The Los Angeles River has always been a joke because there is very seldom any water running through it…It kind of corkscrews it’s way through what is called “Downtown L.A”. On the west is Downtown …it has shopping and olde movie palaces like the Orpheum and the Grand Central Market and Clifton’s Cafeteria and Angel’s Flight (one block over) and now Taco Stands and Mercado’s most are actually on Broadway the main artery…..while on the East side of the river over what used to be called “The Brooklyn Ave Bridge” is Boyle Heights (or East Los Angeles). Boyle Heights and Boyle Ave. being named after a late 1800’s investor in the development of lower income housing. The layout was fairly simple you would start at “The Brooklyn Bridge” coming over it east from Downtown…it flowed into “Brooklyn Avenue” past “Canter’s Delicatessen” to “Evergreen” to “Wabash Avenue”…right turn all the up to “City Terrace”.
Boyle Heights became a kind of haven for the disenfranchised… Jews, Mexicans, Blacks, Japanese and others. People found signs like “No Jews or N------ Allowed” and “redlining” or “restricted covenants” on properties all around Los Angeles. Pasadena, San Marino, Palos Verdes, etc…. were all restricted to minorities and Jews in particular. Japanese Americans who were torn from their homes in 1942 and sent off to Manzanar and other camps weren’t allowed back to their original homes after the war so they also moved into Boyle Heights in growing numbers. The Downtown general area, bordering Boyle Heights, is also home to “Olvera St.” for the Hispanics, “China Town” and “Little Tokyo or J Town”…a little further away is “Little Armenia” and “Korea Town”.
In the 1920’s large numbers of Jews moved from the East Coast and other parts of the country and settled into Los Angeles…..primarily into Boyle Heights…making it at the time the Jewish center of the West. Boyle Heights continued for years to be the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in Los Angeles.
"The Goldstein's, Two Generations, 1922-1952"
A Memoir of my relatives living in Boyle Heights through stories passed to me and my experiences from ages one to ten. '
The Goldstein’s were kind of the “quintessential” or “stereotypical” middle to lower class, Eastern European Jewish Immigrant Family. Matilda “Tillie” Ross, 16, met Nathan Goldstein, 23, in Moncton, N.B. Canada on May 12th 1912 (he was there looking for a wife) and got married on May 20th 1912 in her Uncle Harry's House.
Tillie’s family Sam & Etta Ross and seven kids had come to Canada from the shtetl of Darbenai in Lithuania around 1893, via Newark, Brooklyn, Detroit and a few other stops.
Nathan Goldstein had come alone, also from Darbenai, to New York around 1908 or so. He spoke Yiddish, Lithuanian and Russian but very little English. Although she was born in Newark New Jersey, Tillie lost her American citizenship by marrying an “alien” in Canada. Nat got a horse & wagon and joined Sam in the scrap metal business.
It was around 1921/22 and two children (plus a number of miscarriages) later when baby Estelle got very sick and the young Goldstein’s were told they needed to move to a warmer climate. Sooooo off they went, probably by train, to warm and beautiful Los Angeles, CA. The first house they settled into was in Belvedere Gardens, East Los Angeles. …one evening they awoke to a large cross on fire across the street. After the pogroms of Lithuania, Grandpa Nat didn’t wait…the family quickly packed up and looked for other digs in a more friendly environment. Eventually they “re-settled” at 3150 Winter St. in Boyle Heights…finally they were home!
Winter St. was a block away from Malabar St. Elementary School which Estelle and her older brother Frank attended…and three blocks from Wabash Ave., the closest street of commerce. A few blocks further was Evergreen which ran into Brooklyn Ave. and all the way west across the Brooklyn Bridge to downtown L.A. Boyle Heights in the 1920’s was a very “Insular” place for Jews… with lots of “Lantzman” from around the world settling in.
NOTE: Harriet Rochlin’s Description
' “Wabash Avenue, the commercial artery, visibly defined the section as Jewish-American. Dual language signs above kosher meat and chicken markets, groceries, bakeries, and storefront meeting rooms, for every ism and ite, interspersed with an American movie house, library, playground, bank, pool hall, beauty shop, et al. On a hilltop to the east, rose a Jewish community center and synagogue. Smaller synagogues and meeting halls nestled between residences on side streets.”
