A Donation of a Scrapbook by “Bicycle Missionary” Charles Fuller Gates, Los Angeles, 1910s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Almost exactly a year ago, a post on this blog featured a 1907 issue of Pacific Motoring, a journal operated by Charles Fuller Gates, whose thirty years in Los Angeles included advocacy of bicycles, motorcycles and automobiles, as well as his important role in the design of the street signs and markers placed by the Automobile Club of Southern California throughout the region in the early 20th century.

In that post, it was stated that Gates was actually born Carl F. Getz and changed his name before he came to California in the mid-1890s—that information derived from research on Ancestry.com, but which, it turns out, was based, alas, on a misfired connection between one line of pursuit and another, which is not an uncommon failing in genealogy research.

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Charles Fuller Gates.

The reason that came to light, however, is because of a fortuitous circumstance brought about by that post, as Kenny Gates, a Maine resident long engaged in Gates family research, contacted me recently to say that, after seeing the info on this blog, he realized that a scrapbook kept by Charles Fuller Gates really was better off with the Homestead. Consequently, Kenny shipped it out to us and it just arrived. Lo and behold, the first page of the scrapbook conveniently includes a typed autobiographical sketch by Gates written not long before he died in 1930.

The scrapbook is actually a repurposing of a published work from 1911 called Scratches: A Volume of Cartoons and Caricatures of Los Angeles Citizens, issued by the Association of Newspaper Artists and the drawings being from such noted local cartoonists as Edmund “Ted” Gale, widely known for his excellent drawings for the Los Angeles Times. Gates’ news clippings, photos, notations and other elements cover roughly the first half, but the remaining section contains many of the caricatures of prominent figures (white men, naturally), some of which are shared here.

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As for the sketch Gates composed of himself, he noted that he was born in June 1866 on an old family farm just north of the town of Gerry, New York, located in the southwestern part of the Empire State and named after Elbridge Gerry, the fifth vice-president of the United States and the namesake of the term “gerrymandering” because of the redrawing of state senate districts when he was governor of Massachusetts.

He was the youngest child of Henry D. Gates and Emeline Fuller, both New York natives and of English ancestry and stated that he created the positin of bicycle editor for the Detroit Free Press in 1891, though he omitted his experience writing articles for a magazine called The Bohemian and for the Buffalo Express, when he lived in that city. A 1920 feature on Gates published in the Houston Post stated that he developed tuberculosis, which led both to his interest in bicycling, which was emerging as a major popular pastime in America, and his migration to California.

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Gates was briefly in San Francisco, where he was bicycle editor for the city’s Examiner newspaper, but the weather probably was not sufficient for the recovery of his health and, as was the case for so many “health-seekers” of that period, he headed south to Los Angeles, where, he wrote, he began working for the Times in March 1895. He was also featured the following year, as a clipping the scrapbook shows, in Charles F. Lummis’ The Land of Sunshine magazine.

In 1897, Gates, a key member of the Los Angeles Wheelmen organization, established the journal Wheeling, renamed Los Angeles Sportsman, and then, in 1903, Pacific Automobiling, which soon took over Pacific Automobile and became Pacific Motoring during a nine year run through 1913 when the magazine was sold tp Motor News. Gates also operated Pacific Motorcycling, which bcame Western Motorcyclist and Wheelman. Meanwhile, in 1905, , he became the automobile editor of the Los Angeles Express.

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After a stint as state commissioner for the Federation of American Motorcyclists, which he omitted from this autobiograhical statement, Gates was, from 1916 to 1921, the “Bicycle Missionary” for the Cycle Trades of America. He was frequently written about in newspaper articles throughout the country in this role and undertook a tour in 1920-1921 of some 12,000 miles in a Buick “gypsy camp car” throughout the western United States evangelizing for bicycle riding.

Gates added that in 1922 he “returned to newspaper work” and much of this included the reproduction of early photos he took of Los Angeles and environs (bicycling, motorcycling and automobile driving often being featured) in the newly launched Illustrated Daily News, published for several years by Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr. After some thirty years in the Angel City, Gates moved to the San Diego area where he was field editor for newspapers in the suburban communities of La Mesa and El Cajon during the last half of the Twenties.

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Gates on an early bicycle, but likely in the 1910s or 1920s.

The statement ended with the recording of his four marraiges (his constantly being on the move may have contributed to the briefness of his relationships), his residences in La Mesa and a ranch east of there, and his notes that “nevery had any children. Parents, brothers, sisters, all dead. In case of injury or death notify Mrs. Almira Lawhorn Gates, wife,” with her address in the right margin.

Quite a few studio portraits and snapshots of Gates are in the scrapbook, along with clippings from newspapers and magazines discussing his work from the 1890s through the 1920s. One of the pasted-down newspaper articles was from the Birmingham [Alabama] News in April 1919 and it reported that, in 1893, “Mr. Gates was slowly making his way to California because the doctors had given him up as he was supposed to be dying of consumption” and doctors in the Golden State gave him just two months to live. A decade of cycling “in the open air of the mountains and desert brought the consumptive back to life again,” so it was small wonder that he became an evangelist of exercise via two wheels.

