John Hamilton Part 2
30 Years Ago in Free Venice Beachhead
30 Years Ago in Call
Someplace Paradise and/or Ghost Town
Free Venice Beachhead Archives
Beachhead Archives 1982
Beachhead Archives 1983
Venice in Books A-C
Venice in Books D-K
Venice in Books L-P
Venice in Books Q-Z
Quotations about Venice
Venice in Magazines and other ephemeral
1981 Resistance Celebration
1981 Resistance Celebration
Birth of Venice:
1914-1916 Part 1
1914-1916 Part 4
1914-1916 Part 5
People of Venice (from Beachhead)
Windward Avenue Articles
Art in the Beachhead
from the Beachhead
Destiny's Consent by
Lions and Gondolas
Tales of the Blue Meanie
by Allan Cole
Another Chapter from
Tales of the Blue Meanie by Allan Cole
Venice Historical Society
1969 Police Riots
Jack the Liar
Epitaphs for a Survivor from Free Venice Beachhead
#124 April 1980
The Windward Avenue Sketches by John
An Evening in Celebration of the Late John Hamilton
By Hawk Eye
On Friday, March 7th, Frank and
Annie Bennetts Town House Bar on Windward Avenue was the scene of
what Elizabeth Freeman and John Hunt called an "Irish video wake"
in celebration of an old friend of theirs, John Hamilton.
A resident of the Avenue since 1960,
Hamilton - dubbed the unofficial village historian - passed away last
September. March 7 would have been his 62nd birthday.
About 100 people attended, a diverse
mixture of the local crowd, street people and regular patrons, along with
the Venice art set, the people from WET and Environmental Communications;
some well known faces also, like Irma Armour of Armours Liquor -
it seems John somehow touched them all.
The normally active pool table served
as a buffet, a riveting video tape of Hamilton made by John Hunt was shown,
as well as a big screen slide show featuring Hamilton and Windward Avenue
from pre-skate days. It was Elizabeth Freemans witty yet poignant
presentation that left people asking for more!
A bar with a basement ballroom that goes
back to the Thirties, the Town House is one business on Windward to have
survived the "new look," and besides sporting the original tile
spittoons, the foyer is decorated by bullet holes from a shoot-out that
took place years back - and documented by Hamilton in the video tapes.
Though somewhat eerie, the evening left
a warm afterglow, bringing such diverse elements together around this
man who at first glance was nothing but a wino - but to his friends, and
those who knew him, John Hamilton seemed somehow to bring the wretched
history of Venice into sharper and more human focus.
I remember one candid photo from the
slide show of Hamilton sleeping in his van in the alley behind Windward;
on the door is a handwritten placard, plainly visible, and certainly written
by John for all to see:
Better is ones
Than the Path of another
(Webslave's note: That
photo can also be seen on page 29 of Sweet William's book Venice of
America: The American Dream Come True.)
The Windward Avenue Sketches
by John Hunt
I first met John Hamilton in 1969, in
the old Marko Building at 73 Market Street. He slept on a small mat surrounded
by mountains of junk. John was a pack rat, worked odd jobs in the neighborhood,
and when half-way sober maintained the halls and two cold-water toilets
that served Mr. Markowitzs tenants. In return, John was given a
room to stay in but not only was the room piled high with scrap, but half
the roof was covered, and the rear stairway was an obstacle course of
discarded Venice refuse.
When John didnt feel like working
he would pull out an inoperative radio, or a stack of old and worn phonograph
records, or a box of books no one read any more, and his friend at the
pawn shop (46 Windward) would "loan" him a buck or two for wine.
I was making a film about Venice at the
time and Hamilton recognized n me the power to record what he had witnesses
as life on these streets from the time he arrived in 1960, til the
present. He yearned to tell his stories and when he did I knew this man
was the authentic historian of this "very peculiar place" -
as he called Venice-by-the-Sea.
After this I began working with portable
video tape hardware and we started planning some way to tell Johns
tales. It took four years to produce anything; after all, there never
has been much demand for TV programs concerned with the real, street life.
In 1975 I began working at the studios
of Environmental Communications at 62 Windward. John began rehearsing
his scenes. He wanted to tell the whole story of Venice, and indeed he
had it all in his head.
