Site of the Smith home, Mt. Washington figured prominently in many columns. Smith explored the history of the neighborhood, as well as its flora and fauna. He became a bird-watcher in his own backyard and in the canyon it over looked. It was there that he famously sighted the common grackle, despite the scoffing of ornithologists. From this historic moment on, the theme of birds, especially the grackle, appeared frequently in his columns, and Jack and Denny became active bird-walk leaders for Descanso Gardens and several area Audubon Societies.
Postcard showing the Los Angeles & Mt. Washington Railway Co. station, ca. 1895
Mary Ellen Pereyra. Note cards depicting the California Common Grackle, presented by the Los Angeles Audubon Society, January 12, 1976.
Grackle mementos and art perched throughout the Smith home, as well as in Jack Smith’s files. In this example, the Latin genus and species on the card, Quiscalus quiscula smith, honors Jack Smith as the first to sight the grackle in California.
Ethel Averbach. Postcard to Jack Smith, March 19, 1973.
Smith’s grackle sighting claim and his resulting columns led to scores of letters from his readers, who were captivated by the controversy. In this postcard, a reader sends him Ogden Nash’s poem, “The Grackle.”
Howard F. Mason. Letter to Jack Smith, June 24, 1976.(Image not available)
Like many readers of Jack Smith’s columns, Howard F. Mason found his memory jogged to earlier times in Los Angeles and especially in Mt. Washington, and, like many readers, he was prompted to write and share his own recollections of bygone times. In this instance, he writes about working in 1911 or 1912 as a grocer’s delivery boy whose employer would ride the cable car to collect customers’ orders.
Friends of the UCLA Library. The Mt. Washington Eagle, April 9, 1973.
(Image not available)
Through his column’s frequent references to his neighborhood, Jack Smith became widely known as the voice of Mt. Washington.
This “issue” (Volume 1, Number 1) invites the recipient to an evening with Jack Smith and other writer friends, to be held in the Faculty Center at UCLA. Note the grackle at the foot of the column -- another strong association for Jack Smith and Mt. Washington.
Jack Smith. “How Many Grackles Does It Take to Be an Expert?” January 16, 1990.
Copyright, 1990, Los Angeles Times
. Displayed with permission.(Image not available)
After Smith wrote of spotting a common grackle in his backyard, he found himself defending the sighting from all the ornithological naysayers. As he wrote later, “It was unbelievable, of course, and nobody believed me. I was soon vindicated, however, by a second sighting. This one again took place in my backyard and nobody believed me again.”
Kenneth E. Stager. Letter to Jack Smith, November 20, 1970.(Image not available)
In this letter, the senior curator of ornithology for the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History settles an avian argument between Smith and his friend and neighbor, “Dalton,” who appeared frequently in Smith’s columns under that pseudonym Smith finally revealed that “Dalton” was Frederic C. Coonradt, on the faculty of the School of Journalism at USC.
The short final paragraph in this letter makes reference to the grackle.
Michael LeRoy. Photograph of Jack Smith, ca. 1975.(Image not available)
Jack Smith relaxes on his patio, with his backyard and the canyon visible beyond.