Saturday, August 8, 2015

Traveling South on Vermont, Through Time

They've been waiting a long time in the Vermont Knolls-Manchester neighborhood in South Los Angeles for a nice place to shop.  The buildings at Manchester and Vermont burned down in 1992, and the land has been vacant ever since.  It is owned by The Sassony Group.  They officially broke ground for new development on April 29, 2015.  The picture above is their architectural rendering, pictured floating about the street.  

If you wonder why the street is so wide, it's because the trains used to go there, and trains made history.

In 1888, there was  little steam train and an imaginary town called Rosecrans.  It was the peak of the real estate boom, and speculators d'Artois and Webb were selling town lots on land they bought from General William S. Rosecrans of the Union Army.  Rosecrans was one of many old soldiers who came to L.A. after the Civil War.  He bought ranch land from an old Spanish family, but spent more time in politics than he did at ranching.  D'Artois and Web needed a train to bring buyers to the land, so they built the Rosecrans with a steam dummy, that is, an engine designed to look like a rail car in order to avoid scaring the horses.  The horses were scared anyway, because it was the sound not the sight that frightened them.   D'Artois and Webb built a hotel, but no houses.  In those days, it was left to the buyers to build, or to retain the land for speculation.  The real estate boom ended before any houses were built, and the hotel burned down.  The land was planted in potatoes and barley which grew in the winter rains without artificial irrigation.

After so much land had been bought and sold during the boom, the city needed building supplies and was importing a lot of lumber.  Two lumbermen from Oregon,  Ainsworth and Thompson, had their eyes on Redondo Bay, which was 9 miles beyond the ghost town of Rosecrans.  They would build a port there and escape the excessive freight rates the Southern Pacific was charging to bring cargo from the port of San Pedro to Los Angeles.  They built a wharf and a fancy hotel in Redondo Beach.  They extended and rebuilt the old Rosecrans line, renamed it  "The Redondo Railway" and went into business.  Although successful in 1905, they sold their interests to Henry E. Huntington.  Huntington is remembered for his "Big Red Cars" Pacific Electric Railway, but real estate was his main interest.  It continued to operate with green cars. until 1911 when it became part of Huntington's Los Angeles Railway, with yellow cars.

There were three separate lines linking downtown L.A. with Gardena and Redondo Beach.  The Moneta line went down what is now Broadway. The Sunnyside line went down Vermont, and the Inglewood line went through Inglewood.  I've copied a Google map and overlaid the railway map.  The light green line if Vernon Ave, and the yellow line is Broadway, which had been called Moneta then.  A lot of the fresh produce eaten in Los Angeles came from Gardena.  Japanese immigrants were the most successful farmers.  One region was called Strawberry Park after its most abundant crop.

After the "Free Harbor" in San Pedro was built, Redondo dwindled as a port, but continued as a resort.  Much of the land in South L.A. was annexed to the City of Los Angeles in what was called "The Shoestring District," in order to bring San Pedro within the official city limits.  Redondo gradually lost its importance as a port after the expansion of San Pedro but the rail line continued to thrive, for passengers and for the fresh produce grown in the Gardena area.  Real estate developments bloomed near the stations. Florence Heights, Sunnyside Park, Olivito Heights, Woodcrest, and Vermont Heights were all being promoted around 1905. In 1908 Manchester Heights was opened with a barbecue and a band concert.  In spite of the word "heights" in their names, these places were basically flat.  Athens-on-the-Hill is on a gentle slope.  Realtors described the sea breezes and wide boulevards of Athens.  It had been called Howard's Summit and was near the old ghost town of Rosecrans.  Later writers described it as slow to develop, but a few houses from its early development like this one still stand.  

For a while there were two lines running down Vermont, the LARy and   

This is Vermont and 116th St.
Two trolley lines went there, and the fare was only 5 cents.

There was a stop called Connelly, where 78th St. is now.  Mary Connolly was an old time land owner.  She was said to have been a homesteader, but she probably bought the land from General Rosecrans.  She died in 1897, of accidental burns.  She had given the deed to the land to her brother Patrick, and their other siblings spent three years suing him.  They claimed she was incapacitated by the pain-killers she was taking, and that Patrick had exerted undue influence. Actually, Mary and Patrick had been in the real estate business together for years.  Patrick himself died in 1894, and the property went to his widow, Eliza.  There were two children, Joseph Patrick and Mary.  Eliza Connolly had a lavish mansion built in 1912.  By 1915, young Mary had moved to Paris while Joseph went to U.S.C. and Eliza had a ranch manager named Joseph Samuel Farrell, who'd been working there since 1910 or earlier.  Mary came home on a visit and decided her mother was spending the fortune she hoped to inherit in a reckless fashion and that it was all Joseph Farrell's fault.  She took them to court. The case fell flat after Eliza married Farrell. Joseph and Eliza lived in the house for the rest of their lives.  Joseph Farrell died in May1925, and Eliza died Aug. 1925. Her obit in the L.A. Times strangely attributed her death to grief over that same daughter Mary's death in France the year before.

Connolly Mansion, 1950's

None of their descendants seems to have lived in the mansion.  Joseph Patrick Connelly preferred to live in Beverly Hills.  He was a lawyer.

The latest subdivision was Vermont Avenue Knoll in 1928.   The nickel trolley fare was still a selling point. The rendering of an aerial photograph shows that the surrounding area had already been developed.

There had been theaters in the neighborhood. The Balboa Theater had opened a few blocks to the South of the development in 1926.  The building is still there.

It served as the Nation of Islam Western Headquarters.  NOI moved to Inglewood, but now they list their official address as the gray building next to the theater, while the Theater calls itself Pan Andreas West.

Vermont Avenue Knoll was developed by Walter H. Leimert of Leimert Park. The was when developers were starting to build houses as well as sell vacant lots.  Leimart liked Spanish Colonial Revival Architecture.  This house is typical, though the color is not.

More modest dwellings in the area are also in this style

with the vegetation of the California Dream

Most of the houses in this historic district were built between 1928 and 1939.  In 1930 construction of Hattem's Market began.

It opened in 1931 with fanfare.

It still is one of the most striking buildings in the area.

Allen and Huck market operated there in 1940, and in 1961, Pepperdine bought it to use as an administration building. 

 Later, the building was purchased by the Church of Scientology.  I took this picture through the glass front door.  I'm wary of Scientologists, and I'm happy to say no one interfered with my photography or offered to give me a  free personality test.  

Later, I found out it serves as Nation of Islam Mosque #27.  I had no idea that Louis Farrakhan had embraced Scientology.  It is beyond my scope to say much about either of these organizations, but I'm sorry to say that Scientology shut down a conference on mental health in 2012.  

The Community Coalition building was used as Pepperdine's journalism building.  It looked like this in 1961, when Pepperdine bought it.

This picture was taken in 2009.  It is currently undergoing remodeling. There will be a ribbon cutting ceremony Aug. 3.

 I took this picture the day before its reopening on August 3, 2015.  

I recommend this clip of the CBS News coverage of the opening.  

Another building of 1930 was the South Ebell Club, a branch of the Women's Club with the theater on Wilshire.

It now serves as a Masonic Lodge during the week, and as a church on Sundays.

In 1937, George Pepperdine bought up some of the Connolly land and built a college.

  This was not the last of the Connolly land.  In 1960, Patrick Josef Connolly was discovered to be the legal owner of a 60 ft. wide strip of land along Vermont by the railroad tracks, from Florence Ave to 83rd. Street.  He got $305,600 for it.  It had been an unimproved strip alongside the tracks which the city paved and made into a driving lane without knowing Connolly owned it.
  The Connolly mansion, the subject of young Mary Connolly's lawsuit, became part of the campus, and some nice Deco buildings were constructed.

It was a white neighborhood when George Pepperdine built the school, but that changed after World War 2.  The African-American population grew during the war, and was crowded into a small section of town--the old South-Central. The neighborhood started in what is now Little Tokyo, but was Bronzeville during the war.  It was bounded by Avalon on the west and Slauson on the south. In 1948, the restrictive covenants, which maintained segregated housing, was declared unconstitutional.  It was a hard won victory by Loren Miller and Thurgood Marshall.  

Loren Miller (U.S.C. collection)
Thurgood Marshall (Library of Congress)
While the struggle for fair housing continued in many other parts of the city, Vermont Knolls became a nice middle-class African-American neighborhood. Residents participated in a bridge club, and sorority installation luncheon, and the anniversary celebration of a married couple.

Pepperdine was affiliated with the Church of Christ, a church rooted in the 19th century Restorationist Movement.   In 1968, L.A.Times described the church of Christ as possibly the "last large mainstream christian church in which it is admitted that white racism is a problem outside and inside the church." The Church, or Brotherhood, had avoided taking a stand regarding slavery in the 19th century, because they did not want the church to divide as the Baptist Church had done.    Dr. Norvell Young, president of Pepperdine, was also editor of the two main church magazines.  He promised to "integrate the staff of both magazines and publish more articles on new of the black churches, urge employment of qualified persons of all races and plan train gin programs to qualify them."  In the 1950's the student body was 10-15% black, while the neighborhood was 50% black. but blacks were only 10-15 percent of enrollment, but this was a higher percentage than attended similar faith-based colleges in the area.  Norvel Young and his successor William Banowski found the wealthy white donors to the college didn't want to finance more building in South Los Angeles.  Instead, they donated land in Malibu.  

    Black Lives Matter

I was pondering the reasons for Pepperdine's move, when I learned of a horrifying event.  On Mar. 12, 1969, campus security  guard  killed black teenager Larry Kimmons with a shotgun.  Kimmons was a student at Washington High School. He and his friends had come to the Pepperdine campus to play basketball in the gym, something they had done in the past, but this time the gym was being used for another event.  Somehow, Charles Lane, the 61 year old white campus security guard found it appropriate to use a shotgun when black teenagers were reluctant to leave the campus.  The boys said the shooting was completely unexpected and without warning, while a white student said that Larry was "going for the gun."  The security guard was eventually convicted of  involuntary manslaughter.  He was fined $500 and put on probation, without serving any time. It was an example of a black life being held cheaply,  the kind of thing we've been learning about recently, which has inspired the Black Lives Matter movement.  It makes me wonder how many similar events have been forgotten. William Monroe Campbell of Mount Gilead Missionary Baptist Church in South Los Angeles was the chairman of the Black Student Union at the time.  He had transferred to the Virginia Union University by the time the killer was sentenced, and sent this eloquent letter to the Los Angeles Sentinel.

The Black Student Union boycotted classes and held demonstrations in protest.  A scholarship was established in Larry Kimmons name, but they did not name a building after him.  Black studies classes were added, and black faculty hired, but a year or two later, students were protesting the firing of black journalism teacher Ron Ellerbe.  For some reason, Ellerbe was later fired, over the protests of the Black Student Union.

Nevertheless, Pepperdine wanted to stay open on Vermont after the Malibu campus opened in 1972. provost Jack Alen Scott did not want the campus on Vermont to close.  "Something exciting is going to happen here" he told the L.A. Times, as he promised new programs, new personnel, and more involvement with the community.  That same year, Chancellor M. Norvel Young, driving while drunk, crashed into another car on PCH, killing two passengers and injuring another. He blamed his drinking on the depression he felt regarding the University's financial woes.

In 1976, over the protests of the NAACP, Pepperdine closed the Vermont Campus dorms and cut back the classes offered there.  Then, in 1981, Peppedine closed the Vermont campus and sold it to the Crenshaw Christian Center.  

Crenshaw Christian Center bought  the land in 1981,  broke ground 1986, with construction completed in 1989.The design was  inspired by a visit to Howard Hughes Spruce goose. It's one of the largest geodesic domes in the world.  The parking lot was empty and the gates were closed on the Friday when I took this picture.  

I like the way it makes the neighborhood look like aliens have landed.

They offered the Connolly mansion to whomever could move it to another place, but it was too difficult a task.  As I peered through the gate, I could see at least one of the old college buildings was still there.  Randy Juster has taken some terrific pictures of the remaining buildings.

One of my first visits to this area was in 2009.  I stopped to photograph a desolate sight.

The tree stump and the graffiti-buffed abandoned church were bad enough, and the sign said Coming in the Summer of 2008.  I went back.

It certainly looks more cheerful with the orange paint, but what happened to the development plans? They exist only as an internet ghost.

These condominiums at 8021 S. Vermont, next the the Hattem's building, were built only after years of controversy. First Interstate Bank owned the land and wanted to build an affordable housing project, but residents were more interested in retail development.  The plan was changed to market rate condominiums.  First Interstate Bank merged with Wells Fargo in a hostile takeover in 1996.  It's supposed to be a mixed use development, but the only business on the ground floor is a Wells Fargo Bank.

This County Office building, including a Department of Social Services office was not greeted with enthusiasm when it was built in 2007, either.

Residents of this and other African-American neighborhoods have long complained of the lack of retail opportunities.  There was an attractive Ralphs Market on Vermont in the 1960's, but now there is only an ugly Smart and Final.

This is a neighborhood of many stories.  It should not be defined by the events of 1992.  I think developers should look for opportunities here, rather than fighting for the last remnants of downtown.


  1. Wow, excellent article!

    That will be awesome if that gets built. When I was a kid, there was retail in the Vermont & Manchester area, but none of it upscale- it was Newberry's & Woolworth's and the like.

    IIRC, there was a picture of Kimmons at Washington, right as you came into the main entrance. I started there in fall of 1969.

  2. Residents say there had been a See's candies around there too. I'm glad you liked my post. It took me a long time to research and write. I wonder whether Kimmons is still remembered at Washington High. Such a tragedy and so tragically familiar now.

  3. I love your post Laurie but may I suggest you look more into the Hattem family I know all about them and this story you might be surprised who they are and what they did they are Super Market pioneers this was the 1st supermarket ever built . I grew up in east Hollywood if you are aware of Los Feliz I went to Los Feliz elementary before my time there was a charming market called Los Feliz mart well they are connected to this family ....but that's not the only one :) much more stuff for a bigger story but I guess it's for people like us who already basically know about it I just find it so amazing what I know from so many places as a kid I was oblivious to the history around me I was born at Cedars of Lebanon when it was off of sunset and Edgemont in East Hollywood now it's a big ugly blue Scientology building it's just terrible but I was born there I was raised two blocks away from there right next door to Barnsdall park I mean there was a lot going on where I lived and well I still do I was born and raised and still live in the area it's like my bubble but I love it and know it like if it were my left hand. Now that I'm older I know what I have but as a kid I didn't know but I wish I would of I love this kind of stuff I liked the fact you wrote about it I have seen blogs on this place but I love it every time cause people are either just finding out or just taking time to share what they know thanks

    1. Oh and Laurie if you don't know you must read about what happen to one arm owner of Ralph's Market and his house it was just horrific. As a teen I lived in the building that is there now well after I read the story it was a giant puzzle that was solved that place is just very bad energy and haunt it was my 1st apartment leave it to me to pick there! LOL
      But for real what makes me upset is where hes buried now I mean they sell flowers at Ralph's if they don't buy and send him any at least send and employee one a week to tidy his grave up and put flowers that's the thanks he gets for creating so many jobs even today with his ungrateful shitty rich kids and now grand and great grand kid millionaires it is just a tragedy poor guy.

    2. Oh and Laurie if you don't know you must read about what happen to one arm owner of Ralph's Market and his house it was just horrific. As a teen I lived in the building that is there now well after I read the story it was a giant puzzle that was solved that place is just very bad energy and haunt it was my 1st apartment leave it to me to pick there! LOL
      But for real what makes me upset is where hes buried now I mean they sell flowers at Ralph's if they don't buy and send him any at least send and employee one a week to tidy his grave up and put flowers that's the thanks he gets for creating so many jobs even today with his ungrateful shitty rich kids and now grand and great grand kid millionaires it is just a tragedy poor guy.

    3. Thank you for your comments. I lived in East Hollywood myself in the 1970's. I remember the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital well, because I went to a doctor there. I didn't see the Los Feliz Market, but I've seen pictures of it. I didn't know it was connected to the I.M. Hattem family. I never heard the story about the Ralphs owner, either. When was that? I lived in a little house near L.A.C.C. that was torn down and replaced with an apartment building, like so many others. I want to write a future post about the neighborhood, but I don't know when that will be. Right now I am researching Frogtown.