by Paul R. Spitzzeri
While they can sometimes be mind-numbing in their content, government reports are often very useful in understanding what was going on in a given region at a particular point in time. As Los Angeles County experienced dramatic, sustained growth in the first few decades of the 20th century, a notable way to see how these changes manifested is through looking at annual reports issued at the end of a fiscal year.
Today’s post highlights the annual statistical report of the county board of supervisors for the year ending 30 June 1915. The 181-page document from the Homestead’s collection not only reflects the growing population of the county, but the increasing complexity and sophistication of its operations, especially compared to conditions decades before.
Compiled by staff under the guidance of County Auditor Walter A. Lewis, the report includes general statements of receipts and disbursements, broken down by department; those of various road funds (crucial as the automobile was establishing dominance in what became a particularly car-centric county); the bonded debt of the county and its school districts; the collected taxes accruing to the jurisdiction; valuation of property in the county and its cities and towns; and a comparative table of taxes collected since 1889, when Orange County split from Los Angeles County, among others.
The report lists county officials including the supervisors; superior court judges; constables (police officers); justice of the peace (local judges); committee members for general administration, finance, highways and bridges, other public works, public welfare and others (including that Progressive-era invention the “Bureau of Efficiency”); and other officials.
With regard to the finances, the county had total receipts of nearly $21 million, with about 30% of that coming from general property taxes, the sale of bonds comprising roughly 20%, and school district taxes comprising about a quarter of the funds. The other quarter came from a wide variety of sources, a good chunk (some 15%) from the state. Specific detail on where the monies came from was provided (again, to the point of the mind-numbing level mentioned above!)
Disbursements were about $20.3 million, with about 8% of that to general administration (finance offices, law offices, elections and judicial operations, and government buildings being the main categories); highways and bridges taking a little above 10%; charities and corrections (relief assistance, the county cemetery, the county farm for indigent and mentally ill people, and the county hospital), which took up about 5%, most of which was in the county hospital portion; education, which accounted for almost half of the funds; recreation, which was a tiny fraction at just $119,000, most in the Board of Forestry and about $40,000 for the operations of the county Museum of History, Science and Art (now the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County); interest payments and debt servicing; the purchase of investments (near 5%); and others.
In addition to the great detail of financial data are some occasional statistical items. For example, a list of complaints to the District Attorney’s office by month was provided, showing just under 4,300 for the year, with the peak month being March 1915 (at over 500) and the lull in the dog days of August, when only 114 were received. The juvenile department recorded over 2,100 complaints during the year, while the motorcycle department received over 3,500, and the “Failure to Provide” department processed over 4,400.
The county counsel reported that there were 721 causes of action in the courts to which the county or one its officers was a party, 4,145 demands for money against the county, and 146 industrial accident cases (amounting to over $11,000) filed. In the assessor’s office, there were 46 new or revised map books, with almost 3,400 maps and cuts in them. The recorder also dealt with checking maps, as well as copying deeds in books. Interestingly, though the county’s pastoral past as a cattle and sheep raising center were long gone, there were still 16 brands registered.
For the elections section, the registrar of voters reported that there were 268,000 voters sent material for the August 1914 election and about 305,000 for one that followed in November. For the former, just under 60,000 were to Democrats, over 128,000 to Republicans, 67,000 to Progressives, 27,000 to Socialists, 22,000 to Prohibitionists and almost 49,000 to Non-Partisan voters. About 122,000 new registrations were received during the year with over 312,000 names verified on county’s Great Register of Voters.
On the legal side, there were over 12,000 civil suits filed in the prior year, compared to just under 1,000 criminal cases. Felony hearings numbered over 6,500 and about the same number involved juvenile hearings. There were also just above 1,000 insanity cases reported. For probate cases, the total was a little over 3,000.
The county clerk added that there were 681 articles of incorporation for local businesses and not quite 1,000 fictitious business names and co-partnerships established. Marriage licenses during the year totaled over 7,200 (though the number of divorces was not located. ) During the year, 1,366 persons filed declarations of the intention to become American citizens, while just over 700 petitioned for citizenship and 684 were issued by court order. The coroner conducted 1,442 inquests over deceased persons, with 242 involving autopsies. It was stated that the fixed salary of $2400 for the autopsy surgeon saved the county about half that amount over the previous use of fees, which had bee at $15 per autopsy.
The sheriff reported that there were 900 arrests in his jurisdiction, with another 75 made for other cities and counties. The number of prisoners registered at the county jail was 3,430. There were 1,870 criminal subpoenas issued and 900 insane warrants. As far as theft, it was stated that there were 330 cars, 33 motorcycles, 75 bicycles and 85 horses returned to owners, as well as some $53,000 in personal property.
The horticultural commission stated that there were 12 million trees in the county with a crop value of $15 million and that the department treated about a quarter of them. Some 3,000 carloads of fruit from county orchards were inspected. The livestock inspector’s statement noted that there were cases of a new condition called glanders, a bacterial infection, and an outbreak of rabies that were of concern.
From the human health standpoint, the health office reported 634 cases of communicable diseases, with diptheria heading the list at 189, followed by tuberculosis at 123 and scarlet fever at 113. In these days before modern levels of immunization and inoculation, a treatment program was based largely on the fumigation of premises and there were 340 examples of this during the year.
Road work was a major investment by the county as the car gained ascendency in the region, with one of the major projects being the construction of the expensive and technically challenging Topanga Canyon Road, the cost of which during the year was nearly $300,000. One of the other roads being built at the time, though not specifically mentioned, was Turnbull Canyon Road between Whittier and Puente and which passes just to the west of the Homestead.
