by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It was the peak of greater Los Angeles’ first period of major growth and a collection of newspapers from the Angel City during the mid-1870s helps to give us tangible material from the era to provide some perspective and context on what was happening as the town, approaching its centennial, was beginning to evolve into a city functioning increasingly as a hub for the American Southwest.
Tonight’s featured object from the Homestead’s newspaper holdings is the 29 December 1874 edition of the Los Angeles Herald, then owned (though not for long as it was soon sold) by The Los Angeles City and County Printing and Publishing Company, a concern that included F.P.F. Temple as one of the stockholders. The daily was in its third volume, putting it a couple of years behind the Los Angeles Express and some twenty years behind the Los Angeles Star among the city’s trio of daily English-language newspapers.
In this issue, there is an interesting mix of local news, including material about concern for sufficient winter rains, real estate matters, a proposed railroad to the coast, and others, while advertisements also provide interesting information about happenings in town as well as new businesses and public notices. With regard to the weather, just as we were experiencing a dry start to our winter, until yesterday’s good-sized storm, the situation was looking problematic in 1874, with the Herald reporting “the prospect for early rain is anything but favorable, and fears are beginning to be entertained in some quarters that we shall not have sufficient rain this Winter. It was added that there were years when almost no precipitation came before mid-January so “there is no real cause for dreading a dry season as yet” and there was a shower some days back with hope for more within a couple of weeks.
Still, this first regional boom was such that the paper noted “the advance in real estate in and around Los Angeles within the past six months has been so great as to be a master of astonishment to all.” Moreover, values of unimproved property “shot ahead so rapidly that dealers find themselves almost puzzled in attempts to regulate the scale in prices” while older, improved ones “have gone up nearly or quite one hundred percent in almost as many days.”
A particular example was a parcel purchased in the summer for $18,000 by Oliver H. Bliss and which was “the old Rowland homestead on Alameda Street” south of downtown and along the west bank of the Los Angeles River. This was a property acquired by John Rowland decades before and, while he lived on and devoted most of his ranching and farming energies on his half of Rancho La Puente, he had an extensive vineyard and orchard with his town land. Rowland died in October 1873 and it is evident that his widow Charlotte executed the sale to Bliss. The article observed that Bliss spent $3,000 in virtually rebuilding the house and on other improvements and that he made another $2,250 on the sale of some grapes, walnuts and oranges and, while it was said he could probably realize near double his investment, Bliss claimed the property was worth $50,000.
The paper then went on to describe the tract in detail, observing that “the place contains thirty-five acres [a suburban “donation lot” within the city as laid out by a survey in the late 1850s] on which is one of the most elegant residences in the city.” As for the orchard, there were 100 trees from 15-18 years old, 400 8-year old ones “some of which are beginning to bear,” many full-bearing English walnut trees over twenty years in age, many lime and lemon trees and a large section of apple, peach and pear trees ranging in age from ten to twenty years. The vineyard comprised over 60% of the property, though nothing was said about how many vines there were.
The article concluded by noting that “the soil is splendid and one of the zanjas [irrigation ditches dating to the earliest days of the pueblo] runs through the center of the grounds. It is a fine old place and located within five minutes walk of the center of the city. Later, the property was developed by Frank P. Howard and associates and the area is now in the Arts District east of Alameda and roughly between 4th and 6th streets and it was long part of the original industrial corridor of the city, far removed from its days as a fertile and productive agricultural property.
Other real estate related elements of the paper included a rumor reprinted from the Anaheim Gazette that United States Senator John P. Jones of Nevada was said to have acquired three-fourths of the Rancho San Vicente, the full name of which includes “y Santa Monica.” The rancho, comprising over 30,000 acres, was sold to Robert S. Baker (mentioned in this blog previously as the second husband of Arcadia Bandini de Stearns and who built the Baker Block where Stearns’ El Palacio adobe stood on the east side of Main Street where U.S 101 passes through downtown now) in 1872.
The rumor turned out to be true and Jones paid over $162,000 to Baker for the 75% stake in the ranch, upon which the two men plotted out the town of Santa Monica. Jones, in turn, bought the majority of the stock in the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, slated to go from the Angel City to the silver mining regions of Inyo County in eastern California and of which F.P.F. Temple was the first president, and, having assumed the presidency with Temple becoming treasurer, induced the company to prioritize a branch line to Santa Monica first. That happened in fall 1875, but the collapse of the local economy, including the coming failure of the Temple and Workman bank, ended further work and the railroad was purchased by the Southern Pacific two years later.
Other items relating to real estate include advertisements for the new firm of Ruggles and Bland, who opened their office in the newest of the structures in the Temple Block and built by F.P.F. Temple in 1871 (it housed the Temple and Workman bank with many professionals, including doctors, lawyers, and real estate agents occupying offices on the upper two floors); Wolenberg and Bettis (who also were copyists, handled collections of debt and did general commission work); the Los Angeles City Homestead Association, whose president was Ozro W. Childs and whose treasurer was John G. Downey and whose lands were at the far southern part of town at Figueroa and Washington [Childs and Downey were among the founders of the University of Southern California, which opened in 1880]; and Prudent Beaudry, the newly elected mayor of Los Angeles and who had extensive lands for sale on Bunker Hill and surrounding areas west of downtown.
