Ballona Institute
Los Angeles, California
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Steve Glassell, Los Angeles Marine Invertebrate Zoologist:
Carcinologist of Pacific Seashores from 1930s to 1940s

"Roy" Robert Jan van de Hoek
Biogeographer, Environmental Historian, and Conservation Biologist
Ballona Institute

Los Angeles (Playa del Rey), California 90293

December 28, 2009

Steve Glassell (1884-1948) was a resident of Los Angeles County, California. He was a businessman in Beverly Hills (9533 Santa Monica Boulevard). Many letters were written to that address by Ed Ricketts, from his home and business at Cannery Row (Pacific Biological Laboratories). In 2009, 60 years later, this site is the location of a pizza restaraunt named Frankie and Johnnie's New York Pizza. The building and its architecture is still in its historic character of the 1930s and 1940s, during which time Steve Glassell did his important research and writing on the marine life of the Pacific Coast. His studies focused on both California and Mexico, including Baja California and the Sea of Cortez.

It would be nice for the public and the owner of "Frankie and Johnnie's" to know the history of the Steve Glassell Historical Building and Dr. Glassell. It would be interesting to gather marine biologists and zoologizts together to have some pizza, with a glass of beer, together with some historians, conservationists, and naturalist friends, in order to contemplate and acknowledge that a unique carcinologist, marine biologist and invertebrate zoologist, did all of his major writing and research as contributions to science and natural history at 9533 Santa Monica Boulevard. It is an imortant part of the early history of Beverly Hills. In addition, the building is important in the regional history of Los Angeles County and the State of California, but also nationally. For example, Steve Glassell correspondend with at least 27 distinguished scientists and donated specimens to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. The Smithsonian Institution has archived several hundred letters and specimens collected by Steve Glassell, from more than 50 years ago.

Interestingly, Steve Glassell also had another mailing address (likely a home or second business) nearby in Beverly Hills (315 North Crescent Drive), known only because of a letter addressed there, "Doc" Ed Ricketts (October 18, 1940). This building has been demolished and a new building is in its place, so the history of Steve Glassell cannot be preseved at that location, except for possibly an interpretative display at the business, or a plaque on the building.

In 1929, rather late in life, at 45 years old, as a resident of Beverly Hills, Steve Glassell became a member of a scientific bird organization known as the Cooper Ornithological Club. Steve Glassell continued as a member for at least 9 years until 1938 (Grinnell, 1938, Condor 40:133-148).

In 1930, just a year later, Steve Glassell was a participant at a meeting in Los Angeles of the California Historical Society, but it is not clear if he continued his interest in history or became a member (California Historical Society, Minutes of 1930).

In 1931, at 47 years old, Steve Glassell, at Christmas during late December, was on a yacht cruising alongshore at Magdalena Bay in southern Baja. It appears that Steve Glassell was aboard the first yacht owned by John Roy Pemberton. Steve Glassell collected crabs and other marine life there. A few days later, the yacht rounded the Cape San Lucas and entered the Sea of Cortez. One of the islands in the Gulf of California, that Steve Glassell explored was "Isla Tiburon" where he observed and collected additional crabs and marine life. Steve Glassell also visited a "safe harbor" in the Sea of Cortez named Puerto Escondido. What other locations did Steve Glassell visit in the Sea of Cortez? It is a mystery at this time to this writer.

In 1938, at 53 years old, Steve Glassell again went on a journey and adventure in a yacht for 3 months, from January to March, 1938. The yacht was the "Kinkayou" named by John Roy Pemberton for a small primate mammal of the Mexico and Central America. The yacht was owned by John Roy Pemberton of Pasadena and Los Angeles, California. The voyage visited many islands of Mexico as well as several places on the Mexican coast. George Willett, curator of birds (Ornithology) from the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. There were likely other naturalists and scientists on the journey, not to mention John Roy Pemberton, who himself was an expert on birds. Some of the places visited included Magdalena Bay, Isabel Island, Cleopha Island, Socorro Island, San Beneditto Island, the San Benedictos Islands, as well as coast of the Mexican states of Jalisco and Oaxaca. There is a quote from the biography of George Willett (Howard 1946: 64), written by Hildegarde Howard (Paleontologist of the Los Angeles County of Museum of Natural History), for the scientific journal, Condor (Volume 48, pages 49 to 70) as follows:

"Between landings, Willett and Steve Glassell, dressed only in shorts and hat, carried on dredging operations which netted a good collection of crabs, mollusks, and other types of marine creatures."

