by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Greater Los Angeles, after experiencing its first sustained period of economic and population growth in the period from the late 1860s through the mid 1870s, underwent a far more dramatic boom in the later 1880s after the Atchsion, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad completed its direct transcontinental line to the region in 1885.
During the peak years of the boom in 1887 and 1888 the mayor of Los Angeles was William Henry Workman, nephew of the Homestead’s founders, William and Nicolasa Workman. While there were many epithets applied by boosters and promoters of the City of Angels during those years, including Mayor Workman, today’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection used one that stands out.
The Southern California Bulletin was a short-lived promotional paper issued by the Southern California Publishing Company. A firm by that name incorporated in August 1887 and was composed of a directorate of nine men, all but one, who was from Pomona, residents of Los Angeles. Among them was A.A. Bynon, who oversaw the publication of the Los Angeles City Directory at the time.
When the Bulletin made its debut in October, however, the masthead did not say “Los Angeles,” but instead read “Boston” and the company gave an address in what is now called the “Downtown Crossing” area a little east of the Boston Common. Branch offices were located on Second Street at Main in Los Angeles and in San Diego.
Why Boston was chosen as the headquarters is not known, though one of the advertisers was the travel firm located in that city and headed by Walter Raymond, who with Irvine Whitcomb, operated “Raymond’s Vacation Excursions,” one of the largest and most popular purveyors of tourist trips to the region. Raymond is also well-known locally for his namesake South Pasadena luxury hotel, which opened its doors in 1886 and was widely used by travelers who flocked to greater Los Angeles.
The Homestead’s collection has the January 1888 issue and the Publisher’s Notice states that the Bulletin was:
devoted to the publishing of important and reliable information concerning Southern California, its climate, products, and mineral resources; its commercial, social, and economic interests.
Believing that Southern California has before it a very great future, that many thousands desire information concerning it, and will soon remove thither, the publishers undertake to issue this monthly journal, which they will seek to make of the highest order, in both the matter and manner of its publication.
Accordingly, the publication includes an array of articles promoting the region to its readers. One, particularly apt for January, concerned “the superiority of the climate of Southern California overall all others in North America.” It observed that the region “alone has been exempt from blizzards . . . [and] alone has no records of loss of life from freezing to death or being lost in blinding snow-storms, and none of serious and widespread injury to fruit from killing frost.”
There was, however, an especially severe winter in 1887-88, but it was not such as to cause enormous damage to fruit crops, especially that of the orange, which was rapidly becoming identified with the region. If anything, the piece argued, economic losses were “due rather to lack of preparation . . . than to actual cold.”
What was expected, due to the crippling cold and snow that blanketed much of the nation that winter was “to cause another great increase in the hegira [referring to the Muslim prophet Muhammad’s migration from Mecca to Medina in 622] to the favored region in the far-away corner on the Pacific Coast.”
Having said this, the article sought to correct myths about the size and habitability of Southern California, including the assertion that “there is room there for millions of people yet unborn,” by noting that the region is largely composed on desert and mountains. In fact, it cautioned that “there is only a small portion of even the glorious land of sunshine and flowers which is of the best” and advised those looking for a “winter’s retreat” or permanent relocation to do so quickly.
The next article was titled “The Intrinsic Value of an Acre in Southern California” and noted that newcomers were “finding the price of land high in Southern California as compared with farming lands east of the Rocky Mountains.” While there were examples “in which land bears a special value” because of “grand scenery, extraordinary climate, and good commercial situation,” most of the tracts in the region had values “based largely upon productive power” even though climate “may also enter into the question.”
What set the area apart, it was claimed, was the land’s capacity for “supporting a large family upon a small piece of ground” including tracts of ten or twenty acres so that “the results are simply enormous.” Accounting for the fact that these areas boasted “the best conditions,” it was still asserted that the much of the rest of the region “are still so far ahead of anything that can be done in the East that they give an extraordinary value to the land.”
With those ten or twenty acre tracts, albeit those that could be irrigated, Southern California farmers make
a much better living . . . with very little care, with more than half their time to spare, both winter and summer, with money for frequent pleasure trips to the mountains or to the coast; to attend every “show” within forty miles; to buy new “gimcracks” [low value showy objects] of every kind; to experiment with new trees and vines and new machinery; to build new houses and outbuildings, reservoirs and water works, and with little or no interest to pay.
The climate not only allowed for greater productivity, the argument ended, but for diversity in products. An example given was the cultivation of grapes for raisins, denoted “an easy and pleasant business” because “the vines have no diseases and no insect enemies” and also required “no care but pruning, ploughing, and picking.”
As for citrus, it was stated that “the profits of oranges and lemons are very great” and claimed that the latter were actually more profitable than the former, even though oranges were far more popular and prevalent. The article added that more profit could come from a ten-acre grove than 160 acres of farmland east of the Rockies.
An additional thirty acres could provide for alfalfa to feed livestock, a half-acre vegetable garden, and room for plenty more in citrus, olives, raisin grapes, wine grapes [which were, however, soon ravaged by disease in the region], hay, and others. Most of this, the piece continued, could be done dry farmed, without irrigation and olives were highlighted for their hardiness, productivity, low use of water, and use as a food and for oil.
