The name of Pasadena Avenue in Highland Park was changed to Figueroa Street 52 years ago, but longtime residents still refer to their main shopping street as "the avenue."
So, when a local historical preservation group set out to capture the history of Highland Park on video, Figueroa Street became the natural focal point, and the project was titled "The Avenue: An Oral and Video History of Figueroa Street."
Made completely by volunteers and all on home equipment, the video gives a historical perspective of Highland Park through the memories of 10 people. Additionally, there are photographs of Pasadena Avenue then and Figueroa Street now.
"Figueroa Street is identifiable to people in the community and it could be easily photographed," said Pat Samson, a member of Highland Park Heritage Trust and one of the creators of the video. "It would have been deadly to look at too many 90-year-old ladies."
Ten-cent hamburgers, movie tickets to see Charlie Chaplin and a big red electric trolley car running down Pasadena Avenue are some of the things recalled from the old days by the residents interviewed in the video.
Some of the locations mentioned are still on Figueroa Street, such as Angelus Chevrolet, the Highland Theater and Sycamore Grove Park.
But the Franklin Theater location is now occupied by the DeWitt Transfer/Storage Building; Peoples Department Store now houses the Park Theater and Piggly Wiggly Market, and Hall's Dry Goods Store is now Benson's TV. There's a typewriter shop in what was once the old Sunbeam movie theater, where Addie Ennis, 97, a resident of Highland Park since 1914, remembered the excitement of going to see silent films starring Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle.
"It cost us 10 cents to get in, and we thought we'd reached the top when we went to see films there," Ennis recalls in the video.
Store Founder's Daughter
Jane Ivers, daughter of the founder of the recently closed Ivers Department store on Figueroa Street, recalls how her family lived in the back of the store. She remembered that a man once chastised her father for "putting his family on an alley."
Beth Putman, a Highland Park resident since 1913, remembers sneaking a look behind the Ivers counter, where Jane Ivers, then a baby, slept in her crib. "She was a cutie," Putman declares.
Among other recollections in the video, Bill (Red) Milliken remembers paying "10 or 15" for a hamburger on the avenue, and Putman recalls riding the trolleys that went to downtown Los Angeles for only a nickel.
Nevertheless, the video is not all a lament for a lost past. Sally Beck, 61, a lifelong resident of Highland Park who appears in the video, said that, although there were "a lot of good things about the old days, I enjoy walking down 'the avenue' as much today."
The residents appearing in the 25-minute video were found through members of the Heritage Trust, word of mouth and flyers, Samson said.
"We interviewed 20 people orally on audio, selected the 10 people that had the most interesting information on Figueroa Street and re-interviewed them" on video, she said. "It was a monumental job. If I had known, I might not have been so eager."
Most subjects were interviewed in their homes. A few were interviewed as they walked along Figueroa.
"The Avenue" was originally made as a presentation for the September awards ceremony of Heritage Trust, a 4-year-old nonprofit organization devoted to the preservation of cultural resources in Highland Park. Samson estimated the cost of making the video at less than $500. "It was a shoestring operation," she said.
But the Heritage Trust plans to copy "The Avenue" to lend to "any organization that wants to borrow it," Samson said. "We would like to make it available to schools, churches and social organizations."
However, before copies can be made, the video needs some improvements, she said. "It was all done on home equipment, so there are some problems. Some of the sound is not real great," she said.
Her husband, Roy Samson, also a Heritage Trust member, estimates that copies of the video will be ready to lend in about six weeks. But a residents association in Mount Washington is going to show the video at its Oct. 7 meeting without the sound improvements.
Robert J. Janosik, a professor of political science at Occidental College, has requested a copy to show to a class. He said he is going to offer oral history in his contemporary American cultures class and would like to use the Heritage Trust video for background.
Pat Samson said Highland Park has retained its small-town atmosphere from the old days, despite its proximity to downtown Los Angeles. And that is why so many have lived all their lives in Highland Park, she said.
"It is a rich history and we would like to share it with the community," Samson said. "We're trying to build community pride."