WPA art works have enlivened the Inglewood Post Office since the 1930s

The Inglewood Post Office on Hillcrest Blvd. in September 2022. (Photo by Sam Gnerre)

One of the first entities created in the 1880s settlement that would become known as Inglewood was its post office.

The “Centinela Post Office,” as its first sign read, operated out of the general store in which it had been established. President Grover Cleveland appointed store owner George Robbins as the settlement’s first postmaster in 1884.

Though local land baron Daniel Freeman would have preferred that the new town be called “Centinela,” Inglewood became its name upon its official founding in 1888. The post office sign was changed to reflect the new name.

Horse-drawn carriages in front of the first Inglewood Post Office, circa.1900. (Credit: USC Digital Library)

Inglewood officially incorporated in 1908. As the city grew, so did its need for a much larger post office. The old one suffered damage in the 1920 earthquake that shook the city.

So, with much fanfare, a brand new post office held its grand opening on Oct. 30, 1926. As that was Halloween eve, the gala opening doubled as a community Halloween celebration, its guests encouraged to arrive in costume.

The new post office building in 1926. (Credit: Los Angeles Times archival database)

The imposing four-story building at the northwest corner of Queen and Locust streets cost $325,000 to build. It had 5,000 square feet of floor space and was considered to be “the most elaborate of any outside the largest cities of the State,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Problems with the new building apparently arose over the next six years, as the U.S. Treasury Dept. announced in December 1932 that it had acquired land for a new post office at Hillcrest Blvd. and Kelso St. for $26,000.

One of the 1926 building’s problems became obvious following the Long Beach earthquake of 1933. The powerful temblor registered 6.4 on the Richter scale, severely damaging the Inglewood post office building.

Thinking on their collective feet, Its employees set up an impromptu outdoor postal facility the day after the quake in order to continue to conduct business.

Inglewood Post Office employees at their impromptu outdoor facility the day after the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. (Credit: The History of Inglewood, by Gladys Waddingham, Historical Society of Centinela Valley, 1994)

One of the most important side effects of the 1933 quake was the California Legislature’s near-immediate passage of the Field Act, which mandated earthquake safety standards for schools and other public buildings in the state.

The $210,000 federal government project going up at 300 E. Hillcrest Blvd. adhered to those standards. The groundbreaking ceremony at the Streamline Moderne structure took place in April 1935, with several past postmasters – including George Robbins – present to hear Mayor Raymond Darby’s speech commemorating the event. The new post office building was completed later that year.

A flag flies over the Inglewood post office at 300 East Hillcrest Blvd, completed in 1935. Photo circa 1938. (Credit: Inglewood Public Library)

Management and construction of the project fell to the New Deal federal Works Progress Administration (WPA). In addition to the building itself, the WPA also funded two pieces of public art for the project. The Treasury Section of Painting and Fine Arts, founded in 1934, was put in charge of soliciting local artists for its indoor and outdoor works.

Hugo Ballin, a noted muralist of the era, had submitted drawings for proposed artworks at the Washington, D.C. post office. A couple of them showed riotous scenes of drunkenness and brawling during the California Gold Rush era, and the Treasury selected those two for the Inglewood post office, much to Ballin’s surprise. He turned down the offer, explaining that he had submitted them as a joke.

A more respectable entry for the interior mural by Archibald Garner then was chosen. The result, a wooden bas relief mural entitled “Centinela Springs,” depicted early California residents obtaining water from the nearby local spring.

Archibald Garner’s “Centinela Springs” sculpture inside the Inglewood Post Office in September 2022. (Photo by Sam Gnerre)

Artists Gordon Newell and Sherry Peticolas crafted the four plaster animal images from California wildlife – a buffalo, bear, ram and lion – on the building’s front exterior. Both the  interior and exterior sculptures were completed in 1937.

And that’s the central Inglewood Post Office that exists today, with only minor modifications.

A third sculpture was added in front of the post office building in 1940. This one honored a local dog, Penelope, aka Rex. “Rex” followed mailman Lorenz Prader on his route every day for more than 13 years, dining on treats given by local residents along the way, and walking an estimated 60,000 miles in the process. 

The statue and pet fountain honoring Rex still stands in the median in front of the Inglewood Post Office. September 2022. (Photo by Sam Gnerre)

He died in 1939 after being hit by a car. Uniformed members of Prader’s VFW unit dipped their flags in tribute to Rex at the 1940 dedication ceremony. The bronze statue and granite pet fountain erected in his honor still stand.

For decades, the Inglewood Post Office also featured a stamp collector’s room inside the building, dedicated to serving the needs of serious philatelists as well as casual collectors. Budget cuts caused its closure in the early 2000s.

But at least its constructors got the building right in 1935. Much like the similar-in-design San Pedro Post Office, completed a year later in 1936, it endures as a window back to a bygone time while continuing to perform its functions in the modern era.

Group photograph of the Inglewood Post Office staff in 1939. The only identified person in the photo is Anthony Siminski, who stands on the left side, first in back row. (Credit: Inglewood Public Library)

Sources:

“The Centinela Springs / Lion Buffalo Ram + Bear / Monument to Penelope (Rex),” City of Inglewood Public Art Education Project website.

Daily Breeze archives.

The History of Inglewood, by Gladys Waddingham, Historical Society of Centinela Valley, 1994.

Los Angeles Times archives.

“Tile Mosaics at the Los Angeles Design Center,” by Vicky Kall, History, Los Angeles County blog, April 14, 2014.

“Post Office — Inglewood CA,” The Living New Deal website.

Detail photo shows the exterior ram and bear sculptures at the Inglewood Post Office. (Credit: City of Inglewood Public Art Education Project website)

Torrance’s Gable House Bowl slated to become luxury condo development

The Gable House Bowl in Torrance will give way to a luxury apartment complex in 2023. (September 2022 photo by Sam Gnerre)

Bowling alleys have become a dying breed in Torrance.

The city, which had three bowling alleys still in operation at the beginning of 2020, will be down to one by 2023.

Longtime owner Mickey Cogan, son of one of its original owners, announced earlier this year that Gable House Bowl, opened in 1960, would close early next year, with the land slated to be developed into a 218-unit luxury apartment complex.

Its demise follows that of the Palos Verdes Bowl on Crenshaw Blvd. in 2020. Opened in 1958, it has been demolished and replaced by by a shopping center featuring an Aldi grocery store,   a Chick-fil-A fast food restaurant and a Kinecta credit union branch.

That leaves the Bowlero on Western Ave. in Torrance, which opened as the Bowl-O-Drome in 1957, as the last bowling alley standing.

The future for bowling in Torrance looked much rosier in November 1959, when a group of  men announced an agreement to open the Gable House Bowling Center. They chose a site on the southwest corner of Hawthorne Blvd. and 226th St.

Artist rendering of the Gable House Bowl. Torrance Press, July 30, 1959, Page 26. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

The advent of modern automated pinsetting combined with the need for cheap entertainment for postwar suburban families led to the proliferation of more modern bowling centers during the 1950s.

The South Bay caught on to the trend quickly, first with the South Bay Bowling Center in Redondo Beach’s South Bay Center (now the Galleria)  in 1956. The Palos Verdes Bowl and the Bowl-O-Drome quickly followed.

The principals behind the Gable House – Jack Cogan, Jack Howard and brothers Bob, Leonard and Jerry Homel – had experience in the field. The Homel brothers owned and operated the Jefferson Bowl in Culver City, and Howard and  co-managed the Palos Verdes Bowl. Cogan would later become manager of Gable House.

