Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

An Idyllic Childhood

Originally posted on August 28, 2011

My dear wife Allee reminded me this morning that I grew up in “a Disneyland-like world. (Actual Disneyland was built near the end of this period around fifty miles or so south south-east of my home.) What an intriguing idea, and when I thought about it, true. So here’s a little snapshot of a halcyon world.

First, Los Angeles in the 40s was pre-smog, peaceful, not too crowded. Not many buildings more than a few stories, and the tallest was the 30-or-so L.A. City Hall. Earthquake-resistant architecture allowed for many more higher buildings and corresponding population density after the 1960s.

The parts of Los Angeles I lived in was irrigated and for the most part a enjoyed really lovely climate. I rode my bike to school most of the time, and also on vacations. The part I lived in was flat and half-way between Hollywood to the north-east, Beverly Hills to the west, and the Wilshire Miracle Mile just south. Over an eight square block area there were the renown Farmer’s market, just north of which was the Los Angeles Rams’ football stadium. Slightly to the east was the Hollywood Stars baseball stadium, and south, a new drive-in theatre (built in the early 1950s). Again east of that were some big ol’ lots for parking—great for bicycle “polo” played with croquet mallets. And just east of that, the Pan Pacific Auditorium, which held ice-skating for everyday customers, and for the Ice Capades (a play on escapade—but I didn’t get that till yesterday!),  the Ice Follies, and also home shows, auto shows, and other general exhibits.

Behind the auditorium was the prop lot, where they put back the props. Each time a little different—this is crucial! So we, who lived just over the fence to this back lot would hop over the fence and play in the “boxes,” which were the big mattress-sized plank constructions on which the chairs would be placed, and these on piled-up metal scaffolds which made for great hide-and-seek places. Many other props, too, making for un-ending games for other chase and pretend games, hide-outs, etc.    On occasion during an event they might house animals under the covered stable—I remember penguins one time, piglets another. You never knew what there would be from year to year. There was a hundred yards of equipment, new stuff being added, other stuff gone or re-arranged. So that for a pre-teen was paradise enough. But this was hardly all.

At the north end of our slightly long block there was a movie house showing double features. Next to it was a bar and then a bowling alley. To the south was the aforementioned “Pan” (as we called it.) Now it’s time for confession. They painted the Pan on a couple of occasions, and they had big ol’ scaffolds up the side. Kids were definitely not supposed to climb it. Of course we did, and were thrilled not to get caught. On occasion, we were able to find a door that was unlocked and crept in and looked around at the great, empty auditorium. (I still have dreams a-plenty about these places!)

Because on the nights of the big events people parked in our driveway and all around—of course they shouldn’t have!—the Pan administrators made it up to us by giving us complimentary tickets to the show. Wowsie Woozy! Later I’ll tell you about when the circus came to town.

We were on Gardner between Third Street and Beverly—two pleasant boulevards that over the years we rode our bikes fairly freely. Not recklessly, but didn’t feel in danger, either. Up the road about 1/16 – ½ of a mile there were all sorts of adventure places: There was a “Spanish” restaurant—calling it “Mexican” just wasn’t done. There was a Chinese restaurant, with 2 from column A and 3 from column B, and 5cent donut shops and other places. Down on Fairfax Boulevard about ½ mile away to the west-north-west were  Jewish groceries and delicatessens a-plenty.

On the corner of Fairfax and Beverly was—no kidding!—another movie house! Also with double features, news, cartoon, and popcorn, and everything. So if a great film wasn’t at the Pan-Pacific Theatre, it was at the Fairfax Theatre. Occasional special events like dish sales—but that was too grown up for us.

We lived in an arena where there were families with kids all around for many blocks on the north and especially to the east. Our school was about 1 ½ miles to the east, easy by bike. Sidewalks both sides of the street, and on Halloween, every house hosted us.

Of course there was a community swimming pool, about 1 mile to the south-west, just beyond the Farmer’s Market. And due West a Jewish community center where at yet another swimming pool I learned to swim, and day camp. Hardly religious, mostly ethnic—and at a time when Israel was just getting its independence, so there was a lot of excitement.

First it was great fighting the Nazis and Japanese and being on the winning side, the good guys in the movies—I personally bombed and strafed and fought in a hundred gun battles. Yes, I was wounded, and several times quite killed—dying quite dramatically. I didn’t know then about operatic arias, but if I had I could have sung some good ones, in other languages, basically singing, Arrgghh, ya dirty rat, ya got me!

Then some identity with the Israeli battles for independence. No news of the good guys ever doing anything bad. Pretty innocent and protected, now that I think of it.

No, we’re not finished yet. Not counting boy scouts and cub scounts—which I was too sickly and, in retrospect, too near-sighted to attend—but my brother did. But we did enjoy what seemed like the good ol’ days of radio and then a friend got a television show around 1948 and we went over to Burton’s house and watched on his (I think) 5 or 7 inch set “Time for Beany” with Cecil the Seasick Sea-Serpent and the villainous “Dishonest John.” Uncle Miltie (Milton Berle), Ed Wynn… what a discovery!

Rode bike to the public library 1½ miles east and 1/4 mile north to the June Street Library.

Comic Books were all the rage and mostly we paid for them honestly. It was an era without drugs (and no knowledge that such phenomena existed!), no racial tensions, drugs, hardly any bullying. In my early teens, I moved about 2 miles to the south-west, but still hung out in the area. Hitch-hiking up and down Fairfax Avenue seemed perfectly safe.

On several occasions our family traveled by car all day up to Yosemite National Park. Wonderful memories of climbing and catching termites. Much of our extended family was in New York, but there were still enough of ‘em around so that our holiday dinners—one at our home, the other at my Aunt Pearl’s and Uncle Harry’s—had full tables, with various cousins, etc. Enough chatter and my mom was really a very good cook. Okay, high fat, but then what wasn’t?

It was a protected life. I vaguely knew there were some nicer homes, but they didn’t seem all that marvelous; and nobody seemed much poorer. It was fairly homogenous and stable, ethnically (about 50 – 60% 2nd-generation Jewish).

In my early teens, again it was safe for long bike rides, 5 miles east to Downtown, 10 miles west to the Santa Monica Beach. Up to Hollywood Boulevard to prowl the used book stores.

Yeah, Allee, I guess it was sort of a whole childhood of Disneyland-like life. And there was more, to be added to in another blog (hint: the Circus!).

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