Terminal Island: Lost Communities of Los Angeles Harbor is a new book that examines the people of the San Pedro Bay Islands that have been lost to time and the stories that have disappeared into the ether of commercial development. The book includes never before published images and information about Terminal Island that may prove revelatory to those interested in Los Angeles History.
In the first half of the book, author Geraldine Knatz revives the resort communities of Brighton and Terminal Beach that once flourished in Los Angeles Harbor. These histories are given dimension as Knatz re-discovers some of Los Angeles’ brightest artists and intellectuals who called Terminal Island home between 1880 and 1929.
In the second half of the book, author Naomi Hirahara examines the Japanese Fishing Village, Furusato and the vibrant community that thrived on the island prior to World War II. Hirahara resuscitates the spirit of the community by giving the reader a glimpse of its uniquely Japanese-American culture and relays the personal stories that made it home.
The book is available for purchase at the Japanese-American Museum, Los Angeles Maritime Museum, Point Fermin Lighthouse, and San Pedro Bay Historical Society. It is also part of the collection at the Los Angeles Public Library.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the task of identifying this image from our collection. It’s a film shoot and the only information available was that the shoot took place in 1932 and it involved the Fox Film Corporation. After some creative searching, I identified the movie in question: Cavalcade (1933). For those that are unfamiliar with the film, Cavalcade is an adaptation of a 1931 Noël Coward play that focused on the lives of a family in England. It was directed by Frank Lloyd and featured English actors Diana Wynyard and Clive Brook. The story has been regarded as the prototype for the popular television shows Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey. To the best of my knowledge, Cavalcade is the only movie made at the Port that has the distinction of being given an Academy Award® for Best Picture.
On October 19, 1932 Fox Film Corporation (later 20th Century Fox) shot exteriors for the film at Berth 145-146 in Wilmington. The scene featured a crowd of extras seeing soldiers off as they were being transported to the Boer War in South Africa. Any indications that the events took place outside of England were completely obscured: the camera was kept low so Port of Los Angeles signs would not be seen and several false structures were built for the shoot. The terminal where the scene was filmed was newly constructed and was awaiting a permanent tenant; within a matter of months the Grace and Calmar Steamship lines occupied the space.
Cavalcade premiered in January, 1933 (wide release in April) to great acclaim. New York Times film critic Mordaunt Hall wrote that the film “is a most affecting and impressive picture…” and, in addition to the Best Picture prize, Cavalcade also won Academy Awards® for and Direction (Lloyd) and Art Direction (William S. Darling). The Academy Award is a registered trademark of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences-©A.M.P.A.S.®
By Andrea Serna
Aerial photograph of Reservation Point at the south end of Terminal Island, containing the Federal Prison, Immigration Station, and U.S. Coast Guard Base, December 1, 1970. Image CG-0473, Materials Testing Laboratory Photograph Collection, Los Angeles Harbor Department Historical Archives.
Considering the multitude of stoic concrete buildings lining Terminal Island, it can be easy to overlook the large federal correctional institute located on the island’s west side. The Board of Harbor Commissioners’ meeting minutes and the Los Angeles Times indicate that construction of the prison began in 1936. The facility received its first inmates in June 1938, initially housing approximately 600 men and 25 women (the prison remained gender-integrated during its various reincarnations until the ban enacted in 1977). As a consequence of increasing American involvement in World War II, the prison’s inmates were relocated so the U.S. Navy could make use of the facilities as housing quarters and receiving station. Additionally, following the Pearl Harbor attack, the complex was used as a temporary detention and interrogation station, holding numerous Japanese and Japanese-American men, as well as some men of Italian and German backgrounds. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Navy continued to use the facilities as disciplinary barracks post-war until 1950. At this time, the state reclaimed the structures, which were then briefly used as a hospital for the criminally insane. In 1955 the state decided to reopen the prison as a medium-security correctional institute. Beginning in the 1970s, the prison increasingly accommodated white-collar criminals.
Women’s Division Special Committee of the Chamber of Commerce visit the Federal Correction Institution on Terminal Island, August 5, 1965. Image PR-58-6-1, Public Relations Photograph Collection, Los Angeles Harbor Department Historical Archives.
