The Southern California Horticultural Society Pavilion, 1878-1882

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

In a recent post under the series of “Victorian Fair Themes,” a stereoscopic photo by Payne, Stanton and Company from the Homestead’s collection of an area off Temple Street in downtown Los Angeles was highlighted.  Among the features of the image was a large wooden structure atop a hill on the north side of Temple and it was guessed that it might have been a school under construction.

3071 Temple St Los Angeles 2005.531.1.1
This 1882 stereoscopic photograph by a firm owned by Henry T. Payne, his brother Daniel, and Thomas E. Stanton and highlighted in a recent post here features a large wooden structure at the upper right assumed in the post to be a school.  A commenter, Mike D., however, identified the building as the pavilion of the Southern California Horticultural Society..

A comment from Mike D., however, cleared that up.  Mike wrote:

I’d guess that this photo was taken from atop the old Los Angeles High School building on Poundcake Hill. The large, dark building with the two unfinished towers at upper right is the Horticultural Pavilion, built by the Southern California Horticultural Society and opened in October 1878. The Pavilion was torn down in March 1882 because a mortgage on the property was not paid. Material from the Pavilion was used to build residences on the site.

This information stimulated a little searching into the short-lived structure and the organization which built it and, thanks to Mike’s observations, this post touches upon an interesting aspect of greater Los Angeles history.

Horticulural Pavilion ad
An advertisement in the Southern California Horticultural Society monthly publication, the Southern California Horticulturist for September 1878, for the group’s first independently held fair at the new pavilion.

The Southern California Horticultural Society was founded in late April 1877 by a group of men dedicated to the topic and included Luther M. Holt and Thomas A. Garey, founders of the town of Pomona, established two years before; Daniel M. Berry and Dr. O.H. Congar of another recently established town, Pasadena; prominent nurseryman Ozro W. Childs and long-time district attorney Cameron E. Thom of Los Angeles; and James de Barth Shorb, whose father-in-law was Benjamin D. Wilson of Lake Vineyard, near San Gabriel (both were the developers of Alhambra.)

Horicultural Pavilion article Sep 78
Articles on the pavilion and fair from the same issue of the Horticulturist.

With these founders on board, the organization was put into shape and quickly organized a joint fair at the Southern Pacific depot on Alameda Street with the Southern District Agricultural Society, organizers of a fair at Agricultural Park, now Exposition Park.  After the combined event was held in fall 1877, however, the Horticulture Society moved largely on two fronts.  The first was to host its own fair and the second was to build a pavilion for exhibits for that event.  The organization also published a monthly magazine, the Southern California Horticulturist, edited by Holt.

Horiculture Pavilon article
Another article extolling the work of the Society from that September 1878 issue.

Fundraising for the $30,000 needed to build the pavilion, however, proved tough to fulfill, but by taking out a mortgage, as Mike noted, the building was completed in time for the Society’s first independently produced fair in October 1878.  Exhibits and prizes were handed out for a wide range of products, including displays of fruit, agricultural products (including wine) and flowers, but also for agricultural implements; textiles and clothing; carriages and other vehicles; manufactured leather and metal; musical instruments and furnishings; chemicals; fossils; brick and stone work; fine arts of all kinds and more.

Horticultural Bldg LA_Herald_Oct_15__1878_
An ad for the pavilion from the Los Angeles Herald, 15 October 1878.

The Society managed to hold four of these events until its precarious financial position finally revealed a fundamental inability to keep the pavilion in operation, even as membership grew modestly.  As Mike noted, despite earnest pleas for a financial rescue from members and the community ar large, the pavilion was demolished in March 1882.  It seems almost certain that Payne, Stanton and Company’s photo shows the building in the process of being dismantled (not a school in the course of construction as supposed in the prior post.)

Horticultural Pavilion Opens LA_Herald_Oct_15__1878_
The Herald’s heralding of the pavilion’s opening, 15 October 1878.

While greater Los Angeles was dominated by an agricultural economy and continued to be a powerhouse in this general area for many decades afterward (roughly until World War II), the late 1870s was not a propitious time to launch a Horticultural Society and, especially, to take on the financial burden of constructing the pavilion.

Horticltural Pavillion poem LA_Herald_Oct_15__1878_
The Herald’s coverage of the opening of the pavilion included a lengthy poem (the first several stanzas are shown here) by Albert F. Kercheval, whose verses were frequently published at the time, extolling the Society’s exposition at the new facility.

The collapse of the state’s economy in late summer 1875, two years after the Depression of 1873 hit the nation broadly, led to the conditions that exposed the weak financial structure of the Temple and Workman bank, one of two commercial institutions in Los Angeles.  Its failure early in 1876 indicated the depths of the doldrums that remained in place for essentially the next decade.  Among the many indicators of the depressed state of the local economy was the stagnation of the development of Pomona, Alhambra, and Pasadena, towns founded by leading lights of the Society.

Horticultural Pavilion edit LA_Times_Feb_17__1882_
The fledgling newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, only two months old, published thie editorial on 17 February 1882 exhorting locals to “redeem the pavilion.”

As much as boosters and the founders of the Society wanted to believe that a turnaround was just around the corner, it would not be until the completion of a direct transcontinental railroad to Los Angeles in 1885 and the subsequent Boom of the Eighties that conditions changed.  The boom went bust, however, by 1890 and another national depression in 1893 and several drought years during that decade kept the local economy down until the first year of the new century.

Horticultural Pavilion doomed LA_Times Feb_25__1882_
Eight days later, on 25 February 1882, the Times issued this bitter epitaph to the doomed pavilion, which was “deliberately permitted to die a natural death.”  Yea, verily!

The story of the Southern California Horticultural Society’s pavilion is an example of a nascent city’s ambitions overmatching its resources.  While greater Los Angeles remained an agricultural powerhouse for decades and hosted or participated in many fairs locally and nationally, the efforts of the Society in the late 1870s and early 1880s were not quite enough to be sustainable, but did serve as a precursor to later promotion and boosterism.

3 thoughts

  1. Thanks for taking a closer look at the Horticultural Society and its Pavilion. I didn’t realize the hard economic times of the mid-1870s lasted so long.

  2. Thanks again, Mike, for providing the info on the building. It was great to be able to build (!) off that for the post.

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