Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Beneath Parker Center: the Paris Inn Café, Little Tokyo, Vigilantes & Mexican Immigrants

The future for the vacated Los Angeles Police Facilities Building on Los Angeles Street is still undetermined.  The modern, postwar, Welton Becket structure opened in 1955 and was posthumously named Parker Center in 1966 after the death by heart attack of Police Chief William H. Parker.

This post will dig, historically speaking, beneath the block where Parker Center stands, encompassed by Los Angeles, Temple, Judge John Aiso (formerly San Pedro) and First Streets.
An aerial view as seen on the Los Angeles City Model (ca. 1938-40),
currently on display at the Natural History Museum's Becoming Los Angeles exhibition

The Paris Inn Café on Market Street

A minor street once ran east-west until sometime around the 1952 groundbreaking - Market Street.  From its beginning it was a short street, and by the 1950s it probably only ran from Main to San Pedro.  (After Parker Center was opened, however, a 1956 city directory listed a main post office at 333 Market Street.)

Within the city block was a popular dining establishment, the Paris Inn Café, completed near the corner of Market and Los Angeles streets in late 1929 (210 E. Market) and formally opened in March of 1930.  The business was moved in 1950 to Chinatown at its third and final location (845 N. Broadway), leaving the unique French chateau to face the bulldozer.

The Café's original location was a block west, at 110 E. Market.  Madam V. Zucca began operating it in 1922, and the business changed hands to Bert Rovere, Innocente Pedroli and other new owners in 1924. By the time the new City Hall opened in 1928, the Paris Inn was just across the street; the café had seen raids in violation of "dry Sunday"; dining entertainment included an orchestra, acrobatic dancers, a singing cigarette girl, Rovere himself billed as California's best baritone, dinner dansant (dancing held during afternoon tea); and the place served French & Italian dinners.

The restaurant was keen on publicity:  their Paris Inn Café orchestra was featured on KHJ radio along with other local groups including the Leighton's Arcade Cafeteria orchestra.  Bert Rovere promoted his operatic voice and athleticism like in a 1927 article reporting on his training for a Catalina Island swim.

The entertainment offerings continued as the new restaurant down the street was being completed:  Mystic Madame mind reader, fortune telling, singing waiters, and Apache dancers.  On March 26, 1930, a celebrity-studded grand opening of the new Paris Inn was broadcast on radio station KTM.  Within a few short months, the new location was raided by Prohibition officers.  Soon the charges against Pedroli and Rovere were dropped.  By the end of the year the restaurant was allowed to re-open. The following year Mexican star Carla Montel was hired for their Paris Inn revue.  In 1932, publicity built up for the largest patron turnout yet at the second anniversary party.


Postcard postmarked June 8, 1934
From blogger's collection

Paris Inn customers included football and auto-racing guests, and the papers often reported the local Italian colony hosting meals in honor of its special guests.  In January of 1931, a waiter race was reported to be held on Washington's birthday on a race route from the Southern Pacific station to the Inn - competitors carried a tray, a bottle of milk and a goblet.  Out of 60 waiters, the winner was Mr. Apollo.
Paris Inn at 210 Market Street, Los Angeles
Courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research


Paris Inn (from magazine)
Courtesy of the Seaver Center
Interior with singing waiters by the Eiffel Tower
Courtesy of the Seaver Center

Courtesy of the Seaver Center

First and San Pedro Streets - the Historic Heart of Little Tokyo

Japanese American residents, businesses and organizations were displaced for the new Police Facilities Building.  The City Planning Commission decided this in 1950, and some residents called it a "second evacuation" of the 1,000 tenants, including those in the Olympic Hotel.

By 1907 this intersection was a central point of the growing district of Little Tokyo with a population of 6,000.  By 1930, most of Los Angeles County's 35,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans lived within three miles of this center - partly due to the prejudicial hostilities in areas beyond.  Below is a photograph looking out from the corner of First and San Pedro, showing the structures in the process of being cleared out:


The corner business in the foreground was the First and San Pedro Department Store, circa 1953
Courtesy of the Seaver Center (P-011-3ov)
The 1925 Olympic Building once sat at 117 N. San Pedro - the 1930 and 1942 city directories listed a Japanese Chamber of Commerce in the building.  It also contained "the finest hotel of that era", professional offices of doctors and lawyers, and stores including Mikawaya Confectionary.  In the photograph above, the Olympic Building had been demolished (far right shows cleared land).  (Today the segment of San Pedro between First and Temple has been renamed in honor of Judge John F. Aiso).

Using the above photograph as reference, on the upper left would have been the Japanese Daily News of Los Angeles (Rafu Shimpo) located at 104-108 N. Los Angeles Street, where the newspaper had operated since 1915 or 1916.  It is a good thing the publisher's son was able to resume the newspaper beginning in 1946 after being released from internment following the war, while his father Toyosaku Komai remained at a New Mexico detention center:  the building would be intact for another handful of years and Komai had hid the Japanese type apparatus under the floors!  (For more information, read Little Tokyo:  One Hundred Years in Pictures).

