Showing posts with label Los Angeles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Los Angeles. Show all posts

19 November 2018

The Watts Riots, Rodney King and Me


I cannot tell a lie, this piece has been published before in a couple of different places. Nonetheless, it has a lot of personal meaning for me, as well the larger societal context. My novel White Heat was partly inspired by the Rodney King riots and both that and the Watts Riots have helped to shape L.A. as it is today.

*          *          *

When people think of Watts they think of the Watts Towers—and the Watts Riots of August, 1965. That year, while the Beatles sang about Yesterday, another chant went up in South Central Los Angeles.
*          *          *

1965: "Burn, baby, burn!" is the anthem that many remember the Watts Riots by. It is the chant shouted by people as the city burns. The spark that sets off the riots is a black man being stopped for a traffic ticket. Long-simmering frustration boils over and the city ignites. Thirty-four people are killed, a thousand-plus are wounded and almost four thousand arrested. Tensions in Los Angeles are as high as the smoke rising from the smoldering city streets.

Los Angeles is burning.

*          *          *

1991: Another motorist is stopped for speeding and evading the police. His beatdown is caught on video:

1992: The cops accused of beating Rodney King are acquitted. People pour into the streets. Looting.
Assault. Arson. Murder. Fifty-three dead. Twenty-three hundred injured and sixteen-hundred buildings damaged or destroyed.

Los Angeles is burning.

*          *          *

I was in Los Angeles in both ’65 and ’92. I remember the smoke, the fear permeating every quarter of the city.

During the Watts Riots, we were lucky to be able to watch it on TV and not be in the middle of it. My then-girlfriend's cousin was a National Guardsman assigned to patrol Watts during the riots and what he saw was so horrible he would never talk about it.

But I have a different memory of Watts. It isn't of the riots, but occurred during another hot summer, not long after.

I met a boy named Walter in class. Unlike everyone else in the class and just about everyone in the school, he was black. And he wasn't a local, but was on some kind of student exchange program from Jordan High in Watts.

I'm sure we were as much a curiosity to him as he was to us. After all, we were the privileged white kids and he was the angry young black man. Only he didn't seem angry. He seemed like just another nice guy with glasses. He invited a group of us to come down and see where he lived: Watts. A word that sent shivers down a lot of Angelinos' spines in those days.

We were a little apprehensive about going down there, especially as Walter had told us to come in the crappiest cars we had. No shiny new cars. There were six or eight teenaged boys and girls in our little caravan of two crappy cars. But crappy in our neighborhood meant something different than it did in Walter's.

Our caravan weaved its way through the Los Angeles streets until we were just about the only white faces to be seen. We finally came to Will Rogers Park (known today as Ted Watkins Park). Mind you, this is not the Will Rogers Park on Sunset where the polo ponies play on Sundays. This park is in the heart of South Central and I can say that all of our hearts were beating faster than normal.

Watts Riots - 1965

We parked nearby and walked as a unit to the park, as if we were a military outfit. People looked at us—we didn't look at them. But maybe because we looked like hippies and we were young nobody bothered us.

We met Walter in Will Rogers Park in South Central Los Angeles and sat under a shady tree, a bunch
of white kids and one black guy. We sat, just rapping—in the vernacular of the time—talking about music and houses and politics. We stood out like the proverbial sore thumb and people started coming over. Big dudes, little dudes. Cool dudes. Girls. No one seemed to resent our being there. In fact, they seemed glad to have us. Glad to be able to share with us and have us share with them. There was no sense of rancor or resentment. Just curiosity—a curiosity that went both ways. This was a time when people wanted to come together, not be separated. None of them knew Walter and they certainly didn't know us. But they joined our group and we rapped on.

After a while we got up and played a game of pickup basketball—try doing that in a pair of cowboy boots.

Then Walter said, "You want to see where I live?"
Jordan Downs Housing Project

Of course we did. So he took us to the projects—Jordan Downs. We drove past burned out buildings and vacant lots that not so long ago had had buildings on them. And we saw how the other half lived.

"It's not the best place in the world to live," Walter said. "But it could be a whole lot worse."

Watts Towers

Our last stop was a trip to the Watts Towers, those soaring spires of glass, steel and concrete built by Simon Rodia. They are a monument to what anyone can do if they put their mind to it.

We finally returned to our cars and, to our relief, they hadn't been stolen. And, corny as it might sound, I think we all learned that we're more alike than different, with the same aspirations, hopes and fears.

That day was one of the most memorable experiences of my life—one that I wouldn't trade for anything. It was a wonderful day and we all went home full of hope for the future. We just wanted to get to know each other. Ultimately I think Rodney King had it right when he said, "Can we all get along?"

Why the hell can't we?

###

11 September 2018

The Broken Windows Tour of L.A.


“It is through that broken window that we see the world…”
                                                                                                  –Alice Walker

A while back I did a tour of some of the locations in White Heat. Now, since it’s Hot Off the Presses—it came out yesterday from Down & Out Books—it’s the Broken Windows Tour of L.A. One of the things I really enjoy is writing about Los Angeles in the context of a mystery-thriller. In Broken Windows, P.I. Duke Rogers and his very unPC sidekick, Jack, are on the hunt for the killer of an undocumented worker.

Briefly, a little about Broken Windows: While the storm rages over California’s infamous 1994 anti-illegal alien Proposition 187, a young woman climbs to the top of the famous Hollywood sign—and jumps to her death. An undocumented day laborer is murdered. And a disbarred and desperate lawyer in Venice Beach places an ad in a local paper that says: “Will Do Anything For Money.”—Private Investigator Duke Rogers, and his very unPC partner, Jack, must figure out what ties together these seemingly unrelated incidents. Their mission catapults them through a labyrinth of murder, intrigue and corruption of church, state and business that hovers around the immigration debate. And that turmoil is not unlike what’s roiling the country today—in fact it might be seen as a precursor to it.

Hope you'll give it a read. And Reviews would be greatly appreciated...especially if they're good ones :-) .

Realtors say the most important thing is Location Location Location. I wouldn’t go that far in terms of writing. But location is important. So, hop on the bus for a handful of the many SoCal locations in Broken Windows:

View from behind the Hollywood sign (1)

The Hollywood Sign:

The story opens with a young woman climbing to the top of the Hollywood Sign.

The Hollywood Sign beckoned her like a magnet—or like a moth to a flame. The sign glowed golden in the magic hour sun—that time of day around sunrise and sunset when the light falls soft and warm and cinematographers love to shoot. Like so many others, Susan Karubian had come here seeking fame and fortune, hoping to make her mark on the world. Oh hell, she had come to be a star like all the others. And she would do it, just not quite in the heady way she’d anticipated.


