Another Deadly Chicago Heat Wave: 1916

Scroll down or click these links for appendixes on CHICAGO MORTALITY TRENDS and WEATHER RECORDS; and SOURCE NOTES.

THIS MONTH—JULY 2020—WAS THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF CHICAGO’S MOST NOTORIOUS HEAT WAVE, which killed an estimated 700 people during a scorching week in 1995. While that tragedy is well documented, a similar catastrophe from earlier in the city’s history is largely forgotten: In the summer of 1916, several hundred people died during one of the hottest stretches of weather Chicago had ever seen. Depending on how you calculate the death toll, it may have been more than a thousand.

On July 29, 1916, the telephone rang over and over again at the desk of Charles Forsberg, a clerk in the Cook County coroner’s office.

“It kept ringing constantly for nearly two hours at one stretch, as the doctors turned in report after report of deaths caused by the heat,” Forsberg told the Chicago Daily News. “I felt myself beginning to grow faint as I sat at the instrument and sank to the floor. The next thing I knew other clerks were throwing water over my face and head.”1

Meanwhile, dozens of patients were arriving at Cook County Hospital suffering from heat prostration. Most of them were comatose. “I have touched patients whose skins felt like hot roast,” said Dr. Karl Meyer, the hospital’s medical warden.2

Even before the worst of the heat struck Chicago, July 1916 had already been hot and unusually sunny. From July 1 through July 25, temperatures averaged 3.9 degrees above normal.

Note how the blue lines—showing the range of temperatures each day—go completely above the normal temperature range during a few days in late July 1916. This graphic was generated by xmACIS2, an online weather data tool by the Regional Climate Centers, the National Centers for Environmental Information, and the National Weather Service.

Not a single cloud was seen blocking the sun in the skies over the Loop from July 3 through July 11, as meteorologists recorded nine straight days with 100 percent of possible sunshine, setting a new all-time record for Chicago. And it didn’t rain much that July—only 2.2 inches, or 61 percent of the usual rainfall.3

A wall of hot winds and tropical humidity, which the weather experts called a “Bermuda High,” swept up from the Atlantic Ocean across the continent.4 Although Lake Michigan often helps to cool off Chicago during warm weather, that didn’t happen during this heat wave.

“The city has suffered for want of lake breezes,” Charles L. Mitchell, a forecaster at the federal Weather Bureau’s observatory in the Loop, told the Daily News. “Winds have been mostly from the south and southwest, and our advantageous position by the lake has not operated in our favor.” 5

In mid-July, newspapers began reporting about people dying from the heat. 6 City health officials counted seven such deaths during the week of July 16 to 22.7 In that one week, Chicago surpassed its tally for 1915, when only four people had died from “effects of heat” during the entire year.8

Another stretch of days with 100 percent sunshine began on July 21, 1916.3

“PEOPLE OUGHT NOT STAY INDOORS,” warned the city librarian, Henry E. Legler.9 He had good reason for offering that advice—Chicago’s indoor spaces were stiflingly hot.

Air conditioning would not become common in American homes until decades later,10 and only a few buildings in Chicago had effective cooling systems in 1916: Meatpacking companies near the Union Stock Yard had coolers where beef was stored at a temperature of 38 degrees.11 And hotels in the Loop cooled their restaurants with early versions of air-conditioning technology, using “washed ice air” and carbon dioxide coils,12 and keeping cafés at 65 or 70 degrees.

When the Cook County coroner urged hotels to relax their rule requiring men to wear coats in restaurants during the heat wave, hotel managers said, “Oh, they would be chilly with their coats off.” But the Daily News reported that hotels did give special permission for men to remove their coats inside the less fancy grill rooms and cafés where the presence of women was forbidden.1

How could you cool off during a heat wave in 1916? City health officials offered advice to Chicagoans: “If you feel dizzy, weak and exhausted, seek the shade, lie down and wet your head. Drink buttermilk and lemonade. Drink plenty of water. It will make you sweat and help to keep you cool.”13

Chicagoans might get some relief by using electric fans, which were becoming more common in the early 20th century.14 Marshall Field & Co. was selling an eight-inch oscillating fan for $10.50 (adjusted for inflation, $250 in today’s dollars). “Make possible the instant production, day and night, of a cooling breeze,” an advertisement for the Loop department store promised.15

During the 1916 heat wave, many Chicago stores sold out of electric fans.4

An advertisement in the Chicago Daily Tribune, July 24, 1916.

But electricity itself was still something of a novelty—only a third of Chicago families had electrical power in their homes, according to historian Harold L. Platt’s book The Electric City.16 As the Chicago Daily Tribune noted, “ice and electric fans were little known” in the city’s “congested districts.”4

People without electrical power in their homes might buy fans with motors powered by alcohol or gas17 A Chicago company called Lake Breeze Motor was selling one such device. “Runs on Alcohol,” an advertisement explained. “Why swelter when you can Keep Cool Day or Night for a Nickel.”18

An advertisement in the Chicago Daily News, July 28, 1916.

Buying blocks of ice was another way of cooling off. “Don’t forget that ice is salvation to babies,” the Chicago Department of Health declared—a piece of advice published in the Chicago Defender.19

The city had 2,771 licensed ice dealers in 1916, many of them using horse-drawn wagons. Chicago—with a population of 2.5 million people—used 2 million tons of ice a year. More than half of it was cut from 50 lakes and rivers in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin during the winter and then stored until summer, but an increasing amount came from about 30 local ice-manufacturing plants.20

During the 1916 heat wave, there weren’t enough drivers to deliver ice to everyone who wanted it.21 And the horses pulling ice wagons were collapsing from the heat—as many as 200 reportedly died in just one day.22

Describing the West Side’s densely populated immigrant neighborhoods, the Tribune observed: “In many cases the poorer homes have no place to keep more than twenty-five or fifty pounds of ice at a time and this supply is soon exhausted.”23

In the South Chicago neighborhood, police arrested 12-year-old Johnnie Kurtz when he picked up a piece of ice in the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad yards. According to the Tribune, Johnnie’s mother had been longing for some ice to cool off her eight children in the family’s small apartment at 3208 East 93rd Street.24

Lake Michigan’s waters were another source of relief, and Chicagoans flocked to the beaches. After several people drowned, local officials hurried to train more lifeguards.25

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Drowning was a common peril in Chicago during that era: An average of 131 people died each year in accidental drownings from 1900 to 1920, plus an average of 17 drownings ruled as suicides. (These figures don’t include the 812 people who perished when the Eastland excursion ship capsized in the Chicago River in 1915.)26

In comparison, 25 people drowned off Chicago’s lakefront in 2019, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.27

THE TEMPERATURE INCHED UP PAST 80 between 2 and 3 a.m. on Wednesday, July 26, 1916. It was not an extraordinarily hot day, with a high of just 89 degrees. But as night fell, the mercury in thermometers barely budged. It was still 84 degrees at midnight.

That was the beginning of a five-day stretch when the temperature never dropped below that 80-degree mark on the thermometer, depriving Chicagoans of any chance to cool off at nighttime.

Up until this moment in history, Chicago had never experienced a day when the thermometer stayed above 81.7 degrees during an entire 24-hour period. The city broke that record on Thursday, July 27, 1916, when the temperature never got any lower than 82. That was the reading on the government’s thermometer at 6 a.m.3

It was another cloudless day, and the wind was blowing five miles an hour from the northeast. “For a day the name ‘Windy City’ was a lie,” the Tribune remarked. “There wasn’t even enough breeze to put the wave in heat wave, so the torridity just stuck.”28 The temperature reached a high of 100 at 12:48 p.m. before going back down to 99 degrees eight minutes later.

The Day Book, July 27, 1916.

The U.S. government’s official thermometer was in the top floor of the Chicago Federal Building, a 297-foot-high structure in the block bounded by Adams, Clark, and Dearborn Streets and Jackson Boulevard—now the site of the Chicago Federal Center plaza.29

Chicago Federal Building, circa 1910.
Chicago Daily News photos from 1921 and 1922 show U.S. Weather Bureau meteorologists at work on the roof of the Chicago Federal Building. From left: Charles A. Donnel and Professor Henry J. Cox with equipment on the roof; Cox and a Professor Haynes standing on a platform; and Professor Haynes standing near the ledge with a sun recorder. Photos posted with permission from the Chicago History Museum (Collection IDs: DN-0075004, DN-0073438, DN-0073436). See the Chicago Collections website for more images.

But it was hotter on the streets below. When the official reading up in the tower was 100, a thermometer on the street registered 103.4 An office boy tried to gauge the heat in a sunny spot on Halsted Street, but his thermometer only went up to 110—and the temperature seemed to be higher. Some people in outlying neighborhoods said their thermometers showed it was as hot as 125 in the sun.30


Charles Hall, a 63-year-old retired carpenter, dropped dead while he was watching a ballgame on the Northwest Side.31 George Nagler, a 58-year-old railroad section hand who lived at 10810 South Torrence Avenue, was “overcome in the street.”

W.J. Russell, a 37-year-old mail carrier who lived at 4324 West Monroe Street, collapsed in a street near his home.32 J.W. Hicks, an 82-year-old resident of St. Johns, Michigan, died as he was sitting in a chair and waiting for a train in the Illinois Central Railroad’s station at the south end of Grant Park.33

During July, 158 patients suffering from sunstroke and heat exhaustion were admitted to Cook County Hospital, most of them during the month’s final days. Some of them had felt sick for days, experiencing headaches and dizziness. Others hadn’t noticed any symptoms until an attack hit them instantaneously. A medical journal article described the experiences of several patients who ended up at Cook County Hospital:

“One teamster left his wagon to get a drink of water; he felt perfectly well when he left his seat; as he stooped to drink from the fountain, he felt himself slipping, and remembered nothing further until he awoke in the hospital. He had a temperature of 110° on admittance.

“A laborer who also had a temperature of 110° stated that he was cleaning street cars at a terminal barn, and that he was just leaving one car to enter another when he lost consciousness. He insisted that he knew nothing after leaving the car, and that he felt perfectly well up to that moment, and had no unpleasant sensations then.

“A number of patients who had severe headaches and who were dizzy went walking in effort to find relief, and dropped in the streets; many were lying in bed when they lost consciousness.”

Out of those 158 patients at the county hospital, 129 were in comas when they were admitted. Thirty-eight had body temperatures of 110 degrees or higher—some as high as 114.

Chicago Daily Tribune, July 31, 1916.

“All patients with a temperature of 103° or over were immediately placed in a tub of tap water, the level of which was just high enough to cover the body except the head, which was supported in a hammock packed with ice,” physicians Harry Gauss and Karl Meyer wrote in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences.

“Vigorous friction was applied to the entire body by four or more persons; ice was freely added to the water, the friction being constantly maintained; the temperature was taken rectally every minute. When the temperature reached 102° the patient was removed from the bath, wrapped in sheets or blankets, and returned to the ward.”

When patients emerged from their heat-wave comas, some of them were unable to speak, making only “inarticulate, guttural, meaningless sounds.” Others hallucinated: “one patient was afraid that his wife and daughter were trying to kill him, and another asked who was constantly calling his name.”

In spite of all the hospital’s efforts, 70 of those 158 patients died.34

Chicago Daily Tribune, July 27, 1916.


The official cause of death was usually diarrhea, but Dr. William Augustus Evans, a former Chicago health commissioner, blamed the heat wave. “The large number of babies dying in the last few days is a result of the heat and humidity,” he wrote. “When a baby’s bowels get out of order in hot weather the mother should stop feeding the child at once and send for a doctor.”36

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Chicago’s health commissioner, Dr. John Dill Robertson, said parents made the problem worse by treating babies with syrups and paregoric (or camphorated tincture of opium).

“Paregoric has killed more babies than the hot summer sun,” Robertson said. “The most common cause of death in infants is diarrhea, and it is frequently the administering of soothing sirups [sic] or home remedies that makes the disease fatal. The ‘dope’ quiets the child but holds the poison that caused the illness in the system.”37

(A Chicago Reader story by Jeff Nichols profiles Robertson, known as a crackpot who believed bathing was an unhealthy habit that encouraged infectious diseases.)38

Paregoric tablets from the early 1900s. National Museum of American History.

“Hot weather is killing scores of infants in Chicago,” the Daily News wrote. “The crowded districts are full of tiny children gasping for breath.”

The newspaper urged parents to bring ailing infants to the Daily News Fresh Air Fund Sanitarium, on the lakeshore near Fullerton Avenue. In addition to free medical care and advice, “Your baby can get a day’s relief from the heat resting in a hammock in the pavilion by the lake,” the newspaper said.39 (The shelter was replaced by a permanent structure in 1920, which is now the Chicago Park District’s Theater on the Lake.)

Robertson said more than 60 percent of the infant deaths occurred in “foreign settlements and congested neighborhoods.”37

Back of the Yards, the immigrant neighborhood near the stockyards, was one of the areas hit hardest by infant mortality, according to the Daily News.40

Meanwhile, the Tribune reported: “In the congested districts of the west side hundreds of babies are at the point of death from the heat. Pure milk and ice are needed to keep them alive.”23

According to the Tribune, health officials said that 90 percent of the deaths were caused by “Insanitary alleys, lack of proper screening from flies, too much ice water, and failure of parents to give the children warm water or lemonade at frequent intervals during the day.”41

Chicago Daily News, July 28, 1916.

IT OFTEN SOUNDED AS IF HEALTH AUTHORITIES AND NEWSPAPERS WERE BLAMING CHICAGO’S POOR IMMIGRANTS for the difficulties that they faced—a foreshadowing of what happened in 1995.

In his book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, sociologist Eric Klinenberg describes how Mayor Richard M. Daley and other city officials sometimes directed blame at victims during the 1995 heat wave. “We’re talking about people who die because they neglect themselves,” said Daniel Alvarez, who was the city’s human services commissioner.42

During the 1916 heat wave, the Daily News quoted Dr. S.W. Menclewski, a physician who served patients in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.

“And underlying every other element that enters into the frightful health conditions of that neighborhood is the ignorance of the mothers,” said Menclewski, a Polish immigrant. “They do not know how to feed their children. They do not know how to keep them clean. They ‘dope’ them with soothing sirups, let the milk and food spoil for lack of care as much as for lack of conveniences, and call the doctor only at the last minute. Seventy per cent of the baby cases in that quarter are hopeless when the doctor arrives.”43

Gauss and Meyer, the doctors at Cook County Hospital, believed that alcoholism played a role in many of the heat wave’s deaths.

When they questioned 25 patients suffering from the heat, 23 said they’d drunk beer during the 24 hours before they got sick, in amounts varying from one glass to one gallon, and some had also drunk hard liquor. All but one of those patients had a habit of drinking daily. And the doctors reported that some of the other patients—the unconscious ones—had a strong odor of alcohol.34

“I should say 99 per cent of our cases were directly or indirectly due to alcohol,” Dr. Meyer told the Tribune. “Beer and booze have two effects: They increase the bodily supply of heat and they lower the powers of resistance. The heat regulating center in the brain becomes deranged and the almost inevitable result is prostration…

“And if it weren’t for alcohol they probably wouldn’t have been here. If alcohol was taken out of the world, I believe the number of cases of all kinds at the county hospital would be reduced by half. After what I’ve seen in this hospital I don’t understand how any doctor can sanction its use.”2

Gauss and Meyer raised a valid point about the dangers of consuming alcohol during very hot weather, but they also seemed to be engaging in another sort of victim-blaming.

Meyer’s commentary reflected a debate that was raging in the United States at the time: Should alcohol be outlawed? The following year, the U.S. Senate proposed the 18th Amendment, prohibiting “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.” After it was ratified, the Prohibition Era began in 1920.

ON FRIDAY, JULY 28, 1916, THE LOW WAS 84—breaking that record for the highest low temperature, which Chicago had set just one day earlier. The high was 97. The relative humidity hit its highest point of the week, 66, which may have made it feel even hotter than the day before.

The wind was blowing six miles an hour from the east, as it would for the next three days. Despite blowing across Lake Michigan’s water, it didn’t seem to bring any relief.3

The heat took a toll on Chicago’s workers. Those 158 patients admitted to Cook County Hospital included 85 laborers, 12 teamsters, and eight carpenters, along with firemen, peddlers, laundry workers, housewives, cooks, and clerks.34

The newspapers reported on laborers dying, such as John O’Toole, 29, of 10 West 57th Street, who was driving a wagon at 15th and Canal Streets in the South Loop when he fell off and died.44

John Taylor, a 58-year-old teamster who lived at 3759 South California Avenue, died when he was overcome by heat while working in a coal yard.32

Ignatz Tarcinski, 29, of 2312 Lister Avenue, collapsed in an International Harvester Company factory and died in a hospital a day later.45

Temperatures soared to 150 degrees inside the Illinois Steel Company’s plant in South Chicago.5 Several steel mills closed when thousands of employees walked off the job.28

Around the city, construction sites were abandoned by carpenters and other workers. “I could not blame them,” said Charles W. Secord, a general contractor. “… they quit when the temperature reached 118 degrees.”40

Swooning in rapid succession, 30 women and girls fainted while working at counters inside the Fair, a department store at the northwest corner of State and Adams Streets. Employees complained that the Fair didn’t bother to cool off its own workers with electric fans, even as it sold the devices to customers.46

Many stores and banks in the Loop let employees go home early. “They invariably go straight home and get off their high collars and starched shirts,” said F.J. Bridges, general manager of Siegel, Cooper & Co., a department store at the southeast corner of State and Van Buren Streets.4

Chicago Daily Tribune, July 30, 1916.

A THOUSAND HORSES DROPPED DEAD ON STREETS all across the city, officials reported. Health officials urged people not to make their horses move any faster than a walk. But wagon drivers said they still had to make their deliveries for their employers, giving them little chance to rest their horses.

“Certainly during this hot weather horses as well as human beings should be put upon half time,” the Chicago Department of Health remarked in its weekly bulletin. “Horse flesh is valuable. Conserve these useful agents of transportation. You do not have to feel sorry for an automobile; but for the horse stricken down in the street because it has been overworked and overdriven, there is the sympathy element.”47

A fire station in the Loop—Engine Company No. 13, at Dearborn and Lake Streets—set up an “improvised shower bath” for horses. The firemen stood outside the station with their hoses at the ready, offering to spray water at any horses being driven down the streets.48

As hundreds of horses succumbed to the heat, many were left lying in the streets for days, reportedly because teamsters were on strike against the Canal Melting Company, which had a contract with the city to remove and render animal carcasses.

“A stench so sickening that it caused people to walk blocks out of their way hit the West Side today,” the Day Book newspaper reported. “It came from the bodies of dead horses which littered the streets so thickly as to remind one of a field in the wake of a battle. It is estimated that 500 horses dropped dead with the heat within the past few days. The bodies of most of these are still lying where they fell—feasts for flies and vermin.”49

It wasn’t unusual for horses to die in Chicago’s streets during that era. In the end, the total number removed in 1916 was 8,031—an increase of just 162 compared with the previous year.50

Newspapers reported that dogs were dying in the heat as well.33 By the end of 1916, the total number of dead dogs taken from Chicago’s streets reached 15,132—a 15 percent increase over the prior year.50

ON SATURDAY, JULY 29, CHICAGO ONCE AGAIN SET A NEW RECORD for the highest minimum temperature the city had ever experienced. The temperature inched down to 85 degrees at 6 a.m., and then it started climbing again, heading to a high of 96.

