by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Once the famed Boom of the Eighties, which occurred in greater Los Angeles toward the end of that decade, subsided, the explosive growth of that era was not matched until the onset of the new century. There would be some difficult days in the 1890s, including several years of drought and a national depression in 1893, but the region still experienced a rising population and increasing development for much of the decade.
The city of Los Angeles, for example, had about 50,000 residents in 1890 and doubled that amount, to some 102,000, by 1900, while in the county, the growth was less dramatic, though it still rose from just above 100,000 to a little over 170,000, a 70% increase. These jumps were dwarfed by what happened in the first decade of the 20th century and in the 1920s, while, in the 1910s, the region’s population growth was still impressive at roughly 80%. The point is that, even when times were not as strong as others, greater Los Angeles underwent a massive transformation in just a half-century, from not much over 11,000 to 1.2 million persons in the city and from some 33,000 to 2.2 million in the county.
A significant component to this exponential growth was the promotion of the region by such entities as the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the All-Year Club of Southern California, newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, railroad lines, and tourist providers, among many others. Today’s featured object from the museum’s collection is an example of another publication boosting the region through its presentation of a variety of statistics that are useful in seeing the state of the city, at least from a numbers perspective, at the fin de siécle, or end of the ninteenth century.
The Los Angeles Journal is not among the better-known or preserved newspapers from the era, though it was launched during the Boom of the 1880s. The one highlighted here is from 17 November 1897 and was denoted the “Real Estate and Building” edition. There aren’t articles, however, but a set of statistics on the financial situation in the city and county, including the condition of banks; the value of building construction; exports of local products; property values for county-owned holdings; assessed valuations; and more.
All of this is on the first page, while the remaining three have photos of public buildings, including the city hall, county courthouse and the federal building along with, strangely, the private Hollenbeck Home for the Aged in Boyle Heights—all of these are surrounded by advertisements, mostly for real estate firms, though there is one for the Barker Brothers furniture store, highlighted previously in the blog, and a roofing company. While there is some interest in the images and ads, the real value in this issue of the Journal is in those statistics that give something of a snapshot of the economic realm of greater Los Angeles as the 19th century came to a close.
Under the heading of “The Finances of Los Angeles City,” one would assume that would include a statement from the growing metropolis’ treasury, but, instead, it is a capsule summary of the ten commercial banks and the seven savings banks in town (a quarter century earlier, in 1872, there were just two commercial banks, Farmers and Merchants and Temple and Workman, and the first savings bank was a couple of years away.) Amounts listed were funds due to depositors ($9.5 million for the commercial banks and less than half that for the savings banks); loans (just under $7 million for the former and just over $4 million for the latter; cash on hand of $4 million for the commercial institutions and $700,000 for the savings banks; and capital stock of over $2.7 million for the first and well under $500,000 for the second.
The “Building Record For Eight Years” section is instructive as it showed the steep drop in construction in 1889-1890, after the boom went bust, to just over $1.1 million and modest increases for the following three years. In 1893-1894, however, there was a marked level of growth to near $2.5 million, a nearly 50% increase from the prior year, and then another jump of almost 60% close to $4 million in 1894-1895. There were, however, significant drops in the following two years of almost 30% and then about another quarter to $2.1 million for the 1896-1897 year, though even this last was almost double the start of the decade.
Under “Manufacturing Interests of Los Angeles,” there are four categories, comprising iron and metals, food, bricks, and oil, as well as a miscellaneous one. Capital invested in the first was $3 million, $4 million for the second, and $2 million for oil, while a number was not provided for bricks, and miscellaneous products was not far below $2 million. The numbers of employees in iron and metals was over 1200, 850 for food, over 300 for bricks, and just above 450 for the remainder. The annual production value for iron and metals was $2.25 million, $3.5 million for food, the value of the bricks was $450,000, the oil value was $2000 a day or over $7 million for the year, and the miscellaneous products came in at $1.3 million.
“Annual Exports of Southern California” were shown in rail car loads and all were agricultural, excepting petroleum and some seafood. Not surprisingly, the largest number by far were for the ubiquitous orange, the veritable symbol to the outside world of the region and of which there 12,000 cars shipped out. Grain was the second highest in excess of 5,000 carloads, while petroleum followed at 3,500 carloads, though the quantity would, of course, be measured differently otherwise in terms of barrels. With lemons and beans each had 2,000 carloads and sugar comprised half that. Smaller amounts were for a variety of vegetables, dried fruits and raisins, walnuts, honey, and sardines and mackerel. Also listed were some 150,000 cases of canned fruits and vegetables, while other products were not given figures, such as wool, hides, wine and brandy and others.
Listed separately were exports from the state, with some by weight and with fresh fruits far and away the largest at 115 million pounds, followed by raisins at 68 million, beet sugar (to compete with cane sugar grown in Hawaii, the Philippines and elsewhere) at 64.5 million, and cured fruits (excepting, for an unknown reason, prunes) at below 43 million. There were also some 27 million pounds of wool and above 11 million of dairy products. Others were listed by cases and boxes, so there were about 4.5 million boxes of oranges and 863,000 of lemons, while cases of canned fruits topped 1.6 million. Over $17.5 million of gold and silver were also mined and sent out.
