and I earned, we were never hungry. Only six months before, we were anxious immigrants entering a new country with a considerable difference in both social and political background. As a sensitive youngster, I wondered what the incoming year would bring.
Besides advancing another year in age by mid-January, I was now eligible for scout membership. For months I had anticipated this event since the scoutmaster lived three houses to the north of our home on Hawthorne Boulevard. His house sat well back on the lot and the yard was filled with graceful trees and shrubs. When I reached the required age, I approached Mr. Hartzell and inquired about membership in his troop. Come to think of it, I seem to recall the troop was #31 and could easily still be functioning in Hawthorne at this time.
In any event, Mr. Hartzell was one of those burly individuals with a kind and generous heart. As I talked to the scoutmaster on his long porch, I noticed, with a little envy, the large brown and white house in which he and his family lived. With the passage of time, I noticed he had a small son, much too young for scouting. The boy’s name, of course, was Robert who would one day be the now-retired Fire Chief for the city of Hawthorne. I wonder if Bob has any memories of these early days? Bob would eventually mature into almost the image of his Dad before him. Just as likeable, I might add.
Fortunately, I joined Hartzell’s troop just in time to join a vigorous paper drive which soon filled the Hartzell yard with messy piles of bundled papers. All of this, the scoutmaster took in good spirits. After disposing of the papers, we scouts went on a campout–in the vacant field behind Hawthorne Boulevard. A large family by the name of Nix lived next to the Hartzells, and the oldest of the Nix boys acted as an assistant to Mr. Hartzell. The advance preparations for this “daring” adventure were prodigious. We brought food enough for days even though the campout was only overnight. With the
usual youthful capacity for merriment, few got to sleep before eleven o’clock. The gentle Mr. Hartzell and Mr. Nix made countless moves to quiet us to no avail.
Always a light sleeper, around midnight, I peeked out from the tent. Mr. Hartzell, I discovered to my disappointment, was smoking a cigarette by the campfire. While our idol, the scoutmaster did not suddenly acquire feet of clay, he did present what he really was–a fine and mortal man. To his everlasting credit, Mr. Hartzell lectured to all of us about the moral values of life and even spoke against the use of tobacco. In later years, Bob, the son, indicated his father shortened his life by smoking cigarettes.
By noon the following day, the campout was over and we began taking down the tents for the long trip home–about a hundred yards. Before leaving for home, Mr. Hartzell asked a friend visiting the camp to say a few words to the departing scouts.
The visitor was introduced as a prominent insurance broker in town. Mr. Hartzell’s friend seemed uncomfortable thinking of something he could say which would be of interest to young scouts. With a disarming smile the visitor confided to us the difficulty in describing his line of business in a manner understandable to young listeners. I’m certain he had no idea, 62 years later, at least one of his audience would be able to recall his very accurate description of the insurance business: “Insurance simply makes a certainty of an uncertainty.” Even today, he could not improve upon this terse but intensively descriptive function of the insurance business. With a young memory, constructed like a card index, I never forgot.
THE YEAR 1924, A PERIOD OF CHANGE
At the end of the carline, we were able to keep up on the rumors which emminated from the nearby pool hall which seemed more accurate than statements coming from the city council. Early in the year, the story making the rounds seemed a little farfetched for a struggling community as Hawthorne. Nevertheless, the rumor persisted until no one could longer dispute a startling development. Hawthorne was soon to have its own daily newspaper.
Within weeks, a printing establishment took up a meager portion of the Professional Building, as we called it. With some curiosity, we entered the building and met a young man who was to be the owner of the enterprise. I have forgotten his name but he indicated he was the editor of the paper which was to be called the DAILY LEADER. Printing was to begin in a couple of weeks and he was looking for boys to carry papers routed to home delivery.
Since the paper was to come out early, I decided to take one of the short routes in order to be back on my corner when the Record and the Express came out from Los Angeles on the street car. At best, the editor’s judgement was badly in need of honing. With a scattered population of less than 5,000, Hawthorne was hardly ready for a daily newspaper. Even a weekly edition would have placed a severe strain on the limited resources of the editor. Still, hope in the human heart is not easily diminished by initial disappointments. I made my daily deliveries but my route never got beyond 35 subscribers.
It wasn’t profitable to make these deliveries but since the owner seemed in such dire circumstances, I remained on the route.
Sensing approaching failure, the editor sold a part interest in the venture to one of the most remarkable men I ever knew. While the editor and now part-owner handled the publishing, Ben Arrid, the newcomer, took over the rest. The somewhat prosaic Daily Leader seemed to come alive.
Subscribers began to notice the brilliant changes in both the editorials as well as quality of the news itself. I, too, became fascinated by this remarkable man. I, along with many others, wondered why a brilliant mind such as possessed by Ben Arrid would settle for the limited challenges of a doomed newspaper in an out of the way village such as Hawthorne.
Ben Arrid must have been in his late thirties or early fortys. Ruddy in complexion with sandy hair, he never seemed to be without a cigarette between his lips. In spite of his relative youth, he walked in a slightly stooped position as if suffering from spinal problems. In conversation, he was delightfully witty and unmistakably cerebral. This, indeed, was no ordinary man. He rarely spoke of his wife and children who lived in Los Angeles. Working hours seemed to be without meaning to him. He would work around the clock in an effort to find ways to stabilize the faltering Daily Leader.
On my way home from my corner, I would occasionally stop at the Leader office and talk to the ever-present Arrid. In spite of prohibition, Arrid never seemed without a bottle of whiskey hidden within arms length. More than once, I witnessed Arrid with a little too much to drink. This, I suggested to myself, might account for the presence of such a gifted writer in our
little town. In any event, he pleased the community with antecedents to which they could relate. His columns were works of literary art but his background remained a mystery.
Even with Arrid’s brilliance and the editor’s best professional effort, however, failure was inevitable. Arrid left first and the original owner closed the publication after a short history of about six months. In a couple of years, Arrid’s columns were syndicated and appeared in the Los Angeles Express. I later discovered Arrid had had quite a newspaper career before coming to Hawthorne. Drink had apparently been his constant companion which accounted for his obscurity and absence of public acclaim. Not altogether a unique weakness in the lives of newspapermen.
Surprisingly, most of Hawthorne’s old-timers have no recollection of either the Daily Leader, the editor, or even the gifted Ben Arrid. It would be disappointing, indeed, if some copies of this early newspaper were not preserved by local historians. For a number of intervening years, Hawthorne was without a local paper of any kind.
With considerably reduced expectations, Dave Garrison began publishing the Hawthorne Advertiser in the early 1930s. In reality, Dave’s paper was more a shopping news than a regular paper. Published on a weekly basis, the Shopping News continued in Garrison’s management until purchased by the Whitebrooks who added an editorial feature of considerable political slant. Under the management of the Whitebrooks, the throw-away shopping news began to exert unfortunate political influence in the Hawthorne area. With the death of Dave Whitebrook, the weekly publication became hopelessly mired in dispensing a hysterical liberality which most readers found offensive. The Hawthorne Press is no longer published. No one seems to miss it.
PAVED STREETS !!!??
In early 1924, Ben Arrid of the Daily Leader had published a rumor which had persisted for several months. All the streets of our little Hawthorne were to receive genuine, asphalt paving. Since the city had neither curbs or sidewalks, paved streets appeared to be a little premature, if indeed, the city council had any such plans. Most of the earth gutters were weeddclogged during the summer months. Once a year, a team and driver would drag the edge of the road so winter rains would run off without flooding the surrounding houses. But paving? Surely someone must be joking.
But before long, light poles carried notices of the council’s intention. First, curbs and sidewalks would be installed with actual paving to be completed over a period of a year. According to the posters, the contract had already been awarded to the Oswald Paving Company who would proceed at once with engineering plans for curbs and sidewalks. The Broadway Circle and Broadway leading to the east was heavy with long grass and gutter weeds. The Oswald Family had their work cut out for them.
With the present generation accustomed to the roar of dozers and trucks on big paving projects, the Oswald efforts in 1924 would come as quite a time shock. First of all, modern machinery was not employed. As the survey of each street was completed, workers applied shovels to excavate both the sidewalks and the curbs. The surplus earth was stacked on the edge of the street to be removed later by mules pulling dump wagons.
Still later, concrete mixers–hand fed–began the monumental job of filling the forms with cement. These massive mixers included a lift-up mixing structure which was raised to dump the proper mixture into the slowly turning drum. These containers, of course, were filled by hand labor. No ready-mixed trucks on this job. In spite of these primitive efforts, however, the job moved along with surprising speed.
The Oswald Company, with admirable foresight, had not underestimated the dimension of this vast project. Even today, the paving of all the streets in Hawthorne would present a sizeable task. In 1924, with modern paving machinery still far in the future, the undertaking was indeed formidable.
One afternoon, with boyish curiosity, I wandered west on Broadway where a young man from the Oswald Paving Company was holding a conference regarding the street project. In the course of the conversation, I learned this youth was one of the Oswald family and would be in charge of the project. As I listened with wide-eyed curiosity, Oswald began outlining the massive preparation for the actJal paving itself. All of the other men in the group appeared already aware of the total plan which sounded awesome.
Where the French Brothers Ready-Mixed Company now stands, an asphalt mixing unit would be constructed almost from scratch. The gravel would be delivered by the train load from the adjacent Pacific Electric Railway and the oils would come in a similar manner from the Standard Oil Refinery in El Segundo. The actual mixing process would take place on Broadway, between Inglewood Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard. Inglewood Avenue, however, was not to be paved for reasons which remain obscure.
Across Broadway from the mixing operation, the young man pointed out, a large corral would be built to hold several hundred mules which would pull dozens of dump wagons filled with the finished product–hot asphalt. At this point, I made a mental note to tell an uncle who had just arrived from Essex about the possibility of obtaining the night job of caring for the mules. Animals were his calling and he would be right at home with the task of providing care for the idle mules during the night.
I was soon proved correct on both points; Uncle Ed not only got the job but remained with Oswald until the project was completed. Oswald treated the mules with kindness and often put some out of service when they appeared overly tired. Uncle Ed was well-trained in the care of horses and mules and treated animals with collar sores with special salve.
By the summer of 1924, the paving project was at full speed. From morning to dark, the odor of hot asphalt permeated the city. A never-ending line of mules and red dump wagons criss-crossed the town. The carts would back down the streets and dump their hot cargo while men with special attachments for their shoes spread the mixture between the curbs with long rakes and paddles. With hissing sounds like live animals, steam rollers packed the paving in a precise fashion.
By the end of the year, the Oswald Company had kept the faith and finished the job. Hawthorne would never be quite the same. Since the total contract wesprobably the result of public bonding, I often wonder how these bonds servi~€d the financial holocaust of the Great Depression–only five years away. In 1924, financial depression, of course, was the furthest thing from the minds of city fathers.
For years, the old asphalt mixing structure remained on Broadway, making an attractive roosting place for pigeons.
MEDICINE COMES TO HAWTHORNE
Health care in Hawthorne–prior to 1924–was, at best, an uncertain commodity. The only doctor I can recall was the physician on the corner of Hawthorne and Broadway. Since we as a family did not require medical services at that time, we depended on Ramage-Hendersen Drug store for first aid supplies. If, indeed, we had need of a doctor, we would have been hard pressed to pay for one.
In late 1923 or early 1924, I seem to recall, two youngsters opened an office in Hawthorne in the professional building and hung out a shingleDr. Leo Fate and brother John Fate, M.D.s. Leo would remain in Hawthorne for his professional life while his brother John finally settled in Inglewood where he opened his own practice. Where Hawthorne was without a doctor,
now we had two. Our little town was additionally blessed since both young doctors had received excellent training in a highly regarded medical school. I seem to remember one of the newcomers was married shortly after arriving in Hawthorne.
Before we arrived in Hawthorne, a young dentist by the name of Russell had opened his practice in the same professional building as the Fate Brothers. Dr. Russell, like Leo Fate, spent nearly all his working years in Hawthorne. Over the years, I became well acquainted with Dr. Russell and found him a qualified but somewhat morose man who wished he had chosen a different profession. Dental techniques in 1924, of course, were somewhat primitive compared to those now employed in modern dentistry. While “painless” applied in the extraction of teeth, other dental corrections were made without the use of novacaine. In any event, Russell served the community well and died many years ago from wide-spread malignancy.
