The year was 1967 or ’68, Somewhere in There..I was hanging in Downtown Huntington Beach ~ Surf City USA. I never lived there when I was a kid (I did later) My Cousin Joey Batchelor did. Joey looked & acted exactly like a 9 year-old Jan Michael -Vincent. He was Just Like that guy. Spitting image. Blonde straight surfer hair, all over on one side. We were Hell-Raisers. Joey & his Mom Marlene & her other kids lived in this Thrasher Spanish Bunglalow right on the PCH in Huntington. Man, that lady could not Keep House at all. It was always a Pigsty. It was just near the Gordie Surfboards Shop. It’s Long Gone but Gordie’s was a Classic Calif. Surf Shop, 8 & 9-foot longboards all lined up out front, Tropical Pastel colors, redwood stringers, Pre-Shortboard Era. Oil Wells for a backyard. Stainky things, they were still Everywhere then, leftover from the whole 20’s ‘There Will Be Blood’ Era.
My Dad had been dating Joey’s Mom but ended marrying her Twin Sister. Damn, that must have burned her. What a Player. I had to Shake my Head at his Macho Gall even then. So I would Go Down there & Hang & we would Skate the whole Downtown. This is all way pre-Dogtown Z-Boys era. Joey was a year younger than me but we were always Competing on Everything, about Even. My Swinging 60’s Dad had married Joey’s Mom’s Sister by then so I inherited a fresh Brother & Sister & several Cousins, including Joey. Me & Joey ( I know, but that’s how I would’ve said it back then), used to skateboard down Main Street in Huntington Beach to Downtown, Main & PCH, Surf City Ground Zero. We had been shredding the concrete outdoor hallways of our school already for a few years. We made our 1st skateboards from 2×4’s, and we would schmooze the neighborhood girls & snag their Roller Derby white lace-up roller skates & pry the riveted-on wheels off with a screwdriver. Hammer the plates flat & nail ’em to the bottom of the 2×4. Skateboard ! STEEL 3/8″ wide wheels, no trucks, Pre-Clay wheels, Way Pre-Urethane. We didn’t ride pools like the Z-Boys later in Dogtown Venice did later. We had no concept of pool riding. We were ‘Sidewalk Surfers’ shredding the flat concrete. There was this one corner, a hard right-hand 90-degree downhill sweeper, that was Dead Man’s Curve. You would always hit the smallest rock & Go Flying trying to make it. Sprained ankles, wrists, raspberry knees & elbows, ripped-up pants. Standard Skater Fashionistos.
Then Came Revelation! A Revolution! Clay Wheels. 3 times as wide as Steelies! Stores started carrying manufactured Skateboards. My first store-bought skater was The Black Knight. An Oak plywood deck with real clay wheels, badass ball bearings & trucks, actual turning-action & all-round a totally new machine.
Now we could shred the Banks on the local Miniature Golf Course. We’d sneak in there at night & just burn up the Turf.
So now you could hit Dead Man’s Curve & MAKE IT all the time. I saved my allowance for Weeks & bought it at Leonard’s Department Store… Cool Black Knight ! It was around $7. or $8. bucks That was A lot.
‘Champion Surfer’ Corky Carroll was always Hanging Out down there trying to impress everyone. He was an Ass. Total Short Man Syndrome. Then David Nuuhiwa Came to Town. Corky Shut Up real fast after that. Corky was a Kook.
Joey & I would go drive the Model T Ford Cars-a ride at Knott’s Berry Farm. Knott’s wasn’t a big Theme Park then. It really had been a farm, they had a few rides, the whole place was still very quaint & rural. It was cool. It was right on Beach Blvd. next to the real highway just over the fence. The cars weren’t on tracks, had small engines & ran on gasoline. They went about 20 mph. Pretty fast when you’re 9. Those cars probably had been running that track for 20 years. They were Thrashed. We floored those things for all they were worth.
