Sharing the Evolution of the East Side from 1900-1930 with Boyle Heights Community Partners

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Earlier today, the final of a five-part series on the history of Boyle Heights, from the 1830s when the area known as Paredon Blanco was settled by Esteban López and his family through the 1920s when the neighborhood on the east side of Los Angeles had become an ethnically-diverse middle and working class community, was given for the grassroots preservation organization, Boyle Heights Community Partners.

The presentation was in three parts, including a look at how diversified the neighborhood became between 1900 and 1930 through looking at a sampling of census sheets; a review of photos of the community from the Homestead’s collection; and a look at how an effort to rename Boyle Heights to Hollenbeck Heights took root in the early 1920s and, to some degree, carried through for decades afterward.

The 1900 census sheet for William H. Workman, his family, and the family of his employee Juan José Mendoza.

The examination of the census took up more than half the talk, as examples were shared from the enumerations in 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930, so that will be the focus of this post. It was pointed out that when the first of these was taken, Boyle Heights was still largely promoted as something of an upscale community, certainly in the earliest portions developed from the mid-1870s onward and focused largely on the Boyle Avenue corridor and the bluffs from First Street south to about where Hollenbeck Park was opened in the early 1890s.

In the examples given, the majority of the residents were Americans and Europeans, including community founder William H. Workman and the family of John Lazzarovich and other López descendants, as well as the family of Simon Gless—all of whom were on Boyle between 1st and 4th streets. The Valla family, of Italian and Mexican background, and the Bacigalupi family, with Spanish Basque ancestry and who had future county sheriff Eugene Biscailuz in their household, were also in this section. Also mentioned as residents of Boyle Heights during the period were the Simons family, owners of the prominent brickyard that furnished material for so many regional buildings; George Chaffey, a founder of Ontario in the Inland Empire and of communities in Australia; and William Mulholland, the “Father of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.”

A sheet enumerating an early Jewish family in the community in 1900.

With respect to people of color and other ethnic minorities, there were, in the samples shown, a few examples. For example, the Jewish family of Morris Sofsky and his wife Kate lived in “The Flats” below the biuff and east of the river. Morris, a tailor, and his wife were listed as being from Poland and as migrating in 1870 and 1871 (perhaps the Franco-Prussian War was a factor?), while their two sons and a daughter were born in New York, indicating a typical entry point through that city.

To the east of the Workmans, Glesses and others, were a quartet of Latino families, with the surnames of Padilla, Cigaran, Rosario and Espinoza residing where Second Street Elementary School is located on that street next where to Interstate 10 cuts through the community. Widow Dolores Cigaran, who resided with her two sons and three daughters, ranging in age from 7 to 22 and all migrating to the United States in 1894, made her living as a music teacher.

The counting in 1900 of three men with an address given as “Chinese vegetable garden.”

The heads of the Padilla and Espinoza families were laborers, while “Hiposo” Rosario, a woman, was denoted as a capitalist. Also on 2nd and denoted as “Spanish” were Felipa Squires, also a capitalist, and her plumber son Fred and a granddaughter. Juana Mancho, a Central American and widow of Spanish-born merchant Felix, also was shown as a capitalist, and lived with two Basque servants and resided next to the Hollenbeck Home for the Aged across from Hollenbeck Park. Juan José Mendoza, a 43-year old native of Mexico who migrated north in 1874, was an employee of William H. Workman and lived on the estate with his wife Manuela and their several children.

Among the few Asians was Lee Tin, a 37-year old Chinese cook employed by the Workman family, and a trio of men, identified as Dong Huen, Quong Ah, and Chon Cong, whose address was given as “Chinese vegetable garden.” The first of them was 79-years old and immigrated to the U.S. in 1855, towards the end of the famed Gold Rush when many Chinese came to California in search of “gold mountain.” The last was 60 years old and came to America in the mid-Sixties, while the middle was 34 and arrived ten years prior to the census.

The listing of two Jewish families, including partners in a tailoring shop, in the 1910 census at Boyle Heights.

By 1910, there were definitely more people of color and ethnic minorities settling in Boyle Heights, as the industrial corridor of Los Angeles west of the river grew and railroads expanded their operations, including the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake, which was completed several years earlier and had its yards and facilities on the east side of the river. A glance at some sheets from nearby neighborhoods shows many railroad workers, though whether for the Salt Lake or the Southern Pacific or Union Pacific was not specified.

