Herman arrived in California in mid-December 1939, after a long cross-country trip on a Trailways bus. As a new immigrant, all he wanted was a place to put down roots, a job that could sustain him, and a better life than he had lived in Germany under Hitler.  What he found was paradise.

The letters he wrote home to his mother remain in the care of my sister, who loaned them to me when I was doing the research for Immigrant Soldier. In a letter dated December 18, 1939, Herman wrote:

“I found out that California is the most beautiful country of the world and Laguna Beach the most beautiful town in it. . . . The ocean is glorious blue and the weather is warm and nice. Everywhere are flowers and oranges, bananas, lemons, and many other fruits.  It is like Paradise . . . but I have made up my mind and go after holiday to Los Angeles to find a room and a job.”

Soon Herman was living in Los Angeles and writing home to his mother about his rented room “with a kitchen, hot and cold running water, lights and heat” and his new job at the Town House Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard. He lived in LA from January 1940 until he was drafted into the army in October 1941.

The Los Angeles of 1940 was not like the sprawling megalopolis we know today, but it was getting there.  It was already a bustling city enlivened by the glamour of Hollywood’s film industry. Herman loved it. LA was the 5th largest city in the United States with a population of over 1,500,000. It had a busy downtown shopping area serviced by red-line streetcars, and on the west side of the city, the tony Wilshire area strung along a wide boulevard clogged with cars and buses. By the end of 1940, the city opened the Arroyo Seco Parkway, its first freeway, now commonly known as the Pasadena Freeway.

What else was happening in Los Angeles during the year and a half that Herman lived there as a wide-eyed immigrant?

• Animated movies where popular. Both Pinocchio and Fantasia, as well as the first cartoons of Tom and Jerry, Elmer Fud, and Bugs Bunny, were released in 1940. Dumbo was released in 1941.

• The movie version of Gone With the Wind, released the year before, swept the Oscars at the February ceremony in 1940.

• Nylon stockings made their first appearance in women’s lingerie departments and were preferred over silk stockings for their durability and sleek fit.

• The Hollywood Palladium opened on Sunset Boulevard in October 1940, featuring The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and a young Frank Sinatra. The Palladium boasted 3 bars, a 11,200 square-foot dance floor, and was designed to accommodate 4,000 people. A high $1 cover charge allowed entrance, but dinner was only $3.

• Offshore gambling was abolished and horse racing at specified tracks became the only legal gambling allowed.

• A few of the most popular songs of 1940 and 1941 were “I’ll Never Smile Again,” “When You Wish Upon a Star,” ”Fools Rush In,” ”Chattanooga Choo Choo,” and “I Hear a Rhapsody.”

• In January 1941, The Andrews Sisters recorded “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” with Decca Records.

• The February 1941 Oscars marked the first time the winners’ names were sealed in envelopes.

• The movie Citizen Kane, with Orson Welles, finally opened after two years of production delays, legal wrangling, and intense publicity.

• In May 1941, Glenn Miller had a two-week engagement at the Hollywood Palladium that attracted 5,200 dancers on opening night.  Remember the designed capacity was “only” for 4,000!

• Los Angeles was a city of immigrants. Mexican-Americans became the largest ethnic minority group in Los Angeles. There was also a sizable community of artistic and intellectual refugees in Hollywood, mostly Europeans fleeing Hitler’s Germany.

• Los Angeles became the largest commercial fishing port in the nation

• The postage for a first-class letter was 3¢ per ounce, gasoline was 18¢ a gallon, and the minimum wage was 30¢ an hour.

• Much of Los Angeles County was agricultural, including many dairy farms in the south part of the county. Orange County, just south of Los Angeles and surrounding Laguna Beach, was mainly orange groves, strawberry fields, and ranchland for beef cattle.

Click on this link to view a vintage, 1940s era, travel video advertising a Grayline bus tour of Los Angeles.  Don’t miss the quick view of The Town House Hotel and mention of the Zebra Room.



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