Thursday, December 15, 2011

Programs, Programs Everywhere

As we wind down this year and get ready for the next, Photo Friends & the LAPL Photo Collection have already lined-up a full slate of programs for 2012.

We were thrilled to learn that Ted Soqui, our presenter for the Photographer's Eye program in April, had one of his images selected for the cover of  the upcoming issue of Time Magazine. The photo has been interpreted by artist Shepard Fairey for the annual "Person of the Year" issue.

Photo courtesy of
The tentative program schedule for 2012 is:

Wednesday, February 15th, 12:15pm
Photographer's Eye 
Beth Ann Guynn, curator of the exhibition A Nation Emerges: The Mexican Revolution Revealed (Central Library, Getty Gallery September 8, 2011–June 3, 2012), discusses the emerging practice of photojournalism during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920).

Saturday, February 18th, 2:00pm
From Vaudeville to the Nickelodeon: A History of the Illustrated Song
The early days of silent cinema included more than just films.  Join Galen Wilkes as he reveals the fascinating story of the Illustrated Song - once a standard on the program.  History, humor, and censored material! Pre-show at 1:30 

Saturday, March 10th, 2:00pm
L.A. in Focus: Images from the LAPL Photo Collection 
Kevin Roderick, local journalist, editor, blogger, and author of The San Fernando Valley : America's Suburb, presents images from the Los Angeles Public Library's Valley Times collection.

Wednesday,  April 18th, 12:30pm
Photographer's Eye
Photographer Ted Soqui, and Glynn Martin, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Police Historical Society, discuss Soqui's images of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots for the 20th anniversary of the events.

Saturday, June 9th, 2:00pm
L.A. in Focus: Images from the LAPL Photo Collection
David Davis, author of the upcoming Showdown at Shepherd's Bush: The 1908 Olympic Marathon and the Three Runners Who Launched a Sporting Craze, presents images of the 1932 & 1984 Summer Olympic Games from the LAPL Photo Collection.

Wednesday, June 13th, 12:30pm
Photographer's Eye
Graphic artist and photographer Bob Seidemann discusses his collection of images entitled The Airplane as Art.

September - Date TBD
L.A. in Focus: Images from the LAPL Photo Collection
Kathy Kobayashi discusses her involvement with the landmark Shades of L.A. project  20 years later.

Wednesday, October 17th, 12:30pm
Photographer's Eye
Photographer Sara Jane Boyers. Details forthcoming.
October - Date TBD
L.A. in Focus: Images from the LAPL Photo Collection 
Writer and social historian Joan Renner continues her exploration of the dark side of Southern California in a presentation focusing on crime photos from the Herald-Examiner collection, and drawn from the stories of legendary Los Angeles newswoman Agness Underwood.  

All programs are at Central Library, free and open to the public, with no reservations required. Check back often for more details or sign up for the Photo Friends monthly email blast: 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Los Angeles Through the Lens of Carleton Watkins - December 10th at Central Library

Preeminent 19th century landscape photographer, Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916) came to Southern California on two occasions: once in 1877 and again in 1880. These trips enabled Watkins to produce some of the earliest and most resonant images of Los Angeles ever made. In celebration of the publication of Carleton Watkins: The Complete Mammoth Photographs, a book that was thirty years in the making, author Weston Naef and contributor Jennifer Watts will discuss Watkins's working method and his imagery in an illustrated presentation.

When: Saturday, December 10, 2:00pm
Where: Central Library - Taper Auditorium - 630 W. 5th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90071

Free and open to the public. No reservations required.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Sin and A Shame

"One of the misfortunes of our time is that in getting rid of false shame we have killed off so much real shame as well." --Louis Kronenberger

"The only shame is to have none." --Blaise Pascal

In 2011 it sometimes appears that shameful behavior is rewarded more often than it is punished. In the following photographs there are examples of people who engaged in bad behavior and in most cases, appear to have felt some degree of shame.

Adam and Eve innovated covering up as the universal response to shame. The first thing that the pair did after they'd eaten an apple from the tree of life was to cover their nakedness with a few strategically placed fig leaves.