Sometime in the 1920’s Nat and Tillie became naturalized citizens. Nat tried various ways to make a living…he got a truck and sold fruit & vegetables door to door, they had a small grocery store, he had a junk car lot, eventually he went back to the scrap metal business. In the summers they spent vacations at the beach, Venice and Ocean Park… where they took a small apartment for a few days. The kids played on the sand while the adults schmoozed with the parade of passing Jews.
In early September 1929 Nat Goldstein went shopping for a new truck…in those days you visited the showroom, chose your vehicle and gave them a check. The order was sent to Detroit to fill and when the check passed, your vehicle was delivered. On the 4th the Depression hit…on the 5th the lines of people outside the banks…including Nat Goldstein…wrapped round the block. He never got back their life savings of $3000…and just to make things worse…the check for the new truck was never processed!!!...They lost it all…..life went on! Despite the Great Depression, Nat was a “Go Getter” and they managed to ride it out!
One day Nat came home from work and a little spotted dog jumped out of his truck with him. Nat said he was approached on his fruit route by a hungry carnival performer who wanted to trade his trick dog for a couple bucks and some fruit. So “Bozo” became part of the family. He did all kind of tricks… the best being…carrying a bag, alone, two blocks to a small store on Blade St. with a note and a dollar in it…then returned with a package of cheese or something in the bag.
Nat & Tillie were a gregarious couple with lots of friends coming and going….Tillie was a great cook…cheesecake, tea biscuits, chicken fricassee, pickled tongue, chopped liver, corned beef….always a bottle of schmaltz and gribbenes sitting on the kitchen table of the Winter St. House. Nat joined fraternal organizations and went out with his “Lantzman” to smokers while Tillie was a “Pioneer” woman and member of various other “Lady” Fraternal Clubs…she loved playing canasta with her friends.
In those days Jews were orthodox or “fallen”…Nat and Tillie kind of fit in the middle …They also “kinda” kept kosher…although Tillie would cook up a pan of bacon on occasion when Nat was away….once he came home early and she had to stash a hot pan of bacon in the clothes closet…..they were wearing that smell for weeks.
In addition to Malabar Elementary School, Estelle attended Belvedere Jr. High and Theodore Roosevelt High School…Frank went to Garfield High because they had a better music department. When Frank was a teen in the early 1930’s he learned to play the saxophone and clarinet and then organized a band…”The Frank Ross Orchestra”…they played dates around East Los Angeles. When time permitted Nat would load up his truck with Frank and a few band members (and food) and head to the beach with a bunch of friends. There they would spend evenings on the sand playing music joined by Nat who played the harmonica and Estelle who loved to sing.
Around 1936 Frank Goldstein met Bess Perrin. The Perrin’s, a family with ten kids, from Toronto Canada and earlier Russia, were also settled into Boyle Heights. Frank and Bess married and moved away eventually settling into a house in Montebello.
My father’s father, Isaac Goldstein, arrived at Ellis Island with a sewing machine on his back around 1891. Two years later Merke and two daughters showed up… by 1905 the family of nine was living on Delancey St. on the lower East Side of New York (sounds like the movie “Hester St.”)
The 1910 census lists Merke as a widow with seven children…poor Isaac had taken a fall and “broke his head”. All the older children including my father, Gus Goldstein, had to quit school to help support the family. By the 1930’s most of the New York Goldstein’s had immigrated to Los Angeles…settling into the City Terrace area of Boyle Heights. Sometime in the early 1930’s Gus’s older brother, Abraham Goldstein, decided to change his name “for business reasons” to the W.A.S.P. sounding Albert Galston…my father also changed his to Galston. In May 1940, Uncle Al built “The Hawaii Theatre” the last “Movie Palace” on Hollywood Blvd….…it had a red carpet opening with movie stars, etc.
