Honey examines old maps and arrives at a mildly surprising conclusion

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December 1, 2012 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground 

By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste.)

The inquiry began when I wrote Lionel to ask where California photographer Edward Weston (1886-1958) lived.

One of Weston’s pupils, Ansel Adams wrote:  “Weston is, in the real sense, one of the few creative artists of today.  He has recreated the matter-forms and forces of nature; he has recreated the matter-forms and forces of nature; he has recreated the matter-forms and forces of nature; he has made these forms eloquent of the fundamental unity of the world.  His work illuminates man’s inner journey toward perfection of the spirit.”

Honey believes this photo is of the Weston cottage in Atwater. She is convinced or convinced herself he lived on pretty much farm land in 1909 in this cottage, which, for all she knows, may still be there on Perlita, which she believes they called Weston Avenue and that everything about his living in "Tropico" is mistaken and that he lived in Atwater, near Los Feliz Boulevard and the Los Angeles River.

Chandler Weston once told Lionel that his father had lived in an area near where Lionel lives in Atwater Village, and my conclusion is that he did in spite of the fact that almost everything in print that I came across states that the photographer lived in Tropico, which is now Glendale on the eastern side of the railroad tracks that separates what was unincorporated Los Angeles County up until 1910, when the City annexed that area as the “East Hollywood Tract.”

Atwater was one of my childhood haunts.

My mother learned to drive sort of when I was seven.  Those were harrowing years.  Cars did not have seat belts.  I slid from one side of the backseat to the other as we drove through Atwater.  She stopped at green lights and then put on the gas when the red light bonged on and pedestrians moved back like the waves of the Red Sea when Moses parted them.

She drove to Gladdis McBean on Los Feliz to buy plates and to the See’s candy store on Los Feliz, with the sign up front that read, “Candy – the Healthy Habit.”  My mother had, for a normal sized person, a vicious chocolate turtle habit.  She always said, “My body must need it.”  After eating a bag of chocolate, every time, she got a migraine and stayed in her bedroom for three days with the shades drawn and her head wrapped in a cloth soaked in cider vinegar.   I don’t know why we went through so many dinner plates.  I enjoy throwing ceramic dinner plates from time to time so throwing plates may have been one of my mother’s vices I wasn’t allowed to see.  Maybe it had something to do with the candy.

Sometimes we had dinner at Algemac’s on San Fernando, on the other side of the tracks.  This was once within the city of Tropico.

It endured for as long as people of that generation endured because the food was the food of the time: a lot like Swanson’s TV dinners.   About ten years ago, I looked through the window of Algemac’s and saw the white-haired heads of people bent over white lettuce salads with Thousand Island dressing.

On the west side of the tracks, we went to Tam O’Shanter Inn  (established in 1922) on Los Feliz for dinner.  There was a stone wishing well.  We made wishes and threw pennies into it.  I always wished to be a famous pianist or a famous artist or a famous writer.  Other people threw larger change, but my parents were pretty cheap.  The Tam O’Shanter served only meat dishes but they made me a melted cheese sandwich.

In the 1920s, the Disney animators drove over the Hyperion memorial bridge (built in 1926) to the Tam O’Shanter so often it became known as “the Disney Commissary.”

I took my first piano lessons is an Atwater cottage.  My teacher was a middle-aged man who had my study from Czerny sheet music until I got good enough to study with Anna Inadomi, and then Anna sent me to the concert pianist Francis Mullen.  My mother had intended only that I learn how to play “Beautiful Dreamer” and choir music but I kept going for no sane reason because I have little musical ability.  Debussy and Bartok were too much for me.  I gave up when I was sixteen.  It was still worthwhile.  Every child should study music.

I rode my heavy coaster brake bike down through the dry Los Angeles River bed to get to the Atwater branch of the public library – the small building later became Thousand Fabrics – Thousand Fabrics moved to Edenhurst —  and is now something else, and sat of the library reading books until the librarian got up from her desk, saw I was in the adult section, and escorted me out.  I was only reading a book on phrenology, which was in the adult section.  I figured out her exclusion meant there were books I was not allowed to see.  I wanted to see everything forbidden so had to take the bus downtown to the main branch after that.  The Central Branch librarians left me to read anything I wanted. I remain convinced to this day that the really secret books stayed in the Atwater Branch.

