Chapter 2
California And Growing Up
The move to California: In 1928 Dad and Mom had made the decision to move to California. They replaced the Model T with a 1925 Gardner Touring Car ($1,250 new) and built boxes with lids on top of the running boards and a box on the rear with a drop down door that became a food prep table. It was complete with utensils and a Coleman stove and we ate a lot of meals along the side of the road. It was about 2200 miles on 1928 highways so use your imagination.
To block the wind and rain there were rubberized curtains with "Isinglass" windows. It was a manufactured, translucent material mounted in the curtains that allowed some visibility. They were installed with the use of steel rods stuck in the door frame and permitted opening the doors. In good weather they were put away.
They packed the car with 3 sons, ages 3, 7 and 11 plus who knows what else. Needless to say, the roadside food preparation kit got a lot of use. I don’t remember much about the trip except the generator or something burned out in Flagstaff and we stayed in a log cabin motel for three days while they obtained another. Staying in one room log cabin with snow on the path to the bath was great for us kids but I’m sure it was a trial for Mom who was several months along with my third brother.
When we arrived in Long Beach there was a housing shortage and required our living in the Venetian Square hotel on the beach at the foot of the Los Angeles River for a week until they found a rental. Our room was a tent mounted on a wooden platform on the hotel grounds. Living on the beach was memorable way to end the trip but that too had to be tough on Mom.
Our first home was on Platt Street in North Long Beach. It was very small on a narrow lot and had a single car garage. I attended Jane Adams Elementary and when I was in the fifth grade we studied several countries and Mrs. Jackson inspired us to build a world fair. It required visiting lumber yards scrounging for scrape lumber that she had the janitor cut as needed. When we were finished we invited our parents to visit it our "World Fair". Mrs. Jackson was a great teacher who had our attention as well as our hearts, at least she got mine because I loved the building part.
We were only a mile from the L. A. River which was a wild river when it rained before they turned it into a cement lined drainage ditch. It was wide and sandy with flood debris and little water when it wasn’t raining which made it a great place to play and explore.
Once Dad took us to Brighton Beach on the north side of the mouth of the L. A. River where we had a great beach party because bonfires were allowed. Later it became the site of the Long Beach Naval Base where I worked as a carpenter and then on a surveying team that checked the massive forms for the dry docks before the concrete was poured.
Our next home was on Gardena near 10th next to a four unit apartment with other homes to the south and an apartment complex across the alley in the rear. Work was scarce so Dad spaded up our back yard and put in a truck garden. He bartered his veggies with a lady who made bread and also traded his work for other necessities. Once a week he worked at a food distribution center and brought home a box of staples. I can’t remember a time that we didn’t have food on the table. Lettuce was one of Dad’s crops and I got tired of lettuce sandwiches. So, one day I didn’t take a lunch and I was sitting on the school steps when my teacher came by and tried to give me lunch money. I was so embarrassed I always packed a lunch after that, but what a great teacher.
There was little cash. One Christmas, before I was big enough to earn spending money, I was given a dollar to buy gifts and spent hours at the ten cent store trying to decide what to get each of our five other family members. One Christmas I pasted games printed in the funny papers on cardboard and then cut them out as gifts. I don’t remember that we ever played one. In those days the gifts we received consisted mostly of necessities like clothing or school supplies.
The Long Beach Earthquake of 1933
The earthquake (a magnitude 6.4) struck at 5:45 PM on March 10, 1933. I had been attending Franklin Junior High School for a few weeks and most of the schools were substantially damaged, if not completely destroyed. Hundreds, if not thousands of children would have been injured and killed had it occurred during school hours.
Our neighbor lady and friend was expecting and lost her baby that night when she was scalded by hot soup spilling from the stove. The walls had fallen away from the apartment next door and left the furniture standing around the edges. It was dusk and getting cold and we were in front of the house and watched a man come out of the apartment carrying blankets. As the door swung closed behind him he was crushed by falling ruble.
It seemed that every other home was setting about two feet to the right or left of their foundations. Gas and water lines were ruptured but fortunately our home stayed in place. Many business streets were blocked with ruble from the front of buildings.
I slept in our car that night thoroughly scared by the consistent aftershocks when the car would sway it a little. The next day Dad drove us to Aunt Irene’s and Uncle Henry’s in San Bernardino and he and Howard returned home and camped out in the back yard. When the utilities were turned back on he brought us home.
