Friday, July 15, 2016

Fiesta de Luz, Sam Stein, and the Almazzadeluzoresquibo

From "High Lights In Civic Parade & Carnival", Popular Mechanics, Jan. 1917
Short, 353 pounds, bald, and wearing a pink cheesecloth gown, costume jewelry and a woman’s wig, businessman Simon Samuel “Sam” Stein hoisted himself into the gold carriage which traditionally carried Santa Ana’s petite parade queens. The carriage creaked and groaned, but held together – much to the relief of Stein’s retinue: A group of “Zulu” warriors and that rarest of animals, an Almazzadeluzoresquibo. 

It was June 15, 1916, and the City of Santa Ana was celebrating its fancy new street lights with a “Fiesta de Luz.” This nighttime event included a band concert at Birch Park, vaudeville performances, a fundraiser dance (or “Jitney Ball”), streets lined with sundry amusements and community group booths, and a parade with dozens of units.

At the start of the parade, on a reviewing stand at City Hall, Mayor Augustus J. Visel welcomed Stein eloquently and, with great ceremony, presented him with a crown and scepter, naming him the queen of the Fiesta. “Subjects, behold your queen" he called to the crowd as Stein powdered his nose dramatically and assessed himself in a hand mirror. Then Visel pressed a button, turning on the city’s new electric street lights to the accompaniment of cheers and applause.
Stein's dress was displayed in the window of Rankin's Dry Goods prior to parade. (L.A. Times, 6-16-1916)
The Queen’s parade unit was led by the “Queen’s Band.” The “Zulu” warriors – walking alongside the carriage – were actually Santa Ana High School boys wearing black tights, raffia skirts, and burnt cork on their faces. A unique imaginary animal known as the Almazzadeluzoresquibo was somehow brought to life and brought up the rear of the Queen’s entourage.

As the carriage rolled through the streets, Stein got big laughs as he primped and preened before some 25,000 onlookers. In fact, he was so popular that he and his "Zulus" were invited to take part Long Beach’s “Carnival of States” parade the following month.

(One wonders, in today's climate, which would generate more outrage: White kids in blackface, or a whole crowd laughing at a man in women's clothes.)

Stein had been part of the planning committee for the Fiesta de Luz and had volunteered to be a figure of fun. But despite the gales of laughter directed at him along the parade route, he was a beloved local personality.
Pin-back badge promoting attendance at the Fiesta de Luz.
Sam Stein was born in Russia on Sept. 5, 1884, the second of five children born to Samuel H. and Lena Stein. The family immigrated to New York when he was very young. In 1902, while still in his teens, Sam came to California and went to work for the Lazarus Stationary Co. in Los Angeles. He worked for this company for twelve years, including as a traveling salesman. One day, while going door to door in Santa Ana, he recognized the town’s need for a local stationary store.

He moved to Santa Ana with his wife Celia; children, Arthur and Helen; and his younger brother, Ivie. And in 1914, he opened Sam Stein Stationery in the Spurgeon Building. The shop, which was also a book store, began with one employee, but the business grew rapidly.

The Santa Ana Register called Stein “a thorough businessman of congenial and happy disposition… keenly interested in civic affairs,” and described him as “one of the best known and most popular men in Santa Ana."

He was the founding secretary of Congregation B'nai B’rith of Santa Ana and was involved in the Masons, Shrine, Elks and other local fraternal organizations. He was also active in the Los Angeles Young Zion's association.

Rev. F.T. Porter, pastor of Santa Ana’s First Christian Church, later remembered, “Mr. Stein was a man of activity, a man who massed his forces, his thought, his energies on a point and made the point, which accounts for his success in business life in Santa Ana... As a citizen he had the welfare of the city at heart and was active in civic affairs, throwing his great personality and force to those things that were for the best interests of the city. He was an honest man, honest with his business associates, his friends and his family. His interest in school athletics and other of the various activities of the school evidenced that he was delighted to do such thing and that they were done because of his interest in delight in helping in the schools and not purely from a business and selfish motive."
Unfortunately, the portly Stein had diabetes and in early 1922 developed a carbuncle (usually caused by a bacterial infection) on his neck. He had just finished moving his business into a larger space at 307 W. Fourth St. (now with about fifteen employees) when he had to check into Santa Ana Community Hospital. His condition worsened and he was sent to St. Vincent's Hospital in Los Angeles for further treatment. He died there in March 1922.

Jewish tradition dictates that a person’s body be buried as soon as possible after death. There was no time to distribute notices or print announcements in the newspapers for Stein’s funeral. But word of his death got out and spread like wildfire through town. Ultimately, a very large crowd attended the memorial at Santa Ana’s Smith & Tuthill Mortuary, including many public officials, local business leaders, students and faculty from the local schools, B'nai B’rith members and many other friends and family. Masses of floral arrangements were on display.

Sam Stein was buried at Beth Israel Cemetery in Los Angeles.

However, the final disposition of Stein’s faithful Almazzadeluzoresquibo remains unknown. I will pay a dollar to the first person to find me a photo of the creature. I will double that if you bring in the creature itself -- dead or alive.