TENDRIL TOWERS


drawing by Alva Rogers

About the name of this magazine. There was a time, twenty years ago, when the name Bixel rang gloriously throughout the length and breadth of fandom; when the short block of South Bixel between Wilshire Blvd. and Sixth Street was the most famous stretch of city pavement in fandom... for situated midway [down] this block, on opposite sides of the street, were the LASFS clubroom at 637 1/2 and Tendril Towers at 628. Now, this street is just another street. No longer does the gay carefree laughter of happy fans engaged in cooperative fanac come floating out onto the summer air from the open door of the clubroom; no longer are the sidewalks covered with the footprints of fans; no more is to be seen the heartwarming sight of Fran Laney and Forry Ackerman walking arm in arm up the street in jolly camaraderie; no more do the lights in the rooms of Tendril Towers shine down on the heads of slans...they now shine down on dull non-fannish pates; no more do the projects of Walt Daugherty excite paeons from an admiring fandom; no more do the Knanves and Outsiders engage in friendly rivalry with the LASFS...alas, all is gone - faded into history.

In spite of the many scurrilous things that have been said and written about this wonderful street and what it stood for, I know that in the hearts of a few doddering old Angelenos (and a few ancient fans from other parts of the country, also) a warm spark for what this street once was in the middle ages of fandom still flickers. Therefore, to insure that this most significantly historical fannish street not be forgotten in these latter days, I proudly name my fanzine after it; in addition to which, I give you on the cover a drawing of one of the most famous houses in the history of fandom - 628 South Bixel, sometimes known as "Tendril Towers," or... well, we'll let that one ride. This house has been immortalized in print by Francis T. Laney, Charles Burbee, and others - but to my knowledge this is the first time a good picture of it in all its magnificently beautiful ugliness has been presented to fandom. I consider this a Very Worthwhile Thing.

- BIXEL #1 (September 1962, ed. Alva Rogers)

*

As a sometime resident of the rooming house at 628 South Bixel, known also as Tendril Towers, I have naturally objected for years to the common belief in fandom that that house was the focal point of homosexuality in the LASFS, that everyone who lived there was a sexual deviant. I knew that Laney was the major contributor to this canard, but it was only after reading AH, SWEET IDIOCY! that I found one of the specific. origins of the lie. The last paragraph on page 101 relates an incident, in a superficially humorous vein, which undoubtedly served to perpetuate this distorted image of Tendril Towers and its inhabitants. Laney tells how he - on being informed by Art Saha that he, Saha, had moved into Tendril Towers - told him that:

"all the fans in TT were fruits, and that of course he'd have to pass a novitiate of promiscuity with all of them before being allowed to settle on any one or two of the boys, that they made all the new tenants kick through to them in all sorts of fascinating ways..."

So far this was just a crude put-on, but then Fran added the kicker parenthetically: "(So far as I know, this was just a gag - the place has had some heterosexual inmates!)" This was a stupid and unfair thing to say in the first place, and it was doubly stupid - a tasteless and totally uncorroborated piece of scandalmongering - when printed in ASI.

Now is as good a time as any to dispose of and bury, this whole question of homosexuality in the LASFS of the early forties. Up until the winter of 1945 there was in the LASFS, and resident in Tendril Towers, *one* admitted practicing homosexual, to my certain knowledge. [James Kepner - Rob] No one in the club ever made much of the fact that this well known fan was homosexual (and the fact of his homosexuality was generally known, and generally disregarded, throughout fandom), except for Laney and, to a lesser degree, Mel Brown.

- BIXELTYPE (aka "FTL & ASI", December 1963, ed. Alva Rogers)

*

The landlady at 628 was Delta D Wenrich, aka 'Aunt Dee'. (See her 1940 US Census details here.) In 1945 the editor of FANEWS, Walter Dunkelberger wrote to her, printing her letter in his fanzine:

*

Getting down to an evaluation of the fans you mention (and I don't know why you omitted Mel Brown) ((Neither do I - Dunk)) (for he is not the least interesting one). I think hardly anyone would fail to admit that they stack higher than average in personal responsibility, social consciousness, and a certain intellectual sincerity necessary to the honest appreciation of art, music, etc. or the comprehension of the sciences. Mr Evans I've only recently met, but he probably will, as the others have, confirm first impressions. Also I've met others of the group around them.

Knowing so little about science I read very little of their most cherished literature, for the reason that it is "over my head". However, in general, it strikes me that it appeals to the mind that has already sufficient scientific knowledge and training to allow it to handle infinite subjects (and speaking *not* in a religious sense) - and to the social mind that is prepared tto see the globe as "one world" and humanity as "one race". However, at this point, I imagine the membership of the group might divide into those who have an impulse to "do something about it" and keep ahead of "normal" in execution, thus putting back into society more than they extract and a good second group who "escape" through just reading about it, letting their rays disintegrate. Perhaps one shouldn't neglect to mention a third group who might become anti-social. I speak of these three possibilities, not from observation, but giving my imagination free survey.

