“It is No Fool’s Paradise, Nor Boomer’s Dream”: Los Angeles as “The Metropolis of the Southwest” in Land of Sunshine Magazine, June 1895

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Having gone through the drama of the famed Boom of the Eighties, which peaked in 1887-1888 during William H. Workman’s term as mayor of the Angel City, and then the inevitable bust which followed, the greater Los Angeles region went through some more challenging times during the subsequent decade, including a national depression in 1893 and several years of drought locally.

Yet, there was still some significant growth, as the city’s population doubled from 50,000 to 100,000 during the decade and the county also saw a major increase. The region was given heavy promotion through the World’s Fair at Chicago in 1893 and with direct transcontinental railroad access coming not quite a decade before that, a genial climate, fertile soil, and plenty of room to expand, it was little wonder that the area continued to see significant development.

Charles F. Lummis, who walked alone to Los Angeles from Ohio in 1884, was one of the area’s most enthusiastic boosters, especially as he took control, a decade later, of one of the first local magazines of significance, the Land of Sunshine, which emerged from that world’s fair period and became both a promotional publication for the region and a literary journal with novels, poems and historical articles among its contents.

Tonight’s highlighted object from the Homestead’s holdings is the June 1895 issue of the magazine with particular emphasis on an article titled “Los Angeles, The Metropolis of the Southwest.” Unattributed, but likely penned by Lummis, the piece began by asserting that, while the standard for measuring the size of a city is its population, “the census does not come often enough to be of much value in keeping track of populations which double in five years or so.”

Our most recent census brought the shocking news (to some, anyway) that California’s population, for the first time since the inauguration in 1850, recorded a decline, but, 125 years ago, there was seemingly unbounded enthusiasm for the continuing rapid expansion of this region’s untrammeled growth. It was noted that the 1890 enumeration (the census sheets for nearly the entire country, however, were incinerated in a fire) had that 50,000 figure, making the Angel City 57th in size in the country—this also shows just how many people still lived in rural areas then.

The article observed, though, that “estimates made January 1, 1895 (from voting lists and school registers) credit Los Angeles with 85,000 people—which is a conservative rather than an enthusiastic figure.” If true, the city vaulted to 32nd in the nation. It went on to suggest that size was not the only barometer of the worth of a metropolis because “its location, the character of its people, the nature and extent of the region logically tributary to it, its sources of income, its record of things done, its program of things to be done” and more were vital to those “who would cast the youthful city’s horoscope.”

Claiming a hinterland running from the Mexican border to San Luis Obispo and from the coast to the Colorado River to be within Los Angeles’ sphere of influence (San Diego always harbored its own ambitions of independence), it was averred that “of this enormous range, Los Angeles must logically and will in fact be the metropolis [of the southwest], with all the name implies.” It was added that the location of the pueblo in 1781 “was due to minor local advantages,” but the enormous growth, considered unprecedented, in the prior decade with a transcontinental rail link and concentration of capital means that the Angel City “has been adapted by nature to be the site of a great city.”

It was forecasted that growth, including the reclamation of areas through irrigation, would mean that “several million people will live and prosper by agriculture under irrigation in Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California and Utah; and their products will pay tribute to this city.” Not only that, the surrounding areas with its climate, variety of products and so forth meant that “in the natural course of events [the region] will contain one great city and several small ones.”

Accounting for continued agricultural uses, there would be up to 2 million people and another million or so involved in handling and distributing crops. Once the region was “settled up and planted to its profitable capacity,” the author intoned, “Los Angeles will have a population of half to three-quarters of a million people.” No one, likely, could have predicted that the growth would actually be 6 to 8 times that, even as it was added that “agriculture alone has never built up a great city.” While it was claimed that “the foremost wealth of Southern California is in the soil,” it was acknowledged that manufacturing would also be important.

Yet, to “silence the sneer” of those back east who claimed that Los Angeles’ growth was built solely on climate, it was noted that, not only was agriculture and manufacturing paramount, though it was observed that, with the latter, the city “never will be strictly” devoted to industry, but “no other city in the Union has so large [a] percentage of residents . . . who brought money with them, or live upon an income from investments elsewhere.” It observed that there was no such class before the Civil War, “but now it is growing with astonishing rapidity,” this being due to the huge strides made in the nation’s economic might, though the Gilded Age’s inequities were enormous and widening.

