Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Nike Hill

Sunday, February 24th, 2013


The marker in the top left of the image (click it for the bigger picture) is the bottom of what’s referred to as Nike Hill in Whittier and the marker in the bottom right is the top. In between those two point, it’s 1.81 miles at an average grade of 9%. To put that grade percentage into context, it’s usually at the start of a 7% descent on a highway that signage will be found warning motorists to “Watch Downhill Speed.” In other words, while it ain’t anywhere close to the hellacious steepness of the 32%-33% grades found nearby to me on Echo Park’s Baxter and Fargo streets, Nike Hill’s incline is one worthy of respect, especially if you are tasked with running from the bottom to the top, which I had to do yesterday afternoon at the end of a long day of training.

If you want me to get technical, Nike Hill doesn’t really begin until the top of that distinct outward bend you see in the first segment of the route. From there it’s 1.5 miles at an overall 8.5% grade. But for me as a student at Rio Hondo College in its public safety training program, the runs we do up it start just outside the campus’ Administration of Justice Building, adding about a third of a mile and a couple hundred more feet of elevation gain.

Nike Hill is not so known because of some naming rights agreement entered into with the shoe company. It is called what it is because at that end point is what once was Nike Missile Site LA-14, in operation between 1956-1961, one of hundreds built across the country and 16 active in Los Angeles during the Cold War era.

The Fort MacArthur Museum website states:

Nike missiles were launched from a self-contained launch area. Each site was equipped with two or three launching platforms each with an underground storage magazine, an elevator and four missile erectors. The missiles were stored underground on rails and were brought to the surface by an elevator. Once on the surface, they were pushed on rails to an erector and with the proper electrical and hydraulic connections completed, raised to an angle of about 85 degrees for firing. The Nike missiles employed the “command guidance” system in which the major control equipment was ground-based and not part of the expendable missile. The missiles were guided from a control area located at least 1000 yards from the launch area. It contained the radar equipment for acquiring and tracking the target and missile. Separate radars simultaneously located and tracked both the target and the Nike missile. Data from these radars was fed to the electronic computer which sent “commands” to the missile in flight to guide it to the target.

The installations were designed in the 1950s to defend against the primary strategic attack threat of the time, large formations of long-range bombers. Initially, the missiles onhand were the Nike-Ajax, supersonic anti-aircraft variety.

From “The Missiles of Los Angeles,” via Los Angeles Almanac:

In 1958, the Army began upgrading its Nike missile sites in the Los Angeles area from the Nike-Ajax missile to the more powerful and longer-range Nike-Hercules missile. The new missile could also be armed with a nuclear warhead.

Today the site hosts a set of radio relay towers, and one helluva view on a clear day. And it’s interesting to me that the control area mentioned above was located on the grounds of what eventually became Rio Hondo College, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. On a side note, being about 15 months away from my 50th anniversary, it’s some consolation that I’m not physically older than the institution I’m attending.

But speaking of physically older, I surprise myself by doing all right with this asskicker of a run. It wasn’t at all pretty or noble, but I managed to drag and trudge and flail my 48-year-old butt to the top in 19:57, finishing fourth among my fellow cadets. This with an ongoing aggravated sciatic nerve issue down my left leg and some sort of newly realized mobility limiter in my right ankle.

It’s a stretch, but perhaps my relative success with this run can be traced genetically back to a Scottish ancestry well-acclimated and conditioned to traversing up and down the Scottish highlands. More than likely, I’m simply driven by the knowledge that the sooner I get to the top, the sooner the agony stops.


Racial Coventry In Our Own Backyard — Literally

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

I’m familiar enough with the history of this country to be aware of and repulsed by the prevalent use of racially restrictive covenants that prohibited property ownership and occupation — a completely legal practice that stood in place until it was overturned by the US Supreme Court in 1948.

A restrictive covenant is basically a legal obligation imposed in a deed by the seller upon the buyer of real estate to do or not to do something.