When a friend and I hiked up to the sign before the fence was put around it,
 so you could actually get to the sign


The Santa Monica Pier:

Duke, looking for a little R&R, takes his new dog, Molly, to the pier:

The Santa Monica Pier used to be one of my favorite places to go to while away time, do some thinking on cases when things weren’t breaking right. I still liked it, but not as much as before. They’d remodeled it, turning it into a mini Disneyland, new rides, new chain restaurants. Just another mini-mall-amusement-park, but with a saltwater view, with kitschy chain restaurants featuring Cowabunga Burgers and a food court, for crying out loud. And a lot more people. Tourists. Families with their kids. Freaks of all kinds. Still, the air was clean. And I thought Molly should get a taste of it.

A view from Santa Monica pier of Santa Monica looking north (2)
At the pier, he runs into Marisol, whose brother Carlos, an undocumented immigrant, has been murdered. Later, Duke takes on the case of trying to find out who killed Carlos and why.

We headed back down the pier. In the distance a woman with coal black hair sat on a bench staring out to sea, her back to me. The wind pitched her hair over her face; she swept it away with a backhand. Something seemed familiar about her. When we got closer I saw that it was Marisol. She didn’t see us and I debated whether to approach her. “Days like this are my favorite time at the beach,” I said. She turned around, looking up at me through a tangle of hair. It looked like she had been crying…

Venice and the Venice Beach Boardwalk:

The bad part of Venice is where Eric, a disbarred lawyer, lives in a not so nice place compared to what he had been used to:

He opened a window, could smell the briny ocean air and hear the waves booming in the distance. This was Venice, California—crammed onto the SoCal shore between tony Santa Monica and haughty Marina del Rey—but not the Venice of the tourists and beach people. And this certainly wasn’t what Abbot Kinney had envisioned when he wanted to recreate Italy’s Venice in Southern California, complete with canals and gondoliers. No, Kinney must be rolling over in his grave these days. This was the other side of Venice. No canals here. No bathing beauties. Unless cockroaches had beauties in their midst, maybe to another cockroach. Miss Cockroach of 1994. Would she want world peace too? Or just a crumb of leftover bread?

Venice Beach (3)
Eric puts an ad in the paper. At first we’re not sure how he ties into the main story of Duke trying to find Carlos’ killer…

And he [Eric] opened the L.A. Weekly underground paper. Today was the day his ad was due out. He scanned a few pages until he came to it:

“Contact Eric,” it said, and gave his phone number. So far the phone hadn’t rung, but it was early. Breakfast time. He figured he’d sit by the phone today and hope for the best. If something didn’t come along, he wouldn’t even be able to pay the rent on this hell hole.

He looked at the phone, willing it to ring. When it didn’t, his eyes shifted back to his ad, to the headline: “$$$ Will do anything for money. $$$”.

At one point, Duke also finds himself down in Venice:

When Abbott Kinney founded Venice, California, south of Santa Monica, in the early nineteen hundreds, he had big dreams for it. Modeled after Venice, Italy, complete with canals and gondoliers, it was supposed to be a place of high-minded culture. Maybe it was, a hundred years ago. I don’t think so. And certainly not today. Now it was divided between the Hollywood Haves, who filled many of the little, but exceptionally expensive homes along the canals, and the low-rent people a few blocks away, whose homes were the gangs they belonged to more than the houses they lived in. Los Angeles Schizoid Dream.

Man on Venice Boardwalk (4)
The Café Noir:

A down on its heels bar on Sunset Boulevard, where Duke hangs out sometimes:

I opened the Café Noir’s door, a flood of velvet blackness enveloping me as I entered. The transition from daylight, even overcast daylight, to the Noir’s dimness made me close my eyes for a few seconds. Nat King Cole’s “The Blues Don’t Care” sinuously threaded its way from the jukebox. The bartender nodded. I nodded back. I settled in a corner at the far end of the bar, hoping no one I knew would join me. It wasn’t crowded at this hour, but you never knew. And right now I just wanted to get lost in a drink and the shadows, in the music and the anonymity of a dark corner.


The Cafe Noir


Smuggler’s Gulch:

In the 1990s, Smuggler’s Gulch near San Diego was just what its name implies, a major smuggling point for people coming over the border. Jack and Duke have a “meet” there that goes bad and later Duke returns to the “scene of the crime,” so to speak:

I figured Jack wouldn’t be back and I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep so I packed Molly in the Jeep and hit the freeways. Southern California’s become one long rush hour for the most part, but at that time of night, traffic moved at a good clip. We drove south, toward the border. Landed back at Smuggler’s Gulch. Rocky Point. I surveyed the area with night-vision binoculars, making sure no cops, Border Patrol, or even some of Miguel’s friends were there. I knew Jack had hidden the body well, but you can’t be too careful. When I knew the coast was clear, we walked to the rock. I sat there with Molly on the same spot where I’d been shot. She’d been getting stronger by the day and I thought she might enjoy getting out of the house.


Smuggler's Gulch / Tijuana River Valley, San Diego, CA (5)


***

So, there’s a mini tour of just some of the L.A. and SoCal locations in Broken Windows. Hope you might want to check the book out—it’s available now.

***



And now for the usual BSP:

Broken Windows released on September 10th and is available now at AmazonBarnes & Noble , Down & Out Books and all the usual places.



Peter Anthony Holder interviewed me for the Stuph File. It’s short, 10 minutes. You might enjoy it. It’s episode 0471 at the link below. And check out the Stuph File too:

https://tunein.com/podcasts/Comedy/Peter-Anthony-Holders-Stuph-File-p394054/?topicId=123713643

www.thestuphfile.com

And I was also interviewed by Dave Congalton at KVEC radio:

http://www.920kvec.com/davecongalton/posts/air-date-aug-27-2018-seg3-mystery-writer-paul-d-marks.php 


Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com


____________________

Photo attributions:

(1) Hollywood sign photo by Caleb George (https://unsplash.com/seemoris), Unsplash.com: https://unsplash.com/photos/5NslKuaHTJo

(2) A view from Santa Monica pier of Santa Monica looking north photo by Korvenna

(3) Venice Beach, photo by InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA 

(4) Man on Venice Boardwalk, photo by Sean Stratton seanstratton - ttps://unsplash.com/photos/dEEMyIa4zPc

(5) Smuggler's Gulch / Tijuana River Valley, San Diego, CA, USA, photo by Roman Eugeniusz, https://www.panoramio.com/photo/127934179




21 August 2018

Casting Call


When I write a story or novel, I picture it as a movie in my head, as I’m sure many of you do. In fact, I don’t outline per se but I often write the first draft as a screenplay—more on this in a future blog. But today I want to talk about casting my stories. And since Broken Windows, the sequel to my Shamus-winning White Heat is coming out on 9/10, I’ll start with that.

Jack Nicholson
I’m an “old movie” guy, so I often think of classic movie stars for parts. But since Humphrey Bogart is at that great café in the sky I don’t think he’s the ideal actor for the lead right now. But there was a time when I would often either picture Bogart or Jack Nicholson for many of my leading male characters. When I’d write the characters I’d hear their voices in my head. Once, while working on a script with a producer he suggested Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer for the leads and who was I to argue with that, especially since he’d worked with them and it was a real possibility. Ultimately, that didn’t get made. But it was nice while it lasted.