Unable to deal with his scope, I decided
to limit our study to Windward Avenue and only Windward. Not only
that, but I wanted John to relate the history in terms of the structures
- and the empty lots - in an architectural memoir. I figured in
that way we would be able to fill in the missing spaces on this avenue
which during the three years I worked there came to represent the end
of the Western World: lost souls, searching souls, the maniacs, fanatics,
and hustlers, the poets and revolutionaries
Some came to die and
some to be enlightened, and in the end they are the same. John Hamilton
has helped us preserve a few of their stories; perhaps these obscure people
will enlighten us with their slim legacies.
What follows is an edited version of
Hamiltons words taken from the tapes we recorded. At the time they
were only sketches, a rehearsal. Now they are his epitaph. John passed
last September - merely too ill to recover. He would have been 52 this
past March 7.
Of course everythings different
on Windward Avenue these days, its just not what it used to be,
and in one way Im thankful for that. However, we can also thank
the speculators and shopkeepers for making a circus out of the destitution
which really faces the residents of this cultural relic.
Today a Hollywood movie mogul sits and
conducts business on the very spot where John used to sleep off his white
port. Armourss Liquor, Amoons Café, and the rest of
Windward exist only in Terry Schoonhovens great visionary portrait
of the old avenue on the east wall of the St. Charles Apartments. The
journey into our past begins on the west wall of this same building. It
ends only when we have answered the question: Who are those who survived?
Up there was Jeannies first address here. She was living there,
her husband was at work, she come down to the parking lot to spend the
day with me. We drank one bottle of wine, it took us all day to do it
and she told me a lot of things. Then for reasons not her own, she became
the manager and she moved down to the managers apartment on the
bottom right - and then things started happening. I was working at the
liquor store at the time. She had to come downstairs while managing the
apartments anytime something came up. The first time we had trouble while
I was on duty, a man was having a heart attack up in room 34. So I run
up there, I pass by the nitro - we had nitro down there cause the
boss, the owner of the building at the time, he had a heart disaster.
I passed by his nitro and I ran upstairs and heres this guy gasping
his last so I shoved a nitro under each side of his tongue, told him to
close his mouth, keep his arms down, and told Jeannie to go and get the
ambulance. All right, we got Charlie all right. He lived, and he was in
such trouble, the first chance he got after he lived, he had to call me
Thats room 34, room 34 is important
though, because the next time we had a scramble like that Jeannie came
downstairs and she said, "I think Ive got a dead woman upstairs,"
so up the stairs I went and sure enough in room 32 there was a dead woman.
Now if she had taken room 34, and thats what her receipt said, for
some reason they couldnt get in that room 34, so they put her in
room 32. If shed been in room 34 Jeannie would have been there at
8 oclock instead of noon. Well, at noon she was dead. This nice
lady from Malibu, two kids, lovely house, lovely husband, but for some
reason she wanted to commit suicide. She did it. She made is. Like an
appointment in Samarra, death was waiting for her, or she was seeking
death and she finally found it. Maybe she was just given a put on. Her
room rent was up at 8 oclock, she was still warm at 11, but she
was very, very dead, dead as you can get. 32 she died in instead of 34,
her receipt read room 34. It was blowing in the wind when I came back
out. I took one look at her and I knew it, her eyes were open and whited,
it was all over. And shed overdosed on barbiturates, just a matter
of three hours, I could have got her back. Thats Jeannies
Now while were at it, where the
trash bin sits now, it wasnt there the night that girl came off
the roof but she fell within six inches of the building. If she had jumped,
she would have come at least three feet out but she was there, she was
dead, very, and it appears she got into an argument with her old man up
there on the top deck and she got decked up there and he just dropped
her over the edge like a baby.
Who owned the building before? Its different now.
Ben Bass used to own the building. The guy that owned the liquor store,
he used to own the building. The Liquor King liquor store. He sold the
building, and a real shit, he had people lined up to do him in. So out
that back door one night, the one on the far corner there, his ex-wife
walks in, well, shes his wife back again, but she and her boyfriend
remove the safe out of the building. They had the keys, they jury-rigged,
theyd blown the burglar alarm and came out with the safe. They had
a $2,000 ring in there, the take came to about 50 grand. They were in
the process of a divorce and he was putting all his money into cashiers
checks so that when the property settlement came up, there would be small
property. Well, she store his safe, she stole his cashiers checks
too, and he got hot and heavy. I was sitting over there at the restaurant
(Amoons), I knew the caper was going on, I wouldnt get into
it, and I sat over there in the restaurant just to see the funny faces
he was going to show when he found out hed been burglarized. Well,
that didnt take too long. At 0600, he came to work early, he went
in there and pretty soon there was cops all over the place and I had a
trailer parked here and the first thing he did was he had the cops shake
out my trailer. Well, I wasnt there, I was over there in the restaurant
minding my business and enjoying the scenery. It was such though, they
had hired a professional thief and he wasnt getting his split. Sure
around cashing the cashiers checks in the cool? So they couldnt
figure it out and he was panting for his money so he offered Ben Bass
the information he needed as to where his check was and so forth for a
certain amount of money and Ben went along with the game and he did recover
everything but the rings, there was jewelry, he was actually running a
pawn shop which is very much against the law. He went along with the game
and the guy finked, told him everything, that his wife and her boyfriend
had engineered the whole project and theyd hired him on as a hand
to steal that safe and they hadnt paid him anything for the simple
reason they couldnt, they couldnt cash the fucking checks.
I guess he got one of the rings out of the deal. There was a $2,000 sapphire
Why did he sell the building?
He was distraught. His wife had left him and so forth and he didnt
like the looks of the place
he didnt like memories.
He shouldnt, that cheap crook.
Did you know him?
I knew him, I worked for that miserable mother. I was supposed to be working
the liquor store stocking while he took his nap. He took a nap between
twelve and three and I had to show at twelve. Id work that three
hour shift and Id come back at night and stay with his stepson for
the rest of the shift, just honcho and stocking and bad news, gun carrying,
the whole bit. This used to be a rough territory.
It still is, isnt it?
Not what it was before, no traffic now. When we had traffic, this was
a rough deal. (Still in the alley) This is the ladies head. This is the
can, the toilet, the washroom. Directly under the corner there is a toilet
and over to a partition there is a sink and then theres a wall going
into the bar. One night I was sitting at the bar, I was a bouncer at the
bar, I was just a hang-around Johnny, and the cocktail waitress came running
up to me, snatched me off my stool and said come, come. This womans
dying in here. SO I came and sure enough, this Dolores had taken an overdose,
well it wasnt an overdose, she had taken the wrong pill. It was
Benzedrine, yes, but it was laced with digitalis and her heart kept stopping
on her and her eyes would go white and I chest massaged like that under
her tit and then shed come back and shed start talking to
me and die again, and then shed lapse back, I started it up again
and we kept this up and somebody called an ambulance. The police got here
before the ambulance did and shed whit up her eyes and Id
punch her back and six times she went haywire. She was a goner and then
the seventh time, just before the ambulance driver stepped in the room,
the cop said, "quit punching her." I was only keeping her alive.
I was ready to open her up. I was reaching for my knife.
I would have done it, just get some vodka off the bar, sterilize my hands
and open her up and grab the heart itself, but thats why Im
not a doctor. Im pretty fierce about those things. She lived. She
was lucky though because she and a few other had a 1200 unit jar, 1200
pills and the night before, the piano player came in and he was in no
shape whatsoever, so the bartender told him to go home so he went home
and about five minutes later, well about half an hour later, his buddy
called up and said "Hey come on over here, Davids laying out
on the porch hes in convulsions." That was me so I zipped on
over there and I had to start him up three times and we called the ambulance
twice and by the time the ambulance got there he was up then and refused
to go. Well, he made it. Then his lady friend, the woman he was living
with, came down here and she blew it on the lawn here three times and
I started her up three times. She refused to go with the ambulance and
my next deal was find that sonofabitch who was selling that phony pill.
It had digitalis, it was a heart stopper and all I had to do was find
that guy and then I could quit running around starting up peoples
hearts. Thats why Im not a doctor. I hate to see someone die,
Im afraid of dead people. If youre a doctor and some unnecessary
death like that goes on, how do you sue god?
