by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In late October 1929, the crash of the stock market in New York brought a stark, sudden end to the seemingly unlimited economic growth that marked much of the American economy during the so-called “Roaring Twenties.” In the aftermath, however, many experts said publicly, whatever some may have felt inwardly, that the shock felt by the collapse of the market was temporary and the country would soon be on the road to recovery and further growth. Almost no one could foresee just how severe and long-lasting the Great Depression, which worsened considerably by 1932, would be.
It is interesting and instructive, though, to see some of the responses as reported in Sam T. Clover‘s magazine, Saturday Night, also known as Los Angeles Saturday Night and which he operated for about a decade between the early Twenties and early Thirties. The publication had regular features on art, music, drama, film, books, business and finance, Los Angeles and Pasadena society and editorials, but tonight’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s holdings, the 30 November 1929 issue, focuses on some local items of interest as well as commentary and reporting on the financial situation a month after the disaster of Black Tuesday, 29 October, and the collapse of the stock market.
First, however, some of the regional news of note. First is the publication’s opposition to the concept of a union railroad terminal, especially as Clover and his wife Madge, who was his associate editor, favored the plan of the “supplanting of the inadequate Santa Fe station by a modern structure conforming to the needs of the transcontinental business of the railroad [the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe], and in keeping with the splendid train service it operates, besides proving an ornament to the city.” It was added that the company planned to spend $1 million on a new depot “but [it] has been blocked in its purpose by the more or less absurd agitation for a union station.” Such a concept was considered ridiculous “because at no time has there been a need for such a structure here.”
This, the publication continued, was due to the fact that “Los Angeles is not a distributing center. It is, emphatically, a terminal point . . .,” with only 2% of traffic in the city going to other locales with no delay. Moreover, it went on, “we have many times pointed out that no city the first-class harbors a union station.” The nearest example was Kansas City, which was a distribution center, but also “of the second rank.” Rather, those using rail service in the city were better served by individual stations and “unionizing the station offers no added facilities, no greater accommodations than the individual depot.” It might have been excusable to Angelenos to dream of a union station twenty years back, but “it is a relic of provincialism to clamor for” such a facility, which would only bring more congestion, instability of neighborhoods and worse service. To conclude, the editorial bluntly stated that “the union station agitation belongs in the discard.” This view, however, was decidedly in the minority, though, because of the Depression and other factors, Union Station did not open for another decade.
Speaking of railroads, there was a brief birthday greeting “To a Fine Citizen,” Eli P. Clark, who was born on 25 November 1847 in Iowa and who came to Los Angeles in the early Nineties to follow his brother-in-law, Moses H. Sherman, after the two experienced some business success in Arizona Territory. The two built an electric rail system in the Angel City, though a national depression in 1893 the line’s finances cratered and they lost control of what became the Los Angeles Railway, acquired by Henry E. Huntington in 1898. Clark got involved in other streetcar projects from Los Angeles to Pasadena and, with Sherman, from the former to Santa Monica and then along the coast to Redondo Beach, this latter being the Los Angeles and Pacific, sold to the Southern Pacific and then merged with Huntington’s Pacific Electric regional system.
Clark and Sherman also invested heavily in local real estate, including the property that, in 1926, became the Subway Terminal Building where the Pacific Electric’s subway to Hollywood was situated. The Hotel Clark, completed across Hill from the Subway Terminal Building by him in 1914, was a luxury hostelry for its day and boasted over 550 rooms and, while its glory days are long past, the 11-story height-limit structure still stands on Hill Street south of 4th Street and just reopened as a hotel. Clark and Sherman had real estate interests at Sherman, now West Hollywood, and in many other areas, including Beachwood Canyon where Sherman and Harry Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, built the Hollywoodland subdivision, the hillside promotional sign of which became the famous Hollywood sign.