Another interesting part of the report is from Department of Charities and its General Social Statistics section for what was termed “outdoor relief,”, which noted that there were not quite 3,000 cases investigated through the year, with about 55% of them involving provisions of relief affecting over 5,000 persons and totaling $105,000 or about $20 per person. These included just over 1,000 families involving about 4,500 persons, as well as 374 single adults and 352 children in the court system. In the “Unemployed Fund,” 26,000 fares for transportation were provided within the county.
The department also had a cemetery division and one of the county farm, established in Downey in the 1880s for indigent persons and was later known as “Rancho Los Amigos.” The 377-acre facility, with a substantial farm component with fruit, grain and livestock, had just under 400 residents at the start of the year, but over 700 were admitted during it. Of these, almost 80% were released and a little over 30 died, leaving about 530 at the facility by the end of the year.
It is also striking that 86% of the residents were men, with a much higher concentration in the general wards, though in the “psychopathic” ones, the population consisted of 40 men and 32 women. Also of note was the dramatic growth in resident numbers since the beginning of the decade, when 170 persons were at the farm in July 1910. Each year saw marked increases of between 17 and 30% per annum.
A few years prior, in 1911, the county Grand Jury issued a scathing report that led to major changes in the farm’s management and operations. In 1915, the year of this report, Bill Harriman, who was only 26, was brought in as superintendent and oversaw the transformation of the facility until he retired in the early 1950s.
As noted in this excellent essay by friend of the Homestead, Hadley Meares, the population shot up to near 2,000 persons by the end of the 1920s, a period of huge growth in the county, and to almost 2,800 by the mid-Thirties during the depths of the Great Depression. In the 1950s, the farm was renamed “Rancho Los Amigos Hospital” and it continues to operate as a rehabilitation center on the north side of the complex, while many remains of the old farm are still in evidence on the south, which is slated for county offices.
The county hospital was another major part of the operations described in the report, with the summary noting that the 13-acre facility, the second largest in North America, served the City of Los Angeles, as well as the county, distinguishing it from many others which had separate city and county hospitals. The site was to be expanded with a 21-acre acquisition of land for a “tubercular sanitarium” with a capacity of 300 patients.
The daily population average was almost 1,000, with growth from 837 in July to 1,015 in June. As with the farm, there was dramatic growth since 1910, when the July population was just below 400 and annual increases from 14-30%, with the highest being the most recent year.
A new Public Welfare Commission, including one member from nearby Covina, was created during the year to assist in endorsing, investigating, issuing permits to, inspecting, and assisting with the formation of private charitable organizations within the county.
After financial information was provided for unemployment relief (a little above $200,000), direct financial aid to groups serving people and animals, assistance to the mentally ill, the jail, and the chain gang (yes, this institution still existed mainly for road work) and institutions for minors (including 19 residents in the California School for Girls; 118 in the Preston School of Industry, and 92 at the Whittier State School), information was given about Juvenile Hall, which had expenses of about $50,000.
There were 35 boys and 39 girls at the facility at the end of the fiscal year, though the numbers received during the year were 1,175 boys and 546 girls, so that about 1,800 youth went through the facility in 1914-15. There was a boys’ delinquent department, one each for male and female dependents, and a nursery section. Girls were “taught to help with the kitchen and dining room work” while “boys do the housework in their department, as well as some outside work.” Over 2,250 juveniles were on probation, while there were nearly 14,000 reports received on troubled youth and 1,750 new cases through the courts.
In education, again comprising half the county’s operational budget, almost 350 persons were recommended for life teaching diplomas and over 1,350 were given their teaching certificates out of 4,000 who applied for these. Much information was given about site supervision, and the amount of correspondence mailed out, the dealings with 180 school districts.
The county’s library system included 99 branches, with 60% of these established just within the prior year and the county teachers’ library of some 6,000 volumes was transferred to the system, as well. Not all of the single librarians at the branches was paid from county funds, however; about 40% probably were paid from local sources. Also included in the system was the law library of 37,000 volumes in 10,000 square feet.
In the recreation section was material on the Museum of History, Science and Art, now the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Expenditures of the institution, which opened in 1913 and was described as “the only Museum built and supported entirely by a county organization” [it is not totally funded today], were about $40,000.
Attendance doubled from 70,000 to 130,000 compared to the first fiscal year of operations and much attention was given to the fossils sent to the museum from the La Brea Tar Pits after a two-year agreement for excavation expired at the end of the fiscal year. As for the Historical Department, the transfer of the collection of Antonio F. Coronel and his wife Mariana Williamson from the Chamber of Commerce meant “more room must be provided to house and display this collection.”
The growth of the county was also amply illustrated by information on the assessed valuation of it and incorporated cities within it. City of Los Angeles property was valued at almost $350 million and improvements there at over $150 million. Non-city property was at over $100 million and, with other forms of personal property and other types, the total was about $850 million. Other major incorporated cities included Pasadena (total value near $44 million); Long Beach (about $30 million); Santa Monica (under $13 million); Venice (about $9.3 million); Pomona (close to $8.5 million); and Alhambra (almost $6.3 million).
Historical growth in property valuation was, not surprisingly, very strong, from $70 million in 1890 (and this was a 35% drop from 1889, which was the end of the great Boom of the 1880s) to $100 million by 1900 to a staggering increase to $521 million in 1910 (another decline of 12% from the prior year.)
The 1910s was a period of marked growth in a county, which had seen a staggering increase ever since the Boom of the 1880s. Documents like this very-detailed statistical report are excellent sources for information on the development of the region, especially as the next wave of transformation was nearing in the Roaring 20s.