The Case of the Missing Consul

28 Feb 2013 - 11:14am

I've discovered another mysterious disappearance tied to the Cecil Hotel. This one somehow eluded all previous archival searches, and it's quite an odd and interesting case. I call it The Case of the Missing Consul.

Galbraith feel grave concern over missing headline

Around noon on December 31, 1947, Alexander M. Galbraith, 50, stepped out of the office where he had served for the past four years as the British Consul for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and vanished. His daughter Jean, who was his secretary, said he'd been brooding about the possibility of losing his position to one of the career diplomats who'd been freed up by the end of the war. He was right to worry. That very morning, he'd been informed that his services were no longer needed. The reason given was that, though Scottish-born, he was a naturalized American.

Galbraith, who'd been a WW1 flying ace and had a fiery reputation, was incensed. He was passionate about his position, giving pro-British speeches to local men's clubs, dedicating long hours to aiding war brides whose American grooms had abandoned them. And now some bureaucrat was going to take his place? It was too much for him to stand.

On New Years Day, Deputy Coroner Ken O'Toole said Galbraith had come in, asking about a pair of missing spectacles. But a search of the neighborhood came up empty. A Pullman porter saw a photograph of the missing man, and told police he was certain he'd served him on a train bound for Chicago. Chicago authorities were alerted, but Galbraith was nowhere to be found. Searches in Washington and Cleveland also turned up nothing.

His wife and daughters were frantic. Weeks passed with no word. The shame of losing his job must have been too much. Had Galbraith killed himself?

He had not.

On January 27, 1948, Galbraith sent a telegram to George B. Stelluto, proprietor of The Green Grill near the Pittsburgh morgue, asking for a loan of $50. Stelluto, a friend, went to the police.

former Greens Grill no Common Plea 310 Ross Street Pittsburgh Google Street View copy

Later, Galbraith told reporters in Los Angeles that he'd only wired Stelluto because he didn't have any money for food. He needed a stake to get back on his feet.

So what had happened to him?

Galbraith pale AP image

"I blew my top when I was informed I had been relieved. I packed my bag with several suits and came by train, although I have very little recollection of my departure or arrival. I don't remember much until I came to here in this hotel. I vaguely recall being in Canton, Ohio and Chicago, but I'm not sure how I got here or what I did during that week." He said he hadn't wanted "to be a burden" to his wife of daughters. As for the telegram, he supposed that Stelluto, thinking "he was serving my interests best" had gone to the Chief of Police. "Maybe he was serving my best interests. I hope so."

Reached at home, his daughter Jean said "We're all very much relieved that Daddy's been located. We certainly don't feel that he'll be a burden on us and we're going to send him the money to fly home. I'm sure he won't have trouble finding another job."

Galbraith was one of the lucky ones. Many other troubled souls had found a bed at the Cecil and lacked the courage to ask for help. He went home. Reporters, who always want more, asked after him. Jean said that he was somewhat unwell from his travels, and was resting. Jean protected her father well. We hear nothing more about him, and sometimes hearing nothing is the happiest ending of all.



January 27, 1948

List of locations from this post

  1. Cecil Hotel
    640 South Main Street

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The Lady Ghosts of the Cecil Hotel

19 Feb 2013 - 6:24pm

It was with shock and no small amount of horror that we learned that a body, believed to be that of Canadian tourist Elisa Lam, last seen behaving strangely in an elevator security video recorded on February 1, had been discovered today within one of the water tanks on the Cecil Hotel's roof. A complaint about low water pressure had prompted an employee to look inside. 

Cecil Hotel roof helicopter screen shot february 19 2013


Hotels by their nature are the backdrop for extreme behavior, and any public building that stands for the better part of a century will collect its share of tragedies. The Cecil (established 1927) is notable among true crime aficionados as the short-term residence of serial killers Jack Unterweger and Richard Ramirez, and in all the attention paid to those grim gentlemen, the hotel's other heartbreaks too often go unmourned. 

The probable fate of Miss Lam inspires us to compose a memorial note, to the five prior ladies (and one unfortunate fellow) who left this world on the grounds of the Cecil Hotel, and whose wraiths may yet haunt the place.

hotel-cecil-ad for web

On June 4, 1964, "Pigeon Goldie" Osgood, retired telephone operator and well known protector and feeder of the birds in Pershing Square, was found dead in her room by a hotel worker distributing phone books. She had been stabbed, strangled and raped, and her room ransacked.  Near her body were found the Dodgers cap she always wore and a paper sack full of birdseed. Soon after, Jacques B. Ehlinger, 29, was seen walking through Pershing Square in bloodstained clothing. He was arrested, but cleared of the crime, for which no one was ever arrested. 