Torrance Press, July 30, 1959, Page 26. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

Their location at 22501 S. Hawthorne Blvd. was ideal, near the southwest corner of Hawthorne and Sepulveda boulevards, and  just below the city’s burgeoning retail corridor. The groundbreaking for the 40-lane center took place on July 28, 1959.

Its unique design split the 40 lanes into separate 20-lane wings. The building also included a coffee shop, child care center, a cocktail lounges and a billiard room. Its restaurant, The Rik-Sha Room, was located on a mezzanine level above the alleys, along with a second cocktail lounge.

The Gable House had a soft opening during the spring of 1960. Its formal dedication ceremony took place over a three-day period from July 15-17, 1960. 

Torrance Press, July 14, 1960, Page C-6. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

The festivities, which featured giveaways (bowling balls and shoes, and, oddly, hams and turkeys, among other prizes) and demonstrations and lessons from area bowling pros. The three-day event drew “huge crowds,” according to the Torrance Press.

Gable House would continue to draw large crowds over the years, becoming a social center as well as a sporting one.

Jerry Homel became the Gable House’s first manager, and he tried some innovative touches in its early years. In 1961, he hired professional instructors Jerry Goree and Richard Girod to offer dance lessons to the general public at the bowling alley.

Torrance Press, Sept. 4, 1960, Page A-5. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

That same year, he also announced the formation of an experimental pro bowling team league with team franchises in different cities, using other pro sports leagues as a model. His brother, Leonard, came up with the idea, going so far as to build an 1,150 seat arena for it next to Jefferson Bowl in Culver City.

The innovative experiment was short-lived, however; the Los Angeles Toros and the rest of the league folded in early 1962 after just a single season.

PBA Tour bowler Henry Gonzalez on his way to victory in the 1979 Los Angeles Open at the Gable House Bowl in Torrance. (Credit: Still from YouTube video)

Professional bowling would become part of Gable House during the 1970s, however. The Professional Bowlers Association tour found a home at the Torrance lanes from 1977-93. The Los Angeles Open PBA tour made an annual visit every year through 1989 except one, and the Gable House hosted the AC Delco tournament there from 1990-93.

More recent events have led to the winding down of Gable House’s legacy. Shortly before midnight on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, the center was about to begin its Rock-N-Glow bowling event when a melee broke out in the front of the building. Shots rang out, and when it was over, three people had been killed and four injured.

Reginald Wallace, 51, was convicted on three counts of first-degree murder, four counts of attempted murder and one count of a felon in possession of a firearm in June 2022. (He was on parole at the time of the crime.)

Police investigate the shooting that killed three and injured four at the Gable House Bowl in Torrance on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019. (Daily Breeze file photo by Scott Varley)

In making his decision to sell the Gable House land for development, Mikey Cogan also cited the damage done to his business by the COVID-19 pandemic, which greatly reduced patronage there.

In August 2022, the city of Torrance approved the Gable House mixed-use residential project, which will be developed by Intracorp Homes. Though a firm date for the bowling center’s  demolition has not been announced, the company looks to break ground in mid-2023 and open the new Gable House complex in mid-2025, according to the Daily Breeze.

Once complete, the building will hold 12,000 square feet of commercial space, a pool, a fitness center, shared work space and several rooftop decks. 17 of its 218 units will be affordable housing.

Artist rendition of the Gable House luxury apartment complex, scheduled to open in 2025. (Credit: Intracorp)

Sources:

Daily Breeze archives.

Los Angeles Times archives.

Torrance Press Herald archives.

Michael Johnson, 7, watches the ball with his father, John, during bowling session at Gable House Bowl in Torrance. (Daily Breeze file photo by Bruce Hazelton)

Catalina Island’s World War II transformation included classified OSS operations

A group photo of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Special Maritime Unit Group A frogmen from World War II on Catalina Island in December 1943.(Credit: Marines: The Official Website of the United States Marine Corps)

The Wrigley family had built Catalina Island into a major tourist destination before World War II. But the war’s outbreak changed everything, radically altering life on Catalina.

After the Dec. 7 attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government closed the island to the public on Dec. 23, 1941. Its strategic importance once war had been declared on Japan could not be overestimated. (Local residents were allowed to stay.)

It quickly was fortified with armed forces and equipment, but its usefulness as a training site for a variety of military activities also was recognized early on.

The island’s rugged, hilly interior doubled for foreign battlefields, and its miles of ocean shoreline provided excellent backdrops for maritime training.

Sailors march in formation in Avalon on Catalina Island. Undated, circa 1942-45. (Credit: Catalina Museum for Art & History)

The closed island soon became thronged not with tourists, but with thousands of service members. One 1946 estimate put the military population there during the war years at 35,000.

Serving the needs of so many soldiers meant repurposing all of the island’s facilities. Now empty of tourists, hotels such as the St. Catherine were transformed into barracks. Merchant marines also trained at Catalina’s golf course and at the Chicago Cubs’ spring training facility.

Avalon’s Casino hosted USO shows and movie screenings to entertain the troops, as well as makeshift classrooms to educate them. Speaking of movies, future screen icon Marilyn Monroe often visited her merchant marine husband, James Daugherty, while he was stationed on the island during the war.

The tourist-carrying ships S.S. Catalina and Avalon even were painted drab military gray and repurposed into troop transport ships.

There were four main military operations established on Catalina during the war. The Coast Guard trained at Two Harbors, while the Signal Corps worked with the new top-secret radar technology at the remote Camp Cactus 14 miles from Avalon. Marines were based at various interior locations, using the mountainous terrain for training exercises simulating Pacific war zones.

Map shows the OSS training sites on Catalina during World War II. Avalon area (not labeled) marked with red oval.
(Credit: Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields website)

Finally, personnel from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency, headquartered their secret operations at Toyon Bay, a natural cove two and a half miles northwest of Avalon on the inland side of the island. 

The new agency had been formed in June 1942 to train soldiers to conduct covert operations behind enemy lines. The methods taught later would be employed by more modern specialized military units such as the Navy’s SEALs (formed in 1962) and the Army’s Green Berets (1952).

The OSS commandeered the Catalina Island School for Boys in late 1943 and began its operations in 1944. (The school’s teachers and students had been relocated to the mainland in 1941.)

Its activities there remained secret for decades even to locals and fellow military personnel on the island. Information about them only began to be declassified in the 1980s. These activities included reconnaissance, espionage and sabotage missions.

A military “frogman” dives at Catalina Island during World War II training operations there. Undated, circa 1944-45. (Credit: Catalina Museum for Art & History)

Training exercises included using scuba equipment to swim into Avalon Bay and slip ashore undetected into the city, often leaving markings on buildings to indicate their mission had been successful.

Most of the training involved practicing to infiltrate enemy forces from the sea, so the OSS looked to recruit excellent swimmers from all branches of the military. The recruits also included Chinese and Korean soldiers as well as Japanese American recruits willing to fight against the Japanese.

The soldiers also underwent five-day survival exercises, during which they had to fend for themselves in the wild using only a knife and fishing line. They had to live off plants and wildlife while also remaining hidden from all other military personnel.

Graduates of the course went to perform OSS missions in the Pacific Theater, most notably in southeast Asian countries such as Burma (now Myanmar) from 1944 until the war’s end in 1945, after which the OSS was disbanded. The CIA was created shortly afterward, in 1947.