On Sunday, July 30, the city recorded yet another remarkably warm low temperature: 84 degrees at 6 a.m. And then the temperature climbed over the next 10 hours.

The wind shifted directions, blowing five miles an hour from the southwest.3 According to the Tribune, it “brought that stifling furnace breath from the plains and the Mississippi valley.”51 At 4 p.m., the temperature peaked at 102 degrees—or to be more precise, 101.7.

A cartoon by John T. McCutcheon from the Chicago Daily Tribune, July 29, 1916.

Sunday was the 10th consecutive day with 100 percent sunshine, breaking Chicago’s all-time record—a record that had been set just a few weeks earlier. July 1916 was the sunniest month Chicago meteorologists had ever recorded, with the sun shining during 95 percent of all daylight hours. Twenty-four days during that July had 100 percent sunshine.3

During this stretch of hot days, the relative humidity ranged from 54 to 66 percent. The heat index—which today’s meteorologists use as a way of measuring “how hot it really feels”—may have gone as high as 129, according to the National Weather Service’s Heat Index Calculator. But the heat index describes what it feels like in the shade. According to the weather service, it might feel as much as 15 degrees hotter in exposure to full sunshine.

WGN meteorologist Tom Skilling calculated that the heat index probably peaked at 115 to 120 degrees during the hottest days of the 1916 heat wave, staying between 90 and 95 at night. “The heat and humidity were stifling, exacerbated by cloudless skies that allowed unrelenting sunshine to bake the city,” Skilling wrote in 2006.52

REMARKABLY, THE CHICAGO WHITE SOX PLAYED EVERY DAY during the heat wave’s worst stretch—playing doubleheaders on back-to-back days that weekend, and winning all four of those games against the Philadelphia Athletics. White Sox owner Charles Comiskey allowed the “brave bleacherites” who were sitting under the sun’s glare to switch seats, moving over to shaded spots under the pavilion.53

The Chicago Fire Department opened hydrants and sprayed water at hot pavement and the sides of brick buildings in various neighborhoods, including Back of the Yards; the West Side’s immigrant “ghetto” along Halsted Street; and the Wicker Park-Bucktown area around North Avenue, Milwaukee Avenue, and Robey Street (now Damen Avenue). Children and grownups joyfully jumped into the sprays of water.

“I sure do feel sorry for the people in the crowded districts,” Fire Chief Thomas O’Connor remarked, “and if we can help them I’m ready to go to the limit.”54

Chicago Daily News, July 29, 1916.

People waited in line for hours to get onto Chicago’s crowded beaches. According to one estimate, 180,000 people went to the beaches during the course of a single day.51 On another day during the heat wave, the Daily News reported that a million people—nearly half the city’s population—had flocked to the lakefront.

“The streets leading to the beach were filled with streams of people, staggering, perspiring, panting,” the newspaper reported. “They looked half dead, refugees from the heat. Automobiles loaded beyond capacity with men and women dressed for the water, flitted over the boulevards.”55

Chicago Daily Tribune, July 30, 1916.

A “RACE RIOT” BROKE OUT AT A BEACH IN JACKSON PARK—a foreshadowing of the violence that would erupt three years later on another South Side beach, sparking Chicago’s deadly race riot of 1919 (which I wrote about for Chicago magazine.)

According to the Tribune, 200 white men fought with five Black men and five Black women at the beach on that Saturday. “One of the Negroes, it is said, made an insulting remark to one of the white men who was passing,” the Tribune reported, adding that the police arrested two Black men and one white man.56

Chicago Defender, Aug. 5, 1916.

The Chicago Defender, the city’s leading Black newspaper, told a much different story about events in Jackson Park, reporting that two Black youths, Roy Moss and Robert Anderson, were in the water at 8 p.m. on that Saturday, June 29.

“The boys were innocently playing around in the water when a number of white boys began to throw water upon them,” the Defender wrote. “Our boys threw water back and all came out of the water. The white boys began throwing rocks. This caused some excitement. The police came and merely told the white boys, who were the aggressors, to move on, and the police did nothing to protect Moss or Anderson. …

“All the participants were interviewed and they said it was an uncalled for attack of the white boys to create disturbance. They have doing this ever since the hot weather; their aim being to keep our young people from enjoying the beach at various places and confining them to a certain district.”57

A day after the disturbance in Jackson Park, “the police were compelled to use harsh measures to force the Negroes from the beaches,” the Tribune reported. “In the morning several attacks were made on Negroes, who defied white bathers’ orders to leave. One Negro was badly beaten. White bathers, however, insisted they would take no chances on the possibilities of more insults to women, as alleged to have been made by Negroes the previous day.”58

The Defender commented: “It must be borne in mind that our people pay taxes for the use of the beach and must use it at any time. … Since there seems to be concerted action on part of some of the lower class of whites to intimidate, humiliate and cause disturbances with a view of making bad sentiment against us, it is our duty to resent this and see that every right guaranteed us at the beach is enjoyed. The time is ripe to put a stop to this and see that it does not occur at any of the public beaches.”57

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Chicago Daily Tribune, July 31, 1916.

Meanwhile, on the city’s North Side, the Lincoln Park Commission tried to limit swimming hours at Oak Street Beach, where the wealthy residents of nearby mansions often complained about the crowds of bathers.59 But according to the Tribune, park officials gave in to the clamor from “tenement dwellers” who wanted to swim. They “passed a rule that people in the neighborhood, if properly attired, might have a dip in the lake between 5 and 7 a.m.”

Sometime after 7 a.m., a police officer in a white rowboat ordered hundreds of swimmers to get out of the lake, shouting: “Out of here! Out of here!” Some children in the water yelled back: “Tip him out!” “Tell him to go to hell!” “This is a free country!” The swimmers prevailed.60

Some of Chicago’s park commissions enforced an 11 p.m. curfew, arresting people who tried to sleep in parks.61 But as the heat wave continued, authorities grew more lenient.48

Officials estimated that 50,000 people spent the night in parks,21 including 8,000 to 10,000 in Grant Park, the lawn between downtown Chicago and Lake Michigan.62 Apparently, it wasn’t that unusual for people to spent the night in Grant Park—the Daily News called it “Chicago’s traditional open hotel for migrants and wanderers.”

But it was remarkable to see sleeping bodies covering practically the entire park, leaving little space for people to walk in between. Occasionally, someone would get up and try moving closer to the lake, in the hope of catching a breeze.

“Thousands of Grant Park’s guests for the night were ‘down and outers’ from the barrel houses of South State and Clark street, which emptied earlier than usual,” the Daily News reported. “Sprinkled among them were others who left their hotels in disgust and sought rest under the sky.”

Across the city, families slept on fire escapes and roofs, or on the ground between the streets and sidewalks.63 Even amid Drexel Boulevard’s mansions in the Kenwood neighborhood, the well-to-do residents “rushed out on to their lawns in bathrobes and rolled up for the night,” the Tribune reported.62

Chicago Daily News, July 31, 1916.

THE HEAT WAVE RELENTED ON THAT MONDAY, JULY 31, when the temperature finally dipped below 80 after 10 a.m. The wind changed direction and picked up a bit of speed, blowing 16 miles an hour from the north. And the temperature stayed in the 70s for the rest of the day.3

The worst of the heat was over. And yet, people continued dying from the effects of the heat wave. Over the next four days, city health officials counted 163 deaths from heat prostrations and 111 from diarrhea.35

Chicago wasn’t quite as hot, but temperatures remained above normal. It had been the hottest July meteorologists had ever recorded in Chicago up until that time, with temperatures averaging six degrees above normal. And the following month was the warmest August in Chicago history at that time. Another stretch of days—August 19, 20, and 21—had low temperatures of 80 degrees or higher.3

And the summer’s death toll kept rising.64

HOW MANY PEOPLE DID THE 1916 HEAT WAVE KILL? The answer to that question depends on how you define the time period of the heat wave: Was it several days at the end of July? Or did the heat wave extend across much of July and August?

The Chicago Department of Health tallied 535 deaths from heat during that year—ranging from July 16 through September 16. That was far higher than Chicago’s deaths tolls from heat-related causes in other years during the early 20th century. In other years between 1904 and 1922, the average number of heat-related deaths was 26. The second-highest death toll was in 1913, when heat caused 79 deaths.

If we define the 1916 heat wave with a narrower time frame, the city recorded 363 deaths during a two-week period including the worst of the heat.

But those numbers don’t include deaths indirectly caused by the heat. In July and August 1916, diarrhea and enteritis killed 1,191 children under 2 years old. That was 533 more than the infant death toll for those same illnesses in July and August 1915.

The heat wave hit Chicago’s immigrants especially hard. Immigrants were roughly a third of the city’s population—somewhere between the 35.7 percent reported by the 1910 census and the 29.8 percent reported by the 1920 census. But immigrants were 68 percent of those who died from heat. (Some of that discrepancy might be caused by differences in how local officials and the U.S. Census Bureau identified people.)

The data for infants who died in 1916 from diarrhea and enteritis show a similar pattern: 82 percent were children of immigrants.

The Chicagoans who died from heat were overwhelmingly male—85 percent were men and boys. Perhaps that’s because men were more likely to be doing manual labor during the heat wave. Two-thirds of the victims were men between 30 and 60 years old. And the mortality rate increased across the age spectrum for people over 5 years old.

Age groupDeaths from
heat in 1916
Deaths per
100,000 people
Under 12348.63
Under 52811.12
5 to 931.26
10 to 1920.51
20 to 29366.68
30 to 3912326.63
40 to 4912339.74
50 to 5911657.40
60 to 695253.32
70 to 7936103.93
80 to 8936205.40
90 to 9900
100 and over00

To calculate the death rate, the 1920 census total for each age group was used, adjusting for the 8 percent in population growth that Chicago experienced between 1916 and 1920, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

One question is why the heat wave’s official death toll was so low for Black Chicagoans. Out of those 535 deaths from heat-related causes, only 10 people—or 1.87 percent—were Black.

Chicago’s population was at least 2 percent Black, as documented in the 1910 U.S. census. The percentage was almost certainly higher by 1916. Millions of African Americans were moving north during that decade, in the early years of the Great Migration. By 1920, Chicago’s population would be 4.1 percent Black.65

Were the deaths of Black people in the 1916 heat wave undercounted or misdiagnosed? Or is there another explanation for why that number is so low?

In their American Journal of the Medical Sciences article, Gauss and Meyer seemed surprised that even one Black patient had died of heat-related causes at Cook County Hospital. “One of the American-born patients was a negro, who died several hours after admittance,” they wrote. “This is interesting in view of the often expressed view that negroes possess a special immunity against the effects of heat.”34

Gauss and Meyer were referring to an old myth: the notion that African Americans had a special physical trait protecting them from the effects of hot weather. Before the Civil War, some Southern doctors had used this claim to justify forcing enslaved Black people to work in extreme heat. One physician said that an African American was “protected by the very nature of his constitution from the unhealthiness of hot climates.”66 In 2019, a headline in the New York Times called this theory one of the “Myths about physical racial differences were used to justify slavery — and are still believed by doctors today.”67

Are there any physiological differences in how people of different races react to heat? A study by the U.S. Army looked at heat illness hospitalizations and deaths for soldiers between 1980 through 2002, concluding: “African Americans and Hispanic Americans are less likely than Caucasians to be hospitalized for heat illness.” But the study also noted: “Recruits from northern states are more susceptible to heat illness than recruits from southern states. … Being unacclimatized to hot weather has been identified as an important factor in heat intolerance and heat illness.”68 Many of the Black people living in Chicago in 1916 had come from the South. Is it possible they were simply more accustomed to hot weather?

Research has shown that African Americans and other people of color are especially vulnerable during heat waves. In Chicago’s 1995 heat wave, “African Americans had the highest proportional death rates of any ethnoracial group,” Klinenberg wrote in Heat Wave. “They were significantly more vulnerable to the catastrophe than whites…”69

ANOTHER WAY OF LOOKING AT THE 1916 DATA IS EXCESS MORTALITY. This method was used in 1995, when there was debate over the death toll for that year’s heat wave. The Cook County coroner counted 465 heat-related deaths in the week of July 14–20, 1995, or 521 deaths during the month. But epidemiologist Steven Whitman noticed an increase in other deaths in Chicago during the same time period. He calculated that the number of “excess deaths” was 739.70

What can we learn from looking at the excess mortality in 1916?

The total number of people who died in Chicago that July and August—of all causes—was 6,388. Comparing that number with the death tolls for those months in 1914, 1915, 1917, and 1918 (and adjusting for population growth) shows an excess mortality of 1,119 people.

In other words, the death toll for those two hot months was 1,119 higher than you’d expect based on the pattern across those five years.

YearJuly-August deathsPopulationDeaths per 100,000

207.7 was the average rate of deaths per 100,000 people in July and August of 1914, 1915, 1917, and 1918.

The rate was 48.0 percentage points higher for July and August 1916 than the average for the other four years.

Apply that rate of 48.0 to Chicago’s estimated population in 1916. The result indicates that the excess deaths in July-August 1916 were 1,199.71

What were some of the other causes of death pushing up the city’s death toll for July August? For one thing, the heat wave coincided with the first major outbreak of infantile paralysis, or polio, that Chicago had ever experienced.

The disease struck in Chicago in mid-July, just as the hot weather arrived—and about six weeks after a polio epidemic hit New York City. Over the next four months, 254 polio cases and 34 deaths were reported in Chicago, as local doctors studied the malady and tried to learn what caused it.71 As a later study noted, “the disease tends to flourish in warm weather.”73

In July and August 1916, heart disease claimed the lives of 652 Chicagoans—an increase of 146 (or 29 percent) over the heart disease deaths in July and August 1915.

Meanwhile, 51 people died in homicides during those months in 1916—an increase of 25 over the previous year.

The city did not release drowning statistics for those months, but the annual total was 130 accidental drownings, close to the average for that era. In July and August, 371 people died in accidents, including drownings and various other causes—an increase of 62 (or 20 percent) over July and August 191565 According to newspaper reports, those accidental deaths included at least two people who fell from window ledges while trying to cool off during the hot weather.74

City health officials eventually suggested that the heat wave’s death toll was comparable to the number of “excess deaths” in 1916 from sunstroke, heat exhaustion, diarrhea, and enteritis—in other words, the increase in the death tolls from those causes between 1915 and 1916. That number was 1,381. The Chicago Department of Health mentioned this momentous fact in a weekly department bulletin issued in October 1917.64

Viewed from a regional perspective, the heat wave had an even higher death toll—killing an unknown number of people in the area surrounding Chicago. The Tribune and Daily News mentioned deaths in Joliet, Niles, and Aurora. In northwest Indiana, at least 13 people died in Gary and four in Hammond.75

However you define the parameters of the 1916 heat wave or the deaths it caused, it’s clear that it was a major catastrophe. Nearly eight decades later, when the 1995 heat wave made headlines, one epidemiologist remarked, “Such a big disaster has never happened in the history of Chicago.”76

As a matter of fact, it had.

Continue reading below for an appendix about CHICAGO MORTALITY TRENDS; an appendix on WEATHER RECORDS; and SOURCE NOTES.

Appendix 1: Chicago’s mortality trends

If you lived in Chicago in 1916, you were twice as likely to die at some point during the year than a Chicagoan would be in 2018. That’s how much the city’s mortality rate has fallen: from 14.5 deaths per 1,000 people in 1916 to 7.3 in 2018.

But in 1916, the city had already made huge strides in reducing the mortality rate from earlier times. Looking back to the 1850s, the average mortality in that decade was 33.6 deaths per 1,000 people. Or to put it another way, 1 out of every 30 people died in a typical year during the 1850s.77 By contrast, 1 out of every 138 Chicagoans died in 2018.78

As the mortality rate went down, life expectancy went up. In 1875, the average age of death in Chicago was 16. By 1905, it had increased to 31.79

In comparison, the life expectancy for Chicagoans in 2017 was 77 years—although studies have documented a 30-year gap between the life expectancies for people in the city’s poorest and wealthiest neighborhoods.80

The main reason why those historical numbers look staggeringly low by today’s standards? The high number of infant deaths. Nearly every year between 1868 and 1885, more than half of Chicago’s deaths were children under the age of 5.81

Of course, the low life expectancy didn’t mean it was impossible to reach a ripe old age. In 1890, for example, Chicago’s deaths included 52 people in their 90s and seven people who’d lived beyond their 100th birthday (or claimed to be that old, anyway).82 But that same year, when Chicago’s population surpassed 1 million, the city had only 22,471 people who were 65 or older—just 2 percent of the population.83

Chicago’s mortality rate began a dramatic decline around 1893. Modern researchers point to one major reason why Chicago became a less deadly place to live: improvements in the water supply.

In 1893, the city installed an intake crib four miles out into Lake Michigan, pulling in water that was cleaner than the polluted stuff along the shore. And in 1900, the Chicago River was reversed, sending its sewage-laden water flowing away from the lake, down a canal. As Chicago’s drinking water got cleaner, fewer people died from waterborne diseases.84

By 1915, Chicago’s mortality rate in had dropped to 14.3 deaths for every 1,000 residents. Infants under 1 year old accounted for 18 percent of all deaths, down from 30 percent in 1890. Children under 5 years old were 25 percent of all deaths, down from 45 percent in 1890.77

From the Chicago Department of Health report for 1911–1918.

But in spite of the improvements in Chicago’s water, diarrheal diseases remained the leading cause of death for children under 2, claiming roughly 3,000 lives annually.85

Worldwide today, diarrheal disease is second-leading cause of death for young children, killing about 525,000 every year, according to the World Health Organization, which says many of those deaths could be prevented with safe drinking water and adequate sanitation and hygiene.86

In 1916, Chicago’s infant mortality rate—the number of infants under 1 year old who died for every 1,000 live births—was 14.5.87 In comparison, the city’s infant mortality rate in 2017 was 6.6.

However, there’s a wide disparity among racial groups: According to the Chicago Health Atlas website, 3.6 non-Hispanic white infants died out of every 1,000, but that number was 5.5 for Hispanic infants and 11.4 for non-Hispanic Black infants. In other words, Chicago’s Black children were three times more likely to die before their first birthday than white children.88

Appendix 2: Weather records

In many ways, the 1916 heat wave still ranks as one of the hottest stretches of weather Chicago has ever experienced.

Like the rest of the planet, Chicago has become warmer in the century since 1916. There’s a new normal.