Because fig leaves weren't as readily available in Los Angeles during the twentieth century as they had been in the Garden of Eden, modern city-dwellers caught in shameful situations had to make do with whatever shield was at hand -- everything from hats and coats to scarves and handbags.

The first photo in this series of shame is of infamous madam and Los Angeles Vice Queen, Brenda Allen. Brenda had a close relationship with Sgt. Elmer V. Jackson, who was a member of LAPD's administrative vice squad. Jackson, and others, were said to have provided protection for Brenda in exchange for cash pay-offs. The scandal ultimately resulted in the resignation of Police Chief Clemence B. Horrall, and the eventual clean-up of the LAPD.

Herald-Examiner; Order #00028232

Following a sheriff's vice raid on a nightclub, Margaret Shaw is seen here hiding her face behind a nifty clutch handbag.

Herald-Examiner; Order #00049969

Edna Gordon Adams was busted in the same sheriff's vice raid in which Margaret Shaw had been nabbed. Obviously Edna's reaction to being arrested was completely different from Margaret's. Edna's expression suggests calculation, with just a hint of seduction. Was she wondering if she could parlay her photo into a career opportunity? She seems to be adjusting her dress here to expose more of her legs.

Herald-Examiner; Order #00049970

The three women seated on the bench were caught in a 1940 b-girl sting on Fifth Street in downtown Los Angeles. B-girls (bar-girls) were employed to talk to customers in a bar and encourage them to buy over-priced drinks. When a man's wallet was emptied, the b-girl quickly lost interest in him and moved on to the next sucker. The men probably didn't realize that they were buying watered-down drinks for themselves and ginger ale for the b-girl. The woman on the left may have believed that if she couldn't see the photographer, s/he couldn't see her. She would have been better off using the piece of paper in her hands as a shield.

Herald-Examiner, Order #00044584

Harry Genter was one of two suspects arrested for allegedly using lead pipes in an attempted Hollywood service station holdup. The camera caught Harry in the classic head-in-hands posture of despair and shame.

Hollywood Citizen News/Valley Times; Order #00083048

Shame can affect a family as well as an individual. In the following photograph dated February 6, 1952, Alfred J. Henry and his wife Leota were caught by surprise after police arrested them as suspects in the robbery of a cafe on West Pico Street.

Actually, it's only Alfred who looked surprised, or was that clueless? Leota appeared mortified. The couple's young son Ronnie was more interested in whatever it was he was holding -- a knife, a nail file? The toddler may have been cleaning his fingernails while his parents were taking a fall for the robbery.

Herald-Examiner; Order #00057593

Often times shame calls for the creative use of an accessory. Each of the three women in this November 1949 photo pulled her scarf down over her face after being arrested for giving an indecent performance.

Herald-Examiner; Order #00036708

Surprisingly, even Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, sociopathic mobster and former member of Murder, Inc., was capable of being shamed, even if just for a moment. He's the nattily dressed felon using a handkerchief to hide his face. Nice tie, Ben.

Herald-Examiner; Order #00010152

If anything may be inferred from the next group of photos, it is that people often sin in groups -- perhaps it helps if the shame is shared.

The people in the photo below were arrested on April 22, 1949 by deputy sheriffs in a raid on a Lomita poker club. They took a bus ride of shame to jail.

Herald-Examiner; Order #00039649

Occasionally people may find themselves in shameful situations for which they are not entirely to blame -- which is what happened to many young Latino men during the Zoot Suit Riots in WWII era Los Angeles.

If you're unfamiliar with zoot suits, below is a photo of a young man identified as Frank proudly sporting his "drape" (another name for zoot suit).

Shades of LA; Order #00002818

Zoot suits weren't only for men. In this photo, a young woman named Josie was photographed wearing her original zoot suit while waiting for the Red Car at E. 41st Street and Long Beach Avenue in Los Angeles.

Shades of LA; Order #00012456

Wearing a zoot suit with its outrageous colors and contours called attention to the wearer. A zoot suit was a source of pride, not shame, for many young Latinos and African Americans from the late 1930s through the early/mid-1940s.