So in my mind I might visualize Jack Nicholson or Humphrey Bogart delivering a line of dialog but I can't write that in my novel. I have to convey that feeling, the essence of that character without writing "now imagine Jack Nicholson saying this line." But it does help to have that visual image in my mind as I write dialogue  and description and describe the actions.

Now to my perfect casting:

Broken Windows is set mostly in Los Angeles in 1994, during the fight over California’s notorious anti-illegal alien Proposition 187—a precursor to the immigration fights going on in the country today. While the storm rages over Prop 187, a young woman climbs to the top of the famous Hollywood sign—and jumps to her death. An undocumented day laborer is murdered. And a disbarred and desperate lawyer in Venice Beach places an ad in a local paper that says: “Will Do Anything For Money.”—Private Investigator Duke Rogers, and his very unPC partner, Jack, must figure out what ties together these seemingly unrelated incidents.

Ryan Gosling
So, who would I cast in the main parts? Of course this changes as time slips by. My ideal casting for Jack would have been Nick Nolte in his prime. But these days, I’m thinking John Cena or maybe Michael Fassbinder or Christian Bale. And for Duke, Mark Wahlberg or Ryan Gosling. Maybe Jeremy Renner, as Duke’s not a big dude. For Eric, the disbarred lawyer, Amy suggested Robert Downey, Jr., and he would be perfect. Maybe a little older than the character, but those things often change from book to movie. Eric’s girlfriend, Lindsay, AnnaSophia Robb.

AnnaSophia Robb
For the mysterious Miguel, who responds to the lawyer’s ad to do anything for money, maybe Antonio Banderas. Possibly Edward James Olmos or Andy Garcia. And for Marisol, who sets the plot in motion when she asks Duke to investigate the murder of her brother, Catalina Sandino Moreno. For Myra Chandler (guess who that’s an homage to), an LAPD detective that Duke and Jack run into in both Broken Windows and White Heat, and who’s a bit more sympathetic to them than her partner, Haskell, I’m thinking Jennifer Aniston. Why not? It’s my fantasy. And for Susan Karubian, the woman who jumps from the Hollywood sign, I picture Mila Kunis, although I would hate to kill her off so early in the film….

Catalina Sandino Moreno

Jennifer Aniston

Jesse L. Martin
Ghosts of Bunker Hill series: A series of short stories that have appeared in Ellery Queen. Howard Hamm is the lead detective in this series of stories that take place in the Bunker Hill and Angelino Heights areas (as well as other neighborhoods) of L.A. Howard “inherits” a lovingly restored Bunker Hill Victorian that’s been moved to Angelino Heights when its owner and his best friend is murdered. He’s a modern, high tech guy who, initially lives in a high rise condo on Bunker Hill. In fact, maybe where his current house formerly lived before being moved. There’s only one person I ever thought of when writing this part: Jesse L. Martin of Law & Order fame. When I’m writing Howard, I’m thinking Jesse. There’s a female cop that Howard comes across on cases—and off—Detective Erin Bowen. I think Natalie Portman, with darker hair, would be perfect for her.




***

Casting is a strange thing and truly an art. If you’ve ever seen different actors in the same part you know what I mean. One person brings something that the other doesn’t. Sometimes it’s better and sometimes not. And sometimes it’s just that we’re used to someone in a part, so if someone else takes it over it’s not that they’re better or worse, just different. At the same time, a good or bad—or just the right—actor in a part can make all the difference for a character.

Who would you cast for your tales, and why?

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

Broken Windows releases on September 10th and is available for pre-order now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Down & Out Books.


Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com

08 May 2018

A White Hot "White Heat" Tour of L.A.


This week I want to talk about one of my favorite subjects. No, not me. Los Angeles. A lot of people have said L.A. is another character in my books. Author S.W. Lauden said of my one of my works, “I loved how the action bounced around Southern California, almost as if the region was one of the main characters.” I take this as a huge compliment. And, though I’ve written about L.A. one way or another before, sometimes you just feel called home.
Since my novel White Heat is being re-released this month by Down & Out Books (release date May 21, 2018 and Available now for pre-order on Amazon), I thought I’d talk about some of the locations in the book. I was born in L.A., my family goes back a ways, at least on my mom’s side, and L.A. infuses me and my work.

White Heat is about Duke Rogers, a P.I. who inadvertently causes the death of Teddie Matson, a young actress, by helping her stalker find her. He then tries to make things right by going after her killer. His search takes him to South Central L.A. right as the 1992 Rodney King verdict is announced and the riots are sparked.



Before the main action, Duke returns to his house and his dog Baron after being away. Baron is named after a dog my family had as a kid. He’s the larger dog in the pic. But he and Molly, the other dog, were a great team. He protected her. He protected all of us. And he had some great adventures.

I’d gone out of town for about a week on a case. My buddy Jack had collected the mail and taken care of my dog, Baron. I came home, greeted by Baron in his usual overzealous manner. There was a message from Lou on the answering machine. She didn’t say what she wanted and I couldn’t reach her. Everything else was in order. I went to the office, was sitting in my chair, listening to k.d. lang, catching up on a week’s worth of newspapers and taking my lunch break of gin-laced lemonade. I’d cut down on the alcohol. Cut down, not out. I could handle it in small doses. The article I was reading said that a verdict in the Rodney King beating case was expected any day now. But it was another headline that slammed me in the gut. 

Another photo. 

Made me want to vomit. 

Through force of will, I was able to control it. 

I crumpled the paper. 

Tossed it in the can. 

Kicked the can with such force that the metal sides caved in. 

Fucked up a case. 

Fucked it up real bad.


Duke’s house is a Spanish-Colonial built in the 1920s. Similar to the house I grew up in, though based more on a friend’s house.

I pulled up to the house, a Spanish-Colonial built in the twenties. The driveway ran alongside the house back to the garage, which like a lot of people in L.A. I never used as a garage, even though I had a classic Firebird. The stucco was beige, though it might have been lighter at one time. A small courtyard in front was fenced off from the street with a wooden gate. At the back of the courtyard was the front door. I pulled about halfway down the driveway to where the back door was, parked. Baron, my tan and black German Shepherd was waiting for me with a green tennis ball in his mouth. We played catch. He loved running after tennis balls. Seeing him, playing with him, gave me a feeling of normalcy again. Made me forget about things for just a moment. After half an hour it was time to cool off.


I have to include El Coyote, a Mexican restaurant near Duke’s house. A real place that I’ve been going to since I was about three years old. And that my mom was going to well before that. People either love or hate this place. My wife Amy had to pass three superficial tests before we could get married: Not smoke, like the Beatles and like El Coyote. She’d never been there, so I took her and she passed the test. And, as they say, the rest is history. In White Heat Duke meets a friend of his there, Lou. She works at the DMV and got him the info that sets the story in motion…and inadvertently gets Teddie Matson killed.

