Thomas D. Murphy.

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benefits it confers on the car owners of Southern California are by no
means limited to the membership. Practically every owner and driver of
a car is indebted to the club in more ways than I can enumerate and as
this fact has gained recognition the membership has increased by leaps
and bounds. I remember when the sense of obligation to become a member
was forced upon me by the road signs which served me almost hourly when
touring and this is perhaps the feature of the club's work which first
impresses the newcomer. Everywhere in the southern half of California
and even on a transcontinental highway the familiar white diamond-shaped
signboard greets one's sight—often a friend in need, saving time and
annoyance. The maps prepared and supplied by the club were even a
greater necessity and this service has been amplified and extended
until it not only covers every detail of the highways and byways of
California, but also includes the main roads of adjacent states and one
transcontinental route as well. These maps are frequently revised and
up-to-the-minute road information may always be had by application to
the Touring Department of the club.

When we planned our first tour, at a time when road conditions were
vastly different from what they are now, our first move was to seek
the assistance of this club, which was readily given as a courtesy to
a visiting motorist. The desired information was freely and cheerfully
supplied, but I could not help feeling, after experiencing so many
benefits from the work of the club, that I was under obligations to
become a member. And I am sure that even the transient motorist, though
he plans a tour of but a few weeks, will be well repaid—and have a
clearer conscience—should his first move be to take membership in this
live organization.

We found the club an unerring source of information as to the most
practicable route to take on a proposed tour, the best way out of the
city, and the general condition of the roads to be covered. The club
is also an authority on hotels, garages and "objects of interest"
generally in the territory covered by its activities. Besides the main
organization, which occupies its own building at Adams and Figueroa
Streets, Los Angeles, there are numerous branch offices in the principal
towns of the counties of Southern California, which in their localities
can fulfill most of the functions of the club.

The club maintains a department of free legal advice and its membership
card is generally sufficient bail for members charged with violating the
speed or traffic regulations. It is always willing to back its members
to the limit when the presumption of being right is in their favor,
but it has no sympathy with the reckless joy rider and lawbreaker and
does all it can to discourage such practices. It has been a powerful
influence in obtaining sane and practical motor car legislation, such
as raising the speed limit in the open country to thirty-five miles
per hour, and providing severer penalties against theft of motor cars.
One of the most valuable services of the club has been its relentless
pursuit and prosecution of motor car thieves and the recovery of a large
percentage of stolen cars. In fact, Los Angeles stands at the head of
the large cities of the country in a minimum of net losses of cars by
theft and the club can justly claim credit for this. The club has also
done much to abate the former scandalous practices of many towns in
fixing a very low speed limit with a view of helping out local finances
by collecting heavy fines. This is now regulated by state laws and the
motorist who is willing to play fair with the public will not suffer
much annoyance. The efforts of the club to eliminate what it considers
double taxation of its members who must pay both a horse power fee and
a heavy property tax were not successful, but the California motorist
has the consolation of knowing that all taxes, fines and fees affecting
the motor car go to the good cause of road maintenance.

Another important service rendered by the club is the insurance of
its members against all the hazards connected with operation of an
automobile. Fire, theft, liability, collision, etc., are written
practically at cost. The club also maintains patrol and trouble cars
which respond free of cost to members in difficulty.

Besides all this, the club deserves much credit for the advanced
position of California in highway improvement. It has done much to
create the public sentiment which made the bond issues possible and
it has rendered valuable assistance in surveying and building the new
roads. It has kept in constant touch with the State Highway Commission
and its superior knowledge of the best and shortest routes has been of
great service in locating the new state roads.

My story is to deal with several sojourns in the Sunset State during
the months of April and May of consecutive years. We shipped our car by
rail in care of a Los Angeles garage and so many follow this practice
that the local agents are prepared to receive and properly care for the
particular machines which they represent and several freight-forwarding
companies also make a specialty of this service. On our arrival our car
was ready for the road and it proved extremely serviceable in getting
us located. Los Angeles is the logical center from which to explore the
southern half of the state and we were fortunate in securing a furnished
house in a good part of the city without much delay. We found a fair
percentage of the Los Angeles population ready to move out on short
notice and to turn over to us their homes and everything in them—for a
consideration, of course.