The next day, Goldie's friends came together in Pershing Square to express their grief. Jean Rosenstein, a retired nurse, told a reporter "We were all her friends, all of us here at the square. I was just standing here this morning, thinking about what had happened, when somebody suggested we get some flowers. No one has much money around here, but all of a sudden everyone started giving me what they could. We just wanted her to know we remembered."

Pigeon Goldie, we remember you, too. 

It was October 12, 1962 and Pauline Otton, 27, had been arguing with her estranged husband Dewey in a room on the ninth floor when he decided he’d had enough and went out to get some dinner. She decided she’d had enough, too, and jumped from the window. She landed on top of a pedestrian, George Gianinni, 65, and both were killed instantly. Since no one saw Pauline jump, police initially thought they had a double suicide on their hands--but on closer examination, George had his hands in his pockets and was still wearing shoes, which would have been unlikely if he’d fallen ninety feet. 

Pauline, and George, we remember.

On February 11, 1962, Julia Moore climbed out of her eighth floor room window and landed in a second story interior light well. She left no note, just a bus ticket from St. Louis, 59 cents in change, and an Illinois bank book showing a balance of $1800. 

Julia, we remember.

On October 22, 1954, Helen Gurnee, 50-something, stepped from her seventh floor window and crashed to her death atop the hotel's marquee. She had registered as Margaret Brown a week before.

Helen—or Margaret, as she preferred—we remember.

Elisa Lam, 21, left her home in Vancouver for a solo trip to California. Her plans after visiting Los Angeles were to continue north to Santa Cruz, but it seems that she never left Main Street.

She had the great misfortune to vanish while the Los Angeles Police Department was absorbed with one of the largest manhunts in its history, and one cannot but wonder what impact the search for Christopher Dorner had upon the search for Elisa Lam. 

Perhaps she climbed up the side of the water tank, lifted the hatch, slipped inside, drowned, and then floated there for weeks until her body sank and blocked the pipes. Maybe someone who knew the nooks and crannies of this very old establishment put her there. In time, the answer will come, but it will make no great difference. She is gone, and she remains.

Elisa, we remember. And hope the souls that went before can lend some comfort now to yours.

elisa lam in elevator

See also The Case of the Missing Consul.


February 19, 2013

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American Gothic on Skid Row

20 Dec 2012 - 10:50pm


In decades past, it was a common dig at the middle-brow culture of Los Angeles to snipe that the town was chock full of Iowans--dishwater dull, prudish and constantly picnicking.

It's true enough that many a midwestern retiree was convinced by California's "land of sunshine" reputation to spend their last years here. But you might not know that there's a very special connection that exists between rural Iowa and L.A.'s Skid Row--a bond that's put food into hungry mouths for more than two decades. 

Nan Wood Graham, the sister of painter Grant Wood, was the tight-lipped female subject of his 1930 painting American Gothic. The house behind her still stands in tiny Eldon, Iowa

And since Nan's death, every licensing fee for reproduction of her brother's masterpiece has been split between the Union Rescue Mission and the Riverside County Coalition for Alternatives to Domestic Violence. Our friends at the URM tell us that this income is not inconsiderable. 

So think of Nan's kindness next time you see American Gothic reproduced or parodied. We surely will.





December 14, 1990

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The Invocation of the Potato King

11 Dec 2012 - 3:04pm

Potato King

We are gathered together to remember a remarkable Angeleno, Maurice Zuckerman, The Potato King. His story ends at 721 South Burlingame, in a since-demolished house that looked out over the Brentwood Country Club--but he was at his best right here In SRO Land. For many years, his base of operations was the warehouse at 1275 E. Sixth Street, which was most recently the art and performance space Bedlam.

The Potato King had five wives and six children, and lived a long and adventurous life. He was 86 and senile when he dropped a cigarette into his armchair and perished from smoke inhalation in 1965. According to his daughter Sugar—yes, Sugar Zuckerman--he was living alone after driving his 5th wife Edith to drink by breaking a plate over her head and making her so nervous she could scarcely eat. 

Some Fun Potato King Facts

How does a Potato King eat his baked potatoes? He would take the steaming hot spuds in  his hands and twist them open, ignoring the pain. The Potato King wasn't afraid of a baked potato! He liked them with butter, salt and pepper. And he really liked frozen hash browns! But don't order coffee when you go out to eat with the Potato King! Why would you pay for something you can get free at home?

zuckerman bros photo


A King In The Making 

1909 - Maurice Zuckerman returns from the Sacramento Delta, having launched the Zuckerman-Weyl company's river boat "Los Angeles," which with its capacity of several hundred tons intends to visit independent potato growers in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys and buy their spuds, undercutting the Northern California potato dealers. Soon he has several boats plying the river routes.