The lobby was crowded. Lou’s strawberry hair glinted in the lights, accenting a still-perfect complexion. Her Anne Taylor dress highlighted her figure, flaring at the waist. Stunning, as usual. 

She knew. Her eyes said it. The corners of her mouth said it. And her weak handshake instead of a hug said it. She knew. 

El Coyote was an old restaurant from the old neighborhood, a few blocks west of La Brea on Beverly Boulevard. It attracted an eclectic clientele. Tonight was no different. Teens in hip-hop drag mixed with elderly couples and homosexual couples and young hetero couples on dates. All inside a restaurant that had been here since before the war—the Big War. Lou particularly liked the decor, paintings made out of seashells. “Interesting,” she always said, as if that was enough. And she loved the food. So did I. But I knew a lot of people who didn’t. You either loved it or hated it, there was no in between. That’s the kind of place it was. I liked their margaritas. They weren’t those slushy crushed ice new-fangled things you find in most restaurants. They were just tequila, triple sec, lime juice and salt around the rim. Damn good. 

“Interesting,” Lou said looking at a shell painting, after we were seated. I nodded. There was an awkward feeling between us, a gulf of turbulent air that we were trying to negotiate. There was nothing for me to say in response. This wasn’t a social call. She leaned forward, talking quietly. “You know why I wanted to have dinner, don’t you?” 

I nodded. 

“I didn’t want to leave any specifics on the answering machine or call a bunch of times.” 

“In case the cops were on us already.” 

She nodded. “I shouldn’t have run it for you. I didn’t know who Teddie Matson was. I don’t watch television, especially sitcoms. How was I to know you were asking me to look up a TV star?”


Teddie’s Fairfax area duplex. Teddie lived in a four-plex in the Fairfax area. Her character is inspired by Rebecca Schaefer and what happened to her. And Ms. Schaeffer lived in this neighborhood.

The light was mellow, soft. It grazed across the row of Spanish-style stucco duplexes and apartments, reflected off leaded picture windows and prismed onto the street. Each had a driveway to one side or the other. Gardeners worked the neatly manicured greenery of every other building. It was a nice old neighborhood in the Fairfax district, one of the better parts of town. My old stomping grounds. 

The same time of day Teddie Matson had been murdered. I planned it that way, hoping the same people would be around that might have been around that day. 

I walked up the street, my eyes darting back and forth, up and down, aware of everything around me—radar eyes—looking at the addresses on the buildings. The number was emblazoned in my brain. I could see it before my eyes, but it was only a phantom. I passed a gardener at 627, coming to a halt at 625. I stared at the building. 

A typical stucco fourplex from the ’20s. Even though I hadn’t been inside yet I knew the layout—I’d seen enough of them. Two units upstairs, two down. A main front door that would lead to a small, probably tiled hall, with an apartment on either side and a stairway heading to the two upstairs apartments. I walked up the tiled walk, stuck my hands through the remnants of yellow crime scene tape, tried to open the front door. Locked. I rang the bell. No response. I felt as if I was being watched. Still no one answered the buzzer. 


Florence and Normandie in South Central. Or what previously was called South Central but today is just called South L.A. You might recall Florence and Normandie as the riot’s flashpoint and the corner where Reginald Denny was pulled from his truck and beaten. In White Heat, Duke, finds himself in South Central the day the riots explode. He hooks up with a local named Tiny and they try to get to safety together.

Tiny and I bolted from the doorway and ran down the street, ducking for cover by low walls, doorways, shrubs all along the way. We weren’t out to party. We were on a mission. He was taking me to Warren, to Teddie’s family.

We came to Florence and Normandie. Half a block away the cops were regrouping. Or retreating. Or hiding out. It was hard to tell. There was a swarm of them, but they weren’t doing much of anything.


The family of murder victim Teddie Matson lives in a craftsman house in South Central. Craftsman houses dot various parts of L.A. Duke and Tiny make their way through the wreckage to Teddie’s family’s house.

An explosion in the distance. A plume of smoke hit the sky. 

“They don’t realize that they’re only wrecking their own backyard. One of the first things my daddy taught me was never to piss in the wind and don’t shit in your own backyard. Problem is, too many of ’em just don’t have daddies,” Tiny said wistfully. He stopped, turned up a walk. “Here we are, Teddie’s family’s house.” 
Craftsman (Victoria Park) By Los Angeles [CC BY-SA 3.0
(https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
 or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)],
from Wikimedia Commons

The house was a Craftsman bungalow. It had a low-pitched roof, a stone fireplace that was also seen from the outside, exposed struts and a wide porch. It wasn’t big. It wasn’t small either. Comfortable might have been the word. It looked almost rural with its magnolia trees, shrubs and wood and stone exterior. Looked like a nice place to grow up. In fact, the whole street was clean and well-tended except for the graffiti and broken glass. I assumed the broken glass was from that day. I hoped it was.


In a B story/subplot, a woman comes to Duke for help with a stalker, Dr. Craylock. Craylock’s house is in Rancho Park, on Tennessee, a block west of the Twentieth Century-Fox studios (in West. L.A.)—Well, they say ‘write what you know’. And I knew this neighborhood well. I was living here when I met Amy, about a half block west of Fox. And the funny—or ironic thing is—I lived walking distance to the studio and, at that time, it was the studio I went to the least. The one I went to most was Warner Brothers, way across town out in Burbank—the farthest from my house.

Craylock’s house was in Rancho Park, on Tennessee, a block west of the Twentieth Century-Fox studios. It was an expensive one-story Spanish job, not unlike my own house. A new jet black BMW sat in the driveway. Pickup car, I thought. She hadn’t mentioned what he did for a living; it must have been something where he could charge people more than he was worth. A doctor. Plumber maybe. 

The riots hadn’t stretched this far west, yet. It was a good neighborhood, if there was still such a thing in L.A. I used to live only a couple blocks from Craylock’s before I moved back into my folks’ house. The first street north of Pico. The Olympic marathon runners had run down Pico just across the alley behind my apartment. I watched from my breakfast area window. It was a different L.A. then. It wasn’t that long ago.


La Revolución. Duke visits a bar on Whittier Boulevard in East L.A., where some pretty rough types hang. He’s looking for one guy in particular, a banger called Ramon, who might be able to put him on the trail of Teddie’s killer.

La Revolución was a dingy place on the outside. Looked like an old industrial building, small machine shop or something. The bottom half of the stucco wall was painted a dark, though chipping, forest green. Top half was white, or used to be. Grime and dirt crept all the way up to the roof. Made you wonder how it got that high. A handful of men stood outside talking, playing dice and drinking. We parked a few doors down. Jack dumped the contents of the kit bag on the floor, swept them under the seat, all except for his credit card, driver’s license holder and the .45, of course, which he put back in the kit and stuck under his arm. We walked back to the entrance. Several pairs of intense brown eyes followed us up the sidewalk.


