Read All About It in the Los Angeles Star, 2 June 1874

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The further back we go in time, the harder it generally is to find historical sources and this is certainly the case with our region. A good deal of this, of course, is that the area grew so dramatically from the Civil War era through the Roaring Twenties and the relative ease in finding material from the latter is countered by the corresponding difficulties in locating items emanating from the former.

For the period embracing greater Los Angeles’ first significant and sustained era of growth and development, lasting from the late 1860s through the mid-1870s one of our best sources of information are through newspapers, especially toward the end of that timeframe when the Angel City had three English-language dailies (there were papers in Spanish and German, but, unfortunately, these can be very hard to locate even just a few copies.)

The Homestead is fortunate to have a few hundred copies of issues from the Express, the Herald and the Star, most of these coming from 1874 and 1875 when that boom was at its peak and just prior to the inevitable bust that included the stunning collapse of the Temple and Workman bank and a general malaise that lasted for years afterward.

Of those three papers, we have about an even number of the first two, close to 150 each, while, when it comes to the Star, we have about 40 issues. This may, in part, be a reflection of the relatively readership of the trio, even as the Star was the oldest newspaper in Los Angeles, having first appeared in spring 1851, but its contemporaries looked to have been more widely disseminated in the community and they certainly lasted longer, being published well into the 20th century while the Star was discontinued before the Seventies were at an end.

Tonight’s post features the 2 June 1874 edition of that paper, when it was being published by Benjamin C. Truman, a veteran newspaper editor and publisher who also was one of this region’s first authors to publish books, including his Semi-Tropical Southern California, which was drawn from columns in the Star and which appeared in 1874. One of Truman’s prevailing interests and purposes was promoting greater Los Angeles, as those columns certainly demonstrated, and this issue featured a lengthy and interesting description of the “Fair Oaks” estate of Benjamin Eaton in what was just being launched as the Indiana Colony of Pasadena.

The piece began by proclaiming that the property “is one of the most noteworthy spots, aside from its picturesque and beautiful locality, to be found in Los Angeles county.” One of its prime products were grapes, of which there were 80,000 vines, half being seven to eight years of age and, hence, productive of usable fruit for winemaking. Moreover, the account continued, of these 40,000 vines, “none . . . have ever been irrigated, but all of which are flourishing splendidly and producing large crops which yield a wine too heavy perhaps for table use, but nevertheless of superior body and bouquet.”

It was noted that Eaton demonstrated an “unyielding hand to hand fight with many of the most repellant features of nature” and that, just eight years before, not long after he acquired the property, it was replete “with an almost impenetrable jungle of white sage, chamisal, grease wood and scrub oak.” Water could only be found “in a rough cañon a mile or two to the north,” almost certainly his namesake Eaton Canyon. With only $40 to his name, he was given a bond for a deed to 120 acres if he could deliver water to it, which he achieved after hand-digging a ditch while “fighting the jungle and planting vines as fast as he could.”

After his labors and the receiving of his title, the piece continued, Eaton bought two hundred more acres “with an unpretending [unpretentious?] but comfortable residence upon it.” Aside from his vineyard, which generated 5,000 gallons of wine, as well a good deal of brandy, he had “about 300 orange, lemon and lime trees, besides figs, apples, pears, peaches etc.” While it was reported that Eaton was offered $25,000 for his tract, he did sell 135 acres to Charles Ellis.

The writer added that “we had the pleasure of accompanying him and his family to a beautiful picnic ground, in what was formerly known as Precipice, but is now called Eaton Cañon,” where “about three-fourths of a mile up the cañon is a waterfall probably over forty feet in height, falling sheer over a rocky ledge into a limpid pool below.” The party decided that, not having a name, it should be called “Le Belle Cascade,” after Eaton’s youngest daughter, Ysabel, and Truman, assuming he was the scribe, related that he was going to give an oration, but was pushed into the water by another daughter, young Olive.

As the piece came to a conclusion, it was noted that

Judge Eaton’s residence commands one of the most varied and beautiful views imaginable. El Monte, Los Nietos, the ocean, San Gabriel and many other points of interest are visible from his porch . . . We have visited no more interesting spot than “Fair Oaks.”

