Commentary : Sad Farewell to an Old Spring Street Friend

Times Staff Writer

I hurry past the intersection of 4th and Spring streets on my downtown walks these days: There is no reason to slow down any more.

An old friend died at the southeast corner earlier this year, and I don’t even want to think about it. The friend was a store, an 80-year-old camera store called Earl V. Lewis Cameras.

My standard noontime walk for the past 10 years invariably included a stop at Lewis Cameras, to pick up some darkroom chemicals or printing paper, check out the new cameras, see what kind of used cameras had been added to the much-broken-into showcase window on the 4th Street frontage.


Bert Kates, the owner, along with fellow old-timers George E. Dorsey and Ralph Fry, were the kinds of merchants that are difficult to find any more. They could tell a customer more about a product than just the price. They were helpful without the phony obsequiousness of many salespeople.

In fact, quite often they were grumpy, like a traditional newspaper city editor. It was just on the surface though, the kind of bantering that sits well with me. Considering the number of burglaries sustained by the store, it’s a wonder they weren’t even grumpier.

Lewis Cameras was as much a mugging victim as Dan Rather. The store was broken into so many times its walls resembled Swiss cheese. Burglar bars and Chicago gates did little except slow down the villains, as the British so aptly call criminals.

One of the three men mentioned above--I won’t say which one--said the last straw was when his wife dropped him off at work and he was relieved of a gold chain and a religious medal by a mugger who put a chokehold on him.

“I was working scared for the last month there,” he added. He now works in a suburban camera store near his home.

With the demise of Lewis Cameras, Kimura Photomart in Little Tokyo is the last full-service photo store in the eastern part of downtown Los Angeles. Needless to say, Kimura is part of my noontime route. It’s an outstanding store, with the service equal to the best. I only wish it had some competition.

I doubt that I would have written about this passing of an old friend if it hadn’t been for Sue Laris’ column in the Oct. 6 issue of Downtown News; I wanted to put the event out of my mind, but Sue’s excellent commentary on the continuing decline of Spring Street made me collect my thoughts.

A newspaper that I worked for before I came to Los Angeles more than a decade ago has long used as its motto the famous quotation attributed to the 18th-Century British statesman Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

This applies to what’s left of Spring Street. Too many good men and women have deserted Spring Street for safer areas. The loss of an old friend like Lewis Cameras is a further unraveling of a once livable downtown. Its loss diminishes us all.