Tuesday, December 26, 2017

New Year's Eve in Long Beach - The Penny Scramble on the Pike

Tabernacle - 3rd St. and Locust
        In Long Beach, New Year’s Eve has always been a popular time to celebrate. One hundred twenty years ago Long Beach festively greeted the New Year with ringing bells, singing songs and tooting horns at a party held at the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle, the major building for city events, was decked out by women of the city with a banner in bright red letters made of flowers which read “Welcome 1898.” Music, songs, recitations were all part of the elaborate program to greet the coming year. But customs changed when the Pike arrived in Long Beach in 1902.
            Promoters came up with various ways to lure people to Long Beach’s amusement zone. There was the bathhouse, Looff’s carousel, and various contests. But one of the most popular and long lasting traditions was the penny scramble on New Year’s Eve. It began in 1910 when a hundred pennies were tossed from the bathhouse mezzanine.  The celebration took a hiatus during World War I, but was revived in 1920 when $100 in pennies was again pitched from the bathhouse.
Long Beach Bathhouse

     Things became rowdy in 1921 when many were injured in the mad scramble, and some fun zone buildings damaged, in the rush for the copper coins.  Police Chief McLendon declared a ban on repetition of this New Year custom.  But public sentiment won out. The penny scramble was held again the following year, this time, however, the pennies were scattered by a vehicle travelling along the fun zone, instead of from the bathhouse mezzanine.  This seemed to end the destructiveness and the 1922 event was described as “most orderly” by the press.   
Pike - 1921

            For the next 20 years the scramble was held every New Year’s Eve, except in 1932 when the penny toss was postponed because of wet weather.  Even the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 didn’t put an end to New Year’s Eve celebrations on the Pike.  The December 31, 1941 celebration was slightly dimmer than in the past because there were no firework displays, no penny scramble and parade. All had been cancelled in the interest of emergency precautions.   However, you could still visit the plunge, hot dog stands and the rest of the amusements in the fun zone.
Press Telegram 10/20/1950
        In 1948 the penny scramble was back, but not as a New Year’s Eve event.  This time it was Halloween that brought out the copper coins and  around 500 kids. Held from 1948-1955, every Long Beach youngster was invited to the Pike. Those in costume received a prize booklet of free tickets for rides. There were prizes for best costume, and hats, horns and various favors were distributed.  In 1954 grown-ups wanted to get in on the Halloween fun and an adult penny scramble was held in front of the bathhouse at 11 p.m.
            Adults who remembered the New Year’s Eve penny scramble, wanted to revive the tradition.  On December 31, 1951, their wish was granted when more than 10,000 pennies were tossed out of the historic bathhouse to mark the 50-year-old tradition.  There was even a Miss Pretty Penny of 1952 to preside over the two coin tosses---one scramble held at 10 p.m. and the second at midnight.  
Press Telegram 12/30/1953
            Inflation hit the traditional New Year’s Eve Pike penny scramble in 1961. Nickels, dimes and quarters were thrown along with pennies. At least $200 was tossed from a truck touring the fun zone between Magnolia Avenue and Pine Avenue from 7 p.m. to midnight. The last penny scramble I have found was held December 31, 1963, when over 10,000 pennies were thrown from a truck touring the 8 block amusement zone at 9:30 p.m.  
           Back in 1910, when the penny scramble began, a penny was worth 26 cents in today's money. Quite a bit when you realize the average US wage that same year was 22 cents per hour. Today we don’t value pennies, if people see one lying on the sidewalk they don’t even bother to pick it up.  There has been talk for years about doing away with the copper coin since it costs more to make it than it is worth, but we have clung onto the coin which is now mostly zinc.

            Like the penny, which has changed in composition, the Pike lives on, but in a different form.  The Pike amusement zone closed just after midnight following Labor Day in 1979, but its name lives on at the new entertainment area known as the Pike at Rainbow Harbor.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

An Urban Legend, Orphans, Sanitariums and the Riviera Hotel: A Tale of Dr. Michael Schutz

Dr. M.A. Schutz

     I was surprised to come across an urban legend in writing this blog.  According to a 2002 Mayfair High graduate, the story about orphans helping autos climb Signal Hill was already well established by the time she entered school.  She told me she heard that your climb up the Hill will be easier if you put baby powder on your tires.  It seems the abused orphans from the Signal Hill home will help with the ascent---the proof being the tiny footprints left behind in the baby powder! The story she heard was that they had been abused, and they felt helping a car up the steep incline would speed up their rescue. 
     It is intriguing to trace down legends, most of which have some base in fact.  Here’s what I found.

    In 1904 segregation was the norm, but a dream of universal brotherhood could be found in a home atop Signal Hill. It was hoped it would be a place where all could live in peace regardless of nationality or religion.

   For years Dr. Michael Alexander Schutz and his wife had the dream of creating an orphanage for children of all nationalities.  In 1904 the couple purchased four acres on the area of Signal Hill known as Crescent Heights to build their visionary home for orphans and castaways.  The doctor’s idea was to give them not only a home but an education to prepare them to someday enter the working world and be self-supporting.
   The July 24, 1904 Los Angeles Herald described their vision in which they would rear children of all nationalities in an atmosphere of love. The children would be taught trades, and when they reached the age of 14 they would be given the option of going out into the world or staying with the family.

  This is a labor of love, declared Dr. Schutz. Life wouldn't be worth living to me if I couldn't do something tangible and practicable for the world. If we could make it so that all could live in peace with one another, and each should help his neighbor, life would be far happier than it is today. The world today is man-made. God made no distinctions between his children. We were meant to dwell together, and that will be the purpose of the institution which we are founding. We shall teach no religion other than the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of men. Adults are not prepared for such a step. Humanity has been struggling, from the beginning and each man is looking after his own wants and forgetting those of his neighbor. With babies it is different. We will take them when they are far too young and tender to have formed any ideas, and it will be an easy matter to instill into their lives feelings of love and fellowship. They will be taught that they are all the children of one God, and there will be no distinctions made between black, white and yellow.