Among the Jewish families found in a sample of sheets were, at 1st and Cummings, dye works employee Benjamin Levinson and his wife Tilly, who were from Russia (he came in 1888 and she four years later) and who were specified as being speakers of Yiddish, and their two daughters and three sons, from 10-16 years and who were born in Illinois and Missouri. Over in “The Flats” on Pecan Street were tailors Charlie Draws and Lewis Gold, both listed as “Russ (Polish),” perhaps in The Pale, a heavily contested area for centuries.

High concentrations of railroad workers on some sheets in 1910 reflected the proximity of the neighborhood to rail yards and other railroad-related work areas in downtown Los Angeles.

Gold migrated in 1886 and Draws a half-dozen years later, with the former and his wife Sarah (who was shown as “Russ (Yiddish)” came to the U.S. two years prior to him) having three sons born in New York and the latter’s wife migrating in 1901 and their two children born in California and Maryland. On First, east of State, A Yiddish-speaking German, Lizzie Herman ran a notions store, and lived with her three New York-born children, while her husband, who was from Romania, was not present in the household.

As noted above, there were plenty of railroad employees and those who did manual labor on these samples from 1910, with one sheet between 3rd and 4th streets and just west of the 10 containing six railroad workers, including a foreman, a civil engineer, a draftsman, a clerk, an engineer and a fireman. Other occupations included a meat market solicitor, a realtor, and oil company bookkeeper, express company clerks, a piano company polisher, a restaurateur, a cement contractor, painters, and others.

Near the Workman family, in 1910, on Boyle Avenue south of First Street were such families as the Vallas (Italian and Mexican) and Glesses who were long-time residents of that part of the community.

With regard to some of those early families mentioned earlier, widow Juanita Gless and her three children resided in the long-time family home on Boyle, while two households of the Valla family lived next to each other, including Mexican-born matriarch Trini and her physician son Anthony. Neighbors included more railroad workers, another doctor, a baker, book company agents (these being a mother and daughter), a department store saleswoman, an iron manufacturer, two female telephone operators, and a woman school teacher.

While there were more Asians, Latinos and eastern Europeans, including the so-called Molokan Russians in the community by 1910, the acceleration of ethnic minorities and people of color became very market in the next two censuses. In the 1920 count, on East Second, west of State, Urban Carreon, a packer at a flour mill, and his wife Guadalupe (who came to America in 1898 and 1903, respectively) lived with their three daughters and one son with the family of Lazaro (who came in 1903 and worked in a printing office) and Jovita (a migrant of 1912) Canales and their young children as roomers.

By 1920, the Gless home, which still stands, was turned into the Jewish Home for the Aged, as shown on this sheet from that year’s census.

The Jewish population also grew markedly and, following the lead of the Hollenbeck Home for the Aged further south on Boyle but inhabited by Anglos, the Jewish Home for the Aged opened in the Gless home. Superintendent Isaac Rubin, born in Russia and who migrated to America in 1890 and was naturalized a decade later, had five employees, two of whom appear to have been Gentiles, hailing from Hungary and America (though of Norwegian parentage.) There were 26 “inmates,” a term used in institutions of all kinds, ranging from ages 64 to 90 and most from Russia with some from Hungary, Poland, Germany and France, with one born in Massachusetts and from parents born in Germany (though with unification in 1870 this could mean any of the principalities and other states preexisting that consolidation.)

More Japanese families were found on some of the sheets, including a pair of families (Turuichi and Mankichi) who operated grocery stores on First Street, one near Boyle Avenue and the other a little east near State Street. In between the two, the Miyamoto family operated a “baber” [barber] shop. To the west in “The Flats” were some of the Russian families, again sometimes called Molokans, who were heavily represented in that area from at least 1910, including the Backoffs, Kollopiloffs, Talbrofs and Kobzeffs [these spellings could well be misspelled by the census taker).

In “The Flats” below the bluffs and Boyle Avenue there was a diverse mix of Russians, Jews, Italians, Latinos and other, with this sheet from 1920 counting those on Pecan Street being an example.

Nearby, on Pecan Street, there was a very mixed neighborhood with, on one sheet, residents hailing from Indiana, Italy, Russia, Ireland, France, Romania, Latvia, Canada, Mexico, Ohio, and Turkey. One would be hard-pressed to find any other area of Los Angeles that had such a diversity in such a small area. What unified all these people were their occupations and working class status, as professions included railroad shop machinist, launderer, chauffeur, junk collectors and dealers, a baker, a cigar shop salesman, and a dry goods clerk.

What was rare was the mixed marriage and one example was that of John Cristich, who was from Austria (Slovak), perhaps today’s Slovakia, but long part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, who owned his own cement business, and whose wife, Nellie, was a native of Mexico. He came to America in 1902 and she arrived five years later and the couple had a son and a daughter.

