by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In a region dominated numerically, economically and politically by white Americans and Europeans, it can be challenging, with some exceptions, finding information about people of color in late 19th century Los Angeles. This is especially true once the Boom of the 1880s, which peaked during the mayoral term of William Henry Workman, nephew of Homestead founders William and Nicolasa Workman, brought a wave of migrants to the region and further changed the complexion of the region’s populace.
One way to see how difficult it can be to document the area’s Latinx residents is through photographs in various collections at museums, libraries and archives. In the case of the Homestead, among our approximately 9,000 photos, the proportion of those featuring this group is quite small. Today’s highlighted artifact, however, is one of those rare instances. It was acquired with a group of Temple family photos and is a head-and-shoulders portrait of a dapper gent sporting a black coat, crisp white shirt with a stiff collar, a natty bow tie and a beautifully groomed handlebar-like mustache.
All too often we see photos in which there are now inscriptions to identify the subject, though this cabinet card does have the printed name on the mount of the photographers, the brothers Benjamin and Taswell Lawson, who owned the business formerly run by siblings George and James Dewey on Main Street between 1st and 2nd streets. Fortunately, the subject did provide us a pen inscription on the reverse, reading “With best wishes for my friend ‘Connie’ / M.S. Carrizosa / Los Angeles, Cal. / Feb. 28, 1896.”
Because the image was acquired with photos connected to not just the Temples, but also the Davousts, from whom Anita, husband of then-owner of the Homestead, John H. Temple and daughter of French-born Adrian and María Antonia Dominguez of the prominent Californio family, it was realized that “Connie” was Anita’s younger sister, Constance Davoust Villa (1877-1973). I got to know Constance’s daughter Gertrude Fucile and her family many years ago, so had some familiarity with that family, making it easier to identify the recipient of the portrait.
As to Manuel S. Carrizosa, he turns out to have had an interesting history, especially in his early years. He was born in September 1872 to Manuel Carrizosa and Emelia Savedra, natives of Mexico with Manuel migrating north in 1858 and his future wife nine years later. The two married in 1871 and Manuel S. was the oldest of five children, though he was the only to live to adulthood. The Carrizosa family long resided just south of Los Angeles city limits in what was known as the Vernon district, with their home on Alameda Street north of Vernon Avenue. Manuel, Sr., was a grocer though he also had a 100-acre farm.
The younger Carrizosa, however, became well-known as a teen for his exceptional skills as a guitarist and studied under the prominent musician and teacher Miguel S. Arévalo (1843-1900), who hailed from Guadalajara, Jalisco, México and who settled in Los Angeles about the time Carrizosa was born. Arévalo had guitar ensembles, including some students and members who were Anglos, and Carrizosa performed as part of these for perhaps fifteen or so years. As early as 1886, though, the thirteen year old performed on the instrument, with the earliest found news article dating from that June when he performed at the closing exercises for the year at the Vernon School.
Carrizosa wasn’t just a talented musician, as, in his high school years, he was quite an athlete. At a Fourth of July celebration held in 1888, when he was attending Los Angeles High, Carrizosa placed third in the 100-yard school championship dash and then took second in another race for those under 16 years of age (he was a couple months shy of that landmark.)
As he approached the end of high school, though, Carrizosa continued to achieve more renown for his musical and other abilities. In May 1889, as Arévalo was feted with a testimonial concert at the Turnverein Hall, built by a German society, the young man played a duet with his master of “Home, Sweet Home” along “with variations.” That September, when Mexican Independence Day was commemorated in Vernon, it was reported by the Los Angeles Herald that “M. Carrizosa, Jr., on the 16th delivered a very eloquent address, which was continually interrupted by loud and prolonged cheering. His musical ability may partially be attributed to his mother as the same article observed that there was “some excellent singing by the ladies, among whom were the Señoras Carrizosa, Higara [Higuera]” and others.
A new guitar club was established by Arévalo in spring 1890 and a concert was held at his studio featuring a program “chiefly of solos, duets and trios arranged especially for the guitar by the Professor himself, all of which were enthusiastically received by the audience present.” Notably, Carrizosa was the only current Latinx member, as the other four were Anglos. That November, at the Chrysanthemum Fair held at the city’s Armory Hall, the ensemble performed with just guitars and also with the Billy (Wiliam F.) Arend Orchestra, a well-known group just prior to the formation of the first Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra. When the First Christian Mission held a Thanksgiving social at the Union Hall, about where Grand Avenue meets Interstate 10, it was reported by the Herald that “Professors De Lano, Arevalo, Mrs. De Lano and Mr. Carrizosa formed the great attraction of the evening” as “the guitar and banjo became things of life under their magic touch.”