Members of the OSS Maritime Unit on Catalina test small submersible kayaks and other underwater equipment designed for infiltrating enemy territory. (Credit: Catalina Museum for Art & History)

By October 1945, most of the military personnel and equipment had been removed from Catalina Island. Its owners then spent the next few months refurbishing the island’s facilities in preparation for the return of tourists.

The SS Avalon’s first voyage ferrying tourists from Wilmington to Catalina since Dec. 23, 1941, took place on March 6, 1946. By Memorial Day of that year, most of the hotels had reopened and the Casino began offering dancing and entertainment again.

The OSS camp in the former school at Toyon Bay was vacated. The school reopened for a few years after the war, and later became a resort during the 1950s. It then closed for a couple of decades.

In 1979, the Guided Discoveries firm bought the facility and added some buildings. Since then, they have operated the Catalina Island Marine Institute (CIMI), a science facility and summer camp for children, where once military recruits trained to be espionage agents.

Note: Thanks to Tom Lasser for suggesting this topic.

The Catalina Island Marine Institute at Toyon Bay from the air. 2022 image. (Credit: Google Earth)

Sources:

The Catalina Story, by Alma Overholt, Catalina Island Museum Society, Inc., 1962.

Catalina Island Marine Institute website.

“Catalina Island OSS Training, 1944-45,” Gene and Clara’s blog, May 19, 2014.

“Commandos and Anti-Aircraft Guns: Catalina’s Top-Secret WWII History,” by Nathan Master, KCET website, Jan. 24, 2013.

Daily Breeze archives.

Islapedia website.

Los Angeles Times archives.

“Remembering the World War II Frogmen Who Trained in Secret off the California Coast,” by Andrew Dubbins, AtlasObscura website, June 30, 2022.

San Pedro News Pilot archives.

Santa Catalina Island Goes To WAR: World War II 1941-1945, by William Sanford White, White Limited Editions, 2002. 

Torrance Herald archives.

A “happy bear” has kept watch over Torrance auto repair shop for decades

The “happy bear” sign on Carson St. in Torrance has stood since 1948. (August 2022 photo by Sam Gnerre)

I don’t mean to alarm anyone, but there’s a giant bear on Carson St. on the eastern edge of Torrance.

The large animal stands watch from atop a 35-foot-high sign in front of Torrance Auto Repair at 1750 W. Carson. That’s not the original name of the business, as it turns out. But, before we get to that, a word about what the jolly yellow ursine character has to do with auto repair.

Bear Manufacturing in Rock Island, Illinois, in 1936. (Credit: Retro Quad Cities Facebook page)

Founded in 1917, The Bear Manufacturing Co. of Rock Island, Illinois, started out as a luggage manufacturer. In the early 1920s, the company expanded into making tools for aligning automobile wheels, adopting the bear symbol as its logo. 

Seeing its equipment catch on in auto garages, the company later created its own training school for mechanics, who then would display the “happy bear” logo at their shops to indicate that they’d taken the specialized wheel alignment training course.

With the growing dominance of the automobile in the 1920s and 1930s, the Bear school found itself training more and more mechanics. Virgel Bolles of Torrance was among those who took the course in the early 1940s.

Torrance Herald ad, Feb. 15, 1945, Page 6. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

Bolles then started his first business, hanging out a small bear sign at Virgel’s Wheel Alignment Service at 1530 Cravens Ave. near Marcelina in downtown Torrance in 1943. He operated the specialty shop as a part of Harvel’s Service Station for five years.

In January 1948, Bolles opened his own much bigger independent tire and wheel alignment shop, Virgel’s Torrance Bear Service, at 1750 Carson St. Its most visually arresting feature was the large sign near the street featuring a happy yellow bear holding the part that read “Virgel’s Wheel Alignment.”

Torrance Herald, Jan. 15, 1948, Page 5-B. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

Virgel’s bear sign wasn’t the only one around. His brother, Wallace, had opened Bolles Alignment Services on Atlantic Ave. in Lynwood in 1947. The business is still in operation as of this writing, and its sign still stands.

Gardena Bear Alignment Service also sports a large happy bear sign, this one in more of a light-brown hue. It remains standing at 13120 Crenshaw Blvd., outside the still-operating auto garage now known simply as Gardena Bear.

The Gardena Bear sign at 13120 Crenshaw Blvd. in Gardena. July 2022 image. (Credit: Google Earth)

According to the RoadsideArchitecture.com website, about three dozen similar bear signs still exist, many of them in Southern California. The Bear Manufacturing Co. got bought out by a larger firm in 1970, and discontinued its training school shortly thereafter.

The bear logo survived, however. The Grateful Dead adapted the happy bear into its dancing bear logo in the 1970s. Bear Manufacturing was aware of the similarities between the two, but never took any legal action against the band.

As for Virgel Bolles, he lived on 174th St. in north Torrance for decades. The Texas native was a founding member of the Torrance Mounted Police group, and served as its captain. After his death, his son Clem took over management of the garage. He retired in 1989.

Torrance Press, Jan. 12, 1959, Page 2. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

A couple years later, in 1991, the beloved bear came under serious attack from the City of Torrance. It all started when then-owner Richard Errington applied to the city for a permit to attach a smaller neon sign advertising a tire brand to the larger sign. 

When city officials came out to inspect the site, they found the larger bear sign did not conform to city code sections governing signage passed in 1969. Among other things, it was way too tall, ten feet higher than allowed.

They argued that allowing such unregulated signs could lead to visual pollution on the city’s streets, with each business trying to outdo the other with larger and more garish signs.

The Virgel’s sign in September 1991. (Credit: Los Angeles Times archival database)

Inspectors suggested moving the garage’s sign, or erecting a smaller one. “We’re hoping to work something out,” Monte McElroy of the city’s Department of Building and Safety told Daily Breeze reporter Dirk Broersma at the time. “I think everyone is in love with that bear.”

McElroy was right about that last part. The threat to the bear sign resulted in a public outpouring of support for keeping the bear sign as it was despite the violations, and, in the end, the city relented and allowed the sign to stay.

The Torrance Bakery helped Errington celebrate his successful campaign to keep the sign by baking him a custom cake with an image of the bear sign on it.

Since then, the shop has changed hands, and the original sign has been altered to read “Torrance Auto Repair” to reflect the current name of the business.

Torrance Auto Repair, with red marker. Western Ave. is at right. July 2022 image. (Credit: Google Maps)

Sources:

Daily Breeze archives.

“Happy Bear Signs,” by Debra Jane Selzer, SCA Journal, Fall 2017, Vol. 35, No. 2.

Los Angeles Times archives.

RoadsideArchitecture.com website.

Torrance Press Herald archives.

Bolles Alignment on Atlantic Ave. in Lynwood. Undated photo. (Credit: Bolles Alignment Inc. Facebook page)

Navigating Harbor City’s Five Points intersection has always been challenging

Roads converge at the Five Points intersection, looking southwest from Anaheim St. 2022 image. (Credit: Google Earth)

Head south down Vermont Ave. past Kenneth Malloy Harbor Regional Park, and you’ll soon reach a crossroads that gives you options. Lots of options.

Make a hard right onto Anaheim St. and you’ll continue through Harbor City headed for Lomita and Torrance. Bear right more gently and Palos Verdes Drive North will take you up onto the Peninsula. Bear slightly left and you’ll find yourself on San Pedro’s main drag, Gaffey St. Finally, a hard left sends you the other way down Anaheim towards Wilmington and Long Beach.

Welcome to Five Points, one of the South Bay/Harbor Area’s wackiest intersections.

Archaeological and historical evidence suggests that a large Native American settlement once was situated near the Five Points intersection, and that the area once was a crossing for several major trails used by coastal Shoshonean tribes.

Hopefully, they had fewer gnarly traffic accidents there than did subsequent settlers.

Anaheim St. traffic headed west passes through Five Points intersection, center, as Vermont Ave. traffic waits, left. Palos Verdes Drive North is beyond red traffic lights at right, while Gaffey St. lies beyond more distant traffic signals, center. August 2022. (Photo by Sam Gnerre)

Because of its harbor, San Pedro was among the earliest settlements in the Harbor Area, incorporating in 1888. (It disincorporated itself and became part of the city of Los Angeles in 1909.) Other smaller settlements began cropping up north of San Pedro and south of L.A., but for several decades those areas mostly consisted of farmland.

As Los Angeles Harbor’s development ramped up in the early 1900s, the need for roads connecting the port and its goods to points north became obvious. Of course, it went both ways, with port workers from cities such as Torrance in need of connection to San Pedro using eastside thoroughfares such as Western and Vermont avenues

Developing this highway infrastructure that we so take for granted today took time. The last link connecting Western Ave. continuously from Torrance to San Pedro wasn’t finished until 1950. By contrast, the Southern Pacific freight railroad link to San Pedro came early on, in 1881. The Pacific Electric red car began bringing passengers in 1904.

Anaheim St. had been established as an east-west artery between Long Beach and Wilmington in the 1880s. Vermont and Normandie were extensions of major north-south Los Angeles arteries. Palos Verdes Drive North came into the picture with the development of the Palos Verdes Peninsula during the mid-1920s. 

These various planned thoroughfares didn’t start coming together in organized chaos until a series of construction projects approved in 1929 and begun in 1930. These included extending Gaffey St. from Channel St. up north to Anaheim St. and building Normandie and Vermont avenues south from 228th St. to Anaheim. 

San Pedro News Pilot headline, Oct. 2, 1928, Page 2. (Credit: San Pedro News Pilot archives)

Work began on paving the Gaffey St. extension from Channel St. north to Anaheim in June 1930 and was completed that September. 

North of Anaheim, the plan was for Normandie to veer east and merge into Vermont just north of Anaheim St. But both had to be extended a considerable distance south first.

San Pedro businessman and land baron George Peck helped out on the extension northward in 1931 by deeding the right of way on the land he owned through which the expansion would run. 

Traffic was a mess during all this construction, as one might imagine, with some sections of the roads involved, especially Anaheim, being closed for weeks at a time. But, with the completion of its extension in July 1932, Vermont Ave. became the first continuous roadway connecting San Pedro to Los Angeles.

The fifth and final of the Five Points, the extension of Palos Verdes Drive North from the Peninsula eastward to link to the intersection, was approved in 1932 and completed in 1934.

Vehicles heading north, right, and east, left, come through the Five Points intersection from Palos Verdes Drive North in August 2022. (Photo by Sam Gnerre)

It was all well and good for San Pedro to announce the installation of a new “Welcome to San Pedro” sign at the gateway intersection in 1936. But once construction there was completed, it quickly became clear that what really were needed were traffic controls.

Crashes at the confusing intersection became commonplace. In 1932, stop signs were installed at Gaffey and Anaheim. Improved lighting was added in 1936 to the formerly dark-at-night intersection, and there was much talk of improving safety there over the next few years.

Somehow, though, traffic signals weren’t installed until the U.S. Army demanded them in late 1943 to protect troops and defense workers trying to safely navigate the crossing. They became operational in January 1944, and seemed to help reduce accidents somewhat.

More attempts to improve the intersection came after the war. The addition of a nearby bridge on Anaheim and new storm drains were aimed at reducing the flooding from nearby Bixby Slough that occurred at the intersection during rainy weather. Gaffey and Anaheim streets also were widened in 1946 to accommodate the heavy traffic in the area. 

View circa late 1940s of Five Points intersection in Harbor City looking south, with Vermont Ave. in foreground and Anaheim St. running through center. (Credit: Southern California Edison collection via Huntington Library archives)

Improvements to the difficult traffic problems posed by the converging roadways have continued throughout the years.

The whole intersection might have been altered radically if a 1965 proposal for a Coastal Freeway through the South Bay had been adopted. The preferred route would have followed Anaheim St. right through the Five Points intersection. It was debated for several years, but the freeway idea was put to rest in the early 1970s.

From time to time, other proposals to improve traffic have been made. The idea of a roundabout, or traffic circle, similar to the Lakewood Blvd. roundabout in Long Beach has been tossed around for years. Detractors claim the Five Points area is too small for one, and that roundabouts in general pose unnecessarily dangerous traffic risks.

For now, Five Points remains a souped up, frequently redesigned update of the traffic puzzle that first bedeviled traffic engineers – and drivers –  in 1934.

Aerial view of the Five Points intersection shows proximity to Ken Molloy Harbor Regional Park, right, and Phillips 66 refinery tanks, lower right. Unlabeled diagonal street, lower left, is Palos Verdes Drive North. 2022 image. (Credit: Google Earth)

Sources:

Daily Breeze archives.

Los Angeles Times archives.

San Pedro: A Pictorial History, by Henry P. Silka, San Pedro Bay Historical Society, 1993.

San Pedro News Pilot archives.

Torrance Press Herald archives.

Note: Thanks to reader Angel Rodriguez for suggesting this topic.

Montrose Chemical’s DDT production has had a long-lasting environmental impact

Undated pre-1982 aerial view of the 20201 S. Normandie Ave. Montrose Chemical Harbor Gateway plant. (Credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

Recent revelations in the Daily Breeze about the way DDT was dumped directly into the San Pedro Bay have caused some to wonder at how such a thing could be allowed to happen, knowing what we now know about the long-banned pesticide.  Looking at its history might help to explain.

A German chemistry student, Othmar Zeidler, discovered dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, thankfully shortened to DDT, in 1873. But it only began entering into wider use when chemist Paul Hermann Müller resynthesized it in 1936 while investigating two other pesticides.

A U.S. soldier demonstrates use of DDT-hand spraying equipment while applying the insecticide in this undated WWII-era photo. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The company Müller worked for quickly patented the substance when its powerful and rapid effects against insects considered pests, especially mosquitos, became apparent. Müller would go on to win the Nobel Prize in 1948 for his discovery.

The pesticide’s role in reducing the spread of malaria by killing mosquitoes on Asian and European battlefields during World War II really sold the U.S. on its benefits. DDT came to be regarded as a miracle chemical whose widespread use ultimately helped win the war.

So it makes sense that the Montrose Chemical Corporation would readily go into the DDT production business in 1947, shortly after the war ended.

Torrance Herald, Aug. 2, 1956, Page 1. Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

Montrose chose a 13-acre site at 20201 S. Normandie Ave. in Harbor Gateway, an area of Los Angeles just east of Torrance then more commonly known as part of the “shoestring strip.”

The new plant began producing DDT in 1947, and its business boomed; Montrose eventually became the world’s leading producer of the chemical. During its 35 years of operation, the factory produced an estimated 800,000 tons of it, in addition to an estimated one million gallons of acid waste water annually. The company’s early years were filled with rosy predictions and ads such as this one:

Torrance Press ad, May 19, 1955, Page 20. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

But evidence to the contrary began to surface, most notably in Rachel Carson’s environmental bombshell of a book, Silent Spring (Houghton Mifflin, 1962). Its carefully constructed thesis that DDT was having long-term destructive effects on the earth’s environment caused considerable alarm.

President Kennedy asked his Science Advisory Committee to investigate Carson’s claims, and the panel substantiated them in 1963.

The chemical industry fought back, continuing to claim as late as 1969 that the dangers of DDT were greatly exaggerated. Max Sobelman, the superintendent of the Montrose plant, wrote an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times refuting claims that DDT was dangerous and had a long half-life when released into the environment. The research he cited claimed its half-life was “less than a year.”

But he was fighting a losing battle. In 1970, the Environmental Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against Montrose that called for a halt for the company’s dumping of effluent through the L.A. sewage system. A year later, the company stopped the dumping as a result, though thousands of tons of it had already flowed into the ocean. 

A worker cleans out DDT-laced sediment in a sewer that received wastewater from Montrose Chemical in this undated photo. (Credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

In 1972, the two-year-old Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT for most uses in the U.S. The ban didn’t stop Montrose Chemical’s operations, however. The company merely stepped up its involvement in the international marketplace, as the ban only prohibited the use of DDT in the U.S., not its manufacture. By 1979, Montrose was producing more than half of the worldwide supply.

Besieged by lawsuits, angry neighbors and other pressures, Montrose finally shut down its Harbor Gateway plant in 1982 and demolished it. In 1985, the company paved over the property in an attempt to limit health hazards from spreading to the surrounding area.

The EPA continued examining the site, ultimately adding it to its Superfund National Priorities list as its dangers became more apparent. (The neighboring former Del Amo rubber plant site would be added in 2002.) The agency has set its half-life in soil at up to 15 years, and its aquatic half-life may be much longer than that.

Route of Montrose toxic material dumped through sewage system. (Credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

During the 1990s, high concentrations of DDT began to be reported in ocean fish, especially bottom dwellers such as white croaker. Warning signs went up all over area fishing sites with regard to the dangers of eating fish containing high levels of the toxin.

In 1996, the EPA began investigating ways to remediate the undersea areas where the DDT was dumped, most notably the Palos Verdes Shelf area of San Pedro Bay. 

Montrose Chemical wasn’t the only company dumping chemicals into the ocean. The practice was legal in Southern California from the 1930s to the 1970s. Montrose and several other companies settled a lawsuit over the dumping in 2000, making $140 million in funds available for offshore repatriation efforts. Under EPA supervision, Montrose also built a groundwater treatment plant at its former Normandie Ave. location.

The groundwater treatment plant at the former Montrose Chemical site was built in 2013. (Credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

In 2011, divers began discovering sealed barrels on the ocean floor in the 3,200-foot-deep San Pedro Channel, about eight miles south of the shallower Palos Verdes Shelf area. About 27,000 barrels have been discovered to date.

At first, it was assumed that these barrels contained DDT from Montrose Chemical, but the recent excellent article by Daily Breeze reporter Michael Hixon revealed that the company actually disposed of most, if not all, of its toxic waste by dumping it directly into the ocean.

Environmental officials thus are not entirely sure of what the sealed San Pedro Channel barrels contain, or which entity dumped them. The investigation continues.

Green circle in San Pedro Channel denotes location of the 27,000 submerged barrels. (Credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

Sources:

Daily Breeze archives.

“DDT: A Brief History and Status,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website.

“Del Amo and Montrose Superfund Sites Community Involvement Plan,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, June 2020.

Los Angeles Times archives.

“The Montrose Story: Its Scientific, Environmental, Legal and Political Legacies (draft),” by Robert W. Risebrough

“Shoot to Kill: Control and Controversy in the History of DDT Science,” by Jake Sonnenberg, Stanford Journal of Public Health, May 1, 2015.

“Southern California Ocean Disposal Site #2,” Environmental Protection Agency website, last updated July 28, 2022.

Torrance Press Herald archives.

Promotional art promoting DDT use, circa 1950s. Credit: Science History Institute website)
Sign at the Redondo Beach pier warns fishermen against eating white croaker that they may catch due to its potential high levels of DDT. June 2009 photo. (Daily Breeze file photo by Scott Varley)

The Kim family has employed various strategies to keep the Gardena Cinema operational

The Gardena Cinema in August 2022. (Photo by Sam Gnerre)

The Gardena Cinema stands as the last free-standing, single-screen movie theater in the South Bay. Much of the credit for that goes to the Kim family, who have operated it since 1976.

Three decades before the Kims arrived, Harry Milstein and Albert Mellinkoff decided to build a fourth theater in their local chain. The pair already owned and operated the Torrance and Grand theaters in Torrance and the Gardena​​ theater in Gardena.

They decided to call their latest movie palace the Park Theatre, and hired architect C.F. Normberg to build it on a lot at 14948 Crenshaw Blvd., between Marine and Rosecrans avenues. The location was less than a mile northeast of the then-under-construction El Camino College. 

Interior of the Gardena Cinema in June 2016, with crying rooms illuminated to the left and right of the projection booth, rear center. Photo by Granola. (Credit: Cinema Treasures website)

The partners originally intended the 800-seat building to be a showplace for first-run movies. They arranged for several celebrities to be on hand to celebrate the grand opening on Dec. 11, 1946, including guest of honor and celebrated war hero Louis Zamperini. Zamperini’s wife, Cynthia, was mistaken for a movie star by some members of the public, according to the Torrance Herald.

Zamperini’s celebrity guests at the opening included Johnny Weismuller, Martha Raye, Preston Foster, James Dunn and cowboy star “Wild” Bill Elliott. (Unfortunately, the name of the film shown on opening night has been lost to history.)

Torrance Herald, Dec. 5, 1946, Page 6-B. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

By 1947, the Park was showing first-runs, second-runs, double features, serials and even exploitation films such as Kroger Babb’s “Mom and Dad,” an adults-only road show movie that featured footage of a live birth, among other things, according to Michael Weldon’s Psychotronic Video Guide (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1996). Men and women were admitted to separate showings for that one.

The Park became more of a second-run theater during the 1950s, screening everything from b-movie dramas to Westerns to science fiction films. Don Dear, the former Gardena councilman and mayor, told reporter Gary Kohatsu of El Camino College’s Warrior Life magazine about seeing one film in particular:

“I was about 11 when I saw ‘The Thing (From Another World)” (1951). A little girl sitting behind me told me to please sit up straight, so she could hide behind me. It was a very scary movie.”

Gardena Cinema marquee announces the memorial service for Nancy Kim. (Credit: Gardena Cinema Facebook page)

Around 1960, Joseph and Mary Donato bought the theater, and continued to serve up a steady diet of double features throughout the decade, including beach movies, Elvis doubleheaders, and similar fare.

They would end up selling the operation to John and Nancy Kim, who emigrated to the U.S. from South Korea in 1971. The Kims were running a Mexican grocery store in Colton when they heard that the Park Theatre was for sale.

They worked hard to be able to afford it, eventually selling the Colton market and moving to Hawthorne when their deal for the theater went through in 1976. 

