Posts tagged ‘history’

Boomers Got a Bum Rap?

The October issue of Atlantic Magazine features a provocative cover story focusing on the Baby Boomer generation and their responsibility for and contributions to the country’s present situation. Whether you agree or disagree, Michael Kinsley has written an essay that will make you think. The issue also includes response commentaries from “experts.”

Personally, I appreciate Mr. Kinsley’s willingness to voice a different spin to the “self-absorbed and self-indulged” view of Boomers, for example, “the Boomers not the Greats … forced the nation to address Civil rights…the Greats were the ones who got us into Vietnam and the Boomers were ones who got us out…”

Atlantic Magazine is available at the Katy Geissert Civic Center Library. Links to specific articles may also be accessed through the Library’s EBSCO full text magazine database.

Share your feelings about the Boomer generation by leaving a post below. We welcome your comments.

October 22, 2010 at 7:46 pm 1 comment

Mega Stores and the Hawthorne Curse

Mayor Isen, Jonny Weissmuller, Ricardo Montalban, and Soupy Sales entertained thousands at its opening. Its iconic façade was hailed as a mod masterpiece. Its 130,000 square feet, 1,500 parking spaces and 45 departments selling everything from electric fans, fashions and flashlights, right in the center of Torrance was seen as a plum city asset. It even had a grocery store and a place to redeem Blue Chip stamps. It was hoped that it would attract shoppers and their money, from as far as Inglewood and Palos Verdes. It was not dogged by anti-development or NIMBY protesters. It was the White Front and it was 1963.

I remember Mom taking me to the White Front (or “white elephant” as we called it while it sat empty) to cash in her Blue Chip stamps. It was a great place for a kid, large enough to run around in and made of material that echoed well when young lungs needed testing. I remember it only in its decline. When it opened in 1963, it was the leader in large scale “bargain” retailing. In short, it was the Wal-mart Superstore of its time.

Torrance Herald, 1963

But it didn’t last. White Front was only in business from 1963 to 1974. The famous façade came down in the early 80’s while the Marriott Hotel went up in the late 80’s. The bankruptcy of the parent company, not the indifference of Torrance shoppers, was cited as the reason the store closed.

It was the largest store Torrance had ever seen. It was 180,000 square feet (a Wal-mart Superstore is about 185,000 square feet and Costco is only 147,000 square feet). It boasted 350 employees and had inadequate parking. It also had an unique silhouette with the tag line of everything “Under the squiggly roof.” When it closed, it had room for three large “big box” stores to move into the space. It sat on one of the busiest corners in the city, just blocks from the White Front. It was the Treasury and it was 1970. The Treasury, like White Front, would also last little over a decade.

Ground breaking at the Torrance Treasury, Los Angeles Times - 8/31/69

Skip forward a few years.  It was one of the first “membership discount department stores.” It anchored one of the most ambitious and successful redevelopment schemes in the city (Meadow Park). It cost over two million dollars to develop and at 102,000 square feet was one of the larger retailers in the city. Like its competitor a few miles north on Hawthorne, it sat on one of the busiest intersections of the city. It was Gemco and it was 1973.

I loved Gemco. We always tried to sneak in without Mom’s card. Usually walking in behind another family worked. The snack bar and toy section were first rate. (Of course the best greasy spoon around was any of the three Newberry lunch counters! But that’s another story). Opened just one year before the final collapse of White Front and eight years before they shuttered the Treasury, Gemco closed its doors in 1986.

From ad in the 10/23/73 Los Angeles Times

Mega stores have not done very well in Torrance.  With an average life expectancy of a decade, one wonders if the owners of Costco (1998), Sam’s Club, or Home Depot (early 90’s) are worried. Of course, judging by the traffic in the Costco parking lot located near the intersection of Lomita and Crenshaw, it looks like these stores will be with us for a long while. Maybe only mega stores located on Hawthorne Boulevard should worry.

Do you have any memories of the early mega stores? Shopping in Torrance before the Del Amo Fashion Center? Trying to find parking by Sam Levy’s store? Please feel free to share your memories.

– mg

August 12, 2010 at 10:47 pm 2 comments

An Historic Trip Down Route 66

indexThis week the Library will be hosting Russell Olsen, author of several books on U.S. Route 66 (Route 66 Lost & Found: Ruins and Relics Revisited, The Complete Route 66 Lost & Found). Mr. Olsen has been exploring and photographing Route 66 since 1995. After collecting postcards and archival photos of its landmarks in their heyday, he traveled the historic road recording what is there now. His presentation will take place in the Meeting Room of the Katy Geissert Civic Center Library, Wednesday, August 12, at 7:00 p.m. Please join us for what should be an interesting and unique program and learn how folks got their “kicks on Route 66.”

Route 66 certainly has a fascinating history. The numerical designation 66 was assigned to the Chicago-to-Los Angeles route back in 1926, just a few years after legislation for public highways was enacted. Unlike the typical linear highways of its time, it followed a diagonal course linking hundreds of rural communities across America. It served as the “Mother Road” during the depression carrying more than 200,000 people from Dust Bowl states to California. It also was instrumental in aiding the country’s mobilization of manpower during World War II.

