Read All About It in the Los Angeles Express, 3 September 1874

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

One of the most striking features of the first boom period in Los Angeles, stretching from after the Civil War through the mid-1870s, was the dramatic changes that took place with many of the Spanish and Mexican era ranchos. These were long the economic backbone of the regional economy based on the raising of cattle, first for their hides and tallow (fat) through the end of the Mexican period and, then, after the discovery of gold in northern California in 1848, the export of animals for their value in providing fresh beef to the hordes of miners and others who flocked to the new American possession following its seizure by the United States during the Mexican-American War.

Among those who experienced both elements of that economic development were the Workmans and Temples, with Jonathan Temple at the 27,000-acre Rancho Los Cerritos in what became Long Beach and nearby areas, his half-brother F.P.F. Temple and his half of Rancho La Merced as well as his significant investments in the “southern mines” of Tuolumne County at Sonora and Columbia and nearby areas, and William Workman and his nearly 25,000-acre half of Rancho La Puente.

With the end of the main phase of the Gold Rush by the middle Fifties, however, came not just a glut in the market, but competition from imported longhorns and other breeds, followed by a national depression in 1857 and a the local dual disaster of floods and droughts in the first half of the 1860s. By the time the Civil War came to an end mid-decade, the cattle industry was largely eviscerated and, as immigration picked up significantly, one of the major consequences was the sale and partition of large ranches (many owners were in deep financial trouble because of the above situation) into smaller farms and, in some cases, towns.

Contemporary with this was the rapidly declining economic and political power of the Spanish-speaking Californios, which was due to a bundle of causes, some related to the dire situation noted above, but, in other cases, the result of inordinate expenses in pursuing federal patents under a land claims process that was not just costly (surveyors and lawyers charging fees) but terribly time-consuming—the average claim filed in the early 1850s was not adjudicated until the late 1860s. In some cases, a grantee’s passing was followed by the division of a ranch among many children, which, for a cattle economy, weakened the potential for profit. Those who borrowed money found prevailing interest rates (this did not really exist before the American conquest) to add up quickly and foreclosure was often the result.

It was also an obvious fact that the Anglo population was rapidly increasing, while the Latino community grew far more slowly, and the consolidation of power by whites involved growing numbers, but also racism in some cases. It is important, though, to note the the loss of land was often more complex and nuanced than just this latter.

Tonight’s featured object from the museum’s collection is the 3 September 1874 edition of the Los Angeles Express and a featured article from the paper concerned the plans for a railroad to run from the Angel City to the Pacific in what was then the Ballona township. On the coast west of Los Angeles was the Rancho San Vicente y Santa Monica, a 33,000-acre tract granted in 1839 to Francisco Sepúlveda by Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado. The San Vicente portion was inland (where Brentwood and other sections of the westside are now) and the family home built in what became the Sawtelle area, while the Santa Monica section embraced the coastal area where the city of that name is located.

The Rancho Boca de Santa Monica was granted the same year to Ysidro Reyes and Francisco Márquez, but Sepulveda petitioned the governor for both in 1840 asserting that the others were not properly vested with Santa Monica. When the land claim process began in 1852, Sepúlveda filed his claim for the two conjoined properties and, while he died the following year, his heirs continued the claim and received a patent, though not until the early Eighties.

Almost a decade prior, however, the Sepúlveda family sold the ranch to Robert S. Baker, a partner of Edward Beale of Fort Tejon fame in cattle and sheep ranching. Soon after, Baker and Beale laid early plans for a coastal town called Truxton, after Beale’s son, with a wharf and a railroad to Los Angeles, but that fizzled out without further development. In 1874, Baker, who married Arcadia Bandini, from a well-known Californio family and the widow of prominent early merchant and landowner Abel Stearns, then sold three-quarters of the ranch to United States Senator from Nevada and mining magnate, John P. Jones. The two then recast the townsite project into a new one: Santa Monica.

It was also in 1874 that F.P.F. Temple, Daniel Freeman and other locals were formulating plans just to the south on the lands of the ranchos Aguaje de la Centinela and Sausal Redondo for a townsite called Centinela and a railroad, dubbed the Los Angeles and Pacific, from the Angel City to where Ballona Creek empties into the Pacific and a wharf located there, as well. At the same time, Temple, ex-governor John G. Downey and other Los Angeles capitalists had a serious plan to build a narrow-gauge line, called the Los Angeles and Independence, to the Inyo County seat of the latter name near Death Valley so that ore from silver mines in that area could be shipped by rail rather than by animal power.

