Category Archives: Sweden

Marstrand, Pt. 2. A life in Los Angeles.

Part Two of My Family Story. The Swedish immigrants become Americans in Los Angeles. They receive bad news from back home in Marstrand, Sweden.


Bill Soderberg, late 1920’s, at Mrs. Burbidge’s Boarding House, Los Angeles
A date wasn’t given to this story. But it was at Mrs. Burbidge’s Boarding House on Ingraham Street and Union Avenue, Los Angeles. Late 1920’s Early 30’s.

Thanksgiving Day. The mouth watering aromas emanating from the kitchen were typical when Gunhild set to work with pots and pans. One may well suppose she already had a stint as an assistant boarding house cook in her mom’s kitchen back home in Marstrand, Sweden. One thing was for sure, when she worked her magic with a stove the results were delicious. Those who saw Gunhild cook say the process was seemingly chaotic. She moved in several directions simultaneously. In a Dervish Whirl she ruled with disorganized order.

That Thanksgiving there must have been numerous tasks she attended to as the turkey sat cooling on the open oven door. She failed to notice one hungry member of the house trot his way into the kitchen. Pointed his snout at the turkey and latched onto it with his jaws. This was a dog, a collie, named Buck. The canine heaved himself with the bird out the back door and beyond.
Upon her discovery of the theft, “Vat da HELL!”

Gunhild tore after that dog with vengeance. The cursing, yelping, rustling and commotion that was heard beyond the kitchen door was followed by her appearance at the threshold, fowl in tote. She wiped, cleaned, patched and massaged that bruised bird back into presentable condition. Upon placing it on a platter, best side showing, she told Bill not to say a word about this to anyone. All was successful. She had a talent for “making do,” and in this case snatched success from the canine jaws of disaster. “Vhere dere is a vill dere is a vay!” One of her sayings in a thick Swedish accent.

Bill began a working life at a young age. His friend from boyhood is Bob Beattie, age 87, recently told me “Bill sold newspapers on the corner of 7th and Union. His mother then worked at the Commodore Hotel, also on 7th and tried to keep an eye out for Bill.”

He learned the hard way to properly count money and make change. People took advantage of the young immigrant by taking from him more change than they paid. Then he had to fight other kids to keep his corner. Bullies that either stole his papers or his money. Or both.

One had to toughen up quickly to turn a profit with newspapers selling for a penny a piece. On a good day a cleared profit was 5 cents. During the leanest times of The Depression bean sandwiches were a common lunch. There’s probably very few Baby Boomers that haven’t heard the stories of this era. “Waste not, want not,” “Finish your plate, ” “You think you have it so tough…” etc.
“Bill and I met at the Cambria Street School. It was an old fashioned wooden school house. That was either in second or third grade, I don’t remember which. But I do remember Mrs. Finch held Bill back one grade because he still didn’t speak English very well. The kids really teased him about that especially when they heard him talk with his mother,” recalled Beattie.

Gunhild and Keith Teter on the Mount Lowe funicular car.

A happy change in their life came when a boarder named Keith Teter checked in at Mrs. Burbidge’s. Keith was an officer with L.A.P.D.
He began his career pounding a beat. When assigned to a squad car an ironic fact came to bear. He never had a driver’s license. His first time out, it was his trustee–the prisoner–that drove. It was the prisoner who taught him to drive.

Henry Huntington’s Pacific Electric Railway operated two well known funicular rail cars. One was Angel’s Flight in downtown Los Angeles. The other is the Mount Lowe Car starting in Altadena is pictured here. (Gunhild and Keith, left side. Next row from the top)

Keith was honest, without fail. After shopping if he discovered too much change was given–even if the amount was only a few cents–he turned around and brought the money back, no matter the inconvenience.
He was the cop that criminals trusted to leave their belongings with after being booked. Their goods would be intact after release.
He never accepted gratuities or freebies. In his day he saw his fair share of calls for help from members of the Hollywood elite. One in particular was Judy Garland. She wanted to thank Keith once by giving him a horse. He declined.
Keith detested violence and bullying. He sought to impart gentleness and kindness in the world. He was careful not to hurt even the smallest of insects.

 Keith and Gunhild at Ingraham Street and Union Avenue. Note the tiny street sign.

Keith said about Gunhild, “I looked into those blue eyes and knew I had to marry this woman.” He lavished her with flower boxes and arrangements. He always included a card with a sweet sentiment written by hand.
They married on Saint Valentines day, 1933. He was 40 years old and had not married before. The couple moved into their own home on nearby Shatto Street.