    The Russian born Schutz, received his medical training in Bellevue Hospital, New York, and was for four years connected with the Dansville, New York, sanitarium.  He and his first wife, Hulda (1857-1900) moved to Long Beach in 1894 and started their own sanitarium and a hotel they called the Riviera.  Now with his second wife, Pearl, (who had spent 5 years working for the Salvation Army in New York), he planned on building a two-story house on Signal Hill large enough to accommodate a dozen children as well as their own two children, Helene Emeth and Murray Ahura. 
      Their income would be largely supported by Schutz running the Schutz Sanitarium, and the Riviera Hotel, at 325-327 W. Second Street in downtown Long Beach. Schutz hoped that by planting mulberry trees on his Signal Hill property he would have a second source of income, supported in part by silk worm and silk manufacturing. 
     In October 1904, the couple secured their first baby for their International Home for Children, a one-year-old Korean boy, Asha.  The boy’s father, who came to America to study law and medicine, could not care for the infant when his wife became sick. He thought the Schutz’s home the best solution to his dilemma.
     In July 1908, Schutz visited a Los Angeles organization which dealt in finding homes for young infants.  Schutz wanted to take custody of two 5-month old babies, one black, one white, but was turned down on the grounds that since his “establishment” was not a church institution the children could not be placed there. Dr. Schutz was upset. He not been given a face-to-face interview with the organization, the decision was based on hearsay. If he had been granted a hearing he would have explained his principles of universal brotherhood and how in his orphanage there was a Korean, a Filipino and American children. They ate at one table, slept in the same room and received their schooling at home from a private teacher.
Riviera Hotel
    In April 1909, the Schutzes adopted a 5 month old Yaqui Indian baby boy, Raymond Eawahta Polomares, who was found by missionaries in an Indian battlefield in Mexico where the child’s father had been killed.  The child’s mother Mabyla, only 15, was also adopted by the Schutzes.  By October of that same year the Schutzes had Japanese, Korean, Indian, Mexican, Portuguese, Australian, Fiji islanders and Americans as part of their international family. Schutz had turned over the running of the sanitarium and Riviera Hotel to Doctor Edward Bailey so Schutz could devote his time to his orphanage. But the sanitarium, along with its hotel, apartments and treatment rooms ran into financial difficulties, partially due to Long Beach’s anti-alcohol stance. By 1911 Schutz was back to being both proprietor and physician at the Riviera Apartments, Riviera Hotel and what was now called the Riviera Treatment Rooms. In 1913 he moved the sanitarium to Elsinore, but still managed the Riviera Hotel and Apartments until 1918 when he sold them to A.T. Tibbits.

  What did Schutz believe in other than universal brotherhood? Besides stressing a vegetarian diet, and hoping some of his charges would intermarry and create a new race of unbiased racially diverse people, it seemed he had an interest in spiritualism.  Spiritualism was in vogue during the early part of the 20th century, and in August 1910, Schutz became the moving force behind creating a Spiritualist temple in Long Beach. The plans showed an elaborate structure resembling an Egyptian temple which would cost about $20,000. A location tentatively considered was a lot just east of the Riviera Hotel at Second Street and Chestnut Avenue. Schutz didn’t get a church built where he wanted it but in 1912 a much less costly and not so elaborate Spiritualist abode, the First Spiritualist Temple, opened at 327 W. Second. It moved to 415 Linden in 1913, later changing its name to Universal Temple.
Many came to Long Beach for their health, many suffering from “consumption” better known today as tuberculosis. Physicians discovered that patients with tuberculosis improved if they moved to a dry climate.  Sea air and a regulated diet were also considered valuable in combating the disease.  Long Beach had the sea air and a relatively mild climate year round.  It was the perfect place to build a sanitarium (also spelled sanatorium, or sanitorium), which Dr. Schutz did in 1894. An article in the July 7, 1894 Los Angeles Herald describes Schutz’s sanitarium in Long Beach:  

The medical sanitarium of Long Beach, Cal., established for the successful treatment of chronic, nervous and female diseases. The most modern and best equipped sanitarium in Southern California. Highest of references. For any further information address Dr. or Mrs. M.A. Schutz, proprietors sanitarium, Long Beach, Cal.”

The sanitarium was successful, and in March 1896 the idea of building a larger sanitarium was contemplated.  The March 1, 1896 Los Angeles Herald reported:

The proposition of building a large sanitarium by a syndicate, urged by the proprietor of the one in present use, Dr. M.A. Schutz, has met with considerable favor among some of our most enterprising local capitalists, who are quick to see the advantages of the enterprise as a means of investment and will gladly put their money in it. There is no doubt whatever that if a large, well-appointed sanitarium building were now here it would be the best means of advertising the innumerable advantages Long Beach possess over all the other seaside cities as a health resort. As it is, the fame of the sanitarium now presided over by Dr. and Mrs. Schutz has reached very far with five Wisconsin women coming Tuesday for treatment.

In July 1896 articles of incorporation were filed by Dr. Schutz for the Long Beach Sanitarium Company. The purposes of the corporation were to carry on a medical and surgical sanitarium, establish a school of hygiene for nurses, issuing diplomas to graduates. It seemed Schutz needed additional capital to achieve these goals. The capital stock of the corporation was fixed at $20,000, divided into 400 shares. Directors were: Dr. M.A. Schutz, Hulda A.V. Schutz, Dr. O.C. Welbourn, P.E. Hatch and F.E. Ingham, all of Long Beach.