Due to its location, the history of the Terminal Island prison has been inevitably intertwined with that of the Port of Los Angeles. From 1938 through 1943, the prison’s employees and visitors factored into the harbor area’s traffic and transportation debates, including the need for a ferry and for restrictions on parking zones. From 1947 through 1950, the police department and Harbor Commissioners undertook negotiations for the property transfer from the Navy to the state, and then again in 1953 when the facility was placed under county jurisdiction. The Board of Harbor Commissioners was also involved in ruling on issues such as prison service contractors’ requests for free use of the ferry and on the construction of nearby leisure marinas, both of which were denied. As the Los Angeles Times reveals, there were several instances in which prisoners took advantage of nearby Port amenities, such as boats and trucks, to make an escape—placing a leisure marina near the correctional facility would have meant tempting inmates and risking public safety.
Terminal Island’s prison is known to have housed numerous notorious criminals. Infamous mobster Al Capone was among the prison’s earliest inmates, serving a brief 11-month stint for tax evasion in 1939. Capone claimed to have found God while staying at Terminal Island. Charles Manson also served time on Terminal Island for two minor offenses in 1967, prior to his killing rampage. Mobster Salvatore Bonanno, served just a little over three years on Terminal Island. In 1975, peace activist Martha Tranquilli served seven months for her refusal to pay taxes, which she claimed was part of her protest against war. Writer and actor Edward Bunker served two years on Terminal Island, in the mid-1970s, where he authored No Beast So Fierce, later adapted into the film Straight Time. Additionally, in 1973 G. Gordon Liddy of Watergate fame spent five months at the facility.
Women’s Division Special Committee of the Chamber of Commerce visit the prison classroom at the Federal Correction Institution on Terminal Island, August 5, 1965. Image PR-58-6-4, Public Relations Photograph Collection, Los Angeles Harbor Department Historical Archives.
In addition to housing notable inmates, the Terminal Island prison has also made headlines for its innovative programs. In the 1960s and ‘70s, the correctional institute participated in numerous progressive programs intended to rehabilitate and help transition its non-violent inmates back into society. One such program, in cooperation with selected educational institutes and employers, allowed qualifying inmates to leave the prison grounds daily for a certain amount of time to attend college classes or maintain a paying job. Moreover, the prison itself is reported to still have adequate classrooms where various courses are taught, ranging from literature to economics. The prison’s education and technical skill initiatives, particularly the writing program, were featured in several Los Angeles Times issues. Despite its merits and permissiveness, the prison had no shortage of escape attempts—some prisoners bribed guards only to attend Dodger baseball games every so often while others simply wanted to make a swift and permanent getaway. In the 1970s and ‘80s, the prison had its share of controversies when numerous guards were accused and found guilty of extortion, drug dealing, and facilitating escapes.
The prison continues to operate as an all-male minimum security federal correctional institute, housing mostly nonviolent white-collar criminals. Due to the present caliber of the prison’s inmates, it is often jokingly referred to as the Terminal Island Resort. The Federal Bureau of Prisons’ website states its current population at 1,129 inmates.
Andrea Serna is a Student Professional Worker at The Port of Los Angeles Archives. She is currently working on her M.A. in History at California State University, Los Angeles.
By Geraldine Knatz
Photo of Albert A. Boschke, Courtesy of his great-great-great-granddaughter, Sherie Drew.
In the early days of the Port of Los Angeles, there were several islands in the harbor. Today, where the West Basin Container Terminal (China Shipping and Yang Ming) is located in Wilmington, was an Island that was known as Smith’s Island. In some late 19th century records, it was also called Boschke’s Island. Much of the island was underwater at high tide and the swampy wetland area around the island was known as Boschke Slough. The island and the slough were named after Prussian-born Albert Boschke, an engineer and inventor who came to California to work on the first Army Corps of Engineers dredging project in the Port of Los Angeles.
Born in 1832, Albert Boschke began his career working for the U.S. Coast Survey office in Washington DC where he undertook surveys of many ports including New York, Brooklyn and Boston. In addition to being a surveyor, Boschke was an inventor and filed patents for improvements to dredging equipment. In 1871 the Army Corps of Engineers began to make improvements to deepen the entrance into Wilmington Harbor which at mean low tide was less than 2 feet deep. The Corps believed that construction of jetties constricting the tidal flow would scour the channel resulting in channel depth of about ten feet. The concept almost worked. Construction of the East Jetty naturally deepened the channel to nearly 6 feet deep. But the natural action of the tides was insufficient to remove the sand bar that constricted vessel access.
Digitally enhanced map of San Pedro Bay, circa 1890. Boschke (Smith Island) is highlighted in purple. Object ID 278-H. Materials Testing Laboratory Photograph Collection, Los Angeles Harbor Department Historical Archives.