As an aside, it should be noted that it was a lawyer from right here South Los Angeles named Loren Miller — the son of a slave —  who was instrumental not only in winning many local cases against racial covenants, but also the most celebrated one: Shelley v. Kraemer (1948),  which he and partner Thurgood Marshall argued successfully before the U.S. Supreme Court. Miller would later go on to be named Justice of the California Supreme Court by Gov. Edmund G. Brown (our current governor’s father), serving until his death in 1967.

But back on topic. Cleaning out her files, Susan came across a copy of the original grant deed for our property made out by the parcel’s original owners George and Katherine Palmer, dated September 26, 1907. It starts off with some pretty standard normal conditions:

  • that it be used for residential purposes only;
  • that any out-buildings not be erected less than 75 feet from the front line of the lot;
  • that the value of the dwelling built must be greater than $2,500 (remember that’s 1907 dollars);
  • that anything built be not less than 1.5 stories in height;
  • that the home should be built no fewer than 35 feet from the front of the lot nor within four feet of the sides.

Then there’s a cool one, specified:

“That this property shall never be used for the sale of intoxicating liquors.”

Then it gets repulsively nasty, see for yourself:


Click it for the bigger picture or read the transcribed abhorrence below:

“That the party of the second part, his heirs, administrators, executors or assigns shall never convey lease or rent these lots or any portion thereof to any negro or to any person of African or Asiatic descent.”

Despite too-regular reminders provided by our past, I am always ever-amazed and embarrassed at how those in this country so shamefully and selfishly managed to subvert and disregard the second line of its Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

A Hundred Years Three Weeks And A Day

Monday, December 24th, 2012

I blew it. Missed the centennial anniversary of the oldest familial object in my possession. For several years, bestowed upon me by my mother who’s kept it I don’t know for how long,  I’ve had a remnant of my grandmother’s father’s life: a Gordon pipe clamshell case seen below (click it for the bigger picture):


Also seen in that image above is a piece of paper that I found within the case when I opened it up. It’s a receipt for $2 spent made out to my great-grandfather W.D. Sims (William Devon), most likely for the pipe and case. I say “most likely” because the receipt is not specific, only identifying the purchases made as “50 cts incidentals — $1.50 supplementals.” But the fact that the folded piece of paper was kept for so long within the container seems to make a good case that one resulted from the other.

The reason I’m mentioning it is that the document, written in pencil by one A.S. Scott, is 100 years old, dated December 2, 1912. Of course, I’d been planning on mentioning it on the actual anniversary of its creation, but I’m three weeks and a day late because I’d gotten it into my head that the date was sometime at the end of the month, not the beginning.

And when I cracked open the case to doublecheck the date this morning you can imagine how disappointed I was that I’d missed it by such a margin. Of course the disappointment is quickly supplanted by the amazement at holding a century-old moment in time of one of my ancestors. Owing that I have absolutely zero knowledge of the branch of my family that extends back from my unknown father, it’s nice to be able to hold something in my hand from the side to which I do have a connection, however tenuous it may be.

There’s an amazing story about my great grandfather that I’ve taken various incomplete stabs at drafting into written form. It’s full of details I’m woefully inaccurate about, the anniversary of which is the least of my worries. What I do know is that it was post-Civil War when he was a much younger man and a sharecropper somewhere in Alabama, and it involved him killing a man in cold blood who had taken to harassing his mother over a debt… one substantially more than two dollars, and that he paid off in full the moment before gunning the man down where he stood cash in hand.

Whether my great-grandfather’s intent to zero out the debtee’s heart rate upon zeroing out the balance owed was pre-meditated, or whether the deceased brought about his own demise with some derogatory and/or condescending words that in a hundred years of hindsight would have been better to go unspoken so soon upon receipt of the money, is both an historical and plot point with which I continue to grapple.




Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

A Facebook friend of mine, Eric Beteille, updated his status with an amazing search of the 1940 Census Archives to find who lived in his house then. Not previously knowing such a treasure trove of info was available online I, of course, did the same thing, and this is what I discovered (actual page cropped, click it for the bigger picture), explained below:

In 1940 the Woolsey family resided in our home, which they rented at a rate of $60 per month. William, Sr. (79 years old), was the head of the household. He was retired. His wife Katherine (62) was a chef at an unspecified hotel. She made $1,200 in 1939. William and Katherine had two sons, William, Jr. (35) and Robert (25). William, Jr., worked as an auditor at an unspecified aeronautics firm and made $3,600 the previous year. Robert, was an artist and he reported making no income in 1939. The Woolsey’s also had a lodger named Edith Swinton (35). Edith was a single female whose occupation is listed as bookkeeper in the service industry. She made $1,200 in 1939. William, Sr., Katherine, and Robert completed their high school educations, William, Jr., and Edith had college degrees. William, Sr., was born in Illinois. Katherine and William, Jr., were born in Minnesota. Robert and Edith were born in North Dakota. The Woolsey family was living at this same address since at least April 1, 1935. At that time Edith was living in Minneapolis.

I googled everyone’s names, but the only thing I found was for Robert (presuming of course it’s the same person), in the form of the following cursory information at, sourced through Edan Hughes’ “Artists in California,” 1786-1940.

“After studying at Otis Art Institute, Woolsey worked in Los Angeles for the Public Works of Art Project during the 1930s.”

So I googled “Robert Woolsey WPA” and got nothing; thenI searched for “Robert Woolsey Otis Art Institute,” and found this 2006 post on the the Cartoons, Model Sheets & Stuff Blog about the background artistry of Hanna Barbera painters Robert Gentle and Art Lozzi. In a 2009 response a commenter named Brad Woolsey writes:

Bob Gentle and my father (Robert Woolsey) were friends in art school in the ’30s. I found a charcoal portrait of my father done by Bob completed in ’38. Bob Gentle ended up doing backgrounds and my father had to drop out of art school even though he was on scholarship at Otis in LA due to finances — he eventually became a toy designer/engineer.

Sounds like it very well could be the same fellow. If so, sad that Robert had to leave art behind. Sad also that a search for “Robert Woolsey Toys” came up empty. How cool would it be if he helped design, Erector Sets, the Slinky or Silly Putty.

Easy As 1, 2, 3… Well, Not Quite

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of historic vintage maps of Los Angeles. I love pouring over high-resolution versions of the documents and one I’ve spent some time with is a fantastically detailed bird’s-eye view of the city from back in 1909 that I found here on the incredible Big Map Blog about a year ago.

I hadn’t looked at it in awhile, but I opened up the file again yesterday for no particular reason. And while past explorations left me kind of certain that our neighborhood was further to the right side of this image, yesterday’s visit left no doubt that I’d been waaay off.

Here’s the section annotated below (numbered and arrowed by me; click it for the bigger picture):

1. The intersection of Bellevue and what was then Temple or Old Temple Road (now bisected by the 101 with London Street to the north of the freeway and Park View to the south). Our street was originally called Sugg (and then later Ensign) and it’s shown extending northward from that intersection into what was originally the Rowland Heights tract.

2. This was the key element that I hadn’t previously recognized. That bend in the road is now the present curve of LaFayette Park Place (one street east of ours) down to what’s now Benton Way.

3. Is essentially our house. Not really, but pretty dang close to where it was built in 1906. It was one of the first on the block, and its position there on the map is good in relation to the view we have of Sunset Boulevard, seen above angling up between what was then curiously known as Capitol Hill (what’s now Micheltorena Ridge) and Crestmont (site of the famed Canfield-Moreno Estate aka Paramour Mansion built in 1923).

Mr. Rogers Will ALWAYS Be My Hero

Friday, April 13th, 2012

On May 1 1969, when I was 4, Fred Rogers appeared before a US Senate subcommittee to fight for the half of the $20,000,000 in funding that President Richard Nixon wanted cut from PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that year.