We had stayed with Irene and Henry when we first arrived in California. Dad had driven on to Long Beach, found a job and a home, and then came back for us.
I don’t remember Aunt Irene’s branch of the family but I remember her and Uncle Henry’s warmth and generosity. Henry was a farmer and a skilled carpenter and had built a sizable and attractive home on homesteaded land near the entrance to the Cajon Pass at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains. The wind had rolled a large galvanized metal water tank across the country to their home so Henry dug a depression in the ground, rolled it in and then put the dirt back to bring the floor to the ground level. It made a great garage with room for their car as well as other items. They had a truck garden loaded with water melons and I discovered that peanuts grew in the ground. We could pull up all we wanted and I learned to like them raw.
When we returned to school we met on numbered, chalked areas on the play grounds. Our books, rescued from our lockers, were returned to us and we were given home work assignments. That continued until tents had been erected on wooden plat forms that were later replaced with bungalows. I was in the 9A when we occupied the first of the new buildings. School was half day for three years and grades 7 through 8B went to school in the afternoon and 8A through the 9th in the mornings. It was a big event in our lives when we moved up to 8A and were able to spend afternoons at the beach or the lagoon and other fun activities. Like hiking up Signal Hill with our bikes and then coasting to the bottom at break neck speeds.
The extensive, area wide quake damage ended the depression for us. From then on Dad never lost a day’s work and started contracting instead of working by the hour. Because of his reputation for his painting and paper hanging skills he was the first to be called by decorators, architects and builders as far away as Hollywood for high end decorating and imported wall papers.
About a block away a man was collecting loads of brick from the destroyed buildings and he would pay 10 cents for every 20 bricks we cleaned of the old mortar. So, if we wanted to go to the Saturday movie matinee and get a popsickle and a candy bar we would clean 40 bricks. We also discovered that some had mortar that would fall off easily and others where it stuck like glue so we always looked for the easy ones.
As another money maker Howard and I would go down the alleys and streets with our wagon searching abandoned homes and stores for items we could take to the junk man. The junk man lived close by, had a peg leg and conducted business out of his back yard. Once he took the cork out of whisky bottle that had some dregs in it, smelled, and then drank it. It both surprised and shocked me.
Howard loved to fish and it didn’t matter whether it was surf, deep sea, lake, or rain or shine and he was very good at it. He could fish with a group and the others might not catch much of anything but he always made out. Once we went out over night without warm clothing on an old ship anchored off shore that was used as a fishing barge. The ocean was beautiful because it was one of those times when the water was iridescent. However, I thought daylight and the boat to take us home would never come. I don’t remember catching any fish but I may have caught a cold.
I would tag along with Howard whenever possible, particularly when he was going to the old Pine Avenue pier. (A storm washed it out after the Rainbow Pier was built.) Sometimes I would fish from the old pier with a snag line but what I really loved was wandering the old Pike. I would listen to all the pitches made by the hucksters and sometimes I stop at the "Spit and Argue Club" on the pier and listen to the stories they would tell. I don’t know why but they fascinated me.
The Pike amusement park had been officially opened on July 4, 1902. It was known as the "Walk of a Thousand Lights" and became one of the most popular amusement parks on the west coast. After World War II, it was expanded and renamed Nu-Pike and closed in 1979 when the redevelopment began.
Shown here are the old auditorium, the Pine Avenue Pier and part of the Pike. The auditorium burned in the early 1930's and the pier we fished on was washed out in a storm shortly after the Rainbow Pier was built.
The photo at right is dated 1940, and the columns on the right are on the front of the Bath House. All buildings on the left were built on the beach that constantly grew larger from new sand deposits.
The large columned building on the left is the Bath House, nick named the "Plunge" built in 1902.
I remodeled it in 1954 and it was finally closed in the seventies. Too many people had back yard pools.
The beach area in the photo below constantly expanded and was eventually covered with more attractions.
I rarely had even a nickel for an ice cream cone or a dime for one of the rides. Favorites were the Fun House and Looff’s beautiful merry-go-round. He also owned many of the other attractions and his world famous Carousel horses now sell for thousands of dollars.
I can remember walking under and in between the pilings of the roller coaster but over the years more sand kept expanding the beach and more attractions were built upon it. For ten cents I saw a lot of westerns in the Rialto theatre to the right of the Plunge. Behind the Plunge was a bath house with individual compartments for changing clothes. Dad would take us to the Plunge but not often enough.