On July 23, 1874, a contract was given to Mr. A. Boschke for dredging a channel across the sand bar. Boschke was to mobilize his equipment and start removing the bar on September 15th, 1875. After two time extensions, he started his sand pumps on October 16, 1875. But the project was troubled by equipment failures. An 1875 Army Corps report states “He worked along doing little or nothing for about a month when he broke down entirely and took off his machinery.” Beset by difficulties in removing the bar, Boschke decided to build a new dredge. He resumed dredging on Feb 5, 1876 and worked slowly and steadily to deepen the channel.
Boschke and his wife Martha had moved to California from Massachusetts with his two sons Albert and George from a previous marriage. The 1880 census shows Boschke living with his wife Martha in Wilmington along with George and two additional children born to Albert and Martha named Benjamin (or Guy) and Ida. Harbor Department records of old agreements show a transaction between Joseph B. Banning and Albert Boschke for 5 and 1/3 acres “of the tract of land known as Boschke’s Island,” for the sum of $5.00 that sale being recorded July 22, 1895. Boschke built a home and garden on the island.
Albert Boschke home on Boschke Island in the late 1880’s. Albert’s wife Martha is standing behind the fence holding a hat over the fence. Sitting on the bow of the boat on the left is Albert Boschke’s son Benjamin (or Guy) and daughter Ida is sitting in the boat on the right. Courtesy of San Pedro Bay Historical Society
In 1890 Boschke became a director of the Harbor and Canal Dredging and Land Company which was capitalized with 1 million in stock. The Boschke-designed improvements for dredging equipment helped him build a reputation in the dredging field. The Boschke Rotary Steam Shovel Dredger was designed so when a hard substrate was encountered, rather than smashing the shovels, the machinery was released. In addition, the hub of the wheel of the dredge was stationary so it would avoid tangling with submerged grasses.
Photo of Boschke Rotary Steam Shovel Dredge from Steam Shovel and Dredge, Vol. 13, p. 583, 1909.
In 1891, when Albert was in Northern California on business, the oil lamp in Ida’s bedroom exploded. Ida was seriously burned on the face and arms and Martha Boschke’s mother, Mrs. Henderson, was killed. The fire department was unable to get their hose cart on to the island as the only access was via railroad trestle and their house on the island burned to the ground.
In the year 1900 Albert Boschke was 78 years old and living in Alameda County with a 47 year old widowed daughter, Auvergne Astor, and two boarders. Census records for that year indicate that he was a widower but wife Martha was still alive! She also listed herself in the 1900 census as a widow living in Wilmington. One might surmise they had marital difficulty!
Albert Boschke died in the year 1910. At the time of his death, Auvergne Astor was named executor of his estate which consisted primarily of patent rights and stock in companies organized to build and operate dredges. His son Albert Boschke, the chief engineer for the Oregon railway, said at his father’s death that the estate was worth more than a million dollars. Martha, now qualified to call herself a widow, her step-children Albert and George, and children Guy and Ida filed a legal objection to Auvergne Astor as executor. Albert and George charged that Auvergne Astor was not Boschke’s daughter and a fellow engineer testified that he had seen Astor threaten Boschke with a dagger. Auvergne stated under oath she did not know who her mother was but she always knew Albert Boschke was her father. She also admitted to having lived in Oakland, California under the name Abby Holton. She stated in court she intentionally concealed her identify so not to upset Albert’s wife Martha. Despite the testimony that Astor may have been a fake, paternity does not play a role in determining a will’s executor and the court ruled in favor of Astor. In 1920, Auvergne Astor was living alone in Oakland, California and working as a secretary for a dredging company. Martha Boschke moved to Terminal Island and stayed there until her death in 1928 at the age of 86.
Albert’s two sons, Albert Lincoln and George, followed their father’s footsteps into engineering. Army Corps records for the Wilmington Harbor work show that in 1884 Assistant Engineer Albert Boschke relieved Assistant Engineer A. J. Smith. George continued in his engineering career working for the Southern Pacific Railroad. After the devastating hurricane of 1900 killed approximately 8000 thousand residents in Galveston, George was selected to build the seawall at the Port of Galveston.
There is nothing today that remains of the 1870’s Corps project in Los Angeles and there is no monument to Albert Boschke at the Port of Los Angeles. George Boschke is, however, memorialized by the Port of Galveston for the seawall that is still standing.
The Monument to the Galveston seawall, designed by George W. Boschke and built from 1902 to 1904, was designated a National Civil Engineering Landmark in 2001 by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Courtesy of Sherie Drew.
