Read All About It in the “Los Angeles Express,” 24 July 1874

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As has been noted here frequently with the “Read All About It” series, the museum’s holdings of a few hundred 1870s Los Angeles newspapers provides us valuable information about one of three core decades, along with the 1840s and 1920s, of the Homestead’s interpretive era of 1830 to 1930. It is relatively rare to find material from that period and these papers, mostly from the Express and Herald, with some editions of the Star, these being the three English-langauge dailies in the Angel City, help give us a better base of knowledge about the city, which was in the midst of its first growth and development boom.

Today’s featured issue is the 24 July 1874 edition of the Express, operated by George A. Tiffany and John Paynter under the former’s name, from an office in the oldest, built in 1857 by Jonathan Temple of the quartet of structures (the others were erected by his half-brother F.P.F. between 1868 and 1871) comprising the Temple Block, then in the center of the expanding business section. Subscribers paid $10 for a year, with half covering six months and $2.50 paid the next two quarters, or city dwellers could have a weekly subscription at a quarter each period, while the weekly edition of the paper fetched $3 annually.

The Express used a vignette of a smoke-belching (meaning coal-burning) locomotive in its masthead, apt both for the metaphors of speed and progress, especially as Los Angeles was only about a half-decade into its railroad era. This started with the building of the local Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad, running a little more than 20 miles to the rudimentary harbor, and then greatly expanded with the coming (albeit forced by Congressional legislation and then made more palatable by a voter-approved subsidy including the LA & SP and cash equal to 5% of the assessed valuation of property in the county) of the Southern Pacific, which opened its first local lines just a few months prior to the issue’s publication.

In the “Local Items” column, with short bits of news from the area presented, there are some interesting and notable items. For example, the wholesale mercantile house of Hellman, Haas and Company, established on Los Angeles Street in the late 1860s and the forerunner to today’s Smart and Final, was shipping a large quantity of rye to San Francisco. It is not stated, but perhaps William Workman was one of the region’s farmers growing that crop and then forwarding the product to the merchants, who were prominent members of the city’s growing Jewish community.

Meanwhile, John Lazzarovich, a native of Croatia who married into the López family which settled Paredon Blanco (White Bluff) east of the Los Angeles River, decided to take on partners for his nursery, situated in that locale. John W. Potts and Fred Dohs, long-time residents of the Angel City, were given one-third shares in the enterprise for $4,000 each and it was stated that there were 200,000 orange, lemon, lime and other varieties of tree there.

The deal, it was added, “will enable all the parties to hold their trees for a maturer age than the original proprietor could have done, so that they will be offered to the market at a greatly enhanced value.” Potts had 20,000 citrus trees in his existing nursery, ranging from two to six years of age, but he also had 2,000 grafted apple trees.

Less than a year later, Lazzarovich joined banker (and former part of F.P.F. Temple and William Workman) Isaias W. Hellman, older brother of Herman Hellman of Hellman, Haas and Company, and William H. Workman, nephew of Homestead founders William and Nicolasa Workman and heir, through his wife Maria (Mah-rye-ah), to the estate of Andrew Boyle, in forming the new community of Boyle Heights.

As noted in an earlier post in this series, an enterprise in tobacco raising was tried in Los Angeles at this time, following efforts during the Civil War, including by F.P.F. Temple, to raise the product. In this case, Dr. Frederick P. Howard (1835-1900,) a native of England, was behind the effort, though his brother-in-law, the prominent nursery owner Ozro W. Childs (the two men were married to sisters Caroline and Emmeline Huber, whose father was a well-known grape grower and wine-maker in Los Angeles and whose brother Charles was on the city council at the time) undoubtedly was involved.

The Express reported that “a large number of people visited the tobacco plantation, at the Agricultural Park, yesterday, and were delighted with what they saw. There are 250,000 plants of all sizes and of eight varieties growing splendidly.” Howard exhibited a particularly strong speciment and “he informed us that the Company would commence cutting the Turkish tobacco to-day.” The scheme, however, did not last and Agricultural Park later became Exposition Park.

