An Outpost of Progress

The Leonis Adobe in Calabasas

Over the last several weeks, Martine and I have been visiting many of the old Spanish and Mexican adobes that were built before the American occupation in the late 1840s. Built in 1844 along the El Camino Réal that connected the Spanish missions of Alta California, the adobe became occupied in the 1850s or 1860s by Miguel Leonis, a 6’ 4” Basque from France who has been called the King of Calabasas. He lived with Espiritu Chujilla, who lived with him as wife. It turns out, however, he was never legally married.

That became obvious when Leonis died in an accident which involved him falling off and being run over by his wagon in 1889.  Although he left Espiritu $10,000 in his will—no trivial amount in those times—he left his millions to various of his European relatives. The will referred to her as his “faithful housekeeper,” though she had been introduced to guests as his wifeEspiritu fought the will in the courts for many years and won, but only after a fashion. She was plagued ever after by over a hundred other lawsuits.

Espiritu Chujilla

For some reason, it was common for Yankee and European pioneers to do their level best to cheat the native Spanish and Mexican population of their land and livelihood. It is said that the Leonis Adobe is haunted. The ghost appears to be Miguel’s. If so, he has a lot to answer for….

The Leonis Adobe Museum is perhaps the best organized and funded of the adobes we have visited to date. On the premises is not only the adobe itself, but a number of the original or rebuilt farm structures and outbuildings. The premises includes chickens, turkeys, longhorn cattle, goats, sheep, and horses, which visitors may feed with packets on sale at the museum. One enters by the oldest dwelling in the Hollywood area, the Plummer House, originally built around 1870, and inhabited by the family of Eugene Plummer, close friends of Miguel and Espiritu. The house was moved from Plummer Park is West Hollywood in 1983 after vandals attempted to burn it down.

Longhorn Cattle at the Leonis Adobe

In 1962, the Leonis Adobe was named Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #1 by the newsly formed Cultural Heritage Board. (The Plummer House was State Historical Monument #160.)

Pride, Courage … and Justice

L.A.’s African American Firefighter Museum

Over the last few years, I have become a connoisseur of small museums. Instead of taking on a broad swath of subject matter, they appear to be restricted to a small, concentrated area. When they succeed, one finds that you have been led to confront larger issues than you originally anticipated. So it is with the African American Firefighter Museum at 14th Street and Central Avenue in downtown Los Angeles.

I expected to hear stories of pride and courage as firefighters sacrifice to save lives and property, but I came away with a sobering consciousness of American racism. For many years, black firefighters were restricted to two engine companies in the African American neighborhoods south of Downtown L.A., one of which, shown above, has been converted into a museum. Finally, in the 1950s, the LAFD was to be integrated. Consequently, existing black firefighters were distributed among hitherto white only engine companies.

Displays on the Second Floor of the Museum

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times commemorating the opening of the museum:

Only those who were there would remember.

The way Wallace DeCuir entered the station and greeted his colleagues every morning, knowing they would ignore him.

The way Reynaldo Lopez kept his cool, even after a “Whites Only” sign was hung from the kitchen door.

The day someone smeared feces on Earnest Roberts’ pillow, and the other men watched.

And laughed.

The year was 1955. LAFD Fire Chief John H. Alderson said that the segregation policy was being implemented on schedule, but that it would take five years or more to “take” in all the fire stations. In the meantime, he did nothing to enforce the agency’s integration policy and was finally forced to take an early retirement.

Exhibits like this reminded me of the way things were in the 1950s, which we whites considered to be some sort of Golden Age. Yes, but not for everybody.

I sat for a couple of hours looking at a scrapbook of news stories from the 1950s of what black firefighters had to endure in order to work side by side with their white colleagues. In the end, I was appalled that the men who are charged with saving our lives and property have to endure as a result of the racism of their colleagues.

Los Angeles has four museums dedicated to firefighters. So far I have visited three of them, and one of them, this one, taught me some sobering lessons.

With Martine at the Arboretum

Martine Sitting on the Shore of Baldwin Lake

Yesterday Martine asked me if we could drive to the Los Angeles Arboretum in Arcadia. I was reluctant at first, as it is an hour drive at high speed over several freeways, but I was delighted that Martine actually wanted to go somewhere that was interesting to her. And the botanical gardens of Southern California are favorite destinations for her. She is shown here siting on her tripod cane chair, wearing one of my old guayaberas and a Mexican straw hat, looking at the ducks and geese plying Baldwin Lake.

We would up staying over four hours, much of it with the geese and ducks.

A Mother’s Day Portrait of Mom with Ducklings

Most of the time was spent around the lake and its various inlets. Having seen all the signs about warning not to feed the birds and wild animals, Martine felt she had to explain to the geese why she didn’t bring any food for them. They did not seem to be very put out by the lack of bread crumbs because they were so busy rooting around in the grass for the insects and plants that form much of their diet. Still, it was interesting that she felt so bad about not being able to feed them herself.

The View Across Baldwin Lake at the Queen Anne Cottage

Because we have had a wet winter, Baldwin Lake no longer looked like a large mudhole. It was covered with millions of tiny leaves that had fallen from the surrounding trees (you can see them in the middle photo above).

When she is at a botanical garden, there is no trace of the depression that marred so much of her life in the last year and a half. She no longer wants to escape to another city: She can’t because she has spent her savings on previous abortive trips. Instead, she is taking long walks in our neighborhood, which, probably, is good for her.

 

The Pacific Red Cars

Martine at the Orange Empire Railroad Museum (2016)

If you have ever seen the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), you’ve heard one theory why the best intraurban transportation system in America was destroyed. I think I can assure you that Judge Doom’s hatred of cartoon characters was not the reason why the Pacific Red Cars stopped running around the 1950s. If you’re looking for a reason, you could blame the construction of new freeways, the desire of General Motors to put every American behind the wheel of a Chevrolet, or the aging of the Pacific Electric rolling stock.

