Travel Tales: Small person, big memories
by Jan Wheatcroft
I am a born and bred Angeleno. I lived my first 10 years in Hollywood with my mother. My father had moved to New York and visited me a few times a year when he came to Los Angeles on business.
He stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel and I loved to visit him there and eat Monte Cristo sandwiches and profiteroles covered in hot chocolate sauce. I am sure I did other things, but that’s what I remember looking forward to.
During the war and just after my father would take me to Pacific Ocean Park where we would ride The Chute. We would climb into a small boat and get hauled up to the top of the tower by a line or chain, turn around in the tower and then be shot down the slide ending with a huge splash in the water below. It was so scary and exciting and something I would never do now, but then I loved it. I recently heard that the ride had been taken out as it was deemed as too dangerous.
The other special treat was to go to the Lucky Strike booth where my father would pitch pennies in an attempt to have them land on the Lucky Strike label of a cigarette package. Then he would win bubble gum for me. One couldn’t buy bubble gum during the war and I considered it a very delicious and valuable commodity. Since he didn’t come to California very often, he had to pitch a lot of pennies to keep me happy.
My grandparents on my mother’s side also lived near us and I spent a lot of time with them. They were great and they were good to me, taking me on day trips and on longer visits up north. When family visited them from New York, my grandparents liked to take them to Forest Lawn Cemetery, Olivera Street or to Knott’s Berry Farm. I preferred the Knotts Berry Farm trips. Knott’s was smaller then, without a lot of rides, and there was a bigger focus on the collection of old western buildings and the Pioneer life. There was an old privy with a “man” inside and when you got near he called you by name and talked to you. It was a long time before I learned that my grandfather told an announcer my name. had been convinced that somehow this “person” knew who I was.
After walking around and seeing the old western life, we always ended up at the restaurant where we ate copious amounts of crispy fried chicken, mashed potatoes and biscuits with their special berry jam. I was always glad when our New York relatives came to visit and such a trip was planned.
Another treat with my grandparents was a visit to Olivera Street. I once went for the blessing of the animals but most of the time it was to enjoy the small shops along the center of the street and tucked into the buildings on the sides. My favorite shops were the glass blowing booth, where the man created delicate, small animals by blowing through a tube and twisting them into their shapes. I could watch for hours.
Another booth had tiny miniature creatures and pottery. There were minuscule dishes perhaps for doll houses. I begged and begged for some and my grandma bought me a few pieces. I remember putting one into my mouth and swallowing it and then felt so badly that it was gone. Another treat was the pair of dressed fleas, also miniature of course, costumed as a bride and groom. Those I kept for years absolutely mystified at how small they were yet totally dressed up.
In one of the buildings along the side there was a candlemaker, where stone steps went down into a basement shop. The candles were decorated with carved flowers in many colors. The best one was the birthday candle. It had “12 years” written on it and on my birthday we lit it and let it burn through the birthday year. We would then wrap it up and store it away until the next birthday.
Although I can go on and on about places that were special and probably no longer exist, I do remember the best ice cream parlor called Wil Wright’s. I think there was one in Beverly Hills and one on the Sunset Strip.
The shop was small and had white metal chairs and small round marble tables with red, pink and white stripes all around. However, it was the ice cream that was special. It was very rich and creamy, so much so that the cream stuck to the roof of one’s mouth. There were lovely flavors, fancy glass plates for the sundaes and delicious cones.
When you ordered an ice cream in a glass plate you got a macaroon wrapped in paper with an angel on it and the words, “It’s Heavenly.” It was very special. My mother took me there for special treats or maybe she liked to eat their ice cream, too. I know that they are long gone now but when I think of growing up Wil Wrights is the first thing to come to mind with their stripy interior and special ice cream.
I was mostly a lonely child living in an adult-oriented apartment building near Fairfax amongst kindly grown-ups but there were no children in the neighborhood. When we finally moved out to the San Fernando Valley, we lived on a two-acre school with no children around to play with. Family, books, art materials and special places in Los Angeles formed the pattern of my young life. They left me with rich memories of special places.