Working the Land in “The California Horticulturist and Floral Magazine,” June 1872

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Frederick A. Miller was a commercial nursery owner in San Francisco, secretary of the Bay District Horticultural Society, and publisher from 1871 to 1880 of The California Horticulturist and Floral Magazine, of which the Homestead’s collection has about fifty copies of issues. Though the publication is weighted overwhelmingly towards news from and promotion of San Francisco and northern California, there are occasionally items that mention other parts of the state including greater Los Angeles.

Tonight’s featured artifact is the June 1872 edition of the magazine with focus on articles discussing the wine and citrus industries. Again, slight references are made to our region, but there is some interesting context beyond the bare allusions to the area. One general article, “Beautifying Our Homes,” begins with the observation that “although we notice in most of our cities and large towns a disposition to improve the surroundings of dwellings, it is a most lamentable fact that very little id done to adorn the homes of our farmers and other residents of our rural districts.”

The piece further reported that younger people tended to “despise farming and a country life,” preferring, instead, to live and work in cities, which led the unnamed writer to state “we think that this unfortunate and dangerous prejudice against rural life is due to the fact that no efforts are made to make farming life a pleasant and desirable occupation.” Some farm houses might give the impression of “a happy and pleasant home,” but too many were “miserable buildings, destitute even of comfort (embellishment is entirely out of the question), without a tree or shrub to shelter them.”

Excuses about there being no need for improvements like this, that an owner might sell soon so there was no reason to beautify the dwelling, or that time was required for paying work, were downplayed. The writer exclaimed

All this is wrong; make a home comfortable, and the surroundings cheerful, by planting a few trees and shrubs, watch their growth and development in the hours of rest, and they will be sure to create a taste in you, if it did not already exist, for home improvements. The little ones, as they grow up, will become attached to the trees and flowers, and home will become dearer from day to day.”

It was averred that having decorative landscaping served to “exercise a powerful and refining influence upon our minds, while they given an air of comfort to the cottage, which wealth cannot furnish.” Moreover, such elements “necessarily enhance the value of our homes” in the real estate market.” It quoted another source as suggesting that “tasteful and well-painted buildings, well-arranged yards and gardens with neat fences, shade trees properly disposed, good farm fences and clean-kept fields . . . make an amazing difference when it comes to be sold.”

Even if a property was retained, “the things just mentioned will add amazingly to the enjoyment of it by its possessor, if he be not blind to everything but the dollar.” Beyond this, an attractive property was a public good as an owner “owes it to the community . . . to contribute to general reputation and to public enjoyment by making all his surrounding as attractive as possible.” It was possible to put too much “show” into decoration, but “a measure of time, attention and expense should be devoted by every one to making his farm and his home more attractive.”

It is interesting to consider the comparisons that can be made with the rural estates of the Workman and Temple families. Jonathan Temple’s Rancho Los Cerritos house featured extensive gardens to the east of the structure. His half-brother, F.P.F., was known for having a wide variety of practical and ornamental plantings near his house on Rancho La Merced. William Workman’s Rancho La Puente appears to have been less demonstrative with its landscaping, though visitors from the late 1850s through mid 1860s did note his flower garden and other elements.

Workman’s nephew Elijah, who lived south of Los Angeles in what is now a gritty commercial area, was widely known for his experimentation with horticulture, as well as beautifying the Plaza and Central Park, now Pershing Square, with trees and shrubs. In 1872, Elijah’s brother, William Henry, had just inherited, through his wife, Maria (pronounced Mah-rye-ah), the Paredon Blanco (White Bluff) estate of her late father, Andrew Boyle, and which became the community of Boyle Heights three years later, and it, too, had fine gardens, as well as vineyards and orchards.

With respect to another article, “Landscape Gardening,” it was claimed that “California possesses, within reasonable distance from the commercial metropolis, a vast number of estates which are well adapted for first-class rural residences.” This was because

The landscape is unsurpassed, the climate all that can be desired, and yet our wealthy men hesitate to take advantage of the beauties of these natural parks. Here and there we see an effort made to turn one of these beautiful spots into a magnificent rural home, but no sooner to the proprietors commence improving than we see an indiscriminate cutting down of every living tree, for the purpose of showing off an elegant building.