Much of the material concerned San Diego and its environs, but there was also a lengthy reprinting of an article from the Los Angeles Times and its New Year’s Day edition. Here is where the statement was made, in answer to a saying that “when good Americans die they go to Paris” that Los Angeles “is destined to become the Paris of the North American Continent” and also turn into “an American centre for art and pleasure, with many advantages over its European prototype.”
For the New England resident, there was no ocean crossing
and when he arrives here he finds a climate and products superior to anything that Europe can show. He needs to study no foreign laws or language, can educate his children in his own faith, under his own flag, and, if he so desires, may find far more remunerative investments for his capital than he can at home. Our Eastern brethren have begun to discover these facts, and that is why our hotels are crowded with families of wealth and education, who come, are conquered, and stay.
The piece gave a brief historical summary of the City of Angels and noted that “for many years the city gave no sign of becoming a place of importance; in fact, about this time [1850, when it became an incorporated American city] it even declined.” By 1870, there were, it was said, some 8,000 residents and “the city was isolated from the world and its inhabitants asleep.” John Downey, Isaias W. Hellman, Phineas Banning, F.P.F. Temple, Robert Widney and others would have vigorously disputed this assertion, as many changes were underway and growth in evidence, but it did pale in comparison to the Boom of the Eighties.
Interestingly, the article marked the importance of the 1876 arrival of the Southern Pacific railroad from the Bay Area, certainly a milestone, but did not mention the direct transcontinental route of almost a decade later, except indirectly. In any case, it stated that Los Angeles “awoke from her sleep of a century” and that its “solid growth . . . has only just commenced. It cannot recede. It will not stand still. It will continue its onward march until it is the chief city of the Pacific Coast and the metropolis of Western civilization.”
The remainder of the piece gives much statistical information, including a figure of $84 million in real estate and improvements in Los Angeles County, about five times that recorded by the assessor in 1881. There was a long list of personal property aggregating to over $7 million, of which more than 20% was in goods, wares and merchandise and other amounts of significance in livestock, furniture and fixtures, and wagons and vehicles. Even paltry figures like $500 in broom-corn and $630 in honey were included.
There were several small pieces on specific developments, such as Cahuenga (in what became Hollywood) and Lankershim (North Hollywood area) locally and others in the regions in and around San Diego, San Bernardino and Redlands.
Of note is a short article on “Gen. John C. Fremont’s Future Home.” Frémont, whose adventures during the Mexican-American War have been covered in this blog, turned 75 in 1888 and was the honored guest at a dinner in Los Angeles in January. Moreover, the “Pathfinder,” so named because of his somewhat free-form explorations of the American West in the early 1840s and who was referred to here as the “gallant old general,” despite his checkered Civil War record and questionable performance as governor of territorial Arizona, was offered his choice of several locations for a Los Angeles-area residence.
Fremont had decided, at the time of publication, to locate in Inglewood, while the developers of that new community were also those of Redondo Beach, and, it was reported, “presented Gen. Fremont with a cottage house upon the seashore, as well.” In mentioning his wife, Jessie, daughter of the very powerful Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, the article stated “few women have held so high a place in the affections of the American people or evoked a greater enthusiasm.”
Tellingly, the piece went on that “the mention of her name in connection with that suburb [Inglewood] has drawn much attention to a place which certainly presents many attractions.” That angle for promotion nicely cued up, the article concluded that “nowhere is more being done to afford all those advantages which our best people demand in these days; and we congratulate both General and Mrs. Fremont and Inglewood upon the union of their interests and associations.” More about the Fremont offer and the development of Inglewood can be found in this post on this blog.
Naturally, advertising was required to pay the expenses incurred in the production of the Bulletin and they range from small ads for regional banks on the first page to those for developments throughout Southern California elsewhere. Local ones include the Lankershim Ranch Land and Water Company and the Cahuenga Land and Water Company, both housed at the same address in the Bryson-Bonebrake Block, formerly the home of an early public school at Second and Spring streets.
Others include the aforementioned developers of Redondo Beach, Inglewood, and the Centinela ranch. With the latter, William Workman and F.P.F. Temple had ownership shares with Daniel Freeman and others when they promoted the Centinela town site before the failure of their bank, which doomed the project. Some of that land was acquired by Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, when he foreclosed in 1879 on a loan to the bank and this became the Baldwin Hills.
The new coastal town of Long Beach, which rose from the ashes of the failed American City, and Garvanza, a development “midway between Los Angeles and Pasadena on the main line of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé R.R.” are also advertised. There are also a number for the Riverside, San Bernardino, Redlands, and Simi Valley areas along with many from the San Diego region.
The Southern California Bulletin does not appear to have lasted beyond spring 1888 and the Boom of the Eighties flamed out soon thereafter. This rare surviving example of the publication is a fascinating and informative artifact documenting many aspects of that boom. As the reprinted Times article noted, the region would not recede or stand still in subsequent decades through more in the series of development booms that burst forth in greater Los Angeles.