Gunhild with beach ball; Keith and Bill. They’re enjoying recreation at Anaheim Landing. Today it is called Seal Beach.

A sister for Bill, Greta Louise Teter, entered the world in 1934.
“I was a little premature and nearly delivered in the elevator of the hospital,” Says Greta, “The doctor was Dr. Ross of Ross–Loos Medical, a once well known facility.”

Gunhild’s note in Swedish. Keith holding baby Greta. Bill seated right.
Gunhild loved camping and back country excursions. She brought along her kitchen wizardry as part of the experience. On an old camp stove she could make puddings, cakes and biscuits to go along with shish-ka-bobs cooked over the campfire. S’mores over the campfire.

Bill, Keith and Greta.

She cooked roasts, chops, meatballs, etc. When she wanted ham she’d wrap one in butcher paper, put it into the coals from the previous night’s campfire. Potatoes were also thrown in. When the crew came in from a long day of hiking or swimming the feast awaited.

Bob Beattie remembered how most people were trying to work through The Depression. Events in Europe weren’t too much on people’s minds. “It was so far away. The politicians, of course, were following what was going on.”

From the very year The Soderbergs immigrated from Sweden, 1923, Adolf Hitler decided he was destined to run Germany. Through ten years of turbulent political struggle and power building , Hitler became chancellor in 1933. After German President von Hindenburg died, 1934, Hitler declared himself Fuhrer of the Third Reich.

Perhaps the first close look Americans had of Hitler was with the 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin. The year of Jesse Owens and his inspirational performance.

Gunhild loved the football games. She was an enthusiastic spectator.
“Bill and I lost track of each other for awhile. We met up again in 1937 when we found ourselves at the same high school. University High School in West L.A. He was in tenth grade; I was in eleventh; a year apart thanks to old Mrs. Finch back at Cambria School. Bill was a letterman in football, track–the high jump and shot-put. He set school records in many of his events. By then his family was living in a house in Cheviot Hills.”
I asked Bob Beattie if he also remembered, as Bill once described, Olympic Boulevard being waist high in weeds growing through cracks in the pavement.

“Oh my, yes! The west side was nothing but open fields and weeds back in those days. They took one of those fields on Pico and made a drive in movie theater. There was a hole dug out under the fence. Bill and I used lay there to watch movies. You’d run over and turn on a microphone (speaker) to hear the movie. That is until the guard came over with his flashlight.

“That is about the time your dad first met your mother, there around ’37, at the beach in Santa Monica where we all used to go and hang out.”

Bill and Greta (right), 1937. Icon of L.A. Collesium frames the photo.
Though thoroughly absorbed with raising a young daughter, seeing her son through high school, running the household of their new home in Cheviot Hills, Gunhild did not forget she had another family living half a world away in Sweden. The news she heard was not good. For some time her mother Alma was in declining health. News only got worse. Gunhild felt she had to do something. The options and choices couldn’t have been easy. But she traveled across the Atlantic once before with a young child under far more difficult circumstances and conditions. She could certainly do this again.

Greta remembers how her mother explained the situation:
“First, Sweden is my old home where I was born and my mother, your grandmother, is old and not well. I have not seen her for a long time and I feel that I should be with her now. Sweden is far away over the ocean and we will travel on a big ship and we will be gone for a couple of months or so. Daddy needs to stay here because of his work and your brother, Bill, needs to stay in school and study hard.”

Next, Part 3, Gunhild’s return to Sweden; Greta meets her Swedish relatives in Marstrand. War in Europe.

Marstrand Continuum, Part I

Part One Of My Family Story. Marstrand, Sweden. The Soderbergs immigrate to Los Angeles, California from Sweden.
It is a rock. It is an island. Pre-historic man established abode here. Viking Age seafarers found the dual entrance deep harbor

much to their liking. The waters were rich with herring; and the herring made this Swedish west coast island rich. In

1658 Carlsten fortress was built atop the rock to protect the assets. Before yielding prominence to the towns of Kunglav

and Goteborg, Marstrand was the hub of trade and commerce.


Then change. The Herring population declined. Modern roads, rails and communications largely by passed Marstrand. She had to reinvent herself.


Marstrand’s Varmbadhus Båtellet. 1856 began a new direction for Marstrand. People came to relax and enjoy the theraputic warm water baths. The Island’s ion rich air and water were also highly touted for health benefits.

