by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The Homestead’s collection has several hundred photographs of greater Los Angeles houses, small and large and of many different architectural styles, as comparisons and contrasts to the museum’s historic houses, the Workman House and La Casa Nueva.
Whatever those contrasts and comparisons entail, though, there are sometimes interesting stories behind the houses and their owners. This is the case with today’s highlighted “No Place Like Home” entry, which concerns a snapshot of a Spanish Colonial Revival house, of the same general style as La Casa Nueva (but without the exuberant personalized detail), in the Mid-City area of Los Angeles.
Taken from the street, the photo shows the front elevation of the residence at 1718 Virginia Road in the Lafayette Square neighborhood. The subdivision of over 230 residences was laid out by developer George Crenshaw, whose namesake boulevard borders the development on the west with the aptly named West Boulevard marking the western boundary and Venice Boulevard to the north and Washington Boulevard to the south.
Crenshaw named the tract after the Marquis de Lafayette, whose invaluable assistance helped the American rebels defeat the British empire in the Revolutionary War. Lafayette Square was a community of large homes averaging over 3,500 square feet and with popular architectural styles and decorative elements befitting a higher-end development.
The photograph has an ink inscription at the bottom margin reading “Home of your cousin Mrs. Chrissie Sanborn / 1718 Virginia Road, Los Angeles, Calif.” Chrissie Pattison was born in 1867 in Quebec City, Canada and probably came with a brother, Alfred, to Los Angeles during the Boom of the 1880s at the end of that decade. In 1889, she married Alfred Willis Sanborn, who was five years older and from Medford, Minnesota, a small farming town south of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Alfred’s family, headed by his father Alfred H. Sanborn and his mother Mary Sawyer, moved to an even smaller agricultural hamlet, Post Oak, Missouri, southeast of Kansas City. While his father was a farmer, he also secured federal contracts to deliver mail in both Minnesota and Missouri before the family migrated to the west and settled in Los Angeles in the early 1880s. The elder Sanborn used his past experience and, perhaps, connections to pick up local mail delivery contracts and his son assisted for a period.
The Sanborn family resided in the Boyle Heights neighborhood, purchasing a piece of property from Sacramenta López de Cummings, daughter of the first person to live east of the Los Angeles River within city limits, Esteban López. Sacramenta, whose husband George, built the Cummings Block, an 1889 brick commercial structure at the corner of 1st Street and Boyle Avenue and which still stands (lately significantly remodeled), sold the property to the Sanborn father-and-son duo during the peak of the late 1880s boom.
The younger Sanborn, who had a daughter with his wife, gravitated to the political world in Boyle Heights, specifically the Republican Party, which then controlled most of the elected positions in the city (with the conspicuous exception of Boyle Heights founder William H. Workman, nephew of William and Nicolasa Workman, who was a rare Democratic Party officeholder, including mayor in 1887-88, during the boom, and city treasurer from 1901 to 1909).
Sanborn’s protege in local politics was Everett L. Blanchard, another 1880s arrival to Los Angeles, who was an insurance agent, but whose best-known vocation was the Republican “boss” of the Ninth Ward of Boyle Heights. Blanchard, who served thirteen years on the Los Angeles City Council, was so powerful that his ward was referred to as the “Ninth Ward Tammany,” after the notorious Tammany Hall machine of New York. He insured that Sanborn’s service to him in the ward led to good old fashioned party patronage.
The reward began when Sanborn was made deputy city auditor (his brother-in-law Alfred Pattison got a job with the city clerk’s office at about the same time.) As a microcosmic example of Gilded Age politics, his boss, Fred Teale, skipped town in late 1896, leaving behind “an excess of unposted books” and a ton of work for Sanborn to do.
However, within weeks at the beginning of the new year, Sanborn was transferred to a new position within city government, taking on the role of an inspector for the street department. After four years, Sanborn was sent over, early in 1901, to the city’s health department, where he was slated to be the clerk and book-keeper, but quickly he was moved to an outdoor role as sanitation inspector. It was during the move to the health department that the Los Angeles Times of 15 January 1901 noted that Sanborn, Blanchard and others “fought shoulder to shoulder in the last [election] campaign and are the wheel horses in what is sometimes termed the Ninth Ward Tammany.”
In 1902, another plum was picked when Sanborn was appointed a license collector for the Los Angeles County Tax Collector. Not everything, however, came up smelling like roses in the sanitation department, however! A Times article of 2 September 1903 reported on a brouhaha at a city council meeting over a report provided by Sanborn.
Among the statements was that, for the reported period, neither the city crematorium for refuse nor its landfill had been inspected and that, while over 100 complaints from citizens were lodged, only 40% had been addressed, as “a look of disgust and exasperation spread over the Mayor’s phiz,” this being Meredith P. Snyder. Snyder called the report “unsatisfactory” and asked for an in-person accounting from Sanborn, who, though, was absent. The report was returned to Sanborn for a more diligent response with another rejoinder from Mayor Snyder that he ought to resign if he couldn’t do his job properly.
Despite this, more patronage at a much higher level awaited the former trash monitor. In 1905, undoubtedly with Blanchard’s assist, Sanborn was handed the job of deputy surveyor general for the State of California, which, obviously, meant more money and a move to Sacramento. Yet, Sanborn did not yield his position with the city, as he was granted a leave of absence for a year without pay, just in case the state job didn’t turn out well.
In summer 1906, however, the Los Angeles Civil Service Commission investigated Sanborn as well as the milk and fruit inspectors of the city over whether “they shall be proved guilty of pernicious activity in politics,” which was technically forbidden city employees. It is not known what the result of the investigation was–perhaps Sanborn evaded the issue by officially resigning the office.
Yet, the benefits of being Blanchard’s protege continued in the private sector while he continued to be in the state’s employ. Active in real estate through the later 1890s and into the decade and century, Sanborn joined Blanchard in at least two business enterprises between 1908 and 1910, the first being the Interurban Investment Company with three other men and the second being his directorship in the City and County Bank, of which Blanchard was vice-president. These undoubtedly added to Sanborn’s income and connections.
In 1913, a dispute arose between California Governor Hiram Johnson, who was enmeshed in massive reform efforts in the state, and Secretary of State Frank Jordan over state employees receiving outside income that might have constituted conflicts of interest or violations of ethics. Jordan demanded several employees be subpoenaed to testify to their outside employment including Sanborn, who had moved to another new position as an inspector of state-owned real estate made available for private ownership. He was said to have “been making money outside his salary furnishing various companies with maps and land information that does not come within the law requiring fees to be paid into the State treasury.” It is not known if anything came of Jordan’s demands, but he wound up being the longest-serving secretary of state in America, holding office from 1910 to 1940.
As for Sanborn, he continued working with the surveyor general’s office until 1922 when he resigned his position to return home to Los Angeles. It was likely then that he purchased his Lafayette Square home. He did, however, remain in the employment of the state in some capacity until 1936, when at 74, he finally retired having held over three decades of employment for the state and over forty years of public positions overall. In 1927, his daughter, who had two sons, died at age 36. Over a decade later, in 1938, his wife passed away and then Sanborn followed her in October 1940. All three are interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.
Alfred Sanborn’s story, learned only after a rather anonymous snapshot sent to his wife’s cousins was acquired for the Homestead, is an interesting one reflecting the world of party patronage at a time when it was rampant and essentially wide open. This world still exists, if not quite as conspicuously, however.