Victorian Fair Preview: Connecting With Nature at Hollenbeck Park

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Well, the United States Weather Service forecast shows, for now, partly sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-70s for this weekend’s Victorian Fair of the Far West festival at the Homestead.  If this portent proves prescient, it should be a beautiful weekend for a spring event amid the historic houses and the spring landscape at the museum.

Landscape, in fact, is a significant part of our exhibit at the Workman House for the festival as we look at how greater Los Angeles and its relationship with natural environments evolved dramatically during the Victorian era, roughly from 1840 to 1900, a good two-thirds of our interpretive period.

Yesterday’s post highlighted photographs in our collection from Eastlake Park, renamed Lincoln Park just over a century ago, as one of the signature public spaces created in what might be termed a “parks boom” in Los Angeles in the years following the famed Boom of the 1880s.

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Eastlake’s direct counterpart was Westlake, which opened just prior, at the opposite end of the city, but there was another important public park that came into being during the early 1890s:  Hollenbeck Park in Boyle Heights.  Today’s post features some great images of Hollenbeck from the museum’s collection, including a more direct connection to the Homestead’s history.

As noted yesterday, Eastlake was established in the original East Los Angeles, the first suburban subdivision within the city when it was developed by Dr. John S. Griffin and others in 1873.  At the time Los Angeles was at the peak of its first significant period of growth, though not as substantial and wide-ranging as the Boom of the Eighties.

East Los Angeles had, as one of its street honoring prominent personages in the city, Workman Street as a major thoroughfare.  Two years later, William Henry Workman, with partners John Lazzarevich and Isaias W. Hellman, launched the subdivision of Boyle Heights.

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This area directly east of downtown and across the Los Angeles River was previously known as Paredon Blanco, or White Bluffs, because of the elevated area above “the Flats” that bordered the river and on which the earliest residents of the area settled in the 1830s.  This was the López family, whose origins in Los Angeles dated back to the Spanish era in the 18th century.

Esteban López was given a grant of land at Paredon Blanco in the mid-1830s and he and his descendants occupied areas along the Flats and on the bluffs above in subsequent decades.  These included his sons Francisco, or Chico; Geronimo, who later was an early settler in the town of San Fernando (subdivided in 1874); and daughters Manuela and Josefa and their husbands also resided in the area.

In 1852, Esteban Lopez died and several years later, his widow Petra Varela sold off much of the Paredon Blanco property to Irish immigrants Mathew Keller and Andrew Boyle.  Both took over and expanded vineyards planted by the López family, with Keller becoming an especially prominent winemaker in Los Angeles and Boyle, who also had a shoe store, producing his product under the Paredon Blanco name.

19053 View of Hollenbeck Park 2016.74.1.1

Boyle built the first brick house in the area on the bluff overlooking the town and remained successful in business and as a city council member until his death in 1871.  His only child, Maria (pronounced Mah-rye-ah), married William H. Workman four years prior to that.  With Boyle’s death, the Workmans took over his Paredon Blanco property and the growing economy led to the creation of Boyle Heights.

Lazzarevich, who was born in what is now Croatia, was a Los Angeles grocer, and a widower with two sons married Juanita López, whose cousin worked in the store.  She was the daughter of Chico López, who had a particularly well-developed property at Paredon Blanco.  Lazzarevich retired from the grocery business and became a real estate developer through his wife’s inherited property.

As for Hellman, his connection was through his tremendous business and financial acumen.  A Bavarian Jew who came to Los Angeles with a brother to join some cousins and their store, Hellman soon opened his own retail establishment.  He quickly added an informal banking operation, as well, and then opened, in 1868, the second bank in Los Angeles with partners William Workman and F.P.F. Temple.

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That enterprise, however, foundered and Hellman joined with ex-governor John G. Downey to form Farmers and Merchants Bank, while Temple and Workman set up their own bank of that name.  Among Hellman’s early ventures into real estate was the acquisition of Rancho Cucamonga in 1870 and, five years later, teaming with Lazzarevich and William Henry Workman, nephew of Hellman’s former bank partner, to develop Boyle Heights.

An early investor in Boyle Heights was John E. Hollenbeck, who’d tried to join the hordes of fortune seekers during the California Gold Rush but ran low on funds during his journey and was stranded in Central America.  He stayed in Nicaragua for nearly a quarter century and became a shipping and transportation success there, as well as owning a hotel with his wife, German-born Elizabeth Hatsfeld.

