From Turkey Shoots to PR Stunts, Here’s How LA Celebrated Thanksgiving In The Past – LA Publication

23November 2020

From turkey and tamale dinners to Hollywood parades and PR stunts, Thanksgiving in Los Angeles County has always had an unique Southern California style. Though the first authorities Thanksgiving in the brand-new American state of California happened in 1850, when the first elected guv, Peter Hardeman Burnett, issued a proclamation of event, Thanksgiving did not become an official legal holiday till 1863. Many in L.A.– especially those of Hispanic descent– had already been commemorating a day of thanksgiving on their family’s client saint day.

In 1959, Mary Ann Callan, the females’s editor of the Los Angeles Times, interviewed senior Californios (family members of Latin American, Spanish and Anglo descent who wielded enormous power in Southern California) to get a sense of what these earliest Thanksgiving feasts had been like. One female, noted historian Ana Bégué de Packman, whose family had owned the Rancho San Jose de Buenos Aires (approximately Westwood and Bel Air), remembered:

… resting on the front patio of the family cattle ranch house in the La Brea location before the millenium screaming happily to passersby that they were having turkey for thanksgiving dinner and that it weighed-in at 19 lbs. This, she remembers, was prepared in an iron range by wood, not coal, collected from the cattle ranch.

According to de Packman, the dinner would include not simply the turkey however also “chicken tamales, enchiladas, and a Spanish concoction of rice and chicken … integrated with a toasted red chili and olive sauce …, fresh salad, salsa and pumpkin preserves for dessert.” Another Californio matron, Mrs. Charles R. Bond of Alhambra, remembered consuming a thanksgiving dessert called membrillate, which was “made of quince and served in pieces, looking like a dry apple butter in texture.”

As the Victorian period progressed, L.A. County ended up being a popular holiday location for tourists from cold Eastern areas. “Hearty and numerous were the self-congratulations of those who had escaped the eastern blizzards, so graphically explained in the early morning dispatches, to luxuriate in the soft sunlight and pleasant air of this perfect Thanksgiving Day,” the Los Angeles Times reported in 1891. Many tourists spent the day at the rustic Alpine Tavern atop Mount Lowe, where they consumed turkey, pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce in front of big fires. They then spent the day hiking, going on sleigh rides, tobogganing, and– in the Times’ words–“snow-balling.”

According to the Times, down listed below in genteel Pasadena, Thanksgiving 1899 began with a rather problematic masquerade parade of cowboys, Indians, “monks, and freaks” on their method to a ball at the town’s auditorium. At the Pasadena Nation Club there was a turkey shoot, while others participated in a rabbit hunt on Baldwin’s Ranch, which netted 12 rabbits and one human when a man called C. Schmuck fell off his horse.

thanksgiving history los angeles
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“wp-caption wp-has-credits aligncenter”readability=”27”> A turkey shoot in Northridge in 1957 Valley Times Collection through Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection While the well-off shot turkeys for sport at Pasadena, in the San Fernando Valley ranchers had long raised turkeys as a commercial enterprise. In 1925, the Times reported that folks in the Valley needed to schedule their turkeys early, before they were butchered and carried to L.A. markets for Thanksgiving. 9 years later, the Times approximated that 15,000 Valley turkeys were prepared for the holiday, and would cost 30 to 35 cents each. Simply put, they were valuable.

“This is the season when turkey thieves are active,” the Times reported in 1934. “Valley cops have warned growers to keep a 24-hour watch on their flocks. One cattle ranch keeps a watchman and a gun in a tower in the middle of the cattle ranch, with flood lights shining in the darkest corners. A number of cops dogs back up the watchman, the klieg and the shotgun battery.”

thanksgiving history
Thanksgiving dinner at the Midnight Objective in 1942 Herald Examiner Collection through Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection In downtown Los Angeles, locals of Skid Row had been served Thanksgiving dinner by numerous outreach organizations considering that the early 1900s. By the twenties and teenagers, Tom Liddecoat, founder of the Midnight Objective, and William Gooding, head of the Redemption Army, were serving hundreds of men in one sitting for the holiday. In 1921, the Times covered one such Thanksgiving feast for 4 hundred at the Midnight Objective. To acquire entry, the men first needed to endure a long,

laborious spiritual service. According to the reporter: They attempted to be reverent and prospered relatively well, as they joined in singing old-fashioned hymns, to the accompaniment of Miss Ruth Clayton, however when the tune and prayer service came to an end and Mr. Liddecoat “revealed dinner,” religion was momentarily forgotten in a consentaneous rush for the dining room … such a feast it was! Roast beef and gravy, “green” of all varieties, fantastic stacks of white bread, tea and coffee, ice cream and sweet- nothing was desiring.

