The Blog

Memories of Los Angeles in 1923: Setting Sail, Early Motion Pictures and a Romance Gone Awry

 

Author’s note: The following is taken from my grandmother’s memoirs.  She wrote these words when she was 79 years old and lived to be 105.  Her memories are reflective of old Los Angeles from the eyes of a young woman leaving home for the first time. 

This is the first of 3 guest posts from “Letters to My Kids“. Check back soon for Posts 2 and 3.

I was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with my life in Portland and in 1923, over the objections of my family, I left for Los Angeles with my friend Nora.  We took passage on a steamship to San Francisco where we stayed for two days.  I loved San Francisco from that first visit and even then regretted that I was not staying there.  We continued our journey by ship to San Pedro.  We stayed with my mother’s oldest sister, Polly, for a week or so until we found a one-room apartment in the Westlake District of Los Angeles.  It was all so exciting to us – the palm trees, the balmy climate (no smog then), and the beautiful clean beaches.

My very first job was as secretary to Col. Selig, who owned the Selig Zoo and also the Selig Motion Picture Studio.  During my lunch hours I became friendly with the elephant trainer, the lion trainer and Blossom Seeley, an ex-vaudeville star, who operated the studio cafeteria.  The elephant trainer let me ride the elephant bareback, the lion trainer showed me his scars, and Blossom fed me.  While I worked there, the picture Abraham Lincoln was being made and I watched them shoot many scenes.  The actors collected their paychecks at our office and although I knew most by sight I always made them tell me their names.  I refused to let them know I was impressed!  I stayed there only a few months because the office manager had very handy hands.  Even then there was sexual harassment.

I immediately found another position with the Union Oil Company in a brand new office building in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.  All the best stores were nearby, good places to eat, and exciting events happening.  Los Angeles was a beautiful city at that time and there I was right in the heart of it.  I could even walk to work!  My job was not at all that demanding – in fact I often wonder what I was paid for doing.

It was shortly after coming to L.A. that I met a young man with whom I had my first serious love affair.  He was very nice and pleasant but did not have much ambition.  His sister was a famous opera star; I cannot now remember her name.  I never met her, as she did not come to L.A. while I lived there.  Eventfully I became unhappy with the progress of my romance and decided to return to Portland, a decision I regretted.  I learned you can’t go home again.  Living at home after being on my own was unsatisfactory (I am sure my parents felt the same way although they never said so).  I found the climate of Portland very depressing after sunny California and in less than a year I took off for San Francisco with my friend, Ruby Christensen.

Sixty Years, Sixty Letters, Sixty Memories

Last month I reached a milestone in my life — my sixtieth birthday.  Sixty birthdays have come and gone. My two daughters are now adults and successfully living independent lives. I have three adorable grandchildren and that young handsome guy I married so many years ago has a full head of gray hair and remains the love of my life.

There is not much that I need or want at this point in my life. I am well aware that buying a birthday gift for me is not an easy task for my family.  However, this year my elder daughter gave me a gift that will forever be a priceless treasure to me.

Unbeknownst to me, two months ago Annie sent a letter to my family, as well as to new and old friends.

She wrote:

Would you please jot down a favorite memory you have of my mom so that she knows that her nearest and dearest are thinking of her on her birthday? It doesn’t have to be anything fancy — you can just write it down on a piece of paper and sign your name — the more nostalgic the better. The goal: to accumulate sixty years of memories filling sixty envelopes.

On my birthday, after I had blown out the candles on my cake, my daughter hugged me and handed me a thick stack of white business-sized envelopes. Wrapped around the stack was the following note:

Happy Sixtieth Birthday Mom!  

You are loved by so many people and you have made so many people’s lives better by simply being you.  I’m honored and blessed to call you my mom!

Love,
Annie

As I held the letters in my hands, my eyes filled with tears.  I was touched by Annie’s thoughtful effort.  As I read the letters, I was amazed by the number of people who responded to my daughter’s simple request. And as I continued to read, I was astounded by how many events I had forgotten.  I had forgotten – but my family and friends had not. Recollections of simple things done together. Simple, but meaningful.

My aunt and uncle sent me a copy of their formal wedding day photograph taken over fifty years ago.  In the black and white photograph I am standing in the front row and I am seven years old.  My aunt enclosed a note saying “A memorable day – so glad you could be part of it.”

My dear 85 year old friend, Betty reminded me of a sad trip we took together to the veterinarian’s office.  She recalled how I put my hand on hers as the vet administered an injection that put Betty’s cat out of pain.

According to my Aunt Lou, I deliberately omitted gardenias from my bridal bouquet, because I knew she was allergic to their fragrance.

And there were many more stories like these. Touching reminders of the great 60 years of my life. Annie’s effort,  and all of the many memories, touched my heart and mind far more powerfully than a box of chocolates or a bouquet of flowers ever would have.

Think about this simple effort when your loved ones’ birthday is drawing near.  If you choose to follow my daughter’s example, you will be giving the best gift anyone could ever receive —  the gift of sweet memories!