A Cup of Coffee & Bagel for 15 Cents – Marty Liboff
(This is a follow up to another article; “Ruthie in the Bakery” Free Venice Beachhead, April 2014)
The bakery opened in around 1948 on the Ocean Front Walk in Ocean Park around Raymond Ave. Before 1958 the OFW continued from Venice all the way to the Santa Monica Pier. What is left now begins again at the Casa Del Mar Hotel at Bay Street going north to the Santa Monica Pier. Back then the OFW north from the Venice border continued just like in Venice with shops, homes and hotels. There was a huge amusement pier starting on the north border of Venice called the Ocean Park Pier. It had other names during its long history but us locals always called it the Ocean Park Pier until it was later turned into Pacific Ocean Park in 1958. Along the OFW by the pier there were shops of all kinds on both sides of the walk and small shops in the middle of the OFW that sold drinks and hot dogs. The huge Ocean Park Pier had a giant roller coaster called the High Boy, bumper cars and a great fun house called Toonerville named from the Toonerville Trolley cartoon strips. There was the most amazing diving bell towards the end of the pier that actually pumped up ocean water and was filled with sharks and other great fish. The manager who looked like Popeye the sailor man and wore a sailor’s hat would go fishing on a boat at night and catch fish that he would bring back alive and dump into his amazing diving bell tank of water. One night he brought back two big sacks of huge abalone and gave one sack to my mom. I think he had a crush on her. Today that abalone would probably be worth a small fortune if you could even find abalone that big anymore. My mom had never seen abalone. Jews, especially from Poland didn’t eat shellfish. She hadn’t a clue how to cook them and so she fried some for our cat and gave a few away to some goyim (non Jew) neighbors who were very happy to get them. I think our cat seemed happy also. The pier also had dance halls, a great merry-go-round and all sorts of food and other concessions. The end of the pier had fishing on two levels. On the bottom level was a cage with water and a big old sea lion that I loved to go and talk to. The pier was bigger than Coney Island.
In 1950 my mom, Ruthie began working in the bakery. It was owned by a nice family named White. It was a Jewish style bakery and much of the surrounding community was Jewish. I guess their name White was picked up in Europe to hide their Jewishness? One uncle and aunt of mine who ran to Paris during WW2 changed their name to Parizer to also try and escape the Nazis rounding up Jews. We lived half a block down on Raymond Ave. Back then there were several streets that have disappeared at the beach because of redevelopment. The streets going north from Venice along the OFW were; Marine St., Pier Ave., Kinney St., Ashland Ave., Raymond Ave., Hill St., Surf St., Grand Ave., Ocean Park Blvd.
I used to hang out at the bakery even before I started kindergarten because we were too poor to hire a babysitter. Bruno the baker let me make small breads and rolls. In around 1955 the bakery was sold to a holocaust survival and baker by the name of Davidavitz. They expanded and took over the old restaurant next door. I used to help with small jobs like breaking open dozens of eggs for baking and sweeping and cleaning the shelves. I don’t think there were child labor laws yet but I usually enjoyed my chores. It kept me from getting into too much trouble at the beach which I did sometimes.
Next to the bakery was Ada’s Market, a bathing suit and beachwear shop and a fancy old restaurant. The restaurant had seen better days and the bakery expanded and took it over. The first Synanon opened and took over the beachwear shop in around 1957. Synanon was a drug rehab with housing started by Chuck Dederick who had gotten some ideas from the A.A. and added his own rules and twists to work with his heroin addicted buddies. I grew up as a small kid with these heroin addicts who all seemed to love me and treat me wonderfully. Of course I had no idea what heroin was as a small brat. A few old people tried to scare me to stay away from them! Ada decided she didn’t want her market next door to a bunch of druggies and she moved out and Synanon took over her spot also. Just south of the bakery was the great Otto’s Hot Dogs who sold great cheap hot dogs loaded with chilli and burgers.
There was a big playground out in front on the sand just north of the Ocean Park Pier. The old Ocean Park Pier started at the north border of Venice on the OFW. It was free to enter at Pier Ave. and I just loved to wander around even when I was still tiny and with no money. All the kids in the neighborhood would go to the
Dome Theater on Saturdays for the kiddie shows with 2 movies, cartoons and sometimes a magic act and a give-away where you could win a bike or a box of popcorn if your ticket stub had the winning number. I once won a box of Flicks chocolates. The Dome Theater was at Pier Ave next to the entrance to the pier. There was an enormous, beautiful, brass chandelier inside on the ceiling that went through to the roof. It was ornate and fantastic but I always imagined that someday an earthquake or some giant monster like King Kong above in the dome would make it crash down and smash everyone underneath it. Above was the old dome. There was a little stairway and ladder in the back of the stage that took you up into the big dome. I went up many years later when I worked at the pier. I remember seeing the original ‘Invaders from Mars’ movie there with my brother Jerry when I was 4 and I went home and took my toy cap pistol and slept with my eyes open all night. Those Martians wouldn’t get me with my Hoppy cap gun! A little ways south was the Rosemary Theater which usually showed more adult themed movies like yucky love movies and I only went there when my mom dragged me along.
