Victorian Fair Themes: Los Angeles Herald, 23 April 1874

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

We’re five days away from this weekend’s Victorian Fair and today’s entry in a series of posts serving as a run-up to the event looks at an issue from the Homestead’s collection of the Los Angeles Herald newspaper from this date in 1874.  The paper has a great deal of material that reflects the many changes underway in greater Los Angeles during its first significant period of growth, which started in the late 1860s.


In fact, one of the main features of interest in the issue is the Herald‘s own publication to promote Los Angeles County for future residents and investors, called “Ten Thousand Questions Answered.”  The pamphlet was advertised as “what we are, what we can be” and the paper asked its readers “if you do not inform them, who will?”


Promising “16 pages solid reading matter,” the editors noted that it included information on the region’s “agricultural, manufacturing, and mining resources . . .  its geographical and commercial position . . . harbors, railroads and railroad system . . . [and] statistics relating to climate, cost of living, etc.”  It implored locals to “send them to your friends in the States or in Europe,” observing that it was cheaper to send the five-cent publication than to send a letter.


On the back paper of the four-page issue is a “Map of Our Back Country” showing the southwestern United States and indicating that much of it was part of the sphere of influence of a growing Los Angeles.  A side panel claimed that “the largest and richest mining region in the world [is] tributary of Los Angeles” and showed potential transcontinental railroads to the area along the 32nd and 35th parallels (both considered superior alternatives in the studies completed before the eventual line completed in 1869 to Oakland).

The reference to “Col. [Thomas] Scott” concerned the proposed Texas and Pacific Railroad, which did not get beyond initial planning.  A proposed line to the Cerro Gordo silver mining region of Inyo County in eastern California was also in the early development stage through the development of the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, which had just incorporated with F.P.F. Temple as president.


Finally, the side panel of the map listed the populations of local communities, including Anaheim (1,500, scond to Los Angeles in the county); San Gabriel (200); El Monte and Gallatin, in what is now Norwalk, (100 each); and a spate of sites, including San Fernando, Santa Ana, Spadra [Pomona], and Compton that each claimed 50 residents each.  The map and the pamphlet reflected the boosterism that soon ended in 1875-76 with a financial panic in California (on the heels of national depression that erupted in fall 1873) and the failure of the Temple and Workman bank.

Promoting the region meant other articles that encouraged locals to invest in such projects as basket factory using a willow tree of a certain type for the process and for developing sugar beets for table sugar.  The latter crop was being intensively cultivated in northern California by such entrepreneurs as sugar baron Claus Spreckels and some success, evidently, was being had by farmers in Los Nietos, near modern Whittier and Downey.  By the end of the century, in fact, there was a booming sugar beet industry in the region, led by Richard Gird at Chino and others near the coast in modern Paramount and surrounding areas.


A reprint of a lengthy article from the San Diego World touted greater Los Angeles’ potential, as well.  Titled “New Life and Enterprise of Los Angeles,” the piece observed

We to-day see evidence of a superb business revival in Los Angeles.  Her leading citizens are developing projects of great magnitude, whose attainment is easily possible to such men as John G. Downey, F.P.F. Temple, Dr. Griffin, and others, whose inception is a striking commentary on the sagacity and enterprise of a section to which too little has been conceded of these qualities.

The flowery prose of the article is encapsulated in these opening sentences and the hyperbole flowed freely, with a quote from merchant Myer Newmark that “there would in ten years be twenty Anaheims in the ample spread of Santa Anna [sic] valley and in the splendid sweep of the San Joaquin ranch.”  Newmark might be impressed, though, with the Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine region today!

The piece then turned from “natural advantages” to “enterprise,” chiefly through a discussion of the vital matter of railroads.  Obviously, no town aspiring to be a city could seriously entertain the transition without access to rail systems.  A reference to the “Shoo-Fly railroad,” is almost comical, because who could image someone taking seriously a transportation system to “Shoo-Fly Landing?”  If, however, the place was renamed Santa Monica and the line called the Los Angeles and Independence, with the railroad’s president, F.P.F. Temple, moving to the office of treasurer to make room for a major investor in Nevada Senator John P. Jones, well, that would change matters.


The argument was that the Shoo-Fly/Santa Monica project was important for two reasons.  First, to compete with what was still highly inadequate conditions at the harbor at Wilmington/San Pedro (though the first flow of federal dollars for improvements had just been expended and much more was to come later) and a promise of a better wharf at Santa Monica.

Second, the project’s “completion would make Los Angeles absolutely independent of Stanford,” meaning Leland Stanford and his compatriots whose Southern Pacific had a railroad monopoly in greater Los Angeles and which was gradually building its line south from the Bay Area to this region.  Stanford “could not extort” and “would be compelled to go to work” with some healthy competition.  Otherwise, the Santa Monica project would attract all business and “his locomotives would rust.”