Another sheet from 1920 in “The Flats” with a diverse mix of Russians, Jews and Latinos.

In 1930, however, there were some other such instances, and our sampling takes us further east to the edge of Boyle Heights near Evergreen Cemetery, where the diversity of residents continues to manifest in our review. On Velasco Street, just west of Indiana Street, which is the eastern boundary of the City of Los Angeles, Henry Hirsch, a native of New Mexico and a welder for a gas company, resided with his wife Celia, who hailed from California and of Mexican parentage, and their two young daughters. Most of their neighbors were Latino and there were some who were from Wales, Austria and other American states, while Shozo Muto, a 37-year old native of Japan, was a newspaper editor, perhaps for Rafu Shimpo, which was launched in 1903 and still exists.

There were also large numbers of Japanese in this area, including in the 3200 block of Gleason Avenue, just south of the cemetery, and most of whom worked in markets, including Kameharu Kajama, who was a produce market clerk; Katsumi Furukawa, a fish company salesman; Chokichi Matsuoka, who owned a wholesale food products market; and Tokio Ueyama, who was a book store salesman.

A sample of 1930 census sheets for the area near city limits and Evergreen Cemetery shows nearly 60% of residents were Latinos, as demonstrated here.

It is also worth noting the high percentage of renters in this section of Boyle Heights—of a dozen households on this sheet, five owned their homes but they were all American and European, while, of the seven renters, five were Japanese with one American and the other Italian. On the sheet with Muto, there were fourteen households and, of these, just four were owners, including two white families (one from Wales, the other a woman from Texas), while one Latino family, that of fruit peddler Julián Estrada (whose two sons, John and Federico, were “orchestra musicians”), owned their home. The fourth was Nathan Eckles, a Black “steam railroad safety man,” who lived with his wife, both were from Mississippi, on Velasco. In fact, a sampling of several sheets showed that all Japanese families rented and this was the era of the Alien Land Laws of 1913 and 1920.

With regard to black families, of the fourteen sheets examined, there were a few others than Eckles. Just east of Evergreen, on Cheeeseborough Lane, with the other houses on the sheet occupied by Latinos, Henry B. Brown, a planing mill machine operator from Texas and his Louisiana-born wife Bertha, owned their home, in which lived their three adults sons, Ralph, Paul and Earl, who worked as, respectively, a truck driver for the city’s engineering department, an elevator operator for a department store, and a truck driver for a newspaper.

Some of the early Black families in Boyle Heights were in this area, including the Brown and Rollins families shown here in 1930 among a predominantly Latino community.

Also owning their residence were neighbors, Edward and Mary Rollins, he from Missouri and she from Kansas, with Edward working as a janitor in a laundry. Both couples were in their 50s and 60s. Nearby, at Second near Velasco, was Kentucky-born William R. Hutchinson, a minister, his wife Reminta, who was from Louisiana, and their boarder, Jack Doyle, a young man from Oklahoma. On Gleason, with Japanese and French families around them, were Charles, a steel mill shipper from Arkansas, and his wife Anna, who hailed from Tennessee, who owned their home and had four sons.

What also stands out with these census sheets is the majority of people who were immigrants, though almost all of them came before the imposition of America’s first immigration laws, enacted in 1924 as a conservative movement sought to limit the number of migrants under a quota system and which remained intact for several decades. The sample from 1930 contains about 660 persons and some 40% of them were immigrants, while many others were the American-born children of migrants. About 15% of those who were immigrants came after 1924.

A sheet from 1930 with populations of Russians, Japanese and Latinos. Some 40% of 660 persons in fifteen sampled sheets were immigrants and many of them had American-born children. Most immigrants came before the passage of 1924 immigration laws restricting to limited quotas from various countries.

Nearly 60% of the persons enumerated in these fourteen sheets was Latino and, again, the vast majority came before the passage of those laws. While a small number came north before 1900, it looks like a significant number traveled to the U.S. during the revolutionary years of the 1910s. It is not at all surprising that almost all of those who have listed occupations did manual labor for the railroads, in factories, in construction, and in meat production facilities, with some Latinas working as laundry workers, in stores, in meat packing, in dress making, in paper factories and other blue-collar work.

Again, this material is based on just a sampling of the four censuses conducted from 1900 to 1930, but they are a window into the evolution of the Boyle Heights community in terms of ethnicity, vocation, economic status, social class and in other ways. It was great sharing this with those who joined in for today’s presentation and, hopefully, a fitting way to conclude the five-part series on the history of that area.

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