Category: Living in the U.S.A.

Streetcar residences


Image: Undated photo of Class 1 Streetcar homes in the Old Town neighborhood of San Diego, CA from .

“In early 1939, the San Diego Electric Railway Company began the process of retiring the Class 1 streetcars. For a period of seven months that year, public sales were held to sell off the streetcar bodies, which could be purchased for $50 each.

“Fortunately, some of the big, roomy Class 1 streetcar bodies were purchased, put on lots, and converted into residences. Within a few months, however, there were complaints, and city leaders passed laws which made it illegal to use any more of the retired streetcars as residences…

“Since 1939, any time residential property with a streetcar home was sold in San Diego, the streetcar body had to be removed from the property, because they were not legally transferable as homes. The only streetcar bodies that could be used for homes were those that were grandfathered in, and continually resided in by the original property owner. Most streetcar homes were gone by the 1960s.

“A young, newly married couple purchased three of the streetcars in 1939 during that short seven-month period. This couple lived in them together for over fifty years. These are the last of the original 24 Class 1 streetcars and they are ready to be restored and returned the streets of San Diego.”

Excerpts from: . Read more about the history of this class of streetcar in San Diego at the link.

China City fire


Image of post-fire Buddha statue from .

With the construction of the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal on the old Chinatown site, socialite and investor Christine Sterling created the China City tourist attraction near her Mexican themed Olvera Street north of downtown Los Angeles. Set buildings from the 1938 The Good Earth film were used.


“In February 1939, a suspicious fire (most likely arson) burned much of China City. After making repairs, Sterling reopened it in the summer of 1940. However, the rebuilt tourist center was not as successful as its previous incarnation.”

But there is more to the story:

Around 1935, Old Chinatown community leader Peter Soo-Hoo, Sr. met with Christine Sperling, the person responsible for adapting  Olvera Street into a Mexican themed shopping district. Sterling envisioned a new China City tourist district in downtown Los Angeles that played to popular Chinese themes. Soo-Hoo hated her idea, so he decided to pursue his own development project at another site. 

“Soo-Hoo and Sterling became bitter rivals which intensified after construction began on their competing Chinatown projects. Sterling scoffed at Soo-Hoo and his supporters by telling the press, “What do they want? An Oriental Westwood Village? Let them build [New Chinatown] if they think they can get away with it, but I think it will fail.”

“Soo-Hoo, in return, argued that the Chinese-Americans were best suited to design and build a New Chinatown…

“Soo-Hoo’s New Chinatown opened three weeks later [than Sterling’s China City in 1938]. Not only was Soo-Hoo’s New Chinatown funded, owned, and operated by Chinese investors and businesses, it provided homes for displaced Chinese, while Sterling’s did not. New Chinatown also reflected a more authentic Chinese culture and clientele.

“The competing business districts factionalized Chinese residents. China City’s shopkeepers and workers were grateful for the opportunity to find work in Sterling’s business district and were happy with the influx of celebrities and tourists. New Chinatown’s shopkeepers and business owners, however, felt that China City’s vendors mocked their culture by offering rickshaw rides and selling ‘Chinaburgers.’”

Excerpts and image from .





Image: cropped 1939 Woodbury Soap ad from an unspecified magazine via .

“…a blend of celebrity and debutante. (Like many successful blends, there happens to be some phonological and graphological overlap, in this case –eb-, to help cement the connection between the two base words… The original celebutante was Brenda Frazier, whose debut into New York high society on December 27, 1938 was accompanied by unprecedented hype. The columnist Walter Winchell coined the term celebutante in Frazier’s honor, though it didn’t appear in his widely read “On Broadway” column until the following April [1939]. In a list of “Faces About Town” he included:

Brenda Frazier, who inspires a new 1-word description: Celebutante.

“( currently turns up at least three iterations of Winchell’s syndicated column: Charleston [W. Va.] Daily Mail, Apr. 6, 1939; [Burlington, N.C.] Daily Times-News, Apr. 7, 1939; and [Reno] Nevada State Journal, Apr. 11, 1939. The OED entry for celebutante cites the last of these.)”

Excerpts from .


Race track


Image: undated photo from unknown source.

There is probably an interesting story here — perhaps one day we will know the details. The ’30s vehicles are weathered enough that the photo could have been taken in 1939. The location could be in southern California based on the Alhambra address of the loudspeaker truck. With all the cars parked in the infield, why are only two people visible: one man at the extreme left edge and the driver of a race car that is missing a wheel?




Image: circa 1939 Malibu beach.

It’s a long complicated story, but here is the very short version: Wealthy Frederick and May Rindge purchased the Malibu Rancho in the 1880s and later purchased additional adjoining properties. Frederick died in middle-age and May spent most of the family fortune on preventing access to the Malibu land. Eventually, May allowed limited development on the beach which was the beginning of what was known as the movie colony in the 1920s. Despite her opposition that included a suit that went to the U.S. Supreme Court that was decided against her, the Roosevelt Highway (later named Pacific Coast Highway) went through in 1936. Bankruptcy cases ended in 1939 and she had to give up nearly all of the land which then led to its further development.

Learn more about the Rindge family and the the Malibu Rancho here: and in the book The King and Queen of Malibu, reviewed here: .