Monday, November 26, 2012

Ramirez Street, Downtown L.A.

To catch a FlyAway bus from Union Station to LAX one will skim past Ramirez Street, but the street is necessary travel to the nearby Denny's Restaurant.  The street is also the path to "Piper Tech" an L.A. City government facility.

Layers of land use in these downtown parts near Union Station often leave little evidence of what was before.  Street names are clues, and Ramirez Street has survived all the redevelopment and is a reminder of the Juan M. Ramirez Vineyard once here.  Adjacent is Vignes Street which once led to Frenchman Jean Louis Vignes' vineyard.  Though both streets are today equally minor streets, Vignes is highly visible because of its freeway sign on a 101 Freeway offramp.

Juan Resurrecion Ramirez (1839-1922)

Image courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research 
Born 1839 in L.A. Juan R. (pictured) was third generation Californio.  His father Juan M. (senior) was born the year 1801 at Mission Santa Barbara.  The first generation was Francisco Ramirez, a carpenter who came to Alta California in 1794 with settlers from Sonora, New Spain (Mexico).

Juan M. arrived in L.A. about 1828 and settled at a site midway between the Plaza Church and the river.  Two years later he married Petra Avila, daughter of another pioneering family who arrived in 1786.  (Nearby Avila Street is a reminder to the history of that family.)  Juan M. grew grapes for winemaking, and his neighbor and close friend was Jean Louis Vignes, the prolific vintner.  (A previous post described their money-making venture on Catalina Island.)

Juan Resurrecion was one of 13 children.  The 1880 census listed him also as a winemaker and married to Rosa Bustamanto.  Two decades earlier, his occupation was printer, as was his older brother Francisco P. (born 1837) -- Francisco most notably published El Clamor Público (The Public Outcry) the very first Spanish-language newspaper of L.A. between 1855 and 1859, and Francisco began this venture at the young age of 18.  Francisco's work is the topic of a new book by Paul Bryan Gray, A Clamor for Equality: Emergence and Exile of Californio Activist Francisco P. Ramirez.  He advocated racial equality and the abolition of slavery through his short-lived newspaper.  He later settled in Ensenada until his death in 1908.

Juan R. and Francisco P. had a younger sister - pieces of her life story can be found in newspapers, Internet references and archival maps.  Isabel (1841-1917) managed to marry well - first to Antonio Pelanconi in 1866 (the Italian wine merchant whose Pelanconi building still exists in Olvera Street).  Isabel was widowed in 1879 and soon married her departed husband's business associate, Giacomo Tononi.  The Tononi building stood in what was once Little Italy.  By 1887, Giacomo had acquired a large parcel of the Ramirez vineyard, while Isabel held a neighboring strip of property.  She eventually outlived him too.  Juan R. survived his sister by five years, and he died in September of 1922.

Below is a late 1880s map of the vineyard probably after much of the original homestead was liquidated:

Map circa 1888 courtesy of the Seaver Center
Old Aliso Street shown at the top part of the map above was changed to Lyon Street, being the area where Cyrus Lyon resided.  Cyrus and his twin brother Sanford emigrated from Maine.  Cyrus is most remembered as having been appointed as a member of the Los Angeles Rangers by Horace Bell in 1853 when he was a 21-year old.  The Rangers were a semi-vigilante peacekeeping group of citizens as a remedy for the lawlessness of the newly American city.  Cyrus died in 1892 at 802 Lyon Street.

The Ramirez vineyard original footprint hugely spanned south of the Denny's where the 101 Freeway crosses as well as at today's Patsaouras Transit Plaza just beyond the Denny's pictured above.[Update 1/11/2013:  Mr. Gray, author of A Clamor for Equality, wrote and commented that the original site of the Ramirez adobe lies on the southbound lanes of the freeway nearly straight south from the Denny's.]