Up there, third window, top deck, dont
count that little one, a guy held up the bar across the street and I tailed
him over here. He didnt clear the building. I was armed and he was
up there holed up in that window and hed taken the money and he
had an inoperable gun but it was a gun. He was up there and the fuzz came
and I pointed and said the guy didnt get past here so they went
in there and they started knocking on doors and they got to the room he
was in, he was under the bed and no, he wasnt under the bed, he
was originally under the bed but he got up, he was on speed or something,
he got up and grabbed, he wasnt living there, he just jumped in
these peoples room, he grabbed the boy and he went to the door and
he said you try and come in here and Im going to kill this boy and
he went in the bathroom and the cops of course broke in the door and there
were shotguns all over everywhere and the guy chickened out of course,
and they rescued the boy and they got the guy and hes in "Q"
(San Quentin) right now, hes going to be there a long time. He keeps
thinking, every three years or something, he gets a chance to go to the
(parole) board but I dont think hes going to make it because
hes wanted in Georgia, hell, hes 22 years old, hes wanted
in Florida and he just came back here to escape that. I knew him, a whining
miserable little monster, his fathers a little whining miserable
Flea Market, N.E. corner, Windward
and Pacific Avenue
I used to run the laundromat, I knew everybody in town. Thats the
one good thing about this town, all these tales of death and dying are
interesting but theyre depressing as well. Now the beautiful thing
about this place, I watch all these kids grow up. Some of them turned
out good, most of them turned out bad but youd be surprised what
a kids big eyes can do for you and I could tell some tall tales.
Theyd look at me and their eyes would get wider and wider and theyd
smile. It got so rough down there. It was babysitting, I didnt know
it at the time, but these people would send their kids in there and theyd
sit around and sit around and theyd call me on the phone, Hey John,
is my kid there. I said, yeah, hes here. Has he been behaving himself?
You better believe hes been behaving himself and the little ones
on the way to the playground, theyd come in there and say, hey,
man, help us across the street and that was its compensation for what
kept going on and it did keep going on. It would be depressing except
you have to confirm yourself to the smiles.
You consider yourself a historian?
Yeah, I was going to write a book about this place. I didnt believe
it but no one would believe it either if I wrote the book even if I showed
them the blood stains and we got a few around here still.
Nobody would believe it?
I dont believe it myself and Im standing there looking at
Vals Pharmacy (opposite flea
Goldstein had a Jesus Christ problem. He was a Jew, so was Jesus. Anyway,
all he asked of people was, I think it was Charles Goldstein, he just
asked these people, what do you want and they would tell him and he would
call downstairs and theyd get it and usually on MediCal. MediCal
was more reasonable then, now it isnt. Hell, we could spend an hour
on this building. The State Narcs had a mind about him because of his
MediCal accounts and they shot three ladies in there on him, you know,
ladies in distress, ladies that obviously needed something and he said
what do you want and hed say okay, go. Ill tell you a story
about Goldstein. I had a lady of my own and we were going through this
Venice Venerealis, an ordinary infection of the genitals and I said why
dont you go over and be sure and take care of this contamination
and I said dont worry about a thing, hes a chest nut, he aint
no butt nut. I met her down here at that third meter and I said how did
it come out and she said your chest nut is a butt nut now, she had a fine
ass on her.
He had a lot of customers?
Are you kidding, the State Narcs hit him. 200 people in 2 hours and hes
a doctor and he could get away with that. That also meant 200 prescriptions.
Lets hit the post office.
Venice Post Office
(In the stairwell on the west side of the building) A couple of winos
got holed up here, it was a shelter against the wind. One of the fuckin
winos turned that handle and the door opened and inside that door there
was a mail sack full of blank money orders so he got those and then -
they were both cons, so the smart son of a bitch, he said, "Well
lets go get the stamps", so they went upstairs and got the
validating stamps, it said Venice and it said 1, 10, 50 and 100. They
had a half a million dollars worth of blank money orders and it was 0600,
no, it was 0545 and they dragged the money sack across the street and
the bar opened, thats Pietros over there (213 Windward) so
here they are sitting in the bar with a half a million dollars worth of
blank money orders and theyre drinking and while they were doing
that at Pietros, across this side of the street came the man who
was the janitor and he saw these guys dragging this money sack and they
werent wearing no blue uniforms, he said I dont think I like
this so he got on the horn and thats where they got busted. They
were in there drinking their number one beer and the money sack was between
them. A half million dollar caper wasted on a fifteen cent glass of beer.
to the Second
Part of this interview with John Hamilton
to Windward Avenue in the Old