We would actually pass the Tourists on the Track. It was a Dirt track & you could just literally slide & blow a rooster-tail of Dirt in their Faces. 2 California Kids razzing the Tourists. They Kept & Fixed all the Cars in that Barn there. I wanted to Work there So Bad. Later they put the cars on tracks and paved the track which was Not Happening at all. Like the Autopia slowpoke Cars at Disneyland. We were Not Happy about This. We had already Been Drivin for Real’. So that’s how I learned how to Drive. I was a Pro by 16. Got a 100% on my Test.
We used to go there All the Time. Buena Park. How California of a name is that?
We would buy our StyroFoam Surfboards at the Grocery Store. They cost like $2.99, maybe less.We could stand up & Surf on them ’til they’d break in half. ‘Styrofoam’ was a brand new material then. High-Density surfboard foam came from the Military in WWII originally. But the low-density cheap-o kind was new. Nobody had Cool Plastic Coolers or those ‘GetAway’ ones or whatever they are back then. All there was were the Styrofoam kind with these yellow rope handles on them, like Waterski tow rope. Of course they were just big enough to hold a Sixer, but that did not occur to me then. So many things were still made by hand back then. Everything said ‘Made in Japan’. I guess we Forgave Them.
The StyroFoam Surfboards were up in front of the store wrapped in Plastic with the Charcoal and Dog Food. Everybody fed their Dogs canned Dog Food. There was dry then but it was pretty basic. No Dog would Eat it. Steel Cans. Aluminum cans weren’t invented yet. Sodas, Beers, Tuna, all Steel. This all way before Recycling, No IAMS Dog Food for the Eco-Bio Dog like now. People burned their Trash in Outdoor Incinerators in their backyard whenever they wanted. The Neighborhood smelled like a Campfire all the time because people were burning their trash back there – Mexico style. Your basic Household Trash Cans were Steel, like old war-surplus Oil Drums. My Dad would heft those over his head, Clean & Jerk up to a Full Military Press and Carry ’em out.. All the other Dads rolled theirs out to the Curb. Now I do the same thing whenever I pick stuff like that up. But he was a lot Stronger than I’ll Ever be. He drank this beer called Brew 102.
Doing research for this article I come to find that all these people collect old Beer Cans. Buy and sell them on e-Bay, that sort of thing. Too bad they didn’t know us back then, we burned up 100’s of those things in the Backyard incinerator every Saturday, contributing to the demise of the Atmosphere & Environment of the Greater Los Angeles area. We could’ve saved them for 45 years & got all that Beer Money back on e-Bay.
Another Big Breakthrough in Modern Technology for us was the Invention of the Schwinn Sting-Ray. We had been riding a whatever hodge-podge of Bikes, and may have already had a Thrasher mini-bike or 2 around by then also. I’ve had so many wheeled vehicles I don’t remember the exact whole cross-over from pedal to power. The Sting-Ray was just THE COOLEST bike back then and it pretty much still is. THIS WAS A MUST-HAVE… If you did not have this bike in your equipment line-up, well it was pretty much the equivalent of not having Air to breathe. Your basic Sting-Ray came in around 5 colors.I could look it up but that just wouldn’t be right about this…I should remember… Red (as shown), A Cool Metallic Blue, Gold and Metallic Green. I think that’s it. I do know you could choose from a Knobby (treaded) tire in back, if you were a Quasi-Moto-Crosser (or ‘MX’ for short) this term had not been invented yet either. In Europe it was called ‘Cross’, I believe. We’ll get to that later. Or, if you were a ‘Dragger’, you could get a cool Drag Slick tire in back. THIS was the Hot Set-Up. You also had your choice of a plain White seat (shown), or Leopard print seat, which was so BEYOND COOL it was almost unbelievable. When I first saw this bike, maybe on T.V., it was almost Diaper Time, a throwback of about 6 years for me at this point.
So FINALLY Xmas came & I got one. It wasn’t exactly the one I wanted. It was Metallic Green & I think had these lame wrap-around 10-speed-style ‘Rams-Horn’ handlebars instead of the Bad-Ass Ape Hangers as shown. Also I got a Knobby tire in back. Well, I was a little peeved, but I was never the kid that spelled out exactly the Christmas List B.S. I always felt that to be a bit presumptuous & damn, my Dad took really good care of me, so I Bit the Bullet on this one.