It was considered absurd to move to rural areas if there was no concerted effort to maintain the natural beauty of trees and shrubs and it was an imperative that “our earnest endeavor should be to add to, beautify and adorn by every appropriate adornment the already-existing condition of the locality.” It was added that it wasn’t just the “unmerciful destruction of Nature’s chief embellishments” in private property, “but also in the abortive attempts to improve our public parks, etc.”

There were landscape gardeners “who have the proper qualifications and experiences to take advantage of all the natural resources which California landscape offers, but they will not go around and beg for work, for the sake of making a living.” Again, the focus here was on San Francisco and “our new and extensive City Park,” which we know as Golden Gate Park. It opened just two years before, but the writer, after observing that the design and execution of the facility “would have been entrusted to men of undoubted ability.”

Instead of having a park that “would have initiated a taste for similar undertakings, both large and small, on this Coast; but our hopes were disappointed” and the city’s park commissioners were taken to task for “the injudicious raid” that was perpetrated “upon the few natural embellishments of the park ground.” Worse, they were responsible for having “destroyed that which a practical and experienced landscape gardener would have conserved as very essential to the making of a park.” After the debacle, “the people of San Francisco will doubtles[s] be wiser,” and “reform in our park affairs has become absolutely necessary.”

Los Angeles, a much smaller city, did not yet embrace the idea of large public parks as did San Francisco, however poorly the latter may have, to some minds, carried out its initial work at Golden Gate Park. The Plaza, the first public space in the Angel City, was a couple of years from its first significant beautification efforts, including the planting of Moreton Bay fig trees by Elijah Workman, of which three still stand, the fourth having fallen just a few years ago.

Central Park was established in 1866 to the southwest in a new residential area though it, too, would not receive the attention in deserved until later. In fact, Los Angeles did not have a dedicated and substantial park planning program until the great Boom of the 1880s, which peaked during William H. Workman’s mayoral term of 1887-1888.

He, in fact, was a major figure in such efforts as the creation of Westlake, now MacArthur Park, and became a parks commissioner during the following decade, when a good deal of attention was paid to such sites as Eastlake (Lincoln), Elysian, and Boyle Heights’ Hollenbeck, of which Workman donated two-thirds of the land and the widow of his late friend and fellow developer, John E. Hollenbeck, gave the remaining space. The city’s relentless growth amid skyrocketing land values put a damper, though, on sufficient park space was not provided for during much of the 20th Century.

Moving to commercial agriculture, “Our Wine Interest” noted that “much has been said about the Wine Product of California for 1871, and the probable increase in the future.” It was observed that the San Francisco newspaper, the Alta Calfornia, felt that statistics for that year were “over-estimated” and that, if this was allowed to be circulated broadly, “would injure out reputation, and might result in pecuniary loss to business men.”

The magazine allowed “the many extravagant statements have been published, both here and abroad, in regard to the products of our soil,” but did not find “that a great error has been committed in estimating the wine product of 1871, in California at 6,000,000 gallons.” The newspaper claimed the true figure was probably 25% less, but “we maintain that if the yield has not been 6,000,000 gallons it certainly should have been that much.” Beyond this, all estimates were essentially “incomplete and unreliable,” so the Alta‘s claim could not have been better than those of “others who have watched with great interest the condition and progress of our wine interest.”

It was professed that

According to statistics on hand, the total number of grape vines now under cultivation in California is estimated at 30,000,000, of which number the counties of El Dorado, Los Angeles, Napa and Sonoma claim about 14,000,000, and the remaining forty-six counties about 16,000,000.

Wine exported out of the state and supplied to San Francisco from the four main counties was fully 90% of the total and that “fully one half of the wine produced in 1871 is now on hand at the vineyards of the leading wine-producing counties.” Respecting recent increases, it was reported “that grape vine planting reached its largest dimensions in the years 1868,—’69, and ’70” and it was expected that the average annual increase would be 10%. Additionally, more productive vines and more experienced cultivation would provide for 10% more manufacturing.

It was noted that “vines five to six years old should produce one gallon of wine per annum,” though imported varieties would generate somewhat less than that. Beyond this, it was asserted “that of the 30,000,000 of vines now cultivated, a very large proportion in scattered over small farms and gardens, and cultivated only for the fruit, while some grapes are made into raisins.” Others, though, were not productive became of poor management or abandonment. In practical terms, it was expected that about 15 million gallons of wine would be produced in favorable years.