During the summer of 1943, racial tensions in the City of Angels were nearing the flash point, particularly between local Latinos and Caucasian military personnel.

Over a few days in June of 1943, there were a series of disturbances dubbed the Zoot Suit Riots, during which soldiers, sailors, and marines from as far away as San Diego came to Los Angeles to join in the fighting. Taxi drivers offered free rides to servicemen and civilians to the riot areas, and approximately 5,000 civilians and military men gathered downtown!

Senior military officials finally did what they should have done in the beginning, they declared Los Angeles off-limits to all military personnel. Clearing servicemen from the city reduced the all-out fighting to sporadic slug fests.

The young men in the next photograph were jailed following the Zoot Suit Riots. Most of them faced the camera with a decidedly twenty-first century attitude toward shame -- they had none, and perhaps they shouldn't have had any.

Order #00019331

A governor's committee was formed to investigate the cause of the riots. The committee's report concluded that racism was at fault. The mayor of Los Angeles, Fletcher Bowron, arrived at a much different conclusion. Bowron stated that the riots had been caused by "white southerners and Mexican juvenile delinquents".

Certainly true in this instance, shame is occasionally in the eyes of the beholder.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Rare Views of North Bunker Hill Now Online

Nearly 140 images of the north end of Bunker Hill were recently uploaded to the LAPL Photo Database. These photos came from a three volume appraisal report prepared by William W. Abelmann in 1955. While many photographers and artists documented Bunker Hill in its waning years, they tended to focus on the south end where the picturesque Victorian mansions stood. With this set, we take a rare tour of the north side of this fabled and lost Los Angeles neighborhood.

To see the complete set of images, search for "appraisal report" on the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Database. 

Looking west across S. Grand Avenue towards two apartment buildings, the Ethel Apartments at 223 (center) and an adjoining structure at 219 (right). 
Order #00091463

Looking east across N. Hope Street showing two Queen Anne Revival style apartment houses at 118-120 (left) and 114-116 (center). 
Order #00091490

Looking northeast across the intersection of S. Olive (running from middle left to lower right) and W. Second streets towards the former Argyle Hotel and apartment buildings at 132-134 (far left), behind which is City Hall (right). 
Order #00091516

Looking west across Broadway, showing a parking lot, a small hamburger stand called Ralph's (left), and various residential buildings up on Bunker Hill, including Moore Cliff Hotel (center). 
Order# 00091577
Looking southwest across W. First and Olive streets towards the Seymour Apartments, located at 502 W. First Street. Order #00091519

Looking east from across N. Bunker Hill Avenue towards a two-story apartment house located at 240 (center). On the far left is a building at 242 and in the background is the rear exterior of the former St. Angelo Hotel, located at 237 N. Grand Avenue.
Order #00094179

Looking west across the street towards the former St. Angelo Hotel located at 237 N. Grand Avenue.
Order #00091478
Looking west across the street showing the site of the former home at 241 Bunker Hill Avenue and glimpses of the rear exteriors of homes on N. Hope Street (upper left).
Order #00091460
Looking southwest across S. Olive Street showing an empty lot at 215-217 (left), the May Hotel at 209, and the Mission Apartments at 201. 
Order #00091526

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Shades of L.A. Oral Histories Now Available Online

Soorah, Philip, and Susan Ahn at the Moongate Restaurant in Panorama City in 1969 (Order #00003268)

In 1991, the Los Angeles Public Library and Photo Friends launched the landmark SHADES OF L.A. project where Los Angeles residents were invited to contribute copies of their family photos to the LAPL Photo Collection. The goal was to establish a photographic archive that truly reflected the cultural diversity of the city of Los Angeles. The project proved to be so successful that the model was copied for the SHADES OF CALIFORNIA project, now archived at the State Library.