On our second sojourn in the city we varied things by renting furnished
apartments, of which there are an endless number and variety to
choose from, and if this plan did not prove quite so satisfactory and
comfortable as the house, it was less expensive. We also had experience
on several later occasions with numerous hotels—Los Angeles, as might
be expected, is well supplied with hotels of all degrees of merit—but
our experience in pre-war days would hardly be representative of the
present time, especially when rates are considered. The Alexandria and
Angelus were—and doubtless are—up to the usual metropolitan standards
of service and comfort, with charges to correspond. The Gates, where
we stopped much longer, was a cleanly and comfortable hotel with lower
rates and represents a large class of similar establishments such
as the Clark, the Stillwell, the Trinity, the Hayward, the Roslyn,
the Savoy, and many others. One year we tried the Leighton, which is
beautifully located on Westlake Park and typical of several outlying
hotels that afford more quiet and greater convenience for parking and
handling one's car than can be found in the business district. Others
in this class are the Darby, the Hershey Arms, the Hollywood, and the
Alvarado. Los Angeles, for all its preeminence as a tourist city, was
long without a resort hotel of the first magnitude, leaving the famous
Pasadena hostelries such as the Green, Raymond, Maryland and Huntington,
to cater to the class of patrons who do not figure costs in their quest
for the luxurious in hotel service. This shortage was supplied in 1920
by the erection of the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard—one of
the largest resort hotels in the world. The building is surrounded by
spacious grounds and the property is said to represent an investment of
$5,000,000. It is one of the "objects of interest" in Los Angeles and
will be visited by many tourists who may not care to pay the price to
become regular guests. After our experience with hotels, apartments and
rented houses, we finally acquired a home of our own in the "Queen City
of the Southwest," which, of course, is the most satisfactory plan of
all, though not necessarily the cheapest.

Prior to the Great War Los Angeles had the reputation of being a
place where one could live well at very moderate cost and hotels and
restaurants gave the very best for little money. This was all sadly
changed in the wave of profiteering during and following the war. The
city acquired a rather unenviable reputation for charging the tourist
all the traffic would bear—and sometimes a little more—until finally
Government statistics ranked Los Angeles number one in the cost of
living among cities of its class. The city council undertook to combat
the tendency to "grab" by passing an ordinance limiting the percentage
of rental an owner might charge on his property—a move naturally
contested in the courts. At this writing, however, (1921), the tendency
of prices is distinctly downward and this may reasonably be expected
to continue until a fair basis is reached. It is not likely, however,
that pre-war prices will ever return on many items, but it is certain
that Los Angeles will again take rank as a city where one may live
permanently or for a time at comparatively moderate cost.

Public utilities of the city never advanced their prices to compare with
private interests. You can still ride miles on a street car for a nickel
and telephone, gas and electric concerns get only slightly higher rates
than before the war. Taxes have advanced by leaps and bounds, but are
frequently excused by pointing out that nowhere do you get so much for
your tax money as in California.

Naturally, the automobile and allied industries loom large in Los
Angeles. Garages from the most palatial and perfectly equipped to the
veriest hole-in-the-wall abound in all parts of the town. Prices for
service and repairs vary greatly but the level is high—probably one
hundred per cent above pre-war figures. Competition, however, is strong
and the tendency is downward; but only a general wage lowering can
bring back the old-time prices. Gasoline is generally cheaper than in
the East, while other supplies cost about the same. The second-hand
car business has reached vast proportions, many dealers occupying
vacant lots where old cars of all models and degrees brave the sun—and
sometimes the rain—while waiting for a purchaser. Cars are sold with
agreement to buy back at the end of a tour and are rented without driver
to responsible parties. You do not have to bring your own car to enjoy
a motor tour in California; in fact this practice is not so common as
it used to be except in case of the highest-grade cars.