Throughout town, Hollywood movers and shakers were utilizing Thanksgiving to drum up some excellent old made promotion, no matter how horrible. In 1926, manufacturer Joe Rock welcomed all men over 250 pounds to a dinner honoring the big-boned comics Fatty Alexander, Kewpie Ross, and Fat Karr (also known as the “A Ton of Fun” funny team). At least one female was allowed to the feast according to the L.A. Times, after aspiring actress Verna Gettle composed Rock the following letter:

The enclosed clipping from the Sunday Los Angeles Times triggers the writing of this! I want to be welcomed to the big feed. I have been in Hollywood 7 months and haven’t made a cent nor a million. I weigh 270 pounds. If it’s a stag I have knickers and a necktie.

Other more supposedly advanced Hollywood folks planted items about their elegant Thanksgiving soirees in regional papers. In 1936, motion picture star Jeanette MacDonald hosted Thanksgiving dinner at her home with her mom, Ginger Rogers and her mom, and other guests. That exact same Thanksgiving, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor, Claudette Colbert, Joe E. Brown, and Zeppo Marx had a more raucous dinner at the famous Brown Derby.

These café society celebrations made well known gossip columnist Hedda Hopper wish for the excellent old days, when she had been a struggling actress in traveling productions. As she composed in her syndicated column:

I have actually always believed actors these days– motion picture stars, that is– missed out on great deals of fun that trouping in program business utilized to bring us. These were rugged however pleased times and bring back fond memories not of fantastic feasts, yet we got our share of those, too, when … civic leaders in numerous cities took pity on poor gamers and arranged home-cooked meals for us. I remember well, and so can others, when we hopped a day coach in dead of winter season at 5 am after crunching through the snow, and consumed a stale ham sandwich for our Thanksgiving dinner.

Other leisure activities were also popular. From a minimum of the early 20th century, rival SoCal sport teams, from high school to college to semi-pro, frequently played each other on Thanksgiving Day. Celebrated preachers provided rousing sermons throughout Thanksgiving early morning services, and these were frequently reprinted in papers like The Los Angeles Sentinel, L.A.’s leading Black-owned paper.

thanksgiving parade los angeles
The Santa Claus Lane Parade in Hollywood on November 24, 1945 Harold Ballew/Herald Examiner Collection through Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection In the downtown

shopping district fixated Broadway, Thanksgiving Day frequently marked the inauguration of the holiday Shopping season. In 1929, DTLA merchants sponsored a Thanksgiving Day Fairyland Parade, including drifts occupied by Cinderella, Snow White, The Wizard of Oz– and, naturally, Santa. According to the L.A. Times:

During the early morning hours, the downtown streets were deserted, however a number of hours before twelve noon children and grown-ups by the thousands began to crowd walkways waiting for the fairyland parade scheduled for the early morning. With the parade out of the method, the downtown crowds disappeared to Thanksgiving dinners and for the rest of the day the downtown parts of the city were practically deserted of both pedestrians and traffic. With the coming night, nevertheless, the streets once again ended up being packed with celebrants, and theaters and other places of amusement throughout the city were thronged with a gay crowd.

The Thanksgiving week parade that would become a Los Angeles tradition was not downtown however on bustling Hollywood Boulevard. According to historian Gregory Paul Williams, in 1931 Hollywood hosted its first Santa Claus Lane Parade (now called the Hollywood Christmas Parade and held the Sunday after Thanksgiving) to commemorate the opening of “Santa Claus Lane,” an embellished stretch of the boulevard, which had been become a winter wonderland every year considering that 1928.

By the mid-30s, the opening ceremonies and parade were pulling in big names. In 1936, none besides Bette Davis turned an electrical switch that switched on Christmas tree lights, plus animatronic polar bears, drum majors, and windmills that dotted Santa Claus Lane. Cutting the ribbon to begin that year’s parade was Hollywood royalty Mary Pickford. For many years, hundreds of countless people would crowd Hollywood Boulevard to view as stars consisting of Gene Autry, John Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Anita Louise, Bob Hope, Gracie Allen, George Burns, Alice Faye, Jack Benny, Sabu, Roy Rogers, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, and Santa waved to enthusiastic crowds.

In the 1940s, a moment out of a Trademark motion picture occurred when Louise Waddell, a tourist from Texas, based on Hollywood Boulevard waiting for the Santa Claus Lane parade to begin. She quickly ended up being amazed with a man in the crowd who she made sure was her cousin Richard Tomkins, a Huntington Beach insurance coverage broker, whom she had not seen in 25 years.

“He looked familiar, however I wasn’t sure. I saw him light his pipe. I understood I was right– due to the fact that he held his hands simply as my uncle utilized to,” she informed the Time s. A giddy Waddell approached him and after that threw her arms around him in a big, happy hug. After their reunion, she remembered, “I was too delighted to view Santa Claus.”

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