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Executive Director Receives a Key to Port’s Past

October 1, 2013

by Geraldine Knatz, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Port of Los Angeles

IreneIrene Giles c. 1929

As Executive Director I often hear a lot of fascinating personal histories related to The Port of Los Angeles. In July 2012, I met Kathy Walsh who had come with a mutual friend to the opening of CRAFTED at the Port of Los Angeles. After hearing of my avid interest in port history, Kathy presented me with a very special gift – a souvenir of the Port of Los Angeles that her grandmother, Irene Giles, had purchased in 1929. Kathy also let me borrow the diary that her grandmother wrote, which is a daily chronicle of her ten month road trip and visit to Los Angeles.

Irene was the daughter of Charles and Etta Giles, farmers from Knox County, Nebraska who had nine children. In May 1929, 16-year-old Irene left her hometown of Hartington, Nebraska for a 10-month trip with her aunt and two uncles. Irene was the oldest child in the Giles family which might explain why she was chosen to go on the trip.


At 514 miles from home, her diary notes the first tire puncture. From then on her diary is a listing of town names, miles driven and tires punctured. Her diary reads:
“Greeley 621 miles
Keystone 646 miles
Sedila 701 miles
Colorado Springs 751 miles
Cimarron 968 miles
Santa Fe 1105 miles
Gallup 1350
Kingman 1735”

page 2

“We got into Needles about 15 to 1 at night and bought tires and tubes. It was so hot we could hardly live and Walter was very sick…..we traveled all night May 5 and arrived in South Gate at 11 0’clock at night after much tire trouble….”

Once in California and staying with people they knew, Irene spent time visiting the beach and the city sights. One entry may be referring to Minnie the Whale, an attraction in Long Beach for many years:

“Walt and I were in Milton’s car. We saw a whale 59 feet long and weighted 65 tons and they had taken two barrels of oil of his tongue. Sure a monster. We also saw the six ton whale again that was 64 feet long it come in at Alamitos Bay in 1896. We went out on the pier and fed the sea gulls and pigeons peanuts and popcorn and they lit [sic] all over us. They would sit on our hand and eat. Bill and Eva bought some souvenirs.”

Her diary also notes many shopping trips although mostly for basic necessities. She did, however, manage to purchase a few mementos of her trip; one of these souvenirs was a thermometer on a brass key with the Port of Los Angeles on one side and Los Angeles City Hall on the other. key With a patent date of 1925, it was not possible to determine who made this particular key but keys of this type were a very common souvenir in the 1920s and 1930s. The same design was used for various tourist destinations with only the medallion at the top changed for each location. Thermometer keys were made well into the 1950s and 1960s but these later ones are often made of plastic.

One can imagine a road trip and 10-month long vacation would have been quite an event for any teenager. Irene was lucky to have an aunt and uncles who gave her an experience I imagine she remembered for the rest of her life. Irene Giles returned to Nebraska, married and had a family.

By the time I got the key from Irene’s granddaughter, the thermometer was gone. Nevertheless, it will become a treasured piece of Port of Los Angeles history.


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