News clips, various stations and broadcasts – August 1959 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
L.A. has never been a town to shy away from controversy – the city was practically built on it. Unlike former rival San Francisco, who embraced quirky and bohemian almost like a long-lost relative, L.A. tolerated it to a certain degree. In the 1960s, the onslaught of teenagers on the Sunset Strip, and the threat of decreasing property values brought the Sheriff’s Department out in droves to billy club and steamroller anyone even appearing to be younger than 21 into jail and off the street.
But earlier, in the late 1950s, when beach communities like Venice were fading into disrepair and neglect, another population; one quirky and bohemian, started settling in and taking advantage of cheap rents; turning boarded up businesses into art galleries and coffee houses.
Los Angeles, ever the bastion of all things moral and upstanding, yielded to pressure from neighborhood groups to rid Venice of its flourishing Beatnik population. Citing public intoxication, free love, bongo-playing and, worst of all for 1950s L.A., inter-racial relationships, the city sought to shut down the gathering place at the epicenter of the controversy; a coffee-house, art-gallery, quasi-performance space called The Gas House run ostensively by self-proclaimed Guru-of-hip Lawrence Lipton and bankrolled by attorney-supporter Al Matthews who saw the area as an artistic community, a counter-culture oasis of sorts.
What ensued was a months-long legal battle, one that involved undercover cops, police raids and harassment from neighborhood associations, all with the goal of ridding Venice of this “drafty hive” of perversion and eccentricity.
So to give you some flavor of the period and the reactions to the scene by mainstream media who would pepper newscasts with snarky asides, here is a little over a half hour of local Los Angeles broadcasts, both from radio and TV (KABC,KTLA, KNX and KNXT-TV) around August of 1959 when the hearings were in full swing and the loopiness of the uproar on full blast.
This wasn’t the first time the media got involved in the trials and tribulations of social movements. The 60s were loaded with them. And maybe our tolerance for these movements has changed over the years – certainly the outrage over the Beatnik population at The Gas House would be downright quaint in comparison to what it’s like now.
L.A. can still be very odd at times.