From that quoted passage, we see that Steve Glassell was very active, even at 53, agile enough to be able to do dredging with George Willett, also in his 50s, and both of them enjoying the tropical waters, even in winter in Mexico, stripped down to short pants. The quote shows a glimpse, just briefly the human dimension of a businessman from Beverly Hills in the 1930s Great Depression.

It's obvious that Steve Glassell was on his way to becoming a leading carcinologist (crab biologist) and scientific naturalist with a keen interest in the natural history of the seashore of the Pacific Ocean. His scientific research focus continued in crabs for another 17 years, particularly porcelain crabs and hermit crabs, until his death in 1948 at only 64 years.

At about the same time of these two voyages of 1931 and 1937, Steve Glassell was asked to assist with the taxonomy of a group of crabs that were observed and collected by Jocelyn Crane (1937: 47-77). Ms. Crane was on a journey of adventure aboard the Zaca, which was called the Templeton Crocker Expedition, named for its captain. The Zaca was owned by the infamous William Beebe, associated with the New York Zoological Society. Beebe wrote a book about the expedition, titled as The Zaca Adventure. The results of the discoveries of marine life were published in several issues of Zoologica. All together now, by the mid-1930s, Steve Glassell (1936: 213-218) described 7 new species of crabs that were collected on this expedition. The specimens of marine life were observed by microscope, notes taken, and then finally articulated in written format for publication from his business in Beverly Hills, California. Although, technically, he was affiliated as a "Research Associate" at the San Diego Museum of Natural History, it was merely a title for publishing his science and natural history, but the real work occurred from his Beverly Hills business, where a lab and writing space existed. It is not unlike the situation for Ed Ricketts, who did his real work from his home and lab at Cannery Row, in Monterey, California. It is at Cannery Row, that Between Pacific Tides was written, as well as Sea of Cortez and his many unpublished essays on philosophy and poetry.

Quoted below is a very nice statement by Jocelyn Crane (1937: 50) that acknowledges Steve Glassell for his assistance with the museum collection of marine invertebrates:

" My sincere thanks are due to Mr. Steve A. Glassell of the San Diego Society of Natural History for his descriptions of the 6 new species mentioned above, and for the identification of several puzzling series of specimens; to Mr. Templeton Crocker for giving me the opportunity of studying these interesting crustaceans in the field, and to Dr. William Beebe for entrusting the collection to me and for supervising the entire study."

Printed below is list of the 7 species that Steve Glassell named as new to science, and collected by Jocelyn Crane, while aboard the "Zaca" which was captained by Templeton Crocker, and under supevision of William Beebe:

1. Mithrix mexicanus Glassell, 1936. [named for Mexico];
2. Stenocionops beebei Glassell, 1936. [named for William Beebe];
3. Actaea crockeri Glassell, 1936. [named for Templeton Crocker];
4. Pilumnsu pelagius Glassell, 1936. [named for open water?];
5. Chasmocarcinus ferrugineus Glassell, 1936. [named for red legs];
6. Cymopolia zacae Glassell, 1936. [named for the "Zaca" boat];
7. Cymopolia cortezi Glassell, 1937. [named for "Sea of Cortez"].

Steve Glassell was a self-taught carcinologist as an unpaid expert volunteer, with a title of research associate at the San Diego Natural History Museum. After Steve Glassell, at least four species of crabs were named for him in recognition of his contributions, two of these species were named by two women biological scientists. Janet Haig named a porcelain crab for Steve Glassell as follows: Petrolisthes glasselli Haig. And Mary Wicksten named a crab for Steve Glassell as follows: Glassella costaricana (Wicketen, 1982). In addition, John Garth, carcinologist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles (USC) named two species for Steve Glassell. Thus, at this time, at least four species of crabs are named for Steve Glassell.

