Hark! The Herald Angels With the “Happy-Land Edition” of the Los Angeles Herald Sunday Magazine, 19 December 1909, Part One

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

It is a hefty 162-page, 10 1/2″ x 14″ production and the 19 December 1909 edition of the Los Angeles Herald Sunday Magazine is chock-full of interesting material on the Angel City and environs, including general features and Christmas-related content, as well. We’ll divide this post into two parts with the second offered tomorrow.

Notably, the magazine began with a “History of California Oil” by the ironically-named Charles F. Spillman, who noted that “the first effort to develop the petroleum deposits of Southern California and to utilize the vast deposits of oil dates back a great many years,” though he claimed the first oil well’s drilling date was unclear.

It was actually 1865 when the Pioneer Oil Company began its efforts at Pico Canyon in the mountains in modern Santa Clarita just west of today’s Interstate 5, but Spillman also erred when he said that the first producing well was in Santa Paula Canyon in Ventura County. F.P.F. Temple actually had one that briefly yielded crude from a locale in a canyon near the Pioneer well and, in 1876, Star Oil brought in a successful well in the same area, with most accounts suggesting this is when California’s oil industry really got its start.


Moreover, Spillman asserted that “the pioneer of the fuel oil business was Edward L. Doheny” and that one of his contemporaries was Charles Canfield. The two were, in fact, partners in bringing in the first oil well in the Los Angeles Field, just northwest of downtown, in 1892. Yet, there was a successful producer drilled by William Lacy and William R. Rowland, son of Rancho La Puente co-grantee John Rowland, in the Puente Hills seven years before the Doheny/Canfield well.

Almost the rest of Spillman’s article dealt with the highly productive fields of the southern San Joaquin Valley, but not only was almost nothing said about the Los Angeles Field, but he left out Doheny’s next big regional strike, which was at the Olinda Ranch in northeastern Orange County, the first in that section, and which opened what was long known as the Fullerton Field.

There would also be drilling in Whittier and other local areas, but all the writer said was that “Los Angeles has profited greatly [from] the growth of the oil industry, especially in the matter of oil well supplies, which is practically controlled in this city.” He did add that much of the money made in the Angel City was from oil production because the metropolis “is the natural center of business from the oil fields.” Incidentally, within a decade, Walter P. Temple would be the extraordinarily fortunate beneficiary of oil found on his ranch (formerly owned by his father, F.P.F.) near Montebello.


Another notable feature was about South Pasadena with sections on electric railway service, banks, the Woman’s Improvement Club (a charter member of which was short story writer Margaret Collier Graham—though her maiden and married surnames were switched!), churches, the Chamber of Commerce, and others.

Edward W. Sehring, in his discussion of the city’s real estate environment, noted that “for the fastidious we have homesites that are second to none in the entire San Gabriel Valley” and the added advantage of just being twenty-five minutes from downtown Los Angeles and adjacent to Pasadena. Moreover, “there are no saloons or ther places where the younger folks might be kept away from the fireside.” The feature contains many excellent photos of city structures and scenery, as well.


Another highlighted regional community was San Fernando. Naturally, a description of the mission of that name provided the prehistory of the town (though with nary a mention of the indigenous people), yet, strangely, the piece said nothing at all about the establishment of the town by former state senator Charles Maclay in 1874 as the Southern Pacific Railroad line was being built north from Los Angeles to connect with a major line extending to the Bay Area.

In fact, the mission summary was followed by the voting by Angelenos of $23 million of bonds for the Los Angeles Aqueduct, completed just under four years after the magazine was issued, with the main storage reservoir (now Van Norman) and an electrical power plant in Pacoima Canyon situated near the town of some 2,000 residents.


Because of the promise engendered in the Aqueduct project and the anticipated “hearty cooperation” between San Fernando and Los Angeles, “there is now an effort under way to have San Fernando formally incorporated that [commercial building] sites may be secured and given as bonus to the big establishments locating there.”