So, this was the context for the article in the Express titled “The Effect of Another Railroad.” In it, the paper stated that

It is very probably that when the owners [Baker and Jones] of the San Vicente ranch return here and find a popular movement in progress to build a railroad from this city to deep water, they will take an active interest in it. They want to open ther lands to public consideration by railroad facilities, and the people of Los Angeles require additional transportation accommodation to the Coast. Both objects are compatible, and both parties can advantageously coalesce so as to bring the project to a speedy and successful conclusion.

The first local railroad line was the Los Angeles and San Pedro, completed to the rudimentary harbor at San Pedro and Wilmington in 1869 (when the transcontinental line spanning the country was finished), but which was turned over to the powerful Southern Pacific when a deal was brokered (F.P.F. Temple was a main negotiator) in 1872 to provide the SP a subsidy and the local line to induce additional rail construction beyond the line from the Bay Area to Yuma that Congress mandated had to come through Los Angeles.

But, with the SP as the only rail company operating in this region, the Express obviously noted that “one of the inevitable effects of this competing road will be to bring down the rates of transportation to a figure that will so large increase the volume of our exports as to exercise a decided influence on the settling up of our waste [undeveloped] country.” The paper continued that “there is a large line of products which is now totally neglected because the freight rates [charged by the SP] would eat up the entire value of the articles.”

Whether this was actually the case or not, it was further argued that farmers, balking at paying excessive freighting costs, were hesitating in planting more grain, with wheat becoming a crucial crop in the area, including on much of Workman’s share of La Puente. The idea, according to the Express, was that ” a competing road will alone cure all of the transportation difficulties under which we now labor” and that “the tonnage [of products] of Los Angeles will be doubled at once.”

This wasn’t just farm produce, but also “petroleum, ores and other articles, which canot now be counted in the exports of our section, [but which] will be found to cut an important figure in the shipments hence.” In fact, Temple was a player in the early oil industry, as well, with his Los Angeles Petroleum Refining Company, formed in 1873, working a claim in the mountains in the “San Fernando District” but which is just west of Interstate 5 in the south section of modern Santa Clarita.

The paper went on that “at first sight, it may appear that the building of this new road will act injuriously upon Wilmington and our harbor prospects [federal appropriations began modestly in 1871 for breakwater construction and there were hopes of more investment for improvements in the future].” But, it was averred, “on mature consideration, we think the effect will eventually be the reverse” because the SP “will be awakened by active competition, to a wider and more liberal policy.” Moreover, the powerful firm’s harbor was likely to become “one of the safest ports on the coast” and it could “use its great influence . . . to perfect its natural advantages by the aid of art [hmmm . . .!]”

The editorial ended with the assertion that

When incorporations are taught, either experience or the rough lesson of active competition, that their best interests are identical with the best interests of the people they serve, they will do, by business compulsion, a great many gracious things which they never would have done if left to their own torpid sense of justice.

By 1875, with Jones as the majority owner, the Los Angeles and Independence was planned with a branch line to the newly launched Santa Monica built first (it opened in October) and the main line to Inyo County to follow (but that was never built because of the collapse of the Temple and Workman bank amid a panic in the California economy.) The Los Angeles and Pacific road to Ballona never got further than the earliest of planning stages, though a company was incorporated in December 1874.

Another notable article in the paper was the “Commercial Review,” which observed that “the clean-up of the general business of the city last month, makes a satisfactory showing” and even the “dog days of August” was “proven a brisk one.” George B. Davis, supported by the Temples in his enterprise, was launching a fruit-drying business which “will enable our fruit-growers and farmers to increase their revenue materially, and will be an important incident to our general prosperous condition.”

With respect to the aforementioned transportation project, it was noted that “the proposition to build a new railroad and wharf to tidewater, north of the Ballona bluffs [apparently south of the creek, perhaps where Jefferson Boulevard heads into the wetlands], is meeting with very general favor.” It was added that “over $25,000 have been subscribed in small subscriptions by parties on the outside” and that this initial investment “will enable it [the company] to commence work at once, with the full assurance that the project will not flag for want of means.”