Back in the early 20th century, 72.4 was considered the normal mean temperature for July in Chicago (based on weather records from 1873 through 1905). The National Weather Service now lists 74.0 as the normal for July in Chicago.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s normal temperature for August has increased from 71.2 to 72.4.89

Here’s where those hot days in July and August 1916 rank in the annals of Chicago weather history, according to the National Weather Service’s records.

These statistics cover from the time period from June 12, 1872, through July 29, 2020. They were generated by xmACIS2, the online Applied Climate Information System tool (a joint project of the Regional Climate Centers, the National Centers for Environmental Information, and the National Weather Service).

The only time Chicago has had consecutive days with a minimum temperature of 83 or higher: Three days—July 28–30, 1916

The only time has had consecutive days with a minimum temperature of 82 or higher: Four days—July 27–30, 1916

Days with the highest average temperature:

1. 93.0 degreesJuly 30, 1916
2. (tie) 92.5 July 6, 2012
July 13, 1995
4. 92.0 July 5, 1911
5. (tie) 91.5 July 14, 1995
July 24, 1934
Aug. 6, 1918
8. (tie) 91.0 July 5, 2012
June 20, 1953
July 10, 1936
July 27, 1916
12. (tie) 90.5 July 4, 2012
July 29, 1916
July 28, 1916
15. (tie) 90.0July 24, 2005
July 15, 1980
July 4, 1911
July 21, 1901
19. (tie) 89.5Aug. 1, 2006
July 30, 1999
Aug. 2, 1988
July 27, 1955
July 24, 1940
Aug. 21, 1916

July with the hottest average temperature:

1. 81.3 degrees1955
2. 81.2 1921
3. 81.12012
4. 79.02011
5. (tie) 78.5 1977

August with the hottest average temperature:

1.80.2 degrees1947
3. (tie) 78.71959
4. 77.31983
5. 76.81988
6. (tie) 76.72010

Highest average temperature for a four-day period:

1.91.3 degreesJuly 27–30, 1916
2.90.1July 3–6, 2012
3. (tie)89.9July 4–7, 2012
July 2–5, 1911
5. (tie)89.1July 28–31, 1916
July 26–29, 1916

Highest average temperature for a five-day period. Note that the several of the following lists include overlapping time periods.

1.89.9 degreesJuly 26–30, 1916
2.89.5July 27–31, 1916
3.89.2July 3–7, 2012
4. (tie)89.0July 2–6, 2012
July 1–5, 1911

Highest average temperature for a six-day period:

1.88.7 degreesJuly 26–31, 1916
2.88.4July 2–7, 2012
3.88.3July 25–30, 1916
4. (tie)87.4July 1–6, 2012
July 1–6, 1911

Highest average temperature for a seven-day period:

1. 87.9 degreesJuly 24–30, 1916
2. 87.5July 23–31, 1916
3.87.1July 1–7, 2012
4.86.7July 2–8, 2012
5.86.6July 26–Aug. 1, 1916

Highest average temperature for a 14-day period:

1.84.4 degreesJuly 25–Aug. 7, 1916
2. (tie) 84.2July 26–Aug. 8, 1916
July 24–Aug. 6, 1916
4.83.9July 22–Aug. 4, 1916
5.83.8July 18–31, 1916
6.83.8July 23–Aug. 5, 1916
7.83.7July 21–Aug. 3, 1916
8.83.7July 27–Aug. 9, 1916
9. (tie)83.6July 25–Aug. 7, 1955
July 22–Aug. 4, 1955

Days with the highest minimum temperature. Remarkably, those three days at the end of July 1916 still hold the top three spots on this list—and five other days from July and August 1916 also rank among the 32 days in Chicago history with the highest low temperatures.

1.85 degreesJuly 29, 1916
2. (tie)84.0July 30, 1916
July 28, 1916
4.83July 14, 1995
5. (tie)82.0July 6, 2012
July 15, 1980
Aug. 6, 1918
Aug. 21, 1916
Aug. 19, 1916
July 27, 1916
July 5, 1911
12. (tie)81.0July 19, 2019
July 23, 2012
July 13, 1995
June 28, 1913
16. (tie)80.0June 30, 2018
July 18, 2011
Aug. 1, 2006
Aug. 3, 1988
July 6, 1977
July 22, 1972
July 21, 1972
July 29, 1941
July 11, 1936
July 10, 1936
June 30, 1931
June 29, 1931
July 4, 1921
Aug. 20, 1916
July 26, 1916

Days with the highest maximum temperature. At the time, July 30, 1916, ranked as the day with the second-highest temperature ever recorded in Chicago. It is now tied for 10th place.

1.105 degreesJuly 24, 1934
2. (tie)104July 13, 1995
June 20, 1988
June 20, 1953
5. (tie)103July 6, 2012
July 5, 2012
June 25, 1988
July 1, 1956
July 21, 1901
10. (tie)102July 4, 2012
July 24, 2005
July 15, 1988
July 7, 1980
June 19, 1953
July 3, 1949
July 10, 1936
June 1, 1934
Aug. 5, 1918
July 30, 1916
July 5, 1911
July 4, 1911
July 10, 1901

Consecutive days with a minimum temperature of 80 or higher:

1.Five daysJuly 26–30, 1916
2.Three daysAug. 19–21, 1916
3. (tie)Two daysJuly 13–14, 1995
July 21–22, 1972
July 10–11, 1936
June 29–30, 1931
July 16–17, 1878

Consecutive days with an average temperature of 89 or higher:

1.Four daysJuly 27–30, 1916
2. (tie)Three daysJuly 4–6, 2012
July 3–5, 1911
4. (tie)Two daysJuly 13–14, 1995
Aug. 1–2, 1988
Aug. 6–7, 1918

Consecutive days with an average temperature of 90 or higher:

1.Four daysJuly 27–30, 1916
2.Three daysJuly 4–6, 2012
3. (tie)Two daysJuly 13–14, 1995
July 4–5, 1911

Consecutive days with a maximum temperature of 96 or higher:

1.Nine daysAug. 26–Sept. 3, 1953
2.Six daysJuly 2–7, 2012
3. (tie)Five daysJuly 5-9, 1988
July 1–5, 1911
5. (tie)Four daysJuly 12-15, 1995
Aug. 1–4, 1988
June 27–30, 1971
Aug. 17–20, 1947
July 22–25, 1940
July 27–30, 1916

Source notes

1 “Little Stories of the Record Heat Wave,” Chicago Daily News, July 29, 1916.

2 “Alcohol Blamed for 98 Per Cent of Heat Strokes,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Aug. 23, 1916.

3 The weather data in this story come from these sources: C.L. Mitchell, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Weather Bureau, “Monthly Meteorological Summary with Comparative Data, Chicago, Ill., July, 1916”; Henry J. Cox, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Weather Bureau, “Monthly Meteorological Summary with Comparative Data, Chicago, Ill., August, 1916”; “The Weather,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 28–31, 1916; and the Applied Climate Information System, accessed July 24, 2020.

4 “Heat Kills 18; No Relief,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 28, 1916.

5 “Mercury Reaches 100; Relief in Lake Breeze,” Chicago Daily News, July 27, 1916.

6 “Six Bathers Lose Lives; Heat Kills 2,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 17, 1916.

7 Bulletin, Chicago School of Sanitary Instruction 10, no. 31 (July 29, 1916), 162.

8 John Dill Robertson, Report and Handbook of the Department of Health of the City of Chicago for the Years 1911 to 1918 Inclusive (Chicago: House of Severinghaus, 1919), 1312.

9“Read Nature in Hot Weather,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 25, 1916.

10 Amanda Green, “The Cool History of the Air Conditioner,” Popular Mechanics, Jan. 1, 2015.

11 Dominic A. Pacyga, Slaughterhouse: Chicago’s Union Stock Yard and the World It Made (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 14.

12 Charles N. Wheeler, “End of Hot Wave Near,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 29, 1916; Bernard Nagengast, “Early Twentieth Century Air-Conditioning Engineering,” ASHRAE Journal, March 1999, 58.

13 Bulletin, Chicago School of Sanitary Instruction 10, no. 32 (Aug. 5, 1916), 166.

14 Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, “History of the Electric Fan,” Family Tree Magazine,  accessed July 20, 2020.

15 Advertisement, Chicago Daily Tribune, July 19, 1916.

16 Harold L. Platt, The Electric City: Energy and the Growth of the Chicago Area, 1880–1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 161-162.

17 Ralph and Terry Kovel, “Non-Electric Fans Used Alcohol or Gas,” Cowles Syndicate Inc., Chicago Tribune, June 17, 1994.

18 Advertisement, Chicago Daily News, July 28, 1916.

19 “Hot Weather Don’ts in Caring for Baby,” Chicago Defender, Aug. 5, 1916.

20 Robertson, Report … for the Years 1911 to 1918 …, 981-983.

21 “Heat Death Roll Vast; Sweeping Ice Orders,” Chicago Daily News, July 29, 1916.

22 “Small Ice Dealers Plan to Get Action Against Consumers Co.,” Day Book, Aug. 11, 1916.

23 “44 Babies Die in 24 Hours; Record Broken,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 30, 1916.

24 “Rain Breaks Fatal Heat; Day’s Toll Five,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 25, 1916.

25 “Six Bathers Lose Lives; Heat Kills 2,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 17, 1916; “Rain Breaks Fatal Heat; Day’s Toll Five,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 25, 1916; “Mercury Reaches 100; Relief in Lake Breeze,” Chicago Daily News, July 27, 1916.

16 My calculation based on Chicago Department of Health annual reports. Accidental drowning totals are not available for 1910 and 1911; suicidal drowning totals are not available for 1907 through 1911.

27 Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, “Statistics,” accessed July 21, 2020.

28 Brr! But It Is Cold!—No, Not in Chicago—In Nevada! Our Town Still Melts,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 28, 1916.

29 “How’d You Like to Be the Ice Man?—A Pleasant Idea,” Day Book, July 27, 1916; David Garrard Lowe, “Public Buildings in the Loop,” Encyclopedia of Chicago; Larry J. Homolka and William J. Rudd, “Photographs, Written Historical and Descriptive Data—United States Post Office, Customs House and Sub-Treasury, Chicago, Illinois,” Historic American Buildings Survey, National Park Service, July 1964.

30 “How’d You Like to Be the Ice Man?—A Pleasant Idea,” Day Book, July 27, 1916.

31 “Deaths by Heat Yesterday,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 29, 1916.

32 “Deaths Laid to Heat,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 28, 1916.

33 “It Is Getting No Cooler,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 26, 1916.

34 H. Gauss and K.A. Meyer, “Heat Stroke: Report of One Hundred and Fifty-Eight Cases from Cook County Hospital, Chicago,” American Journal of the Medical Sciences 154 (1917): 554-564, doi:10.1097/00000441-191710000-00010.

35 Bulletin, Chicago School of Sanitary Instruction 10, no. 32 (Aug. 5, 1916), 163.

36 W.A. Evans, “Infant Mortality,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 27, 1916.

37 “Watch the Baby in This Weather, Doctors Warn,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 27, 1916

38 Jeff Nichols, “The Maverick at the Center of Chicago’s 1918 Flu Response,” Chicago Reader, May 12, 2020.

39 “Don’t Let Your Baby Die,” Chicago Daily News, July 27, 1916.

40 “Over 50 More Dead in Great Heat Wave; No Relief in Sight,” Chicago Daily News, July 28, 1916.

41 “50 Baby Deaths in Single Day Laid to Heat,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 31, 1916.

42 Eric Klinenberg, Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, Second Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002, 2015), 32, 172, 175.

43 “Wage War on Baby Sirup,” Chicago Daily News, Aug. 4, 1916.

44 “The Heat Death List in Chicago,” Chicago Daily News, July 29, 1916.

45 “The Heat Death List in Chicago,” Chicago Daily News, July 29, 1916.

46 “Claim Heat Overcame Thirty Girls at the Fair,” Day Book, Aug. 1, 1916.

47 Bulletin, Chicago School of Sanitary Instruction 10, no. 32 (Aug. 5, 1916), 164-165.

48 Charles N. Wheeler, “End of Hot Wave Near,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 29, 1916.

49 “Why Dead Horses Are Left Lying in Streets,” Day Book, Aug. 3, 1916; “Some Negligence in the Removal of Dead Horses,” Day Book, July 31, 1916.

50 Chicago, Forty-First Annual Report of the Department of Public Works for the Year Ending December 31, 1916 (Chicago: Cameron, Amberg & Co., 1917), 240; Chicago, Fortieth Annual Report of the Department of Public Works for the Year Ending December 31, 1915 (Chicago: Cameron, Amberg & Co., 1917), 268.

51 “Cool Wave Here Tonight,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 31, 1916.

52 Tom Skilling, “July 30, 1916: 90th Anniversary of Chicago’s Hottest Day,” Chicago Tribune, July 30, 2006.

53 Baseball Reference; George S. Robbins, “Rowlanders Fight Hard for 3d Game,” Chicago Daily News, July 27, 1916; “Notes,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 28, 1916.

54 “Cool Wave Now on Way,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 30, 1916.

55 “Million Swarms to Beaches of City,” Chicago Daily News, July 29, 1916.

56 “Jackson Park Beach Scene of Race Riot,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 30, 1916.

57 “White Boys Start Trouble on Beach,” Chicago Defender, Aug. 5, 1916.

58 “Mounted Police Called to Quell Riots at Beach,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 31, 1916.

59 “Oak Street Beach,” Chicago Park District, accessed July 21, 2020.

60 Charles N. Wheeler, “Gasping Masses Reel to Lake; Mocked by Law,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 31, 1916.

61 “Toasted Items Produced by the Hot Spell,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 28, 1916.

62 “Fall Kills Aged Woman Seeking Cool at Window,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 31, 1916.

63 “Pass Nights in Parks to Escape the Heat,” Chicago Daily News, July 28, 1916.

64 Bulletin, Chicago School of Sanitary Instruction 11, no. 41 (Oct. 6, 1917), 158.

65 Annual death figures: Robertson, Report … for the Years 1911 to 1918 …, 1318-1337; “Revised Mortality Figures, 1916-1915,” Bulletin, Chicago School of Sanitary Instruction 11, no. 41 (Oct. 6, 1917), 158, 160. July and August figures: Bulletin, Chicago School of Sanitary Instruction 10, no. 33 (Aug. 12, 1916), 169; and no. 37 (Sept. 9, 1916), 185. Historical trend: Annual Chicago Department of Health reports. U.S. Census Bureau data on immigrants, Blacks, and age groups in Chicago: 1910 Census Vol. 2, Population, Reports by States, with Statistics for Counties, Cities, and Other Civil Divisions, 504; 1920 Census Vol. 2, Population, General Report and Analytical Tables, Age Distribution Tables, 291; 1920 Census Vol. 3, Population, Composition and Characteristics of the Population by States, 248.

66 Alan Derickson, “‘A Widespread Superstition’: The Purported Invulnerability of Workers of Color to Occupational Heat Stress,” American Journal of Public Health 109 (2019): 1329-1335,

67 Linda Villarosa, “Myths About Physical Racial Differences Were Used to Justify Slavery — and Are Still Believed by Doctors Today,” New York Times, Aug. 14, 2019.

68 Robert Carter III, et al, “Epidemiology of Hospitalizations and Deaths from Heat Illness in Soldiers,” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 37, no. 8 (August 2005): 1338-1344,

69 Klinenberg, Heat Wave, 18-19.

70 Klinenberg, Heat Wave, 28-29.

71 Estimated annual population: Robertson, Report … for the Years 1911 to 1918 …, 1425; monthly death totals: 1426.

72 Robertson, Report … for the Years 1911 to 1918 …, 151-224.

73 Charles Armstrong, “Poliomyelitis: A Possible Relationship of Weather to the Gastrointestinal Route of Infection,” American Journal of Public Health and the Nation’s Health 51, no. 8 (August 1961): 1174-1181,

74 “Mercury Reaches 100; Relief in Lake Breeze,” Chicago Daily News, July 27, 1916; “Fall Kills Aged Woman Seeking Cool at Window,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 31, 1916.

75 “Rain Breaks Fatal Heat; Day’s Toll Five,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 25, 1916; “Deaths by Heat Yesterday,” “Four Dead Near Aurora,” and “28 Babies Dead in Gary,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 29, 1916; “The Heat Death List in Chicago,” Chicago Daily News, July 29, 1916; “Gary Deaths Thirteen” and “Four Dead in Hammond,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 30, 1916.

76 Klinenberg, Heat Wave, 203-204.

77 Robertson, Report … for the Years 1911 to 1918 …, 1425, 1428, 1430.

78 Illinois Department of Public Health, “Statewide Leading Causes of Death by Resident County, Illinois Residents, 2018″; U.S. Census Bureau, “Quick Facts: Chicago city, Illinois.”

79 Charles J. Whalen, Biennial Report of the Department of Heath of the City of Chicago for the Years 1904–1905 (Chicago: Cameron, Amberg & Co., 1906), unnumbered page before title page.

80 Chicago Health Atlas, “Life Expectancy,” accessed July 25, 2020; NYU Langone Health NewsHub, “Large Life Expectancy Gaps in U.S. Cities Linked to Racial & Ethnic Segregation by Neighborhood,” June 5, 2019; Lisa Schencker, “Chicago’s Lifespan Gap,” Chicago Tribune, June 6, 2019.

81 Annual Chicago Department of Health reports.

82 Chicago, Report of the Department of Health of the City of Chicago for the Year 1890 (Chicago: P.F. Pettibone & Co., 1891), 54.

83 U.S. Census Bureau, Eleventh Census Volume 1. (Part I & Part II) Report on Population of the United States, “Ages—Tables 3 (continued),” 117.

84 William T. Sedgwick and Allen Hazen, “Water-Related Epidemics,” Encyclopedia of Chicago; Joseph P. Ferrie and Werner Troesken, “Death and the City: Chicago’s Mortality Transition, 1850-1925,” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 11427 (June 2005), 13, 39.

85 Whalen, Annual … 1906, 297; Robertson, Report … for the Years 1911 to 1918 …, 1402.

86 “Diarrhoeal disease,” World Health Organization, May 2, 2017.

87 Robertson, Report … for the Years 1911 to 1918 …, 1322, 1402.

88 Chicago Health Atlas, “Infant Mortality,” accessed July 25, 2020.

89 National Weather Service, “July Temperature Rankings for Chicago,” accessed July 22, 2020; National Weather Service, “August Temperature Rankings for Chicago,” accessed July 22, 2020; Robertson, Report … for the Years 1911 to 1918 …, 1457.


Looking for Hollywood history and David Lynch’s Los Angeles: Part 7


Point Dume

See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

In this part: The Firestone from Lost Highway / Echo Lake Park / Chili John’s / Handy Market / Point Dume / Lankershim Arts Center / Burbank Water and Power / The Music Box Steps / Venice Beach and Santa Monica / The Dude’s apartment

FINALLY, here are few more of the places I saw around Los Angeles during my visit in September 2019…


In David Lynch’s 1997 film Lost Highway, Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty) works at an auto repair shop called Arnie’s, whose owner is played by Richard Pryor. These scenes were in the Firestone Tire Building at 800 South La Brea Avenue, in in central L.A.’s Mid-Wilshire neighborhood.

