Extra! Extra! Murder in Glendale…

Cut from Gourmet Ghosts 2 at the last minute: a fateful day in a restaurant at 110 S. Brand Blvd in Glendale…

Though it’s now a location in the Vegas Seafood chain, in the 1980s this was Uncle Lee’s Restaurant, and on April 30, 1987 it was the scene of a violent shooting.

“Then he tried to shoot me in the head. I told him ‘Don’t do it! Don’t do it!’ And he just said, ‘I want to kill you! I want to kill you!

According to reports in the LA Times, it seems that owner Wen Lee had agreed to sell the restaurant to Johnny Soong and had already let him and his wife Tuai Li-chun start running things, but then Soong defaulted on a $5,000 payment.

Soong had already pulled a knife during a confrontation with Lee, and when Lee visited the restaurant that deadly day expecting – but not receiving – the payment, he returned soon after, only this time he was armed with a .38 pistol he had got from his car.

This time he entered the restaurant, greeted the pair – and then opened fire.

“He shot me in the back,” Soong said, adding that when he began to grapple with his would-be killer, Lee shouted “I want to kill you, I want to kill you!”

Soong suffered further bullet wounds to his foot and, tragically, Li-chun was hit in the face by another bullet meant for her husband.

Glendale Police Detective Joe L. Jiminez, who interviewed Lee after the shooting, said that Lee admitted he was going to kill Soong, and then kill himself.

It’s perhaps not surprising then to learn that Lee tried to commit suicide in jail, leading to a mistrial being declared. Lee was deemed incompetent, and was placed in psychiatric care indefinitely.

Extra! Extra! Wanna dive the Titanic?

In James Cameron’s 1997 movie, Bill Paxton’s treasure hunter sees the Titanic emerging from the gloom, and from next year extreme explorers and even fans of the Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet blockbuster can get up close with the luxury liner.

For the first time in over a decade, concierge companies are offering submersible journeys – what they call “missions” – to the wreck, and there are already plans in place for 2019.

Bluefish, based in California, are offering expeditions costing nearly $60,000 that set sail on the RV Akademik Keldysh, which Cameron used and featured in the movie, with dives to the depths in small, nickel steel MIR submersibles.

For the pricier ticket of over $100,000 per person (the cost of an original First-Class ticket in today’s money, according to one travel service), you can gaze out from a much wider viewport and enjoy more elbow room in Cyclops 2, the cutting-edge titanium and carbon fiber sub from private outfit OceanGate, who are based in Everett, WA.

Trips leave from Newfoundland, and passengers are part of the team and expected to be hands-on. This is no day trip or theme park ride, and even though you might only get an hour or two just feet away from the famous staircase, the radio room or even personal mementoes of the disaster, tickets are already selling fast.

Expeditions have been available before, but they came to an end around 2005.

Submersibles strong enough to withstand the pressure at such depths were Government-owned and rarely available, and the bulk of the cramped journey is just an hours-long dark descent to and from the ocean floor.

The crumbling wreck was getting less than camera-ready too, but the demand has never gone away, even after the 100th anniversary of the disaster.

The remains of the 1912 disaster were found 2½ miles down by explorer Robert Ballard and his team in 1985. The tragedy killed over 1,500 people when the vessel sunk after hitting an iceberg around 375 miles off Newfoundland on its maiden voyage between Southampton and New York.

You’ve got time to save up for your super-dive, though only about 15 to 20 years according to a study from last year, which revealed that due to “extremophile bacteria,” the wreck could have collapsed and been eaten to little more than lumps of metal by then.

 

Extra! Club Tee Gee

Club Tee Gee was another story that I cut from the book at the last minute: it was rather on the short side I thought. Now though, you get to read about it here…

Deadly Stray Bullet

Located on Glendale Boulevard, the Tee Gee wasn’t always a bar – the LA Times of May 4, 1927 announced that this address was originally given permission to open its doors as a bank – a branch of the Citizens Trust and Savings Bank, to be specific.

Today it’s rather an anonymous building. The windows are covered and the exterior is square mosaic cladding, though it’s more impressive at night when the neon signs light up in yellow and red (though it doesn’t really help with the fact that the “G” in the Gee looks a bit like a Y).

