by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It’s always fun and enlightening to look at historic newspapers to get a feel for what was going on in a community because there are so many angles from which to approach. In today’s “Read All About It” entry, we look at the 29 August 1873 edition of the Los Angeles Express, one of the three major English-language daily papers in the rapidly growing town, along with the Star and the Herald.
Local news was actually a bit thin in that issue. The day’s “brevities” did not have much notable to offer. Horse races at the “Trotting Park,” which was likely Agricultural Park (better known as Exposition Park today), were mentioned and a planned show at the Merced Theater (the building of which still stands next to the Pico House south of the Plaza on Main Street) was postponed because the theater company missed the boat heading down from San Francisco. Then, there was the notice that “a leaky swill cart” left “liquid garbage which it deposits on the street” causing a stench lasting hours in the area.
Then there was a short article about a meeting at the Turnverein Hall, where the town’s German-speaking population gathered to hear about proposed improvements to the German school, then situated on the west side of Main Street below 2nd “just south of the Round House,” this being the well-known beer garden or “Garden of Paradise,” featured on this blog previously. Because of the significant development of Los Angeles at the time, the current building’s lot was considered too valuable for the school, so it was proposed to sell the property and use the proceeds to buy another property and build a better facility.
There was also some news from the recent meeting of the Common [City] Council, including “the ill condition of the zanja [water ditch] on Aliso Street, with the body agreeing that a culvert be built and other improvements made. The Committee of Zanjas, comprised of council members, also were to take up the question of improvements on a ditch for what was the “Canal and Reservoir Tract” which was served by the precursor to Echo Park as Reservoir #1 and embraced lands near Bunker Hill along Figueroa [formerly Grasshopper] Street. One of the prime movers of development in that area was council member and soon-to-be mayor Prudent Beaudry, whose namesake street is in this area.
Another item on the council’s agenda was the report of the City Attorney that liens wer filed against prominent banker Isaias W. Hellman (a former part of William Workman and F.P.F. Temple), Felix Signoret, and A. Domingo for expenses borne by property owners along a sewer project at Main and Arcadia streets (where the 101 Freeway cuts through downtown today.)
Then, there was the request of council member Matthew Teed “that six special policemen be appointed by the chief of police for the day of [the county] election,” which motion carried upon a vote of the body. This is a nice lead-in to the major topic of the Express that day, which was the upcoming election.
The Democratic Party dominated regional politics for a long period from the beginning of the American era to this period, spanning over twenty years. The siutation was such that, frequently, Republicans disguised themselves under such parties as the “Union” (during the Civil War) or, in the early to mid-1870s, as “People’s Party” or the “People’s Reform Party.”
Because newspapers were clear partisans of one or the other party and were generally referred to as “organs” of the Republicans or Democrats, the bitter invective between the papers was very clear and is often entertaining to read. In the case of this issue of the Express, there was a mixture of bile and ironic humor in a different way, in that the paper was Republican but was concerned about a threat from within the party.
The major editorial in the issue, titled “Republicanism Betrayed.” saw the Express inveighing against a “Fusion meeting” where “the so-called Reform party” promoted a concept called the “New Departure.” Evidently, a meeting of the Reformers included statements made that the Republican Party was created in 1856 (out of the ashes of the Whig Party) for the specific purpose of keeping the Union together in the face of the inevitability of the Civil War, but, now that the war was over some years, it was time for a new party.
For the Express, this attitude represented “a dangerous trap” inculcated by “false teachers.” The editorial added “we are certain that the mass of the Republican party here are not willing to follow” the line of thought put forward by the People’s Reform Party leadership. The paper stated that anyone voting for the Reform agenda and ticket was casting a vote for the destruction of the Republican Party, adding “his vote is a bullet shot into the heart of the party he professes to love.”
