“The Russians of the Flats of Boyle Heights Go to the Movies, Part One” by Rudy Martinez

Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member Rudy Martinez continues his series of posts on early Boyle Heights history, including its ethnic and racial diversity, with this remarkable multi-part post on the “Russian colony” of the Flats area of the community.  Check back weekly for further installments and enjoy!

Angry at the indifference to the injustice committed against them and the refusal by a new growing power in their midst to make amends, the angry crowd of about a hundred began to storm the gates, shouting their demands. Some reportedly began throwing stones at the armed security force summoned to subdue the “angry mob” of mostly bearded Russian men. Tension and agitation had been openly simmering between two opposing forces throughout the city for some time, but on this day, the violation was too flagrant to ignore.

“The Russians of the Flats of Boyle Heights Go to the Movies, Part Two” by Rudy Martinez

This the second in a series of posts about the Russian (known commonly as Molokans) immigrant community that settled in the Flats area of Boyle Heights and often served as extras in the Hollywood film industry.  Author Rudy Martinez, Advisory Board member of the Boyle Heights Historical Societies, gives an excellent overview of the Flats in this post.

Before developers renamed it in 1876, Boyle Heights was called Paredon Blanco (white bluff). The area of the Flats is bounded by the eastern edge of the Los Angeles River and Boyle Avenue (the bluff side), and from Aliso Street (largely replaced by the 101 Freeway) to 4th Street.  Initially verdant farmland and vineyards and then subdivided, but never developed, as a potential fashionable residential district, the Flats was, by the early 1900s, an area of small modest homes built by railroad and lumber companies for low-wage workers and recent immigrants. The San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad depot sat at the edge of the (usually) dry, white-graveled riverbed, while small industrial enterprises and livestock-related businesses were established in the area.

“The Russians of the Flats of Boyle Heights Go to the Movies, Part Three” by Rudy Martinez

This third part of the series by Rudy Martinez on Russians in Boyle Heights and their role in early Hollywood looks at some of the films in which so-called Molokans and fictional representations of the community appeared.

In the summer of 1915, Majestic Studios released the first film to acknowledge the presence of a Russian community in Los Angeles. The “two-reeler” was titled Her Oath of Vengeance, starring one of the most popular actresses of the period, Teddy Sampson as a young Russian girl named Sophia. Sampson had just recently played the sister of Pancho Villa for the Mutual Film Company’s semi-fictional film, The Life of General Villa (1914)featuring Pancho Villa as himself.
According to the Motion Picture News of August 28, 1915, Her Oath of Vengeance “pertains to life in the Russian colony in Los Angeles, where many of the people are employed in canneries.” The plot includes a worker’s foiled scheme to plant a bomb and incite a strike in the canning factory (this was five years after the infamous bombing of the Los Angeles Times building). Beyond a brief plot description, there is little information about this production, and it appears this film is now lost, so it’s unknown if the filmmakers filmed any scenes in The Flats itself.

“Making a Man of a Mad Monk” by Boris Dralyuk

IN A SMALL CEMETERY in the Pico-Union district of Los Angeles, some five miles from the humble two-story Craftsman home in Silver Lake where she had spent the last years of her life, an obscure Russian émigré rests in eternal peace. She had fled Soviet Russia in 1920, at the age of 22, and for the next six decades led the peripatetic, unhappily exotic life of the exile. Her winding road to Los Angeles included stints as a performer in Parisian cabarets, a lion tamer with a traveling circus, and a riveter in a Miami shipyard. At the time of her death in 1977, one could still hear Russian spoken in the streets of Silver Lake on any day of the week — not just on Sunday mornings near the Holy Virgin Mary Cathedral on Micheltorena.