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The clipping from The Land of Sunshine includes a photo of Gates with a broad-brimmed hat, stylist mustache and a rose in the lapel of his coat, worn over a turtleneck sweater, with the text by Lummis stating,

Long before I saw the keen, intelligent face of Mr. Charles Fuller Gates, his name had become familiar in the cycling columns of the newspapers, outing magazines, etc. He made a reputation years ago, when connected with Buffalo and Detroit papers and the early cycling journals. In 1893 he went to San Francisco, broken in health, and became cycling editor of the Examiner, starting the “Good Roads” reform on this coast and encouraging the building of cycle tracks everywhere.

The climate did not agree with him, so he located in Los Angeles and became a special writer on the Times. At present he is devoting his entire time to magazine work and correspondence.

The piece went on to note his facility for photography and published articles and illustrations. Another clipping from a Douglas, Arizona sheet from his 1920 tour observed that Gates “began with the bicycle when bicycles had their first appearance [in the early 1880s] . . . but he was also a pioneer with the motor car and motorcycle.” His work for the Cycle Trades of America included “being employed as a press agent and teacher of efficiency for about 60 factories” making bicycles.

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It was added that his “gypsy camp car” included a full-length bed, wardrobe holding seven suits of clothes, a kitchenette with a gas stove, water and lubricating tanks, linen closet, table and desk, ice box, tool chest, fire extinguisher, typewriter “and about everything [the] heart could desire.

A Gates article for the 28 December 1918 edition of the journal Motorcycling and Bicycling offered suggestions for the bicycle trade, including having the right personality for a shop owner, maintaining a clean shop, subscribing to trade publications to stay up on the industry, knowing repair work thoroughly, and others.

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The most remarkable aspect of the scrapbook, however, is the wealth of photographs, presumably mainly taken by Gates. This includes wonderful views of bicyclists, motorcyclists and automobile enthusiasts at outings, races and endurance contests, as well as scenes from various sections of California, such as Los Angeles, Santa Catalina Island, the Panamint mining region, what is now Joshua Tree National Park, and far-flung places like Columbus, Ohio, and New Mexico. A loose cabinet card photograph from 1887 of the Plaza, the historic center of Los Angeles, is great even without a direct connection to Gates and his work.

Just a sampling of the contents is provided here, but they give an idea of the great material found in the book. It is fortunate that Gates was not only a missionary for two and four-wheeled transportation, but that he was a camera enthusiast, though one assumes that he had a large inventory of negatives and prints that were left when he died and who knows what happened to that inventory?

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An 1887 photo of the Plaza in Los Angeles looking southwest Two of the Moreton Bay fig trees planted by Elijah H. Workman are in view, but the one at the far left fell a few years ago, while the one right of center is still standing.

Meanwhile, there is the last half of Scratches and the very interesting caricatures of then-prominent gents in Los Angeles, some of whom might be familiar to readers just over a century later. Los Angeles City Council member and census marshal Bert L. Farmer, for example, is shown with census books and jars marked “Assorted Citizens,” “Mixed Foreigners,” and “Native Sons,” while animals plead “Let Us In Bert” and a hobo implores “Don’t Forget Us Tourists.”

District Attorney John D. Fredericks is shown holding a magnifying glass to a man at the end of something held in his left hand, while a couple of men are trapped in a bird cage. Banker Marco Hellman is greeted by a female customer who cries “This Is Worse Than Waiting At The Church!” and an old man who growls “I Was A Young Man When I Came!”

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County Treasurer J.N. Hunt stands next to a strongbox with piles of money on the ground behind him. Lumber company owner William G. Kerckhoff, who was also a utility executive, stands with a board freshly cut on a rotary saw with his plant behind him. James B. Lankershim stands amidst commercial buildings with strings in his hands connected to them.

Several oilmen are pictured next to their derricks, tanks and other elements of their prospecting, one of these is William B. Scott of Columbia Oil shown at the head of a horse-drawn oil tanker riding through a field and he exclaiming, This Wagon Requires More Oil Than An Automobile By Gosh!”

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Meatpacker Julius Hauser is in front his packing house which belches smoke into the atmosphere while a tiny, thin and not so healthy looking “Mr, Vegetarian” gazes up in wonderment at the entrepreneur. Marco R. Newmark (given the wrong middle initial) stands among products from the family’s long-standing wholesale grocery busines (started by his father Harris decades before), including coffee, flour, eggs, potatoes, and more.

Robert A. Rowan, a prominent real estate developer and builder, who was profiled in a previous post on his blog, is shown with his brothers Paul and Fred at a tabvle on which are tract maps, models of buildings and other items, while a miniature “eastern capitalist” with a checkbook hanging out of a back pocket and a wad of cash in his right hand gazes up at the brothers. Another major land developer, Moses H. Sherman, is shown fishing off the end of a boat while a crew member cautions “Easy, General.”

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These are just some of the vignettes that comprise the last half of the cartoon volume and these only add to the interest embodied in Gates’ scrapbook and its very interesting contents. Many thanks to Kenny Gates for this donation, which is a great addition to the Homestea’s collection, esepcially relating to the early growth and development of the bicycle, motorcycle and automobile industries in greater Los Angeles.

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