Through the Viewfinder: Spring Street North from First Street, Los Angeles, ca. 1885

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

In late 1885, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway completed its direct transcontinental line to Los Angeles, which helped significantly to usher in the famed Boom of the Eighties that followed over the next few years, during which for much of that time William Henry Workman, nephew of Homestead founders William and Nicolasa Workman, was mayor of the Angel City. The transformation to greater Los Angeles was profound in terms of population and economic growth and photographs provide one of the best documentary forms of those remarkable changes that took place in the region.

Among the photographers of that period who plied his trade in what was always a competitive and fickle profession was Frederick Horace Rogers (1835-1921), whose peripatetic life had several remarkable features. Born in Stratford Bow, East London, Rogers’ father, William, was a well-known master woodcarver and he had two well-known brothers: Harry, who was an ornamental designer for book covers and pages, and Edward, who worked in the British diplomatic corps in the Middle East and was renowned for his scholarship of that part of the world and his collection of antiquities and coins. A sister, Mary Eliza, traveled to Palestine to visit Edward and wrote a travelogue about it, published in 1859.

FH Rogers larceny criminal register Middlesex England 1848
A 16-year old Rogers, listed at the bottom of this detail from a criminal register for Middlesex County for a “Larceny from the Person” committed with George Redding in the Clerkenwell district of London.

Frederick, however, looks to have had a difficult early life. At sixteen, he was sentenced to six months in jail for larceny committed in a London neighborhood. Six years later, he abruptly left England due to some unnamed scandal and sailed to Australia, which was long a British penal colony. The next year, in Brisbane, Tasmania, he married Mary Minton Long, who was from the same neighborhood and who was perhaps party with Frederick in the controversy. The couple, who lived in Fitzroy, a suburb of Melbourne, had several children, two surviving (Clara and Arthur), but life had many obstacles, including Frederick’s declaration of insolvency over three separate businesses between 1864 and 1866, including milling, ticket selling (for railroads, it appears) and for his photography business.

In 1875, Mary Rogers died and Frederick decided to leave Australia, putting his daughter in care of a local couple, and headed to San Francisco, where he arrived the following March and set up shop as a photographer. He remained in that city for several years and was joined by his son Alfred, who was a teenager when he reunited with his father. By 1883, the Rogerses were in Los Angeles and Frederick hung up his photographer’s shingle, with an early ad specifically identifying him as a “landscape photographer,” a sobriquet used by the veteran shutterbug Lemuel Ellis.

FH Rogers photographer insolvency The_Age_Thu__Nov_1__1866_
Rogers’ listing for insolvency with his photography business, Melbourne [Australia] Age, 1 November 1866.

By the end of the year, Frederick took on two partners, first John F. Fitzpatrick and then Thomas Clune, with the firm styled as F.H. Rogers and Company and the trio calling their business the Solar Art Gallery. Within a few years, however, that enterprise dissolved and Frederick joined forces with his son Alfred to form the A. and A. Lightning Viewing Company, with the elder Rogers as the business manager and the younger as the photographer. Within a year and a half, though, Frederick was out on his own, though Alfred surfaced in San Bernardino and operated his own studio there.

Given that F.H. Rogers and Company looks to have operated between 1883 and 1886, tonight’s highlighted artifact from the museum’s collection, a stereoscopic photo from that firm showing Spring Street north from First Street, has been assigned a date of circa 1885. The image shows a major commercial section of downtown as it was on the eve of the great boom and one prime indicator of the importance of Spring Street is the number of horse-drawn vehicles parked on the sides of the street, where a great many merchants operated.

Rogers Solar Art Gallery Los_Angeles_Herald_Sun__Dec_9__1883_
Los Angeles Herald, 9 December 1883.

Speaking of transportation, the tracks in the middle of the thoroughfare were from the first streetcar system to operate in Los Angeles, the Spring and Sixth Street Railway, which opened in 1874 with F.P.F. Temple as its first treasurer. By the time the photo was taken, however, cable and electric lines were replacing horse-powered conveyances. With respect to electricity, that, too, was a recent innovation that came to the Angel City within the last few years and there are power poles along the street, as well as the 150-foot tall arc light in the distance.

The photo appears to have been taken from the second floor of the Nadeau Block, where another photo by Rogers and Company was taken looking to the hills to the northwest and featured in this blog a little over a year ago. In the left foreground is a geometric design on the corner of the Larronde Block, complated in 1883, and on the first floor of which operated the store of John T. Sheward, said to have been one of the first merchants to open on Spring as it became a new commercial thoroughfare in the 1870s.

