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Plunging Into the Past : Most Artifacts of 'the Good Old Days' Are No More Than Memories

September 24, 1989|Jack Smith

STEVE COURSO of Riverside will be 80 on Oct. 4. He has lived those years in Southern California, and he seems to have total recall. In a memo called "I Remember It Well," he revives the myth of "the good old days."

Paraphrasing Courso's memoir, I will list just those things that made life so pleasant here in earlier decades. While I can't vouch for the accuracy of all of Courso's recollections, I remember much myself:

He mentions the streetcar that ran from 1st and Hill streets to Bonnie Brae, where the conductor turned it around on a round table for the return trip. Rube Wolf and his orchestra and the Fanchon and Marco revue at the Paramount Theater at 5th and Hill streets. The Chinese-American restaurant on Main Street, between 1st and 2nd, which sold a lunch of soup, salad, beef stew, rice and pudding for 10 cents.

He remembers the dance hall on Grand, where the sailors met the girls. Double-decker busses running from downtown to Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard. (I thought they ran along Wilshire.) The Bimini Baths; the Redondo plunge, where men and women rented identical black bathing suits for 25 cents and sat under the waterfalls.

He cites biblical scenes in windows of the downtown department stores at Christmas. The Palomar Ballroom, where the big bands played. The cabarets--Lyman's, the Turkish Village, the Paradise, Madame Gucca's, the Green Mill, the Cotton Club.

He reflects on the signs in Hawthorne and Lawndale that offered lots for $10 down and $10 a month. Then a few months later, oil wells had sprung up there overnight.

He recalls cable cars rising to Mt. Lowe. And the first freeway between Los Angeles and Pasadena. Milkmen delivering milk to the doorstep. Helm's Bakery wagons. The iceman. The vegetable man with his wagon full of vegetables and fresh fruit.

And he remembers the fragrance of orange blossoms all along the two-lane road from Los Angeles to San Bernardino. Roadside orange juice stands selling all you could drink for 10 cents. The ride on the Red Car from the Terminal Building downtown to Ocean Park, through the tunnel. (Who was responsible for dismantling the Red Car lines?) The shuttle trolleys between Ocean Park and Venice.

He brings up two railroad stations, before the construction of Union Station. The Southern Pacific and Union Pacific leaving from 1st Street and Alameda, and Santa Fe from Santa Fe and 2nd.

And the treacherous Ridge Route, a two-lane highway that snaked over the mountains between Los Angeles and Bakersfield, and the highway that went on to Fresno.

In summer, roadside stands sold ice-cold slices of melon for 10 cents each. The trip to Bakersfield took from five to seven hours. (Consequently, Bakersfield always turned for its cultural fix to San Francisco, which was easy to reach by train.)

Murietta Hot Springs, where three meals a day plus room and the therapeutic baths cost $15 a week. Nearby Temecula, an old stage stop between San Diego and Los Angeles, settled by cattle-raising Indians.

The bells of the Mission Inn in Riverside, which Courso remembers, "ringing nightly when you came to the end of a perfect day.

Almost none of those amenities are left on the Southern California landscape. The Mission Inn still stands, but it is not the cynosure it used to be. And, more significantly, few of us have perfect days anymore.

Courso has left out some things that I remember: Gilmore Stadium, home of the Hollywood Stars; the Carthay Circle theater; the original Romanesque facade of Belmont High School; the red sandstone County Courthouse; the Victorian houses on Bunker Hill; the Hollywood Hotel, the Long Beach Pike.

And what ever happened to Angels Flight?

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