Along with the acquisition of photos, oral histories with some of the donors were also conducted. For the first time these interviews, along with transcribed excerpts are now accessible on the Los Angeles Public Library's website through a generous grant from the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation. The audio of the twelve oral histories can be found HERE.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Pig, a Pup, and a Very Large Shoe

Gary Leonard Collection; order #00029050
When the Tail o’ the Pup hot dog stand closed in 2005 after being evicted from its longtime location, Angelenos mourned the loss of this Southern California icon. Where else could they buy a frankfurter from a stand shaped as a frankfurter? The iconic stand had opened in 1946 and was an instant hit. But what many don’t realize is that the mimetic architecture of the Tail o’ the Pup reflects an era when many buildings, though certainly not all, were built to look like something other than a standard building.

There is no one word that describes the style of these funky buildings. I might call them whimsical or Pop, whereas an architectural historian like David Gebhard might choose a more academic descriptor such as “programatic” (now commonly spelled programmatic). These buildings might fit within author John Chase’s category of consumerist architecture, though not all consumerist buildings are mimetic. One thing is certain--laughter is crucial. Buildings such as the Betsy Anne Ice Cream Stand do not take themselves seriously as examples of high art architecture; rather, they choose to be humorous and light-hearted, which in this case means forcing customers to enter the store by walking under a lady’s skirt. Even a slightly morbid example, such as the Dugout Sandwich Shop or the Jail Cafe, brings a touch of humor, as well as shock and irony.

Security Pacific National Bank Collection; order #00068624
Security Pacific National Bank Collection; order #00042109
Security Pacific National Bank Collection; order #00068649
Security Pacific National Bank Collection; order #00042114
According to Jim Heimann, whose book is probably the most comprehensive study of this architectural style (as well as an enjoyable read), the golden age for programmatic architecture was from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s. Though more examples were built in Southern California than anywhere else in the country, giant milk bottle buildings and the like popped up across the United States. David Gebhard, in his introduction to Heimann’s book, suggests that programmatic buildings were built for the modern, driving culture. They were meant to catch your eye as you sailed by in your automobile so they were massive, colorful, and unusual. According to John Chase, business owners intended that the “exaggerated popular imagery” of the buildings would “spur the natives into patronizing the businesses housed in them.”

While such odd and nontraditional buildings might be seen as “a direct route to escapism and a recipe for kitsch” to some, they were built with the public in mind. Consumers had an “appetite for novelty” so buildings that chose the fantastic over the mundane had a competitive edge precisely because they were unusual and interesting. These bizarre architectural gems were an advertising ploy, as well as an expression of Southern California’s whimsical, occasionally kitschy culture.

Just as there is no one word to describe this style, there was no one image used. The varied building designs sometimes reflected symbols of modernity, especially transportation such as trains, cars, and airplanes. The Airplane Cafe took the approach of imitating the key features of a plane, in an age where air travel was romanticized and cutting-edge, whereas the Zep Diner modeled itself after a zeppelin, more commonly known as a blimp.
Security Pacific National Bank Collection; order #00068644
Security Pacific National Bank Collection; order #00068628
Other buildings were built to imitate the products sold inside, such as The Tamale, the California Piano Supply Company (later the Big Red Piano), and the Darkroom, which has been turned into an Indian restaurant in the image below. These buildings operated as “extensions of the products offered inside them,” to use John Chase’s words.
Security Pacific National Bank Collection; order #00068648
Security Pacific National Bank Collection; order #00007995
Security Pacific National Bank Collection; order #00059066
Still other buildings were designed as containers for the product sold inside, such as Arthur Whizin’s chain of Chili Bowl restaurants and the Hollywood Flower Pot. The Sanders System drive-in restaurants were all adorned with a giant coffee pot, which spouted steam to illustrate that coffee was sold inside, as well as typical diner fare.

Security Pacific National Bank Collection; order #00008013
Security Pacific National Bank Collection; order #00008000
Security Pacific National Bank Collection; order #00042105
Many businesses chose to represent not their products but their names with programmatic architecture. Over a hundred year ago, this would be accomplished with a simple sign illustration, such as a cutout of a horse’s head for The Head of the Horse pub. But in the modern era, businesses took name illustration to another level. The finest examples include the Hoot Owl Cafe, with a rotating owl head and blinking eyes, the Pig Cafe, the Pup Cafe in Venice, the Mother Goose Pantry in Pasadena, and of course the classic Brown Derby on Wilshire Boulevard.