Another plan is to drive your own car from your Eastern home to
California and sell it when ready to go back. This was done very
satisfactorily during the period of the car shortage and high prices for
used cars following the war, but under normal conditions would likely
involve considerable sacrifice. The ideal method for the motorist who
has the time and patience is to make the round trip to California in
his own car, coming, say, over the Lincoln Highway and returning over
the Santa Fe Trail or vice versa, according to the time of the year.
The latter averages by far the best of the transcontinental roads and
is passable for a greater period of the year than any other. In fact, it
is an all-year-round route except for the Raton Pass in New Mexico, and
this may be avoided by a detour into Texas. This route has been surveyed
and signed by the Automobile Club of Southern California and is being
steadily improved, especially in the Western states.

Although California has perhaps the best all-the-year-round climate
for motoring, it was our impression that the months of April and
May are the most delightful for extensive touring. The winter rains
will have ceased—though we found our first April and a recent May
notable exceptions—and there is more freedom from the dust that
becomes troublesome in some localities later in the summer. The
country will be at its best—snow-caps will still linger on the higher
mountains; the foothills will be green and often varied with great
dashes of color—white, pale yellow, blue, or golden yellow, as some
particular wild flower gains the mastery. The orange groves will be
laden with golden globes and sweet with blossoms, and the roses and
other cultivated flowers will still be in their prime. The air will be
balmy and pleasant during the day, with a sharp drop towards evening
that makes it advisable to keep a good supply of wraps in the car. An
occasional shower will hardly interfere with one's going, even on the
unimproved country road.

For there is still unimproved country road, despite all I have said
in praise of the new highways. A great deal of our touring was over
roads seldom good at their best and often quite impassable during the
heavy winter rains. There were stretches of "adobe" to remind us of
"gumbo" at home; there were miles of heavy sand and there were rough,
stone-strewn trails hardly deserving to be called roads at all! These
defects are being mended with almost magical rapidity, but California
is a vast state and with all her progress it will be years before all
her counties attain the Los Angeles standard. We found many primitive
bridges and oftener no bridges at all, since in the dry season there is
no difficulty in fording the hard-bottom streams, and not infrequently
the streams themselves had vanished. But in winter these same streams
are often raging torrents that defy crossing for days at a time. During
the summer and early autumn months the dust will be deep on unimproved
roads and some of the mountain passes will be difficult on this account.
So it is easy to see that even California climate does not afford ideal
touring conditions the year round. Altogether, the months of April,
May, and June afford the best average of roads and weather, despite
the occasional showers that one may expect during the earlier part of
this period. It is true that during these months a few of the mountain
roads will be closed by snow, but one can not have everything his own
way, and I believe the beauty of the country and climate at this time
will more than offset any enforced omissions. The trip to Yosemite is
not practical during this period over existing routes, though it is to
be hoped the proposed all-the-year road will be a reality before long.
The Lake Tahoe road is seldom open before the middle of June, and this
delightful trip can not be taken during the early spring unless the
tourist is content with the railway trains.

Our several tours in California aggregated more than thirty thousand
miles and extended from Tia Juana to the Oregon border. The scope of
this volume, however, is confined to the southern half of the state
and the greater part of it deals with the section popularly known as
Southern California—the eight counties lying south of Tehachapi Pass.
Of course we traversed some roads several times, but we visited most of
the interesting points of the section—with some pretty strenuous trips,
as will appear in due course of my narrative. We climbed many mountains,
visited the endless beaches, stopped at the famous hotels, and did not
miss a single one of the twenty or more old Spanish missions. We saw
the orange groves and palms of Riverside and Redlands, the great oaks
of Paso Robles, the queer old cypresses of Monterey, the Torrey Pines
of La Jolla, the lemon groves of San Diego, the vast wheatfields of the
San Joaquin and Salinas Valleys, the cherry orchards of San Mateo, the
great vineyards of the Napa and Santa Rosa Valleys, the lonely beauty of
Clear Lake Valley, the giant trees of Santa Cruz, the Yosemite Valley,
Tahoe, the gem of mountain lakes, the blossoming desert of Imperial, and
a thousand other things that make California an enchanted land. And the
upshot of it all was that we fell in love with the Golden State—so much
in love with it that what I set down may be tinged with prejudice; but
what story of California is free from this amiable defect?




