Read All About It in the Los Angeles Express, 23 January 1873

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

With newspapers being among the best sources of information about life in greater Los Angeles during the late 1860s and first half of the following decade when the region was undergoing its first significant and sustained period of development, the Homestead is fortunate to have a decent selection of such newspapers as the Express, the Herald, and, to a much lesser extent, the Star in its collection.

Tonight’s featured artifact from the museum’s holdings is the 23 January 1873 edition of the Express, which began publication in March 1871 under the auspices of five men, George and Jesse Yarnell (the latter was later a founder of the Times), J.W. Paynter (incorrectly known as “Payton” in some accounts), Miguel Varela (a rare Latino owner of an English-language, though his name is often misspelled as “Veredo”), and George A. Tiffany—all of whom worked as printers with other papers. The editor was Henry C. Austin, but, within a couple of years the enterprise was down to Tiffany and Paynter and Austin was replaced by James J. Ayers, who, with Joseph D. Lynch, purchased the paper in March 1875.


Being in competition with the Star, the other major daily until the Herald was launched in October 1873, the paper felt compelled to refer in its editorial section to the assertion by its contemporary that the Star had raised its advertising rates by almost 50% because of a growth in circulation. The Express rejoined that its circulation was far in excess of the other sheet and any other in the southern part of California.

It claimed that “the business men of Los Angeles have patronized us liberally from the inception of our enterprise” and “paid us good prices for their advertisements when the subscription list of THE EXPRESS was small.” For this, the paper expressed its gratitude and informed readers and advertisers “that their advertisements may be inserted in THE EXPRESS at the same rates as of old. This was due to their putting the sheet “in the front rank of the papers of Southern California; and we remember their favors with gratitude.”


Three months prior, the citizens of Los Angeles County voted to provide to the powerful Southern Pacific Company a subsidy of 5%, or over a half-million, of the assessed value of property in the county and control of the region’s sole railroad, the Los Angeles and San Pedro, connecting the Angel City with the rudimentary, but improving, harbor. The SP was compelled by federal legislation to build through Los Angeles as it constructed a line from the Bay Area to the California/Arizona border at Yuma, but it sought the most favorable terms it could and this is why the subsidy and handover of the LA & SP line took place. One of the key negotiators leading to the election was F.P.F. Temple, who would soon try to compete with the mighty SP with his Los Angeles and Independence Railroad project.

The Express, in its editorial page, noted that “the question as to when the Southern Pacific Company will commence work on this branch of their railroad has been asked so often, that we deem it best to tell all we know about it.” A railroad representative as in Los Angeles for several days before heading back to San Francisco “has been rounding up some rough angles in preliminary matters” and was going to consult with directors of the company, headed by the Big Four (or, if you like, the octopus), Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, Collis Huntington, and Leland Stanford, about these issues.


A major one included “the Griffin tract, selected for the site of the workshops, turn-tables, etc.,” this being the area north and a bit east of downtown that included what was, later in the year, organized as the first major subdivision in the city: East Los Angeles, now Lincoln Heights. The Express added that “the surveys to the city have all been made, and the line staked off.” Moreover,

there is now considerable interest manifested by landholders in the county to have the line pass through their property, and the selling figures of land are sensibly affected by the probabilities of the route.

Whether this purported enthusiasm was shared by William Workman and John Rowland, owners of the massive nearly 49,000-acre Rancho La Puente and who sold rights-of-way through their princely domain later in 1873, is not known, though prospects for shipping ranch products, principally wheat, wine and other agricultural items and, perhaps, future prices for land sold by them or their heirs may well have caused them to support what was likely inevitable anyway.


Once Stanford returned from Washington, D.C. in a couple of weeks, it was stated that “work will be inaugurated by the continuation of the Los Angeles and San Pedro road [which then terminated at Alameda and Commercial streets] along Alameda street to the accepted passenger and freigh depot grouds in the twelve-acre ‘Huerta del Molino’ tract.” This property, containing the mill built by Abel Stearns, who died in 1871, was acquired from his widow, Arcadia Bandini de Stearns, who soon married Robert S. Baker, developer of what became Santa Monica and builder of the Baker Block on the site of the Stearns adobe, El Palacio, on Main Street, where U.S. 101 goes through downtown now.

The work was to include the building of the depot and “large forces of men will be put to work as rapidly as possible,” so that, within a month or so, “our citizens will feel the good effects of the energy and activity of the enterprising men at the head of the Southern Pacific Company.” In addition to the short extension of the LA & SP and the main line coming in from the north, where, for example, the town of San Fernando was created the next year, additional lines were soon started from Florence, south of city limits, to Anaheim and from downtown to the eastern San Gabriel Valley and La Puente, with that line eventually to go to the terminus at Yuma. The La Puente depot was finished in spring 1874 and the connection from the north finished on Independence Day 1876, by which time a major economic depression, including the failure of the Temple and Workman bank, was afoot.