After paying tribute to former governor Downey for his leadership on developing local railroad ideas, the article discussed the planned railway to Inyo County, this being the Los Angeles and Independence before Jones came on board and redirected priorities to building the line to Santa Monica before that to the silver regions near Cerro Gordo.  If the expected bullion was to materialize and provide the basis for significant business for the line, this would be another measure of local independence free from the stranglehold of the Southern Pacific.

The article concluded by noting that, “one year ago, it seemed as if Stanford was absolute master of the situation—as if he were dictator, and the people of Los Angeles were suppliants.”  But, it appeared as if Downey “and the spirited businessmen of Los Angeles” were poised to act to reverse conditions.  Downey’s ability to secure a charter from the state legislature for building the Los Angeles and Independence was an important sign that Stanford would not be able to “crack the whip of a master in the circle of the orange blossoms again.”


Another major piece in the issue was about the hunt for notorious bandido Tiburcio Vásquez, whose criminal career of more than twenty years (including a few stints at San Quentin) culminated with his robbery of rancher Alessandro Repetto in what is now Monterey Park.  Sheriff William R. Rowland (whose father, John, died the previous October and was the half-owner of Rancho La Puente with William Workman for some thirty years) led a posse pursuing Vásquez north into the San Gabriel Mountains, but the bandit and some of his men escaped.  Rowland led his group out again to search for Vásquez, finding evidence of a campsite in Tujunga Canyon.  No news had been heard from the sheriff since then and it was about another month before the desperado was captured near modern West Hollywood.


Finally, the advertisements in the issue reflect a wide-range of elements of Victorian-era life in Los Angeles that are notable and telling.  These can range from public notices that show what the city and county were doing in the way of public works (in this case, dealing with bonds taken out by the county for projects and the invitation of bids to improve a bridge over the Los Angeles River); notices from corporations that indicate what was new in the business arena; what was going on in entertainment; and more.

For example, Charles Andrew Lewis and Brothers came through Los Angeles on a tour of theaters providing, from what little can be found about them, an “extravaganza” of entertainment, including skits, performances of “mesmerism,” including assumed hynopsis, and other elements.  The ad for the performance at the entertainment hall of merchant Lorenzo Leck, located on Main Street between 2nd and 3rd streets, was certainly eye-catching.


Another notable ad was for the Palace Saloon, situated in the Temple Block (started by early American resident Jonathan Temple and owned and developed, after his death, by his half-brother, F.P.F., son-in-law of William and Nicolasa Workman of the Homesyead).  Owners Williams and Rogers decided to employ a bit of literary pretension, or, really, lampooning, by offering some poetry to entice customers:

Though preachers may preach and teachers teach

Of the evil effects of drink

‘Tis music sweet to a man of wit

To hear the glasses clink . . .

Say what you will—talk with skill—

‘Tis true beyond a doubt,

That sparkling wine is a gift divine

Life would be drear without

More serious for those like the proprietors of the Palace Saloon and many others in town was an ad by the federal commissioner of internal revenue notifying those involved in businesses dealing with alcohol and tobacco manufacturing and sale had to publicly display a stamp showing the payment of a special tax imposed by Washington.


These taxes, based on a law passed in December 1872, ranged from $5 for those selling manufactured tobacco up to $500 for those dealing in leaf tobacco for the period from 1 May 1874 through the end of the following April.  As we approach next year’s centennial of Prohibition, which tried to stop most manufacture and sales of alcohol, it bears noting that these taxes on alcohol and tobacco manufacturing and sale were important sources of revenue for the federal government and became an issue in 1919 when the “social experiment” was enacted.

Another strange ad demonstrates the pervasiveness of fake medicine and medical treatments.  While it was pretty common to see advertisements for the former, especially concoctions like “bitters” that were heavy on alcohol, but promised to cure any manner of malady, this one employs a “technological” sales pitch.  Here, Mr. and Mrs. L.W. Fish (Magnetic and Electromagnetic Physicians!) claimed that “electricity and magnetism when applied directly to the inefficient organ in a proper manner are the most effective means of restoring” the proper use of said part of the body.”  Obviously, there is something very “fishy” in this assertion, though the couple likely had enough gullible customers to allow them to promote their novel cure!


It’s pretty hard to beat the newspaper for a wide-ranging and comprehensive look at local and broader societal issues and trends during any time period.  For Victorian-era Los Angeles, sources like this number of the Herald can really be illuminating in understanding what was taking place in the frontier town becoming a fledgling city.

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