oregon paper king of spud market crop

January-February 1911- West coast newspapers proclaim that the old Potato King (Mr. George Shima) is dead, long live the NEW Potato King, Maurice Zuckerman, who was Shima's agent for three years, and has deposed his boss with a series of brilliant spud-chess moves. Now a potato famine has struck California, with the Times accusing Zuckerman of manipulating the market at the expense of consumers. It seems Zuckerman, anticipating a shortage, had his agents buy up all the potatoes in the state, and all incoming Idaho and Colorado stores, and stockpile them in railroad cars. Los Angeles normally goes through 2000 sacks of potatoes a day, but with Zuckerman limiting distribution, just 1000 sacks are available. Prices have spiked accordingly. Meanwhile, a track wash out in Utah has conveniently stranded 37 carloads of Zuckerman's spuds bound for California. And for some unknown reason, the wharf manager in San Francisco has suddenly informed his merchant clients that they can no longer store incoming imported potatoes on the docks, but must immediately dispose of them. And the price for the breakfast essential continues to rise...

1912- Zuckerman announces that prices on potatoes and onions will be at their lowest in six years, with vast surpluses of the roots left in the ground and distributors unable to afford to ship their stocks to other states. Farmers are unloading their crops at a crippling $.35/100 pounds, after over planting in hopes of profiting after last year's shortages.

1913- Maurice Zuckerman says that after last year's disappointing sales, farmers are planting anything BUT potatoes, which is likely to produce shortages similar to 1911's. Prices should be high again, and good potatoes hard to find. And the Potato King, having anticipated the situation, just gets richer.

A King In Decline

And so it goes, season after season, millions and millions of potatoes fried and boiled and mashed and au gratined and so on, until...

1941- The Potato King is 63 in January when he abandons his 29-year-old fourth wife Mary Josephine and their three daughters, aged 2-7. He enters into the most chaotic year of his life, culminating that fall when he and his Hawaiian buddy H.E. Podmore pay an afternoon visit to "Matty's Night Club" in Stockton. Podmore gets tanked and wants to dance with Hazel Dander, a married lady, but her husband Otto and his brother tell him to back off. Hazel dances with her sister, but Podmore tries to physically separate them. Otto lands a punch, which leaves Podmore unconscious for an hour. 

Zuckerman becomes convinced his buddy has been killed, and starts a fistfight with the Dander brothers, though they are more than twenty years younger. The barkeep breaks up the fight, but it begins again and Zuckerman is knocked flat on his back. He later claims he thinks he's going to be killed or drop dead from a fear-induced heart attack, so he pulls out his snub-nosed .38 revolver (which he carries as a Deputy Sheriff), and rising, fatally shoots Otto Dander in the belly. Everyone backs away, and the Potato King finds his hat and flees in his chauffeur-driven car, leaving Podmore in the bar. 

zuckerman posts bail

His Highness hides out in a rest home until he's located and charged with murder. He's convicted of manslaughter, and sent to San Quentin for ten years. The King asks to be housed at Quentin during his appeals because it has better hospital facilities than the San Joaquin County Jail. After nine months his conviction is reversed in on grounds that the jury was improperly instructed one could only shoot in self defense AFTER retreating against a wall, the so-called Cornered Rat Defense. Previously, one of Zuckerman's defense witnesses confesses he gave perjured testimony, so who knows WHAT actually happened at Matty's that afternoon? Only the Potato King, and he ain't talking.

May he rest beneath the soil, warm and waiting, until our world is ready for one so bold to be born anew.



January 28, 1911

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Sleuthing A Presidential Mystery in Downtown Los Angeles

28 Nov 2012 - 10:57pm

Should you step into the lobby of the King Edward Hotel at the corner of 5th and Los Angeles Streets in L.A.'s historic Skid Row, and pause to admire the black and gold Egyptian marble fixtures, ionic columns and sweeping mezzanine stair, the odds are better than good that the fellow behind the counter will draw your attention to the clock above the desk and the fancy raised initials just below it.

King Edward Hotel IMG_4833 for blog


And in answer to your predictable question, he'll reply: "Teddy Roosevelt! He stayed here when he visited Los Angeles."


King Edward Hotel IMG_4833 TR crop


A Presidential sleepover would be a point of pride for any establishment--all the more so in a young city in the far west. How marvelous a fact, and no wonder the King Eddy's staff is so quick to share it. (We've confirmed that this information has been passed down through oral tradition since at least the mid-1970s.)


King Edward Hotel fiesta pinback 1903


There's only one problem. Theodore Roosevelt's famous visit to Los Angeles was on May 8, 1903. He attended the Fiesta de las Flores parade, and stayed that night at the fashionable Westminster Hotel at 4th and Main Streets, two blocks away.


King Edward Hotel May 9 1903 LAT page 45 Roosevelt at Fiesta screen grab


The King Edward didn't open until 1906.

Oh, but then Roosevelt must have stayed at the King Edward on a later tour of the Southland, right?

Well, historical records do show that Roosevelt return once more to Los Angeles, for two days in March 1911, when the ex-President spoke at Occidental College and Throop Polytechnic.