II

ROUND ABOUT LOS ANGELES


When we first left the confines of the city we steered straight for
the sunset; the wayfarer from the far inland states always longs for a
glimpse of the ocean and it is usually his first objective. The road,
smooth and hard as polished slate, runs for a dozen miles between green
fields, with here and there a fringe of palms or eucalyptus trees and
showing in many places the encroachments of rapidly growing suburbs. So
seductively perfect is the road that the twenty miles slip away almost
before we are aware; we find ourselves crossing the canal in Venice and
are soon surrounded by the wilderness of "attractions" of this famous
resort.

There is little to remind us of its Italian namesake save the wide
stretch of sea that breaks into view and an occasional gondola on the
tiny canal; in the main it is far more suggestive of Coney Island than
of the Queen of the Adriatic. To one who has lost his boyish zeal
for "shooting the shoots" and a thousand and one similar startling
experiences, or whose curiosity no longer impels him toward freaks of
nature and chambers of horror, there will be little diversion save the
multifarious phases of humanity always manifest in such surroundings. On
gala days it is interesting to differentiate the types that pass before
one, from the countryman from the inland states, "doing" California and
getting his first glimpse of a metropolitan resort, to the fast young
sport from the city, to whom all things have grown common and blase and
who has motored down to Venice because he happened to have nowhere else
to go.

With the advent of prohibition the atmosphere of the place has
noticeably changed—the tipsy joy-rider is not so much in evidence nor
is the main highway to the town strewn with wrecked cars as of yore.
But for all this, Venice seems as lively as ever and there is no falling
off in its popularity as a beach resort. This is evidenced by the prompt
reconstruction of the huge amusement pier which was totally destroyed by
fire in 1920. It has been replaced by a much larger structure in steel
and concrete—a practical guarantee against future conflagrations—and
the amusement features are more numerous and varied than of yore. It
is still bound to be the Mecca of the tourist and vacationist who needs
something a little livelier than he will find in Long Beach and Redondo.

But to return from this little digression—and my reader will have to
excuse many such, perhaps, when I get on "motorological" subjects—I
was saying that we found little to interest us in the California Venice
save odd specimens of humanity—and no doubt we ourselves reciprocated
by affording like entertainment to these same odd specimens. After
our first trip or two—and the fine boulevards tempted us to a good
many—we usually slipped into the narrow "Speedway" connecting the town
with Ocean Park and Santa Monica. Why they call it the Speedway I am
at a loss to know, for it is barely a dozen feet wide in places and
intersected with alleys and streets every few feet, so that the limit of
fifteen miles is really dangerously high. The perfect pavement, however,
made it the most comfortable route—though there may be better now—and it
also takes one through the liveliest part of Ocean Park, another resort
very much like Venice and almost continuous with it. These places are
full of hotels and lodging-houses, mostly of the less pretentious and
inexpensive class, and they are filled during the winter season mainly
by Eastern tourists. In the summer the immense bathing beaches attract
crowds from the city. The Pacific Electric brings its daily contingent
of tourists and the streets are constantly crowded with motors—sometimes
hundreds of them. All of which contribute to the animation of the scene
in these popular resorts.

