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The unconventional life of Apple Annie

The unconventional life of Apple Annie

Aug. 12, 1935: Rose Lavender, better known as “Apple Annie,” stands next to her Los Angeles snack stand after a burglar broke in and stole cigarettes and tobacco. She is holding the crow bar apparently used by the burglar.

Apple Annie may have been the most well-known snack stand operator in Los Angeles history.  When she died at age 60 in 1943, the Los Angeles Times reported the news at the top of the front page, likely the most prominence ever given to the obituary of someone known mostly for selling cigarettes, candy and fruit to downtown workers.

“A figure familiar to thousands of residents, Annie – her real name was Rose Lavender – led a storybook existence, hobnobbing with some of the State’s outstanding figures, from Governors on down to newspapermen,” said the obituary. “Although her sidewalk stand was only just big enough to accommodate Annie’s body, she was as proud of it as if it were a height-limit structure on Wilshire Blvd.”

Annie – few used her real name – operated her booth at the entrance to the State Building in downtown Los Angeles from 1933 until her death. One governor helped her get the stand, and, after it was taken away years later, another governor helped her get it back.

Among other things, the story of Apple Annie illustrates what qualified as news in the Los Angeles Times in the 1930s. Over 10 years, The Times published at least 18 articles on her, most of them brief, even trivial by modern standards. Today, Annie’s life might have been documented on Twitter or Instagram.

In the early 1930s, Annie was a familiar sight, rolling a two-wheeled cart with snacks and refreshments through the hallways of the State Building.

Gov. James “Sunny Jim” Rolph gave her permission in 1933 to set up a small booth at the 120 North Broadway entrance to the building. Rolph was a regular customer of Annie’s, The Times reported at the time. “It was his custom, when in this city, to buy not only his daily apple but his cigars from her.”

When Rolph died in 1934, Annie hitchhiked to San Francisco for his funeral. “He was my best friend,” she said.

Burglars were a chronic problem at Annie’s stand. The Times reported on five break-ins, including one just 10 days after the booth first opened. Arriving in the morning, Annie “found the door flying loose on its hinges and her store of cigarettes and candy gone,” The Times reported.

After a 1936 theft, police soon captured suspects — two boys, ages 10 and 12, “their pockets bulging with candy.”

In 1937, a “youthful, one-legged” burglar got away with $12 (equivalent to $198 today) in cigarettes and candy, The Times said.

Burglars may have been one reason Annie seemed to frequently face money problems. The Times reported in 1936 that Annie had been cited for contempt of court for returning to her former house on Michigan Avenue, from which she had been barred for non-payment of rent.

Still, Annie wasn’t too poor to think of others. In 1937, she was inspired by a news reel showing victims of flooding in the Midwest and wanted to raise money for them.

“She thought something ought to be done, so she came to The Times yesterday, asked for a small, printed sign and then fashioned a contribution box from a cigar box,” a Times article reported. “The sign asks passersby to donate their pennies to the Red Cross.”

Annie said she hoped to raise $25 by taking a penny from each person who asked her a question at her booth. “Sometimes as many as 200 persons ask me things in a single day,” she said.

Annie always felt indebted to Rolph for allowing her to set up her stand, and after his death, she traveled to San Francisco each Memorial Day to put flowers on the former governor’s grave. In 1937, though, she sent a note to the San Francisco Chronicle that said, “I am sorry that I can’t come this year. Please buy a bouquet of roses and gardenias, with green fern, and place them on Gov. Rolph’s grave.” (An Associated Press report confirmed that someone fulfilled Lavender’s request.)

In November 1937, officials told Annie that because of the demolition of the nearby Times Building, she would have to move her stand. She refused, citing Rolph’s promise. But in early 1938, Annie was forced out of her stand because of landscaping work around the state building, The Times reported. That was the start of a rough year for her.

In August 1938, Annie went to court to seek compensation from the Los Angeles Railway Co. after falling or being thrown from a streetcar at Temple Street and Broadway. Annie sought $10,460 (about $177,000 today), saying that some of her false teeth were destroyed by the streetcar’s wheels during the event. She lost the case.

Later that year, Annie was arrested and jailed on suspicion of slapping the face of the local administrator of the State Relief Administration, after she complained about not receiving a $15 government assistance check.

“I only want what is due me,” Annie was quoted as saying.

Annie was arrested and jailed again the following month after another official at the Relief Administration said she had threatened his life when she returned to the agency’s headquarters and demanded the $15 check.

The Times seemed to drop the story there. The outcome of the two arrests and the $15 check was never reported.

By February 1939, Annie was still without her snack stand, so when an Assembly committee conducting hearings on unemployment problems came to Los Angeles she took her case there. It wasn’t easy to get her plea heard, The Times reported:

“Apple Annie” … had sat for two days waiting to be heard by the committee. Relief experts, semi-experts and just plain “crackpots” had been heard, and still “Apple Annie” waited in the front row in the assembly hall of the State Building. True, every now and then, not impatience, but apprehension lest the hearing close and the committee move on to San Diego, its next stop, would seize the elderly woman, whereupon she would cry out as the next speaker would be called:

“When are you going to hear me?”

Finally, she could stand it no longer, and when a moment came, in between speakers, she got to her feet, and moved to the rostrum on which sat the committee.

Chairman of the day, Assemblyman Frank Waters, said her turn was not then, but “Apple Annie’s” moment had come and she was going to speak.

Annie told the lawmakers of her troubles and asked for help getting her stand back. They said they would look into it.

Her plea seemed to work. On April 8, 1939, The Times reported that Annie had won permission from Gov. Culbert Olson to reopen her stand at the State Building, on a spot about 200 feet from her previous location.

“Governor Olson,” she said, “he’s a beautiful man.”

For the reopening, Annie announced the stand would be getting a fresh new look and a formal opening ceremony.

“I’m going to paint it a beautiful color,” she said. “I’m going to make it beautiful inside, too. And there’ll be beautiful new awnings. I think it will be real beautiful.”

That was the last mention of Annie in The Times until Jan. 17, 1943, when the newspaper reported that she had died after a two-week illness. Two days later, The Times said that the “good ladies of the Citizens Welfare Council” tacked a memorial statement onto Annie’s vacant stand. It read:

“Apple Annie, hail and farewell. You praised the Lord and passed the apples with a smile. Rest in peace.”

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