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Forty Years Ago: Spring Street Mystery

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, July 24, 2007, at 07:46AM

Fires and Vandalism

That's the headline that ran in the LA Times on this date in 1967. The east side of Spring between 4th and 5th had seen a rash of odd events. Two hot dog stands burned down. Street trees were disfigured and set on fire. Pedestrians were targeted by flaming clothing hurled from above.

Pretty bizarre stuff.

The first hot dog stand to go was Charlie's, at 424 South Spring. It burned on July 1st, 1967. Though three witnesses claimed to see a fire bomb thrown at the stand, LAFD was skeptical that blaze was arson. They had a different opinion on Leo's Hot Dog Stand, located at 432 South Spring. The LAFD found a door that had been broken open and a five-gallon can partially filled with kerosene inside.

It wasn't just the hot dog stands having a tough go of it, the street trees were targets as well.

In late June someone had come along that block and chopped all the limbs off the majority of street trees (and, no, it wasn't BSS doing some trimming). A few weeks earlier, the same trees had been an arson target.

A month before the trees were cut, slothing soaked with gasoline had been piled next to one of them and set on fire. The blaze charred the tree trunk and buckled the heavy metal grate at its base.

Several witnesses said they saw a local merchant doing the chopping.

Theories on what was going on were wide-ranging.

"Both those burned-out stands were owned by Jews," said a merchant. "I'm Jewish myself, and I'm plenty scared."

"A landlord around here gets a percentage from a restaurant he leases out. Those hot dog stands were taking customers from the restaurant," said a businessman in the area.

"One hot dog joint was a coverup for a bookie operation," claimed another local man.

"The trees hung over the street and got in the way of trucks," said a hotel owner.

"Signs were obscured by the trees," a merchant said. "A businessman had them cut down because of that."

I'd love to give this story some closure, but I can't find any. Forty years later the spot where both stands stood is construction staging for condo conversions at the El Dorado and Rowan. It doesn't appear that the Times ever returned to the subject.

Update (10am): I realize I left that "flaming clothing" bit dangling. Here's the relevant bits there:

Tenants in a hotel on the block have reported bundles of burning clothing crashing to the sidewalk from above. They also tell of large shopping bags of water being dropped from windows in the early morning hours and narrowly missing pedestrians.

That doesn't seem to be all too isolated of an incident, though. Just two years ago we had a guy throwing bricks from the roof of the Alexandria. I'm sure Celia has many stories in that vein.

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