My dear friend, Ron Accosta, who passed away this past Wednesday at the age of 81, was an amateur historian of Ocean Park, and with good reason. He was born in 1934 and raised in a residence on Main Street that was in the back of a cleaners run by his parents. The outgoing and gregarious Ron, a 1951 graduate of Santa Monica High School, was extremely colorful. Even his birth had a “colorful” back story.
Ron’s mother had assiduously saved enough money for the doctor and the hospital stay. But Ron’s father, more of a bookie than operator of a cleaners, couldn’t resist betting the entire $325 on the 1934 World Series. Even though the Tigers were the heavy favorites, Ron’s father had come across a “sucker” from St. Louis who was so eager to bet on the Cardinals that he offered even money. Needless to say, the Cardinals won in seven games and Ron’s dad, as Ricky Ricardo said to Lucy, “had a lot of splainin’ to do.”
The “splainin’” took place on the drive to the hospital when Ron’s dad sheepishly confessed that the money was gone. But he had a plan. All they had to do was drive around until Ron’s mom was actually in labor and, due to the emergency nature, no hospital could turn them down. As Ron would joke later, “My parents not only shouldn’t have gotten married, they shouldn’t have had a second date.” And yet, despite their volatile marriage, somehow Ron turned out to be one of the friendliest and funniest people I’ve ever known and was also a gifted storyteller.
Because Ron’s dad was a bookie, often Ron’s bedroom would be used to broadcast the horse races. In a scene reminiscent of “The Sting,” Ron, age 5, might be playing with his toys as an announcer with a microphone read from a teletype, “And the horses are at the starting gate,” and would proceed to call the race. With a “Closed for Lunch” sign in the window, the front room was converted into a parlor. A dozen or more chairs were set up for gambler Main Street merchants to listen to the race results shouting their approval or disappointment. Obviously, Ron couldn’t ever have playmates visit, so at this very young age he walked the neighborhood, a trait that would last a lifetime.
Daily Ron would visit Main Street merchants and became the street mascot. He would be invited in for food, maybe an ice cream cone and some chat. As a result, he developed extraordinary people and conversational skills for a lad his age and a curiosity about life (and ice cream) that never left him. How he and I became friends was very typical Ron.
One day I received a phone call from a reader (Ron) who, very politely, wanted to offer me insight into Ocean Park I might use in my columns. An ardent walker, he suggested we go for one and talk at 7 a.m. A night owl myself, right away this wasn’t going to work. But Ron was persistent, albeit charmingly so, that I couldn’t say no. (Not that I didn’t try.)
As I could barely keep up on our various walks in Ocean Park, the boardwalk and the Pier, Ron would narrate events and people in the history of the area that would leave me spellbound. He identified brothels, gambling parlors, homes of movie stars and gangsters and described Santa Monica of the 1930s and 1940s like a Raymond Chandler novel.
Ron was so adept at weaving historic tales, he would lead bus tours of Santa Monica and Venice. Once Ron charmed me into spending days editing his promotional video and rewriting copy for a re-shoot. I didn’t want to, but it was impossible to say no to Ron and I’m so glad now that I did.
Ron leaves behind three adult children, Steven, Danny and Suzanne, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren and hordes of friends. At Ron’s request, on Aug. 29, 2013, I wrote a column entitled “Ocean Park Indians Ride Again” about a reunion he organized of 20 or more of Ron’s grade school friends (The O.P. Indians) with whom he stayed in touch all his life. Ron was also a favorite of a Facebook group “Venice, Ocean Park and Santa Monica,” on which, at the news of his passing, there was an outpouring of sadness and love.
Jim Harris, deputy director of the Santa Monica Pier Corporation, emailed me the following: “Ron volunteered as a historical tour docent for the Pier. He could seduce an audience with his wonderful stories with an amazingly youthful expression in his eyes. I miss him already.” Wiping a tear from my eye, I say amen.
Jack Neworth is at email@example.com.