Remembering Ira Westley and 23rd Street

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Category: Our History
Published on Tuesday, 10 October 2006 05:00
Written by Judy Walker
 

In 1956 the sights and sounds of the neighborhoods we now call Kinney Heights and Western Heights were quite different. Even the reference name was different. Most people referred to the area bounded by Normandie, Arlington, Adams and Washington as Sugar Hill. Fruit trees, peach and orange, grew along the parkways.  I often remember walking as a child, along Cimmaron toward 22nd St.. There was a white stucco fence protecting an avocado tree.  Its limbs shaded the street and it was loaded with avocado’s that would fall on the sidewalk and splatter under our feet as we walked to the market, which is now the transmission shop on Washington.


Having grown up here from the mid 1950’s to 1968, and returning as a resident in the early 90’s, I have observed a characteristic that has remained, the variety of professionals, doctors, lawyers, businessmen and athletes living  in our neighborhood.  But the group that really stood out for me were the musicians and people in the film and television industry. Many musicians lived on   23rd street between Gramercy and Arlington. In the mid 50’s Johnnie Otis a musician who  had his own television show lived down the street. He invited his daughter’s Blue Bird troop, a branch of the Camp Fire Girls, on his show. I was one those little girls holla hooping at the CBS studio on Fairfax. In  the ‘60’s a family of musicians moved across the street from me on 23rd who played with Marvin Gaye and the Temptations.
While visiting my grandparents in 1978 I kept noticing a Rolls Royce and found out it was Marvin Gaye, who was also visiting his parents who lived in the neighborhood on Gramercy and 21st. Today on our block, we have a yearly jam session that has been a longstanding tradition in the neighborhood.


Although my neighbor, Ira Westley kept his day job at Hughes Aircraft, he was considered to be one of the best bass players around. He played with the Harry James Orchestra, Jack Teagarden, Horace Height, Herb Alpert and the Smothers Brothers. He also appeared in minor parts in Spartacus and Please Don’t Eat the Daisies where his wife Nancy appeared with him playing Beatnik musicians in the coffee house scene.
Mr. Westley died this October, 2008. When I got together with another neighbor who had also returned to live in  West
Adams, we reminisced about Mr. Westley. He loved wearing lederhosen and playing tuba for the Disneyland Marching and Polka bands. Because of him we and his children knew every inch of Disneyland blindfolded. A week prior to his demise Mr. Westley was playing his bass at a restaurant in Pasadena weekly.  We are happy to have befriended a grand man.

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