During these early years of Hawthorne, the city was entirely without a hospital, which necessitated moving injured individuals to facilities in Inglewood. Even in that city, the hospital was small and lacked equipment to deal with the seriously ill. In early 1924, someone attempted to establish at least an emergency treatment center near the end of the car trac~ On Broadway, just west of Hawthorne Boulevard, a large red, two story house sat well back from Broa~y on the south side of the street.
The house had been there for many years but seldom appeared occupied. From its proximity to the lumber yard behind, I had always assumed it oriiginally served as a residence for whoever built the Hawthorne Lumber Company. The owner of the makeshift hospital lived on the upper floor and the patients occupied the lower floor. While this new arrangement, at best, was marginal, at least Hawthorne had some care for the sick and injured. Not long after this facility opened a fellow newsboy was struck by a passing motorist, a broken leg resulting. In minutes the injured boy was in the hospital and the leg placed in a cast.
In those days, it was common sight to see Leo Fate making the rounds with his little brown bag–making house calls. Yes, house calls were the order of the day and most medicine was practiced in the family home. Office calls were the exception, rather than the rule. With the residents of Hawthorne struggling to keep heads above water, it is quite likely the admirable Fate often failed to receive professional compensation.
Knowing Leo for nearly a half century, I doubt this lack of renumeration ever played a leading role in the decisions Dr. Fate made regarding the welfare of those he served so admirably over the years. It is warming to know, at this writing, Leo and his wife are living in retirement in Laguna Hills, California.
With John Fate now practicing in Inglewood, Leo had all of Hawthorne and Lawndale on his hands as well as some patients from Lennox. Perhaps the dimension of the problem was not so great when one remembers Hawthorne had less than 5,000 residents in 1924. Lennox, of course, had somewhat less. Still, it presented a challenge to the young physician.
In a few years, Leo Fate was joined by another young doctor who also saw the possibilities of profitable practice in the budding town of Hawthorne. Dr. Roberts eventually occupied a modest, cream colored building on the east corner of Hawthorne and 122nd Street. Many of the long-time residents of Hawthorne will remember Dr. Roberts with real affection. His office building remained on the Boulevard until the construction of the Hawthorne Mall, a generation later. I have no way of knowing if Dr. Roberts survives but, if memory serves, he passed away some years ago.
In any event, with two well-trained physicians in our town, plus a makeeshift hospital, we had made some progress in the field of health care. Before long, however, a young woman by the name of Dawes began to agitate for a proper hospital in Hawthorne. A person of real persistance, Mrs. Dawes began to push for a Hawthorne Hospital of acceptable dimensions. The converted house on Broadway had serviced as an interim facility but fell far short of what was required if proper hospital care was to be provided in our community.
A rambling structure on the corner of 118th and Grevilleas caught her attention. For the benefit of the present generation, this modest building was to eventually become the mammoth Robert Kennedy Medical Center with hundreds of rooms and vast surgical facilities. Mrs. Dawes, the original driving force behind this development, of course, has long since passed to her reward. Hawthorne will always owe this dynamic woman an unspoken word of thanks.
Many years later, both my children would be born in the Hawthorne Hospital, as it was eventually named. In the mid-thirties, Mrs. Dawes was still in control of the facility which owed its existence to the tireless Dawes.
MORE EARLY LIFE
Dad’s job remained steady during the somulent 1920s and the family stayed with the little house on the Boulevard. Our neighbor to the north was a frail but durable woman of 90 who insisted on doing the lighter yard work herself. Mrs. Cowan had had an interesting life filled with stories which fascinated me for a lifetime.
Mrs. Cowan’s husband, considerably older than his wife, had been a Union Officer during the Civil War. The elderly lady had photos and files which had been out of print for at least a generation. From her vivid description of life during the War, I developed an interest in Civil War history which has been with me all my adult life. As my obvious interest expanded, the elderly woman opened still more cloth-bound records of the conflict. In later years, I would visit many of the battle scenes involving her late husband who died not long after the turn of the century. On the ancient piano, a picture of the dashing officer was well displayed for the benefit of visitors. For me, a boy of 12, every’ time I entered her home I felt as if I had stepped back a half century.
Of course, Mr. Hartzell and his troop 31 were high on my list of interests.
On occasion, we would take the 5 Car to Eagle Rock and proceed on hikes in the direction of Mount Lowe which was at that time, quite an expedition. Before leaving for one such hike, Mr. Hartzell called us together to make an important announcement. It seems the troop now had a “disabled” youngster among its membership who would require special consideration on hikes due to an asthmatic condition. In order not to embarrass the boy, Mr. Hartzell ask him to remain on the porch of the Hartzell house while we were made acquainted with the size of the problem. According to the solemn scoutmaster, the “afflicted” scout was named Joe Chidester whose father operated a gas station on Hawthorne Boulevard near Rosecrans. Taking a second look at Joe, I was convinced Mr. Hartzell was justified in making special rest periods for the “delicate” Joe Chidester. Of course, Joe Chidester not only survived scouting, he went on to live a long and useful life. In later years, Joe and I would joke about his ailment which called for special consideration back in the 1920s. Asthma, by no means, should be taken lightly and no undue levity about the disease is intended. While Joe is no longer with us, his sister, Ruth Chidester Matta now lives in retirement in her home on Washington near the old Ballona Street School.
Truly one of Hawthorne’s pioneer residents, “Ruthie” Chidester Matta deserves more than casual mention. Graduating from the high school district in 1927, Ruth took a position in the office of the school district the following year. Her retirement dinner, more than forty years later, was a celebrated occasion. In the interum of these four decades, Ruth served in many capacities, none of which were of more importance than her position as secretary to the board of trustees. Having been a member of this same board for 19 years, I can only note with warm feelings the many times Ruthie moderated difficult situations by her very presence.
But back to 1924 and the exciting events of Mr. Hartzell’s Boy Scout Troop #31. Due to the press of personal affairs, Mr. Hartzell was forced to relinquish his association with scouting. With his usual kindness, however, Mr. Hartzell permitted the troop the use of his spacious yard for meetings and paper drives. Within a few weeks, another scoutmaster was secured who would also leave a lasting impression upon the boys of Hawthorne.
Assembling the scouts in the empty land behind his home on the Boulevard, Mr. Hartzell introduced our new leader. I noticed he was slim, short in stature and nearly young enough to be a scout himself. Obviously ill at ease at the prospect of controlling a group of scouts, some not much younger than himself, his discomfort was obvious. I wondered if the other scouts noticed these peculiarities of our new leader. As future events do disclose, this young scoutmaster was a real man in every respect.
Mr. Ballantyne spoke in a rapid manner and often gestulated to make a particular point. In any event, if any doubts lingered regarding Mr. Ballantyne, they were dispelled when he defeated all the scoutmasters in a swimming contest during a scout rally held in Griffith Park. Troop 31 stood at pools ide and cheered as Mr. Ballantyne outdistanced his opponents. Mr. Ballantyne was the older brother of the late George Ballantyne who lived much of his life in Hawthorne. Mr. Ballantyne went on to employment in Hawthorne’s post office.
Even with new streets and sidewalks, growth in Hawthorne remained sluggish compared to Inglewood which remained the commercial center of Centinela Valley. The house which was once owned by the departed doctor was moved and a new drug store was constructed on the northwest corner of Broadway and Hawthorne. This new structure was also large enough for Newman to expand the grocery operation.
New growth notwithstanding, the pool hall and Bill’s lunch room remained the principle gathering place during long summer evenings. Brother Don and I kept one stack of newspapers in front of Bill’s and the other across the street where the trolly was changed for the return trip to Eagle Rock. Business was always brisk but seldom enough to prevent us from the usual unappreciated antics of youngsters. In our case, we would await the completed stop of the street car at which time we would race to the trolly rope and disengage it from the power line. By this time we were well acquainted with most conductors and motormen but few considered our efforts helpful.
One summer night, our household had just gone to bed when we could see reflected blaze of fire corning from the direction of Broadway. Hastily dressing, we soon discovered the whole town seemed headed for Bill’s Lunchroom which, by this time, was ablaze. As we rushed down the Boulevard to Bill’s ill-fated establishment, I brushed against the gum machine in front of the Community Market with disastrous results; the gum was in the form of balls and the container was made of glass. Even the attraction of a local fire failed to stem the flood of youngsters scurrying to retrieve the free gum balls now cascading along the sidewalk. I was among them.
Of course, the volunteer fire department could do little to save Bill’s. Since the Lunchroom was opened day and night, it seemed difficult to account for the unanticipated incident of total destruction by fire. The cook merely said the fire started on the stove and containment was impossible. For some time, we thought we would be without Bill’s which, by now, was a real landmark.
On this score we had little to worry about. Within weeks, the old debris had been removed and a new lunchroom erected in the same location. I recall there was some dispute at the time of reconstruction as to the real owner of the land. Some said it belonged to the Los Angeles Street Railway while others insisted it was on city property. Many years later, when all of the Boulevard was widened and paved, it appeared Bill’s was on disputed land and the widening of the Boulevard was delayed by a clouded title. I never met the original Bill, if indeed, there was such a person.
Few people in early Hawthorne received more well-deserved affection than Mr. and Mrs. Black. The Blacks owned and operated the popcorn and candy conncession next to the Hawthorne Theatre. Both were well along in years but consistantly rejected the idea of retirement. Their whole operation was ~ picture taken out of the mid-nineteenth century.
Outside their establishment, a popcorn machine, complete with whistle, was anchored from early morning to An hour after the evening performance at the theatre. Inside, candy and magazines along with an array of bottled pop were available. Black wore a black stocking-like cover over his spotless white shirt sleeves. Mrs. Black supplemented her husband’s appearance by dressing in long skirts and chin-high blouses.
A laconic individual, Mr. Black had little to say and volunteered little in the way of personal background. One summer, I agreed to sell his wares at ballgames on Sunday afternoons. It proved a profitable venture and I held this job, along with newspapers, until 1926. The Blacks were considerate and honest in their dealings. Time, of course, moves on, often taking along pleasant associations. When the Hawthorne Theatre closed for a year or two, Mr. and Mrs. Black disappeared and when the show reopened as the Rex, times had changed and Black’s little operation would have been out of place. In any event, they still hold a special place among my pleasant memories of the past.
Across the foyer from the Blacks, in the Rector Building, the town marshal kept an office. This was always a mystery to me; since Hawthorne was incorporated in 1922 why would the services of a marshal be required? The marshal acted alone since his duties seldom required assistance.
On one occasion, the marshal somberly assembled members of the police department to assist in the removal of a band of Gypsies who had taken up residence in their wagon near the corner of Rosecrans and Cypress (Crenshaw). At the time, I timorously inquired what the Gypsies had done which called for such a show of force. I was gratuiously informed by the belligerent marshal that some day I would become acquainted with the nefarious practices of Gypsy tribes. Strangely, even to this day, I can still see the marshal’s Pierce Arrow, filled with men holding weapons as if going into war. Prejudices, needless to say, are not just a product of recent years. Avoiding dispute, the Gypsies hitched up their teams and moved peacefully, south near the base of Palos Verdes Hills.
In the mid 1920s, an exciting event took place in Hawthorne which added both entertainment and culture to the area. A traveling troupe of actors were touring California staging plays and musicals within the confines of a dilapitated canvas tent which they carried with them.
Reaching Hawthorne, they secured city permission to erect the huge tent on the west side of the Boulevard where American Savings now stands. Since the whole block, from El Segundo to the Jones Building, was just another patch of unruly weeds, where they placed the tent was of little importance. Besides, the troupe would only be in Hawthorne for a week before moving on to other more profitable regions. With the Hawthorne Theatre now closed, the city could well use the talents of these traveling actors and actresses. In front of the portable box office, the entertainers hung a small and prosaic sign:
To the surprise of everyone–especially Murphy’s Comedians–the opening was a gala affair and attracted full houses for the entire week. People were really excited about the excellent performances put on by this odd group of entertainers. With this thoroughly gratifying acceptance by the people of Centinela Valley, the “Comedians” decided to extend their stand in Hawthorne. The box office was enlarged and the opening to the tent reinforced with lumber to accomodate the crowds. The fire department insisted upon several new exits if the actors wished extending their engagement. To the delight of the area, instead of the original one week performance, Murphy’s remained in Hawthorne more than a year, using the original cast for nearly the entire stay. Oddly, most of the plays were not comedies.
