Los Angeles

Davis Carousel

QUESTION:  The Wurlitzer 165 displayed next to the Emperor here at the American Treasure Tour was once displayed at the Davis Carousel in Griffith Park, Los Angeles.  What type of machine complements it now?
A)  Another Wurlitzer 165
B)  Stinson 165 Military Band Organ
C)  Artizan B Band Organ
D)  North Tonawanda Musical Instrument Works Model 14 Band Organ

So, a week's exploration of the land that would become Griffith Park in the heart of Los Angeles, California is finally coming to a close. You've been wondering all this time where it was going, and now you have an answer: it's bringing us to one of the few remaining merry-go-rounds found in its original setting in the city: the Davis Carousel!  As with all things, the Davis Carousel does have a story. It was built in 1926 by the Spillman Engineering Company of North Tonawanda, New York.  Spillman was the maiden name of the wife of Allan Herschel.  Never heard of him?  Herschel is considered the first American (an immigrant from Scotland, but we are, after all, all immigrants) to establish a business dedicated to the construction of merry-go-rounds. He partnered up with his wife's brothers to create the Herschel-Spillman Company. It lasted a few years but bad blood between the partners led to a split and, we're sure, tense family gatherings. So Spillman Engineering went independent. But we digress.

Members of the Spreckel Sugar Company commissioned the carousel so that it could be placed at their Mission Beach Amusement Center in San Diego, California. The Great Depression did the center in, and in 1935 they closed down, and the carousel went to the city's Balboa Park as part of the California Pacific International Exposition. After two years, Ross Davis purchased it and moved it to Griffith Park, where it has been ever since.  Davis commissioned a band organ for his carousel and, in 1939, Wurlitzer sent him the very same Model 165 currently on display next to the Emperor in the American Treasure Tour's Toy Box. It is hardly a conventional 165, though. By '39, Wurlitzer had retired production of automatic music machines in their North Tonawanda factory, so they assembled the machine from what they had around, including a Model 157 facade. The machine is in near-perfect condition, showing off its original paint and having never required any restoration of which to speak. And the carousel continues to entertain kids, as it did for the daughters of Walt Disney, who went on record as saying the Davis Carousel in part inspired the creation of Disneyland. And, being in Los Angeles, there can be no surprise that it has also been on television, notably during a commercial in which a young James Dean was handing bottles of Pepsi to teenagers as they rode the horses.

ANSWER:  B)  Sintson 165 Military Band Organ.  We're sure you caught our joke - there's no such thing as a North Tonawanda Musical Instrument Works Model 14 Band Organ!  We always have a lot of fun here at the American Treasure Tour blog!

Griffith J Griffith

QUESTION:  What does the "J" in Griffith stand for?
A)  Griffith
B)  James
C)  Jenkins
D)  Jefferson

In yesterday's blog, we discussed the story of Rancho Los Feliz, a ridiculously large block of land that was granted to the first mayor of what would become Los Angeles. It was originally 6,647 acres, but by 1882, small sections had been shaved off and sold to various investors. The bulk of it was sold to a Welsh immigrant named Griffith J. Griffith.  He was fifteen years old when his family moved from the old country to Ashland, Pennsylvania, located in the heart of coal country (near Centralia, a town that deserves its own blog entry!). At twenty-three years of age, Griffith moved to San Francisco, where he took a job as manager of the Herald Publishing Company and also became a correspondent specializing in the mining industry.  He not only became an expert, but amassed a great fortune from mining.  He bought 4,000 acres of what was the Rancho Los Feliz in 1882, and five years later married Mary Agnes Christina Mesmer.  

Griffith and his wife donated exactly 3,015 acres of their Los Angeles land to the city as a public park in 1896, calling it a Christmas present. The city accepted the gift and named it after Griffith. He would later donate another thousand acres along the Los Angeles River to the city as well. Griffith Griffith was an outspoken teetotaler in public but, behind closed doors, he allegedly experienced alcohol-fueled rages. That was the reason given when, in 1903, he shot his wife in the face. He did not, surprisingly, kill her, but he did disfigure Christina. There was a sensational trial, and Griffith was sentenced to three years imprisonment at San Quentin for assault with a deadly weapon (he served less than two). Christina did get a divorce from him, and gained custody of their only child. When Griffith died in 1919, he left $1.5 million to the city for construction of a Greek Theater and an observatory, both of which were constructed in the park named after him. Thanks to the impact of movies, Griffith Park Observatory is one of the most famous in the country.