Whatever was thought about the Angel City in bygone decades, it was no longer a frontier town and “there is nothing wild and woolly in Southern California.” Not only was development occurring quickly and in large numbers, but it was “wholly unprecedented in quality” with educated and prosperous migrants coming out to enjoy the area’s amenities, including weather, that was “logic inevitable as the laws of physics.” When it came to that quality, however, it was stated that there were “a few thousand industrious Chinamen and perhaps 500 native Californians who do not speak English.” As for the “ignorant, hopelessly un-American type of foreigners [presumably, southern and eastern Europeans as no specifics were given] which infests and large controls Eastern cities, is almost unknown here.” Moreover, the argument went on, “poverty and illiteracy do not exist as classes.”

Notably, our expert felt that the Angel City could never be a gritty industrial metropolis like Pittsburgh or Birmingham, England because “if natural laws did not settle the matter—as they do, definitely—man would promptly interpose as soon as he realized that the chief charm )and therefore the chief capital) of the city was threatened” by the grinding noises and soot of those steel towns. Yet, it was acknowledged, “the recent discovery of petroleum,” with the Los Angeles City oil field opened just a couple of years prior by Edward L. Doheny and Charles Canfield, meant that manufacturing was inevitable and “are springing to immediate prosperity.”

Also on the horizon was that “the Nicaragua [well, Panama] canal must sooner or later become a fact,” while “a deep-sea harbor at San Pedro” was also, with the so-called Free Harbor Fight, pitting the Southern Pacific and its Santa Monica wharf against San Pedro, and soon to be hashed out in the latter’s favor, really meaning the City of Los Angeles, which annexed that district almost fifteen years later, assured. Here was the perfect combination of natural advantages and human enterprise, reflected in “the quality of American nerve and determination,” to be realized in the upbuilding of the region to its fullest potential.

Rising to its conclusion, the author proclaimed

The lives of “live Americans” have decreed that here shall be a great city—and a perfect city to live in. They are making their word good at a rate and with a fullness no city in the Union ever witnessed before. In ten years they had made a sleepy adobe village into a large, energetic, beautiful city; with the best facilities of lighting and of transit, the finest public and business buildings, the loveliest homes. And they are just getting their hands in. Los Angeles is today improving more rapidly and more substantially than ever before; while its social atmosphere is one of which the oldest and most cultured American communities might well feel proud.

Through electrification, with modern street railways, excellent public structures, business buildings that no city of its population had, and “churches, schools, parks, sewers, water supply [the great Los Angeles Aqueduct was fewer than two decades in the making], theaters, banks . . . all are on the best and most liberal scale.

Such a development meant that Los Angeles “is no fool’s paradise, nor boomer’s dream.” The city was being built “by the brains and energy of the typical American,” though it was concluded, “here, for the first time in American history, fully free to expand to full potency, to work with Nature and not against her.” Of course, aside from the passing mention of Chinese and Latinos, nothing was said about the fact that the “full potency” was almost exclusively by and for whites with people of color excluded from being counted as among “the typical American.”

The magazine has other notable articles, including one about the “favored section” of the Angel City, the University Place district around the University of Southern California and including the well-to-do residential areas along such thoroughfares as Figueroa Street and Adams Street. What was considered “waste lands or barley fields where the [unnamed] writer used to hunt rabbits” was “a great garden; fine residences and charming cottages, set in orchards of citrus and deciduous fruits, or embowered in roses, palms, and other semi-tropic leafages which seem to reach perfection here.” University Place, it was added, “is largely settled by business men who prefer to get away, after business hours, from the noise and unrest of the city’s heart, to home and rest among the greenery and flowers.”

Also highlighted was Santa Monica, with author E.B. Woodworth calling it “our Southern California Long Branch,” after the New Jersey area of that name. It was only a half-hour by electric streetcars from downtown Los Angeles and it was claimed that “no other seaside resort has such facilities as those which Santa Monica already enjoys.” Moreover, forecast Woodworth, the town “lies . . . on the side to which by far the largest and most rapid development of Los Angeles is now tending” and, he went on, “at no distant day the intervening miles will be one continuous settlement of the wealthy and cultured,” though the eventual growth of the “Westside” could not even then be imagined. He ended by rhapsodizing that

O’erlooked by the mountains and kissed by the sea, Santa Monica is the center of a panorama of unspeakable beauty . . . it is all such a scene as must awaken even in the dullest brain the responsive thrill which only Nature’s self, in her most perfect blending of form and color, can ever stir.

