Heroes


Buster is a mind-changer. Most of my life I considered tortoises to be plodding, simple-minded and uninteresting creatures. But then along comes this Russian tortoise into my life in October 2001 and she burned that opinion to the ground — and continues to do so.

Even though this clip ends in her failure to escape and me coming to her rescue, it’s a great reminder of how awesome she is and how incredible tortoises can be — how curious, how energetic, and how stubbornly unstoppable. Her ancestors don’t date back 200-million years because they just sat around the planet.

She looks at the almost two-foot-tall pile of river rocks I’ve arrayed on the left not as a way to be kept in, but as a way to get out. And though she suffers several setbacks in her escape quest, she ultimately gets thiiiiiiiiiis close to succeeding — all the more incredible when you consider how poorly equipped a tortoise is to such a rigorous endeavor.

Regardless of how inadequately outfitted Buster is to climb over a pile of rocks, “quit” is simply not in her vocabulary. Well… neither is “vocabulary,” but you know what I mean.

So on this Thanksgiving Day, I’m thankful for a lot of things and one of them is Buster’s indomitable spirit, which keeps inspiring me — especially so at this latter stage of my life when I’m attempting to scale my own disproportionate rockpile and achieve a place in a new career field.

My thanks to the Blogfather Tony Pierce for this inciteful post, bringing this riveting and heartrending presentation by comedian Anthony Griffith to my attention:

 

Above is a shot taken yesterday from Broadway of the landmark Higgins Building on the southwest corner of Second and Main, looking east at its backside bathed beautifully Hopper-esque in the afternoon light. Susan and I had a wonderful excursion that started with lunch at Cole’s, and then a stroll up to this building so that I could express my requisite awe in the wake of my discovery that one of my heroes, Clarence Darrow, kept an office here while representing the infamous McNamara brothers who bombed the original Los Angeles Times building (at First and Broadway) in 1910 and killed 20 people.

Afterward we visited the Bradbury Building, Grand Central Market, and rode Angel’s Flight to the top of Bunker Hill, which we descended via Hope Street to go to the Central Library and pick up the new biography of Darrow by John Farrell I had on hold, Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned. From the library we worked our way back to the Drkrm Gallery on Spring Street south of Seventh to check out an exhibit of Ansel Adams’ photographs of Los Angeles in the 1930s. Lastly we explored the incredible space of The Last Bookstore at Spring and Fourth Fifth.

But back to Darrow. I’ve been an unabashed idolizer of his (and subsequent skeptic of religion) since a 13-year-old when I checked out a copy of the play “Inherit the Wind” by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee from the LeConte Junior High School library, based on the 1925 Scopes trial in Tennessee, in which he represented the defendant who challenged that state’s anti-evolution law. The first monologue I ever did as an acting class student at Beverly Hills High School was one of Drummond’s (Darrow) from that play:

Yes there is something holy to me! The power of the individual human mind. In a child’s power to master the multiplication table there is more sanctity than in all your shouted “Amens!,” “Holy, Holies!” and “Hosannahs!” An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral. And the advance of man’s knowledge is more of a miracle than any sticks turned to snakes, or the parting of waters. But are we now to halt the march of progress because Mr. Brady frightens us with a fable? (to the jury) Gentlemen, progress has never been a bargain. You’ve got to pay fo rit. Sometimes I think there’s a man behind a counter who says, “All right, you can have a telephone; but you’ll have to give up rivacy, the charm of distance. Madam, you may vote; but at a price; you lose the right to retreat behind a powderpuff or a petticoat. Mister, you may conquer the air; but the birds will lose their wonder, and the clouds will smell of gasoline!” Darwin moved us forward to a hilltop, where we could look back and see the way from which we came. But for this view, this insight, this knowledge, we must abandon our faith in the pleasant poetry of Genesis.

Anyway, through a recent issue of Smithsonian magazine I learned via an excerpt from Farrell’s book that he had an office in the Higgins during the McNamara trial and afterwards during what was the darkest time of his life and career as a lawyer, when he was tried twice on charges of bribing McNamara jurors. The first ended in his acquittal, the second with a hung jury, and a subsequent deal with the district attorney was struck in which he agreed there would be no retrial if Darrow promised never to practice law again in California. Darrow then went on to some of his greatest legal battles — including the Scopes trial.

As I looked over the buildings features and details and stood in its foyer where Darrow had undoubtedly stood more than 100 years ago, I figured it might be lost to history where his office had actually been within, but that of course didn’t stop me from googling it and finding via the LA Times that it was on the southwest corner of the ninth floor, the windows of which — second floor from the top — are visible in the picture.