My late friend Bob Klein even wrote a novel in which the Red Cars figured—The Road to Mount Lowe—an enjoyable work (if you can get your hands on a copy of it).

The Pacific Red Car Network at Its Height

For whatever reason, the Pacific Red Cars were replaced; and, L.A., which once had a world class public transportation system, wound up with bupkis. When I first came to Southern California, there were the buses of the Rapid Transit District (RTD), which were grossly inconvenient. For instance, going from West Los Angeles to Long Beach took upward of three hours or even more. Then the RTD gave way to the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), and things slowly began to change for the better. First of all, the old Red Car right of way between downtown and Long Beach was rebuilt as the Blue Line. Two subway lines were built: the Red Line, connecting downtown to North Hollywood/Studio City, and the Purple Line, from downtown to Western Avenue. (The latter will eventually extend slightly west of the UCLA campus.) Then there was a Green Line connecting Norwalk to El Segundo. (Why didn’t they run from Norwalk to the airport? Politics?) Finally, the Expo Line now connects downtown L.A. to the beach at Santa Monica.

I am a regular rider of the Expo Line, allowing me to go downtown for thirty-five cents instead of paying twenty plus dollars for parking.

Although the present network is still nowhere as extensive as the original Red Cars, it’s nice to know that the public transportation scene in Southern California is no longer going into eclipse.

 

California Dreaming

Condos Reflected on Venice’s Grand Canal

Today, as I was driving to a history discussion group, I saw huge crowds of tourists lurking around Beverly Hills and perched on countless tourist buses. It is interesting to see that so many young people from elsewhere are interested in Los Angeles. Even if what they are interested in is mostly garbage: The shops on Rodeo Drive and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

But there is something about this place. Believe it or not, it’s the light. But you have to be receptive to visual nuances, something not quite as crass as a Gucci Bag or a star honoring the career of Rod La Rocque. And you have to be up early in the morning, or be around at dusk. Noon is just plain achingly bright.

The funny thing is that you don’t see much of what L.A. is about by visiting Universal City or Disneyland or even the La Brea Tar Pits. You can get something of a feel for it when you see the Getty Center or the Arboretum or Descanso Gardens or the Huntington Gardens and Art Museum. But you have to be still and let the light play over you. The more frenzied your touring is, the less you’ll get out of it.

Hell, it took me years before I could even see this place as it should be seen.

 

It Never Lets Up

California Appears To Be A-Changing

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but there seems to be a serious discrepancy in weather forecasts, especially with regards to the duration of heat waves in the coastal area. A three-day heat wave was predicted for Zip 90025 beginning July 5 of this year. The first day of the heat wave was indeed a scorcher, with the mercury at nearby UCLA topping off at 111°, a new record. Then we were supposed to go down to the Seventies (Fahrenheit), but every day since then, for six weeks and counting it has been in the Nineties or, at the very least, in the high Eighties.

My apartment was built in another era when there used to be cool summers. Therefore, we have no insulation. We are on the top floor, and the roof superheats and makes the inside temperature 10-15 degrees warmer than the outside temperature until the middle of the night. I have slept atop the blankets for six weeks, burrowing under the covers in my sleep when it finally cools off.

What is worse, when it gets hot in Southern California during the early summer, the humidity is much higher than normal, making the heat feel more oppressive than the temperature reading. The reason is that, for the deserts of the Southwest, this is the rainy season, with monsoonal moisture coming up from Mexico and causing humidity and, in the deserts, rain.

Two or three days a week, I head for the Westfield Mall in Culver City to enjoy their air conditioning, read a book, and eat lunch. By the time I return home, around three or four in the afternoon, it is hot and muggy indoors. But at least I have had some comfort.

For those of you in the metric zone, here is a translation of the Fahrenheit readings mentioned in this post:

  • 111° F = 44° C
  • Seventies F = 21-26° C
  • Eighties F = 27-32° C
  • Nineties F = 32-37° C

My brother thinks that the weathermen deliberately underestimate the length of a heat wave just to keep people coming back to their news station for current updates. But then, why do that on the Internet, too?

 

An Automobile Museum Right By LAX

The Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo

There’s an old Hungarian expression which, roughly translated into English, states “It was almost poking your eyes out!” This was the case with the Automobile Driving Museum (ADM), which is tucked among warehouses and hotels within hailing distance of the Los Angeles Airport (LAX). Although I’ve been driving distances to see the Petersen and Nethercutt Automotive Museums, and even as far as Oxnard to see the Mullin and Murphy Automotive Museums, there was an equally interesting auto museum right in the neighborhood.

There are several unique features to the ADM. On Sundays, they give free drives in classic cars for a few blocks around the museum. Martine and I took a ride in a 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner Convertible. Within the museum is a cute little ice cream parlor which also sells sodas and snacks. Finally, most of the cars on display allow you to not only touch them, but get in and snuggle behind the wheel as if you were driving them. The picture below with Martine behind the wheel of a 1949 Crosley Station Wagon:

Martine Behind the Wheel

Perhaps most important of all, the ADM provides lavish documentation about the cars on display as well as wall and free-standing displays of information about how the American auto industry developed from its earliest days. There are approximately 130 cars on display including some unique items (which they don’t allow you to touch) in a glassed-in auto “showroom” adjoining the museum.

It is appropriate that Southern California is so richly endowed with automotive museums seeing as it was a city made possible by the automobile, with its vast spaces and mountains. All of these automotive museums are worth visiting—much more so than many so-called tourist attractions, such as Hollywood Boulevard.

A Section of the Museum Display Space