This map illustrates the changes in the ocean front since we arrived in 1928.
The Naval Base was built on Brighten Beach were we had beach parties and I had worked on the construction of the base until I enlisted in the Air Corps.
With the exception of the Naval Base it was all built from Long Beach’s share of the gas and oil revenues generated by the multitude of tide land oil wells. They never drilled a dry hole and the extract-ion later caused serious subsidence that was halted by the injection of water.
I joined Scout Troop 47 housed in the Grace Methodist Church on the corner of Third and Junipero just a block from Bixby Park. After Scout Meeting we would go to the Park and play Capture the Flag. Most of us were part of our neighborhood group composed of Bob Bigelow, Laurence Kaylor, Jimmy Woods, Darrel Ransom and Marten Albright. We did a lot of things together and hung out when there was nothing special. I earned a "Star" merit badge rank and was half way to "Eagle."
I am ashamed to say I can remember some of our activities that weren’t very scout like. For example, Darrel somehow was able to get gun powder which we wrapped tightly in newspaper and put it on the Toonyville Trolley track that looped down 7th St. and Broadway. When the car rolled over it, it would exploded with a loud boom and shake the Trolley. The tranquil riders did not remain tranquil. On Halloween we would watch until some one was getting into their car and we would stick a potato in car exhaust so it wouldn’t start. When we had our fun we pulled the potato out and left them wondering what their problem was. Shame on us! However, Dad told about the time they took a wagon apart and put it together on the roof of a barn so I felt better.
In the sixties a large subdivision called Rossmoor was built on the site of Bryant Acres located just outside of Long Beach on the south side of the San Gabriel River. I resold many of the homes years later. At the time it was mostly scrub trees, a few cows and the Boy Scouts were allowed to camp there. So whenever we could arranged it that’s where we were. It was close enough we could ride our bikes or even walk if a parent wasn’t available to drive us.
Our Scout Troop was lucky enough to go to Camp Taquits, the scout camp in Idyllwild, California. We were lucky, because it was difficult to get a parent who could afford to take the time off during the depression. I went again two years later as Jr. Assistant Scout Master and was both the surrogate parent and Scout Master because there was no one else to go with them. The last night we were there I was inducted into the honorary "Tribe of Taquits" and given the name, "Shouting Buffalo" because of hollering at the kids. One of them was Ross, Bob Bigelow’s little brother. When we were hiking up the switch back to the top of San Jacinto his back pack proved to be a little too heavy for him so I carried it with mine. Ross went on to be commissioned in the Navy, came home and became an attorney, a judge and married one of my sales ladies. He never forgot I had carried his pack.
Dad took us out to see a barn storming air show at what is now the Long Beach Airport. Then it was a several hundred acre field that belonged to the water department. The show really turned me on because they stood on the wings, jumped with a smoke bomb and with a parachute that didn’t open until the last minute and other stunts. I remember the Ford Tri Motor because it flew upside down and very low and plucked up a flag on the end of a pole. The plane became a Classic and some may still fly. These memories were a big influence on my decision to join the Air Force when the war came. It’s also the reason I joined the Oceanside Airport Association in our successful fight to keep our airport open and expand it to its full potential.
My best friend was Bob Bigelow and we hung out at his house a lot. Years later their home was razed and replaced with a strip mall. There was a small storage shack behind the house where we would play poker and smoke. When I ran for the Senate my campaign headquarters was on the site where we had hung out as kids.
Most stores would sell cigarettes to kids if you said your Dad had sent you. There was a brand called "Wings" that came ten to a box for ten cents. But, they were twice as long and when cut in half you had twenty. All other brands cost at least a nickel more. I began smoking at that time and quit when I was 40 for the same reason that I started, to prove I was a man. I had been a heavy smoker and now I know that quitting when I did contributed considerably to my quality of life and my pocket book.
Bob became a plumber and served in the Navy on submarine spotting dirigibles off South America. After the war I remodeled his home and he helped me with my plumbing when I remodeled ours. Later, I sold his home and they bought a condo on the Beach. I last saw him at our 50th High School reunion and later learned that he had died. Larry Kaylor became a dentist and after the war, my dentist. He died early from insulin shock. I lost track of the others.