By coincidence I learned that today marks the 82nd anniversary of the January 13, 1929 death of legendary lawman Wyatt Earp.

I mention it because he died right here in Los Angeles, and while I knew that already, I didn’t know where in the city. A few clicks around the internet showed me first that for awhile he lived at 4021 Pasadena Avenue in northeast Los Angeles. A few more clicks led me to this page on the West Adams Heritage Association that states when he passed away he did so at a bungalow located at 4004 W. 17th Street in the West Adams section of the city. Neither of those two residence remain, but there’s this photo (at right) of Earp purportedly taken at the 17th Street house sometime in the year of his demise.

His beloved wife, Josephine, died 15 years later in 1944 at 1812 W 48th Street in south Los Angeles, and by the looks of the residence shown in the Google map’s Streetview, the house that’s pictured may be the same.

I’m not much on absolute favorites. I’m much more a “Top 5″ or “Top 10″ kind of guy — the sort who always qualifies his appreciation of things, inserting “one of” into anything I’m glowing and crowing about.

  • “That is one of my favorite Frank Lloyd Wright residences.”
  • “My 19th birthday? One of the best I’ve ever had.”
  • “Without question, Dude Where’s My Car stands as one of the most awesome motion pictures in the history of motion pictures.”

If I do feel particularly daring, I might drop the “one of” for a “probably” or “perhaps.” Bold, right?

But then there’s John Steinbeck and I wipe the wish-wash away.

John Steinbeck is my favorite writer. Absolutely. No “perhaps” or “one of” about it. And I just now learned that he lived in Los Angeles for a spell. Montrose, to be exact. for a few months between 1932-33. And the tiny house he rented still stands behind an apartment building built in the ’60s on Hermosa Avenue.

If you know me at all, you know I go crazy over shit like that, because it’s easy for me to mythologize my heroes as far-removed like gods up on Olympus. I’ve practically made a shrine out of the bungalow Mr. and Mrs. Jackie Robinson lived in near Western and Jefferson in his monumental year of 1947. Hell, I’ve known for a couple years that F. Scott Fitzgerald died a loooong way from West Egg in a West Hollywood apartment on Hayworth Avenue a half-block south of Sunset Boulevard, and whenever I recall that nugget I still shake my head in amazement. F. Scott Fitzfuckinggerald!

The coincidence is that I learned both things via my friend Rodger Jacobs. The irony is that he laid Steinbeck’s LA connection on me after I commented on his blog about “London House,” a unique Hollywood residence south of Melrose Avenue just off Van Ness which legend has it Jack London lived in during a 1906 visit here. Trouble is the legend’s a total fiction. The house, built by the author’s sculptor friend Finn Frolich, wasn’t constructed until the 1920s, augmented with a bas relief by Frolich of the writer mounted near the entry. London might have lived there in spirit and memory, but spirit and memory only.  He died in 1916.

In response to my comment, Rodger (not coincidentally who’s written the preface to a new book out titled Jack London: San Francisco Stories, which you can buy on Amazon and should) wrote back to me that he once lived a few blocks from where Steinbeck lived in Crescenta Valley.

After I stopped saying “No way!” and “Dood!” to my computer screen, I got out my e-shovel and started digging around the internest, first finding out from a column in the Crescenta Valley Weekly that the home was somewhere on Hermosa Avenue between Sunset Drive and Rosemont in Montrose and ultimately finding out the address from none other than Steinbeck himself, via Google Books and its e-version of Steinbeck: A Life in Letters. Appearing on page 66 is a note written to publisher Robert Ballou, one of several from:

A visit will certainly be in order after this seriously most awesome discovery. No “one of” or “perhaps” about it.

UPDATE (5:39 a.m.): Oh my goodness — a personal connection! Correspondence included in Steinbeck: A Life in Letters shows that for a time in 1930 he lived at 2741 El Roble Drive in Eagle Rock, which was on my route back when I worked for Sparkletts. In fact, if memory serves from checking out the Google Street view image of the house, the occupant at the time was a customer of mine!