It’s definitely T and G though; the bar was named after owners Neil Tracy and Joe Grzybowski, who were in charge from day one. It was over twenty years later before this address made the newspapers again though, and this time it was in relation to something much more dramatic: a brazen robbery that led to murder.

In the wee hours of March 2, 1948, two armed youths had entered the tavern and said “This is a stick up!” prompting owner/bartender Tracy to immediately reach under the bar for a pistol, shooting 18 year old Charles Hagadorn in the arm before being shot in the chest himself.

There were only six customers present, and one of them – John R Markland, a local man aged 27 who was sitting in a booth nearby – was tragically struck by a stray bullet and killed. Lucille Tracy, sister of the now-injured owner Neil, was unseen in the kitchen and called the Police.

Officers followed a trail of blood to the nearby Los Angeles River, and the bleeding Hagadorn was quickly taken into custody, while the other robber, Sidney Moody, a 19 year old from Texas, surrendered soon after.

Tracy was listed in critical condition at a hospital in Pasadena, and when evidence later showed that it was a bullet from his gun that had killed the unlucky victim, both youths had murder charges dismissed, but pled guilty to charges of attempted murder and robbery.

Overall this spot seems to have had a quiet life – at least in terms of the city archives – though it was called Lathams for a very brief period in 2010, though that was strictly for the television cameras, when it was a location on the one-season ABC science fiction “FlashForward” television series (the episode was called “Blowback”).

Then in late February 2016, there was some sad news from here: the death of owner Betty Barlotta, who had been in charge since 1981 when she took over from the original owners, was announced.

Extra! Deadly cards at the Kawada Hotel

I had written a whole entry for the Kawada Hotel, but it got cut from Gourmet Ghosts 2 at the last minute – so here it is now!

downtown-hollywood-pics-for-gg-june-15-007

Operating as a mid-budget hotel, the unobtrusive Kawada has had a central spot in downtown on South Hill Street for nearly 100 years, and is a great spot especially if you’re a visiting tourist.

It’s close to Grand Central Market, Disney Hall, MOCA and the Broad Museum, while the building is also home to the cheerful Cherry Pick Café. During the day the Cherry Pick offers a large selection of pizzas, deli sandwiches, coffees and smoothies, and stays open until early evening.

downtown-hollywood-pics-for-gg-june-15-016

Though its windows are covered with signs and pictures of food, inside it’s actually a little hidden treasure: brightly lit, green sofas, silver tables, a large display case of pastries, cookies and cakes, and always plenty of office types at lunch – you can even buy coffee mugs with positive slogans written in Chinese on them!

Years before in the space on the opposite side of hotel there was a restaurant called Epicentre, which opened its doors in August 1991.

Believe it or not it was earthquake-themed, and opened just a few years after a real quake in Whittier Narrows in the San Gabriel Valley, which caused $350 million worth of damage and took eight lives.

Still, themed restaurants are nearly always popular, and the LA Times of August 8, 1990 quoted the-then Kawada assistant general manger as saying “Californians have a good sense of humor.”

The restaurant wasn’t as over-the-top as something you might see in Las Vegas though, but it did have walls that looked cracked, a map showing California falling into the Pacific, an artwork of City Hall – before and after an imagined temblor – and an open ceiling showing exposed wires and ducts (before it was fashionable).

Though the menu was somewhat standard – fish, chicken, pasta and steak – they did have some fun. You chose from a list of “epitizers” and desserts were called “aftershocks,” while a curry’s strength came on the Richter Scale: 1.0 for mildest, 10.0 for the spiciest.

The archives tell us that this hotel was built in 1922, though back then it was known as the Astor Hotel. It had no connection with the famous New York hotel – or family – but was doubtless one of the many around America that used the name to infer opulence.

The 200 room hotel changed hands in July 1933 when a Mr. and Mrs. Peck paid $40,000 for a five year lease, and though doubtless there were other owners, it was nearly 50 years before another change was noted in the LA Times on August 10, 1980.

V.J. Thomas Lee, the owner of a stock brokerage house and a theoretical physicist, had paid $1.3 million for what was then known as the 118 unit Astor Apartments, but there were bigger changes coming, as a 1988 article in the LA Times made clear.

