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Los Angeles and Environs in the 1930's

The following essays are excerpted from a wonderful little guide to Los Angeles written by Elizabeth Webb-Herrick in 1935 entitled "Curious California Customs" published by Pacific Carbon and Printing Company. We've written a little introduction to each essay to bring you up to date.

Collegiate Westwood

Westwood village has undergone a number of transformations since the main campus of UCLA moved to the village around 1930. To me, Westwood has lost its scale. High rise office buildings have changed it from a sleepy Spanish-Moorish style village catering to the student population to a discordant mix of shops, restaurants and offices, movie theaters and traffic problems. (gf)

The bustling village of Westwood was built primarily as a campus for the U.C.L.A., and therefore, is only about five years old. To see the community life of the place, however, and the substantial buildings which comprise it, you would never in the world guess its age. There are restrictive building measures, which account for the uniformity of the Spanish type architecture, and every enterprise is housed in a decorative and distinctive manner, and inside and out, it's the last word in design.

Many downtown stores have a Westwood branch, and on one corner of the street we find our old friend, Bullock's - with a smart shop, catering to the collegienne who knows her styles. Dressing the co-ed these days seems to occupy a large percentage of the population (including the papas who are laboring manfully downtown to pay the bills) and a number of their most startling effects find expression here.

Anyone who ever attended college, remembers the superlative food that always crops up about a campus, for these "educated palates" demand their nourishment at regular intervals, and it had better be good! Up on the balcony, we found the cutest tea room! The forty cent special was casserole of vegetables au gratin with crisp bacon (these gals keep an eye on their calories evidently) and there were other table d'hote specials up to seventy-five cents. Did you ever taste baked avocado on the half-shell, filled with escalloped crab? No, we thought not, neither did we, but we're certainly going to do something about getting it recognized now that we have! There was the most delicious fresh cranberry and orange relish, and a cinnamon bread and a spinach ring, all of them not at all hard to take. As a finish, we topped off with that famous Creole Pecan Pie, publicized by Anna Roosevelt. It's an old N'Awleans secret and of all the unforgettable flavors!

Of course, the proper procedure would be to take the salad bowl; a lovely looking green mixture, served with little bottles of Bullock's French Dressing, and rye crisp, and then top off with that pie. Or, we don't care. Fix it up anyway you like - only close your eyes to the evening dress mannequins if you don't study out the calorie system - you can't keep your perfect 32 on that sort of rations you know! Such is life.

Teas are deservedly popular and range in price from 35 cents to 85 cents. Try the Maple cream toast. It's entirely new and we wonder who lies awake nights to think up these temptations? The circulating library is up here on the balcony also, and it makes it very cozy.

Who could blame you for tearing off a couple of chapters of popular reading if you "forget" your trigonometry book?

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The Assistance League - Where to See the Stars

Angelenos used to go to the Assistance League to see the stars. The tradition of volunteerism evidenced there reached a zenith during WW2 with the canteens serving the off-duty needs of service men and women. (gf)

There is one Place in which the visitor may be certain that not only will there be a number of feminine stellar lights on display, but usually the additional treat of masculine favorites. Here at 5604 De Longpre, Hollywood, daily, women forget to eat their salads and allow the tea to become cold in their cups at the breathless thrill of almost rubbing shoulders with Leslie Howard, or being waited on by Bebe Daniels. Unless you have a Strong heart, and can take your thrills or leave `em, we can't advise you to come here. Strong women have been in a dazed condition for days after lunching here on a Guest Day. For charity, all of filmdom's elite have appeared here at some time or other.

The organization does a noble work. the workroom teaches fine French embroideries to women handy with their needles, and the knitting department is becoming a very busy place. There is a day nursery where working mothers may bring their babies during the day. Similar groups may do as much charitable work as these women, but the heart and soul of the enterprise lies in the tearoom. Not only for charity do the stars and their public congregate here, the food is simply beyond words.

