Reading Between the Lines: A Remarkable Letter to Los Angeles, 28 January 1871

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The Homestead’s collection of approximately 30,000 historic artifacts contains all manner of objects spanning an array of types from photographs to maps to magazines and newspapers to three-dimensional artifacts—all acquired to interpret the history of greater Los Angeles with the Workman and Temple families as a focal point, but the context of place and time (our interpretive period of 1830-1930) also vital.

Today’s featured artifact is a remarkable letter penned on 28 January 1871 from Belleville, Illinois, a town southeast of St. Louis, by a man only identified as Louis to a woman in Los Angeles, known just as Lena.  The four-page missive has some very interesting things to say about the City of Angels, including repugnant comments about its Latinos.  There is also a notable tangent about one of the city’s earliest photographers and his impressive wife.

Krafft portrait
Louis P. Krafft (1843-1896), author of the letter, though, when it was acquired, all we knew was his first name.  It took a little digging to identify him, his recipient and others mentioned in the missive.

The letter began with an acknowledgement that “your letter from Los Angelos [sic] of the 15th I received yesterday,” upon which Louis decided to skip a church meeting (adding some uncomplimentary comments about the preacher) to pen his reply.  He then wrote “your letter gave me the pleasing news of your safe arrival among the mexicans” and added, “they ought to be good people from the name their city bears.”

Continuing on with his appraisal of people he did not know, Louis remarked,

I suppose the term “the Angels” will only apply to the dark-eyed Senoritas, for the Senors are a greasy set, if report be true, but then since the place has become a fashionable resort, as I judge it is, from the grand Hotel, of course, you had society more refined than the “natives”.

The musing went on: “How romantic it would have been had You found no American gentlemen in those regions, and instead made the acquaintance of some spanish ‘caballero,’ who might with equal facility have taught his fair charge to manage the fiery steed or to have touched the tender strings of the lute.”

Krafft 1870 census
Krafft was an attorney in Belleville, Illinois, working with his father and is shown here with his family in the 1870 census taken about six months before he penned his letter to Lena Harrison.

Adding that Lena preferred riding horses to riding in a buggy, Louis meditated upon a vision of “how much more poetry there would have been in sitting under the orange tree, listening to the soft notes of the guitar—than in eating [a] civilized lunch, prepared at the Grand Hotel.”

Next, he supposed that she would think him a cynic “had I been there, with an appetite whettened [whetted] by the mountain air” so that Louis “should have preferred something more substantial than music & romance.”  He concluded this revelry by offering, “I candidly confess I should have chosen the lunch from the grand Hotel.”  The hotel, incidentally, could well be the recently completed Pico House, which still stands at the south end of the historic Plaza.

Harrison 1850 census
Philena (Lena) Harrison, with her widowed mother and siblings next to her uncle and his family in Belleville in the 1850 federal census.

These fascinating passages are eloquent expressions of stereotypes about greater Los Angeles that would only grow more common in future years, particularly with the publication of Helen Hunt Jackson’s famous novel Ramona about a dozen years later and the romanticization of regional history that rose rapidly.

Much of the remainder of the letter concerned local girls who talked of going to the “Sandwich Islands,” better known to us as Hawaii and Louis’ wry aside about seasickness and the differences between the rougher Atlantic and the aptly named Pacific oceans.  One wonders how Lena got out to Los Angeles, given that the transcontinental railroad from Omaha to Oakland was finished less than two years prior.

This and the following three images comprise the four-page letter in the museum’s holdings from Louis Krafft, writing from Belleville, to Lena Harrison, then in Los Angeles, and dated 28 January 1871.

There were the common references to the health of Louis and family members, the winter weather, and a statement that he ran into two of Lena’s siblings in Belleville recently.  With respect to the weather, he wrote “O for the snowy plains of Minnesota or the balmy airs of Los Angelos; something constant.”

