Category: Living in the U.S.A.

Main Street, Riverside, California


1939-era view, probably colorized from a black-and-white photo at the time for printing as a postcard.



July 20, 1939

In the vein of the gag plaque that some people display in front of a seemingly historical location, “On July 20, 1939 absolutely nothing happened here” might be applicable to southern California. It was just another day.

Thirty years before this seems to be the most significant event:

On July 20, 1909, at 11:15 a.m. Paul “Daredevil” Derkum checked in at Temecula during a timed 320 mile roundtrip race between Los Angeles and San Diego. He was determined to lower J. Howard Shafer’s June 30, 1909 record of 16 hours and 50 minutes. In a cloud of dust, Derkum raced his Indian [motorcycle] north out of town and into the record books. His finishing time was 10 hours, 59 minutes, and 30 seconds.

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Derkum would have averaged about 29 miles per hour on less-than-ideal roads.

But, thirty years later, holy mackerel!*

Man first set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969.

Try to imagine life in 1939. You might have flown in an airplane but it wasn’t very likely that you had. At the time, the world’s aircraft record for altitude was about ten miles. The moon is an average of 238,855 miles from earth. A few astronauts were born in 1939 but the first to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong, was born in 1930 (not in California, though). Could you imagine telling a nine-year-old Armstrong in 1939 what he would be doing thirty years later?


*an exclamation of surprise heard in 1939



Street scene


Image: source not given; may be UCLA digital collection at .

Downtown Los Angeles facing north on South Broadway between West Second Street and West Third Street, 1939.

Sometimes it is nice to see a plain ol’ street scene showing how a particular place used to look. Notice how the then-late-model automobile at the lower right looks so futuristic when compared with the boxy styling of the other cars in the photo.

Cabot Yerxa and his pueblo


Image: undated but may be 1939 based on the appearance of the construction just beginning. From . Photographer not identified.

Cabot Yerxa, the man who found the spring that made Desert Hot Springs famous, built a quirky four-story, 35-room pueblo between 1939 and his death in 1965. Now a museum run by the city of Desert Hot Springs—Yerxa was the town’s first mayor—the Hopi-inspired adobe structure is filled with memorabilia of his time as a homesteader; his encounters with Hollywood celebrities at the nearby Bar-H Ranch; his expedition to the Alaskan gold rush; and many other events.

Excerpt from .


Image: undated. From . Photographer not identified.

Learn more about Yerxa at .

Waiting for a pal to arrive


Images: front and back of a postcard offered on ebay

The message on the front was revised a little. The writing on the back appears to be “Dear Waldo & Ed, Roads fine, climate fine & dry. Snow on high places. Cabin clean and a cheery fire in the fire place. Every thing will be ready [and] waiting for you. Wish you could be here for a T Bone. Love to you both. Jon.”