by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The richness of the material found in the Illustrated Los Angeles Herald of September 1887 with its exuberant enthusiasm for promoting the region during the peak of the famed Boom of the Eighties takes us to part four of this post delving deep into the document. An essential component to the development of the area (and any major city and environs, for that matter) was the expansion of rail service, whether by trains or streetcars.
An article on the Los Angeles Electric Railway, headed by the wonderfully named George H. Bonebrake (one wonders if he is any relation to the drummer of the iconic Los Angeles band, X) with Edward Bouton and Charles H. Howland as fellow officers. It was noted that “the company has constructed the first electric railway ever constructed west of the Rocky mountains” with Howland operator of the firm that, early in the decade, “first introduced the electric light in this city” so that “Los Angeles was the first city in the United States that discarded has for city lighting and was wholly lighted by electricity.” Seventeen 150-foot tall masts and fourteen of 60-foot height and 200 private lights were part of the system.
At the time of printing, the LAER had three miles of line on Pico Street with two more miles to get to the Plaza via several streets (Maple, Seventh, San Julian, Third and Los Angeles, specifically) with four cars powered from a central station with the Philadelphia-made cars seating 40 but with a carrying capacity of up to 100 and traveling at 12 miles per hour, though sometimes attaining 20 mph. The piece observed that “the road has been running near two months and not failed a single day” and added that Howland knew full well the supremacy of “time of transmission” for passengers in promoting real estate along the route.
It was also reported that “the cost of construction is about one-third of a cable road [the Los Angeles Cable Railway would soon be built to Boyle Heights, for example” while “the cost of maintenance [is] about 60 per cent of a cable road.” After comparing and constrasting electric with cable systems, the piece concluded “that the electric motor leads all other street railway motors in speed and economy, and that the most progressive and enlightened city in the United States is the growing, beautiful and prosperous City of Angels which obtains the best of everything and leads the van of progress for the present age.”
In its promotion of local railroads, a separate piece used an interesting analogy in stating that Los Angeles was the Indianapolis of the Southwest, adding that “the railroads of Los Angeles, like those of all modern cities, are the arteries through which all the life blood of the commece, trade and prosperity flow.” It was claimed that “the grass grew in the main thoroughfares of the old Pueblo until in the early seventies the Southern Pacific Company came in with their line and made this the metropolis of the new southwest.” Not mentioned was that it took an act of Congress to force the firm to build through the Angel City in getting its line from the Bay Area to Yuma for a southern route that eventually was built to New Orleans.
It was mentioned that there was the 16-mile Los Angeles and Independence Railroad from the former to Santa Monica and built thanks to the resources of United States Senator from Nevada, John P. Jones, a founder with Robert S. Baker, of that seaside town. Nothing was said about the founding president of the company being F.P.F. Temple, who became treasurer when Jones assumed the chief executive role. In any case, it was added that Jones sold the line, intended to terminate at Independence, the seat of Inyo County where silver mining was, in the mid-Seventies boom, in full swing, but the project was abandoned in an economic downturn (during which the Temple and Workman bank failed) and Jones, in 1877, sold the line to the Southern Pacific, which dismantled the wharf at Santa Monica while operating the railroad.
The SP, which acquired the first local railroad, the Los Angeles and San Pedro built to the harbor in 1869, as part of a subsidy package approved by county voters in fall 1872, built a branch line from Florence, south of downtown, to Anaheim. It also constructed an eastbound route that reached Rancho La Puente in spring 1874 with rights-of-way through the lands owned by William Workman and their heirs of John Rowland and went on to Spadra (Pomona) and Colton. Finally, a northern route came in from the Central Valley through the rugged mountains to get to Los Angeles in September 1876. That line and the eastern one that eventually made it through San Gorgonio Pass and into the deserts to get to Yuma were essential to the growth of this region.
By 1887, there were up to fifty trains a day running in the regional SP system and a goodly amount of detail was provided about the main staff, cars and engines, car yard, round house and other aspects. Within the prior year, it was reported, the company “built a new depot at San Gabriel, Puente, Orange and Florence,” while the Los Angeles depot was being expanded significantly and a new ice house was in progress at Pomona. Also developed were the reconstruction of bridges washed out in heavy rains and floods from the winter of 1886-87, while a pair of iron spans were to be built across the Los Angeles River. Sidings are Puente and El Monte and more gravel from Tujunga Creek for ballast and substntial sections of iron rails were added on that line, with this work on all 55 miles to be completed soon.
Then, there was the increaing presence of the Atchsion, Topeka and Santa Fe, known as the Santa Fe, which leased lines from the SP and the California Southern Railroad, the latter of which was acquired by the Santa Fe, and which was building new roads “with great energy in the regions near this city, so as to get an independent entrance to this place.” The business done, even with the lease, helped fuel the current boom as Los Angeles finally had a direct transcontinental rail link.