“I want you to take a ride with me. I don’t like the sound of something.”

Built in 1938 with an art deco “Streamline Moderne” design, the building was designated in 2012 by city officials as a historic-cultural monument. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to see much of the building when I visited, because it was covered up with boards.

As it turns out, the Firestone building is being converted into a “Market Hall”-style microbrewery and three restaurants, scheduled to open in 2020, the Larchmont Chronicle reported.

An artist’s rendering of the restaurants being constructed inside the Firestone Tire Building.


As seen in Chinatown (minus the swan boats) … and Under the Silver Lake (swan boats included).


This restaurant at 2018 West Burbank Boulevard in Burbank has been open since 1946. It makes an appearance in Part 8 of Twin Peaks‘ third season, masquerading as Pop’s Diner in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1956.

This is where we see a waitress cleaning up the counter while listening to “My Prayer” on KPJK radio, when a voice interrupts the broadcast, repeating over and over:

“This is the water and this is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eye and dark within.”

The waitress collapses, falling to the floor.

Chili John’s also can be seen in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. “In a seamless conflation of film location editing, Brad Pitt encounters a hitchhiking Manson girl, Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), in front of Chili John’s and Jackalope Pottery (10726 Burbank Boulevard in North Hollywood) in the same scene, even though the two locations are two miles apart from each other,” location manager Rick Schuler said.

As I was sitting at the U-shaped counter eating a bowl of delicious chili, a man walked into the restaurant and asked to see the owner. “I’m a location scout,” I overheard him saying, as he started trying to work out a deal to film scenes inside this retro diner.

John Isaac opened the first Chili John’s restaurant in 1911 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. His son, Ernie, opened the Burbank one and painted a mural that’s still on the wall today.


Not far away from Chili John’s, there’s a grocery store that appeared in the third season of Twin Peaks. In the show, it’s supposed to be in Twin Peaks, Washington. This is where Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) goes shopping for liquor—and freaks out when she notices a a display of turkey jerky behind the register.

“I don’t remember seeing those beef jerky there before.”

These scenes were filmed at Handy Market at 2514 Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank, which seemed like a perfectly nice little grocery during my visit. There was no display of jerky by the checkout lines.


The scenery is stunning at Point Dume Nature Preserve and State Beach in Malibu, where a promontory juts out into the Pacific Ocean.

Sitting on the promontory, I saw and heard dolphins in the water below me:

This area of Point Dume State Beach may look familiar from a couple of old movies…

This shore is seen in the climatic scene of director Robert Aldrich’s 1955 film-noir Kiss Me Deadly, in which — SPOILER ALERT — a nuclear fire erupts in a beach house.

Kiss Me Deadly

A decade later, the same place became the setting for a famous post-apocalyptic image in Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1968 movie Planet of the Apes. (If you’ve somehow missed seeing it, here’s another spoiler alert.) This is where Charlton Heston’s character sees the wreckage of the Statue of Liberty in the movie’s final shot, realizing that he’s on Earth, not some other planet. The geography of this image seems highly unlikely. Apparently, this rocky landscape was supposedly created in New York Harbor by a nuclear explosion?

“Oh, my God! I’m back! I’m home. All the time, it was— We finally really did it. You maniacs! You blew it up! God damn you! God damn you all to hell!”


This arts center at 5108 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood appears in Lost Highway as Luna Lounge.


This complex at 164 West Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank appeared in the last episode Twin Peaks‘ first season as the water processing plant on Black Lake. But as I discovered when I visited, the areas where that filming took place can’t really be seen from the roadway. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty nice building.


In their Oscar-winning 1932 short film The Music Box, Laurel and Hardy struggle to move a piano up a long outdoor flight of stairs. Those steps—now known as the Music Box Stairs—are a tourist attraction in the midst of a hilly residential area in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Central L.A. I walked up the steps, which connect Vendome Street at the base of the hill with Descanso Drive at the top, then came back down.

Just as I arrived at the bottom, the woman who lives next to the steps was pulling up in her car and getting ready to park in her garage. I expected her to be tired of all the tourists visiting the spot next to her home, but it was quite the opposite. She was eager to show me a miniature piano left behind by some previous visitors.


Here’s one movie location I wanted in L.A.’s Venice Beach neighborhood: Samesun Venice Beach, where Orson Welles filmed scenes for 1958’s Touch of Evil. It was the building where spies watched Susan (Janet Leigh). The neighboring building where she was honeymooning with Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston), St. Mark’s Hotel, is no longer standing.

Other random sights around Venice Beach and Santa Monica:


The last movie location I saw before heading to LAX for my flight home was the apartment where the “Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) lives in The Big Lebowski. Actually, there’s some dispute about which of the houses on this block it was: 606 or 608 Venezia Avenue in L.A.’s Venice neighborhood. Either way, it’s a private home, so I kept my distance. I wonder if the current residents appreciate the history of where they live?


See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

In this part: The Firestone from Lost Highway / Echo Lake Park / Chili John’s / Handy Market / Point Dume / Lankershim Arts Center / Burbank Water and Power / The Music Box Steps / Venice Beach and Santa Monica / The Dude’s apartment

Photos by Robert Loerzel unless noted otherwise.


Looking for Hollywood history and David Lynch’s Los Angeles: Part 6


See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

In this part: Doheny Mansion / “Winkie’s Diner” / The diner that inspired Winkie’s / “Eat at Judy’s” (Rudy’s) / The lot where Tyler Durden’s house was / Point Fermin Park / Pelican Cove Park

During my visit to L.A., I spent a few hours one day driving south from downtown to see a few locations associated with David Lynch films and other movies…


My first stop during this trip was Doheny Mansion—not to be confused with another house connected with the Doheny family, Greystone Mansion. Greystone, which I wrote about in Part 1, is the lavish Beverly Hills palace that oil tycoon Edward Doheny Sr. had built for his son, Ned.

But the father lived in Doheny Mansion in South L.A.

Three decades after David Lynch made 1977’s Eraserhead at Greystone Mansion, he filmed at Doheny Mansion, using the house as a key setting in his 2006 movie Inland Empire.

In the movie’s early scenes, this is the home where Laura Dern’s character, actress Nikki Grace, resides. Playing a woman who lives nearby—who is possibly a witch—Grace Zabriskie walks up to Doheny Mansion and sits down with Den’s character for a disturbing conversation.

“I am a new neighbor. I live just down the street. … I don’t mean to intrude. I am your new neighbor. I hope that it is not being inconvenient for you?”

The mansion was built in 1899 for Oliver P. Posey, with a Romantic Revival exterior including elements of the Gothic, Chateauesque, Moorish, and California Mission architectural styles. It was part of Chester Place, a gated community of Victorian mansions. After Doheny bought it in 1902, his family owned it for nearly 60 years.

Today, Doheny Mansion is part of Mount Saint Mary’s University’s campus, along with the surrounding properties on historic Chester Place. I had a bit of trouble finding an entrance to the campus, which is closed off to traffic with a private parking lot. But I eventually noticed an open gate for pedestrians on Addams Boulevard, about a block south of the mansion.

As I walked around the house, I saw only a few other people on the quiet campus. On the surface, it was a beautiful and idyllic scene. I’m guessing that most people wouldn’t find anything spooky about it. But I couldn’t help sensing something strange and sinister—probably just an after effect from watching Inland Empire. I did not go inside the mansion, which the university uses for offices. Tours are available.


Driving farther south, l crossed L.A. city limits, entering the suburb of Gardena in the South Bay region—for a visit to one of the most iconic locations from Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. The movie includes scenes at a diner called Winkie’s, which is supposed to be somewhere on Sunset Boulevard.

“I just wanted to come here.”
“To Winkie’s?”
This Winkie’s.”
Okaaay… Why this Winkie’s?”
“It’s kind of embarrassing…”

In reality, Lynch filmed the Winkie’s scenes in and around a restaurant at 1016 West El Segundo Boulevard in Gardena. When I visited in September 2019, the building still had signs identifying it as Caesar’s Restaurant, but it had been out of business for some time. The building seemed to be under renovation; a phone number was posted on one window for a roofing contractor.

The building was still filled with the former restaurant’s furniture—and even some kitchen supplies and coffee cups. The decor doesn’t match the colors seen in Mulholland Drive, but the restaurant’s layout looks similar. I held my iPhone window up to the glass to capture some pictures of the interior. A Gideons Bibles box sat on one table.

In hindsight, I wish I’d taken more pictures of the surrounding area. Rewatching Mulholland Drive now, I recognize nearby buildings in the background of those scenes, including an adjacent hotel.

In Mulholland Drive, Dan (Patrick Fischler) tells Herb (Michael Cooke) about a nightmare he had about Winkie’s. He’d dreamed that a man was behind the restaurant, somehow causing him to feel frightened inside the dinner. “He’s the one who’s doing it. I can see him through the wall. I can see his face. I hope that I never see that face—ever—outside of a dream.”

Herb takes Dan behind the restaurant to confront his fears. As I approached the location where Lynch filmed this shocking scene, I felt disoriented. Wasn’t there supposed to be a wall behind Winkie’s? And an alley around the corner from that wall—where a dirty and disheveled bum lived? Visiting the spot, this is what I saw:

For some reason, I didn’t walk down those steps or explore the parking lot. (Was something holding me back?) Later that afternoon, I tweeted that “there’s no dumpster or even an alley behind the place.”

Chicago filmmaker and author—and fellow David Lynch fan—Michael Smith replied: “The alley is definitely still there, Robert!” He’d visited the same place a month before I was there, and he ventured farther back behind the restaurant than I did, with photos on Instagram to prove it.

Where had I gone wrong? Maybe if I’d studied those Mulholland Drive scenes more closely before visiting, I would have known where to look. If only I’d brought along some videos and photos to study when I was on location!

Rewatching the movie, I can see how the area behind the restaurant has changed. In the movie, the wall behind the restaurant extends farther west. And there’s another section of wall running toward the restaurant.

An image from Mulholland Drive

The satellite image of the restaurant currently posted in Google Maps shows how these portions of the wall were demolished at some point in recent years.

Later in Mulholland Drive, the movie shows the “Bum” (Bonnie Aarons) sitting in the alley behind that wall. In this dimly lit scene, bathed in a red glow, a stepped pattern is visible on the alley wall behind the Bum and a shopping cart.

An image from Mulholland Drive

That pattern is still visible on the wall today, although the wall has been painted dark gray. Although I failed in my mission to stand on the spot where Mulholland Drive‘s mysterious Bum lived, I think I was looking right at it. If you consider where that wall used to stand before it was demolished, the Bum was probably in that space just beyond the stripes for parking spaces.


Taking a tangent from my travelogue…

The restaurant that inspired Winkie’s diner actually is on Sunset Boulevard. It’s the Denny’s at 6100 Sunset Boulevard, at the corner with Gower Street. (I wish I’d known this when I was in L.A.—I did not visit the Denny’s.)

Google Streetview

“Denny’s restaurant on Sunset used to be a place called the Copper Penny,” Lynch told interview Chris Rodley1—getting the old name wrong. It was actually called the Copper Skillet.

Advertisement in the Los Angeles Times, December 23, 1956

Before that, a 1953 classified ad called it California Kitchen.

Advertisement in the Los Angeles Times, November 4, 1953

“I think that’s where Frank Capra worked,” Lynch said, “and in the old days that was the corner where all the movie extras would line up in the morning for work.”

The intersection of Sunset and Gower was known as Gower Gulch. That nickname alluded to the cowboys who congregated at the corner looking for work in the movies back in the era from the 1930s through the 1950s, when many Westerns were filmed nearby at Columbia and Republic Studios. There was even a deadly shootout between a couple of cowboys at the corner in 1940.

Behind the Denny’s restaurant, there’s a strip mall Gower Gulch with a Old West theme, which opened in 1976.

Google Streetview

The Gower Gulch name has also appeared in several movies.

Lynch mentioned hearing about a connection with Frank Capra. Capra worked nearby at Columbia Pictures. And later, he reportedly named Mr. Gower, a character in 1946’s It’s a Wonderful Life, after Gower Street.

The restaurant became Alphy’s in 1977 and Denny’s in 1982.

Advertisements from the Los Angeles Times, November 8, 1977, and October 20, 1982.

In 1998, the Los Angeles Times reported that this restaurant was known as the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Denny’s” because of its proximity to a Guitar Center and Ralphs grocery, which was nicknamed “Rock ‘n’ Roll Ralphs.”2 According to the Urban Dictionary, that store was “notorious for being packed around 2 to 3 AM after the clubs close, with drunken people trying to buy liquor for after-hours parties.”

In 1998, the Times also remarked that this Denny’s restaurant “has got to be the best people-watching place on the planet.”3

David Lynch told Rodley:

“And the Denny’s there was a pretty strange Denny’s. I’m not positive, but I think there was a satanic booth in the parking lot there for a while.”

Rodley: “What’s that?”

Lynch: “I don’t know! But I used to go there and have breakfast—a Grand Slam. Anyway, I was in a booth, and I think i was alone, and behind me there were three people, and they were talking about God. It sounded like quite a pleasant Sunday morning conversation.

“And I got up to pay the check, and I glanced over at the people in the booth, and there was the head of the satanic church in the booth. They were talking quite friendly and nice. I thought it was like a church group! And so it was kind of strange. Anyway, there was some kind of heavy feelings at that Denny’s, and that fed into this thing in Mulholland Dr.—this bum.”

Anton Szandor LaVey

Perhaps those people Lynch noticed were members of the the Church of Satan—”the first organized church in modern times promulgating a religious philosophy championing Satan as the symbol of personal freedom and individualism.”

Anton Szandor LaVey—who was the church’s high priest from its 1966 founding in San Francisco until his death in 1997—even mentions Denny’s restaurants in The Secret Life of a Satanist: The Authorized Biography of Anton LaVey by Blanche Barton:

“Many of our grass-roots people didn’t know much about subtlety then, or decorum,” he said. “I was trying to present a cultured, mannered image and their idea of protest or shock was to wear their ‘lodge regalia’ into the nearest Denny’s.”


Returning to my travelogue of South L.A. …

Driving south from the shuttered Caesar’s Restaurant in Gardena, I stopped for lunch at a diner called Eat at Rudy’s.

Lynch fans will recognize it as Eat at Judy’s, the place in Texas where Kyle MacLachlan’s character Dale Cooper (or is it a mysterious alter-ego named Richard?) visits in the final episode of Twin Peaks‘ third season.

In reality, Eat at Rudy’s is located at 558 East Anaheim Street, in a Los Angeles neighborhood Wilmington, which is part of the city’s Harbor region.

The restaurant’s interior was recognizable from those haunting scenes in Twin Peaks, including the open kitchen area where Cooper/Richard drops some handguns into the deep fryer.

“Is there another waitress that works here?”
“Yeah. It’s her day off. Actually, it’s her third day off.”

On his Twin Peaks Blog, Steven Miller describes his own visit to Eat at Rudy’s in detail, analyzing how Lynch used the space.

I must say this seemed to be an outstanding diner and a friendly spot to go for lunch. I asked the waitress for the best or most popular dish, and she recommended the California turkey melt, which turned out to be just as delicious as she’d promised.


While I was eating at Eat at Rudy’s, I noticed that several locations from David Fincher’s 1999 movie Fight Club are within a few blocks of the restaurant. I stopped by one of these locations—the lot where Tyler Durden’s house stood during the filming.

An image from Fight Club

In the movie, it’s supposedly on road called Paper Street, but according to the Movie District website, it was filmed at 240 North Neptune Avenue. It’s a vacant lot with a fence topped by razor wire.

I took a peek through the fence…

A team led by the movie’s production designer, Alex McDowell, built the ramshackle house at this spot, mimicking the look of burned-out houses McDowell has seen in Detroit. Introducing the film at Design Manchester in 2016, he said:

“The port of Los Angeles at this time decided they needed more room for containers, so they bought up 10 city blocks north of the ocean and destroyed all the houses in preparation for a new container port. We moved in there and built a house—the Paper Street House, sitting on its own on a city block, inspired by that Detroit desolation.”

The other nearby locations from Fight Club are: Asian man’s drugstore, 1109 West Harry Bridges Boulevard; Lou’s Tavern, 1331 B Street; and Goodyear, 505 North Avalon Boulevard.


By this point in travels, I was near the Port of Los Angeles and the San Pedro neighborhood in L.A.’s Harbor region. There’s another connection here with the Doheny family.

As I mentioned in Part 1, oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny Sr. was a key figure in the Teapot Dome Scandal. San Pedro is where Doheny’s Pan American Petroleum and Transport Company built a refinery as part of a corrupt deal with the administration of President Warren G. Harding.

I continued south to Point Fermin Park, the southernmost point in Los Angeles. The 37-acre park is atop rugged bluffs with lovely views of the Pacific and a Stick Style Victorian lighthouse built in 1874.

In Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1998 film The Big Lebowski, Point Fermin is where Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) and Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) scatter their friend Donny’s ashes. This scene takes place in an area of San Pedro’s shoreline called the “Sunken City,” where a neighborhood of houses tumbled into the ocean during a landslide in 1929.

The Big Lebowski

“And so, Theodore Donald Karabatsos, in accordance with what we think your dying wishes might well have been, we commit your final mortal remains to the bosom of the Pacific Ocean, which you loved so well. Good night, sweet prince.”

As Atlas Obscura notes: “Do not attempt to enter the Sunken City. Not only is trespassing not tolerated, but accessing the ruins is dangerous and therefore should not be attempted. Due to the danger of the ruins, the site is strictly off-limits to the public.” So, I had to settle for looking through the fence at those bluffs.

Point Fermin Park is prominently featured in another iconic movie about Los Angeles. In 1974’s Chinatown, it’s where detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) follows the city water department engineer Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling). As Gittes watches, water mysteriously pours from pipes into the ocean, even though the city is in the midst of a drought.

Images from Chinatown

The parking spaces on Paseo Del Mar are where Gittes is shown placing a stopwatch next to one of the wheels of Mulwray’s car—his trick for determining what time Mulwray finally moves his car to leave.

In these scenes, a little bar and restaurant can be seen nearby.

Images from Chinatown

That joint, Walker’s Cafe, is still there, and it doesn’t look like it has changed a whole lot. Constructed around 1913 as a turnaround station at the end of the Red Car line down Pacific Avenue, it’s been Walker’s Cafe since 1946. I stopped in for a beer. Judging from the motorcycles parked outside and some of the conversations I overheard, it seems to be a hangout for bikers.

In 1990, waitress Reni Mauritsen defended the restaurant’s biker clientele, telling the Daily Breeze’s Lisa Plendl: “People have a tendency to think these guys are real rough, but I get more respect from them than anyone else.”


One more stop on my tour of L.A.’s southern reaches. I drove northwest on Palos Verdes Drive, a curving road with lovely views of the ocean—heading into Rancho Palos Verdes, a suburb in L.A.’s South Bay region.