In its tribute, Saturday Night lionized Clark as “an example to his fellow-men . . . which marks him as a representative citizen of the southern metropolis.” It added that any community building project was to be called, “be sure that Eli P. Clark will be among the first to respond, the earliest to attend.” Moreover, he was always ready to pay tribute to a fellow public-spirited citizen and was always counted on to pay final respects to any deceased promoter of the community. In wishing him a happy birthday, the magazine noted that Clark was “sturdy of figure, tasteful of dress, clean of mind and broad in his views” and “a citizen whom to know is to admire and respect,” while he “is an honor to Los Angeles, to Southern California, the state and the nation” and “a fine American gentleman.”
In the “By the Way” column, there were several successive items related to early regional ranchos, including the recent publication of E. Palmer Conner’s “Romance of the Ranchos.” Conner, the head title searcher for Title Insurance and Trust Company, which held important regional real estate records, “tells of the big Spanish [more Mexican, really] ranchos and their transformation into subdivisions and city lots, after the advent of the gringos, with their enterprise and industry [meaning, therefore, that the Californios must have lacked either!]”
Mentioned was the Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit, granted in 1804 to José Bartolome Tapia, sold to Victor Prudhomme, who married Tapia’s granddaughter, in the late Forties, and then purchased not quite a decade later by Mathew Keller, the prominent wine maker, for some $1,400. After Keller’s death, his son Henry sold it in 1892 to Frederick Rindge, a wealthy Bostonian, for more than 10 times that amount, though that pales in comparison to the hyper-inflated prices for Malibu property today.
There is also the “Two Notable Ranchos” of Los Cerritos and Los Alamitos, mentioned as being part of the gargantuan grant to Manuel Nieto of some 300,000 acres until his ranch was divided among his heirs into smaller units, including these two. Los Cerritos, it was reported, remained with the Nietos “until Juan Temple married into the family [his wife, Rafaela Cota, was a granddaughter of Nieto] and later acquired” the ranch. The account noted that Temple sold Los Cerritos in 1866, just before his death, to the Flint brothers, Benjamin and Thomas, and their cousin, Llewelyn Bixby. Not mentioned was that Bixby’s brother, Jotham, managed and then owned part of the ranch and occupied Temple’s two-story adobe, built in 1844.
As for Los Alamitos, it was sold by the Nieto heirs to Abel Stearns, a contemporary and mercantile competitor of Temple, and then to Michael Reese of San Francisco. After his death, Jotham and Llewellyn’s cousin, John W., joined them and Isaias W. Hellman, the prominent Los Angeles banker (and for partner of William Workman and F.P.F. Temple), in acquiring the ranch. Both Los Alamitos and Los Cerritos were to be part of the rapidly growing city of Long Beach and the piece mentioned that William Andrews Clark, a tycoon whose first fortune was made in Montana copper mines and where he was a United States Senator, bought 8,000 acres of Los Cerritos, though another 1,000 acres was purchased from Los Alamitos. In any case, it goes on to say “that the Janss Investment Company [a major developer in the region] is planning to build a model city.” Though that project foundered, those former sugar beet lands where a large sugar factory was built, later became parts of the cities of Los Alamitos, Lakewood and surrounding areas.
“Other Big Holdings” refers to several other substantial local ranchos, including Aguaje de la Centinela (where F.P.F. Temple was a major figure in a planned townsite called Centinela that failed when the Temple and Workman bank collapsed in 1875-76); San Pasqual in the Pasadena area; Santa Gertrudes, another Nieto holding that became oil-rich with the finding of the massive Santa Fe Springs field; San Antonio, long the domain of the prominent Lugo family southeast of Los Angeles; Los Feliz; and San Pedro.