Duke also finds himself in MacArthur Park, formerly Westlake Park, but renamed for General Douglas MacArthur after World War II. It’s here that he finally hooks up with Ramon. My grandparents used to take me there for picnics. They’d rent a boat and we’d glide along the water. When Amy first moved to L.A. she had a job interview downtown. She’d bought some food and decided to eat at MacArthur Park as it looked nice from the street. But it had changed a lot since my grandparents took me there. It was a needle park, filled with drug pushers and gang bangers. Luckily she made it out safely. And scenes from Too Late for Tears, one of my favorite film noirs, were filmed here.
MacArthur Park (formerly Westlake Park)

MacArthur Park is midway between Hancock Park, not a park but an upper class neighborhood, and downtown L.A., a neighborhood in search of an identity. When I was a boy, my grandparents used to take me to the park. We’d rent rowboats and paddle through the lake, tossing bread crumbs to the birds. The park is a different place today. You can still rent paddle boats—if you want to paddle across the lake while talking to your dealer. Sometimes on Saturdays or Sundays immigrant families still try to use it as a park. Most of the time, it’s a haven for pushers, crack addicts, hookers and worse. Even the police don’t like treading there. If they were scared, who was I to play Rambo? 


The rental car slid easily into a parking place on Alvarado. Click—locked. Of course that wouldn’t keep out anyone who wanted to get in. The Firestar was in my belt, under a loose fitting Hawaiian shirt that was left untucked. Wet grass sucked under my feet. As long as it didn’t suck me under I was okay. 

“Meet me by the statue of el general,” Ramon had said. The statue of General Douglas MacArthur is in the northwestern corner of the park where there was, naturally, no place to park. Cutting through the park was not a good idea. I walked along Wilshire Boulevard, past garbage and litter and clusters of men, teens really. Some young men in their early twenties, in white tank top undershirts and baggy pants, charcoal hair slicked back off their foreheads. One man danced a nervous jig by himself in a corner of the pavilion building. Crack dancing. 

No one approached me to buy or sell drugs. Probably thought I was a narc. Maybe saw the silhouette of the Star. MacArthur had seen better days, both the park and the statue. Graffiti camouflaged the general’s stern visage. No one there cared who he was or why there was a park named after him. 

No Ramon. 

I stood on the corner. Waiting. Trying to look nonchalant. A black-and-white cruised slowly by. Mirrored eyes scrutinizing. What’s the white man doing there? Is he buying drugs? Do they see the gun? Were they calling for backup? Fingering their triggers? Seconds passed like hours. The car drove by. Gone. I felt lucky. Luckier than I had walking the length of the park without getting mugged. 

“Amigo.” 

“Ramon.” 

He stood behind the statue, signaling me to join him. 

“We finally connect, uh, man?” 


Griffith Park Observatory. Duke finds himself on the trail of the killer, the Weasel, heading up the winding roads of Griffith Park.
Griffith Observatory By Dax Castro
 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

At Sunset he turned right, heading for Hollywood. Where were the damn cops now? Nowhere in sight. We dodged in and out of traffic to Western where he headed north, up into the Hollywood Hills and Griffith Park. I didn’t know if he knew where he was going, but heading up the winding roads of the park wouldn’t get him anywhere, except maybe to the Observatory. 


He couldn’t know where he was going. I think he was trying to hit the freeway and took a wrong turn. We chased up the backroads of the park, past the boy toys sunning themselves on the hoods of their cars, waiting for another boy toy to pick them up. 

Finally, we turned into the Observatory parking lot. He headed around one side of the circular driveway. I cut the other way, heading toward him, hoping we’d meet at some point. If not, he just might get all the way around and take the other road down. 

I gunned it around the circle. He was coming for me. A school bus was unloading children near the entrance to the building. I stopped, not wanting to hit any kids. The Weasel kept coming from the other side. Shit—I hoped he wouldn’t hit anyone. A teacher saw us coming and hurried the kids out of the way. 
Fight scene from Rebel Without A Cause
 filmed at the Griffith Observatory

He came flying around the circle in one direction. 

Me in the other. 

Engines gunning. 

His old Monte Carlo with the big V8. 

Me in my little Toyota rental. 

A hair’s breadth before we passed, I cut in front of him. He played chicken and ditched onto the sidewalk. He thought he could go around me.

***

So these are some of Duke’s adventures in La La Land. Duke (and I) love exploring all the different neighborhoods of Los Angeles. And I like doing that in my writing. Duke’s journey also hits other areas of L.A. and even takes him up to Reno, Nevada and down to Calexico on the Mexican-American border. Duke and I explore more of L.A. in the sequel to White Heat, Broken Windows, coming in September.

###

My Shamus-winning novel, White Heat, is being reissued in May by Down & Out Books. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon.  Release date is May 21, 2018:



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com

31 October 2017

Ghostbusters in La La Land


Do you believe in ghosts?

It’s Halloween, so I was trying to think of an appropriate post for such an auspicious day. And I think I finally hit on something. But first, I thought about doing Halloween movies, you know like Halloween, Halloween 2, Halloween 3, Halloween 2077. Or The Exorcist. Or _________, well you fill in the blank. But it just didn’t hit me. What did hit me was a brief Magical Mystery Tour of a few of LA’s haunted places. As writers, we might sometimes use the supernatural in our stories, but do we really believe? Maybe, maybe not. So let’s check out some “real life” ghost sightings.

But before we really get started on the tour, how ’bout a little mood music, Sleeping With a Vampyre, from Brigitte Handley and the Dark Shadows:


So now, as Jackie Gleason (I’m sure he’s haunting someone, somewhere) used to say, “And away we go”:


~The Biltmore Hotel (506 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles) is the epitome of elegance. On the
outside it’s a mash of styles, but inside it looks like some minor principality’s grand palace, filled with marble fountains, frescos and other lavish appointments. Oh, and maybe a ghost or two.

The 1960 Democratic National Convention that nominated the alphabet team of JFK and LBJ was held there. Many of the early Oscar ceremonies were also held there. And there’s been sightings of various ghosts. The most famous is probably Elizabeth Short, though you might know her better as the Black Dahlia. Some people claim that the last place she was seen alive was at the Biltmore and that her ghost returns often to the lobby. Boo!

Millennium Biltmore Hotel-10371203123
The Biltmore Hotel lobby
photo by Prayitno via Wikimedia Commons
In my story, Ghosts of Bunker Hill (Ellery Queen, Dec., 2016), I talk a little about the Biltmore:

I felt Bandini at my side as I stared across at the Biltmore Hotel. No, I’m not crazy. I’m not saying I saw a ghost. Just a feeling. Then, something flitted by on the edge of my peripheral vision. Across the street in the Biltmore: JFK sipping champagne cocktails at his inauguration party. Swells drinking bathtub gin in the Gold Room, a sort of speakeasy for the upper crust during Prohibition, hidden in the depths of the Biltmore. Oscar ceremonies and celebs. Mae West and Carmen Miranda partying. Ghosts of the past. Now I wasn’t sure what was real and what wasn’t.


