by Paul R. Spitzzeri
During the peak of Los Angeles’ first period of significant and sustained growth, lasting from the late 1860s through the mid 1870s, the city’s newspapers remain a major source of information, as well as breathless boosting that often does not reflect reality, about its rapid development. The “Read All About It” series of posts on this blog have frequently featured issues of such sheets as the Star, the Express and the Herald, the three daily newspapers with the largest circulations among the area’s residents.
Tonight highlights the 14 October 1874 edition of the Herald, founded by Charles A. Storke of Santa Barbara but who then lost the paper to creditors as the financial picture quickly went bad. The sheet was then owned by The Los Angeles City and County Printing and Publishing Company, among whose stockholders was F.P.F. Temple, son-in-law of Homestead owners William and Nicolasa Workman and who was one of the main capitalists of the Angel City.
The company did not exist long and the paper soon passed into other hands, but survived for decades, being secretly acquired in 1911 by media magnate William Randolph Hearst and then merged with the Los Angeles Express two decades later. In 1963, the paper combined with the Los Angeles Examiner and the Herald-Examiner survived another quarter century before folding in November 1989.
In this edition, one of the main editorial items of interest had to do with “Wilmington Harbor” where the old port at San Pedro, which was very rudimentary, was boosted by the efforts of Phineas Banning and his “New San Pedro” which became Wilmington, named after his Delaware hometown. An ardent Republican at a time when local politics was dominated by Democrats, Banning managed to secure government support for his enterprise, including the locating of Camp Drum at Wilmington during the Civil War.
After that conflict’s conclusion, his goal of turning San Pedro/Wilmington into a man-made port was boosted by the completion of the Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad, which he developed with other local capitalists and which was a far cry from the transport of people and goods by wagon and stagecoach (the young Banning started by just such an endeavor after arriving in the area in 1853). This first local railroad was completed in 1869, the same year as the nation’s transcontinental line, and two years later, the first federal appropriation of funds for improvements, mainly in the form of dredging and a badly needed breakwater, were made for the port facility.
The editorial began by noting that “a great deal has been said about Wilmington harbor—a great deal in which ignorance, jealousy and disregard of facts were more conspicuous than knowledge of the question discussed.” It was added that there were many who denied that a good facility could be developed there, but the paper dismissed “these sapient gentlement” who offered such critiques “as if they were based on a thousand years of experience and a million years of scientific study.”
Instead, it went on, the evidence clearly showed “that an excellent harbor will soon be completed at Wilmington” as business at the port led to railroad company “to take steps toward increasing their facilities for moving the freight which passes over the wharf.” This included the extension of the track into deepwater (as early as 1864, locals including Banning, Temple and Workman were exploring a rail line out to Deadman’s Island).
The piece continued that this concept was developed by Albert A. Boschke, a native of Prussia, whose dredging apparatus led the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to contract with him for work at Wilmington. It was added that a channel fifteen feet deep was to be created from the wharf of the railroad company to deepwater and it was noted that
This sort of offer from an experienced engineer, who is now engaged in dredging in the same quality of earth through which the channel is to be excavated demonstrates that the work of dredging Wilmington Harbor is not difficult, and that once the harbor is completed no serious difficulty in the way of filling up need be apprehended.
Boschke and his family became resdents of Smith’s Island and then Rattlesnake, renamed Terminal, Island, both of which became peninsulas because of improvements, for decades. The initial federal investment at San Pedro/Wilmington was followed in ensuing years by more and larger appropriations and the “Free Harbor Fight” of the 1890s led to the selection of the port over the Southern Pacific’s Santa Monica harbor as the one that would receive the largesse of the federal government.
Today, the Port of Los Angeles occupies 7,500 acres, has twenty-five cargo terminals and six rail yards, and handles over 9 million containers a year with well over 90% of trade coming from Asia, mostly from China. When combined with the Port of Long Beach, the pair constitute the ninth-largest facility in the world with a market share on the west coast of nearly three-quarters of all cargo handling.
