Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Boxing Idol in Cypress Park

Sports fame in L.A. at the turn of the last century was attained with boxing gloves. Jim Jeffries, an Ohio-born son of an Evangelist minister Alexis C. Jeffries, sparred his way to notoriety beginning in 1896.  By 1899 he appeared in a Coney Island fight against Bob Fitzsimmons, and Jeffries won the heavyweight championship by knock out.  He retired undefeated in 1905.

Jeffries appeared in celebrity endorsements ads.  He opened a downtown bar at 326 So. Spring Street (proprietors being J&J, perhaps with a brother Jonathan.)  Jeffries came out of retirement in 1910, but lost to African American fighter Jack Johnson.

Jim Jeffries' Gentlemen's Club at Spring Street

The Jeffries family settled in Cypress Park around 1882.  The family included mother Rebecca Boyer, three other sons Charles, Jonathan and Calvin; daughters Lydia, Alameda and Lillian.  Their home was situated on  their property bordered by Jeffries Avenue, Isabel Street, Figueroa Street, and Cypress Avenue.  Located here were two of their houses at 535 and 545 Cypress Avenue, which sat within the present-day footprint of Florence Nightingale Middle School . 

By 1905 this region underwent residential development.  Son Jonathan was a real estate developer. Charles was living at 571 Cypress in a house built in 1911.  Two residential tracts were attributed to the Jeffries family:  the earlier Jeffries Avenue Tract, circa 1905, that subdivided south of Cypress Avenue, and the later Jeffries Highland View Tract, that spanned north of Cypress Avenue.

[Update 11-10-16]  Jim Jeffries' home was 545 Cypress Avenue.  Illustrated in the 1940 book Nuestro Pueblo, Los Angeles, City of Romance, by Charles H. Owens and Joseph F. Seewerker, and shown below, the book states "the old house was torn down to make way for a school, but the Champion's house remains and, for all that Jim Jeffries no longer lives there, it is not just a house.  Too many middle-aged men in Los Angeles remember the early days of the century when as small boys they watched the Champ come out." 

From page 87, Nuestro Pueblo, Los Angeles, City of Romance

Jim Jeffries later moved to Burbank, and he died in 1953.  His Spring Street saloon was demolished in 1960.  [Update 9-16-2017:  Thanks to a gentleman named Dave for informing that "Apparently half of Jeffries bar survives as a local sports bar in Boulder City Nevada. It is a local hangout called the Backstop. A friendly place with reasonably priced libations and oodles of character. The old ornate bar is still there in its former glory. I googled your blog while sitting on the bar stool there."]

Burbank Historical Society's Gordon R. Howard Museum is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Jeffries-Johnson fight.  The exhibit includes photos and a pair of boxing gloves.

Jeffries Avenue ends at Avenue 26.  It forms a T intersection, and the former Lawry's California Center restaurant compound was at this intersection.  Its beautiful grounds have found new life as the Los Angeles River Center.

Lawry's, with its 8-acre garden, courtyard, outdoor dining, exhibition space, gift shop, manufacturing plant and administrative offices, was dedicated in 1971.  Downtown workers could swiftly drive up the Harbor Freeway and lunch in beautiful surroundings.  Closed in 1992, the grounds sat in neglect until the River Center opened in 2000.

Flags above the entrance way

Monday, December 6, 2010

Automotive Signs of the Times in Whittier, Cal.

Back in August I surveyed vacant auto dealerships.  Recently two more dealerships fell.  Whittier Daily News reported that Harris Buick Pontiac GMC at 13617 Whittier Boulevard closed on September 24th.

Along with its sister company, Saturn of Whittier at 13809 Whittier Boulevard, they are the sixth and seventh dealerships in the city to close in the last three years.

