SGV Connect 107 Interview : Chris Greenspon Interviews John Garside
CG: All right, we're here in the echo chamber of Banning City Hall, well the council chamber actually, we're with John Garside. John, who are you? What is your past connection to SGV media and history. JG: My past connection to the San Gabriel Valley is I grew up there, I was born and raised in West Covina, Cal- well, technically I was born in Whittier, but I was raised in West Covina my entire life. So I know the town really well. I know the area. The San Gabriel Valley is my home. But I find myself here in Banning now. CG: How does it make you feel that West Covina is having its centennial incorporation celebration mere... a week and a half from now? JG: I think it's great. Every town has them eventually. And after all, they are the heart of the valley, West Covina. CG: I feel that way. I feel like West Covina can easily be said to be the or a capital of the SGV, at least a commercial capital. JG: Well, they truly are called the heart of the valley. And it's because they really are - or at least they used to be, I don't know if they still are, but it was called the heart of the valley because they were in the center of the San Gabriel Valley. CG: Well watch out or the hub of the San Gabriel Valley, Baldwin Park, will beat your ass. JG: Yeah, well, Baldwin Park, they've got Kaiser and In-N-Out. What else can you ask for? CG: In which order? So anyway, why did you feel the need to make documentary and public access television programming about the San Gabriel Valley in the first place? I think I know the answer. JG: What do you think? CG: Because there isn't any. JG: There wasn't any. Yeah. So okay, I'll give you the short story and the long story. I'll start with a short story. So my friend Marty and I started working on these documentaries. Marty went and visited the La Puente Historical Society for some reason, some personal reason. I don't even know why. But he walked down there, and he heard these old guys sitting around a table talking about a plane crash that happened in 1952. And they kept saying in Turnbull Canyon. So it intrigued him. He brought it up with me and asked me if I'd ever heard of it. I said no. So we started researching it. That's the short story. The longer story is I've always been interested in local history. In fact, you're asking me about Ellen Beach Yaw. That gets right into it. I never made a documentary about Ellen Beach Yaw. Although I wanted to, I just haven't gotten around to it yet. CG: So in all your farting around the SGV, you didn't really make that much, that many movies about West Covina or any? JG: Well, no. So let me start here: the long story is that as a kid driving around town with my dad, I'd say why is the street name this? What does Francisquito mean? Why is this Merced? I don't know. Why is this Vine? I don't know. My dad would get you know, "John, I just don't know. I just don't know." Why is it called Lark Ellen? Well, I can tell you why. Lark Ellen is named after Ellen Beach Yaw, who back in her day, the Victorian age, she was the Beyonce of her time. She would sing for royalty. She would sing all over the place, everyone, for presidents. Everyone knew who she was. She could hit notes that were crazy. But that is also what brought me into local history. I've always been fascinated by it. As a teenager I'd explore places in West Covina like Zelda's Cave. Anyone out there who knows what Zelda's cave is please comment I don't know where do you have comments on your
CG: Yeah, There are comments, but they're mostly just people pissed off - not so much about the idiotic things that I write, but more about like "Why can't this city just build a bike lane that works?" you know- JG: Well, that's typical city stuff as a person who's worked for a city for a long time... CG: We mostly cover you know, mobility, transit, livability and stuff like that, but this little podcast we have SGV Connect we have a little more leeway to talk about the region for other reasons. JG: Yeah. Well no, we didn't do too many in West Covina although we did do one about local bars, hangouts, clubs, and we covered the Carousel Theater which-- CG: Yeah, that was on when you guys talked about nightclubs and concert spots: The Carousel, there was some like country western - JG: Aces? The Blue Room? CG: - places in La Puente, Industry, and you know places where people were probably doing cocaine and getting stabbed. JG: Absolutely. Those after hours places. The cool thing about the Carousel Theater though, you had people like Liberace was in West Covina. The thing that really gets me - CG: The Doors! JG: That's really cool, right. So The Doors were in West Covina and - CG: Worst show ever [Simpsons reference]. JG: The funny part is well, The Carousel obviously is gone now. It's about where Hooters is today. Hooters is still there, right? CG: Hooters is still there. JG: So that's about where the Carousel Theater was, and the Holiday Inn that's next door just to the east of where that was, that was there when the Carousel was there, and that's where all the stars would stay in that hotel which is cool. Again, it's still there. Jim Morrison stayed there, probably Liberace, and who knows who else? CG: Okay, so anyway, you guys covered a lot of historical buildings and stuff like that, some historical figures, but like I'm trying to tease into this interview, you didn't touch West Covina so much, except now