Five years worth of real estate transactions showed some roller coaster effects from 1892 to 1897, with a drop from nearly $16 million the first year to just above $13 million the second. The peak year of 1894-1895 was just shy of $18 million, followed by a decline to $14.5 million and then a dive to not far above $10 million for 1896-1897, over a 40% decline in two years. The present year’s assessed valuation showed a grand total of about $92.5 million, including some 1.1 million acres of land, the value of city and town lots and improvements at above $54 million and those outside of these being over $25 million. Personal property was shown as over $9 million and the value of railroads at nearly $2.5 million.
The county’s property was heavily invested in schools with about half of the over $3 million involved in the buildings, their libraries and “apparatus.” The second largest asset was the county courthouse, completed less than a decade prior and replacing one operating for nearly three decades in Jonathan Temple’s Market House, built in 1859, but which, failing as a commercial venture during a bad economy, was soon leased to the county. The building was listed at just shy of $1 million, with most of that involving the structure and about $120,000 comprising its furniture. Smaller amounts were for bridges ($129,000), the county jail ($87,000), the county hospital ($75,000), the county farm for the indigent ($68,000), and the law library, with books and furniture ($23,000). There were some incidental items, as well.
The last item dealt with bonded indebtedness with a listing of five issues from 1882, 1884, 1885, 1887 and 1890, all for twenty-year maturity dates, with first two paying 6%, the next two dipping to 4.5% and the last at 5%/ The first two bonds were quite small, totaling only just above $50,000 in debt for the pair. The 1885 issue was at $286,000, followed by $136,000 for the one two years later (these were probably at least largely for the construction of the court house). The 1890 indebtedness was $246,000. Of course, these figures are miniscule compared to highly complex and substantial sums involved in bonds and debt deriving from them today.
As for those images of the trio of county and federal buildings, they were all built in the sturdy and heavy Romanesque style with their steeply pitched roofs, frequent use of arched openings and windows, large ornamental blocks on the facades and the lighter blocks at the ground level, and, in the case of the court house and city hall, impressive towers rising above the heights of the structures. By contrast, the Hollenbeck Home, built on the estate of capitalist John E. Hollenbeck (who, before his death in 1885, acquired thousands of acres of the Rowland family’s share of Rancho La Puente in modern Covina and West Covina) by his widow, Elizabeth, was a more graceful Renaissance Revival structure, with tile roofing, short conical towers, arched porticoes and a projecting bay at the southern end. These images were obviously added to showcase structures of pride in the city, even if the latter seems incongruous in conjunction with the other three.
Many of the real estate ads are general for firms offering their services to a rapidly growing city and county, though some do have some listings or at least some specifics. Grider and Dow, which offered a pretty impressive vignette of a tree-lined street below the firm’s logo listed properties as “some of our bargains” ranging from $350 for a lot south of downtown to a five-room cottage on a large lot for $1500. A firm with a great name for virtually any business, Wilde and Strong, mentioned it offered the Frank Sabichi (this was an early family in Los Angeles) Tract at San Pedro and 7th streets, in what is now a largely commercial area near the Fashion District.
Clark and Bryan, a major firm of the time, did not say much other than offering a teaser that “we will in November place on the market the finest subdivision in the City.” This was the Lone Star tract, which was launched at the end of the month, and which had 161 lots west of Hoover Street south of Olympic Boulevard and north of Pico Boulevard. You can read more about it at the very detailed Westmoreland Place blog. John R. Taylor offered diverse properties on Broadway near his office by city hall, as well as in Verdugo near Glendale, and just under 50 acres in far-flung Ontario. Speaking of far-flung, G.W. Rogers offered land on the former Rancho Jurupa, northwest of Riverside where the modern city of Jurupa Valley is now, and which comprised over 22,000 acres. Among these were citrus and sugar beet land, the latter a half dozen miles east of “the largest Beet Sugar Factory in the U.S.” at Chino.
Prudent Beaudry, a French-Canadian who served as mayor of Los Angeles when the Temple and Workman bank collapsed in 1875-76 and who amassed an impressive portfolio of real estate when the city was experiencing its first growth pangs in the decade or so before that, died in 1893, so one ad was for the Beaudry Estate and its executors who were “desirous of closing up” its affairs. Lots were offered from $50 in East Los Angeles, later renamed Lincoln Heights, to $525 in an unspecified area less than a ten minute walk from Spring Street, but which could have been on Bunker Hill or a nearby area where Beaudry heavily invested when that section was totally undeveloped. Naturally, the offerings were “the most bona fide Bargains and best Investments in Los Angeles City Real Estate.”
This issue of the Los Angeles Journal is an interesting and informative snapshot of the financial situation and the real estate market in the Angel City as it approached the end of the nineteenth century and during a time between the huge growth booms of the late 1880s and the early 1900s.