Back in Uptown Whittier at Pickering Avenue, a quirky VW Goldmine, seller of new and used Volkswagen parts, has been around more than three decades.  Its building would be nondescript if it weren't for the blue VW sticking out of the wall:

The V Dub has served as a stage for mannequins and props to provide cultural commentary on current events like OctoMom and the loss of the king of Pop - Michael Jackson.  Spotted this past summer was a bit of Lohan-ism:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Industrial Might: The City of Industry, Cal. and Shepherd Air Field

The 605 Freeway at Whittier near the Rose Hills Road exit provides a mighty repose.  It is the Quinn dealership of Caterpillar equipment and construction machinery.

Quinn is situated in the City of Industry.  The city meanders from the east and has progressively taken up the land along this area, particularly for the proximity to the railroad line.

A view east to the Puente Hills in the background.

The tracks to the north, with an ensemble of palm trees.

Before Quinn arrived in 2003, the location belonged to Shepherd Machinery Company.  W.W. Shepherd operated the Shepherd Tractor and Equipment Company in Los Angeles, having been in business since 1924.  A new facility was constructed in 1955 on a 34-acre area in what used to be the Whittier area.  Back then, the company distributed Caterpillar, John Deere and allied machinery.  In the 1950s Shepherd also had another facility in Lancaster (which was still in operation in 1996.)

The company expanded again in 1983 at this location, adding two more buildings.

As late as 1982, this site was still considered a part of the Whittier area.  The City of Industry had not yet reached this far southwest.

Shepherd Field

The Shepherd family maintained a 2,400 feet landing strip here.  It was a private field used for the company's two planes and one helicopter.  Sources on the web state that the family commuted between L.A. and Santa Barbara.  After the aircraft was sold, the field was closed, and the hangar was removed as late as 2003 or 2004.

A news article reported in 1964 that general use air fields in metropolitan Los Angeles had dwindled.  The El Monte Airport was in jeopardy of being converted for residential developments.  The Shepherd Field was cited as a rare air strip.  Even after the late 2000s when the Shepherd Field no longer existed, small aircraft mistakenly still made landings here!

Rail tracks looking south.  To the right here was where Shepherd Field existed.

These days, year after year, the original raised platform continues to showcase a yellow Caterpillar -- a vignette of industrial might, strength and patriotism.  During the holiday season, decorative lights drape the machine.

Update Jan. 13, 2013: The cool CAT is gone. The building was demolished in March, 2012.  View two dramatic clips on YouTube:

Clip one
Clip two

[Update July 17, 2019:  the YouTube videos were removed some time ago.  It is too bad - the footage showed a Caterpillar knocking down the building - a caterpillar destroying its own habitat.]

Update January 13, 2013: The business is still on their expansive compound but they have other plans for this portion.

Below shows the progress near the end of 2012:

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Pellissiers: Wiltern Theater, Dairy Farming, and Hazel the Cow

The name Pellissier is often associated with a building in Los Angeles on Wilshire Boulevard, but across town in the San Gabriel Valley, the name was a giant in the dairy industry.  The growth of Southern California in the middle of the 20th century resulted in cuts and and slices into a broad sweep of private land of a single landholder through eminent domain and an assertive neighboring municipality.  A multitude of land uses resulting from the decades of acquisition include:  flood control, freeway infrastructure, the construction of a college, subdivisions, the burial of refuse, the burial of loved ones and municipal expansion.

Wiltern Theater

The Pellissier Building (built between 1929 and 1931) was one of the early structures targeted for preservation by the Los Angeles Conservancy, a grassroots preservation group founded in 1978.  The building and the Wiltern Theater at its ground level underwent renovation, and the efforts culminated with a gala re-opening in May of 1985.

Germain Pellissier

The surrounding area was known as Pellissier Square, stemming from land acquired by Germain Pellissier, an immigrant who arrived in 1867 from a town in the High Alps in southern France.  (It was his grandson, Henry de Roulet, who later commissioned the building.)  Germain amassed a lot of property, including barren land outside of the city, which later became a part of the Wilshire Miracle Mile.  He herded sheep there. 

