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Cape Crusaders Keep an L.A. Tradition Alive

City's rich bullfighting history includes a club, practice sessions and a noted book collection.

September 22, 2005|Jessica Gresko | Times Staff Writer

Rosita Morales, another member, was a professional bullfighter for nine years in Mexico. Tom Shea, 78, started going regularly to bullfights in Tijuana as a college student at USC. ("Aside from an SC football game, it was the thing to do on Sunday.") Mike Schaefer, now a lawyer, was living in San Diego when he first went to Tijuana to see a bullfight in his early 20s and liked it just enough to go back -- then was hooked.

Club member Charlcie Zavala, meanwhile, hated the first bullfight she saw. But after reading more about the tradition, she came around, she said, and eventually co-founded a bullfight club in Texas, where she used to live. Now when Zavala and her husband vacation in Spain, France and Mexico, they sometimes see three bullfights, or 18 individual bouts, a day.

To get their bullfighting fix, many club members take frequent trips to Tijuana's two bullfighting rings, where officials and some of the matadors are their friends. Others plan visits to Spain, France and Latin American countries where bullfighting is more common. And many surround themselves with bullfight memorabilia in their homes.

One of the club's early members, George B. Smith, was a Los Angeles schoolteacher. He took collecting bullfighting material so seriously that James Michener, writing in his novel "Iberia," noted that the collection Smith amassed was "what many call the finest library of its kind in the United States." Margaret Sewell, 85, his niece, remembered her uncle's frequent trips to Spain and Mexico and his collection taking over his small downtown apartment.

"There were books lining the hallways, there were books in the kitchen, there were books on the back porch. Every room was full of books," Sewell said. "Even in the bathroom."

Before he died in 1986, Smith donated his bullfighting books and other memorabilia to the Central Library. Now, the collection's 1,700 books -- about 950 of which are in Spanish -- take up about a fifth of the library's appointment-only rare books room and about a tenth of the library's rare books collection. Knickknacks collected by Smith are displayed in glass-fronted cabinets.

Daniel Dupill, who oversees the library's rare books room, said he receives eight to 10 requests a year to use the collection's books, the oldest of which is from 1747.

Each volume contains Smith's bookplate: "George B. Smith, Biblioteca Taurina," or bullfighting library.

Aficionados, however, say book knowledge of bullfighting goes only so far. "You could talk about bullfighting for forever and a day," says Bill Torres. "But there's nothing like doing it."

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