A visit to their Thrift Shop, l301 North Western Avenue will yield rich dividends sometimes. You know someone else's white elephants may be just what you are looking for, and this place is packed to the rafters with other people's castoffs. Remember every cent you spend here is contributing to a very worthy cause.

Only the slim can let themselves go on the desserts to California, and the triple X salad plate ($1.00), featuring chicken, fruit and combination salads with corn bread and flaky hot biscuits, is another universal favorite.

The waitresses are all volunteers, recruited from the ranks of the Junior League of the Wampus Baby stars, and many well known favorites of the screen, sponsor special days and entertain guests. Even the tips go to charity. There's a narrow stairway leading to the tearoom, so we'd advise an early luncheon hour, so as not to be killed in the rush. Just s'pose Clark Gable should happen to drop in today! The poor dear man lost fifteen pounds on his recent personal appearance tour east, and was hiding ingloriously in his dressing room, living on ham sandwiches afraid to face his ardent fans. Out here, life is much more simple, although the importunate autograph hunters have that purposeful gleam in their eye.

How awful it must be for the favorites, that fateful day when their entrance into a public place fails to take on all the aspects of imperial Caesar's march into Rome! They realize their popularity must be on the wane. We hope their little minor triumphs comfort them to remember then, don't you? But it must make anyone jittery to have hundreds of staring eyes taking in every mouthful. Only for sweet charity's sake, could one endure such an ordeal.

We've seen waitresses impersonating duchesses many times, but here's where your bona fide social leader leaves off all her rings but the simple little five carat solitaire, and knits her carefully trained eyebrows in an effort to remember as far as the kitchen that you ordered your steak rare.

Heavens! what a massaging and anointing the poor dears must demand at night after their strenuous day at the League! It should make them speak a bit less sharply to the girl next time she forgets and brings lemon instead of cream. On the whole, the waitresses give a better performance than their more fortunate sisters. That's the secret of the success of many of filmdom's great - how easily they can bridge the gap from rags to riches.

Incidentally, all those extraordinarily lovely girls in the cafes and stores don't just happen. If you get acquainted, you'll probably find the girl who brings your coffee in the little shop around the corner mornings won a beauty contest in Emporia, Kansas, and as even actresses have to eat, is living in daily anticipation of being discovered by a film scout and launched on a stellar career.

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Santa Catalina Island

I've taken the steamship, the amphibious plane, a private plane, sailboats and speedboats to Catalina. I've dived off the island, bowled there as a kid, and sunbathed when it wasn't politically incorrect to do so. I've never danced at the ballroom on Catalina. The steamboat is now gone as are many of the attractions mentioned below. However, Catalina is still a romantic getaway, has some great bed and breakfasts and has a (difficult) marathon through the backcountry. Someday... (gf)

Ancient cartographers sometimes omitted to draw the Island lying twenty-five miles offshore from the mainland of California when they were making their charts, but there is little doubt in the minds of the thousands who have visited Catalina since Mr. Wrigley threw all his heft into improvements, that it is very much on the map today. Its first records name Vizcaino as its discoverer in 1602, and previous to that it had been the home of-the Channel Indians. Don Juan Cabrillo true to his bloody Spanish tradition, decimated them as rapidly as they came under his august displeasure, and made the Island a base for his early supplies.

There is the usual piratical tradition of a splenetic individual with the delightful pseudonym of Peg-Leg given a lot of space by the Stevenson - influenced romancers, who babble of buried treasure and desert islands, on the least provocation. The natural harbor has undoubtedly seen many types of sailing vessels, as well as the canoes of its Indian tribes leave, and come safely back again, since stately galleons sailed the Spanish Main and brought fire and desolation in their wake. Madame Tingley made a special trip to the Island, and her followers connect it up with the Lost Island of Lemuria, and archaeologists nod their heads sagely and insist that the surface of the discoveries has only just been scratched. After passing from hand to hand, it was given to Pio Pico, the redoubtable governor who had so much to do with the early history of Southern California, and he in turn sold it to George Shatto for $150,000. Its final sale by the Bannings to Mr. Wrigley names the price as $7,000,000; so keep chewing, sisters -- it takes an awful lot of gum to pay back $7,000,000.00!