In this area, Pelican Cove Park is a delightful place for a walk down to the ocean’s rocky shore. I spent half a hour sitting on the rocks and watching a large gathering of birds on some rocks out in the water.

As it happens, this oceanfront park appears in another movie by the Coen brothers: 2016’s Hail, Caesar! According to Los Angeles Magazine: “The dramatic South Bay topography stands in for Malibu, but the home of Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) is only a matte painting.”

Images from Hail, Caesar!

Continued in Part 7.

See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

In this part: Doheny Mansion / “Winkie’s Diner” / The diner that inspired Winkie’s / “Eat at Judy’s” (Rudy’s) / The lot where Tyler Durden’s house was / Point Fermin Park / Pelican Cove Park


1 David Lynch, ed. Chris Rodley, Lynch on Lynch (New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2005 edition), excerpted in Criterion Collection booklet for Mulholland Drive, 22.
2 Heidi Siegmund Cuda, “Club Hoppin’: Got Milk?”, Los Angeles Times, November 26, 1998.
3 Heidi Siegmund Cuda, “Club Hoppin’: Burgers, Los Angeles Times, January 29, 1998.
Follow links in the text for additional sources.

Photos by Robert Loerzel unless noted otherwise.


Looking for Hollywood history and David Lynch’s Los Angeles: Part 5


See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

In this part: “Nite Owl Café” / Safety Last! / The door to Club Silencio / The Banks-Huntley Building / “Twin Peaks Savings & Loan” / The Tower Theatre / Hotel Barclay / Fire Station No. 23 / The Bradbury Building / The Million Dollar Theatre / The Second Street Tunnel / Union Station / Los Angeles City Hall / The Los Angeles Times Building / The John Ferraro Building / Los Angeles Central Library / Bunker Hill / Angels Flight / Double Indemnity’s opening shot / The final scene of Chinatown / The viaduct in Eraserhead / The Los Angeles River


Just about every block of downtown L.A.—probably every block—has been filmed for a movie at some point.

I parked on a random block, with the first parking space I could find. Pulling out my iPhone, I checked the Google map I’d created with a list of movie locations.

By sheer coincidence, I’d parked right next to the restaurant where the Nite Owl Café scenes were filmed for L.A. Confidential. The café’s layout looked eerily similar.

“It happened to have, in the inside alley of the building right behind that restaurant, a bathroom that we could use for the murder scene,” L.A. Confidential production designer Jeannine Oppewall told Curbed Los Angeles.


Walking around downtown, I spotted a few of the buildings where Harold Lloyd filmed scenes for his classic 1923 silent comedy Safety Last!—famously featuring Lloyd dangling from a clock on the side of a high-rise.

Safety Last!

As John Bengtson documents on his Silent Locations website, the rooftop scenes in Safety Last! were filmed on several different buildings in downtown Los Angeles.

From the Silent Locations website: Three different Safety Last! rooftops for the closing scene, 548 South Spring Street, Third and Spring, and 908 South Broadway.

I saw three of the Safety Last! buildings:


David Lynch has filmed at a number of places in downtown L.A., including three buildings on one block of Spring Street—within an area known as the Spring Street Financial District, a.k.a. “the Wall Street of the West.”

One of these locations is actually just the rear wall of the Palace Theatre—or as the faded paint on the wall calls it, the Palace Newsreel Theatre. Built in 1911, it was originally a vaudeville house called the Orpheum Theatre—not to be confused with another theater of that name built down the street in 1926.

The Palace Theatre faces Broadway, but Lynch used the wall facing a parking lot on Spring Street as the entrance to Club Silencio in his 2001 movie Mulholland Drive.

Images from Mulholland Drive

“Go with me somewhere.”
“It’s 2 o’clock—It’s 2 o’clock in the morning.”
“Go with me somewhere.”
“Sure. Now?”
“Right now!”

On the day when I visited, some trucks were parked in the lot, obscuring my view of that mysterious portal. And the alley next to the theater’s wall—where a taxi drives in Mulholland Drive, dropping off Betty (Naomi Watts) and Rita (Laura Elena Harring)—was closed off.

(For their 1998 film The Big Lebowski, Joel and Ethan Coen used the Palace Theatre’s fifth floor as the loft of Maude Lebowski, played by Julianne Moore.)


Directly across the street from that parking lot is the Banks Huntley Building, a 12-story art deco skyscraper completed in 1931. In Mulholland Drive, the director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) is seen entering this building. In the film, it houses the offices of a company called Ryan Entertainment.

“This is the girl.”

After exiting an ominous and surreal meeting, Kesher uses his golf club to smash the windshield of a limo in the parking lot just south of the Banks-Huntley Building.

Here’s a curious thing about that scene: As Kesher (Theroux) walks in front of the Banks-Huntley Building, a parking lot is visible across the street. That’s the same lot that will appear later in Mulholland Drive as the entrance to Club Silencio.

A scene from Mulholland Drive


South of the parking lot next to the Banks-Huntley Building—that lot where the limo’s windshield gets smashed—is the Majestic Downtown, a Beaux Art building that opened in 1924 as the Hellman Commercial Trust and Savings Bank.

David Lynch used the interior as the Twin Peaks Savings & Loan when he filmed the scenes in the last episode of Twin Peaks Season 2, showing Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) chaining herself to a vault (in what was supposed to be Washington state).

But the exterior won’t look familiar. Lynch apparently filmed the bank’s exterior on the Universal Studios Lot, according to Steven Miller’s Twin Peaks Blog.

In 2014, the former bank space inside the building became a nightclub called the Reserve, where you can see that vault from Twin Peaks. I did not get the chance to go inside.

Photo from the Reserve


After Betty and Rita are seen entering the neon-lit doorway for Club Sliencio in Mulholland Drive, the following scene shows them watching a dreamlike show inside that mysterious club.

Mulholland Drive

No hay banda! There is no band! Il n’est pas de orquestra! This is all a tape recording. No hay banda! And yet we hear a band.”

Lynch did not film that interior scene in the Palace Theatre, however. He filmed inside the Tower Theatre, which is at the corner of Broadway and Eighth Street—just one block east and one block south of the spot where Lynch filmed the club’s doorway.

The Tower Theatre building is also where Lynch filmed the Mulholland Drive scenes where Theroux’s character is seen staying inside a run-down place called the Park Hotel.

Years later, Lynch returned to the Tower Theatre, using its interior as a location in the third season of Twin Peaks (or, as many people call it, Twin Peaks: The Return). This was the otherworldly space occupied by a character known as the Fireman (a.k.a. the Giant) and Señorita Dido. On his Twin Peaks Blog, Steven Miller analyzes where Lynch filmed these scenes within the building.

Twin Peaks publicity photo by Suzanne Tenner

The Tower Theatre opened in 1927, designed by S. Charles Lee with a blend of French Baroque, Moorish, and Spanish design elements. The theater originally had a Vitaphone horn behind its screen, protruding through the building’s rear wall into the alley.

On October 5, 1927, the Tower screened a sneak preview of The Jazz Singer, one night before its official premiere at New York City’s Warner Theatre. See the Los Angeles Theatres blog for a detailed history of the Tower Theatre, along with many examples of movies where the theater is visible.

Motion Picture News, December 28, 1929

The Tower stopped showing movies in 1988, and the building has not generally been open to the public in recent years. So I was stuck on the outside, unable to see those spaces inside where Lynch filmed those incredible scenes…

The Tower Theatre’s website includes some photos of the interior…

Tower Theatre website
Tower Theatre website

When I was standing outside the building, I didn’t know why it had construction walls and scaffolding around it. I’ve since learned that the Tower Theatre is under renovation. In August 2018, Apple announced its plans to convert it into a store and event space.

“Apple has the original blueprints for the Tower and will use them along with photographs and other records to restore original theater highlights such as murals, decorations and a leaded-glass window over the entrance,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Apple released an artist’s rendering of what the Tower Theatre space will look like after it reopens as an Apple store (at some date in the future, not yet announced). I hope some of the architectural details seen in Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks will be visible inside the store.

Artist’s rendering from Apple


Mulholland Drive includes a brief shot showing the Hotel Barclay—which is supposed to the building where a character named Ed (Vincent Castellanos) has an office.

“Look at my digs. Times are tough, bro.”

This is where a criminal named Joe Messing (Mark Pellegrino) kills Ed and steals his “famous black book” (“the history of the world in phone numbers”). After the killing-theft goes seriously awry, Joe makes his getaway via the fire escape.

The building, at 103 West Fourth Street, opened as the Van Nuys Hotel in 1897. A 2017 article at Curbed Los Angeles documents the hotel’s long history of “gruesome slayings and bloody accidents.”

“It is still a low-income residence and seems to be stubbornly resisting the gentrification that is going on all around,” Curbed noted.

A historical plaque on the opposite corner notes that Woody Guthrie often played his folk music on the streets here.


Built in 1910, the fire station at 225 East Fifth Street was the Los Angeles Fire Department headquarters for a decade. The building’s decor was so ornate that critics called it the “Taj Mahal” of firehouses. The impoverished area surrounding Fire Station No. 23, which closed in 1960, is known as Skid Row.

David Lynch filmed the death row scenes for his 1997 movie Lost Highway inside this fire station.

“Shit. That wife killer’s looking pretty fucked up.”

The building also appears in Ghostbusters, Big Trouble in Little China, The Mask, Flatliners, National Security, and other movies.

In 2018, Curbed Los Angeles reported that the city of Los Angeles plans to turn the old fire station into an art center. “Each year this building has been subject to vandalism, rain damage, and other deterioration,” project manager Neil Drucker said. Some Skid Row activists spoke out against the proposal.


The Bradbury Building was near the top of my list of things I wanted to see in L.A. Watching the documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself, I was fascinated to see how this building’s skylight-illuminated interior has appeared in many different movies over the years. The 99% Invisible podcast also devoted an episode to the Bradbury Building, calling it “arguably the biggest architectural movie star in all of Los Angeles.”

In Ridley Scott’s 1982 movie Blade Runner, the Bradbury feels spectral, with beams of light shining down from an advertising zeppelin through the skylight. It’s where the replicant designer J.F. Sebastian (played by William Sanderson) lives, along with a menagerie of his mechanical creatures.

Blade Runner

In the commentary on the Blu-ray of Blade Runner: The Final Cut, Scott recalls: “The Bradbury Building I was told was a cliché, and millions of TV series had been made in it. Eventually, I just stopped listening.”

The Bradbury Building’s exterior is nice, but nothing all that remarkable.

But, oh that interior!

Gold mining millionaire Lewis Bradbury had the building constructed in 1893, hiring a draftsman named George Wyman. According to 99% Invisible’s Avery Trufelman, Wyman was inspired by a passage in Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, an 1887 novel that predicted what the world would be like in the year 2000:

“It was the first interior of a twentieth-century public building that I had ever beheld, and the spectacle naturally impressed me deeply. I was in a vast hall full of light, received not alone from the windows on all sides, but from the dome, the point of which was a hundred feet above. … The walls and ceiling were frescoed in mellow tints, calculated to soften without absorbing the light which flooded the interior.

It’s hard to capture the Bradbury Building’s essence in a still photograph. Here’s a video I took as I entered the structure’s atrium:

In his Blade Runner commentary, Ridley Scott recalled making the Bradbury Building look desolate and spooky during a nighttime shoot: “The mucking up of this building to make it look deserted was very simple, because I only dressed where you see: little bits of water on the ground. Bits of rubbish that could be easily swept up afterwards. So you don’t need to do much, you don’t need to trash the whole goddamn building. … We were cleaning up rubbish as we went, so we could leave that night.”

Blade Runner

In Blade Runner, the Bradbury Building’s entrance is flanked by large columns. “I said, ‘I need something in the street to make it weird,'” Scott recalled. “… So we just stood it up in the front door, shot it that night, and took it away.”


The Million Dollar Theatre, which opened in 1917 and still stands across the street from the Bradbury Building, is visible in Blade Runner.


I took a walk through downtown’s Second Street Tunnel, where Ridley Scott filmed some scenes for Blade Runner.

“I had them go in and they just blasted it with water,” Scott recalls in his commentary track for Blade Runner: The Final Cut. “… We just hit it with water and let it dry out and just brought the car down the middle, and it kind of looked futuristic. And glittered like diamonds.”

This tunnel is also where the car repossessors led by Harry Dean Stanton’s character Bud confront their rivals, the Rodriguez Brothers, in director Alex Cox’s 1984 film Repo Man.


In Los Angeles Plays Itself, Thom Andersen observes:

“As the major gateway to Los Angeles in the ’40s and ’50s, it has been a location for many movies and a favorite site for movie kidnappings. Through its corridors and grand lobby have passed gangsters, drug dealers, political protesters, Munchkins, even an alien in heat disguised as a railroad conductor. Yet Union Station hasn’t always played itself. It was a police station in Blade Runner.”


Los Angeles City Hall was the city’s tallest building from its completion in 1928 until 1964, and it can be seen in numerous films and television shows, from the original Dragnet series and Mildred Pierce to L.A. Confidential. It’s destroyed by Martians in 1953’s War of the Worlds.


An art deco building from 1935, it stands a block away from the spot where an earlier Los Angeles Times Building was destroyed in 1910—in a bombing that killed 21 newspaper employees. The newspaper moved out of this building in 2018. Some movies and TV shows have been filmed inside. It’s where David Lynch filmed the Twin Peaks Season 3 scenes set inside the office of Duncan Todd (Patrick Fischler), which is supposedly in Las Vegas.


This modernist 1965 high-rise houses the headquarters of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power—and appears prominently in Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film Inception.



Once again, I will quote from Los Angeles Plays Itself:

“The movies loved Bunker Hill. The lords of the city hated it. Rents were low, so it put the wrong kind of people too close to downtown. Bunker Hill became a target for slum clearance or urban renewal. They had to destroy it in order to save it.”

“The new Bunker Hill looks like a simulated city…”


The Angels Flight funicular railway has appeared in many movies over the years. The one currently in operation is at a different location from the original one, which ran from 1901 to 1969.


The opening shot of Billy Wilder’s 1944 film Double Indemnity
South Olive Street and West Fifth Street


The climatic scene of 1974’s Chinatown was filmed on Spring Street south of Ord Street in the Chinatown neighborhood, which is just north of downtown L.A.


Comparing my photo of that block with the movie, I now realize that I was facing the wrong direction. There’s one building you can see in both photos: the one with several curved arches on its façade. It’s on the left side in the movie, but the right side in my photograph. I was facing north. Apparently, the camera in Chinatown was facing south.

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”


An image from Eraserhead
510 South Santa Fe Avenue, Los Angeles


After catastrophic floods in the 1930s, Los Angeles officials and the Army Corps of Engineers completely encased the Los Angeles River’s bed and banks in concrete.

It became an iconic location for movies. Scenes were filmed here for Point Blank, Repo Man, Grease, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Dark Knight Rises, To Live and Die in L.A., Drive, and All Quiet on the Western Front (which disguised it as a European battlefront during World War I).

I stopped to take a photo of the river from the bridge on Seventh Street, looking north. In the distance, you can see Sixth Street, where the old bridge is being dismantled and replaced with a new one featuring a wavy design.

Continued in Part 6.

See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

In this part: “Nite Owl Café” / Safety Last! / The door to Club Silencio / The Banks-Huntley Building / “Twin Peaks Savings & Loan” / The Tower Theatre / Hotel Barclay / Fire Station No. 23 / The Bradbury Building / The Million Dollar Theatre / The Second Street Tunnel / Union Station / Los Angeles City Hall / The Los Angeles Times Building / The John Ferraro Building / Los Angeles Central Library / Bunker Hill / Angels Flight / Double Indemnity’s opening shot / The final scene of Chinatown / The viaduct in Eraserhead / The Los Angeles River

Photos by Robert Loerzel unless noted otherwise.


Looking for Hollywood history and David Lynch’s Los Angeles: Part 4


Detail from the 1937 map Hollywood Starland : Official Moviegraph of the Land of Stars, Where They Live, Where They Work and Where They Play

See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

In this part: Paramount Studios / The Hollywood Walk of Fame / The death scene in Inland Empire / The Frolic Room / Cinerama Dome / Alto Nido Apartments / Hollywood Center Motel / Hollywood Athletic Club / Crossroads of the World / Capitol Records / Mural at Sunset and Vine / Philip Marlowe’s office / Amoeba Music


During my trip to L.A., I took the Paramount Studio Tour—a fun time for movie fans. The $60, two-hour tour takes you through the backlots where film crews are at work.

I didn’t spot any movie stars, but I still got a thrill out of sensing the work of movies being made nearby. And I loved seeing those big beige buildings where filmmakers create their fictional worlds—including one where Alfred Hitchcock’s team surreptitiously excavated the floor to create more vertical height for the set of Rear Window. (That’s the story our tour guide told us, anyway.)

Bronson Gate

Bronson Gate used to be Paramount’s main entrance, but the studio complex expanded, taking over the street in front of it. It’s visible in many movies, including Billy Wilder’s 1950 classic Sunset Boulevard and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. In Lynch’s film, the same car that was featured so prominently in Sunset Boulevard—the luxurious 1929 Isotta Fraschini 8A owned by silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson)—is seen parked just beyond Bronson Gate.

It’s said to be good luck to touch the metal of the Bronson Gate as you enter Paramount. But our tour guide warned us: When you’re walking out through the gates, it’s bad luck to touch them.

The former offices of Alfred Hitchcock at Paramount, where he blocked these windows with bookcases.
An area of the Paramount complex nicknamed Star Trek Alley, because Star Trek movies and shows have been filmed in the buildings along here.

[Addendum, November 7, 2019 — I didn’t realize it at the time, but the above photo shows the area of the Paramount complex where David Lynch filmed scenes for Inland Empire. The movie within the movie, On High in Blue Tomorrows, is filmed inside Stage 4, a building just right of where I took this picture. That’s where Laura Dern’s character, actress Nikki Grace, gets lost within the movie sets, entering different layers of reality. Near the end of Inland Empire, Dern’s character exits Stage 4, coming out into this area, where Stages 5 and 6 are visible across the roadway. That’s when some red curtains mysteriously appear, taking Dern’s character into an old movie theater and back into another world. Earlier in Inland Empire, Paramount Stage 32 is also briefly visible—a building near the fake streets of New York.]

Paramount films water scenes at this blue parking lot next to a fake sky (after adding water, of course). This is where Charlton Heston as Moses parted the Red Sea in 1956’s The Ten Commandments.
A props warehouse
Some of the fake New York City streets at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, which have been used in many films and TV shows.
These New York subway stairs lead down one flight, ending at a wall.


I didn’t realize that the Hollywood Walk of Fame sprawled across quite as many blocks as it does. When I arrived in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles, two of the first stars I noticed in the sidewalks were those honoring Oliver Hardy and Orson Welles.

I couldn’t help noticing the shoddy condition of the stars in some areas of Hollywood. Most of the damaged stars I noticed were blank ones.


