Erasmus wrote; “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”. Well I am here to tell you, there is nothing royal at all that comes with blindness.
As a result of a little malady I was suffering through, I came up essentially blind in the left eye. Through the miracle of modern medicine however, I have been measured for a new lens, and the problem will be solved shortly and it cannot be too soon for me. Reading and writing have been particularly difficult, and driving an automobile at night almost impossible. But I am still, Looking Back; nevertheless, and wishing you… Greetings from Westchester and Playa Del Rey!
By the time you read this you will, I hope, have had a very Happy Thanksgiving, and will be preparing for Christmas. As I wrote last month, Thanksgiving Day was more or less the birthday of Playa Del Rey; that being the day in 1904 when the town and the early developments were dedicated. Unfortunately, in just ten or twelve years, nearly all of that first round of development burned to the ground or washed out to sea, although the residents of Santa Monica, “appreciated the firewood.” Until 1921, only a few homes remained, and three or four buildings. Then the arrival of Fritz Burns permanently put Playa Del Rey and later Westchester on the map.
For many years I have been writing and re-writing a screenplay about our town; called Beach of the King. The history of the area is an exciting topic; and maybe I will finish the thing one day. Beginning with the account and subsequent annihilation of the early inhabitants; the Tongva, through the Mexican Rancho Period, the written descriptions of Old California by Richard Henry Dana (Two Years Before The Mast), and William Tecumseh Sherman (Memoirs), the rise and fall of Port Ballona and the first attempt to build Playa Del Rey, Mines Field (LAX), the development of Loyola University (LMU), and the glory days of Coach Tom Lieb’s Loyola University football and hockey teams, Sherman’s trolley cars, Mines Field, Daniel Freeman’s Inglewood and purchase of Rancho Sausal Redondo(Westchester), and the mythic boom-to-bust-to-boom tale of the great Fritz Bernard Burns. One could write a book on the subjects, or in my case nine books, which I did write and I have two more about finished.
And there are many interesting people associated with our area as well; Howard Hughes, Mae Murray (pumping, pumping), Rudolph Valentino, Ronald Coleman, Bessie Love, Father Joseph Sullivan, Barney Oldfield, Don Johns, George Beban, Mel Blanc (What’s Up Doc?), Cecil and Richard deMille, Carmen Miranda, Charles Bickford, Bob Denver (Gilligan), Dwayne Hickman (Dobie), Jack Prince, Don Klosterman (The Duke of Del Rey), Maury Nipp, Gene Britto, Bud Brubaker, Al Duvall, and Harry Acquarelli, Jerry Neri, Jordan Oliver, Bob Boyd, Jerry Sunderland, Hank Gathers, Tracy Sharp, Jerry West, Phil Jackson, Jerry Buss, Mike Jay, Maury Wills*, Anissa Jones, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, Flo and Eddy; The Turtles, Esther Williams, Jim B. Smith, Merle Norman, Doctor Howard Murad, William Hannon, and so many more.
A few miles away in Hawthorne, Marylyn Monroe lived and attended grade school, and George Foster opened the first Fosters Freeze (1946) on La Brea, not far from the Wilson Beach Boys home. Over in Culver City, Union Troops were stationed at Camp Latham (1861), not far from La Ballona Elementary where Fatty Arbuckle went to school, which was very close to where Louis “Satchmo”Armstrong lived, and worked at the Cotton Club. Gwen Verdon, Helen Hunt and Drew Barrymore were born there; the place where Thomas Ince, Mack Sennett and Harry Culver created the modern motion picture business.
We are the former home of two world-class raceways, the longest private runway in the world (Hughes Airport), Lake Los Angeles, Carol Shelby’s Mustang plant, Hy Green’s Sportsden, Lopez Ranch, and the current home of the Theme Building at LAX, LMU, and Otis College.
At one point; the Tongva roamed the dunes and seashore and crossed the ocean to Catalina in handmade boats, a Southern General and later a Scottish Lord owned most of Westchester, although a tortilla maker squatted on their land, “the Waterman” Mike Doyle surfed at D&W, and Gillis Beach was king.
Finally, we are the undisputed home of the 1928 Air Races, a 1932 Olympic event, the Spruce Goose, the start of the Laurel Canyon Freeway, Randy’s Big Donut, the “baby” Vons, the Shack Burger, the Buggy Whip, the Loyola Theatre, the Lighted Pylons, Tower Pizza, Thrill Hill, Vinny’s Pizza, Saint Bernard High, Hank’s Pizza, Tompkins “Fireside” Square, and the Westchester Catwoman and “Christmas Candle.”
Recently, there has been a great deal of renewed interest in the area, and I was lucky enough to be filmed by Aol Studios discussing the history of Surfridge and Palisades Del Rey. I hope that you have a chance to view it. The program, What Remains, takes an interesting look at vanishing America; including Surfridge, the Mt. Lowe Railway and the Saint Francis Dam.
And the show must go on, even if you have to do it with a bum eye.
After all, what we look back on and what we look forward to is up to us.
YOU CAN VIEW THE VIDEO HERE: