The 1911 Red Sox stay in Redondo Beach was brief and somewhat stormy

From left, Boston Red Sox third baseman Larry Gardner, first baseman Hugh Bradley, pitcher Marty McHale and pitcher Buck O’Brien pose for a photo in Redondo Beach, California in March 1911. (Credit: Michael T. McGreevy Collection, Boston Public Library)

Arizona and Florida now serve as the primary spring training hubs for Major League Baseball, but that wasn’t always the case.

In 2009, I wrote about the Chicago Cubs holding spring training on Catalina Island during the 1920s, thanks to the Wrigley family connection. Chewing gum magnate Phillip K. Wrigley owned both the team and the island.

Red Sox owner John I. Taylor. (Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division)

A few years earlier, another team made a much briefer stop on the mainland. In January 1911, the Boston Red Sox announced plans to make Redondo Beach their spring training base. The team normally trained for the season in Hot Springs, Arkansas. 

In early February of that year, club president John I. Taylor announced that the team would travel via a special modified train to Redondo. Once there, they would stay at the seaside Hotel Redondo, play home games at a hastily constructed nearby ball field, and travel to away games using Redondo as a base.

The Red Sox 1911 train tour was possibly the most ambitious such tour ever undertaken. The club played a total of 63 games in ten different states and the Arizona Territory, departing from Boston for the 8,000-mile trek on Feb. 18, 1911, and returning home on April 11.

The 1911 Red Sox were formidable. Managed by Patsy Donovan, the team’s roster included standout outfielder Tris Speaker, who was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1937 along with Nap Lajoie and Cy Young. The trio was just the second group of players ever elected to the Hall.

1911 Tris Speaker baseball card. (Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division)

Other standouts included pitcher Smoky Joe Wood, who would go on to win 23 games during the regular season. And, we shouldn’t forget Woods’ aptly nicknamed chunky fellow hurler, Frank “Piano Mover” Smith.

The team would move into its new home, Fenway Park, in 1912; its 1911 home games were played at the Huntington Avenue Grounds, where the team had played since becoming charter members of the American League in 1901.

Ralph Huntington, a cousin of Hotel Redondo builder and Southern California railroad magnate Henry Huntington, owned the team’s Huntington Avenue Grounds ballpark. The Redondo trip may have been as much a commercial enterprise to boost the fortunes of the team, the hotel and the city as much as anything else.

The team arrived in Redondo Beach on Feb. 23 at 9:45 pm, and soon its members were ensconced in the Hotel Redondo. It had opened earlier than usual in the season just for them, and there were few other guests. Players moved into their rooms on the second and third floors, many of them walking down that night to see the adjacent beach after settling in.

When morning came, the Red Sox realized the full beauty of the setting, and initially were quite taken with the beach town. They even liked the makeshift field, calling its rough all-dirt infield an improvement over the training diamond in Arkansas. They held their first practice that morning of the 24th.

The Hotel Redondo and part of its gardens in 1900. (Credit: USC Digital Library)

“Things couldn’t be better and I am more than satisfied with everything,” Manager Donovan told the Los Angeles Times during that workout. A special banquet was held at the hotel for the team after its first game on Feb. 25, followed by a night of dancing at the nearby Pavilion on El Paseo.

When not on the field, the team took in other amusements on El Paseo. In addition to enjoying bathing in its heated saltwater, the players also used the showers and changing facilities at Redondo’s saltwater Plunge as their locker room during their stay.

Bill Nowlin’s book, The Great Red Sox Spring Training Tour of 1911: Sixty-Three Games, Coast to Coast (McFarland, 2010) recounts Tris Speaker fishing from the Redondo pier, and engaging in a skeet-shooting contest with teammates using baseballs on the field after practice. 

Four Boston Red Sox players attending spring training sit at the saltwater Plunge in Redondo Beach in March 1911. From left, unidentified, Harry Hooper, unidentified, Les Nunamaker. Person sitting on fountain is unidentified. (Credit: Michael T. McGreevy Collection, Boston Public Library)

Other team members hiked and hunted in the nearby Palos Verdes Peninsula hills, and enjoyed more worldly pursuits in the local bars and nightspots. Some hopped aboard the Red Car trolleys to visit downtown Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, the team ended up playing only three intrasquad games on the Redondo field, on Feb. 25th, 26th and 28th, though the games did end up drawing hundreds of fans. Their idyllic first impression of the area soured fairly quickly due to several factors.

First, it was cold that February in the seaside town. Players expecting sunny California weather were forced to bundle up when met with cloudiness and cool ocean breezes. Pitchers complained of troubles keeping their arms from stiffening in the cool weather.

Second, despite its spectacular location and facade, the Hotel Redondo had seen better days by 1911. (It was torn down in 1926.)  It already had changed owners several times, and the players grew less impressed with its facilities — and particularly the quality of its food — the longer they stayed there. They still enjoyed its amenities, including the card-playing  and billiard rooms, but late-night carousing and drinking was forbidden by Donovan.

Los Angeles Herald ad, Feb. 25, 1911, Page 2. Sadly, the team left town long before March 28. (Credit: Los Angeles Herald archives)

Third, and most significant, a series of rainstorms hit Redondo, the first of which rained out a game scheduled for Feb. 27. Rain pelted the area for the next several days and made a mess of the Redondo field. After the Feb. 28 game, the squad was split into two teams which traveled to other parts of the state for games over the next couple weeks.

Redondo remained the team’s base for the next week or so. But upon returning from Northern California on March 16, the team signaled the end of its tenure in Redondo by moving its base to the Westminster Hotel in downtown Los Angeles instead. While not a luxury upgrade, it was much closer to the new Washington Park stadium at 8th and Hill streets where the team had several upcoming games. It was warmer, too.

The Red Sox never returned to Redondo during their lengthy preseason westward swing. They headed back east from San Francisco on March 26, playing more games along the way. They would end up finishing fourth in the American League in the 1911 regular season.

In 1912, they returned to Hot Springs, Arkansas for  spring training, and went on to win the World Series that fall against the New York Giants.

Uniformed Red Sox players take an auto tour in downtown Los Angeles in March 1911. (Credit: Michael T. McGreevy Collection, Boston Public Library)

Further reading:

For the full story of the 1911 Red Sox cross-country trek, read The Great Red Sox Spring Training Tour of 1911: Sixty-Three Games, Coast to Coast, by Bill Nowlin, McFarland & Co., 2010.

Sources:

The Great Red Sox Spring Training Tour of 1911: Sixty-Three Games, Coast to Coast, by Bill Nowlin, McFarland & Co., 2010. An essential source for this blog post.

Los Angeles Herald files.

Los Angeles Times files.

Redondo Reflex files.

San Pedro News Pilot files.

Wikipedia.

1928 news service photograph of future Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig, Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. (Credit: Wikipedia)

San Pedro’s Busy Bee Market continues to serve up tasty sandwiches to all comers

The Busy Bee Market at 2413 S. Walker Ave. in San Pedro has a lengthy history. April 2021. (Photo by Sam Gnerre)

The Busy Bee Market occupies an unassuming small building in a quiet residential section of western San Pedro.

But, come lunchtime, it’s not unusual to see trucks and vans driven by cable installers, phone linemen, city utility workers and more parked up and down the surrounding street, along with LAPD motorcycles and fire trucks.

The Busy Bee operated for decades as a typical neighborhood market until Ben and Norma Lee bought the store in 1978. It had fallen into disrepair, so the pair spruced it up and, fatefully, decided to open a deli counter in the back that sold sandwiches.

At first, they planned to distribute them through liquor stores for resale. When word of mouth spread, they began selling them exclusively in at their market. The sandwich operation has been booming ever since.

(Credit: Google Maps)

It turns out that the modest Busy Bee building, which has been remodeled several times, has a history stretching back nearly 100 years.

San Pedro News Pilot ad, Dec. 2, 1925, Page 11. (San Pedro News Pilot archives)

The earliest mention of the store comes in a December 1925 classified ad in the San Pedro News Pilot noting a store for lease at 2413 S. Walker Ave.

Businessman Mike King must have answered the ad. He placed an ad for the new Walker St. Grocery in July 1926 that noted, “Anyone who wants credit will get it.” No pictures of this first store have surfaced.

A month later, he petitioned the city for permission to build a new structure on the site. Advertisements offering retail space for rent at the address ran for several years in the News Pilot

Finally, apparently after not getting any takers during the early years of the Depressionin King announced the opening of King’s Winery at the site in February 1934. The wholesale and retail wine operation opened just two months after the ratification of the 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition on Dec. 5, 1933.

San Pedro News Pilot ad, Jan. 18, 1937, Page 8. (Credit: San Pedro News Pilot archives)

The winemaking and selling operation was short-lived, apparently. Sweaney’s Grocery Store opened there sometime around 1935. It was in turn bought out by Stowell’s Cash Grocery, which began operating in October 1937.

The turnover in ownership continued during the 1940s. Mr. and Mrs. T. E. Stephenson bought the market in 1943, and named it Jayne’s Cash Market in honor of their 4-year-old daughter. Two years later, the grocery changed hands again, becoming Fillman’s Market in 1945.

Here the story gets a little hazy, but we surmise that the new owners whose request to make   structural improvements at the address that was approved in April 1947 were the owners of the Busy Bee.

Palos Verdes Peninsula News ad, Feb. 2, 1950, Page 4. (Palos Verdes Peninsula News archives)

One of the earliest ads for the Busy Bee Market appears in the Palos Verdes Peninsula News on Feb. 2, 1950. The market was close enough to the Peninsula to warrant advertising in the PVPN.

The market soldiered onward, but, as happened to many a neighborhood grocery store, it was beset by competition from all sides over the years. Convenience store chains eroded its accessibility advantage, while larger high-volume grocery stores outmatched it on breadth of selection and price. 

Examples of both stores sprung up on nearby 25th St. in San Pedro. The neighborhood store languished, until it reached the condition in which the Lees found it in 1978. Their decision to offer jumbo homemade sandwiches of high quality at a reasonable price turned out to be a master stroke.

Unlike Subway or Quizno’s, Busy Bee offers no place for patrons to sit and eat their sandwiches. As a result, it has become customary to grab a drink from the market and the way out, and take your sandwich to any number of different scenic spots nearby.

Royal Palms State Beach and the Korean Bell area at Angels Gate Park offer two of the most scenic spots to enjoy your feast. Averill Park, one of the area’s prettiest green spaces, is another nearby option.

(Credit: Photo by Robert Duran, Busy Bee Facebook page)

The Busy Bee experience also includes queuing up in what can become long lines if you arrive at lunchtime. One also needs to study the menu and know exactly what you want before arriving at the efficiently operated, no-nonsense deli counter. Dawdling at the counter is frowned upon.

Not long after it opened, the Busy Bee’s sandwich operation began to earn mentions as a hidden gem in the Los Angeles Times, the LA Weekly, and other media outlets.

It has become a local institution, often recommended to newcomers and curiosity seekers as one of the places to seek out “the real San Pedro.” Its boosters include a cross-section of San Pedro regulars, from Councilman Joe Buscaino to pioneering San Pedro musician Mike Watt (Minutemen, fIREHOSE).

The Busy Bee, still managed by the Lee family, continues to thrive in its modest setting, offering its distinctive sandwiches for more than 40 years to tourists, locals, workers and anyone else who appreciates a well-made hoagie.

Customers wait in line to place their orders at the Busy Bee Market deli counter in San Pedro on July 28, 2004. (Daily Breeze staff file photo)

Sources:

Busy Bee Market Facebook page and website.

Daily Breeze files.

Los Angeles Times files.

More San Pedro files.

Palos Verdes Peninsula News files.

San Pedro News Pilot files.

Busy Bee sandwich menu, April 2021.

Torrance Sears store anchored southern end of Del Amo Fashion Center for decades

The Sears store, seen here in March 2017, anchored the southern end of Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance for decades. (Daily Breeze staff file photo)

Before the arrival of the Torrance Sears store in 1959, South Bay residents had to rely on the Sears location in Inglewood for its appliances, Craftsman tools, everyday apparel and assorted other little-bit-of-everything needs.

Shoppers were enticed during the 1950s by full-page ads in local papers such as the Torrance Herald extolling the bounteous goods available at the closest Sears location at Manchester Blvd. and Hillcrest Ave., currently home to a Vons market.

The Sears store at Manchester Blvd.. and Hillcrest Ave. in Inglewood was torn down in the early 1990’s; a Vons market’s now occupies that location. March 1976 photo. (Credit: Inglewood Public Library)

By breaking ground in December 1957 for the giant Del Amo Shopping Center, Torrance took a major step toward becoming the eventual retail powerhouse it is today.

The $40 million outdoor center’s boundaries included Carson Street and Sepulveda Boulevard to the north and south, and Hawthorne Boulevard and Madrona Avenue to the west and east.

Its first anchor store, The Broadway, opened in February 1959, followed by Sears that September, and J.C. Penney’s in March 1961.

Torrance Press, Sept. 17, 1959, Page 1. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

After operating as a mail-order house with its famous catalog for years, Sears had begun its retail operations by opening its first brick-and-mortar store in Chicago in 1925.

In the 1950s, the opening of a Sears store in one’s hometown was a major event. Both the Torrance Herald and the Torrance Press ran special sections celebrating the store’s grand opening, held on the morning of Sept. 30, 1959.

Construction on the new store at 22100 Hawthorne Blvd. had begun on Sept. 11, 1958. The architects, Stiles & Robert Clements, had worked several innovative features into the design. 

The Torrance Sears store shortly before its grand opening. Torrance Herald, Oct. 1, 1959, Page 1 of Sears Grand Opening Section. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

There were no exterior display windows, unusual for a department store. The boating supplies department had its own mini-marina built in, and a separate auto service and supplies building east of the main store made it convenient to have one’s car serviced while shopping. Of course, shoppers could also order goods from the retailer’s legendary catalog while in the store.

Perhaps the most unusual feature was the basement-level storage floor beneath the main one-story shopping floor, which contained 52 different merchandise departments. Goods of all sizes could be moved to the sales floor easily with the help of conveyor belts and freight elevators, with no need to wait for warehouse shipments on larger items.

General contractors Hilp and Rhodes undertook the construction of the new store, whose dimensions were impressive. Built on a 23-acre site, its total gross floor area measured 283,893 square feet, more than six acres, counting both levels. Its lots contained parking for 2,000 cars, and the store employed 1,200 workers upon its opening in 1959.

Torrance Herald, Oct. 1, 1959, portion of Page 1 of Sears Grand Opening Section. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

The store, one of the chain’s largest at the time, proved immensely popular in its early years, drawing shoppers from all over the South Bay and the Harbor Area.

A couple of interesting innovations arrived in 1965. The Torrance Sears became the chain’s first store to offer a home decorating service to consumers in July. And, in August, the store displayed actor Vincent Price’s collection of fine art, with more than 400 pieces by famous artists for sale.

Original caption from Palos Verdes Peninsula News, Aug. 19, 1965, Page 15: “PRICE COLLECTION – Admiring three of the many paintings to be displayed at Sears Roebuck Del Amo store Aug. 19 through 28 [1965] are at right, Sears Manager Herman Link; and left, store employee Dick Winnecamp in charge of the Vincent Price collection. Four Rembrandts are also included, as well as these three shown, from left, a Dali, Picasso and Chagall.” (Credit: Palos Verdes Peninsula News archives)

As Sears soldiered on, the shopping center in which it was located underwent mammoth changes. The indoor Del Amo Fashion Square north of Carson St. opened in August 1971. The Del Amo Shopping Center, now known as Del Amo Center, began to be enclosed in 1977.

Interior mall entrance to Sears store in Del Amo Fashion Center. March 2017. (Daily Breeze staff file photo).

It had been purchased by The Torrance Company, who owned Fashion Square, with an eye toward uniting the two shopping areas into one gigantic megamall. Construction began in 1978, and the Del Amo Fashion Center was created in 1981 in the “marriage of the malls.”

As for Sears, the company reached its peak in the early 1970s. Soon after, it found itself challenged by a new wave of retailers, including Wal-Mart, Home Depot, K mart and Best Buy, who began eating away at Sears’ consumer base.

Thus began a slow decline in the company’s fortunes. In 1993, catalog sales were halted after that operation became unprofitable. In 2002, the company attempted to boost sales by selling Lands End apparel in its stores.

But the slide continued, and by 2010, the company no longer was turning a profit. Its stores began closing in 2017, and in 2018, the firm declared bankruptcy.

The sales floor at the Del Amo Fashion Center Sears store in Torrance in March 2017. The store would close three years later. (Daily Breeze staff file photo)

The Torrance store closed for good on Sept. 6, 2020.

A month later, Mayor Pat Furey acknowledged in his State of the City speech that Torrance is evaluating the large Sears site with an eye toward a possible mixed-use resolution, with the construction of a hotel or residential development on the south end of the mall a distinct possibility. 

No official announcements verifying the site’s future have been made as of this writing.

Sources:

The former Torrance Sears store closed in 2018 and stands empty in this April 2021 photo. (Photo by Sam Gnerre)

Daily Breeze files.

Los Angeles Times files.

Palos Verdes Peninsula News files.

Torrance Press-Herald files.

Palos Verdes Peninsula News ad, Sept. 24, 1959, Page 3. (Credit: Palos Verdes Peninsula News archives)

Equestrian enthusiasts find a home at the Empty Saddle Club in Rolling Hills Estates

Barrel racing was the major draw at the annual Ride to Fly Country Carnival at the Empty Saddle Club Saturday, April 30, 2016, Rolling Hills Estates. (Daily Breeze staff file photo)

Horse lovers have enjoyed the facilities offered by the Empty Saddle Club in Rolling Hills Estates for decades. But the club wasn’t always a Palos Verdes Peninsula fixture.

According to William D. Canfield’s 1990 work, A History of the Empty Saddle Club, Its Origin and Development 1935 to 1990, the club’s origins instead can be traced to Redondo Beach.

Five friends from Redondo who shared a love of horses met there in 1935 to form an equestrian group that would march in parades and local events. They adopted a black and gold color scheme for their outfits, and began entering parades in 1936.

Unidentified members of the Empty Saddle Club pose for a photo in 1938. Palos Verdes Peninsula News, Aug. 19, 1938, Page 1. (Credit: Palos Verdes Peninsula News archives)

A couple of theories have been put forth to explain the group’s unusual name. We’re going to go with Canfield’s explanation:

During the fifth parade [in 1936], one of the horses slipped and fell in front of the reviewing stand. The rider and his horse were not hurt, but the horse came to his feet riderless. It was at that moment, as a result of a chance remark made in jest by one of the reviewing party, that this unnamed group of friends acquired the name “Empty Saddle Club.”

Having acquired matching outfits and a catchy name, the club members set about to find themselves a permanent home.

After looking for several months, the group settled on a piece of land in Redondo Beach known as the Triangle, which they began renting, charging membership fees to cover the cost.

Having their own space made it possible for the club to expand its equestrian activities. One very popular early activity there was broom polo, with riders using long-handled brooms instead of wooden mallets to advance the ball up the field.

The group continued to add members, but ran into a problem in 1939, when the owners of the Triangle property announced their plans to develop it, leaving club members temporarily without a home.

The Triangle Shopping Center eventually would open in 1949, and become a retail fixture in Redondo Beach for the next three decades.

Members scrambled and found a new location for the Empty Saddle Club at 182nd St. and Hawthorne Blvd. Luckily enough, it was nearly twice as big as the Triangle property, allowing the club to introduce even more horse-riding activities.

Canfield cites the arrival of Palos Verdes Peninsula ranchers Roy and Ray McCarrell as being responsible for the addition of roping events at the club.

Karen Pageant steers her horse and the cattle during a penning and sorting class at the Empty Saddle Club in Rolling Hills Estates on March, 8, 2014. (Daily Breeze staff file photo)

Its stay at 182nd and Hawthorne would be brief, thanks to a movement in the club to purchase land for a permanent home. They looked to the Peninsula, where land was still relatively inexpensive and plentiful.

In 1940, club members settled on a piece of land in the Rolling Hills area just south of the Torrance city limit. The terms seem very reasonable by modern-day standards: 12.5 acres at a cost of $225 per acre, paid off in $20 monthly installments over the next 10 years.

The Empty Saddle Club finally had its permanent home, where it remains to this day, at 39 Empty Saddle Road. The site wasn’t without problems, though, starting with the private access road leading to it from nearby Rolling Hills Road. Recent rains had made the dirt road completely impassable for wheeled vehicles.

Club members rolled up their sleeves and fixed that and other construction needs on the property. They borrowed cash to pave the road, and by 1941 they had added a roping arena to the facility.

The Empty Saddle Club grounds in Rolling Hills Estates. (Credit: Google Earth)

World War II slowed the club’s development, but by the late 1940s, it had been improved and built up sufficiently to allow the Empty Saddle Club to hold two professional rodeo events sanctioned by the sport’s governing body, the Rodeo Cowboys of America (RCA).

The Rolling Hills Rodeo was held there in 1948 and 1949, and many of the sport’s biggest names participated. Another then-big name, cowboy star Wild Bill Elliott, hosted the 1949 event.

The next two decades brought further improvements to the Empty Saddle Club, including a new clubhouse, horse barns and other amenities.

Young riders mount up in preparation for a South Bay Gymkhana Series event at the Empty Saddle Club on Sept. 2, 2018. (Credit: Empty Saddle Club Facebook page)

The club’s membership remains strong and active. Over the years it hosted dozens of equestrian events, from riding and roping competitions to gymkhanas, dressage and jumping competitions.

The club became a part of Rolling Hills Estates with that city’s incorporation in 1957. To celebrate, the city began holding its annual City Celebration community event there, a tradition that has continued to the present day. Last year’s celebration was a virtual one, but hopefully it can return to the Empty Saddle Club as a live event soon.

Main entrance to the Empty Saddle Club in Rolling Hills Estates. April 2021. (Photo by Sam Gnerre)

Sources:

Daily Breeze files.

Empty Saddle Club website.

A History of the Empty Saddle Club, Its Origin and Development 1935 to 1990, by William D. Canfield, Empty Saddle Club, January 1, 1990.

Los Angeles Times files.

Palos Verdes Peninsula News files.

San Pedro News Pilot files.

Ad from April 29, 1949 Palos Verdes Peninsula News, Page 2, promotes the upcoming rodeo hosted by cowboy star Wild Bill Elliott. (Name misspelled in ad.) (Credit: Palos Verdes Peninsula News archives)

How Joseph Francis Sartori came to have a Torrance avenue named for him

Joseph F. Sartori, Chairman of the Board, Security First National Bank of Los Angeles, on September 25, 1945. (Credit: Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)

Jared Sydney Torrance, founder of the city that bears his name, needed a little help from his friends before he could announce Torrance’s founding in March 1912.

The Pasadena businessman envisioned an industrial city with amenities for workers that would keep them happy enough to avoid the labor-management violence plaguing Los Angeles at the time.

With help from some key investors, he purchased a total of 3,530 acres from the family of land grant holder Manuel Dominguez for the sum of $1.53 million. 

Among those he chose for the board of his newly formed Dominguez Land Co. were two prominent bankers, John S. Cravens and Joseph F. Sartori.

Postcard shows Sartori Ave., mislabeled “street,” circa 1915.

Cravens, who also had a Torrance street named for him, was a fellow Pasadenan who had served on boards with Torrance and was a vice president of the Los Angeles First National Bank.

Sartori had a higher profile in both business and society. He had become a prominent voice in the banking industry, and he and his wife earned frequent mentions on newspaper society pages.

He was born on Christmas Day, 1858, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His parents had emigrated from Germany a decade earlier. They sent young Joseph to Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa.

After graduation, Sartori went on to earn his law degree at the University of Michigan in 1881. He met his wife, born Margaret Rishel, while practicing law back in Iowa. They married in 1885.

Joseph F. Sartori, seated in carriage in front of his Monrovia home shortly after he built it in 1887. (Credit: Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)

After the two of them took a wedding trip to California, they later decided to stay. In 1887, Sartori built one of the first residences in Monrovia. After settling in the newly incorporated city, he began his banking career, co-founding the First National Bank of Monrovia and serving as its first cashier.

Realizing that his ambitions reached beyond the small city, he helped found another, larger bank in Los Angeles, Security Trust and Savings, in 1889. The couple then moved to Los Angeles, and he became its president in 1895.

These members of the Los Angeles Golf Club selected the site for the present club house of the Los Angeles Country Club. Joseph Sartori is seated on ground at right. 1910 photo. (Credit: Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)

In 1897, he became a co-founder of the Los Angeles Golf Club, then located in Alvarado Terrace, just west of downtown. Sartori played a central role in relocating the club, now renamed the Los Angeles Country Club, to its more permanent home at 10101 Wilshire Blvd.

It opened in 1911, and has hosted championships ever since. Its North Course will host the PGA’s U.S. Open Tournament in 2023. Sartori served as the club’s president from 1912 until his death in 1946.

The Los Angeles Country Club in 1939. (Credit: Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)

So, Jared Sydney Torrance scored a coup in securing Sartori’s involvement with the establishment of Torrance in 1912. In 1907, Sartori and Torrance had worked together to find the Los Angeles State Normal School a new home. The State Normal School would evolve into UCLA, which opened its Westwood campus in 1929.

Sartori’s financing and investing expertise played a key role in the early development of Torrance. Basic necessities such as streets and streetlights, water and sewage systems and other public utilities fell to Sartori and the Dominguez Land Co. board. All were needed in order to attract and keep industries in Torrance in the early years before its incorporation in May 1921.

Jared Sydney Torrance honored both Sartori and Cravens by naming streets for them in his new city. Sartori and Cravens avenues were among the first named in the city’s original downtown layout. Sartori runs from Cota Ave. on the west, through Old Torrance to Cabrillo Ave. on the east. Cravens parallels it to the south downtown, running from Van Ness Ave. to Cabrillo.

Security Trust & Savings Bank building on the corner. 1st and Spring sts., Los Angeles, circa 1920. (Credit: Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)

As for Joseph Sartori, his prominence in banking and finance circles continued to grow. In 1929, his bank, Security Trust, merged with the First National Bank of Los Angeles to form the Security First National Bank. It would eventually grow into the nation’s ninth largest bank, Security Pacific, before becoming part of the Bank of America in  a 1992 merger.

Sartori also was involved in many other ventures, including the development of Porter Ranch in the San Fernando Valley. He was a prime mover behind the creation of the Biltmore Hotel on Pershing Square in Los Angeles, which opened in 1923. He also played a role in the development of City Hall in Los Angeles, which opened in 1928.

Sartori was named president of the new Security First bank in 1929, and served in that role until his retirement in 1934. He continued to serve as chairman of its board of directors until his death.

His wife, Margaret, died in 1937 after years of working for charitable causes. She also served as a member of the University of California Board of Regents for many years.

Sartori spent his later years as an elder statesman in the banking industry, and as a respected  commentator on economic matters. He died at the age of 87 on Oct. 6, 1946, at his home in the Castellamare district just west of Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles.

Sartori never lived in Torrance, but his name remains known there thanks to Jared Sydney Torrance’s acknowledgement of his contributions to the city’s origin and early development.

Sartori Ave. in Torrance, looking northwest from Marcelina Ave. April 2021. (Photo by Sam Gnerre)

Sources: 

Historic Torrance: A Pictorial History of Torrance, California, by Dennis F. Shanahan and Charles Elliott, Jr., Legends Press, 1984.

“Joseph Francis Sartori,” Early Monrovia Structures Research (Monrovia Historical Museum) website.

“Joseph Francis Sartori,” Find A Grave website.

“A Look Back in Time: The Hope-Ware Collection at the LACC,” by Judd Spicer, Page 48, Fore magazine, Winter 2021.

Los Angeles Times archives.

San Pedro News Pilot archives.

Torrance Press-Herald archives.

Wikipedia

The First National Bank of Monrovia, established in 1887 with the help of Joseph F. Sartori. It was his first banking venture in California. Photo circa 1890. (Credit: Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)

Land grant heiress fostered development of San Pedro’s landmark Fox Cabrillo Theatre

The Fox Cabrillo Theatre in San Pedro in 1945, along with Painless Parker Dentist. Additional storefronts at left. The marquee indicates that “You Came Along” with Lizabeth Scott and “Delightfully Dangerous” with Jane Powell were being shown. (Credit: Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)

Recently, in telling the story of Rudecinda Florencia Sepulveda de Dodson, daughter of Spanish land grant baron Jose Diego Sepulveda, I mentioned that she agreed to have the family’s house moved to make way for the construction of a large theater complex on her property in the heart of San Pedro.

The theater, to be built on Dodson’s land on 7th Street between Beacon and Palos Verdes streets, would seat just over 1,500 people and become part of the West Coast Theatres Co. William Fox would later transform that chain into the Fox West Coast Theatres group.

In addition to the large theater on the western end of the complex, storefronts facing Seventh also were part of the plans, which were made public in 1921. 

The noted Los Angeles architectural firm of Meyer & Holler, creators of Grauman’s Chinese and Egyptian theatres, was hired by West Coast to design the structure at 115 W. 7th St.

Artist rendition of the new theater. San Pedro News Pilot, June 19, 1922, Page 1. (Credit: San Pedro News Pilot archives.)

In addition to serving as a first-rate movie palace, the theater also would feature live shows, including touring stage shows and revues and vaudeville performances.

Construction began in earnest in June 1922 by Meyer & Holler’s Milwaukee Building Co. firm.

While under construction, the theater was referred to as the “Dodson Theatre” in newspaper reports. 

The San Pedro News Pilot continually marvelled at the structure as it was being built, noting the sizable crowds attracted daily by the busy construction crews and earth-moving equipment.

The entire project, renamed the Cabrillo Theatre in July 1923, cost West Coast Theatres in the neighborhood of $500,000 to complete. By all accounts, it was worth it.

Interior view of Cabrillo Theatre’s proscenium with its abestos curtains down. Note the architectural designs above the stage and on the pillars on either sides of the stage. (Credit: Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)

Opening night festivities on Nov. 15, 1923 drew an estimated 4,500 people, three times the capacity of the theater. The film “The Bad Man,” starring Holbrook Blinn in a satiric tale about a Mexican bandit, topped the evening’s program. 

The vaudeville portion of the show preceding it included Edith Clifford, the Kirksmlth Sisters, Althea Lucts and Company, the Florentine Quartette and Wild and Bedalla. It  was described in the News Pilot as “a whole show in itself.”

Theatergoers admired the lush Spanish-styled interior decor, which featured an alcove in the lobby where an oil portrait hung of Rudecinda Florencia Sepulveda de Dodson dressed in a traditional Spanish gown.

Mrs. Dodson was widely praised for her role in making the theater project a reality; it was just one of the many actions she undertook to improve San Pedro and the lives of its citizens.

Under the deft management of C.S. “Doc” Crews, the Cabrillo Theatre did indeed successfully present both live entertainment and first-rate Hollywood films during the 1920s. Everything from Lon Chaney starring as “Phantom of the Opera” to Charlie Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush” screened there.

William Fox bought into the West Coast chain in the late 1920s, which led to the rebranding of the Cabrillo as the Fox Cabrillo Theatre in March 1929. 

Harmonica contest? San Pedro News Pilot, June 24, 1926, Page 5. (Credit: San Pedro News Pilot archives)

Vaudeville offerings eventually died out, but between the Fox Cabrillo and the Warner Grand, San Pedro moviegoers could enjoy two of the more opulent movie palaces in the area for the next two decades.

But business began to decline in the 1950s. Its final double bill, the western “Gun Glory” starring Stuart Granger, and “Man on Fire,” featuring Bing Crosby in a rare dramatic role, played on Aug. 13, 1957.

Undated photo of the Fox Cabrillo’ circa 1958. It was razed in 1962. (Credit: Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)

The theater then closed. Four years later, demolition began in two phases. First, the storefronts and offices that made up the complex’s east wing were razed in January 1961. The theater itself then was demolished in 1962.

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” Joni Mitchell sang in her 1970 song “Big Yellow Taxi,” and in this case, it was true. The Fox Cabrillo site was paved over and became a permit parking site for municipal employees of the City of Los Angeles.

The lot continues to operate there some 60 years later, with not a trace of the grand entertainment complex that once stood there.

(Credit: Google Earth)

Sources:

“Fox Cabrillo,” Los Angeles Theatres website.

“Fox Cabrillo Theatre,” Cinema Treasures website.

Internet Movie Database (IMDb) website.

Los Angeles Times archives.

San Pedro News Pilot archives.

Wikipedia.org.

Just before its name was changed to the Fox Cabrillo Theatre. San Pedro News Pilot, Oct. 25, 1928, Page 8. (Credit: San Pedro News Pilot archives)

El Segundo’s golf course undergoing radical transformation for its 60th year

Golfers shake hands at the end of a round at The Lakes at El Segundo Golf Course in 2009. (Daily Breeze staff file photo)

El Segundo’s popular nine-hole golf course began as the International Meadows Golf Center in 1962. 

The unusual name arose from the city’s chamber of commerce declaring the area where it was located south of LAX along Sepulveda Blvd. as the “International Mile” in March 1962, an attempt to encourage business and industrial development on the city’s east side.

Los Angeles Times ad, Sept. 16, 1962, Page G4. (Credit: Los Angeles Times archival database)

Companies and developers took them literally, and soon corporate headquarters, and, in 1965, the 12-story International Trade center, took shape along the stretch of Sepulveda between  Imperial Highway and El Segundo Blvd.

In keeping with the “International” theme, the new executive golf course at 366 S. Sepulveda  adopted the International Meadows name.

Jim Stinnett, who developed the facility along with partners Jack Heath and Bob Brown, brought a bit of local history to the new course when he bought the old Patmar’s diner building for $500 in 1960. The diner had closed in 1959. He spent another $1500 moving and refurbishing it, but when he was done, International Meadows had its “new” pro shop.

El Segundo Herald, Sept. 20, 1962, Page 1. The “celebrities” were unidentified. (Credit: El Segundo Herald archives)

Its driving range was first to open, on Feb. 15, 1962. The golf course itself initially was scheduled to open in June, but the first players didn’t step onto the 16.5-acre links until September 1962.

The popular course dropped the International Meadows name for the more prosaic “El Segundo Golf Course” in the early 1970s. I hope I’m not the only duffer who deposited a shot onto nearby Sepulveda on its short ninth hole, whose tee sat atop a tall bluff facing the street.

Chevron USA, which owned the land on which the course was built, threw a monkey wrench into its future when it announced plans to build an industrial development on part of the course’s land.

The course was reduced to just three holes, the driving range, snack bar and pro shop in August 1987 to make way for the project.

Chevron had made provisions for the course’s future, offering 25 acres just south of it to the city for a new nine-hole facility. But plans for the new links stalled due to legal entanglements and red tape, and the old Patmar’s building became a casualty.

The relocated Patmar’s building is shown in its later incarnation as the pro shop at El Segundo Golf Course (now The Lakes at El Segundo). Dec. 18, 1987, (Credit: Daily Breeze staff file photo)

In 1989, its condition had deteriorated, and it no longer could be used as the pro shop. The El Segundo Historical Society wanted to have it moved to downtown, but the tangled status of the new project led to delays that resulted in its eventual demolition in 1993.

Meanwhile, the golf course project itself officially was shelved in 1990 due to the bureaucratic logjam, and there was some concern that it never would come to fruition.

The city went back and forth on the feasibility and scope of the project, until it finally began to regain steam in 1993. New, ambitious plans were developed, and, that May, the city awarded the $4 million contract to build the new city-owned golf facility to Environmental Golf Inc./Valley Crest Landscape Inc.

English golf architect Martin Hawtree was brought in to design the course, which now included three lakes in its layout. The city first voted to name the course the El Segundo Executive Golf Course, but as the course neared completion, its name was changed to another that had been suggested: The Lakes at El Segundo.

The pro shop, clubhouse and restaurant at The Lakes at El Segundo Golf Course. Sept. 6, 2017. (Credit: Daily Breeze staff file photo)

Official dedication of the new course took place on June 25, 1994, though local residents and those employed in El Segundo were allowed to play rounds during the week preceding the ceremony. Because of its new location, its address changed to 400 S. Sepulveda Blvd.

By 2012, the city had decided that The Lakes needed updating in order to bring in more revenue, and it began negotiations with the TopGolf firm to remodel its driving range.

Daily Breeze reporter Megan Barnes described TopGolf in 2016 as “known for its bowling-like take on driving ranges, letting players hit microchipped golf balls to flashy targets with sensors that tally points measured by accuracy in real-time. The facilities also have full-service restaurants, bars, meeting areas and event spaces.”

TopGolf’s entertainment-oriented take on revitalizing golf courses stirred bitter, often fractious debates among city council members and residents. The heated discussion and argument included a profane outburst from TopGolf opponent Councilman Dave Atkinson as he stormed out of a January 2015 meeting.

Golfers enjoy buffalo wings and beers before a round of golf at The Lakes at El Segundo in 2009. (Daily Breeze staff file photo)

Finally, after seven years of debate, the city awarded TopGolf a contract to convert The Lakes into one of its golf entertainment facilities in 2019. After a pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, TopGolf resumed work on the project last fall.

In January 2021, the firm announced that the high-tech driving range and redesigned nine-hole golf course would open as Southern California’s first TopGolf facility by the summer of 2022.

The final day of play at The Lakes of El Segundo before its closure for the renovations was Feb. 14, 2021.

Rendition of the TopGolf facility slated to open in 2022 in El Segundo. Target driving range at right. (Rendering courtesy TopGolf)

Sources:

Daily Breeze archives.

El Segundo Herald archives.

Lakes at El Segundo website.

Los Angeles Times archives.

The Southern California Golf Guide, by Daniel Wexler, MTIII Golf Media, El Segundo, 2017.

“TopGolf is taking over a golf course — here’s why that could work so well,” by Dylan Dethier, Golf.com website, Feb. 8, 2021.

TopGolf website.

TopGolf promotional video:

Pink Floyd appearing live in Harbor Gateway? Yep, it happened at The Bank.

British band Pink Floyd played at The Bank in Harbor Gateway in 1968, five years before Dark Side of the Moon was released.

A recent post on Jim McDonald’s Facebook private group, “Growing Up in Torrance, CA,” calls attention to the days of yore when a short-lived Torrance concert venue called The Bank hosted concerts by some of rock music’s biggest stars.

McDonald based his post on information from the Rock Prosopography 101 website administered by Corry342, which began providing valuable documentation on the venue in 2009, and this post is based mostly on those same accounts.

A note about geography: The Bank, originally known as the Blue Law Ballroom, was built in 1967 and located at 19840 Hamilton Ave., the street one enters onto after taking the Torrance Blvd. exit from the southbound 110 Freeway. Though posters and news accounts consistently refer to its location as Torrance, it’s actually situated in Harbor Gateway.

The Bank was located just off the 110 Freeway. (Credit: Google Maps)

The Blue Law Ballroom began hosting shows in the 22,500-square-foot rectangular brick warehouse on the east side of Hamilton Ave. in late 1967. Information on its ownership is somewhat sketchy, but a post on the Rock Prosopography 101 site by commenter Stephena310 indicates that its owner was a local doctor, an older “bearded gentleman” who loved music.

Most of the shows were booked by the San Francisco-based West-Pole Agency, which handled many of the bands associated with the San Francisco music scene who often played at the Fillmore and other Bay Area venues.

On Dec. 15, a triple bill of Love, Canned Heat and the Hour Glass played the Blue Law in what was possibly the venue’s first show. The Hour Glass was a transplanted Southern blues band that featured future Allman Brothers Duane and Gregg Allman.

Ad from Los Angeles Free Press, Dec. 22, 1967, Page 8. (Credit: Los Angeles Free Press archives)

Another high-profile show featured Country Joe and the Fish, The Sunshine and Inner Spirit (who later dropped the “Inner” and recorded as Spirit). It took place on Dec. 22, 1967, and on two successive nights.

Interior of building at 19840 Hamilton Ave. in Harbor Gateway. Undated photo. (Credit: The Bank Facebook group)

Michael Stuart-Ware, then drummer for the much-revered Los Angeles band Love, described playing at the Blue Law in his book, Behind the Scenes on the Pegasus Carousel with the Legendary Rock Group Love (Helter Skelter Books, 2003):

“The stage had no private rear entrance or dressing rooms, and the groups that were scheduled to perform simply walked through the front door, past the people that had come to see them play, and right up the stage steps.”

The room had no seats; concertgoers often brought blankets and sat or stood on the concrete floor. Some would paint on the floor with fluorescent paint, as the interior often was lit with black lights. There was a snack bar along one side of the building that sold soft drinks, but no alcohol. Its capacity was estimated at 700-800 persons.

The venue drew the attention of police agencies, who suspected drug activity and often presented a strong presence outside the venue.

The facade of the former home of The Bank in Harbor Gateway has changed, but the red brick structure remains mostly intact. March 2021. (Photo by Sam Gnerre)

Some ascribe the The Blue Law’s eventual closure to pressure from law enforcement, but it’s more likely that the owner faced financial difficulties with the club. A three-day event called the Blue Law Survival Benefit was held on May 17-19, 1968, to benefit the Blue Law, but it apparently closed shortly afterward. A May 19 poster announcing Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Mothers of Invention and Iron Butterfly seems to be the last advertised show for the club under the Blue Law name.

Poster for the first known show at The Bank.

A group of investors, one of whom had inherited a large sum of money, was looking for an empty bank building for their new club, to be called The Bank. They were made aware of the Blue Law’s recent closure, and decided to mount their operation there instead.

The first show at the newly christened club appears to have been held on Aug. 9, 1968, and featured Pacific Gas & Electric, the Sons of Champlin and the Illinois Speed Press. 

A couple of weeks later, Pink Floyd did indeed play two dates at The Bank, on Aug. 23-24, 1968. A foursome after the departure of Syd Barrett that March, they played their lengthy psychedelic works “Interstellar Overdrive” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” the latter from their just-released A Saucerful of Secrets album. The Britishers wouldn’t hit the big time until “Dark Side of the Moon,” five years later. 

