Yep. that’s a gate. A pretty identifiable one. It took me a heck of a long time to find it. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
First and foremost–Big Time–I want to say a sincere Thank You to all of you who responded so positively to my not-so-humble request at the end of my last column. Maybe it was the subject of massacred magazines that drew way more readers than any other topic I have broached here since PG’s R&C began a year and a half ago. But much more important are all of you who subscribed. That number has more than doubled. This means a lot to me. I feel invigorated to continue doing this. And I hope this number will continue to grow, as it appears to be doing.
Second, I want to thank all of you who wrote me Gmails. There were way more than I could possibly have responded to. I wish I could, because they were all very positive and complimentary. But I want you to know that I read every one, long or short. And I appreciated them. It was pretty amazing, really. Thank you.
OK, so what’s this weird gate have to do with it? To tell the truth I’d been planning this topic for some time, but the coincidental tie-in is that I have all the original copies of Hop Up magazine in my large collection (as I showed last time), from which I directly scanned the accompanying photos, including the rotogravure color tint that they used in those days.
So here’s the deal. Besides cars, I have a lot of other interests, one of them being architecture, especially local architecture. I’m not sure when I started collecting copies of the little Hop Up magazine (Including both Vol. 1, No. 1’s: July and Aug. ’51, 15c ea.). It was probably when I was doing Rod & Custom in the ’90s. I loved reading and studying these early mags. One of the neater things about Hop Up was that it was published right here in Glendale, at 540 W. Colorado Blvd., and the printing house was still there. John Bond and Bill Quinn started there as publishers with Road & Track magazine, then got into the new rodding field with Hop Up in ’51 (soon with Dean Batchelor as editor) and Rod & Custom in ’53 (with editor Spence Murray). Petersen later bought R&C in ’55.
So, as I was avidly reading these cool little magazines, not only was I digging on the historical rods and customs in them, but also the often architecturally interesting and complimentary backgrounds where the photographers (Gene Trindl, Ralph Poole, Jerry Chesebrough) posed them for their black-and-white shots. One that caught my attention, even though it was only used a few times, was this patterned steel gate, with the zig-zag walls next to it, and the hint of a mountain range in the distance. Most of the cars photographed there were from the Glendale/Burbank area, such as Ralph Jilek’s sectioned ’40 Convertible, built by Valley Custom, also located in Burbank.
Now you might remember an article I did in The Rodder’s Journal No. 4 called The Grand Shop Tour, where I went and found the present locations of many early hot rod shops and manufacturers in the SoCal area. Rather than an obsession, I like to call this an intrigue. As I said, I love local architecture, as well as history. Plus I liked to find cool and photographically complimentary locations to shoot new rod and custom features. Wouldn’t it be neat to find this gate and wall, for its own sake, as well as to pose a current car feature?
Easier said than done. I asked the late Dean Batchelor; I grilled photographer Ralph Poole; I thought for sure Spence Murray would know (who still lives here, and had shown me the locations of R&C, Valley Custom, Link Paola’s, and others). But nada. And bylines were sparse in Hop Up, so I didn’t know who took the photos (or wrote the minimal text).
But I’ve lived in Glendale since the ’80s. I also sensed that this was some sort of government location–it had that look. So as I drove around the Glendale, Burbank, Eagle Rock areas I scanned city halls, water & power departments, police departments, county jails, you name it. For years. For decades. Still nada.
Persistence pays off. It’s still there, as you can see in the top photos: both the gate and the zig-zag walls, though with other fences and trees partially obscuring them. Yep, it’s called the City of Burbank Valley Pumping Plant, at 2030 Hollywood Way, which is a 4-lane north-south street that takes you to the Burbank Airport (not to Hollywood). I’m not sure how I noticed it, because the large, concrete, windowless building and the smaller gate and wall are set well back from the street, with a small parking lot, lawn, and more trees between it and the sidewalk. Not to mention lots of “Private,” “No Parking,” and other signs, plus a key-card box by the gate with a big electronic eye. It’s about 1/4-mile south of the airport. It’s no longer a good car feature location, so let’s look at the few classic ones shot there in the ’50s. That’s the real point of this column.
