Illustrated excerpts from SO LONG, LA

(Chapter 1)

He had an idea that Los Angeles was the perfect place for America's cultural renaissance.  All it needed was the proper setting.  To his mind, the proper setting for a renaissance was a recreation of Venice, Italy, so he built one, complete with canals, Italian facades, and a pier with a midway grand enough to excite any kid and most adults.

(Chapter 2)

According to a feature story I found in a back copy of the Times, the first of their breed, the Johanna Smith, appeared off Long Beach ten years ago.  The article said the Johanna Smith once plied California's coastal waters as a lumber carrier.  In twenty-eight her engines and superstructure were replaced with a roulette wheel, three crap tables, three blackjack tables, two chuck-a-luck cages, and twenty-three one-armed bandits.  Thus equipped, the Johanna Smith was towed offshore and became the first of several gambling ships seeking their owners' fortunes in the waters of southern California.


(Chapter 3)

The Hall of Justice was right about where I'd seen it last, downtown on the north side of Temple between Broadway and Spring.  On the other hand, imposing thirteen-story buildings that look like they were carved out of a single, gigantic block of granite do tend to stay put, even in earthquake-prone California.

(Chapter 4)

After that I donned my coat again and walked six blocks south and a block west to Clifton's Brookdale Cafeteria on Broadway.  There, I let Bill Kastner buy me a modest lunch. I munched my chicken pot pie amidst a fake forest of towering redwoods, complete with babbling brooks, and felt restless.

(Chapter 5)

"Hell yes, they make money!  Look at it this way: let's say the Rex takes in four-hundred G's a day.  That's about right.  Out of the four hundred, Cornero keeps around six grand and pays the rest out in winnings.  Overhead runs him, maybe, thirty-five hundred tops, so he's clearing two-and-a-half grand, pure profit.  That adds up to a cool million going straight into Tony's pocket every year.  And some guys who should know say he's doin' even better than that."

(Chapter 6)

Fifteen minutes later we pulled to the curb where the Santa Monica Municipal Pier stretched far out far into the Pacific surf—or the surf of Santa Monica Bay, depending on what some judge would soon rule—and I handed the cabby three one dollar bills to cover the amount on his meter plus a fifty-cent tip.  The tip was generous, but I felt he deserved a little extra for his diligence with the rearview mirror, even if it was a false alarm.

(Chapter 7)

With an hour of daylight left on a mild summer evening, the rough wooden planks of the Santa Monica Municipal Pier literally vibrated with the giddy vigor of a carnival midway.  Garishly-painted horses pranced around a carousel in time to a rousing Sousa march played on a calliope.  Kids in damp bathing suits squealed as they darted in and out of the crowds, and the usually refreshing sea breezes were heavy with greasy aromas of onion-smothered hot dogs and burgers hawked by concession stands on both sides of the pier.

(Chapter 8)

The dealer—actually, a croupier in this case—said, "All bets down," and gave the big wooden wheel a spin.  He flipped a little white ball into the stationary part of the wheel's bowl with a deft motion that caused it to fly around in the direction opposite to the wheel's spin.

There were at least a dozen players around the table and each pair of eyes was riveted hypnotically to the spinning wheel as it gradually slowed and the ball worked its way down toward a blur of red, black and green numbers.  Even over the din of the slot machines, you could hear the ball rattle as it hit the spinning part of the wheel and bounced around the thirty-eight numbered grooves in the bottom of the bowl.

(Chapter 9)

"You think I'm kiddin'?  I ain't.  I been to Monte Carlo plenty of times.  If you see a hundred people playing at the tables there at any time, that's a big night.  Any night in the week you can see at least ten times as many playing with me here on the Rex.  And the racket is just as airtight."

(Chapter 10)

It was a tiny thing, no more than six inches long and gunmetal black in color.  The checked rubber grips were also black and adorned with the stylized letters "F" and "N" inside an artistic raised oval.  I'd seen the initials before and knew they stood for "Fabrique Nationale-something" in French or whatever language they speak over in Belgium where the gun was manufactured.

(Chapter 11}

A few more aspirin had quieted the pain in my knee down to a mild roar, so I decided to brave the two blocks to Central Headquarters on foot.  As long as I took it slow and easy, my knee was reasonably cooperative.

(Chapter 13)

Otherwise, it was a plain pearl gray homburg with a hatband of darker gray around what seemed to be a slightly taller than normal crown.  That fit because a lot of short guys wear hats with higher crowns so they look taller.

(Chapter 13)

It was something to behold.  An outdoor shopping arcade, it was built on property that ran clear through the block between Sunset and Selma.  The central building facing Sunset was designed to resemble a modern ocean liner and it is flanked on each side by a row of shops with elaborate old European facades.  It's all very swank—the sort of place that would attract customers who could afford twenty bucks for a homburg.

(Chapter 14)

At two-thirty I trotted—or more accurately, limped—down the stairs and across the street for a ham sandwich at the same little hash house I visited for breakfast.  Another chicken pot pie at Clifton's sounded more appealing, but my level of hunger and Kastner's budget dictated otherwise.

(Chapter 16)

Through the big plate glass lobby windows I saw Neeko's cab waiting at the curb, but as I neared the double doors, another car pulled up.  This one was hard to miss because its arrival was accompanied by a flashing red light and the wail of a siren.  The siren was still winding down as the cruiser's curbside passenger door, emblazoned with the Los Angeles Police Department shield, flew open and a young patrolman jumped out.

(Chapter 17)

First settled around the turn of the century, Echo Park is among the oldest neighborhoods in the city of Los Angeles.  Geographically speaking, the Echo Park area is located off Temple, just north of the central downtown area . . . an odd mixture of high, middle and low income homes.  While Don's little two bedroom bungalow on Calumet Street at the south end of Echo Park is at the lower end of the housing range, there are homes near Echo Park Lake that could fairly be called mansions.

(Chapter 19)

The Los Angeles Times plant is only a block east of Central Division Headquarters.  I knew the route well because my career had followed the same path a little more than four years ago when Don Chambers' predecessor in homicide finally got tired of what he called my "cowboy tactics" and fired me.  I was unemployed for about three months—just long enough to iron out the details of a lucrative contract with the Times that took me from hotshot homicide cop to hotshot crime reporter.

(Chapter 19)

Thelma's career as a sassy platinum blonde comedienne began in the silent film era and was still on the rise when she died nearly a decade later. All told, Todd made more than a hundred motion pictures—movies in which she shared the screen with such comedic luminaries as Laurel and Hardy, The Marx Brothers and Buster Keaton.

(Chapter 19)

In addition, Todd's case had strong ties to the mob.  It was a certain fact that Charlie Luciano was involved with Thelma Todd, if only because he was trying to persuade her to let him set up a gambling operation in a second-floor room at her restaurant on the coast road in Malibu.  There were even credible witness accounts of a conversation between Luciano and Todd during which he threatened to kill her if he didn't get his way.

(Chapter 20)

"Here it is. Moretti was found shot to death on the beach near Malibu in 1936. Nobody was ever charged with the murder. So what does Moretti have to do with the price of cheese in Denmark?"

"Look at the date he was shot."

He studied the paper in his hand and read, "December sixteen." Suddenly the significance of an unsolved mob killing on December sixteenth sank in. "Damn, another one!"

(Chapter 21)

We zipped across town to my apartment on McAllister in her very snazzy Buick Roadmaster convertible, and as she dropped me off, I got another kiss and a promise of dinner at Fisherman's Grotto after my broadcast.  Next came a quick shower, shave and fresh clothes, after which I climbed into my very unsnazzy '34 Ford coupe for the trip to Third and Market, where KDG occupied the fourth floor of the Owl Drug Building

(Chapter 23)

"Ida Lupino might be a good dramatic actress, but as a comedienne, she stinks."

I grinned. "I'll be sure to pass along your critique. What does she look like?"

Charlie thought for a moment, and then said, "Well, she's got dark hair and she wore it up and short in that movie. She has kind of a narrow face with high cheek bones and big eyes. She's nice looking, I guess."

(Chapter 24)

We found Gate Two, and through its large windows I could see our United Airlines Mainliner sitting out on the boarding ramp. It was a sleek, blue and white Douglas DC-3 with one engine on each wing. My flight to Phoenix was aboard an old, boxy-looking Ford Tri-Motor, and it occurred to me that reducing the number of engines that kept these contraptions aloft by one-third hardly seemed like progress.

(Chapter 25)

Grand Central Air Terminal is situated eight or nine miles north of downtown Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley community of Glendale. The terminal, itself, is one of those buildings that could only have been created in southern California—a picture postcard of Spanish and deco architecture surrounded by palm trees and set against a stunning backdrop of the Verdugo Mountains. It's a fitting preview of the excitement to come for air travelers arriving in Los Angeles for the first time.

(Chapter 25)

With Neeko and Dandy in tow, I got out and walked to the arched entry at the inside corner of the L. To our left, the long leg of the L was two-stories and ran north, parallel to the highway. The first floor facade featured seven equally-spaced arches, each providing an opening for a door or window. Above the arches, windows with spectacular views of the beach across the highway lined the second floor, which once housed the restaurant's main dining room.

To our right, the short leg of the L was a continuation of the same facade, except there was only room for two arches. I remembered buying a pack of cigarettes in a drugstore that occupied the first floor on this side of the L. The second floor area above the drugstore housed the apartments used by Thelma Todd and her business partner. Directly above the building's main entrance in the corner of the L was a large, cupola-shaped third floor area Todd planned to make into a steakhouse. It was this spot Charlie Luciano was eyeing as the perfect place for a gambling operation.

(Chapter 25)

"Thelma didn't leave the party until around three Sunday morning. That was the last time she was seen alive by any reliable witnesses, although she was reportedly seen by several people in Hollywood on Sunday. One witness even claimed to have talked with her on the telephone Sunday afternoon. Regardless of whether or not any of that's true, Todd's maid found Thelma in the garage of that house up there Monday morning. Todd was in her car still dressed for the Saturday night party and deader than a doornail."

(Chapter 25)

"The official explanation was that Todd found herself locked out of the restaurant, so she climbed back up the hill to the garage and sat in her Packard touring car with engine running to stay warm. When she was found, the garage door was closed, which allowed the garage to fill with exhaust fumes from her car."

(Chapter 26)

When I last saw the place it had character with large ornate windows looking out on the street, awnings over the sidewalk, and a stylish gabled roof topped by dormer windows and a nifty cupola.  Now it was just a big, white cube of a building with a few pieces of deco art painted on the walls and a modern neon sign spelling out "Café Trocadero."

(Chapter 26)

Neeko took a right onto Gower and a hodge-podge of large and small structures appeared on our left. A warehouse-style building that was half a block long bore a gigantic sign announcing we had arrived at Columbia Pictures.

(Chapter 28)

A left turn put us in the 5100 block of Melrose with the Melrose-Hollywood Hotel on our right. In fact, the Melrose-Hollywood took up the entire block with a long three-story brick and white edifice decorated to the hilt with gewgaws and gargoyles.

As Neeko pulled into a parking space near the hotel's entrance, Dandy said, "Will you look at that! It looks like something right out of classical French literature."

Staring at the hotel's gaudy red entrance doors, complete with gold filigree trim, I muttered, "If you say so."

(Chapter 28)

The Ravenswood is a large, seven-story Deco-Moderne building with a sidewalk awning over double glass entry doors. After promising Neeko he wouldn't have too long a wait, we went through the glass doors into a starkly streamline decor and stopped in front of two elevators, their doors finished in a bronze deco motif.

(Chapter 29)

Parker Atkins residence, Alta Apartments at 1284 McAllister between Fillmore and Steiner Streets, San Francisco.

(Chapter 30)

The only Chrysler dealership in The City, McAlister Chrysler-Plymouth, took up half of the twelve-hundred block on Van Ness Avenue in the middle of San Francisco's "automobile row." The building housing McAlister's showrooms, service shop and offices was less ornate than most of the dealerships along Van Ness—a white three-story cube with large windows overlooking the intersection of Van Ness Avenue and Post Street. Huge stylized white letters spread across the full front of the building left no doubt as to its occupant: "JAMES W. McALISTER INC." Apparently you can't be humble in the car biz.

(Chapter 30)

"He drove out in a brand new 'thirty-eight Custom Imperial Eight Coupe. I sure remember that car. It was a beauty—one of the most expensive cars we've ever sold—a real sporty luxury model with plush seats and loads of shiny chromium plating. And with a 110 horsepower under the hood that little number can really fly!"

(Chapter 30)

Perched on a cliff above China Beach, the Kendall residence was a two-story affair reminiscent of a Mediterranean villa, or reminiscent of what I thought a Mediterranean villa might look like. It had an Italian tile roof with multiple chimneys growing out of the tiles. There were also wrought iron balconies, arched windows and other decorative doodads peeking out from behind a beige concrete wall with sturdy iron gates and a lots of shrubbery. At the far right of the property two parallel strips of concrete driveway met the street at a sharp angle and led off to a garage somewhere behind the house.

(Chapter 34)

None of the regulars at John Konstin's grill, whose ranks I enthusiastically joined on those rare occasions when I felt flush, seems to remember a time when the joint wasn't sitting there on Ellis in its narrow three-story storefront. A notice on the front cover of the menu says, "Established in 1908," and since nobody seems interested in arguing the point, we take John's word for the founding date.

(Chapter 36)

When the lights came on again, my surroundings had changed considerably, although they looked vaguely familiar. Also, the light that came on was daylight coming through a window. A large white-faced clock on the wall said it was a few minutes after seven. Those were clues. From them I deduced I'd lost at least one night of my life, maybe more.

Then a voice that was also vaguely familiar said, "Good morning, Mister Atkins."

I looked in the direction from which the voice came and saw a young man with a stethoscope draped over the shoulder of his white doctor coat. I knew him. "Hello, Doctor Phalen. From your presence here, should I assume I've landed in Saint Mary's Hospital again?"

(Chapter 37)

Looking up at the 15-story monster, I realized why Kendall parked his car further down Market. The Spreckels Building (right) was originally built before the turn of the century and although it withstood the '06 earthquake with relatively minor damage, it was in need of refurbishment. That refurbishment was underway and, as a result, the curb in front of the building was now a temporary no-parking zone to keep the area clear for the contractor to move equipment in and out of the job site.

(Chapter 39)

The Warrington is a six-story brick building that looks to be about 25-years old. It's in the Tenderloin district and Charlie swears it's the nicest apartment building downtown. She considers herself very lucky to find an apartment in the building she could afford.

(Chapter 39)

The Mission Auto Court had been my temporary home when I arrived in San Francisco a little over two years ago, and I'd stayed there once since then on another occasion when it was prudent to avoid my apartment. As a result, the night clerk and I were old pals. He welcomed me like long-lost kin and checked me into my usual accommodations, bungalow number one, the unit closest to Mission Street in the southeast corner of the complex.

The Mission Auto Court had more than a hundred units laid out in a rectangle with bungalows around the perimeter of the property and more apartments arranged in a cluster inside the perimeter. The bungalow facades were done appropriately in the Spanish Mission style with arched doorways and window openings, red tile roofs, and attached garages.

(Chapter 40)

From the outside, the depot was designed—like practically every other municipal or commercial building in the state—to look like an early California mission. The entrance doors set in three large side-by-side arches with a bell tower standing at each end of the entrance. Between the bell towers and above the entrance is another, broader arch with a pair of mission bells set in it over the words "SOUTHERN PACIFIC."

Extending off to the left of the main building is a long narrow wing that houses the gates used by arriving and departing passengers. Its facade is made up of nine more smaller arched windows and another set of double doors. The entire depot is topped with a red Spanish tile roof.

(Chapter 40)

Don looked out his window and frowned at the tiny twenty-by-thirty shack just beyond the sidewalk. "I thought we were going to breakfast. What the hell is this?"

"This, my friend, is the home of the best coffee and breakfast in town."

"Come on, you gotta be kiddin' me."

"Don, I might kid you about a lot of things, but never about something as close to your heart as food. Nobody knows more about good breakfasts than the longshoremen who work up and down The Embarcadero. You can ask any of them and they'll tell you the Java House is the place to go for breakfast. It isn't fancy, but the food can't be beat."

(Chapter 41)

Rather than trying to squeeze two of us into the announce booth where I do the news, engineering set up a bidirectional RCA ribbon microphone on a table in the large studio. Don and I sat on opposite sides of the table with the mike between us. A third chair was provided for Charlie so she could take notes during the interview.

(Chapter 42)

"It's at the bottom of the bluff down that trail over there. You get a great view of the new Golden Gate Bridge from the west down there."

"From the west? You mean we're on the ocean side of the Golden Gate here?"

"We are." Pointing east, I said, "The Army Presidio is just on the other side of Sea Cliff. The Army has a huge amount of land out here and it forms a point to the north. The southern anchorage of the bridge is out on the end of that point."

(Chapter 43)

I pulled into a parking spot next to the sidewalk running alongside the wharf, and as we got out of the car, I stopped to inhale a lungful of ozone straight off the bay. Along with the ozone came all manner of fresh seafood smells that promised a great lunch.

Overhead, the sky was that deep shade of blue that only skies can be, providing a backdrop that made the bright white seagulls spiraling overhead seem even brighter and whiter. A lazy breeze fluttered gay red, white and green streamers hanging from the buildings along the wharf, giving the whole scene a Funiculì, Funiculà atmosphere. Fisherman's Wharf was a perfect place to be on a perfect San Francisco day.

(Chapter 44)

To the west was Brisbane proper—mostly tiny inexpensive wood-frame houses, small businesses, and a few acres being farmed. Needless to say, Brisbane is not a prosperous area. In fact, I'd bet the only people in town making money are the land subdividers selling miniscule lots at a hundred bucks a crack to blue collar workers who toil in The City, but can't afford to live there.

(Chapter 45)

Aside from the actual dry docks and ship-building facilities, some of the useable space at Hunters Point is taken up with warehouses and small companies supporting the ship-building industry with materials, parts and tools. The rest of the area is cheap housing—mostly Public Works Administration projects—for blue-collar laborers who work on the ships being built at the shipyard. Needless to say the Bayview District is not a popular place for late-night strolls.

