FIRESTONE STATION RECOLLECTIONS
by Duane Preimsberger
Before I begin talking about the very first Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sub-Station let me try and set the stage for you as things were in 1924. The Nation was still experiencing the euphoria of helping to win an amazing World War I victory in Europe and patriotism and pride were
commonplace on the streets of America. It was the Roaring 20’s, the age of the Flapper; young women with bobbed hair, who smoked cigarettes, chewed gum, drank bathtub gin, dressed in frilly dresses that ended at the knee and they shocked their moms, who’d grown up in Victorian times,
by dancing a wiggly dance called the Charleston. Here in Los Angeles County, movies were being made, cargo was coming in to the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, airplanes were being built and oil was being pumped out of the ground from Newhall to Signal Hill. There was a trolley line from Los Angeles to Long Beach and from there to San Pedro and back to Los Angeles; this route was called the Triangle Line. The population was growing rapidly and the needs for local services
including those of the Sheriff, who’d been headquartered in downtown since 1850, were escalating.
The very first L.A. County Sheriff’s Office, Criminal Division’s, Sub-Station #1 opened its doors in 1924, in the 1600 block of Florence Ave. in a rented building shared with a chiropractor. There, 25 tough looking guys mostly in dark suits and brimmed hats, some wearing vests
and watch chains, gathered out front for an opening day picture. Only a couple of them were wearing anything resembling a uniform and those were the two Motor Officers. The Deputies equipment was primitive. They fielded two big; wooden spoke wheeled convertibles and two Indian
motorcycles. They didn't have radios, or cell phones, there were no mobile digital keyboards. There weren’t any semi-automatic pistols, extra magazines, OC spray, Tazers, side-handle batons, bullet proof vests, or hand held communications devices. They did have a couple special weapons, axe handles and Winchester, .30-.30 saddle ring carbines.
Selection for the position of Deputy Sheriff, although requiring a civil service test, was really based on whether or not the Sheriff liked what he saw and if so you were sworn in, got a badge and went out and bought your own gun and handcuffs and anything else that suited your fancy.
There was no training academy, what you learned you learned on the job. Winds of change swept across America in the late 1920’s; the beginnings of a major drought began to plague the Central States and seemingly endless winds blew away the top soil of farm after farm and in 1929, the
stock market failed, driving the Nation into a terrible Depression.
During the 30’s, entire mid-west families and even whole towns began to search for a place where they could live and work and thousands headed for the Los Angeles area, where they might find jobs and food. They’d heard it was a golden land where palm trees swayed in light breezes and
citrus groves blossomed and bore endless fruit; and in L.A. there could be an end to the howling, nerve wracking winds and blowing dust. And so they came, some riding in and on the tops of box cars, others in over laden pickup trucks and cars of all kinds. Many of them chose to stay in
the area policed by those men at the first Sheriff’s Station and the demands for service by the new county residents required a larger facility to house more Deputies and in 1938, the Florence Ave. Station was moved to another, larger, rented building at 2111 E. Firestone Blvd.
Things continued changing, war clouds appeared on the European and Asian horizons, and before long the United States was sending hundreds and thousands of its best and brightest young men to fight in those areas. Many of those heading for the battlegrounds in the Pacific came through
Southern California and a kid from Bemidji, MN who knew there were only two months in a year, August and Winter found himself in a paradise where, if he survived combat in the Pacific, he’d come back to it. The same thinking occurred a decade later as more troops headed to Korea
came through our area, wanting to return and they did.
The Sheriff’s Dept. was changing too. Deputies who went to Firestone Station had been to a five week long, Sheriff’s School of Instruction. They now wore all green uniforms with a shoulder strap Sam Browne’s. Uniform caps were mandatory for those out of buildings or cars. The patrol cars, some called Gray Ghosts, could be six cylinder, stick shift, heater less, all gray Fords or Chevys with big gold Sheriff’s stars on the doors and an 8 foot tall whip antenna that allowed radio
calls to be broadcast to the Deputies on patrol; first by the Los Angeles Police Department and later, in 1937, by the Sheriff’s own KMA 628 radio transmitter to the total of 65 radio equipped cars throughout L.A. County. Code 3 in a Gray Ghost at night with its 6 volt electrical
system gave you a choice of headlights or red lights & siren but not all three! And, of course, the leased building on Firestone Blvd. became too small to handle the increasing number of personnel required to police the Firestone Station area.