Seeing those stars on Hollywood’s sidewalks got me thinking about one of the most memorable moments in David Lynch’s 2006 movie Inland Empire: the scene where Laura Dern’s character dies on a Hollywood Boulevard sidewalk, surrounded by street people who are either unfazed by her dire condition and oblivious to it.

“You dyin’, lady.”

As Dern recalled in an interview with Los Angeles Magazine: “My character dies on a star near Hollywood and Vine. Right on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Not that far from Grauman’s.”

In the film, Dern’s character (or her characters?) wanders back and forth on these streets. At times, the geography may be deliberately jumbled, like the movie itself.

Dern is near a pay phone at 6330 Hollywood Boulevard when she sees her doppelgänger across the street. At another point, she’s near a pay phone at 6331 Hollywood Boulevard, over on that side of the street.

6330 Hollywood Boulevard, as seen in Inland Empire
Google Streetview of 6330 Hollywood Boulevard (April 2019)

Dern enters a nightclub somewhere in the vicinity. Later, when she is back on the streets, she is stabbed—right next to the sidewalk star for actress Dorothy Lamour, at 6332 Hollywood Boulevard.

But after the stabbing, Dern is seen walking north on Vine Street, going through the intersection of Hollywood and Vine, and heading west on Hollywood Boulevard.

Images from Inland Empire

A Starbucks currently occupies the corner space in a building seen behind Dern as she walks through the intersection.

On the block of Hollywood Boulevard west of Vine Street, there’s a club called Dejà Vu Showgirls …

Along with the star for Gloria Swanson, among others …

And there’s a lot where a promotional display for the movie It Chapter Two was being dismantled at the time of my visit…

And the Church of Scientology’s L. Ron Hubbard Life Exhibition was open late at night, with a bust of Hubbard visible through the open doors, sitting in front of a shimmering screen. This place is visible in the background of the scenes in Inland Empire.

But soon after Dern is seen walking west on the street, another shot shows her walking east on the same block, with some of the buildings on Ivar Avenue behind her.

Images from Inland Empire

At nighttime, some of the storefronts on this block were covered by metal shutters, just like the ones seen behind Dern as she dies in Inland Empire.

This is what the south side of the street looks like:

Google Streetview (January 2017)

The grainy, digital look of Lynch’s Inland Empire makes it difficult to decipher details such as the names on the stars in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. So I wasn’t able to pinpoint exactly where Dern is shown vomiting up blood and dying. But I do know I was somewhere on the same block. (Or were the final moments of that scene filmed inside a studio, as the movie itself suggests?)


A block east from this scene, the Frolic Room is one of Hollywood’s most famous bars—an old-school joint that opened to the public in 1934 (after operating as a private speakeasy lounge called Freddy’s).

Charles Bukowski was said to be a regular, and the Frolic Room was reportedly the last place that Elizabeth Short, the murder victim known as the Black Dahlia, was seen alive. Brian DePalma’s 2006 movie of The Black Dahlia used the bar as a location, as did L.A. Confidential. And Howard Hughes owned both this place, along with the adjacent Theatre, from 1949 to 1954.

I stopped in for a beer, eavesdropping on a young guy down the bar who was talking about Quentin Tarantino.


I saw a movie on the curved screen at the Pacific Theatre’s Cinerama Dome—a new digital restoration of the 1956 travelogue documentary Seven Wonders of the World. Like other movies in the Cinerama format, it was filmed with three side-by-side cameras. That triptych is projected onto the curved screen inside this geodesic dome.

I watched half of the movie from a seat close to the screen, which created an odd effect: The images off on the far left and far right sides were in my peripheral vision if I looked straight ahead. If I glanced over to one of the sides, the images there were remarkably sharp and focused.

Rick Schuler, location manager for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood told Fandango: “DiCaprio and Pitt drive by the theater where the premiere of Krakatoa, East of Java is taking place…”
“Designed by Welton Becket and Associates and completed in 1963, the Cinerama Dome was originally designed as a prototype to be used throughout the country to showcase the new Cinerama process, but only a few other Cinerama theatres were ever built…”


1851 North Ivar Street, the apartment building where Joe Gillis (William Holden) lives in Sunset Boulevard.


A location seen in L.A. Confidential … The vacant motel was looking pretty desolate when I visited.


In director Robert Aldrich’s great 1955 film-noir Kiss Me Deadly, this is where detective Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) finds the “great whatsit”—a briefcase containing a mysteriously hot and glowing substance—inside a locker.


In L.A. Confidential, “Designer Robert Vincent Derrah’s ‘pedestrian village’ in Hollywood is the site of Sid Hudgens’ (Danny DeVito) cluttered Hush-Hush office,” the Curbed Los Angeles website notes.




Author Raymond Chandler’s detective character Philip Marlowe “famously worked on the seventh floor of the ‘Cahuenga Building’—actually the former Security Bank Building at the corner of Hollywood and Cahuenga,” the website says. “Opened in 1922, it served as a branch for the bank, as well as rental office space.”


Continued in Part 5.

See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.
In this part: Paramount Studios / The Hollywood Walk of Fame / The death scene in Inland Empire / The Frolic Room / Cinerama Dome / Alto Nido Apartments / Hollywood Center Motel / Hollywood Athletic Club / Crossroads of the World / Capitol Records / Mural at Sunset and Vine / Philip Marlowe’s office / Amoeba Music

Photos by Robert Loerzel unless noted otherwise.


Looking for Hollywood history and David Lynch’s Los Angeles: Part 3


See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

In this part: The Snow White Cottages, a.k.a. Sierra Bonita / Snow White Café / Griffith Observatory / Bronson Caves / The Hollywood Sign and Sunset Ranch / The tailgating scene from Lost Highway?


“It’s right about here on Sierra Bonita. That’s not too far away.”

In David Lynch’s movie Mulholland Drive, the Diane Selwyn character lives in the Sierra Bonita Apartments—supposedly at 2590 Sierra Bonita Avenue.

A scene from Mulholland Drive

We see Betty Elms (Naomi Watts’s character in the movie’s first part) looking for the apartments on a map of Los Angeles. She points to a spot near the corner of De Longpre Avenue and Hobart Boulevard in East Hollywood, not far from the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue. All of this geography may be purposely fictional.

In reality, Lynch filmed the Sierra Bonita scenes at a complex nicknamed the Snow White Cottages, at 2900 Griffith Park Boulevard in Central L.A.’s Los Feliz neighborhood.

These eight cottages were constructed in 1931, a block away from where Walt Disney had opened his studio two years earlier (at 2719 Hyperion Avenue, where a Gelson’s Market grocery store is today). Disney animators lived in these 700-square-foot, one-bedroom homes, including Claude Coats and his wife, Evelyn Henry, walking to work down the street. Henry later described the cottages:

“They’re real cute. Thatched roofs and looked just like a Snow White cottage. They were all separate cottages. They were not adjoined. Everyone living there worked at the studio.”

It’s sometimes said that Walt Disney built these houses. But in reality, they were built and designed by Ben Sherwood.

According to the Finding Los Angeles website: “The Snow White cottages feature crooked roofs, timber-frame facades, picture-perfect windowboxes and landscaping, intentionally-worn chimneys, and a tower at the far end of the bungalow courtyard. For Disney’s animators who lived in and walked by these storybook cottages everyday, there’s no doubt that art imitated life through their renderings of the fairytale cottage now immortalized in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

“Oh, it’s adorable! Just like a doll’s house. I like it here. Ooh, it’s dark inside.” — Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

The cottage from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

I wonder: Is the connection between this filming location and Disney’s classic 1937 movie based on the Snow White fairy tale mere happenstance? Or does it have some deeper resonance for Lynch?

On another note, singer-songwriter Elliott Smith lived in two different cottages in the complex in the 1990s, but he’d moved out by the time of his death in 2003.

The Snow White Cottages are private property, of course, with a locked gate. I walked along the front of the complex and looked down the alley (where the characters in Mulholland Drive go, seeking to hide from seemingly ominous men sitting in a nearby car).


During my visit to L.A. I happened upon another place with connections to Disney’s classic 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs—the Snow White Café, a cozy little bar and restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard, where the walls are adorned with paintings of Snow White’s characters.

I asked the bartender: “What’s the deal with the Snow White theme?” He told me Disney’s animators used to hang out at the café, which opened in 1946, and that Walt Disney himself donated the artwork. This story seems to be more or less true, according to an article on the Only in Hollywood website.

The bartender also told me that the joint had been a speakeasy during the Prohibition Era, owned by Charlie Chaplin. (I’d want to see solid evidence before I buy that story.)


As I noted above, those Snow White Cottages where Lynch filmed scenes for Mulholland Drive are on Griffith Park Boulevard. If you follow that winding street north for a mile, you’ll arrive at Griffith Park itself. With 4,310 acres of mountainous terrain, it’s one of the nation’s largest urban parks, nearly five times the size of New York City’s Central Park. (An article at KCET’s website outlines the history of Griffith Park.)

Not surprisingly, this park has a starring or cameo role in many Hollywood movies. One of its most famous features is the Griffith Observatory, which opened in 1935. This beautiful structure, including a planetarium and a telescope that’s open for free viewing in the evenings, is a signature location in 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause—a role that’s commemorated with a bust of James Dean. (Are those racing cars in Mulholland Drive—the ones that crash into the limo in the opening scene—a nod to the “chickie run” scene in Rebel Without a Cause?)

Griffith Observatory is also where the time-traveling cyborg played by Arnold Schwarzenegger arrives in 1984’s The Terminator. More recently, it appears in La La Land and Under the Silver Lake, in which Andrew Garfield’s character Sam decodes a secret message in a song:

“Rub Dean’s head and wait under Newton.”

In those films, the characters seem to have Griffith Observatory’s grounds to themselves. But when I visited, it was crowded with tourists. It’s a delightful place to look out at L.A.’s landscape, especially as the sun goes down and the city’s lights turn on.


The Bronson Caves are in another area of Griffith Park. This is where the Owl Cave scenes were filmed for Season 2 of Twin Peaks—and, more famously, the mouth of the caves appears as the Bat Cave entrance in the 1960s Batman TV series.

This man-made tunnel is a remnant of a rock quarry opened by Union Rock Company in 1903. It takes only about a minute to walk through the main corridor, as you can see in this video I made:

Wikipedia observes: “Scenes of the main cave entrance are normally filmed in a manner that shows the entrance at an angle because the cave is actually a very short tunnel through the hill, with the rear opening easily visible in a direct shot.”

As the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks website notes, this is “not a spectacular cavern like Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico or Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.”

And yet, thanks to its proximity to Hollywood, the Bronson Caves have appeared in hundred of movies and television shows—including two classics from 1956: In the finale of John Ford’s The Searchers, John Wayne pursues Natalie Wood to the cave’s entrance. And it’s also where Kevin McCarthy’s character hides out in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, only to make a horrifying discovery about his companion, Becky (Dana Wynter).

“I went to sleep, Miles, and it happened.”
“Oh, Becky.”
“They were right.”

Robert Altman filmed a disturbing scene for the climatic moments of 1993’s Short Cuts nearby. More recently, Bronson Caves appear in Hail, Caesar! and Under the Silver Lake.


Next to Bronson Caves and Bronson Canyon, a walking trail leads up to a couple of places with scenic views of the Hollywood Sign. I walked up 1.9 miles to the end of the Hollyridge Trail on Mount Lee, where you can see that iconic sign as well as a location from Lynch’s Mulholland Drive: Sunset Ranch.

This is where Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) goes at night for a meeting with the enigmatic figure called the Cowboy (Lafayette “Monty” Montgomery).

“Where do I meet this Cowboy? I mean, do I have to ride out to the range?”
“Sort of, funny boy. If I tell him the meeting’s on, you have to go to the top of Beachwood Canyon. There’s a corral up there where he’ll be.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

It’s striking how close Sunset Ranch is to the Hollywood Sign. That proximity isn’t apparent in the movie, although Lynch cuts from the nighttime scene directly to a daytime image of the sign. During my visit, I heard horses neighing below me in the private ranch, which offers horse rides on the nearby mountain trails.

Hope Anderson, the director of a documentary called Under the Hollywood Sign, writes: “While the Ranch is not as scary in daylight as it was in Mulholland Dr., it is believed to be haunted. I had already heard stories of a “weird, dark energy” from someone who spent a lot of time there as a child. …

“I interviewed a former Sunset Ranch riding instructor who told me of spending the night in one of the rooms over the barn and hearing a man being hanged, along with choking sounds and the vibration of the rope. …

“Then there’s the strange, wafting scent of gardenias each autumn. Riders and ranch employees report smelling gardenias on the trails in mid-September, near the anniversary of Peg Entwistle’s suicide off the Hollywoodland Sign. No gardenias grow in the area, but Peg wore gardenia perfume.”

Entwistle, a New York stage actress who came to Hollywood and failed to land any of the movie roles she’d dreamed of, climbed 50 feet up a workman’s ladder to the top of the “H” and jumped to her death in 1932.

Los Angeles Times, September 20, 1932
The Californian, September 19, 1932

Eleven years earlier, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce had published an advertisement discouraging people from flocking to Hollywood in the hope of becoming movie stars.

When Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler had the sign built in 1923, it originally said “HOLLYWOODLAND”—the name of a real estate development he was advertising.

The sign makes me think of Eden Ahbez (or “eden ahbez,” as he usually styled his name), the songwriter and proto-hippy who wrote the song “Nature Boy.” Legend has it that Ahbez was living under the first “L” of the “HOLLYWOODLAND” sign in 1947, when he managed to get his song into the hands of Nat King Cole, who turned it into a No. 1 hit.

On his blog about Ahbez, Brian Chidester reports: “According to old-time California nature boy Bob Wallace, Ahbez used to camp out next to a shack up there in his sleeping bag, where he’d also sit and hold his hand-carved bamboo flutes up to the wind to let nature play its own song!”

Promotional photo of Eden Ahbez

As I walked down the trails in Griffith Park after seeing the Hollywood Sign, I encountered a coyote crossing the roadway:


In David Lynch’s 1997 film Lost Highway, tough guy Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia) beats up a motorist who was tailgating him.

“Don’t you ever fucking tailgate! Ever! Ever! Do you know how many fucking car lengths it takes to stop a car at 35 miles an hour?! Six fucking car lengths! That’s 106 fucking feet, mister! If I had to stop suddenly, you would’ve hit me!”

A scene from Lost Highway

I haven’t found information about exactly where this scene was filmed. It takes place on a two-lane road curving through the mountains, much like Mulholland Drive. The Hollywood Sign is visible in the background during the violent assault along the road’s shoulder.

Judging from where the sign is in the background, I’m guessing the scene was filmed in Griffith Park—maybe on Mount Lee Road?

Google satellite

Incidentally, you may notice a spot labeled as The Last House on Mulholland on the Google satellite image above. As of now, it’s actually a vacant lot, but this design won first place in a 2017 architectural contest for the site:

Ambivalent House by Hirsuta (Jason Payne, Michael Zimmerman, Joseph Giampietro, Ryosuke Imaeda). Image: arch out loud

Continued in Part 4.

See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

Photos by Robert Loerzel unless noted otherwise.


Looking for Hollywood history and David Lynch’s Los Angeles: Part 2


See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

In this part: Mulholland Drive / Fred and Renee’s house from Lost Highway / The walk down from Mulholland Drive / Aunt Ruth’s apartment / Pink’s Hot Dogs

“I want to know if there was an accident on Mulholland Drive.”

David Lynch named his 2001 movie Mulholland Drive after one of the most famous roads in Los Angeles.

“I live near it, and I drive it quite often,” he told Filmmaker magazine in 2001. “… So it’s a mysterious road. It’s rural in many places. It’s curvy, it’s two lanes, it feels old. It was built long ago, and it hasn’t changed too much. And at night, you ride on top of the world. In the daytime you ride on top of the world too, but it’s mysterious, and there’s a hair of fear because it goes into remote areas. You feel the history of Hollywood in that road.”

When the Hollywood Hills Improvement Association, “a body composed of a large number of prominent property owners,” proposed the plan for Mulholland Drive in 1922,1 the Los Angeles Times remarked: “The idea has enormous possibilities as a scenic road, since it would command views of ocean, city, mountains and desert without peer in the world.”2

And when the road opened to cars on December 26, 1924,3 it created the possibility of building houses high up in the Hollywood Hills, transforming a wild and mountainous landscape into pricey real estate.

Photo: Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority

The road is named after the man who’d envisioned it: William Mulholland, an Irish immigrant who started working as a ditch digger before rising to become the Los Angeles city engineer and Water Bureau chief. Mulholland (who inspired the Hollis Mulwray character in the 1974 film Chinatown) had overseen the construction of the highly controversial aqueduct carrying water from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles.

William Mulholland
(Wikipedia photo)

“Years ago, in his walks over these hills, Mr. Mulholland saw the possibilities of such a road, and advocated it among his friends,” the Los Angeles Times reported. Remarkably, Mulholland Drive was named after him while he was still serving in office. He’d reportedly suggested naming it after some famous historical figure, but Mulholland’s associates insisted on honoring him.

The Times agreed, saying that the road should be named after “the man whose engineering skill brought to Los Angeles the water supply which has made the Los Angeles of today possible.”2

Mulholland’s career ended in calamity and disgrace, when the St. Francis Dam burst open on March 12, 1928—just over 12 hours after Mulholland and an assistant had inspected the dam and declared it was safe. The resulting flood killed more than 400 people.

I didn’t take many photographs of Mulholland Drive during my visit—because I was too busy driving on it. The scenery is breathtaking all along this winding road. It feels like it’s high above the City of Angels, and yet, it is actually a part of it.

“I think because of the views, Mulholland gives you a semi-religious feeling of being up there and in control,” David Thomson wrote in the 1990s. “It is where Satan would take you if he were to offer you the city.”4

Sweeping around all of those curves, I gripped the steering wheel of my rental car and kept my foot poised to break at any second. Mulholland Drive demands that you stay alert at all times, even as the mountains and mansions tug at your attention, pulling your eyes away from the pavement. It’s no surprise that at least one spot on Mulholland Drive is known as a “dead man’s curve.”

Photographer Jason Knight has documented a car crash graveyard below Mulholland Drive near Laurel Canyon.

In director Lee Tamahori’s 1996 neo-noir movie Mulholland Falls, brute cops throw a mob-connected man down a steep hill next to Mulholland Drive, calling the spot “Mulholland Falls.”

The road and its dangers also loom in the background of Steven Soderbergh’s 1996 film The Limey. “Those streets up them hills, you gotta’ be careful,” Luis Guzmán’s character Eduardo Roel says. “Gotta keep your eyes on the ball. Two o’clock in the morning, it’s dark, your mind’s agitated. You’re driving too fast. Those curves don’t kid around. Could’ve happened to anybody.”

“What are you doing? We don’t stop here.”