On the editorial page was a short piece concerning fuel in the Los Angeles area and, while there was some discusion about how timber could be grown, given that natural stocks were low, the emphasis was on using “our chief stock of fuel,” this being the brea, or tar, found at such locales as the tar pits on the Rancho La Brea or at Brea Canyon in the eastern end of Los Angeles County. From the “several inexhaustible mines,” it was pointed out, “the gas works in this city [across from the Pico House hotel and south of the Plaza Church] are using a considerable amount of brea, and a few farmers are running engines with it.”
The Herald prognosticated that “in time all of our steam machinery will be run with brea, and we predict that it will supercede coal wherever any considerable amount of heat is required.” Yet, the paper concluded that , when it came to wood, “for culinary and domestic purposes the supply of wood is ample, and will always equal the demand.” What, of course, it could not foreseen was that the tar deposits were just surface indications of the massive stores of oil and gas that lay below and which would become the source of enormous extraction efforts in subsequent years.
As for local news, the “brevities” section contained an item relating to the Bellevue Terrace subdivison of Prudent Beaudry, a real estate developer who would soon be mayor of Los Angeles. Just as the Angel City was poised to begin its first boom, Beaudry, in 1867, bought up large tracts in the hills southwest of the town’s core as he had grand plans for what became Bellevue Terrace.
Central to this, of course, was the ability to delivery reliable supplies of water to the tract, so the report stated that “a stream of water from Mr. Beaudry’s system of of [sic] water works was kept in play on Bellevue Terrace yesterday for irrigating purposes.” Six-inch pipes delivered the precious fluid, which was “ejected through a one-inch nozzle throwing a stream to the distance of sixty feet.” The display led the Herald to exclaim that “this on the heretofore ‘barren’ hills was quite a refreshing site.” Within several years, the tract included fine houses, the state Normal School for education (where the Central Public Library was built in 1926), and other elements, with Sixth Street Park (Pershing Square) just to the east.
A separate new item concerned the Spring and Sixth Street Railroad, the city’s first rapid transit line, albeit with a car drawn by a single horse ferrying passengers through the expanding downtown of the city. The company, which was established by Robert M. Widney, who served as president while F.P.F. Temple was its first treasurer, completed its first section of track in 1874, but the article in this issue concerned an extension.
It was explained that Widney took a Herald representative out and they “rode over the line of the northern extension as far as the new depot grounds.” This was what became the River Station of the Southern Pacific railroad, opened just as the line from the Bay Area was built through the San Fernando Valley and then entered the city. Today, the site is the Los Angeles State Historic Park. More specifically, it was pointed out that
About twenty laborers are now engaged in grading and laying track . . . from the present terminus of the road at the Pico House to the point above Sonora[town] where the new franchise commences, the rod-bed proper is entirely graded . . . about one-half of the track has been laid along the line granted by the first franchise, and the whole of it will probably be completed next week.
There were still some details to be worked out with the Common [City] Council regarding grade standards in Sonoratown, this being the area north ofthe Plaza, and Widney told the paper “that another car for the road is nearly completed in the works at San Francisco” and would soon be shipped south. It was hoped the extension would be completed before the winter rains and plaudits were offered for “the activity and thoroughness which the managers of the road have displayed” with the expectation that there would be appreciation for “the advantages whgich the enterprise gives to Los Angeles.”
Another article of interest concerned a resolution made to the directors of the Chamber of Commerce by prominent business figures such as the fim of Caswell and Ellis and Isaias W. Hellman concerning “the great commercial importance to Los Angeles of controlling the traffic and freights to [the] Panamint Mining District.” Panamint was established the prior year in the mountains on the west edge of Death Valley and the document called for efforts to be made to secure a better route for those traveling to the mining area from the Angel City.