A brief tidbit concerned a gift from an unnamed “gentleman in town” to Wilson Beach “of a fine merino buck,” meaning a breed of sheep from Spain highly regarded for its very soft and fine wool. Although the deadly duo of flood and drought in the early 1860s was devastating to the local cattle industry, sheep raising was on the rise, including F.P.F. Temple’s large herd pastured on William Workman’s portion of Rancho La Puente where the Avocado Heights community is west of the Homestead.

Beach and George R. Butler, a livery stable owner and Los Angeles city treasurer, acquired the Rancho Los Nogales (the walnuts), located to the east of La Puente, as well as public lands in the adjoining Chino Hills that includes today’s Tres Hermanos Ranch. When the note stated that the sheep was sent to Spadra, this referred to a community now part of Pomona, and where the Southern Pacific had a station for its newly completed line from Los Angeles and which passed through the Puente stop near the Homestead.

A short notice concerned the ongoing trial of Librado Corona “one of the Vasquez bandits, for the robbery of Repetto,” at the county Superior Court. This incident involved the visitation of the notorious bandido Tiburcio Vásquez at the ranch of Alessandro Repetto, a native of Genoa, Italy, in what is now Monterey Park.

When the bandit chief learned that the rancher had his money deposited at the bank of Temple and Workman, he sent Repetto’s son to retrieve $800. Bank president F.P.F. Temple, seeing the young man’s nervous demeanor, sent for Sheriff William R. Rowland, who gathered a posse and followed Repetto’s son back to the ranch, though the latter tipped off Vásquez to the coming of the sheriff and his men.

This led Vásquez and his men to flee north toward the San Gabriel Mountains (stopping long enough to relieve surveyor Charles E. Miles, working for the Indiana Colony, settling what was soon called Pasadena, of his watch) where he eluded capture due to the superior horsemanship of the chief and his gang. Weeks later, however, the cadre was holed up at a ranch in what is now West Hollywood and were captured.

Whereas Vásquez, after a period of celebrity while jailed in Los Angeles (including having his photo printed and sold for his defense and the quick mounting of a play about him at the Merced Theatre), was extradited to San Jose to face a murder trial, Corona remained in the Angel City for his robbery trial.

He was convicted in short order and, on 9 August, registered at San Quentin state prison, where he remained until his discharge in May 1879. Corona remained in the state, working as a laborer and a stock raiser, was naturalized in 1884 and could be traced to about 1900, living in San Benito County.

A recent “Through the Viewfinder” post on a circa 1872 photo of Los Angeles shows, in the distance at the left, a green grouping of trees across from the Temple Block, and the Express mentions in this issue that business owner Charles Ducommun, who operated at the corner of Main and Commercial streets, was going “to fell those beautiful trees in front of his lot” because they had to be sacrificed to “the necessities of business” as he built a new commercial structure there, though “the regret will be universal.”

It is rare to find mention of people of color in newspapers of the time and in this column was mention of one of the early Black residents of the Angel City, Manuel Peppers. He, however, had a serious problem with drugs and alcohol and his trials and tribulations were recorded in the Los Angeles press over the years. In this case, the Express observed that he was convicted in the Justice Court when “after maltreating his wife and children, he set fire to the house and tried to burn it over their heads.” The judge sentenced him to a fine of $180 of three months on the city’s chain-gang and the paper added “it seems that he is a very dissipated man and has been laboring under an attack of delirium tremens. It is notable that Peppers’ race was not mentioned, nor was anything said in judgment.

The report of the previous day’s meeting of the Common (City) Council, of which William H. Workman was a member, included a petition from Ducommun for improving his property with a sidewalk in front of his new structure; private improvements on Alameda and Temple streets; the grading and improvment of Commercial, New High and Spring streets; the decision to pay the city surveyor by fees for work completed rather than a salary, which looks to have prompted William Moore to resign that office; the report of the zanjero, oversee of the city’s water ditches, that one of them was out of water because of diversion from the owners of the Rancho Los Feliz north of town and resulting discussion about seeking an injunction against them; a proposed paper mill for Anaheim (Orange County not being created for fifteen more years yet;) discussion of water rates, license fees for real estate brokers (that business then booming!) and bonds for saloon keepers (often a thriving enterprise for some owners;) and the approval of a petition by Robert M. Widney, president of the Spring and Sixth Street Railroad, of which F.P.F. Temple was treasurer, to have the line’s two conductors appointed special policemen without cost to the city.