The Ramirez family might also have had a connection to the construction of the Plaza Church.  Historical references name the Ramirez patriarch to be Jose Antonio Ramirez (in contrast to the carpenter Francisco Ramirez of Mission Santa Barbara as pointed out by historian and biographer Paul Bryan Gray.)  Jose Antonio was described to have been the architect of the Plaza Church at its completion in 1821.  I have not been able to reconcile this fact, as other references attribute Jose Antonio Ramirez to be a bachelor who built numerous missions up and down the coast.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Exposition Park-ing Spot for Space Shuttle "Endeavour"

The temporary hangar on the grounds of the California Science Center went up in about five months time.  For an interesting read about the southern California-based T. Violé  Construction Company and the metal, pre-fabricated "Butler building" click here.  The following photos chronicle the progression this past summer in Exposition Park:

Taken in June, 2012 (Click on any photo to zoom in)

Viewing southward onto site with Coliseum in background

The unsung brave men toiling with professionalism.  Here is shown their work on the east walls
View looking east onto site
Hangar's west face almost complete

Another view looking east - a ramp will be installed and the shuttle will somehow be eased in from this side of the structure.  The trees may have to be cut down before the October 12/13th installation into the Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Display Pavilion

(Updated October 30th):
Photos below taken on a week day after the October 14th Sunday arrival to Exposition Park.
Photos taken Monday, October 29th previewing the new exhibition:

Update:  ET (the External Tank) rolled into Expo Park the weekend of May 21st of 2016.  Here are some photos taken Monday, May 23rd:

Friday, September 7, 2012

Town of Ramirez, near Whittier, Cal.

Present-day Whittier is situated on one of the earliest Spanish land grants, Rancho Los Nietos, provided to soldier Manuel Nieto in 1784.  The next generation of his family broke up the property which became Rancho Santa Gertrudes (Whittier), Rancho Los Alamitos, Rancho Las Bolsas, Rancho Los Cerritos, and Rancho Los Coyotes.  Other cities that comprise the area today include Anaheim, Artesia, Buena Park, Cerritos, Downey, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Lakewood, Long Beach, Norwalk, Santa Fe Springs and Seal Beach.

The following covers land activity pertaining to areas gradually annexed by the City of Whittier to what is familiar to us today.

Ramirez Family

Mexico-born farmer Jose Maria Ramirez purchased 140 acres from Nieto's widow in 1830 (according to the Arcadia Publishing's local history book on Santa Fe Springs.)  Other sources state that Ramirez about 1855-56 acquired more land from Lemuel Carpenter. 

Ramirez must have thrived here in a place that became known as Los Nietos.  In 1836, the settlement had 200 inhabitants; in Thompson & West's 1880 History of Los Angeles County, there were about "20 native California families, in nearly as many adobe houses."  The book also described that there were 2 stores, a school-house, and one saloon.  The primary crops were corn, barley and beans.  Many sheep and hogs abound, too.  An 1876 visitor to Los Nietos observed the abundant water supply to the "veritable garden spot, being largely rolling hills amply watered by the San Gabriel River."  The visitor, Ludwig Salvator, pointed out the area's reputation for a fine crop and high yield of Indian corn.

The 1860 Census lists him and his wife Josefa (ages 41 and 30 respectively, with several children in the Los Nietos Township.)  The 1870 Census list them again (ages 55 and 50 respectively, which of course does not add up right.)  Also listed are their 15 California-born children:  Luisa, age 23; Jesus, age 22; Angel, age 21; Jose U., age 19; Rosalia, age 17; Juan, age 15; Manuel, age 12; Anita, age 11; twins Leonardo & Juan, age 9; Juanita, age 7; Facundo, age 6; illegible name, age 4; Carlos, age 2; and Francisco (?), age 1.  Ramirez' personal and property wealth listed was rather higher compared to other farmers.

Ramirez was neighbor to Tomas Sanchez Colima and other Colima relatives.  Colima held title to a fairly significant lot of Rancho Santa Gertrudes.  The Colima Road place name survives to present day.

The patriarch passed away in 1883 (source: Early California Wills, California: California Society, D.A.R., 1952, 952 pgs; Volume 1. *** ---page 145--- Estate of Jose Maria Ramirez age 64 Will filed in Records of County Clerk,Los Angeles County Dated October 27,1883 Probated October 27, 1883 Widow Josepha de Ramirez age 58 Children:- Louisa L. Rameriz Facundo F.Rameriz Angel C. " Juana G. " Juan D. " Cipriano F. " Manual M. " Carlos P.A. " Ana P " Leonardo S. " Juan Eunique " Witnesses:- Max Schwed, Albert Claud Executor:- Josefa Ramirez.)