Some of the cast moved to Hawthorne and became well-known by store owners on the Boulevard. Most, however, commuted on the 5 Car from their regular homes in Los Angeles. The young co,’ple playing most of the leads in the plays were man and wife. They rented a home in Hawthorne and became prominent residents.
Off the stage, they looked considerably different from the actors they were in the evenings. The man wore his hair in typical theatrical fashion. I used to calculate how long it must have taken him to style it in such a maggnificent manner each morning. Minus makeup, each looked considerably older than I had anticipated. In any event, the presence of Murphy’s Comedians in Hawthorne added much to our daily lives and interests.
The play was changed weekly and the conversation piece in our community often revolved around the coming attractions. As the year wore on, the emerging fire department became increasingly uneasy about the well-worn tent housing the performances. By this time, an arc light had been mounted on the Boulevard which could be seen from Inglewood and El Segundo. A lively, five piece orchestra was added to entertain the audiences before the play began.
To the disappointment of many, however, Murphy’s moved on and people began anticipating the grand opening of the Plaza Theatre on Plaza Square. At least one of the Murphy’s Comedians went on to fame of sorts playing the part of Mr. Peavy on radio and television. Perhaps some will remember both Mr. Peavy and the radio program.
The Plaza Theatre was associated with difficulties long before it was finished. Construction was started long before the Great Depression but strucctural questions suspended activities and the building remained in gaunt and unfinished condition for a number of years. Some thought the theatre should be dismantled and a new one constructed on the same excellent location. However, engineering prevailed and modifications were made which made the structure safe.
When young, time seems to drag along with dull events falling before our eyes. Of course, as we advanced in age, we beheld these happenings through different eyes. In 1926, Alma, our sister, graduated from Ballona Street School which now had a new principal by the name of Mr. Oscar Munson. Munson was afflicted with a spacity of hair and seemed to spend most of his time attempting to smooth the few remaining strands over his bald pate.
By this time, I had acquired a new teacher by the name of Miss Woodward who eventually proved an efficient despot with a real passion for American history. Receiving the first years of my education in Essex, I had been exposed to the British version of history involving the “Colonies.” Under Miss Woodward’s direction, I learned to live with the unpalatable fact the British had really been defeated in the American War for Independence. Even worse, I learned the British divisions at the Battle of New Orleans were made up of mostly Scottish units. Upon relating this incident of Scottish defeat in 1812, Dad was incredulous. I kindly reminded him I would graduate the following year and move on to history classes at Inglewood High. This was no time to raise a dispute over historical accuracy.
A pretty young teacher by the name of Miss Sherwood was added to the faculty in early 1926. Miss Sherwood had a delightful personality and an attractive face, amply covered with healthy freckles. We students all assumed the cute Miss Sherwood was probably just out of her teens. We were probably quite correct in this calculation.
Also on the faculty was another fairly new arrival by the name of Mr. Fritchie. In due time, it was obvious Mr. Fritchie had also discovered the charming Miss Sherwood. In 1926, we students were instructed to now address Miss Sherwood as Mrs. Fritchie.
The Fritchies loved Hawthorne and Mr. Fritchie worked his whole adult life at the old Ballona Street School. In later years he assumed the responnsibility for the district’s visual arts program. This handsome couple held the affection of the entire community for a lifetime. The last time I heard of the Fritchies they were living in retirement somewhere in San Fernando Valley. Reese Walton, retired Superintendent of Hawthorne Schools, would have more accurate knowledge regarding their whereabouts if, indeed, they are still living.
In recounting the scene at the end of the car line in the early days of Hawthorne, certain people come to mind with special appreciation. Just behind my paper rack near the bench, an older stake truck and its driver seemed a permanent fixture. Long before the days of special city licenses, this middle-aged man would appear early in the day and sit in his truck which bore a sign on each side, BRILEY TRANSFER.
On some days, it appeared he waited the whole day with profitless results. A man of quiet humor and unlimited patience, however, he would be back the following day, place the truck in the same position and await the call for moving service. Mr. Briley had children, one of whom was in my room–Nora Briley.
As years passed, Briley Transfer prospered and eventually the company owned two trucks which continued to operate from the end of the car line. Sometime over the years, I believe the whole operation was taken over by a larger company and Mr. Briley simply disappeared from his old stand in Hawthorne. Time has a way of altering the important along the mundane. Mr. Briley was far from mundane. He holds a pleasant place in my memory.
In 1926, real estate developers began to move into Southern California. The metropolitan newspapers began accepting wild and irresponsible ads advising newcomers to the Los Angeles area to get in on the “ground” floor before it was too late. I don’t know what the rush was all about since Los Angeles was less than a million in population and most of the surrounding vicinities were largely undeveloped.
Nevertheless, Hawthorne also became a target for land operators–principled and unprincipled. One get-rich-quick investor purchased most of the raw and unimproved land along Inglewood Avenue from between what is now 132nd Street and 136th. Inglewood Avenue was unpaved and barely passable in rainy weather. Still, with the use of horse-drawn road graders, the developer not only cleaned up Inglewood Avenue, but installed dirt streets running to the west. In all, the development probably included 80 acres which were all designated for “improveement” and sale.
Since it was in midsummer with little chance of rains turning his “streets” into quagmire, the lots bordering these dirt roads soon carried proper numbers indicating the property was to be sold in one acre parcels. With the usual flair of the hit-and-run developer of the day, a huge sign was installed on Inglewood Avenue near the development. Large and bold letters indicated this “paradise” was LIBERTY ACRES and promised the prospective buyer ownership in Southern California property at quite moderate cost.
The lot sale itself was scheduled for a certain weekend and Los Angeles papers dutifully carried the extravagant ads. On the day of the sale, a representative of the developers rounded up a group of us boys from downtown Hawthorne. ”Would we like to make a little money,”he inquired? The jobs? We were to take up position on Inglewood Avenue near the development and flag down passing motorists and advise them of the terrific real estate opportunity at Liberty Acres.
I went along with the offer but the prospect of anyone purchasing one of these unattractive acres seemed to me, at least, a venture into the foolhardy. Besides, the commission was less than magnificent; two dollars for each car we flagged which ultimately resulted in a purchase. Looking at the project from Inglewood Avenue, there was not a tree in sight and the ground was totally flat. There was nothing west of the project but the sand hills of EI Segundofour miles away. The hot sun sending heat waves cascading upward added to the stillness and desolation.
Despite my jaundiced opinion, some lots were sold and three of the boys collected a few dollars. These Liberty Acres sold for $1,500 a lot. Since each acre contained five or six lots, people who bought them and held on during the depression must have done nicely. In 1925, however, a purchase at any price must be indexed a reckless act.
Remember, these parcels had no lights, gas, or sewer, but water had been provided from a private source which constituted the sole public service available.
Quite remarkably, some modern day title searches still refer to these parcels as “Liberty Acres.” In retrospect, of course, an acre of land a few hundred feet west of modern Inglewood Avenue constitutes a small bonanza today. In those days the picture was quite different.
Within a few weekends, the sale was over with many parcels still unsold. The balance of the lots were placed in the hands of local realtors who continued to market them along with other vacant lots which still abounded in sleepy little Hawthorne. I can remember how the first storm of winter altered the look of the ill-fated Liberty Acres. Drainage undermined the road edges and soon all evidence of a street ceased to exist. Passage, of course, was out of the question until dryer weather returned. Keep in mind, Inglewood Avenue itself was only a dirt road with little plans for winter drainage.
By now, Brother Don and I had been in Ballona Street School for a couple of years and our field of friendships had enlarged until we knew most of the kids our age. Being on the corner as paper boys increased our contact with the youthful population.
Brother Donald developed a close friendship with the Baldo Brothers, Italo and Amerigo. Their father owned much of the land on the eastern slope of the Hawthorne hills behind where Thrifty Drug now stands. Mr. Baldo raised goats on these slopes but his main occupation seemed to be in building houses. Italo and Amerigo never married and now live in Lompoc, north of Santa Barbara. At nearly every school reunion, you can look for the Baldo Brothers.
Since Lawndale lagged behind Hawthorne in the matter of entertainment, many of the youngsters from that area drifted north to Hawthorne where things were becoming increasingly active. One such boy even overlooked Hawthorne and wound up at KMIC, the local radio station in Inglewood.
His whole family had corne out from an Ohio farm and settled in minimum housing provisions in Lawndale. The family name was Sly and there was quite a number of them. Along with most people in Lawndale in the mid 1920s, the Slys were poor and struggling to stay alive.
While frequenting the boxy room which served as the broadcasting facility of KMIC, Len Sly would occasionally be encouraged to pick up his guitar and fill in some dead time with a few cowboy songs. While KMIC had a limited broadcasting range, someone in the movie industry heard Len and decided he might have a talent they could use.
Of course, Len Sly underwent an immediate change of name and emerged as Roy Rogers and went on to fame as both an actor and singer. In the meanwhile, his family remained in Lawndale under the family name of Sly. His younger sister Kathleen married a Lawndale man by the name of Frank O’Dell. This couple remained in Lawndale until the death of Frank many years ago.
In Len’s autobiography, he dwells upon his farm experiences in Ohio with considerable detail. With elaborate detail, he attributes his love of animals to the Ohio farm which could easily be true. In no publication covering the life of Roy Rogers, however, will you find any mention of his dismal years as Len Sly in Lawndale. Those who knew him in his Lawndale years attest to the fact Roy still avoids any reference to Lawndale or to those who were acquainted with him during that period. Somehow, his image as a farm boy from Ohio fits publicity better than an unemployed youth hanging around KMIC in Inglewood. In all fairness to Len, however, he spared no expense to make his parents comfortable in their later years. In order to put an end to the Lawndale image which plagued him, however, he made it possible for the whole family to take up quarters in San Fernando Valley. Still, after 50 years, he ignores those Lawndale years.
As a real western hero in hundreds of movies, Roy Rogers presented the kinds of movies we wanted our children to view. In his personal life, Roy has set an example of moral and proper behavior. Perhaps his agents and managers considered his Lawndale image poison to Len’s future as a movie singer and actor. While I knew Kathleen, Len’s sister, I never met Roy himself.
THE BUSINESSMEN OF HAWTHORNE
The history of the business people of Hawthorne, for the sake of connvenience, divided into three categories. Those who were already in business when I arrived in 1923 were, without doubt, the pioneers and deserve special mention.
Those who set up shop in the decade of the Great Depression and managed to survive the anguish and disappointment of those tumultuous years are in a class all by themselves.
With the end of World War II Hawthorne exploded into international prominence, and the quaintness of our little village was gone forever. The hundreds of new businesses lined the Boulevard in both directions and no longer could we call most residents by name. Along with these wistful changes, however, came a welcome flood of new talent and, for me, a long list of friendships which endure to this day.
Still, in moments of thoughtful reflection, I am carried backward in time to the early days, following incorporation, when Hawthorne and Lawndale were at least partially agricultural and maintained a community concern which involved all residents.
At about the time we arrived in Hawthorne, a young man was just beginning a new enterprise. Jordan E. Dunaway, Undertaker, the sign on the tiny building boldy declared. Considerably older than me, we always referred to him as Mr. Dunaway in deference to his “advanced” years. I doubt, however, he was more than twenty-five or so. With the passage of years, the term “undertaker” ceased to be used in the industry and the more delicate “mortician” became more fashionable.
Jordan Dunaway, the community soon discovered, was far from a usual individual. Raised in the midwest, he spoke with a slow drawl which clearly indicated his area of origin. Unlike the undertakers of his day, Dunaway smiled, joined civic clubs and discarded the mournful image of his profession. Jordan seemed an awkward name and his friends soon referred to him as Jim,
a name he carried to his grave nearly sixty years later.
