Not Past It - The Gay History of Camels

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Hey, not past it listeners.

This week’s show is another history.

Domino episode will line up some mini historical moments, will knock them down and end up in a completely different and unexpected place from gimlet media.


This is not passed it a show about the stories we can’t quite leave behind.

I’m Simone plannin on today’s episode, we’re going back 161 years ago this week.

To June 17. 1861, when a troop of camels came to Los Angeles.


It’s the story you haven’t heard about the making of one of the gayest cities in the west.

The dominoes are all lined up and we’ll knock over the first one after the hump, the break, but break.

So I am very lucky to be joined by a special guest today.


Could you please tell the folks at home who you are and what you do?

I am Ashley Ray.

I’m a stand-up comedian and culture writer the thing.

People mostly know me for is I was banned from Twitter in 2020 because I made a bad Direction joke about Donald Trump.


It wasn’t even that clever.

I was like, come on.

That’s pretty badass since today’s history.

Domino Journey takes us into the Founding of a gay city in California.

I wanted to invite Ashley because she’s out in LA and a lot of her comedy touches on being queer.


So Ashley.

Are you ready?

Yeah, to go on this journey.

I love a journey.


Alright, so today’s story actually begins in the Great American West in the 1800s.

A time and place with a lot of lower.


A lot of familiar images.

I’m curious.

What kind of imagery does that bring to mind for you?

As soon as you said it I thought gold panning just let’s lots of like my gold in them.

There hills just like building railroad tracks.

Just a lot of work.

I wouldn’t want to do sure.


Yeah you know, the covered wagons the horses, the dying of dysentery.

Just just Oregon Trail things generally.

Yeah, very much lives are like Classic images of Westward Expansion, but there is one thing that you did not mention.


That is worth bringing up and that is where our journey begins in Domino.

Number one, so we’re in the American West.

It’s the mid-1800s.

The US had just won the Mexican-American war in 1848.


After which it claimed the territory of California.

But the US Military.

Military had a problem.

They needed to Lug a bunch of stuff out west and to get to California.

You’ve got to cross a lot of deserts.

Yeah, horses aren’t really great in those conditions.

So Congress was pitched a different animal for military operations out west.


Then just curious, do you have any guesses as to what deserty Beast of Burden?

They may have pitched?

I don’t know.

I could see Americans being like, will make a buffalo work.

Like, I don’t know.

I wanna say a camel.

Something that would Make sense something that I’ve seen in a desert before.


Hopefully, that is correct.

Oh good.

They pitched basically the camel as like the, you know, desert beast of burden and after a lot of back and forth Congress signed off on the funding, the camels idea In 1855 creating what would become the camel Corps.


Now, you know, this was an experiment to see if camels could be used throughout the Army and maybe even replaced animals like mules.

So, a couple dozen camels were scooped up from.

Ports on the Mediterranean, you know, North Africa turkey and then they were shipped to a port in Texas in 1857.


And then from there, basically the Army starts putting these camels through like boot camp.

They’re tested for Speed and endurance while strapped with heavy loads.

It was so intense, one camel reportedly died so they like put them through it.


I feel like that has to I year like a camel.

You have a beautiful life in Northern Africa and then you’re brought to like Texas, like how then you’re just like, forced into the military.

That’s us evil.

But anyways, the camel Corps.

You know, they get trained up, thanks to seem to be coming along well, for them.


The majority of them, make it to California, you know, Mission camel Corps is like, rolling right along, but then this little thing called the Civil War started, Maybe part of that.

Ah, yeah.


Okay, what way, where, what happens to these camels look?


So the Civil War rolls around that ends up taking a little bit more priority and the government ended up abandoning the camel Corps.

Oh, the camels are moved from Fort to Fort across, California and on June 17, 1861 161 years ago this week, 31 of these camels are Just left to chill at a for in Los Angeles.



So you know the camel Corps eventually comes to an end, but the camels go on to have a second career and that takes us to Domino.

Number two, The man who takes notice of the defunct camel Corps is named Henry Hancock.


And if you’re in l.a., maybe this is a name you’ve come across around the city Hancock Park, maybe.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.


So he’s the Hancock.

He’s the Hancock Park Hancock.

Let’s say, oh, wow.


The Henry, he was originally from the east coast and when he got to ELA in the early 1850s he scooped up like thousands of Acres, Land, which was called Rancho La Brea and today that would span from what is like Hollywood to Downtown LA Prime real estate.


Truly however, back then obviously it was not developed like it is today.