In Santa Monica we found quite a different atmosphere; it is a residence
town with no "amusement" features and few hotels, depending on its
neighbors for these useful adjuncts. It is situated on an eminence
overlooking the Pacific and to the north lie the blue ranges of the
Santa Monica Mountains, visible from every part of town. Ocean Drive, a
broad boulevard, skirts the edge of the promontory, screened in places
by rows of palms, through which flashes the blue expanse of the sea. At
its northern extremity the drive drops down a sharp grade to the floor
of the canyon, which opens on a wide, sandy beach—one of the cleanest
and quietest to be found so near Los Angeles.

This canyon, with its huge sycamores and clear creek brawling over the
smooth stones, had long been an ideal resort for picnic parties, but in
the course of a single year we found it much changed. The hillside had
been terraced and laid out with drives and here and there a summer house
had sprung up, fresh with paint or stucco. The floor of the valley was
also platted and much of the wild-wood effect already gone. All this
was the result of a great "boom" in Santa Monica property, largely the
work of real estate promoters. Other additions were being planned to the
eastward and all signs pointed to rapid growth of the town. It already
has many fine residences and cozy bungalows embowered in flowers and
shrubbery, among which roses, geraniums and palms of different varieties
predominate.

Leaving the town, we usually followed the highway leading through the
grounds of the National Soldiers' Home, three or four miles toward
the city. This great institution, in a beautiful park with a wealth of
semi-tropical flowers and trees, seemed indeed an ideal home for the
pathetic, blue-coated veterans who wandered slowly about the winding
paths. The highway passes directly through the grounds and one is
allowed to run slowly over the network of macadam driveways which wind
about the huge buildings. At the time of which I write, there were
some thirty-five hundred old soldiers in the Home, few of whom had not
reached the age of three score and ten. Their infirmities were evidenced
by the slow and even painful manner in which many moved about, by the
crowded hospitals, and the deaths—which averaged three daily. True,
there were some erect, vigorous old fellows who marched along with
something of the spirit that must have animated them a half century
ago, but they were the rare exceptions. Visitors are welcomed and shown
through all the domestic arrangements of the Home; the old fellows
are glad to act in the capacity of guides, affording them, as it does,
some relief from the monotony of their daily routine. So perfect are
the climatic conditions and so ideally pleasant the surroundings that
it seems a pity that the veterans in all such homes over the country
might not be gathered here. We were told that this plan is already
in contemplation, and it is expected, as the ranks of the veterans
are decimated, to finally gather the remnant here, closing all other
soldiers' homes. It is to be hoped that the consummation of the plan may
not be too long delayed, for surely the benign skies and the open-air
life would lengthen the years of many of the nation's honored wards.

We passed through the grounds of the Home many times and stopped
more than once to see the aviary—a huge, open-air, wire cage filled
with birds of all degrees, from tiny African finches half the size of
sparrows to gorgeous red, blue, green, and mottled parrots. Many of
these were accomplished conversationalists and it speaks well for the
old boys of the Home that there was no profanity in the vocabulary of
these queer denizens of the tropics. This and other aviaries which
we saw impressed upon us the possibilities of this pleasant fad in
California, where the birds can live the year round in the open air in
the practical freedom of a large cage.

Returning from the Home one may follow Wilshire Boulevard, which passes
through one of the most pretentious sections of the city, ending at
beautiful Westlake Park; or he may turn into Sunset Boulevard and pass
through Hollywood. A short distance from the Home is Beverly Hills, with
its immense hotel—a suburban town where many Los Angeles citizens have
summer residences. A vast deal of work has been done by the promoters of
the town; the well-paved streets are bordered with roses, geraniums, and
rows of palm trees, all skillfully arranged by the landscape-gardener.
It is a pretty place, though it seemed to us that the sea winds swept it
rather fiercely during several of the visits we made. Another unpleasant
feature was the groups of oil derricks which dot the surrounding
country, though these will doubtless some time disappear with the
exhaustion of the fields. The hotel is of a modified mission type,
with solid concrete walls and red tile roof, and its surroundings and



Online LibraryThomas D. MurphyOn Sunset Highways → online text (page 2 of 25)