His stay at Pasadena's Hotel Maryland was well publicized, and included a poignant meeting with an aged slave who had been owned by Roosevelt's maternal family in Antebellum Georgia.

But there appears to be no documentation of a stop at the King Edward or any other Los Angeles hotel.

So why in the name of all that's historical are the initials T.R. stuck up above the desk of the King Edward Hotel today?

We've been wracking our brains, and have come up with a few theories worth floating.

Perhaps before the Westminster Hotel fell to the wrecking ball in 1960, someone went to the auction and bid on a piece of commemorative marble, transporting the legend of a Presidential visit along with the physical artifact back to the nearby establishment?

King Edward Hotel Westminster roosevelt slept here wrecking


A tempting notion, but a rare 1920s-era promotional map printed by the King Edward includes a photo of the lobby, which while printed using the halftone technique which makes it impossible to "zoom in" and see finer details, certainly appears to already show a set of initials there beneath the clock.

King Edward Lobby circa 1920 from our map watermark



<King Edward Hotel clock detail circa 1920


Well, could they represent an owner of the hotel? The King Edward was built by architect John Parkinson and operated in its early years by Colonel E. Dunham, Tommy Law and Thomas L. Dodge. Not a "T.R." in the bunch.

Having weighed and sorted these and other, less reasonable, possibilities, we're prepared to come down on the side of one unsupportable, but eminently pragmatic solution: that the patriotic initials are merely a tip of the hat to a popular politician, and an answer to any testy patron who might question the red-blooded Americanism of a hotel named for a foreign king.

We reckon that's as good a theory as any, and we're sticking with it until and unless something better comes along.

Which leaves the initials "T.R." above the desk of the King Edward, and the abiding oral tradition of the great man's visit, something of a mystery--but no less beguiling for that. Since everyone who knew the real answer is dead, we're free to craft our own myths to pass along to Angelenos who'll come after. Why do you believe the initials "T.R." are there under the clock in the King Eddy?


King Edward Hotel TR marches in King Edward VII funeral procession May 20 1910 Library of Congress


This meditation on time and memory was written on the occasion of the upcoming shuttering of the King Edward Saloon and the auction of its equipment and memorabilia.



May 8, 1903

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A Thanksgiving Message from the URM--1937

URM Thanksgiving services, 1937. 226 S Main Street

URM Gospel Wagon corner of 1st & Los Angeles Streets, 1914.


A Thanksgiving Message from the URM--1937
Richard Schave
20 Nov 2012 - 3:03pm

Chef George
Chef George
Thanksgiving 1917 -- 145 N Main -- 700 feed that day
Thanksgiving 1917 -- 145 N Main -- 700 feed that day

About URM & this blog

In SRO Land, the time travel blog, is honored to be able to bring you rare, illuminating documents from the archives of the Union Rescue Mission, the charitable organization which has been saving souls and lives in downtown Los Angeles since 1891.

On these special URM pages of In SRO Land, you’ll find true stories of spiritual conversion (many illustrated with photos of the newly-saved), powerful scenes of the multitudes who came to the Mission for food and warmth during the depths of the depression, and rarely-seen images of a part of downtown’s Historic Core which no longer exists.

Our aim is to shine a light on the untold stories of downtown Los Angeles, and the good works that URM has done quietly among the most needy of our fellow citizens for more than a century. We would be so pleased if you hopped aboard the Gospel Wagon and came along with us to 226 South Main Street.


Union Rescue Mission
226 S. Main St
Los Angeles 12, Calif
Tele: DU 2-8456, MA 8-6103


TURKEY TIME. . . The Union Rescue Mission of 226 S. Main Street, Los Angeles, which was founded in 1891, will again feed more than 2,000 of the Skid Row needy with full scale turkey dinners on Thanksgiving Day as it has done traditionally for many years. Here George Koines, a chef, prepares to roast some of the turkeys to be served. The Union Rescue Mission is largest Skid Row rehabilitation Gospel mission in the United States.


Thinking About the URM On Thanksgiving 2012

URM Thanksgiving services, 1937. 226 S Main Street

URM Gospel Wagon corner of 1st & Los Angeles Streets, 1914.


Thinking About the URM On Thanksgiving 2012
Jackie Mraz
20 Nov 2012 - 2:54pm

About URM & this blog

In SRO Land, the time travel blog, is honored to be able to bring you rare, illuminating documents from the archives of the Union Rescue Mission, the charitable organization which has been saving souls and lives in downtown Los Angeles since 1891.

On these special URM pages of In SRO Land, you’ll find true stories of spiritual conversion (many illustrated with photos of the newly-saved), powerful scenes of the multitudes who came to the Mission for food and warmth during the depths of the depression, and rarely-seen images of a part of downtown’s Historic Core which no longer exists.