Eaton (1823-1909) hailed from Connecticut, graduated from Harvard Law School (from which William W. Temple and his nephew Thomas W. Temple II also received their juris doctorates in 1874 and 1929, respectively) and in 1848 married Baltimore native Helena Hayes, whose brother was a bright lawyer, also named Benjamin and who came to Los Angeles early in 1850. Eaton also migrated to the Golden State that year but went to try his hand in the mines.

After a couple of years, he migrated to the Angel City, reunited with his brother-in-law and sent for his wife and children. In 1853, Eaton was elected Los Angeles County District Attorney, served four years later as county assessor and also was an associate justice in the Court of Sessions, later the County Court. A couple of years after Helena died in 1859, the year after he purchased his tract on the Rancho San Pasqual from the prominent Dr. John S. Griffin, who was also married to Helena’s sister Louisa, Eaton went back east and married Alice Taylor Clark. He was a Los Angeles resident until 1865 when he and his family moved to the ranch.

Though it is often said that Eaton was a founder of Pasadena, that community, established the year prior to this newspaper issue, was created by an Indian colonization enterprise, though Eaton was an active promoter of the new town. One of his children, Fred, was a Los Angeles city engineer and a mayor, as well as the key figure in introducing William Mulholland to the Owens Valley, where the younger Eaton owned a ranch and from where the source of water for the Los Angeles Aqueduct was tapped.

Speaking of water, the issue has a notice from the Los Angeles City Water Company, the private concern founded by Griffin and others that supplied the town’s precious fluid, but which felt compelled to advertise that, due to its July 1868 contract, which gave it exclusive rights to lay pipes and deliver water, there was no way that it would “acquiesce in any threatened infringement of its rights and privileges . . . for the period of 30 years thereafter.” In 1898, once the lease expired, the city took over the management of water in its jurisdiction and, with Fred Eaton’s important role, planning and carrying out the building of the Aqueduct.

Separately in the paper, the company published a public notice that residents in the north end of Los Angeles, east of Hill, New High and Castellar streets, were notified “that they will only be allowed the use of the water for gardens between the hours of 7 and 9 a.m., and 4 and 6 p.m.,” upon any violation of which they “will be met by the cutting off of the water.” Users were also warned against using water for building projects and plumbers were advised that no water closets (toilets) or bathtubs could be installed in any structure without permission of superintendent Charles E. Miles, a hydraulic engineer whose ad in the paper mentioned that he specialized in “the introduction of water into cities, towns and ranches” using sheet-iron pipes. The local water supply was limited and with the boom in real estate and construction, these measures were deemed essential—we may very well see water restrictions with our latest drought!

Finally, in the “Local News in Brief” section, there was mention that the company “is about to lay down large and expensive mains through Main, Los Angeles and Alameda streets” and smaller pipes elsewhere in the city “so that all who reside within or who may thereafter build within the municipal limits . . . may be supplied with the great desideratum, good water.” It was proposed to raise up to $50,000 for this project.

With regard to Eaton and Miles, there is also an interesting article titled “A Wail from the Orient,” referring to the fact that the secretary of the San Gabriel Orange Grove Association, the official name of the Indiana Colony, was sent a humorous response by an Indianapolis stockholder on the news of the fact that the notorious bandido, Tiburcio Vásquez, “performed his last exploit” on the colony lands.

In fact, when Vásquez passed through the Pasadena project, it was because he was fleeing from Sheriff William R. Rowland, who was called by F.P.F. Temple because the bandit chieftain robbed rancher Alessandro Repetto, whose property was in today’s Monterey Park, and ordered Repetto’s son, Timoteo, to ride into Los Angeles and have an $800 check cashed at the Temple and Workman bank for Vásquez. The younger Repetto’s nervous demeanor led Temple to summon Rowland, who promptly gathered a posse to capture the bandit and his men.

The young man, however, raced back home before the sheriff could get there and warned Vásquez, who then fled with his men north. As they got to the Indiana Colony, Miles happened to be doing some surveying for a water project and was relieved of his watch and other valuables upon which Vásquez and his gang rode into the San Gabriel Mountains and eluded pursuit from Rowland and his posse.

On 14 May, Vásquez was captured at a home in what is now West Hollywood and, on being jailed in Los Angeles, became a celebrity with his photo taken and sold to raise funds for his defense while a play was hastily written and performed about him. He was later extradited to San Jose to face murder charges and was convicted and executed in March 1875. While the bandit was still on the loose, merchant Mendell Meyer took the opportunity to advertise that “Vasquez Says That Mendell Meyer Has the Finest and Most Complete Stock of Dry Goods and Clothing in the City of Los Angeles.”