The Herald reported that grading was being done from San Bernardino toward Pomona and it was expected that by March 1888, that work would extend to Mud Springs [San Dimas], Covina [also known as Citrus], Duarte and Pasadena and reach “the new depot grounds recently secured by this company in the Bigelow place at the foot of First street on the river.” Another line was to go through Riverside, Santa Ana Canyon, Anaheim and the Laguna ranch [near the San Gabriel River on the old Rancho San Antonio, or Lugo ranch.]
Plans were being made to extend that line from Los Angeles to “the new harbor at La Ballona,” an idea pursued in the mid-1870s by Temple, Workman and partners for their Los Angeles and Pacific project as part of the Centinela subdivision—but that, too, was ended in the ensuing financial panic. As usual during booms, rail lines were being discussed all over greater Los Angeles, including a proposal that “from Puente one is spoken of to the mouth of the San Gabriel Cañon,” presumably to tap expected bonanzas in the gold mines, prospected there for at least thirty years and still done by individuals today. Another potential line was from “El Monte, via the Old Mission [where the Temple Homestead was situated] to Los Nietos and Fulton Wells [Santa Fe Springs.” Neither of these two were pursued, however.
Also featured in the publication was the newly launched Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley Railway, presided over by James F. Crank, also associated with the Los Angeles Cable Railway. The piece began by starting that “while the feeling was very general at the inception of this road that it must eventually prove a successful enterprise, there were not a few who doubted its success.” Crank brought general manager S.P. Jewett to run the operation, which launched in March 1885 and with the opening of the road to Pasadena that September. From that time, the line was extended to Duarte and the San Gabriel River, a total of twenty miles, and it was proclaimed that “its effect in developing the beautiful San Gabriel valley has been remarkable.”
This was stated to be the case for the growth of Pasadena, South Pasadena, Sierra Madre, and Duarte, while there was shipment of some 500 cars of oranges from those L.J. Rose, “Lucky” Baldwin, and Alfred B. Chapman. Beyond passenger service ferrying about 176,000 persons in 1886, it was averred that the line “is a large purchaser of supplies in the home markets” while employing 150 local men and its $6,000 monthly expenditures for salaries and supplies meant “a very large business and support incidentally to thousands of individuals.” It was also observed that the growth of hotels in the foothill communities would mean regular traffic for the railroad.
The piece concluded by reporting that “much interest has been excited of late by the prevalent rumors of the absorption of this road by one or the other of the trunk lines” and added that “its value to either of the overland [SP and Santa Fe] would be greatly increased by the contribution of its through traffic, in passengers as well as freight, to their several thousand miles of main line” with possible earnings of over a million dollars, especially with tourists flocking to Pasadena and nearby areas as “the Mecca of their travel” along with freight of citrus and other products. The last line, however, noted “the sale of the road to the A.,T. & S.F. System has been officially announced since the above was written.
With regard to agriculture, the “Our Products” article, proclaiming greater Los Angeles to be “The Garden of the World” asserted that “Los Angeles has neither superior, peer not rival on the earth in the way of variety of products, and of profits of husbandry.” From 250,000 acres in field crops, including 15-20,000 at Rancho La Puente, there were sections on the underdevelopment of vegetables, the “infancy” of deciduous tree fruits, the success of English walnuts (raised at the Workman Homestead by Francis W. Temple and by his brother John at his homestead on the Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo in Whittier Narrows), the potential for olive raising (which later took off in Sylmar), and others.
With respect to grapes, though, “the glory of Los Angeles will be her vineyards” and which “will call for more hands [labor] and money than any other crop.” Some 200,000 boxes a year were generated, and another 640,000 boxes of raisins were also shipped out. It was stipulated that “the vineyards of the country yield some 5,000,000 gallons of wine” and other grape-based product (brandy, port, Angelica, etc.) from about 25 million vines.
A New York wine dealer was quoted as noting “the high prices charged for California grapes in this city” and advising that “some man with pluck and energy could take hold of the enterprise, organize it properly and make a fortune out of it, while supplying the public with the best and most healthful fruit that grows.”
Another fruit buyer, though, decried the lack of proper organization and called for a company to “buy on the spot with cash” in vineyards and then ship and sell grapes directly to retailers. The same principle would apply to other products and it was noted that “the dealers there are becoming awake to these facts, and it is a mere question of time when these things shall be done.” Fruit and nut cooperatives like Sunkist and Blue Diamond were a very successful way to handle the handling and distribution of citrus and walnuts in the future. The problem for grapes is that phylloxera would very soon wreak utter havoc on regional vineyards, with only the Cucamongs/Ontario area largely spared from the ravages of the pest.