However, Steve Glassell discovered many more new species, estimated at over 100 in total. Many of the new species discovered by Steve Glassell are given interesting names with stories behind them. Listed below is a preliminary list of some of those interesting names:

Pinnixia pembertoni Glassell 1935. Named for John Roy Pemberton, who owned a yacht, studied birds, and had Steve Glassell as a guest on a cruise in 1931 to Magdalena Bay and the Gulf of California. Steve found several new species of crabs on that cruise.

Pinnixia huffmani Glassell 1935. Steve wrote: "Dedicated to Mr. Earl C. Huffman, of Pasadena, California, conchologist, and a companion on many a mile of mud and sand."

Petrolisthes cabrilloi Glassell 1945. First discovered in Los Angeles County at Cabrillo Beach near San Pedro?

Petrolisthes manimaculis Glassell 1945. Occurs from Bodega Bay to Punta Eugenia according to Brusca (1980).

Orthochela pumila Glassell. An obligate on gorgonian coral (Brusca, 1980:267).

Petrolisthes schmitti Glassell. Named for colleague, Waldo Schmitt of Smithsonian Institution.

Petrolisthes tiburonensis Glassell. Name for Tiburon Island in Sea of Cortez.

Petrolisthes sanfelipensis Glassell. Steve Glassell discovered this porcelain crab at San Felipe (Baja).

Pachycheles marcortezensis Glassell. Named beautifully for the Sea of Cortez.

Porcellana paguriconviva Glassell. So named as this crab lives with a hermit crab in its shell.

Megalobrachium smithi Glassell. Named for Captain Fred Smith?

Ulloaia perpusillia Glassell 1938. Ulloaia was a spanish explorer of 400 years ago. Discovered at Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point), Sonora, Mexico, on April 12, 1937.

Polyonyx quadriungulatus Glassell 1935. This crab was found at Puerto Penasco by Richard Brusca (1980).

Paguristes anahuacas Glassell 1938. Steve said: "The name of this species is taken from a Nahuatl word signifying "within the water." Nahuatl people are Native Aztec Indians of Mexico.

Minyocerus kirki Glassell 1938. "The proposed species is name for my worthy friend Mr. William A. Kirk, of Los Angeles, California, who accompanied me to the Gulf of California, and made the discovery of this obscure little anomuran." This hermit crab. This small crab was collected from a sea star, Luidia columbia (Gray) by Steve Glassell on May 11, 1937. It was collected at San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico. Steve Glassell states that William A. Kirk made a field sketch that shows its colors in life with following colors of white, yellow, blue, green, and brown.

From the 1930s through the 1940s, Steve Glassell corresponded with approximately 26 notable scientists, including Edward Ricketts, George MacGinitie, and many others, at univerities, marine biology field stations, the Smithsonian Institution, and the United States National Museum.

During the time of writing the monumental book entitled the "Sea of Cortez" by John Steinbeck and Edward Ricketts, there was good correspondence between Ed and Steve, which found its way into the book as personal communication. Several times in the Appendix to the Sea of Cortez, John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts acknowledge Steve Glassell. Here are several quotes by Steinbeck and Ricketts (1941: 441, 444, 453).

Page 441. "Acknowledgment: For determinations of the decapods as a whole, we are indebted to Dr. Waldo L. Schmitt of the U. S. National Museum, and to Mr. Steve Glassell of Beverly Hills, California. Detailed acknowledgements will be found under the separate sections.""

Page 444. "Acknowlegment: For identifying a few macrurous forms, we have to thank Steve Glassell of Beverly Hills, California."

Page 453. "Acknowlegment: For determining our Anomura material, for help with the literature and for other assistances, and for checking over this portion of the phyletic catalogue we have to thank Steve A. Glassell of Beverly Hills, California."

All together, Steinbeck and Ricketts (1941) cite 13 articles written about crabs from the Sea of Cortez.

