The Dear Old Jib-O-Jib (Squatters at the Harbor)
Part of a series: Diamonds In The Rough
Through a grant-funded project awarded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the Autry sets out to process approximately 2,000 linear feet of archival material over the next two years. Every third week of the month, the Autry Libraries blog will feature collection gems brought to light by NHPRC Processing Archivist Holly Rose Larson.
Charles Lummis is well-known for founding the Southwest Museum and for his hand-built home “El Alisal,” but there was another residence near and dear to his heart at the beach. A tideland frontage harbor area on and around Rattlesnake Island (now Terminal Island) was referred to by many names (East San Pedro, West Long Beach, Port of Los Angeles, No Man’s Land) and was home to over 100 residents from the 1880s to the 1910s. It was here that Lummis made his sometime home which he lovingly referred to as the Jib-O-Jib.
Anna Marie Hager’s 1970 article gives a fully-descriptive account of this unique community of artists, immigrants, and fisherfolk in her “A Salute to the Port of Los Angeles From Mud Flats to Modern Day Miracle” in the December issue of The California Historical Society Quarterly, available at the Braun Research Library at the Southwest Museum campus. Included is a quote from Lummis, describing his unique fishing system whereby he left bait on a string with a bell out of his back deck so that he could attend to other activities and be alerted to a bite with the tinkle of the bell.
Like many facets of Lummis’s life, even the peaceful breakwater community was awash in controversy. The title over this land was contested by residents, local and federal government offices, and rail and shipping industry. Though Salt Lake Railroad and Pacific Wharf and Storage Company offered to buy the residents out of their leases, the “squatters” would not be driven out and were often seen on their porches with shotguns. Even Mrs. Ella Van Tris was noted in 1907 for taking an axe to a fence erected by Salt Lake Railroad company. As reported in the Los Angeles Times, things really started to heat up in 1908, when a mysterious fire broke out in the residential district, destroying 40 homes on land the railway was anxious to claim. Eventually, in 1912, the municipality of Los Angeles won and evicted all the residents, much to the joy of the commercial industry and all in favor of widening the Port of Los Angeles.
Though this island community may only exist in the archives, this excerpt from Lummis’s ode to his harbor home keeps his spirit and the memory of East San Pedro alive:
THE GOOD OLD JIB-O-JIB
Oh some are for the Country Clubs,
And Tennis is their fad—
And some they golf away like dubs
And many are auto-mad.
But they may be dad-binged, for me,
(I never learned to fib)
It’s tennis off, and to hell with golf,
And me to the Jib-O-Jib.
A little shack at the Jetty’s back
And the tide beneath the floor
And the ripples lap and the wavelets tap,
And the salt breeze whispering o’er;
And neighbor fishers and all well-wishers
And our hearts and tongues are glib
It’s go as you please, and up to your knees
In the easy old Jib-O-Jib
There’s Brownie-Brown, who cannot drown
And Quimu that climbs the wall
And little Marie, like a star to see,
And the Old Man bossing ‘em all
And a halibut on the hook has got
And a sculpin is ringing the bell
Oh, it’s us ad lib at the Jib-O-Jib
And the rest may go to——San Francisco