The concluding paragraph revealed the relationship between the writer and recipient: “In parting Friend Louis could only offer you his hand; your Dear Louis would press the long-loved One to his heart, and print a kiss upon those lips.”

Given the romantic tone of the end of the missive, a little searching located the identities of the two (thanks to mention of Lena’s brother Theophilus, an uncommon name easy to corroborate when combing census records) Louis Phillip Krafft was born in 1843 in Belleville, where his Bavarian-born father was an attorney.  In the 1870 federal census, Louis was in partnership with his father and the letter’s style and grammar do indicate that he was highly educated.


As for his lady love, she was Philena Harrison, born the year after Louis and also raised in Belleville.  Her father died when she was just three years old leaving his widow and seven children, of which Lena was the sixth.  Her mother died in July 1870 and it is not known whether this prompted Lena to head west to Los Angeles, because this letter was sent to her six months afterward.

Lena returned to Illinois and, in 1874, obtained a passport, suggesting that she had a love of travel, an unusual circumstance for an unmarried woman at the time. In 1879, Louis and Lena, who were in their mid-thirties, were married in Santa Clara, the mission and college town (members of the Temple family attended the university there in the 1860s and 1870s, as well as Thomas W. Temple II in the 1910s and 1920s).

By the following year’s census, however, they were back in Belleville, with Louis continuing his partnership in his father’s law firm, where he had large companies as clients and also managed estates and worked probate cases.  Because of his poor health, however, Louis and Lena, who did not have children returned to San Jose later in 1880 and he opened his own law practice, specializing in civil matters.

Belleville letter p3

In 1891, he formed a partnership with a prominent Superior Court judge, Ashbel S. Kittredge and Louis was active in the Methodist Church and was also a trustee of the University of the Pacific in Stockton.  In 1896, he died at age 53 from heart disease. Lena, three years later, applied for another passport, stating that she was a journalist and planned to be away for up to two years (she was not located in a search of the 1900 census).  She died at age 78 in October 1922 and is buried with Louis at Oak Hill Memorial Park in San Jose.

As for the tangent, that came with Louis telling Lena,

by the way I forgot to mention in my former letters that a lady friend of mine is now living in or near Los Angelos; she was formerly a Miss Barnes (‘Saint Cecilia’ I called her because she was so pretty) . . . [she] married in Chicago last summer & immediately removed with her husband to his home in Cal., his name I cannot now recall.

Louis added that Miss Barnes was a relative of a Mrs. Murray and that tidbit also helped in identification as Cecilia Barnes was another Belleville resident, whose mother’s maiden name was Murray.

Belleville letter p4

While Louis was wrong about the location of the marriage, Cecilia Barnes, born in October 1847, was wedded on 24 May 1870 to Stephen A. Rendall, born in Somerset, England in 1836, a migrant to the United States at age 10, and who happened to be one of the early professional photographers of Los Angeles.  He is best known for his impressive panoramic photograph of Los Angeles, stitched together from several images taken in succession from atop a hill to the west, and taken on 10 May 1869.

Rendall photographs are pretty rare, as his career in the City of Angels appears to have been short, and the Homestead has seven of his images, all carte de visite portraits popular at the time.  One, of Juan Bautista Wilson, the son of William Workman’s long-time friend, Benjamin D. Wilson and who committed suicide in 1870, was featured on this blog last summer.

Kraft obit San Jose Mercury News 13Jul96
San Jose Mercury News, 13 July 1896.

Rendall, who inherited money from his well-to-do father, didn’t need to make money at photography, unlike contemporaries such as William M. Godfrey and Henry T. Payne.  He became a naturalized U.S. citizen at the end of 1869 and also invested in several tracts of real estate, including the property where St. Vibiana Cathedral was built in 1876.

Not long after he married Cecilia Barnes (she was said in a early 1920s history of Los Angeles to be one of the first American brides in the town, which is not actually the case), the couple moved to Santa Rosa.  There, Rendall built one of the first substantial brick business buildings in that town and was a prominent citizen.