In March 1897, Schutz opened the sanitarium doors to celebrate the forty-ninth anniversary of modern Spiritualism. In the afternoon a baptism was held for infant Bryan Snow. The Los Angeles Herald (3/31/1897) reported the platform was surrounded by lovely decorations of vines and flowers, but the ceremony was different from that in vogue in more orthodox churches. The child, instead of being sprinkled with water, was strewed over with flowers. White symbolized purity; red, life and energy, and yellow, the intellect.


In 1900 Schutz decided to add a hotel to his Long Beach holdings, but he needed investors. The Long Beach Hotel and Sanitarium Company was incorporated in April 1900, with a capital stock of $25,000, divided into 500 shares, of which amount $9,350 was subscribed. The directors were: M. A. Schutz, M.D.; H. G. Brainerd. M. D.; J. W. Wood, M.D.; F. L. Spaulding, Will H. Townsend, Harry Barndollar, P. E. Hatch, R.R. Dunbar, H.F. Starbrick, all residents of Los Angeles or Long Beach. In February 1905 Dr. Schutz bought out the other investors. He planned to make extensive improvements to the hotel and put in an elevator and convert the basement into offices.
    In February 1910 Schutz was offered $50,000 for the Riviera Hotel property. He refused to consider the deal, believing the property would only increase in value (Los Angeles Herald 2/20/1910).  Long Beach was growing.  On Saturday, June 24, 1911, the Port of Long Beach opened for business.  Lumber yards and a mill had already been established near the harbor to prepare for the big business expected to come. Schutz and many others believed this and other signs of progress meant tremendous growth and progress for Long Beach.  
  The 61-year-old Schutz died December 29, 1924, at the Convalescent Hospital, 2089 E. Broadway after a week’s illness.  His 74-year-old son Murray was interviewed by Bob Sanders of the Press Telegram (10/19/1976) but said nothing about the orphans his family helped raise.  Instead he talked about his father and the Riviera Hotel, the information somewhat different from that presented in earlier sources:

    My father started practicing in Pasadena in 1896. It seems he graduated in 1894, 1895 or 1896 from the University of Southern California medical school and went directly to Pasadena.  Around that time he ran out of patients during the summer months because he was told everybody goes east in the summer.  A German friend recommended going to Long Beach where there was a Methodist campground that attracted 7000 people. My father did just that and in 1900 bought a section of land where, with the help of financing, he built the Riviera Hotel. My father also bought 4 acres of land on Signal Hill, and I remember picking blackberries for a penny a box for a farmer nearby.
   Murray remembered the hotel advertised “One Hundred Rooms Elegantly furnished: All Outside rooms, many with Private Baths.”  Regardless of the number of rooms, the hotel’s days were numbered.  In 1918, according to Murray, five days after the United States entered World War I, the mortgage on the hotel came due and all financing was frozen.  To meet the payment his father had to sell the 4 acres of land on Signal Hill in 1919 just two years before oil was discovered there.  If he hadn’t sold he would have made a fortune.

    What happened to the orphans?  The 1920 U.S. Census showed M.A. Schutz, Pearl, Helene and Murray living at Elsinore in Riverside County.  What had happened to all the other children? The 1910 census had listed 7 children living with Dr. and Mrs. Schutz: there were their own children, Murray age 7 and Helene 8; Korean born Asha, age 6; Alp, 7; Tate, 5;  Earwatha, 1; and Mabyla Polomares, 16.  Where were the other children in 1920? 
    What of the urban legend claim that Schutz abused his orphans?  The only proof I’ve been able to come up with appeared in the October 16, 1913 Los Angeles Times: “After Marshal’s Scalp: Sanatorium manager charges officer with spreading slanderous stories. Action Deferred.”   
    By the time the article appeared Schutz had moved his sanatorium from Long Beach to Elsinore. Elsinore had attracted visitors since the 1880s because of the mineral springs near the lake. After 1893 the lake’s level sank almost continuously for about 10 years, which is probably why Schutz chose Long Beach originally for his sanatorium instead of Elsinore. But by 1903 the lake level began to rise, and by 1913 Schutz became owner and manager of the Elsinore Sanatorium, but kept the Riviera Hotel in Long Beach.
    The Times reported that Schutz made a formal complaint against Elsinore City Marshal Haworth, charging him with conduct unbecoming an officer. Schutz accused Haworth of circulating slanderous stories about him and with interfering with how he raised his children. Haworth claimed that Schutz had no right to punish them. Several Long Beach people, including the Chief of Police and a police detective, were present at the hearing and testified as to the good reputation of Dr. Schutz in Long Beach.  The matter was finally settled when Haworth publicly apologized to Dr. Schutz before the Elsinore Board of Trustees and a highly interested audience.
    So what about the urban legend?  Perhaps this 1913 article relating to corporal punishment of the orphans, plus Schutz’s belief in Spiritualism, led to the story of the ghostly children reaching out from beyond the grave to help drivers in their climb up the Hill---and the driver perhaps rescuing the orphans from Dr. Schutz and his abusive ways. Or perhaps the orphans were just practicing kindness and "universal brotherhood," principles they had learned from Schutz, in helping drivers in the steep assent up Hill Street.   


