Read All About It in The “Los Angeles Express,” 17 June 1874

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

A main source of material on greater Los Angeles during its first significant period of growth and development, which lasted from the late 1860s through the mid 1870s, are newspapers.  Tonight’s “Read All About It” entry highlights the 17 June 1874 issue of the Los Angeles Express from the Homestead’s collection and there are a number of interesting articles, advertisements and other matter from the periodical.

An editorial and a letter from a reader subscribed as “Index” both address a long-time felt need in the city from the early years of the American era onward: adequate public buildings to meet the needs of the growing community.  In this case, both advocated for different uses for the county court house, which had been operating for a little more than a dozen years in the Market House, a commercial building erected by Jonathan Temple in 1859.

The economy then was in difficult straits, so, within a couple of years, the county leased the building from Temple for the operations of the courts, business previously conducted a short distance away on Spring Street in a dilapidated adobe building, also owned by Temple before he sold it to the county.


The letter from “Index” criticized a proposal in the Los Angeles Herald, a competitor of the Express, to build a new library on six acres atop Fort Moore Hill.  The library, created in 1872 with Thomas W. Temple, grandson of Homestead owners William and Nicolasa Workman, as a trustee, operated in the Downey Block at the corner of the triple intersection of Main, Spring, and Temple Streets.

While the facility undoubtedly needed a larger and more dedicated space, “Index” proposed that “the Court House building just fits the bill [original italics].”  Being in the center of the business section of town was a plus, while the rooms for the district and county courts would work well for the library and reading rooms, respectively, while the latter could host lectures.  The judges’ quarters would suffice for meeting space for committees and the librarian’s office.

In addition, the first floor could contain the needs of the city hall, including spaces for the council and offices for the mayor, treasurer, clerk, and surveyor.  This would be in great contrast to the “unsightly, inconvenient, and squalidly wretched quarters,” which could be exchanged with the Court House so that the county could build a new Court House and jail “suited to the wants of the county, and in keeping with the age in which we live.”


Returning to the Herald‘s championing of the Fort Moore Hill site, “Index” observed that the land was poor for ornamentation for a library or any other building, though the “gravel cement” found there was suitable “for paving the streets of this city,” a recommendation made by the city surveyor.  As for building thoroughfares up the steep hill, that would require a tremendous expenditure of funds, leading the writer to conclude, “Any one may know what the cost would be who will try to dig a hole in that historic soil large enough to plant a fence-post.”

In its editorial, the Express wholeheartedly agreed with the suggestion, observing that the conversion of the Court House for a city hall and library would “attract to its portals young men who would hesitate about climbing to the eminence of Fort Hill or walking to any distant portion of the city.”  For visitors, the building was “in the very lap of accessibility, and the spacious rooms would afford to them a splendid and inviting place to spend a pleasant hour.”

Moreover, the building simply wasn’t suited for a Court House as “it is cramped in space, [and] it is awkward in design” for that purpose, so having a new Court House where the old adobe house was on Spring Street should have been in the sights of the Board of Supervisors.


Local news was rather light generally speaking, though there were references to a few notable projects underway in the region.  One was about the recent completion of the Southern Pacific railroad line east from Los Angeles through the San Gabriel Valley (including a long right-of-way through the Rancho La Puente just north of the Workman House) to the community of Spadra in what is now southwestern Pomona.

A special train was to ply the route on 21 June, leaving Los Angeles at 9 a.m. with a return train at 1:30 p.m.  Fares were $2 for those who joined in the excursion, though Spadra only remained the end of the line for a short period.  In 1875, investors, with money loaned by the bank of Temple and Workman, created the town of Pomona and the rail line extended to that locale.  Later, it moved on to another new town, Colton, and eventually went further east.

Another was a project of promoters in Anaheim for the building of a wharf at Bolsa Chica in modern Huntington Beach.  This was the second attempt of Anaheim investors to build a port that would compete with the harbor at San Pedro/Wilmington, the first being Anaheim Landing where the San Gabriel River (rerouted in the winter of 1867-68) empties into the Pacific where Long Beach and Seal Beach meet today.


Anaheim Landing was supported financially by William Workman, who believed that transporting products from his portion of La Puente was better suited there, but the project failed.  The Bolsa Chica concept, however, did not take either.

Another item of note was a visit by a reporter from the paper to the newly completed headquarters of Farmers and Merchants Bank, headed by former governor John G. Downey and managed by the very able Isaias W. Hellman, a previous bank partner with Workman and his son-in-law, F.P.F. Temple.  Hellman bought out the latter in early 1871 and formed Farmers and Merchants, while Temple and Workman opened their own institution later that year.

The visitor to the bank quarters noted that “the new building does credit to the popular financial institution which occupies it,” and was admiring of the black walnut counter made by the local firm of Perry, Woodworth and Company as well as other locally made fixtures and furniture.  Hellman’s cashier’s office was considered “large and roomy,” while Downey’s presidential quarters was 440 square feet and “is elegantly furnished and carpeted.”


Two criminal reports are also notable.  One involved Lucca Marasovich, a Croatian miner and Gold Rush immigrant, who, it was stated, was to stand trial in mid-July “for brutal treatment of his wife, producing death.”  The piece noted that Rafaela Ledesma de Marasovich “was found dead in the house in which they lived in ‘Sonora[town],’ and that the neighbors said that the husband had beaten her the night before.”  Marasovich, however, claimed his wife died of natural causes.