Going in chronological order, next up was the wonderful Wally Welch chopped Merc, in its initial lime green form as built and painted by Gil and Al Ayala. The photo above was the only overall image of the car in the 4-page inside feature, and the gate is not shown. But we know the location because of the zig-zag wall. The first color Hop Up cover photo, credited to Cheseborough, was obviously taken in a different location, strangely featuring more red brick than anything else. The green and sepia-toned “roto” feature inside ignored engine, interior, or overall rear shots (nor any mention in the text), showing two taillight close-ups, a half-page nose/headlight/grille photo (stating “Hop Up offers this hand-made grille as a good example of originality in design” without giving the De Soto origin). Plus there was a large, tilted shot of the B pillar, with the rounded door corner and shaved drip rail.
Aha. It was this full-page photo of pert Jeannie Chrisman that all the male readers remember and has become a classic. The amazing part is that she wasn’t even identified until she had posed for two more Hop Up features (including Spence Murray’s chopped ’49 Chevy), and readers wrote in demanding to know who she was. Besides her name, they said she was 19, a Burbank High grad, and gave her measurements “in the usual places.” What they didn’t mention was that she was Wally Welch’s girlfriend, also seen standing next to him–and his previous ’42 Carson-top Ford–in the 6-car Ayala shop scene on the Oct. ’51 Motor Trend cover. Now you know.
This one I highly doubt you remember. It’s no classic. Simply titled “Plymouth Custom” in the July ’52 issue, it’s clean and surprisingly good looking. And it fit editor Batchelor’s oft-stated keynote for customs. He didn’t actually say “Less is more.” But he begins this 2-page feature with: “Common failing of many who decide to customize their car is not knowing when to quit.” After stating this car is lowered the same amount front and rear, he continues: “We feel the ‘speedboat look’ with the rear of the car dragging the ground should be reserved for the water where it has some function.” What he didn’t mention about Emory Bozzani’s Plymouth was that it was a brand-new ’52. Besides mild lowering, the only custom mods were a shaved nose and deck, plus skirts, spots, and full-moon wheelcovers. Besides fresh paint, the major change was a full black and white T&R interior, including black carpet with white binding and a white headliner with black piping. The terse copy says: “The car’s interior goes well with the simple exterior” without mentioning what color it is! We assume the engine is the stock flathead six, other than dual exhaust tips seen under the bumper. You’re learning more here than in the mag.
Pardon the water spots on my copy, but this is the only photo in the 4-page feature on Ron Dunn’s (Glendale, CA) well-known sectioned Valley Custom Ford that shows a hint of the zig-zag wall, if not the gate. It was shown in front of red fire trucks on the last small-size cover, Feb. ’53, and you have to squint to see that the Ford is actually “Metallic Bronze” rather than red itself. The feature, which begins “Now here is a car!” is titled No. 1 Custom of the Year, even though there was no such contest. The text also boldly states: “This is, we believe, the finest example of custom restyling we have ever seen.”
Hop Up went full-size (25c) in March ’53, with the Hirohata Merc on the cover. Two months later, although it featured a beautiful cover shot of the under-heralded Ayala-built Al Glickman “iridescent maroon” chopped ’50 Merc with white padded top and ’52 Olds rear fenders, my personal favorite of all the customs seen here is this nearly unknowndark metallic jade green ’41-’42 Ford club coupe built by Valley Custom for Ed Jacques of Glendale (of course). Titled “Lowest Coupe,” it obviously violates editor Batchelor’s anti-taildragging, “speedboat look” dictum, big time. Besides nosing, decking, frenched headlights and molded running boards, the subtle but most striking change on this car is the 3-piece ’41 grille replicated in chromed 5/8″ round stock and slightly inset in the fully molded front end. Less obvious is the lowered bumper, raised front wheel arches, and removal of the front fender “humps.” I wish they hadn’t “dropped out” the driveway it sat so low on, but there it is looking just perfect, to me, in front of The Gate.
Stay tuned to see what turns up next time. Meanwhile, I thank you for your support.