I learned how to drive through the Atwater backstreets when I was fifteen and a half — the age for getting a learner’s permit.  In those days, people parked their cars in garages.  Many years later, Boryana asked me to help her learn how to drive, so I took her to Atwater only now everyone parked along the narrow streets and Boryana and I scared each other half to death because she very barely navigated between the parked cars.   There was a lot of screaming

In the Pasadena Weekly (01/01/12), Beth Gates wrote “It’s a little-known fact that Edward Weston, one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, began his career in a small town north of Los Angeles annexed by the City of Glendale in 1918….(he arrived) in 1906 and stayed with May and John Seaman in the small, rustic bungalow they had built in rural Tropico, a few miles north of the city.”

A 1995 monograph written by Neil Malmberg, “A History of Atwater Village to About 1940,” states Weston lived in Tropico but the area he describes is Atwater.  He writes:

“On Jan. 30, 1909, Edward Weston and Flora Chandler were married in Tropico, where he had recently finished constructing a small bungalow on land owned by Flora’s parents. The property bordered the acreage the Chandlers had donated to the tile factory, and it sat adjacent to a dirt lane the young couple jokingly dubbed Weston Avenue. Fifteen months later, on April 26, 1910, Flora gave birth to their first child, Edward Chandler Weston (whom they would call Chandler). Weston proudly took dozens of photographs of his wife and baby, including his first female nude, an image of Flora, made when she was about four months pregnant with Chandler.

“A second son, Theodore Brett Weston (whom they would call Brett) was born Dec. 16, 1911. The young couple devoted much attention to their two cherubic children, preserving Edward’s charming portraits of his tiny sons in albums lovingly arranged and captioned by Flora. Weston’s family time was already becoming quite limited, however; a few months before his second son’s birth he had decided to leave behind the world of steady paychecks and commuting to downtown Los Angeles in order to open his own photography studio.

“At 113 N. Brand Blvd., a few blocks away from his Tropico home, Weston erected another modest, Craftsman-style bungalow, romantic and picturesque in the style of the period. In its earliest days the studio had various names, including the Little Studio and the Bungalow Studio, but within a few months it became known as the Weston Studio.”

Malmberg also writes about the 1904 interurban railroad route that crossed the Los Angeles River into Tropico.

We are probably all familiar with the concrete pediments for the trestle where the red car crossed Fletcher Drive.  You can climb that hill and find the end of the old red car easement and walk along it a distance to a fence. You can walk through the fence to a small anarchistic forest and through the forest to an open meadow, which ends at the 2 Freeway.

When I was a small child, the red car still clacked noisily over the trestle.  I stood beneath it with my mouth open at the – to a child – terrifying sound eating a vanilla ice cream cone my parents purchased for me at Curry’s Mile High ice cream store on Riverside and Fletcher.  A giant plywood ice cream cone stood in front of Curry’s.

If you climb the stairs that once led to the Monte Sano station up to Waverly, you can look down at the Home restaurant on the opposite corner of Fletcher and Riverside.  You can see that within the restaurant is a smaller building: that was Curry’s.

A couple of blocks away stands Astro’s restaurant, and that location was one end of Tom Mix’s Mixville.  Starbuck’s, a closed Kentucky Fried Chicken, a beauty supply store, a CVS, a Chinese restaurant, CVS and a Ralphs comprise the remainder of what had been the first Southern California Frontierland.   Tom Mix, according to local lore, buried his horse Old Blue under where the Ralphs market now is.

The red car continued to Glendale Boulevard across the Los Angeles River, and a remnant of its support runs along the Hyperion Bridge (finished in 1926) and ends in Red Car Park, where there is a mural of a red car with the serial number 90039.

“Aside from the electric railroad, there was only one local route across the river into turn-of-the-century Atwater Village : W.C.B. Richardson’s wooden trestle for Tropico Road (now Los Feliz Boulevard) ….”

W.C.B. liked to go to the beach.  The only way to get there was to go down to North Broadway and cross that bridge into downtown Los Angeles.

W.C.B’s grandson wrote, “’He decide there should be a more direct way.  So he and his nephew got in the buckboard and road (sic) to the river bottom from the railroad tracks, knocking down wild mustard five and six feet high, clearing a route that would become Tropico Boulevard and later Los Feliz Road (Boulevard?)’”

A map in this essay (stamped 90039) shows that, in 1912, Walnut Grove, Rigali and Veselich subdivided an area bounded on the south by Los Feliz Boulevard and on the east by Brunswick Avenue.  The river is its eastern boundary.   Garden is one of the streets that led from there.  As many of us know, the way to Lionel’s apartment is down Garden to Veselich, which is a faintly marked street leading into another tract, and that ends at the Southern Pacific tracks at the east.  On the other side of the tracks was Tropico, with its City Hall on Brand.  Glendale annexed Tropico (on the east side of the tracks) in 1912.

