Monday, November 14, 2011

Nike Missiles In El Monte

Nike Missile Site in El Monte

By Richard Cortez

If I was to tell you that El Monte was the site of Nike missile launch site you would probably tell me that I was crazy. Crazy as I might be there was a fully functioning Nike missile site located off of Potereo Road next to the tennis courts at Legg Lake.

It was 1950 and the cold war was beginning, the US Army Regulars and National Guardsman were empowered by Air Defense Brigade to protect valuable key industrial, military and US cities using Nike missiles. The first launch site was located in the mountains above Malibu in 1954. There were 16 Nike missile launch sites surrounding Los Angeles from enemy bombers. Some of the sites were, Chatsworth, Newhall, Mount Gleeson, El Monte, Brea and Long Beach.

The El Monte location had their administration building on one side of Potereo Road which is now the Army Reserves base. The actual launch site is located somewhere next to the tennis courts. The bunker is still there, but hidden from the public view. In 1954 there would have been two or three launch areas containing an underground storage magazines, an elevator and four missile erectors with underground rails that moved the missiles to an elevator to bring up the missiles to launch. The radar and targeting building was located on the hills where the Rio Hondo College Police Academy is currently located. In 1971 the US Army Air defense decided to end the Nike missile project and by 1974 most of the sites were destroyed with exception of the El Monte location. The location is still owned by the US Army and is off limits to everyone.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Memories of Pate's Records-Big-D Burgers-U-Drive Go Karts

Memories of El Monte

By Richard Cortez

Pate’s Tapes

For the younger generation there was a time before digital music and Mp3 players. We had 45 and LP records and we would play them on the biggest stereos we could buy that would have 10 inch speakers made out of real wood. We did not have Dj’s but our uncle would play the records at our family parties as loud as his stereo would go. Every little town would have a record shop and El Monte had the best one I felt. It was Pate’s Tapes and Records at 10905 Garvey Avenue. The building is still there but, now it is a market. It was opened around 1960’s and had all kinds of music from classical to rock and roll. They sold eight track tapes and 45 records. I bought my first 45 record there; it was called “Buick 59” recorded by Vernon Green & the Medallions. There was a time in 1973 that all my friends would buy their records from Pate’s until Zody’s opened in El Monte. There you could buy an LP record for less than two bucks what a deal since my allowance was only two bucks a week. Pate’s lasted until the giant record stores began opening up like “Tower Records” then “Music Plus” which offered not just a few records but hundreds of records. I miss Pate she was an amazing teacher that taught me all about music.

Big D Enter-Out Burgers

Big D as we would all call it was located at 11629 Valley Blvd. across from McDonald’s. It was first opened in the late 1960’s. Some people would say that it opened after In-Out Burgers opened in El Monte and was the second hamburger stand to have speakers for the drive thru. In 1973 my friends and I would walk after school and get burgers and fries plus chocolate malts that were out of this world. Big D got so busy that the owners found a bigger and better location down the street at the corner of Valley and Durfee were not only was the stand bigger but, so was the menu it now included pastrami’s and Mexican food. The burger stand on valley was taken over by “Art’s” and is just as good.


U-Drive Go Karts

U-Drive was located right next to Big-D at 11645 Valley Blvd. You could ride the go- karts for an hour for five dollars and with your friends have a blast. Sometimes we would get out of hand and get yelled at for driving crazy trying to crash into our friends karts. And when we got tired of riding the karts we would go to the big slide and ride it the rest of the day. Funny thing is we would have so much fun for the day and not use drugs or drink. The picture was taken from my high school annual. That is my friend Kim in the picture with two guys that worked their.

