Read All About It in the “Los Angeles Herald,” 13 December 1874

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As has been noted several times in the “Read All About It” series of posts on this blog, one of the best sources of information about Los Angeles when it reached the peak of a growth boom that lasted from the late 1860s through the mid 1870s comes from the Angel City’s newspapers, including, in that latter period, the major English-language dailies, the Express, the Herald, and the Star.

Tonight’s highlighted object from the museum’s collection of a couple hundred newspapers from that era is the 13 December 1874 edition of the Herald, published by the Los Angeles City and County Publishing and Printing Company, of which F.P.F. Temple, one of the major “city makers” of the period, was a director. The issue has some items of interest concerning the future of the San Fernando Valley, Mayor-Elect Prudent Beaudry, and, especially, railroad news.

On the first of these, the building of a Southern Pacific Railroad line north from Los Angeles to connect with one coming south from the Bay Area was a critical part of a program by that company to develop a regional rail system that was essential for the growth of greater Los Angeles. The company secured, in fall 1872, a subsidy of 5% of the assessed property valuation in Los Angeles County (amounting to not far south of $600,000 dollars) and control of the local Los Angeles and San Pedro line to the rudimentary, but recently improved, harbor.

Other lines included one from Florence (South Los Angeles) to Anaheim (part of Los Angeles County until the formation of Orange County in 1889) and through the San Gabriel Valley, including through William Workman’s western portion of Rancho La Puente, to points east, but former State Senator Charles Maclay of San Jose saw opportunity with the northern line and, with partners, acquired the northern half of the Rancho Ex-Mission San Fernando.

Earlier in 1874, Maclay laid out the town of San Fernando adjacent, on the west, to the Southern Pacific line, but there was also a substantial investment in planting much of the ranch to wheat, taking advantage of the fact that the crop could be “dry farmed,” meaning grown without irrigation. This was because, unlike the comparatively well-watered San Gabriel Valley, which had access to water coming down from what was then known as the Sierra Madre Mountains, the San Fernando Valley was much more barren. William Workman, though, also dry farmed some 5,000 acres of wheat and built, about 1867, a mill near the confluence of the San Gabriel River and San José Creek to make flour.

The paper reported that “from the figures furnished by Senator Maclay, we estimate that not less than 200,000 bushels of wheat will be harvested in [the] San Fernando Valley next season” stating that there were some 5,000 acres sown to the crop and from which an estimated 40 bushels were to be yielded per acre. It added that “this immense bulk” was of a magnitude not seen “since the days of the Padres” and the growing of wheat by the missions, like San Gabriel (on Rancho La Puente, in fact) and San Fernando.

Beyond this, “the San Fernando people will cultivate a large number of acres in barley, rye and corn,” including many thousands of bushels of the first. Aside from Maclay, the proprietors of the southern half of Rancho Ex-Mission San Fernando, the Lankershim and Van Nuys partnership, established some five years prior, was primarily invested in crop farming and almost certainly provided the majority of the acreage and yield stated by the Herald.

With respect to the new mayor, the paper took its rival, the Express, to task for its claims that “Mr. Beaudry is one of the schemers who are seeking to locate the railroad depot on the East side of the river,” this referring to the new Southern Pacific station, which previously worked out of the small Los Angeles and San Pedro depot at Alameda and Commercial streets, but which the City of Los Angeles wanted located to the north where Los Angeles State Historic Park today is located in the Chinatown area.

The Herald took to reprinting the verbatim minutes of a recent Common (City) Council meeting showing that Beaudry remarked “that $75,000 in bonds of the railroad company held by the city had been delivered to the company on the very condition that the depot be removed to the new grounds purchased and donated by the city.” This was verified by a written agreement between the SP and the City and “the lumber for the building was already on the ground and work had been commenced.”

Elsewhere, the paper commented on “The Depot Question” and claimed that the Express was in support of having that contract annulled. Moreover, it asserted that its contemporary “received a retainer” in the matter, while the Herald opined that “we have no doubt that if left to consult their own interest the railroad company would prefer to locate the depot on the other [east] side of the river” because it would mean a lesser amount of track it would have to build and because it had its machine shop there. The River Station, as it was known, was built in 1876 when the line north was completed, ushering in a new era for Los Angeles through that link.

The big news of the day, however, was the extensive (nearly three columns) summary of a mass meeting held the prior day to promote the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad (LA&I), which was formed in April 1874, just after ex-Governor John G. Downey, State Senator Benjamin D. Wilson and Temple, who became its president, were among the incorporators of a charter voted by the state legislature for a railroad that was to go from the Angel City to the Inyo County seat and tap into the silver mines then booming in the mountains separating the Owens Valley from Death Valley.

The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce called for the 2 p.m. gathering outside the east entrance to the courthouse (situated in the Market House bilt by Joathan Temple,F.P.F.’s brother, in 1859). A platform was built and a map 12 feet by 12 feet “was raised upon a framework so as to be in full view of the assemblage” and, while the weather was cool and cloudy, “several hundred citizens were congregated about the speakers’ platform” and the meeting called to order by Chamber President Solomon Lazard. Wilson was named president of the meeting, with Downey and Benjamin L. Peel vice-presidents, and William W. Robinson secretary.

Downey gave the first oration and lamented that the crowd was not larger “on an occasion of such vital import to the people of our section of the State.” The former governor told the crowd that “an immense trade lies within our reach, if we will only seize upon it by building this road.” The concept was not just tap the mining regions of Inyo County, but the road “looks strongly to Salt Lake City,” or, more precisely, Ogden and a connection to th trancontinental rail line, finished a half-decade prior. It was added:

If we build the road, we make Los Angeles a city of vast commercial importance; if we do not, we will sink into a little insignificant pleasant town.

