Read All About It in the Los Angeles Star, 24 November 1875

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

It was a troubling time, with the state’s economy having gone into a downturn after a crash in late August and, in Los Angeles, the Temple and Workman bank in suspension for two months because of a run by depositors that exposed the low cash reserves in the institution. On 20 November, after lengthy negotiations, the bank’s president F.P.F. Temple wrote from San Francisco to his partner and father-in-law William Workman to inform him that a loan was arranged with Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, but “on rather hard terms.”

Temple immediately returned to the Angel City to make preparations for the bank’s reopening while Baldwin’s money was to be sent via a heavily guarded stagecoach and the question was whether the closure, in effect since the 1st of September, would have a permanent adverse effect on the bank’s viability or if depositors, creditors and the community at large would have enough faith in it for the institution to survive.

Today’s featured artifact from the museum’s collection does not directly refer to the bank, given that arrangements were in process and the reopening would not happen for nearly two weeks, but the Los Angeles Star of 24 November 1875 has other items of interest. One of these involved a national question that was eagerly looked forward to by many Americans, this being the celebration of the centennial of the Declaration of Independence at Philadelphia in the spring and summer of 1876.

The paper’s editorial section discussed the fact that planning was far enough along that “success begins to be assured” though one of the major cocnerns was “the accommodation of the hundreds of thousands of visitors who wish to visit Philadelphia, between April and October. It was stated that railroad companies were preparing with special excursion rates and growers of fruit and vegetables started their plans the past summer “for the extraordinary demand which they anticipate for their products.”

Notably, there were those who felt that many attendees would rather stay in New York than in the City of Brotherly Love and take the train down for the day, so special “exhibition trains” were to be organized “at hours that will enable the transient or habitual New Yorker to ‘do’ the Centennial between breakfast and tea.” A Centennial Lodging House Agency sought out homeowners willing to provide room and board to attendees and payment was to be made by tickets or coupons sold in major American and European cities with railroad agents assisting visitors in finding their accommodations.

One of the hordes of visitors for the Centennial was John Harrison Temple, son of Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple and who completed his high school education, followed by graduation from the Bryant and Stratton business school in spring 1876, in Massachusetts. After visiting Philadelphia, he returned home to find that the family’s financial situation was in tatters due to the failure of the Temple and Workman bank in January and pending foreclosure and bankruptcy proceedings.

As for local news, the major article concerned the fifth annual horse races held at Agricultural Park, established at the southwestern corner of Los Angeles city limits and which is now Exposition Park. The piece began with the observation that:

Men and women are, in some respects, like horses—they have to be warmed up to go. We have noticed this to be the case particularly in people attending races . . . the attendance at an exhibition of this kind is generally small the first day, and increases day by day, as the people get warmed up and excited.

It added that , while there were some $1,300 in purses for the first day, proceeds at the gate were under $200, though the second day showed twice as much taken in through admission than handed out in purses. It was assumed that the third day, on the 24th, would bring in $800 in receipts as the purses diminished further. It was assumed that newspaper coverage boosted attendance as well as “the warming up of those who like the contests of the turf.”

As for the prior day’s proceedings, it was reported that “yesterday was a very beautiful day, the roads wer in fine condition, and the track in superb order. The grand stand and Club House were well filled, and the races were exciting and desperately contested. Among those entering racers were Leonard J. Rose of what is now Rosemead in the San Gabriel Valley, some sportsmen from San Francisco, and local Californios such as Francisco P. Forster, whose mother was a Pico and whose father was an English emigrant and who was raised near San Juan Capistrano; A.F. Machado, whose family was prominent in the coastal area west of Los Angeles; and Francisco Pico, nephew of former governor Pío and prominent former general Andrés.

The first tace, comprised of trotting horses, was won by “George Treat,” entered by A.P. Smith, after seven heats, and it was considered “the most superb and most exciting trotting contest ever witnessed in this part of California.” Chief judge James G. Eastman, one of the city’s prominent lawyers, was hailed as “by far the most capable presiding judge we had ever had in the stand” being “firm, fair, genteel and liberal, and thoroughly posted in all the rules” of state and national horse-racing associations.