Elsewhere, in one of the advertising sections, was the ticket of the People’s Reform Party, including candidates for state senate, the assembly, and county offices, such as sheriff, district attorney, school superintendent, supervisors and others. The party’s nominee for treasurer was F.P.F. Temple, whose political career dated back over twenty years starting with his service as Los Angeles city treasurer and as one of the first county supervisors between 1850 and 1853. From there, Temple, a Whig and then a Republican, had trouble getting elected as a supervisor (failing in the 1863 and 1871 campaigns), so he decided to run for treasurer in 1873.
His opponent was Thomas Rowan (1842-1901), who came to Los Angeles in 1861 and operated the American Bakery before taking a position as teller at the bank of Hellman, Temple and Company in 1868 and including Isaias W. Hellman, Temple and William Workman as partners. When Hellman and Temple couldn’t agree on how to run the institution, the former bought out his partners in early 1871 and joined forces with former governor (and president of the other bank in town, Hayward and Company) John Downey to open Farmers and Merchants Bank, with which Rowan was affiliated.
Meanwhile, Temple and Workman opened their own bank later in 1871, so when Temple decided to challenge Rowan (after Temple’s son, Thomas, a teller in the Temple and Workman bank announced his candidacy and then stepped aside in favor of his father), it set up a spirited campaign in which supporters, though not the candidates, slung mud at the other party and maligned the two men.
It got to the point where Temple took out an advertisement pledging that he would keep a strict line of demarcation between his bank and the custody of the county’s funds. Rowan then responded, as shown in this issue, with a lengthy statement defending his record as the incumbent:
When the present political campaign commenced, I believed that I had entered on a contest which would be conducted against me in a gentlemanly manner. In this, however, I regret to find myself disappointed, if I may judge from the assertions of those who oppose me and their accredited organs. The course which they have pursued has been uniformly to defame my good name and slander me in my official capacity.
Rowan then went on to state that he handled the county funds “intact, apart, and separate distinctly” and that County Judge Ygnacio Sepulveda examined the monies each month with the judge adding his own statement to certify the truth of Rowan’s statement.
Having been maligned because he held the county funds in the Farmers and Merchants Bank, Rowan stated that he would “move the county funds to a safe place aside from either of the banks” when the supervisors provided him a vault that protected him if it was breached by burglars.
Rowan concluded by observing
I have not heretofore thought it necessary to give a pledge as Mr. Temple has done, nor did Mr. Temple himself require one from me when I held the position of teller in his bank.
This refers to Temple’s ad noted above and to the fact that Rowan had worked for Temple previously.
With this in mind, it is interesting to note the sarcasm of the Express in two short little canards issued against Temple. One had to do with the rival Herald, called mockingly the Error, and its propensity to lionize Temple (who would soon be a part-owner of that paper for a short time) for his many acts of charity in the community:
It is a great virtue to be the friend of the poor man; but it would be infintely more to Mr. Temple’s credit if his charity were of that kind recommended by te Scripture, which lets not the left hand know what the right hand giveth. Paraded benevolence hath its reward in the vanity which it tickles.
The other is more devastating for its brevity and razor-sharp wit:
If it was right to drive the money changers out of the Temple, it ought to be right to keep Temple out of the County Treasury. They don’t fit.
The election was just a few days after this issue of the Express and Rowan managed to fend off Temple by a narrow majority and the “People’s Reform” ticket was uniformly swamped by the Democrats.
In 1875, however, a rematch between Temple and Rowan ensued and the former barely claimed victory, being the only Republican to win a seat in that campaign. The victory was heavily tainted, though, by the suspension of the Temple and Workman bank the day of that election and its subsequent failure. Remarkably, Temple was allowed to take office months later and served out his two-year term, albeit with a deputy doing the work. Rowan went on to serve as mayor of Los Angeles from 1892 to 1894.
As we approach what will surely be a highly unusual and particularly hotly contested midterm election season this fall, it is interesting to look at an artifact like this newspaper to compare and contrast how campagins were conducted then and are now. Besides that, the paper has a lot to compare and contrast to generally, including advertisements, a few of which are shown here.