Francois F. Pellissier

Other relatives followed Germain's path, including a nephew, Francois Fidele Pellissier, who arrived in 1888 when he was about 15 years old.  Francois (or Frank) began dairy farming, and may have done so near his uncle's ranch, along with another young cousin, Anton.  An article from 1896 reported that he was one of the proprietors of Highland Union Dairy. 

Pellissier Ranch

By the late 1890s, Frank bought land from his friend Elias "Lucky" Baldwin and moved with his new bride to an area east of Whittier Narrows.  A house was built in the year 1905 at 3710 Workman Mill Road.  Frank had an amiable relationship with "Lucky" Baldwin, and he later purchased additional land from Baldwin's daughters.

Frank operated a business called the Alpine Dairy.  He delivered milk in Los Angeles, while his life took root in Whittier.  He raised four sons, Frank, Jr., Leon Albert, Laurence Raymond, and Robert Edmund.  (The senior Frank also acquired acreage in Chino for his dairy cow herds until about the 1940s.)

Los Angeles, the Center of the French Community

There were many French among Los Angeles' early settlers.  A substantial French community was taking shape by the time Frank arrived, and although he moved to the "country," Frank remained involved in the city, serving as President of the French Colony of LA and providing sponsorship for the French Hospital.  His marriage to Marie Valla in 1895 even took place in Los Angeles at the Old Plaza Church.  His wife, a year older than he, was a native-born French-American and also a founder of the French Ladies of Charity of Los Angeles.

Frank Leon Pellissier

Frank, Jr., the eldest son, was born on the Whittier dairy farm about 1896.  He attended the University of California and studied dairying.  By the 1920s, the family ranch was frequently written up in the paper for their award-winning cows in annual competitions.  The paper also wrote about college-educated Frank, Jr.'s modern dairy practices.  By 1925, over 1,100 acres of the ranch land were described to contain 250 acres of alfalfa, 150 acres of corn, 200 acres of hills pasture and 500 acres of river bottom pastures.  The paper reported in 1926 that there were 515 milking cows on their premises.  Frank, Jr., by this time, served as chairman of the county farm bureau.  By around 1928, Frank, Jr. started the Pellissier Dairy as a retail business, after breaking its ties with the Los Angeles Creamery.

The entire property eventually expanded to 3,200 acres of the Puente Hills, with reaches up to Valley Boulevard in El Monte, and 2,800 heads of cattle populated the land.  Around 1940, construction of the Whittier Narrows Dam caused the loss of some of the Pellissier property.

Hazel the Cow

Ranch activities included the sale of Holstein cows, enhanced by the Pellissiers' reputation for quality, award-winning cattle.  Frequently, such as in the spring of 1951, photo opps of their cows were often accompanied by a pretty girl, a dairy queen.  By the fall, one of Frank Pellissier's cows, Pansco Hazel, a Holstein-Friesian cow, was in the news for recognition as a national champion in milk-producing.  News escalated in August, 1952, that Hazel, now 17 years old (or 98 in cow years), was about to set an all-time national record for milk production to surpass 267,304 lbs, a record that was previously set in 1935!  The article also mentioned that Hazel had 13 calves with more than 200 descendents on the Pellissier ranch!  Sadly, Pansco Hazel Excellent died on September 25th, 1953, living only another year following her retirement.

Frank, Jr.:  Prominent, Successful and Community Sponsor

In 1957 Frank became Vice President of the American Dairy Association of Los Angeles.  Successful and prominent as the family was, they also gave back to the community, even in Los Angeles.  At the 1956 Blessing of the Animals at the plaza Church of Our Lady Queen of the Angels (this is the same church where his parents married), the procession was led by a Pellissier satin-black Holstein cow blanketed with white gardenias.

What began as an excursion among a small group of horse riders in 1954 turned into the Pellissier Hills Trail Ride that lasted at least 14 years into 1968.  It became a yearly tradition sponsored by a local chapter of the Equestrian Trails, Inc., a "3-hour excursion through gentle, rolling hills of the dairy begins with a chuck wagon breakfast near the south entrance to the Pellissier farm.  A western barbecue at the conclusion, interspersed with equestrian games, Indian dancing and a gun-drawing competition.  Each year allows for a safe tour of some of the valley's most viewable countryside."

