“The People Seemed to be One Great Happy Family”: The Recollections of Los Angeles in 1875 by Jackson A. Graves, Part One

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

It is largely forgotten now, but, aside from The Land of Sunshine, renamed Out West, one of the earliest local magazines of note was The West Coast Magazine, sporting the motto “The Magazine With A Soul.” It was issued between 1908 and 1914 by Grafton Publishing Company and edited by John Steven McGroarty, later poet laureate of California, writer of 1921’s multi-volume history of the region From the Mountains to the Sea, and author of the highly romanticized Mission Play, of which Walter P. Temple was an avid supporter, including financially.

The Homestead’s holdings include about a dozen issues of the publication and tonight’s featured artifact from the collection is the October 1910 edition, but with a specific emphasis on an article by attorney and banker Jackson A. Graves titled “Los Angeles Thirty-Five Years Ago.” Graves, who published an outdoors-themed book with Grafton two years later, followed by the memoirs My Seventy Years in California (1927) and California Memories (1930), these latter published by the press owned by the Los Angeles Times, recollected “entirely from memory, without consulting an authority, newspaper file, or public record” what the Angel City was like when he arrived in June 1875.

His entre into Los Angeles was at a particularly interesting time, as the region’s first significant and sustained period of growth, which began in the late Sixties, was soon to come to a sudden and shocking halt. Born in 1852 in Iowa from Kentucky-born parents, Graves came with his family to California when aged five by ship from New York and through Panama and lived in Marysville and on a ranch near the site of the famous Gold Rush discovery in the Sierras before his parents ran a potato ranch in San Mateo County, south of San Francisco.

He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at St. Mary’s College in San Francisco and then became a clerk in a law firm in that city. When on the principals, James Eastman, headed south to Los Angeles to launch a partnership with Anson Brunson, Graves joined along and, after a year in the Angel City, was admitted to the bar and was made a partner. One of his earliest projects was dealing with the debacle involving the demise of the Temple and Workman bank, which, in a financial panic that gripped the state two months after Graves settled in Los Angeles, failed in January 1876.

Two years later, he hung his own shingle and was the founding treasurer of the Los Angeles Bar Association. In 1880, he formed a partnership with John S. Chapman and, after five years, Chapman left and Graves teamed up with Henry W. O’Melveny, the duo also forming the first building and loan association in the city—their firm still exists as O’Melveny. Specializing in business law and specifically with banks, such as Isaias W. Hellman’s powerful Farmers’ and Merchants’, Graves became a stockholder and director of that financial institution before becoming its vice-president in the mid-Nineties. When it became a national bank in 1903, Graves retired from the law and devoted himself to serving as general manager. From 1920, when Hellman died, until 1931, Graves was president of Farmers’ and Merchants’.

In addition to his myriad business activities, Graves bought a large tract on the Alhambra side (that is, south) of Huntington Drive and raised citrus, having moved there from Los Angeles, where he first resided in a house on a lot that was a gift from his father-in-law to his wife, Alice, at Broadway and Third and then which was moved to Hope and Tenth. He and Alice had five children, three of whom survived him, along with his widow. When he died in 1933, he was widely known as “The Grand Old Man in Los Angeles.”

Antonio Franco Coronel, one of the most prominent Californios of the 19th century, at center, with his very poorly touched-up wife, Mariana Williamson, at the Plaza Church.

He began his recollections by stating that “it is impossible for one who has come to Los Angeles in recent years to imagine its appearance or condition in June, 1875.” He did not know the population, but did state the voter rolls for the county, including what is now Orange County, was just shy of 3,000 persons (Los Angeles may have had up to 15,000 persons according to some sources, but Graves later stated that there were probably 7,000 residents in the city that year.)

In any case, he went on to note that the political scene was dominated, as it had been for close to a quarter century, by the Democrats and he added that “every nominee of that party for county offices in the campaign of 1875 was elected except Thomas E. Rowan, who ran for [reelection as] treasurer. He was beaten by F.P.F. Temple. It took a king’s ransom in money to defeat Rowan, who was very popular.” This was true, as Rowan narrowly bested Temple in the 1873 race, but was very well-liked and respected, as was his opponent.

