by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Through many of the Homestead’s roughly 9,000 historic photographs can be visually depicted a record of the dramatic transformation of greater Los Angeles over about six decades, from about 1870 through the end of the 1920s. The “Through the Viewfinder” series shares images from the museum’s holdings decade-by-decade and tonight’s entry takes us into the first years of the 20th century with an interesting snapshot taken on Spring Street looking north from between Third and Fourth streets.
How we know this is not because of an inscription by the photographer, although the image was pasted down in a photo album and there is a caption in pen that reads “Rue a Los Angeles California April 1902.” While it would seem the owner was French, it is curious why the month isn’t inscribed as “Avril.” In any case, we know the location thanks to the capturing of two painted billboards on either side of the thoroughfare, one of the principal north-south streets (along with Main and Broadway) in the Angel City.
On the right, or east side, at the upper right of the image is a street number of “334,” though there is only a partial name of the business—fortunately, the name rang a bell (note the word “plating”!) and it was quickly realized that it was Z.L. Parmelee, who long owned a store downtown that sold gas and electric appliances, as well as items made of nickel, tin and other metals. A quick search found that, in 1902, Parmelee’s business was on Spring and a little additional digging unearthed some further information, including his fabulous biblical name of Zelotes (the moniker assigned to the Apostle Simon to distinguish him from Simon Peter) Larkin.
Parmelee was born in 1851 in Litchfield, Illinois, about 45 miles south of the state capital of Springfield (how many of you have been watching the CNN documentary on Abraham Lincoln?) and a little further than that northeast of St. Louis. The family settled in that area of the Land of Lincoln several years prior and were farmers, but, when Zelotes was thirteen years old, the Parmelees headed west with a team and wagon and landed at Dixon in Solano County, west of Sacramento and between Davis and Vacaville (this latter was settled by the Vaca family which came to Mexican California with the Workmans, Rowlands and others from New Mexico, where Vacas are still very numerous.)
Parmelee attended Napa College, where he finished a four-year course of study and then returned to farming for a couple of years before heading south to Los Angeles in 1876 and then settled in a relatively new (about two years) community called Westminster, now in Orange County, and worked for the Westminster Cooperative Company as a salesman and bookkeeper, while he was also the town’s postmaster. After two years there, he went back to the Angel City and worked at the American Cash Store, located in an adobe building where the Hotel Nadeau was later built at Spring and 1st.
In the early Eighties, Parmelee managed stores in Tucson and Stockton for Los Angeles merchants Woodhead and Gay (at Tucson) and C.W. Gibson (Stockton). In 1885, he came back to Los Angeles and purchased Gibson’s store, which sold crockery, glassware, oil and gas fixtures and other items on Main Street near Temple Street. Later, he transferred the crockery and glassware portion to F.W. Dohrmann, who was joined by Parmelee’s brother Charles, and focused on the oil and gas (later electric) goods—that enterprise of Parmelee-Dohrmann, long operating on the east side of Broadway between 4th and 5th, eventually was run by the latter until it was acquired by the parent company of The Broadway department store.
His timing in purchasing Gibson’s business was excellent in that, just after he acquired it, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe completed its transcontinental railroad to this region and the great Boom of Eighties, peaking during William H. Workman’s mayoral term of 1887 and 1888, ensued. Several years after this photo was taken, Parmelee moved the business to his own building, how comprised of lofts in the upper floors, on Broadway south of Seventh.
Parmelee prospered in business, retiring in the late Teens, and also had some influence within the Republican Party, which then dominated the politics of the area. Married in Stockton in 1882 to Eliza Goldworthy and whom he had two daughters, Parmelee was very active with the Y.M.C.A., the Good Templars masonic fraternity, the Methodist Episcopal Church (these last two associations, not surprisingly, meant that he was an ardent temperance advocate), the Children’s Homes Society, and the Spanish-American Institute in Gardena. He died in 1926 at age 75 at the family’s South Pasadena home.
Eliza Goldsworthy Parmelee was also active with social causes, being prominent with the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church conference for Arizona, California and Oregon, as well as heavily involved with the Y.W.C.A. and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which, with the Methodist Church, had enormous influence in the anti-alcohol movement which culminated in national Prohbition by 1920.
Then to the left is most of a large sign for the Hotel Ramona, which occupied the southwest corner of Spring and 3rd from about 1890 to 1912, when the auction house of Rhoades and Rhoades advertised that it was selling the furniture and fixtures of the 40-room hostelry because its unnamed owners were leaving the city.
Also of note are the electric streetcars of the Los Angeles Railway, acquired several years before by Henry E. Huntington and part of his rapidly growing rapid transit empire in that first decade of the 20th century, making their way down Spring, including the one in the front which bears a sign indicating that its destination was the Southern Pacific railroad’s Arcade Depot, situated on Alameda Street between 4th and 6th on the famed Wolfskill Orchard property, where California’s first commercial orange grove was planted in 1841.
Although the first automobile was introduced in the Angel City five years before when E.L. Erie of Boyle Heights conveyed former mayor and Boyle Heights founder William H. Workman in his homemade horseless carriage, the other vehicles in the street include horse-drawn buggies, carts and wagons, while a bicyclist in a hat and suit coat pedals northbound.
In those first years of the century, Spring Street was a core thoroughfare in the commercial district of a rapidly growing Los Angeles. Further north and out of view, where Spring ended in a triple intersection with Main and Temple was the Temple Block, with several structures built between 1857 and 1871 by the brothers Jonathan and F.P.F. Temple, the latter of whom had his bank with father-in-law William Workman in the newest edifice on the block at that intersection. When the photo was taken, it had been just over a quarter-century since that institution’s stunning collapse, the first major business failure in Los Angeles.
Fifteen years after the image was made, Temple’s son, Walter, would realize a fortune from a fortuitous oil discovery on his ranch near Montebello, and among his many real estate ventures was the construction, with a syndicate, of two “height limit,” meaning the maximum eleven stories allowed by ordinance, business buildings several blocks south of where this view was snapped, at Spring and 8th streets.
So, Spring Street retained its importance in the business section of the city for a great many years and this photo shows a part of it in its eaerly 20th century heyday. We’ll continue featuring great images like this in the “Through the Viewfinder” series, including a view from the 1910s in March, so check in with us periodically for further entries or search on the main page for past ones.