the centennial is coming up, I've come all this way to interview you, and I said think about somebody who was in West Covina 100 years ago, and we'll talk about them. So why Ellen Beach Yaw? Why is she the Beyonce? Well, you told us a little bit. JG: She lived in West Cov - Well, see this even gets weird. I think she actually technically lived in Covina. But - CG: But for context, West Covina was born to avoid becoming Covina's little sewage treatment area or something like that? JG: Something like that. They kind of succeeded, I think right? CG: Yeah, they are not Covina's sewage disposal as far as I can tell. JG: Well, there was the BKK. But no, no... CG: You're talking about the landfill on Azusa, where the Target is now? JG: Where the Target is now? Well, actually, I'm not sure that - well yeah, probably Target, but definitely the.... What's that called? The baseball field up there the... CG: The Field of Dreams. JG: The Field of Dreams. That's exactly where the BKK was. CG: Yeah. JG: I remember when I was a kid in the 80s There's a whole neighborhood that had to be evacuated because there was some sort of toxic spill that came out. They were dumping toxic waste, but that's probably not the story you want to hear today. CG: Yeah, so anyway if Ellen Beach Yaw were alive today... haha. So Ellen Beach Yaw namesake of Lark Ellen... Avenue is it? JG: Yep. CG: Yeah. So she sang like a lark. Quite literally, she trilled like Minnie Ripperton, but you know in probably some whalebone corsets and sausage curls in her hair and so forth. Tell us about her and how she came to be in Covina. JG: Okay. So this is what I was nervous about I don't know, all the ins and outs of Ellen Beach Yaw. CG: Well, what do you want to know about her? JG: I want to know how she became part of the community, what brought her to West Covina. I haven't looked that up yet. I've done just enough to know that Lark Ellen was named after Ellen Beach Yaw. And I know that she was world famous. She was an amazing singer. She could hit notes that no one else could...The cool part is, is that her recordings exist and you could find it on youtube CG: They're royalty free, that's the best part. JG: Yeah. So if you want to check out any of Ellen Beach Yaw's singing you could just type in her name right on YouTube and it pops right up. It's incredible that we have that sort of technology. CG: So she lived in Covina, which I think we can generously refer to the Covina in the West Covina of that time as one Covina JG: From here on we'll just call it "the area." Hahahaha CG: Yes. So she lived in the area, I want to say probably about the end of World War One to her death, which was a little after World War Two. JG: Yeah, in fact, I have her Wikipedia pulled up right here. I can tell you exactly she was born in 1869 and died in '47. CG: Okay. JG: So when she came to be in Covina, I don't know I apologize. I don't know all the information on Ella Beach Yaw. CG: That's okay. You know, the point is for people to just get in the mode of thinking about the West Covina of 100 or so years ago. JG: Local history, as I tell people... because when I was making all these documentaries, I was working for the city of Whittier at the time. And I was running them on that TV channel that I worked for, which was Whittier City TV. And they had, at first a problem with me running those, because not all of them were about Whittier. But as I tried to explain to them and to people, is that history doesn't have boundaries. Just because this person lived in, say, this one certain town doesn't mean that they didn't have history in a neighboring town. Take Richard Nixon, for instance, he grew up in Whittier. But he wasn't born there, the library, the Nixon Library's in Yorba Linda. But that's a whole other story for another day. Unless you want to hear it now. And I can tell you- CG: No, we'll pass on Nixon. Okay, so anyway, why should anybody care about the West Covina of 100 years ago, of 80 years ago, 50 years ago? Why should we care about orange groves? JG: Well, I don't know why everyone should care about it. I know why I care about it. I find it incredibly fascinating to walk around in an area and see a fragment of history, meaning when I research history, when I dive deep on a certain subject, and I learn all about it, one of the things I've got to do is I've got to go to the area, the location of where this piece of history took place, and see what's what's left, what's still there, that this person experienced. Let me think of an example here. Well, here's an example: the plane crash that got us started on Forgotten Tales, which had the impact is on the north side, well the northeast side of the Puente Hills near Colima... Make this documentary and I actually had to find the crash site, I had to take photographs, and walk around in the hills and try to find it. And I did. And I walked out there, and I found a piece of the plane. Still there. Probably 5% of it still exists to this time. But I found it was just a long pole, but it's definitely from the plane, probably housed the fuel line? It's at the Whittier Museum now. But my point is, is that the reason why people should care is because history is still among us. Just because we've moved past that date. You can still go anywhere in your town and find a piece of history still staring you right in the face, sometimes right on the sidewalk, buildings. CG: It makes me curious, isn't there a Victorian