“‘Lucky’ Baldwin’s Domain” discussed the Rancho Santa Anita, which was acquired by Hugo Reid, a native of Scotland and close friend of William Workman, and purchased by silver mine magnate Baldwin from Los Angeles merchant Harris Newmark in 1875, and the Rancho La Cienega, also part-owned by Workman and Temple before Baldwin acquired it by a mortgage entailed in his loan to their failed bank. Also highlighted in this section was Rancho La Brea, acquired by Los Angeles County Surveyor Henry Hancock (called John here!) and then partially passed on to his son, G. Allan, though former state senator Cornelius Cole bought 500 acres which became Colegrove, now part of Hollywood. In 1929, La Brea was widely known for its rich oil deposits and the famed tar pits. Other ranches mentioned were the ex-Mission de San Fernando, becoming rapidly developed in some portions by the late Twenties; the Tajauta, which became the areas of Willowbrook and Watts in Los Angeles; and the Repetto ranch, formerly public lands acquired by Alexander Repetto, a native of Genoa, Italy, whose property is now in Monterey Park.
Finally, there is a section devoted to “Santa Monica’s Origin” through the Rancho San Vicente y Santa Monica, a spacious domain of more than 30,000 acres that included what, in the mid-Seventies, became Santa Monica, established on a part of the ranch purchased by Robert S. Baker, whose wife was Arcadia Bandini Stearns, widow of the former Los Alamitos owner, and of which a majority was bought by Nevada senator and mining tycoon John P. Jones. When Jones took a majority stake in the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, whose founding president was F.P.F. Temple, he took on that role and had the company build a line to Santa Monica, with the rest, slated to go to silver mining regions in Inyo County, never completed. Noted as well here were the ranchos Los Palos Verdes, where upscale communities were underway, and San Jose de Buenos Ayres, where Westwood, Holmby Hills and other west-side communities, as well as U.C.L.A., were established. Readers were encouraged to obtain Conner’s pamphlet to learn about the “remarkable evolution” of the region’s historic ranchos.
The cover photo shows the northwest corner of Olive and Sixth streets and comprising the complex of structures built by the Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company. The first is the six-story structure at the corner and notable for its Corinthian columns on the 6th Street frontage of four-story height. That 1908 building, surmounted by a clock with the motto “Time To Insure,” was radically remade in the mid-Thirties to the then-popular Moderne style and it remains that way today. Less than a decade later, the company’s growth led to the building of an addition on the north side, facing Olive and which added 80% more space. The twelve-story structure with two large wings to the west was finished in 1921 and retains its exterior architectural integrity. Five years later, a two-story parking garage with a third floor of offices and meeting rooms was built to the north of the earliest building on Olive and is adjacent to the Biltmore Hotel, with Pershing Square across Olive to the east.
The article noted that a ten-year lease with Chase Securities Company of New York, an affiliate of Chase National Bank, was just signed for the ground floor of the six-story addition just completed and designed by the Parkinson brothers, John and Donald, between the two wings of the 1921 structure. This, Saturday Night indicated, meant that the area along Sixth from Spring to Flower was rapidly becoming the expansion of the financial center of downtown from Spring. It was stated that the 1908 building, on the site of a one-story grocery before the lot was acquired for over $400,000, represented an early stage in the movement of commerce from Spring Street to the west. Moreover, Pacific Mutual transferred much of its operations to the structure because of the calamitous earthquake and fire in San Francisco two years prior.
The rapid growth of the insurance company’s business necessitated the building of the much larger structure to the west, with that property purchased for just shy of $700,000. Further growth during the Roaring Twenties led to the unusual three-story built behind the other two on an unusual lot fronting 60 feet on both Olive and Grand Avenue and running almost 340 feet between the two. With the latest addition, including a first-in-the-West use of a steel framing welded on site utilized because riveting “would be a serious disturbance to workers in adjacent offices.” All told, the complex had more than 80,000 square feet of space on land that involved almost $6 million in land acquisition and construction costs, though the reported value was more than double that.
