by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The monthly magazine of the powerful Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Southern California Business was launched in the early 1920s as one of many projects by the Chamber to promote the region and its burgeoning economic might. Today’s featured object from the Homestead’s collection is the March 1926 issue of the publication and it contains several interesting and instructive feature articles about greater Los Angeles.
One relates to a development mentioned in this blog previously, the inauguration of an expanded air-mail service as a demonstration of the rapidly growing aviation industry. The piece by Corliss C. Moseley, the Air Forces commander of the state’s National Guard, noted that “Los Angeles becomes 30 hours nearer to New York on April 1” as Western Air Express, a Los Angeles firm was to begin its air mail delivery to Salt Lake City.
This was because there previously was delivery of mail by train to San Francisco first, then the overland trip was taken, but foregoing the former allowed for the savings of the thirty hours. A map showed the Salt Lake route which largely followed, though not to proper scale, the trail used when Mormons were sent in 1851 from Zion (Utah) to found the settlement of San Bernardino (the article omits that Black slaves accompanied these migrants, including Biddy Mason, who sued for her freedom five years later and went on to be a prominent member of the small, but vibrant African-American community in the Angel City.)
Moseley added that “Los Angeles should be the scene of the 1926 Pulitzer races,” an event sponsored by publisher Ralph Pulitzer, whose father Joseph established the family media empire and created the Pulitzer Prize. While the race was instead held in Philadelphia six months later, the event, rechristened the National Air Races, did take place in 1928 at Mines Field, which morphed into Los Angeles International Airport.
A salient point the author made was that “climatically and geographically Los Angeles merits” the event, because the previous races were all postponed due to rain, but the Land of Sunshine, especially in September, would not pose that problem. Moseley added that hosting the races “would go materially towards securing a satisfactory airport for Los Angeles,” while having the air mail service “will go far to develop commercial aviation in Southern California to a much higher pitch.” It was true that greater Los Angeles quickly developed into an important aviation center over succeeding years and decades, especially in the post-World War II era with massive defense spending, as well as with commercial aspects.
An unattributed feature, “A Tale of Retailing,” discussed the importance of retail shopping in the Angel City. It noted that nearly $500 million was spent in this economic area the prior year. It was stated that the non-farm segment of California had a per capita income of $825 per person, higher than such states as Illinois, Massachusetts, Michgan and several others in an accompanying chart. Further, the article observed that “the per capita wealth in Los Angeles is greater than the average for the United States.
There was, however, another vital clientele, thanks to the fact that “few cities have as many visitors in a year as has Los Angeles,” that number estimated to be some 1.6 mllion in 1925. Assuming that each of those visitors spent $50 in the city and region’s retail establishments, some $80 million would have been rung up. It was added that there were about 900,000 residents outside Los Angeles and within its metropolitan area, so, at $100 each, that would add another $20 million in sales. That left approximately $385 million in sales to permanent residents of the city of Los Angeles.
The piece concluded by noting that there was a statement published “by a well-known economic service” concerning “the current state of general buying activity.” According to this report, “it shows Los Angeles as one of the cities of greatest current sales activity” and that a recent month showed an 111% increase over the same period during the prior year, which “runs higher than a large number of other cities.”
One of the most prominent women in Los Angeles during this period was Susan M. Dorsey, the first woman superintendent of the public schools of Los Angeles and in which position she served from 1920-1929. Her article “Investing $61,000,000 in Child Education.” included the common observation that the dramatic transformation of the city was “a far call from the sleepy days of the late 70’s and early 80’s” [Dorsey came to the city with her husband and children during the latter].
Dorsey provided some notable statistics about the increase in school classes and faciliites in the three decades from 1895-1925, noting that kindergarten classes increased from 27 to 200; elementary schools from 49 to 250, and that, in the mid-Nineties there were just two schools above elementary (Los Angeles High and its evening high school), but that there were 62 junior, senior, part-time senior trade and evening high schools thirty years later. The number of employees went from about 430 to nearly 7,900.
She pointed out, moreover, that it was “in the years since 1920 that the Los Angeles schools have had their most phenomental growth, inasmuch as they have more than doubled in enrollment during that period.” Meeting such a demand, she declared, “would have chilled the courage of a community less devoted to education and less genuinely optimistic in all matters of progress.” It was a testament to the enlightened City of Angels that “this wonderful community has raised and spent somewhat more than sixty-one millions of dollars in the last five years” for grounds, structures, materiel, maintenance and salaries.
For the 1925-26 school year, there were one hundred new buildings in construction, including additions and new schools, including a million-dollar trade school (the Frank Wiggins, now the Los Angeles Trade Technical College) and “an opportunity school for boys younger than those to be admitted to the trade school” and which was to be on nine acres and “furnish a variety of educational experience for boys who find it difficult to adjust themselves to the regular routine of school life and who require somewhat more of manual training than does the ordinary boy.”
Dorsey wrote that there wasn’t just growth in the school-age population and resources for them but also “in the spirit and temper of the educational adventure itself,” citing such examples as school for the hearing-impaired, sight-impared, the physically disabled, those with speech challenges and for “the child of limited intelligence.” She added that “those desiring to prepare for a profession or learn a trade arealso given their chance, and for all who seek expression of the individual interest in music, drawing, art and the useful arts, opportunity is afforded.” Teachers, too, were given better training and continuing education at local universities and colleges, summer study and travel, and in other ways.