~The Comedy Store (8433 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA) on the Sunset Strip used to be Ciro’s nightclub. The famous, or infamous, Strip is in an unincorporated area of LA County. Because of that it’s patrolled by the Sheriffs, not the LAPD. And because of that enforcement of certain laws there, like gambling and prostitution, wasn’t quite what should have been, shall we say, at least in the past. That, of course, brought in a “certain element,” the head honcho of which was Mickey Cohen, LA’s mob boss, along with his pal Bugsy Siegel.
Ciro's Nightclub

Ciro’s was a hip place in the 40s and 50s, affiliated with the mob and even more pointedly a mob hang. There were peepholes in the walls of the main rooms so mobsters could watch the comings and goings. And the basement was more like a medieval dungeon—like they say in LA Confidential of the Victory Motel, lots of bad things happened in the basement at Ciro’s. Killings. A torture room. So you better have paid your gambling debts and not bothered the show girls.

Today, the basement is said to have a very oppressive atmosphere—I guess it’s all those tortured souls trying to escape and find some peace. Some employees refuse to go there, especially after one saw an evil being. Some people think it was a malevolent ghost, but it might just have been Harvey Weinstein.

Comedy Club employees also claim to hear voices and cries of anguish coming from the basement. Some claim to have seen Mickey’s enforcer, Gus, watching the crowds during performances, so you better damn well be funny.


~Hollywood Forever Cemetery (6000 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood, CA), the cemetery to the stars. If you ever wanted to attend an A List party, check this place out. Everyone’s here, from Valentino (he who needs no first name) to Tyrone Power, Hattie McDaniel and Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone (well, one of them in spirit only, there’s a statue of Johnny but his wife kept his ashes). And let’s not forget that Bugsy guy—he’s here. As is Ann Savage, star of the great B noir Detour. I’m not sure who’s more savage him or her, at least her character in that flick.
Dee Dee Ramone's grave

People have reportedly seen Valentino’s ghost strolling along the paths. But there was definitely a ghostly woman who dressed all in black—the Lady in Black—who brought flowers to his resting place for years and years on the anniversary of his death because he had told her at one time that he didn’t want to be alone.

And Clifton Webb, who when I think about it would indeed make a good ghost, is also said to haunt the place. He played Mr. Belvedere. Also Waldo Lydecker in Laura and Hardy Cathcart in The Dark Corner, so his noir bona fides are in place (Belvedere notwithstanding). It’s said that his spirit haunts the Abbey of the Psalms mausoleum with drafts of cold air, scents of his cologne and whispered voices from people who aren’t there. It’s especially spooky if you can’t stand the scent of his cologne.

Virginia Rappe, the young woman that Fatty Arbuckle is supposed to have raped at a wild party, and who died shortly after, is also resting here. Well, maybe not quite resting. An icy coldness is said to surround her grave, even on hot days. The sound of crying can also be heard.

With all the well-known people here, I’m sure these aren’t the only folks haunting this place.
And it just so happens I wrote about Hollywood Forever in my story Continental Tilt (Murder in La La Land anthology):

In the heart of Los Angeles, in the heart of Hollywood, a vampire movie played on a humongous silver screen. This wasn’t your usual movie venue, but the crowd of seven hundred loved it. Spread out on beach chairs and blankets, with bottles of wine and beer, Boba tea, doing wheatgrass shooters and eating catered Mexasian sushi, fusion food for the Millennial-iPod generation.


Did I forget to mention that the movie theatre was the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in the heart of Hollyweird? That over the summer they show movies on the mausoleum wall, while people sit on their beach chairs and blankets—Beach Blanket Bloodshed—and munch their munchies amongst the graves of movie stars, rock stars and even mere mortals? The back wall of the cemetery, clearly visible from the field of graves the watchers watched the movies from, was appropriately the back wall of Paramount Studios.

Ghosts of a million stars haunted this place, from Tyrone Power and Rudolph Valentino to Fay Wray and Bugsy Siegel—a star in his own right. From Dee Dee and Johnny Ramone to Hattie McDaniel and Iron Eyes Cody to Mel Blanc, the Man of a Thousand Voices—Bugs and Porky, Daffy and Tweety and 996 more—whose tombstone simply read “That’s all folks!”





~The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA) is a famous haunt, excuse the expression, of the rich and famous. The Roosevelt debuted in 1927, right on Hollywood Boulevard, sometime after the No Dogs, No Actors people moved out of the area, no doubt. The Roosevelt held the very first Oscars, well before the TV era, so they were actually about a nod to movies and the people who made them, instead of one gigantic commercial. And, as such, the hotel was home to many stars.
The Roosevelt Hotel
by Bohao Zhao via Wikimedia Commons

Two of the most famous ghosts are Montgomery Clift and Marilyn Monroe, you might have heard of her. Maybe him too.

People say Marilyn haunts room 1200, her old room. They see her in the mirror. They see her in the halls and the lobby. People claimed to see her in the room’s mirror long after her passing. So the mirror was moved to the lobby—but people persisted in claiming to see her. Eventually it was moved to storage, but her ghost still haunts the hotel.

And Clift is said to haunt room 928, patting guests on the shoulders (hmm, I wonder if Harvey Weinstein stayed in this room too. Sorry.) Carole Lombard, one of my faves, floats around the upper floors. I wonder what she’s looking for. Maybe I should head over there and ask her.

There’s also been some non-famous ghosts seen hanging around, but who wants to hang with them?


~The Cecil Hotel (640 S. Main Street, Los Angeles). Saving the best for last, or maybe the worst. This one’s so bad there’s a whole TV series devoted to it now.
The Cecil Hotel
By ZhengZhou (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

The Cecil—I’ve always wondered who exactly Cecil was—was born in 1927, clearly a good year to start a hotel. With its opulent art deco lobby it was a place for business people to stop when in L.A. But the Depression did the hotel in and it never fully recovered. After that its 700 rooms became more of a place for transients and worse. And I do mean worse.

The Cecil’s best known resident is a chap named Richard Ramirez. You might know him better as the Night Stalker, a serial killer who terrorized the LA/SoCal area in the 1980s. His weapons of choice included everything from guns and knives, to hammers, a tire iron and a machete. A Satanist, he never showed any remorse for his crimes.

Richie made room 1402 his home, where he slept by day, so he could do his thing at night. People said they’d see him coming through the lobby of the Cecil in bloody clothes, which he’d dispose of in their dumpsters. But nobody thought much of it at the time… That’s the kind of laid-back place the Cecil was.

But don’t fret for Richie. Once caught and incarcerated, he had plenty of fans writing him letters, even love letters. Seventy-five letters from Doreen Lioy must have made his heart warm ’cause he proposed and they were married in San Quentin Prison in 1996. (I hope he’s haunting her now.)
A few years after Ramirez was disposed of (he died of cancer in jail), another young man checked into room 1402. Jack Unterweger was an Austrian journalist, who did ride-alongs with the LAPD. That was as good a way as any to scope out his potential targets—he, too, was a serial killer. He wanted to emulate his hero, Richie, which is why he specifically asked for room 1402. Jackie was eventually caught and imprisoned. He hanged himself while in prison. I hope he’s enjoying being united with Ramirez. And I hope both are a little hot these days. John Malkovich portrayed him in stage show called Seduction and Despair. I haven’t seen it, but I’m not despairing about that.

