Sunday, February 19, 2012

Doing What She Pleased – Hazel Laura Elwood

B. 10 Apr 1901 in Los Angeles, California
M. (1) 11 Feb 1921 in Los Angeles, California
Husband: Thomas Michael Mitchell
M. (2) 19 Aug 1943 in Lordsburg, New Mexico
Husband: Juan Marte
D. 11 Jul 1964 in Encino, California

Hazel Laura Elwood seemed to live life to the fullest. She was born in a house near downtown Los Angeles on April 10, 1901 to James Elwood and Eleanor Hewes. She was the middle of their five children. When she was 5, her parents separated and she lived with her mother and siblings in an area of L.A. known as Edendale. They were very poor; their tiny house was little more than a wooden shack. Hazel later said that she and her siblings often found food to eat in the garbage.

Hazel with her brother George and sister May in about 1903

The house in Edendale – Hazel is at far right. The girl in the middle is Hazel's friend, Winnie Stunt

Hazel attended high school at Hollywood High, but it's not known if she graduated. At age 18, she worked as a flower seller at a cafeteria. By 1921, she became a cook at the downtown L.A. YMCA. There she met another cook named Thomas Michael Mitchell. They didn’t know each other long before deciding to get married. The wedding took place in L.A. on February 11, 1921. Hazel had four children born between 1922 and 1934.

Hazel with her son, Tom Jr. in 1922

During the mid-1920s, Tom and Hazel moved to Oakland, but in 1927, their house burned down and they returned to the L.A. area. When Tom became disabled from an auto accident, Hazel moved out to an apartment in Hollywood so she could earn the family’s support as a waitress and cook. It was also a marital separation, with Tom taking care of the kids in Tujunga. Hazel spent a lot of time with her sister Maudie; the two were extremely close. They sometimes worked together, and in 1930, they helped out at a restaurant Tom opened in L.A.

When Tom closed his business a year later, Hazel continued working in restaurants. By 1940, she took a steady job as a cook at Carolina Pines on Melrose Boulevard. She befriended another cook there, a Filipino immigrant named Juan Marte — called “Johnnie” — and after divorcing Tom, she married Johnnie on August 19, 1943. Since California didn’t allow interracial marriages, the couple had to go to Lordsburg, New Mexico for the wedding.

 Hazel portrait taken during the 1950s

Hazel and Johnnie

Hazel and Johnnie settled in a house in the Silverlake district, near where she grew up. In 1946, Hazel opened up a restaurant on ex-husband Tom's property in the San Gabriel Valley (they remained friends after their divorce). Maudie was her partner and worked as the waitress, while Hazel cooked. Tom's cabinet making shop and house were also on the property, as well as another small house. For a time, her son Tom Jr. lived there with his wife and her infant daughter named Barbara Jeanne (who was not Tom Jr.’s biological child). Hazel took to Barbara Jeanne, and when the child’s mother left, she and Johnnie informally adopted her.

Hazel and Maudie closed the restaurant when Maudie moved to Alaska in 1948. In 1953, Hazel and Johnnie bought a house in Tarzana on an acre of land. In the yard, she raised chickens, and planted so many bushes and flowers, they obliterated the house. She filled the place with odd knick-knacks she couldn’t resist buying at a local import store (today she would be called a hoarder). In her house, she had a piano and enjoyed singing. She had many pets, including two dogs, a cat and about 50 parakeets.

Hazel singing "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," recorded in 1958

Also at this time Hazel became a Jehovah’s Witness. On July 11, 1964, a day when it was over 100 degrees, she went door-to-door peddling her religion. After she came home, she was stricken with a massive heart attack. She was rushed to Encino Hospital, but died soon after. Hazel is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Chatsworth. Johnnie was meant to be buried there as well, but he moved back to the Philippines and died there in 1973.

Children by Thomas Michael Mitchell:
1. Thomas Milton Mitchell – B. 1 Jul 1922, Los Angeles, California; D. 10 Nov 2007, Winnetka, California; M. Margaret Elizabeth Bolheres (1922-2016), 2 Jul 1949, Pasadena, California

2. Patsy Eleanor Mitchell – B. 23 Feb 1924, Los Angeles, California; D. 27 Apr 2002, Sitka, Alaska; M. James Lawrence Sarvela (1914-1995), 27 Dec 1947, Glendale, California

3. Forrest Leroy Mitchell – B. 21 Sep 1926, Oakland, California; D. 30 Jun 2016, Desert Hot Springs, California; M. Patricia Ann McKenzie (1930-2010), 21 May 1948

Birth certificate of Hazel Laura Elwood, Los Angeles, 10 Apr 1901
Marriage certificate of Thomas Michael Mitchell and Hazel Laura Elwood, Los Angeles, 11 Feb 1921
Divorce record of Thomas Michael Mitchell and Hazel Laura Mitchell, Los Angeles, 5 Jan 1943
Marriage certificate of Juan Marte and Hazel Laura Mitchell, Lordsburg, New Mexico, 19 Aug 1943
1900, 1920 and 1930 U.S. Census in Los Angeles
City Directories for Los Angeles and Oakland, 1901-1942
Interviews with Thomas Michael Mitchell, 1976-1980
Interviews with Thomas Milton Mitchell, 1997-1999
California Birth Index, 1905-1995
Social Security Death Index
California, County Marriages, 1850-1952

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