The Baker Block, formerly the site of El Palacio, the adobe house of Abel Stearns, on Main Street, where U.S. 101 runs through downtown today.

Also mentioned were William R. Rowland, son of Rancho La Puente co-owner John Rowland and first elected sheriff in 1871 at just age 25 (a record that will surely stand the test of time!) and who served two stints in that office, and David W. Alexander, who succeeded Rowland for his second turn as sheriff and who was a close friend of William Workman and F.P.F. Temple. Graves added that “during this campaign I edited for two mohnths a Democratic paper called the ‘Daily Democrat,” which was a hot number.

After relating a humorous anecdote involving a city council member acquitted for malfeasance in office (the other members were discharged before trial), but enraged at being called, from the lines of a poem, “this last rose of summer left blooming alone,” pummeled his lawyer for the offensive characterization, Graves turned to how “things were decidedly primitive in Los Angeles.”

Graves at the age of 23 in 1875, the year he migrated to Los Angeles from San Francisco. Gotta love those muttonchops!

Railroading, for instance, was just emerging from a single local line with new ones by the Southern Pacific and “the road to Santa Monica,” which he said was “started by Senator John P. Jones, who intended to run it to Independence, Inyo County.” It was actually F.P.F. Temple and others who launched the line, but mining magnate Jones took over with his large cash outlays and Temple was moved from president, in favor of Jones, to treasurer (that is, until his bank collapsed—but the Los Angeles and Independence, having run its road to Santa Monica for a brief time, was sold to the Southern Pacific in 1877.) Yet, Graves stated that the SP finished the road, but this was not so, as the L.A. & I. got that branch going in fall 1875. His memory was also faulty in saying that the SP line east through the San Gabriel Valley (and La Puente) only got as far as Pomona—it continued much farther eastward.

As to the fledgling business community, he remembered “all the business of the city was transacted within a short distance of [the] Temple Block. That building and the Pico House were the only three-story buildings of any note in the city if I remember rightly [the Merced Theatre, adjacent to the latter was that height, but, perhaps, of no note!]. The attorney added that “there was no an elevator in town,” a sure sign of primitiveness. He also mentioned the three operating banks: Farmers’ and Merchants’, the Los Angeles County Bank (occupying the former quarters of Farmers’ and Merchants’ and its predecessor, Hellman, Temple and Company, comprising the two namesakes and Temple’s father-in-law, William Workman), and Temple and Workman.

William R. Rowland (1846-1926), the son of Rancho La Puente co-owner John Rowland, the youngest sheriff in county history and owner of the Puente Oil Company.

As for the Temple Block, in addition to its “anchor” tenant, Graves recalled the store of Adolph Portugal, Joe Williams’ s saloon, Samuel Hellman’s book and stationery store, George Pridham’s cigar store, the Wells Fargo office, and the beer hall of Jake Phillipi. There was also mention of the Pico House and Bella Union (St. Charles) hotels, as well as stores, restaurants, and saloons in the Downey Block, which was cater corner to the Temple Block where Temple, Spring and Main streets then terminated.

Some of the businesses mentioned nearby on Main Street included Dillon and Kennealy’s dry goods store; Dotter and Bradley’s furniture emporium; Samuel Prager’s clothing shop; Polaski and Goodwin’s dry goods place; the grocery of Rivara and Sanguinetti; another operated by Eugene Germain and George Matfield; and, in the two-story adobe Lanfranco Block, the grocery of A.C. Chauvin, Heinzeman’s drug store and the Workman Brothers saddle and harness business, with “one of the partners, William H. Workman [the other was Elijah H. Workman, who died in 1906], is still alive. He has been mayor of the city, and its treasurer for several terms.” Also noted was the large and imposing Baker Block (where U.S. 101 runs now), formerly Abel Stearns’ El Palacio adobe residence.

The Charles Ducommun Building at the corner of Main and Commercial streets and featuring his jewelry store, the dry goods store of Charles Prager.