By Nicholas Beyelia
Part of being an archivist is understanding the context in which archival materials were created. When I started at the Port of Los Angeles Archives, one of my first projects was to process our collection of maps from the Engineering Division. After my initial evaluation, I noticed the name “Homer Hamlin” on nearly every map and blueprint we had. I knew, of course, that this meant I would have to learn who Hamlin was and what role he played in harbor development. A year later, I have become fairly proficient on the subject of Mr. Hamlin and how he factored into the history of the Port of Los Angeles. One of the more interesting discoveries I made was that Hamlin made a trip around the world for the benefit of the Port of Los Angeles.
Following the initial hurdle of Free Harbor Fight in the 1890s and the establishment of The Harbor Commission (1907) to govern the Port of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Harbor was on its way to becoming a fully operating commercial port. Despite these milestones, the Port still had no permanent municipal facilities that could accommodate commerce. The next step in the development of the Port of Los Angeles would have to involve the planning and development of modern structures and facilities that could handle the onslaught of commercial traffic. More importantly, plans had to be in place and construction underway before the conclusion of a gargantuan project nearly 4000 miles away: The Panama Canal. Municipal planning of Los Angeles Harbor would, therefore, have to be both extensive and thorough.
Homer Hamlin was the primary individual in charge of planning the Port of Los Angeles for commercial purposes. Hamlin served as Los Angeles City Engineer from 1906 through 1917 and, according to The Los Angeles Herald, was officially appointed as engineer in charge of harbor improvements on September 8, 1909 by the Board of Public Works. A 1911 amendment to the existing City Charter (Article XVI, Sect 174) formalized the responsibilities of the City Engineer to serve as ex-officio Harbor Engineer and “in addition to his duties otherwise prescribed in this Charter, he shall perform such engineering and surveying necessary for the public work done under the direction or supervision of the board [The Board of Harbor Commissioners], as said board may require.” In this particular case, it would mean that Hamlin would be required to travel to inspect, evaluate and compare the strengths and weaknesses of operating commercial harbors and their facilities.
Homer Hamlin, c.1907
As early as 1909, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce suggested that Hamlin be sent abroad to study more established commercial harbors. This suggestion prompted the Los Angeles Times to joke that Hamlin’s inevitable visit to Europe was to “look over the fall styles in deep-sea harbors.” September, 1911, the Bureau of Harbor Improvement decided to ask the City Council to appropriate $1500 for Hamlin’s trip. The Los Angeles Times reported shortly thereafter that “In order that Los Angeles harbor may have the very latest in harbor and wharf improvements, City Engineer Hamlin will be sent on a junketing trip to the principal harbors of the country.” The Times explained that his duties during the trip included determining “what improvements are necessary before the plans for the proposed wharves are completed.” On September 30, 1911 Hamlin applied for a passport in Los Angeles that was to be sent to the Hotel Belmont in New York. From New York, Hamlin traveled to a number of international ports to inspect the facilities and make determinations that would ultimately be adapted to help modernize Los Angeles Harbor.
Hamlin’s passport application, 1911. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925; Collection Number: ARC Identifier 583830 / MLR Number A1 534; NARA Series: M1490; Roll #: 147.
During his trip, Hamlin inspected the harbors of New York, Montreal, Boston, Baltimore, Liverpool, Antwerp, Hamburg, and Rotterdam (among others). Hamlin took extensive notes on his observations and supplemented them with photographs. Hamlin returned to New York from Liverpool on the infamous R.M.S. Lusitania, December 15, 1911. Shortly after his return to Los Angeles, Hamlin submitted a 38-page report to the Advisory Board for the Bureau of Harbor Improvement and the Los Angeles City Council.
On January 15, 1912 Stoddard Jess, one of the Harbor Commissioners reported the following: “…with the return of City Engineer Hamlin from his investigations of harbors, both in this country and abroad, and with the money that should be forthcoming next month from the sale of bonds, the time has arrived for the inauguration of an active campaign in harbor development.” It was under Hamlin’s direction that Port planning and development commenced and would result in the completion of the first municipal wharf at The Port of Los Angeles in 1914.
The images and report for Homer Hamlin’s 1911 trip are held by the Los Angeles City Archives, C. Erwin Piper Technical Center, 555 Ramirez Street, Space 320, CA 90012. All images reproduced with permission. To view Hamlin’s report and photos please contact The City of Los Angeles Archives at (213) 473-2441, or visit http://clerk.lacity.org/CityArchivesandRecordsCenter/index.htm.
Nicholas Beyelia is a Student Professional Worker at The Port of Los Angeles Archives. He holds an M.A. in History from California State University, Los Angeles and is an M.L.I.S candidate at San Jose State University.