Roberta Stothart Shares About Her Experience in the Palisades During WWII
By JENNIKA INGRAM | Reporter
Before orders were put in place banning gatherings of people throughout Los Angeles in response to COVID-19, Roberta Stothart was visiting Pacific Palisades—the community where she grew up—for a celebration of life.
When the president declared a national emergency, Stothart’s memory of growing up during World War II was triggered. Through a series of interviews, she recalled some of the similarities and differences between these two times.
“This virus feels like WWII,” Stothart said of the period from 1940-45 to the Palisadian-Post. “It was something where everyone was in unison, everyone stayed inside. The rules changed. You couldn’t do this, you couldn’t do that. Everybody came together in that case. There was no political diversity at all.”
Born March 29, 1934, in Long Beach, Stothart moved to the Palisades with her parents Dorothy, a housewife, and Morley Bates Sr, who had a career with the Los Angeles Times, and her older brother, Morley Bates Jr.
Her parents built a house on Alma Real Drive, near Ocampo, in 1941. She recalled that there were plenty of vacant lots in The Huntington and trees for children to climb in those days.
The village spanned one block and the Alphabet Streets was the only developed area filled with houses. Stothart began second grade at Pacific Palisades Grammar School, now Palisades Charter Elementary School, on Via De La Paz when she was 7 years old.
Stothart shared that since most of the men had left, mainly women and children filled the Palisades at the time.
“During the war—I’m just comparing today—groceries are affected, people really do wipe out the stores,” Stothart said to the Palisadian-Post. “All candy disappeared, as well as meat, butter, sugar, milk and bread stopped daily deliveries and few cars were on the streets.”
This marks a difference between Stothart’s experience during the war and today, as stores continue to restock their shelves with meats, fruits, dairy, vegetables and more.
“You couldn’t get [certain] food period, even if you had the money,” Stothart shared of the shortages at the time. “It all went to the Army, Navy and armed services. There was no coffee. They made an artificial coffee called Postum … Crisco and fake foods filtered into the markets.”
During WWII, Stothart explained that many of the young men in the Army were farmers from in the Midwest, and since no one was working on the farms, food became scarce.
Since her father worked for the Los Angeles Times in advertising and distribution, he was one of the few people that had a sticker on his car indicating he could get gas—most people weren’t driving. The paper continued to print while others went out of business, she shared.
During the coronavirus pandemic, gas remains readily accessible for the community at lower costs. Gas in the Palisades has been reduced to as low as $3.35 per gallon as of the beginning of April.
Another difference: Retail services are still available today through online avenues.
“There were no shoes, nylons, nice clothes—not any clothes,” she continued. “I wore my brother’s hand-me-downs, jackets, shoes, etc. Everyone was kind of poor, too. No clothes were being made for a good five years or so … They were being made but for soldiers. We all wore hand-me-down clothes.”
She explained that families were dependent on each other in those days—a similar sentiment to how it is now. People seemed closer to their family members, Stothart said, as more were staying home—though women continued to work, taking their jobs first.
Stothart recalled Palisadians taking walks, at that time visiting neighbors and listening to the radio in the evenings.
“Everyone huddled around the family radio for all news,” she said.
Locals tuned in to hear President Roosevelt or whoever was giving the war messages, hearing all about what was going on.
Stothart remained in the Palisades through the post-Pearl Harbor blackout when she said Japanese planes were testing America by flying over at night with the threat of bombing California.
“That’s when we had to go into the dark,” Stothart explained. “The ‘blackouts,’ they were called. The windows were covered with black cloths. No one could have any lights from sunset on. The street lights were out. No lights were permitted in California if I recall.”
Stothart remembered her family all getting into one bed, terrified and shaking.
“You could hear the planes, or even if you didn’t hear them, you were waiting for them to come,” Stothart said. “I don’t think they came very often, just a few times … They never dropped a bomb but they did threaten.”
Nearby Santa Monica was dominated by Douglas Aircraft, so that’s where the planes were being built. It was all women building planes around the clock, because the men were gone, Stothart explained. The women wore dungarees and hard hats.
“The main thing I would say during WWII is everybody helped,” Stothart said.
People were sewing and children in the schools would knit. Each class at the grammar school would grow a Victory Garden in the back of the campus with vegetables—such as carrots, celery and spinach—and give it to people in need.
“Everybody did things to help the cause,” Stothart explained. “I see that going on today. People are really helping. People sewing masks for your face. It’s amazing how people pull together, especially American people. Americans do it for society.”
After the war, Stothart and her family lived in Switzerland for many years until returning to the Palisades. Around 1969, Stothart began working for J. Paul Getty. At that time, the museum was only open two days per week (Wednesday and Saturday) and based at his private home in the Palisades.
The home, Stothart recalled, was called the ranch. It was surrounded by lemon, orange and avocado groves, a small zoo, and a lot of chickens.
For the years leading up to opening in 1974, Mr. Getty called every day to discuss how he wanted to build a museum. When the Getty Villa opened, cars filled Pacific Coast Highway with people coming to visit Getty’s creation.
Stothart’s career at the museum took many turns, including cataloging works of Italian art to overseeing the on-site store.
Now 85, Stothart currently lives in a retirement community in Falmouth, Maine, where she moved to be closer to her four daughters (Betta, Anna Lucia, Camille and Lisa) and her granddaughter, Beatrix.
Adhering to social distancing, Stothart now spends her days watching movies, using her cell phone and Skype to chat with her daughters. They are all staying separate and yet together.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.