In a recent biography of the "life and times" of Ed Ricketts via his essays, journals, and travelogues, compiled by Katharine Rodger, and entitled Breaking Through, we see that Ed Ricketts wrote about Steve Glassell in his unpublished journal notebooks, while Ed was in Canada on Vancouver Island, just a couple of years before the death of both Steve Glassell and Ed Ricketts. Printed here from Ricketts' "Outer Shores Transcript" by Rodger (2006: 280) is a quote about Steve Glassell by Ed Ricketts from his notebooks:

"Glassell says that, in Petrolisthes cinctipes, the color [at] the base of the moveable finger of the cheliped, when opened, is a deep rich red; of eriomerus, blue. According to this, all the porcelain crabs at the 5' level here are cinctipes, same as we get at Monterey.".

Perhaps the most intriguing example of the relationship between Ed Ricketts and Steve Glassell relates to the Fiddler Crab. The Fiddler Crab came into a fascinating conversation by personal communication between Ed and Steve. Here is a quote from Steinbeck and Ricketts (1941:475) as follows:

In a personal communication, Glassell differentiates from the similar U. musica: "crenulata has red cheliped at base underneath, is highest up on the Gulf shores and does go down into musica's zone. Musica is not in California (as reported in the literature) but is common in Gulf in sand mid-tidal to upper third, and has no permanent burrow (whereas crenulata has); the male is purple, and smaller than crenulata and does not come up in crenulata's zone."

Here is another quote by Steinbeck and Ricketts (1941:475) regarding the Fiddler Crab, this time about its northern distributional limit in Los Angeles County (Malibu) and adjoining Ventura County (Mugu). Please note the spelling of Mugu by Steinbeck and Ricketts as "Magu" which was a common practice of spelling at that time:

"In a personal communication, Glassell notes the northern limit as Magu Slough, north of Malibu Beach."

Today, we know the northern limit to be in Los Angeles County at Del Rey Lagoon in Playa del Rey, formerly known as Ballona Lagoon until 1901, and in a portion of the adjoining Venice Canals, now restored and preserved as the Ballona Lagoon Marine Preserve by the City of Los Angeles. The Ballona Institute is the leading research and educational organization working for the conservation, preservation, and restoration (CPR) for this delicate estuarine lagoon ecosystem in urbanized Los Angeles.

Some naturalists still believe that Ventura and Santa Barbara County is the northern distributional limit for the Fiddler Crab, but this is not true because only single individuals have been recorded in warm El Nino ocean temperature years, when the young fiddler crabs drifts northward in the plankton. However, these individuals quickly perish from the estuaries at Mugu and Carpinteria and Goleta, never establishing a permanent population. Apparently, the physical conditions, namely temperature, are cooler than in Los Angeles, at Playa del Rey and Venice, where the true northern limit of this fascinating tropical crab now is holding on to a precarious existence in the midst of the great urban expanse of roughly 8 million humans in Los Angeles County.

In an article on new crabs of Mexico, Glassell (1938) acknowledged two of his friends from Beverly Hills, where he too was from. They are William Kirk and Anker Petersen. Steve named a species for William Kirk, but he thanked Anker Peterson for his excellent artwork. The quote by Steve Glassell is worthy of reprinting here as important history:

"To Mr. Anker Petersen of Beverly Hills, California, who has given his own time and means to the drawing of the plates, I can but offer my thanks, with the full knowledge that his contribution isg greater than my own."

More than a decade after Steve Glassell passed away (1948), the distinguished scientist, John Garth (1960: 105), at the University of Southern California (USC) and the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, acknowledged the prescience of Steve Glassell. John Garth did it in the scientific peer-reviewed journal, known as Systematic Zoology, volume 9, pages 105-123. The quote is reprinted below as follows:

"The affinities of the brachyuran fauna of the Gulf of California were studied by the late Steve A. Glassell (1934) ... His personal collecting activities in the Gulf of California and at Magdalena Bay during the 1931 - 1933 period however accounted for 112 species; cancroid crabs 47, grapsoid crabs 32, spider crabs 33, or 56% ..."

There is one long sentence that John Garth believed was significant enough that John Garth (1960: 105) quoted Steve Glassell (1934: 296-302) directly as follows:

"... in general it is in the Gulf of California that the tropical spcies make their most northerly advance on the Pacific coast of North America, although of course a few species have their most northern limits far north of the Gulf."