One major thing that was missing an Ela at the time was a stable mail service to the east trains, had not expanded West yet.

Obviously cars are not a thing and we’ve gone over this already, when you need, Someone to transport something, across the desert.


Who are you gonna call?

You gotta turn to camels.

Yeah, gotta go for the camels as so Hancock.

You know, he wanted to start a camel mail service sort of like a Pony Express, but for the desert Hancock buys about half a dozen camels from the Army in 1863 and he puts them on a 20-acre patch, right?


In the center of Rancho La Brea and it really is like the Fake place for these.

Camels has like a little creek running through it.

It has solos and Marshland, it’s like a little Oasis.

Now, this 20 acre piece of land, this is what we are going to be tracking for the rest of the episode.



Over the years, it’s had many names but just to keep things consistent for our own storytelling purposes, I think we should come up with a name like that we can use to refer to it.

Gosh, okay.

I feel like, I’d be, like, camel, Ally, or like camel badly.


I’d be like Camel Valley.

Camelot was, like, one thing that we were like playing with.


See that’s yeah.

But that is like aggressive pun Camel.

Valley is a little bit like a little bit more stylish.


That’s a camel Valley.

Sounds like a suburb that like has a gate and they named it that like make it sound really fancy.


Yeah, yeah, exactly.

I like that.

Let’s go with camel Valley.

So these camels they’re living in Camel Valley getting ready to start carrying mail.

Unfortunately our camel friends run into yet another setback their jobs are stolen.


N-not by a civil war This Time by the Transcontinental Railroad come on.

So, by the time the camels got their shit together, they were no longer needed.

They weren’t need it.

But like is it a camel?

That’s so much more fun than a train?


Yeah, so, you know, the camels shit out of luck.

Once more, Hancock’s idea for the mail service fully flopped the camels, this time were just full-on abandoned like, Set free into like the hills of Los Angeles, l.a.


It’s really like that groans.

The Hollywood Hills for decades.

Are you serious?

I’m being for real.

This is a historic fact.

All the camels from the camel Corps do eventually die off?

Yeah, bye-bye camels.

I’m so sorry.


But we did this to you but that 20-acre patch, it lived on.

Okay, well, at least there’s that, at least, there’s that.

So So after Henry, Hancock dies in 1883 his widow, as forced to sell off a large part of, you know, the thousands and thousands of Acres that he owned the rest of the land gets absorbed into the city of Los Angeles, but they keep the Camel Valley plot in the family, and over the years, this 20-acre, slice starts to develop its own unique identity, specifically, and starts to become cool as shit.


And that takes us to No number 3.

So we’re going to jump ahead a couple of decades to the early 1900s.

Now at this time Los Angeles is expanding.


Thanks to the pictures.

You know, the movies directors stars and that little 20-acre slice that Hancock used to house his camels.

It stays pretty sleepy that is until 1918 when an actress by the name of Allah, has a mova moves to town and she’s gonna have Big impact on this place.


Were calling Camel Valley.

But before I tell you all a story, I actually want to show you a picture of her because I think it’s really important that we capture This Woman’s Vibe.

Oh yeah yeah so cool like the hair.


She has like this curly, like kind of semi F wrote that.

Yes, this is a cool person.

She looks like someone who could haunt the Louvre.

She’s like a pre goth way.

Way like she inspired goth as we know it pre goth is so good, but goth girls wish they could do this.



So let me tell you a little bit more about Allah’s life because you know, this woman she was a true star for decades.

She played in Broadway plays and silent films and she was also openly Queer as openly as you could be in 1920s.


Well yeah, I mean yeah honestly swing in 20s people were pretty gay back.

Then her second husband was a gay man and was kind of like a beard sort of situation.

Mutual Arrangement.

Kind of thing.

We love it.

That is true allyship.



Just got getting straight married to each other for support.

Hey, 1920s.

You know.


She was also in several very public relationships with women, so, you know, for her time nazimova was pretty out there.

She also Also went against the grain and other ways to let’s say so well, a lot of movie stars and other Hollywood types for moving to Beverly Hills around.


Then does it move?

She wanted to be in the country?

Her husband loved to ride horses.

So, you know, you got to be out in the country and that 20-acre slice of land that used to be Hancock’s, was the perfect spot for her and still a very central location.



Still very Central.

It was Like right between the movie studios in the east side and where the stars lived out in the west side of the city.

And at this point as I’m of needs a little Financial boost and so she opens a hotel and this prime location catering to the Hollywood Elite.


So she bought an estate right off of Sunset Boulevard in Camel Valley, and she opened her glorious hotel and she named it.

