by Paul R. Spitzzeri
On this day, 133 years ago, the Los Angeles Herald published its edition with some holiday-related material along with regular news, though it can be readily seen that the celebration of Christmas was not anywhere near its secular and commercial maturity—that would come later in the 19th century.
As to news, there were some interesting items. One was that the 18th meant the end of the one-year term of the mayor and members of the Common [City] Council in exchange of those starting the new term following the election of the 7th. There was also a growth in numbers, reflecting the growing population of the city, of the council from ten to twelve members with four each from the three wards or districts that were established four years earlier.
Only one of the ten incumbents on the council returned to the governing body, this being José Mascarel, a native of France and a long-time council member and former mayor. The Workman family, meanwhile, had a fraternal switch of sorts. William H. Workman, nephew of William and Nicolasa Workman of the Homestead, stepped down from his Second Ward (he lived in Boyle Heights) seat, while his older brother, Elijah, took a seat as a representative of the Third Ward (he lived in the southern reaches of town at Main and Tenth streets.) In terms of ethnic diversity, the outgoing council had three of ten members who were Latino and the new one was two of twelve. Within just a few years, there would be no Latino members.
As for the mayoralty, the torch was passed to council member Prudent Beaudry from James R. Toberman. Toberman, who came to Los Angeles as a federal revenue assessor in 1864, had just completed his second one-year term, went on to serve four more from 1878 to 1882. In his outgoing message, Toberman looked back at his two years in office and noted that the population leapt from 8,000 to 13,000, an increase of over 60%. The assessed value of property rose well over 40% to near $5 million, the city’s debt dropped slightly, and revenue increased significantly from just $6,500 to $65,000.
While Toberman noted that there were four railroads running from the city to outlying areas, it should be noted that all were owned by the Southern Pacific, including the Los Angeles and San Pedro line it obtained in 1872. One of these, going from the Florence neighborhood south of the city to Anaheim, which became part of a new Orange County fifteen years later, was to be opened in a matter of days. He stated that the eastern line, which opened through Rancho La Puente during the year, was being planned for an extension to San Gorgonio Pass near modern Banning and Palm Springs on its way to Yuma, Arizona.
As to financial conditions, Toberman pointed to two key indicators. The first was that city-issued warrants were worth seventy cents on the dollar when he took office, but were at par value (dollar for dollar) as he left. He also pointed out that the city’s tax rate fell from $1.40 per $100 to $1.00.
However, when it came to public works, the news was not as good. Toberman noted that there was a need for improvement at the public library (which opened in 1872), as well as work on “the bad condition of the streets and sidewalks;” the need for street lights; the prevention of flooding from the Los Angeles River; better management of water resources “for irrigation and manufacturing purposes;” and “the urgent demand that exists for a beneficial system of sewerage.”
Toberman observed that “it would have been a great pleasure to me to have been the instrument for carrying into execution as many of these needed improvements as the wants of the people demanded.” The council, however, did not, in his opinion, see it that way “and but little has been accomplished.” While “considerable sums” were spent on improving sewage removal, not enough had been done to meet need and he felt that this lack was a major reason why so many children had died of cholera.
An investment in improving those conditions “would be gladly and cheerfully paid ten fold by those whose tears have fallen upon the graves of their little ones, if it would be restore their babes to their arms.” He went on to mention the disrepair of streets and public squares (namely, the Plaza and the park now known as Pershing Square) and added:
Nature has spread her richest gifts round about us in a grand and delightful landscape, a delightful and salubrious climate and a teeming soil, yet little has been done by us in imitation of her beautiful and beneficial works . . . notwithstanding nature has done so much and left so little to be done by us to make Los Angeles the garden spot of the world, if that little is left undone, nature may, and assuredly will avenge herself upon us for heedlessness.
One of the points of pride mentioned by the outgoing mayor was the fact that the number of public schools more than doubled from eight, serving 575 students, to eighteen, with 875 and that this had kept pace with need. One of the new educational institutions in the municipal system to open during Toberman’s tenure was the city’s first high school, which opened its doors in 1873.
