by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As Los Angeles hit the peak of its first significant and sustained growth boom during the middle 1870s, one of the emerging city’s biggest boosters was its newspapers, including three English-language dailies, the Express, the Star and the Herald. The Star was the first paper in the Angel City, having launched in spring 1851 and, though it was out of commission between 1864 and 1868, it was resurrected and continued for about another decade. The Express debuted in 1871 and was followed two years later by the Herald, which was briefly published by Charles Storke, who spent most of his life in Santa Barbara. After several months, Storke sold the paper and it was then operated by the Los Angeles City and County Printing and Publishing Company, a joint stock firm that included F.P.F. Temple as its treasurer.
Tonight’s featured issue of the Herald is from 17 February 1875 and an illustration of the ongoing boom are the articles and advertisements related to the real estate market. A main example was the Centinela townsite sale that took place over several days during the middle part of the month and a previous post on this blog covered the story of the project. The former Rancho Aguaje de Centinela, west of Los Angeles in modern Inglewood and Westchester, was subdivided by the Centinela Land Company, whose president was Temple.
It was reported that the previous day’s sale, which began at Noon, drew “a goodly number” of attendees who were “ready for business and eager to obtain some of the magnificent lands which are offered at unprecedentedly low figures and on terms so easy as to induce every one to become a purchaser.” It was felt necessary to add that, among the asemblage, were “many fair ladies whose wit and good-humor aided much to enliven the day.”
The article went on to note that the large size of the rancho meant that a caravan of carriages traveled to and fro as the auctioneer struck off lots for sale. Of the sales of five-acre lots, two were to a Mrs. Eddy with the rest to men and prices ranged from $21 to $45 an acre. For 40-acre lots, there were fifteen such transactions, with Temple purchasing lot 115 for $25 an acre, while others went as high as $50, a price paid by Jotham Bixby, owner of the Rancho Los Cerritos, long owned by Temple’s half-brother, Jonathan. Another buyer was Joseph U. Crawford, chief engineer of the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, whose founding president and current treasurer was Temple.
In all, more than 1,100 acres were sold for just above $43,000, or some $38 an acre on average. Almost seventy town lots, the sizes of which were not given and with prices ranging from $10 to $200, were sold bringing in about $3,000, or $45 per lot. The article concluded by noting that “everybody who had the good fortune to be present, enjoyed a pleasant day and went home satisfied,” with no one snookered and no advantages preferred to stockholders of the company over others.
Another big upcoming sale was by the Los Angeles Immigration and Land Co-Operative Association and its Artesia project southeast of the Angel City and southwest of the newly established Norwalk Station on the Southern Pacific’s rail line from Florence, south of Los Angeles, to Anaheim. This enterprise involved some 3,500 acres and the name of the community referred to the purported fact that “strong flowing artesian wells can be had on every acre of the tract.”
It was announced that “a fine school house” was to be soon constructed on a two-acre town lot donated by the developers, with 10% of all town lot and 2 1/2% of larger lot sales going towards that work. It was also anticipated that a Methodist Episcopal church would soon be built and “a lot will be given to any Church or Society that will erect thereon a building for public use.” An important component to the Artesia project was that
Believing that the sale and consumption of spiritous and malt liquors in the settlement would be productive of much evil continually, and no good, the Association will insert a clause in all deeds prohibiting forever the sale of intoxicating drinks, as a beverage, on the lands sold.
As part of its promotional efforts, the organization published a monthly journal called The New Italy, which title referred to the semi-arid Mediterranean climate identical to that of central Italy. Meanwhile, the Herald published a short article based on the report of “a gentleman ho has recently visited ‘Artesia,'” and who observed that “the soil is good throughout,” though the company did reveal that there were some patches of alkali soil on the tract, which would be shown to prospective buyers.
It was added, though, that “the only question as to its value is the certainty of water supply.” To that end, it was noted, “artesian water is the reward of all who have sought for it” and most wells were between 130 and 200 feet deep, with all striking the precious fluid at a cost of $300 to $400 each. The standard seven-inch well was expected to be plenty for 40 acres devoted to any use, but would be sufficient for 80-160 acres “planted in fruit trees.”
The board of directors of the Association included president and nurseryman Thomas A. Garey, vice-president J.S. Gordon, manager J.E. McComas, his assistant Milton Thomas (a business partner with Garey separately), treasurer H.J. Crow, attorney George C. Gibbs and director at large Robert M. Town. Almost all of these names should be familiar to drivers of streets in Pomona, because, later in 1875, the organization established that town, with funds borrowed from the Temple and Workman bank for development.
Another organization engaged in the subdivision and selling of local property was the Los Angeles City Homestead Association, whose president was another prominent nurseryman, Ozro W. Childs, while its treasurer was former California governor John G. Downey, whose namesake town was another recent project not far from Artesia and who was presdent of the Farmers and Merchants Bank (whose managing cashier was Isaias W. Hellman, former partner of Temple and Workman.)
The Association was offering lots of 106 by 176 feet for $300 and situated on Washington Boulevard near Figueroa, a mile and a half from the county courthouse (located in Jonathan Temple’s Market House, built in 1859). A payment plan of $20 a month was due at the start of the year with “lots to be distributed among shareholders on or about May 1st.” It was anticipated that the Los Angeles City Water Company would soon be completing its pipes to the tract, which was also “one square from the line of the Main street Horse Railroad,” an early rapid transit system.