A number of items related to entertainment were also in this column, including performances at the Merced Theatre, completed in late 1870 next to the Pico House hotel. The program for that evening, however, included a sketch of “The Heathen Chinee” based on a poem by widely known California writer Bret Harte along “with a line of negro minstrelsy of the most attractive character,” with blackface performances by whites commonplace during the era, including “a banjo solo by that prince of darkey minstrels, Jake Wallace.” It was added that “this bill ought to jam the house.”

Also in town was the San Francisco Circus, for which an ad stated that it would give a performance, having come from Spadra, for the benefit of the 38s, a volunteer firefighting corps in the Angel City that formed in April after the dissolution of Los Angeles Engine Company #1, the first volunteer unit. The 38s, named for the number of members (included at one time were Thomas W. Temple, eldest son of F.P.F. and cashier in the family bank, and Elijah H. Workman, older brother of William H. Workman) kept their station in an adobe building on the west side of Spring Street, where the Phillips Block was later built before it moved in 1884 to the fire house on the Plaza which still stands today.

The circus performance, the location of which was not given in the ad, was to raise funds for a new hose cart and its apparatus, with such featured figures as “Miss Katie Holloway, The Great Equestrienne and Manege Artiste;” Mademoiselle Laura, dubbed “The Queen of the Air;” gymnast Harry Clark. who was the “Man With the Iron Jaw;” a Peruvian Indian, Master Aleco, known for his “great Bare-back, Trick, Hurdle and Grotesque acts;” and Princess Mollie, said to be the smallest elephant on the planet, standing 3 1/2 feet high, weighing 780 pounds, and being thirty-eight years old.

Another ad was for a benefit on the 28th at the Turnverein Hall, built by the city’s German contingent, to raise funds for the 38s, while that same venue had, on the 20th, hosted Joseph Murphy, a star from the Merced Theatre program of the evening the issue was published, and who, it was stated, would specialize in “Irish, Dutch, Negro and Chinese Comedy,” as well as provide orchestral music.

Also of note was the opening of a business in what would become, the following year, Santa Monica, launched by United States Senator John P. Jones of Nevada and his partner Robert S. Baker, in the form of a hotel. An ad by proprietors Steadman and Wolf called out “Ho! For the Breakers!” for the summer-season facility, which was comprised of a large tent and which included a restaurant. An accompanying article observed that the hostelry was “taking like wildfire, and may prove the starting point of a real fashionable and extensive caravansery at our popular watering place.”

In fact, an extension of the tent and more bedding was shipped out and Edward F. Beale, of Tejon Ranch, and his partners, which had included Baker, were warned to “look out for their laurels” for their town of Truxton (named for Beale’s son), which never got off the ground and yielded to Santa Monica, terminus of the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad’s only completed section of line (the company was founded by F.P.F. Temple, who became treasurer and yielded the presidency to Jones, when the senator bought most of the stock) instead.

Finally, aside from the articles and advertisements, some useful and informative material can be found in notices, such as certificates of partnerships for businesses. Several were published in this issue including for Ozro W. Childs and his brother Marcus for their hardware store; José Mascarel (a former mayor of the Angel City and current city council member) and Edouard Naud, both natives of France, for their wholesale liquor and wine enterprise; German-born Philip Lauth and Fritz Menz and their New York Brewery; and Jewish merchants Wolf Kalisher and Henry Wartenburg and their business selling clothing, groceries, shoes and boots, hides and wool, among other items.

Reading through this four-page newspaper is one of the few ways we have to learn about everyday life in Los Angeles during a formative era when it was undergoing its first sustained and significant period of growth and development and the Homestead is fortunate to have a good sampling of these “sheets” to help interpret the 1870s.

2 thoughts

  1. It’s so great to learn the tractable root of today’s Smart & Final, which can be traced back to the bankers and the bank of 1870’s that we are more familiar with.

  2. Hi Larry, We’re glad you enjoyed the post and reference to Smart & Final and thank you for your continued support of the blog.

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