My dad’s sister “Estelle Goldstein” was married to Lou Abels, they lived in City Terrace. One day in 1938 Lou told Gus he had a customer on his Egg Route a few miles away on Winter St. that had a daughter also named “Estelle Goldstein”…maybe they should meet? So even though Gus was much older than Estelle he met her and it was “Beshert”. They were married in March 1939.
One day in May 1940, Nat Goldstein came home to Winter St. early. He told Tillie he wasn’t feeling well…he went to bed and never woke up. He had ripped a heart muscle trying to lift some iron at work…..he was only 51. Nate was buried at the Beth Israel Cemetery on Downey Rd. just around the corner from the Home of Peace in East L.A.
Tillie was now a widow at 45. She refused to live in the house where her husband died so she sold it and bought a “rooming house” on Boyle Ave. It was two or three stories with a number of bedrooms on each floor and the toilet in the hall. With help from Estelle she provided all meals in the downstairs Dining Room and kept all the rooms clean. With WW2 ready to explode there was a large contingent of outside workers being employed at various L.A. defense plants and shipyards…and a shortage of housing so she ran a full house. One of the boarders worked in a nearby downtown brothel, he liked Tillie and tried to hire her to be the “Mama-san” there…I would have given anything to hear her reply!!! Eventually Tillie sold the Boyle Avenue house and began buying real estate and motels…she became a pretty successful businesswoman.
As the war broke out Gus went to work at the Shipyards in the Port of Los Angeles. He and Estelle managed to get an apartment in the housing projects close to Boyle Heights. In March of 1942 I was born at the Queen of Angels Hospital. We moved into our first house…3133 Blanchard St. one block over from Winter St. My sister Sharon was born three years later.
Those days in Boyle Heights were idyllic for a couple of small kids…with no TV yet, there was nothing to remind us what was raging on in Europe. We would wander up to Wabash Ave., a few blocks away, there was the Wabash Theatre, next door was a small drug store with a soda fountain and “as I remember” the best burgers in the world. A few doors down was Ruby’s Five & Dime…a nickel for all sorts of goodies. Across the street was a big brand new Library. As we walked (back then it was safe for kids to walk alone) home on Stoner St. we grabbed at the droopy figs hanging over the sidewalk. Mostly Jews lived on Blanchard St. so it was like a big family. On the corner there was a Mexican Family with six or seven children …they used to hand out fresh made tortilla’s to the Jewish kids wandering around.
Getting a phone call was interesting in 1940’s Boyle Heights…as you were talking on the “Candlestick Phone” you would hear click, click, click….we had “Party Lines”. Two or three neighbors on the same line. Anytime you picked up the receiver you could hear someone else’s conversation…and if you were a real “Yenta” you could sit there for hours listening. If there was an emergency and you needed to make a call, and someone else was on the line you had to ask them to hang up!
We weren’t religious but on Yom Kippur we fasted and my father would put on his tallis and yarmulke and walk me up to Evergreen and Fairmont, a few blocks away, where on a side street there was this small shul named B’nai David. There I was exposed to the orthodox life. Downstairs were all these “alte kakers” covered in tallises and moaning & groaning in the strange Hebrew language…I looked up and saw a zillion women staring down at me and making faces…very scary for a little kid of 5 or so!!! Further up on Wabash towards City Terrace was “The Menorah Center”, a kind of a Jewish rec. center for kids. For a short time my folks forced me to attend Jewish classes there but I rebelled and they finally gave up.
Around 1946, at four, I “got my draft notice”…I entered kindergarten at Malabar St. School a few blocks away. It was/is an olde two story kind of “prison looking concrete fortress”. I don’t remember any grass or greenery…just concrete building and play yards. We drove by a few years ago and it still looks the same. At four I was able to walk back and forth to school. If I went uphill to Fresno St. and down to Malabar I could stop at a small mom & pop store (house in back) for penny candy & wax soda pops & Abba Zabba’s & square packs of gum with baseball cards inside. If I went the other way…up Blade St. back to Blanchard I passed Sonia’s Grocery, another mom & pop store that my mother shopped at.
