“Furniture Illegally Placed” was the headline for a musing that read: “A table, chairs, mailbox and a memorial sign were placed in the restricted entry area of the upper Via Olas bluffs on the Lombard trail going down the hill. The beach detail was asked to remove the articles, to deter homeless folks from using that area. A fire on October 8 was south of this area, but all Palisades hillsides are off limits for camping.”
Circling the News ran the photo of the memorial and the furniture and then looked up the name on the memorial and was able to track down this obituary.
OBITUARY: Wilber Allen “Jess” Sweeters
Long-time Palisadian Wilber Allen “Jess” Sweeters passed away at age 101 at home surrounded by his family on Sunday evening, December 30.
Jess was born on July 30, 1917, in Anaheim, where he spent his childhood roaming his parents’ orange groves, driving a tractor, running a paper route and as a member of the first graduating class at St. Boniface.
At Loyola High School, Jess was the school’s first boarder, and earned his keep answering the switchboard and washing cars for his beloved Jesuits. As a high school track star in the 1930s at the same time Jesse Owens was winning Olympic gold, Jess earned his life-long nickname.
At Loyola University, Jess played basketball with eventual Hall of Famers and majored in journalism and philosophy.
After graduation, Jess worked for a welding company that did big projects in LA before landing a job with the LA City Fire Department in the early 1940s.
Wartime brought his enlistment in the Coast Guard, training at the academy in New London Connecticut as an officer and navigator, and submarine-hunting in the North Atlantic. He was the only officer to see his ship, the U.S.S. Grand Rapids, both commissioned and decommissioned.
Jess returned from the war, with his lively new wife Helen Boyce from NYC, whom he met on a blind date at the Waldorf Astoria, and to the fire department.
In 1950, the couple and young family moved into the Pacific Palisades home Jess built himself with the help of his firefighter friends—and he never left.
Jess and Helen were founding members of Corpus Christi Parish. Using the G.I. bill, Jess earned a law degree on his off days.
He retired as a fire captain on a day in 1961 and started the next day as a trial attorney with the LA County District Attorney’s Office.
After retiring in 1982, Jess served several years as president of the Exceptional Children’s Foundation, and enjoyed watercolor, woodworking, travel, Loyola High alumni lunches and the company of many, especially Helen (deceased), his five children, Hank (deceased), Steve, Jim, Julianne Carney, and Maryclaire Buchanan, and his four grandchildren, Noah and Nathaniel Sweeters and Boyce and Finlay Buchanan.
Jess lived long and joyfully, and his gentle presence will be forever missed. His life was celebrated January 11 at 11 a.m. at Corpus Christi Church in Pacific Palisades.
Circling the News sent the obit to members of the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness. They alerted the beach detail to remove the furniture, but to leave the memorial.
One of the taskforce members said they had gone to school with Maryclaire, and CTN asked if there was someway to reach the family to alert them that the land was part of a park and that the memorial could be removed at any time. It was also suggested that the L.A. Parks Foundation could place a bench with a plaque for the Sweeters at the location, which would not be removed.
Then Circling the News received two letters:
You Owe an Apology:
My attention has been drawn to an article recently published on your website. The article is about a memorial plaque and some chairs that are located on the bluffs of Pacific Palisades.
First of all, I knew Helen and Jess Sweeters quite well; they are the parents of my very best friend. They built their house on the bluffs, raised their five children there, and lived as kind and generous Palisades residents for seventy years, as the plaque commemorates. I find this discrete memorial a touching tribute to their lives.
Somehow, you have conflated this gentle reminder of lives well-lived with your fear and/or dislike of the homeless. I am sure that odd conglomeration of chairs has nothing to do with the homeless. Look at the photo: where is the tent? Where are the mattresses? Where, indeed, are the homeless people? No, some Palisades residents have taken two folding chairs and a clapped-out office chair to the bluffs to enjoy the views Helen and Jess treasured for all those years. The low table? I see them enjoying themselves with a picnic and maybe a bottle of wine at sunset. And exactly how far apart are these chairs from the memorial plaque? A moment’s reflection will show you that there is no connection. Any cub reporter or junior editor would has asked these questions.
The mailbox is a bit puzzling, but I think it is just a fairly elaborate joke, perhaps about the amount of time the visitors spend basking in the beautiful bluff views. Did your ace reporter determine if mail is delivered to that box?
I think you owe the Sweeters family an apology, and a correction on your website, making clear that there is no connection between a dignified memorial plaque, a bunch of lawn furniture, and the unhoused.
“Robert—I asked our homeless task force if they had information about how to contact the Sweeters, because I was able to access the obit online, and realized they had probably been bluff residents. No one had contact info.
“The land where the memorial plaque is located (and where the furniture sits) belongs to the City – it is a City park governed by Rec and Parks. No one can put a memorial on City land, without gaining permission from the City. I suggested that if the family could be reached, they might consider a donation to put up a bench to honor the Sweeters – with a plaque through Los Angeles Parks Foundation (https://www.laparksfoundation.org/).
“There was no intention to tie the Sweeters to the homeless. The local task force (Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness) scours the hillsides to make sure there is no furniture or other objects that might be welcoming to the unhoused. The nonprofit has cleaned out so many areas, filled with all sorts of objects, that they have learned one way to discourage people moving in is to make sure that the environment is left pristine.
CTN also received a letter from daughter Maryclaire, which was forwarded to the taskforce member who knew her.
Shocked by the Reporting
We were shocked and incredibly disheartened when a family friend forwarded us the clip of our homemade family memorial that is quietly tucked away under the brush on the bluffs in Pacific Palisades. The photos in the article looked edited together with a staged looking living room set complete with a post box.
My husband and I go to those bluffs at least twice a month to think about my wonderful parents and clean up the area. We have never seen a furniture setting like that. Whatever is occasionally left around is usually left by local kids who have thrown their left over McConnell’s ice cream containers over the cliff.
My folks were one of the founding members of Corpus Christi Church and built their house two houses up from that bluff, in 1948.
They were, as Midwesterners say, pillars of the community for 70 years in every way and they deserve to be remembered with love and respect.
Maryclaire Sweeters Buchanan