Later in 1958 the pier was transformed into Pacific Ocean Park or P.O.P., an ocean themed Disneyland. They closed the theaters. The Dome Theater was used for storage and part of the back may have been used for a ride called the Magic Carpet Ride. The entrance at Pier Ave. became the exit and a spectacular new entrance was built at the north end of the pier. The Toonerville fun house was turned into a ocean themed fun house called Davy Jones Locker and the roller coaster was renamed the Sea Serpent. Many great rides were added. However, the wonderful old diving bell was moved away from the ocean and lost its scary charm. They then had an admission to get in and I couldn’t just go for a stroll on the pier like I used to. The pier fishing was eliminated. They paved over much of the beach north of the pier for parking and that was the end of the great playground on the beach. All of the beach parking from the south Santa Monica lots to Bay Street were put in then. P.O.P. was my first real job I worked at when I was 17 ½ years old. You were supposed to be 18 but I lied. I figured it was only a couple more months until I was 18 and we were very poor and needed the money. I think they started me off with a giant $1.25 an hour and I went up to about $1.50 until I finally got another job with more hours washing dishes at the historic old Sinbad’s Restaurant on the Santa Monica Pier. Unfortunately Sinbads and next door was the grand old La Monica Ballroom were both demolished some years ago.
In 1958 Santa Monica wanted to turn Ocean Park into another Miami Beach or Honolulu with lots of high rises along the beach. They started the Ocean Park Redevelopment Project and began forcing the old Jews and other poor people in the neighborhood to sell their little beach homes and shops. This was our Eminent Domain laws at their worst! Our neighbors were forced to sell their homes for $5,000. A small home by the beach now sells for 2-6 million! The bakery was torn down as was our house. Synanon moved and kept growing bigger and bigger and expanded all over America. Synanon is another amazing story I can tell some day….
The Davidavitz family opened another bakery on Fairfax Ave. called the King David Bakery. For awhile my mom, Ruthie took the bus to Fairfax but she kept asking the Davidavitzs to open another bakery here. There was a notions shop with cloth and thread in the shop in the Cadillac Hotel at Dudley Ave. in Venice where the Titanic store is today. They rented this store and they opened a branch of the King David Bakery there. The baking was done in Faifax and the baked goods were brought by a van every morning. My mom then ran the Venice branch by herself.
The bakery had become a local hangout with my mom. She hung up a photo of Eleanor Roosevelt to watch over the store. Locals would come in and hang out and talk. Across the way on Dudley Ave. the Venice West Coffee Shop opened with Beatnik poetry. The bakery and the Venice West became focal points for locals to get a cup of coffee and discuss the problems of Venice and the world. The community all knew my mom. People would say she should run for mayor of Venice!
The city of Santa Monica continued the destruction of old Ocean Park and in the 1960s L.A. also began condemning much of old Venice to try and gentrify the beach. In the interim the neighborhood was in a shambles. In the early 1970s the Davidavitzs sold the bakery for a couple hundred bucks to two young men who wanted to try a health food store. They fixed it up real cute and sold juices and organic bread and other health foods. My mom stayed on since they worked other jobs. She convinced them to continue selling Jewish bread and pastries also for her old customers. They called it the Pooh House, like from Winnie the Pooh, yet everyone still just called it the bakery. I guess the time wasn’t right for a health food store yet and business was very slow, especially in the winter. After a couple years the two nice men gave up the business and offered it to my mom for free by just continuing paying the rent. The rent back then was a gigantic $100 a month! My mom didn’t want to take the chance, especially since she had no help. She said she couldn’t depend on me since I was a bit of a wild, young dude who only cared about chasing pretty gals and shooting hoops.
One old customer by the name of Harold Singer used to come in the bakery. Harold was a bit fat and he loved good pastries and so my mom talked him into taking it over. My mom kept running the bakery and Harold would go out in the mornings and bring back bakery goods and other food. He would drive around and buy old food from shops around L.A. and bring it back and sell whatever he could in the bakery. The bakery became kind of a cheap old food shop. Harold put in an old microwave and a coffee maker and sold a day old bagel and a cup of coffee for 15 cents! For awhile I was enlisted to drive in the mornings to pick up Jewish bakery goods from Fred’s Bakery on Robertson Blvd.. I was paid 5 bucks including gas for my car. I loved Fred and his two kids who worked there. After awhile I gave it up and my mom found other poor people to pick up the bread. I kept hanging out at the bakery after school or after work. I swept up and sometimes helped out selling if it was busy. I have many fun stories about the bakery. Here are a couple short stories.
