was determined to avoid the 4th this year. Although it is always
a good stepping off point for something vaguely folkloric, the
timing is just off. By the time most of you see this column, the
only thing left of the holiday is usually that annoying firework-spawned
ringing in your ears.
this year I decided instead to look ahead to the rest of these
golden months – to look at Summer – to take you all
to the Beach...
fortuitously, Book Again sits very near to the South Bay's famed
"beach cities", Redondo, Hermosa and Manhattan Beach,
cities from whence Waikiki once got its sand, where luxury hotels
once haunted the Strand, where nightclubs and teen dances once
reverberated to the sounds of the original Surfing Bands –
and where the young girl who would one day decide to start a used
book store once lived, just a stone's throw from the beach in
Hermosa, when there was hardly anything east of there but undeveloped
sand dunes, and where once, high on the highest hill between Hermosa
and Manhattan, a large gabled Victorian mansion once stood.
owner was a Confederate veteran named Colonel Blanton Duncan.
He had been a printer, and during the Civil War switched easily
from printing sheet music to confederate money. He had been an
early and ardent secessionist, and was a favorite of Jefferson
Davis as a result.
was later whispered by early South Bay pioneers that he actually
paid for the house and land in Hermosa/Manhattan with stolen Confederate
gold, and that in his new digs the former Kentucky Colonel continued
to operate a smuggling ring.
house, built in 1896, was by all accounts extremely peculiar,
its unexpected corners and passageways reminiscent of the Winchester
House, and perhaps of Victorian eccentricities in general. It
was a dark, elaborate maze of a house, complete with silent Chinese
servants who haunted the incensed, silk-bedecked labrynthian chambers.
Few locals ever saw much of the place, though the Colonel often
entertained mysterious guests from parts unknown.
was also said that mysterious lights would flash on and off late
at night from an upper window. This was believed to be Colonel
Duncan signaling his smuggling ships. It was said that he would
never use the same crew twice, but, after unloading the crates
of smuggled goods and opium into secret rooms, would reward the
crew with a delicious but lethal last meal, after which the unfortunates
were buried beneath the house, where they presumably remain to
this day, somewhere near the 300 block of (naturally) Duncan Drive,
in what is now Manhattan Beach.
Duncan himself died in 1902, and the house was destroyed in 1927,
though its ruins may have still been in evidence some years later,
when a certain young girl became a Hermosa resident, just a stone's
throw from the beach, when there was hardly anything east of there
but rolling sand dunes...