The “crying from the east [the Orient meaning Indiana],” dated the day after the dramatic capture, included the lament that:

The romance of San Pasqual is destroyed! Our own bandit Vasquez is shot and captured by the minions of the red-eyed law. Our bears and lions were killed in the winter by strangers and pilgrims, and our grief was desperate; but to lose our own Robin Hood is too much. We weep! The picturesque scenery, the semi-tropical hurricane, the heavenly climate and the flow of water, cease to attract, and are nothing, with our bandit in the hands of the enemy . . . Our only hope is his rescue by the aggrieved citizens, so that we may enjoy his society on our arrival. We want emotions, and without lions, bears or bandits we will have no excitements. We shall have to keep our doors locked to protect us from the encroachments of civilization.

Returning to the local items column, the Star reported that, “a car load of machinery, boring tools, steam engine, etc., leave the [Southern Pacific] depot to-day by the San Fernando train [the town of San Fernando was established that year and the column noted that 25 families from Santa Clara, where its founder, former state senator Robert Maclay, lived] for the Temple petroleum claims.” It was added that up to a dozen workers were expected to begin operations “and the most energetic means will be presented to fully develop the oil producing capacities of this well-known region.”

F.P.F. Temple was among the first oil prospectors in what was called the “San Fernando District,” but which was in the eastern extremity of the Santa Susana Mountains in what is now Santa Clarita. The prior year, he founded the Los Angeles Petroleum Refining Company and, the next year, the Lesina Oil Company, to pursue his work, which reportedly yielded the production of some oil by spring 1875. Additionally, he built a small brick refinery in what became Newhall and he may have been on the cusp of some significant success in his efforts until the financial crash of summer 1875 and the subsequent failure of his bank ended his project.

Two other items of note involving Temple were ads, one for the Simonds and Company ice cream shop that advertised by saying “The Directors of the Spring Street Railroad Have caused the cars to run by” its establishment “so that patrons may enjoy a delicious dish of strawberries and ice cream.” Temple was treasurer of this first streetcar system, comprising a sole car drawn by a single horse, which was led by real estate developer, lawyer and District Court Judge Robert M. Widney (who happened to be Maclay’s nephew).

The other concerned the fact that stock subscription books were opened for the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, of which Temple was then president and which was planning to build a narrow-gauge line to silver mines in Inyo County (near Owens Valley which the Aqueduct would tap). When U.S. Senator from Nevada, and silver mine tycoon, John P. Jones took the majority of the company’s stock and its presidency (Temple became treasurer), the firm built a line from Los Angeles to his new seaside resort town of Santa Monica, though the project stalled with the resulting economic downtown and the company was sold to the Southern Pacific in 1877. The right-of-way for the Metro Expo Line follows that of the Los Angeles and Independence from nearly 150 years ago.

Also of local note was an excursion a couple of days prior on a Southern Pacific train through the newly extended San Gabriel Valley line, which reached the Puente depot near the Homestead the prior month, to the town of Spadra in what is now western Pomona. The train, after arriving from Wilmington to the downtown depot, reached Spadra by 12:15 p.m. after which a barbeque of beef, pork and rabbit was served along with beer, wine, lemonade and buttermilk. The community’s hotelier, William W. Rubottom (who, with Temple, built a cut-off road from Los Angeles to San Bernardino that passed through the area), was the host and the party left to return to the Angel City at 3, with the trip taking an hour and fifteen minutes.

Just to the west of Spadra was the Rancho Los Nogales, embracing parts of what are now Pomona, Walnut and Diamond Bar, and the Los Angeles County District Court was then hearing the case of Reed vs. Quintana, comprising “an action for ejectment for land” on the property. The plaintiff appears to have been John Reed, son-in-law of the recently deceased John Rowland, co-owner with William Workman of the adjoining Rancho La Puente, but who died in 1875, and the paper added that “there are a great many defendants, who rely on the statute of limitation[s]” for the outcome.

Thanks to newspapers like the Star and its contemporaries and competitors, of which some 300 or so original issues are in the museum’s holdings, we have the ability to learn a good deal of interesting and notable information. This helps us to better understand what was going on during the height of the region’s first growth boom during the first half of the 1870s and we’ll continue to highlight more of these sources in the “Read All About It” series.

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