Jim Dunaway was one of the early presidents of Hawthorne Rotary and also served on the Centinela Valley High School Board for one term. His community contributions during his long lifetime made life much easier for hundreds of the less fortunate members of our community. Regrettably, Jim was a man of outspoken views and, on occasion, had the habit of alienating some of his best friends by his stubborn attitude. I knew him until the end of his life and he never moderated his attitude of overconfidence.
On balance, Jim was an admirable individual with a convulsive sense of humor. At a luncheon of Rotarians he related the following incident which helped, somewhat, to restore his ability to laugh at himself. Jim’s house was located next to the fence at Inglewood Cemetery where most area burials were made. Jim, of course, had made this trip hundreds of time, both on his way home or enroute with a funeral procession.
On this particular occasion, Jim was driving the hearse with dozens of mourners following. In one of those moments of woolgathering, Jim forgot to enter the cemetery at the gate but continued on to his home and drove into the driveway. The cars containing the mourners, of course, followed the hearse to Jim’s house. Alighting from the hearse, Jim was horrified with unwelcome reality–he had driven the corpose to is house. Stopping his story long enough for Rotarians to have a good laugh at his expense, Jim told how he quickly, without explanation, drove on to the cemetery and the gravesite.
Jim could be good company in spite of’ his combative personality.
In early 1925, a newcomer arrived to enter the dry goods business just down the street from our house. He seemed middle-aged but he could have been younger. He had a son in his late teens who attended high school and planned to help in his father’s store when completed. The family name was Chaney, and the lad’s name was Harold.
When completed, Hawthorne had its first real dry goods store which carried and displayed the latest styles in women’s clothes. No longer was it necessary to make the trip to Inglewood for fashionable clothing. For a number of years, it was largely a family business with Harold gradually taking more and more of the responsibility of running the store.
For reasons never known to me, Harold took over the entire operation while still a very young man and operated it for decades in a fine and profitable manner. As years passed, Harold married and had a family. He was an outgoing individual and became prominent in the Kiwanis and other civic organiizations. While occasionally boistrous in manner, Harold made a sterling contribution to the life in early Hawthorne.
Shortly after the war, Harold–in the interest of his family–made a move to Weed, California where he became equally successful in a number of unrelated ventures. Recently (1986), I sadly learned Harold had passed away in Weed from the usual afflictions of the aged.
Since 1919 or 1920, the Fraser family had operated a feed store business on the east side of the Boulevard in the Burleigh Tract near 139th Street. Dick Fraser, as I have stated previously, attended Ballona Street School with me in the early 1920s. Since my good friend Dick is still well and sound, he is quite capable of outlining his own business successes on the Boulevard.
When Dick’s father passed away, Dick-took over and developed a whole commercial block in that area. Dick and wife Lola now live in Palos Verdes.
Besides Mr. Garton, there were several other realtors in Hawthorne in the early 1920s. One of the best known to me, of course, was Jack Swatman who had also entered Hawthorne as an immigrant from England. In his early days in Hawthorne, I had only a nodding acquaintance with this fine man who was many years my senior. In later years I was destined to have many business dealings with him, all of which increased my respect for this man who could, on occasion, be difficult to deal with. Now nearing 90, Jack is confined to a nursing home in Long Beach with little hope of recovery. I would rather remember him bounding from one transaction to another in Hawthorne. Time, indeed, is a tyrant!
Not surprisingly, I knew Grant Mastin from my early days in the city. Grant owned the drug store on the southeast corner of Broadway and the Boulevard where I sold papers. In later years, Grant and I belonged to Hawthorne Rotary where we shared so many aging memories. His smile was enough to make anyone forget, temporarily at least, the troubles of the day. Through Grant, I made the acquaintance of Milt Robbins who also proved a reliable and trusted friend. I miss them both.
Just mention the name of Wally Fraser and any old timer will smile in silent appreciation. Perhaps a couple of years older than me, Wally was double my size in both height and weight. With a kind and remarkably even disposition, Wally was slow to wrath and smiled easily. I believe his father was employed by the city of Hawthorne but I am not certain about this. In any event, he attended both Ballona Street School and Inglewood High.
While still in his teens, he displayed quite a skill as an amateur boxer and even entertained the idea of turning professional. I attended a number of his matches which he seemed to always emerge the victor. In any event, Wally also had a practical mind which indicated a quite different line of work. Wally attended dental school and set up practice in the town where he was so well loved. While still in his early fifties, Wally Fraser was struck down with a heart attack from which he failed to recover. His widow, Nina, lives in retirement in Laguna Hills, California.
In listing the names of early businessmen of Hawthorne, I know I have inadvertently missed quite a number. In a later chapter, I will deal with the members of our fire and police departments and as many of the personnel I can recall. There are many, and I remember quite a number.
While Alfred Monroe was not among the early businessmen of Hawthorne, his presence belongs in any book of memories of Centinela Valley. Monroe must have arrived in the Valley long before 1920 since he held court in Inglewood long before our family arrived from Essex. You see, Alfred Monroe was our community judge for much of his lifetime.
Judge Monroe, as he as called, suffered from the crippling effects of polio and walked only with the assistance of a crutch. In spite of this decided handicap, Monroe played a tolerable game of golf. With the use of a caddy to carry his bag, Monroe would play twice a week but limited himself to nine holes at a time. He never complained about his limitations and responded bruskly when others took such a liberty.
During his many years on the bench, I often expressed inner doubts as to whether the judge actually had a law degree. In those early days, many people acted as judges without the benefit of real legal training. Alfred Monroe could easily have been among these paralegal, appointed judges.
In any event, Judge Monroe held the respect of attorneys as well as deefendants being tied in his court. In the course of his life in our area, Alfred never volunteered any information regarding his legal background and no one had the slightest reason to ask. I have sat in his court while he was on the bench and found his fundamental reasoning valid and sound. Perhaps it is not generous to raise the question at this time, and I only do so in tribute, not in criticism.
In any event, Alfred Monroe was a man of at least two talents. In addition to his work on the bench, Alfred was the orchestra leader and teacher at both Inglewood High School and Ballona Street School in Hawthorne. When I entered the fourth grade at Ballona, Monroe was already instructing the orchestra there at least once a week. I’m not certain as to Monroe’s official position at these schools but it would appear unlikely he was a member of either faculty since the schools were in different districts.
One might be led to believe no man could possess the mind of a lawyer and still possess the sensitivity required to be a good musician. But, of course, Monroe was not an ordinary man. Playing in his orchestra during my years at Inglewood High, I noted the judge could be easily carried away with artistic emotion with his beloved music. Filled with productive years, Judge Alfred Monroe passed from the scene in 1943. The community mourned.
Quite naturally, when one thinks of flowers and Hawthorne, the name of the Satows comes to mind. And all of this for a very valid reason since the Satows have been raising carnations for the wholesale market on their property on El Segundo Boulevard for generations.
Perhaps not nearly as well-known, however, another Hawthorne pioneer entered the flower business on the opposite end of town. Harry Rapella engaged in raising and developing different strains of orchids for many decades. In his rows of greenhouses near Prairie Avenue, Harry imported orchids from around the world and successfully introduced his own breed of delicate flowers for the Los Angeles flower market.
On every festive occasion in the Hawthorne area, Harry was most generous in donating orchids to mark the event. For his many years of such kindness, Harry, quite rightfully, earned the name of Orchid Man. At least as important as his contribution to the area in producing commercial orchids, Harry Rapella is much appreciated by those who know him for his community spirit which 80 years has failed to diminish.
Now a widower, having lost his wife a few years ago, Harry returned to the Hawthorne area after a period in the Ventura vicinity following the death of Ethyl Ann. Like many of us, Harry was unable to adjust to the unfamiliar surroundings of strange places and longed for Hawthorne where he was so well known and loved by so many. Now settled in an apartment in Torrance, Harry spends most of his time in Hawthorne Rotary and its many activities. Even at his advanced years, Harry is still a driving force in the Rotary organization and helps with the annual visit with the Tijuana Rotary. Harry Rapella sponsored me for membership in Hawthorne Rotary in 1948.
Al Wilson is another name which springs to mind when the subject of agriculture in early Hawthorne comes up. Al operated a vast chicken fryer farm on Doty between Rosecrans and El Segundo. While the date Al began operations is not known, he continued producing fryers by the carload until after 1950. By that time, Hawthorne was really exploding in growth and the last vestiges of agriculture in the city were on the way out. Al had several valuable acres next to his chicken farm and, no doubt, sold at a profit.
During the early 1950s, Al took over the presidency of Hawthorne Rotary for a year. After years of being almost by himself out on the east side of town, Al took unkindly to the idea of being virtually displaced by the approach of progress and planned to leave the area when he closed down.
Al Wilson was born in Arkansas and was a farmer at heart. Regrettably, AI’s life ended soon after he left our community. While only conjecture, separating a man from his life’s work can have an adverse effect upon health as well as other considerations.
Though we walked the streets of Hawthorne as boys in 1923-24, I never met him until an adult in Hawthorne Rotary. E. Gilbert Laven is a few years my senior which accounts for our failing to encounter each other at Ballona School. No doubt Gil had gone on to Inglewood High while I was still in grade school.
Gil Laven, of course, eventually formed one of the region’s most important sources of general insurance. With a priceless sense of ready humor, Gil tells several stories about his impoverished youth which are filled with ancedotes certain to provoke gales of laughter. Gil tells these stories about himself with no attempt to preserve his profile as one of Hawthorne’s dignified “old timers.”
Those of us who knew Gil intimately, suffer along with him in the recent loss of his faithful wife, Ethyl.
While he belonged more to the Hawthorne of the 1930s than the 1920s, Mr. Forest of Forest Market must not be omitted from memories of early Hawthorne. The first Forest Market was almost the dimensions of a modern supermarket and was located on the southwest corner of Hawthorne and EI Segundo. A few years later, the store was moved to new quarters on the opposite side of the boulevard with still more success resulting. During the Depression years, it was possible to purchase enough groceries for the family for five dollars and Forest checkers would throw in at least a handful of candy bars without charge.
I never knew Mr. Forest or any of his family but this individual was very much ahead of his time when it came to operating a modern food market. The whole operation eventually disappeared with time. Nevertheless, Forest had caught a new vision of grocery retailing which became the standard within a few years.
While contemplating the Hawthorne Volunteer Fire Department in 1923, a smile of amusement creeps across my aging countenance. The fire truck was a Model T pickup which was parked across from our house on the Boulevard, next to Coury Cleaners.
The truck was housed in a small shed. The equipment, of course, would provoke real laughter among modern firefighters. Two spindly ladders were hung on the pickup which was not even painted red. I seem to recall the department consisted of about eight volunteers who came running when the siren sounded. There was no real fire chief in the sense of the word but a Mr. Wiltsie, a local plumber, seemed to take charge when help was summoned.
The truck carried a prodigious amount of fire hose but none more than an inch in diameter. Small wonder most fires burned themselves out with the firefighters merely containing the fire from spreading.
While the volunteer department was of questionable value, it had somehow obtained a siren which played havoc upon Hawthorne as well as surrounding communities. No doubt, some city had given it to Hawthorne since it was capable of being heard from a distance of four miles.
One thing was absolutely evident; sleep was impossible if this monster was activated during the night and it often was. In the still of the night this beast could easily be heard from as far away as Lawndale and Lennox. The volunteers had worked out a system by which they could learn the location of the fire and go directly to the site. A certain number of wails by the siren indicated the neighborhood in trouble.
Nevertheless, this volunteer department served the community well until the city arranged something more dependable.
In 1926, another firehouse was erected on the Boulevard and a modern American La France fire engine was purchased by city fathers. By this time the firefighters were regulars and service far more efficient. The whole city was invited to see the new engine with its sparkling chrome and white hoses. Everyone turned out.
Since the new department was several blocks to the south, the disruptive siren was a little less offensive. Surprisingly, this same siren followed the fire department to the several locations it was to occupy over the years. During World War II, this same siren was employed as an air raid warning signal. I am certain it was in place on the roof of the fire department building on Plaza Circle before the department was moved to its present location on El Segundo Boulevard.