This brief biographical note about some of the "life and times" of Steve Glassell is just a beginning and I hope to write more about Steve Glassell so that he will no longer be a forgotten invertebrate zoologist and marine naturalist of Los Angeles, who observed and described the biology of marine life in both California and Mexico. If anyone has a story or further information about Steve Glassell, it would be appreciated if you would please contact me.

Glassell, S. A. 1933. Notes on Parapinnixia affinis Holmes and its allies. Transactions of the San Diego Society of Natural History, Volume 7, Number 27, pages 319-330. [Ed Ricketts annotated this citation in Steinbeck and Ricketts (1941:462) as follows: "Holmes original description reprinted. A pea-crab from southern California - which may represent its northern limit as a possible Panamic form - commensal in Amphitrite tube. A redescription also for Lockington's P. nitida, from specimens found at San Felipe in the Gulf, and Magdalena Bay. Good toto-drawings." Also note that Ed Ricketts knew the breadth of "ecology" and used the term "ecological" 70 years ago regarding the relationship of a pea crab and a tube worm in Ricketts and Calvin (1939) as follows: "Of other worms, there are forms mentioned ... as occurring higher up, and, at Newport Bay, a plumed tube worm, Terebella californica. This is interesting because it very commonly harbors a commensal crab, Parapinnixia affinis, formerly known from a single specimen only. Here is another example of the fact that, once the ecological station of an animal is known, it can be taken at will."].

Glassell, S. A. 1934. Affinities of the brachyuran fauna of the Gulf of California. Journal of Washington Academy of Sciences, Volume 24, Number 7, pages 296-302. [Ed Ricketts annotated this citation in Steinbeck and Ricketts (1941:463) as follows: "Geographic distribution list of 197 spp. of Brachyura (excluding oxystomatous and dromiaceus crabs) known from the Gulf; 48% of which are intrusions from waters south of a line drawn from Cape San Lucas to Mazatlan; 40% are indigenous; and 12% are intrusions from waters north of Magdalena Bay."].

Glassell, S. A. 1934. Some corrections needed in recent carcinological literature. San Diego Society of Natural History Transactions, volume 7, pages 453-454. [This citation is included in Brusca (1980:480) but was not found in Steinbeck and Ricketts (1941). Although a very short 2 page article, it is an important correction note.].

Glassell, S. A. 1935. NEW OR LITTLE KNOWN CRABS FROM THE PACIFIC COAST OF NORTHERN MEXICO. Transactions of the San Diego Society of Natural History, Volume 8, Number 14 pages 91-106.

Glassell, S. A. 1935. Three new species of Pinnixia from the Gulf of California. Transactions of the San Diego Society of Natural History, Volume 8, pages 13-14. [Ed Ricketts annotated this citation in Steinbeck and Ricketts (1941:463) as follows: "Shore at San Felipe. Preliminary descriptions only; no figures."].

Glassell, S. A. 1936. Six new brachyuran crabs from the Gulf of California. Zoologica 21:213-218. [Steve Glassell describes marine life collected by the famous Beebe of New York and his boat expeditions to the tropics].

Glassell, S. A. 1938. New and Obscure Decapod Crustacea from the West American Coast. Transactions of the San Diego Society of Natural History, Volume 8, Number 33, pages 411-454. [This research paper reports 13 new species and combinations, as well as two new genera. The article also demonstrates that Steve Glassell traveled from 1931 to 1937 in Baja California and Sonora, Mexico. He visited San Felipe, Puerto Penasco, and Puerto Escondido, where he did his collecting and observing of marine life.].

Glassell, S. A. 1945. Four new species of North American Crabs of the genus Petrolisthes. Journal of Washington Academy of Sciences, volume 35, Number 7, pages 223-229.

Brusca, Richard C. 1980. Common Intertidal Invertebrates of the Gulf of California. Univeristy of Arizona Press, Tucson. 513 pages.

Ricketts, Edward, and Jack Calvin. 1939. Between Pacific Tides. Stanford University Press.

Rodger, Katharine. 2007. Breaking Through: Essays, Journals, and Travelogues of Edward F. Ricketts. University of California Press. 348pp.

Steinbeck, John, and Edward Ricketts. 1941. Sea of Cortez. Paul Appel, Mount Vernon, New York. 598 pp.