El Monte Theaters

Tumbleweed Theater


I am so glad that so many of our readers have been enjoying our ride through El Monte’s past. This time I will explore the movie theaters in El Monte beginning with the Tumbleweed Theater. The Tumbleweed Theater was located on the corner of Garvey and Mountain View Road possibly where “El Pollo Loco” is located today. The theater was complete in 1939. The architect was S. Charles Lee who was a prominent movie theater architect. Mr. Lee is credited with designing over 400 theaters in California and Mexico. In 1938 the Tumbleweed owner James Edwards II wanted to build a theater in El Monte but, due to his lack of money Mr. Lee offered a barn to Mr. Edwards as a theater. The total cost to build the Tumbleweed was $2000. The outside looked like a barn but, the inside looked like an airplane hangar. The walls were adorned with paintings of the American west. There were paintings of an American Indian riding a pony on one wall with cactus to accent the background and on the other wall was another painting of a burro harnessed to a Mexican cart. The ceiling of the theater had open trusses and exposed cross beams. The lights were made to look like wagon wheels. Outside was a windmill which had the movie marquee. Outside next to the theater there was a small train that the children would ride. In 1947 the Puente Theater sued James Edward II and the Tumbleweed of unfair practice. The lawsuit said that the Tumbleweed signed a deal with Columbia, RKO, Monogram, Republic, FOX and Paramount pictures to an exclusive right to show first run movies 30 days before the Puente Theater could. The judge’s decision was according to the contracts and the law that there was no unfair practice. The cost of the movies was 30 cents in the 1950’s. Wow what a deal and that was for one newsreel and one cartoon and two movies.

El Monte Drive-In

El Monte also had a drive-in theater it was located at 9700 Lower Azusa and Ellis Lane. There is a Home Depot store there now. The El Monte Drive-In opened in 1948 and closed around 1999. It was owned and operated by Pacific Theaters. The back of the screen wall faced Lower Azusa and had a painting of woman that looked like Carmen Maranda with her famous fruit filled hat and beautifully vibrant colored dress. In the 1950’s the drive-in would show mostly B-movies along with newsreels and my favorite, cartoons. The drive-in had a capacity of 791 parking spaces. We all remember the awful speakers you would place on your window. They were heavy and sounded terrible. The cool thing about going to the drive-in was the food. The El Monte Drive-In boasted the best chili dogs in town. The other favorite food would be the pizzas. There was a playground beneath the movie screen where the kid could swing or slide all night long then the kids would return to the car jump in the back seat and fall asleep while mom and dad enjoyed John Wayne fighting the bad guys. The El Monte Drive-In was in a movie or two the best was “Attack of the 50 foot woman starring Daryl Hannah you should rent sometime it really isn’t that bad. In 1980 Pacific Theaters sold the drive-in. From then on the new owners show Spanish speaking movies. Sadly in 1999 the drive-in closed for good and yet another part of our childhood in El Monte was now gone but, our memories still live on.

El Monte Legion Stadium Story

El Monte Legion Stadium "Pink Elephant" around 1965-1966
 By Richard Cortez
Wednesday, 17 August, 2011
“And in the streets: the children screamed, The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed. But not a word was spoken; The church bells all were broken. And the three men I admire most: The father, son, and the holy ghost They caught the last train for the coast The day the music died.”
From the song “American Pie” by Don McLean.

El Monte, Ca.– August 13, 1974 had to be one of El Monte’s worst days in its history. On that day, 37 years ago, the wrecking ball began its destruction of the “Pink Elephant”, or as it was nationally known, “El Monte Legion Stadium.”
The building began as the El Monte High School gym, built in 1927 and completed in 1929. On March 10, 1933 the Long Beach earthquake hit Southern California. The State of California condemned the majority of schools including El Monte High School.
Arial view of Legion Stadium looking mighty majestic around 1929
Since the gym was considered new, it survived the destruction ball that first time. While the new high school was being built, the gym was used for basketball games and graduations. Once the new high school was completed the gym would sit empty until the American Legion Post 261 bought the building on Jan. 16, 1945 for $26,650 and renamed it “El Monte Legion Stadium.”
The American Legion Post used the building first for their meetings, but after WWII it was used for dinners to welcome home our returning veterans. The Legionaires tried to promote basketball games with little success. The Legionaires started to promote dances and had better success. They also tried wrestling, boxing, roller derbys and mini car races. Then one day, a country and western singer came riding into town eyeing the legion stadium for a show he was doing on the radio. Cliffie Stone and The Hometown Jamboree radio show began a long run at the stadium. Cliffie’s show was so popular it began a simulcast on both radio and television. So every Saturday night at 7:30 pm you would hear “From El Monte California, The Hometown Jamboree!”
Cliff Stone