Shortly after buying the Park, the couple began to take note of the large Latino population in the area. They found a film distributor for Spanish-language films, and renamed the Park the Teatro Variedades (Variety Theater, sometimes translated as “vaudeville theater”) in 1977.

Cantinflas films screen at the Teatro Variedades in January 1983. (Credit: American Classic Images, via Los Angeles Theatres website)

In addition to films, the Kims also enlisted a promoter who brought live entertainment to the theater on weekends, often packing it to the rafters.

The programming catered to the theater’s Latino clientele until their foreign language film distributor went out of business in the late 1980s. The couple tried focusing on Korean films for a while, with the theater changing names to the “Eden” and the “Morning Calm.”

That market turned out to be less lucrative than they’d hoped. When their daughter, Judy, returned home from Smith College in 1994, her parents enlisted her help in an attempt to reverse the theater’s declining fortunes.

The family decided to go back to screening Hollywood films in 1996, renaming their theater the Gardena Cinema and charging their patrons less than newer first-run theaters. Their emphasis was on crowd-pleasing films.

The front lobby and snack bar at the Gardena Cinema in June 2016. Photo by Granola. (Credit: Cinema Treasures website)

The theater’s layout has changed little since its early days, and includes two crying rooms on each side of the projection booth. Over the years, the Kims have added neon lighting to the snack bar area, giving the front lobby an old-time theater feel.

They faced a financial challenge in 2013, when they were forced to adopt the new digital projection technology or face closure. Fortunately, they were able to raise the $150,000 for the new equipment.

In 2016, the Kims won a protracted battle to purchase the parking lot adjoining their theater, something the family had wanted for years. The outdoor space has come in handy during the COVID-19 era, allowing the family to conduct outdoor drive-in movie screenings on the property beginning in August 2020.

The death of matriarch Nancy Kim on May 8, 2022 put a temporary halt to the Gardena Cinema’s activities, following a well-attended memorial service held in her honor at the theater.

But, as of this writing, the Gardena Cinema is returning to action, beginning with drive-in screenings of “Clueless” (1995) scheduled for Aug. 27-28, 2022.

2012 video tour of the Gardena Cinema made to show off the facility to potential buyers. The theater was for sale at the time.

Sources:

Daily Breeze archives.

“Gardena Cinema,” Cinema Treasures website.

“Gardena Cinema,” Los Angeles Theatres website.

“Gardena Cinema: A family story with a Hollywood ending,” by Gary Kohatsu, Warrior Life magazine, El Camino College, June 1, 2021. 

Los Angeles Times archives.

The Psychotronic Video Guide, by Michael Weldon, St. Martin’s-Griffin, 1996.

Torrance Press Herald archives.

Ad shows the lineup at the four theaters. Torrance Herald, July 24, 1947, Page 4-B. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

Torrance’s J.C. Penney store traces its roots back to 1929

Torrance Herald front page, Sept 19, 1929. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

Though its history in Torrance contains a 16-year gap, J.C. Penney’s has been operating its retail business in the city for more than 90 years.

The chain itself was founded by James Cash Penney in 1902 when he opened his own branch of the Colorado-based Golden Rule dry goods store in Kemmerer, Wyoming.

He took over the Golden Rule chain in 1907 when its other two principals sold him their shares of the small company. Penney grew Golden Rule into 34 locations by 1912, and consolidated all of them into his new J.C. Penney Company in 1913.

The company grew quickly into a national retailing power, opening its 1,000th store in 1928. (Walmart founder Sam Walton once worked at the J.C. Penney store in Des Moines, Iowa.)

J.C. Penney logo, 1920s. (Credit: Logos-World.net website)

Early the next year, J.C. Penney, now with more than 1,400 locations, announced that it would build a new store in downtown Torrance, naming F.M. Buffington of Huntington Park as its manager.

Contractor Sidney Babcock of Santa Ana handled the construction at 1269 Sartori Ave. in Torrance, then the heart of the city’s commercial district. The store would measure 30 feet in width and 140 foot long, and include a 35-foot-wide mezzanine level.

Photos show interior of original Torrance Penney’s (top left and right) and exterior (bottom). Torrance Herald, Sept. 26, 1929. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

With the then-largest retail chain in the nation coming to town, a gala grand opening was planned for Friday, Sept. 20, 1929. The store actually opened for two hours the night before, Thursday the 19th, but only in order to show off its interior. No merchandise was sold, but the event still attracted at least 1,500 visitors.

Store manager Buffington told the Torrance Herald at the time that more than 75 percent of the merchandise on sale in the new store carried J.C. Penney’s own labels.

The new Penney’s did brisk business downtown for the next decade, despite opening on the brink of the 1929 stock market crash and the ensuing Great Depression. On Oct. 11, 1940, the company moved a couple doors east, opening a newly enlarged store at 1259-65 Sartori that gave the retail operation twice the space of its former location.

Artist rendition of the larger Old Torrance J.C. Penney store facade on Sartori Ave. from the Torrance Herald, Oct. 10, 1940. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

The Torrance Penney’s survived the World War II years intact, but ran into unexpected difficulties as the war was winding down in 1945.

The rise of the Retail Clerks Union, Local No. 905 of the American Federation of Labor (A.F.L.), headed by Haskell Tidwell, led to unrest, strikes and violence at retail stores throughout the South Bay and Harbor Area during the early 1940s.

Tidwell fought on behalf of union members to improve working conditions for store employees, including demands for higher wages, beginning in San Pedro in 1941. By 1945, his union’s tactics included picket lines outside local stores whose owners refused its demands.

In Torrance, these stores included J.C. Penney & Co., which was one of several to close in response to picketers on Sept. 25, 1945. Store manager Hillman Lee was severely beaten after briefly reopening Penney’s on Feb. 1, 1946.

Penney’s remained closed after several more attempts to reopen, and by 1948, its owners had taken all they were going to take from Tidwell’s union. The company announced on Aug. 12, 1948, that it would close its Torrance store (in addition to stores in Wilmington and San Pedro), and withdraw permanently from the area.

Photo circa 1962 shows J.C. Penney Co. store, center white building, at Del Amo Shopping Center. (Credit CSUDH Digital Archives)

For the next decade, withdraw the company most certainly did. But the explosive growth of Torrance’s retail shopping corridor along Hawthorne Blvd. in the 1950s must’ve caught the retailer’s attention. In February 1959, Penney’s announced that it would return to Torrance in a big way, building a large store in the outdoor Del Amo Shopping Center.

At the time, the 70,000-square-foot building designed by Welton, Becket & Associates was the third largest in the growing shopping center, which would merge with Del Amo Fashion Square in 1981 to form the Del Amo Fashion Center indoor mall, at one time the nation’s largest.

When the million-dollar structure opened on March 16, 1961, the new Penney’s had 150 employees and included a main floor, a basement, and the capacity to add a second floor if needed. A second Penney’s store became part of the new Carson Mall (now the SouthBay Pavilion) in 1973.

In 1970, J.C. Penney started a new chain of Walmart-like department stores, The Treasury. A Torrance branch opened that year across Hawthorne Blvd. from Penney’s in a location very near where a Walmart store operates today. 

The venture lasted several years before management decided to close the stores. In 1981, the Torrance branch became the last in the chain to shut down.

The mall entrance at Del Amo Fashion Center to JCPenney’s Torrance store in August 2022. (Photo by Sam Gnerre)

As for Penney’s, the Del Amo store would make its final move to its current location on the south end of the mall next to Sears during a major remodel of Del Amo Center that began in 1968. 