    I’ve been trying to find out what happened to the orphans.  Perhaps they were sent to another group interested in Schutz’s ideal of universal brotherhood. In 1904 the Los Angeles Times reported that the Schutzes were assisted by many philanthropic citizens. Chief among them was the Thimble Club of the Rathbone Sisters, who were not only financially interested, but expected to take an active part in the care of the little ones “and in the work so unselfishly undertaken by the doctor and his wife.” (LA Times 6/5/1904). A search through genealogical data bases revealed nothing about the orphans. According to the 1910 U.S. Census, all shared the surname Schutz, with the exception of Mabyla Polomares. I did find that daughter Helene became a doctor and died in New York in 1937, she never married. Son Murray was involved in the stock market in the 1920s; he died in Berkeley in 1982. Wife Pearl Kelly Schutz died in 1949 and is buried at Forest Lawn, Glendale.
   Perhaps some readers will remember the orphans and what became of them or have more to add to the urban myth? If so, please share.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Harold Ketchum and Long Beach's First "All Electric" Home

            Have you ever passed Gaviota and Hermosa down First Street and seen a small courtyard of homes off Edison Place? Have you ever wondered why the street was named Edison and the unique character of the homes?  What of the man that designed the homes? Well, this blog will explain it all.
Edison Place

  Better Home Electrical

          It was 1923 and Harold E. Ketchum, a structural engineer and builder, knew that times were changing. Women could no longer count on having a hired girl or maid to help them out, the modern home had to be “woman friendly”---compactly built, and completely wired for many electric devices and appliances which would take the drudgery out of housework.
        The promotion of electricity in homes began at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which opened in May 1893. In the Electrical Building there was a complete model house, with electric stoves, hot plates, washing and ironing machines, fans, dishwashers and carpet sweepers.  Most of the delighted housewives went home to wood and coal stoves and houses without plumbing; to them this was a magical home which many believed they would never see in their lifetimes.
         For the first years following the exposition the only households that could afford electricity could also afford servants. Electricity, its proponents claimed, promised freedom from the ages-old servant problem---electrical appliances could not talk back. A Columbian Exposition guidebook from 1893 described living in the electric future:

            A servant answered an electric bell, ushered the visitor into the reception room, and turned on a phonograph, which kept the guest occupied until the hostess appeared. The hostess kept contact with the servants by electric calls “daintily fashioned.”
           Electricity could serve those with servants, but it could also dispense with them. If after dinner the servant got angry at something and left, the fortunate mistress of the home of the future could move her guest to the parlor, excuse herself for a moment, send the dishes upstairs on the electric dumbwaiter, wash them in the electric dishwasher in five minutes time, and dry them in the electric dish dryer. If the servant had not been replaced by the time wash day came, the mistress need not fear breaking her back leaning over wash tubs or ruining her pretty hands by constant soaking in hot suds, instead she would wash the clothing in an automatic washer that drained and filled for washing, rinsing, and bluing. The clothes could then be hung to dry in front of electric radiators in the attic, then run through the electric ironer, and the lady of the house would be none too tired to go to the opera in the evening.

            By 1917, the disappearing servant was commonplace; many of the women who had formed the servant population were now working in the war industry.  Many wealthy households moaned about the servant problem.  General Electric had a solution---“don’t go to the Employment Bureau, go to your nearby Lighting Company or Electric Shop.” After World War I, pictures of servants virtually disappeared from advertising for women; most ads depicted housewives doing their own housework, using electrical appliances as their new servants.

         Long Beach’s Harold Ketchum was quick to pick up on the growth of electricity and the appliances which would make the housewife’s chores much easier. All he had to do was look in the Long Beach phone book to see that the classified ads for “Electrical Contractors-Fixtures and Supplies” had doubled between 1920 and 1923, from 12 entries to 24.  Seeing the all electric home as the future, Ketchum teamed up with the Long Beach Electric Club and the Long Beach Furniture Dealers' Association to build a model all electric home at 1715  E. First Street in 1923.
1715 E. First Street
        Ketchum wanted his electric home to blend in with the Alamitos Beach community. He chose a Spanish design, with an exterior finish of "Kelly Stone," magnesite stucco guaranteed not to leak or crack, which also repelled the heat of summer and retained the interior warmth of winter.
      According to newspapers of the time, the 1128 square foot all electric home had four rooms on the first floor---a living room, dining room, kitchen, and garage. The second floor consisted of two bedrooms, an enclosed sleeping porch, bathroom and upper hallway with linen and bedroom closets. A basement was underneath.         
    The kitchen had the most up-to-date plumbing, enameled sink, tiled drain boards and a built-in electric dish washer.  An iceless electrically operated refrigerator was built in the wall, completely lined with white tiling.  An automatic electric range, electric water heater, electric bread, cake and mayonnaise mixer, electric buffer to polish silver, electric washing machine, dryer and ironer, electric coffee percolator, and electric toaster, were also included.  In the bathroom there was a combination built-in tub and shower and a built-in radiant electrical heater.  Very special attention was given the electric wiring and at least two electric outlets were installed in every room. Other features included an electrical piano, electrically operated phonograph, cigar lighter, drink mixer, hair dryer, curling iron, massage machine and warming pad and vacuum cleaner.  There was also a telephone both upstairs and down.

A total of  10 all electric homes were built
         Harold Ketchum and his visionary associates opened the model home for public inspection on February 22, 1923. It had taken thirty years to achieve the “electrical house” envisioned at  Chicago's 1893 World’s Fair. Ketcham's home was intended to be an object lesson in what could be done "in this modern day to make life livable and inviting even for those of modest means."
        Mrs. Fillmore Condit, wife of the vice-mayor of Long Beach formally unlocked the door at 2 p.m.  Dr. Edward P. Bailey, president of the Electrical Club, read a telegram from Thomas Edison: "Congratulations on Long Beach progressiveness, and the fact that she is interested in Better Homes Electrical." To honor Edison, the small street off of First where nine other homes of various sizes were to be built was named "Edison" in his honor.  The first to buy a home was Walter Smith who purchased the home at 1721 E. First Street in April 1923.
The street was named to honor Thomas Edison
     The homes, priced between $9,000-$13,000 ($127,000-$183,000 today), were not an instant success. By 1925 only 6 were occupied.

