by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In the months following the end of the First World War, the United States relished its world-power prestige of tipping the scales, after its entry some three years into the stalemated conflict, towards the Allies and bringing the horrific conflict to its conclusion. At home, American postwar pride produced a peak of patriotism that also led to the infamous Red Scare and the persecution of Communists, Socialists and those accused of being far left-wing radicals.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, there was an abundance of expressions of such patriotism during and after the war, including the renaming of Central Park to Pershing Square after American Expeditional Force commander General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, massive parades sending off and welcoming back soldiers, a hero’s welcome to American flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker, and others.
The Temple family were as caught up in the sentiment as many others in greater Los Angeles, with Walter P. Temple, flush with funds after oil began flowing from wells on his leased Montebello-area ranch, investing heavily in Liberty Bonds used to raise money for the war effort, and he and his wife Laura González sending their three sons (Thomas, Walter, Jr., and Edgar) to military schools, as so many families then did.
In early summer 1919, the Southern California Industries Association, a manufacturers’ group reflecting the growing industrialization of a region that, in the 19th century, was a highly productive ranching and agricultural one, but which would, in the 20th, became a prominent place for manufacturing, decided to hold a four-day “Patriotic Midsummer Carnival,” although weeks later would have properly been the middle of the season, at Praeger Park, located across from the better-known Washington Gardens/Chutes Park/Luna Park on the north side of Washington Boulevard at Grand Avenue. It was reported that the program was developed by the association as soon as Germany accepted peace terms from the Allies.
The event, however, was also marketed in different ways. The Los Angeles Times of 27 May observed that it was to be “one of the largest affairs of its kind that has ever been held in this city” and that there would be many attractions “familiar to the frequenter of carnivals,” while the Los Angeles Express of 12 June reported that it constituted a “revival of the famous fiesta days of Los Angeles,” though it didn’t suggest exactly how that was to be accomplished. In its article and again, five days later, the paper said the “fete will present all the features of a Mardi Gras” and would “rival, if not surpass” that type of festival. Not stopping there, the Express on the 23rd said the carnival would be akin to what “made the Pikes and Midways of the great [world] expositions famous.”
The Los Angeles Record, however, had the most distinctive and confusing way of describing the proceedings, with its headline on the first day reading “Big Industrial Peace Fiesta Opens Today” and stating that it was “with a peace celebration as the big feature” that the Association “have banded together to revive the fiesta spirit in California” along with “a touch of the Mardi Gras spirit.” It may well be that the organizers did not have all the clear an idea of what the carnival was supposted to be, other than an open-ended affair with amusements of many unrelated types.
So, in that late May piece in the Times, it was reported that components were to include a 19,000 square-foot dance pavilion; a tent at the center of the fenced-in grounds for the Association to highlight local manufacturing; shows for children; a zoo; a beauty contest; a baby contest; circus side shows; and an open-air athletic arena for boxing, wrestling and other matches. Also featured was an anchored aircraft allowing passengers to go aloft a few hundred feet for a fee.
By mid-June, a strong military presence was introduced as men from the Army’s balloon school at Arcadia were invited to put together an exhibit, including a captive balloon with “a special section of the park ground . . . reserved for this aerial work display.” Also promoted in advertising were the display of “war relics” said to be from the battlefields of France.
Not surprisingly, a detachment of Army personnel were on duty to “reveal the many attractions that army life offers to young men” and “to act as recruiting officers for any youths who wish to answer the government’s recent call for 50,000 men to serve in foreign countries.” There was also a “Liberty Band” of thirty musicians who were veterans of the late war, though one day was also denoted a “peace day” with fireworks, a pageant, speeches “and a general patriotic celebration.”
Within days of the carnival, more additions were made, including “motion picture shows;” a “plantation show;” a Gold Rush show called “The Days of ’49;” and “confetti battles” each evening, while nightly four-round boxing matches involving thirty-two fighters were scheduled and the beauty contests were to include film starlets as well as “some unusually attractive girls who have entered the lists as ‘unknowns'” to compete with the movie queens and perhaps be spotted as a potential future star. The screening of films was overseen by Carl Jessen, who was said to have “directed the motion picture features for the Victory Loan campaign” during the war.
Another marketing ploy involved, two days before the event’s opening, the employment of five Army aircraft from March Field (now a reserve air base), opened in March 1918 southeast of Riverside, with the aviators dropping 200,000 flyers, amid which were 500 free tickets “intended principally for the small boys of the city.” The airplanes were to conduct their “paper bombardment” in the downtown area first and then cover outlying areas and nearby towns. It was even hoped that Rickenbacker, recently feted in the Angel City, would be on hand to fire an opening gun at 5 p.m. that first day, though it appears he was not able to do so.
