Memories of his first job at Tower Market

When Art Cobery drives along Central Avenue and passes the old Tower Market on Central and Vine Street in Glendale, he thinks back to the days of his youth. Cobery got his first job — and his Social Security number — at Proctor’s meat market. That led to an exciting job out in the desert for two summers.

“This was during World War II, when many men were overseas,” he said. “I was in the sixth grade, but I was older than the others and working already.”

Tower Market had several small businesses, Cobery recalled.

“George Proctor ran the meat market, the grocery was run by Germans, and a Greek ran the restaurant.”

There were four children in the Cobery family and they lived in a big house on Vine. Like many in those days, his mother took in three or four boarders and feeding those boarders became a challenge when food rationing was introduced at the beginning of the war.

Everyone had ration books, he said, and, since he worked in a meat market, he knew the value of the ration stamps, especially the red ones.

“You couldn’t buy red meat without them.”

Cobery got to know many of his customers, including Dora Verdugo, who had a boarding house on nearby Elk Avenue.

“She used to come in two or three times a week. We all knew that she was of Glendale’s founding family. I thought it was pitiful that she, too, had a boarding house.”

He laughed as he added that Verdugo seemed old to him in the early 1940s when he was a teenager, but that she was still around for so many more years. (She died in 1984 at the age of 102, according to George Ellison of Special Collections at Glendale Central Library.)

Another of Cobery’s customers was a man named Sidney Smith.

“He came in frequently and bought large quantities of meat. I found out he had a large ranch out past Barstow. They ran 600 head of cattle but didn’t butcher, so they had to buy their meat from us.”

Smith offered Cobery a summer job on his ranch as a cook.

“I was 16 or so.”

On his first day of work, Cobery went to Smith’s house on North Central.

“It was opposite where Mountain Street ends at Central. His property went way back to the next block. The house was huge,” Cobery said. “There were barns and a 15- to 20-foot-high aviary. It was all there until the 1950s.”

Smith had a son, Lee, and a daughter, he added.

Cobery recalled that he helped his boss load supplies on to a 1941 truck.

“Mr. Smith had a folding ruler and meticulously measured everything to see it if would fit.”

They drove out on the old Route 66, stopping along the way to buy fruit.

“Mr. Smith added it up ahead of the seller. ‘Can’t let anyone take advantage of you,’ he told me.”

Smith’s ranch was on the site of an old U.S. Army outpost called Camp Cady, east of Barstow. The camp was in existence from 1860 to 1871, according to a California State Military Museum website.

Cobery was paid $1 a day and room and board for the summer.

“Mr. Smith was wealthy, but he didn’t pay a lot,” he laughed. “The cowboys who ran the 600 head of cattle got $2 a day, but they also got the all-important draft deferment.”

Cobery spent a second summer on the ranch in 1945, when World War II came to an end.

“The ranch was so isolated, I didn’t know the war was over for a day or two.”

By this time, the Cobery family had moved up to Montrose. Cobery graduated from Glendale High in 1949 and taught history, with an emphasis on the West, at Burbank High School for 31 years. When he retired in 1989, his began recalling the days of his youth.

Cobery said he’d like to find out more about the market and about his old boss, Mr. Smith. Smith’s house is gone and there are only remnants of the old fort, but much of the market still survives and so do Cobery’s memories.

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Readers Write: Mike Nouri and his wife, Katrin, looked for a house for a long time before buying a Japanese-inspired house designed by Alice Lee Gregg on Capistrano Circle, off Cañada Boulevard [see Verdugo Views, Dec. 3, 2010].

“We both liked the outside, we went in and both liked it inside, too, so we made an offer.”

Nouri, who has lived in Glendale 20 years, grew up on a large farm, four hours south of Tehran, Iran, and came to the United States in 1974 when he was 18. “I never thought I would live in a Japanese-style house. We’ve worked hard to keep it in that style.”

When Nouri wanted to match an ornamental doorplate on the front door, he went to a hardware store in Little Tokyo. The proprietor said he had lived in the area for 30 years and had never seen a Japanese-style house here.

“He wanted to see a picture. Few people know it’s here, we’re hidden on a cul-de-sac.”

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