Ketchum's Home 

      Harold Edwin Ketchum built a home for himself in 1949, at 3711 Cedar Avenue, in the Los Cerritos area of Long Beach. It was featured in Southland Magazine in January 1952. Built of redwood, it consisted of only three rooms and a bath.  He wanted the design to be simple, easy to keep up.     
           The floor plan was interesting with the entire house seeming to center around a brick fireplace. The fireplace in the center of the house was built with used brick and the entire chimney surface had been left exposed. The brick added an interesting texture pattern to the living room, which was paneled in redwood finished in its natural wood color.
           Stairs leading to the balcony bedroom were formed by the chimney and extended up over the fireplace. The chimney also helped support the bedroom built on a balcony overlooking the living room. A low wood railing added privacy to the bedroom. This fireplace also created a wall separating the living room from the kitchen and from the bathroom.
          The living room, which took up the central portion of the house, had one large window and a high ceiling to give it an air of spaciousness. The window, which almost touched the ceiling, had a southern exposure and recessed bookcases were built on either side of it.  Heavy beams in the ceiling, over the window and fireplace had been burned and brushed to bring out the grain of the wood. The floors were of red tile with Navajo throw rugs adding color.  All the hardware throughout the house was hand-wrought.
           The kitchen featured neon tubes under the cabinets to illuminate the work counters. A mirrored shelf over the sink held the glassware. A round table and captain’s chairs were grouped in the corner under wide corner windows. Gay paper in an unusual pattern decorated the walls.
          In the bathroom the toilet had been cantilevered out from the wall. Drawers were built on either side. Ornate tiles in a red and green pattern were placed above the lavatory.
          The garage was built on the back of the house and opened into the entrance hall.
3711 Cedar
          Today the home has been enlarged to 1,947 square feet and includes 3 bedrooms and 3 baths.

         Ketchum continued to engineer hundreds of homes and offices in Long Beach up to the early 1960s---a $20,000 office building at 5895 Atlantic in 1948, a two-story residence and two garage apartments at 5333 E. Ocean Blvd in 1949, a $15,000 store at 2100 E. Anaheim in 1958, to name just a few.   Ketchum passed away on March 25, 1968, at the age of 83. Today much of his architectural legacy still remains.

Sources used:

Cameron, William. The World’s Fair. Chicago, Chicago Publication & Lithography Co., 1893.

Flint, Althea. “Unique Redwood house.” Southland Magazine, 20 January 1952.

Press-Telegram articles found in clipping file at Long Beach Public Library.

Strasser, Susan. Never Done: a history of American housework. New York, Henry Holt, 2000.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The “Cougar” Countess and Long Beach’s Blackstone Apartment Hotel

Long Beach History Collection

      On Saturday, July 1, 1922, several thousand people gathered for the opening of Long Beach’s newest luxury hotel/apartment house—the Blackstone. Guides conducted the guests through the common area rooms and apartments. There was dancing, food and flowers. But most were there hoping to catch a glimpse of the owner—Countess Kate Nixon d’Aleria—who had been in the news a lot.  Her story and how she came to own the Blackstone is a fascinating one. 

     Countess Kate Nixon d’Aleria is a woman largely ignored in history books, but the story of her second marriage to a “count” younger than her son was fodder for the press in the early 1920s.  It’s her first husband you’ll find in Nevada and U.S. Senate histories—George S. Nixon—who died while serving in the Senate on June 6, 1912, of spinal meningitis.  George’s story is one of many we find in the west—someone with enough luck and influence to make a fortune in mining.
Senator George S. Nixon
Wikipedia photo
   George was born on a farm near Newcastle, California, on April 22, 1860. But his future didn’t lie in California; it lay across the state line in Nevada. He most likely had no idea that accepting the transfer the Carson and Colorado Railroad offered him in 1881 would transform his life as well as his pocket book. But by 1884 George was tired of being a telegraph operator for the railroad, and accepted the position of cashier at the First National Bank (later known as the Washoe County Bank) in Reno. In 1886 he moved to Winnemucca, Nevada, and opened a new bank branch. It was there he met 18-year-old Kate Imogene Bacon of New Princeton, Illinois, who was visiting her brother.  She was described as a “petite brunette of charming manners and sweet disposition” by the February 5, 1887 Weekly Nevada State Journal.  She and George were married on January 30, 1887.  The newspaper went on to state: “Winnemucca has not only gained a socially attractive lady, but an artist of more than ordinary ability and a pianist of which we may will be proud.”
     George became a member of the Nevada Legislature in 1891, but opportunity called when gold was discovered in Goldfield, Nevada, in 1902. George went on to form the Goldfield Consolidated Mines Company with partner George Wingfield.  They also established a bank in Goldfield and reaped a fortune from the mines. To promote Nevada and its mining interests George was elected to the United States Senate in 1905, where he continued to serve until his death in 1912.  Upon his death Kate inherited between $2-3 million ($50,400,000-$75,600,000 today*).
Count Armand D'Aleria.
 LA Times 7/2/1922

     In January 1920, newspapers throughout the west reported on a most unusual marriage—wealthy 52-year-old Katherine Imogene Nixon had married 22-year-old-old Count Admond d'Aleria.  It wasn’t unusual for a man to marry a much younger woman, but a woman to marry a younger man was quite a story. Kate had become one of the first women in America to become a “cougar”—an older woman seeking a sexual relationship with a younger man.
     Kate explained her reasons why in the Reno Evening Gazette, May 7, 1920:

        I think one reason, perhaps, that older women become interested in men very much younger than themselves is that, if we have any spontaneity and optimism left, we become tired of solemnity and over-seriousness, which we know is often merely a pose of the middle aged and elderly, and we turn to youth for diversion and relief from this morbid and unnatural condition...Perhaps one reason that this marriage, which has seemed so unusual to others, has not appeared at all bizarre to me is that I never think of a person’s age in summing up his or her character and qualities. There is nothing I have to say to vindicate myself or to apologize for what I have done. I make no promises as to what I will do in the future. I have no advice to offer those who are contemplating the same step.  