Furrey ad The_Los_Angeles_Times_Thu__Jan_1__1885_
Los Angeles Times, 1 January 1885.

Further up the west side of Spring, just past the intersection with Franklin Street, which was later removed, is the old Rocha Adobe, discernible for its long slanted portico roof just behind the tall, thin pole with a brass ball atop it. This structure was sold to Jonathan Temple who then conveyed it to Los Angeles County in 1853 for use as the county courthouse. In the yard behind the structure, a two-story jail was built the following year. Not long after this photo was taken, Louis Phillips, a prominent rancher in what became Pomona, purchased the property and built a large four-story commercial structure there.

A little further north is a two-story brick building with a sign painted on its south elevation for the hardware store of William C. Furrey. A migrant to the Angel City in 1872, during the region’s first period of major growth, Furrey partnered by Henry D. Barrows, who also was an enthusiastic chronicler of early Los Angeles history, after Barrows bought out his former associated John W. Hicks and Ozro W. Childs, who were early tinmakers and who also had Thomas W. Temple, the eldest child of Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple, as a partner in the late Sixties. Barrows soon retired from the business and Furrey reorganized with James W. Hellman, of the prominent Jewish family, as a major partner, and stockholders including meatpacker Simon Maier, whose brother Joseph was a prominent brewer in the city, and Jackson A. Graves, a lawyer and banker of great prominence.

Woollacott ad Los_Angeles_Herald_Sun__Dec_20__1885_
Los Angeles Herald, 20 December 1885.

On the east side of Spring are two large readable signs for Henry J. Woollacott and Hans Jevne. Woollacott was a well-known, long-time wine and spirits dealer in Los Angeles, but had many other business and real estate interests in the city and region, including being president of the State Loan and Trust Bank. Jevne, a native of Norway, was a recent arrival in the City of Angels, having migrated from Chicago in 1882, at which time he opened his store on Spring. He became one of the most prominent grocers in the city and remained so until his death in 1927.

Just behind the three-story structure where Jevne operated can be seen the distinctive top of the clock tower on the County Courthouse, built by Jonathan Temple in 1859 as the Market House with the city acting as lessor for commercial spaces on the first floor, while the second story was the city’s first purpose-built theater. Just past that, where an angled corner shows, is the first structure of the Temple Block, with that building erected by Jonathan in 1857. Beyond that is the remainder of the block, completed by his half-brother, F.P.F., in the late Sixties and early Seventies.

Jevne ad The_Los_Angeles_Times_Thu__Nov_26__1885_
Los Angeles Times, 26 November 1885.

Straight up Spring at its terminus with Temple and Main and cater-corner from the Temple Block can be seen a portion of the Downey Block, finished in 1871 by former California governor John G. Downey and which was formerly the site of the adobe home of Jonathan Temple. Behind that section of the Downey Block is the distinctive tower of the Baker Block, built on the east side of Main Street and on the site of El Palacio, the large long-time adobe house of prominent merchant Abel Stearns. Stearns’ widow, Arcadia Bandini married Robert S. Baker, a major developer of Santa Monica and builder of its famed Hotel Arcadia and part-owner of a large section of Rancho La Puente formerly owned by William Workman. U.S. 101 runs through that location today, so just beyond the Baker Block was the Plaza area, the historic core of the pueblo.

This great photo represents the growing importance of Spring Street as a commercial center of 1880s Los Angeles and was taken just as the city was poised to enter its biggest growth period to date, the famed Boom of the Eighties. A photo taken in 1897 a block or so south and looking in the same direction was featured on this blog a couple of years ago, so you can see how much changed in little more than a decade.

2926Spring St Los Angeles Cal 2008.209.1.1

As for Rogers, he moved quite a bit in the years after this image was taken. He continued photography on and off, including in Redlands, where it was said he was the “pioneer photographer” in that citrus-growing center, but he also spent some years in Long Beach and San Pedro and tinkered as an inventor and wrote poetry. In fact, in August 1921, the Los Angeles Record had a very brief note that the 86-year old, who was living near where interstates 10 and 110 meet now, fractured his hip and that “he recites poem to forget [the] pain.” He died later that year without an obituary to note that he was once a photographer of note in the city he made his home nearly four decades prior.

2 thoughts

  1. Excellent write-up of that section of Spring Street during the period. Also, interesting history of Rogers. This is an un-cropped version of one that resides in the LAPL and USC digital collections. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Richard, and it was great to finally post a bit of Rogers’ remarkable story, which was researched some years ago.

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