A long list of rock and blues notables followed: Moby Grape, John Mayall, Charlie Musselwhite, Chicago Transit Authority (later shortened to Chicago), Lee Michaels, Three Dog Night, an embryonic pre-first album Alice Cooper, Canned Heat, Ten Years After (a year before Woodstock), Bo Diddley, Harvey Mandel, the Flamin’ Groovies, The Turtles, and, on two separate occasions, The Grateful Dead. (Consult the Rock Prosopography 101 site for a fuller list of performers and dates.)

The Dead played its first date on Oct. 18, 1968; its second album, Anthem of the Sun, had just been released in July. By the time the band returned for two shows on Dec. 13-14, The Bank’s days were numbered. This time, police pressure tactics — many who shared memories of the club online recalled being hassled after shows — seems to have been a factor in the club’s closure.

The poster for the Grateful Dead’s December shows prominently states the following: 

“The Police can only close us with YOUR fear. Please help us, the Music, and yourself. Bring friends to The Bank. Come clean, be safe, be happy.”

No evidence of any further shows after the Grateful Dead appearances have come to light, indicating that The Bank’s short but brilliant run ended for good in December 1968.

The brick building has been used mainly for industrial purposes ever since, and still stands, with some exterior modifications, just off the 110 Freeway on Hamilton. But no signs remain of its role as a venue hosting big-time rock concerts more than half a century ago.

Note: Special thanks to Jim McDonald’s “Growing Up in Torrance” Facebook group and the Rock Prosopography 101 website, which provided the bulk of the information and poster photos in this post.

Entrance to the building at 19840 Hamilton Ave. in Harbor Gateway that once was home to The Bank. March 2021. (Credit: Photo by Sam Gnerre)

Sources:

“The Bank,” Facebook site.

Pink Floyd’s 1968 A Saucerful of Secrets album.

“The Bank,” Growing Up in Torrance, private Facebook group moderated by Jim McDonald.

“The Bank aka The Blue Law’s Concert History,” Concert Archives website.

“The Bank, Torrance CA 1968 Show List,” Rock Prosopography 101 website, by Corry342.

Los Angeles Free Press files.

Los Angeles Times files.

The founding and early days of El Camino College

The Campus Center at El Camino College. Drop-off zone in foreground. March 2021. (Photo by Sam Gnerre)

The need for a two-year junior college in the South Bay area had been discussed as early as the 1930s. Ever since the first such school in California was established in Fresno in 1910, junior colleges bridging the gap between high schools and universities had been built in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Santa Monica, Fullerton, Santa Ana and many other communities.

But the South Bay/Harbor Area didn’t have one. Education officials from the Redondo Beach, Inglewood, El Segundo and Centinela Valley school districts, unhappy with their students being shut out of admission to those increasingly popular out-of-area schools, decided that the need for a local community college had become critical. (Torrance was not included initially because it was part of the Los Angeles Unified School District until forming its own district in 1947.)

This 1947 aerial photo looks east along Redondo Beach Blvd. toward Crenshaw Blvd., top, and shows the surplus buildings that housed El Camino College’s students before permanent buildings were erected. (Credit: El Camino College via Historic Torrance: A Pictorial History of Torrance, California)

In 1943, they formed a committee to petition the State Department of Education to allow the formation of such an institution in the South Bay area. After a couple of years building up support for the idea in the community, committee members convinced the State Board that the area had the students and the economic infrastructure to support the school. The community  overwhelmingly approved creation of the new community college district in a June 30, 1946 election. The district officially formed on the next day, July 1.

With the recent influx of veterans returning from service in World War II, time was of the essence. The local districts officially began the college on Sept. 10, 1946, when its roughly 600 students started attending classes located in temporary quarters on high school campuses in Redondo, El Segundo and Inglewood. The goal was to shift them to a permanent site as soon as possible, preferably in time for the start of the 1947 school year in September.

1946 aerial photo looking north from Torrance shows the empty El Camino College site, lower left corner, with the diagonal Dominguez Channel bisecting it. (Credit: thehoffs.com website)

In October 1946, the new school got its name when trustees voted to call it El Camino Junior College, in honor of the historic missions road El Camino Real. Now they just needed to find a place to build it.

A good-sized chunk of land would be needed, and the acreage owned by Los Angeles County that concurrently was being developed into Alondra Park seemed like a good fit to the trustees. In February 1947, County Board of Supervisors Chairman Raymond V. Darby recommended a 40-acre chunk at the southwest corner of the park.

Postcard shows the El Camino College library reserve reading room circa early 1960s.

Later that month, he changed his mind, calling for the college to be built on 81 acres in the southeast corner just north of the Torrance city limit instead. Plans for a possible freeway route through the southwest parcel (which was never built), and also for the 18-hole Alondra Park golf course, directly conflicted with the plan for the new college.

The campus would be built on unincorporated county land. It remains in unincorporated territory to this day, though the it and the surrounding El Camino Village area often are mistakenly identified as being in Torrance, Gardena or Lawndale.

With the land issue settled, there was the matter of the buildings needed to house classes. The trustees turned to the U.S. Army to solve this immediate problem. The military agreed to donate several surplus buildings from the Santa Ana Air Base in March 1947.

The next month, the college trustees made a crucial decision to hire Forrest G. Murdock as the new college’s first president. Murdock had been principal of a San Jose high school, and was the superintendent of the Centinela Valley high school district when he accepted the job.

Forrest G. Murdock

His leadership would take the new college from temporary classrooms in area high schools to classes held in military surplus buildings to a first class permanent community college over the next 12 years. (He retired in 1958.) Instead of incurring massive debt by attempting to build the college all at once, Murdock proceeded slowly, adding new facilities one by one.

Ground was broken for the campus on June 23, 1947, by Board of Trustees president Robert Russell. The new campus with its temporary military surplus classrooms was dedicated on May 23, 1948. Four days later, students began attending classes in the “new” buildings. The school graduated its first class of 87 students that June, all of whom had earned their degrees in the classes held in area high schools. El Camino College has been growing ever since.

The first permanent building at the school housed shop classes, as vocational education would be a key component at El Camino. Dedication for that building, a women’s gymnasium and a new 5,000-seat outdoor sports stadium was held on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24, 1949.

The El Camino football squad hosted East Los Angeles Junior College in the first game held at the stadium. Warrior Stadium was renamed Murdock Stadium in 1958 to honor Forrest Murdock upon his retirement as college president. (It was demolished and rebuilt as Featherstone Stadium in 2016, named for longtime football coach John Featherstone.)

The El Camino College Campus Center. 1954 postcard. (Credit: CSUDH Digital Archives)

In the early 1950s, the other key buildings, including administration, library, cafeteria, social and life sciences and others, were added. The school’s enrollment grew rapidly during the postwar years, reaching just under 10,000 students in its first ten years.

Murdock’s successor, Dr. Stuart E. Marsee, served as the school’s president for 24 years. in 1968, the school’s performing arts showplace, Marsee Auditorium, was named in his honor.