Ad for the Majestic Theater
Nevada State Journal 3/21/1919

     Kate had met d’Aleria, an organist, in San Francisco and asked him to play at the Majestic Theater she owned in Reno. He arrived in February 1919 and from there romance developed.  He came from a prominent European family, the press reported. His mother, Marguerite, was said to be a member of a noted Hungarian family and widow of a former Spanish Ambassador to Austria. Newspapers went on to add that the d’Aleria’s were also related to the Spanish royal family, owned over 1200 acres of land in Spain and that d’Aleria had recently inherited a fortune from a Spanish cousin. D’Aleria told the Los Angeles Herald (4/2/1920) “that neither money nor music was the incentive that brought the couple together, but that only love ruled their union.” D’Aleria went on to say that it was only after inheriting this money that he began his ardent courtship with Kate.  He didn’t want her to think he was marrying her simply for her money. They were married January 27, 1920, in San Diego, after knowing each other 18 months.
     Before his marriage to Kate he was known as "Harold Adrian" (his whole name was Admond Adrian Harold d'Aleria).  After his marriage he attached the preferred "Count" to his name, because Kate liked to be seen as a Countess. Countess Kate soon found herself in a life full of adventure, intrigue, and lawsuits.
     To start their new life together the couple purchased Los Rios Rancho, a country estate near Monrovia. The Los Angeles Times (2/16/1920) said they planned to create “a wonderful palace of adobe, designed on the classic lines of old Spanish architecture, with a great music room and a rare wrought iron grille gate now on its way from Madrid to Southern California.” The gate was part of d’Aleria’s Spanish estate and over 300 years old. The newlyweds already had dozens of workmen tearing down the old house to make way for the swimming pool and new adobe. They were also building a new garage capable of holding half a dozen cars. However, Kate soon found her new husband’s recently inherited fortune didn’t amount to much, if it even existed at all.
     D’Aleria’s life read like a novel. Three months after his marriage to Kate he was sued for $50,000 ($591,000) for a breach of promise by Shirley Holmes, a San Francisco singer.   In July 1920 d'Aleria was caught in a San Diego hotel with a young girl.  When asked to explain he claimed he was tired of being followed by detectives hired by his wife and took the girl to the hotel to give them something to report.  He was sentenced to one hundred days in jail for violation of the city’s morals ordinances. The court gave d’Aleria an alternative fine of $194, ($2,290 today) but he was unable to produce the money and went back to jail. Two days later his mother raised the money and he was released. He returned to Los Angeles, taking a job as an organist at a Southern California theater, while he dealt with the divorce suit brought against him by Kate. But d’Aleria, well versed in wooing women, won back the affections of his rich wife. Even though she claimed he hit her and had affairs, Kate dropped the divorce proceedings. In October the couple celebrated a “second honeymoon” at the Savoy Hotel in Los Angeles. But Kate soon caught on that it was her money, not her that her new husband was interested in.  He soon left, not telling her where he was going.

     On November 30, 1920, Kate filed a second suit for divorce. A silver-plated automobile was cited as the cause for their latest separation. She charged he took advantage of an illness she had to have the car—a $10,000 ($118,000) car she had given him as a present following their recent reconciliation—covered with silver plate “because the nickel on it had begun to peel.” Sending her the bill was the last straw. On December 7, 1920, she had her lawyers issue a temporary restraining order to prevent him from disposing of any of her assets. But that was after d’Aleria had taken some of her antiques, valued at over $5000 ($59,100), and sold them to art dealer, A. A. Byrens. Kate instigated a lawsuit against Byrens, demanding them back, denying she ever gave the articles to her husband.
     By March 1921 d’Aleria was living in Hollywood in a house Kate owned and claiming to be receiving death threats. The house had also been robbed, threatening notes left under his door and he had been warned over the phone that “we’re going to get you.”  Could all of this have just been d’Aleria’s latest attempt to catch Kate off guard?  Could the robbery have been arranged to steal more of Kate’s belongings and turn them into cash for d’Aleria?  But Kate had other things on her mind, on March 23, 1921, her only child, 33-year-old Bertram Nixon was killed in an automobile accident at Salinas, California.

Kate with grandson 1916
From: Nevada  Historical Society**
     D’Aleria in the meantime was having problems with his mother, Marguerite. In April 1921, angry at his mother for controlling his life he forcibly removed her from the Hollywood home. In retaliation, she brought insanity charges against him. At his hearing d’Aleria declared the charge of insanity had been brought against him because he had refused to join his mother in an alleged plot to put his wife in an institution for the mentally deficient, and then take possession of her estate. He said his mother had proposed they plant drugs in Kate’s apartment, tip off the police and then have his wife committed to an asylum. His mother denied her son’s allegations and said she charged him with insanity because he had threatened to kill both her and himself.
      D’Aleria claimed his mother was extremely bitter over Kate, and wrote letters to Kate to harass her.  It was the “money-madness” of his mother which caused the trouble in his marriage.  On April 22, 1921, with Kate by his side, he was pronounced sane by the Lunacy Commission. Kate was extremely happy and reconciled with her youthful husband, the Oakland Tribune reported April 25, 1921. “Please don’t say anything wishy-washy about us,” she asked. “I am not young. I know it, but I think I am a sensible woman. I would rather have people think I am rough and unkind to my husband than to have them think that I had become soft and wishy-washy.”
     In December 1921 a judgement in another lawsuit was the final straw for Kate.  D’Aleria and Kate had been in an automobile accident in which Jennie Shirey had been permanently disabled. The accident occurred April 20, 1919 in San Francisco, before d’Aleria and Kate were married. Though d’Aleria was the driver, and Kate not in the $6000 ($82,200) Locomobile touring car when it hit the Shirey’s Studebaker, Kate was the owner of the automobile. Kate had been advised the judgement would be against her, especially since she had married d’Aleria after the accident.  The court ordered the Count and Countess to pay the Shirey’s $12,000 ($159,000).
     Anticipating the decision, and other financial shortcomings, Kate sold W. W. Paden, a Los Angeles real estate broker, her entire real estate holdings in Washoe and Nye counties in Nevada for $500,000 ($6,620,000). In exchange Kate received the Blackstone Apartment Hotel.  The Reno Evening Gazette (12/10/1921) reported:

       The apartment house in exchange by Mrs. d’Aleria, which forms a large part of the consideration, will be, when completed, one of the finest buildings of its kind at Long Beach. It is located near the Hotel Virginia on the ocean front. A lease upon this property running for a period of fifteen years has been ratified by Mrs. d’Aleria.”

       In turn, Kate leased the Blackstone (originally known as the Sequoia before it was completed), to Howard J. Scott for 10 years at a rental price of around $600,000 ($7,940,000). Scott also purchased the furnishings for the hotel, estimated at $125,000 ($1,660,000), according to the March 6, 1922 Daily Telegram.  He hired Mrs. William Bouldin, who at one time was in charge of the Chevy-Chase Country Club at Washington, D. C., to manage the building.
Ad from the Daily Telegram 9/14/1922

     Located at 330 W. Ocean, work on the $600,000 ($7,940,000) Blackstone began June 10, 1921. It was described as a “Class A-1” building—steel, concrete, brick and tile being the only building materials used. Wood was used only for framing and decoration.  Plans for the building were drawn up by Edward Mayberry and B. L. Jones who also built the University Club in Los Angeles.  The Southern California branch of the Foundation Construction Company of New York, were contractors.

     What did this new property Kate now owned look like inside? 

    The Blackstone had 70 rooms on the second and third floors and 75 apartments on the other floors. Rooms and apartments were finished either in mahogany or ivory.  On the second floor there was a ballroom (dancing was held there every Saturday afternoon and evening), billiard and card rooms. Each of the 8 floors had a sun parlor. Furnishings included floor lamps and table shades and over-stuffed furniture.   In the basement there was a garage for 75 automobiles, shower and dressing rooms for the use of guests returning from the beach. It was quite a luxury to be able to step from one’s car, catch an elevator and go directly to one’s apartment or hotel room. Single apartments rented from $85 to $150 ($1200-$2,120) per month; double apartments $165-$225 ($2330-$3,180) per month; a room started at $2.00 ($28.30) a day.  It opened for business on July 1, 1922.
     The opening of the Blackstone signaled a new chapter in Kate’s life.  The same day the Blackstone opened Kate sued d’Aleria for divorce. She wouldn’t back out this time.

     By 1925 Kate’s finances were not in the best of shape, the Reno Evening Gazette reported (11/19/1925). Her first husband’s siblings—brother Rudy Nixon and sisters Mattie Threlkel and Nancy Donalson—who were to receive $200 ($2,700) monthly from George Nixon’s estate,  sued Kate to keep the remaining property intact. They alleged that the Nixon trust was so heavily mortgaged and in such a chaotic condition that it would be lost entirely unless relief was granted by the court. All that was left in the estate were orange groves in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. Kate had sold the Blackstone a few years earlier.
     By the time the 1930 U.S. Census was taken Kate had given up all pretense of being a Countess, simply stating she was a widow, Kate Nixon, living in Santa Monica.  She had nine years of life remaining.  She died in October 1939 in California at the age of 71.  She was survived by her 23-year-old grandson George Stuart Nixon II (1916-2007).
     What of the youthful d’Aleria?  On June 4, 1923, he married again. Singer/actress Ruth Dennis entered d’Aleria’s life when he was employed as an organist at a St. Louis motion picture theatre. He was now using the name Count Armand Aleria de Barrio, or Stuart Barrie for short.  By September 10, 1923, they had separated. The new Mrs. d’Aleria charged she was induced through fraud to marry him. He had told her he was a member of European nobility and had an income of $300 ($4,170) per week.  She said d’Aleria was not and never was a count, nor of nobility. He was heavily in debt and unable to meet the most common expenses necessary to life. (LA Times 10/24/1923) From here d’Aleria fades from the news.
Blackstone today
Author photo
     The Blackstone continues on as a Long Beach landmark. Granted landmark status in September 1989, it remains one of Long Beach’s treasures, with a fascinating history.  One story I have heard, but have been unable to verify, was that gangster Al Capone stayed at the Blackstone upon his parole from Terminal Island Federal Prison on November 16, 1939. He allegedly was only there for a night before the Feds moved him east. Capone’s release was all “hush hush” at the time, so if he had stayed at the Blackstone it wouldn’t have been mentioned.  But if anyone knows let me and your fellow blog readers know...please.

* Based on the inflation value of money in 2015 from the Purchasing Power Calculator of website Measuring Worth. 

    ** Photo cannot be reproduced without permission from the Nevada Historical Society.        


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Long Beach's Castle By the Sea: The Pacific Coast Club

Opening celebrations 1926

         Visitors to Long Beach after 1926 were surprised to find the city had its own castle perched above the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean.  This Norman style structure was the Pacific Coast Club (PCC), a building that became an iconic landmark and symbol of Long Beach through the 1980s.