We must have had a car, but we used to take the streetcars everywhere…back then there were no supermarkets like today. We would go shopping up to Brooklyn or First St., which parallels it. On First I remember stores with pickle and herring barrels outside the doors and Jewish bakery’s where we would buy a dozen mixed rolls for Sunday breakfast. My sister Sharon and I would fight over the two or three bagels included.
Occasionally we would take the streetcar to Broadway in downtown L.A. We would go to Clifton’s Cafeteria for lunch and then on to grocery shopping at the Grand Central Market. There we would go stall to stall loading up on fruits and vegetables and meats and day old bread. Then we would walk out the back to Hill St. and ride the Angel’s Flight Railway up & down a few times at a nickel a shot. We always returned home on the streetcar with a couple of large, full, brown paper shopping bags.
On Sunday’s the treat was lunch or dinner at Canter’s Deli on Brooklyn Ave. We would order a heaping meat plate of Corned Beef, Pastrami & Pickled Tongue, Pickles, Potato Salad, Cole Slaw and a side plate of Rye Bread…the whole thing was about three dollars.
One of my favorite things to do, especially in the three months off of school in the summers, was to go to Ocean Park for the day. We could hop on a streetcar and ride the train I think with just one change all the way to the beach. The Ocean Park Amusement Pier (sometimes called Lick Pier) was a sight to behold…especially for a five year old. With the Aragon Ballroom at one end and the front boardwalk lined with eating places. The pier itself had a roller coaster that went out over the water, a Ferris wheel, a diving bell, bumper cars, a merry-go-round, whip rides…my favorite was the “House of Mirrors”. It had a huge stuffed laughing lady in front that rocked back & forth. There were small electric trams on the boardwalk that ran from Santa Monica past Ocean Park, past Venice to Washington Blvd. for 5 cents. We would stop along the way at a mom & pop deli/store where you could grab a large pickle out of a barrel for “a nickel a shtikle”.
There was a second amusement park pier in Long Beach called “The Pike” but that wasn’t really good for families…it was known as a hangout for sailors on leave and their “nofkes”!
1947/48 brought the advent of television. On Wednesday nights my father would drag me up to Brooklyn Ave. to sit on orange crates in front of the TV Store with him and a handful of other “Crazy Guys” to watch wrestling from the Olympic Auditorium. When the first TV arrived on the block, a handful of us kids used to stand on our neighbors porch and peek into the living room at the new toy until they closed the drapes! One day I came home from school and sitting in our living room was a 12” Silvertone TV from the big Sears on Soto St. and Olympic, (three dollars down and $3. a month, something like that)…WOW…my life was now complete. I turned it on and the first image I saw was a white horse in a western movie…for the rest of my life I was hooked on Western Movies! TV then was mostly on channel 5 KTLA locally in the afternoon and evening with an Indian test pattern on the rest of the time.
In 1948, at six years old, my life was saved by the school nurse at Malabar St. School. I wasn’t feeling well so the teacher sent me to the nurse…the next thing I remember was waking up in an Iron Lung at Children’s Hospital…I cried all night. I had polio and people were dying in droves. I was paralyzed on my right side all the way down, luckily I’m left handed. I was then transferred to the Orthopedic Hospital where they gave me swimming pool treatments. The March of Dimes paid for everything! When I was able to go home there was a big “Quarantine” sign on the door. Only my father was allowed to come and go. I missed a whole semester of school but survived to walk again thanks to that nurse!
I remember four friends at Malabar School. Freddie & Marty were twins belonging to Sonia from the store up the street…I never saw their father, I believe he survived the Holocaust and hadn’t recovered yet. My other two friends were Japanese boys, Alan and Keith, no one spoke to them except me…I believe their families had been in Manzanar!!!
In 1952 we left Boyle Height moving into a lily white, non-ethnic, W.A.S.P. neighborhood on 67th St. between Normandie & Western. We bought the house from a “blind man” who had made his own improvements which we found out later, when the ceiling fell in! From the beginning we got phone calls in the middle of the night…only later we, Sharon and I, learned the calls were from an unknown neighbor warning us Jews to leave or else! No one spoke to us on 67th street for a long time!
Our comfortable life among our “Lantzman” in Boyle Heights was over…now we had to face the real world!!!