Rendall Barnes marriage record 24May70
A Los Angeles County marriage record book from the 1890s also includes a listing for the nuptial of Cecelia Barnes and Stephen A. Rendall, though they were married in May 1870 in Illinois.

During the famed Boom of the 1880s period and, after about fifteen years in Santa Rosa, the Rendalls returned to Los Angeles and Stephen bought substantial property west of the city.  This was subdivided and became the Westlake Park district.  The family had a large home at the corner of Alvarado and Ninth streets, the latter now James M. Wood Boulevard.  It was said that Stephen Rendall came up with the names of Westlake, Park View, Lake View, Alvarado and Bonnie Brae and that he paid for an extension of a streetcar line to his property.

Stephen Rendall died in 1905, but his wife had some interesting elements to her life aside from him.  For example, in 1896, she wrote a lengthy editorial supporting woman suffrage in the 10 May 1896 edition of the Los Angeles Herald and, because the Homestead is commemorating the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment, it is worthwhile to quote liberally from her essay:

Strange to say that manhood for one moment stops to discuss the right of noble womanhood.  Without her guidance and influence what would man be?  Does he not owe all he is to the rightful woman who bore and reared him to a life of usefulness and beauty?  Man would be weak indeed without the tender love and uplifting influence of woman.  This matter is plain and suggests itself without reinforcement.  Give the good woman the same rights as good men, and loosen the environment that has held her down for the last decades.  Life cannot be broad and grand and pure without it.  Mother is the foundation of all life, swaying in her one hand the sword of justice, in the other the scales which indicate the impartiality with which every cause is weighed by her.

In 1907, she offered a horoscope for President Theodore Roosevelt and which was published in the Los Angeles Times.  The very lengthy reading noted the “Jupertarian” power current as America ascended to great economic and political prestige and Celia claimed that she predicted this planetary phase back in 1888, referring to cycles of vibration and agitation as Jupiter entered the sign of Libra and formed “a square aspect of the earth and Mercury.”  As for Roosevelt, she noted “our President was and is in the biggest kind of luck” for “Jupiter is his ruling planet.”

Celia Rendall Woman Suffrage editorial Los_Angeles_Herald_Sun__May_10__1896_
A portion of Cecilia Rendall’s striking woman suffrage editorial in the Los Angeles Herald, 10 May 1896.

Finally, Celia was a member of the Board of Directors of the George Junior Republic, founded in San Fernando in 1907 and soon moved to Chino, where it became and remains today known as Boys Republic.   In 1911, she was recognized for arranging for donations of lumber and transportation by the Southern Pacific for the building of new structures at the Chino campus and also arranged for entertainments for the benefit of the institution.

A charter member of the prominent Friday Morning Club and organizer of the Southern California Academy of Science, Celia died in 1927 at age 82 and rests beside Stephen in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Celia Rendall Roosevelt Horoscope The_Los_Angeles_Times_Sun__Sep_1__1907_
Part of Cecilia Rendall’s lengthy horoscope for President Theodore Roosevelt, Los Angeles Times, 1 September 1907.

Of the Rendall’s children, a son became a doctor and two daughters married prominent men.  One was Tasker Oddie, a United States senator and governor of Nevada, and the other was Vernon Goodwin, who was managing director of the Alexandria Hotel under its president, A.C. Bilicke, and then was president after Bilicke was among those who died in the sinking of the Lusitania during World War I.  Goodwin was also an owner for a time of the Ambassador Hotel and owned and operated permanent camps at Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks.

In addition to being a rare, early letter concerning Los Angeles, this missive also has a notable link to one of the town’s first photographers and later developer of the prominent Westlake area of the city. As has been mentioned here plenty of times, it continues to be amazing how often an artifact has more value “below the surface” or, in this case, by “reading between the lines.”


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