Visiting Los Angeles in the mid-1870s, Hollenbeck acquired land in Boyle Heights and deposited $25,000 in the bank of Temple and Workman, returning to Nicaragua to close up business affairs there for the return to the City of Angels.  This was just in time to learn that an economic panic struck the region and the bank’s collapse meant the loss of his substantial deposit.

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Despite this setback, Hollenbeck was able to become a bank president, builder of the Hollenbeck Hotel in downtown, invest in 5,000 acres of Rancho La Puente sold to him by the Rowland family, and form a partnership with William H. Workman to subdivide portions of Boyle Heights.  Weakened by exposure to malaria in Central America, Hollenbeck died suddenly of a heart attack in 1885.

His widow, who’d managed the hotel she and John then purchased and operated, proved to be an excellent business mind and managed her husband’s affairs ably.  She expanded the Hollenbeck Hotel, continued the management of his properties and, in tribute to her husband, established the Hollenbeck Home for the Aged, a facility on their bluff-top property for indigent residents.

Another way to honor John Hollenbeck was the establishment of the park.  Ten acres of the land was donated by his widow and fifteen by William H. Workman.  Workman, who was Los Angeles’ mayor during the Boom of the Eighties then served for several years on the city’s parks commission and had a major role in the development of Westlake, Eastlake and Hollenbeck parks, among others.

0517024Three Young Women On Hollenbeck Park Footbridge

Work began in earnest early in 1892, just before Eastlake Park was completed, and initially $10,000 was allocated by the City for work at the new facility, which included a lake, boathouse, distinctive curved bridge over the body of water, and a diverse palette of landscaping elements, including many trees, shrubs, bushes and walks.  As noted yesterday, the great boom of several years before led to the inevitable bust and the 1890s proved to be a decade of economic difficulty including a national depression that broke out in 1893, the year Hollenbeck was dedicated

It turned out that shoddy work had been done, though, and there had to be significant repairs done mid-decade, but Hollenbeck turned out to be as important a community amenity as Westlake and Eastlake were in their neighborhoods.  Similarly, developers benefited from the park’s allure and charm, including William H. Workman, whose “Workman Park Tract” was established around the park, and Elizabeth Hollenbeck, who subdivided the “Hollenbeck Park Heights Tract.”

Like the Westlake and East Los Angeles (Lincoln Heights) areas, the middle and upper middle class residential neighborhoods of Boyle Heights gave way by the 1920s to a more working class appearance.  The City’s brief “parks boom” also faded and it became increasingly less able to maintain the beauty and features of Hollenbeck, though it still remained a vital neighborhood feature.

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In the post-World War II years, a controversial freeway plan carved up sections of Boyle Heights in ways not found in other areas of the city, as providing ready access to downtown from outlying suburbs was the priority, rather than maintaining the integrity of the east-side neighborhood.  Hollenbeck Park had its southwest corner, including part of the lake, covered by the construction of Interstates 5 and 10, while the 4th Street northbound off-ramp cuts into the northwest corner.

Despite these incursions, Hollenbeck Park is still a crucial recreational element to Boyle Heights.  The name is also retained at Hollenbeck Junior High School, which opened as Boyle Heights Junior High in the early 1920s and then changed its name as there were attempts to rename the community as Hollenbeck Heights.  This latter attempt did not catch on, however.

The octet of photographs here from the museum’s holdings range from about the late 1890s through the 1920s and show a range of views of the beautiful park.  One of the earliest, a stereoscopic image, shows a dapper gent on a walk next to the lake with a gazebo across the body of water, with pristine lawns, a variety of trees, and a planter in view.

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Another stereoview includes the handsome boat house with its steeply gabled roof and much of the landscape as in the other view, but from a different orientation.  A fine view from the 6th Street Bridge, which no longer exists, shows a nice panorama of the lake and surrounding areas, with the density of the landscape remarkable.  That bridge is shown in another view with a mirror image reflection in the lake, while another shows movie filming on the span.

A distinctive feature of the park was a curved footbridge over the lake and there is a nicely framed photograph with parts of trees in the upper corners to highlight three ladies on the span.   The same person who took and inscribed the photo of the lake from the 6th Street Bridge also took the nice one of a family standing in a profusion of plantings.  Finally, a stereoscopic photo shows a young boy gazing out over a portion of the park where a stepped series of pools brought water into the lake amid more impressive displays of botanical specimens.

These photos are just a sampling of several dozen images in the Homestead’s holdings of this landmark park.

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