When the bakery closed at night, my mom would hide the paper money in a little paper bag and throw it in the trash barrel in the back of the store to hide it in case the store was broken into at night. She would leave the cash register open to look like there was only some change and so a crook wouldn’t break the cash register which cost more than the cash that they usually had inside. The register had been broken a couple times before in robberies. One night while I was sweeping up my mom handed me a paper bag and said to throw it in the barrel. I thought the bag was just some garbage to throw out with my pan of dirt. I took it and the dirt and bread crumbs and threw it in a barrel of garbage outside on the OFW. I came back in and kept cleaning and before we left my mom asked me if I threw the money in the barrel? I said, “What money?!” She yelled almost hysterical, “I gave you the money in a paper bag to throw in the back barrel!” I screamed that, “I didn’t know, I thought it was garbage!” I ran outside and sifted through the garbage and there was the little bag filled with about $680! It would have made some homeless person looking through the trash poop in their pants! That was some bread, or dough back then- and I don’t mean the baking kind…
The bakery was rarely robbed but one day Ruthie was there alone on a slow cool day when a guy walked in with his sweater over his face. He yelled to my mom,“Give me the money!” My mom recognized this dude even with his sweater over his face as one of the regular poor guys on the OFW that she had fed. She said to him,“Are you crazy! I know you Tommy! You think I can’t recognize your voice and your hair! You must be kidding! If you’re hungry I’ll give you something, or if you need a couple bucks…” The robber pulled out a big knife and began banging on the cash register with the knife handle and yelling, “Give me the money!” The register opened and he grabbed a few bucks that was on top and he ran out of the store. He was so dumb he didn’t realize that the larger bills were under the money tray in the register. My mom came home all shaking and told us what just happened. My dad yelled,“Didn’t you call the police?!” My mom said, “No, I know him from the beach for a long time and he was always such a nice young man! I’m sure something really bad must have happened for him to steal a few dollars! It was only $12 and I replaced it with my money.” Me and my dad began yelling at her that she was nuts! We went on and on for an hour that she was stupid and a fool for not having him arrested! The next day Tommy was waiting at the bakery door with his head down. “I’m sorry Ruthie! I was on drugs! You’ve been helping me and everyone out here and I am a jerk! Here’s the money back. I’m sorry….” I heard that he later cleaned himself up and made a mench of himself. (mench; a real human being, an upstanding person)
One day it was rather busy in the bakery and my mom let me help wait on customers. One very old man bought a couple bagels and a couple cookies and he handed me a handful of change. I stared at a bunch of strange looking coins and at first I told him that we don’t take foreign money. It was busy but as I looked closer I could see the coins were very, very old American coins! One dime was 1829! I tried to show them to my mom but she yelled at me, “Don’t take foreign money!” With all the customers waiting I tried to argue with my mom that they are old American coins but she wouldn’t listen. She reluctantly finally took the 40 cents just to shut me up and to get back to work. The old man had a big handful of old coins and he took his bagels and pocket full of ancient coins and walked out. That night I had to argue with my dad and mom that these were rare American coins and not worthless foreign money. My dad looked close and finally agreed with me. We found an old coin guide and the 1829 dime alone was worth about 18 bucks back then! For some time I kept hoping that old man would return from the Twilight Zone in his time machine with another big pocketful of rare coins, but I never saw him again…
One cold winter evening, the beach was dark and pretty much deserted and I was helping Ruthie to get ready to close. I was watching the beach and I could see the water from the sea slowly creeping farther and farther toward the OFW. It wasn’t big waves crashing but the tide was huge and just kept slowly pushing farther up the beach and the parking lot. There was some strong winds blowing and dark clouds. I said to my mom, “It looks like the ocean is going to come over the walk.” My mom said, “You’re crazy, it won’t ever come that far!” Suddenly the ocean was on the OFW and came sweeping under the door of the bakery! My mom yelled, “Grab towels and shove them under the door!” We shoved towels and bags by the door and took out mops and brooms to stem the tide. We waited for awhile to see if the bakery was going to be washed away. Finally my mom decided to abandon ship and we ran out the door after stuffing all the towels and mobs under the door. The water on the walk was about 2 -3 inches deep and as we left it had reached the Speedway but then it stopped getting higher and began to recede. I imagined that if it got any bigger we would be fishing for giant sharks in our living room!
