by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Tonight’s featured object from the Homestead’s holdings is another recent donation, this one a Temple and Workman bank check from Gus and Heike Gort, who are estate dealers in Murrieta. The Gorts acquired papers associated with William S. Chapman, who was highlighted in yesterday’s post concerning a Workman and Brother saddlery billhead donated by Michael Patris of the Mount Lowe Preservation Society. Michael suggested that if the Gorts had anything else related to the Workman and Temple families to contact the museum, so they did. The result was the gift of the bank check.
Notably, the check was repurposed. Specifically, Chapman used it to conduct a transaction for $17.75 involving two Los Angeles merchant firms, the general merchandise enterprise of Polaski (written on the instrument as “Pulaski”) and Goodwin paying that amount to the furniture store of Dotter and Bradley. On the reverse appears to be an endorsement with the latter company’s name, with some mathematical figuring of a quantity of 24 multiplied by 40 (cents, it appears) with a grand total of $9.60.
While we don’t know what the transaction concerned or why Chapman used the bank check, other than perhaps he didn’t have any other kind of financial instrument around, the check is representative of a transaction with two of the more prominent mercantile establishments in the growing city of Los Angeles, then at the height of its first significant boom period.
Louis Polaski, as can be guessed from his surname, hailed from Poland, where he was born in 1827, and was one of a cadre of Eastern European Jews, including Isaias W. Hellman, Harris Newmark and others, who migrated to Los Angeles during the 1850s and found success as merchants. Polaski, who was naturalized as a citizen in fall 1867, and Goodwin opened their dry goods store at the intersection of Main and Commercial streets in what was the main financial and commercial section of the town. A dry goods store usually involved such items as clothing, shoes and boots, hats and other items distinct from other specialties, such as groceries or hardware.
Leander C. Goodwin was born of parents from New England in Forsyth, Georgia in 1832 and, as a teenager, served in a Georgia cavalry unit in the Mexican-American War. In 1853, he made his way across to Gold Rush California by steamship, including the difficult crossing of the Nicaragua isthmus. He spent a few years in Los Angeles and then returned to the South, living between 1857 and 1865 in Helena, Arkansas and in Memphis. Perhaps the devastation wrought on the South by the Civil War led him to return to the Angel City, where he registered to vote in July 1866 and where, by the end of the decade, he and Polaski joined forces.
The two men appeared to have remained in business until about 1880, when Goodwin identified himself as a “retired merchant” in the federal census, though he was only in his late forties. He was, however, a vice-president and a manager of Farmers and Merchants Bank, run by Isaias W. Hellman, the former banking partner of Temple and Workman and was a founder and president of the Los Angeles Savings Bank. In 1891, Goodwin died after suffering for months from what was then called dropsy, basically the swelling of tissue due to excess water and which is known today as edema. Polaski, meanwhile, continued to remain active in business until 1890 or so, when he retired. A widower with five children, he died of a stroke in 1900 at age 73.
The other firm on the check was Dotter and Bradley, which also consisted of a European and an American and which was located on the east side of Main Street, just south of the Workman Brothers saddlery. In fact, while the saddlery was identified by the large sign of a horse atop the Lanfranco Building, Dotter and Bradley employed the same idea, having a “big red rocker” on the top of its store to attract patrons.
With Sidney Lacey as something of a store manager, the firm not only sold furniture, but offered wallpaper, curtains, draperies, window shades, piano stools and covers, music stands, a “substitute for plastering,” sewing machines, carpets and rugs, tapestries, oil cloth and much else.
John Charles Dotter was born in Lohr, Bavaria in 1837 and migrated to the United States in his mid-teens, learning the hatter’s trade in New York City. After five years, around 1857, he headed west and spent some time in the California gold fields before taking up residence in Salt Lake City, where he then joined a government expedition led by an Army major, J.H. Carleton.
When the group headed for Los Angeles taking the Mormon Trail through Utah, they stopped at the scene of the notorious Mountain Meadows massacre, in which Mormons attacked an immigrant caravan with apparently no provocation, other than the pressure upon Mormons from the United States government and military led to a highly charged atmosphere in their Zion. The Carleton expedition found scattered bones from the massacre and buried them, along with erecting stone markers and a cross.
Dotter arrived in Los Angeles in 1859, roughly around the time that Polaski and Goodwin did. He spent a brief period in San Francisco and then returned to the City of Angels and embarked on a partnership with Carl R. Rinaldi, whose namesake street is in the San Fernando Valley, in furniture sales. Isaac W. Lord, later the founder of Lordsburg, now La Verne, became a partner of Dotter and, in early 1874, Lord was succeeded by Cyrus H. Bradley. He remained involved in the furniture business, including with the Los Angeles Furniture Company and was its vice-president when he was felled by a stroke in March 1902.
Born in Norwalk, Ohio in 1833 to parents originally from New York, Bradley lived in Indiana, where his father was a doctor, but like Polaski, Goodwin and Dotter, he migrated to California during the Fifties, settling in Folsom near the gold fields where he operated a grocery store. In 1867, Bradley relocated to Oakland and ran a store there.
After about six years there, he ventured south to Los Angeles and took over for Lord in what became Dotter and Bradley, later the Los Angeles Furniture Company. Later in life, he went back to operated a grocery and was in that line when he suffered a series of strokes and died in November 1906. One of his five children was the wife of George Bovard, president of the University of Southern California.
The Temple and Workman bank check, because of its reuse as a financial instrument between two mercantile firms, really is more representative of the expanding commercial environment as 1870s Los Angeles underwent its first period of significant growth than it is of the bank’s operations. The four owners of the two businesses were born within a decade of each other and three of them lived largely the “threescore and ten”—that is, 70—years that was largely typical of the time.
The Gort’s donation is a welcome addition to the collection, especially as the Museum interprets greater Los Angeles during the second of its three main interpretive decades, the others being the 1840s and 1920s.