In addition to the Southern Pacific, it was expected that a railroad would be built from Glendale to La Crescenta and west into the San Fernando Valley and south through San Fernando and Burbank for freight and tourist carrying. The hoped-for result was that “a few years hence will see a city of thousands spread over the broad acres of what is now the little town of San Fernando.”


Sections on land values, including orchard and field crop acreage; the “Intellectual and Moral Side” belying the image of the rural areas of the region as “wild and woolly” and, instead, showing off its good schools and myriad churches; and “Climate and Resorts” naturally indicating that the climate was peerless and without fault, promoted San Fernando as would be expected from such an article and publication.

Among the many photos of city views, houses, schools, churches, and commercial buildings is the impressive “El Descanso,” the mansion of Fred L. and Kate Porter [her father being one of the owners of much of the northern part of the valley including what is now Porter Ranch] Boruff. In addition to the eclectic architecture of the structure, there were expansive gardens, including 6,000 chrysanthemums.


Just after Thanksgiving, this blog published a pair of posts on the history of the eucalyptus tree, including one about the broader story and another focused on the Forest Grove Association, of which F.P.F. Temple was treasurer and whcih planted its grove in modern Downey. This publication also offered a section on the tree with C.L. Reimer given credit for bringing fourteen species of the tree to California in 1856 (this was according to Abbot Kinney, founder of the Los Angeles community of Venice and a promoter of eucalyptus, though other sources suggest a Captain Robert Waterman introduced the tree three years earlier.)

In any case, no mention was made of the Forest Grove Association, whose president and chief promoter was Robert M. Widney, nephew of the San Fernando founder, but much was written about the importance of the eucalyptus for windbreaks and shelter, but lamented it being used for firewood rather than for timber. The piece called for an aggressive planting program in the next three years for the entire state, not just the citrus belt in greater Los Angeles.


Horticulturist Theodore Payne (1872-1963) contributed “Eucalyptus for the Desert” in which he discussed his experientation with the tree at Thermal, southeast of Palm Springs and just north of the Salton Sea. He noted that one variety the Eucalyptus rudis did so well in desert areas that is was designated the “Desert Gum,” though the “Red Gum” or rostrata was deemed “the best all-round species for timbur purposes on the desert.” Several other species were reported to have done well in hotter climes, as well.

A shorter feature of interest is that concerning “The Great Mount Lowe Observatory” and penned by its director Edgar Lucien Larkin, who averred that “no visitor to Southern California should fail to make an ascent to this observatory” which “is one of the leading attractions of the Pacific coast.” With the elevation, reached by the famous Mt. Lowe Railway, and the purity of the air, the observatory was in an ideal location for the definition and measurement of stars, planets and other phenomena so thgat “few observatories in the world have a clearer sky or a location presenting less trouble from air currents and changes.”


Larkin wrote poetically of the effects of observation of both what is in space and what is on earth, including his statements with the former that “the majestic march of the stars is more impressive to the mind in a mountain observator than on the plains.” As for the latter, he gushed that “when a morning opens with clouds, a magnificent scene is sure to be on display soon—the reappearance of the hidden world” as the clouds burn of and the stunning views of the region are exposed.” Then, “at night a scene of terrestrial splendor is on display” with “Los Angeles and Pasadena blazing with a myriad of electric lights.”

One of the several Christmas stories is Guy Thorne’s “Aladdin’s Lamp in a Christmas of To-day” in which John Dryland, a poorly paid London clerk who’d been cast off by his adoptive Aunt Eliza when he married without her blessing, returned to seek financial assistant from the aunt, only to be rejected with a brutal “your wife and children may starve for all I care.”

In one of those innumerable stunning coincidences in fiction, a plumber, Mr. Porter, arrives just after Dryland leaves and, when Aunt Eliza, asks the man where he lives and finds out that his lodgers are none other than the Dryland family and she hears how the plumber loves the children as if they were his own, she concocts a remarkable plan.


