Sharing History on the Founding of Boyle Heights with Boyle Heights Community Partners

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This afternoon was the third of five presentations on the history of Boyle Heights given through the auspices of Boyle Heights Community Partners and, after discussing the early residents, principally the López family, owners from the mid-1830s of a section of Los Angeles east of the river as what was known as Paredon Blanco (White Bluff), followed by some history involving Andrew Boyle, who bought some López land on which he lived for a baker’s dozen of years from the late 1850s through the early 1870s, today was a look into the founding of Boyle Heights by three principals.

This included William Henry Workman (1839-1918), who has been oft-mentioned in this blog. The youngest of three sons of Nancy Hook and David Workman, older brother of William, the Homestead’s founder with wife Nicolasa Urioste, William H. moved to Los Angeles with his mother and brothers Thomas (a clerk for Phineas Banning, the “Port Admiral,” at Wilmington before his death in a steamer explosion there in 1863) and Elijah after his father died in an accident in 1855 while driving cattle to the gold fields for William.

Los Angeles Express, 8 April 1875.

After working as a “printer’s devil,” or general laborer, for a couple of early Los Angeles newspapers, the Southern Californian and the Star, William H. joined Elijah in the latter’s saddle and harness, a profession practiced by their father (likely learned by apprenticeship in England) and which was the second such business in Los Angeles after that established by Samuel C. Foy. The Workman Brothers enterprise lasted on and off for about two decades and the siblings built a successful business, first in the Temple Block, developed by Jonathan Temple, on the west side of Main Street and then in the Lanfranco Building across that principal thoroughfare north of First Street.

By the 1870s, William H. was a prominent fixture in the local and dominant Democratic Party and served on the Common (City) Council and as a proxy delegate who went to the national party convention at Baltimore in 1872 to cast his vote for New York newspaper publisher Horace Greeley, who lost the forthcoming presidential election to incumbent Ulysses S. Grant. William H. went on to become mayor (1887-1888), a parks commissioner (1890s) and city treasurer (1901-1907) of the Angel City, by which latter time he was a rare Democrat as the Republicans ruled the political roost.

Express, 19 May 1875.

He married Maria (Mah-rye-ah) Boyle, the only child of Andrew, in November 1867, and, upon his father-in-law’s death a few years later, William H. became the estate executor and took on the management of the property, including the manufacture and sale of Paredon Blanco wine, sold by Boyle from 1860 onward, while continuing his co-ownership of the saddlery. As Los Angeles was in the middle of its first significant and sustained boom period, starting in the late 1860s and continuing through the mid-Seventies, William H. decided to subdivide most of the estate and additional lands he acquired, working with partners to create Boyle Heights.

The Los Angeles Express of 8 April 1875 reported that “‘Boyle Heights’ is the very choice name given by the proprietors to the new addition to our city laid out just across the river,” adding that the property was divided into lots and would be sold on an installment plan “as soon as water has been introduced in pipes through the grounds” by the privately held Los Angeles Water Company. The paper observed that,

This tract occupied a very inviting and commanding position, with a splendid view of the entire valley, and sufficiently adjacent to the centre of the city to make it valuable for residences. The promoters of the subdivision are Messrs. W.H. Workman, I.W. Hellman, and J. Lazzarovich.

Of the other partners, Isaias Wolf Hellman (1842-1920) has also been frequently mentioned here. A native of Reckendorf, Bavaria (about 130 miles east of Frankfurt) in what became part of a unified Germany in 1870, Hellman followed relatives to Los Angeles when he was a teenager and worked in a cousin’s store before striking out on his own, buying the business of Adolph Portugal in 1865.

Express, 12 June 1875.

A brilliant merchant, Hellman quickly developed an informal banking operation (banks were banned in California’s first constitution, ratified in 1849) and his incredible acumen made him a highly trusted figure in the town’s emerging financial world as that first boom ensued. Once banks were permitted, James Hayward (whose father is namesake of that Bay Area city) and ex-governor John G. Downey opened Los Angeles’ first bank in spring 1868.

Several months later, Hellman, teaming up with William Workman and F.P.F. Temple, launched Hellman, Temple and Company, which opened its doors in a building erected by former governor Pío Pico on Main Street, not far from the Workman Brothers saddlery. It was an ideal combination, as the Hellman’s skills were complemented by the ample financial resources and reputations of his partners. If only Temple had let the young wizard work his magic, but, by early 1871, fundamental disagreements about loaning and other bank policies led Hellman to dissolve the partnership and strike out on his own.

An early Boyle Heights sale, Express, 6 August 1875.

Within a few months, with Hayward and Company ceasing operations, Hellman and Downey pooled their resources and opened Farmers and Merchants Bank of Los Angeles, which succeed the short-lived I.W. Hellman and Company in the Pico Building. Meanwhile, Temple and Workman decided to establish their own namesake institution in the final addition to the Temple Block, opening in fall 1871. For the next several years, these were the only commercial banks in the growing city.