View of First & Judge John Aiso Streets taking June, 2016

The naming of a segment of San Pedro Street in remembrance of  Judge John Aiso enabled the community to take back part of what was lost in the 1950s - because he was the first Japanese American judge, but also unfortunately Mr. Aiso succumbed to head trauma from a violent attack in Hollywood.

Don Manuel Requena & Requena Street

In 1923, the Busch Pipe & Supply Co. occupied the address of 150 North Los Angeles Street (later to become the address of Parker Center).  The map below shows a much earlier structure - that of the Requena Block.  A merchant, Manuel Requena (born about 1802 in Campeche, Yucatan) was the landowner - more on him later.

Market Street's name came about through a petition filed in July of 1904 by the merchants along North Main Street.  The City Council approved changing out Requena to Market.  Before that, the original length of the street was called Libertad.

The Requena Block - Manuel Requena's building along Los Angeles Street
shown on the lower portion of an 1870 map courtesy of the Seaver Center

An 1894 ad in Charles Lummis' Land of Sunshine periodical provides a glimpse further back in time of what was here -  the Union Gas Engine Company specialized in irrigation, mining and marine equipment at 114 Requena Street.  Requena Street was also where the zanja madre (mother ditch water source) flowed, making Manuel Requena's property a prime location.


Don Manuel Requena
Image courtesy of the Seaver Center

He was an orange grower, too, but today his contemporary, William Wolfskill, is primarily remembered for early citrus culture rather than Requena.  Thomas O. Larkin described Requena positively in this way:  "trader and farmer...born in Yucatan...a man of property and much general information and influence...not anxious to be in public life unless strongly urged, not anxious for salary."

He was elected as one of the trustees for the city's first school - a schoolhouse was constructed in the mid-1850s, according to Harris Newmark as "way out in the country" - at Second and Spring Streets.

He was a cattle rancher.  Shown are cattle brands registered by him in the 1850s:


Requena's cattle brand and ear notches recorded with the
Registrar-Recorders Office in 1852
Courtesy of the Seaver Center
Another set of cattle documents recorded the following year (1853)
Courtesy of the Seaver Center

He died in 1876 a widower and without offspring.  His wife Gertrudes Guirado (sister of Rafael Guirado) died two and a half years earlier.  In the 1870 census, Requena's household comprised of himself, his wife and a Chinese cook, Jo Ah.  Neighbors listed on the same census also had Chinese cooks.  This blogger wonders whether Requena and others employing the Chinese were served somewhat Chinese meals.  This blogger also wonders if some of the cooks became victims of the 1871 Chinese Massacre in the city.

Manuel Requena was in Guaymas, Sonora in the early 1830s.  He turned down an administrative job at the Guaymas customs office.  He partnered with Englishman Richard York to sail a ship they co-owned up to California and pick up hide & tallow before heading to Chile.  With immigrant passengers on board, everyone arrived sea sick from a voyage that began March 1834 and arrived in San Pedro in July.  Requena decided to stay put in Los Angeles.

During the same year, the politically controversial Hijar-Padres Colony party left San Blas on August 3rd aboard the ship Natalia.  Among the 239 members of the group was Frenchman Victor Prudon (who would soon become Requena's adversary in Los Angeles).  In 1835 the Mexican government declared Los Angeles from pueblo to ciudad.  Moreover, the same decree also designated Los Angeles as the new capital of Alta California.  The threat to the power seat in the Monterey capital coupled with immigrants streaming to Los Angeles did not sit well with the northerners in Monterey.

Violence & Vigilantes

By 1836, Requena was alcalde (mayor).  He later served a second term in 1844, but in late March, 1836, he was in a grave situation:  a vigilante committee formed comprising of upstanding citizens outraged by the murder of Domingo Feliz allegedly by his unfaithful wife and her vaquero lover.  An L.A. Times article published January 30, 1921 recounted the ordeal:  Requena and the Common Council went to investigate a missing person, discovered Feliz' body, and eventually arrested a man and woman.  French emigrant Victor Prudon led the push to pressure Requena to execute both individuals.  Requena refused, and the mob took matters into their own hands, lead the accused to an outside jail wall and shot both.  (For more information on this topic, see Eternity Street:  Violence and Justice in Frontier Los Angeles, by John Mack Faragher, W.W. Norton, New York, 2016).

*       *      *

As the victorious Americans occupied the city following the U.S. War with Mexico in 1849, Requena was a member of the Common Council when they approved to hire surveyor Lieutenant Edward Ord for the first survey of Los Angeles. 

He was an objecting voice in 1850 when the northerners of California wanted to proceed with statehood for California without enabling the southern part of California to weigh in on the matter.

When the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors was formed in 1852, Requena served on the first board, along with New Mexican Julian Chavez.