by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Some recent posts here detailed the precarious financial situation in Los Angeles during the last few months of 1875, when the Temple and Workman bank, stricken by a run during a financial panic in late August, was able to reopen with borrowed funds from Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin. Times were precarious for the bank and the city, to say the least.
A year prior, the situation was entirely different. The city was riding a wave of growth and development that began in the late 1860s and there didn’t seem to be an end to the good times. Much of this is reflected in the boosterism promoted in the pages of the press.
Today’s example is the 10 December 1874 issue of the Los Angeles Herald. For example, real estate was one of those hot industries in the region, as many of the ranchos granted in the Spanish and Mexican eras were being sold, foreclosed upon or otherwise transferred to new owners, who were often eager to subdivide them to meet the demand of the market.
Two of these were the ranchos Aguaje de Centinela and Sausal Redondo, where places such as Inglewood, Westchester, El Segundo, Hermosa Beach, and Manhattan Beach are now. The ranches were purchased by Robert Burnett, a Scottish nobleman who then leased the ranches to Daniel Freeman. In 1873, Freeman formed a syndicate of investors, two of whom were William Workman and his son-in-law, F.P.F. Temple, co-owners of the Temple and Workman bank. The group then incorporated the Centinela Land Company and began its plans for selling off subdivided parcels from the ranchos.
A major sale over the course of several days in January was advertised in this issue and there was also a lengthy article promoting the town by J. Ross Browne, a noted booster of California who was often hired to write such pieces. His piece was rather typical of such efforts, promoting the ideal conditions of climate, soil, water with which “solid business men of high standing [are] amply able to carry out what they undertake.” At the end, Browne stated “we want five millions of good, honest settlers within our [state] borders,” and even he might be stunned to see the tens of millions who live in California now.
While the Centinela sale did take place and appears to have been a decent success, the townsite project, which included a proposed railroad from Los Angeles and a wharf, was dashed with the economic disaster than came about in 1875-76. Freeman was able to develop another project in the area during the Boom of the 1880s, though much of the land was sold off to others.
Another major enterprise underway in Los Angeles was the planning of the second local railroad, following the Los Angeles and San Pedro, which was discussed here recently. F.P.F. Temple and others formed the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad in 1874 with the intent to build the line from the city to the Inyo County silver mining region, with the county seat at Independence as the terminus.
At about the time of this issue of the Herald, however, it was apparent that local funds were not sufficient to carry out the endeavor and outside support was solicited. Nevada Senator John P. Jones, who was a mining magnate, jumped in because he’d recently taken on a seaside development project called Santa Monica. Jones assumed the presidency of the railroad from Temple, who transitioned to being treasurer, and insisted that the first leg of the railroad be from Los Angeles to Santa Monica.
In this issue was an advertisement and a short encouraging article from the Herald calling upon citizens of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Inyo counties, through which the line would run to attend a mass meeting on the 12th at the courthouse (built in 1859 by Temple’s brother, Jonathan as a commercial building, but which became city and county offices and the courthouse shortly afterward.)
While later in 1875, the LA&I did build the Santa Monica line and had a fancy depot southeast of downtown, its ambitious effort to build to Inyo County was ended with the financial meltdown that followed.
Other articles of note concerned the need for a better management of water in Los Angeles through a commission and statistics regarding Los Angeles county schools, both of which indicated the growing, but still insufficient, importance of publicly-funded or managed works within the region.
The school information is particularly interesting, as the intent clearly was to show that, Los Angeles lagged behding other similarly populous counties in California. Even though wages paid were close to the other jurisdictions, such elements as taxes collected, apportionment from the county and state, numbers of children of school age enrolled in schools, number of months in the school year and so on, demonstrated problems with local schools.
It is always interesting to see the advertisements and public and private notices placed in newspapers. Being December, there were several ads from Los Angeles stores pushing holiday inventory for readers and shoppers.
The example above from Herzog and Roth’s “The People’s Palace” on Main Street had a distinctive promotion, in which it gave Christmas presents to shoppers who purchased at least $5 worth of goods from the store, with the maximum value of these gifts to be $50 and including “Japanese articles, such as cabinets, work boxes, trays, jewel boxes, writing desks, dressing cases, etc.” The offer was good through Christmas Eve.
With real estate being a booming business, there were several ads by brokers offering properties and houses in the city and outlying areas. The example here is from James M. Baldwin and his partner, Charles E. Beane (who was formerly proprietor of the defunct Los Angeles News), and included land in Azusa at $30 an acre, farm land near the new town of Downey, grape and orange orchard property, a 20-acre lot for $3,500 in Anaheim, and 12 acres in Los Angeles south of downtown for $5,300.
Finally, another notable ad was a rare instance of a woman-owned business advertising. Miss E. M. Turner just opened her stationery and book store on Main Street where “she offers at reasonable prices” a variety of items, including stationery of “plain and fancy” kinds, blank books for receipts, albums, supplies for those schools that weren’t well enough maintained, and other goods.
An interesting and instructive cross-section of Los Angeles life can hardly be found in a better source than in the local newspapers, even if there has to be some reading between the lines when it came to the boosterism of a new railroad or townsite and to the quality of what was being offered in advertisements. The Homestead is fortunate enough to have hundreds of issues of Los Angeles papers through the 1920s to help us better understand what living in the region was like.
Check back regularly for more examples in the “Read All About It” series.