Another article of note concerned a “school entertainment” held by the students at the high school, seven of whom constituted the first graduating class in spring 1875. The event was held at the Turn Verein Hall, built by the substantial German-speaking population in town, and it was reported that it “was crowded to its utmost capacity, and standing room was hardly to be obtained.” There was no professional fire department, the town’s volunteer squad was new (formed in 1873), and there were no fire codes!
Superintendent Dr. William T. Lucky served as the master of ceremonies and “the entertainment opened with the ‘Sleigh-Ride Chorus,'” which might have been a nod to Christmas, or at least winter, although a sleigh ride in semi-arid Los Angeles was unlikely! Orations, essay readings, singing and poetry were delivered by students. A notable example of the latter was from Yda Addis and her poem “The Princess Story,” a twelve-stanza work that opened with:
O, I am a queen and my fair domain
Is an island far out in the sea.
I have treasures there that are rich and rare,
But their value is little to me.
For all their worth is as mouldering earth
Compared with a chain of pearl
That was stolen away on a luckless day
By a trusted, faithless girl.
O, I loved her well, tho’ I would not tell
Of my love to the standers-by;
For I hate the heart that can act the part,
And its every feeling cry.
Addis, born in Kansas in 1857 and who lived throughout the West and in Mexico while her father worked as a photographer, recently settled with her family in Los Angeles. In fact, her father advertised in the paper for the sale of his studio. After being one of the seven inaugural graduates of the high school, Addis became a teacher in city schools, but also started to published works of fiction in newspapers and magazines throughout California and back east. In 1891, she published her only book, a history of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties, becoming a rare example of a woman who wrote for a living.
However, she had a troubled personal life. She claimed in 1887 that former California governor and Los Angeles banker, John G. Downey, a widower thirty years her senior, offered to marry her, but his sisters thwarted the plan spurring Addis to seek $500,000 in a breach of promise suit. Moving to Mexico and working for a newspaper, she and her editor were sued by his wife for breaking up his marriage.
Then, when working on her history, she married one of her interview subjects, a Santa Barbara notable named Charles A. Storke, who’d been a Los Angeles newspaper publisher when she was in high school. The union quickly unraveled as she accused him of abuse and he claimed she was insane. Though she secured a divorce and alimony, her ex-husband later accused her of sending libelous letters to a witness in the divorce case.
During the trial, she claimed the prosecutor was framing her and that they had a “contract marriage.” After her conviction and before sentencing, Addis broke into the prosecutor’s house and a struggle ensued leading to gunfire. While serving her sentence in the “poison pen letter” case, she pled not guilt to attempted murder and was represented by the first woman to practice law in California, Clara Shortridge Foltz.
At the end of 1899, no indictment was found by a grand jury on the attempted murder charge and Addis was allowed a new trial on the libel matter. After serving ten months for the latter, she was freed, but then vanished and disappeared from history.
There was one other strange item from this issue of the Herald, a short report that a letter was delivered by the postmaster to an unnamed resident that warned him to “leave this town in twenty-four hours or else you are a dead man. Your crime is known.” The paper merely noted that “up to one o’clock this morning the gentleman was still alive and feeling as well as could be expected under the circumstances.”
Finally, with respect to Christmas, the only mention in the news section was in the “Local Brevities” column, where the first short item was “only a week to Christmas, the most joyous festival of the year.” However, there were several advertisements from local merchants about Christmas gifts. including from a piano dealer, a book and music store, a jewelry store, and an auction house.
Perhaps the most enterprising merchants, though, were Herzog and Ross, proprietors of The People’s Palace, who offered Christmas presents up to fifty dollars in value for purchases of five dollars a more for customers shopping at the store from the first of the month until Christmas Eve. There was also one ad for Christmas trees, with J. R. Brown offering “a lot of fine Pine trees” at two locations in the city on the 20th and 21st.
If Christmas wasn’t nearly as all-consuming a presence in the newspapers of the 1870s as it would be by century’s end, there was definitely more mention than found in earlier years.