In the early 1950’s plans were put in place to develop an authentic facility geared to policing operations at 7901 S. Compton Ave. and in 1955, the Station at the corner of Compton and Nadeau, was dedicated by Sheriff Gene Biscailuz and the station compliment of 104 sworn and 12
clerical employees. In the 50’s and 60’s things were altered significantly in Firestone’s policing area. Demographic, economic and social changes brought large increases in crime, much coming from drugs and gangs. Before long, Firestone Station gained the unfortunate reputation of being number 1 in Homicides and other violent crimes. By the time the station was closed in 1993 it had seen 2 major riots that left scores dead, and property damage rising into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
In the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s’s Firestone Station was a very busy place for the 50 or so deputies on patrol duty who were assigned to cover all 3 shifts on any given day. A typical call might be, “Firestone 15, one-five, come in for five calls and handle in order…” The early morning watch of 1964 might field as few as seven units to handle what is now policed by Century, Compton and Carson Stations. It was a busy, demanding place at which to serve.
Fortunately, the vast majority of men and women who served at Firestone Station never shrank from the challenges and opportunities that they confronted daily. They responded to crimes in progress, counseled troubled marriages, delivered babies in a time before paramedics, helped
the sick and injured. They arrested the drunks, petty thieves, wife beaters, child abusers and those who broke the fabric of a neighborhood peace. These Deputies solved crimes, recovered stolen property and sometimes helped women and kids find places where they could be safe. On
other occasions, they fought gun battles with robbers, thugs and killers and others who wished them and the community harm; and sometimes…as we remember today, they gave their lives for those who called Firestone Station for help.
Even as the station’s area shrunk with the openings of Carson and Lynwood Stations; Firestone Station remained one of the Departments major patrol training facilities and hundreds and hundreds of new deputies fresh to policing got their initiation patrolling the streets on a Firestone Station beat. Many passed through in a year or two, on their way to another station closer to home or with less activity. Others stayed on year after year or returned as detectives, gang specialists or supervisors. These people, these men and women, became the real heart of Firestone Station. It was, at least to me, those individuals who were the best part of being assigned there.
Each day with them brought a new experience, any number of which could be hilarious. On my very first day at Firestone Station in the early 60’s I’d arrived well before a briefing and orientation from a training sergeant and I was waiting for him in the small station kitchen. Suddenly, a large, gruff voiced individual in a suit interrupted the quiet by screaming at me, “What the hell are you doing in my kitchen you little wart” I’m the Captain here and you come to attention when I talk to you, get on your feet!”
So there I stood, thumbs along the outer seam of my trousers, heels together, chin up, chest out while I took a butt chewing for not having a cup of coffee ready for the Captain. Almost immediately, I was able to rectify this oversight by putting a coin in the nickel grabber and
filling a cup. Then, the Captain took my brown lunch bag from the table, opened it looked inside, nodded his approval and without as much as a by your leave, he stole my lunch. It was hours later that I learned that I’d been victimized not by the Captain but by Kenny Wegner, the Court
Deputy at South Gate Municipal Court.
Attending my very first Woofing as a patrol rookie was also quite an experience. In the 1960’s the Sheriff’s Dept. didn’t have any canines so if you got a burglary in progress call at a large industrial building the search was done by Deputies, unless Claude Anderson was on duty.
Claude would arrive make a loud voiced announcement that he was going to release the dogs if the crooks didn’t give-up. With that said, Claude would growl, whine and woof in a very realistic, vicious dog like fashion and usually but not always, burglars would come out of hiding.
Walking by an interrogation room and hearing an exasperated, armed robbery suspect beg for mercy as he pleaded with one of our detectives, Silent Joe Castorina, who had a reputation for his ability to talk non-stop; “sir, sir, please if you’d just shut up for a couple minutes, I’ll confess,” was priceless. The list of stories is endless and they’re remembered every month when a group of Firestone Old Timers mostly from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s gather for lunch and swap remembrances of their days gone by.
For most of us, Firestone Station was a place of magic. There, the humor, pathos, terror and all the human emotions that can be experienced were mirrored for us in its streets on a daily basis. It was a place of wonder and raw realism as well as anger, love, sadness, and euphoria. Working there was the experience of a lifetime.
As the Station was preparing to close its doors, in 1993, I stopped by on the way home and walked through the tired, well used place that held so many fond memories for me. In the basement scrawled in chalk on a blackboard among the moving boxes were the words, “Firestone will never die!” From a historical perspective, as the Departments very first patrol station those words are 100% accurate. From a personal perspective, while those of us who were fortunate enough to work at that very special place remain on earth, Firestone Station will live on in our hearts.
May God bless those who walked through Firestone’s back doors in order to police those streets; you helped to create a legacy and a standard of excellence. And may God bless those of you at Century Station, now and in the future, as you police those same streets. May you continue those
efforts with courage, commitment, compassion and honor; remembering that on these streets there is a Tradition of Service and of Sacrifice!