me in my Marta-made bathing suit
Among Newhall California residents in the 1960s and 70s was a unique woman named Marta, aka "the bathing suit lady." Marta lived on a side-street near the downtown section of Newhall, in a . . . I almost want to say 'shed' . . . house is not quite the word for where she lived. It wasn't a trailer either, just a very tiny dwelling hardly bigger than my front hallway. There was no kept yard around her place, only an enormous ancient tree that draped over her dwelling like a gargantuan umbrella.
Everyone in town who had a teenage girl knew Marta for only one reason: she was the bathing suit lady. She sewed bikini bathing suits for teens for a very cheap price. She did not advertise and hung out no shingle. Her fame was spread by word of mouth. I doubt she even had a telephone. When we wanted a suit we knocked on her door, and when she opened it you were bowled over by the reek of cigarette smoke, and then invited in to conduct the business.
Marta's rules were that you could bring your own fabric for the suit, and a half yard of cheap cotton yardage from Hubbard's Dry Goods sufficed. Hubbard's was located on San Fernando Road, conveniently just a couple blocks from Marta's. OR. You could pick from the fabric she had on hand, in which case the swim suits cost 50 cents more. Her stash of fabric was endless. The pieces were scraps saved from when she worked in a sewing factory in her previous life. A vague recollection tells me that she once worked for Jantzen swim suits, but I don't really know. Sadly, none of us took the time to get acquainted with Marta, and you know, she was all business and didn't seem to care about becoming friends.
Her price was $4 per suit with her fabric, and $3.50 with your own. When we went to pick up a finished swim suit, it was nicely hung on a hanger over a nail in the wall, with a piece of paper pinned to it listing the new owner. I wonder now what she did with the dollars she earned. In her itty-bitty place there was a bed and a sewing machine. Her spare floor space consisted of a 4-foot square area just inside the door where you stood while she took your measurements and your order. No home improvements in sight.
I recently had an online conversation on a Facebook page for my high school class. It was fun to hear what women remembered about the bathing suit lady. None of them know what happened to her, but they sure as shootin' remember her bathing suits:
"Yes yes yes! The bathing suit lady. I got a yellow with little red flowers. Loved it. Her place was little and piled high with fabric." (Ann)
"I went there and had 2 or 3 bikinis made. Old Orchard 1 pool baby !" (Rhonda)
"Her house was an old one I want to say near Hart Park and yes it smelled like smoke. Funny when I read these comments a picture of that area popped in my head." (Debi)
"I remember "bathing suit lady" - and being very shy when she didn't turn her back while I was trying on my purple suit! Somewhere in Newhall, in a tiny house." (Sylvia)
"Totally remember her. I would go there with Jill. It was kind of weird. The lady never really said too much. You picked out your fabric of choice and then brought it to her little tiny house about the size of a small trailer, right? Near Hart Park, off Newhall Avenue somewhere. You would pull samples out of a box to make sure of the size you needed. It was kinda creepy changing in front of her. There was a name sign in front of her house that said "MART". You would come back in about a week, and your suit was ready. This is so cool and so weird, but what a memory. Guys wouldn't understand.... My first suit was a solid bright yellow. Then I got a blue and white printed one." (Jill)
"My bathing suit was Hawaiian print and I kept it for years." (Elsie)
"Haaa!!! Mine was pink and white check!!!" (Denise)
"The house was super small." (Cheryl)
"I would like to think after these comments and countless others who had suits made by her, we aided her in a comfortable retirement. Good times!!!" (Terri)
I would like to think that too, Terri. Cheers to Marta for brightening our lives just a bit.