Map courtesy of Glen Creason

There’s a large empty area on this map.  In 1901, W.C.B. gave that area to the Art Tile factory, some land to the Cerritos school (still there) and the Tropico Presbyterian Church.  (There is a church at the back of Best Buy in the Costco complex in Atwater but it has a different name. The address of the church is 4231 N. Perlita, in Atwater.)   Inasmuch as Flora Chandler’s family purportedly gave that property to the tile factory, either someone is wrong or else the “C” in W.C.B. was the first letter of the name Chandler.

According to Internet, William C. B. Richardson moved to the family ranch called Santa Eulalia Ranch  (Tropico-Atwater).  In 1872, he gave Southern Pacific 16 acres for the depot, which is still the Amtrak depot. In 1880, he changed to from raising sheep, planted orchards, began dairying and rented out land to Japanese immigrants to raise strawberries.

The Gladding, McBean manufacturing plant took over the Art Tile property in 1921 and made decorative terra cotta (gargoyles, bears, lions, shields, mythic figures), decorative dinnerware, including the “Desert Rose” pattern popular in middle class homes from 1936 to 1956.  This is where my mother took me on our terrifying jaunts to Gladding, McBean to buy Desert Rose replacement plates and cups.  It is now occupied by Costco, Best Buy, and Toys R’ Us.

If Weston lived in 1909 next to the tile factory, he lived on or near what is now Los Feliz Boulevard near Costco, in Atwater, not in the city of Tropico, which had its western border on the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks.

Glen Creason, LAPL map librarian and co-author of Los Angeles in Maps (2010) provided me with a page of The Glendale News index from 1909.  It

Shows that Edward Weston lived on Park Avenue West of the Southern Pacific Tracks.  He writes there were then no street addresses for that rural area.  Inasmuch as Tropico started on the eastern side of the Southern Pacific tracks, it was impossible for Weston to have lived in Tropico in 1909.

He provided me as well with a map of Tropico from that time that shows Park Avenue as a street that goes from the east side of the Southern Pacific tracks.  Weston lived on the west side of the tracks, which does not show up in Mr. Creason’s map but which is north of Tropico Avenue (Los Feliz Boulevard).   He believes that street became Chevy Chase in the area annexed by Glendale.   Chevy Chase was once called Park.

There was no tile factory on Chevy Chase, and there was one on the street called Tropico, which became Los Feliz Boulevard in 1920.  I can’t find a Park Street on the old Atwater map, but there was a Parkdale in Atwater in 1917 that went across the tracks and ended in Griffith Park.    It looks as if, on the other side of the SP tracks, Parkdale became “Park.”

Looking at Google maps, it looks like that longest street to the north of Los Feliz where Parkdale might have been is Chevy Chase Drive.

A reasonable interpretation of the “Park” address west of the railroad tracks could be that Weston lived on or near Parkdale (Chevy Chase on the Atwater side of the tracks) rather than on Park (Park was on the east side of the tracks.)   “Weston Avenue” could have been what is now Perlita Avenue, a meandering route then, a straight Los Angeles City street now.

Edward Weston built his cottage in 1909 in what was then surrounded by strawberry fields, orchards and a dairy farm.  There were no street addresses.

The mud “Weston Avenue,” is likely Perlita Avenue, which you can see from the parking lot of Best Buys.  Because it was then completely rural area, the boundaries between what would become Los Angeles and what would become Glendale were nonexistent except for the SP tracks.

By 1904, the red car opened real estate development through Atwater.  The train depot – seen in early Buster Keaton films and later in  the Barbara Stanwyck film Double Indemnity – one day came to mark off the area.  By 1909, the Sennett Studio opened.  Mixville opened.  It became an auto camp.  That became a shopping mall.

The Disney studio began on Hyperion in the 1920s, and my stepfather’s first dry cleaning store was in a Disney building on Hyperion in 1946.

One of the things that may be worth taking away from this map research is the way those who lived there thought of the place.

I’ve lived on or near farmland in my lifetime in Turkey a distance then from Istanbul, but no longer, and in Madera in California and on the last street before the farms began in Salinas.  It seems when you live in or near rural land that it will be that way forever.  It’s impossible to imagine the transformation of the land into city.   This is simply where we lived: with fields, bugs, cows, sheep, orchards, mud routes between houses and village, a distance to the city, the idiocy of rural life, the peace of rural life, the long boring familial episodes, the hope of change, the mediocrity of change, the people who write or sing or play or create paintings or music through the what then seems like permanent quiet life but which has never been so.






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