If you are interested in learning more about historic Route 66, there are several websites you can explore:
National Historic Route 66 Federation
Historic Route 66: Where the Mother Road meets the Internet
Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program (National Park Service, Dept. of the Interior)
California Historic Route 66 Association
Route 66 Magazine

Of course, many Boomers such as myself can’t think about Route 66 without being reminded of the ultimate (TV) road show of the same name. Every week I would eagerly watch the CBS series to see Tod and Buz’s adventures along the highway. I thought those guys were the coolest, after all they drove a corvette! And the theme music (composed by Nelson Riddle) for the program was perfect. If you ever get a chance to catch the show, don’t pass it up – it’s a classic.

Do any of you have an interesting story about a trip across Route 66? Fond memories of the TV show? Please add a comment below and share with us!

August 10, 2009 at 6:38 am Leave a comment

Mayor Klusman – “Forgotten Man”

klusman2[1]I first came across William T. Klusman while doing some research for a lecture on Torrance city history. A subsequent LINK Logs posting, 25 Things about the Torrance Public Library, contained a Klusman factoid which generated some interest in this colorful local politician. According to Historic Torrance, Klusman was a socialist which may explain why he lost every council election but one from 1922 to 1940. However, at the start of the depression the citizens of Torrance were fed up with business as usual (and some shenanigans in City Hall) and voted by a landslide for change, that change was Klusman’s “forgotten man” ticket.

Evidently his term was not too successful. Elected to the City Council in 1932, and appointed mayor (direct election of Torrance mayors would not take place until 1957), his fellow council members removed him in September of 1933. The Los Angeles Times reported in 1932 that Klusman’s “lifting of 14,000,000 cubic yards of mud flats to make the Los Angeles Harbor prepared him for some of the exigencies of his political career.”

Torrance Herald publisher, Grover T. Whyte, gave Klusman his signature top hat after losing an election bet. This top hat became the mayor’s “badge of office” which he wore for every public occasion while in office.

Klusman was tried by the Police Commission for “abusive language” and defamatory remarks made at a public meeting. (I guess he was acquitted because he was still mayor in 1933.) Councilman Wright was his constant foe, it was he who demanded the police probe of the mayor’s behavior. Wright was also behind the recall of Klusman. Eventually Klusman was removed for, according to the L.A. Times, “lack of dignity, secretiveness, untruthfulness, harboring destructive policies, creating class prejudice and undermining the morale of city employees and conducting himself in such a manner that he is unable to render proper and efficient service to the city.” Wow, quite an indictment.

To learn more about this gadfly mayor you will need to turn to the Torrance Herald of 1932-33 (the microfilm of which is available at the Katy Geissert Civic Center Library). I am looking forward to delving more deeply into the newspapers to see why this mayor was elected by a landslide and discarded less then a year and a half later. Fortunately, the Torrance Herald will soon be digitized, which not only will preserve and make this historic news source more widely available, but will also make searching the newspaper much easier.

Klusman committed suicide on his Lomita chicken ranch in 1944. Born in Oldenburg Germany in 1870, Klusman came to California in 1884. He worked as stationary engineer for the National Supply Company. He is buried locally in Pacific Crest Cemetery. Has anyone some interesting stories about this unique Torrance mayor?  Please leave a comment below and share with us.


July 11, 2009 at 4:06 am 2 comments

Get Back to Your Roots

Not long ago, the Daily Link blog featured, a genealogy database where one can search for census, vital, church, court, and immigration records, and more!

Daily Link wrote:

“Although not free, the site offers a 14-day free trial, and memberships at several levels, starting at $12.95 a month.”

We have news for you! The Torrance Public Library offers access to at no charge to you at all of our six library locations. (This is the only database that the Library subscribes to where remote access from home or office is not offered due to licensing restrictions.)

The Ancestry Library Edition, under the name Ancestry Plus, has approximately 4,000 databases including key collections such as U.S. federal census images and indexes from 1790 to 1930, the Map Center containing more than 1,000 historical maps, American Genealogical Biographical Index (over 200 volumes), Daughters of the American Revolution Lineage (over 150 volumes), The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England, 1620-1630, Social Security Death Index, WWI Draft Registration Cards, Federal Slave Narratives, and a strong Civil War collection.

Daily Link also mentions the South Bay Cities Genealogical Society. The Torrance Public Library is home to the Society’s book and periodicals collections, and volunteers are at the Katy Geissert Civic Center Library every Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. to assist you with your genealogical research!

Boomers – check out the Library’s tips on how to start researching your family history: Family History Research Guide

Genealogy is a fascinating pursuit and there’s no time like the present to delve into your family tree. Who knows – maybe you’ll discover you are related to George Washington, George Gershwin, or young Boomer George Clooney!

April 17, 2009 at 6:55 pm Leave a comment

25 Things about the Torrance Public Library

Mrs. Isabel Henderson, first librarian in Torrance

Mrs. Isabel Henderson, first librarian in Torrance

1. The first book bought for the library was The Turn of the Road. The book cost $1.50 and according to the reviews was “the story of a singer, of her absorption in her art, and the strong-willed, self-reliant man who would marry her.”  The book was bought in 1913.