          Groundbreaking of the prestigious Pacific Coast Club was held on June 9, 1925; fifteen months later, on September 4, 1926, it was dedicated "to the comradeship of men." Medieval jousting and pageantry heralded the dedication.  Men at arms on chargers assisted motorcycle officers in diverting traffic. Trumpeters, dressed as pages, sounded the call for the beginning of the dedication ceremony, while pike-men stood guard on the low battlements of the building.  A few moments before the program started, a squadron of nine naval airplanes appeared over the new structure, at the same instant fireworks began to burst above the clubhouse.
           A massive 3,400-pound cornerstone was guided into its resting place in the buttress east of the main portal. It contained a photograph of the Long Beach skyline, a 1926 coin and the first club roster. The Long Beach Municipal Band played while the color guard of the Coast Artillery from Fort MacArthur stood by as the dedication ceremonies commenced. Curtis D. Wilbur, Secretary of the Navy, spoke to the gathering. Over and over he expressed his surprise at the magnificence of the building. The brief ceremony ended with a prayer for the well-being of the organization as the American flag was hoisted on the lofty Norman tower 200 feet above the beach.
Cornerstone of the Pacific Coast Club
        The formal opening of the Pacific Coast Club was a five-day gala affair that began on October 26, 1926.  As guests arrived, they were photographed by the club photographer and escorted through the building by the reception committee.  Dinner was served in three different dining rooms, while special entertainers and an orchestra performed.  Following dinner five orchestras provided music.

        The idea of the club had been formulated three years earlier, in 1923.  Three groups planned to build clubs on an elaborate scale, the Pacific Coast Club, Long Beach Athletic Club, and the Petroleum Club.  They quickly realized that by combining efforts they could truly build something on a grand scale.  They also shared a joint vision: the club would be the gathering place of the business, professional, cultural and artistic life of the community.
Beach area of club, 1929
        The $1,250,000 club at 850 E. Ocean had two divisions: The club portion, which involved the sub-basement, basement, ground, second and third floors. The other was the hotel or apartment portion, which included apartment suites for resident bachelor members located on six floors. 
    The sub-basement contained the boiler room, club storerooms, the helps' dining room and the service kitchen. In the basement you would find the gymnasium, pool, handball courts, locker rooms for men and women, Turkish baths, a valet, barbershop, beauty parlor, and restrooms. The Grand Hall was located on the first floor as was the lounge, main dining room, the kitchen grill, women's entrance lobby, checking rooms and club office. The second floor featured the women's dining room, private dining rooms, game rooms, women's lounge and billiard room. The third floor was devoted exclusively to the library. There were several types of membership: Life, Charter, Regular and Associate. The cap on membership was 1500.
        The club was the meeting place for the who's who of Long Beach, but members wanted a broader membership base and in January 1928 agreed to sell the club to the Los Angeles Athletic Club for $2 million. There had also been some financial problems.
        "It makes possible the further development of all our amateur health giving activities, which includes golf, polo, yachting, shooting, fishing, ocean bathing, and all forms of sports for women and children," W. M. Gardner told the Los Angeles Times (1/15/1928).  The Los Angeles Athletic Club assumed all of the liabilities of the Pacific Coast Club, and in return, received title to all of its assets. "The consolidation will free the Pacific Coast Club of all financial problems and gives it an unrestricted opportunity to realize its avowed ambition to develop the dormant maritime spirit of Long Beach and make it the yachting center of the world," Besides raising the $100 yearly dues to $150, the new owners brought in additional capital to purchase the adjoining lot for future expansion, and to make some changes to the existing structure.  They also worked with the City of Long Beach in constructing wharves and moorings for yachting vessels. The new consortium retained ownership until 1964 when it was sold to a new group of members of which Richard Rand was listed as owner. Llewellyn Bixby, Jr., Harry Buffum, John W. Hancock Jr.,  Daniel Clock, and Daniel H. Ridder served as members of the governing board.(LA Times 4/19/1964)

Closed up, waiting for demolition, 1988
       On May 5,  1971, the Internal Revenue Service padlocked the club's facilities stating the IRS was owed $16,191.14 in back taxes. Two days later Great Western Savings and Loan paid the back taxes and became the third owners of the once palatial club which still boasted a membership of 1500. The club was also behind $25,000  on a $450,000 loan. As owners, Great Western stripped and sold at auction most of the interior of the club in February 1972. Despite this, Sally Olshane and Josef Janota bought the PCC in 1976 from Great Western, but their  attempts to bring the historic structure back to its glory days failed,  In September 1977 it was auctioned off for $35,378.87 to Long Beach realtor Mark Brown. Though the property was assessed at $5.5 million Brown also took on the $445,000 loan on the structure held by Great Western, In the meantime Josef Janota spent years in complex legal battles trying to regain ownership of the landmark building. In 1982 he regained title to the once-exclusive club building that had been declared a Long Beach landmark in 1979. He worked hard to raise $12 million  to $18 million to recondition the facility into a hotel, club and restaurant, but wasn't successful. When the mortgage holder tried to foreclose in 1983, Janota declared bankruptcy. 
            The future brightened in 1985 when Louisiana oil man Earl M. Harter Jr. of Shreveport fell in love with the building and agreed to purchase it for $7.3 million. But the deal fell through. On April 26, 1988, the sixty-two-year-old castle by the sea fell to the wrecking ball. Despite efforts by Long Beach heritage groups, previous owners and the building's placement on the National Register of Historic Places, it could not be saved. Now the site is home to the Pacific Condominium Tower, built in 1992, it's glorious past all but forgotten.