The El Monte Legion Stadium also had other events such as wrestling. Every Thursday you could catch wrestlers like Freddie Blassie, Gorgeous George, The Flying Frenchman, Bobo Brazil and Pedro Morales. Roller Derby was also a big draw to the stadium. The team “The Thunderbirds” or “The T-Birds” would bring their oval racing track, set it up in the stadium, and skate against some of the toughest teams around. Teams like The Northern Hawks, The Detroit Devils, New York Bombers and The Texas Outlaws against our T-Birds Ralphie Valladeres, Shirley Hardman, Ronnie Rains, Shirley Vega, John Hall and Danny Reilly just to mention a few of the players
1972 Los Angeles Thunderbirds
Boxing was also a big event at the stadium. The boxing events held had some of the best boxers fighting in the ring. Joe Dominguez, Ernest Kirkwood, Rich Tollies, Henry Yerkin, Gene Scott and Joe Rufus were some of the men who slugged it out in the stadium.
Freddie Blassie

Besides the local dances and the local bands came big time promoters that would make the stadium famous all over the Southland. It was the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles school board that made El Monte the Mecca of Rock and Roll. The LA City and School Board would not allow children under the age of 18 to attend a dance in their city, so it was to Legion Stadium they came.
Johnny Otis a rhythm and blues artist had a traveling show and chose the stadium to promote his shows. Others would follow and the one man who literally turned the name “El Monte Legion Stadium,” into a southland destination would be Art Laboe. In 1957 Art Laboe was the number one disk jockey doing shows from “Scrivners Drive-In,” in Los Angeles. Art Laboe, if you did not know, was the first DJ to play rock and roll on the radio on the west coast. Art Laboe began his oldies but goodies shows in El Monte in 1957 and for three years every other week would bring some of the biggest stars to our town. Jerry Lee Lewis, Ritchie Valens and Rosie and the Originals were some of the big stars that played on the El Monte Legion Stadium stage. These shows brought a positive aspect to the City of El Monte.
Inside view of the stage area before the wrecking ball

In the 1960’s things began to relax in Los Angeles and night clubs were opening up to the younger crowds. The stadium started to see a decline in mainstream concerts. Weddings were bringing in some money and the stadium was booking small events and the wrestling and boxing continued until the late 1960’s. The Pink Elephant was now costing the legionaires more money than they were bringing in. In 1973 the US postal service made an offer to buy the building and land to build a new post office.
This time our Pink Elephant could not dodge the wrecking ball. On Friday, August 13, 1974, the demolition began. People would walk by or drive by as the big ball would bounce off the wall of our building. You could feel a pain in your heart with every hit of the wrecking ball, or feel the building groan with pain. And as you watched maybe a tear welled up in your eye from what you were seeing; your mind racing with memories of your wedding or the dance you attended.
The saddest days
Or the time you saw one of your favorite rock stars appear live on the stage that would soon be gone. It was a time of lost innocence, a time of sadness that a building so noble would never be again. There was no protest and there were no people chaining themselves to the building. Did we let the Pink Elephant down? It is best said by Don McLean;

“I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride,
But something touched me deep inside
The Day The Music Died.”

Bodger & Sons Seed Company

Bodger & Sons Seed Company
John Bodger circa 1930’s
 By Richard Cortez
Wednesday, 14 September, 2011
In 1916 El Monte had the biggest seed company in the United States. It was called Bodger & Sons Seed Company and located on Tyler Avenue. The main building still stands today and is now an electronics distributor. John Bodger arrived in California from England in 1890 and settled in Gardena, California, where he started the seed company. The Bodger family had been in the seed business for many years in England and John Bodger continued on in California. John Bodger lived in Pasadena and was getting tired of the drive to Gardena, so he came to El Monte and bought some land, well, a lot of land to be exact. The land he bought in El Monte was north of his main building and as far south to where Legg Lake is today. There were fields where the El Monte High School stands today, and included the Tony Arceo Park, the senior center and El Monte Historical Museum.
The Bodger Seed Company on Tyler 1920’s

Behind his warehouse was a huge field where he would grow zinnia’s and market a special zinnia he called Dahlia-Flowered Zinnia which won a Gold Medal from Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society. As the popularity of Bodger's seed business grew, seed companies would come to his farm to learn his growing techniques.
Bodger truck circa 1940

During World War II John created a huge US flag on his field using his red, white and blue flowers to reproduce the flag. In the mid 1930’s John Bodger leased the land on Tyler for a new high school and civic center for $1.00 a year. The Bodger Seed Company closed down their company after being in business for 100 years.