Our aim is to shine a light on the untold stories of downtown Los Angeles, and the good works that URM has done quietly among the most needy of our fellow citizens for more than a century. We would be so pleased if you hopped aboard the Gospel Wagon and came along with us to 226 South Main Street.

I have something in common with the 40,000 people who became homeless as a result of Hurricane Sandy—I, too, have been homeless. Actually, the hurricane had good timing: it came right before National Homeless and Hunger Awareness Week, which this year fell between November 12th and 18th.  Hurricane Sandy and Homeless Hunger and Awareness Week give us a chance to rethink how we frame the issue of homelessness for everyone.  Even those who were homeless before the hurricane. 

In 2007, owing to a series of events—domestic violence, illness, job loss, and the cost of a cross country move—I sought refuge at the Union Rescue Mission and in other shelters before I got back on my feet.  As Hurricane Sandy and, increasingly, the recession, have shown, being homeless can happen to anybody.  Since homelessness can happen to anybody, it’s important to ask whether current programs to alleviate homelessness foster a sense of community, not just practically, but also symbolically.  Only if a program fosters such a sense of community can it draw on the collective support necessary to alleviate an intractable social problem like homelessness.  In this blog post, I suggest that anthropology and liberation theology provide resources for community building in Central City East, and that the two can work together to do so.

When I was homeless, I was separated by the people around me by many things, including race, education, and class origins. One thing that helped me to close the gap, exploding my biases and those of my fellow shelter residents, was my background as an anthropologist. I had done fieldwork among marginalized people in Morocco, the South Side of Chicago, South Central Los Angeles, and the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles before coming to Central City East. This background helped me to understand the significance of the grapevine as the standard conduit of reliable information.

One of my friends at the Union Rescue Mission was a black lady old enough to remember the Tuskegee Experiments. She suffered from severe diabetes. This woman did not want to get treatment at Charles Drew University Medical Center because of rumors that foreign doctors were doing experiments on poor black patients’ blood.  She would ride the bus lines all over Los Angeles during the day, deciphering gang graffiti on freeway exit ramps and overhead passes.  Sometimes she thought “foreigners” were coming in to South Central—her old neighborhood—and tagging. I couldn’t get her to be more precise than to say “foreigners” when I dropped into my anthropologist mode and tried to investigate. Did she mean Latino gangs? I knew a member of the Mongols motorcycle gang in my old neighborhood, Highland Park. He had bragged to me once in gruesome terms about routing members of a black motorcycle club at one of their main apartment complexes in South Central. I tried to get my friend to be more precise. She refused.

If a psychiatrist had come to the Union Rescue Mission, he or she would have doubtless slapped her with a label from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual after hearing her views on medical treatment at Charles Drew and her interpretation of gang graffiti as foreigners’ encroachment into South Central.  But in so doing, the doctor would have mistaken her street smarts for mental illness. In fact, a lot of what psychiatry might label as paranoia on the street, looks more plausibly like a collective form of social commentary and social memory, when seen from the point of view of anthropology . It’s beyond this blog post to discuss the anthropology of rumor and the misuse of psychiatry among poor people of color. I want to emphasize that others on the street shared the same feelings about Charles Drew—that foreign doctors there were misusing black patients. These feelings were expressed, moreover, when the university’s role as a chief provider of medical care in South Central was openly being challenged in the “Los Angeles Times” and elsewhere. While middle class readers of the paper accepted Drew’s problems with poor care and accreditation, among others, to be the facts on the ground, rumors about doctors from abroad were the norm among poor people of color.

Rumor, in this light, is not a category that deserves a classification in psychiatry’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, and, hence, a prescription for an antipsychotic. Instead, rumor functions as social commentary through the back door. Channels like outright social spaces of denunciation—op ed pieces, for example, or political demonstrations—are not available to the inhabitants Central City East. So rumor serves as a form of accusation, a way to challenge a historical promise that remains unfulfilled—the history that saw Charles Drew established in the wake of the Watts riots as a place to train minority doctors to serve the poor in South Central Los Angeles, only to become beset, in short order, with a multitude of problems that threatened to derail the school’s medical mission.