I never really got over it. Plain Blue with the White seat & Slick was Cool. Very Drag-Style. Leopard seat..beyond Boss, which was we called everything Cool back then. That is SO Boss! That’s What I Really Wanted. But somehow there was a lesson to be learned there somewhere…& even then I knew it. Damn, no Slick. Apparently I never got over the Leopard Seat thing either, because ever since I’ve always loved Leopard-Print. I have some very Cool Leopard Bar-Stools that used to be in my Leopard Bar in my house. Whenever I see a woman with Leopard on, I go Weak in the Knees Immediately.
There were these Bikers that lived a ways away in a Different Neighborhood, on the other side of our school. They had all these Greasy Dirty Harley rigid-frame Panhead choppers in the driveway. They had full-on ‘Colors’, Levi jackets with the sleeves cut off & covered with patches. They had Chains hanging off & Biker Boots, which are Red-Wing railroad Lineman’s or Engineer boots. The Jackets all said HESSIANS on the back, with cool skulls.
These guys were the Real Deal, and we were not supposed to think they were cool, but they were so Counter-Culture, Evil-looking, nasty, dirty with Loud, ratty bikes, well of course, we did. They were Cool. Their beat-down tract house was right on Magnolia Street, directly across the street from the front of our school parking lot. While we were in class they were over there all day raging, in & out, bikes everywhere, front door open, Full-on torn down Panhead motors laying on the Living Room carpet, Grease & Oil Biker Mania. Joey & I Had to Check it Out.
We were specifically Not Allowed to cross Magnolia Street. “Under Any Circumstances”. Yeah,Right ! It was a super-busy street, fast cars hauling ass by, not our ‘hood, too far from home. So of course that’s where we were headed. There was a kid from the Hessian Biker House that went to our school. He was scary, older than us and a Bad-Ass and we didn’t really know him. He Blew us Off. He was a Real Biker Kid. We were just kids.
So One Day we ride our Sting-Rays over there, sort of nearby but not too close so as not to raise attention. We were wearing standard Converse All-Stars and the usual candy-ass JC Penney school gear.
The Chopper Kid comes Flying out the front door Ready To Kill Us or Beat Us Down, so we ride, ride, RIDE as fast as we can back to our street, barely ahead of him. He would’ve Kicked Our Ass. After that, he didn’t come on our block and we didn’t go on his. Mind Your Business.
In the movie Chinatown,
there’s a reference made to the
Morty: Yeah, he drowned too.
Gittes: Come again?
Morty: Yeah, he got drunk. Passed out in the bottom of the riverbed.
Gittes: The LA River?
Morty: Yeah, right under Hollenbeck Bridge. What’s wrong with that?
Gittes: It’s dry as a bone, Morty.
Morty: It’s not so completely dry.
Gittes: Well, he ain’t gonna exactly drown in a damp riverbed no matter how soused he is.
Morty: We got water out of him…He drowned…
7th Street Viaduct ~ L.A. 1910
There is no Hollenbeck Bridge in Los Angeles, as referenced in the film ‘Chinatown.’ The only bridges over the Los Angeles River are on Broadway, 1st, 4th, 6th, 7th and Olympic. 6th Street once had a bridge that spanned Hollenbeck Park, but that would not be the bridge in ‘Chinatown’ because that film specifically remarks ‘on the meager amount of water existing in the Los Angeles River, too low to drown a human.’ The producers of the film Chinatown most likely used poetic license to provide a ‘more Los Angeles’ allusion in describing the scene, rather than simply calling it a numbered street bridge. The producers of the movie used the 7th and Olympic Bridge as the ‘Hollenbeck’ Bridge.
Trapped and Desperate in L.A. ~
Evelyn Mulwray pulls her Pistol to Escape her Fate on the Mean Streets of Chinatown..
Faye Dunaway ~ Chinatown, 1974
Directed by Roman Polanski, now exiled from returning to Calfornia to escape a statutory rape charge, Chinatown is easily one of the best films ever to depict period L.A. a la 1947.
