In the 350 columns I’ve written over the past seven years, I’ve interviewed many colorful locals. But none is more of a natural story teller than Ron Accosta, who was born here 78 years ago. To me, his tales of Ocean Park of the 1930s and ‘40s are reminiscent of Twain’s stories of life on the Mississippi.
Ron is very versed with perhaps the area’s most publicized event ever, which occurred May 18, 1926. Arriving for a vacation, beautiful and charismatic radio evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson and her female secretary checked into the Ocean View Hotel at Rose Avenue and Ocean Front Walk.
After a waffle breakfast, followed by some writing, Aimee went for a leisurely swim in the ocean. An hour later her secretary grew alarmed that she hadn’t returned. By day’s end Aimee was presumed drowned. (As her distraught mother put it, “Sister is with Jesus.”) Being as famous as Charles Lindbergh or Babe Ruth, Aimee’s disappearance made national headlines.
Fueled by William Randolph Hearst’s L.A. Examiner, huge crowds of mourners camped out on the beach for a day-and-night vigil that lasted weeks. (It was a boon to vendors hawking items ranging from Aimee’s photo to bottled water.) In the frantic search one parishioner drowned and a diver died of exposure.
In truth, Aimee had staged her own disappearance to facilitate a Carmel, Calif. rendezvous with her lover, Kenneth Ormiston. And yet her remarkable radio popularity remained. Ron remembers, as a young boy, walking down the streets of Ocean Park hearing Aimee’s broadcast coming from every house.
Decades later, Ron would cross paths with a con man who had been a paid shill at Aimee’s revivals. On stage, when he tossed his crutches aside as though miraculously healed, the crowds burst into tears and cheers. (To be fair, Aimee’s Foursquare Church did feed more people during the Great Depression than any government program and she sold more war bonds during WW II than any movie star.)
Ron’s endearing story telling nature might have had its roots in the unusual back story surrounding his birth. On Oct. 10 1934, Miriam Ellin, was a spirited, pregnant 23-year-old who in her youth had rejected Judaism because her temple didn’t allow bat mitzvahs. She was also due with her first and only child, Ron.
Ron’s father, Dan Accosta, was a 32-year-old Mexican-American and neighborhood bookmaker. He was a nervous expectant father but not for the usual reasons.
Having saved $325 ($250 for the hospital and $75 for Dr. Craig), Miriam had Dan hurriedly get the car so they could get to the hospital early. It was then he sheepishly confessed that he had bet the money on the 1934 World Series. He couldn’t resist, he pleaded, as he had found a sucker. The man had let him bet even money on the heavily favored Detroit Tigers against the lowly “Gashouse Gang” St. Louis Cardinals.
Naturally, on Oct. 9, his “sure thing” backfired when the Tigers lost the seventh game to the Cards, 11-0 no less. (A story Ron would hear endlessly from Miriam, especially around World Series time.)
But Dan had a plan to get the birth for free. There was a Catholic hospital on Pacific Avenue so he drove around until Miriam was about to go into labor. As Ron puts it, “Being it was now an ‘emergency’ the nuns at St. Catherine had to take Mom. And Dr. Craig was a gambling customer of Dad’s so he put his bill on the cuff.” (For years, Dr. Craig would joke with Ron, “Hey kid, you still owe me $75.”)
Ron’s tales depict a rough and tumble Ocean Park as opposed to the more proper Santa Monica. My favorites are about “Dan’s Cleaners and Laundry” on Main Street where the Ale House sits now. The front was a cleaners while the back was the Accosta residence. Except for the living room, which housed Dan’s thriving bookmaking business.
Customers would sit and listen attentively to “the wire” from a big speaker on the wall announcing the horse races. When there was “heat” (police in the area) the wire would occasionally move into Ron’s room. He would continue playing with his toys while rabid bettors eagerly listened to race results. Unfortunately, when there was a raid, a photo ran in the Evening Outlook with the caption, “Den of Iniquity.” (Actually it was the living room.)
Ron has three adult children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild. There’s also Rose, his girlfriend from Michigan whom he met online and charmed into a July 4 visit. The couple has happily lived together for the past year.
Ron also is close with friends he’s had for over 70 years. This July there will be a reunion of classmates from Washington Elementary to be held in Ocean Park at Tom Chatham’s house, which was built by his great-grandfather in 1902!
At 78, ever energetic, Ron is on to his latest adventure, giving bus tours of Santa Monica, Ocean Park and Venice. And customers better bring their curiosity. As I can attest, when it comes to this area, Ron knows more than Wikipedia.
To learn more about Ron Accosta go to venicebeachbustours.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Jack can be reached at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth or via e-mail at email@example.com.