|What it may have looked like....|
Many websites claim to know the exact location of the old swimming hole or reservoir made famous by the murder of Jose Diaz in August of 1942. The press dubbed it the "Sleepy Lagoon Murder" because the body of Jose Diaz was found on the property where the popular swimming hole was located.
It was named "Sleepy Lagoon" after a popular song by the same name made famous by Glenn Miller and also Harry James' Orchestras. I have written about the Sleepy Lagoon murder and the discrimination that the Los Angeles Police Department and the Courts had unlawfully and brutally assaulted these young men who were obviously innocent of the crime.
They railroaded hundreds of boys, rounding them up in a city wide dragnet, brought on by the District Attorney and L.A.P.D. Although eventually the majority of the boys were set free, there were several who were interrogated, booked and charged with murder. Although there wasn't sufficient evidence to convict, they were treated like animals and the jury found them guilty. If you read my blog, "The Sleepy Lagoon, A Precursor to the Zoot Suit Riots" you can read more about the story for yourself.
This blog is about the whereabouts and actual location of the Sleepy Lagoon reservoir. You see, long ago the area was a ranch, full of hills and trees and nothing like it is today. Over the countless decades the area has significantly changed making it very difficult for one searching for the exact location of this "lagoon" to find it. I will upfront say that if you google "Sleepy Lagoon address" or "Sleepy Lagoon Location" you will find countless blogs and websites claiming that it was at 5500 Slauson Avenue. You have to be careful when searching because there is more than one 5500 Slauson in Los Angeles County. So you would need to search in the vicinity of Maywood, which now is a part of Bell, Calfornia. However, that address is incorrect, and I am here today to show you why it's incorrect and what the
real location was.
We can thank Eduardo Obregón Pagán, author of acclaimed book "Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon: Zoot Suits, Race, and Riot in Wartime L.A." and host of PBS' History's Detectives, for his awesome detective work after speaking to Lino Diaz, the brother of deceased Jose Diaz. He was able to create a diagram (map) based on Lino's memory of the Williams Ranch. According to the map, as seen below, the lagoon was just south of the cornfields and just mildly southeast of Atlantic Blvd. Go ahead and look on the map below and see that Bandini dead ended into Atlantic Blvd. You can also see that 26th st ran parallel to the railroad tracks.
|Courtesy: "Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon: Zoot Suits, Race, and Riot in Wartime L.A."|
Now if you know Los Angeles like I do, then you would know that the part of 26th Street that ran parallel to the railroad tracks doesn't exist anymore. Therefore, anyone could be confused when trying to find the location of the Williams Ranch or the lagoon especially when there are websites like wikimapia that states the location was in Commerce, California and if you click on the map it takes to you Slauson in Bell, but it's still not the location of Sleepy Lagoon.
If that were the case, then 5500 Slauson would be exactly where it shows Heliotrope High School (above in map). That wasn't the lagoon now was it? You can clearly see by the map that the lagoon was south of 26th street, southeast of Atlantic, north of Slauson Ave and west of Eastern Ave.
|Present day area of Sleepy Lagoon|
Honestly, I was tired of all these websites claiming to know the exact location of the Sleepy Lagoon reservoir site. A fellow history lover showed me Eduardo Pagan's map from his book and I emailed Mr. Pagan regarding it. He was kind enough to provide me with insight regarding the location and how he obtained that information. I am most grateful to him for all of his help.
One note, Heliotrope High no longer exists, and the Ford Motor Company wasn't built until 1947, however the memory of Lino Diaz was the only window into the geography of the area. Chrysler had a Company across the street from the Ford Motor Company location on Slauson and Eastern, so I am guessing in his old age he may have forgotten that some things out of current memory hadn't been built back in 1942. However, his memory of the general area was on spot if you look at the map above. All the streets that remained still show the exact area of where the Williams Ranch stood.
So in ending, with most of history as the world changes many times history is erased to build newer more modern things or places. The buildings, the streets and even the plush areas of terrain that once stood were bulldozed to fill the need of business and economic growth. For the tale of the Sleepy Lagoon, it is one that cannot be revisited. We cannot go to a park or stroll along a dirt road to bask in the idea that long ago stood a place, a getaway of sorts, for the youth to go and enjoy a casual swim or even a lover's lane. Just as in the Black Dahlia case, many of the buildings and businesses do not exist anymore. History lover's such as myself are left to wonder with our imagination, what it was like back then.
If you go back to that area in the future I suggest you take a cruise around the entire area, especially Bandini Blvd. Remind yourself that once there was a lagoon, a ranch and a significant part of Mexican-American history took place at that very location.
J'aime Rubio © 2012
Sources: "Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon: Zoot Suits, Race, and Riot in Wartime L.A."
A big "THANK YOU" to Eduardo Obregón Pagán, author of "Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon: Zoot Suits, Race, and Riot in Wartime L.A."
Don't forget to go out and get your copy of this book!!!
Click Here To Order His Book On AMAZON