The 1900 Census still included Josepha R., age 70, and that she bore 17 children, with six still living.  Also listed are daughters Louisa [sic] and Anna along with a son Leon of 17 years of age.  In the 1910 Census only Louisa (now 64 years of age) is listed along with sister Anita and brother Facundo.  The 1920 Census lists Facundo as a 51 year old walnut farmer residing in Los Nietos.  An obituary notice reported the passing of "Miss Luisa Ramirez" at her home in Los Nietos on September 20, 1928 at the age of 84.

Real Estate Boom of 1887

People poured into Los Angeles for the land rush.  Some created syndicates to invest in land and hoped to turn around and sell subdivisions.  An example was a group from Michigan that included Simon J. Murphy who established a citrus ranch after the land boom went bust.  But before he formed the ranch enterprise the syndicate did what everyone else was doing - heavily promoting and trolling for buyers.  The group promoted the former Ramirez tract.

August 21, 1887

New Housing Developments

In 1941 the Murphy Ranch Company placed about 800 acres on the market.  Click here for Flickr to see beautiful photographs of the ranch from 1941.  Two of its selling points were the citrus and avocado trees and proposed horse-riding trails to be featured near the envisioned tract called Friendly Hills.  Development did not appear to gain ground until the mid-1950s. 

Below were some of the publicity photos from model homes (updated 4-13-2018 these model homes were built by Sun Gold Inc. and located 3/4 of a mile east of Friendly Hills at Whittier Blvd. & Santa Gertrudes.  Sun Gold also built the homes at Friendly Hills):

The "Homestead" model living room (Image courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research)

The "Bluegrass" model kitchen (Image courtesy of the Seaver Center)

The "Bluegrass" model den (Image courtesy of the Seaver Center)

The "Contemporary" model bedroom (Image courtesy of the Seaver Center)

The "Contemporary" model backyard (Image courtesy of the Seaver Center)

(Image courtesy of the Seaver Center)

Golf Course Homes and the Friendly Hills Country Club

The Times reported on April 4, 1965 that some 500 undeveloped acres of the last of the Murphy Ranch land was about to undergo construction into 600 homes, a country club, and an 18-hole golf course.  In March, 1966 the news reported that the country club and golf course project was led by Walter R. Gayner.  The mention in the paper that the golf course would be completed in the following year helped to fuel home buyers in the tract near La Serna.  A tremendous amount of landscaping and land-shaping moved the golf course opening to January of 1968.

(Sometime between the 1950s and the home building of the following decade a road underwent name changes:  the new Mar Vista Street replaced the former Baldwin Street near Uptown Whittier which turned into 6th Street as it extended east.  The Mar Vista name also replaced a stretch as its approach  the intersection of Colima, known as La Sexta Street.)

By April of 1971, the Friendly Hills Men's Club set its sights on constructing and operating a 27,000 square feet clubhouse, with separate dining and banquet rooms, a dance floor, cocktail lounges, men and women's card rooms, locker room facilities with saunas, showers, dressing rooms and lounge areas.  The existing amenities included a pro shop, swimming, diving and wading pools and a poolside snack bar.

In subsequent years, the clubhouse became a hub for community meetings such as Republican groups and events such as fashion shows featuring celebrity designer Mr. Blackwell.

In mid-summer of 1971, 107 units of homes were advertised on a 40-acre site adjacent to the country club.  The developer was Coast Construction.

In 1983, D&D Development Company announced its plans for Friendly Hills Estates, a gated community of 99 view homes above the country club on Mar Vista near Colima.

In the 2003 comedy "Bringing Down the House" with Queen Latifah and Steve Martin, the ivy-covered exterior below was photographed, introducing the scene in the dining room.  The camera shows the golf course through the large dining room windows.

Photos taken in May, 2012

Circa 1955 of the Murphy Ranch property (Image courtesy of the Seaver Center)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

More Views of L.A. City Hall

The inaugural blog posting covered some views of City Hall.

Here are a couple more perspectives:

View from North Broadway in Chinatown (Summer 2012)

View from Weller Court in Little Tokyo (Summer 2012)
Is this iconic City Hall building as easily recognizable as the Eiffel Tower?