Concluding her remarkable essay, the superintendent stated that:
Los Angeles schol people are always mindful of the fact that in education as in every other public activity there must be an adequate return for the investment. As, at the annual commencements, they see year after year, thousands of youths, full of physical vigor, intellectual enthusiasm and ethical ideas fare forth like knight errants of old to the great adventures of life, they believe that the prospect is promising for an increasingly greater and better Los Angeles.
An article on exports from Los Angeles noted the rapid rise in products from the region’s burgeoning automobile industry as part of a statement that “no city of America, with the possible exception of New York, is so well situated to go after foreign markets for automotive products as is Los Angeles. A table showed that Australia was by far the most likely market for such products, with India, New Zeland and Mexico the next highest on a list.
Another feature, “The Head of the Table is California Lettuce” observed that in 1902, a seed dealer salesman handed out product of a larger variety from France to local farmers, including “some Chinamen . . . who wanted to try it out.” A quarter century later, with the Imperial Valley east of San Diego as a major growing locale, it was reported that “the history of head lettuce in California is really the history of the Los Angeles market variety, since its introduction 24 years ago fostered an industry that annually returns millions to those participating in its growing and marketing.”
The climatic diversity of California allowed for year-round growing, rather than just in the winter and early spring, and the piece added that it was Henry L. Musser, a prominent seed provider, who acquired that French seed and named it the “Los Angeles Market” and that A.A. Gast was one of the first major local growers. We know the strain better as the “Iceberg,” because it did not require the icing done with other varieties.
It was added that there were 28 cars of head lettuce shipped from greater Los Angeles in 1915, but, a decade later, that number jumped to a stunning 10,000, most from the Imperial Valley, but coastal regions added to the mix with their different growing seasons. The piece concluded with the observation that “Los Angeles can point with pride to the fact that it was on her market that this great variety first received attention” and added that the first field where it was grown in 1902, formerly called Fruitland, was the new Central Manufacturing District in the area around Vernon.
Other notable articles include one on the newly created Avalon Boulevard, said to be the same route leading from the city to Phineas Banning’s Wilmington, and providing another valuable route to the Port of Los Angeles; areport that, of over $170 million spent on improvements, the vast majority went to buildings and streets, with $20 million going to the latter, more probably than any other city, save New York and Chicago; a short ohe on the rise of tourists coming to the area on the Santa Fe railroad; and a feature on the remarkable growth of South Gate over the past decade “from a barely field in 1917 to a modern city of 8100 population” with a strong manufacturing and industrial emphasis.
There was a short note under the heading of “Business Openings” that noted that a letter was received from Roy Teeters, secretary of the Temple Chamber of Commece in the town founded three years prior by Homestead owner Walter P. Temple and which was renamed Temple City in 1928. Teeters wrote that
We are in need of several of several lines of mercantile stores here in Temple, among them dry goods, shoes, shoe repair shop and a variety story.
We have a number of good store rooms for rent at reasonable rates and ofer a splendid location with a population of 3,000 to draw from.
The problem at Temple was that it was subject to the well-meaning provisions of the Mattoon Act, which imposed assesments for improvements in unincorporated communities such as gas lines and street lights, but which stipulated that, if a property owner was delinquent in paying the assessment, the adjoining neighbors had to pick up the tab. This, naturally, had a significant dampening effect on the sales of property and would affect the commercial prospects of the town. The Act was repealed in 1933, but it had unintended devastating consequences for places like Temple and other unincorporated areas.
The useful “March of Events in Figures” provides data for building permits, manufactured product values, bank deposits, and farm product values, with some information going back to the start of the century, while the February Business Review gave capsule summaries of the situation in many areas of regional business life from building permits to steel to harbor busines to oil production and much else.
This post ends with “The Bubble That Never Broke” an essay by G[eorge]. Allison Phelps, the so-called “Radio Philosopher,” whose claims fit in well with the booster spirit of the Chamber. Phelps began with “I’m going to tell you about a bubble that never broke, about the most beautiful bubble in the world” and then asserted that “dates are boresome. So are names,” so he dispensed with facts in favor of waxing idyllic about the modern miracle of the Angel City.
As an illustration of his style, Phelps wrote that
the adobe and red-wood shacks gave way to steel monsters that added strength to the curve of the bubble. Music and art came to add to the romantic peals of the mellow mission bells. Soon the buble [sic] was propped and supported by the glistenig rails of many lines of transportation. Ships from all the nations of the world arrived to crowd this harbor of happiness, laden with the necessities and the luxuries of every people of the earth. From high in the snow-mantled Sierras a mighty stream of fresh water was directed into the mouth of the bubble and with this renewal of strength the bubble expanded until its name was known in all the distant corners of the globe.
The reverie of the Radio Philosopher rose to rosier rhetoric as Phelps averred that, despite warnings of naysayers that the bubble would burst, “still it grows” and “about it cluster a hundred other bubbles—colorful, strong, expanding. In these smaller bubbles, too, there is a blending of the stamina of the East and the romance of the West.”
He rolled onward stating that “Los Angeles, this glorious, unbreakable bubble, rests tranquilly now on the shoulders of these other bubbles which, having sprung from the bosom of the great, cannot be less strong.” He implored those who questioned this purported reality to “roll up your sleeves, pitch in and help to build for the hordes that are coming” to the Angel City and “the bubble that never broke.”
One wonders what Phelps had to say when the bubble did, in fact, burst, spectacularly, with the coming of the Great Depression, but this essay hardly unique as there were many who truly believed Los Angeles was a place of perpetual growth and expansion. Part of our story at the Homestead, through the unfortunate case study of Walter P. Temple, is what happened at the end of this 1920s boom, as well as the one more a half century before that included the tragedy of the Temple and Workman bank.