J.C. Penney has suffered financially as many large traditional retailers have in recent years. The company filed for bankruptcy in May 2020, shortly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four months later, J.C. Penney was acquired by Brookfield Property Partners and Simon Property Group for about $800 million. (Simon Property Group owns and operates Del Amo Fashion Center.) The revived store continues to operate at its longtime Del Amo Fashion Center location.

The JCPenney store at Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance in August 2022. (Photo by Sam Gnerre)

Sources:

Daily Breeze archives.

Los Angeles Times archives.

Torrance Press Herald archives.

Wikipedia.

Torrance Herald ad, March 27, 1930. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

Vaccines stopped the 1950s polio epidemic dead in its tracks

Polio vaccine pioneers Dr. Albert Sabin, left, and Dr. Jonas Salk. Undated photo, circa 1960s. (Credit: Hauck Center for the Albert Sabin Archives, University of Cincinnati)

The first polio epidemic in the U.S. struck Rutland, Vermont, in June 1894. 132 cases were reported during that summer, with 18 fatalities, mostly children.

Poliomyelitis had been around dating back to ancient times, but very little was known about the disease, even after the increasingly serious spate of outbreaks that hit the U.S. in the early 1900s.

The poliovirus spreads person to person via contact with sneeze or cough droplets or human feces, often via flies, rats and other rodents. Roughly 70 percent of those infected by the virus show no symptoms. 25 percent of those infected display flu-like symptoms such as sore throat, fever, fatigue and headache.

1944 artwork by Charles Henry Alston, for the March of Dimes campaign. (Credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

A much smaller percentage, less than one percent, suffer serious effects when the disease spreads to the spinal cord and brain. These effects can lead to meningitis, partial and full  paralysis, and can be fatal.

Polio’s most famous victim, future president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, contracted the disease in 1921. He would remain paralyzed for the rest of his life. Annual polio outbreaks during the summer months had become frequent and increasingly deadly. 

FDR responded by creating the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis in 1938, which became better known by the name of its fundraising drive, the March of Dimes. Its purpose was to raise funds nationwide for polio research and vaccine development.

As the disease spread, March of Dimes campaigns became ubiquitous, with the charity’s  fundraising placards seemingly placed in every drugstore and market. The design of the dime coin was changed in 1946 to a profile of FDR to honor him posthumously for his efforts. (He died in 1945.)

Polio victim Judy Wixom, above, would survive her battle with the disease. Newspapers from the pre-vaccine 1950s contained many such accounts. Torrance Herald, July 23, 1953 Features front page. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

Los Angeles County and the South Bay weren’t spared by the polio outbreaks, which had occurred already in 1934 and 1938. Newspaper accounts from the second half of the 1940s detail increasing alarm from health officials over the increase in cases, beginning in 1946.

The outbreaks varied in strength. The 1946 outbreak hit the South Bay and Harbor Area fairly hard, while being mild nationwide. The reverse happened in 1949, with the local areas not as affected as other parts of the country. That year, 42,173 cases were reported in the United States, resulting in 2,720 deaths

Though it began to affect all ages as it spread, polio was considered at first to pose particular danger to children. Its continued presence cast a pall over summertime activities, as parents were warned to have their children avoid public swimming pools and any contact with children showing even mild cold or flu symptoms.

Front page headline, April 18, 1955. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

Polio obviously wasn’t going away as the 1950s began. In fact, 1952 turned out to be the worst year for the disease in the country’s history. From the 57,628 cases reported that year, 3,145 died and 21,269 were left with varying degrees of paralysis.

Various treatments and therapies were thought to be effective, from iron lungs to gamma globulin injections. A course of treatment offered by Australian nurse Sister Elizabeth Kenny involving physical therapy ran counter to prevailing methods, but proved somewhat effective in reducing symptoms.

On the other hand, an August 1945 attempt involving spraying the town of Rockford, Illinois, with DDT to stop the disease was not an overwhelming success, though residents at least were advised to close their windows during the application.

All the while, scientists and doctors worked on potential vaccines, seeing them as the only way to stop the disease. Finally, on March 26, 1953, Dr. Jonas Salk announced on CBS radio that he had successfully tested an injectable anti-polio vaccine. After further trials and tests, government officials approved the Salk vaccine for widespread use on April 12, 1955.

The very next day, the first shipments of the vaccine manufactured by Parke, Davis & Co. arrived at Los Angeles International Airport. By April 18th, vaccination of first and second graders in Torrance-area elementary schools had begun, with health officials completing vaccinations in late May. A round of follow-up doses began that October.

The precious Salk serum arrives in Los Angeles on April 13, 1955. American Airlines Air Freight personnel unload the shipment from Parke, Davis & Company. (Credit: Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)

The effectiveness of the Salk vaccine can be measured in comparing polio statistics from 1955 versus those from 1956. In the Torrance area, 50 cases were reported in 1955, 29 in 1956, and only two through July 1957. Los Angeles County numbers also reflected the trend, with 109 in 1956 and only 31 during the first half of 1957. Total cases in the U.S. fell from 21,667 in 1955 to 4,851 in the first 10 months of 1957.

The numbers would continue to fall drastically. When Dr. Albert Sabin’s polio vaccine came into use in the U.S. in 1962, the fight against polio gained full steam. Sabin’s vaccine was taken orally instead of by injection. It was cheaper – he declined to patent it in order to keep its cost low – and much easier to administer.

In August 1962, South Bay and Harbor Area schools quickly implemented programs to distribute the Sabin vaccine to students. Los Angeles County health officials also opened vaccination clinics throughout the county, encouraging vaccination among adults as well.

Palos Verdes Peninsula News, Feb. 7, 1963, Page 1. (Credit: Palos Verdes Peninsula News Archives)

Sabin’s vaccine had the added benefit of preventing infection of the intestines, which kept the virus from spreading from carriers with no symptoms. Therefore, it complemented the Salk vaccine, and those who’d already gotten the Salk injection were urged to also take the Sabin vaccine.

The combination of the two vaccines effectively halted polio dead in its tracks. The last outbreak in the wild in the U.S. occurred in Amish communities in the Midwest in 1979. Efforts to stem the disease in other countries also fared well: by 1979, the Western Hemisphere was declared free from the virus. According to 2019 statistics, there were only 125 cases worldwide, and the disease occurred in the wild in only two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Hanna-Barbera Studios contributed this Yogi Bear cartoon to aid the “Sabin on Sundays” program, which often used sugar cubes to administer the vaccine. Torrance Press, Oct. 10, 1962, Page A-12. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

Sources:

“Albert Bruce Sabin: The Man Who Made the Oral Polio Vaccine,” by Davide Orsini and Mariano Martini, National Library of Medicine website, 2022.

Los Angeles Times archives.

“Polio Makes Its U.S. Debut in Vermont’s Otter Creek Valley in 1894,” New England Historical Society website.

Redondo Reflex archives.

San Pedro News Pilot archives.

Torrance Herald archives.

“What is Polio?”, Centers for Disease Control website.

Wikipedia.