There was a full column advertisement by Prudent Beaudry, the mayor of Los Angeles and an active developer of lands to the west of downtown including what became known as the upscale Bunker Hill district. His Honor referred to hs sale as “the best and most liberal proposition ever made to the public.” Beaudry sold both lots and finished houses, with the latter including “eight magnificent new cottages and seven fine 2-story dwellings” offered at $4,000 each and “located in the most central and desirable part of the city.”
Beaudry offered these with terms of $100 per month without interest or a discount of 25% if paid for in cash, though prospective purchasers had until early April to take him up on the offer. Meanwhile, he also adverised for “good inclosed pasure for horses and mules . . . on the hills West of the City Cemetery,” with this tract north of Bunker Hill and toward what is how north of U.S. 101 and east of Interstate 110.
Lastly, the mayor offered lots in the Bunker Hill section including those along Hope, Flower, Olive and Charity (later renamed Grand Avenue) streets and on Bunker Hill Avenue, which now only exists west of Grand and north of the 101. Some of this property was in Bellevue Terrace, in the area where today’s Central Public Library is located, while other lots were on the Mott Tract to the north on Bunker Hill. No prices were given but it was stated that “water will be furnished to all the above lots at the rates fixed by the Water Commissioners, and on the same terms as by the L.A. City Water Company.”
There were others advertising real estate in the issue, including W.H.J. Brooks, a “searcher of records,” who offered a pair of “elegant residences” on Main Street (he said the north side, though he meant the west) between 2nd and 3rd streets (F.P.F. Temple’s oldest child and a cashier at the family bank, Thomas, owned a fine residence on 3rd just west of Main, which was an area of fashionable houses) and which were finished about the first of the month. Notably, the lots were very narrow on the street front, measuring just 25 feet in width, while they were 167 feet deep, but Brooks was sure to note that “they have been constructed with every regard to commodiousness” with all modern necessities and “in a style suitable for the home of a genteel family.”
He provided plenty of detail as to the amenities, with the eight-room houses including a pair of ground-floor parlors with marble fireplace mantels and adjacent dining room, kitchen and servant’s bedroom, along with a pantry and china closet. The second floor offered three bedrooms with closets, and a bathroom with a water closet and “wash-fount.” Each dwelling could have hot and cold water with gas provided to each room and there were porticoes and verandas on the front and rear. More than half the lots were available behind the structures for gardens while the front had enough space for flowers and the properties were fully fenced.
Brooks added that “situated as they are on the main street, in close proximity to the business center [situated in and around the Temple Block just to the north], any one may purchase either of them with the confident assurance that it will double in value in the course of the next two years.” The offer price was $5,000 cash, though terms could be arranged.
Finally, another feature of the issue was the listing of “Real Estate Transactions” from the recording by title examiners Judson and Gillette for the dates from the 14th through the 16th. These included sales of land in Wilmington; the “Cienega District, S.W. of city;” Orange (where developer Alfred B. Chapman gave town lots to the Methodist Episcopal Church, just as was done in Artesia); acreage in such ranchos as Santiago de Santa Ana near Orange, Los Coyotes in modern Buena Park and nearby areas, and Santa Gertrudes to the west in the La Mirada area.
In or near the city were sales of property at East Los Angeles, now Lincoln Heights; the southerly limit near Washington Bouelvard; “city donation lots” on Figueroa Street; and the Aliso tract a little north and east of downtown. Lewis G. Green, an early Black resident of the city, purchased a lot from Apolonia Huber on her family’s tract on 8th Street between Flower and Figueroa. There was also the interesting sale of “Smith’s Island, in San Pedro Bay” for $150, this being a mudflat peninsula just north of the San Pedro community named for fisherman Orin Smith.
There was other news in the Herald including that eighty Chinese workers were in Spadra, now southwest Pomona, “to commence work on the Los Angeles and Independence [rail]road,” probably grading for a section of the line that was never completed. A lengthy speech given in El Monte on the 9th by Judge John S. Thompson for the Patrons of Husbandry organization concerned taxation, specifically his plan to eliminate all taxes in favor of a “consumption tax” including
a license system by which every corporation formed or to be formed should pay a fixed sum for the privilege of existence . . . and afterwards a fixed rate of the amount of business done, exempting only corporations formed for manufacturing purposes. A similar provision should also apply to banks, hotels, eating and boarding houses, tobacconists and saloons, lawyers, doctors, surveyors and engineers, land agents and sharks [!] generally.
Thompson advocated a 1% tax on all of these enterprises, stating that enough revenue could be raised to meet the needs to the state, which had a state and local tax structure of just over 2%. More details were not needed unless such a plan was to be seriously considered, but the jurist observed that should it be adopted, the tax would mean that “the State would at once enter upon a career of prosperity and grandeur unequalled on the face of the earth.”
Browsing the pages of papers like the Herald give us a view of life in 1870s Los Angeles that is hard to find elsewhere, given how little has survived from nearly 150 years ago. Look for more entries in the “Read All About It” series with examples from newspapers of that remarkable era, which is the second of three (the others being the 1840s and 1920s) of core interpretive decades for the Homestead.