The garden of Allah.

It had Villas and had a restaurant.


It had a pool.

And in January of 1927, she opened the garden with a party to end all parties.

This is how a writer for the LA Times.

Later described it, there was Joy of foot caviar at hand and bubbles in the air for 18 hours by midnight, the waiters were harmonizing with the guests.


And Wandering Troubadours played madrigals in the middle of the pool.

It was climax piled on climax.

It sounds amazing.

But I don’t think I’ve ever been to a party that great and Lala like that.

Yeah, that sounds perfect.

Yeah, would you go to an 18-hour party?



Oh yeah.

Like, you know, you I’ve set my feel like you that’s the place where you probably take some naps like, you know, you can probably like, lay on a couch for a bit, go back out like yeah.

However, you know, like all good things.

Party has to come to an end at least for another MOBA.


It does because within a year of this lavish smashing party, she basically goes bankrupt, Well yeah, I feel like she spent a lot of money on the champagne and caviar, maybe Yassin hours, a waiter hiring waiters for 18 hours.


That’s a lot.

That’s a lot.

That’s a lot somehow.

Yeah, this was not a financially sustainable, whatever.

But what really happened was that, while in the cinema was away on tour, The Garden of Allah tanked under her business, managers watch and the star had to sell her shares to a faceless Corporation.


Oh my God.


But once it was Under New Management, the hotel flourished for decades now.

Just so, you know, there’s some of that did live on and off at the Garden until her death.

And honestly, that’s like how I’d like to live in my old age just like haunting a hotel.


And you know the hotel at actually like continues to like do very well and it becomes a big like celebrity destination.

So the likes of like Samuel Goldwyn the film producer, Sake of metro-goldwyn-mayer, he’s up in there, Greta Garbo the movie star, she parties there.


The fitzgeralds you know, F Scott and Zelda and Zelda.

They are partying and staying at the Garden of Allah and thanks in part to the Zumba and the garden of Allah.

The place.

We are calling Camel Valley.

Becomes a destination for the Rich and Famous.


Now if you know your history and you’ve been paying attention to the dates, you may have noticed that all of this like booze-soaked freewheeling as happening in the middle of prohibition.


And maybe you’re asking yourself.

How is this possible?


I honestly was just like, it was California.

Nobody like they were just wild.

Wild wild west out there, they didn’t care.

Well, camel.

Valleys and interesting place.

It has this special superpower one that attracts some interesting characters.

Mobsters and drag queens.


Of course.


Which we are going to get into after the break.


Welcome back, Ashley Ray and I are smack in the middle of our history, Domino Journey.

So and it’s been wild so far.

It really, I am.

So we went from Camels to Greta Garbo and I’m like, what’s, what’s?

Yeah, take out.


Remind us a little bit on the journey we’ve been on so far like so we’re kidnapping camels from Northern Africa to bring them to Texas and then they’re just, you know, being pulled along and used and teased by the American government.

And then they’re abandoned by a rich man.


And then people just start drinking a lot in the twenties, and it’s a party bags.

And the animals are just like, I guess, roaming the hills all by themselves.

I know all the while that’s what’s so well to be old while these, they’re just wild camels, there’s just wild in LA and we left off on this question of you know, how are the girls poppin bottles in the middle of prohibition?


Yeah, well that takes us to Domino.

Number four.

So how could they pull this off without getting?

Shut down?

Well it has to do with the way Camel Valley.


This little 20 acre Oasis is set up in the first place.

Now, remember, the Hancock family had owned a huge chunk of lambs, which they sold off after his death.

A lot of which was incorporated into the city of Los Angeles, but this little 20-acre sliced was different because it was Unincorporated.



Now, do you know, do you know what this means?

It’s like it’s like you Paisley.

Like you’re your own thing.

You could you’re a free agent.


Even though it’s entirely surrounded by the city, which is it’s like, it’s like the Vatican.

It’s exactly like the Vatican.



And this is still the case in l.a., like they’re a bunch of unincorporated areas like, East Los Angeles is unincorporated.

Oh, yeah.

It’s so annoying.

I got robbed over there and they ride like they were Like you have to file the police complaint like where you live and it was just so complicated because they were like, yeah, LOL is weird.


Oh wow, I’m sorry to hear about that.

So yeah, I hope that was resolved.

Well, you know the thing about being unincorporated is that the LAPD does not have jurisdiction over those neighborhoods.

Yes, which is a bit of a magical power, do you know when, when you’re trying to party during prohibition?