Speaking of railroads, there was a short note that “track-laying on the Anaheim branch” of the Southern Pacific’s line from Florence, south of Los Angeles, to the town which later became part of Orange County, “will be completed early this week,” assuming, however, that “the construction force do not devote too much attention to Christmas.” To which one might add, “Bah, Humbug!” The Southern Pacific, having been induced by legislation to build a line from San Franciso to Yuma, Arizona through Los Angeles, completed a line east from Los Angeles to the Rancho La Puente by spring 1874 and then pushed on to Spadra, in what is now Pomona. The line to the future Orange County was the other “branch line,” while the main line north was being pushed through the newly established town of San Fernando. An editorial praised the proposed Los Angeles and Pacific Railroad, slated to terminate at a wharf where Ballona Creek empties into the Pacific and which was part of the Centinela townsite project, which included F.P.F. Temple as president and William Workman as an investor.
Another interesting item comprised another rumor emanating from San Francisco that Downey bought the Los Angeles Star, the city’s oldest newspaper, dating back to 1851, and was installing Joseph D. Lynch, who’d edited a San Diego newspaper recently, to run it as his organ for a purported campaign for governor on the Democratic ticket. Downey was governor in the early 1860s, having been elected lieutenant governor, but then assuming office when Milton Latham, after just five days as chief executive, resigned to take appointment as a United States Senator. The rumor that Downey was to run again some fifteen years later, however, along with the assertion about the Star proved to the false.
In the brief capsules of local news are some interesting items, including the news that Josefa Argüello de Celis, born in a prominent early California family and widow of Eulogio, a Spaniard and merchant who owned most of the former lands of the Mission San Fernando until his death in 1869, arrived the day before from Spain, where the family moved in 1853. She was accompanied by two sons (one, Fernando, born in Spain while the other Jose Miguel was born in Los Angeles in 1850) while another son, Eulogio F., had just completed his second term on the Los Angeles Common Council and was proprietor of the long-running Spanish-language newspaper, La Cronica, which was later published by Thomas W. Temple, eldest child of Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple. Doña Josefa returned because Eulogio F. was removed as administrator for his father’s estate because of poor management and she was appointed in his stead. She remained in Los Angeles until her death in 1893.
There was also a brief discussion of the Christmas celebration at the city’s Episcopal Church and Sunday School the prior evening. It was reported that “the attendance was large, taxing the capacity of the auditorium to its utmost” and that “a fine Christmas tree, loaded with gifts was placed in the alcove and the church was otherwise tastefully decorated to suit the occasion.” There were “literary and musical exercises,” meaning readings and a concert by Sunday School members, the rector, the choir “and several well-known amateurs” and “the distribution of presents” including $100 to the rector, the Reverend W.H. Hill.
Also mentioned and accompanied by advertisements were a performance at the Merced Theatre, which opened next door to the Pico House hotel at the end of 1870 and which housed the newly opened Cuyas Bazaar ran by the manager of the hotel, Antonio Cuyas, by “Little Mac’s Minstrels” along with two other billed performers, James W. Charles, and “Professor Orndoff McGee,” the latter being styled a “leader of orchestra” and lectures by Dr. Paul Brenan, said to be an expert on the reproductive organs of men and women, on “Health, Beauty, and Happiness of Woman” and “Manhood.” As was so often the case, Brenan was accused of being a quack and was involved in several controversies during his career, which was largely centered in Portland, Oregon.
Another items of note included the election of officers for the International Order of B’nai B’rith and its local Orange Lodge #224, comprised of prominent Jews in Los Angeles, such Abraham W. Edelman, rabbi at the first synagogue, that of the B’nai B’rith, established in 1862 in the city, Samuel Prager, Wolf Kalisher, and Ephraim Greenbaum; the opening of a new book and stationery store by C.M. Turner, a rare woman business owner at the time in Los Angeles; an ad for the local branch of the Home Mutual Insurance Company of California, managed by James R. Toberman, who just finished two years as mayor and who served four more between 1878 and 1882, with local trustees being the well-known Jonathan S. Slauson, Henry D. Barrows, Samuel B. Caswell, Stephen H. Mott, and F.P.F. Temple, while the Temple and Workman bank served as treasurer; and an ad for a “Grand New Year’s Ball” thrown by the Turn-Verein Germania and which included a decorated Christmas tree (the idea being introduced to America from Germany) and New Year’s gifts.
We’ll end this post with a sample from a poem published in the paper and penned by S.P. Smith called “No Christmas Greeting.” Written on the holiday, Smith’s versification includes the lines:
‘Tis Christmas morn, the sun shines out
In warmth o’er mountain, dell and plain,
Lighting the earth with gladsome cheer;
All nature sings a glad refrain,
While all seems joyous, bright and glad
O’er sunny field, in flower and tree,
Yet I am sitting lone and sad;
And no sweet voice comes to me,
Wishing “a merry Christmas time,”
Or “Christmas gift” to me or mine.
But brighter visions now arise,
Of days and years, not so long past,
When life seemed one perpetual dream,
(A dream of joy too bright to last.)
And home’s sweet influence round me shed
A halo of such joys divine;
I dreamed not that a cloud could mar
Those pleasures of affection’s shrine;
From these loved ones now far away
No Christmas greetings come to-day.
As mentioned here before several times, there are few sources of material more interesting and informative about 1870s Los Angeles than the city’s newpapers. With news, editorials, advertisements, public notices and, even a poem or two, we learn much about the Angel City as it was enmeshed in its first period of significant growth—that is, until the economic freefall in 1875 and 1876 that ended that boom and included the region’s first major business failure, the collapse of the Temple and Workman bank.