“The Land of Columbus: Echoes of LA’s Russian Past” by Boris Dralyuk

I’m a product of Little Russia, a neighborhood that straddles Los Angeles and West Hollywood; its heart is Plummer Park, its main drag is a stretch of Santa Monica between La Brea and Fairfax, and its southern border is Melrose between those same streets — in other words, roughly between the parking lot where Phil plies his trade and the Cosmopolitan Book Shop. LA’s Russian émigré community, which snowballed in the years around the collapse of the Soviet Union, is one of the largest in the world, but Little Russia is rapidly aging, fading. The young adults who immigrated in the 1980s and 1990s couldn’t wait to get out of what they saw as a ghetto and move up in the world, and those who stayed are now, ironically, being priced out. Some day soon the Russian stores — Odessa, the New York Deli, and the ineptly titled Cherry Garden (what a perfectly Chekhovian failure to capitalize on Chekhov!) — will shutter their doors, squeezed out by sneaker and skateboard shops. Some day soon the old men will play their last marathon bridge game and vacate the Plummer Park picnic tables. Their chits and cigarette butts will be swept away, and nothing will remain but two hunks of stone: one commemorating the Soviet Jews massacred at Babi Yar in 1941, the other Soviet soldiers who gave their lives in the following four years. I imagine they’ll be as irrelevant and inscrutable to future generations as a marker erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution, which has been gathering dust at the park since the 1950s.

“Pierrot in Hollywood: Alexander Vertinsky and Anna Sten” by Boris Dralyuk

In his memoir The Grass of Oblivion (1967), the Soviet author Valentin Katayev recalls a conversation with Ivan Bunin, the future Nobel laureate, that occurred in Odessa during the Civil War. Bunin was to debut one of his short stories before an audience; flyers had been posted all around the city. But on the night of the reading, no one showed up. The great author lamented: “The hall would be packed, of course, for Igor Severyanin, or Vertinsky!” That was the typical, though not universal, attitude of the cultural elite. It is expressed with special vitriol in Passport to Paris (1955), the memoir of the Russian-American composer Vernon Duke (born Vladimir Dukelsky, 1903-1969): “Severyanin had his low-brow apostle in the person of Alexander Vertinsky (at this writing still flourishing in Moscow), who got himself up as Pierrot and mumbled Frenchified inanities to strangely gypsylike tunes — a weird but eminently successful combination.” Perhaps Duke was harsher on Vertinsky because, unlike Severyanin, the “low-brow apostle” had impinged on the composer’s own turf, popular music. But he was also right: Vertinsky wasn’t nearly as good a poet.

“Cherbak House” by ranchocucamonga

This is a story about the historic Cherbak house in Rancho Cucamonga as told by Bob Smith, former Chaffey College Art History Professor, who lived in the house with his family. Bob shares stories about George, the youngest of the Cherbak brothers, who lived next door and about living in the main Cherbak house in old Alta Loma (now Rancho Cucamonga).

“Announcing an exciting discovery of costumes and trunks once owned by Alla Nazimova” by Martin Turnbull

Once upon another, much later time…I came across Alla Nazimova when I started doing research for my novels set around the Garden of Allah Hotel built around what was once Nazimova’s movie star mansion on Sunset Boulevard. (…)

In the Fall of 2014, the Alla Nazimova Society was contacted by a Jack Raines, from Columbus, Georgia. He wrote to say that his family was cleaning out his grandmother’s house and came across five steamer traveling trunks, each with the name “NAZIMOVA” stenciled across them.

“What’s in them?” we asked.


“The Holy Grail: One man’s search for the Garden of Alla scale model” by Martin Turnbull

At this point (October 2013) I’ve been reading, researching and writing about Alla Nazimova’s Garden of Allah Hotel on Sunset Boulevard for eight years. The very first book I picked up was “The Garden of Allah” by gossip columnist Sheilah Graham who spent some time there, mainly during her relationship with Garden of Allah resident, F. Scott Fitzgerald, in the late 1930s. The cover of her book features a photo of not the hotel itself, but a scale model. Somewhere in her book, Graham mentioned that when the hotel was razed and a mini-mall was built on the site, a scale model of the Garden of Allah was made and placed in the foyer of the bank that sits there now.

“Bublichki Russian Café at 8846 Sunset Boulevard” by Martin Turnbull

In the 1940s, the Bublichki Russian Café sat at 8846 Sunset Boulevard opposite the corner of Larabee St where the Viper Room stands today. It featured both a Russian orchestra and a bar . . . which you probably needed if you sat too close to the orchestra. This photo was taken in 1945.

“Romanoff’s Restaurant, Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills” by Martin Turnbull

In December of 1940, Prince Michael Romanoff opened his restaurant on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. The problem was that his name wasn’t Michael Romanoff, he wasn’t a prince, and he wasn’t from Russia. Evidently, though, that wasn’t much of a problem. The place was a hit from the get-go.