Yeah but you know I do my suffering and getting robbed.

It’s okay if it meant that back in the day, people got to use unincorporated areas to party, you know?

Yeah, yeah.

Now it is worth noting that, that didn’t mean the place was entirely Lawless.

They were still policed by the LA County Sheriff.


But compared to the LAPD, the sheriff was pretty relaxed about booze and as clubs and bars were getting shut down in l.a. proper because of prohibition.

This little unincorporated. 20-acre, slice.

They I got all the parties but they also start to attract a different crowd.


The likes of Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen.

So these dudes are some of the most notorious gangsters on the west coast and the 1930s, okay.

I was looking like Bugsy sounds like a gangster.

Yeah Bugsy yeah.


Bugsy Siegel is like you’re going into a life of organized crime with that name.


So Camel Valley became a place of Booze gambling.

This also attract some of the best club entertainers from around the country.

There were lewd pianists.


There were strippers and for a time, one of the most popular acts was dragged.

So you’ve got drag queens and kings taking over the club scene with their underground performances and what was called the pansy craze.


I love that name.

Absolutely love that name.

I don’t want to use pride month.


I’m just going to say it’s pansy, craze month.

Yeah, happy pansy.

Craze so pansy performers there, they became like really popular in all of the big cities and they were especially popular with the celebrity crowd in Camel Valley.


So, you know, The Parting of the 20s and the 30s, the performances unfortunately does not last forever, because by the 1960s, the party seemed pretty much ends because the hippies ruined it part of it was that, you know, the gangsters who are running the gambling and stuff, they’re all killed, or arrested.



And then Vegas becomes a thing.

So it’s like, well and prohibition.

And so it’s not like it’s special anymore.


But you know, the queer people who were in Camel Valley, they were still able to benefit from this, you know, super power of being unincorporated.


Now, remember how we said that if it’s an unincorporated area, it’s the LA Sheriff’s that is sort of their jurisdiction.

Well, the sheriff didn’t really care about booze.

They also were not really focusing on arresting queer.

People did this tariff do any part of their job?


That’s what I’m wondering.

With the the fact that they’re pretty hands-off in this area ends up being beneficial to the people that live there because and cities Across America.

The police were really starting to amp up.

Crackdowns on queer people.


And La was certainly, no exception in 1963 alone.

It’s estimated that over 3,000 men were arrested for homosexual offenses.

By the LAPD, which was nearly double the arrests of just 15 years before.

So in short, you know, Campbell Valley being unincorporated allowed it to become a sort of safe haven for queer people when the government is actually cool sometimes.


Yeah, yeah.

And you know, in the coming decades this community that starts to form and Camel Valley, they would have to whether one more storm that would change this Oasis for good.

And this takes us to our final domino.

Domino number five.



So we have our tee time.

Jump so much.

Today, we’re going to do one more jump all the way to the 1980s.



Because that is, when this queer, Safe Haven is hit with a new threat, which is the AIDS crisis.

So to see that one coming honestly, yeah, that makes sense.

Yeah yeah.


Obviously it’s devastating people across the world.

But the people and the place we’re calling Camel Valley, they were hit, especially hard between 1981 and 1991.


Over 4,000 people in Camel, Valley died of AIDS, which was astonishing, because that made up, more than a quarter of the total deaths in LA county.

So, this was just really, really crushing and with all the death and illness.


There’s a devastating financial burden to this community.

Unfortunately, this This happened to also coincide with rent prices skyrocketing in the area and LA County was about to let rent control protections expire.

So it’s really like an awful awful storm of awfulness.


Yeah yeah.

So you know this community and Camel Valley including queer people and senior citizens and immigrants they team up and they decide to make it a city that way they can make their own rules, you know, do their own thing.

Do you have any guesses as to what the city is called?


I’m gonna take a guess and I’m gonna say oh, West Hollywood.

Ding ding.

Ding ding, wow, wild guess I’m gonna go West Hollywood.

Yes, on November 29th, 1984.


What we’ve been calling Camel?

Valley is officially incorporated as West Hollywood and within that very first year, the city council Established anti-discrimination laws protecting people with HIV and AIDS as well as establishing some rent control.


Thus we ho is born.

Wow, mmm.

Now Ashley for those who might not be familiar with West Hollywood, how would you describe this place?

West Hollywood?

It is one of the gayest places on Earth it is like, as a queer person.


I had the first time I went to West Hollywood.

It is just this over Humming feeling of acceptance.

I think growing up gay in the midwest.

To me it was always like, wow, West Hollywood, you know, that’s where gay actors.

