Henry J. Kaiser may have been a bold man of action and an international industrialist leader, but he was also a devoted husband. So it should come as no surprise that he was perfectly happy to break with 1950s gender-stereotyped gift giving by buying his wife a pink truck for Christmas.
Kaiser and his second wife Alyce “Ale” moved to Hawaii in 1954, where they enjoyed the island life until Henry died on August 24, 1967 at the age of 85. Alyce’s favorite color was pink, which was the reason why some of the Kaiser facilities in Hawaii are pink. Not just any pink, “Kaiser Pink.”
It had all started when ordering custom-dyed leather for furniture in his Hawaiian Village Hotel. What was supposed to be a mild coral pink showed up a far deeper hue. Too late to change for the opening, the color proved to be a popular hit.
Henry declared that “Pink is a happy color,” and he and Ale proceeded to use it for everything, from building trim, to cement trucks, to catamarans. It was even rumored that Ale once dyed her poodles. And oh, by the way, since it turned out that Ale also liked trucks…
This Christmas story from 1958, written by a Kaiser Industries public affairs person, is a window into their personal life.
Mrs. Henry J. Kaiser started a while back letting the word get back to her industrialist husband that what she wanted most for Christmas this year was – a truck.
At first, Mr. Kaiser couldn’t believe it. One night he exclaimed at dinner table, “I guess I’m being kidded … Everyone in the house seems to think your heart’s desire for Christmas is a powerful truck.”
“But it is – really!” Mrs. Kaiser declared.
“Now what on earth would you do with a truck?” asked Mr. Kaiser, who manufactures Willys Jeep trucks in the United States, Argentina, and Brazil. [The year before moving to Hawaii, the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation had purchased Jeep manufacturer Willys-Overland for approximately $60 million. It would remain under Kaiser Industries control until 1970.]
“It would be great,” Mrs. Kaiser explained, “if I had a truck to haul landscaping plants and gardening supplies when we build our new Portlock Road house. Think of all the uses.”
“Now wouldn’t that be a sight when the family gathers at the Christmas tree and opens packages,” Mr. Kaiser remonstrated, “and I’d say – ‘now come out to the garage, Ale, and see your present’ – and there’d be a pink truck wrapped in cellophane.”
“Just the same,” Mrs. Kaiser replied, “that’s what I want for Christmas.”
So that’s the story-behind-the-story of the Kaiser Pink truck that created something of a sensation among Honolulu people who saw it lowered from the S.S. Leilani, or rolling over to the Von-Hamm-Young Company Jeep distributorship and then out to the Kaiser Kahala avenue house.
The Kaiser gift to his wife is the new Forward Control Jeep FC-170 that can carry 3,500 pounds of cargo on its nine-foot truck body. Mr. Kaiser explained that the 1,700-pound heavy-duty vehicle has nine forward and three reverse power combinations.
Mrs. Kaiser forthwith took the powerful Jeep out for a rigorous drive. She came back beaming.
“It’s a living doll,” she exclaimed. “It’s the most useful Christmas present you could have – simply terrific.”
P.S. – Mr. Kaiser, who thought he was going along with a gag, had another present wrapped and under the Christmas tree for his wife, but decided she wasn’t joking – she obviously was so overjoyed over getting her wish – the pink truck.
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It wasn’t a movie premiere, but a modern, gleaming building with the latest in medical capabilities that brought out the who’s who of Los Angeles – real estate developers, hospital administrators, labor leaders, and politicians – in late 1951.
When the new Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard opened its doors on June 17, 1953, it was national news. It had numerous modern features, and was a milestone in the health plan’s expansion in Southern California. Years before he became a famous TV news anchor, Chet Huntley’s radio broadcast about the opening gushed “The use of labor-saving devices, the use of light (both natural and artificial), the furnishings, the gadgets, the décor, and the personnel are all combined to make the new Kaiser Foundation Hospital something special.”
A recently processed trove of photographs of the hospital’s 1951 groundbreaking, with extended captions and a press release, shows us more about the political and urban environmental climate of Los Angeles at that time.
The corner of Sunset Boulevard and Edgemont Street certainly looks different now. Back then, it was surrounded by small two-story buildings and adjacent to the forested Barnsdall Park on Olive Hill. The Park was the former estate of Aline Barnsdall, who donated it to the city of Los Angeles and hired noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1917 to design an extensive complex of structures. It was never completed, but the site still exists as a cultural and arts center.
The commitment to building a new hospital was a major event that included the participation of Los Angeles heavy hitters – real estate developers, hospital administrators, labor leaders, and politicians.
The press release accompanying captioned photos of the ceremonial groundbreaking November 7, 1951, told us the key facts:
City officials and heads of other hospitals in Los Angeles extended their welcome to the Permanente Foundation’s new $2,500,000 hospital at ground-breaking ceremonies Wednesday afternoon, November 7, on the northeast corner of Sunset Boulevard and Edgemont Street.
Adjacent to Barnsdall Park, historic landmark of the city, the new hospital will consist of a seven-story building with 210 beds and complete surgical, obstetrical, laboratory, x-ray, pharmaceutical and emergency facilities.
The hospital, which is being built by the Foundation to help alleviate the critical need for additional hospital beds and service in the Los Angeles area, was welcomed at the ceremonies by City Councilman Ernest Debs, Methodist Hospital Administrator Walter Hoefflin, Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital Administrator Paul C. Elliot, and Cedars of Lebanon Hospital Administrator Emanuel Weisberger.
Others participating in the ceremonies were realtor Lawrence Block, who negotiated the Foundation purchase of the hospital property; Permanente Foundation Controller Paul J. Steil, and Brian M. Kelly, Permanente Health Plan Manager.
Representing employment groups, whose participating membership in the Permanente Health Plan now totals approximately 50,000, were Joseph T. DeSilva, secretary, and Lee Barbone, president, Retail Clerks Union, Local 770, Los Angeles; A. A. Carpenter, United Steel Workers of America, Local 1845, Maywood, and W. L. Emblen, Permanente Health Plan Representative at Kaiser Steel in Fontana.
Employers’ representatives attending the ground-breaking included O. G. Lawton, president of the Food Employers’ Council.
The Permanente Foundation Hospital, designed by the Portland architectural firm of Wolff and Phillips, is slated for completion by Fall of 1952. C. L. Peck of Los Angeles is the general contractor.
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