More recently a young tourist from Canada, Elisa Lam, came to LA for a jaunt. She decided to stay at the Cecil, though I can’t fathom why. And soon went missing. Nobody knew what happened to her until one day some other tourists found brown, foul tasting water coming from their sink. To make a long story short, Elisa’s body was found in water tanks on the hotel’s roof and, though her death was ruled an accidental death due to drowning, there’s plenty of people who dispute that. And I’m sure the walls running with blood in The Shining have nothing on the black, foul-smelling bloody water in the infamous Cecil. And that’s for real, not a movie.

These are probably the most well-known people and things that went on there, but the hotel’s history is filled with grisly incidents and stories of ghosts haunting every floor and every room. Today the hotel has been remodeled and rebranded as Stay on Main, a sort of boutique-y hotel, so go ahead and stay there. Ask for room 1402 and enjoy your visit. If you’re lucky you’ll get to go home.
Amazingly enough, I happened to write about the Cecil in my novella, Vortex:

In the bright light of the full moon, the Cecil Hotel cast a sharp shadow across Main Street in downtown L.A., slicing the sidewalk like a double-edged knife. I don’t believe in omens, but if I did, this was not a good one. Some people say the Cecil is haunted, prowled by ghosts. It started life as a way station for business travelers in 1927. Since then it’s been through many changes, from budget hotel to SRO and the residence of serial killer Richard Ramirez, the Nightstalker. A paramedic was stabbed inside the hotel a couple of years ago and a young Canadian woman staying there went missing. When the water started tasting bad and dribbling, instead of flowing, out of the faucets, someone decided to see what was wrong. They found her body in a water tank on the roof of the building. Yeah, the Cecil was a class act.

The Cecil was the end-of-the-line hotel—suicide central, with people jumping off its upper floors every other day, or so it seemed at one time. Since it was the end-of-the-line hotel of last resort somehow it seemed to be the perfect place for what I was sure was coming.



~I was also going to talk about the Sharon Tate/Roman Polański house on Cielo (10050 Cielo Drive), where members of Charles Manson’s “family” murdered several people, but Fran Rizer (http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2017/10/not-named.html) beat me to it a week or two ago. So briefly, I used to take people there to see it before it was torn down. For some reason everybody wanted to see that place. I went there many times and never saw a ghost, but who knows…


Marilyn Monroe
Published by Corpus Christi Caller-Times-
photo from Associated Press via Wikimedia Commons
~And last but not least, places haunted by Marilyn Monroe. From what I can tell, she’s just about
everywhere in L.A. Her best-known haunt is probably the Roosevelt (see above), but she’s also known to haunt several other places. There’s been tons of sightings of Norma Jeane at the Roosevelt, everywhere from her former room, to the lobby and even in the Cinegrill restaurant. But the Roosevelt isn’t the only hotel that Marilyn’s ghost hangs out. The Knickerbocker Hotel (1714 Ivar Ave., Hollywood) is another place Marilyn used to hang. She and husband Joltin’ Joe liked to hang at the hotel bar. Her spirit is often seen staring at herself in the vanity of the powder room. And magician Harry Houdini’s widow held séances there for several years, hoping to hear from her departed husband.  William Frawley of I Love Lucy, My Three Sons, and many, many movies, fame lived there for many years. Might be a good place to go for a swell scare.

Marilyn Monroe's crypt
photo by Arthur Dark (Own work)
via Wikimedia Commons



~Marilyn’s home (12305 5th Helena Drive, Brentwood, CA) is where her body was discovered after she took an overdose of pills. The house is still there and her ghost has been spotted many times over the years. And her grave, not too far from there, at Westwood Memorial Park (1218 Glendon Ave., Los Angeles, CA) is also where many sightings of her spirit have “materialized.” The Beverly Hilton Hotel (9876 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA) just east of Westwood (I like saying that: ‘east of Westwood’) is supposedly where Marilyn and Bobby Kennedy were thought to have been seen the very night of her suicide. And her ghost is supposedly haunting the suites there to this day. Boy, that’s one ghost that gets around.

