At Our Leisure with Summer Seaside Sports in the “Santa Monica Programme,” 6-7 August 1898

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The seaside town of Santa Monica was established in 1875 as greater Los Angeles was at the peak of its first growth and development boom, which began in the late Sixties. United States Senator John P. Jones of Nevada and Robert S. Baker were its founders and Jones took over a majority interest in the stock of the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, founded the prior year with F.P.F. Temple as president with the goal to build a line well over 200 miles to the silver mining region of Inyo County in eastern California, and assumed the presidency (with Temple shifted to treasurer) so he could get a branch line built first to his new community.

Just months after its creation, that boom went bust, including the spectacular collapse of the Temple and Workman bank (the first major business failure in the Angel City), and, while the line of the Los Angeles and Independence was completed to Santa Monica, the railroad was soon sold to the Southern Pacific, while the town, along with most of the region, largely languished for about a decade.

Los Angeles Times, 6 August 1898.

When the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe opened direct transcontinental rail service to Los Angeles at the end of 1885, the famous Boom of the Eighties, during which William H. Workman, nephew of Homestead founders William and Nicolasa Workman, was mayor of Los Angeles, ensued. Santa Monica increasingly became a very popular place for locals and tourists enjoying its cool weather, beaches, hotels, bath houses, and entertainment during the boom and afterward.

Tonight’s highlighted object from the Homestead’s holdings is the 6-7 August 1898 edition of the Santa Monica Programme, which featured attractions for visitors to the town during its peak summer season. Printed on cheap newsprint, the publication is in rough shape, but it is a very interesting early artifact about the town and its many opportunities for leisure, including special attractions like open air concerts on Saturdays and Sundays “by the celebrated Los Angeles Military Band,” which seems to have formed about four years prior, and bicycle and swimming races. Among those listed as making the trip out to the shore were John Randolph Haynes, a prominent physician and progressive, whose namesake foundation has been a local philanthropic institution of note for over eight years, and Esther Blake Phillips, wife of Pomona rancher and capitalist Louis Phillips, and their daughter.

Los Angeles Herald, 7 August 1898.

With these competitions, the former drew the most media attention, especially as competitive cycling was very popular during the Gay Nineties with races held regularly throughout the region. In this case, the Los Angeles and Santa Monica Road Race left from the starting line at Main Street and Washington Boulevard with thirty-two men listed as entrants, including those with handicaps ranging from two-and-a-half to eight minutes so that the last left at 9 a.m. and the Santa Monica Programme statring that the finish would take place about forty-five minutes later.

The Los Angeles Times reported that “Yesterday was an ideal day for the bicycle race to Santa Monica, so far as the weather was concerned, though the roads were not in the best condition.” It continued that “barring a few slight accidents to wheels, the race to Santa Monica was made in good order” and that “the best twenty men were bunched over the dusty eighteen miles covered.” The paper added, “a large crowd, representing all parts of Southern California, had gathered at the corner of Utah avenue [now Broadway] and Third street, to witness the close of the race, and the riders were received with loud demonstrations by spectators who appreciated the good record made by the riders.” The piece concluded with the observation that “the prizes awarded are more satisfactory than previous ones, and a feeling of satisfaction seemed to prevail.”

Los Angeles Express, 8 August 1898.

Similarly, the Los Angeles Express called the competition “a big success,” noting that there was a large crowd for the opening, while an ovation was tendered the racers at the finish line. It echoed the Times by deploring the substandard state of the roads, but added that “the time made was fair.” The Los Angeles Herald, however, differed from its contemporaries as it reported that it was “the principal event in local sports,” but added that “the affair does not appear to have been satisfactory to many of the participants.” Specifically, the sheet reported:

Santa Monica road races are likely to decrease still further in popularity unless different arrangements are made to assure the contestants that they are getting a square deal. It was openly charged in a measure substantiated yesterday that manager D.L. Burke was altogether too much interested in certain riders, namely those mounted on Thistle wheels, for which Mr. Burke is the local agent. There is quite a line of circumstances which tends to demonstrate that the riders have not a little cause for complaint.

As the story goes, Burke was the promulgator of all these races and in each has not failed to see that the Thistle came out first.

In the contest, Burke was also the handicapper and timekeeper and A.E. Muff, who’d been in a couple of previous races, filed a protest, claiming he’d made the best time. When the declared winner, Fred Dee, said he would not accept the laurel if not honestly earned, a race at the Santa Monica track was arranged between the two combatants and took place two hours later. While Burke offered a gold medal for this ad hoc contest, he would not agree to change the result of the sanctioned race.

Herald, 8 August 1898.

After being positioned apart by half the circumference of the track, with the winner to be the cyclist who passed the other first, it took just over eight laps for Muff to overtake his antagonist. The Herald noted that “this put the management in rather an unenviable light and the dissatisfaction which generally prevailed before the test was greatly enhanced.” Given the circumstances, it was added that “many of the riders now declare they will have nothing to do with the contests unless a disinterested judge and timekeeper were put in” before the next race scheduled the first Sunday in September.