(Chapter 45)

We did a lot of twisting and turning before coming to a cross street and the 1000 block. The first and only residences we encountered there were located to our left on the west side of the street at a point where San Bruno Avenue curved sharply to the right.

The vacant lot opposite the houses was thick with eucalyptus trees, but through the spaces between their narrow trunks we could make out the lights of The City to the north and those of Oakland and Hayward across the bay. The two houses we'd come to see were built on a hillside a little above street level, which gave them even more spectacular views. Don was looking for house numbers as we got closer and he found them. "The first house there is 1002 and the second is 1000."

(Chapter 45)

About nine-fifteen we began catching glimpses of a good-sized body of water in a shallow valley to our right. I pointed it out to Don, saying, "That's Crystal Springs Reservoir down there. It's San Francisco's primary water supply."

Apparently not impressed, Don said, "Goody, let's stop and pee in it."

"Hey, part of that water came all the way over here from the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite. It's some of the purist water in the state."

"Big deal."

(Chapter 46)

Pillar Point, itself, is the tip of a hook-shaped piece of land that runs west, and then curves back around to the southeast, creating an inlet about a mile wide on its open side. Moonlight reflected off ripples that slowly moved through the harbor past a dozen or so commercial fishing boats and a two-masted yawl that looked to be at least fifty or sixty feet in length. It caught my attention because I wasn't used to seeing yachts in the Pillar Point harbor, particularly yachts that large.

(Chapter 46)

I picked up the second guy's revolver—a long-barreled British Webley Mark VI. The damned thing was heavy as hell. Making sure the hammer was down so I wouldn't shoot myself, I shoved the little cannon into the waistband of my slacks.

(Chapter 46)

Mills Hospital—95 South El Camino Real, San Mateo

(Chapter 50)

The hike across the bridge and back is about three-miles, and by the time I'd reached the middle of the span on the northbound leg of my trip, I was feeling quite chipper. There was a lot of scenery to see and I was determined not to miss any of it. The dark blue of the bay was dotted with the shimmering white sails of little boats riding the breeze and the buildings of San Francisco's skyline glittered in the dazzling sun like fairytale castles in an enchanted land.

(Chapter 52)

San Francisco Municipal Airport's waiting area is a narrow north to south rectangle with two long upholstered benches centered end to end down the center. The coffee shop is at the north end of the waiting area next to a grand staircase leading up to an open mezzanine.

(Chapter 55)

A golden oak coffee table that matched the sofa, chair, and two small end tables filled a spot in front of the couch. The only other piece of furniture in the room was the Zenith console radio I'd given her last Christmas so Charlie would have a good radio on which she could listen to the fruits of our labors. Dandy helped me pick the radio out and I spent more than I could afford on it, but when Charlie saw it, she was as excited as . . . well, as a kid at Christmas.

(Chapter 55)

The living room walls were a neutral shade of apartment beige and it was on those walls that Charlie made the high-ceiling room her own. She framed and mounted six colorful Vogue magazine covers featuring art deco illustrations from the 1920s. They fit well with the apartment's style and wall-sconce lighting fixtures. There was also a life-size ceramic face sculpture humorously depicting a surprised-looking woman in a fedora hat and an exaggerated bow under her chin. Very chic.

(Chapter 55)

Our new workplace was on the top floor of the Don Lee Cadillac dealership at the intersection of Van Ness and O'Farrell, in the heart of San Francisco's automobile row. The early-1920s vintage building is four-stories with Corinthian columns and an adequate assortment of gewgaws appropriate to a luxury car showroom, including a colorful Cadillac crest over the arched entrance.

(Chapter 55)

To meet this need, he provided a shiny new cream colored 1939 Cadillac LaSalle Opera Coupe. It was equipped with folding jump seats in the rear to accommodate a total of three passengers in addition to the driver. It also had a radio, heater, clock, and a 125 horsepower V-8 engine that would run circles around most other cars on the road.

(Chapter 56)

Don Chambers sat with Charlie and me on a wooden bench in the hallway outside the California Superior Court Criminal Division (in the LA County Hall of Records) waiting for the day's proceedings to begin. It was a noisy place, with the voices of reporters, attorneys, and spectators ricocheting around the granite walls and off the high ceiling.

(Chapter 56)

Rather than starting north after lunch as we'd planned, Charlie and I checked into a room at The Breakers Hotel in Long Beach. It's a classy joint on the beach and staying there was pushing the expense account to its limit, but I figured we deserved a treat.