In 1887 Societetshuset was built. An invitation was extended to King Oscar II to visit and enjoy this beautiful social hall. To come and spend a summer in Marstrand. To bring his yacht. The King fell in love with Marstrand, as anyone might. He made it his annual summer destination.

King Oscar (that’s his bust atop the post) brought with him a flush of new activity. Dances, receptions, concerts and evening entertainment became standard fare.

Cold water baths became part of the Marstrand “therapy.” Swimming, sunbathing, and hiking are also part of the resume. However its most famous attraction is sailing. During the summertime national and international sailing championships, as well as regattas, are held.

The city plot or grid dates back to medieval times. A fire or two rolled through from century to century. But the charming architecture seen today is largely from the late 19th and early 20th century. Quaint houses and beautiful structures line the narrow cobblestone streets. No cars or traffic here. It is pedestrian heaven. Grand Hotel is on the left. City Hall is straight ahead at the top of the street.

The Island is one mile in diameter. You arrive via ferry; the ride lasts only a couple of minutes. An array of fine shops and eateries are immediately accessible.

The western two thirds of the island is undeveloped. Tucked between the large smooth rocks and in all the cracks are beautiful rare maritime plants. The ocean and archipelago views are magnificent.


Each entrance to the harbor saw a fortified outpost (the structure on the left and the wall). The vault of that structure was used in 1780 as a synagogue. The first in Scandinavia.

It was in 1783 that the first-ever revolving lighthouse light was erected at Marstrand.

There is another first to mention. Marstrand Electric was Sweden’s first municipal electric company.

My great grandfather, (My father’s side of the family), August Palm–seated right–had lived in Malmo as an electrical engineer at a prominent hotel.

Apparently a fully wired Marstrand presented opportunity for August and his wife Alma (seated middle). He went to work for the electric company and bought a large two story house in Marstrand.
That’s my great great grandmother, seated left. But I’m not sure if she belongs to August or Alma. (I think she’s Alma’s Mom) The girl is Margit, daughter of August and Alma. And my grandmother’s sister.

The house not only served as their residence, but as a functioning element of Marstrand’s tourist economy. What we call today a “bed and breakfast.”


The former Palm residence today. Undergoing remodel work. As I captured this image a gentleman named Oskar asked about my interest in the house. I mentioned the name Palm, and that my grandmother Gunhild lived here as a teenager. Oskar moved to Marstrand in 1972. He said, “I once knew an owner of that house. I have been to many a party there. Some I remember. Some I never remembered, beginning next day.”
I mentioned Gunhild in her teens was known to have played tennis with The King, Gustav V, up at Carlsten’s Fortress.

“The king was a bit famous for that,” he said. “Young was his preference. Maybe check; you might have Royal Blood!”

As Gunhild may have appeared after tennis with The King. As a child her nickname was Gulli, meaning gold, for her hair. This photo was taken Midsommer, 1918

Gustav Söderberg, 1918. He’s standing a top a WWI Submarine. He served in the Swedish Navy.
Both Gustav Söderberg and Gunhild Palm were born in Malmo, Sweden. It is not known when or where they met.

However, writing on the back of the above photo indicates it was taken in Marstrand. In any event, they married and in 1920 were parents of Bill Söderberg. The name Bill was chosen after she read a novel with a character named Bill. William was not the name chosen.

Bill in Marstrand. Gunhild, Alma and Bill’s great grandma.

Economic Times, worldwide–the 1920’s were difficult. Agriculture, coal mining, textiles, shoes, shipbuilding and railroads were all in decline. One factor in Sweden, among others then, it had an agrarian economy in the midst of a strong population growth. With so much of the country made of solid rock, agriculture was hard to expand. Young healthy Swede’s immigrated. In the later 19th and early 20th century 1.9 million Swedes immigrated to the U.S.

Swedes kept together upon moving to the U.S. Western Illinois, Iowa, central Texas, southern Minnesota, and western Wisconsin all sprouted sizable enclaves of Swedes. Some filtered to southern California.

We can only speculate why Gustav and Gunhild Söderberg chose Los Angeles. As a carpenter and house builder, perhaps he had read about the housing boom in Los Angeles. Perhaps  her experience in Sweden with some musicals and stage productions, Gunhild may have felt the draw of Hollywood.

Declaration

The choice may have simply been connected with where Gustav’s port of entry to the U.S. was. He came through San Pedro in Los Angeles on September 2, 1921. We knew Gustav came in advance of Gunhild and Bill.  And it was assumed he came through Ellis Island, as the two had on done later on March 6, 1923. But where was the record? Swedish family member Nicklas Rydberg provided the missing document above.

