History-loving Los Angeles, sit down: we’re about to blow your collective mind.
You know, of course, that behind a rolled down grate in the heart of Downtown’s Broadway Theater District is a magical 1914 space called the Dutch Chocolate Shop, containing the largest collection of unique Ernest Batchelder tile murals in the world. If you’ve taken our Lowdown on Downtown tour (it rolls this Saturday), you might have even been inside.
But have you ever wondered if there is anything else of historical interest preserved within the walls of 217-219 West Sixth Street? More marvelous art tile perhaps, or remnants of the building’s long history as a health food restaurant and cafeteria?
Recently, we had the opportunity to explore the entire building, hoping to answer this nagging question. We took the marbled linoleum stairs, heading into the silent, dusty spaces above and below the Chocolate Shop.
The basement and middle floors proved to be spare lofts, long stripped of detail, with the exception of occasional patches of vintage wallpaper or stacks of old doors.
On the top floor, though, things got really interesting. While we didn’t find anything as spectacular as the Dutch Chocolate Shop, we discovered that the building contains another fascinating, and most unlikely, time capsule of old Los Angeles: a nearly intact alternative (read: quack) medical clinic that operated on this site, on and off, from 1939 through the mid-1960s.
Ladies and gentlemen, we give you: the Dr. A. W. von Lange Health Institute, dispensing the good doctor’s signature Vienna Drugless System, a cure for all that ails you.
Through some miracle of inertia, the abandoned clinic has remained intact, nearly unaltered, for fifty years, used until recently as storage space. A bit of yellowed marketing material left behind explains something of what went on here.
“Why Are You Sick?” the pamphlet inquired, before listing a distressing litany of potential maladies: Anemia – Appendicitis – Asthma – Bronchial – Cardiac Disorders – Bladder Trouble – Boils – Bright’s Disease – Catarrh – Chronic Cough – Colds – Colitis – Constipation – Dizziness (and the beat goes on for three more columns of solid suffering).
The potential patient is urged to Call MAdison 6-0951 and schedule a 6-point examination: 1) chest and lung x-ray, 2) circulatory test, 3) blood pressure, temperature and pulse study, 4) bone and joint exam, 5) stomach and colon x-ray and 6) cardiograph.
With all that data, Dr. von Lange would be prepared to offer his cure-all recommendation: The Vienna Super-Heat Pack, which as far as we can gather from the vague terminology of the pamphlet and period newspaper ads, was a tight and toasty two-hour towel wrap meant to non-surgically bind herniated ruptures and get the recipient’s intestines working at maximum velocity to flush toxins out their backside. Also on offer: colonic irrigations and spinal adjustments (von Lange styled himself a Doctor of Chiropractic). A return to health should quickly follow.
A sufferer might avail themselves of the free two-hour parking in the Alexandria Hotel lot, then drag their wretched carcass around the corner to the Finney Wilton Building, where in the early years of Dr. von Lange’s practice they could fortify themselves with a snack in the tiled health food restaurant on the ground floor. But no eggs! This binding substance was firmly forbidden those who sought the Viennese heat treatment.
If immediate relief was their goal, the elevator would deliver them upwards to a long hall, at the center of which a receptionist sat beneath a charming expanse of Japanese wallpaper.
Upon presenting their complaint(s), the patient would soon be ushered back to consult with the doctor, a handsome gentleman with an old world accent, bright eyes and very little hair.
If the situation required it, and why wouldn’t it, the patient might then continue down the hall to the Hydro-Therapy Department, turning right if a woman and left if a man.
Here were, and remain, twin spa facilities behind frosted glass doors, each comprised of three tiled stalls.
One contained a peculiar low sink/tub contraption that we presume was involved in the colonic irrigation treatments. A heavy gold lamé shower curtain still hanging in front of this stall lends a certain Old Hollywood glamour to the space.
These clinical rooms are connected by a short hall with a tiny water closet, through which nursing staff might quickly attend to the Vienna Super-Heat Packed on either side of the wall.
It is a strange and intimate space where time seems to have stood still as the city grew up around it. And just as it’s been our great pleasure to share the Dutch Chocolate Shop with curious urban seekers, we are delighted to (virtually) share its upstairs neighbor. Here are a few more photos.
