by Paul R. Spitzzeri
This afternoon, the Homestead Museum Gallery was the location of the holiday party of the Historical Society of Southern California, a group that I served as a member of the board of directors from 2008 to 2016. The event was held from 2 to 5 p.m. and some sixty persons were in attendance.
Part of the event included tours of the museum offered three times between and after our regular public tours and I was pleased to be able to lead these visits for over 40 of those guests. Years ago, I did quite a few tours, but it’s been quite a while since I did three back-to-back like that. When you’re out, though, with people who are really interested in history, including that of our region, it is great fun and time truly flies.
Another element of the event was a small display at the Gallery of artifacts that the Historical Society has had on temporary deposit for the last couple of years since the organization vacated its half-century long headquarters at the Lummis Home in Los Angeles. Thanks to the City of Industry, an agreement was made between the City, the Historical Society and Historical Resources, Inc., the firm I acquired last year to contract manage the museum, for the company to conduct a basic inventory and assessment of the objects owned by the Society.
Amanda Foster, one of our collections assistants, and I began this work in mid-October and a significant amount of material has been sifted through and cataloged in a few categories. The work also entails making an assessment of which items could be kept by the Society, transferred to other organizations (though which specifically is not part of the work), or discarded at a future date.
That assessment, reflected in an upcoming report, will also provide alternatives for the Society in terms of how and where the objects might be stored or whether the organization might want to even own historic artifacts as opposed to finding other homes. There are a number of options to explore, but an informed decision can only be made once the Society know what it has in its possession.
The display, put together just for today’s party, consisted of a selection of material that shows some idea of the breadth of what the Society owns. For example, the ballots for the first election of the Society’s board of directors in early 1891 is among several founding documents that still survive over 125 years later.
A small 1882 map of the Joseph Mullaly Homestead in what is now the Chinatown area of Los Angeles is one of a small selection of historic maps so far located in the material sorted through to date. Mullaly is a notable early figure in the town, partly because of his political and social activities, but mainly for his vocation as one of the first brick makers in the area. In fact, the Rowland House, built in 1855 about a mile from the Homestead, was constructed of bricks made on-site by Mullaly and his crew.
In 1929, a book was published about the Los Angeles County returns of 1850 federal census, which was actually conducted early the following year because of the admission of California into the Union late in 1850. Marco H. Newmark, who was, with a brother, an editor of the book, donated to the Historical Society, drafts of the text, typescripts of transcribed census material and other items from the project.
That same year was an election for mayor of Los Angeles. The Society has a pamphlet promoting the candidacy of John C. Porter, who owned used-car lots in the city, and who defeated Boyle Workman, great-nephew of William Workman and a president of the City Council during most of the 1920s. Porter’s 1929 victory, however, came just as the Great Depression was on the horizon and he had to preside over the dour years of the economic catastrophe.
Another interesting set of local material involves a few items pertaining to the 1868 graduation of San Gabriel resident Mary Hall from the state Normal School, a San Jose teachers’ college (one in Los Angeles came later), and her receiving a teaching certificate. These are great early examples of our local education history.
Finally, there are a trio of artifacts connected to women’s suffrage, higher education for women, and an international meeting of women in London—all reflecting major changes that women were participating in and agitating for during the first years of the 20th century. This is particularly timely as 2020 marks the centennial of women gaining the right to vote in national elections, so these are materials that can be part of the interpretation of this important centennial event just a couple of years from now.
It is anticipated this inventory and assessment project will be completed in the first quarter of 2018 and, as a collaborative endeavor, between Historical Resources, the Historical Society, and the City of Industry it may lead to some interesting and educational possibilities in the future, so stay tuned for more as the project develops and options explored.