Bill wrote: “We were pushed onto the streets of New York City, unable to speak the language. And no idea of where to catch the Greyhound Bus to Hollywood, California.

“My Dad had made the trip a year earlier to build a house for us to live in. When we arrived the framing of the house was up and I think it was ready for the roof. But we had to live in a tent, cook over a camp fire, and make do with an out-house.”


Youthful happy faces showing optimism for a life in their new country.

“My mother soon came down with typhoid fever and was in the hospital for what seemed like life time to me. Meanwhile I was sent to live with some long time friends, the Andersens–also from Sweden, while my Dad finished the house; and while my Mother recovered from the fever.

SoderbergsRoadside

I don’t recall Bill ever mentioning a period of prosperity and well being during this early period of his life. However the history learned by Nicklas Rydberg in Sweden describes Gustav being proud of his professional accomplishments and financial achievements in the United States. “Gustav himself bragged about how well off he was and how much money he made. He owned a big and expensive car; a Bugatti.”

Bill&Gustav as Smart Object-1

Gustav Söderberg and Bill. Well appointed beach attire, from head to toe.

GusGunBill

If there was no idea that Gustav drove a Bugatti, then this photo might nott completely make sense. Gustav wearing a driving coat? Or simply the sweater seen in the previous photo. Either way nice clothes. Not cheap.

Bill_Gustav

Gustav and Bill during happier times.Gustav and Bill during happier times.

 

“Swedish was spoken at home. Even by second grade, my English was still not very good–the kids all made fun of the way I talked.”

Bill was held back one grade until his language skills improved.

Gustav_Bungalow

 

Further work needs to be done find the address of the house on Veteran and Olympic. This is possibly one of the homes Gustav built. A house number is slightly legible.

The family home Gustav built was on Veteran and Olympic Boulevards in West Los Angeles. Olympic Boulevard was originally 10th Street; the name changed in 1928 as Los Angeles was bidding for the Olympics which came in 1932.

Bill remembered playing in the middle of Pico Boulevard catching “horny toe lizards.” He said Olympic Boulevard was mostly waist-high weeds growing through cracks in the pavement.

Weeds growing on what is today a busy street may have said much about the worsening economy the young Soderbergs faced. 1926/1927 saw a sharp decline in construction. By the end of 1928 all construction came to a grinding halt. That amounted to $2 billion dollars no longer moving through the economy. Gustav wasn’t paid for his work. His own bills went unpaid. Gustav must have felt desperation. He proposed moving.

Gunhild was not receptive to that proposal. She had enough of moving and was not about to start over again.

“It was too hard getting into this country, and we’re not leaving.”

Bill wrote that the last time Bill heard from his father was via a birthday card sent from Brazil, 1927. He believed and said his father finally settled in Australia. Greta had also been told that Gustav went to Australia where he became a Communist and an alcoholic.

Two people with accurate information read this blog and have help correct the history presented. One is Berit Härén in Stockholm. She informed me that Gustav returned to Sweden. Gustav Helge and Gunhild were divorced through California divorce
court on Nov. 10, 1932. (Bill was 12 years old). In 1935 Gustav Helge remarried to Magnhild Viktoria at Johannes parish, Stockholm in a civil service. Not known to Bill, he would have a half sister in Sweden and as well as Greta in the U.S.

maggangustav1935

Other information and photos come from Gustav’s Swedish grandson Nicklas Rydberg (my newly found cousin) Nicklas described Gustav as a man with strident political beliefs, and he confirmed Gustav was indeed a devout Communist. “My mother confirmed,” he wrote,  “my memory of stories of Gustav arguing his political views and making enemies on the way. My mother tells it was hard to grow up in small country society with a dad like that.”

But more about Gustav later. Back to the story in Los Angeles.

Gunhild and Bill were alone and had to abandon, and actually walk away from, their home in West Los Angeles. Bill often spoke of the long hike they made with their suitcases along weedy Olympic Boulevard to downtown Los Angeles as a homeless family.

A kindly group of women observed their plight. They opened their doors to shelter and care for them until Gunhild was able to fend for her herself. These kind people were a Madame and her Girls.

 

The next installments of Marstrand Continuum: Depression Era life in Downtown Los Angeles. Gunhild Remarries.
Bill gets a sister, Greta. Bad news from Sweden. Gunhild and Greta must visit Marstrand. A life in Sweden. Getting trapped in Sweden by the developing world war. Escape. Fast forward to 2006–Greta returns to Marstrand for the first time since her escape in 1940. Stay tuned!