While the swimming contest received much less coverage in the papers, it, too, had a notable component to it. The Times of the 7th merely stated, as did the Programme, that the contest would be held about 2:30 p.m. and would conclude at the North Beach Bath House, completed in 1894 and which was, at a cost of $50,000, considered the finest of several such ocean-side salt water plunges along the coast down to Long Beach. The annual competition offered cash prizes to the top two finishers of $30 and $20 and a yacht was to accompany the entrants “to render aid in the case of need.”

Herald, 8 August 1898.

On the 8th, the Herald reported that “bicycle and swimming races and the new pier, which is nearly finished and which was thrown open to the general public today, entertained the large number of Sunday visitors who flocked to the beach today by all lines of travel.” The swimming contest was delayed by about a half-hour, but “was witnessed by thousands of spectators on beach, bluff and pier” with five swimmers plying a course from the well-known 99 Steps comprising a wooden staircase from the bluffs to the sand to the new pier at what became known as Ocean Park and which officially opened three weeks later.

The paper reported that this first heat “was won by Leo Carrillo, who kept his bearings well from the start” and who finished in 9 minutes and 30 seconds. The second place swimmer was known by his surname of McDonald, while the third finisher was identified as “the Jap,” in keeping with the anti-Asian racism of the time. Two heats were scheduled for the following two Sundays and both were won by Carrillo, who collected his thirty dollar prize, and then “issued a challenge to all swimmers in Southern California to compete with him for the championship.”

Times, 8 August 1898.

While his is not a well-known name today, Carrillo hailed from among the earliest families in Spanish-era California and his father Juan José, educated in Boston, an employee of the well-known mercantile house of Caswell and Ellis, and who was the Los Angeles city marshal in 1875-76 when Santa Monica was a fledgling community, moved his family to the seaside town in 1881 to serve as agent for his aunt Arcadia Bandini Stearns Baker, wife of the town’s co-founder and namesake of its finest hostelry, the Hotel Arcadia.

Juan José was a city trustee from 1888 to 1898 and, as its president from 1890-1897, was the city’s mayor. After leaving the council, he was superintendent of streets from 1904-1905 and a police judge from 1905-1915. Leo turned 18 the day before the first heat, but, after finishing his education at St. Vincent’s College, the forerunner of Loyola Marymount University, he went to work as a surveyor for the Southern Pacific railroad company.

An avid artist, he worked as a cartoonist for the San Francisco Examiner, specializing in images of that city’s Chinatown, but became known for his work in amateur theater which led to his working in vaudeville and then in “legitimate” theater in New York, where he lived for many years. While Carrillo worked extensive in silent and sound film, he gained his biggest fame in his seventies when he played the role of Pancho, the comedic relief in the very popular television show, The Cisco Kid.

Long intereted in historic preservation in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, where his forebears long resided, Carrillo also served on the California State Beaches and Parks Commission for fourteen years and his dedication to that organization led to the naming of Leo Carrillo State Park, in which he was instrumental in establishing, north of Malibu. His ranch in Carlsbad in northern San Diego County is also a historic park.

As for future attractions in Santa Monica, there was the 14th annual week-long tournament held by the Southern California Lawn Tennis Association, beginning on the 15th at the Casino and the Programme noted that “all the best players in this part of the State have entered and will be complete.” Visitors were encouraged that “there will be first class sport, and you should arrange your vacation so as to take it at Santa Monica during Tennis Week.”

The Times added that the All-Comers’ Single Challenge Cup was won by Arthur Bumiller once and on two occasions by L.R. Freeman, while the latter and O.S. Picher were the reigning doubles champions. The holder of the championship title for women was Marian Jones and it was notable that the three aforementioned men were officers in the Association, whose secretary and treasurer was Robert A. Rowan, who later had a long career as a prominent downtown Los Angeles developer.

Also promoted in the Programme was the Camera Obscura, of which it was merely said that it was “on the beach” with visitors encouraged to “see your friends without being seen.” Built by the city’s mayor, Robert F. Jones, the octagonal wooden structure perched on a seaside platform included the device, comprised of a large white disc on which is a wheel allowing for the movement of a lens and mirror in an overhead turret capturing images of the surrounding area for projection on the disc.

Jones donated the structure and device to the city in 1907 and, nearly a half-century later, it was enclosed in a building that now serves as an art laboratory with an artists-in-residence program, though the facility has been closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also mentioned in the publication is that Santa Monica Canyon “is one of the most picturesque spots in Southern California . . . [and] it is reached by a beautiful drive along the bluff, or by the trains of the Southern Pacific railway.” Visitors were encouraged to “enjoy a day’s oyting in the little Yo-Semite of Southern California.”

Finally, the four-page item has plenty of ads for local businesses, including Eckert & Hopf’s Pavilion Restaurant and its fish dinner; the Canyon Restaurant at Santa Monica Canyon; Hein’s establishment on Third Street for beer and liquor; the Christopher & Sparks ice cream parlor below the Clarendon Hotel at Utah and Third; and G.M. Beauget, who taught swimming at the North Beach Bath House for fifty cents a lesson or a full course for ten dollars.

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