Artifact Spotlight: Christmas in Los Angeles a Century Ago

From a bound volume of the December 1915 editions of the Los Angeles Tribune newspaper, we can get a good glimpse into what was going on during the holidays a century ago in articles from Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Obviously, international events were dominated by the ongoing “Great War,” known to us as World War I, which was raging throughout Europe. A somber cartoon on the Christmas Day edition of the paper captured the mood that the war had on that continent.

Closer to home, there was a variety of news that ranged from heartwarming to heartbreaking, and various points in between. For example, a string of reported burglaries on Christmas Eve in Los Angeles included the theft of not only a $150 watch from F.B. Andrews, but a duck, goose, turkey and “all the fixings” planned for the holiday feast.

Another dramatic story had to do with the Walter Banks family, who were dealing with financial problems as Mr. Banks was out of work for a period due to injury. Two days prior to Christmas, a lamp exploded in the wood-frame house sending flames racing through the dwelling. Among the losses were the Christmas tree and the few presents the family could afford. The good news, however, was that firefighter W.W. Stephens risked his life to crawl through the building and rescued a baby boy.

Charitable work was emphasized in several articles, including the Long Beach Elks lodge providing toys and candy to 200 underprivileged children; the Morosco Theater hosting a program of live entertainment for 1,200 orphaned and homeless children in Los Angeles; the Shriners presenting 300 baskets to needy families; and a donation by the United States Forestry Service of silver fir trees, decorated and accompanied by candy and goodies, for poor children in areas served by nine Los Angeles city parks. In fact, a Christmas Day program at the Plaza, the historic center of the city and a city park, was expected to draw some 15,000 visitors.

Finally, it is always fun and interesting to see advertisements from an era long removed from our own. Holiday-related ads from local department stores, like Bullock’s, the Broadway, and Hamburger’s; specialty stores for musical instruments and clothiers; and those from restaurants are among the notable ones. A particularly striking example is from The Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, suggesting that customers “extend your holiday cheer to distant relatives and friends over the lines” of the firm.

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In 2115, a local museum might take a nostalgic look back at the news and ads from our papers (maybe even the print versions) and other forms of communication and marvel at how we managed to do things in our crude era, though the theme of the holidays will still probably ring clear.


Thanks to Assistant Director Paul R. Spitzzeri for this glimpse of Christmas past.

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