The fans you mention are definitely constructive - but you asked my opinion of the "hobby". My opinion is that no "hobby" should deteriorate into "indulgence". A real "hobby" is bursting with possibilities of progress.

I don't know whether I've answered your questions or merely bored you, but wish you had asked more questions. I hope I was able to grasp your idea. I have liked the boys very much and shall miss them. I notice that they also command respect from others around outside their own special group."

*

And here's Alva Rogers on Delta Wenrich:

Much has been written about Tendril Towers in the past, some good, some bad, and in the first issue of this magazine a picture of it appeared on the cover. But for some reason little has been said about the chatelaine of this historic hostel.

Aunt Dee was every bit as colorful a personality as any fan who was ever her guest. Delta Wenrich was in her late fifties or early sixties at the time 628 South Bixel was transformed into Tendril Towers late in 1942. She was stocky of figure, with iron gray hair worn always in a bun at the back of her head, and strong Slavic features highlighted by twinkling eyes and a toothless smile - toothless, that is, except for one upper and one lower tooth directly in the center of her smile. Aunt Dee stoically suffered the agony of bunions and constantly shuffled around the house an old carpet slippers. With a babushka over her head Aunt Dee could have poised as the symbol of the noble peasant woman on any good proletarian poster.

Aunt Dee wee that most improbable type - a tolerant and understanding landlady. Before fandom descended on her in the persons of Jimmy Kepner, Mel Brown, and myself, most of her tenants were nice middle-aged or elderly men and women, many of whom had been living there for years. Aunt Dee took an immediate personal interest in our well-being, worrying about us if we didn't appear to be eating regularly or properly, sweating out our job hunting periods with us, taking a vicarious interest in our fannish activity, and letting us off the rent occasionally if we were caught a little short. Like the time I was out of work and was home working on an oil painting of a lunar landscape complete with rocket ship and space-suited figures; and the day I finished it I started down the stairs to go out when Aunt Dee stuck her head out her door and motioned to me to come into her apartment. After closing the door carefully she turned to me and said,

"Alva, you're two weeks behind on your rent, aren't you?"

"Yes.

"Well, you know that painting you have? The one with the rocketship on the moon? Well, my niece is getting married in a few weeks and I would just like to know if you would consider trading the painting for a month's rent. I'd like to give it to her for a wedding present."

I was both touched and amused. Touched because Aunt Dee was offering me a face-saving and dignified way out of the dilemma of my over-due rent; and amused at the thought of my science fiction painting being given as a wedding present to a non-fan. Aunt Dee explained that she wasn't considering the subject matter of the painting; but, rather, was entranced by the colors used. In the hallowed tradition of all starving artists I quickly agreed to the barter confident that I was coming out ahead on the deal.

This gentle natured woman with the grandmotherly mein vats considered in certain quarters to be a dangerous - if not criminal - person. For, you see, Aunt Dee was a charter member of the American Communist Party. For almost forty years she had been actively engaged in radical activities, never once losing faith in the eventual triumph of the working class over the bourgeoisie.

Her first taste of political action was with the suffragette movement, but this soon proved to be too tame and slow for her and she moved on to the industrial union movement and for many years carried a Wobbly card. However, it was really the Socialist Party that commanded her fullest allegiance and to this party she remained faithful until that historic day in 1919 when the Socialist Party split on the subject of the Soviet Union and the American Communist Party came into being. And on that day Aunt Dee become a card carrying Communist.

Aunt Dee's faith in the communist cause [was] sublime and unswerving, simple and unquestioning, a religious faith in every sense of the term. This idealistic woman never questioned the tenets of her faith, although, I've been told by Niesen Himmel she began to have a few gnawing doubts towards her last days. To Aunt Dee the Communist Party was something almost holy. Once, when she was arrested and brought to trial during one of Los Angeles's periodic Red Raids during the thirties, she gave public testimony to this.

Aunt Dee was in the witness chair and the prosecutor climaxed his summation of the evidence against her by fixing her with a righteous glare and thundering:

"Mrs. Wenrich, are you, or are you not, a member of the Communist Party?"

Aunt Doe, as equally righteous as her prosecutor, snapped right back,

"Yes, by God! And I can prove it!"

This noble woman put up with a lot of crap from the fans who called her house their home - our sloppy housekeeping, our chronically late hours of gabbing, our drunken parties. If one of us had a woman in our room (don't laugh, Laney exaggerated somewhat) she might shake her head disapprovingly, but she wouldn't say anything.

I really don't know why Aunt Dee took such a shine to her fannish tenants, unless it was because our lovable personalities just naturally aroused the maternal instinct in her. She always referred to Kepner, Brown, Niesen Himmel, Gus Willmorth and me as "her boys", and I like to think that in spite of other fans who moved in later we four always remained "her boys."

- BIXEL #2 (December 1962, ed. Alva Rogers)

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