Having seen Dr. von Lange’s clinic, we wanted to know more, and began digging into a variety of archival sources. For all his years ministering to Southern California’s unwell, Dr. von Lange left a faint, but intriguing, impression on the public record. From period advertisements, legal filings and news reports, this is what we know.
In 1934, he trademarked a laxative called Vienna-Lax which had been produced in his own Vienna Laboratory since 1931. (There is evidence of a dismantled lab in the abandoned clinic.) In 1935, it was being distributed at the Best Drug Stores chain in Los Angeles, $2 for the family size bottle.
By 1939, he was seeing patients above the Dutch Chocolate Shop, with a suggestive ad in the Los Angeles Times headed REJUVENATION… “We rid the body of all poisons. Youth returns in consequence.” The Vienna Super Heat Pack, one was to assume, would turn an old goat into a young buck again.
Soon, the newspaper ads reveal, he was experimenting with different quack medical devices. In 1940, someone suffering a cold, asthma, sinus or bronchitis could, for $2, receive an examination and single treatment of Terpezone, ozone-rich oxygen vapor that emerged from a sinister box with the cheery claim that it represented the “revitalizing air of the Alps.”
Oh, and he wasn’t really Dr. von Lange. When he arrived in New York in 1914, aged 33, it was as Adolf Tworkowski, though we’ll have to take his word for it. A Pole, he was born in Brody and had most recently lived in Lemberg. Most citizens of Brody were Jewish, but there’s no evidence that our man was a member of the tribe.
He will later claim to have two American-born children, Adolf Jr. (b. 1918, New York) and Irene (b. 1920, Ohio), although strangely neither one appears in census or other vital records, and their mother is apparently a ghost.
Around 1933, Tworkowski somehow becomes proprietor of a health clinic in Long Beach. The established Vienna Health Institute on Pine Avenue is renamed American-Vienna, and moves to a prominent storefront on Seaside, opposite the Municipal Auditorium. Using the more euphonious and suggestively regal name Prof. Von Lange, and claiming training in Vienna and Budapest, Tworkowski takes out numerous ads in the annual city directory to promote his bowel-focused healing arts. But almost immediately, our man is on the move. Our guess: his clinic was damaged in the terrible March 1933 earthquake.
In 1934, he seeks to formally change his name from Adolf Ladislaus Tworkowski to Adolf Walter von Lange. He already had a beautiful signature at the ready.
It will be as Dr. Von Lange that he establishes his professional life in Los Angeles, primarily in the clinic above the Dutch Chocolate Shop. He marries the widowed Evelyn McCarthy of Indiana and they will live together, apparently happily, in a fine English house on Rossmore.
But it’s not an Esotouric blog post without some crime and a mystery. First, let’s flash back to 1930, when we find our friend Tworkowski working a long con on the ladies of the Ontario Women’s Clubhouse, selling $20 treatments along with a concoction that we suspect may have violated the provisions of the 18th Amendment.
A quarter century later, von Lange is an upright citizen, when something frightening happens in the clinic. A man walks in, seeking a diagnosis. But in the course of his intake session, he pulls a gun on the doctor. Both von Lange and receptionist Mrs. Lillian Haldane are tied hand and foot with shoelaces. The robber then ransacks the clinic, searching for cash. He finds nothing and splits, and the victims free themselves and call police.
At the time of this incident, von Lange is 74. A lesser man might well have wound down his business interests and retired to prune the petunias. But ads for the clinic continue to appear through early 1964, and he remains on lists of medical practitioners for another few years after that.
In 1970, Evelyn dies in Los Angeles and her body is shipped back to Indiana for burial. But, like his putative children, von Lange himself vanishes from the record. We do not know when, or even if, he died.
But somewhat miraculously, the doctor’s WW2-era clinic remains at the ready above Sixth Street, needing just a fresh coat of paint and new lengths of rubber tubing to again be at the service of eager health seekers. It is one of the eeriest places we have ever visited, and just one more reminder that one can never fully know Los Angeles.
What does the future hold for this fascinating time capsule? Stay tuned, and we’ll be sure to let you know!
For more weird stories of lost Los Angeles, take one of Kim Cooper’s Esotouric crime bus tours, or check out her novel about Raymond Chandler investigating the real 1920s Great Eleven cult, The Kept Girl.