by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Oops! Last night, I posted a nice, long entry for the “Through the Viewfinder” series based on a circa 1872 photograph taken from the south and looking at Elijah H. Workman’s suburban farm at Main and Eleventh streets and then to Los Angeles to the north. The only problem was that I’d written on that photo for another series, “No Place Like Home.” So, it was time to hit the “Move to Trash” button and move on!
Here, then, is a great ca. 1877 stereoscopic image taken by Francis Parker and simply titled “Los Angeles No. 9.” Parker positioned himself at the southeast corner of Los Angeles High School, which opened just a few years before, and captured a section of the growing city. Incidentally, the three rectangular items perched on the periphery of the school property were trees held within frames made of horizontal wood pieces to contain the growth of the plantings.
With most of the business section of the small city off camera to the left, including the county courthouse (built as a market house by Jonathan Temple in 1859) and then the Temple Block, developed between 1857 and 1871 by his half-brother, F.P.F., what Parker centered on in his viewfinder was an area with mixture of commercial and residential buildings.
Generally, the range is from New High Street, just below the school at the bottom of the photo out to San Pedro Street, part of which can be glimpsed at the upper left moving at an angle near a two-story house topped by a cupola. The left edge of the photo is a bit south of Temple and a section of First Street can be made out at the center right where there are some two-story brick buildings.
At lower center, below the school and across New High Street, there is a white-walled adobe building with a wood hipped roof attic featuring a dormer window on the rear gable. This residence has two outhouses in the rear yard along with what appears to be a clothesline.
To the left is what looks to be something of a backyard manufacturing establishment with what could be a furnace and a tall thin brick chimney, a conveyor belt and other material next to an open-walled shed with a two-gabled roof. All of this is behind a flat-roofed L-shaped adobe structure.
At the right, there is a fence with vertical pickets and a single-gable roof structure. The adobe building partially in view there is the former house of Antonio Rocha, grantee of Rancho La Brea. Rocha sold the house of Jonathan Temple, who, in 1853, conveyed it to the city and county, which used it as administrative offices until they occupied the county courthouse eight years later. A two-story jail was in the rear yard, just out of the view of this image, and was still in use until the early 1880s.
These three buildings are among the few Mexican-era adobe structures remaining in the photo, mostly on the left or northern side. At the left center fronting on Main Street, there is a long building with a two-gabled wood roof addition that is likely an adobe. Across the street is another adobe building with its typical covered porch, while to its right it seems like there is an adobe either being razed or left to deteriorate. Further back next to some dark green trees on the east side of Los Angeles Street is another adobe house.
To the south, towards First Street, as well as at the lower right, are several single and two-story brick buildings, probably mostly for commercial purposes. A good many wood-frame structures, which would mainly be residences, are in view, though just right of center, on the west side of Main, are a pair of rough looking wood buildings with vertical boards for walls that were probably for stables.
Finally, in the distance, it isn’t that far out until there is considerable open space, cultivated plots, and orchards. The very distinctive architecture, consisting of two tall towers flanking the center block of the depot of the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, at Sixth and San Pedro streets, definitely stands out in the midst of the rural environment. Behind the station is a dark green area that could be the famed William Wolfskill orange grove, the first commercial citrus orchard in California when planted in 1841. Situated along Alameda Street, it lasted until the 1890s when the growing city meant it had to be subdivided and sold.
This amazing photograph is a great document of one area of Los Angeles that expanded rapidly during the first boom in the city, lasting from the late 1860s until 1875, when an economic crash, which involved the failure of the Temple and Workman bank, brought growth to a halt.
The situation would largely remain stagnant for another several years when a direct transcontinental railroad built by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe line came to the city in 1885. After that came the massive Boom of the 188os and our next installment in the “Through the Viewfinder” series will come from that era (and not be a repetitious entry!)