Smugglers frequented the secret coves, but found it too inconvenient for their enterprises, so the sinister aspects of the Island gradually have been lived down, and when the Bay was re-named Avalon Bay (from King Arthur's fabled earthly paradise) it took on a very respectable air, and tried to forget its scarlet past. Nothing -wicked remains today but the Chinese Junk on the Isthmus, Ning-pu, where for fifteen cents, you may visit the macabre dungeons and torture rooms, where pirates drank their grog and roared their mighty songs. (See, what this piratical strain does, it's got us doing it too!) The old camphor wood logs of which the ship is made still retain a slight trace of their pungent odor.

One of the most ironical aspects of the Island is its name. Discovered on the name day of Santa Caterina, it was given that early Christian martyr's name. The point they probably did not consider, however, is that St. Catherine was the patron saint of the spinsters, and today, this Island which bears her name, has become one vast honeymoon sigh and a lure for lovers of all ages and descriptions!

One thing we can check up on and prove, is that the great-great grandfathers of the goats and sheep scurrying swiftly up and down the rocky canyons, were placed on there by the Spaniards, who turned the place into a grazing ground to make sure of having fresh meat when they dropped anchor in the bay.

Mr. Wrigley determined to preserve the old Spanish traditions, and to build. Avalon into a city true in detail to his ideal of Romance. To this end, he has bent all his energies, and since his death, his cherished plans have been faithfully carried out. Those hundreds of palm trees along the coast are a part of the great plan, and certainly contribute the proper note to the general effect of the South Seas. Every one of them was transported bodily, and huge as they are, they took root in the rich soil and look as indigenous as though they had always grown there. Think of that, some of you who rented a couple of palms from the florist for a wedding! There's your California lavishness for you!

Nothing seemed to dismay Mr. Wrigley. When he was building the astounding Casino, he had the inlaid woods for the flooring floated over to the Island by rafts, especially constructed for that purpose. So today, it is not at all strange that the Spanish troubadours who meet the boat exemplify the old Castilian hospitality, and the sombreroed and red-sashed policemen keep up the good work.

In the Paseo de El Encanto (Promenade of Enchantment) which was built as a tribute to the memory of Wm Wrigley, Jr., one finds a complete Spanish village; the glass shops, the inevitable candle maker, the Puppeteer show, and the quaint cafe, serving typical Spanish food. Try the fidio (incredibly fine vermicelli) huacamole (sp), and other more familiar dishes. And be sure to try the Mexican chocolate. There's a drink, mind you, that Moctezuma served to Cortes; swizzled about until foamy and seasoned with cinnamon. Have you sampled the cactus candy yet?

Following the guide through the plant of the Catalina Potteries is a fascinating business. From the clay pits right here on the Island come the basic elements for those incredibly lovely ceramics, and when you meet them in Ovington's or Field's, back home, you'll re-live the experience and handle them with a new respect. These products enjoy a national reputation, and we need not describe them here. In the Arcade, they sell out the "seconds" every day at half price. The line forms on the right early in the morning to pick up bargains. One of our most prized possessions is such a turquoise tea pot, and it would "defy the face of clay" to find the flaws in it. One of the charming Island customs is using their pottery in all the restaurants. It's great propaganda, as nothing could be more Californian in feeling than these expressive dishes.

Catalina's streets are paved with native granite, and a trip to the quarry will reward you. Fifteen hundred men found homes and work there this past winter and are busily engaged in chiseling off mountainsides and transporting huge slabs to the mainland for the Santa Monica breakwater. Mr. Wrigley's impressive mausoleum is appropriately built of the native rock of his beloved Island paradise.

