by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As greater Los Angeles dramatically transformed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the regional economy diversified, one of the many elements was tourism. The unparalleled climate, access to the beaches and mountains, the romance of Spanish and Mexican era historic sites like the missions, the Hollywood film industry, and easier and increasingly more affordable transportation and other aspects helped grow the industry and made the area one of the nation’s most popular tourist destinations.
A core component of the industry was the hotel business and, whether these were in downtown, on the coast, or in suburban areas, hosteries of all types, from the modest and economical to the luxurious and costly, were major indicators of a healthy (or, conversely, stagnant) economy based on occupancy.
Today’s featured object from the Homestead’s collection, the 19 April 1924 issue of The California Tourist and Hotel Reporter is a very interesting snapshot for the region’s hotel industry near the mid-point of the Roaring Twenties. In its eleventh year, the publication, published, edited and managed by R. Edward Lewis from an office in the San Fernando Building built and owned by Col. James B. Lankershim (discussed in yesterday’s post) was devoted to news of the business, but offers other notable content broader than that, as well.
The cover image is of the Hotel Darby, situated on Adams Boulevard just east of Grand Avenue. The hostelry opened in October 1910 and was marketed as a “family hotel which, in appointments and furnishings, is unexcelled in Western America” and was deemed “more sumptuous, more comfortably home-like, more perfectly equipped” than most any other hotel in the country. Today, the facility is the Grace Apartment Hotel, which looks to have undergone a recent renovation, at least on the exterior.
The first major article in the publication is “A Time for Caution and Sanity.” As mentioned in this blog before, when Walter P. Temple established his Town of Temple (renamed Temple City in 1928) in 1923, he did so at the peak of a real estate boom, which unfortunately meant that a downturn was in the cards. This piece was about just that, as it warned readers:
The business slump that has prevailed in Southern California, especially in Los Angeles, brings home more forcibly than ever the danger of building more hotels and apartments than the city’s housing facilities requires.
This, naturally, applied to other construction projects, such as office buildings, because of the same problem—if demand for office and retail space lessened because of the economic crunch, building more commercial structures was not needed. Temple and associates, in fact, were just completing two eleven-story business buildings in downtown, the Great Republic Life and National City Bank structures between Main and Spring and on both sides of 8th Street, in early 1924, so these enterprises, along with Temple City and other projects in the San Gabriel Valley, likely were a major pinch in Temple’s finances.
The article continued that “in spite of the bolstering by the daily press,” tourism was also down and it observed that “throughout the entire winter season, many hotels were operating 25 to 50 per cent empty” while “yellow press” media boosting “did more harm than good.” The publication cautioned that the same rosy promises were now being made for the upcoming summer season and added “such false propaganda may be good stuff for beguiling some of the advertisers” but also served to raise “false hopes to hotels, apartments, shops, and other enterprises that subsist on the tourist business.”
Citing an unnamed example of a hotel accused of practices that “mulcted tourists by charging excessive rates,” the journal stated, “now is the time to face the issue squarely, come down to earth and realize that the days of exorbitant rates are over,” both for hotels and apartment buildings. It reminded readers, “it is better to have a full house at a reasonable profit, than an empty house and losing money every day of the month.”
Lowering prices generally would help the consumer and the business owner and it was averred that “while everybody will naturally exercise caution, there is no need of panic, depression nor stringent economy.” The publication offered the sage advice to “buy what you need and pay for what you get, but do not order what you cannot afford to pay for. Keep the money in circulation; do not hoard it. Prosperity was never achieved by hoarding money,” especially as it was stated that the current downturn was temporary.
A related piece “Industrial News-Comment” noted that “rising costs, caused in large measure by rising wages, are causing smaller profits.” Meeting demand meant targeting the right market segment, so that, the publication claimed, it was in single family housing, not apartments, that the want was strongest.” There was also commentary about the importance of wages in the construction industry, but the biggest concern was “the power of monopoly.”
A regular feature, simply headed “Los Angeles California” offered brief notices of news in the area, including new hotels and apartments, transfers of ownership or management of these types of enterprises and some general items. One of the latter was the report that “Los Angeles pays the lowest tax rate of 50 cities in the United States with a population of more than 100,000,” as the city auditor’s department noted. Also mentioned was the expansion of office space for S.W. Straus and Company, an investment banking house that offered bonds for commercial construction projects, including the Temple-affiliated buildings mentioned above and others noted in this blog.
A “Hotelograms” section covered news of hostelries locally and nationally. One example of the former was concerning the “La Granada”, a hotel planned by a community corporation including Temple as one of dozens of investors and to be built on South Garfield Avenue. Despite major promotion in Alhambra and Pasadena newspapers at the time, the $325,000 project, the architect of which designed the distinctive Mayan-influenced Aztec Hotel in Monrovia, was never built. This section also mentioned the highly successful winter season concluded at the venerable Raymond Hotel in South Pasadena, which opened during the Boom of the 1880s.