1871 was not one of those, due to “the long, dry season,” while the recent winter included “late severe frosts” expected to do significant damage to vineyards. If, however, those vineyards that were lagging could be made productive, the shortfall could be made up. After discussing vineyards of success in Napa and Nevada counties, the article asserted that superior wines could be held back from market “until a proper distinction shall be made and recognized by the trade in the quality and character of California wines.”

Elsewhere, a short piece noted that American wine production for 1871 totaled nearly 12.5 million gallons, with 7 million coming from California. The second-largest producing state, at 2.25 million, was New York, while Illinois generated 1.2 million and Missouri about a million. Finally, there is a feature on the Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma County, the largest in the state with some 500 acres of vineyards and extensive facilities for the production of 160,000 gallons of wine and three tunnels bored into the hillside for storage of wine and two more for champagne. Established in 1857 by Hungarian Agoston Haraszthy, a towering figure in the state’s wine industry, Buena Vista is still in operation.

For years, Los Angeles County was the wine-making capital of California, but the quality was generally inferior, because of the reliance on the “Mission grape” brought by the Roman Catholic missionaries in the late 18th century. As Europeans came to Gold Rush California and after that era, Napa and Sonoma counties in particular proved to be far superior regions for growing wine grapes and manufacturing product and that process only accelerated as the years went by.

Still, in 1872, William Workman was a substantial producer of wine and brandy. He’d grown grapes since the 1840s, but did not build his own production facilities until the Civil War years, when three brick winery structures were completed just south of his house. At one time, he had some 100,000 grape vines and irrigated them from a ditch diverting water from San José Creek, which runs a little further south from where the wineries (torn down in the early 1970s) once stood.

After Workman’s tragic suicide in 1876 following the collapse of the Temple and Workman bank, his grandson and wine-maker, Francis W. Temple, was able to marshal the resources of the vineyards and winery to make enough money to buy, in 1880, the Homestead and its 75 acres from Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, who foreclosed on a loan to the doomed bank and took possession of some 18,000 acres of Workman’s share of Rancho La Puente.

Temple continued to cultivate the vineyards and manufacture wine and brandy until his untimely death just prior to his 40th birthday in 1888. By then, however, Pierce’s disease, caused by a bacterial infection, ravaged the region’s vineyards, leaving only the Rancho Cucamonga spared for the devastation.

The magazine’s “Editorial Profile” contained a discussion of the importance of agricultural and horticultural societies, especially their exhibitions, published meeting reports, and other publications. While there needed to be much improvement and a good deal of this would come through improved government initiatives and valuable work from the University of California and its experiment station, later branch, at Davis, the editors also decried the fact “that visitors delight more in horse-racing than in admiring and judging the products of our fields.”

In greater Los Angeles, there was more recent interest being taken in societies like the Southern District Agricultural Association, of which F.P.F. Temple was a founder, and in the establishment of fairs and exhibitions at Agricultural Park, opened in 1870 and which is now Exposition Park, though it was true that horse-racing events held there proved far more popular than gazing at the yield of the region’s farmers!

Finally, there is another short notice about “The Los Angeles Orange Crop,” which reported that “most of the present year’s crop of Los Angeles oranges has been shipped.” This comprised some 28,000 boxes and it was believed that “the total amount realized will be about $100,000.” The fruit, as with the grape, was brought to California by missionaries, though the first commercial grove was planted in 1841 by William Wolfskill, a close friend of the Workman and Temple families.

By the early Seventies, the center of the citrus industry was in the “San Gabriel” district in the region around the mission and below the San Gabriel Mountain range, though William Workman and F.P.F. Temple did not plant the fruit extensively. In subsequent decades and, especially after refrigerated boxcars facilitated long-distance shipping by the end of the century, the orange became the dominant agricultural product of greater Los Angeles and remained so for much of the first half of the 1900s.

While it would have been nice to have more content from our area, these issues of The California Horticulturist and Floral Magazine are still full of interesting material for context and show how the agriculture, horticulture, landscape gardening and other disciplines were becoming increasingly professionalized towards the last third or so of the 19th Century. We’ll feature more issues in upcoming “Working the Land” posts.

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