In 1955, the Pellissiers donated thousands of pounds of ice to create a Snow Frolic at two Pico Rivera parks.  It became a Christmas tradition going on five years as reported in the paper in 1960.

Three of the brothers, as well as Leon's three sons, formed a Pellissier contingency as members in the Rotary Club of Whittier in 1964.

City of Industry Incorporates

In the summer of 1957, eleven square miles of neighboring land wins city incorporation.  As the name suggests, industrial activity was the jist of cityhood, with the number of actual residents in the City of Industry left to a legal minimum of only 600 persons.  From this time forward, the city's encroaching interests reached its rancher neighbor.  Road work proposed in 1958, did not sit well with Pellissier Dairy, as they were not interested in selling their land, according to a news article.

Nevertheless, the Pellissier men, being astute businessmen, utilized their land in a profitable fashion.  They leased property at 1507 Workman Mill Road to the El Dorado Country Club, which its main building may have been constructed in 1955.  The club was seized by the feds for tax penalties.  The Pellissier brothers probably took over the business and established it under the new name, the California Country Club.  Sometime later (I have not been able to pinpoint the year), the land where the Country Club is situated was annexed to the City of Industry, even though references like Google Maps still show the Club's address as in Whittier.  The club is still in existence.

The conversion of Southland farms into subdivisions was prevalent, and the Pellissiers were not an exception.  The Pellissiers, like Whittier's Murphy Ranch and the Leffingwell Ranch, enabled home construction in the mid 1950s, particularly along the San Jose Creek, where their livestock used to run along.  The 1948-era homes in the Pellissier Village Equestrian District was probably one of their earliest subdivisions (housing was in high demand for veterans of World War II.)

Land leasing for non-residential purposes included a dump site, as reported in the paper in September, 1958.

The patriarch, Frank Fidele Pellissier, Sr. died in 1961.  He had survived his wife Marie by seven years.  Meanwhile, the City of Industry's business interests were looming.  The paper reported in 1962 that 100 acres of Pellissier land between Workman Mill Road and the Union Pacific Railway was being considered for annexation.  Frank, Jr. sounded amicable in the news article, stating "We will probably relocate the dairy as the need for industrial property increases."

Dairy land also sat in the way of the San Gabriel River Freeway, completed through this area in 1964, and the Pomona Freeway ran by here beginning in 1967.  (An older street, Pellissier Road, still exists just south of the Pomona Freeway in the Pellissier Village Equestrian District neighborhood.)
The creation of Pellissier Place, in place by 1966, is an indicator that Frank Pellissier, Jr. may have acquiesced to the annexation plans by the City of Industry.  The extension of Pellissier Place westward to the Union Pacific Railroad alignment occurred later in 1978.

The California Country Club's frontal sign and address along Workman Mill Road.

The Whittier homes radiating from the Country Club were built between 1959 and 1971.  Homes closer to Crossroads Parkway were built in 1955.

The Club is a short drive from this residential street.  The mountain view is the northern face of the Puente Hills, with the Puente Hills Landfill straight ahead.

The California Country Club's main building.

The golf course.

Palm trees flank the entrance way of the Club.
Rio Hondo College Site

By the end of 1963, the Pellissier Dairy Corp. sold 115 acres for land to be developed as part of Rio Hondo College.  Furthermore, Frank Jr. sold an additional 2.8 acres that included his home and a road.  The other older house, built in 1905 by his father at 3710 Workman Mill Road, was likely to have been situated where today's college softball and baseball fields are located.  It was at this location that the dairy ranch maintained at least six round grain silos.

Unfortunately the entire sale may have involved coercion:  "The sale halts condemnation proceedings which the school district initiated to acquire the site," the Los Angeles Times reported.  Today, the memory of Marie Pellissier is sustained by the Marie Pellissier college scholarship awarded to Rio Hondo students.

