The Glory That Was Spring Street is a chronological narrative of the the personalities, triumphs and scandals which shaped early downtown Los Angeles, transforming it from a renowned and avoided City of Devils to the performance and production center for live theatre, vaudeville and silent movies. The junction of Spring and Main Streets was the cornerstone of this social frenzy prior to the ultimate emergence of Hollywood in the 1930's as downtown's successor.
The chronology of downtown Los Angeles is chronicled into four sections:
ACT 1 Setting The Stage (1830-1870)
The chronological narrative begins with the establishment of the El Pueblo de La Reina de Los Angeles in approximately 1830. At that time, there were only a thousand American settlers clustered around the junction of Main and Spring Streets. This fork in the road no longer exists being eclipsed by the 1926 construction of the Los Angeles City Hall. Early Los Angeles, The City of the Angels, was denounced worldwide as The City of the Devils. It was considered the most wicked, western area in America, renowned for crime, corruption, debauchery, gambling, lynching, murders and rebellion.
ACT 2 Live Theatre Era (1870-1900)
So intense were the needs of the El Pueblo founders and followers that they were suckers for any kind of diversion including touring tank troupes, evangelistic tent meetings, deadbeat carnivals and medicine man shows.
Soon the big city promoters realized that due to their isolation, Angelinos were sure fire bookings and guaranteed a good payday. Equating the law of supply and demand, simple banquet halls evolved into elaborate theaters. Before qualifying as the Great White Way of the West, the Los Angeles theatrical beat went through three major stages. The arc of the theatrical spotlights ranged from Main to Spring to Broadway in tune with the music orchestrated by the pied pipers of real estate.
Long before Thomas Edison invented film making machinery, Los Angeles became the bustling live entertainment capital of the Western States, second only to San Francisco. At one time or another, every legendary Broadway (New York City) play and player performed along this Great White Way of the West.
ACT 3 Silent Pictures (1900-1920)
So legendary was the evil reputation of Los Angeles that the original New York film fathers tried to simulate LA's notoriety by fabricating Westerns in the security of their Eastern studios. The motion picture business went west only when the Edison Patents monopoly trust legally chased its independent imitators away from their protected turf.
Quite coincidentally, the 1906 premier of the Alexandria Hotel matched the arrival of the first antitrust movie makers. This romantic marriage, legitimate and illegitimate, was to endure for a quarter century. Coupled with the thriving migration of both stage and screen hopefuls, the Alexandria became the theatrical capital of Western America.
Practically every silent motion picture studio negotiated its Los Angeles roots in this grand hotel and operated within a few miles of its romantic revolving doors.
ACT 4 Beginning of the End (1920-1930)
The tremendous outgrowth of Los Angeles brought about the usual demise of urbanization. At the beginning of 1920, Los Angeles' population was 500,000. By 1930, the count was a million and a half. With prosperity in high gear during the Roaring 20's, suburbia beckoned. Western Los Angeles became synonymous with motion picture progress: Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Brentwood and Bel Air. During the 1920's, new construction reached unbelievable heights.
This successful innovation compounded with the Wall Street Crash of 1929, brought down the curtain on the Spring Street as a major industry center.
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How do you capsule the life of an individual whose biography eclipses the confines of conventionality and at times, believability? Marshall Wright represented many personas to an equally multitude of personalities he encountered throughout his 80+ year life.
Certain individuals defy labeling. Marshall was a hotelier, boxer, promoter, nightclub host, behind-the-scenes organizer, handler, writer, confidant and frequently a tightrope walker throughout his life. He represented a kaleidoscope of images; depending on what prism of the glass you viewed him from.
He was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio with a brother, Buddy and sister, Marcella. By his own account, he was a promising boxer (as was Buddy) and his greatest claim to prominence was being on the receiving end of a wicked right from future Heavyweight Champion Ezzard Charles (who he likely later befriended with his later boxing promotional activities). Marshall had a soft spot throughout his life for boxers and wrestlers and through him; I met several world champions during the period of our closet association between 1980-1984.
He left the Midwest for Los Angeles to audition for the movie Golden Boy , a part that eluded him, but he remained for the next stage of his life, working in the hospitality industry. Over the next decade he held management positions at the Stowell Hotel in downtown Los Angeles and very prominent Ambassador Hotel and Coconut Grove Nightclub, the jewel of the Hollywood glamour era in the early 1950 s.
Marshall was a charmed prince amidst a jeweled kingdom of entertainment industry royalty. He was a regular item in Louella Parson s gossip column and counted amongst his friends, personalities such as Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, Jack Dempsey, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and Sugar Ray Robinson to namedrop a very select few. He hosted visiting royalty and most of the passing prominent that filtered through the Los Angeles scene during that era.
In his later years, Marshall was a General Manager for numerous Hotel Properties in the United States and Cuba. He retired due to health complications in the 1990's and settled in Mexico before returning to Las Vegas and Los Angeles where he died in 2003.
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