In the Pipeline: Journey through Hollywood to H.B.

December 10, 2012|By Chris Epting
(Courtesy CHRIS…)

When I walk at the Bolsa Chica wetlands I rarely wear a watch. That's because of the fire station located across from where I park at Warner Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway. There's a large sundial on the side of the building and so that's how I measure time while I'm there.

Warner Fire Station 7 opened in 1977, and the sundial was merely a novel idea the architect, Dick Tom, had when he designed the station. He explained this to me as we sat on the deck of his home in Huntington Harbour the other night, as multi-colored lights from the annual boat parade, now in its 50th year, reflected in the black water.

To the music of the light-festooned passing vessels, he told me all about other buildings he designed in the area, including banks and other fire stations. But we also got to talking about Tom's earlier life, which prompted a move inside their cozy home (which he designed in 1972) to look at some photos.


There, both he and his lovely wife, Marilynn (whose wonderful paintings, sculptures and other handmade works of art adorn walls, shelves and other spaces not taken up with pictures of their daughters and grandchildren) took my family on a journey back in time, to Los Angeles in the early 1930s.

The Chinese-American Tom, then known as Layne Tom Jr., was born and lived right by the USC campus (where one day he would go to school for architecture). But as a child in the '30s, his mom got him singing, music and acting lessons in the hope that he might be cast in Hollywood as a child actor.

And that's how he became "Son #3" in the famous Charlie Chan film series staring first with 1937's "Charlie Chan at the Olympics." Chan, the fictional Chinese-American detective character popularized by Warner Oland, was wildly popular at the time, and so it was a major achievement for the young actor. But that was just the beginning.

From there he landed a major role (that of "Mako") in the Oscar-winning epic, "The Hurricane," with Jon Hall, Dorothy Lamour and Mary Astor (among others). He was in "The Stowaway" with Shirley Temple, "San Francisco" with Clark Gable and "Pork Chop Hill" with Gregory Peck.

As he got older he played older sons within the Charlie Chan series along with other roles on the big screen. Then he enlisted in the Navy, and came home after two years on an aircraft carrier to go to college at USC.

And 62 years ago, he married Marilynn.

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