Gay, celebrities could be seen.

And then you go there, and it’s just literally the streets are like, makeup rainbow.


It truly is like one of the places in the world where you don’t have to be afraid of being, queer out, and proud.

And it does feel very different from the rest of La.

Like, literally, as you’re going down, Santa Monica.

Like you see the change, like, you’re just like straight and now it’s gay.


Do you have any fun stories from?

I don’t know.

Time, spent in West Hollywood.

I mean, I spend a lot of time there.

I think even today, obviously, queerness and Allah is kind of spread their events all over, but we ho is still kind of the center of it.


I think the we hope pride parade is the most intense in the world.

I’ve gone to the one in Chicago.

I’ve gone.

The one in New York I but we hos it’s an entirely different level party be like, cardi B.

Was there this last week?

It is 0.


That is the gayest of Gay Pride parades.

Like I tell people you have to prepare like you’re going to war like break bottles of water.

Like you know, have your book bag, your fanny pack like be ready because it’s crowds and I just I love it, I guess like it’s not just the queerness I think in a lot of the history.


In stories that you mentioned even when it comes to Allah.

A lot of it is an Embrace of like counterculture and like punk rock minutes and going against the establishment.

So I think that’s clearly like tied to this history of it.

Being this like you know unincorporated like ungovernable place and I think that spirit is still alive today which is cool.


Even though you know obviously it’s also been gentrified to heck but you know I think the love and respect for Q people is still there.

Even if you do have to have a very high-end come to maintain a residence in West Hollywood.


You know, to bring it back to our little history Journey that we went on the story of West Hollywood does sort of loop back a little bit to where we began.

So, as it turns out, the city does not have an official mascot, but there is a local artist named Katie bright side, who is currently campaigning to make one.


And I mean, I feel like we know where this is going.

I haven’t you don’t proposing.

Is it a gay camel?

It something?

Yeah, it’s a camel.

I mean, if she’s to be thinking, okay, camera really.

Should I support her?

I’m on board.


Me too Sam.


Well, you know, that completes our Domino Journey for the day.

We went from the camel Corps to Hollywood party mechas and unincorporated land rights to one of the gas cities in the west.

How are you feeling about this?

This journey we went on.

It’s an incredible.


I just I had No idea.

And as someone who like I said, loves West Hollywood.

It just makes me love it.

Even more to know this cool history about it.

Alright well thanks for hanging Ashley, thank you for having me.

Not passed it as a Spotify original produced by gimlet and zsp media.


This episode was produced by Julie, Carly next week.

Join us on a tour of New York City’s queer, landmarks, as we head out into the field, sorry, to bother you.

We’re doing like a history tour and we were just wondering if you might know where audre Lorde’s house is, we don’t some the areas.



No, it’s all right.

I don’t, I probably.

Should I lived here for like 15 years?


The rest of our team is producer.

Sarah Craig, our associate producer is remotely Philip Lauren.

Newcomb is our production assistant, the supervising producer is Erica Morrison editing by Annie Gilbertson Zach, Stewart Ponte and Andrea be Scott fact-checking by Jane.


Ackerman sound design and mixing by Bobby, Lord, original music, by Sachs kicks, Ave Willie greed.

J bless and Bobby Lord, our theme song is takayama, KOCO with music supervision by Liz, Fulton, technical Direction by Zach Schmidt show art by Elysee Harvin and Talia Rahman.


The executive producer, a DSP media is Zach Stewart Ponte the executive producer from gimlet is Matt schulze.

Shoutout to John Ponder from the West Hollywood History Center.

His work helped us put this very special show together.

You can learn more at West, Hollywood, history dot-org.


And for more of Ashley raised work, you can find her on Twitter at the Ashley Ray.

That’s the with two e’s or at her website.

The Ashley r special, thanks to Colin.

Dean Kirkpatrick, Katie bright side, Rachel Kim, Justin Pollock, Katie O’Brien JTB Studios and to Lydia Pole, Green Abbie ruzicka Dan Behar Jen hon, Emily wiedemann list Styles and Joshua Bianchi followed not past it.


Now, to listen for free exclusively on Spotify, click the little bell next to the follow button to get notifications for new episodes and while you’re there, Here.

Why don’t you were at the show?

Five stars.

Come on, don’t be shy.

You can follow me on Twitter at Simone palana in.


Thanks for hanging.

We’ll see you next week.

The sounds like such a better version of l.a. just camels.

Like, getting people everywhere instead of all of the traffic and congestion of cars.