Raymond Chandler would have approved.
In a Ironic ‘Film Noir’ real-life twist of fate, A Foreign Director makes one of the best films ever about L.A., only to be exiled by that same city, having endured the Torture of having his pregnant wife, Hollywood actress Sharon Tate, brutally murdered by the Manson Family in the Hollywood Hills 5 years before. Then raping a 13 year-old girl a few years later, convicted in absentia for the offense, only never to return and living in exile 40 years later because of it…
Only in Hollywood.
The Hollywoodland sign was built by Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler as an epic $21,000 billboard for his upscale Hollywoodland real estate development, the Sign soon took on the role of giant marquee for a city that was constantly announcing its own gala premiere. The “billboard” was massive. Each of the original 13 letters was 30 feet wide and 50 feet tall, constructed of 3×9′ metal squares rigged together by an intricate frame of scaffolding, pipes, wires and telephone poles.
A giant white dot (35 feet in diameter, with 20-watt lights on the perimeter) was constructed below the Sign to catch the eye. The Sign itself featured 4,000 20-watt bulbs, spaced 8 inches apart. At night the Sign blinked into the Hollywood night: first “Holly” then “wood” and finally “land,” punctuated by a giant period. The effect was truly spectacular, particularly for pre-Vegas sensibilities. Originally intended to last just a year and a half, the Sign has endured more than eight decades – and is still going strong…
The original houses are still there as well, in Beechwood Canyon. They look just the same and are some of the the most well-preserved 1920’s homes in Hollywood today…
In 1932, Peg Entwistle, a New York stage actress, became the symbol of the dark side of the Hollywood dream. Emboldened by her Broadway success, the ambitious young actress soon set her sights on the silver screen. She packed her bags for Hollywood and moved in with her uncle on Beachwood Drive – virtually in the shadow of the Hollywood Sign.
Unfortunately, Peg failed to make a splash, and she spent most of the brutally hot summer of ’32 hanging around her uncle’s house, waiting for a phone call that never came. Finally, on the evening of September 18th, Peg told her uncle that she was going to meet some friends at a nearby drug store, but this was a sad lie.
Peg instead made the arduous hike up the canyon hill to the Hollywood Sign, her one-time beacon of hope but now a symbol of failure and rejection. She climbed 50 feet up a workman’s ladder to the top of the “H” and plunged to her death. Peg Entwistle – dubbed by tabloids as the “The Hollywood Sign Girl” – was only 24 years old.
In Yet Another cruel Hollywood twist of irony, a letter to Peg arrived the day after her death from the Beverly Hills Playhouse. She was offered the lead role in a play … about a woman driven to suicide. Moral of the Story ~ Always Wait One More Day Before Killing Self…
L.A. 1947 0r 1997 ? The Film L.A. Confidential
Another great movie to depict L.A in the Day is the film L.A. Confidential…
Set in essentially the same ‘Noir’ period, the early 50’s as in the L.A. photos above, the film outlines the Seedy Pulp Fiction-style underbelly of L.A. Filmed almost entirely on Location in L.A. in 1997, it illustrates how little some scenes in the City Have Changed and Remain the Same…Now as Then.
In the Film a Dubious ‘businessman’, Pierce Patchett, lives in a Groovy Post-Modern Pad high in the Hollywood Hills, Drives a Stylish 50’s Red Jaquar roadster & Lives a Little too Large for his Own Good…and That Pad is Actually…
The Lovell House, Richard Neutra, 1927 ~ One Cool Pad
In the early 1950’s, Compton was a Respectable, Sleepy Suburb of L.A. I know, my Aunt Ruth & Uncle Bill lived there in a little white house with roses & a Bird Bath in the backyard.
Art & Lloyd Chrisman lived in Compton, too, and the Chrisman’s Garage turned out some of the Nastiest, most Innovative, Well-Designed -Built, Fast & Feared Hot Rods anywhere.
This is the Story of the Chrisman’s – California’s Baddest HotRodders.