The next speaker was Dr. Andrew S. Shorb, a distant cousin of Wilson’s son-in-law, James de Barth Shorb and who’d settled in Los Angeles and hung his shingle there in 1871. His “forcible and eloquent” remarks included calling for a narrow gauge, rather than a broad, or standard, one for the line because “it was to be built cheaply and operated honestly and railing against monopolizing railroads given large subsidies (i.e., the SP). He concluded that it was important to see “the narrow gauge railroad as a powerful instrument in hands to break down the old monopolies” and such a road was required between Los Angeles and Independence.

When Shorb finished, Piepenberg’s Brass Band, set up across Main Street from the meeting, offered “some fine music, playing a patriotic air” and then it played briely between th following speakers, next of which was John McConnell, former state Attorney General and the loser of the 1861 gubernatorial election to the SP’s Leland Stanford. He noted that, when he left Illinois for the Gold Rush, he sold his land in Illinois for $7 an acre, but, when the railroad went through nearly two decades later, it went for about $100.

McConnell added that the importance of tapping the silver mines of eastern California was obvious and that “Los Angeles stands in the same position to-day that San Francisco held in 1848” in at it was on the cusp of an enormous period of growth in the Panamint mining region, much less the direct connection to Salt Lake City and then Chicago and New York if the rail line was built.

The next orator was Horace Bell, who was not then particularly prominent, though his 1881 memoir, the oft-fantastical Reminiscenses of a Ranger has assured Bell a legacy beyond his work as an attorney, developer and prickly journalist (his newspaper was, after all, called The Porcupine.) Downey did introduce Bell “as a gallant soldier who had turned his sword into a plowshare, and was now working with us in developing our country.” Bell went into some history, noting that the first effort to build trade in the interior was in 1855, not long after he joined the Los Angeles Rangers paramilitary group and volunteered under Wilson to pursue hostile Native Americans, in a modest $1,500 subscription to build a wagon road through Newhall Pass.

Bell continued “if we work together actively and energetically, we can build the Los Angeles and Independence railroad without the assistance of foreign [outside] capital” and cited Indianapolis, the capital of his home state, as a paramount example of a major transformation through railroad endeavor. He concluded by urging hearers “let us all enlist under the banner of unity and march on, shoulder to shoulder, to success.”

County Judge Henry K.S O’Melveny was intduced by Downey and told the assemblage, “the location of Los Angeles fits her for the commercial centre of southern Nevada [Las Vegas did not exist for some thirty years yet], perhaps the whole of Arizona, and all of Southern California below Bakersfield.” He called on those who (William Workman, for example) owned ranches of tens of thousands of acres and “who don’t know how rich they are” to divide and sell their properties to allow for more agricultural development to be served by the railroad, which along with others, would ensure tht “Los Angeles will be a city of importance in the commercial world.”

After LA&I engineer James U. Crawford explained the route of the line to the row using the map, a letter was read by Secretary Robinson from Dr. Charles W. Bush, the State Senator representing the Los Angeles area, who apologized for not being able to be present, but who wrote “the movement has my approbation and sympathy . . . I have regarded it as one of the most important measures for Southern California that ever engaged the attention of our people.” Having helped to secure the charter’s passage in the legislature, Bush concluded by expressing “my hope now is that the road will be speedily built.”

Resolutions were drafted, including the assertions that the mining output of eastern California, the commercial and agricultural interests of the counties of Inyo, Los Angeles and San Bernardino and the importance of linking to the transcontinental railroad were such that a committee should immediately be appointed to secure persons in the three counties “to solicit subscriptions in aid of the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad.”

The five men included Downey, Temple, Wallace Woodworth, Eugene Meyer, and Henry D. Barrows and, while earnest efforts were made to raise the funds needed for the project locally, Nevada Senator John P. Jones, a mining mogul and founder of the new town of Santa Monica, became the majority investor and took over the presidency of the LA&I, with Temple relegated to treasurer.

With Jones’ substantial financial involvement, a branch line was built first to Santa Monica, with some grading started east of Los Angeles and at Cajon Pass, where a tunnel was partially built, before the state’s economy collapsed in August 1875, after which the Temple and Workman bank failed. Though the Santa Monica line opened that October, the company struggled and the SP purchased it in 1877, ensuring its local monopoly in local railroads for almost a decade until the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe completed its transcontinental link and the much larger Boom of the Eighties ensued.

There are other small items of interest in this issue of the Herald, including the opening of a stationery and book store by Miss C.M. Turner, one of the few women business owners in the Angel City then, and whose business was promoted by the paper for “a fine assortment of stationery, toys, etc.” as well as holiday gifts. F.P.F. Temple was also thanked for grading and paving with crushed rock as a base and light stone on the surface the portion of Spring Street in front of his Temple Block, between the intersection with Temple and Main on the north and the courthouse on the south.

Alfred S. Addis, the proprietor of the Cottage Photograph Rooms across from the Pico House hotel on Main Street, offered his business for sale as “just the thing for a young man of small capital” and even offered to give the buyer “instructions in the art” until he had to take on other buiness in March. Addis’ talented daughter, Yda, was then making a major impression for her literary talent, but would go on to lead a tremendously tragic life, covered extensively in this blog.

Finally, there is a brief note that the Presbyterian Church’s parishioners “are making arrangements for a Christmas tree and social gathering” at the Good Templars’ Hall (that being a temperance, or anti-alcohol, society—Yda Addis was a member) on Main Street between Temple and First on Christmas Eve. There are also a few advertisements from businesses selling Christmas gifts among those shared here.

As noted above, there are a good number of original 1870s newspapers in the Homestead’s holdings which help us get a better understanding of life in Los Angeles and its environs during this important era in the region’s history, so look for more entries in the “Read All About It” series based upon them.

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