Frank Masters, who bought his home near the canals for $7,900 during the post-war real estate boom of 1946, recalls a time before traffic jams and a beach boardwalk made of wood
By Remy Merritt
In 1907, Theodore Roosevelt was president, Henry Ford’s Model T was still an idea on paper and America was at war not with terrorism but tuberculosis.
It was also the year Venice resident Frank Masters, who turns 107 on Tuesday, was born.
Frank grew up in Detroit and was working as an aircraft maintenance troubleshooter in 1945 when, compelled by friendship and the promise of a new life in the sun, he made the decision to come west.
Al Dennis, Frank’s best friend from Detroit, had made the cross-country journey a year earlier. Al’s wife was sick, and he had followed a doctor’s orders to find a more hospitable climate: Try California.
Despite being more than 2,200 miles apart, the two friends stayed in touch, Frank receiving a relentless stream of letters from Al that always said, “Come to California, I’ve got a job for you.”
Eventually, Frank gave in. The story plays out in the mind’s eye like a scene from a movie. One mid-September evening, as Frank recalled last week, “I asked my wife, ‘How would you like to go to California?’ She said, ‘That’s my heart’s desire.’ So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll tell you what we do. Get ready. Tomorrow morning, we leave for California.’” With two young daughters in tow, one celebrating her second birthday on the road, the Masters family spent a leisurely 11 days driving from the Motor City to Santa Monica, or, as Frank described it, “the end of the road.”
The family initially stayed with Al as Frank searched for a home, which proved a significant challenge as GIs returning from World War II created a real estate bubble in the Los Angeles area.
“There wasn’t a house to rent for miles,” Frank recalled.
A few months later in early 1946, through the real estate agent father of one of his daughter’s new friends, Frank put money down on a 900 square-foot Craftsman on 28th Avenue in Venice, about two blocks from the Venice canals. The purchase price was $7,900, about the same as $96,000 in 2014 currency.
The two-bedroom, one bath home with a tiny front porch and small backyard hasn’t changed much since Frank bought it. During the interview, he sat in a beige leather chair next to his bed near the front door.
For the first few decades that Frank and his family called the area home, the Venice shoreline was more of a locals’ beach than an international destination.
“The boardwalk had real boards, all two-by-four planks,” Frank said. He also recalled a theater on the sand and stores and restaurants along the boardwalk that faced either the street or the ocean.
“The houses on the canals were worth nothing, originally. They were all little shacks,” said Frank’s daughter Louise DuBois, who attended St. Monica Catholic High School while her sister attended Venice High.
The gentrification of Venice through an influx of new money — and not just recently, but over generations — is a tender spot for Frank.
“When we moved here, you were lucky to see four cars a day. Now there are hundreds. That gripes me,” he said.
And that job Al had promised? He made good on it.
Al owned Central Refrigeration, a major appliance repair shop originally located on Main Street in Santa Monica’s Ocean Park neighborhood that later moved to Lincoln Boulevard in Venice before Al’s son took over the shop and subdivided the property after Al died in 1991. Al had wanted to employ Frank for his skills in tinkering with large machines, and Frank ended up working at Central Refrigeration until he retired.
Today, Frank spends a lot of time sitting on the front porch and chatting with neighbors, and Louise keeps an eye on him. She’d bought her father a First Alert necklace, but he kept “accidentally” pushing the button and chatting with EMTs who came to check on him; he doesn’t have it anymore.
Father and daughter go out for dinner occasionally. Louise said Frank likes to look around and see how Venice has changed. For the 107-year-old, however, “all the old landmarks are gone,” she said.
Frank, however, remains in high spirits.
His advice for surpassing a century of birthdays: “Keep breathing.”
Editor Joe Piasecki contributed to this story.