Miss Blackwood's Neighborhood Tales

Everything has a story. Of this I am quite certain. Los Angeles' neighborhoods have some of the best. By "best" I mean grim and macabre and disquieting.

A couple years ago, when I lived on the West side of town, I set out to find to some of the stories that could be had along my everyday routes to work or to the store.

Los Angeles has the best stories.

Driving Miss Josephine

In Playa Del Rey, there is a small lagoon near a park where people play soccer, couples fight, tweens pledge undying love and children celebrate the passing of their birthdays. Over one hundred years ago, a grand pavilion and a hotel resort stood here, enticing tourists and the more financially endowed. They dined, they danced, they raced their boats.

By 1917, the hotel was nothing more than a brothel. The city, hoping to clean up this messy situation, handed the property over to a Mary E. Jacobs, who, along with another woman, opened the Hope Development School for "retarded" children. The school was home to some forty girls, ranging in age from four to twenty three years old.

Mrs. Jacobs started locking the girls in at night, barring the windows and the doors to the outside world, because the outside world, in the guise of men, repeatedly broke in and violated the girls.

On June 1st, 1924, fourteen year old Josephine Bertholme really wanted to go for a car ride. The girl's requests were denied...but Josepine really wanted that ride. She decided to start a small fire in the basement of the building with some oily rags, figuring that would at least get them outside.

It was about 9 O'clock at night. Most, if not all of the girls were asleep in their beds. Locked in.

Twenty three girls died, eighteen others hospitalized. They say the only thing left by the time help arrived from Venice, (the nearest town), was a brick chimney and some twisted iron bars.

A newspaper article from the Nevada Steve Journal, Reno edition ran a story. The title reads;


Witness Walter Curtis gives us a " graphic word picture" of the tragedy.

According to witnesses to blaze, the children were trapped by barred doors and locked windows and many of the inmates made their escape by jumping from the second story of the three-story building after the windows had been broken.
Other children were thrown bodily from the windows by the rescuers.
A graphic word picture of rescue work was given by WALTER CURTIS, Los Angeles, who with members of his family were on the beach 200 yards from the building when the fire broke out.
His story follows:
"The first I knew about it was when I heard a man at an oil station blowing a small police whistle. I looked up and saw a big crowd around the building. I ran toward the building and toward a big heavy door on the first floor. It was closed and locked. Together with another man I threw my weight against it. We couldn't budge it. Then we tried some windows. They were locked. We couldn't get any of them open. I broke in the first window I came to. I looked in the room but could see nothing. I ran to another window and broke it in. There was nothing there. I broke in several other windows the same way. There was not a sound of any one in the building."
"I called out but received no reply. I broke into another window where I heard children screaming at the far end of the hall. I climbed through the window by my hands and knees into a dense cloud of smoke. It was dark and I couldn't see a thing. I stumbled over a child. I grabbed her by the leg and carried her to the window where someone took her and I went back for others."
"I could hear them screaming frightfully now. They seemed dazed and apparently didn't know what they were doing. They seemed to be fighting among themselves."

Poor, dear girls.

Come June 1st 2010, you can find me, digital voice recorder in hand, at the edge of the lagoon.


  1. These are marvelous (chilling) stories. Can I meet you June 1 by the lagoon? I promise to be very quiet indeed...

  2. What a chilling tale. Thanks for sharing.


  3. AE - You are welcome. I have quite a few more Westside stories to tell.

    Hello again, Queen Frog :)

  4. Brr! Anything about the Santa Monica College vicinity? I used to live over there.

  5. Yes! Actually, the most incredible story I know ties into the cemetery across the street on Pico. I'll try to get to that soonish.

  6. People leaping from windows to avoid consumption by fire have haunted me since 911. Good to see them exorcised here at this well-known Playa Del Rey site and today's Triangle Shirt Factory Centenial.