No Place Like Home: Elijah H. Workman Residence, Main and 11th Streets, Los Angeles, ca. 1870

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Here’s another remarkable early Los Angeles photograph from the Homestead’s collection, being a stereoscopic image published by Henry T. Payne, but almost certainly taken by William M. Godfrey and reissued after Payne took over Godfrey’s studio and inventory.

The photo is titled “Los Angeles From the South” and looks to be from a vantage point just south of 11th Street and west of Main Street.  The house in the foreground is that of Elijah H. Workman (1835-1906), nephew of Homestead owner William Workman.

Elijah owned 40 acres there and was known to have been keenly interested in experimenting with a variety of agricultural products in his years at that site, before he moved to his brother William Henry’s new subdivision, Boyle Heights.

Elijah was born in New Franklin, Missouri to David Workman, native of northern England, and Nancy Hook, who was born in Virginia.  He was the middle of three sons and remained in central Missouri with his family until he was just shy of 19 years old.

On the invitation of his brother William, David Workman decided to relocate to the Los Angeles area and the family took the Oregon-California Trail route through the north.  It was said that when the Workmans reached Salt Lake City, they were invited by Brigham Young to stay and settle in Zion, but this was politely refused.

Upon arrival in northern California, the Workmans then made the trip down by ship to the harbor at San Pedro, where they were met by William and taken to his Rancho La Puente.  David was then immediately employed to drive cattle and sheep to the gold fields of the Sierra Nevada Mountains as an agent of his brother.

Unfortunately, in late June 1855, on one of these excursions, David was killed in an accident in which he was thrown of a steep hillside or cliff.  He was buried a few months later at the private cemetery, El Campo Santo, established by William just east of his home at La Puente.

His widow Nancy and sons then moved into Los Angeles and Elijah took up the family trade, which his father learned in England, by opening a saddlery by 1857.  He remained in this occupation for a quarter century, most of that time joined by his younger brother William Henry (the eldest son, Thomas, who worked for Phineas Banning in Wilmington, died in an explosion of one of Banning’s steamers, the Ada Hancock, in spring 1863.)

SV 12 Los Angeles From The South 2008.314.1.1
This circa 1870 stereoscopic photograph from the Homestead’s collection probably taken by William M. Godfrey and republished by his successor Henry T. Payne a couple of years later shows the residence of Elijah H. Workman, nephew of Homestead owner William Workman, at the northwest corner of Main and Eleventh streets in Los Angeles.

The Workman Brothers saddlery became a highly successful business, operating on east Main Street across from the Temple Block, owned by the son-in-law of their uncle William, and it was probably from the substantial income he earned from his enterprise that Elijah purchased the 40-acre spread and built the house shown in the photo.  After William Henry left the business by 1880, Elijah had a partner but retired within a few years.

Elijah was also active in civic service in Los Angeles.  He served four terms on the Common [City] Council between 1866 and 1875.  In 1864-1865 and in 1879-1880 he was on the Board of Education.  While on the Common Council, he was on the committee that established a new park in a growing area in the southwest of downtown that was known as Central Park.  In 1918, the park was renamed Pershing Square and for decades many of its oldest and largest trees were those planted by Workman himself.

Married and widowed three times and survived by two daughters, Elijah died at the age of 70 at his home in Boyle Heights, just over a half-century after coming to Los Angeles.

The photo shows his handsome one-story residence with a rear enclosed kitchen (note the smoke coming from the chimney in this space.)  Some of his ornamental garden is observable around the structure, while the cultivated farm portion is to the north within the fully fenced property bounded by Main Street on the east, Broadway on the west, 10th Street to the north, and 11th Street on the south.

In the distance, as Main wends its way north, just past a lone horse-driven vehicle is the split where Spring Street veers to the left at 9th Street (renamed Olympic Boulevard for the 1932 Olympic Games.)  Much of the small town of Los Angeles, with a population of roughly 6,000 persons, is in view.

In fact, looking straight behind the peak of the roof of Elijah’s home in the distance is the white clocktower of the Market House, built by Jonathan Temple in 1859 as a commercial structure.  With a slumbering economy, though, the building was leased to the city and county and became city hall, the office of the county supervisors, and the county courthouse.

To the far left appears to be St. Vincent’s College, highlighted in a recent post on this blog, which was situated near the Central Park that was quite new when this photo was taken.  The hills west of the old downtown, including Fort Moore Hill and Poundcake Hill, are at the upper left, while what looks to be the Verdugo Mountains near modern Glendale are further off in the distance.

This very early photo and a rare one from the vantage point of the south–most images tended to be taken from the hills west of town–gives us a glimpse of a Los Angeles in the early stages of a transition from a remote frontier town to a small, emerging city.

Meanwhile, click here for a Google Maps view of what the northwest corner of Main and 11th streets looks like today!

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