Other articles concerned transportation problems in downtown Los Angeles and poor and overly expensive telephone rates that the journal considered detrimental to general business interests and, of course, the hotel and tourist industry. The dramatic increase in automobiles in car-centric greater Los Angeles caused serious congestion issues in downtown Los Angeles and one piece decried the situation and recommended remedies, including banning street parking from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; limiting motion picture filming downtown on weekdays after 8 a.m.; disallowing sightseeing buses; preventing those under 21 years and those “with defective sigh or hearing or seriously handicapped by permanent physical defects” from driving; and requiring licensed drivers to “prove his qualifications.”
Among other content of note was a brief item that the federal labor department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the purchasing power of the dollar the previous summer was 65 cents to the dollar compared to a decade before. This was the lowest since May 1920, during the last major recession, when it was 40 cents.
Another item, which is timely to us now in the age of COVID-19, was a warning that:
During the present “hoof and mouth” disease reported to be epidemic among cattle of Southern California, the people should guard against any attempt of “health authorities” to take advantage of the conditions to impose quarantine, disinfecting, vaccinating or serumizing, on the people, as there is no danger of any infection to humans who do not come into contact with animals.
Also of great interest are a couple of articles concerning Prohibition, enacted with the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution a century ago this year. One reported that an open letter from the manufacturing and business committee of the Anti-Saloon League, a driving force in the movement, asserted that the organization was “a representative of big business instead of the Christian churches,” another core element in bringing about “the great social experiment.” The committee asserted that advocacy for “big business for selfish purposes only” amounted to “keeping the liquor bloodsucker off decent trade,” while allowing larger firms to profit heavily.
The other article summarized statements from a representative of the California Division of the Association Against Prohibition Amendment, which was trying “to effect a modification of the prohibition law.” In seeking a revision of the Volstead Act, Dudley Field Malone charged that “Prohibition is based on false religion, bad moals and hypocrisy and had its origin in fear and ignorance.”
What the association preferred was temperance rather than an outright ban which utilized “the liberty destroying hypocrisy of misguided fanatics who feel ordained to save the rest of us who stand in no need of salvation.” Reformers, Malone thundered, turned the nation into one “where freedom and liberty are found only in the pontifical cant of crazed fanatics.”
Another short piece was titled “Mustard Lotions A Bunk” and concerned a long-standing problem regarding patent medicines and other purported cures for all manner of illnesses, diseases and acute and chronic health issues. In this case, the journal decried that “the mustard lotion is another the big humbugs advertised in city and county newspapers as a panacea.”
It went on that “the effect of [the] application of mustard lotion is purely psychological” as the mind was distracted from the sense of pain “until it passes of its own volition.” Mustard may have value as an emetic (inducing vomiting), but had no effect on pneumonia, coughs, colds, fevers, or any other ailments “in spite of alluring and misleading advertisements, that are adroitly worded to instill fear or apprehension” and convince gullible readers that it worked as claimed.
The publication also offered some bits of humor peppered throughout its pages, though one was the all-too-common variation of “darky humor” that was so pervasive in a society so thoroughly dominated and controlled by whites. Another example was locally specific and spoofed the relentless advertising for the flood of real estate subdivisions in the region during the era:
Drive out Follywood avenue, turn north in Hunkus Pass, thence out Venturesome “boulevard,” turn east three miles, then turn to the right and drive four miles, then turn west and drive out Rocky Road until you come to the first turn in the road, and then drive north about five miles until you come to the next turn, and then go south about eight miles, and then you are almost there. You can tell by the big signboard in the distance. Free night’s lodging and barbecued breakfast for the first sucker that reaches out tracked office!
There is also a reprint from a Los Angeles Express column by Neal O’Hara in which he wrote that “in [a] hotel, [the] guest is always right.” He went on to joke that a patron looking to get breakfast was passed from the head waiter to a captain of waiters to a second lieutenant, who then seats the person “in [the] fourth line trench of breakfast tables” from where a bus boy “scout” was sent to find the waiter and then another employee was sent to find the bus boy. After three hours and still no meal, “the guest is always right—he is entitled to satisfaction. Just call [the] head waiter and try to get it!”
Speaking of breakfast, there was also an article about a Bellingham, Washington hotel that, because it closed its dining room for work, initiated a novel service by installing a compact kitchen on its top floor where guests could, without charge, have “a dainty breakfast” of toast, marmalade and coffee brought to their room (they were told not to tip the bell boys who brought the items). This sounds like a progenitor of the continental breakfast that is so common today.
Finally, there is a brief warning courtesy of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which adopted the slogan of “Don’t Try to Break into the Movies in Hollywood” in its campaign “to stop the influx of untrained young people by warning them before they board the train for the enchanted land of the films.” Studios, actors, directors and distributors joined in the effort because they “know the changes of the home-town beauty or the amateur actor of breaking into the cinema world are almost nil.”
This issue of The California Tourist and Hotel Reporter is a remarkable repository of information about hotels, apartment houses, tourism, business conditions, and other elements of greater Los Angeles and broader life during the Roaring Twenties. Unfortunately, it is the only of its kind in the museum’s holdings, though other business publications give us similar views of regional life nearly a century ago.