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Archive for the tag “California”

A Smooth Stretch of Highway…. So Let’s Break Out the Dynamite

So I was traveling up a smooth stretch of the 395 highway on a golden summer afternoon with my car engine humming like a well-oiled Singer sewing machine.  My gal was by my side and I had a stack of twenties in my pocket. The stack wasn’t tall enough to take the 395 through all 4 Western states it hits before the Canadian border, but we were happy just to roll through the splintered sunlight into Jake’s Saloon in Lone Pine to wash down the dust that had plied in our throats with a little Anejo rum and soda with three limes please. That’s where we heard the story in hushed tones of a couple of young bucks who, with a case of stolen dynamite and some liquid courage, tried to stop the flow of water down to a very thirsty Southern Cal. It was the night of Sept. 14th, 1976 and Mark Berry, just 17 years old and his pal Bobby Howe, 20, were waiting for their girlfriends to get off of work at the local Ice cream parlor.  Booze was acquired and the boldness level rose dramatically.

They were angry – angry at the dusty bone dry Owens Valley where they lived; angry that Los Angeles has been stealing their water since the early 1900’s so Cool Cats with side burns, fringed jackets, and bell bottoms could stroll the Sunset Strip and pick up Chicks wearing tube tops that were SO much better looking than their gals, who ate more ice cream than they sold; and angry that they were young, restless, and bored (thanks Bob). The fellas stole a couple cases of dynamite, some blasting caps, and about 20 feet of fuse from the shed where Inyo County kept the Bang Bang. They stuffed the dynamite next to the Alabama Hills gatehouse (by the way…the Alabama Hills were named by miners who were sympathetic to the Confederate cause during the Civil War after the CSS Alabama, a very successful raiding ship that plundered Union supply ships and was eventually sunk close to Cherbourg, France June 19th, 1864), lit the fuse, and waited. A huge explosion followed – ripping a four foot hole in the steel gate that regulates the flow of water to the aqueduct. Windows were blown out and the concrete floor buckled and 100 million gallons of water flowed into Owens Lake which had been as dry as the Gobi since DWP opened the aqueduct in 1913.

The coppers showed up to find an applauding crowd grooving on the smoldering destruction and smelling the air filled with the banana like smell of Nitroglycerin. In the weeks that followed, the area was crawling with short sleeved, white shirted, skinny tie sporting Jack Webb lookalikes from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and the local Fuzz. Some townsfolk thought it might be the Weather Underground terrorist group, but despite the extensive damage, the Feds knew it was done by rookies. The boys jabbered too much to their friends (never talk to your friends when you do a caper of this magnitude. It will just come back and bite you in the ass.) who jabbered too much to the Feds and Berry and Howe were arrested. Howe was sentenced to 90 days in the Inyo County jail, left town when freed, and has never been heard from again. Our friend Mark Berry had to do 30 days in Juvie, was court ordered to attend community college where he studied rocket and aviation engineering, and had his record sealed. Mark returned to Lone Pine in 2000 and got a good job in Owens Valley. His job –  he works for the DWP making sure the aqueduct is safe and is properly diverting water to the parched and greedy City of Fallen Angels.

The day after the bombing someone strapped a stick of dynamite to an arrow and shot it at a memorial to William Mulholland in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. It did not explode.

Olancha, Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine , Alabama Hill, and Bishop. It’s all there on the 395. Stories, saloons, and the tallest summit in the contiguous United States. All you need is a dependable ride, a great gal by your side, and a stack of twenties. Groove.

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Untamed, Ready for the Good Time

Lucy Banning

” A Peach”, ” man-crazy”, ” a free-spirited ingenue”, ” the most beautiful woman in California”. My distant cousin was called all these things and much more, some less than flattering. Lucy Banning was one of the richest and most beautiful women in the latter part of the 19th century, a time when Victorian rules where the name of the game, but Lucy had enough dough to play by her own rules thanks to a inherited fortune from her old man, ” Transportation King”, Phineas Banning and the financial windfalls she collected thanks to her gaggle of wealthy ex-husbands.

Lucy was born in1876 in the 23 room greek revival mansion in Wilmington that her Dad had built in 1864.  (still there, site of the Banning Museum). A young gal when Phineas called it a day she now had dough and wanted out of Squaresville Wilmington. Her many suitors included the handsome young attorney Johnny Bradbury whose Pop was a gold-mining and real estate tycoon. The family’s name is commemorated by the famous Bradbury Building in downtown L.A., the town of Bradbury, and Bradbury Estates.

They eloped to San Francisco where they were married on Dec 4, 1893. For four years the marriage seemed to be on a smooth stretch of highway until the couple attended a party in Santa Monica and Loose Lucy cutout with another man, a fellow named H.Russell Ward, a married Englishman. Reporters found them in a San Francisco Hotel. Lucy told reporters ” It is true that I had a beautiful home, that jewels were showered upon me, but all these did not satisfy me. I left simply because I believed that I had a right to plan out my own life; to go in search of happiness.”

Lucy and Ward were charged with adultery, but like the cavalry of the old west, Lucy’s Mom came to the rescue and paid off the “Society for the Prevention of Vice” and the charges against her were dropped. Not so for the polo playing Ward who faced the charges alone. Johnny Bradbury stated that  “H.Russell Ward had exerted an undue influence over my wife, and that she would never have done what she did had it not been for his uncanny spell over her.” Reconciliation seemed complete and bliss resumed, but not so for the unfortunate  Mr. Ward.  Johnny Bradbury is not the first nor the last, to find that a strong nudge to the small of the back from a speeding train can make certain troublemakers go away – for this was the fate of Mr. Ward.  Suicide, accident, or murder Mr. Ward would not embarrass J.B. again.

Lucy’s marriage would not endure. After moving to Mexico and returning to Los Angeles divorce proceedings from J.B. were under way – for Lucy again fled to San Francisco. Just two months after the divorce, Lucy took up with Charles Hastings of Pasadena. Rumors concluded that the two would marry, but these predictions did not come true. Lucy took up acting (translation: she took up actors) and soon married Shakespearean actor Mace Greenleaf who worked at the Burbank Theater (see what happens when you slip on some tights). Mace was no Romeo off stage so Lucy dumped him and  married Robert Ross, the son of a prominent judge.  “I am through experimenting, I am prepared to settle down” declared Lucy then 42.

And so she did until 1925 when she went to the Olympic Auditorium and laid eyes on Japanese wrestler Setsuzo Ota. Witnesses said  “she tossed her evening handbag into the ring at Ota with her calling card inside.” Lucy went to Ota’s hotel room and “she took my shirts, ties, everything out of the closet and dresser, put them in a suitcase, closed it and said “We go now.”, Ota exclaimed. Ross divorced her and Lucy, 51 and Setsuzo, 31 drove to Seattle (interracial marriage was not allowed in California) to be married.

This marriage did not last long either, but not because of the usual reasons. While vacationing in Italy Lucy caught pneumonia and passed away, shortly after her 53rd birthday. According to Ota, Lucy knew she was dying and her last words were “I’ll get criticized for this too.”  Lucy left almost $400,000 to Ota, but because of lawyers and family disputes he walked away with $6,000. Setsumo Ota took his own life in 1963.

So comes the close to a wild gal who set her own rules, took advice from few, and lived the untamed life on a path she choose alone.

Many thanks to Tom Sitton, author of ” Grand Ventures, The Banning Family and the shaping of Southern California”.

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