An offshoot/evolution of my Watts Happening rides has been my discovery/inclusion of the location of Wrigley Field and the history of the city’s true native baseball team: The Los Angeles Angels. I’ve become so enchanted with the club from an historical perspective as one of the most successful Pacific Coast League (PCL) franchises (who also played their first major league season there; followed by the next four at Dodger Stadium before moving permanently to Orange County) that I’ve gone a little crazy (don’t judge) over at Ebbets Field Flannels buying replica uniform memorabilia (a Wrigley Field groundskeeper jacket, a 1957  “Los Angeles Baseball Club” tee, and a 1935 home jersey. On top of that I joined the Pacific Coast League Historical Society — and most importantly have switched from a dismissive disdain to an entire embrace of the team’s seriously scoffed-at official name that owner Arte Moreno changed a few years back: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Many angelenos — myself included — openly mocked the new title as nothing but a marketing ploy to capture the L.A. audience — and I have no doubt that was part of it. The city of Anaheim even sued to block the switch, unsuccessfully and understandably. But now I also recognize that in my native city whose history is one overly populated with examples of a wanton disregard and destruction of its history, Moreno has boldly anchored a line to our past and rightfully secured the team to the place where it played its first games some 107 years ago.

From 1903 through 1925, the team played at the long-gone 15,000-seat Washington Park, at Hill and 8th Streets in downtown Los Angeles. Owner William Wrigley then built Wrigley Field as their home beginning in 1925 and it stood until 1966 (some accounts have it torn down in 1968). On three occasions of my Watts Happening rides I’ve visited the location, each time having discovered and shared a bit more info with the people accompanying me. My most recent one, this past May, spoke of the facts that among the many Angel greats along with those throughout the PCL two of the Greatest To Ever Play The Game — Joe DiMaggio then of the San Francisco Seals and Ted Williams of the San Diego Padres — no doubt played at Wrigley Field; DiMaggio in 1933 (the year of his PCL-record 61-game hitting streak), and Williams in his sophomore season with the club 1937, his hitting helped his team to the pennant that year.

So what? Well, if you’re asking that I can’t blame you. It was a long time ago in a place that no longer exists, in a sport you may not be as interested in as I am. But consider the legendary stature of those two, and perhaps you can realize the impact this local angle has on me. For me, it was something akin to discovering something previously thought impossible, like Michelangelo having painted in London.  See, DiMaggio’s and Williams’ amazing careers were forged far away from here, in New York and Boston. From a baseball fan’s perspective that was the other side of the world really what with the closest Major League Baseball team at that time being in St. Louis. So to suddenly learn they specifically took to our Wrigley Field — that they caught and threw and swung and ran its base paths, that they spat and swore and stole and slid — brings these mythological figures not down to earth, but down to my corner of it. These are two of baseballs most glorious gods and they played here. They. Played. Here.

Or rather, they played at what once was here.

Can you imagine having been at one of those games and bearing witness to what was to become such future greatness? Damn. Pardon the digression, but the closest I’ve ever come to doing that was in the early 1990s at the Forum in Inglewood for a tennis match. Before the main event started, two little girls no taller than the net took to the court to play a few games. I’ve long since forgotten the names of the established pro players we’d come to see exhibit their skills, but I’ll never forget the names of those unknowns who wowed the crowd: Venus and Serena Williams.

Anyone still alive who can say they saw “Joltin’ Joe” or “Teddy Ballgame” when… well, that’s almost as ephemeral a thing as the place where they were seen. After the Angels debut major league season ended in 1961, stately Wrigley Field under its signature 12-story clocktower never hosted another baseball game, and five years later in disrepair was demolished.

It’s some consolation at least that the block upon which the stadium once stood now serves the community rather than the for-profit needs of some subdividing residential developer. But it’s sadly typical that what was built there was done with little consideration for what once was and as far as I know there’s nothing to memorialize the ballpark that served a larger community so ably for so long. No sign. No marker. No commemorative plaque sits where once sat home plate to which DiMaggio and Williams and so many others strode.

And that got me thinking: Where might that base be in relation to the place today?

Looking at the satellite image of the block in Google Maps (bordered by 41st and 42nd places to the north and south, and San Pedro and Avalon to the west and east), then comparing it to images I’d found of the ballpark, the location of home plate looked to be beneath a building that’s part of a community mental health center complex standing centrally located.

I then did some entirely unscientific pinpointing on the Google Maps image using neighboring buildings as rough coordinates and at first I was heartened that the intersecting lines (seen in the upper left of image below) seemed to place the base just north of one of the building’s walls.

To verify that I remembered the awesome Historic Aerials website and sure enough I found an image of the block from 1948 (pictured at left).  But then when compared to an image on the site from 2005, indeed and sadly, home plate is underneath the structure south of my original intersection, practically equidistant between the building’s north and south facades. Darn it.

There is good news though. Drawing a diagonal line 60 feet and six inches to the north and east of home plate, shows that one can still stand outdoors where Wrigley Field’s pitcher’s mound once stood, albeit now it’s under however much parking lot pavement. Better that than a building.

You can bet on my next Watts Happening Ride, that’s where we’ll be.