What brought my friend and me together even more than my anthropological parsing was a common understanding of a gospel reading that balanced love as agape with an understanding of social justice.  Agape is a form of unconditional love that can be distinguished in ancient Greek from philia (usually translated as friendship), eros (sexual love) , and storge (familial love). As Luc Boltanski explains, “the states of agape become accessible to analysis only if we make a detour through justice…agape can be inscribed in discourse in terms of deviations from justice, and more precisely by means of metaphoric narratives that can open up a space of which justice is one of the boundaries.” (Love and Justice As Competences, p.79)

In interpreting gospel narratives, at first I tried to maintain the distance of a social scientist looking at biblical narrative through the detached lens of a student of metaphor like Paul Ricœur. But I could not stay detached as an anthropologist for long. The stakes were too high. Without even realizing what I was doing, I fell back on my upbringing in the South as a Catholic in the 1960s. I drew on the same simple form of liberation theology that Catholics and white protestants often drew on to partner with blacks and Jews to fight against social injustice when the Ku Klux Klan was burning down Catholic churches, bombing black churches, murdering black leaders, and terrorizing Jews. In this form of liberation theology, perhaps best exemplified by the Sermon on the Mount, the unchosen become the ultimate bearers of choice. The weak become the strong. And the strong become the weak. If, as Joan Didion says, “we tell ourselves stories in order to live,” when the Klan are at your door, just as much as when you are on the breadline, you are the David who becomes Goliath, not just to survive, but also to prevail.

One day, a preacher came to the mission and preached the gospel of Matthew 15:21-28. In that gospel, a woman from Canaan came to Jesus asking him to cure her daughter of demon possession. Because Canaanites, as non-Jews, were of a lower social order, Jesus’s disciples urged him to send the woman away.  He tried, but she persisted, likening her plight to that of a dog who wants only the crumbs from the master's table.  Jesus healed the woman’s daughter because of her exceptional faith, despite her low Canaanite status. My friend came to me after the preacher’s talk and told me that, like the woman in the gospel, she was worth more than the scraps from the table.  She wanted a seat at the table.  A complete meal. That’s what the gospel passage meant: being worth more than table scraps meant that she wanted full membership in the community of diners.

Believing that helping her get her own meal, i.e. getting back on her feet, meant that she had to take account of the power that she already had, I reminded her how much her own life already exemplified that of the woman in the gospel.  She was black, had severe diabetes, and was homeless.  That was not unlike being from Canaan.  Yet she had given everything for her children, even co-signing educational loans totaling $90,000. The latest loan that she co-signed was for $20,000 for her youngest daughter to go to school across the country in South Carolina. My friend did this even as her house was in foreclosure and her health was failing. I reminded her that many parents who were far better off and were not at risk of losing their homes would not have co-signed such a loan.

In turn, she did not take herself for a victim and was proud of her street smarts.  She noted one day that one of her sons had a master’s degree, but would never be able to survive on the streets.  She hoped he never needed to.  And she had refused to bow down to the nonprofits on Skid Row when they belittled her when we went together to see where we could get mammograms.  She had said to a non-profit staffer who rebuffed her when she had sought a mammogram, “just because I’m homeless, doesn’t mean I’m helpless or hopeless.” Just like the woman in the gospel, she had persisted and gotten what she needed—the guarantee that her children would have what she, herself, did not.  An education. And she had persisted in getting medical care.

All across the United States this Thursday, we will be celebrating a holiday based on the idea of gratitude. When we consider what we have to be grateful for, we are also, in a very real sense, naming the stakes of what we want to receive; for gratitude is very much about being in a state of receptivity. It’s important, in this regard, to remember the example of guests at the Union Rescue Mission like my friend. Her story shows a desire for the same things those who live elsewhere want—a better future for one’s children, and, in particular, a good education, and not just good health care, but also good community focused health care.


The Los Angeles Prosperity Carnival and Indoor Fair of 1915

13 Nov 2012 - 11:54am

Here's a thrilling bit of lost Los Angeles lore worth shining a torch on: after San Francisco's celebrated Panama-Pacific International Exposition folded up its tents in late 1915, clever promoter H.W. Nixon brought quite a number of the midway attractions from "The Zone, the Street of Fun" down to Broadway, where they filled the old Boston Store building.

boston dry goods store facade

The Boston was the department store founded by the Robinson family; the building, missing its upper stories, today houses a wedding chapel.

<toyland on the zone 17731

Above: Some of the daffiness to be found on "The Zone."

The Los Angeles Prosperity Carnival and Indoor Fair opened at 6pm on Saturday, December 11 to an audience of 5000 eager souls, and for the next 30 days, there was no place more amusing -- or peculiar -- in all the southland.

opening festivities LA Times

Above: Huge crowd celebrates the opening of the festivities. Photo: LA Times

The fair began with the "wedding" of Mr. Midget (real name: Lajos Matina, one of the Hungarian Matina triplets, all later Wizard of Oz Munchkins) to Miss Midget (Elise Broek). The couple were residents of Midget City, whose troupe appeared under the leadership of Prince Ludwig, whose professional bio had him a wee member of European royalty. Miss Midget, by the by, was a suffragette.

Prince Ludwig (Chicago Tribune)

Above: Prince Ludwig addresses his subjects at Midget Village, an attraction at the 1933 World's Fair. Photo: Chicago Tribune

Prize rabbits and pigeons by the hundreds were exhibited, with Los Angeles husbandry clubs competing against those fuddyduds in Pasadena.

blanche payson colliers 1915

Above: Officer Payson at the PPIE, where she protected lady fairgoers from mashers. Photo: Collier's.

