by Paul R. Spitzzeri
A previous post here featured an issue of Manuel Spagnola’s Deep Sand Bulletin from January 1929, noting that the Whittier publisher focused heavily on the oil industry, which, particularly in nearby Santa Fe Springs, was especially active during the decade in our region. The issue and other editions, including the one for this post, were owned by Ida Eagle, a Quaker City resident who was the beneficiary of a small fortune from oil wells she owned at Santa Fe Springs.
By summer of that year, however, Spagnola decided to relegate the Deep Sand Bulletin title and emphasis on petroleum to a less prominent place, while elevating local and broader news, as well as general-interest editorials, and making the Whittier Californian the larger part of the title. Clearly, he was seeking ways to increase readership, especially subscriptions and that most important financial component to any paper, advertising, with a broader base of material for his publication.
So, whereas that earlier version of the paper had headlines focused on the oil industry, the one for the restructured edition of 1 August was about the opening of the new McNees Theatre Building. This unusually-shaped structure, designed by local architect David S. Bushnell, included the auditorium at the rear, but not centered; instead it was oriented to the left as someone faced the building. Two front-facing wings, one much larger than the other and at an odd angle because of the property’s orientation, were on either side of a courtyard that led to the theater included retail space, including the new McNees Market, while a distinctive lighthouse-like tower rose at the center.
The 1,016-seat venue was long known as the Whittier Theatre lasted almost six decades, but the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake, which caused substantial damage in the Quaker (now there’s a pun for you) City, brought down large parts of the building inside and out and it was razed three years later. Today, the site includes a Walgreen’s drug store and, as per usual, the Los Angeles Theatres blog has some great information and, especially, photos and drawings of the facility.
The paper’s coverage included a preface that the premiere, held on 21 July, “was a brilliant achievement in the history of the amusement life of this city and surrounding communities” and was “a symbol of the growth of Whittier and reflects the progressive vision of this new section of the city which is destined to be one of the chief business sections on the East Side.” The term “East Side” was taken to involve areas from the Los Angeles east to Whittier.
It was also noted that the “Spanish patio” motif was complemented by “the very latest in theatre construction,” including the claim that the McNees “is said to be the first in the southland to be designed in strict accordance to sound requirements,” specifically the Vitaphone system for talking pictures. Speeches were made by the head of the chamber of commerce, while the mayors of Whittier, Montebello and La Habra were present and Oscar Kanter of Paramount-Famous Players-Lasky served as the master of ceremonies and told the crowd this was the 189th time he had done so for a new theater.
Kanter read telegrams from such major film stars as Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Vilma “Blankey,” that is, Banky, while Monte Blue, a Warner Brothers star for the feature attraction, From Headquarters; “Ethyne Claire,” that is, Ethlyne Clair, a WAMPAS Baby Star of 1929; and David “Durant,” that is, Durand (are we getting the idea that some stronger editorial work was needed for the paper?), who just celebrated his ninth birthday appeared in person. Besides the feature, there were four live vaudeville acts on the bill, as well.
Speaking of the “East Side,” the East Side Organization informed the paper that there were plenty of new projects of note, especially relating to road improvements, including the southward extensions of Atlantic and Garfield avenues south through Monterey Park and into Bell, Maywood, and South Gate and the continued work on Telegraph Road and San Gabriel Boulevard to Telegraph, along with the southerly extension of Rosemead Boulevard through Bellflower and towards Long Beach.
Another interesting item had to do with working conditions for laborers on the San Gabriel Dam project, with the paper reporting that “with such a beautiful situation in the canyon the possibilities for comfortable homes for these man [sic] are plenty” and it was considered “un-American” to have the live in substandard dwellings at what was called the “Anderson commissary.” In fact, the Californian reported that seven families left the canyon quarters to find suitable lodging in Azusa and “this will work a hardship on the men on the job for the roads from Azusa into the canyon are pretty rough for a daily ride back and forth to work.”
It was opined that the thoroughfare should have been improved first to allow for better commuting conditions and the Board of Supervisors were called to task for this oversight and it was concluded that “after all, it is the family man who pays taxes and keeps up the improvements and he will in the long run pay for the dam that is now being constructed.”
Elsewhere, there was word of a continuing legal battle concerning the county flood control district and the San Gabriel Development Association, comprised of those mining for gold, as had been done for at least 75 years, and whose claims were valued in wildly divergent amounts. There was even talk of Judge Albert Lee Stephens, Sr. taking an airplane tour to investigate the site—this being a novelty in California jurisprudence.
Other local items of note included that Dr. Walter F. Dexter, president of Whittier College, gave a talk at a weekly breakfast at the Hollywood Bowl, which is celebrating its centennial this year, held by supporters of symphony concerts at the venue’s tea garden and at which opera singer Elsa Alsen, appearing in Wagner’s “Die Walkure” (spelled “Walkuere” by the paper), sang two songs.
Local news from the town of Pico (which later combined with Rivera, located to the south, to create today’s Pico Rivera, adjoining Whittier to the west) included notes that a new bank was open while Mrs. E.O. Mason, a recent transplant from Terre Haute, Indiana, took over the Airplane Cafe on Whittier Boulevard near Durfee and which was one of the many “programmatic” buildings in our region. In Whittier, a new ordinance was passed regulating billboards and other form of advertising in residential areas, while those in industrial and commercial areas required a permit. This was a growing issue in the rapidly advancing auto age and the piece claimed this was the first ordinance of its kind in America.
There was some oil-related news, though again much more subdued than in the previous incarnation of the publication. At Santa Fe Springs, there was note of the drilling to deeper sands as far as just over 8,000 feet, a major advance over earlier efforts with limited technology and with tougher alloy drill bits, such as those pioneered by Whittier businessman Shelly Stoody, to allow for such efforts. Other wells in the zone were down 6,800 and 7,400 feet in an effort to tap pools at these greater depths.
