Last week, I shared with you all the mystery of Elysian Park’s disappearing roads named after celebrities of the Greco-Roman era. In casting my street-mystery net into the sea of L.A. history sages, the wise ones have helped solve part of the puzzle.
First, erudite Ed Fuentes found mention of 35 acres adjacent to the public land of Elysian Park that had been annexed by the city of Los Angeles in 1909. This sent me into a research abyss of land squabbles in the Park area. In the case that Ed found, Councilman R.W. Dromgold put forward the motion to begin condemnation proceedings in an effort to acquire acreage that was supposed to be cheap (it was mostly hill land, i.e. not suitable for residence). There may have been ulterior motives, though, as Dromgold was in a fight with landowner Cal Forrester that involved the city taking the land for use as part of the park. The case was settled in 1914 in the city’s favor, but Forrester’s heirs were still fighting the municipality over the land as late as the 1940s.
This was just one of many land ownership skirmishes that seemed to exist in the Elysian Park area, especially in the teens. In some cases, the city was fighting folks who were using land the city believed belonged to the municipality and the citizens believed belonged to them. (See Cliven Bundy and his “militia.”)
Thanks to Los Angeles’ own Nathan Masters, I was pointed toward the Henry Workman Keller archive, where the mystery streets were later found to have been included in the Olympia Tract. Few people in the city knew the roads like Henry Workman Keller, who was chairman of the highways and roads committee of the Automobile Club for thirty years. It can be assumed that Keller sold the land to the extremely colorful Gabor Hegyi in the early teens.
Hegyi, an Austro-Hungarian immigrant, was at times a chemist, principal lender, oil company president, inventor of a dust-cleaner, real-estate investor and “architect” who spent a lot of time in court for one thing or another. He was at odds with the city over a variety of issues including the land he owned (part of which was the Olympia Tract) which he intended to develop as one of his many real estate ventures. Part of his interests in the Elysian Park area was the Palo Verde Tract which eventually became part of the Chavez Ravine controversy. The city wanted the land but would not pay his premium price for the acreage. This involved his blocking the scenic road up the hill of Elysian Park and demanding the huge sum of $60,000. (That was a lot of cabbage in 1914 for his Olympia Tract, which he had paid just $3500 for the previous year.)
Hegyi’s small but obstinate road crew almost exchanged gunfire with the police over their refusal to budge from the roadway in May of that year and showed their defiance by plowing up the land across the public road to block any traffic. The city would not budge and neither did Hegyi.
Eventually, he opened a real estate development office in Hollywood where he adopted the motto “Ask the Man Who Knows.” Hegyi was also the man who came up with the shoestring annexation, which put San Pedro and the harbor into Los Angeles jurisdiction, and ran for county supervisor in 1918 (endorsed by Cecil B. DeMille) before he was killed backing his car out of his own driveway in 1919.
The fate of the Olympia Tract is still unclear, but it remained in private hands and was still appearing in tract atlases until 1940. It fades away to a squiggle by 1947. Part of the mystery of the Greco-Roman streets is solved, but just who named them and who laid out the tract is still engulfed in the mists of L.A. history: Was it the educated and well-heeled Keller or the ultimate American dreamer Hegyi?
Postscript map: Property Book of Los Angeles City, Los Angeles Map and Address Co., Published by the T.V. Allen Co., 1917
Los Angeles Public Library map librarian Glen Creason shares a map from the Central Library’s collection at CityThink each week.