Twin Views of Echo Park
By Becky Kopenhaver
The year was 1922. Thomas Lynch and Dorothy Leigh were newly wed and living in the small, cozy cottage at 2501 Preston Street. Dorothy was pregnant with twins and suffering from uremic poisoning. Her doctor told her she would probably nor survive the birth of her babies.
On the evening of February 2, 1922, Dorothy died while giving birth to her daughters, Dorothy and Elenore. Devastated and grieving, Thomas Lynch feared he would not be able to care for his newborn daughters. As it turned out, Dorothy’s aunt, Bertha Holway and her husband, Arthur, lived behind the newlyweds in a small house at 1916 Vestal Street. They immediately adopted the twins and raised them as their own.
As children, Dorothy and Elenore spent their days playing in the yard of their small house on the corner of Vestal and Baxter Streets, and on the staircase that runs from Baxter up to Preston Street. Arthur Holway had purchased the vacant hillside in 1912 and then built four small houses on the property, two of them facing Vestal, the other two behind them facing Preston Street.
“One of my earliest memories of our house was when we were little, we would sit out in the yard and watch the model Ts try and make it up the hill to Lemoyne from Vestal,” said Dorothy, “a lot of the model T salesmen would drive their customers to Echo Park, they would speed up the hill from Echo Park Avenue to Vestal, but they usually couldn’t make it to Lemoyne, and they would slowly roll backwards, back down the hill.”
Sometimes the twins would walk up the Baxter Street stairs with their mother to walk their dog in the park. “Back then, there was nothing up on that hill, no houses, no paved street, there was nothing but the park up there,” says Elenore. The small former storefronts along Echo Park Avenue used to be a place to stop in for a quick lunch, for eggs or milk, or even to get a haircut.
“We used to walk down (Baxter Street) to Shore’s Market to buy bread, it used to be on the corner of Baxter and Echo Park, but for most of our shopping we took the Redline downtown, that’s where everything was back then, stores, theaters, restaurants,” says Elenore. “Later on, we started going to USO dances during the war.”
As children, the girls were rarely given a chance to explore the neighborhood alone. Many of the roads in Echo Park were unpaved and many of the hillsides that are now populated with houses, were barren. “Our mother was very protective of us,” says Elenore. “We didn’t know a lot of kids in the neighborhood because we weren’t allowed to [wander] far from the house without her. We went to Catholic school instead of Elysian Heights where most of the kids in the neighborhood went.”
Dorothy and Elenore were witness to a period that most Echo Park history enthusiasts have only read about. In the 1920’s and 30’s Echo Park was the hub of the city’s motion picture industry. The area was a frequent filming location for many of the early comedy shows like Laurel and Hardy, and The Three Stooges. ” I remember hearing that Laurel and Hardy were in the neighborhood shooting a movie,” says Dorothy, “and I remember walking up the street with my mother to see if we could see them-they were filming all over.”
Across from Echo Park Lake, the preacher Amy Semple McPherson was preaching salvation at Angelus Temple. “We never actually attended any of her services,” says Dorothy, “but I remember seeing her working in the garden outside of church.” Elenore laughs at the thing she remembers most about McPherson’s radio broadcasts, “we would hear her on the radio, and one thing that sticks in my memory is hearing Amy say, “don’t want to hear the jingle of coins, ma Kennedy needs a new fur coat.”
After graduating from Conaty High School, both the girls attended Los Angeles City College and then found jobs. Dorothy worked downtown at Bank of America in what was then and still is the garment district. Elenore worked for an insurance company at 7th and Olive streets. They both continued to live in the house on Vestal with their parents until they married, Dorothy in 1952, Elenore in 1953. They both moved with their new husbands to what was then considered the suburbs. “West Covina in the 1950’s was all orange groves and new houses,’ says Dorothy,”you could get a new, big house for a good price.”
Arthur Holway died in 1952. Bertha left Echo Park for West Covina in 1956. The twins inherited the property in 1971 after Bertha Holway died. Since then, the four small bungalows on Baxter and Vestal have been the homes of many, but the care and upkeep of the bungalows by the twins has remained steady. Until recently, you could often find Dorothy and Elenore pruning trees, or pulling weeds from the hillside, but combined, they have 15 grandchildren and they’ve finally begun to let them share the responsibility for the upkeep of the properties.
On a recent afternoon, Dorothy and Elenore had driven in from West Covina with Dorothy’s sons Tom and Joseph, and one of Elenore’s grandchildren, to clear some brush from around the property and sweep the stairs. Dorothy put her hands on her hips and looked satisfied as she surveyed the hill that has been in her family for nearly 100 years.
“We don’t try to do everything ourselves anymore, ” she says, ” after all, it will be theirs’ someday.” Dorothy recently underwent surgery for breast cancer. She is now going through chemotherapy and she says she is doing well and feeling good. The twins will celebrate their 84th birthday on February 22, 2006.
This article appeared in the Winter 2006 issue of the EPHS News.