Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
For the second consecutive year, LA as Subject, the California Historical Society, U.S.C. Libraries, and El Pueblo de Los Angeles are co-sponsoring the “History Keepers” exhibit, which presents a display of artifacts from some 30 greater Los Angeles collections as a run-up to the Archives Bazaar, which LA as Subject has been holding for a number of years over at U.S.C. in mid-October.
The Homestead is happy to return again as one of the participants in “History Keepers,” the theme of which this year is “Traversing Los Angeles.” This broad theme has to do with the many ways in which people have moved across the regional landscape and the diversity of travel is reflected in the diversity of artifacts.
A 1927 film of busy traffic on a Los Angeles street, a map showing public transit systems from around that time, material on the film industry before it coalesced into “Hollywood”, items on Union Station (which still is a focal point of transit into downtown), objects relating to the agricultural heritage (especially the all-encompassing orange), and even what was purported to be the traveling trunk of 19th-century bandido, Tiburcio Vasquez are among the many interesting and wide-ranging materials.
The opening reception was last Friday evening. After taking the Metrolink train from Baldwin Park to Union Station, which seemed an appropriate way to traverse part of the region, I took a short walk across Alameda Street to Olvera Street, where the exhibit is being shown until 27 August at El Tranquilo Gallery and Visitor Center.
After viewing the display and talking to some of the attendees, refreshments were available in the lobby of the visitor center for the David Alfaro Siqueiros mural “America Tropical,” which was infamously whitewashed not long after its 1932 creation. I and my then-colleagues at the Homestead had the good fortune many years ago–probably around 20 or more–to see “America Tropical” up close just as work to clean and stabilize it was being prepared. Today. the only way to view it is from across an intervening building, though the effect is still powerful and visceral as is the excellent exhibit downstairs.
The Homestead’s contribution to the exhibit is a strange artifact, a program for a transcontinental (that’s right–all the way across the U.S.) foot-race from 1929. Sponsored by C.C. Pyle (1882-1939), a theater owner, founder of the short-lived American Football League (which existed for just one season in 1926) and sports agent, who counted football legend “Red” Grange and tennis star Suzanne Lenglen as among his clients, the race, popularly called the “Bunion Derby” was first held in 1928 from Los Angeles to New York. The second, and last, edition, was kind of a “return” route back from New York to LA.
The event had 19 finishers from among 77 who started in late March with Johnny Salo winning, on 18 June, the 78th day, with a time of 525 hours, 56 minutes and 10 seconds, a mere 2 minutes and 47 seconds ahead of Pete Gavuzzi. Harry Abrams, who finished 11th in 1928, finished in 1929, too, coming in 9th. Check out his obituary in the New York Times here He may be the only person who’s ever run across America twice. Not surprisingly, Salo did not get his prize money!
The program has a colorful (matching the event’s creator) cover and a nice centerfold map showing the route across the country–this map is what is shown at the “History Keepers” exhibit.
Pyle’s event folded after just those two years, but he went on to some other notable activities, including the management of the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” display at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933 and presidency of the Radio Transcription Company here in Los Angeles, where he died in 1939.
As the caption for the program notes at the exhibit, the 1920s was an era of novelty crazes, including ones that tested human endurance in bizarre (appropriate for an archives bazaar, to be sure) ways, such as flagpole sitting, marathon dancing and long-distance car and aviation races and events, among others. So, Pyle’s “Bunion Derby” fit right in and, because the event ended in Los Angeles, it seemed like a good entry for the exhibit.
For more on the exhibit, see the attached scans of the promotional card, as well as clicking here for the LA as Subject web page for “History Keepers.”
A good summary on the 1929 race can be found from Running World magazine right here and which noted that there is a book on this event that came out in 2014–click here for more on the book. Another good source is this New York Public Library piece from 2010.