Through the medium of the news reels, everyone is aware that this is the winter home of the Cubs; and the sight of Zane Grey, side-by-side with a marlin swordfish (how can we be sure it isn't always the same fish?) is as familiar to us as Graham McNamee's voice. The fountain in the marketplace is a veritable Fisherman's Heaven. Here any day one finds strange creatures of the deep hanging ingloriously by their tails, giving their conquerors that thrill of achievement just before they're served up with parsley and boiled potatoes. Just think, that sword fish steak you're devouring, no longer ago than yesterday, was a part of a gamey, fighting monster, all muscle and strength, with a frantic determination to shake off the steel hook or perish in the attempt.

The Tuna Club House plays host to all deep-sea anglers, who are ambitious to display their prowess "on their own hook". If you think your piscatorial exploits have made you a match for them on mendacious stories, and have a photograph of yourself with a prop fish handy, drop around sometime. They'll welcome you heartily. There's a woman taxidermist (the only one in the world it's rumored) who will be glad to sell you a tuna, all embalmed and stuffed, for a scenic effect. A visit to her place is about the most interesting thing to do on the Island, to our notion.

The aviary boasts "the largest bird cage in the world", and you'll be amused to talk to those uncanny minehs. They actually answer you. The other exotic birds merely serve as a colorful background for these stars who hog the camera, the limelight and the publicity, like the stellar performers they are.

If it's golf you're interested in, be sure not to miss the Country Club, which is open to the public for luncheon and breakfast. For a small greens fee, you may combine Swiss mountain climbing with playing, and this famous course will delight you, as well as test your mettle. Up hill and down into canyons; during fig season, there's sufficient incentive however, to go the entire eighteen holes, for these figs seem much more delicious than any place else for some reason. All the golfers munch on them when they should be looking for balls. (Watch your drive, however. Remember this is an Island!)

At Sportland, you'll find archery, badminton, boxing and ping pong. And of course, we forgot to mention it - but some people come over here to swim! Actually, from the looks of things, nine-tenths of the population only take off their bathing suits to go to bed. That Avalon Bay, on a warm day, looks like the Ganges during a Hindu festival. Most Californians are amphibious from birth.

When the carillon of the chimes rings out from the sidehill for dinner, there's a mad scramble for seafood cocktails. There are plenty of these little stalls, and it makes a snappy prelude to your abalone steak. The Casino is the Mecca after that, and to the stimulating strains of a "hot" orchestra, Saturday nights, the rest of the evening can be danced away. The famous circular ballroom is built over the water and those wide verandahs bode no good to your "Angel child", madam! Better keep checking up on her and the "boy friend."

On the whole, though, the Island's remarkably innocuous. There's only one beer parlor, and although that's plenty tough, all the incipient Pretty Boy Floyd's and their gals flock there to drink their "spiritus fermenti" - leaving the rest of the terrain to the respectable element.

You might enjoy the moonlight drive, and when the moon is at the full, the scene is sheer enchantment. It's a honey, this drive; and we hope that you'll have just the thrilling romantic type by your side, my dears, to tell you that you are too. Don't go unless you know all the proper answers - don't waste a heavenly night! And don't forget the flying fish.

Weekends, the yacht harbor's always full of celebrities, especially movie stars. They lead rather circumscribed lives while "shooting" and can only sail their little boats across the Channel and back before Monday morning. Many notable films have been made over here, as the scenery has served for every region from Morocco to the Arctic Regions and the Sea of Galilee to the South Sea Islands. When Joan Crawford was making "Rain", everybody on Catalina went Pago-Pago, and Gloria Swanson's opus of the same name was also laid in this locale.

The boat trip takes a couple of hours and costs $2.75 from Los Angeles. There are couriers on the boat and on the Island with nothing to do but pilot you about and show you the sights, and if you don't go to Catalina, you'll never cease to be sorry.

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Excerpts from: Webb-Herrick, Elizabeth (1935) "Curious California Customs - Los Angeles Edition" Pacific Carbon & Printing Company. Los Angeles, California. 116pgs.

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