The Express reported that the first day welcomed “a surging crowd of pleasure seekers at the gate, long before the opening hour” and that the Gold Rush skit “proved the most popular attraction.” With the onset of national Prohibition of the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, the “hooch” had to be replaced by root beer, but otherwise, “the interior of the ’49 camp resembles in every particular the dance hall of the pioneer.” The Times added that the carnival “opened with a surge of gaiety, furnished by a merry crowd amid lively attractions and happily topped off with jazz music,” courtesy of a nine-piece orchestra. It agreed that “The Days of ’49” was the hit of the evening.
For the second day, the Times noted that “it was a seething mass of humanity out for an evening of relaxation” in the thousands that was a crowd not seen in the Angel City since the Liberty Fair held in December 1918 (while the Spanish flu pandemic was readying for its next deadly wave). The paper said the concessions opened early and visitors were welcomed by the strains of the military band as “young women waving beribboned canes mixed confetti with their popcorn and peanuts, while the more sedate divided their time between reading oatmeal advertisements and gazing at the oriental dancers.” It added that, when a snake charmer accidentally dropped one of her charges into the surrounding audience, “probably no other snake ever saw so many kinds of silk hosiery as this one glimpsed before the Sahib recovered it.”
As for the display of local manufactures, the list included automobile parts and accessories; baked goods (bread, crackers and biscuits); dairy products; desks and cabinets; mineral water; soap; spaghetti; washing powders and much else. With the seemingly ever-growing list of attractions including “two-headed and two-faced people;” “mathematical animals;” athletes; the cowboys and cowgirls; “contortionists;” and diving horses, it was reported that the Association contemplated extending the festival by a week, though this was not pursued.
For the third day, the Times stated that “girls continued to be the reigning feature” because of those nightly beauty contests, “though the stentorian-voiced ballyhoos succeeded in drawing a large percentage of the crowds into the tents which contained the athletic shows, the animal circuses and the army recruiting stations.” Noting that the industrial exhibits were also crowded, the paper added that boxing, the dog and pony show, a “Moulin Rouge” revue; the wild animal circus; and others were also well-attended.
Yet, “in the plantation show the coon shouters [whites in blackface, no doubt] tried in vain to silence the oriental music which was playing for the benefit of Nellie, the Egyptian dancer, in the next tent.” The Times continued that this latter had a particular attraction as “recognizing this dance as the parent of the ‘shimmy,’ quite an assemblage of ladies ventured within this tent last night.”
The paper briefly covered the last evening, reporting that it “closed with a bang” as the tents were full of visitors “and the bally-hoos had completely lost their voices when the closing hour arrived, with clouds of confetti falling upon the merrymakers.” It did state that there was almost a bit of a brawl at the beauty contest when “a dapper young chap entered and cast his vote for the girl in the abbreviated bathing suit” and kept on casting ballots for his favorite. This raised the ire of her neighboring contestant, “the girl with the dimpled knees,” who “protested in a high-pitched voice,” which drew the attention of “the custodian of the beauties” who “called a halt on the ambitious voter’s activities.” After a bit of jawing, the enthusiastic voter hastily decamped.
Tonight’s featured object from the museum’s collection is an unused adult ticket, which noted that the price was thirteen cents plus the continuing war tax of an additional couple of pennies. A coupon allowed the bearer to pick up a ballot at the main exhibition tent to cast fifteen votes for an eligible charity, with the one receiving the highest number to get 30% of 60 percent of the proceeds, the second vote-getter to get 20% and the third place organization to receive 10%. The remaining 40% of the gate receipts as to go directly to soldiers and sailors from the war, this perhaps being the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Replacement Bureau formed at the beginning of 1919 to assist returning veterans find employment.
Among the entities, of which over 50 were eligible, campaigning for their share of the 40% was The Salvation Army, which had a major role to play during the war; the Jewish Consumptive Relief Association (formed in 1913 and which created the predecessor of today’s City of Hope in Duarte); the Little Sisters of the Poor (which began in 1905 and still exists to serve the needs of seniors); and the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. While organizers were reported to have counted votes after that last evening, nothing was located as to results.
If there were ambitions to continue with the event on an annual basis, this proved to be unrealized as the 1919 carnival was the one and only. Still, it represents an interesting and notable component of post-World War One Los Angeles and the interesting multi-pronged goal of promoting industry, patriotism, peace, general charitable work, and assistance to returning veterans from the conflict.