IN THE HISTORY BOOKS — Next time you bottom out on Colorado Avenue, think back with sympathy to your 1913 predecessors.
One hundred years ago this month, four passengers were thrown from a Hupmobile when they hit a “chuck hole” caused by rail construction on Santa Monica Boulevard at Seventh Street.
Expo Light Rail just laid the first Santa Monica train tracks in decades this month, but in December 1913, they had to rip out the rails of the newly installed Pacific Electric line because they were a sixteenth of an inch too large.
Only the driver managed to stay in the vehicle as they “plunged into the excavation made by the Pacific Electric,” according to the Los Angeles Times archives.
Everyone lived, but the Hupmobile was a goner.
Cars and speed and sometimes danger topped many a Santa Monica headline in December of 1913.
Vanderbilt Cup, the first major championship in car racing, founded in 1904, signed a contract to hold the following year’s event on the “world-famous” Santa Monica street course, according to L.A. Times archives. It was a huge score for the city by the sea and half a dozen articles were dedicated to the big race.
Meanwhile, two councilmen-elect had a race of their own, and not of the political kind. They were visiting a spa out near San Jacinto when they realized, a little after noon, that they had to be sworn in by midnight or they’d be disqualified. Meanwhile, the city clerk was out at a ranch in Rialto.
“Speed laws in two counties and a score of towns were broken,” according to the L.A. Times archives, as both parties raced to the beach.
The councilmen sped into town at 5:15 p.m., their car “smoking from the long, hard drive of 100 miles over some rough roads,” the archive said. The city clerk showed up two hours later and the men’s jobs were saved.
All this obsession with speed was not without victims. On the Speedway, nicknamed “death trap,” a 10-year-old boy was struck by a speeding driver. He lived, but lost his front teeth, just five days before Christmas.
A woman was thrown from a motorcycle and smashed into a building. The man driving the bike was thrown 20 feet, but got up, seemingly unhurt, and hailed a passing car. He scooped up the woman, who was unconscious and bleeding from the ear. He placed her in the car and they drove away. Police couldn’t find either victim in the local hospital.
A film studio burned, causing $10,000 worth of damage. A cigarette or match was thrown into a storeroom full of smoke bombs, grenades, 100 rifles, hundreds of rounds of blank cartridges, and two kegs of gunpowder.
Actors depicting cowboys and Indians fought the flames and dodged whizzing bullets, according to the Times archives.
As seems to always be the case in these slapstick malfunctions of the early 1900s, no one was seriously injured.
Ye olde Crime Watch
• Just four days before Christmas, someone nabbed a local woman’s stockings from her clothesline and replaced them with a “begrimed” pair.
• A cowboy actor was arrested after he pulled a .45 on his landlord when asked for the rent.
• The oldest officer on the police force lost his badge after a drunken bar brawl.
• A “genteel, sleek-appearing” bandit “masked with an immaculate linen handkerchief” robbed the Nash family in their home, according to the L.A. Times archives. He got $8, which they said was all they had.
“To show you that I am a gentleman I will believe you and depart with this money,” he told the family.
Next he tried, unsuccessfully, to rob a local film studio before stealing a car and leaving town.
A few days later, Mr. Nash got letters from the bandit “full of banter and humorous raillery at the efforts to catch him.”
In one letter he offered a reward for himself.
“I let you off easy,” he said in another. “Next time I will take the carpets.”
A Santa Monica woman dared her male companion to climb down an 80-foot bluff. When he refused, she said she would do it. He thought it was a bluff, according to the Times archive, but she slipped over the edge and screamed as she grasped hold of a “projection.” The gentleman pulled her up to safety by her dress.
A bison was not so lucky. The bison, used in films by the same studio that suffered the aforementioned wacky prop room fire, slipped off the edge of a bluff and died. Brought in from Texas for show business, the bison was estimated to be 50 years old.