Meantime, as he completed high school, Carrizosa had to start making a living, while continuning with his musical passion through public performances throguh the 1890s. He opened a saloon at Vernon, perhaps attached to or associated with his grocer father. There was also some political activity with the family enterprises as the Republican Party, then dominant in the city and region, held a “Spanish meeting” at the store just before the November 1892 election. Interestingly, the Los Angeles Times warned Democrats, who ruled the political roost for years prior to the Boom of the 80s, “to watch the returns from the Spanish precincts” and to not underestimate the value of the Latinx vote.
Still, Carrizosa continued to receive plaudits from the press for his guitar wizardry. In mid-August 1893, the Ancient Order of the Foresters, a fraternal order, held an assemblage in Santa Monica Canyon and it was reported in the Herald that there was a new “court” in the order that was “the first Spanish court of the order inaugurated.” The paper added that
Prof. M.S. Carrizosa [that term not meaning an academic position, but an acnowledgement of mastery], who at its inauguration performed many intricate pieces of music, and who is known as the most expert threader of the guitar strings in Southern California, will be on hand, and as a representative of the Latin population of this city will help entertain the guests at the cañon.
It appears that Carrizosa also began by this time to expand his involvement into Orange County, which broke off from Los Angeles County in 1889, as there was a fall 1893 series of horse races at Bay City, later renamed Seal Beach, and featuring horses owned by a Carrizosa, perhaps Manuel, Sr., racing among animals fielded by the Forsters, Leonard J. Rose of the San Gabriel Valley, Richard Gird of the Chino Ranch, the Bixbys of Rancho Los Cerritos and other notables.
By mid-decade, Carrizosa moved to Yorba, a community in Santa Ana Canyon in the northeast corner of Orange County where the Yorba family was long established. He owned a grocery store, again perhaps with assistance from his father, and, in spring 1899, was appointed postmaster. The position did not pay well, apparently it garnered just $10 a month, but trouble struck after just halfa year when Carrizosa was arrested by a federal marshal on a charge of embezzlement.
At the end of the year, however, a federal district grand jury heard the matter and it was learned that the postmaster, “instead of depositing the money [received from customers] in a national bank as postal regulations demand, he mixed it with his own funds, thereby committing a technical breach of the law.” It was decided that he’d acted out “of carelessness rather than criminal intent” and the charge was dismissed.” Not suprisingly, Carrizosa soon resigned.
He continued his involvement in community affairs through the Nineties, including a prominent role in the 1897 Mexican Independence Day celebration performing with an Arévalo quartet (it was later reported that Carrizosa replaced his mentor in running the guitar society), and serving with Walter P. Temple on a reception committee for an annual Catholic Picnic, attracting some 2,500 persons to the festivities at Terminal Island. When he was enumerated in the 1900 census with his parents, it was noted that Carrizosa was a law student and that almost certainly meant he was attending the University of Southern California law school, though he did not end up pursiuing a career in that arena. A year later, though, it was reported that he went to México for a month “on business connected with mining property.”
The next big change in Carrizosa’s life came in September 1900 when he married Carolina Vejar, whose grandfather was Ricardo Vejar, grantee with Ygnacio Palomares, of the Rancho San José, comprising Pomona, La Verne, Claremont and San Dimas. Her father was Ricardo’s son, Ramón, while her mother, Teresa, was Palomares’ daughter. Sadly, Carolina had tuberculosis and died after a little more than two years of marriage. In June 1907, he married Rosa Zazueta, a recent immgrant from México, and the couple had several children.
Later that year, a new direction came when Carrizosa took a civil service exam for a position as license clerk in the office of the Los Angeles City Clerk. While he scored second highest of those seeking the position, it went to the highest performer, though Carrizosa was hired as a sanitary inspector for the city’s health department. Later, he took up employment with the Bureau of Housing and Sanitation and it may be that he was hired because of his facility with Spanish.
In 1924, for example, he and an Anglo inspector were involved in a survey of an area along with waterfront in San Pedro that was “largely occupied by Mexican residents” and which was reported to be unsanitary. The San Pedro Pilot reported that there were nearly 300 people living in 311 rooms in dwellings that were not built to code, had poor sewage systems, no consistent garbage collection and other issues. It added that flyers, in English and Spanish, and presumably put up by Carrizosa and his colleague, asked denizens, “Flies or Babies, Which?”
The paper reported that garbage service would be introduced, that residents were counseled to keep their housing areas clean, and that “an educational campaign of cleanliness is to be conducted.” It can only be imagined how many other areas of the city fit this description and kept Carrizosa busy in his duties, even as little was done broadly to work with working class and poor Latinx residents to improve not just their residences, but their lots in life.
Carrizosa, meanwhile, moved from his longtime home in South Los Angeles to Eagle Rock, where he resided just east of Occidental College, and he died at his house in September 1931 at the age of 59, survived by his wife, a daughter and six sons. While he may not have been among the best known Latinx residents of greater Los Angeles in his day, Carrizosa did lead an interesting life and was recognized as a master musician in his younger years prior to 1900.