When I graduated from Junior High I went to Poly Hi because we lived in that district while my friends went to Wilson High. Most of the classes were still in bungalows because some of the buildings hadn’t been rebuilt but we were going full time. I tried out for the football team but I was 140 lbs, six feet one inch tall, had no ability and was out matched in weight and talent.
I missed my friends from Jr. High and Scouts so when we bought a home located across the high school dividing line I transferred to Wilson High as a Junior and went out for crew. But, between the crew workout at 11 and lunch at 12, I was physically and mentally out of it for my Physics class at 1:00 PM. I earned my first "D" plus a few demerits for skipping the class.
When my senior year started the Principle called me in for a little heart to heart and suggested that if I chose to graduate I should change my style. The message reached me and I cleaned up my grades and earned extra merits. While writing this I realized I had failed to thank him when I graduated.
When I was seventeen I had an argument with Dad, I have no idea of what it was about, and moved out and into a dollar a day room in a home that included a paper bag lunch. To offset living expenses I dropped out of school and went to work full time for Western Union on the late shift averaging about $1.40 a day plus very little in tips. It also had to maintain my bike. I found a greasy spoon restaurant where I could get a bowl of chili and beans for ten cents and all the crackers I could eat. After a couple of months I returned from a delivery one night and found my folks car parked by the bike rack outside the office. Dad asked me to come home and return to school. His timing was great and I still get a lump in my throat when I think about it.
I was in Glee Club at Wilson as I had been in Junior High. The earth quake repairs had just been completed on the auditorium and we staged the first show in six years to celebrate. It involved both glee clubs and I met Marguerite Halicus on stage. Our first date was the Crew Team beach party but she already had a date for our graduation dance so I went with someone I no longer remember.
There were 475 in our graduating class and we booked the Big White Steamer out of Long Beach to take us to Catalina for the day. Kay Keiser and his band with Ishkabibble and Jenny Simms played a matinee dance for us at the Casino and of course, Ishkabibble sang one of top tunes at the time, "Three Little Fiddies". We steamed back to Long Beach that night. How could you have a better Ditch Day?
From then on Marguerite and I were steadies and became engaged a year later. Her Mother pleaded that we not marry until Marguerite graduated from Community College. A year later we were married on October 22, 1941, just before Pearl Harbor.
My first car. I bought Marguerite’s 1932 Chevy when we became engaged except it didn’t have white side walls as pictured and the tires in the fender wells had chrome bands around them. It also needed a ring job and a neighbor who was a mechanic overhauled it in our garage.
In my senior year drafting class I had made a complete set of working drawings for a home and I knew I wanted to be an architect. When I graduated I purchased an Architectural Engineering correspondence course for $100 paying it off at $10 a month. With my drafting instruments and a drafting table I built in wood shop I set it up on our front porch which had been enclose with windows. The course required reproducing a lot of drawings as well as a lot of math. Later, the Army gave me credit for it towards my equivalence of two years of college.
After working for Dad for a year I enrolled in the Carpentry course at Frank Wiggins Trade School in Los Angeles. Dad couldn't understand why I wanted to be a carpenter when I already had a trade that paid as well. But, I wanted to be an Architect and I felt that it would be a step towards that end. The teacher was the world’s best, both in his trade knowledge and teaching skills. In the class room we learned: how to sharpen and care for our tools; how to read blueprints which I had learned in high school; how to compute and make intricate saw cuts; the component parts of a building; how they were assembled and how to estimate the amount of lumber, concrete, roofing, etc. Finally, we boarded a school bus each day that took us out to Fairfax High School in Hollywood where we constructed a Social Hall from the ground up. To make the busing time worthwhile I obtained a chauffeur's license and was paid for driving the school bus from the school to the job and back again.
To pay expenses I had obtained a job as a riveter at Lockheed in the old Ford plant in Los Angeles. We fabricated the ailerons for the new P-38, an advanced fighter configuration at that time. I worked the graveyard starting at 12 until 7 AM but was paid for 8 hours.
At 3:30 I’d load the bus, head back to the school, deposit the students and take the bus to it’s parking site. Then I would grab some sleep. I couldn’t find a room for a dollar a day that wasn’t on a noisy street car track but you get use to it fast if you are tired enough. Of course I headed for home on weekends.

Click photos to see larger versions.

© 2011 Oliver W. Speraw