In any event, I can clearly recall the pandamonium it provoked in the Plaza Theatre during a performance–especially during the war years. With our modern fire department now equipped with the latest electronic devices, it is obvious the old siren is either in some trash pile or, even worse, disturbing the peace in some desert or mountain community. Perhaps retired Chief Bob Hartzell can provide the answer.
From the early years of its organization, Hawthorne provided and still provides the maximum in fire protection. I can still recall the old Model T Ford pickup leaving for a fire with the volunteers clinging to the side, attempting to assemble the inadequate hoses. I can still remember their valiant but futile attempt to salvage Bill’s Lunch Room during the fire of 1924.
With the installation of the new fire house on the Boulevard and the presence of a full-time department, plus new equipment, Hawthorne proved itself well prepared for the ordinary fires occurring in a small town. Strange, I can only recall the name of one fire chief in addition to Bob Hartzell. Joy West held this position for a number of years before becoming the City Manager in the late 1950s, I believe it was. Joy eventually retired both from his job and the community. I have never seen him since.
From its early years as a poorly equipped but eagerly manned volunteer department to this day, Hawthorne’s fire department has maintained a low profile while striving for the excellence it now rightfully claims. Much of this credit belongs to Bob Hartzell, one of the retired Fire Chiefs. Bob had the reputation of being a “hair shirt” in his appeals to the City Council for modern firefighting equipment. The results are well worth the unearned reputation.
HAWTHORNE’S PROBLEM CHILD–THE POLICE DEPARTMENT
More accurately, Hawthorne’s problem child was four decades of turbulence which existed between its City Council and Police Department. Following any city incorporation, I suppose, one should expect a painful period of adjustment required by the very nature of the act. Those of us who lived in Hawthorne during the early years of the city are still puzzled by the prolonged conflict which developed between councilmen and the Police Chief.
For many years, Hawthorne was ill-famed for its political squabbles between the governing body and the Police Department. For a number of years, the office of Chief was changed so often it required a daily check to find who was in charge of the Police Department. Regrettably, many of the Police Chiefs were men of considerable talent but unable to make the adjustment to a higher political authority.
In 1923, obviously, the job of Chief was of limited importance. The town had only been incorporated for about a year and the duties of the Police Department were on a par with the Fire Department. The City Council was inexperienced and not quite certain what duties they wished the Police Department to perform.
Hawthorne’s first Chief was Mr. Billups who was a middle-aged man with sound but limited experience in law enforcement. Ironically, his great-grandson married my granddaughter in Chico, California in the 1970s.
When Billups took over his assignment as Chief, the Police Department was a lean-to type of building across from the Hawthorne Theatre on the opposite side of the Broadway Circle. The whole department consisted of less than a dozen officers and the atmosphere was relaxed and informal. The town was still served by a marshal, and it often appeared the marshal was more in charge than Chief Billups.
We paper boys soon learned an interesting secret; the crude, one-cell jail opened onto the alley behind Mastin’s Drug Store. By entering the alley from the Boulevard, we could look into the jail to determine if anyone was being held. On several occasions we could carry on conversations with town’s people who had made the local “slammer.” My first sight of the local jail left me somewhat baffled. I had always thought of a jail as having round bars to prevent escape. Hawthorne’s jail ill-fitted my preconceived notion of a proper jail house.
Hawthorne’s jail was constructed of flat bars, all riveted securely in a neat fashion. Harry Severns, Hawthorne’s Chief of Police for many of the later years revealed to me this flat-barred jail served as principal holding cell for decades.
Chief Billups, however, was slated for replacement almost before he learned his job. A Mr. Aikens then took charge and from there, the list goes out of the reach of memory. It would be interesting to know how many chiefs held the job until Jack Baumgardner took over in the 1940s. Jack was succeeded by Harry Severns who held the job until his retirement some years ago.
Over the span of years, I grew to know many of the officers of the department who became my good friends. Rule Ward, Tommy Cummings, Mac Baumgardner, and Ed Parker. These men took public responsibility as a personal trust and served our community well. There are many more, but these come quickly to mind.
At one time, Hawthorne attempted to emulate Gardena and opened several gambling casinos with unfortunate results. For a while, Hawthorne was home to some of the unsavory elements of Southern California. I’m sure the job as Police Chief was made more difficult by this thoughtless act by our City Council. Fortunately, this period lasted briefly and our city returned to a more orderly development.
In the meanwhile, Hawthorne was annexing adjacent areas and the city was growing considerably. The growth was orderly with most new homes being built in the “Grove” as we called the area north of 118th Street. This portion of Hawthorne was covered with a dense growth of eucalyptus trees which had apparently been planted not long after the turn of the century. By now, developers were beginning to build roads through the Grove with the intension of constructing new housing.
Before the arrival of the Great Depression of 1929, at least two such streets had been constructed and homes built for resale. From Wallace (118th St.) to Bellvue (Imperial) two new roads boasted of rows of five room homes at prices which seemed too high. In spite of such misgivings, however, these homes sold along with high rated mortgages. No one, obviously, had any idea of the approaching financial crash.
AVIATION IN HAWTHORNE–BEFORE NORTHROP
If World War I produced anything of value, it was the arousal of American interest in aviation and aviators. At the close of the conflict, surplus aircraft were in great abundance and the army had only one objective in mind–get rid of them so that more modern models could take their place. By this time, all governments were convinced aircraft and war in the air was the tide of the future. How right they were!
Hundreds of training biplanes called Jennys were declared surplus and offered to the public on an “as is” condition at airports around the nation. California with its perfect flying weather, of course, took the lead in such purchases.
Hawthorne was considered a perfect location for flying fields for a number of obvious reasons. South of Western Avenue, the ground fell gently away to the west making it easier for planes to gain flying speed. Additionally, the wind always prevails from the nearby ocean which aided in the swift ascent of planes taking off.
Only one condition detracted from these near-perfect flying conditions. Both Western, Bellvue and El Segundo Boulevard were lined with a single line of lofty eucalyptus trees which soon figured in a sequence of aircraft accidents. Quite predictable, flying enthusiasts soon corrected this problem by removing the trees from threatening positions.
Before 1926, at least six airports had been installed along the western edge of Western Avenue. At one time I could have named them all but only Dycer Airport now comes to mind. When I speak of airports, of course, I mean the airstrips were merely cleared areas without a trace of permanent covering. Hangers were constructed out of corrugated iron supported by lumber of dubious quality. The hanger floors were mother earth.
With boyish fascination, I would haunt these “airfields” in the hope of being able to sit in one of the machines. Flying as a passenger was out of the question; just a trip around the vicinity cost five dollars. While most of the planes were war surplus, there were also a number of newer factory-built units such as Alexander Eagle Rocks.
In order to attract paying passengers, small air shows were often advertised in the Inglewood paper. The Jennys were capable of performing a number of “stunts” and following the shows, the owners of the planes paid fuel bills by taking people up for rides at five to ten dollars.
To the surprise of many, Northrop Field was not the first airport in the city of Hawthorne. In the late 1920s, an aging hanger was erected next to the Pacific Electric track at Broadway and Inglewood Avenue. With the aid of horse-drawn graders, a proper field was carved for a distance of nearly a half mile west of Inglewood Avenue. Not to be outdone by Texas, the field was called Kelly Field and a number of planes called this field home.
A young American-Japanese owned an excellent Jenny which he adored. Every Sunday, he would perform the most exciting stunts for the assembled crowd. At the end of these little shows, he offered rides out over the ocean for ten dollars. All aviators, of course, wore the traditional helmet along with the colorful scarf around the neck.
On one particular Sunday afternoon, a notice was posted that a girl would make a parachute jump in the afternoon. As the excitement increased, I moved closer to the jumper and the plane from which she would jump. It was quite evident this was her first experience and she seemed apprehensive. As the afternoon overcast drifted in from sea, it appeared the girl would sensibly change her mind. Not so. Her parachute, however, was fastened to the plane which meant all she would be required to do was jump and the chute would open automatically which is precisely what happened.
On the way down, it was obvious the girl would not land on the field as intended. Racing south of the Pacific Electric track, I arrived at the very time her feet reached the ground. The girl was well aware of the trolley wire over the tracks. Had she fallen into this high tension line, the results could have been fatal. From the look on her face, I believe this young lady abandoned the sport with the one experience.
Kelly Field remained in existence almost until the outbreak of war. Quite frankly, I don’t even remember it being dismantled. I wonder how many of my friends will remember Kelly Field? I can only anticipate how many complaints would be forthcoming if Kelly Field was still in operation!
To my many golfing friends who tee up each week on such carefully manicured courses as Western Avenue, Alondra and others in the hill area of Palos Verdes, I would like to describe for you what golf was like in Hawthorne in 1924. Yes, we had a course. The “green” fees were fifty cents and one could play as many rounds as time and energy permitted.
The course was located on the southwest corner of Western Avenue and Bellevue which was, at that time, totally unimproved with a pair of ruts leading westward to Cypress (Crenshaw). The course consisted of 18 very long holes marked by tall poles placed in deep cups. There was no need for water since the fairways were bare earth, baked to the consistency of concrete by the ever-present sun. Similarily, greens required neither water or care since they were constructed of fine sand mixed with light gravel. This mixture was then rolled by a hand roller and the player was left to his own devices.
While the tees usually had a pair of markers, often, some of these were removed by vandals. On each tee, however, the owner had placed a bucket of wet sand for the purpose of constructing a small perch upon which the player placed his ball. Wooden tees, if indeed they existed, were for the elite. As exuberant youngsters, we ignored the fact there were no trees, sand traps or club house. As a matter of fact, it was not too uncommon to find a few golf clubs left behind by previous players on the 18th hole.
Of course, good golf shots meant little on this hard pan. A topped ball would often bound all the way to the “greens”–several hundred yards away. Since there was seldom any other players on the course, there was no trouble with either starting times or playing through a slow foursome. The owner farmed the land now occupied by Western Avenue Golf Course. Every hour or two, more often on weekends, he would watch for players on his “golf course” and drive over in his Model T and collect his fifty cents a player.
We finally learned a Johnson Land Company owned all the land between Bellevue and El Segundo as far west as Cypress. They eventually built the modern Western Avenue Club which was then acquired by Los Angeles County. Surprisingly, the Bellevue Course continued operation for some time after the completion of Western Avenue Course.
As near as I could calculate, Bellevue Golf Course must have been in existence long before 1920 and probably served its intended use for at least 20 years. On Saturdays, my father and his brothers–true Scots–found Bellevue a welcome opportunity to play the game at a price dear to the thrifty hearts of all Glasgowmen. With a large family to provide for, fifty cents was about all the family budget could afford in the way of recreation. Pop looked forward to Saturday and his meetings with his kin at Bellevue. I can still recall the eerie silence surrounding the improvised golf course.
While Dad and his companions played the game with measured precision, we youngsters would race around the course to see how many holes we could cover while daylight held. Before darkness fell, we would run diagonally across the open fields to Hawthorne and home. On this journey we were careful to avoid the Japanese vegetable gardens to the west. On a few occasions, rattlesnakes were encountered by those living east of Western Avenue where there were a few hills. Heading for home over the open fields to Hawthorne we were constantly reminded that venomous snakes were also probably in this area we were running through. We gave brush and clumps of weeds a wide birth on our homeward journey. Non-poisonous snakes were always in abundance but I never encountered a rattler.
RECREATION IN EARLY HAWTHORNE
With Hawthorne struggling with serious incorporation expenditures, little in the way of finances for local recreation was considered. Most of our scouting activities were held under the eucalyptus trees which covered a considerable portion of Hawthorne in the early 1920s. Quite sensibly, Mr. Hartzell, our scoutmaster, liked to keep the troop near horne in case of sickness or discipline problems.
With our paper stands and other productive activities, brother Don and I had little in the way of time or money for leisure pleasures if such were, indeed, available. We both turned a portion of our earnings over to the family in order to make ends meet. I know our grandchildren will find this difficult to understand in this day of generous and unearned allowances.