As noted in a post about another issue of the Express on this blog two years ago, Marasovich was indicted for manslaughter but was convicted of assault and battery, which led to a one-year sentence in the county jail.  This was despite witness testimony of the beating and the coroner’s note of marks of violence on Señora Marasovich’s face.  As John Mack Faragher in his 2016 book on early Los Angeles crime and criminal justice, Eternity Street, noted, Marasovich was pardoned by the governor and released, returning to his occupation as a miner.

The other article on criminal activity involved a brutal assault on a young Chinese man.  The details were provided by a friend of the paper who stated that he’d sent his servant on an errand during which he “was stopped on the way and insulted by a gang of American boys.”  One of the latter had a knife and hacked at a tree while calling on the Chinese man to fight him.


This was refused and “the China boy at last made a bold attempt to flee, when the barbarous American jabbed at him with his knife, inflicting a severe wound in the hand.”  The wounded man escaped and was treated, but was confined to his room and unable to work.  It was stated that he intended to seek legal redress “to have the brutal hoodlum punished,” though one wonders why an arrest was not already made.

The Express concluded that “such things are a disgrace to our civilization, and we would be pleased to see such an example made of this young rowdy as would henceforth deter other ambitious ruffians from emulating him.”

One other article that is indicative of changing times in the region is a report on the closing exercises for the year of the Sisters of Charity school for girls.  This Roman Catholic institution later educated, Lucinda and Margarita Temple, the two surviving daughters of Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple, but it should be noted that two decades before, there were hardly any educational opportunities at all in greater Los Angeles for most children, boys and girls.


William Workman established a private school in the late 1850s at the Workman House for his Temple grandchildren and there were other wealthier denizens of greater Los Angeles who had similar arrangements.  The first public high school in the city only opened a year prior to this issue of the Express, while the only institution of higher learning (including younger grades, as well, but only for makes) was the Catholic St. Vincent’s College, the forerunner of today’s Loyola Marymount University.

Advertisements are always interesting to peruse for a wide array of reasons: to see who were the professionals in law, medicine and the like; who and what were the merchants and purveyors of goods and services; what public notices of interest were being published; and what was being promoted in real estate, among others.

In this issue are ads, for example, for the first suburb in the City of Los Angeles, the community of East Los Angeles, opened in 1873 and which was renamed Lincoln Heights decades later (allowing incorporated county land just outside the eastern limits of Los Angeles past Boyle Heights to be called East Los Angeles.)


To the north of the city along the Southern Pacific rail line being built from Los Angeles to meet a line coming down from the Bay Area was another new subdivision, the town site of San Fernando.  Developed by a former state senator from San Jose named Charles Maclay, the new community was the site of an auction, to be held on 3 July, in the rooms of Noyes and Durfee at the Temple Block, owned by F.P.F. Temple.  The auctioneers claimed, as was often asserted in situations like these, that the sale would be “the largest sale of real estate that has ever been held in this State.”

New ads concerned the third anniversary celebration of the Turnverein Germania, a social organization of German residents of the city, who were generally called “Turners,”; the calling of a meeting of the 38s, the volunteer fire department of the city (a professional department did not exist for another decade), for the selection of uniforms and for planning of their involvement in the city’s Independence Day celebration; a notice to wharf builders requesting sealed proposals for the Bolsa Chica project mentioned above.

Lastly, there are some fascinating ads amidst others for druggists and other purveyors of elixirs for health.  One is from Dr. Gibbon’s Dispensary in San Francisco and titled “To the Unfortunate! New Remedies!  New Remedies!” and includes a lengthy discourse on “Seminal Weakness” which claimed that “seminal emission [is] the consequence of self-abuse.”  The good doctor averred that:

This solitary vice, or depraved sexual indulgence, is practiced by the youth of both sexes to an almost unlimited extent, producing with unerring certainty the following train of morbid symptoms, unless combatted by scientific medical measures, viz: Sallow countenance, dark spots under the eyes, pain in the head, ringing in the ears, noise like the rustling of leaves and the rattling of chariots, uneasiness about the loins, weakness of the limbs, confused vision, blunted intellect, loss of confidence, diffidence in approaching strangers, dislike to form new acquaintances, disposition to shun society, loss of memory, hectic flushes, pimples and various eruptions about the face, furred tongue, foeted [fetid] breath, coughs, consumption, night sweats, monomania and frequent insanity.

To avoid these debilitating conditions, all that had to be done was to secure from Dr. Gibbon “his new and scientific mode of treating these diseases which never fails of effecting a quick and radical cure.”  For $10 (a substantial sum for the day), a medicine package would be sent once a sufferer sent by letter the symptoms and length the disease was present.


In another somewhat related vein, the Howard Association of Philadelphia had an ad that offered to combat “Obstacles to Marriage” and “Happy Relief to Young Men” who sought to recover “from the effects of Errors and Abuses in early life” and wanted their “manhood restored.”  Offering new treatments and “remarkable remedies,” the Association, which, naturally, had “a high reputation for honorable conduct and professional skill,” would send, absolutely free, books and pamphlets “in sealed envelopes” to those seeking out their assistance.

These elements of the Express are among the many fascinating and illuminating components that help give some perspective to life in Los Angeles in the mid-1870s, one of the three focus decades in the Homestead’s interpretive era of 1830-1930.  Browsing the four pages of the paper provides material not found in other sources, rare as they are,for that period in the region.  Look for more posts here from historic newspapers in the museum’s holdings.


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