In 1950 Art & Lloyd had been racing a modified ’32 Ford roadster on the dry lakes like Harper & El Mirage, north of L.A., near Palmdale in the Mojave. Then in 1953 they set their sights on the Salt Flats at Bonneville & built the nastiest Ford coupe they could conjure up. Based on a 1930 ‘A’ Coupe, Art & Lloyd built a very hi-tech for its day-tube frame, dropped in an injected, bored & stroked Flathead V8, running on a 50/50 Nitromethane & Pump Gas mix – behind the driver with a sectioned, lightened chop-top body channelled over the frame, and an ingenious streamlined nose made from 2 ’40 Ford hoods laid top-to-bottom, the Chrisman’s built what could be considered the world’s first Fuel ‘Funny Car’. A design concept basically shared by all Fuel dragsters & Funny Cars racing today, over 50 years later. but no one knew that…yet.
In 1954 the Chrismans returned to Bonneville, with a new Ford V8 in the Coupe, and used its previous engine for the Roadster, now fielding 2 cars on the Salt, and sponsoring a third. It would be 15 years before other Race Teams would have the organization, skill and funding to field 2 and 3-car teams. Today it takes millions of company sponsorship dollars to do so. Sporting a new Super-Flathead V-8, with Ardun ‘Hemi’ heads, the predecessor to all current drag-racing engines, The Baddest Motor Scooter of its Day. With about 285-300 hp available, the Chrisman Coupe was approaching 200 mph on the salt.
In 1955 The Chrisman Boys returned again, this time with a blown Chrysler Hemi, capable of pushing the Coupe well over 200 mph. The Chrismans withdrew from competition after a friend was killed that day in another car. Shortly thereafter the Chrisman Coupe was sold, never to be raced (by Art & Lloyd) again. In 2008, the restored version of this car was sold at auction for over $500,000.00 and is displayed at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, not far from where it was built in the Chrisman’s Garage in Compton, not 5 miles away, 50-plus years before.
Keeping it All in the Family, along came nephew Jack Chrisman, following in his Father’s and Uncle’s footsteps…in the late 50’s, Jack built early innovative race cars for the dragstrip like the ‘SideWinder’ – one of the first with a rear-engine (and sideways-mounted, for balance), preceding the current practice not widely used until 15 years after this car was first built & ran, in 1959. About 5 years later, having earned a reputation as some of the Baddest HotRodders Anywhere, and now getting some albeit, Undercover Financing from the Ford Motor Company, Jack Chrisman stuffed a leftover 427 Big-block Ford engine into a brand-new ’64 Mercury Comet. My Mom drove the innocuous economy car street version. Jack Chrisman unleashed his Monster Comet on the Drag Strip and sanctioning body NHRA didn’t even know what to call it or how to classify it, the Ultimate Sleeper – The World’s First ‘Funny Car’. Chrisman created a spectacular Mind-Blowing Crowd – Pleaser – a California Hot Rod Revolution that would set Drag Racing on its ear, and Detroit scrambling to create cars to emulate that Evil ‘MuscleCar’ Style….The Chrisman Comet Super Cyclone. A Small, Safe-looking Family Car with a 750-horsepower Monster Motor . I saw it when I was 8 years old and, having seen a lot of Hot Rods already at that age, the sight of what looked like Mom’s Car laying down 500 feet of Nitro-burning tire smoke at 160 mph changed my life forever. The Baddest Hot Rod I ever saw.
Art, Lloyd & Jack Chrisman had and would go on to build several other Winning, Feared, and ultimately Legendary Hot Rods and Race Cars over 30 years, some of which now reside in Museums. Not all are shown here – But to me, because of their innovations – and adoption of into a sport known for design, technical innovation and by nature, always moving forward – These famous Chrisman Dragsters are the most noteworthy.
The Compton, California Chrisman Boys, did first and best, initially without major financial sponsorship what would Evolve into the Multi-Million Dollar Industry that has become Today’s Spectacular Spectator Sport -Nitro-Burning Top Fuel & Funny Car Drag Racing- California Style.