Through the Viewfinder: New High Street Looking South Toward Temple Street, Los Angeles, ca. 1873

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Henry T. Payne, born about 1845 in Illinois, was one of the earliest and most prolific of the pioneer photographers of greater Los Angeles.  He acquired the Sunbeam Gallery of William M. Godfrey, who took some of the earliest views of the city and region, and reissued many of Godfrey’s views under his own name as well as took his own photos.

The Homestead’s collection has over 70 views attributed to Payne as a solo photographer during the 1870s as well as when he was in a partnership with his brother Daniel and Thomas Stanton under the firm name of Payne, Stanton and Company into the early 1880s.  Tonight’s highlighted image is a view from New High Street, now Spring Street, just north of Temple Street looking southward.

A short report about the operation of “a busy hive of bees” at the new Los Angeles High School in the report of the county school superintendent, Los Angeles Herald, 17 January 1874.

The stereoscopic image, printed twice on a card with the images slightly offset to help give a three-dimensional effect when viewed through a stereopticon, was assigned the inventory number “175” and titled in pencil, “School House.”  This refers to the main subject, the first Los Angeles High School, which began construction in July 1872 and was completed the following year.

The Italianate edifice, surmounted by a clock tower, was built on what was previously known as Poundcake Hill, distinctive for its very smooth rounded top.  It is likely that the photo was taken not long after the building’s completion; in fact, Payne probably took the image because of that fact.  A set of several dark objects around the school house were trees with boxes to train them to grow straight.

A feature article about the graduation of the high school’s first senior class, Herald, 29 May 1875.  Among the seven students who received their diplomas was Yda Addis, who will be the subject of the Homestead’s second presentation in this year’s “Female Justice” series on 3 May.

Another dark area near the center is part of a wooden staircase that descended the hill to New High for access to the structure from the east—the main entrance was actually on its west elevation on Fort Street, later renamed Broadway.  The school was later moved across Temple Street to the north and its descendant is now west of downtown on Olympic Boulevard between Crenshaw Boulevard and La Brea Avenue.

There are two other notable buildings and sites in the stereoview.  In the foreground, at the northwest corner of Temple and New High, is a lumber yard that was formerly the location of the corral for the adobe residence of Jonathan Temple, the second American or European to live in Los Angeles when he arrived in the sparsely populated and remote Mexican frontier pueblo in 1828.  Temple’s home later became the site of a business building erected by former California governor John G. Downey.  Temple also created his namesake street, starting with a modest block-long lane in the mid-1850s, though it expanded westward as the years went by.

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This stereoscopic photograph from the Homestead’s collection was taken by pioneer Los Angeles photographer Henry T. Payne about 1873 and shows the newly built high school, the Griffith, Lynch and Company lumber yard and St. Athanasius’ Episcopal Church.  New High Street is in the foreground and the intersection with Temple Street is at the left center edge.

Meantime, the corral was converted into the lumber yard, owned for a time by Phineas Banning, the enterprising Delaware native who came to Los Angeles in the early 1850s and was best known for his energetic work developing what became the Port of Los Angeles and his town site of Wilmington, named for his hometown.

After Banning sold the business in the early 1860s, the yard was operated by John J. Tomlinson and his brother-in-law John M. Griffith and, after the former died in 1868 just as Los Angeles was entering its first period of significant and sustained growth (including the greater demand for lumber), Griffith operated the yard on his own for a few years.  By 1871, he was joined by Santa Cruz lumber baron Sedgwick Lynch and Griffith and Lynch remained in business until Lynch died in 1881.

Herald, 2 October 1873.  Griffith, Lynch and Company had moved its main quarters to Alameda and First streets.

Besides being a prosperous business as the town grew, the yard had a grisly and unsavory use.  Its main gated entrance off Temple Street featured a massive horizontal crossbeam and lynch mobs found the beam to be useful for their horrific designs in hanging suspected criminals.

Its first documented use came in 1863 when John Sanford, the brother-in-law of Banning, was murdered north of Los Angeles along the “Grapevine” where Interstate 5 runs now.  The murderer, Charles Wilkins, was arrested and housed in the county jail on Spring Street between Temple and First, but a mob stormed the facility, seized Wilkins, marched him to the yard and hung him.  Banning was certainly involved and, though he no longer owned the yard, it was an obvious place in his mind.

Los Angeles Express, 20 March 1875.  The first boom in Los Angeles kept the lumber merchants very busy, but the boom went bust just months later and a long economic reversal ensued lasting about a decade.

Seven years later, when Griffith was sole owner, another mob used the yard’s beam in the lynching of Michel Lachenais, who’d been involved in at least three homicides, the last being the killing of his neighbor Jacob Bell.  Confined in the same jail where Wilkins had been held, Lachenais was taken by the enraged crowd, which was led by a self-styled vigilance committee.

On 24 October 1871, a mob of hundreds of Americans, Europeans and Latinos, stirred to a frenzy when inter-Chinese conflict on the Calle de los Negros, southeast of the Plaza, led to the wounding of a police officer and the killing of an American resident, stormed buildings in the Calle and lynched 19 Chinese, including a teen.  Some of the victims were hanged from the notorious beam at the lumber yard and Griffith tore it out to avoid its continued use for the nefarious purpose.  Later, after Griffith and Lynch moved to a new site at First and Alameda, a stable occupied part of the property.

Express, 23 March 1874.  St. Athanasius’ underwent renovation based, the paper reported, on “foolish reports about its unsafeness.”

Finally, the structure behind the lumber yard and on the southwest corner of New High and Temple is the first permanent Protestant church in Los Angeles, St. Athanasius’s Episcopal Church.  Built in 1864, it was directly across from where Lachenais and the Chinese were lynched and it remained in place until the early 1890s.

When the first purpose-built Los Angeles County Courthouse (long located in Jonathan Temple’s converted Market House between Main and Spring where City Hall is today) was erected where the high school was formerly located, the church was relocated.  The congregation, however, moved in 1883 to a location on the west side of Central Park and the church was renamed St. Paul’s.  In the early 1920s, the church site there was sold and the Biltmore Hotel was built on that spot (the park, meanwhile, had recently been renamed Pershing Square after World War I American military commander, General John J. “Black Jack’ Pershing).

Los Angeles Times, 16 August 1891.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, the construction of which began in 1923 and finished two years later, was at Figueroa Street and Wilshire Boulevard until it was razed in 1980.  As for the St. Athanasius name, it was revived in 1902 when it was bestowed on a church built in the Echo Park neighborhood northwest of downtown.  After 1994, the facility is known as the Cathedral Center of St. Paul, renamed St. Paul’s Commons in 2019 (the Episcopal cathedral for the Diocese of Los Angeles is St. John’s near USC, so designated in 2008).  Thanks are given to diocesan historiographer and archivist Bob Williams for his correction on this last sentence.

Though this photo has appeared in this blog before in a post highlighting a 1929 program from the St. Athanasius Church in Echo Park, this is its opportunity to be featured and it is a striking image reflective of the growing city during its first boom period.  In fact, one wonders (or at least one of us does!) if Payne deliberately included the civilizing institutions of church and school as a contrast to the uncivilized use of the lumber yard by lynching parties!

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