On Christmas Day, with the Drylands having no holiday dinner to speak of and with Porter holding his tongue until he produced an Aladdin’s lamp and gave it a vigorous rub. Then a few men arrive and set up the parlor with flowers, lights, silver, and other items and “in two minutes the room was transformed . . . A Christmas dinner undreamed of even in visions of fairyland smoked upon the board.”

This was followed by “two huge stockings full of toys, after which Porter announced the arrival of a fairy “dressed in black, covered with jewels” while “her hair was as white as milk, and a star shone in it.” After kissing the Dryland son, she announced “I ought to have come long ago. But I have been locked up in a cold place for a very long time, Tommy, until Christmas and Mr. Porter came and let me out.” The fairy was, of course, a transformed and repentant Aunt Eliza, a la Ebenezer Scrooge.

A set of cartoons for children representing Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, offer four-line poems with representations cats and dogs at a music rehearsal, with gifts, at dinner and in other situations. For Christmas Eve, the verse reads “On Christmas eve, with eager ear / Behold the Kit-Kat family here / While pa and ma their tales unfold / Of Christmas elves and goblins bold.”


On Christmas morning, the poem is “And here you see the youngsters all / With kit’nish glee and caterwaul, / The gifts from good old Santa Claus, / A load for each small kitten’s paws.” For dacning that evening, the lines are “To close, they have a merry dance, / When pups and kittens gayly prance, / While mistletoe invites the bliss / Of hug, and laugh, and bashful kiss.”

Another holiday story is Ina Leon Cassilis’ “The Dawn of a Christmas Morning” which is similar to th above-mentioned tale in that the Medwin was a poor English farming family with a 20-year old daughter, Marjorie, grieving for a year over her love Edric Erle, who went prospecting gold in the Klondike (that would be in the late 1890s) and died there. The family had no money for a proper Christmas dinner and little for the stockings and of gifts for the younger Medwin children.

Yet, when all awoke on Christmas morning, they were astounded to find the parlor “fairly covered with hampers, boxes and parcels” and which included a turkey, a goose, a ham, bacon, grapes, figs, oranges, cakes, and much more, enough for Christmas dinner and meals for a week besides. While the younger ones assumed it was the bounty brought by Santa Claus, Mrs. Mdwin wondered if Harry Ludham, a local farmer who fancied Marjorie, was responsible.

This beautiful cover was the work of Hernando Gonzallo Villa (1881-1952), one of the few Latino artists with mainstream recognition, albeit limited, in the era, working for some forty years with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, for whom he created the “Santa Fe Chief” emblem.

Later, son Teddie ran in the house from outdoors nd annouced that Santa Claus had arrived and the man walked in muffled in a large fur coat with the collar turned up and a hat covering much of his face. When he flung away his hat, Marjorie cried out and ran into his arms: it was Edric Erle, after all. It was his mining partner who’d died “and was, by error, buried in Edric Erle’s name,” but after recovering from the illness that took his friend’s life, Erle “made my pile” and rushed home.

He’d heard “that Marjorie was still free, so I thought I would play Santa Claus” with some a friend helping him access the Medwin house “and I brought in all the goodies.” Erle then told Mr. Medwin that they’d “put Holly Tree farm on its legs again” as “I’ve a notion to learn farming—and when I know enough take a farm in these parts.” When the Medwins retired, leaving Marjorie and Edric alone, she whispered to him, “A happy Christmas, indeed, and of all the gifts you brought, the dearest, the most precious is yourself—Santa Claus!”

Tomorrow’s second and concluding part of this post will feature more matrial on greater Los Angeles, including on Redondo Beach; an effort to derive heat, light and power from the ocean at Huntington Beach; the Pacific Electric Railway; a Christmas Motor Section; and more holiday fiction. So, please check back in with us for that.

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