Eiffel Tower, Paris (November 2011)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sonoratown, Little Italy, China City, Chinatown, Los Angeles, Cal.

Memories of visiting Chinatown during my youth conjure up not curio shops, nor restaurants with names like Forbidden Palace, nor of walking through Gin Ling Way, Chung King Road, or Bamboo Lane.  Rather, the places remembered from the 1960s were plain with storefronts nondescript compared to the central plaza.  Our family's weekly destination to shop and eat meant heading to the outskirt around New High, Ord and Spring Streets.

Image courtesy Seaver Center for Western History Research
Above shows the Mandarin Restaurant at 643 North Spring Street.  At the far right of the picture was Sing Lee Theatre (established about 1963) at 649 North Spring Street.  (Not that my family ever dined at the Mandarin - we only ate Cantonese cuisine - I didn't experience Mandarin-style food until the 1980s in Monterey Park.)

Image courtesy Seaver Center for Western History Research
Further up on the same street was a meat market, Sam Sing Company at 680 North Spring Street.

Despite the lack of exoticism along these parts, the area's colorful history more than makes up.

Losing "Old" Chinatown (1933)

The obliteration of Old Chinatown, near Alameda and Aliso Streets, began on a Friday morning, December 22nd of 1933.  Legal challenges against the destruction only postponed the inevitable.  The Union Passenger Terminal or Union Station was eventually built on the cleared land, and the first train arrived in May of 1939.  By 1942 the streets and alleyways erased included Apablasa, Cayetano, Juan, Marchessault and Napier Streets.

Early Chinese residents settled in Los Angeles after the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. Men found new work and eked out their living in such occupations as vegetable peddler. The Chinese community was victim to the most violent event in the young city's history during the Chinese Massacre on October 24, 1871.

New High, Ord and Spring Streets

A study of Dakin's fire insurance atlas for the year 1888 discloses that Chinese businesses and rooming houses existed outside of Chinatown proper, namely by New High Street (Calle Alta was the earlier name).  See further below for a discussion on early Chinese areas outside of Old Chinatown.  Later in this blog post two other nearby streets will be covered:  Ord Street (formerly Alta, then Walters Street), and North Spring Street (originally called Street of the Maids, then changed to Upper Main in the 19th century, then was known as San Fernando by 1897.)  From the 19th century into the early 20th, these three streets were known as a part of Sonoratown for its Mexican residents.  Italians also settled in this neighborhood.

New Chinatown  (est. 1938)

The Chinese American community found a new core location when its leaders managed to strike a deal and acquired vacant land owned by the Santa Fe Railroad.  New Chinatown opened June 26, 1938, and it was anchored by a central pedestrian plaza on Broadway north of College Street.  The architectural layout and facades have basically not changed all these years.

Also in 1938 two Chinese businesses appeared in that year's city directory listed at 700 and 701 North Spring Street near Ord.  This location was several blocks away from the central plaza. These businesses did not cater to the tourist.  These stores were situated adjacent to China City (to be discussed below.)

Wai Sang Meat Company (700 Spring) and Kwong Dack Wo Company (702 Spring) were meat and grocery markets respectively.  (My parents regularly frequented these markets in the 1960s.  Both stores were listed as recent as in the 1973 city directory.)   Today, both units house the CBS Seafood Restaurant.

Notice on the picture's right side at the rear of CBS that the lit Philippe's sign is visible (Click to zoom in)

CBS Seafood Restaurant opened in 1999.  Their parking lot next to the restaurant has been watched by congenial Security Officer E. Reed since the restaurant opened.  Mr. Reed said he has only missed three work days when he tried a stint at the new Disney Concert Hall but decided he preferred the Chinatown beat.  He is amazingly warm and welcoming to CBS patrons.

E. Reed and restaurant manager D. Ho shootin' the breeze in the parking lot

The CBS site history includes a three-story handsome brick building constructed by the summer of 1888 and named the Tononi Block, for its owner, an Italian, Giacomo Tononi.  The businesses at these locations were a saloon/billiard parlor (700 Upper Main) and wine & liquor store (702 Upper Main.)  Later his widow, Isabel Pelanconi Tononi, lived in one of the upstairs lodging quarters briefly (704 1/2 San Fernando - this address was sometimes listed as the San Fernando Hotel, as recent as 1956.)  She was the great-granddaughter of a Spanish soldier Cornelio Avila who built one of the early adobes bounded near today's North Broadway, College, Spring and Alpine Streets.

