Roma Tillman's Childhood 1926-1936

My dad, Harry Theobald and I moved to 2143 w. 21st Street (in Western Heights) in 1924 from Saint Louis when I was probably about four. My mother died in childbirth with me. We stayed until about 1936. It was a fun neighborhood with all kinds of stuff going on.

Uncle Fred Kingsbury and his wife, Aunt Para Love Kingsbury owned our house. He was a mining engineer with a couple of gold mines up in the mother lode country. He also had an office in the architects building, which I think was on Wilshire Boulevard at that time.  But he was a very interesting person; fun and a golfer.

 

We loved the house. There were these wonderful stairs that had a banister that you could slide down. Right up at the top of the stairs was Uncle Fred’s hobby room, you know, desk, big long worktable where he made radios and that kind of stuff.  There was a bedroom to the right and a bathroom, I think, and that’s where Mademoiselle our governess lived.  And then when you’re facing the house there’s a kind of a dormer window that comes out, which would be above the dining room, and that was my room. The two story garage was in the backyard. That’s where we had the monkey in a cage up on top of the garage.  There was a room upstairs in the garage which Uncle Fred used as a studio and he did a lot of filming and he had a darkroom up there. I remember there was a whole bunch of bamboo.  We’d climb up the steps and slide down the bamboo like a fireman’s pole.  There were some wonderful trees in the backyard, the bark was kind of shaggy-looking and kind of flat across the top of those trees. Elizabeth Crispen and I would climb up those trees and you could put an air mattress or something down on the top of the trees and we’d lay up there in the sun.  I remember that.  It was a nice backyard; it was fun. There was also an alley or a walk that went between 21st and 20th.

 

On our side of the street, next to us were the Bakers, who were the grandparents of my best friends, Betty Pat and Barbara Wallace.  And they had this wonderful three-story house.  When you’re facing the houses, it’s the one on the right.  They had a pool room up on the third floor and a balcony out from that.  We used to go out on the balcony and use the pool cues as javelins and thrown them down to the lawn.  Well, we put a stop to that after we broke a couple of pool cues. Across the street, in about the middle of the block, was – I don’t remember his name, but he wrote the comic strip The Katzenjammer Kids. And then there was a captain in the Salvation Army who lived down the street.

There were a lot of kids. We had the Slaters across the street which of course isn’t there anymore.  That’s where the freeway now cuts in. Peggy Slater had three brothers and they had this wonderful sailboat.  She did a lot of sailing and she became an outstanding woman sailor and won numerous races. Even though it was unusual for women to sail then, she became one of the top women sailors on the Pacific Coast.  Long Beach to Catalina and then over to Honolulu. The Slaters asked me to go along sometimes when Peggy was younger, before she started sailing herself.  We’d sail over to Catalina.

Then there were the Crispens and Elizabeth.  I’m still in touch with Elizabeth; she lives up at Mt. Shasta. Her father was a doctor.  They had a beautiful big house with a tennis court and an extra lot on the other side of the house, where my dad and Mrs. Crispen grew gladiolas and entered them in the flower show at the Biltmore Hotel. Took a lot of blue ribbons with the glads that they grew.

Over on 24th was the grade school, 24th Street School, of course long gone, but it was a typical, old-fashioned type of school building with the big wide steps up in front.  And they had three stumps from dead trees. We had flag-raising in the morning and the classes lined up out there.  If somebody had announcements or something, they’d get up on the stump. The principal, Miss Fouche, I thought she was ancient.  She had white hair in a bun at the back of her neck, and very strict.  And if anybody needed discipline, they’d have to go into her office and she’d make them sit there with their seat down into the wastebasket.  She didn’t put a dunce cap on their heads, but they were embarrassed.  Yeah, it was something.

Then there was Berkeley Square, which is no longer there. That would have been 22nd Street, I think.  There were gates going into that one block, and some nice homes in there.  I think Hal Roach of Hal Roach Studios, Our Gang comedy, lived over there and Tom Mix, the cowboy. I went to camp with Thomasina Mix, they called her Thomasina. They probably wanted a son so they called the girl, the second daughter or whatever, Thomasina Mix.

About twice a year the organ grinder would come through the neighborhood with a monkey, all dressed up in his little outfit. He used to come by every so often, and you could hear him coming down the block, Everybody’d come out and give the monkey nickels and dimes and stuff.  And the Good Humor Man, would come by and we’d all run out with our nickels and dimes.  You could get all kinds of different ice cream bars and ice cream cones and stuff like that.  And then, another thing, everybody had ice boxes out on their back porches.  You didn’t have refrigerators so the ice man would come and take that big huge thing of ice and put it in your ice box.  We’d all go out and get behind the ice truck and eat the chips of ice, suck on them.  That was always fun.  The Japanese had vegetable gardens out in the San Fernando Valley; wonderful, wonderful fresh vegetables.  The Japanese vegetable truck would come by probably every couple of days, and it was kind of an open truck with all the fresh vegetables out on it, and you’d go out and pick out what you wanted, and that was always good. There was a milkman and in the beginning the milk man’s wagon was pulled by a horse. I remember the milk man would let me climb on the back of the horse and ride down to the end of the block when he was delivering milk.   The Baruch Baking Company would deliver the bread.

All the kids of the neighborhood used to get the little newspaper called “The Teeny Weeny News”, a four-page foldover thing, with news about the neighborhood. The parents started it and all of us kids used to write stuff for it.  People would write stories about the neighborhood and about people that were on a trip someplace, or the kids playing at a baseball game. We included Berkeley Square and up to 24th Street School. It went on for quite some time.

 

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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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