house or two left on Lark Ellen Avenue? JG: I believe so. Yeah. I think there's-- CG: By those pillars that they have in West Covina, right? JG: Yeah they're very phallic looking, you know! It looks like a phallus balancing a ball! CG: You know, I didn't think that when I was nine years old. JG: There was actually pictures of those. CG: Yeah, if you look at old photos or paintings of West Covina or Covina, specifically the historic cores of those areas. Those are in the images. Phallic though they may be, I think they're supposed to represent a bounty of citrus fruit or something because they're made out of these like smooth circular stones. Right? JG: Well, I'm not sure exactly what they're made of. I just know that they they were the gateway to a citrus farm. Back in the days, as I understand it, if I recall correctly, it's been a while since I've researched that. But yeah, yeah. And I've seen the photos of those from probably the 20s or 30s. CG: Yeah. So in media and in culture in general, there's been very obvious - at this point - turns towards people appreciating and reexhuming all this history that for a long time, wasn't celebrated or was buried or was deemed unimportant. Generally speaking, here, we're talking about the history in the area of San Gabriel Valley for Latinos and and for indigenous people. JG: Yeah. CG: And the value of that and continuing to do this is obvious. With that said, What's the remaining value in all this white bread type history like Ellen Beach Yaw. Why does that still matter, aside from the fact that you said, you know, history is all around us, why is that still worth taking an interest in? JG: Because local history is our history. It tells the story of how our community came to be. And your right it's not just whitewashed history; there's a lot of that. And I can't speak to West Covina, but I can speak to different areas like there's lots of Latino history of course, you've got ... some history is not great. You got Jim Town in Whittier. Have you researched? Okay? Well, it's a town that existed. It was a slum. It was a ghetto. It was bad. But it had its history. It had its heritage. And when the freeways came through, it went right over the top of Jim Town. And there's elements of it there. There's a neighborhood still there. But that's one of the things I also wanted to do that I didn't get a chance to. But there was also Simon's Brickyard. I believe that was sent Montebello or El Monte. One of those two, I'm sorry, I can't remember exactly. But that's also a fascinating story. It's a place where they made bricks and people lived there at the Brickyard. And there's a fascinating history behind that too. And there's a whole Facebook group of people on there talking about their parents are sharing pictures of it. It's fascinating. That's another story I would have loved to have done. And maybe one day I will I don't know. But right now I'm kind of taking a break from all that at the moment. But yeah, the history in the area, especially the East San Gabriel Valley - without the East San Gabriel Valley, I don't think you have - Southern California as it is today just wouldn't be the same without the history, whether it be William Workman, Pio Pico. CG: How do you mean? I mean, we can go about this industrially and culturally... JG: All the above, because without those original - I hate saying it like that, because they weren't the original settlers - without the European settlers that came like William Workman or John Rowland, who established what they did - CG: Investors and landowners maybe we should refer to them. JG: There you go. Yes, that's a better way of putting it. Thank you, investors and landowners that came to the San Gabriel Valley, who developed the land because even this town that we're in right now, right, Banning, we're named after a guy named Phineas Banning. He never stepped foot in this town. The reason why Banning is named after Banning is because he had a stagecoach line that came from LA out to Palm Springs, and there was a truckstop here, so not too much has changed. There was a truckstop here, but it was a stagecoach stop. And they named it after him. Now, where was he? He was in Wilmington. He started Wilmington. That's why there's a Banning high in Wilmington. He's the father of the Port of Los Angeles. So again, without these businessmen that came to town, or came to the area, I don't think that the way LA and all of Southern California is it wouldn't be shaped the way it is today. CG: This is a very leading question, but does it seem then that the California of lore - the one that's in TV, movies, and the imaginations of people around the world - does some of that or even a good portion of that come from a place like West Covina? JG: Yeah. If there was a big bang for the Los Angeles area, it starts in the San Gabriel Valley. CG: Well, Happy Birthday West Covina, and thanks to John Garside for meeting with us on SGV connect JG: Thank you check out my YouTube channel. It's Forgotten Tales. You could look up things like the plane crash I talked about, the Electrodome, which is a weather control device that existed at the top of Turnbull Canyon Road. I'm not a conspiracy theorist. Just watch the video. El Monte Lion farm. You got, oh gosh, what else? Lots of Turnbull Canyon- CG: The Star Theater. JG: The Star Theater, history of the Star Theater and all the theaters in the area. But thanks for having me. I appreciate it.