Playing "Chicken" on the La Brea Tar Pits
My family is from New York. My dad was an engineer for Starrett Brothers (builder of the Empire State Building) and was sent to San Francisco to build Park Merced and while there, my sister and I were born.
We moved back to New York and returned in 1948 and lived in the Park La Brea garden apartments while my dad was in charge of building the Park La Brea towers. I loved the tar pits, saw movies at the El Rey, and shopped at Ohrbach's (then in the Prudential Building), the May Company, and many other stores on the Miracle Mile.
The tar pits were almost undeveloped back then, and some of the smaller pits didn't even have fences around them. All the kids would play there for hours day after day catching frogs, rescuing birds from the tar, and running around. We played a kind of "chicken" on the tar.
We would gingerly walk out on the crusted surface and then jump up and down causing the crust to begin to separate and a depression to begin. Then we'd jump out of the depression before it broke through. One day, a kid didn't jump fast enough, and the tar broke through and he began to sink in. I'm not sure how deep it was, but luckily an adult came by and using a long stick, pulled the kid out with tar all over his legs.
On Sundays we went to Cathedral Chapel and after church my dad, who would sit in the car while my mom took us to church, would take us all to the Carnation Building for ice cream. Over the years, I really liked that restaurant.
One night, my family walked to the Miracle Mile to see the USC homecoming parade, an annual event back then. I was maybe eight years old, and I got scared by a big dog and got separated and lost.
A couple who lived right off Wilshire found me and took me to their house and called the police. A few minutes later, my parents showed up, escorted by a policeman. Nice people, no harm--things were simple then.
Before Christmas, large pine trees in big boxes would be placed along the wide sidewalks on the Miracle Mile. The decoration ornaments were really elaborate multi-section, about eight inches long, made of stiff colored foil-covered paper. They were really neat. When it got windy, they'd blow off, so my sister and I would run over there to get the ones that fell off.
When we first came to L.A., we stayed at the Chancellor Hotel off Wilshire near Catalina. My mom enrolled me in the Immanuel Presbyterian nursery school for a couple of weeks until we moved to Park La Brea. Years later, as an adult, I went to Immanuel every Christmas Eve to hear the Messiah. After maybe twenty years of going, they quit doing it about ten years ago. Times change.
In the 1970s, my wife and I lived in Hollywood, and we would sometimes go to the Bullocks Wilshire tearoom for lunch. That was really special. Nice dinnerware, silver plated implements and pitchers, and I think I remember really good popovers. Too bad it's gone.
[Editor's note: The store closed in 1993, but the building has been restored as part of the Southwestern University School of Law campus.]