Like large ladies in uniform? (Who doesn't?) Then you won't want to miss an audience with Mrs. Blanche Payson, popular 6'4" PPIE policewoman, who was on display in her cute "coppette" garb. You can still enjoy Mrs. Payson in some classic short comedies.

Hold your nose on the third floor, where a grand cat show, organized by the Los Angeles Cat Fanciers Association, featured prize-winning kitties from overseas and around the country.

Turkish Harem

Above: Some of the pretties on display. Photo: LA Times.

The fifth floor was transformed into an Oriental Village staffed with young lovelies, each of them a "real Egyptian princess" and a talented dancer. They also had a pet serpent named Zoo, and Turkish cigarettes and water pipes available for male visitors to sample. This show was developed for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and had been touring ever since.

"In Old Hawaii," a song and dance show, was considered one of the higher-class attractions of the fair.

siamese twins

Then there was a Human Fish, who appeared to eat, drink and sleep inside his tank. And a chance to coo at the three-year-old Cuban-born Siamese twins Josephina and Guadalupe Hinojosa.

But wait, there's more! All the way from Van Nuys come... (wait for it)... 500 high-class chickens. Under the direction of W.P. Whitsett of the Chamber of Commerce, locals brought their best birds to show off the suitability of the SFV as a center of chicken ranching. The first such ranch opened just three years ago, and by 1915 there are 150 of them. The aim was to "make Van Nuys the Petaluma of Southern California." Favorite entrants included Lord Roselawn I, a majestic White Leghorn rooster and Sport, a Barred Plymouth Rock. Also on view: fighting cocks who battled in cages.

And for the kiddies, Santa distributed gifts beneath one of the largest Christmas trees ever brought to Los Angeles.

One of the weirdest elements of the fair was the Baby Bollinger Show, a wax replica of the malformed Chicago infant whose death the previous month had been national news. Allan Bollinger had the misfortune to be under the "care" of Dr. Harry Haiselden, a proponent of euthanasia and eugenics who not only convinced the boy's parents to let their "sure-to-become-a-criminal" infant die rather than attempt any lifesaving surgeries, but actively sought media attention for doing so. The controversy over the Bollinger case led an ethics complaint against Haiselden, who would later star in an autobiographical pro-eugenics film called The Black Stork.

101 Ranch WENONA (1913) Half-Sheet

And then there was Princess Wenona with her Miniature Wild West Show. Princess Wenona, previously called Lillian Smith, perched atop her piebald pony Rabbit, was a star marksman in the 101 Ranch wild west show and had appeared with Buffalo Bill Cody in the 1880s. Her theatrical back story claimed that her mother was kidnapped by Sioux Indians, and that Lillian was the result of a liaison with Crazy Snake, a chief.

She was of Indian ancestry, just not from the Plains. In fact, she was born in Coleville, near the California-Nevada border. At 7 she got her first rifle, and became the terror of the Yosemite bird population. In her teens she joined the Buffalo Bill show and played to crowds of up to 200,000 in Staten Island, NY.


Above: Lillian Smith on the road, with performer friends and her rifle collection.

She was billed as "The California Huntress," "Champion Girl Rifle Shot" and "The California Girl," and a prize of $10,000 was offered to anyone who could out shoot Princess Wenona. They say nobody ever claimed that prize.

She had a great rivalry with the established performer Annie Oakley, who began lying about her age as Wenona's star ascended. In 1887, both women performed in England on the same bill. At a special performance for the Queen, it is said that Victoria rose for the first time in her life to salute the American flag. While in London, Oakley quarreled with Bill Cody and left the show, leaving Wenona the sole star lady sharpshooter, until Oakley and Cody made up.

geronimo with princess wenona

Above: Princess Wenona with Buffalo Bill Cody and the famous Apache leader Geronimo, 1901

In later years she became rather plump, drank too much and had several unhappy marriages, so by the time she played the Prosperity Carnival, we can assume she was not the star she'd been. Still, such tricks as shooting out a candle flame or the ashes off a man's cigar remained crowd pleasers.

She retired around 1925 and lived out her days on a ranch in Oklahoma with many former Wild West Show friends and dozens of stray dogs that she cared for. She died during the bitter cold winter of 1930, aged 59.

And these are just a few of the more than 150 shows and 200 concessions on display at the Los Angeles Prosperity Carnival and Indoor Fair. Don't you wish you could have seen them all?


December 11, 1915

Locations from this post

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The URM's First Home - 145 North Main

URM Thanksgiving services, 1937. 226 S Main Street

URM Gospel Wagon corner of 1st & Los Angeles Streets, 1914.