Other hilly parts of Pellissier pastures further south, above Workman Mill, were acquired by Rose Hills Memorial Park.

Frank, Jr. passed away in October, 1969.  In addition to all his accomplishments, his obituary mentioned that he was chairman of the Bank of Pico Rivera.

His death and the cost of rising property taxes prompted the surviving brothers, Laurence, Leon and Robert, to sell off the remaining land.  A chunk of the property was sold to the Sanitation District of the county in 1970, and the Puente Hills Landfill was formed.  The dairy business closed in the summer of 1971.

Leon passed away in 1975, and Laurence died in 1990.  The youngest of the siblings, Robert Edmund, died at age 79 in August of 1994.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thursday Evening at the Central Library ALOUD Program

Arriving at my old stomping grounds at the Central Library downtown, I sat on the patio from the library food court with my half a sandwich and Earl Grey.  Facing the library's west lawn, I watched the outdoor diners at Cafe Pinot and kept company with a few magnificent skyscrapers as their lights began to glimmer at the dusk hour.

The Union Bank building is there.  Its exterior really has not changed much.  Where as many buildings have undergone name changes, like the neighboring Atlantic Richfield buildings and the Library Tower, the Union Bank building is very similar to its photos in 1967 as the one lone high-rise juxtaposed to the last remaining grand old houses of Bunker Hill during the redevelopment era.  Search the LAPL Photo Database for Union Bank photos.

Finished with my sandwich, I walked through the library and ended up at the Fifth Street entrance.  The Bunker Hill Steps are directly across the street.  Next to the Steps is the U.S. Bank Tower, once the footprint of the Engstrum Hotel Apartments.

The Bunker Hill Steps and to its right was the former site of the Engstrum Hotel Apartments.

[Image added 4/22/2019]
Courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research,
Natural History Museum of LA County

I made my way back inside and headed to the Mark Taper Auditorium where Map Librarian (and historian) Glen Creason and D.J. Waldie, author and cultural critic, were gearing up for a conversation about Creason's book Los Angeles in Maps.

The one-hour program coming to a close.
Glen Creason and D.J. Waldie were engaging as they immersed the full-capacity audience in the history of L.A. through its maps.  The elegant auditorium was built in line with Fifth Street, and from the side windows you can see the westward flow of traffic on Fifth as well as the cars coming down the steep Bunker Hill terrain at Grand Avenue.

I got my copy of the book signed, and it was time to head home to Whittier.

Add caption

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pellissier Village Equestrian District, Whittier, Cal.

My routine freeway off-ramp is Peck Road on the 605 freeway south after the interchange from the east 60 Pomona Freeway.  I often noticed a neighborhood peeking through the trees or freeway wall, and one day I decided to make a right turn onto Kella Avenue after taking the off-ramp.

To my pleasant surprise, I came upon a sign proclaiming Pellissier Village Equestrian District.  I drove further and saw a lot of indications for the celebration of the horse.  There were even men, young women and children slowly horseback riding along the narrow residential streets.  Many of these people probably rode from a quarter mile away where there are horse stables.  (I found a reference on the web that the neighborhood was designated an equestrian district in 1972.)

There is only one entry way and one exit out of the neighborhood, and that is at the terminus of the Peck Road exit off of the 605 Freeway south.  The Village sit on unincorporated Whittier and is landlocked by the Pomona Freeway, the 605 Freeway, and slices of land situating industrial buildings that are within the boundaries of the City of Industry. 

A freeway sound barrier separates the 605 San Gabriel Freeway from the Village.

Charming whimsy abounds.
All of the homes south of Pellissier Road were built in 1948.  There are several homes north of Pellissier Road on Famosa Street that were built in 1971.

Another blog posting explains the legacy of Francois Fidele Pellissier and his family for which Pellissier Road and nearby Pellissier Place are named for.

At every turn there is a galloping tribute.

Garden art.

From this side of the fence the horse appeared to be metallic.

[Update 11-1-2016:  an energetic horse finishing up his exercise riding through the neighborhood and waiting to cross Peck Road.]