Anti-vaccine ad, Torrance Herald, Nov. 20, 1961, Page 20. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

Aug. 9, 2022:

Reader Louie Pastor of Manhattan Beach offered these comments on the polio blog post above:

From: louie Pastor <lapbsma@yahoo.com>

Sent: Saturday, August 6, 2022, 05:05:34 PM PDT

I enjoyed reading your article regarding the vaccines and the polio epidemic.  At that point in history science was not overly influenced by political agendas and there was much less of a incestuous relationship between Big Pharma and the medical profession.  Since then we have learned that Big Pharma and doctors can collect profits whether they help people or cause damage.  Part of this is evident as vaccine companies are not liable for damages they cause. A result of a bill passed by politicians who were paid off by the CDC, Big Pharma and other corrupt organizations.

I have read about and wonder if you were aware of information correlating the use of DDT  and the rise in cases of polio during those times you wrote about.  In fact it has been brought out that Franklin Roosevelt contracted polio after swimming in water contaminated by DDT.

The lack of transparency and the exposed lies the current body of medical “experts” have been caught pontificating upon have made those with common sense question the integrity of our medical bureaucracy.

As a small example, here are a few products that were approved by the powers that be and that caused injury and/or death.

Fen-Phen

Posicor

Baycol

Vioxx (55,000 people lost their lives from taking Vioxx)

Bextra

Meridan

Avastin

Accutane

Cylert

Darvon

Thalidimide

So even though I enjoyed reading your article I hope you will understand that I along with thousands of others not longer trust a system that tries to mandate medical treatment.

The current political and medical agendas remind me of the the days when the majority of the U.S.population,  the government, the military and other powers were forcing various Indian Nations to bow to rules that the Indians did not want to follow, limited their ability to move freely by forcing them on reservations, affected their food supply and other horrendous acts.  I am hoping that those that are fighting the current draconian rules (that includes me) being given to them will have sort of a “Little Big Horn” moment and be able to throw off the tyranny we are currently facing.

I do not look at your article as vaccine “propaganda”.  As I said, I enjoyed the article.  I was a kid in the 1950’s and relate to some of the information you presented. I am hoping you look into some of the alternative information that is out there and does get equal coverage and help bring that information out.  

Respectfully,

Louie Pastor   (Not the French guy Pasteur)    By the way you may want to look up the history of the scientists Louie Pasteur versus Antoine Beauchamp and see how that debate ended.  I think you will find it fascinating as I did.   

The 1956 dedication of the Torrance Civic Center turned into a citywide party

Torrance City Hall in the Civic Center in July 2022. (Photo by Sam Gnerre)

Why did the city of Torrance feel the need to open a huge new civic center complex only twenty years after moving into their then-new building on Cravens Ave. downtown? One big part of the answer: population.

In 1947, the city had 13,160 residents. In 1957, that number had grown to 94,302. During one 1954-56 stretch, Torrance’s population grew at a rate of 1,000 new residents per month.

These numbers weren’t lost on those in city government, whose offices were becoming increasingly inadequate to handle the surge in population. The police department headquarters, which at the time was housed in city hall, felt the space pinch more acutely than most. 

Torrance Herald, Oct. 7, 1954, Page 1. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

Also, Torrance’s city fathers took great pride in their booming city, and didn’t like not having civic buildings to show off to prospective businesses they wanted to entice into moving their operations to town.

The drive to build a new civic center began in late March 1953, when the city council voted to have city manager George Stevens pursue the purchase of 30 acres of land along Torrance Blvd. between Maple and Madrona avenues for just such a purpose.

Downtown Torrance merchants reacted swiftly to the move. More than 100 of them signed petitions against it immediately, sensing the loss in business they would suffer as a result of the proposed move.

Torrance City Hall in 1959, with police department at left. Photo taken from the 1959 Torrance City Directory. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

But most of the city’s movers and shakers stood behind the effort, and it was put on the ballot for public vote in the April 1954 municipal election. The bond propositions for the new center, and a separate one for a new public swimming pool to be built there, received more yes than no votes, but failed to garner a large enough majority to pass.

Civic center backers, taken aback by the defeat, redoubled their efforts to get the measures passed, adding them to the October 1954 ballot for a second attempt. This time, an all-out effort involving newspaper advertising, public rallies and other events promoting the bond measures met with success.

The passage of the bond measures meant full steam ahead for the civic center. The council hired Pasadena architect Marion J. Varner to design the huge facility. He came up with an ambitious, detailed plan, not all of which would be built during the initial phase of construction.

Torrance Herald, Aug. 4, 1955, Page 1. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

One segment which would not come to fruition immediately was the building of a new county courthouse proposed for the Maple Ave. side of the property. Political bickering would delay that addition until 1968.

Other elements not added immediately included a new main library building (1971), an elaborate arts center (1991) and recreational facilities (soccer fields opened there in 2014). Even without all its pieces, the center as completed in 1956 cost an estimated $1.25 million.

Ground was broken for the new center on Aug. 1, 1955, with the new facilities slated to open in 1956. The next few months were spent planning additional details, this time for an onslaught of activities to celebrate the city government’s new home.

The wide-ranging dedication ceremonies couldn’t be contained to a single day, so they were scheduled for two days, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 11-12, 1956. 

Torrance Herald ad, Aug. 2, 1956, Page 24. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

Here’s what was planned: a massive Saturday parade down Torrance Blvd. with 125 entries followed by the dedication ceremonies, rodeos on both afternoons, an evening watercade followed by a dance at the new swimming pool, a Saturday night barbecue and ongoing open houses and tours of the new police and city hall buildings.

The weekend was a smashing success. The Torrance Herald estimated that 65,000 people enjoyed the festivities. 3,000 of them signed the official guest book at city hall, and the parade drew the largest crowd.

Torrance Herald, Aug. 12, 1956, Page 1. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

Dignitaries included California Lt. Gov. Harold Powers, who gave the keynote address, Los Angeles County Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz, Assemblyman Vincent Thomas, county supervisors Burton Chace and Kenneth Hahn, and of course, Torrance Mayor Albert Isen, the members of the city council and Miss Torrance of 1956, Gaye Wilson.

The city has spent the decades since revamping and updating its civic center, starting with a master plan adopted in November 1960. A three-story addition to City Hall was built in the 1980s, as was the new police headquarters building, which formerly had been located near City Hall.

Architects rendering of the 1960 plan for the development of the Torrance Civic Center, with Torrance Blvd. running across the top. Many elements are included which never were built. (Credit: City of Torrance)

Plans for underground parking were formulated, fought over, and never built. Parking garages would have been built beneath a proposed recreation area with parkland, a lake and tennis courts, but neither came to pass. A renewed effort to cover the municipal plunge never became reality, and a second courthouse building has long been on the drawing boards but has yet to be undertaken.

A centralized permit center building next to the city hall did come to fruition in 2011 after the project had passed  through the hands of four different mayors. The $1.9 million center allows those in need of more than 50 types of city permits to apply and receive them all in one place instead of having to locate each individual issuing department.

For a complex first built almost seven decades ago, the Torrance Civic Center continues to  adapt to the changing needs of its employees and city’s residents remarkably well. It’s certainly lasted much longer than its downtown Torrance predecessor did.

The Permit Center on the eastern end of Torrance City Hall was completed in 2011. ( July 2022 photo by Sam Gnerre)

Sources:

Daily Breeze archives.

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

“History of the Civic Center,” City of Torrance website.

History of Torrance: A Teacher’s Resource Guide, Torrance Unified School District, 1964. 

Los Angeles Times archives.

Torrance Press-Herald archives.

Note: Special thanks to Michael George, reference librarian, Torrance Public Library.

Front page of Torrance Press, Aug. 9, 1956. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)
Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started