October 24, 1929: The Three See a Fire

As I wrote in my last post, this is the first test of an element that I am considering including in the book that will be about the 1929 trip and my eventual trip.  I am interested in what was happening in the areas that Dotty, Edie, and Ev visited as they visited.  While this won’t be a major component of the book, I think including short histories of the events that the three many have seen, experienced, or been aware of, gives added depth to the overall story.  The book versions will include pictures when available and feature archives-based research, not the reliance of internet sources.

I would really love your feedback as to whether or not you feel this would be a worthwhile addition, and what your suggestions are as to improve these sorts of sections.  Thank you, and as always, I look forward to hearing from you.

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On October 24, 1929, Dotty, Edie, and Ev were on Day 54 of their three-month road trip.  They were on Day 3 of sightseeing in the Los Angeles area, population 1,238,048.[1]  On this particular day, they found themselves in the area of the Hollywood Hills.

The area was a relatively new development, the iconic Hollywood sign on the hills was only six-years-old and still read Hollywoodland as an advertisement for a housing development nearby.[2]  The Hollywood Bowl had just celebrated its eighth season and had a brand new acoustic shell, its fourth, which would not be replaced until 2003.[3]  Across from the Hollywood Bowl, on the other side of the Cahuenga Boulevard sat the Pilgrimage Play Theater, built by Christine Wetherill Stevenson in 1920.  The Pilgrimage Play Theater’s creation was the result of Stevenson’s split from the group that had purchased the Hollywood Bowl’s land, as the other members disagreed with Stevenson’s idea that it should be used solely for religious plays.[4]  Stevenson’s Pilgrimage Play Theater featured the 14-act Pilgrimage Play through 1929.

There would not be a play in 1930.

October 24, 1929 was a windy and very dry day.  A day like that today would result in a High Fire Threat warning, the kind of day where news anchors warn you about any sort of outdoor flame down to the tossed out, but not snuffed out, cigarette butt.

About noon that day, a brushfire broke out in the neighborhood of Hollywood Knolls.  In the four hours it took to get under control, it destroyed numerous cabins on the hills, threatened larger homes, and came within yards of the Hollywood Bowl.  The larger homes were spared by their spacious lawns which the fire could not feed off of, the Hollywood Bowl by a change in the wind’s direction.  Six hundred people, including high school students helped to fight the fire, and traffic on Cahuenga Boulevard was stopped by police for hours due to the dangerous conditions.[5]

Perhaps the biggest loss of the day was the Pilgrimage Play Theater, which did not benefit from a change in the wind like the Hollywood Bowl.  With wood seating, stage, and dressing area, the brushfire had plenty with which to feed itself.  After the fire, all that remained of the theater was the entrance and a few back rows of seats.

Dotty, Edie, and Ev, on their way to Universal Studios, were forced to seek an alternate route around the fire—they were not going to miss the opportunity to visit the studio, which had been arranged for them by the manager of the local Ford dealership.  It was during their trip to the studio that the three saw the fire, prompting Dotty to pick up a copy of the Los Angeles Examiner the next day and include the clipping about the fire in her next letter home.  Atop the article: “We saw this fire”.[6]

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[1] Population in 1930 according to Census figures.

[2] “The History of the Sign: 1923: A Sign is Born.” The Hollywood Sign [website]. <http://www.hollywoodsign.org/the-history-of-the-sign/1923-a-sign-is-born/&gt;, accessed April 8, 2013; “The History of the Sign: The Post-war Years.” The Hollywood Sign [website]. <http://www.hollywoodsign.org/the-history-of-the-sign/the-postwar-years/&gt;, accessed April 8, 2013. It would be another 20 years before land was dropped from the sign to represent the whole area and not the housing development.

[3] “Architecture.” Hollywood Bowl [website]. <http://www.hollywoodbowl.com/philpedia/history-and-architecture/architecture&gt;, accessed April 8, 2013; “History and Architecture.” Hollywood Bowl [website]. <http://www.hollywoodbowl.com/philpedia/history-and-architecture&gt;, accessed April 8, 2013.

[4] “First Organizers.” Hollywood Bowl [website]. <http://www.hollywoodbowl.com/philpedia/history-and-architecture/first-organizers&gt;, accessed April 8, 2013.  Both Stevenson and her friend Marie Rankin Clarke, who had each contributed $21,000 towards the $47,500 purchase price of the Hollywood Bowl’s land was bought out by the other purchasers.

[5] “Blaze Razes Pilgrimage Play Theater.” Los Angeles Examiner October 25, 1929, [clipping].

[6] In 1931, a new concrete Pilgrimage Play Theater opened.  The Pilgrimage Play continued to be enacted at the site until 1964.  This theater still exists, but under a new name, the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre. Larry Harnish, “Pilgrimage Play Opens.” The Daily Mirror [website]. <http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/thedailymirror/2009/07/pilgrimage-play-opens.html&gt;, accessed April 8, 2013.

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