There was, however, one adventure we could afford and frequently did. The Pacific Electric Company, a branch of the Southern Pacific Railway, owned most of Redondo Beach near the end of the Red Car Line. In order to attract visitors to Redondo, the company had built a huge indoor swimming pool which was one of America’s truly great attractions.
The Plunge, as the Southern Pacific Company called it, was nearly one block long and divided into three sections to accomodate the toddlers as well as the most skillful divers who occupied the deeper end of the facility. The water was heated to a comfortable degree and water was taken from the Pacific, only a few feet away. All of this magnificant accomodation contained within a colorfully designed structure which made the Plunge a year round facility.
Of particular interest to brother Don and me, the fare was a mere 22 cents, round trip from Hawthorne. Even in midwinter, it was a pleasurable experience to visit the Plunge and spend the entire day. For those with money to spend, the Pacific Electric had constructed a roller coaster of thrilling proportions adjoining the giant Plunge. When finances permitted, we would indulge in one or two rides on the Giant Dipper as it was called. Fare? Ten cents a ride.
Today, only the Horseshoe Pier remains. All else has long since given way to the heavy hand of economic considerations.
The city of El Segundo possessed two recreational facilities almost irresistible to the youngsters of Centinela Valley. For one thing, El Segundo owned a fine outdoor swimming pool which was opened for the entire summer. Always a city of affluence due to the presence of the Standard Oil refinery near the beach, El Segundo lavishly provided for its youth.
To the consternation of those of us from the Hawthorne area, occasionally the pool was marked as off limits to kids from outside the city of El Segundo. We felt this to be an affront to the less subsidized areas of Centinela Valley. On a number of occasions, a lifeguard was posted at the pool entrances to keep non-El Segundo youngsters out of the city facility.
In the long run, however, the ban proved unenforceable. Kids soon learned the secret of changing their home address. During the swimming season, the population of El Segundo jumped sharply. I don’t believe the officials ever found a dependable method of determining the home address of the hundreds of “illegal” swimmers. In any event, we kids left our bikes at home and either walked to El Segundo or “hitched” rides along El Segundo Boulevard–the only paved street entering the city.
The other recreation spot in El Segundo was never in dispute and provided many hours of “primitive” fun. At the top of one of the sand hills bordering the beach, different companies had excavated untold thousands of tons of beach sand for various projects. In this giant pit left behind, scouts could pitch camp for as long as desired. On countless occasions, brother Don and I made camp there by ourselves. In recent years, I noticed the pit has almost disappeared with time and other events.
Hollywood filmed many of the desert classics of the 1920s using this “desert” background. On one particular scene, a prominent actor crawled to the camera “dying” from desert thirst. As the cameras stopped, he proceeded to a nearby Good Humor Truck and consumed two ice cream bars. Since the movie was a silent rendition, we were permitted to laugh aloud. The actor merely grinned in return. Such is the delusion of making movies.
HAWTHORNE AND THE CRAZIES–OIL AND MARATHON DANCES
Not at all surprisingly, our beloved Hawthorne failed to escape the maze of zany customs of the 1920s. Certainly the marathon dance craze of the era made for bewildering difficulty in determining objective and purpose. Since this insanity hit our city toward the end of 1928, I was old enough to be both attracted and repelled by the spectacle of young dancers holding on to each other to prevent falling from utter exhaustion.
The prizes were really of little significance and the halls were often unattended which permitted little opportunity for fame or fortune. Since these “contests” often went on for weeks, I came to suspect the contestants were provided with time for rest during the small hours of the morning when attendance was light.
With the arrival of the 1930s, another mania struck Hawthorne and Lawndale–oil was discovered along Inglewood Avenue and expectations soon outstripped all reality. Some explorers glowingly predicted another Signal Hill for Hawthorne and Lawndale. At least a hundred derricks were constructed west of Inglewood Avenue and crews began 24 hour operations in hopes of striking the black bonanza.
Of course, such activity attracted the entire attention of the community and lots were sold to speculators at prices far out of proportion to the possibility of oil being discovered. Before long, the bubble burst as only modest amounts of petroleum came to the surface. Many of the old wooden derricks remained in place, becoming attractive nuisances to youngsters, determined to climb the structures. I suspect many concrete oil well foundations are still in place under houses in the area. For a few months at least, this activity stimulated our sleepy community.
HAWTHORNE AND EARLY CHURCHES OF THE AREA
While not a Roman Catholic by persuasion, ironically, my first encounter with Hawthorne’s early clergy was with a priest of intense dedication plus a contagious sense of humor. I have no real knowledge as to when Father Ford took over the St. Joseph Parish. Certainly he was here during the mid 1920s, if not much earlier.
The church itself, of course, was considerably more modest than the one which now occupies the original site. It faced the Boulevard and boasted of a struggling membership. If memory serves me, Father Ford was the only priest at the parish. He labored long hours to serve the far-flung parishoners who required his services.
Still quite a young man, Ford had an avid interest in sports and would talk baseball and boxing by the hour. Everett Ocommor, one of his parishoners, introduced me to Ford at the conclusion of a confession. I liked him instantly and grew to really appreciate the work of deep compassion he administered. I often wonder if Father Ford is still among the living.
Time permitting, I began attending a small church on the Hawthorne Circle. I think it was of a non-denomination at that time but later became associated with the Baptist denomination and remained so until taken by the Hawthorne Mall in the 1970s. While attending Hawthorne Community Church a Henry Hartsucker was the Sunday School superintendent who made a lasting impression on my spiritual inclinations.
Upon attending Ballona Street School, however, I noticed a number of my good friends attended the Nazarene Church on Ballona Street–just across from what is now Manor Way. Fortunately for the community of Hawthorne, the Nazarenes still hold services on the same property they owned in 1923. I was invited to attend and found the services and Sunday School most challenging. Having held the faith in the same location for these many years, the Nazarene members are worthy of special recognition. Obviously, the original buildings have given way to a more suitable sanctuary.
There were other churches in Hawthorne in the 1920s but they escape my memory at this time. In any event, there was no shortage of places in which to worship should one have pious inclinations.
In the late 1920s, I was attracted to the ministry at the First Congregational Church of Lawndale. A Dr. Hopkins was the pastor and a more admirable preacher would be hard to locate. Somewhat elderly, he appeared in Who’s Who in America and possessed a unique love of young people.
Under the leadership of this remarkable man, brother Don eventually entered the ministry which he has served for more than fifty years. Don is now pastor of the Church of the Marina in Del Rey. In our advancing years, we brothers often speak in unabashed admiration of this man who had a profound effect upon so many young people.
Of particular personal importance, I met a girl at Lawndale Congregational Church who came to mean a great deal to me. After a somewhat lengthy friendship, Juanita Freeman became my wife, providing me with one of the real treasured interludes of life. We have now been married 51 years and our progeny are becoming too numerous to list quickly. At the time I met Juanita Freeman, the Freeman family operated a small dairy on the corner of Grevillea and Manhattan Beach Boulevard in Lawndale.
While we no longer live in the area, we occasionally return to the Congregational Church in Lawndale to restimulate old memories. Dr. Beatty, the current pastor, has been at the church for nearly a quarter-century. The church itself was founded more than a century ago but has been replaced with a new edifice. The original church bell is held in an old tower which has been preserved through time.
SETTLEMENTS SURROUNDED BY GRAIN FIELDS
While cruising over Centinela Valley in his biplane in 1920, a young flyer from Dycer Airport described the Valley as a group of little settlements surrounded by grainfields. In this observation he was almost, but not quite, accurate. However, from the air it must have appeared the whole area was hemmed in by barley fields.
Indeed, dry farming was the basis of our local economy in 1920. From the Baldwin Hills on the north, the grain fields swept southward in a giant semi-circle almost to the modern city limits of Redondo Beach and the budding Torrance. Dry farming occupied much of the Centinela Valley on the east as well. The Al Baum farm on the corner of Bellevue and Cypress consisted of a whole section, all of which was devoted to barley and beans.
From Western Avenue to the area of Prairie Avenue, most of the land was also in production of either beans or barley. Scattered among these vast dry farming areas, the Japanese vegetable gardens continued to provide the entire community with produce such as carrots and lettuce. So essentially, the young flyer was not too far from correct. At least most of Centinela Valley was surrounded by some form of agriculture.
I had more than a passing interest in these monstrous grain and barley farms since they often provided well-paying jobs to the youth of the area during the summer months. With a peculiar climate, it was possible to “doubleecrop” the entire area making farming a highly profitable endeavor. First, a barley crop was planted in the early spring which insured an early harvest and a replanting of beans for harvest late in the fall. This two crop season provided employment for the entire summer.
Even to this day, the name of Bennet remains synomous with dry farming in the region surrounding Centinela Valley. The Bennet family consisted of several brothers, all of whom farmed in the area between Baldwin Hills and the beach. Of the nearly six sections in dry farming, the Bennets must have farmed at least four.
Of course, there was no Slauson Avenue to contend with and only Centinela Avenue ran to Washington Boulevard and the beach at Venice. Manchester consisted of a pair of rutted wagon tracks used by the farmers to bring in crops from the productive fields. In addition to the Bennets, the Baums and others,
there were the extensive farming facilities of Adolf Leuzinger for whom Leuzinger High School is named.
Leuzinger lived on the corner of EI Segundo and Aviation for most of his life which was a long and profitable one. Adolf farmed several sections for decades. He arrived in Hawthorne before the turn of the century and took somewhat uncomfortably to the area changes which were to occur during his lifetime.
Wistfully, his home and pump house stood unmolested until 1983 when the surge of progress replaced it with an eight story office building. Ironically, one of Leuzinger’s hay carts remained behind the aging house until the final days. Apparently, Adolf’s heirs could no longer resist the natural impulse to use the remaining Leuzinger farm for its “highest and best use.”
While the Bennet brothers lived in different houses located far apart Andrew Bennet’s lavish farm house which was located on a small hill not far from the sand hills which bordered the Pacific. Hoping I would be considered strong enough for summer work in the harvest, I had been out to Mr. Bennet’s house a number of times. Always the same answer; I could not handle the heavy loading job in the fields.
In any event, the trip out to the Bennet’s farm house was not an unpleasant journey. I started out on my bicycle bumping westward over Bellevue until I crossed the Santa Fe tracks. From there, Bellevue became a lonely trail to a cross street called Arizona Avenue. Turning north on Arizona I crossed ripening fields of barley until I reached the entrance to Bennet’s farm which was lined with graceful palms all the way back to the house, some distance away.
The scene around the house would have been typical of any prosperous farm house in the midwest. A yellow house, trimmed in dark brown, it smelled of success which indeed, it was. In the fields behind the house were hundreds of wagons all lined up for the approaching harvest season. In well kept corrals, horses appeared well fed and ready for work. Most impressive, however, was the utter silence of the location. Mr. Bennet (Andrew) said they could hear the surf on a quiet night which sounded quite plausible.
His answer to my inquiry as to summer work, not surprisingly, was not encouraging. The work was heavy and the hours were often from sunup to sundown. I was struck with his gracious manner and unusual height. At least I had the feeling I had not wasted my time in visiting the Bennet farm house on Arizona. No one could know, of course, that dusty Arizona Avenue would one day be Sepulveda Boulevard and that Bennet’s house would be replaced with Terminal One which now houses Pacific Southwest Airlines and others.
With their innate love of the land, the Bennet family stayed with the old family home long after the development of Los Angeles International Airport was begun. When the tunnel under Sepulveda was completed and the airport expansion was a foregone conclusion, the magnificant old Bennet house surrendered to the bulldozer and the graceful past gave way suddenly to the raucus present. When I fly out of Los Angeles from Terminal One, I reflect upon another day when time and associations were at least as important as speed and convenience. “Backward 0 Backward, turn time in thy flight.”
While I never grew large enough for work on the Bennet farms, the trip out and back on my bike was always a pleasant journey. All along Arizona Avenue (Sepulveda) wild blackberry and other berry bushes produced bountiful fruit and few, if any, travelers ever stopped to pick them.