For the second race, sevn two-year old horses competed in a mile-long dash and the expected bunching and then gradual separating occurred at each marker before two animals were left to battle it out. The Star offered that the stretch run “was one of those living pictures that must be witnesses to be appreciated” and that “both riders whipped their nags and both fillies did their level best.” Lady Fleet, Pico’s horse, pulled ahead and won by almost a length, while San Diego resident George A. Johnston’s filly was the runner-up.

The entrants for the 24th included one by Arthur J. Hutchinson of what became Pomona, an owner from Santa Barbara and five from Los Angeles. One of these latter was Adolfo Celis, who was acquitted in the criminal case brought against several men accused of murder in the horrific Chinese Masacre of 24 October 1871. Celis went on to become a volunteer firefighter and was deputy sheriff to George Gard when, in 1883, he accidentally shot himself on a hunting tip with the sheriff and died almost immediately.

There was a hurdle race, followed by a dash and then a pacing contest open to all comers scheduled for that day. Elsewhere the paper offered that the hurdle race was “the sensation of the town” and the first of its type purportedly held in the state, so that all vehicles in Los Angeles were reserved for those to attend. It added that a fine dinner could be had for a dollar at the Club House, or, for cheaper fare, cold cuts and oysters were available at a restaurant under the grandstand.

Other local entertainment included the appearance of Herrmann, a “prestidigitateur,” or magician, at Turn Verein Hall, a German social venue on Spring Street. Known for his “fresh accumulaton of unaccountable and unapproachable mystifications, the conjurer was said to have performed to a full house the prior evening and the paper reported that “it was the largest and most fashionable and best entertained audience ever seen in Los Angeles.”

Readers were encouraged to see “the superb master” that evening because “few will ever again have an opportunity of seeing such a wonderful sleight of hand performer.” Moreover, “Professor” Herrman was offering, for three nights, to introduce to Angelenos “the great spiritualistic medium Mademoiselle Addie, who, by the aid of the spirit, has astonished” audiences elswhere.

Also, brought up were reports from the relatively new town of Orange, which, as with many areas of the region that grew during a several-year boom that was just then ending, was looking to open a public library (Los Angeles opened its own three years prior, with Thomas W. Temple, eldest child of Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple, as a founding trustee), and seeking a bill from the state legislature permitting it to seek bonds for a $10,000 school house. Also reported was a meeting of a new bar association for the city’s legal fraternity, but this effort son failed and a permanent organization was finally accomplished three years later.

Finally, the Thanksgiving Day holiday was to be celebrated at the soon-to-be-completed Methodist Episcopal Church on Fort Street, later renamed Broadway. The Star noted that everything was finished on the structure except the painting and that it “will be lighted with patented sun reflectors, now so much in use in all fine churches.” Seats were from a company in Illinois and Brussels carpets were ready to be laid and it was added that “when finished, the building and furnishing will cost near $14,000,” all of which came from subscriptions by the congregation and none solicited from the public at large.

The exception was the carpet, for which “the ladies of the church have determined to give a public dinner in the new church on Thanksgiving day, from 11 A.M. to 7 P.M.” A dozen tables, with a separate arrangement for children, were to be set with a church member to wait on each. “Family dinners will be served, and tables reserved for parties at any hour, it notice is sent in.”

There were forty turkeys ready to be prepared and more in reserve if needed and the paper reported that “several hundred persons have already secured seats for different hours of the day” with 120 able to be served at any one time. For those coming back from the races, a provision was made and “the evening will be enlivened by a social and literary entertainment in the old church, adjoining the new building” so that “even the most crusty bachelor will give thanks that the ladies invented Thanksgiving dinners.

The Homestead’s collection of several hundred 1870s Los Angeles newspapers help provide us a sense of life in the growing city during and after its first significant and sustained period of growth and do so in ways not easily found otherwise. Look for future examples of these great sources of historical material in future entries in the “Read All About It” series. Finally, all of us at the Homestead wish you and yours the best of the holiday, however you celebrate it in giving thanks to whatever you are thankful for.

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