Now it was owned by the Kawada Investment Co, the Astor was being upgraded and expanded, and Levi Velasquez’s barber shop – one of a number of businesses on the block – was closing to make way for the new development.

But the Astor Hotel had plenty of stories to tell before it became the Kawada.

On October 16, 1927 the LA Times reported on a $63,000 payroll robbery at the Municipal Bureau of Water and Power.

Leonard Efanti, 25, had arrived in Los Angeles two weeks ago from Chicago, and had taken a room at the Astor – which was right near the Water and Power building. He had three visitors while at the hotel – three men who matched the description of those who had carried out the robbery with him. Police also alleged that he had he observed the target building for days before the gang’s robbery took place in broad daylight.

Efanti, who registered as J. Eads, left the hotel without his luggage, but then later a torn curtain from his room was found in the alley behind the Water building and he was arrested.

Then, the February 1, 1940 edition of the LA Times reported on a deadly card game that took place in one of the rooms here.

Frank Urena had been shot and killed when bus boy Demetrio Palay grabbed Urena’s gun and opened fire, the bullets also hitting Paul Areola, who was in a critical condition. Palay, 25, was in custody on suspicion of murder and attempt to commit murder, and had been tackled to the sidewalk by Morrey Kline, who worked for the Los Angeles Evening Herald-Express.

Palay said he had won $500 from his card rivals in a previous game, and claimed self-defense. When he had won another hand “Urena drew a pistol and Areola grabbed my money,” he said.

As the struggle began, nurse Katherine Kershaw ran from the room and hid for five hours before being found – though she didn’t see who fired the fatal shots.

Finally – as far as the records show at least – in March 1958 the man who registered himself as “George Andrews” was found dead in his room here.

Also, there is something else – something unusual and rather famous – right across the road from the Kawada, and it was built at the same time as the hotel.

Known for its appearances in movies including Blade Runner, The Terminator, Independence Day, Con Air, Gattaca, Kill Bill and many more (to say nothing of hundreds of car commercials and pop videos), the brightly-lit white-shell curving 2nd Street tunnel is perhaps L.A’s biggest secret star.

You’ll know it when you see it, that’s for sure, but like the 3rd Street Tunnel (featured in Gourmet Ghosts – Los Angeles) it too came with a death toll.

Like most municipal projects it spent years in the planning and many weeks in the courts and the press being debated and criticized by both sides.

Planned to relieve heavy traffic from that 3rd Street Tunnel, it was controversial from day one; even the white tiles, which came from Germany, ruffled feathers because WWI had only ended a few years before. There were even (rejected) plans for a moveable sidewalk inside too.

A couple of thousand people turned up to see the first digs of earth on his then-huge bore project in April 1921,  though early the next year there was the first (and inevitable) accident.

A hundred tons of earth, rock and timbers slid down the west end of the tunnel trapping six workmen – two of whom were buried alive. One of them, Jesus Venzula, 32, was buried up to his neck, and with serious injuries that the LA Times said “probably will cause his death.”

Just over a year later in August 1922 there was another cave-in when two workmen were badly injured, but there were no other major incidents after that, the tunnel opening to much acclaim and applause in July 1924.

If it’s nighttime, check out the tunnel – it looks amazing lit up in the dark.

Extra! The Kipling Hotel Horrors

Kipling Hotel

Killer Clerk

Formerly a hotel and now a studio apartment building in Mid-City, the Kipling seems unremarkable from the outside, even though it has been here since the 1920s. There’s a popular Korean bar, Saek Dong Juh Gori, on street level, and though there are no stories online about any ghosts or spirits in this building, that doesn’t mean this place hasn’t seen bad times.

In fact, this building has a number of stories to tell, several of them concerning bad luck and tragedy for the staff, as well as the guests.

Opened in 1925 by Richard Kipling, it changed hands within a year when it was bought by M.M. Bryan, who promised to keep the name. In September 1929 death first visited the Kipling when real estate salesman John Francis Ryan, 44, took poison in his room here, leaving a suicide note to his estranged wife.