2. Early hours of operation for the first library, the parlor of Mrs. Henderson’s home, were Tuesdays and Thursdays from two to four and every evening from seven to nine.

3. There are only two Torrance libraries named after people. The Henderson Branch Library is named after Isabel Henderson, the first Torrance Librarian. The Katy Geissert Civic Center Library is named after (you guessed it!) Katy Geissert, first female Torrance city councilperson, first female mayor, and dedicated library supporter.

4. The first international language books in the Torrance Public Library were written in French.

5. The Torrance Public Library was an independent library for less than a year before it joined the new Los Angeles County Public Library System in 1914. The library again became independent after a vote in 1967.

6. Mrs. Henderson’s daughter, Mrs. Dorothy Jamison, followed in her mother’s footsteps, becoming the second Torrance librarian after the retirement of her mother.

7. The Torrance Public Library never had a card catalog (except briefly in Mrs. Henderson’s time). One found books by looking in catalog books, the  catalog information was migrated to microfilm, then to “dumb” terminals, and finally to the web-based catalog we have today.

8. The first Torrance library was built on the corner of Cravens and Post in 1936. The building was part of a new civic center and was a WPA project. The building survives today as the Torrance Historical Society Museum.

9. In 1937, the first branch library to open was in Walteria. The branch began with 500 books to “meet the reading interest of the community.”

10. Torrance had an unique relationship with Los Angeles County. While the city was responsible for building and maintaining the libraries, the County was responsible for runnng, staffing, and stocking the libraries.

11. The people of Torrance voted on a bond of $2,350,000 to create an independent library system in 1967. That bond covered the cost of building the Katy Geissert Civic Center Library, the Southeast Library, and furnishing all the libraries with books. Compare that with the remodel of the first floor of the Katy Geissert Civic Center Library, which cost $1.8 million.

12. At one time you could borrow art work from the library for three weeks just like books!

13. The cost to run the Torrance Library in 1935 was $4,189.62. Today’s library budget is approximately $7.2 million!

14. There are only two pieces of public art in the Torrance libraries. One is the mural on the front of the North Torrance Library depicting literacy and writing. The other is the 356 pound copper sculpture on the main staircase in the Katy Geissert Civic Center Library. The Friends of the Torrance Public Library sponsored a contest to “design an art object specifically for the library.” After screening by art professors at California State University – Long Beach, four finalists submitted models. The winner, LuAnn Boylan, received $2,000 for her work.

15. The first branch of the new Torrance Public Library to open after the 1967 bond measure was, appropriately enough, the Henderson Branch, on April 15, 1968. All branches were closed that year while the county moved out and the city moved in.

16. In 1948, the Walteria Branch Library was moved to Walteria Park and housed in a World War II surplus dispensary the city acquired for $500.

17. A 1914 headline from the Torrance Herald screamed, “Library Well Underway for its Imposing $30,000 Home.” A permanent home for the library was not built for another 22 years.

18. In 1924, after ten years as a county library, the Torrance branch had grown to 1,440 card members and 3,096 books. Today the library has over half a million books and 142,000 registered card members.

19. In 1935, Councilman William T. Klusman made the motion to adopt city ordinance #267, establishing a “free municipal library.” Klusman was the only socialist mayor of Torrance but was removed after less than a year in office for “lack of dignity, secretiveness, untruthfulness, harboring destructive policies, creating class prejudice, and undermining the morale of city employees.”

20. 1935 also saw the establishment of the Library Board of Trustees. Not one of the most active city committees, there are no records of actions or recommendations from 1935 to 1958.

21. The Henderson Branch and Walteria Branch libraries are built on the same plan. The city saved architectural fees by using the Henderson plans to replace the Walteria library.

22. In 1967, Russell West became the first City Librarian of the independent Torrance Public Library. Russell West not only had to plan the main library and organize a new city department, but he also had to buy all the books in the system. Remember that while Torrance owned the buildings and furniture, the county owned the books, which they took with them. Russell West was such a good “bookman” he saved over $18,000. When Mayor Isen asked how he saved so much of the book budget, Mr. West responded “Savvy shopping, your Honor.”

23. The Katy Geissert Civic Center Library faces Torrance Boulevard and not the parking lot because the city wanted to make sure the library had a Torrance Boulevard address and “should be compatible with the growth and development of City Hall and other buildings facing Torrance Boulevard.”

24. Original plans for the Katy Geissert Civic Center Library did not call for a basement. The basement was added by the intersession of Mr. West and the Friends of the Torrance Public Library. The library was built to hold about 225,000 books. There are approximately 353,500 material items in the library today. The recently completed remodel of all three floors added much additional space.

25. One of the more unusual programs to entice young people into the library was to check out a kitten. Children could check out and play with a kitten for twenty minutes on the library lawn.

NOTE: Content for this post was contributed by Michael George, Reference Librarian.

April 8, 2009 at 7:33 am 5 comments



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