A couple of smaller articles on the editorial page concerned the desirability of introducing Chinese sugar grass, sugar cane and sugar beets and sericulture (raising silk worms) in greater Los Angeles. The Express noted that “Southern California offers to capitalists an inviting field for investment in sugar beet enterprises” and “great inducements for the silk culture.” While the latter did not take well in the region, there were substantial efforts (F.P.F. Temple did experiment with sugar cane at his Rancho La Merced) in raising sugar beets toward the end of the century, especially in what became the South Bay area, including Hynes (Paramount), and in Chino, where founder Richard Gird hired the Oxnard brothers from Kansas, who later established their domain near Ventura.

As to the local news page, the “Local Dottings” section has several interesting, if brief, notices, including the fact that many farmers were still plowing their fields for the ensuing season and the Wine Growers’ Association had its meeting the next evening. The volunteer fire company’s new engine was completed, a bar and pool room was being added to the Pico House hotel, opened three years prior by ex-governor Pío Pico, and the pioneer hostelry in the city, the Bella Union, was in hot water (or toddies) for its violation of the state’s Sunday Law with “the question whether the great public can or cannot drink its usual Sunday ‘tod.'”


The paper did report that “a number of Eastern people are in the city, with an eye to the purchase of real estate,” while “the hill back of the school house is being cut away,” this being, presumably, the new high school, still in construction, on Poundcake Hill to the west of downtown. It was added “the hills surrounding the city will be dotted with residences after awhile.” With Alonzo Waite completing his home on Fort Street, renamed Broadway a little more than a decade later, it was noted that “a number of new buildings are being put up in various parts of the city.” Later in 1873, Thomas W. Temple, cashier in the bank owned by his father, F.P.F. and grandfather Workman, built a substantial home on Third Street near Spring, a fashionable residential district at the time.

Speaking of F.P.F. Temple and his wide-ranging business activities during the boom, there was a short note that “the pipe for the San Fernando oil works will be down on the next steamer.” Though he was not the only prospector in this pioneer petroleum field north of Los Angeles in the mountains west of modern Interstate 5 in today’s Santa Clarita, he did launch a serious effort through his Los Angeles Petroleum Refining Company in that area and produced some crude and gas for use in the city before his bank collapsed.


It was also reported that, the day prior, five mule teams, likely those of Remi Nadeau who controlled this transportation market, were readied for the long journey, more than 200 miles, to Independence, Lone Pine, Owens Valley and Cerro Gordo, areas of Inyo County in eastern California in which a silver mining boom was on. Here again, F.P.F. Temple was an active investor and, later in the year, he formed the Cerro Gordo Water and Mining Company, which built an eleven-mile pipeline to bring water from a spring to the bustling town of Cerro Gordo. Two years later, however, the spring dried up and the financial catastrophe was followed within a few months by the state’s economic collapse, due to the bursting of a silver mine stock speculation bubble in Virginia City, Nevada, that led to the failure of the Temple and Workman bank.

As for other city projects, the Express observed that downtown property owners along Main and Spring streets near the Temple Block “have agreed upon a system of improvements, and it is expected that the hod will soon be heard making sweet music to the hum of the melodious trowel,” certainly an odd way to refer to construction noise! Another mention was about surveyors along one of the city’s old zanjas, or water ditches, tapping the Los Angeles River and the hope was that there would be long hoped-for improvements of the ditch. It turned out, however, that “the gentlemen were merely determining the location of a street water main,” though even this was a relatively new phenomenon in the Angel City and its nascent public works system.


Lastly, there are a trio of articles worth noting, including the Board of Education allotting space “in the new school building,” again, presumably, the high school, for a Miss Sheppard to teach the art of telegraphy and it was added that she hoped to open her own school on the subject, the first such institution in Los Angeles.

Another concerned the work of Dave Buel and Ike Bateman to secure nearly all the gold mining claims in San Gabriel Canyon north of Rancho La Puente and the modern city of Azusa, with it stated that “nearly the entire district will pass into their hands, and we may look for some tall mining operations under the direction of these competent and successful miners.” Mining in the canyon went back years before this and yielded some small, but sometimes significant, returns and there are still prospectors there today.


Notice was also made of a lecture by Reverend Jonathan W. Stump, a Methodist minister, who spoke on temperance, or the abolition of alcohol, at the District Court room in the former Market House built by Jonathan Temple in 1859. The talk was given under the auspices of the Good Templars and the Independent Champions of the Red Cross, both fraternal organizations that supported the temperance movement. The Express seems to have done the same as it hoped “that the lecturer will be greeted with a large audience, as this will be the first of a series of lectures from our prominent men. Stump would soon feel right at home in the courthouse as he soon left his minstry and became an attorney in the Angel City. He later lived in Ontario, where he died in 1913.

As always, it is interesting to peruse the advertisements, which did provide a great deal of the revenue needed for papers to survive and the fees of which remained unchanged, as noted above. From druggists to hardware merchants and nurseries to markets and hotels, we can learn a good deal about the growing business community in Los Angeles during this first boom, while the editorials and articles help enlighten about the goings-on in the Angel City, as well.

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