Hellman had other business endeavors, a few of which included the Los Angeles Gas Company, the Southern District Agricultural Association and the California Wine-Growers Association, while he amassed an impressive real estate portfolio, including large holdings on the Rancho Santa Gertrudes in the Los Nietos township (where parts of Whittier, La Mirada and other communities are today), a massive San Diego (now part of Riverside) County ranch near modern Hemet, and the famous Rancho Cucamonga, where he operated its successful vineyard and winery. As did Workman, Hellman purchased Boyle Heights land that were city lots and joined him and Lazzarovich in the new subdivision.

Los Angeles Herald, 24 August 1875.

John Lazzarovich (1830-1892) was also a European, hailing from a town in what is now the Republic of Montenegro, the Balkan country on the east coast of the Adriatic Sea across from Italy. He migrated to America in the early Fifties and wound up in Los Angeles by mid-decade, becoming a prominent member of a small, but vibrant community of residents who came from the Balkans, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but always politically, militarily and religiously contested. Other people in the Angel City from the part of the world included the prominent doctor Vincent Gelcich and Jerry Illich, whose restaurant and oyster parlor was well-known among Angelenos.

Lazzarovich, like Hellman, was a long-time merchant, first with partners and then on his own, with his last establishment located just south of the Workman Brothers saddlery, but which burned in 1871. He was married to another native of the Balkans with which he had a namesake son, but, after his wife’s death from tuberculosis, he married Juana López de Warren, daughter of Francisco “Chico” López, whose portion of Paredon Blanco became the Mount Pleasant Tract, and widow of Los Angeles Marshal William C. Warren, who was killed by a deputy in a dispute over reward money in a case.

Adjacent to Mount Pleasant and Boyle Heights was the new tract of Brooklyn Heights, Express, 22 September 1875.

As Workman did, Lazzarovich began to exercise influence on the Paredon Blanco land his wife’s family owned, including the development of Mount Pleasant and the partnership in Boyle Heights. With the former, he organized a two-day auction in August 1875, with Workman buying some property, as did a recently arrived native of Scotland who later owned land in the Puente Hills and gave his name to a prominent canyon—his name was Robert Turnbull. He also had a large nursery at Mount Pleasant, including 100,000 orange, lemon, lime, peach and fig and other fruit trees, which were offered at auction at the end of 1875.

Another individual who would figure prominently in Boyle Heights was an immigrant to the Angel City in 1875, John E. Hollenbeck along with his wife, German-born Elizabeth Hatsfeldt. Hollenbeck intended to try his hand in the California gold fields a quarter century before but got sick and then ran out of funds at the Nicaraguan isthmus during his journey. He met Hatsfeldt in a hotel where she worked and the two later ran the establishment, while Hollenbeck built a successful shipping and warehousing enterprise in that Central American country.

Herald, 29 December 1875.

When the couple decided to move to Los Angeles, they deposited $20,000 in the Temple and Workman bank and returned to Nicaragua to wind up their affairs. During that time and just days after the Mount Pleasant auction, however, the state economy cratered as a silver stock bubble from mines in Virginia City, Nevada burst and the shockwave caused the collapse of the Bank of California in San Francisco. The telegraph sent news down to Los Angeles and a panic erupted with depositors clamoring for their funds at Farmers and Merchants and Temple and Workman.

After nearly two decades of hard work and the enusing fruits of his labors, Hellman was in his homeland enjoying what was projected to be a nine-month vacation, but he had to cut short his visit when news reached him of the panic and of Downey’s decision to close Farmers and Merchants along with Temple and Workman for all of September to try to cool the fevered response of jittery customers. Furious with Downey for agreeing to the suspension, Hellman rushed home, stopping in New York to borrow cash as tangible proof of his bank’s stability, and reopened immediately, following this with his partner’s ouster as president.

Express, 4 January 1876.

The day the two banks closed, there were elections for Los Angeles County offices with F.P.F. Temple winning his second run for county treasurer. Yet, though he would not take office for about a half-year, the bank president faced the dilemma of how to obtain funds to reopen his institution. After long negotiations, a loan was arranged “on rather hard terms,” as he wrote his father-in-law from San Francisco, with Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, whose sell-off of Virginia City mining stock precipitated the collapse of the bubble and who was investing in greater Los Angeles real estate, including the recent record amount paid for Rancho Santa Anita in the San Gabriel Valley. Baldwin knew Temple and Workman were in deep trouble and coveted their massive landholdings of tens of thousands of acres.

While Temple and Workman finally reopened in early December, after over three months, customer confidence was crippled. As celebrated as the reopening was, depositors quietly withdrew the borrowed money over ensuing weeks, even as Baldwin added twice to the loan, finally refusing further infusions of cash. Just after it was announced that the Main and Aliso Railway would build a streetcar line from downtown to Boyle Heights, the Temple and Workman bank closed permanently.

Express, 13 January 1876.

This was the Angel City’s first major business failure and, with the state’s economic woes, the financial situation in Los Angeles was stagnated for several years. Along with other new subdivisions like San Fernando (1874), Artesia (1875), Lake Vineyard (1875—of which Temple was treasurer and which later became Alhambra) and Pomona (1875 and which was launched with funds borrowed from Temple and Workman), Boyle Heights suffered from stunted growth, as well.

Matters did improve gradually and then dramatically during the great Boom of the Eighties when William H. Workman was mayor and this is a story which will comprise much of part four of this series, which will take place on Sunday, 13 June. More on late 19th century Boyle Heights then!

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