ANSWER:  C)  Jenkins

Rancho Los Feliz

QUESTION:  In what year did the Mexican War end, resulting in the United States acquiring the land north of the Rio Grande River previously owned by Mexico?
A)  1783
B)  1812
C)  1848
D)  1898

The American Treasure Tour blog is dedicated to exploring our massive collection of Americana and automatic music machines, so you might wonder why we would dedicate today's blog to a land grant dating to 1795. It's a fair question, and we will answer it. But first, some background. The Rancho Los Feliz was located in modern-day Los Angeles. President Pedro Fages of Mexico gave it to an explorer named Jose Vicente Feliz, who guarded the settlers of a small community in the Spanish colony of California called El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles, or Los Angeles for short. That was back in 1775, when Feliz was part of what was called the Anza Expedition.  Feliz took control and ostensibly became the first mayor of Los Angeles. As a reward for his efforts, he was given 6,647 acres of land north of the city, consisting of modern-day Los Feliz, Griffith Park, East Hollywood and Silver Lake.

The land remained with the Feliz family for almost one hundred years. They retained ownership of it after the transition of California from control by the Mexican government to that of the United States, ultimately selling it in 1863.  That was the year it sold to a highly successful lawyer, Antonio F. Coronel.  He only kept it a few years prior to selling the land to a man named James Lick. You may not have heard of Mr. Lick, but you have (hopefully) enjoyed his greatest legacy. He was co-founder of San Francisco's iconic Ghirardelli Chocolates, created with his Peruvian uncle Domingo Ghirardelli.  He was also the wealthiest man in California for a time during the California Gold Rush. Wise investments found him uncertain of quite how to spend his massive fortune. He came up with a few noble ideas, including the construction of statues dedicated to himself and his family, or maybe a pyramid larger than the largest Egyptian pyramids in Giza placed in downtown San Francisco for himself. Ultimately, he was convinced to help establish the Lick Observatory in the University of California campus and Golden Gate Park, as well as a few less self-indulgent causes. He sold Rancho Los Feliz in 1882 to a successful mining correspondent and newspaper man named Griffith J. Griffith. Stay tuned.

ANSWER:  C)  1848.


QUESTION:  The Disney California Adventure Park opened next to Disneyland in 2001 on land that had previously been dedicated to what purpose?
A)  Waste treatment
B)  Parking
C)  Nature trails
D)  An airport

Yesterday's discussion of Walt Disney has inspired the blog to delve a little deeper into the man who created an empire.  Aside from the fifty-five animated features developed at the Walt Disney Animation Studios and numerous other films both animated and live action created by Disney and their affiliates, they have also become the world leader in theme park destinations. That all started in Anaheim, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. During the 1940's and early-Fifties, Walt Disney received countless requests from fans to visit his animation studios.  Aware that they would not be all that exciting, he tried to think of a way to please his fans. Meanwhile, he took his two daughters to Griffiths Park, a wooded refuge in downtown L.A. dominated by an observatory used in numerous films. There was also a carousel owned by Ross Davis. Disney's daughters, Diane and Sharon, loved to experience the carousel and its Wurlitzer band organ (more on that in another blog), but Walt and the other parents found the experience somewhat boring. He wanted to be entertained, too, and suspected other parents would agree.

In 1955, Disneyland opened with great fanfare. The day was July 17th, averaging at 101 degrees Fahrenheit, which proved difficult. Asphalt poured that morning was still hot enough that women's high-heeled shoes sank into them. And there were problems with the plumbing, such that they had to choose between keeping the toilets working or the water fountains. They wisely opted for the former, although visitors accused Pepsi of rigging things to improve sales of their beverage. And only about half the people who entered the park had legitimate tickets. Others either obtained counterfeit tickets or climbed the fences to get in. So yes, there was a lot of chaos, and some criticism.  Walt invited the 'legal' visitors to come back the next day for free for a second chance. People have been going ever since. In fact, there are currently twelve parks around the world: two in Anaheim, four in the Orlando, Florida region, two in Tokyo, two in Paris, one in Hong Kong, and the newest one in Shanghai, China. 

ANSWER:  B)  Parking.  It had been the original parking garage for Disneyland.