by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Boyle Heights, a neighborhood of Los Angeles across from downtown and east of the Los Angeles River, was founded by William H. Workman, nephew of William and Nicolasa Workman, and his partners Isaias W. Hellman and John Lazzarovitch at the end of the region’s first development boom in the mid-1870s.
When a downturn followed that included the failure of the Temple and Workman bank (Hellman’s Farmers and Merchants Bank, the city’s other commercial bank, survived and then flourished), the community suffered accordingly. Then, after a decade of malaise, came the much larger Boom of the 1880s, which took place during William H. Workman’s two-year term as mayor.
Boyle Heights then became an enclave with some of the city’s finest homes, with some of these Victorian era structures still standing. Its proximity to the growing industrial core of the city (the first such area, later followed by such communities as Vernon, what became the City of Commerce in the first half of the 20th century and then the City of Industry in the post-World War II era) meant that Boyle Heights evolved into a multiethnic, working class community. It was also one of the few areas of the city that did not have racially restrictive covenants for residential property.
Consequently, the neighborhood has significant populations of Latinos, Jews, Blacks, southern and eastern Europeans, Russian Molokans and others. Though it has been somewhat idealized over the decades, there was a remarkable degree of tolerance and integration among the varied ethnic groups in Boyle Heights. The demographic makeup started to change after World War II and accelerated through the 1960s. Today, the community is mainly Latino, though gentrification has caused enormous controversy.
Today’s highlighted artifact looks at one of about two dozen issues of the school newspaper from the first volume of the publication during the 1922-23 school year at Boyle Heights Junior High, which was renamed Hollenbeck Junior High a couple of years later and which the school is still called. The paper is an interesting window into the lives of young adults nearly a century ago.
A major school activity covered in the issue was the student council election. Most of the positions had five candidates, giving students plenty of options. Some of the nomination statements were printed in the paper, including this one for Walter Pollock, who was running for president:
He has proved that he is a good scholar, a good athlete, an honest person and one who can be trusted. His teachers will all vouch for his scholarship and popularity. The pupils who know him will surely vote for him . . . make it your business to search out Walter and see what he looks like. If you see and also talk to him, you will find the kind of a boy whom we should have for our president.
Three girls signed a statement promoting the candidacy of Genevieve Petticrew for chairman of Girls’ Self-Government, starting off by saying:
There’s no need of saying a lot about the girl . . . because when you hear her name you’ll know all about her. But she sure is swell! Lots of fun, jolly, fair and square, and everybody’s friend. There’s an old proverb which says, “Wisdom comes with years.” But as there’s an exception to every case, there’s one in this. My candidate isn’t so terribly old, but she IS terribly wise.
Another notable article on the front page had to do with an auto accident that took place the prior morning at the intersection of Soto and Sixth streets right in front of the school. According to the piece, student John Osepian was driving an Essex (there’s a make most of us haven’t heard!) and claimed that, to avoid hitting some youths riding bikes in the street, he had to accelerate. Losing control, young Osepian “swerved around the corner suddenly, scraped the telephone pole, and leaped over the curb upon the lawn.” The account concluded, though, with “witnesses, however, claim that he was going at an excessive rate of speed all along Soto street.”
Most of an inner page was devoted to “Ye Classroome Gossipe,” with news from the various rooms denoted by number. Classroom 215, for example, called itself the “wonder classroom” and no wonder! After all, half of the sixteen-member (that would be eight for you math majors out there) were on the staff of The Siren. The room boasted more members of the glee and dramatic clubs than other classrooms and reeled off other impressive accomplishments.
By contrast, Classroom 209’s correspondent noted that “since almost everyone else seems to be boasting, I think it is time that I do, lest you think we have nothing to boast about.” Two students in the orchestra, three in the glee club, and another in the drama club were highlighted, leading to the conclusion “so you see we have quite a few representatives from good old 209.”
Sports always comprises a major part of any newspaper and this was certainly the case with The Siren, including intramural (meaning contests between classrooms) basketball and volleyball contests. It is interesting to peruse the scores, compared to, say, my glory days when my junior high team won the Huntington Beach city championship in 7th grade and lost by a mere two points the following year.
Scores were in the 30s, 40s, and 50s in those games from forty years ago, but the Boyle Heights games included a high score of 30 by classroom 106 which did not allow 107 to score a point. Room 215 outdueled Room 6 in two contests, 24-6 in the first and 19-0 in the second. Otherwise, teams had a hard time making shots with scores like 11-2; 8-3; 6-0 and the very low tallies of 3-3, 3-2, 2-1 and 0-0.
Another common feature of school papers was the joke column, called here “Rib Ticklers.” For example, get a load of these examples:
“He makes a nice living from his pen”
“Ink or pig?”
“What does this picture bride business mean?”
“They call it that when someone else has picked your bride.”
A couple of short examples of fiction and a piece about stamp collecting are other examples from the same page. Elsewhere there is a cartoon depicting a young man in the stocks with a sign nearby reading “This boy wore his cap in the hall.” An infraction of a school rule like that today probably would not be expressed in quite the same way!
What is not likely to be found in today’s counterparts, if they exist at the junior high level and are still in print form, are advertisements from local businesses. But, The Siren is full of them, including those that are more pertinent to the interests of young adults and those that aren’t.
For example, it’s more than a little strange to see an ad for an undertaker, but there is one from Bede Johnson’s funeral parlor, located on Whittier Boulevard, just over the city boundary in East Los Angeles. Or, there’s the National Paint and Varnish Company’s ad. It is likely that the ads had to do with parents of students at the school, though.
Otherwise, there are ads for George’s Cafe, imploring pupils to “Eat Your Chicken Dinner Saturday and Sunday” at the eatery, also situated on Whittier near Euclid. Also of interest to young adults would be the latest flickers at the Poppy Theatre at the corner of Breed Street and Brooklyn Avenue, now César Chavez, or at the Olympus, on 1st Street where the Boyle Station of the United States Post Office stands today.
Along with a collection of yearbooks, a few student scrapbooks, and newspapers like these, the Homestead has some material from the first few decades of the 20th century that provide some valuable insight into the lives of youth in greater Los Angeles, much of which offer interesting contrasts and comparisons to their modern counterparts.