Another short article reported that state statistics for oil and gas production for the week ending 27 July included 22 new wells, an improvement by a half-dozen over the prior week. Of these, 8 were at Santa Fe Springs with one each at such local fields as Inglewood, Long Beach, and Seal Beach and another at Ventura, where Walter P. Temple was recently in a last-ditch effort to find a gusher that would, he hoped, hold off financial ruin, though this did not happen. Statewide, there were almost 800 new wells so far in 1929, almost 200 more than for the same period the previous year.
In the editorial section, there is a “Small Towns As Manufacturing Locations” piece that discussed a trend of factories moving to suburban from urban areas, which it was averred “is a direct indication that he small town is well on the road to economic leadership of the nation.” Moreover, it was claimed “in the ideal city of the future the factory will have no place” and transportation improvements, presumably the continuing rise of automobile use, would allow for the move of industry into the hinterlands.
Beyond this, the piece continued, “airway travel will shortly be an economic and safe factor in business and industrial life so that distance shall not be any consideration in the location of any industry remote from the large centers.” It was noted that “California is an example of the movement, [as] many new industrial locations are being sought away from the over-bulging cities.”
In fact, Los Angeles County planners were looking for future industrial areas outside of the older areas in and near downtown Los Angeles, with one of these being what became, in the late 1950s, the City of Industry. The editorial ended with the observation that accessibility of electric power was such that “every small community today has access to any amount of power just as the large centers have, and since its population is much less, its protective capacity per unit of power is vastly greater than that of the large city.”
Below this is “Ultra-Conservativism vs. Progressivism,” which, despite the title, had nothing to do with politics, but, rather, fashion. Perhaps this came from Spagnola’s wife, Mercedes, who was secretary and treasurer of their Calart Publishing House. The piece begins with:
After ridiculing women to their hearts content for the past decade or more, on her radical departure in dress, which in reality has made her grow younger and more sensible, the male portion of the population are laying jokes aside and beginning to study the matter a bit, and after giving it close attention, are finding that it might improve the status of men considerably if they, too, were to adopt a more healthful and comfortable mode of apparel.
It was added that “it is recognized by all broad-minded men and women that the maid of today is indeed more attractive, healthy and care-free than any previous generation,” so if this was true of females, why couldn’t it apply to males, as well. An example was given of a newspaper editor in an eastern city who, in unseasonably hot weather, wore pajamas and managed to get arrested, though on what charge was not stated.
Yet, “luckily for the pajama-fan it was a wise judge who heard his story” and dismissed the case. It was claimed that, in other men were queried as to their preferences with clothing, “they would acclaim the pajama-editor a hero and soon there would be processions of pajama-clad he-men walking out streets.
With respect to “Causes of Crime,” it was adjudged that “the crime wave has been variously attributed to the war, automobiles, the increased freedom of the ‘younger generation,’ improved standards of living, prohibition and ownership of fire arms.” The question of gun ownership was discussed, though it was opined that, while revolvers were commonly used in crimes, so were clubs, knives, poison, and much else.
Moreover, it was asserted that “the United States has no cleaner sport, and probably none which develops a greater degree of skill, than shooting at targets with small arms.” Besides, the piece concluded, “if it were possible to keep pistols and revolvers from the man who follows crime for a living (which it is not), he would simply resort to one of any number of other weapons which would serve his purpose as well.” Of course, in 1929, there was no issue of semi-automatic weapons or others found today nearly a century later.
Another timely short article concerned the fact that “one of the paramount problems of some of [the] arid States is water shortage,” an issue in all areas that were “semi-tropical.” It was claimed, however, that “were it not for the many fogs” present in California, “our citrus and avocado orchards, as well as other smaller products, would never reach the high state of production they have.”
The piece continued that “the waters of the upper and lower San Gabriel Valley are receding very rapidly and the State government is now constructive a dam for the conservation of the winter rains in that valley.” Dams were also built, however, for flood control, with the menace of intense flooding being a major problem along the San Gabriel River, along with the Los Angeles and Santa Ana watercourses, periodically and leading to the rise in flood control projects, especially starting in the mid-Teens.
After noting there were problems with domestic well flows at Long Beach and Alhambra, the article ended with the observation that:
It would seem that our expert engineers have a big problem facing them as to ways and means of solving this acute problem of a threatened water shortage in California.
While more dams and reservoirs, as well as the importation of water through the Colorado River project, the compact of which was signed in 1922, but which also established unrealistic water thresholds that are now finally being recognized as climate change has wreaked havoc on supply, it was hoped that the long-term problem of having enough water was solved. More than 90 years later, however, we are a critical phase in terms of what to do with the chronic issue at hand.
Lastly, given the decline of print media in the age of digital dominance, it is worth pointing out the article “Newspapers Useful to Communities” and its argument that “there are few people who appreciate what a factor a good newspaper is in their lives.” Because readers learn about other people and their progress and happenings and the rise and fall of the stocks and bonds market (and would that become a huge issue in a few months with the onset of the Great Depression!), to give some examples, it was noted that “the newspaper is a unique institution in the history of the world.”
This was because “it is the only business enterprise . . . that actually serves the progressive life of the state more than all other institutions of the country put together,” a bold statement to be sure, and one that “is rendered without cost to the public [local government] or state.” Another unusual element, it was said, was that, whatever profit accrued to the publisher, “it returns even more profit to the community.” This was because such was “the result of a service in news and editorial space freely given in the interest of public progress.” It was claimed:
Destroy the newspapers of the nation and you have lost the greatest influence of progress in the field of industrial, civic and moral life that exists today.
Interesting words to ponder today, for sure!