Our first post grows out of research into detective novelist Raymond Chandler, subject of two Esotouric bus adventures, the downtown-centered “Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles: In A Lonely Place” and the westside tour “Raymond Chandler’s Bay City. [Update: and the novel The Kept Girl, starring the young Chandler on the trail of a cult of murderous angel worshippers.]
To read Raymond Chandler while studying Los Angeles history is to discover that the writer took a special pleasure in larding his tales with real names and places that had personal resonance. Every time one of these little clues comes into focus, we find it hard not to squeal.
“The Lady in the Lake” (1943) has at least two of these small gifts: the Treloar Building (obviously based on the Art Deco Oviatt) is almost certainly named for Harvard grad Al Treloar, “The Most Perfectly Developed Man in the World,” who was for decades the athletic director at the LA Athletic Club, half a block from the Oviatt and site of Chandler’s mid-day bridge games. And Marlowe’s cop-companion Al Degarmo likely honors G.C. De Garmo, a socially-connected attorney involved in a lengthy contract dispute affecting Chandler’s early employer, the Los Angeles Creamery.
For the downtown tour, we looked into a little known period of Raymond Chandler’s life in Los Angeles, the years 1913-19, before he joined the Dabney Oil Syndicate. What did this intelligent youth observe from behind his bookkeeper’s desk? He leaves us no written evidence, but we’ve done a little digging into his employer’s public record, and found some fascinating dirt.
Chandler was a mature man when he started writing fiction, and evidence of his rich pre-literary life is thick in the work. While little is known conclusively about his early years in Los Angeles, a bit of digging exposes unexpected spice in his seemingly dry gig as a commercial bookkeeper.
In 1913, we know that Chandler, then 25, was working as a bookkeeper in the Los Angeles Creamery, the largest milk concern in the city. Their main plant was at 12th and Towne, south of downtown. He worked there through most of the teens, briefly supervised their Santa Barbara office, and got his job back on his return to Los Angeles after war service in 1919 before making the transition to the oil business.
While on first glance this sounds like it might be a dull part of Chandler’s life, and his biographers concur, further exploration reveals he would have received an early education in local corruption and crimes of passion while so employed.
In March 1912, George E. Platt, president of the Los Angeles Creamery and Chandler’s boss, was found guilty of adulterating the “cream” his company sold. The pricey product was proven to be ordinary milk mixed with the condensed variety. Platt appealed his conviction, claiming he had the right to regulate his inventory, but he lost the appeal and was fined $25. This case received a great deal of publicity, and Chandler would certainly have been aware of it.
Then in July 1914, Platt was stalked and shot by a business associate who claimed he was being ripped off in a real estate deal. The aggrieved C.P. Deyoe drove from his Hollywood home to the intersection of Sixth and Ardmore, where he knew Platt (resident of 520 Ardmore) and contractor Frank O. Jean (452 Ardmore) caught the streetcar to work. Jean was late that day, lucky fellow. But Platt was waiting for the train, and accepted a ride from Deyoe.
It was not a pleasant trip. Deyoe immediately launched into the same old story about how Platt owed him $10,000 commission on Platt’s purchase of the Scorpion Ranch in Owensmouth, and furthermore, Platt’s friend and neighbor Frank O. Jean owed him money, too. When Deyoe asserted that if it hadn’t been for the money he was owed, Jean wouldn’t have been able to build Platt’s new house on Ardmore for him, Platt objected. That’s when Deyoe pulled out his gun.
George Platt jumped from the car at Sixth and Catalina, failing to yank the gun away as he ran, and Deyoe shot him in the back, then shot himself in the head. The assailant died instantly, and his victim lingered in terrible agonies at California Hospital with a bullet lodged in his abdomen. He survived.
When interviewed, Frank O. Jean claimed he didn’t even know the gunman. In the hospital, Platt said he believed the shooter was insane and the claimed debt imaginary.
But then again, this is a man who thought it was his right to sell adulterated milk products as cream. And it’s known that in 1908, Deyoe brokered the sale of 280 acres in Rancho La Puente as a dairy facility for Platt’s Creamery, at a price of between $250 and $400 an acre.
We also know that Raymond Chandler, reconciling ice cream orders in lined notebooks and observing everything with the care of a born writer, was getting an education in how business was done in California. He would prove something of an expert when he finally took up the pen in earnest.
Image credits: Platt obituary and headline from the Los Angeles Times, WPA project Los Angeles Creamery photo circa 1939 from the Los Angeles Public Library.
If you’d like to explore other recent research into Chandler’s life in Los Angeles, we highly recommend Loren Latker’s site Shamus Town.