The URM's First Home - 145 North Main
20 Oct 2011 - 6:42am

145 N Main First Home of URM
145 N Main First Home of URM
Dining Hall 145 N Main
Dining Hall 145 N Main

About URM & this blog

In SRO Land, the time travel blog, is honored to be able to bring you rare, illuminating documents from the archives of the Union Rescue Mission, the charitable organization which has been saving souls and lives in downtown Los Angeles since 1891.

On these special URM pages of In SRO Land, you’ll find true stories of spiritual conversion (many illustrated with photos of the newly-saved), powerful scenes of the multitudes who came to the Mission for food and warmth during the depths of the depression, and rarely-seen images of a part of downtown’s Historic Core which no longer exists.

Our aim is to shine a light on the untold stories of downtown Los Angeles, and the good works that URM has done quietly among the most needy of our fellow citizens for more than a century. We would be so pleased if you hopped aboard the Gospel Wagon and came along with us to 226 South Main Street.

The Union Rescue Mission is well-remembered for its historic home at 226 South Main, where it held forth for fifty-plus years.  That site, a labyrinthian place made up of two large linked structures, was famously felled for parking in the mid-1990s, though continues on in the memories of many.  Before 226, the Mission spent a near quarter-century in another structure:  it is long forgotten, as is the streetscape around it, all obliterated in the name of Civic progress.

Truth be told, the Mission had a collection of "first homes."  There was an office at 431-433 South Spring, larger rooms in a converted saloon near Second and Main, and through the 1890s, a nomadic tent life under canvas roofs on lots located at Second and Spring, First and Los Angeles, and/or First and Spring. The Depression of '93 and the Panic of '01 certainly helped send men into the tents.

In March of 1903, the Pacific Gospel Mission set down roots in a narrow, two-story structure at 145 North Main.  (This is a view of Main in 1891, from out the window of the Natick, looking north across First, our Mission at 145 would be up the block, flush against the left side of image.)  After they move into 145, the Pacific Gospel Union AKA Pacific Rescue Mission becomes, under the able hand of Union Oil (besides Lyman Stewart's tutelage, many early Mission movers and shakers were UO bigwigs, e.g. Giles Kellogg and Robert Watchorn, or Union friendlies like Herbert G. Wylie, et al), the Union Rescue Mission.

Though 145 was not large, the rented rooms there and its evangelical crew produce great work -- in 1906 they held 1,800 services; gave food, clothing and shelter to 2,700; saw 3,201 men and women converted to Christ; and reunited 132 families.  The next year Union Rescue buys the building outright.  Testimonials from those turned from drink and crime blossom.  It is at this time, 1907, that indignant saloon keepers and liquor wholesalers took their protests to the City Council and had the Mission's colorful public enterprises curtailed. 

In 1908 the Mission on Main boasted "one of the cleanest, brightest mission halls to be found anywhere."  From its reading and class rooms, dining and lecture hall, poured a thousand-plus every year, who, lost and helpless, found salvation.  At this time Stewart and Thomas Corwin Horton, Bible teacher at the Mission, begin a Bible institute, whose fundamentalist evangelical work stretch world-wide (but that is another story).

The 'teens and 'twenties continue without great incident (see men get their 1917 Thanksgiving turkeys here); there are moments of financial hardship, usually relieved at last minute by a healthy pledge.  There was even some worry (as it could be called) that they'd done their job too well; they were preaching to good-size congregations of the saved (as was their newly-formed Church of the Open Door), and, in 1920, alcohol was made illegal -- certainly THAT was going to quiet things?

Of course, in short order, the Mission realized the need for a relocation:  services in helping the needy were growing both in demand and taxed by their quarters at 145.  Then, in June 1923, the citizens of Los Angeles authorized $7.5 million in bonds to raze a large parcel of land at Spring, Temple and Main for a City Hall.  This sealed the fate of 145.  Much of 1924 is spent arguing with the City over value (the URM estimated 48k, the City offered 37:  the two parties settled on 43k in 1925). 

Thus what was once a rather vibrant block -- this being a shot of some of it, from the 1906 Sanborn, showing our Mission at 145 (upper right) surrounded by vaudeville, and liquor wholesalers, and female boarding, that euphamism for one of those less savory occupations -- well, just go and compare it to that same square of land from the 1950 map, post-City Hall.

Not that we all don't have a deserved fetish for our City Hall; but 145 was a charming little building, with its elliptical transoms, spindlework'd porch, with another balcony and railing across an open-pediment roofline (this was lost a bit with the addition of their larger sign) and its slender pilasters leant the whole affair a sense of lightness. 

Not to mention the whole rest of the block -- here we see it from 115 up to the hotel at 151, the large building across Court St. is the 1896 J. A. Bullard Block.  Because there's what looks to be demo fencing, nor does the Bullard appear to have any windows, I think it's fair to assume this was during the early moments of her removal.  Which means time is limited for everybody