As to discussion about the economic situation just a month after the crash, it was reported that “there is nation-wide approval noted of President Herbert Hoover’s advisory counsel of the Federal Reserve Board” and its actions following the crash. Specifically, “the lowering of the discount rate of several of the federal reserve districts has had a releasing effect on funds hitherto deflected to Wall Street and when the entire reserve system follows suit, easier money for industrial and commercial interests will stimulate building activities and otherwise help to restore public confidence, which was dealt a solar plexus blow with the collapse of the stock market.” It was added that the Department of the Treasury requested that Congress increase appropriations for public buildings over ten years from about $250 million to almost $425 million as a way to stimulate the economy. The editorial asserted that “legitimate business everywhere is chirking [?] up under the stimulus [note that word] provided by the ‘engineering’ President. Country-wide cooperation in industrial stabilization is bound to follow as a result of the Executive’s wise and timely ‘call to arms.'”
In “President’s Economic Adventure,” the magazine’s Washington bureau reporter, Richard M. Boeckel, reported on the 28th that Hoover, without congressional action, was moving forward with his “employment reserve” project, “as a means of warding off the threat of business depression following upon the recent crash in the stock market.” Simply put, the idea was to limit public works expenditures by the feds when times were good and to greatly increase these “whenever industry shows signs of slackening, with a consequent falling off in employment.” Hoover developed this plan in 1921 when he was chair of President Warren G. Harding’s “Conference on Unemployment.” The problem, it was explained, was that Congress was disposed to spend when times were good and move to austerity in economic crisis. It was hoped that, if the federal concept was utilized to good effect, state and local governments would emulate it and “spread out” prosperity by limiting spending during boom times.
It was pointed out, however, that there was the “extreme difficulty of obtaining credit for building on anything short of prohibitive terms, due to the absorption of so large a part of the country’s credit in stock speculation in the course of the bull market. All this changed with the stock market crash of late October.” It was hoped that, lowering rediscount rates would open up more credit and “make money for building once more available at reasonable rates, and it should stimulate construction in all its branches.” The “balance wheel” of construction spending was “the country’s first great economic adventure under the leadership of its new ‘engineering’ President.”
In the “Business and Financial Review” section, John G. Lonsdale, president of the American Bankers Association, was reported to have told an audience of Ohio business figures that “the ultimate effect of the flurry [that is, the crash] will be a more cautious attitude on the part of business men and individuals” but, he claimed “business will continue to give an excellent account of itself.” He then averred that “at no time in the history of American business has there been cause for keener outlook, deeper perception, more judicial judgment than now . . . our principal task might be to keep from trailing with the extremist; to be modern, but not ultra; to be artistic, but not futuristic. The contest of business was never keener.”
Finally, in a “Stock Market Special Survey” by Leib, Keyston and Company, it was stated “that by its current action the market is doing the maximum to rid itself of the effects of the recent debacle and the feeling exists that this rehabilitation program will be carried on to a substantially greater degree unless again upset by another wave of liquidation.” Hoover’s meetings with captains of industry and labor leaders was intended to clam the waters and provide solutions to the problems raised by the market crash. The goal was to increase expenditures for railroads, industry, public construction and government projects.
The president’s “prosperity plea” was resonating with some states, public utilities and private companies, among others, but “there are those who question to advisability of such a procedure” because “the postponement of a depression that is inevitable” would “merely postpone the agony.” Still, it was advocated “that organized and universal industrial activity would be the sure way to eliminate any danger of depression” and that “new purchasing power, new ideals, [and] new standards” would provide the impetus to avoid a debilitating depression. The support of “big business” for Hoover and his ideas augured well for the success “of one of the most expansive general business campaigns ever engaged in by national leaders in all phases of industry and finance.” It was asserted that “the result could easily be the ushering in of a new era for American industry.”
While there is much more of interest in the issue, with respect to the arts, in particular, the discussion of local history and business development, as well as the very notable views on responses to the stock market crash, which, of course, could not contend with the substantial worsening of the economy over the next couple of years, is plenty enough for this post. This snapshot of some aspects of Los Angeles life at the end of the Twenties through the pages of Saturday Night is especially compelling, knowing just how much worse the financial situation would become.