David Lynch told interviewer Chris Rodley that his movie sprang out of a simple suggestion: “My former agent Tony Krantz said, ‘Why don’t you do a new television show called Mulholland Dr.*?’ If he hadn’t said that, I would never have done anything with it, so that was a good thing. … It was just those words. ‘Mulholland Drive.’ When you say some words, pictures form, and in this case, what formed was what you see at the beginning of the film—a sign at night, headlights on the sign, and a trip up a road. This makes me dream, and these images are like magnets, and they pull other ideas to them.”5

* The film’s title is often styled as Mulholland Dr.

In the movie’s opening minutes, two cars come screaming down the two-lane highway at nighttime—racing side by side, with young people standing up through the sunroofs of the vehicles, yelling and waving their arms. That would be reckless anywhere, of course, but now that I’ve actually driven on Mulholland Drive, it’s almost unimaginable that anyone would attempt such a stunt on this road.

Those cars crash into a limousine stopped along the road. The passenger in the limo (Laura Elena Harring), whom we’ll come to know as “Rita,” walks away from the crash, heading downhill through the brush along Mulholland Drive—drawn toward the lights of Los Angeles. It’s not clear precisely where on Mulholland Drive this collision is supposed to happen.

The movie returns to the same road in its final scenes, when the characters have changed personas. This time, Diane Selwyn (Naomi Watts) is riding in the limo. Her destination is the home of movie director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux). We’ve heard the address:

6980 Mulholland Drive.

Once again, the limo makes an unexpected stop along Mulholland Drive—but this time, there’s no crash. Harring, now playing the character Camilla Rhodes, takes Diane up a hill to Kesher’s house.

In reality, there is no house at 6980 Mulholland Drive. Does the crash in the first part of the film happen at or near this address mentioned in the last part of the film? Geography suggests that it’s at least somewhere in that vicinity. As Rita walks downhill, she ends up on streets that are south-southwest of 6980 Mulholland Drive.

Google Streetview of 6980 Mulholland Drive

It’s worth noting that the nighttime vista Rita sees in the movie doesn’t seem to quite match what she would see at 6980 Mulholland Drive. (And this isn’t where Lynch filmed the scenes at Adam Kesher’s house isn’t here—that location is reportedly in the Studio City neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley.)

A scene from Mulholland Drive

If a house did exist at 6980 Mulholland Drive, it would be right next to the parking lot for the Jerome C. Daniel Overlook, where I stopped to take in views of the Hollywood Sign, the Hollywood Bowl, and the city of Los Angeles spread out below the Hollywood Hills.

I did not visit Mulholland Drive at nighttime; the closest approximation I have for the nighttime views in Lynch’s film are these photos looking out at Los Angeles from the part of Griffith Park near the Griffith Observatory.


“Dick Laurent is dead.”

There’s something curious about the 6980 Mulholland Drive location.

If Rita walked a few hundred feet downhill from this spot, she’d end up in the backyard of a house from an earlier Lynch movie, 1997’s Lost Highway: the modernist home where jazz musician Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) lives with his wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette).

In the film, the house’s address is identified as “7035 Hollis, near the observatory.” There is, in fact, no such address in L.A. (Is Hollis an allusion to the Chinatown character Hollis Mulwray, a.k.a. William Mulholland?)

The house where Lynch filmed the exterior shots of the house and at least some interior scenes is actually on Senalda Road. According to Zillow, it was built in 1957. Here’s how it was described in a 1959 real estate ad in the Los Angeles Times:6

I drove past this private home a couple of times and snapped a few quick photos without lingering. Perhaps the house seemed spooky merely because of the way I’d seen it used in Lost Highway, but I sensed something forbidding about the building’s fortress-like façade facing that narrow, curving street in the Hollywood Hills neighborhood.

In Los Angeles Plays Itself, Thom Andersen observes:

“One of the glories of Los Angeles is its modernist residential architecture, but Hollywood movies have almost systematically denigrated this heritage by casting many of these houses as the residences of movie villains.”


Scenes from Mulholland Drive

In Mulholland Drive, Rita is next seen walking on the 7400 block of West Franklin Avenue in the Hollywood Hills West neighborhood—about a mile south of Mulholland Drive. (As it happens, this is near the former home of Joan Didion, 7406 Franklin Avenue.)

Scenes from Mulholland Drive

Rita continues walking, heading about half a mile southeast, to the 7200 West Sunset Boulevard in the Hollywood neighborhood. Finally, she falls asleep in some hedges outside an apartment building we later hear identified as 1612 Havenhurst. There’s actually no such address: Havenhurst Drive doesn’t extend north beyond Sunset Boulevard, or 1500 North.

That’s about a mile west of the previous spot where we’ve seen Rita walking, meaning that her entire trek down from Mulholland Drive was something like two and a half miles—a rather long walk for a dazed and injured woman wearing high heels.

Of course, Lynch may not have intended viewers to study the geography of Rita’s walk. And, depending on how you interpret the movie, all of this might be a dream anyway.

Google satellite photo

If, in fact, the spot where Rita falls asleep is supposed to be near Havenhurst and Sunset Boulevard, that would place it in the suburb of West Hollywood.

Looming northwest of the intersection is the seven-story Chateau Marmont hotel, built in 1929, where Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, and Lindsay Lohan stayed; John Belushi and Helmut Newton died; Robert Mitchum was arrested; Jim Morrison jumped from a fourth-floor window; and Dorothy Parker, Hunter S. Thompson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Jay McInerney wrote.

Half a block south on Havenhurst, a dotted line is painted across the street, marking the boundary between the cities of Los Angeles and West Hollywood.

On the same block, the Mi Casa apartments were filmed in Chinatown—appearing as the El Macondo Apartments, where detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) takes clandestine photos of Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling) in a romantic rendezvous.


“Everybody in this building’s pretty much OK with me—or they wouldn’t be here.”

When she awakens, Rita hides in an apartment, as a tenant named Aunt Ruth (Maya Bond) departs on a trip. Later, Aunt Ruth’s niece Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) arrives. Lynch filmed these exterior scenes at the Il Borghese Apartments, a couple of miles to the southeast—at 450 North Sycamore Avenue in the Hancock Park neighborhood.

Built in 1929 and designed by Charles Gault, the Mediterranean-style building was on the cover of the book Courtyard Housing in Los Angeles, which called it “one of the most elegant of the courts.”

Curbed Los Angeles reported: “According to a tipster: ‘Shirley Temple lived here. Errol Flynn partied here, Ann-Margaret visited her publicist here, Lionel Richie found his current wife here.’ And we can’t confirm a damn bit of it…”

I photographed the exterior of the building, with its distinctive arched gates. I could hear the trickling of the fountain inside the courtyard, a sound that appears a few times in Mulholland Drive.

For photos of the courtyard, check out this blog post by Jonathan Myles-Lea, who notes: “Apparently a large olive tree existed on the lot where [Il] Borghese was to be built and instead of uprooting the tree, Gault centred the building’s courtyard around it. The 100 year old tree is still there today.” And for a look inside one of the units, see this story at the Apartment Therapy website.


“Any new girls on the street lately? … A brunette? Maybe a little beat up? You’ll keep your eyes open for me won’t, you baby?”

Another Mulholland Drive location is just three blocks from the Il Borghese apartments: Pink’s Hot Dogs at 709 North La Brea Avenue. Billing itself as “A Hollywood Legend Since 1939,” the popular restaurant is where Lynch filmed the hitman Joe (Mark Pellegrino) talking with a couple of his associates along the building’s north wall.

Paul Pink and his wife, Betty, started selling 10-cent wieners from a cart at the same corner in 1939, before constructing the restaurant in 1946.7 It’s one of those oddly configured commercial buildings that seem cobbled together; the hot dog stand shares space with a lamp store. In Los Angeles Plays Itself, Thom Andersen describes Pink’s as one of those “a few Los Angeles landmarks that almost always play themselves.”

Pink’s serves a delicious and decadent item dubbed the Mulholland Drive Dog: a nine-inch “stretch dog,” grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, nacho cheese, and bacon. Inside, the many photos of celebrities and customers on the walls include an autographed picture of Lynch. Above his name, he wrote:


Continued in Part 3.

See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

In this part: Mulholland Drive / Fred and Renee’s house from Lost Highway / The walk down from Mulholland Drive / Aunt Ruth’s apartment / Pink’s Hot Dogs


1 “Scenic Boulevard From Hollywood to Sea Over Crest of Santa Monica Mountains,” Los Angeles Times, December 24, 1922.
2 “Fact and Comment,” Los Angeles Times, December 24, 1922.
3 “High Way Fete to Be Free,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 26, 1924.
4 David Thomson, Beneath Mulholland: Thoughts on Hollywood and Its Ghosts (New York: Knopf, 1998); quoted in Thomas Curwen, “‘If you ever want to fly…’,” Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2006.
David Lynch, ed. Chris Rodley, Lynch on Lynch (New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2005 edition), excerpted in Criterion Collection booklet for Mulholland Drive, 25-26.
6 Classified advertisement, Los Angeles Times, March 15, 1959.
7 Larry Gordon, “Chili Dog Champ Paul Pink Dies at Age 87,” Los Angeles Times, March 3, 1996.
Follow links in the text for additional sources.

Photos by Robert Loerzel except where noted otherwise.


Looking for Hollywood history and David Lynch’s Los Angeles: Part 1

I went to Los Angeles. I looked for locations where some of my favorite L.A. movies were made. Especially the films of David Lynch, but others, too. Here’s what I saw and learned…


See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

In this part: Greystone Mansion / Beverly Center / Franklin Canyon Park



“In heaven, everything is fine.”


As a fan of David Lynch’s films, I wanted to see the place where Eraserhead was born. But that is hardly the only claim to fame for Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills.

This West Coast palace was built with oil money. Edward Doheny Sr., who’d discovered oil in Los Angeles in 1892, had this 55-room Tudor Revival-style home built in the late 1920s—as a gift for his son, Ned Doheny.

On February 16, 1929, five months after Ned and his family had moved in, he was found dead in the mansion alongside the body of his friend and aide Hugh Plunkett. Both had been shot in the head.

“After a quick investigation, authorities ruled that a deranged Plunkett shot his employer and then turned the gun on himself, but to this day the sensational crime is a source of rumor and speculation,” the Los Angeles Times wrote in 2003.

Los Angeles Times, February 18, 1929
Great Falls Tribune, February 18, 1929

As it happened, both men were due to testify in the trial of Ned Doheny’s father in the Teapot Dome case—perhaps the biggest political scandal in U.S. history before Watergate. And Ned was accused of serving as his father’s bribery bagman.

Edward Doheny Sr. was later found not guilty of bribing an official in President Warren G. Harding’s Cabinet, even though the official was found guilty of taking the bribe.

The story of the Dohenys inspired Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!—which Paul Thomas Anderson loosely adapted into his 2007 film There Will Be Blood, one of many, many movies filmed at Greystone Mansion.

And some scholars believe that Raymond Chandler had Greystone Mansion in mind when he described the home of General Sternwood, an aging oil tycoon, in his 1939 novel The Big Sleep (filmed in 1946 by Howard Hawks).

The Big Sleep

Greystone was later owned by Chicago industrialist Henry Crown, who leased it out for movie shoots. He planned to tear it down and subdivide the property, but Beverly Hills stopped demolition by buying the mansion in 1965.

The city leased it to the American Film Institute—and that’s where David Lynch enters the picture, arriving as an AFI student in 1970. Beginning in 1972, Lynch spent four years making Eraserhead, transforming the Greystone Mansion’s stables into a makeshift studio—creating a weird world inside its walls.

In his 2018 book Room to Dream, Lynch wrote:

“Nobody was using the stables at the AFI, so I set up there and had a pretty-good-size studio for four years. Some people from the school came down the first night of shooting and they never came down again. I was so lucky—it was like I’d died and gone to heaven.”1

For a time, Lynch even lived in the stables. “I moved into the stables when Peggy and I split up, and that was the greatest place. I’d lock myself in Henry’s room and I loved sleeping there, but eventually I had to leave …”2

The American Film Institute moved out of the mansion after 1981. Today, the grounds are a public park, Historic Doheny Greystone Estate (905 Loma Vista Drive, Beverly Hills) while the mansion itself is open only for special events.

It’s an astonishingly beautiful place. Strolling amid the buildings and gardens, I felt as if I’d somehow wandered onto the grounds of an English castle.

At first, it wasn’t clear to me where the stables were located, but I found a map on a placard, which showed the stables down at the southwest corner of the estate, along Doheny Road.

The gates to this section were locked, much as I’d expected. These utilitarian buildings are hardly the main attraction for most visitors, even if I think they deserve to be preserved—not only for their architectural beauty, but as a shrine to the creation of Eraserhead.

The Criterion Collection’s edition of Eraserhead includes a short film from 1997 documenting a visit by Lynch, Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, and Catherine Coulson to the stables. Even they weren’t allowed inside the buildings, apparently.

Until I visited this spot, I’d had trouble picturing the place where Lynch and his small team of collaborators created their surreal film, which seems so far removed from the milieu of Los Angeles. The contrast was even more striking as I stood outside the wall on Doheny Road, which is lined with tall palm trees. It’s hard to imagine how anything like Eraserhead had emerged from this sunny street lined with luxurious estates.

Greystone Mansion has a Zelig-like presence in Hollywood films and TV shows. Dozens of movies have been filmed in its rooms and gardens over the decades, including—to name just a few—Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, The Disorderly Orderly, The Loved One, Stripes, Ghostbusters, The Witches of Eastwick, X-Men, Spider-Man, The Prestige, and The Social Network.

In The Big Lebowski, its interiors served as the mansion of the title character (the wealthy Lebowski, of course, not the Dude). It was also Kermit the Frog’s mansion in 2011’s The Muppets.

It would be fascinating to see the scenes showing Greystone in these various films edited together, to see how the same spaces have been used time and time again. Through its numerous film roles, Greystone has become the archetype of a classic West Coast mansion.

There Will Be Blood

In There Will Be Blood, it’s the mansion of oil tycoon Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), where he proclaims, “I drink your milkshake!” That was the first film made inside the mansion’s subterranean bowling alley, located near the old laundry room where Lynch had constructed the stage for Eraserhead‘s Lady in the Radiator in the 1970s.3

Raymond Chandler

In Chandler’s The Big Sleep, private detective Philip Marlowe describes departing Greystone—or a mansion similar to it, anyway:

Outside the bright gardens had a haunted look, as though small wild eyes were watching me from behind the bushes, as though the sunshine itself had a mysterious something in its light. I got into my car and drove off down the hill. What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that.4



Two miles southeast of Greystone, David Lynch filmed some outdoor scenes for Eraserhead on the land southeast of Beverly Boulevard and San Vicente Boulevard, in the Beverly Grove neighborhood of Los Angeles.

I didn’t visit this site—largely because I knew that nothing remains to be seen of the landscape Lynch filmed. Nevertheless, it’s fascinating to consider how much this place has changed.


Lynch told interviewer Chris Rodley:

“… it was one of my favorite places in the whole world. You’d go over this doughnut of earth and down inside this place, and you’d be in a completely different world. There were these oil tanks and this working oil well just standing there. It was just incredible.”

Lynch said he liked this place because it seemed frozen in time since the 1930s. “… it hadn’t changed. It was like a set. This place just existed there.”5

Back in 1931, the Ripley’s Believe It or Not cartoon had told readers about an oil well near this site:6

Beverly Park, an amusement park with a dozen kiddie rides, opened here in 1946, leasing land from the Beverly Oil Company and disguising the neighboring oil well as a dragon with flapping wings. Walt Disney’s visits to the park reportedly inspired him to create Disneyland.

(KCET reports that Alfred Hitchcock filmed 1951’s Strangers on a Train here, but that seems to be incorrect. From the American Film Institute website: “According to a Nov 1950 HR news items, the amusement park set was constructed at director Rowland V. Lee’s Ranch, which was located in the San Fernando Valley…” The Carousel Corner website agrees, noting that Hitchcock’s movie, featuring “the greatest carousel movie scene ever,” used a rental Herschell carousel.)

Beverly Park closed in 1974—around the time when Lynch filmed Eraserhead—while the adjacent Ponyland stayed open a few more years.

“Beverly Ponyland consisted of a dusty, dirty row of old wooden stalls with a 3-track riding ring where one could hear the sounds of snorting ponies, jingling bits, creaking leather saddles and sporadic ‘Giddyups,’ while the pungent mixture of hay and fresh droppings filled the air,” KCET notes.

“… After Beverly Park closed, some of the rides remained on the lot. They stood forlornly behind a chained up gate, bearing a misleading sign which read, ‘closed for renovations.'”

Photos from the Water and Power Associates website

Lynch recalled: “There was a pony ride from the twenties or thirties. And there was this little key shop that was like four feet by four feet, with a roof. And then there was the Tail o’ the Pup hot dog stand, which has moved to another place now. And there was Hull Bros. Lumber, which was a working sawmill, I think, with a hundred-foot-tall mound of sawdust next to it. There was also a nursery. It was all, like, from the thirties—mostly dirt, with this stuff scattered around. The buildings were ancient, and guys wore those green-colored visors and armbands. They were old-timers who knew about wood and Hollywood and everything.”5

In 1979, two years after the release of Eraserhead, construction crews began building the eight-story Beverly Center shopping mall on this land. “Now it’s just like, a congestion of shops and parking and lights and signs. It’s just a huge change,” Lynch later remarked.5

In 1984, the Los Angeles Times reported that neighbors “said it was one of the ugliest buildings in the city and called it the Incredible Bulk.”7

In 1991, architecture critic Aaron Betsky wrote: “The Beverly Center is not a pretty building. It’s big, it’s brown, and it’s a blob.” He called the mall’s interior a “shining shopping nirvana” and “the Acropolis of shopping, dedicated to our national religion, consumption.”8

Since renovations were completed in 2018, the bulky shopping center is no longer brown. It “now boasts a new glimmering white skin made of a highly textured stucco surmounting a metal mesh which changes transparency through the day and according to the viewer’s vantage point.”

Google Streetview

It’s utterly unrecognizable as the place where Lynch filmed, but oil wells are still operating on the property, concealed by the tall walls along San Vicente Boulevard.


Driving north three miles from Greystone Mansion—taking Loma Vista Drive and Coldwater Canyon Drive—you’ll arrive at Franklin Canyon Park, where several scenes were filmed for Twin Peaks, especially for the second season of the TV series. This California park serves as a stand-in for the forests of Washington state in these scenes, which were mostly filmed by directors other than David Lynch.

Scenes from Twin Peaks

Glastonberry Grove’s ring of sycamore trees—that portal into the Black Lodge—was reportedly filmed somewhere in these woods. So was Windom Earle’s cabin, and various forest outings by Twin Peaks characters. It’s where the show’s lawmen took a walk. And it’s where Hawk found Major Briggs. (For details about these and other places where Twin Peaks was filmed, visit location sleuth Steven Miller’s excellent Twin Peaks Blog.)

I took a short drive into Franklin Canyon Park, but alas, I didn’t have enough time to search for these locations—or the many other places where movies and TV shows were filmed. When I visited, it looked like a movie crew was filming something.