It was decided to have a special committee look into the matter, which came as silver mining speculation in that area of Inyo County in eastern California was at a frenzy, including at Cerro Gordo, where F.P.F. Temple (who also was prospecting for oil in what is now Santa Clarita) pursued a project to deliver water from a springs to the mines, but, in spring 1875, the springs dried up and this economic disaster came not long before a statewide panic that included the collapse of the Temple and Workman bank.
If street railroads, oil drilling, and mining and water projects weren’t enough for Temple’s agressive agenda, he was also a major developer of commercial buildings in downtown Los Angeles, centered around his Temple Block, located at the triple intersection of Main, Spring and Temple streets and which was developed by his half-brother, Jonathan, until the younger Temple acquired the property after Jonathan’s death in 1866.
The Herald published a piece on “The New Postoffice Building” erected by Temple, stating that “many are no doubt curious to know what kind of a structure it will be.” A reporter met with architect Edwin J. Weston, who designed several buildings constructed by Temple, and Weston provided details about the two-story brick structure, built next to the Herald office on the west sign of Spring Street across from the County Courthouse (built in 1859 by Jonathan Temple) and just a bit south and west of the Temple Block.
The building, measuring 48×80 feet, was to be “of the modern Italian style of architecture” and to include “a heavy cornice and entablature, with brackets, and a Grecian pedimnt rising from the centre. The window caps will be blocked and stuccoed” while the second floor was to have “a balcony [that] will extend the whole length of the building on the street.”
That upper story was to be used as a Grange Hall for the organization representing local farmers with the space to include reception rooms for women and men at the rear and the hall at the front measuring nearly 2,400 square feet and with 16-foot ceilings and which was to “be the most commodious and comfortable hall of the kind in the city.” The article concluded by stating that “It is the design of Mr. Temple to have the building completed and ready for occupancy by the close of the present year. When finished it will be one of the most tasty [tastefully] and elegant structures inthe city, and well worthy [of] the prominent place which it will occupy.”
This period found Los Angeles as a major spot on the circuit for various forms of entertainment along the Pacific Coast and there were several venues for residents to see and hear theatrical performances, concerts and other presentations. The Merced Theatre on Main Street next to the Pico House, Stearns Hall in the Arcadia Block on Los Angeles Street, and the hall in the courthouse building that was originally the Temple Theatre but was long known as City Hall, were among the most prominent, but there was also the Turn-Verein Hall, located on Spring between 2nd and 3rd streets.
The Herald ran a feature on the third of four nights of performances by Marshall’s Royal Tycoon Troupe of Japanese Acrobats and it was reported that the venue “was again filled to its utmost capacity” with the audience to “witness the wonderful performance” of the acrobats. Among the acts mentioned was the “tree-and-ladder trick” that “as a feat of strength and at the same time an exhibition of nice balancing, it is seldom if ever surpassed.” Another was the balancing of a Japanese umbrella on the feet, with “Yasu Geero” handling this exhibition of deftness.
A performer known as “Too Coo Zoo” gave what were called “very creditable tight-rope performances,” while juggler “Titz Sabro” “executed a little bit of magic with bits of tissue paper, which he sustained in the air by means of a fan and made to go through the various motions of flying butterflies.” A top-spinner, identified as “Uma Ketchie,” was said to have “performed some curious tricks, while “first, last and all the time little All Right was the most popular with the audience, being, as the ladies say, “cute,” as well as exceedingly apt in all of his parts.” Troupes of Japanese acrobats were found throughout this period, not long after American naval forces, in 1854, pushed the Japanese out of centuries of isolation, though the island nation chose, in distinction to other countries like China, to aggressively modernize to avoid Western dominance.
As always, it is interesting to see advertisements for local businesses, real estate developments and entertainments and a few selections are offered here. With a few hundred issues of period newspapers in the Homestead’s holdings, we’ll continue to spotlight examples from time-to-time in the “Read All About It” series, so look out for future featured numbers.