On my way home, I often filled a bag with the berries to take back to Hawthorne. I can still recall the utter silence along Arizona and El Segundo Boulevard. All of this in the shadow of the present Los Angeles International Airport and the vast city of skyscrapers which came with the air terminal and satellite buildings! In those days such reflections would have rightly bordered on madness.
Following unpaved Bellevue homeward, crossing the narrow but paved Redondo Beach Boulevard (Aviation) marked the half way point. In a few areas east of Aviation, Bellevue became scarred from wagon traffic and I was obliged to push my bike for several hundred yards before remounting and continuing home. Only the buzz of insects disturbed the deathly silence.
Reporting any failure to Mom never failed to produce her usual smile of resignation and disappointment. In any event, I still had my job at the Slinack Poultry Farm which paid less money than Bennets but the work was dependable and constant. Still, when the grain binders and threshing machines moved into the area west of Inglewood Avenue, I often sauntered out to watch the operations which involved so many of my friends.
It was easy to observe how much the youngsters worked for their pay. As the puffing horses and the high-sided wagons moved between the sheaves of barley, the kids went to work with long pitchforks. Since the horses never hour for lunch and rest, the process kept up until nearly dark. Nothing like working a summer at a McDonalds or Burger King!!! Not only was the work heavy, a cloud of fine dust covered the whole operation, especially near the threshing machine which was moved daily along with the steam engine.
At the lunch break, the tired horses were fed by nose-bags filled with oats and other grains and watered from a cart which made the rounds. The workers were left to eat their lunches in whatever shade they could discover. With several thousand acres to harvest, this process lasted for most of the
In later years I discovered the Bennet family owned only a portion of the land they farmed over the early years of Centinela Valley. It seems a farsighted company called the Los Angeles Investment Company had purchased large parcels of land bordering Centinela Valley in the expectation that climate and opportunity would eventually draw people westward thus providing the company with a nice profit in land resales. They could not have been more correct in their assumption.
Still, the Bennet holdings were substantial and the family made many fine contributions to our community. In their later years I became friends with Tom Bennet and other brothers, all of whom were gentlemen in the truest sense of the word. One brother, Sydney, opened a bus line running from Inglewood to Lawndale by the way of Prairie Avenue.
From what I could learn, Syd had little interest in farming with its many uncertainties. His bus line was eventually absorbed into a larger system and I lost track of him.
While the Bennet combination farmed the vast sections of farmland south of the bluffs overlooking Ballona Creek, another agricultural enterprise flourished in the black soil of the Marina. Strangely, Marina Del Rey became one of the principal celery producing areas in the world. Pacific Electric built a special track to the Marina to haul the trailer loads of celery grown near the creek. Union Oil Company constructed a special ice plant to refrigerate cars going east with the fresh celery. With the development of the Marina, of course, the celery fields disappeared and another familiar landmark left our sight.
THE WALLS COME TUMBLING DOWN–1929
From 1923 to 1927, the years sped past with unnoticed ferocity. I had graduated from Ballona and was now attending Inglewood High. No longer did I make my appearance as newsboy in the early morning at the end of the street car. My occupation was now a feeder at the Slinack Egg Farms on the corner of Bellevue and Inglewood Avenue.
Ten thousand laying hens required loads of mash and “scratch” every day. Little more than a hundred pounds in weight, I soon learned all the handling tricks which made my job easier. The huge chicken runs were located at the rear of the extensive acreage which fronted on Inglewood Avenue. Bellevue, of course, was still merely a set of wagon tracks leading east to the Boulevard, about a mile away.
I fed the chickens feed known as kale which was raised on the Slinack property. This feeding included picking the kale early in the morning before school. Often the cold weather made the whole process less than desirable. In summer, however, it was not a disagreeable task.
In the evening I fed the vast quantities of mash, much the same as the mash now fed on the enormous Zacky and Foster operations in the central San Joaquin Valley. Along with another employee, we gathered the eggs which often exceeded six thousand per day. These eggs required candling before sent on to the central wholesale markets of Los Angeles. The candling was not part of my assignment at Slinacks for which I felt a sense of relief since the work was done late at night after we had collected the eggs from the nests. All of this, including the egg washing, is done by machinery which has reduced the need for so much back-breaking labor. Each day, I was permitted to take a dozen of these fresh eggs home for family consumption. All well received by a family of six living on marginal income.
Far more important than the free eggs, however, I earned about 16 dollars a week which, in those simple days, represented fine earnings for a youngster going to high school. Unfortunately, the Slinack operation was sold when I was a sophomore and adults were hired to fill our places. Plain economics I suppose, but Manuel, the other boy and I soon felt our diminished financial position.
It was still quite early in the morning but a small group of men were already huddled in subdued conversation in front of Mr. Wise’s pool room. I tried to recall any special holiday which might account for this gathering but none flashed before me.
Inside the pool hall, of course, was off limits to youngsters but since these men were assembled out front, I felt easy about making an inquiry. One man, not known for his steady employment, clued me in to a disaster of which I was unaware.
In retrospection, his response was not only timely but future events would indicate this semi-derelict had more than a common knowledge of financial affairs. In somber and measured tones he advised me of a stock crash which had occurred the day before which would alter life forever. Soon, I was able to gather the gist of the conversation going around the circle of troubled men. Today was October 30, 1929 which, to me, appeared very much like the day before.
Noting my still-cheerful countenance, a few of the men attempted to point out the real effects of a full blown depression. When I finished school, they warned me, people would be begging for jobs with none available. I thought of Dad and his years of steady employment and tried to relate this dismal prediction to his well being. It just so happened Dad. never lost a day’s work from the catastrophic depression in the offing.
A plasterer in the group lamented the fact he was now earning $16 a day but would be fortunate if he could make half that much in the event of a fulllblown depression.
Of one thing they all seemed in agreement; the real devastation of the depression would probably take six months to reach the coast from Wall Street. Surprisingly. these men of limited education were also right in this prediction. By the spring of 1930. the Great Depression was on hand and a bountiful era came to a painful close. Hawthorne, Centinela Valley and America would never be quite the same.
The job market receded to zero and employment was the topic of the day. “I’m working steady” was the one phrase people didn’t forget. Daily. men took the 5 Car to Los Angeles to line up in the casual labor pool, often with heartbreaking results. Merchants in Hawthorne and elsewhere found themselves in difficult circumstances.
By 1932, it was obvious the Depression would not end soon and government would be forced to come to assistance of its citizens. The newly elected President Roosevelt hurled new slogans, committed relief programs to the voters and gained an admiration bordering on diety. Still. the economy failed to stabilize and by the end of the decade, the nation still had as many on relief as in 1930. America was in deep trouble.
Hawthorne, however, was better off than many other communities of Southern California. Most homes had chickens in the backyard, possibly a cow tethered in the endless stands of green grass and, further out. possibly a pig or two for fresh pork. By swapping such items for service and other items, survival seemed assured. No one was misled, however, property was often unpaid and taxes were never deferrable. Hard times were ahead.
By 1933, no one was any longer confused; the Great Depression was quite different from those of the past. The only jobs to be had were created by the government in the form of public service. Along with the government job came a food order which consisted of basic items of questionable quality. The jobs were of the leaf-raking variety and the food packages carried the demeaning designation which was humbly marked with government restrictions: NOT FOR RESALE. To make the humiliation more complete, a county truck delivered the food to residences. Dad’s steady employment looked better all the time. At no time did we ask for or receive assistance from the county. Another very good reason; we were not American citizens.
In this no-employment atmosphere, those who had purchased homes in Hawthorne prior to the Depression were truly in great trouble. A small tract of homes had been constructed on Wallace Street a year or two before the crash; it was particularly stricken. These houses were originally sold for $6,000 which seemed appropriate at the time. Interest rates were not excessive and the monthly payments had been predicated upon the prevailing wage rates of the day.
By the beginning of 1933, however, both the mortgages and payments were no longer meaningful and owners began to move east from where they had come, leaving the house and mortgage behind. Banks and lenders began to take realistic views of the deteriorating housing market and offered the vacant houses at prices and mortgages more in line with the disastrous depression. An uncle, steadily employed as a master carpenter in Los Angeles, bought one for a total of $3,000–half the original price. In the shadow of this calamity, I often wondered how Oswald Brothers,who had paved the streets, came out on their street bonds!!!
The years from 1929 to 1939 can rightfully be designated as the lost decade. Hawthorne barely held on while the nation seemed to be waging a losing battle with an alternative system of government. Still, the all-powerful U.S.A. had a trifling national debt of 16 billion dollars in 1932 which provided an endless margin for national debt in the interest of its destitute citizens.
Nationally, we had room for plenty of debt and this is exactly what we did; spend and spend again. Only time will tell if the nation will ever be able to liquidate the two trillion dollars of debt we have accumulated in these five intervening decades.
In spite of the languorous 1930s, Hawthorne made some giant steps forward. The smell of war was in the air. Northrop, one of the nation’s foremost airplane manufacturers purchased a huge tract of land on Prairie Avenue and built the Northrop Corporation with thousands of jobs available. Gloomily, war was indeed on the way and our economic woes appeared over for the duration.
With the war came the changes in life in the Centinela Valley which altered community life forever. With most critical materials now in short supply, building camJ to a halt and the community seemed to be in a holding position awaiting the end of the conflict. At war’s end, Hawthorne had changed so much few of us could relate to the lethargic life of the early 1920s.
By 1946, the old life had fled, leaving a strange but exciting new lifestyle. Most of the Japanese vegetable gardens had been replaced with housing developments and the surrounding farmland was being literally paved with whole new communities such as Westchester, Wiseburne, Bodger Park and others too numerous to mention. In north Inglewood, all of the old farms were being replaced with tracts of new homes and local parks. Slauson Avenue was paved all the way to Culver City and Centinela Valley was losing its rural atmosphere. The endless fields of ripening grain were gone forever.
Lennox, still unincorporated, seemed to change the least of all communities in the Centinela Valley. An extensive dairy operation still functioned effectively on Pine and Redfern. Brother Adam worked at this dairy during summer months herding the cows to the still-ample pasture to the west of Redfern.
Where the Lennox High School is located, a large chicken farm continued on until condemned for school use. De Angeleo, the owner, sold to the school district and continued on as a maintenance man at the district yards.
Still, there was no ignoring the wistful reality the somulent and intimate relationships in the Valley were fast disappearing. No longer could one stand at the end of the 5 Carline and know nearly everyone that passed. Hawthorne Boulevard was being widened on both sides of the abandoned yellow car line and even Bill’s Lunchroom, Hawthorne’s perennial landmark, became merely pictures in photo albums. Without emotional warning, we, the youngsters of the 1920s, were becoming the “oldtimers” of Centinela Valley. As the symbols of yesterday gave way to progress we could console one another that all was for the best and this new surge of expansion would provide our children with a more leisurely lifestyle.
POST WAR HAWTHORNE
Few of us underestimated the business boom slated for Southern California following the war. Consumer demand had been deferred by shortages during the conflict. Now people had savings and pressing desires for items of goods and services they could not obtain for a period of four years.
By now a member of Hawthorne Rotary, I could notice the increase of club membership as new businesses entered Hawthorne. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to list all of the exceptional Rotary Members produced by our local business growth. A number became “new” friends, and hold a special place in my inner affections. Who could forget such men as Ed Chaffee,
Ernest Hahn, Joel Greenberg, Harry Rapella, Wally Nyman, Jeff Garner, Milt Robins, Cal Baker and Julius Davidson? Mournfully, the list of valued friendships reaches into those who completed a mortal lifetime and departed our earthly presence. How often I reflect upon the lives of these early Hawthorne people who left endless memories of service behind. I think somberly of Art White, Vern Rice, Ralph Tetzlaff, Wally Frazer, Jim Dunaway as well as countless others.
Following the war, Hawthorne burst into an avalanche of new growth. The business communities expanded along with this growth but dark economic clouds hung in the south. Bustling shopping centers were being created in the Torrance area which would eventually prove disastrous to the Hawthorne business community. There was not a businessman on the Boulevard who did not begin to notice the shift of business to the new May Company and other retail outlets in the spreading South Bay Shopping Center.