Additionally, it was asserted that $170,000 would be enough to “cover all the expenses of constructin and rolling stock, including a wharf to 24-feet of water.” With this railroad completed and in operation, it “would be the best thing that could happen for all interests” and “will so increase the value of transporation, that both roads [it and the SP] will have all they can do” in shipping. After discussing prospects for the fall sheep shearing season, it was noted that “building material men tell us that there is still a very brisk demand for lumber” with houses being built at a good pace “and the constant demand for real estate justifies the idea that the work of improvement will keep on until the rainy season has set in.”

In “Local Items”, there was reference to Phineas Banning, the “Port Admiral” of Wilmington, having purchased Gabriel Allen’s ranch, the “Poyoreno.” This was part of the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana in modern Costa Mesa and Newport Beach, where an adobe house built as a ranch hands quarters for the Mission San Juan Capistrano was later occupied by Diego Sepúlveda and still stands at Estancia Park in Costa Mesa. Nearby, however, was an 1855 adobe built by Eduardo Polloreno, who long lived in Los Nietos near Whittier and Santa Fe Springs, and the word “Poyoreno” was a version of his surname—today’s Paularino Avenue and Paularino Park are further corruptions! Polloreno then sold the tract to Allen.

The Banning Ranch comprised over 4,000 acres and the conservancy that now managed the tenth (about 400 acres) still remaining states that it was acquired in the name of his wife Mary Hollister Banning for $17,500. The short note in the Express added that Banning “will stock it with sheep,” this animal largely replacing cattle on those tracts still dedicated to stock raising in greater Los Angeles. Some seventy years later, oil was struck on the property, east of the Santa Ana River and north of the ocean and 36 million barrels of crude was extracted from the ranch from the mid-1940s onward.

In recent years, as oil production slowed, there was talk of developing the remaining land, but a preservation movement developed and the City of Newport Beach, some fifteen years ago, announced a General Plan priority of acquiring the ranch for open space. The Banning Ranch Conservancy, though, litigated against the city for approving development plans and, in 2017, won on appeal to the state supreme court, so it will be interesting to see what the future holds for this parcel.

Other items included Allen’s election on the 1st in a special election to the county Board of Supervisors, on which he served in 1860-1861, replacing lumberyard owner John M. Griffith after his resignation (Allen served through 1877); the paper’s statement that no votes were purchased by him or his friends; the beginning of a three-days’ teachers’ examination session; and an interesting piece, accompanied by an advertisement, of a “Grand Exhibition of Oil Paintings” held by Charles Kaiser at the office of Dewey, Kimball and Company, who dealt in real estate, auctions, and commission mercantile work.

The artwork was said to comprise “elegant paintings of Italian, German and Spanish Production” with a catalog available for the sale and admission of 25 cents (children accompanying their parents were free.) The Express added that “we noticed a number of ladies there, who took great delight in examining the many works of art.” A work titled “The Ascension” seemed to be the favorite “in the estimation of connoisseurs.”

Finally, there is a reprined piece fro the San Francisco Post about an unnamed Los Angeles orange grower, identified only as “of German parentage, and by faith a son of Abraham [that is, a Jew],” who went to the City by the Bay in earnest search for a wife. A friend’s wife offered to be matchmaker and gathered some of her spinster acquaintances to visit, without revealing the purpose in advance, but none showed interest. Another lady, however, was informed of the intent of the Los Angeles man, and apparently decided in advance to accept an offer of matrimony.

When she was seen by him, however, “he objected,” even after she affirmatively answered his questions about going south to live and in traveling with him. It was stated that he decided to play a “leetel joke” by encouraging her aspirations by picking a date and discussing plans for a wedding gown and then told his hostess “that the fun of the thing was so goot that he would surely send a small box of oranges the next steamer.” Yet, it was the object of the joke who was steamed when she was prepared to journey to Los Angeles only to be told of the ruse and then threatened to “make him mortgage those orange groves” through a breach of promise suit!

This latest entry in the “Read All About It” series is another fascinating granular look at early 1870s Los Angeles and we have many more issues of such Los Angeles newspapers as the Express, the Herald, and the Star from the collection to share in future posts, so please look out for those!

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