A more recent economic boon was promoted under the headings of “Millions of Wealth,” “Better than Gold or Silver or Precious Stones,” “The Great Petroleum Basin,” and, lastly, “Remarkable Development of Wealth in the Puente Hills During a Twelve Month.” The piece began by proclaiming:
One of the largest, if not quite the largest, development of value during the last year, in Los Angeles county, has been the sinking of two oil wells of enormous value, by the proprietors, Messrs. Wm. R. Rowland and Wm. Lacy.
The article quoted from the Illustrated Herald of the prior year in noting that “among the beautiful Puente Hills, crowned during winter and spring with beds of flowers and rich and abounding verdure, overlooking the beautiful valley of Puente, with its orchards and grainfields” was “the great basin of petroleum” at an elevation of 300 feet, allowing for gravity to carry the crude by pipes to the Puente depot, to Anaheim or to Los Angeles.
It was added that the first trio of wells were drilled on the site, near where Fullerton Road/Harbor Boulevard crests the hills, by Burdette Chandler, a long-time resident of Boyle Heights in Los Angeles. While oil was struck at all three “the machinery was not capable of going deeper than 300 feet” and it was of a “frail character,” but, in three years some 10,000 barrels were produced.
In fall 1886, however, Rowland (son of La Puente grantee John Rowland and a two-time county sheriff) and Lacy, owners of 765 acres in these oil-bearing lands hired William E. Youle, credited with bringing in the state’s first well, in Santa Clara County, with crude that went successfully to a substantial market. He then worked at Pico Canyon in the San Fernando field in modern Santa Clarita before heading to the Puente field. Using superior equipment and tools, he bored down to 750 feet with a fourth well and hit a pool that yielded 30 barrels per day “of choice lubricating and fuel oil” that was predictd to bring $20,000 in income a year.
The piece also reported that gas was taken to the house of the laborers and used for fuel for a stove and for lighting. A fifth well was drilled some 500 feet from the other four and, at about 850 feet, “a burst of pent-up gas and oil rose out of the well like the discharge of a cannon” and “the oil rose to the height of seventy-five feet and diffused itself all around the country.” There were more gushers of both gas and oil until “the well became more quiescent and a pump and gas pipe were placed therein, and the regular work of producing oil began.” Production was consistently 100 barrels a day, projected to bring in some $75,000, and Rowland and Lacy were encouraged to drill a sixth well.
This well, overseen by Youle, posed some difficulties in terms of the geologic structure “but the owners stopped at no necessary expense” and, on 31 January 1887, “the great basin of oil was struck and another outburst of oil and gas took place, the oil flying sixty-five feet in the air” and a gas explosion “throwing the nearest workman a distance of fifteen feet, but without serious injury to him or any of the other assistants.” The resulting fire “consumed all the derrick, ropes and everything inflammable about the well,” but a water hydrant prevented the spread to houses and tanks. A new well was started immediately and was expected to be a 100-barrel per day producer when completed.
The piece stated that “the management and plan of operations, in carrying on the oil works at La Puente, are most admirable, and show what intelligent enterprise can accomplish.” A boiler and 40-horsepower engine were in a ravine with gas distributed in iron pipes from the wells and led into a fire box. The boiler generated steam that was piped up a hill to the pump for wells 5 and 6 and a hearing attachment was used for the first four wells.
A pipe provided hot water to a bathroom “where workmen cleanse themselves from the ever abounding oil” while gas was taken “to the boarding house, which is directed by the beautiful and accomplished Mrs. Cope, an English lady of fine musical talents.” It was reported she had a telephone in her room and played piano for Los Angeles friends, transmitting “her skillful playing, twenty miles away.” Other gas pipes were for the range, heat and lights of her house and those of the workmen on the hill.
The oil was pumped up to the top of the hill and stored in tanks “from which an iron pipe extends six miles down the hill and over the plain to the Southern Pacific track, in Puente.” There was also a spur line for oil cars with 100-barrel capacity each and “when a train is put on ths spur, ready to load with oil, a telephone [call] is sent to the wells saying all is ready, and the valves [of the pipeline] are opened at both ends of the line and a car is loaded in ninety minutes.” The process is then repeated, with Youle’ son and another employee watching the steam engine, fed with water from a nearby spring, to ensure it is running properly.
The works represented, the article concluded, “the triumphs of science, and by such are the great features of progress in Los Angeles county indicated.” With Youle’s exacting oversight, he could be pleased with his work “and the proprietors on their unbounded success, which has just begun, but carries in it the prophecy of millions of wealth in the near future.” The Puente Oil Company did have years of success, including a merger with companies owned by oilman William B. Scott and Harry Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, and the three eventually partnered as owners of the Tres Hermanos Ranch to the east between Diamond Bar and Chino.
There will be, because of still more fascinating content in this publication, a fifth and final part tomorrow, so please come back and see how the post concludes.