So there you are—some of LA’s most famous haunted places. And this is just the tip of the haunted LA iceberg. C’mon to our fair town and get your haunt on. Maybe you’ll see Marilyn’s and JFK’s ghosts cavorting at the Biltmore or hear the howls of pain coming from the Comedy Store’s basement.
~~~~~

And for a little extra credit check out Janet Rudolph’s list of Halloween mysteries at:
http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2017/10/halloween-crime-fiction-halloween.html More Halloween mysteries than you can imagine.

And another bonus, the witch’s house in Beverly Hills:

The Spadena House aka "The Witch's House"
photo by Lori Branham



So, do you believe in ghosts now? And what ghosts haunt your fair city?

Mel Blanc's tombstone
Photo by Robert A. Estremo via Wikimedia Commons

That's All Folks!

***

And now for the usual BSP:

Please check out the interview Laura Brennan, writer, producer and consultant, did with me for her podcast, where we talk about everything from Raymond Chandler and John Fante to the time I pulled a gun on the LAPD and lived to tell about it. Find it here: http://destinationmystery.com/episode-52-paul-d-marks/


20 December 2016

Remembering Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill in Books and Movies


When Raymond Chandler talked about a man neither tarnished nor afraid navigating the mean streets, I have no doubt he was talking about that man walking the streets of Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill neighborhood.
For my first SleuthSayers post on February 24, 2015, I wrote a column called Adventures in La La Land (http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/02/adventures-in-la-la-land.html), where I talked about Los Angeles, how it influences my writing and memories of growing up here. One area that I didn’t mention then was Bunker Hill. That is Bunker Hill, Los Angeles, not that “other” one on the East Coast.

And since my story Ghosts of Bunker Hill appears in the December, 2016 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (though I think it’s only available on newsstands until today, the 20th) I thought I’d take this opportunity to rectify that, especially as Bunker Hill has influenced both that story and my writing in general.



If you’ve been to the Music Center in downtown L.A. you’ve “been” to Bunker Hill. If you’re into film noir, you’ve “been” to Bunker Hill. Many times. Numerous film noirs—as well as movies in other genres—were shot there: Criss Cross, Cry Danger, Kiss Me Deadly, Joseph Losey’s M, The Brasher Doubloon, Backfire, the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born, The Glenn Miller Story and Angel’s Flight, an interesting, gritty, ultra low-budget noir. And L.A.’s Bunker Hill has stood in for many other cities as well.

Bunker Hill in transition
Bunker Hill was L.A.’s first wealthy residential neighborhood, right near downtown. It was filled with glorious Victorian mansions, as well as offices, storefronts, hotels, etc. After WWI the swells moved west and the neighborhood got run down and became housing for poor people. It wasn’t shiny enough for the Powers That Be, who wanted to build up and refurbish downtown. Out with the old, the poor, the lonely, in with the new, the young, the hip. The wealthy.

By the time Raymond Chandler, who had lived there a couple of different times in his life, was writing about it he was calling it “shabby town”. In The High Window (1942), he said:

Bunker Hill is old town, lost town, shabby town, crook town. Once, very long ago, it was the choice residential district of the city, and there are still standing a few of the jigsaw Gothic mansions with wide porches and walls covered with round-end shingles and full corner bay windows with spindle turrets. They are all rooming houses now, their parquetry floors are scratched and worn through the once glossy finish and the wide sweeping staircases are dark with time and with cheap varnish laid on over generations of dirt. In the tall rooms haggard landladies bicker with shifty tenants. On the wide cool front porches, reaching their cracked shoes into the sun, and staring at nothing, sit the old men with faces like lost battles.
―Raymond Chandler, The High Window

Bunker Hill is also where John Fante (and his character Arturo Bandini) lived when he first moved to Los Angeles from Colorado. The struggling writer wrote about that experience:

One night I was sitting on the bed in my hotel room on Bunker Hill, down in the middle of Los Angeles. It was an important night in my life, because I had to make a decision about the hotel. Either I paid up or I got out: that was what the note said, the note the landlady had put under my door. A great problem, deserving acute attention. I solved it by turning out the lights and going to bed.
―John Fante, Ask the Dust

Angels Flight photo by Rarmin
And Bunker Hill is where the famous Angels Flight funicular railway is/was. As a kid, I got to ride the original Angels Flight, which was a thrill then and still is in memory. I guess Bandini preferred to walk alongside it instead of riding in the little cars:

I took the steps down Angel’s Flight to Hill Street: a hundred and forty steps, with tight fists, frightened of no man, but scared of the Third Street Tunnel, scared to walk through it—claustrophobia. Scared of high places too, and of blood, and of earthquakes; otherwise, quite fearless, excepting death, except the fear I’ll scream in a crowd, except the fear of appendicitis, except the fear of heart trouble, even that, sitting in his room holding the clock and pressing his jugular vein, counting out his heartbeats, listening to the weird purr and whirr of his stomach. Otherwise, quite fearless.
―John Fante, Ask the Dust

Angels Flight was later moved up the street and a “new and improved” Angels Flight was put in, but it closed not too long after it opened. So it might have been new, definitely not improved. And it makes me think of the old saw about how they don’t make ’em like they used to. I talk more about it in the Adventures in La La Land post and in Ghosts of Bunker Hill:

I stood at the bottom of the hill, staring up at Angels Flight, the famous little funicular railway in the Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles, that brought people from Hill Street up to Olive. I desperately wanted to ride those rails up to the top. But now the two twin orange and black cars were permanently moored in the middle, suspended in mid-air, ghosts from another time.
―Paul D. Marks, Ghosts of Bunker Hill


***

Fante also described Bunker Hill like this:

The old folk from Indiana and Iowa and Illinois, from Boston and Kansas City and Des Moines, they sold their homes and their stores, and they came here by train and by automobile to the land of sunshine, to die in the sun, with just enough money to live until the sun killed them, tore themselves out by the roots in their last days, deserted the smug prosperity of Kansas City and Chicago and Peoria to find a place in the sun. And when they got here they found that other and greater thieves had already taken possession, that even the sun belonged to the others; Smith and Jones and Parker, druggist, banker, baker, dust of Chicago and Cincinnati and Cleveland on their shoes, doomed to die in the sun, a few dollars in the bank, enough to subscribe to the Los Angeles Times, enough to keep alive the illusion that this was paradise, that their little papier-mâché homes were castles.
― John Fante, Ask the Dust

It was a tough life in the tough part of a tough city for the young writer and his alter ego:

Down on Spring Street, in a bar across the street from the secondhand store. With my last nickel I went there for a cup of coffee. an old style place, sawdust on the floor, crudely drawn nudes smeared across the walls. It was a saloon where old men gathered, where the beer was cheap and smelled sour, where the past remained unaltered.
― John Fante, Ask the Dust

In the late 1950s and 60’s, the Powers That Be decided they wanted to get rid of the “blight” and modernize downtown. To that end, they began a massive redevelopment of the area, including leveling or flattening some of the hills, changing street configurations, removing and demolishing houses and other buildings. So by the late 1960s/early ’70s it was all torn down and redeveloped and progress was achieved.

In Ask the Dust, Fante said, “I crossed Hill Street and breathed easier when I entered Pershing Square. No tall buildings in the square.”

Bunker Hill today, photo by Lan56
Today’s Bunker Hill would be unrecognizable to Bandini. But maybe not completely to Fante, who lived till 1983, though he was dealing with serious complications from diabetes so he may not have seen what it became. As the narrator in Ghosts of Bunker Hill says,

Bandini had said there were no tall buildings in the Square. He should see it today. Steel and glass spikes sprout from every available space. And when nothing’s available the wrecking ball makes a new empty lot. Much of the park greens have been cemented over, with little pinpricks of green here and there, like a garnish on the side of your plate.
―Paul D. Marks, Ghosts of Bunker Hill

***

I may have a somewhat romanticized view of Bunker Hill. We do tend to romanticize the past, don’t we? I’m sure it was a hardscrabble and even dangerous life for the people who lived there after the swells moved out and it became “shabby town”. But with its gingerbread elegance and the “secret passages” of Clay Street (which no longer exists), with the winding roads going up and down and the hills, I have to say that I love the old Bunker Hill. And I’m glad so much of it is preserved in movies and writing.

Newel Post "borrowed" from Bunker Hill
I also feel very lucky that I could explore it with a friend before it was totally razed. We did our own little archaeological expedition of several of the houses and I even "borrowed" the top of a newel post from the long and winding interior stairway in one of those houses (see pic). A true relic of L.A.’s past, it’s a prized possession.

Los Angeles isn’t known for venerating and preserving its past. Everything here is new or wants to be. People come here to start over and every few years the city tries for a rebirth. But parts of Bunker Hill were preserved. Some of the old Victorian houses were moved to Carroll Avenue near the Echo Park section of L.A.. The characters in Ghosts of Bunker Hill live in a restored Victorian on Carroll Avenue and appreciate what they have:

Every time I walked those creaky wooden floors, I felt the presence of the past. The people who’d lived there. Not ghosts, but history, something Los Angeles often doesn’t appreciate. Carroll Avenue was close to downtown, where I worked. But the whole short street looked like something out of early 1900s L.A. I loved everything about it. 
―Paul D. Marks, Ghosts of Bunker Hill


Haskins house on Carroll Avenue, Photo by Laëtitia Zysberg

So I hope you’ll give Ghosts of Bunker Hill a shot and if you like it the sequel, Bunker Hill Blues, will be in a future issue of EQMM.

###