Security Pacific National Bank Collection; order #00008018
Security Pacific National Bank Collection; order #00008011
Security Pacific National Bank Collection; order #00068626
Security Pacific National Bank Collection; order #00068634
Security Pacific National Bank Collection; order #00008675
Sadly, most of these whimsical and oddball buildings, which at one time dotted the Southern California landscape, are now a distant memory. Hopeful locals await the reopening of the Tail o’ the Pup, but anyone scouring the streets for a giant pig, dog, or flower pot will be severely disappointed. Though the style persists through occasional revivals (see The Hamburger that Ate L.A.) or large three-dimensional road signs (see Babe’s Mufflers in San Jose) or the streets of Las Vegas, it has for the most part, been abandoned. For now we can look at pictures of what used to be and record our own time’s architectural anomalies and eccentricities.

For more examples of this unappreciated architecture, search the dazzling photo collection at the Los Angeles Public Library with the keywords MIMETIC or PROGRAMMATIC or checkout Jim Heimann’s wildly interesting book California Crazy and Beyond: Roadside Vernacular Architecture (2001) from Chronicle Books.

Happy hunting!
Lauren Gaylord
Getty Intern
Los Angeles Public Library - Photo collection

Chase, John. 1991. “The Role of Consumerism in American Architecture.” Journal of Architectural Education 44, 4: 211-224.
Chase, John. 1993. “The Garret, the Boardroom, and the Amusement Park.” Journal of Architectural Education 47, 2: 75-87.
Heimann, Jim. 2001. California Crazy and Beyond: Roadside Vernacular Architecture. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, LLC.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Welcome to the Photo Collection

Greetings Photo Fans & History Buffs,

It's hard to believe that almost two years have passed since Carolyn Kozo Cole retired and I was given the opportunity to oversee the amazing Photo Collection of the Los Angeles Public Library.

The LAPL Photo Collection is a vast and invaluable resource, and our top priority is digitizing as many of these images as possible. Since May 2008, over 7,200 images have been added to the LAPL Photo Database. Included in this impressive figure are images from the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Valley Times newspaper photo morgues, the Kelly-Holiday Aerial Collection, and a group of industrial images taken by contemporary photographers.

Aerial view of Hollywood, 1956 (Kelly-Holiday Collection, order# 00088580).

Decorative wall at the La Fortaleza tortilla plant in 2009 (Industrial L.A. Collection, Tom Zimmerman, order # 00087404).

There are exciting images lined-up for digitization in 2011. We're currently in the process of adding a collection by 1940s photographer, Lucille Stewart who worked for Mayor Fletcher Bowron, but also shot images around town, including many of Clifton's Cafeterias, both Brookdale and Pacific Seas. 

Musicians at Clifton's Brookdale, ca 1945 (Lucille Stewart Collection, order# 00088345).

Clifton's String Ensemble at "Pacific Seas" (Lucille Stewart Collection, order# 00088335). 
Also in the pipeline are 900 images of Wilshire Boulevard in 1978/1978, a collection of photos of Los Angeles in the 1980s & 90s as seen through the lens of local photographer Carol Westwood, and a set of appraisal photos of buildings on North Bunker Hill in the 1950s. In addition to these treasures, we'll continue to add photos from our endless well of "wow!" aka the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Valley Times collections.

Former businesses and apartments on Wilshire Boulevard in 1978 (Marlene Laskey Collection, order# 00089999).

I look forward to working with Photo Friends to bring these photos to light through programs at Central Library and online exhibits on this site. As I also work in the History & Genealogy Dept, which has been subjected to some pretty nasty budget cuts these past few years, I will be turning to Photo Friends to come up with with some creative ideas to help those collections.

2011 is going to be a great year for Photo Friends and the Photo Collection. I hope you'll be checking back hear and searching the LAPL Photo Database often.  

Christina Rice
Acting Senior Librarian
Los Angeles Public Library - Photo Collection