Lower 'pink' areas show the brick buildings of the Sunset Hotel and the Tononi Block across the street (Courtesy Seaver Center) (Click on image to zoom in)

The very corner unit (700 San Fernando) also served for many years as grocer Casimiro Michelini's store, as listed in the 1897, 1901 and 1909 city directories.

The Tononi Block is partially blocked by the tree in right foreground.  Across the street was an even taller building, the Sunset Hotel at 703 Upper Main Street (Image courtesy Seaver Center)

It does not appear likely that today's CBS is on the original floor of the Tononi Block, however, the County Assessor's record still lists this site as built in 1887.  A big question -- when was the building razed?  One clue comes from directory listings that place the Tononi building still possibly standing in 1956.  [Update 1/11/2013:  On the contrary, the CBS restaurant does sit on the former Tononi Block - a descendant of the Tononi family explained that the second and third floors of the building were removed due to structural issues.]

Across the street from the Tononi was the Sunset Hotel at 703 Upper Main.  (This hotel would have been only a short distance from the "San Fernando Street" depot stop of the railroad.)

Another unknown is the year that the imposing Sunset Hotel went away.  The County Assessor lists the building where the hotel should have sat as 207 Ord (built 1880).  Today's single story building does not seem to be derived from the hotel. 207 Ord is a long single story building (maybe like the footprint of the old hotel), and Hoy King Restaurant operates here.

This space was the Chung Mee Cafe in the 1942 and 1956 directories.  I know it was still Chung Mee in the 1960s when my grandfather was a "waiter" there.  Actually he ran the gambling operation in the back of the restaurant.
The 207 Ord building continues lengthwise eastward:

The 207 Ord Street building (built 1880; renovated 1935) is showing its age

Across the street southward from the former Tononi Block was an adobe structure at the southeast pictured below with street signs of Ord and San Fernando.  Adobe homes were prevalent on these streets - settled by the early Spanish and Mexican soldiers and other persons of means in the early to mid-19th century.

Look closely at the left side for a downhill descent of Ord Street (today a walk downhill would lead to Philippe's) (Courtesy Seaver Center)
The address site of the adobe would have been about 686 North Spring.  If one walks southerly on Spring before reaching the cross street of Cesar Chavez, contemporary street life is very diversified, as shown below:

Directly across the street is the spot first introduced at the beginning image of this blog posting.  There is still a theater, though now called King Hing Theater:

The Dakin 1888 insurance atlas surprisingly reveals that in this 600 block there was a significant concentration of Chinese quarters, labeled in the atlas "Chinese" Chin. Rest." "Chinese Wash" "Chin. Board'g" "Chin. Tea" and "Chin Rooms."  These notations provide indication that Chinese resided outside of the "Old" Chinatown community.

(Click to Zoom) (Courtesy Seaver Center)
Philippe's Sandwiches

Today's best-known landmark in the area is Philippe's French-Dipped Sandwiches at 1001 Alameda Street, along Ord Street.  Back in 1888 this famous corner was a vacant lot.  Displaced from their location on Aliso Street by new freeway consruction, Philippe's moved here in 1951.

China City (est. 1938)

Across the street from Philippe's, Ord Street was the north boundary for "China City" the Chinese tourist compound created by the "mother of Olvera Street" Christine Sterling.  It opened in June of 1938, a few weeks earlier than New Chinatown's opening.  China City was partly Sterling's solution for the displaced Chinese community.  Less than a year later, a suspicious fire burned in the main section.  After being rebuilt, China City operated for about ten years before another fire brought its demise.  China City extended to Spring Street on the west, Main Street on its east side, and reaching south to Macy Street (today's Cesar E. Chavez Avenue.)

There might be a historical remnant -- at Philippe's parking lot across the street from the restaurant hangs a neon sign which reads "Shanghai Street."  Shanghai Street existed in China City so this might have been an authentic, salvaged sign.