Aerial view shows the giant parking structure built over the diagonal Dominguez Channel on the eastern edge of the El Camino College campus in 1968. Murdock Stadium, upper right; Alondra Park lake, lower right. Undated photo. (Credit: Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)

As parking grew more scarce during the college’s continuing expansion, an innovative solution was found. Parking for 2,000 cars was created in 1968 by building a $2.7 million concrete structure atop the Dominguez Channel, which runs along the school’s western perimeter. 

“Elco,” as the school is informally known, has grown to more than 25,000 students and now occupies 126 acres. It offers a diverse range of course offerings, and its innovative transfer program gives students a more easily navigable gateway to four-year Cal State and University of California schools.

El Camino College view from northwest corner of Redondo Beach and Crenshaw boulevards. March 2021. (Photo by Sam Gnerre)

Sources:

Daily Breeze files.

“El Camino College Area: 1946,” thehoffs.com website.

El Camino College website, especially “History,” by Dr. Bobbi Villalobos, based on information from The History of El Camino College, 1946-1966, a dissertation by Steven James Muck, El Camino College website.

Historic Torrance: A Pictorial History of Torrance, California, by Dennis F. Shanahan and Charles Elliott, Jr., Legends Press, 1984.

Los Angeles Times files.

Palos Verdes Peninsula News files.

San Pedro News Pilot files.

Torrance Press-Herald files.

El Camino College currently. Alondra Park, left. (Credit: Google Earth)

Georgia Claessens transformed neglected land into an affordable amusement park

Aerial view of Mulligan Family Fun Center in Harbor Gateway shows go-kart tracks, left, miniature golf courses, right, and boat race, lower center. Sepulveda Blvd. is at top right. Feb. 17, 2020. (Daily Breeze file photo by Kaleb Tapp)

Walter Storm, the owner of Western Brass Industries and several other firms in Harbor Gateway, had purchased 15 vacant acres adjacent to his businesses in the early 1960s with an eye toward eventually expanding his operations.

Georgia Claessens. (Credit: Legacy.com)

Born in Texas, the industrious Storm had moved to California as a 20-year-old in 1924, where he proceeded to start several businesses. He settled in Rolling Hills in 1956, where he and his wife Lisa raised a family of four daughters: Alexandra, Claudia, Georgia and Elizabeth. (A fifth daughter, Paula, died as a one-year-old in 1954.)

The Storm girls rode horses when they weren’t working at their father’s businesses, some of which manufactured riding equipment. They would go on to start businesses of their own.

Born on Nov. 22, 1995, Georgia graduated from Miraleste High in 1973 and went on to UC Santa Barbara, where she played volleyball for the highly regarded Gauchos team. She eventually earned her degree at the University of Colorado.

She met and married Dominique Claessens, moving with him to Holland in the early 1980s. After four years there, they moved back to Rolling Hills, where she would raise four children of her own.

She rejoined her father’s business, and, along with her sisters, started several of her own under the overall name of Storm Industries. All of them were based on the Storm property on Sepulveda Blvd. east of Western Ave., just beyond the Torrance city limit.

Mulligan Family Fun Center entrance and main building. November 2019. (Daily Breeze file photo by Axel Koester)

Meanwhile, the adjacent surplus property her father had bought for expansion never had been developed. It was being used as a storage lot for recreational vehicles and a dumping ground for old machine parts.

Wanting very much to start a new business of her own, Georgia began eyeing the land. “The property was being used to store RVs and people’s junk,” she told the Palos Verdes Peninsula News in 2006.

The driving range at Mulligan Family Fun Center. in 2006, before it closed in 2007. (Daily Breeze staff file photo)

Her first thought: build a mobile home park. But her lawyer disabused her of the notion, citing the complex legal thickets involved in owning and operating such a venture. An avid golfer, he suggested she  use the property to build a driving range instead.

Though not a golfer, she began researching the idea and determined there was a need for such a facility in the area. This led her, in partnership with her sisters, to begin brainstorming plans for a much broader entertainment complex.

They began to sketch out a family entertainment complex that both children and adults could enjoy without breaking the family budget. Marketing research revealed a dearth of such low-cost options. 

The driving range idea was retained. To it would be added practice greens for chipping and putting, a pro shop operated by Plaza Golf in Torrance, batting cages, a 50-game indoor arcade, two 15-hole miniature golf courses and a restaurant.

Unlike child-oriented businesses such as Chuck E. Cheese, which offered very little for parents, the complex aspired to have activities all members of the family could enjoy.

Taking the name from the golf term for getting a do-over stroke after a poor shot, they named their $2.5 million project Mulligan Family Fun Center. The center opened at 1351 Sepulveda Blvd. in Harbor Gateway on Dec. 26, 1993.

Electric go-kart drivers (and one passenger) enjoy the track at Mulligan Family Fun Center. Feb. 17, 2020. (Daily Breeze file photo by Hunter Lee)

It proved to be an immediate and enduring success. Its operators stressed providing a safe environment, hiring its own security personnel and going so far as to require teen boys to not wear baseball caps backwards while at the park.

Later additions to the center included two go-kart tracks eventually refitted to use electric cars, a Lazertag area and a rock climbing wall. The driving range closed in 2007, its place taken by industrial buildings.

Claessens spent many hours on operating, maintaining and expanding the business. She opened two additional Mulligan centers, one in Murrieta in 1996, the other in Palmdale in 2005. Both remain open.

Georgia Claessens’ death at age 60 on Feb. 27, 2016, following a horse riding accident, seemed to shake the Harbor Gateway operation. Three years later, in October 2019, the Mulligan Family Fun Center announced it would close on Feb. 17, 2020.

Now-vacant miniature golf course at former Mulligan Family Fun Center site. March 2021. (Photo by Sam Gnerre)

A message on its website announcing the closure stated: “Without her (Georgia’s) vision and love for the industry, it simply is not tenable to continue operating the Torrance Fun Center.” Its 75 employees lost their jobs, and families who had enjoyed the center over the years mourned.

Shutdowns related to the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic probably would have hurt the business had it not closed. Its president, Robert Thomas, did tell the Daily Breeze’s Nick Green that the business was still doing “fine” at the time its closure was announced.

The closed street entrance to Mulligan Family Fun Center in March 2021. Abandoned cement plant can be seen behind sign. (Photo by Sam Gnerre)

Before her death, Claessens had obtained the defunct cement factory next to the Mulligan property with an eye toward developing it. Both the Fun Center and the factory now stand vacant on the property. Plans for its future development have yet to be disclosed.

On March 2, 2021, a fire broke out in the main building at the park, completely gutting it. Firefighters battled the flames for 90 minutes before extinguishing them. The cause of the blaze could not be determined immediately.

Firefighters battle flames at the shuttered Mulligan Family Fun Center at 1351 West Sepulveda Boulevard, in Harbor Gateway on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. Smoke was reported inside the building around 5 p.m. The blaze burned for about 90 minutes before 119 firefighters managed to extinguish it.
(Credit: Daily Breeze photo by Jerry Kelly)

Sources:

Daily Breeze files.

Findagrave.com website.

“Georgia Storm Claessens, 1955-2016,” Legacy.com website.

Los Angeles Times Files.

Palos Verdes Peninsula News files.

Sign posted after the announcement of the closure of Mulligan Family Fun Center. Nov. 2019 photo. (Daily Breeze file photo by Axel Koester)
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