The Kipling changed hands again in 1930, bought by surgeon William T. Rothwell for $450,000, though he had an unlucky start to his tenure when the night clerk was robbed of $60 on December 30 that same year.

Then, on January 28, 1934 the LA Times reported the suicide of Harold Fuchs, 42, who was found dead on the floor of his hotel room, a vial of cyanide close to his body. There were no clues as to why Fuchs, who arrived from Miami just two weeks before, had committed suicide.

There was a new name on the deed in 1936 when Ella Spencer, “a recent arrival from Kansas City, Mo.” said the LA Times, shelled out $250,000 to own the keys, and then in August 1940 the Kipling was host to a famous – albeit unwilling – guest: mobster Benjamin “Bugsie” Siegel.

He was bought here and questioned after being rousted out by Police from a hidden attic at his mansion in Holmby Hills, a fact revealed at the 1942 trial of Siegel, who was accused of being involved a double murder.

In 1941 there had been another change in ownership (to Mr. and Mrs. A.L. Wilcox for yet another lower sale price of $175,000), despite the fact that the LA Times showed the hotel as being a regular location for events and functions of all kinds.

The hotel was one of eight robbed on the night of October 24, 1946 by “pistol-whipping bandits” who stole a car, held up two gas stations and then went on a rampage, evading Police, injuring several hotel clerks and escaping with an overall haul of $2,500.

Just a couple of months later on New Year’s Eve, it was also reported that composer Charles Wakefield Cadman, 65, who had been a resident at the hotel for the past two years and recently suffered a heart attack there, had died in hospital. A founder of the Hollywood Bowl, he was known for his interest in Native American music.

There was bad luck for the next Kipling owner, Paul F. Selersen, 46, when the small plane he was flying on December 30, 1951 crashed en route to Hemet, killing him and his four passengers, which included his wife Ruth and son Paul.

The Civil Aeronautics Board was investigating the claim that the plane had circled then climbed steeply, causing a stall and a rapid crash.

On February 24, 1953 there was more drama when Police came to the room of Mysti Clendening to return her son, 4 year old Terry, who had been found wandering alone in Lafayette Park (some dozen blocks away) a few days before.

Mrs. Clendening wasn’t there though, and it was assumed she was out searching for her son – but Police had a long wait for her; she didn’t come back to the hotel for two days. Apparently “emotionally upset,” she was ordered to appear at Juvenile Hall, where Terry was temporary staying.

Those events all pale into comparison in relation to what was doubtless the most shocking scandal here at the Kipling: the revelation that a former desk clerk was a murderer and mass-rapist.

The LA Times of August 12, 1983 reported that Jerald Curtis Johns, 32, had been sentenced for the rapes of 13 women and the murder of another during a killing spree the previous year.

Living what Police called “a double life” he was an active church member and worked at the Kipling Hotel where he “taught the bible” to residents, but at night he broke into houses brandishing a knife or screwdriver and assaulted women aged from 24 to 71.

Hunting in a 10 block radius of Santa Monica and Normandie (the latter barely two blocks from the hotel), Johns, who had been in and out of prison for sexual offences before and spent time in mental hospitals, was responsible for the death of one victim, who choked on her own vomit.

Calling it “one of the worst cases I’ve seen in 25 years,” an exasperated Judge Everett E. Ricks asked the prosecution during sentencing:

“Why didn’t you request the death penalty?”

In many ways it doesn’t really matter, because Johns is not eligible for parole until the year 2054 – by which time he’ll be well over 100 years old.

www.kiplingapartments.com

 

“Painless Parker,” L.A’s celebrity dentist

I was reading a piece on the Esotouric website today about their fabulous find of a quack medical clinic at the Dutch chocolate shop, and it reminded me of what I found when I had a look around the former main office of “Painless Parker”, the early 20th century showman/dentist/marketing genius (and surely the only dentist to have a movie made about him – sort of).

It’s still operating as a dentist today and is as busy as ever: the kind Dr. Lee let me have a look around. I wrote a piece about it for BBC.com (it’s here), but they only published about half of what I submitted – I really got into the tale of Parker, who is almost forgotten now, but was super-famous in his day.