In the 19th century, the city blocks considered today's New Chinatown was home to a different ethnic group: Hispanics.  The barrio developed and resulted from demographic changes following the American period of the city after 1850. Whereas Mexican and Hispanic residents once comprised more than half the population, new Anglo settlers changed the equation. A segregated area north of the Los Angeles Plaza became inhabited by Mexicans and referred disparagingly as Sonoratown by Anglos. A study (The Los Angeles Barrio, 1850-1890 by Richard Griswold Del Castillo) delineated that the most concentrated ethnic enclave between 1872 through 1888 was the large area bounded by Main, College, Yale and Short (formerly Corta Street, about where Sunset Boulevard is today.)  Two of the main thoroughfares in Sonoratown were Castelar (today's North Hill Street) and Buena Vista (originally Calle de la Eternidad and today's North Broadway.)

Early Real Estate Subdivision Nearby

Prudent Beaudry, who served as City Mayor and who was also the developer of Bunker Hill, subdivided the hill to the west of Sonoratown about 1884.

Courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research

More on New High, Ord and Spring Streets

New High, Ord and Spring may have been the fringe of Sonoratown. There was also a concentration of homes and businesses to Italians as part of L.A.'s Little Italy in the 19th century.  In 1897 and 1901, Soon Wo laundry was listed at 688 San Fernando.  In 1901, Yik Wo had a tailor business at 674 San Fernando.  In the 1909 city directory, the businesses and residents appear ethnically integrated by whites and Hispanics, without Chinese names listed. At 751 San Fernando Street was the Church of St. Peter. By 1938, New High Street (600-700 block) was mostly Hispanic, but in light of the new Chinese settlements (New Chinatown and China City) subsequent city directories showed increasing Chinese business and residential listings.

The 1943 city directory indicates these city blocks a mix of Italian, Chinese and Hispanic residents and businesses.  By 1956, the following line of businesses on Ord Street reflected the diversity:  120 Ord - Flora's; 122 Ord - F. Suie One Co. Chinese Goods; 124 Ord - Jun Quon Hin; 207 Ord - Chung Mee Cafe; 301 Ord - Juarez Cafe; 302 Ord - Lake Sun; 304 Ord - El Capricho Cafe.

At 708 New High, the corner lot sits ABC Seafood Restaurant.  Prior to their venture, the Limehouse was here.  One of their predecessors was the J.G. Medina Grocery operating in an old adobe after vacated by the El Adobe Cafe.  Click here to see a photo from the LAPL archive.

Across the street the Phoenix Inn Restaurant opened at the corner of 301 Ord Street in the year 1967, and it is still in business.

This corner has had its share of restaurant operations, including Kong Woo in 1942; Juarez Cafe in 1956.  The facade of this 1906 building has hardly change in its century-long existence.  Click here for an LAPL archival photo when it was the site of the Peluffo grocery and liquor store.

Houses of Ill Fame

Behind the brick building was another building, labeled in Dakin's 1888 insurance atlas as ILL Fame (a house of ill fame, or a brothel).  Such establishments were notorious over by Alameda and Aliso, but along these several city blocks it was commonplace, too.

(Click to zoom in) (Courtesy Seaver Center)

On New High, below Walters (Ord Street) there are at least six buildings of ill fame.  They were probably "cribs" made of small rooms.  On this street there were also two buildings for "Negro Rooms" and "Negro."

(Click to zoom in) (Courtesy Seaver Center)
The Los Angeles Times printed a "community" notice on July 1, 1889.  Various property owners supported the idea of containing prostitution houses to a single street:  along New High between Bellevue (today's Cesar Chavez Avenue) on the south and Alpine on north.  The supporters reasoned that there weren't families with children or private houses along those two blocks.

The newspaper reported on October 26, 1889 that a city order was under way to pave New High between Walters and Bellevue.  By mid-November, the paper reported a protest against paving the street.

The following year in October, a single-track railroad right-of-way was awarded; the route would travel down Buena Vista, then east onto Walters, then south onto New High.

Upper Main also had a house of ill fame, a short walk northward from the Tononi Block.

(Click to zoom in) (Courtesy Seaver Center)
From today's perspective the site of the row of prostitution houses would have been just beyond the apropos American Apparel girls billboard:

View north on the 700 block of North Spring Street