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Fifty Years Ago Today: Arcade Building Jumper Disappoints Downtowners by Turning Back

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, May 12, 2009, at 10:49AM
LA Times Photos from 5/13/1959 Los Angeles Times, 5/13/1959

The day after Thomas almost jumped from the Arcade building, the Times ran five photos of the event and the disappointed crowd.

Was society really more civilized fifty years ago? On May 12, 1959, 22-year-old Robert David Thomas took a "precarious perch" on the parapet of the Broadway Arcade building, intending to jump. A crowd gathered below. What did the Times report as their cry? "Jump, jump, jump!"

In a story the next day, the Times recorded the scene:

While police and firemen pleaded with a would-be leaper on the roof of a 12-story downtown building yesterday, hundreds gathering in the street below to chant, "Jump, jump, jump!"

It was a drama that lasted for almost two hours. In the end, police and firemen won out.

The crowd in the street below the towering Broadway Arcade building at 542 S. Broadway dispersed, unashamedly revealing disappointment that 22-year-old Robert David Thomas hadn't jumped.

On the following page, the paper devoted five photos to the incident, showing the negotiations above, Thomas' perch and the crowd below.

Would-be leapers, and, tragically, those who followed through, are a common thread running through archived stories of Downtown. Inevitably, some in the crowd are there to encourage the act.

In April of 1963, 25-year-old Charles Helton's perch atop the next-door Arcade theatre building brought a crowd of 1,500. The Times wrote that "Policemen had to warn spectators several times that it is a felony to incite someone to suicide." Like Thomas, Helton was convinced to back away from the edge.


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