In chamber of commerce meetings, the merchandising dragon to the south could not long be ignored. If Hawthorne was to be little more than an unimportant economic sattelite to the ever-expanding shopping centers south of Artesia.
With Hawthorne’s population nearing 40 thousand, the Hawthorne business community, working in conjunction with Ernest Hahn, a giant shopping mall for Hawthorne was soon under way. I and other old-timers looked on with mixed feelings as most of Hawthorne’s history melted under the relentless blade of the bulldozer and earth grader.
To the contractors, of course, the dismantling of the old structures merely represented another day’s work. It was not easy to observe the swinging wrecking ball demolish rooms and buildings which once served our isolated little village. In just a matter of days, the Professional Building was making its way down the Boulevard in the form of rubble loaded in dump trucks. The old Hawthorne Theatre and Andersen’s Shoe Repair met a similar fate.
In a matter of weeks, dozers were clearing the historical Hawthorne Circle with equal detachment. I watched as the venerable palm trees futiley resisted the relentless power of the dozer blade. Within hours, these painfully familiar trees lay in great heaps, awaiting the endless line of dump trucks.
Within weeks, all was cleared from 120th Street to El Segundo Boulevard. Most of the Hawthorne I knew as a child was now a soulless patch of scarred land awaiting the heavy hand of progress. Before the new construction got under way, I walked the vacant land in wistful pensiveness.
It seemed with each step, I encountered apparations of the past. Here was the location of the ill-fated Daily Leader and its brilliant editorBen Arrid. Upstairs, on this very site, Dr. Russel filled some of my teeth as a boy. In the same building but further south, Leo Fate attended my various needs over the years. Over there was the Hawthorne Theatre with Dave Rector scurrying to the box office very hour to determine attendance.
Stepping around some machinery being moved into the site, I could picture Grant Mastin’s Drug Store and the old police department which bordered on the Hawthorne Circle. There was Larry Andersen standing out in front of his father’s shoe repair shop. It was not difficult to construct a mental image of old Mr. Black stocking his popcorn machine in front of Rector’s Theatre. Looking westward from the dismembered Hawthorne Circle, Broadway had disappeared only to reemerge west of the Boulevard. A mood of indistinct depression became my strolling companion.
Crossing to the west side of the Boulevard revived my sagging spirits. ~~ile the site of the new mall presented a strange and gaunt appearance, the west side of Hawthorne Boulevard retained a remarkable number of comforting landmarks which I could associate with my youth.
In an ironic twist of fate, our old lot remained unimproved after all these 60 odd years. Scheduled at one time for a theatre, these plans fell through and the property remains vacant to this day. Its last commercial purpose was a parking lot for Thrifty Department Store which, I believe, was once a part of Cheney’s Dry Good Store. Glancing across the street to the cleared acreage, a poignant reality struck with finality: the Hawthorne I knew most of my life was gone forever. Only memories remained. The original Hawthorne contained a mere 90 acres. The new mall would eventually cover nearly half of this original grant.
Our old lot–the Thrifty Department Store parking area–was totally unoccupied. Giving in to an inexplicable mixture of nostalgia, I parked my bright new car on the lot and strolled back to the corner of Hawthorne and Broadway. In each of the stores, I stopped to view the interiors. While altered numerous times these past six decades, some of the structures were here when I arrived in 1923. Comforting to know at least a few of the old landmarks remain.
However, there could be no disputing the evidence; many of these old store buildings had indeed reached the end of economic life expectancy and were desperately in need of replacement. I veered westward at Broadway in the direction of Hawthorne’s first hospital. It, too, had been converted into a sterile parking lot and all evidence of the two story hospital-house had long since met the fate of the wrecking ball. Only one lonely palm tree still bordered Broadway. At one time, the lot and structure were covered with comforting vegetation of all descriptions.
With ample time on hand, I leisurely returned to my car on the Thrifty parking lot. Moving the auto to the edge of the sidewalk, I was able to view the entire area of this city which had been home for so many decades. Ignoring the speeding traffic, I stoked the furnace of aging memories of other times and other events. Somehow, time had altered both with a velvety covering which they probably ill-deserved.
Still, even in the stark reality of midday and a bright sun, I had little difficulty in reconstructing the scene which greeted our arrival on this very spot in 1923. Across the street I could visualize the little orchestra making music while a few dance couples swayed and waltzed under the stars. Bill’s Lunch Room with its single blazing light out front. The occasional clickkclack of a passing trolley on the way back to Eagle Rock–fare, by the wayis cents.
With solemn clarity, I could recall our approach to this same property in our top-heavy Paige in 1923. We arrived somewhat despondent and with little if anything of substance. Reflecting upon the subsequent material successes of family members furnished little in the way of emotional comfort.
While agreeing with the city council and others that Hawthorne would perish economically without the mall, I felt a tug of nostalgia for the unnforgettable days of yesteryear. The present, to me at least, appeared strange and unfamiliar. Only the past seemed real and worthwhile.
The formal invitation arrived a month early; I could not have been more delighted. This meant Juanita and I would have ample time to attend the 60th anniversary of the Hawthorne Rotary Club to be held at the Cockatoo Inn at the end of April, 1986.
While not able to attend on a regular basis due to a number of geographical factors, the Club had generously awarded me an honorary membership along with Ernest Hahn, a former president of Hawthorne Rotary. In order to indicate a sincere appreciation for my continued membership, I often return to Hawthorne for just the pleasure of meeting with my Rotary friends–old as well as new.
Since I usually return to Hawthorne by plane, I permanently leave a spare car near the airport. This affords me mobility upon arrival and free to attend Rotary as well as visit old friends in Centinela Valley. This arrangement provides me with the best of two worlds for which I am indeed grateful.
With the impressive, engraved invitation still in hand, precious old memories begin to stir. I can still recall the formation of Hawthorne Rotary, 60 years ago. Still more unsettling, I can even remember the names and faces of some of those original members constituting the fledgling membership in 1926. Reconstructing up such memories from a ghostly distance of six decades seems to place them in a different lifetime. A fleeting reality of my own fragile mortality momentarily dampens my joyous anticipation of meeting with so many of my Rotary friends who have long-since left the area.
There could be no doubt this 60th anniversary of Hawthorne Rotary would be considered a civic affair of regional and historical importance. The Mayor and other political dignitaries would certainly be in attendance. Lamentably, none of the original members would be there. Only two are among the living and each is in fragile health and unable to travel far. Dr. Leo Fate, I understand, now lives in retirement in Leisure World and Jack Swatman is confined to his hospital room.
Glancing once again at the colorful invitation, a pleasant surprise meets my gaze. My dear friend, Ernest Hahn, certainly one of Hawthorne’s most recognized names, will be the speaker of the evening. Since “Ernie” and I entered business at about the same time, I instantly became engulfed in wisttful reflections regarding this sterling individual who eventually altered the shopping habits of our nation. I felt certain, during the course of the evening, Ernie and I would have at least a few minutes to relive those longgone days of yesterday.
In order to make certain we would miss none of the evening festivities, we settled in our quarters near the Los Angeles Airport a day early. Arriving at the Cockatoo an hour early, I was pleasantly surprised to find a large number of Rotary members were already there–some having come from as far away as Portland, Oregon.
As fully anticipated, my entrance evoked the usual roar from the current and past membership regarding my “frugal” Scottish characteristics along with dire threats to relieve me of a “modest” contribution before the evening was over. Clumsy attempts, of course, were made to effect Scottish accents in hopes I would break out into one of my “comebacks.” All of this “abuse” only serves to increase the warm affection I feel for Hawthorne Rotary and the generations of men who continue to make Hawthorne the most friendly club in the state.
Always pressed for time, Ernest Hahn arrived just before the banquet was to be served. At his late appearance, the room broke into wild applause and cheers. Some of those present had not seen him for many years. I had only a moment to embrace him and carry on a private conversation, not meant for the ears of the assembly. He confided in me that his private jet and personal pilot were on standby at LAX awaiting his return. For reasons soon to become obvious, Ernie seemed to prefer the information regarding his jet and pilot not become known among the celebrants.
At the conclusion of the banquet, Hahn took leisurely to the podium to make his presentation. I and many others, naturally, anticipated a scholarly discourse on the future of American shopping centers or even to the monetary exchange in the world. I was quick to notice he was “unarmed” with a bale of notes which could make for a long evening. Certainly, no one was more
of an authority on these subjects than our speaker.
But none of this for Ernie Hahn. With his usual humor and sharp memory, he smilingly proceeded to reveal the humorous shortcomings of his old friends and Rotarians in attendance. Since Ernie was a past president of the club, he had plenty of ammunition. He seemed in no hurry to begin his address but seemed to enjoy “roasting” each Rotarian in turn. My turn came toward the end. I had almost forgotten the humorous incident which turned all eyes in my direction.
As the minutes slipped away, the light banter continued to the delight of all. However, those anticipating a weighty lecture involving Ernie’s business empire were doomed to disappointment. As the joking and laughter subsided, the speaker became subdued and increasingly reflective. Now I could account for the absence of notes; Hahn had no intention of reflecting upon his phenomenal career which rocketed him and his company to international recognition and vast wealth.
At least for the evening, Ernie’s thoughts were not to be cluttered with billion dollar investments or even his astronomical achievements over these past four decades. Still smiling but in a noticeably subdued demeanor, Hahn began to speak of his youth in our community. With disarming candor and an almost detachment from those assembled, he began a humble, personal journey back through the murky corridors of time to the days when Hahn St. John Company consisted of a confined corner in Gil Laven’s Insurance office, without bank balances or lines of credit. I found myself constantly picturing the twin engine jet waiting for him at LAX.
As his thoughts wandered back over the years, his voice became ever lower as if the speaker was actually reliving those bitter-sweet days when success seemed so remote. Now Ernie’s gaze seemed to be fixed far above the heads of his listeners as if a prisoner of personal reflections. The audience settled in a total silence as the remarkable story, told without a trace of pride, continued for nearly an hour. He could have easily held universal attention for at least another hour.
However, with an excellent sense of timing, Ernie smiled broadly and left the podium. Earlier, Ernie had mentioned the fact he would be forced to leave as soon as he had completed his remarks. This became nearly impossible since he was mobbed by his many friends as he attempted to make his exit. Still shaking many hands, the speaker left the building and made for the airport and his plane. This man Hahn is, indeed, no ordinary business tycoon. Only a few of us know of the astonishingly generous provisions the Hahn Corporation has made for its officers and employees–past as well as present. His thoughtful remarks of the evening merely confirmed what most of us already knew–Ernie was totally unspoiled by success. Even more gratifying, him humble years with us in Hawthorne still represented a significant place in his mind and heart.
It is now past midnight and the crowd begins to disperse. My wife and I remain behind to visit with our treasured friends the Nymans. All lament the absence of Jeff and Rennie Garner who now live very comfortably in Laguna Hills. Jeff no longer enjoys robust health and makes the journey to Hawthorne infrequently. Jeff Garner, of course, directed Centinela Valley Union High School District for nearly a quarter-century when the district faced monumental problems. His success in this endeavor will be long remembered. Both Jeff and Rennie retain a very special place in my abundant storehouse of affection.
The hour is now late and it is our turn to make our departure. As we reach our car, the night still seems young with a bright moon dispelling the velvety darkness. The traffic on the Boulevard at this hour is only sporatic and flows lightly in each direction. With the boldness of yesterday, I suggest we drive down to 147th Street in Lawndale and take a look at the old Congregational Church where first we met. In a matter of minutes, we are holding hands on the steps of this very special house of worship. September, 1933 seemed like yesterday.
But enough! All sentimental journies must ultimately terminate, no matter how precious and treasured. With gentle kindness, fortified with considerable practicality, Juanita reminds me how thankful we should be for the happiness these intervening years have brought us. Let us get on with the present, she suggests.
Still, as we reached our lodging for the night near the Los Angeles Airport, I was overcome with one last bit of nostalgia. Smiling broadly, I revealed to my sleepy spouse; this hotel was located in an area once covered with yellow fields of barley. There was no response–truly, my delightful odyssey down the back roads of yesterday is over.