Watch him below as he charms the pants off of the subcommittee’s chairman Sen. John Pastore.

More than 40 years later, listening to him speak so wholeheartedly and eloquently about how much he cares about children and how important he believed his program was to them is something of an aha! moment in realizing that way back then I was one of those children for whom he was fighting.

Where The Hell Have I Been? Recovering.

Monday, March 12th, 2012

It’s not like me to go more than a couple days between posting anything, and my excuse is that it pretty much took me the weekend to recuperate from the all-nighter I pulled Friday shadowing the 340-ton rock between South Los Angeles and its destination at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on the final night of the journey that began in Riverside County about a week and a half ago.

I left the house at 8:45 p.m. to bike downtown and meet up with my friend Joni, wherein we pedaled down to Figueroa Street south of Gage in time for the rock’s 10 p.m. departure aboard its elaborate 200-foot long, three-traffic-lane-wide transporter.

Here’s a clip of the monster vehicle juuuuuuust barely clearing a speed limit sign at the bend in Figueroa Street just south of Exposition Boulevard:

That above location will now forever hold a frustrating place in my head as it was where I suffered one of the most dumbfounding brainfarts of my life. In addition to the camera I used for the realtime footage, I was also timelapsing each pass-by with my GoPro cam on a small tripod. After the truck had passed, I packed up what I thought was both cameras into my pack and Joni and I headed up through the USC campus to get ahead of it to await its first left turn at Figueroa and Adams. Upon arrival I went to unpack the GoPro and it wasn’t there — meaning I’d somehow managed to leave it behind. I made the obligatory return to the scene of my idiocy but I knew the whole way back that the odds of the device sitting there untouched amidst all the foot traffic were slim, and sure enough when I arrived it was gone. Sigh. All I could do was hope whoever found it needed it more than I did and would take better care of it than I had, and I returned crestfallen to Fig and Adams where I spent pretty much the rest of the night (and weekend) flip-flopping between letting it go and kicking myself for committing such an incredible and inexplicable fail.

The good news is that the rock was making great time. We met up with my friend Elson at Adams and Normandie and after that the crew flawlessly executed the rig’s toughest turn of the night, a right onto Western from Adams. Not much later the rig completed the left from Western onto Wilshire at 1:30 a.m., and things suddenly looked like they might wrap up way ahead of schedule. But thanks to illegally parked cars along that homestretch as well as a traffic signal that needed to be moved out of the rock’s way (see photo below), it then took three hours to get from there to the front of LACMA, pulling to a stop at 4:30 a.m. for an extended stop/photo opp before a large crowd who cheered its arrival. Continuing west it made a right from Wilshire Boulevard onto Fairfax and then a right halfway up the block onto the museum’s grounds where it will be installed in the Levitated Mass exhibit slated to open in about six weeks. I said goodbye to Joni via text as she was somewhere else near a plug recharging her phone, and Elson and I headed back east through the quiet streets by the dawn’s early light.

Here’s a clip of the vehicle passing in front of the United Methodist Church on Wilshire Boulevard between Highland and La Brea:

About a block and a half after the church, an LADOT service crew jumped into action to elevate the traffic signal at Fremont Place so the rock could continue rolling:

Not taking anything away from the largest rock to be transported since ancient times, but honestly, the vehicle was more impressive than its precious cargo. And not taking away from the enjoyment of being witness to the final leg of its journey across town, but by the time I got home at about 7 a.m. all the coffee in the can wouldn’t have kept me awake, and I crashed until 11 a.m. and then again from 1 to about 4 p.m. on the backyard hammock. Sunday, I did manage to do some leaf sweeping in the front of the house and go get Susan and me some lunch, but that was about it for productivity.

Still, if I had the chance to do it all again, I wouldn’t hesitate. And I wouldn’t lose any of my equipment.