Art Laboe's Memories of El Monte

Art Laboe Remembers the El Monte Legion

Art Laboe single handedly changed the image of the City of El Monte when he brought his Oldies But Goodies show to the Legion Stadium.
Art Laboe joined the Army signal corps, studying radar, but after hearing that the corpsmen were being sent to the South Pacific, and the fact that the corpsmen were first on land, Art became concerned that the casualty rate was 85%. Art was able to resign due to his age; he was 17 years old at the time. Art then joined the Navy as a radio officer. Since he had his FCC license he was assigned to the Pan American Clipper fleet for three years and flew to Hawaii 147 times. He also made many trips to the South Pacific carrying blood and important people.
Art’s first radio job was radio station KSAN San Francisco. Art walked in and asked for a job. The owner took one look at Art and said he didn’t have a job, but what he needed was a guy with an FCC license. Art reached into his pocket and produced three licenses and the owner hired him right then and there.
Art Laboe’s first Los Angeles radio job was at radio station KRKD in 1949. Art would have to sell time for his show which is a common practice in radio today. After KRKD, Art moved to KXLA 1110 where one of his sponsors was the owner of Scrivner’s Drive-In restaurant in Hollywood. Art did a live show from Scrivner’s Drive-In. Rock ‘N’ Roll was just making noise around the country and Art knew this. Art was the first DJ on the West Coast to play rock ‘n’ roll on the air. In 1955 Art was working for KPOP and was broadcasting from Scrivner’s Hollywood restaurant. Art’s show on KPOP generated a 30 Hooper share, making his show the most listened to show on the Los Angeles radio dial.
In 1957 Art Laboe decided to promote live dances and shows, but was unable to book a hall in Los Angeles. The city would not allow children under the age of 18 to attend this type of event. Art found the El Monte Legion Stadium which was big enough to promote his Oldies But Goodies show. The El Monte Legion could hold up to 3,000 people. Art would put on a show every other week for three years. Some of the acts to appear at the El Monte Legion Stadium were, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jackie Wilson, Ritchie Valens, Chuck Berry, Jackie Wilson and Ray Charles.

I asked Art Laboe how he felt when he heard the news back in the seventies that the El Monte Legion Stadium was going to be demolished. “In a word, I felt sad about it. It’s like things come and go you know. Like, I’ve seen in Hollywood, so many restaurants like Scrivner’s Drive-In went out of business.” “It’s always sad to see something that is iconic, that is part of the community, become history. I was sad, and there was not much I could do about it,” continued Art. I then asked Art Laboe his fondest memories of the El Monte Legion Stadium. “There are so many. I played 26 times a year for three years, but mainly what comes into my head is lot of good times. A lot people from southern California came there, Rock ‘N’ Roll was a big tidal wave and I was right in the middle of it from the very beginning.” “I will always have great memories of the stadium and the City of El Monte,” Art continued.

Art Laboe still has the number “1” rated radio show in Southern California on Hot 92.3, and you can hear him every Sunday through Friday, still giving out his dedications to all his fans.
Art Laboe is not only a very kind person he is a great humanitarian. As busy as Art is he will take time to talk to you. I want to thank Art Laboe and Joanna Morones for their help in this article. Art can be seen at his 20th anniversary show September 10, 2011, at the San Manuel Amphitheater.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Richard Cortez Past History of The City of El Monte

Hello everyone I have been writing for the Mid Valley News since Feb. 2011 and some of you have asked to see my past articles. I will post them here. If you have any ideas for stories please feel free to contact me.