Franklin Canyon has appeared in It Happened One Night, The Blob, Minority Report, Platoon, Nightmare on Elm Street, Rambo, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Purple Rain, and the original Star Trek TV series episode “The Paradise Syndrome.”

Perhaps most famously, a lake in the canyon serves as the backdrop for the opening credits of The Andy Griffith Show.

Franklin Canyon is also where two 1960s album covers were photographed: Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence and the Rolling Stones’ Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass).

This canyon is where Los Angeles Water Bureau chief William Mulholland built reservoirs and a “Mighty Siphon of Riveted Steel” from 1913 to 1916, completing a 230-mile aqueduct that carried water from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles.

Without all of that water, it’s doubtful that L.A. could have continued growing into a massive city, and the Los Angeles Times hailed this “splendid achievement by Mulholland and his assistants.”9 But people in the Owens Valley accused L.A. of stealing their water.

Illustration of William Mulholland in the Los Angeles Times, March 20, 1915
Los Angeles Times, March 20, 1915

Mulholland was the inspiration for a character named Hollis Mulwray in Robert Towne’s screenplay for Roman Polanski’s 1974 film Chinatown. Don’t take that version of the story too literally, though.

In Los Angeles Plays Itself—a 2003 documentary that was one of the inspirations for my movie-location hunt in L.A.—director Thom Andersen observes:

“Robert Towne took an urban myth about the founding of Los Angeles on water stolen from the Owens River Valley and made it resonate,. Chinatown isn’t a docudrama; it’s a fiction. … These echoes have led many viewers to regard Chinatown not only as docudrama, but as truth, the real secret history of how Los Angeles got its water, and it has become a ruling metaphor for nonfictional critiques of Los Angeles development.”

Darrell Zwerling as Hollis Mulwray in Chinatown

Author David Thomson wrote that William Mulholland “is regarded now as a robber baron and ecological rapist.” But as he noted, “No one is sending the water back to the desolate Owens Valley.”10

As Mulholland was building Franklin Canyon’s reservoirs, the Dohenys—the same family that built Greystone Mansion—bought land in the lower part of the canyon for watering and grazing cattle. In 1935, the Dohenys added a Spanish adobe home in the canyon, using it as a summer retreat.

The canyon’s old reservoirs were removed from use—and one was completely drained—by the early 1980s, after officials decided they were vulnerable to earthquakes. And the land was opened to the public as Franklin Canyon Park.

Photo: Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority

The park’s north end connects with a curvy mountain highway with a famous name: Mulholland Drive.

Continued in Part 2.

See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.


1 David Lynch and Kristine McKenna, Room to Dream (New York: Random House, 2018), Room to Dream, 124.
2 Room to Dream, 131.
3 Room to Dream, 122.
4 Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1939; New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1992), 230.
5 David Lynch, ed. Chris Rodley, Lynch on Lynch (New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2005 edition), excerpted in Criterion Collection booklet for Mulholland Drive, 24.
6 Johnson City (TN) Chronicle, April 2 and 3, 1931.
7 Frank Clifford, “The Beverly Center,” Los Angeles Times, March 4, 1984.
8 Aaron Betsky, “It’s Big, Chic and Famous, but Beverly Center’s Not a Pretty Site,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 14, 1991.
9 “Drive Great Pipe Line Through to Lower Dam,” Los Angeles Times, May 11, 1913.
10 David Thomson, “Uneasy Street,” in Sex, Death and God in L.A., ed. David Reid (New York: Pantheon, 1992), page 363 in the e-book.
Follow links in the text for additional sources.

Photos by Robert Loerzel except where noted otherwise.


Looking for Hollywood history and David Lynch’s Los Angeles: Index

I went to Los Angeles. I looked for locations where some of my favorite L.A. movies were made. Especially the films of David Lynch, but others, too. Here’s what I saw and learned…

Greystone Mansion / Beverly Center / Franklin Canyon Park

Mulholland Drive / Fred and Renee’s house from Lost Highway / The walk down from Mulholland Drive / Aunt Ruth’s apartment / Pink’s Hot Dogs

The Snow White Cottages, a.k.a. Sierra Bonita / Snow White Café / Griffith Observatory / Bronson Caves / The Hollywood Sign and Sunset Ranch

Paramount Studios / The Hollywood Walk of Fame / The death scene in Inland Empire / The Frolic Room / Cinerama Dome / Alto Nido Apartments / Hollywood Center Motel / Hollywood Athletic Club / Crossroads of the World / Capitol Records / Mural at Sunset and Vine / Philip Marlowe’s office / Amoeba Music

“Nite Owl Café” / Safety Last! / The door to Club Silencio / The Banks-Huntley Building / “Twin Peaks Savings & Loan” / The Tower Theatre / Hotel Barclay / Fire Station No. 23 / The Bradbury Building / The Million Dollar Theatre / The Second Street Tunnel / Union Station / Los Angeles City Hall / The Los Angeles Times Building / The John Ferraro Building / Los Angeles Central Library / Bunker Hill / Angels Flight / Double Indemnity’s opening shot / The final scene of Chinatown / The viaduct in Eraserhead / The Los Angeles River

Doheny Mansion / “Winkie’s Diner” / The diner that inspired Winkie’s / “Eat at Judy’s” (Rudy’s) / The lot where Tyler Durden’s house was / Point Fermin Park / Pelican Cove Park

The Firestone from Lost Highway / Echo Lake Park / Chili John’s / Handy Market / Point Dume / Lankershim Arts Center / Burbank Water and Power / The Music Box Steps / Venice Beach and Santa Monica / The Dude’s apartment

History Uncategorized

Where Chicago’s 1919 race riot began

The landscape along Lake Michigan on Chicago’s South Side has utterly changed over the past century. If you’re looking for the beaches where Chicago’s race riot erupted on July 27, 1919, you won’t find them.

As I was researching a history of the riot for Chicago magazine, I searched for maps, documents, and details that would explain where these events took place—and what is there today.

It may never be possible to pinpoint precisely where a black 17-year-old named Eugene Williams drowned in the lake’s waters after a white man threw rocks at him, but maps do show where the shoreline was in 1919—farther west than where it is today.

When you walk along the lake today—south of McCormick Place and north of 31st Street’s Margaret T. Burroughs Beach—look over toward Lake Shore Drive. Imagine that the shoreline was over on the other side of the road. The spot where you’re walking was part of Lake Michigan back then.

Two beaches played a role in the events of 1919: one that was supposedly for white people only, and one that was used mostly by African Americans.

There was no law enforcing the racial segregation of these beaches, but black Chicagoans of that time said they knew they’d be attacked if they encroached the territory claimed by white racists.

The beach dominated by white people was usually called the 29th Street beach—located around the spot where 29th Street would hit the shoreline if the street extended that far east. The beach was just east of Michael Reese Hospital.

The beach used by black people was a few blocks north of the white area. It was usually—but not always—called the 26th Street beach.

In its verdict on the death of Eugene Williams, the Cook County coroner’s jury said that the blacks’ beach was at 22nd Street:

“We find that the beaches on the lake front in south division of the City of Chicago have heretofore been used by white and colored people, but by common consent, segregated, the colored people using a beach at the foot of 22nd street, the white people using the beach at the foot of 29th street and at points further south. While there may have been some friction in the use of the beaches nothing of moment occurred until the afternoon of July 27th, 1919.”

The reference to 22nd Street seems to be an error. That location isn’t corroborated by other historical references.

Cook County coroner’s jury verdict, obtained from Cook County via a Freedom of Information Act request

The Chicago Commission on Race Relations’ extensive report about the riot called it the 26th Street beach—but one passage in the book describes it as being near 27th Street. At another point, the book says that the beach was at 28th Street.

In the months leading up the riot, two weekly black newspapers, the Chicago Whip and the Chicago Defender, both called it the 26th Street beach.

Chicago Whip headline, July 19, 1919, microfilm at Chicago History Museum

One of the teenagers who was with Williams on that fateful day at the beach, John Turner Harris, described the beach when he spoke a half-century later with author William M. Tuttle Jr. Tuttle asked: “This is 26th Street?” Harris replied:

“This is actually the 25th Street beach. … Actually, there is a big sign naming this the 25th Street beach.”

These beaches were informally organized. The Chicago Commission on Race Relations reported that the beaches were not “publicly maintained and supervised for bathing,” and yet they were “much used.”

According to the Whip and the Defender, a man named Max Olmstein or Olenstein managed the 26th Street beach that was frequented by black Chicagoans. According to the 1920 census, this was apparently a 64-year-old immigrant from Germany who worked as a manager of a collection department. The Whip reported that he’d hired five lifeguards for the beach.

“Mr. Max Olenstein, we hope you keep up the good work for the second ward, as well all know you have a good crew of Life Guards,” the Whip commented. Addressing its black readers, the newspaper said:

“Come any time you want, there is always some one down there to protect you at the Beach from 5:30 A.M. to 9:30 P.M.”

Eight days later, Eugene Williams drowned at the beach and a riot broke out.

A map combining the 1911 Sanborn Fire Insurance map with the 1918 U.S. Army Corps of Engineer map, along with the 2019 shoreline from Google.

In his interview for Tuttle’s 1970 book Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919, John Turner Harris described the trip he took with Williams and three other friends to the beach on that day. Tuttle shared his interview transcript with me, including details that weren’t published in his book.

After riding north up Wabash Avenue on the back of a produce truck, Harris and his friends got off at 26th Street and walked east. At the end of the street, they headed north for one block, walking past a police station and a fire station. The teens then went east on 25th Street. Harris remembered walking near the Hydrox Ice Cream Company’s factory.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, vol. 3, 1911

The Hydrox factory is not on the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from 1911, but later documents show that it was north of 25th Street along Lake Park Avenue. On April 18, 1919, the Chicago Tribune reported that Hydrox was planning to construct one of the country’s largest ice-cream and soft-drink factories at the site.

Advertisement in 1923 Chicago city directory

As they continued east, Harris, Williams, and their friends reached the Illinois Central Railroad tracks. “We went over the bridge where the Illinois Central track is to the beach,” Harris recalled. The 1911 Sanborn map shows one bridge across the tracks, roughly a block south of 25th Street.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, vol. 3, 1911

According to the Chicago Commission on Race Relations’ book, The Negro in Chicago:

“The approach is over a rough road through a much-neglected neighborhood, and then up a long flight of stairs to a four-foot viaduct over the railroad tracks, and a roundhouse and switch yards are near by.”

That book also includes a photo showing a bridge over the tracks, with a caption identifying it as the 29th Street beach. Is it the same bridge Harris mentioned—the one that appears on the 1911 map? Or was there another bridge farther south?

Here’s how The Negro in Chicago describes the 26th Street area of the shore:

“The beach is a strip of sand about fifty feet wide and a short block in length; it narrows at one end to the tracks and at the other end is walled by a high embankment. While it offers a chance to get into the lake, the atmosphere of wholesome, recreative outdoor life is entirely lacking.”

The South Park Commission—which was later folded into the Chicago Park District—had surveyed the shoreline here in 1907.

Detail of 1907 survey. Chicago Park District Records: Drawings, Folder 44, Burnham Park Plats and Surveys, 0027-1099-1907, Chicago Public Library Special Collections

This section of the lakefront looks similar in a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers map from 1918:

And it was largely unchanged in an Army Corps map four years later:

Harris said that he and his friends went to a place on the lakefront a bit south of the beach used by blacks. He believed that it was near 26th Street. These maps suggest that he may have been talking about the area with a small inlet—about halfway between 26th and 27th Streets.

Harris and his pals had a nickname for this spot: “hot and cold.” This was where an ice factory and breweries poured a mix of hot and cold fluids into the lake.

April 27, 1919, advertisement in the Chicago Tribune

Harris remembered an ice factory run by the Consumers Company. The 1911 map shows the Hygienic Ice Company at 2553 South Park Avenue, but Consumers was operating an ice plant at the same location by 1923.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, vol. 3, 1911

Harris recalled the Keeley Brewing Company’s plant dumping its water into the lake. In fact, there were two breweries flanking 27th Street: Keeley and Conrad Seipp Brewing Company.

With the advent of Prohibition, the Seipp brewery had recently switched to making “near beer,” with a legally permissible alcoholic content of half a percent. The Chicago Tribune remarked:

“No longer will the smell of hops permeate the air in that district of Chicago adjacent to Lake Michigan from Twenty-fourth street south to Twenty-eighth.”

(According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, “Many speculated that Seipp also produced bootleg beer for the Torrio-Capone crime organization.”)

Keeley Brewing Company. Photo via the Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal.
Conrad Seipp Brewing Company. Illustration via Chicagology.

Harris said that he and his friends went to a “little island,” where they’d built a raft. No islands appear on the maps, but that may simply be because they aren’t detailed enough.

Harris described the route they took with their raft: “We were going in an angle from the 25th Street beach to a given point—there was a little pole out there with a milepost.” Then they approached a breakwater.

“This breakwater on 26th Street went all the way through in the rocks. … This breakwater was all the way out there and the shore is irregular.”

The Army Corps of Engineers map from 1918 shows a spot slightly north of 28th Street where the land juts out—roughly 88 feet, according to the map’s scale. This spot looks like the closest match to the breakwater described by Harris. Was this outcropping also the demarcation for that invisible line through the water, the boundary that blacks weren’t supposed to cross?

According to Tuttle’s book: “Passing by the breakwater near 26th Street, the youths noticed a white man.” Harris said that a white man who was “walking along the breakwater” threw rocks at them. Harris estimated that the man was 75 to 100 feet away from the teenagers and their raft.

It seems likely that Eugene Williams died somewhere in the water east of that spot where the land jutted out into the lake. “We were in about 15 feet of water at the time,” Harris recalled. The Army Corps of Engineers map shows depths of 9 feet and 10.25 feet in nearby water.

Measuring the endpoint of that breakwater on the 1918 Army Corps of Engineers map, I estimate that the latitude and longitude are 41.84378,-87.61168. Plugging those coordinates into Google maps, the point is shown in a parking lot just east of Lake Shore Drive. The area where Eugene Williams died in the water would have been roughly 75 to 100 feet from there—around where Moe Drive is today, or perhaps on the western edge of Lake Shore Drive.

Eugene Williams’s death certificate (in the records of the Cook County clerk’s office) lists the location of his death as “Lake Michigan at 29th St.” That might indicate that’s where his body was brought ashore. Or it could be just a general indication of the area where he died. Or is it intended to be a specific location—indicating that the spot of his death was at 2900 South?

The Cook County grand jury indictment of a white man accused of throwing rocks at Williams—George Stauber, who was later found not guilty—does not include a specific location for the death, other than “the waters of Lake Michigan.”

* * *

This area is not the only place where Chicago’s lakefront has evolved beyond recognition. All up and down the shoreline, landfill was added, moving the water’s edge toward the east. The Encyclopedia of Chicago features a map by Dennis McClendon showing how landfill changed the shoreline. (McClendon also runs the useful Chicago in Maps website.)

In the area near the old 26th and 29th Street beaches, the land was extended in the early 1930s—creating part of the fairgrounds for A Century of Progress International Exposition, the world’s fair that Chicago hosted in 1933 and 1934.

Chicago Park District Records: Drawings, CPD1205 , Chicago Public Library Special Collections

Above, a 1924 South Park Commission plan shows the old shoreline and a planned breakwater to the east. By 1929, that breakwater appears on a U.S. Geological Survey map:

Historical Topographic Map Collection, USGS 1:24000-scale Quadrangle for Jackson Park, IL 1929

That space between the shoreline and the breakwater was filled in by 1933. Below, a Conoco Travel Bureau map of the fairgrounds shows the Midway attractions on the newly created land just east of where the beaches used to be—including carnival rides, replicas of historic scenes—and some features that sound horrifying, including a “Negro Plantation Show.”

American Geographical Society Library Digital Map Collection, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries

In the decades after 1919, Michael Reese Hospital expanded, taking over the land where the breweries had been.

Michael Reese Hospital. Photo: All Our Lives, via Forgotten Chicago
City of Chicago map, via the Urban Remains website

The hospital shut down in 2009, and the buildings were demolished, leaving the desolate vacant land of today. The site was touted as a possible location for the Olympics, when Chicago bid (unsuccessfully) for the 2016 Games. In 2019, Mayor Lori Lightfoot suggested it as one of several possible sites for Chicago’s first casino.

The land east of Lake Shore Drive—where the 1933-34 world’s fair Midway entertained visitors—is now part of Burnham Park, a 653.6-acre expanse of beaches, trails, green space, and natural areas along the South Side’s lakefront that is owned and maintained by the Chicago Park District.

Photo by Robert Loerzel

A boulder with a plaque commemorating the 1919 race riot sits along a trail just west of the lake, around where 29th Street would hit the lakefront if the street continued east of Lake Shore Drive.

Photo by Robert Loerzel

It appears to be around 500 feet southeast of the vicinity where Eugene Williams died—but given how much the surrounding scene has transformed over time, it may be as appropriate a place as any to place a marker for this tragic event.

Burnham Park is named, of course, after architect and urban planner Daniel H. Burnham, who cowrote the famous 1909 Plan of Chicago with Edward H. Bennett. Burnham and Bennett called for the creation of park space all along the lakefront, influencing the later decisions of city and park officials. Today’s lakefront is beautiful, though it doesn’t quite match the vision that Burnham and Bennett had. Their book includes this painting of their planned lakefront by Jules Guerin:

They envisioned a sequence of lagoons and harbors along the lakefront. Northerly Island is one piece of their plan to create a man-made series of “islands” along the shore. Here is a close-up of Burnham and Bennett’s plan for the shore around those old beaches at 26th and 29th Streets:

Burnham and Bennett waxed rhapsodic about the importance of Lake Michigan to the city of Chicago and its people—words worth meditating on as we remember the race riot that broke out on the lakefront in 1919:

“The opportunities for large parks in the immediate vicinity of Chicago are ample. First in importance is the shore of Lake Michigan, which should be treated as park space to the greatest possible extent.

“The Lake front by right belongs to the people. It affords their one great unobstructed view, stretching away to the horizon, where water and clouds seem to meet. No mountains or high hills enable us to look over broad expanses of the earth’s surface; and perforce we must come even to the margin of the Lake for such a survey of nature. These views of a broad expanse are helpful alike to mind and body. They beget calm thoughts and feelings, and afford escape from the petty things of life.

“Mere breadth of view, however, is not all. The Lake is living water, ever in motion, and ever changing in color and in the form of its waves. Across its surface comes the broad pathway of light made by the rising sun; it mirrors the ever-changing forms of the clouds, and it is illumined by the glow of the evening sky. Its colors vary with the shadows that play upon it. In its every aspect it is a living thing, delighting man’s eye and refreshing his spirit.

“Not a foot of its shores should be appropriated by individuals to the exclusion of the people. On the contrary, everything possible should be done to enhance its attractiveness and to develop its natural beauties, thus fitting it for the part it has to play in the life of the whole city. It should be made so alluring that it will become the fixed habit of the people to seek its restful presence at every opportunity. “