Sugar Hill 1936-1946

A Former Resident Remembers His Sugar Hill Childhood

(What Kids Did Before TV, Texting, Ipods, Video Games)

I lived in a neoclassical mansion at 2218 Harvard Boulevard from the age of six months to about seven years. The street was nicknamed Sugar Hill by the people across the street because they considered this block “fancy”.   I would always be up and outside real early and the far away rumbling sound of the street cars downtown and the rays of the early morning sun would always give an added special feeling to the mornings. Our house was huge.  On either side of the front porch, that resembled a

neo classical Greek temple, were tall cypress trees or some sort of thin pine tree.  To the left of the house was a Mulberry tree in the shape of a Turkish caravan tent.  I had all kinds of imaginative games with that tree. On the other side of the house was a driveway and parking area and over it was the biggest bush tree affair you could imagine.  It was so huge that I could climb up there and walk around in the branches that were lying flat and acting like a floor.  I was suspended in the air by those huge branches and I flew around up there like a human monkey.

The house was full of activity in the 1940s and I was there to see it all.  Hattie McDaniel from “Gone With the Wind” was our neighbor and we lived there when she received an Oscar. It was a big deal! I met her once in her driveway.   Her entourage always went straight into the house (a huge brown mansion) and so I just quit going over there.  But she talked to my mother. She told my mother she owned one suit when she auditioned for GONE WITH THE WIND.

My good friend, Wayne Simpson and I were regular customers of the BIJOU cinema. We’d watch the Saturday matinee serial westerns that played on along with the feature film.  I saw the BIJOU there on Adams about ten years ago. It was closed but still had the sign.

My mother would put a little Scottish cap on my head and I would beat all the other tricycles in the neighborhood races up and down Harvard in front of our mansion.  My tricycle had the biggest wheels and the thinnest and hardest tires so it was the fastest.  Nobody ever beat me.  I was king of the sidewalk tricycle racers!

The drug store on the corner of La Salle and Adams had the best comic book section.  With a certain amount of relish, I smelled the pages of each new Superman comic book and just shook with happiness. Christmas!!!  I got a pair of cowboy boots and chaps and guns and holsters and a cowboy hat.  Off I went to be a cowboy!  I went into the huge yards of the mansion next to where Mrs. Mudd lived.  I think she might have seen me out there in her yard playing like a cowboy.  She let me do anything I wanted in her magical yard of fern grass and little hills and koi ponds all over the place.

My grandpa had his office inside the door that led out to the parking area with its covered entrance that is similar to many mansions. He was the one who found me fast asleep on a driveway entrance down on the corner of La Salle and Harvard, where the two streets meet.   I remember climbing up there on the level part of the monumental entrance pillar and just lying down and falling asleep.  He found me and took me home.   I was only about five years old and I had free rein to wander and roam in the neighborhood to my heart’s content. My mother and grandmother didn’t seem to worry about me much.  I loved the smell of new grass in the vacant lots around Adams.

I remember the attack on Pearl Harbor but couldn’t make heads or tails what it was all about.  All I knew, it was very serious.  All the adults changed.  Nobody was much fun after that happened!  I finally joined the Navy at the age of six.  I have the photos to prove it.  I joined the Navy at Sax Fifth Avenue and they took my picture in my new Navy uniform.  I was an officer and was in charge of everything in my yard at the Harvard house. We had to put dark shades on all the windows for the air raids.  The sirens would go off and finally a Japanese plane crashed into the street somewhere in Los Angeles.  That was the rumor! I remember in Kindergarten at  the 24th Street School,  we had to salute the flag with our hands outstretched.  They quickly changed our hands to palms up when they found out that the HITLER salute was the same as ours---with palms down!   The school let us start a Victory Garden and we all found out how to plant seeds in the ground.

My mother Gwen became a real estate agent and I went with her to show houses. While she was doing her job I would wander up to the top of the hills and talk with the army guys who were the gun crews. They had huge cannons set up in the streets of Los Angeles.

I remember those days when I was just three years old, where we would take a walk around the huge yard and then out onto the front lawn where I began my running through the sprinklers on hot summer days with my grandmother watching over me. There was no traffic on Harvard during the daylight hours.  I had the entire neighborhood to myself.

Editors note: Robin’s daughter, Blair Baron, her children Lily and Liam Larsen, currently live close to Sugar Hill, making five generations of local residents. Blair, an actress, was hired to do a shoot that happened to be in the house her father grew up in!

 

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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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