Graves added that wholesalers congregated on Los Angeles Street, includins the dominant firms of Hellman, Haas and Company (forerunners of today’s Smart and Final), and Harris Newmark and his sons. He also observed that “the old court house stood where the Bullard Block is situated.” This was built in 1857 by Jonathan Temple as the Market House for retail purposes, but a poor economy led to its lease and then, after Temple’s death, sale to the county. Graves added that “it housed all of the county officials on the ground floor” while “on the second floor were the court rooms and judges’ chambers,” the latter including district judge Ygnacio Sepúlveda and county judge H.K.S. O’Melveny, father of Graves’ long-time law partner.

Turning to Spring Street, the writer recllaed that “the old jail stood where the Phillips Block now is,” this being on the west side between Temple and First and behind an adobe, leased from Jonathan Temple and occupied as the court house before the Market House was obtained. Newspapers with quarters nearby included the Los Angeles Star on Spring and the Los Angeles Mirror, forerunner of the Times, on the Temple Street side of the Downey Block. Close to these was the Episcopal church (St. Athanasius’), on the corner of the lot of the current county court house, while the high school, opened in 1872, was where the court house building was situated (the school moved to a nearby location in 1891 when the court house was finished.)

The livery stable of Ferguson and Leonard J. Rose (this last later proprietor of Sunny Slope and namesake of Rosemead in the San Gabriel Valley) and the wagon-making establishment of Louis Lichtenberger, also a pioneer brewer, whose Philadelphia Brewery became the Maier Brewing Company. Another early manufacturer of beer was Chris Henne’s New York Brewery, taken over by Philip Lauth. Near this was the distinctive Round House, or Garden of Paradise, which included a beer hall, operated by George Lehman.

Graves detailed the locations of the expansive (and expensive) houses of the business and legal elite, including Hellman, John G. Downey, Cameron Thom, Newmark, O’Melveny and others, and then noted that Broadway between First and Second was then the fashionable residential section of the créme de la créme. Meanwhile, “the hill section of the town was hardly occupied at all.” On the east side, from San Pedro Street and, in some cases, from Main, to the river were orchards and vineyards, with the main citrus growers being the Wolfskills, cose to the Arcade Depot of the Southern Pacific on Alameda near Fourth and extending south, and that of Andres Briswalter and Ozro W. Childs on Main between 9th and 10th (Elijah H. Workman’s expansive property, with a horticultural bent toward experimentation, was in this area, as well.)

The writer noted that “all of the lawyers and doctors and surveyors were housed principally inthe Temple and Downey blocks,” both of these finished at about the same time in the early Seventies. He noted early searchers of records and insurance brokers, butchers and bakers (though not by name,) the sign painter Fred Morsch, and added that lumber yards were on Alameda or San Pedro streets, in proximity to the rail facilities. Joseph Mullally, whose early work included the Rowland House near the Homestead, was the main brick maker and Baker and Bowers (foreunners to the well-known Baker Iron Works of the early 20th century) were the ironmongers, while Jacob Weizel was the “an honest an competent brickmason.”

Graves recorded that St. Vibiana’s Cathedral was in construction (it was completed in 1876) and the Plaza Church (was just as it now is.) Very little was happening south of Fourth between Main and Figueroa, though Jonathan S. Slauson, a banker and real estate speculator “was one of the pioneers in the Figueroa street residence district, along with others like Brunson and the Longstreet family. Quite a bit to the south was Agricultural (now Exposition) Park where fairs and races were held. Streets were unpaved, though some might have some gravel, but “in winter, the streets were a sea of mud” and “in summer dust was to some extent allayed by spasmodic sprinkling.”

He recorded that “in 1875 certainly one-half of the community was Spanish” and continued that “the sheep business was very prosperous in those days” with many Basques (from France and Spain) working that business and some doing quite well financially. He ended his discussion of the city by claiming:

Everybody knew everybody else, and the people seemed to be one great happy family. I think I can safely say that I knew every man, woman and child in Los Angeles within ninety days after I got here.

We’re going to conclude this post with a second part tomorrow as Graves takes us out to the suburbs and outskirts to conclude his reminiscences, so please join us then for more of his interesting tour of greater Los Angeles nearly 150 years ago.

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