A contributor known as “One of the Heirs” offered “The Children’s Paradise,” which claimed that “the area of decent temperatures in the United States is rather limited; and we of Southern California are becoming disposed to be ‘select’.” Some parents leave their heirs money and other intellect, “but the best legacy you can leave your child is to rear it a climate which loves children—instead of the old-bachelor surliness of Eastern weather.” Therefore, it was stated, “Southern California is the paradise of children” as “our babies breathe God’s oxygen the whole year, instead of the vile poison of an air-tight house for four months of it [which the deity had no hand in?].”

Diseases were less common and not as severe and “development of mind and morals” were more likely “unless every law of nature and evolution is a liar.” What was better, the author asked in a strikingly binary fashion, “slush or butterflies, roses or zero, siestas or bronchitis?” Why, then, would anyone submit their brood to “the irritation, the skepticism, the irksome imprisonment of a barbarous climate” when perfection was to be found here!

Greater Los Angeles was also a health-seeker’s paradise and Dr. Norman Bridge’s “The Invalid in Southern California” did warn that “invalids should not be sent here alone among strangers to take care of themselves, unless they have a power of self-containment equal to new conditions under the depression of sickness.” He added that those with tuberculosis should not come to the area expecting a quick cure, as “nothing less than a stay of two years is worth much . . . and five years is a safer minimum.”

He noted that those seeking the benefits of the local climate should take outdoor treatments at night as well as the day because the former “has thirty per cent. fewer microbes” that the latter and coolness could easily be offset with adequate clothing. Bridge called for well-ventilated interiors, preferred tents over wood dwellings, but under-heated houses were, to his mind, “constructive suicide, if not constructive murder,” along with inadequate clothing. Finally, he recommended moderate exercise and avoiding drives in open carriages with exposure to the wind and cold.

There is a very interesting feature on Jose de la Rosa, who lived to be 102 and died in 1892 and was, according to Mary M. Bowman, the first printer in California after he arrived in the Hijar-Padres Colony of 1834, along with such notables as Agustín Olvera, Juan Bandini and Antonio Franco Coronel. De la Rosa worked at the departmental capital of Monterey and lived his later years in Ventura. Another by August Wey was “Side-Lights on ‘Ramona,” with the Pasadena Loan Association compiling what was considered valuable information on what animated Helen Hunt Jackson’s famed and heavily romanticized 1883 novel.

Particular attention was given to the vital role of Coronel and his wife Mariana Williamson in providing information and introducing the author to the del Valle family and their Rancho Camulos at the eastern edge of Ventura County. Wey stated, however, that Doña Mariana “often yet is grieved and bewildered by the perennial and sometimes disagreeable consequences of her suggestion of Camulos,” wondering if it would have been better to have Ramona and Alessandro, the tragic lovers, “elope from the unpretentious old Coronel adobe” in Los Angeles. Wey also noted that the photos illustrating the article were taken just before Coronel died the prior year.

Finally, there are pieces on the fig and why it had not been grown as much as it should have been, as well as about the much more popular sugar beet. G.H. Williams noted that American sugar exports topped $100 million and that the beet was proving to be very successful in such European nations as Germany, France, Belgium and Denmark. Yet, California had a growing season of six to nine months and, after some halting experimentation dating back about a quarter of a century, Williams reported “that the sugar beet in Southern California is a complete success has been amply proved by the experience of four seasons at the great Chino factory.”

The author added that “in fact, results there and at Anaheim [in what became Orange County a half-dozen years before] have astonished European experts.” Some 6,000 acres were devoted to sugar beet raising at Chino, which was established eight years prior by Arizona copper mining tycoon Richard Gird, and the yield was conservatively stated to be twelve tons per acre, with some fields generating as much as twenty.

Chino’s factory was to process 100,000 tons, with over 300 pounds of sugar per ton and it was expected that the value would jump from $400,000 to $1 million. Fuel, the piece ended, came from petroleum and “a pipe line is being laid from the oil fields at Puente [owned by William R. Rowland, son of Rancho La Puente co-owner, with William Workman, John Rowland, and located where Harbor Boulevard/Fullerton Road crests the Puente Hills] to the factory.”

This loose advertising sheet was “tipped in” to the magazine.

This early issue, the first of the third volume, of Land of Sunshine is loaded with interesting content relating to a plethora of aspects of greater Los Angeles life during the last decade of the 19th century and we’ll look to feature more issues of this important early regional magazine in future posts.

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