I add this story as a warning to young kids. One day when I was 12, I was sitting on the bench in front of the bakery in Venice watching the world go by when some strange older man came over and sat down next to me. He began asking me questions about where I lived and other personal stuff. I told him about my love for comic books and he said he had some on the beach I could read. He led me to a small tent he had set up on the beach. Inside he had a stack of muscle men magazines and had me look at them. I asked where his comics were but he insisted that I look at his magazines. I never was interested in muscle men except maybe seeing Steve Reeves in Hercules movies. He came over and began to rub my back. I was getting a little nervous. Then he stuck his hand down my pants and grabbed my smeckle (penis)! I said, “I need to get back to the bakery! My mom will be worried!” He tried to urge me to stay but I pushed his hand aside and bolted out of the tent and ran back to the bakery all shook up. I didn’t tell anybody because I was ashamed and scared. A couple of years later I thought that I’m sure this creeper had molested other young boys and I should have told my mom and the cops and maybe I would have saved some other poor boys from being molested.
For a few days back in 1968 they were filming a Peter Sellers movie on the OFW called, “I Love You Alice B. Toklas!”. One day they filmed right in front of the bakery and blocked up the front. While they were filming my mom walked out and told Mr. Sellers and the other actor in the scene that they were blocking the bakery door and she needs to sell the bread. She didn’t know who Peter Sellers was but I was awe struck. I had loved the Pink Panther movies. I told her you can’t just yell at Peter Sellers in front of the bakery in the middle of a scene! My little Jewish mamala could argue with G-d about the 10 Commandments if she were on the mountain with Moses! She was fearless! She always said I was afraid of my shadow! I still am! I can imagine her now on top of the mountain telling G-d, “Listen, 10 Commandments ain’t enough! Number 11 should be; Thou men shall not peeith on the toilet seat. And number 12 should say; Would it hurt men if you could wash a dish!” An assistant then gave 50 bucks to the bakery for filming. If you watch the movie close, Peter walks down the OFW and stops for a few moments in front of the bakery and you can see the plain little sign up saying bakery…
As the years raced by, my mom, Ruthie was getting old
er and she hired her friend Dora to work part time. A few years later a nice lady by the name of Rose was hired and then a funny old guy by the name of Moe who lived in the Gingerbread Court began working part time. The Gingerbread Court had been inexpensive apartments before it was changed into expensive shops like it is now.
The owner of the Cadillac Hotel was a wonderful, generous old man by the name of Mr. Gross. He kept the rents low including the bakery since he loved my mom and liked the rye bread. I can still taste the thick cheesecake with cherry or blue berries and the chocolate brownies. YUM! The cheese danish, onion rolls and the giant chocolate chip cookies were to die for and they probably did kill a few old people with cholesterol problems! Sometimes I had a taste for the prune danish which helped you poop. Some old men liked the Jewish high, poppy seed cake filled with poppy seeds. It was rumored that if you ate enough poppy seeds you could get a slight high.
Mr. Gross on Christmas and New Years would make a party for the old people who lived in the Cadillac Hotel. The mother of the famous singer Eddie Fisher lived there and his famous acting wife Debbie Reynolds would come and entertain for free. Eddie divorced Debbie for Elizabeth Taylor but for years Debbie Reynolds still came and entertained for Eddie’s mom and the other old people for free without Eddie. She was wonderful.
Mr. Gross finally passed away and his kids inherited the building. They kept it for awhile and then they sold it to Werner Scharff. Old Werner was one of Venice’s most successful property owners. He had started his empire in the “shmatte” business. (“shmatte”= rags and old clothing. Anything made of cloth) He designed his own style bed clothes and other clothes that sold well starting in the 1930s until the 1950s. He designed the famous Lanz flannel granny nightgown which was long and warm. He took much of his “shmatte” fortune and began buying up Venice. He was a sharp old dude and over the years he bought quite a lot of property in Venice. He died at 90 in 2006.
Part of the sale of the Cadillac Hotel to Mr. Scharff was that they would keep the old tenants there. However the bakery wasn’t part of the deal and one day while I was there Mr. Scharff came in with two other men in expensive business suits and fancy briefcases. Back then nobody wore a fancy suit on the OFW. The new owner told my mom that next month the rent will go from $125 to $2800 per month! At that time this was a fortune! My little mom all of 5 feet stood up tall and told Mr. Scharff and his two well dressed cronies, “Mr. Scharff, the rent is paid until the first of next month, and until that time, get the hell out of the store!” They turned red and blue and ran out! They couldn’t rent the shop for that rent then and so the bakery continued on. Mr. Singer kept making deals on the rent for around $500. This went on for a couple more years but they kept trying to raise the rent. It was hard to make much on a 15 cent bagel and coffee. Mr. Singer was kind of roly-poly fat and the last thing he needed was lots of pastries. He developed heart problems and finally gave it up in around 1984. My mom kept working part time until it closed even when she had health problems of her own.
The bakery was vacant for awhile until it was rented and turned into the Titanic with hats and metal sculptures. Recently, the new owner of the Cadillac Hotel was involved in the murder of a young homeless dude in front of the hotel!