Read All About It in the “Los Angeles News”, 20 January 1872

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

One measure of the significant growth of Los Angeles in its first sustained and significant period of growth, a boom, in other words, in the late 1860s and first half of the subsequent decade was the fact that the increase in population was such that, by the latter part of the period, the Angel City could support three English-language daily newspapers, including, for part of this period and aside from the Los Angeles Star and Los Angeles Express, the Los Angeles News, which followed predecessors that, from the early Sixties, published weekly and then semi-weekly.

Tonight’s highlighted object from the Homestead’s holdings is the 20 January 1872 edition of the journal, published by King, Waite and Company, the principals being long-time El Monte resident and attorney Andrew J. King and Alonzo Waite, the latter being manager, while the editor was Charles E. Beane. The paper did not last much longer, however, suspending business in 1873, upon which it was followed by the Los Angeles Herald.

There is a variety of interesting content and advertising in the number, reflective of a variety of issues relating to the development of the city and region, including ongoing debate about the building of railroads. The first local line, the Los Angeles and San Pedro, was completed in 1869, the year the Transcontinental Railroad was completed linking the east and west of the nation.

When the Southern Pacific announced plans to build a line through southern California and to Yuma at the Colorado River, it stated it would bypass Los Angeles. Understandably alarmed, local power players lobbied Congress to force the dominant California railroad company to go through the Angel City as part of the project and our nation’s legislative body so decreed.

The Southern Pacific, however, demanded a subsidy for building through the rugged mountains flanking Los Angeles on its north and, although the details were to be worked out through much of 1872 by local committees, with F.P.F. Temple as one of the prime members, opposition did exist in some significant numbers in the area. This issue of the News, for example, included a lengthy letter from someone only identified as “El Monte” addressing what was called “Arguments of Subsidy Hunters.”

The piece began with the observation that “a favorite argument of the ringin favor of their schemes, is that it will make Los Angeles a great railroad centre” and that “unless we comply with their demands for subsidy that other roads will be built which will divert from us forever the trade of the interior.” The writer labeled these assertions “bald nonsense” because such commerce would flow to the Angel City regardless.

Moreover, there were some areas of the region that would not benefit as claimed. Anaheim was singled out because, it was asked, “does any one imagine that the building of a road between Los Angeles and that city, thirty miles, would prevent the construction of one ten miles long to connect with water transportation at Anaheim Landing, as soon as the wants of the country demand it[?]” The writer added that “it is equally certain that Anaheim Landing will take the trade of the country adjacent.”

Anaheim residents did, a few years prior, create Anaheim Landing, where the newly reoriented (thanks to flooding and irrigation ditches in 1867-68) San Gabriel River empties into the Pacific where Long Beach and Seal Beach meet now. One of the early investors in that wharf project was William Workman, who looked to ship some of his farm products through there rather than via the long-existing port at San Pedro/Wilmington.

“El Monte” also speculated that, while the Southern Pacific would build east from Los Angeles to San Bernardino, why would that preclude another company from constructing a line from the latter to the harbor at San Diego “the best in California, save San Francisco.” Other examples were given, but another thrust of the argument was about cost through subsidies and taxes:

Is it not singular that they are so anxious to have us build roads for them which will not pay expenses? Is it the part of wisdom to increase our already enormous taxes to construct non paying roads, and which will be supplanted by others as soon as the wants of the country furnish the demand? It is by no such stupendous folly that the city of Los Angeles is to be built up.

Any demands, it was claimed, that subsidies were to the benefit of the people at large, rather than “the ring,” was merely a pretext and “to line their own pockets, they are willing to involve the county in financial ruin.” It was claimed that one of the main figures behind a December convention at Anaheim to push for the Southern Pacific project said “Damn the county, I expect to own it yet” when confronted about the cost.

True or not, “El Monte” warned his fellow citizens that “they look to the success of their rascally railroad schemes for the accomplishment of this result.” Burdensome taxation could only mean the loss of small farms, which would be gobbled up by capitalists earning more passive income from tenants. To forestall this anticipated tragedy, the letter closed by calling for “a general signature of the protests against submitting this subsidy question to a vote, where the venal element may overslough [defeat] the honest portion of the people.”

Yet, with aggressive promotion, the subsidy vote was held in November and a solid majority did vote to give the Southern Pacific some $600,000 (5% of the assessed valuation of property in the county) and control of the Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad. The SP built its local line from Anaheim to Florence (South Los Angeles) and from the Angel City east through the Rancho La Puente, then still held mostly intact by William Workman and the descendants of his friend John Rowland, to Spadra (Pomona.)

The railroad company, which finished its northern connection to the Bay Area in July 1876, had a monopoly for more than a decade, but there is no question that the region needed rail connections to survive. It also, however, needed harbor improvements, gradually involving federal appropriations, the first of which at San Pedro/Wilmington involved breakwater construction in 1871-72, to work hand-in-hand with shipping by rail.

After the Boom of the 1880s, largely facilitated by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe transcontinental rail connection, came the Free Harbor Fight of the Nineties, with San Pedro/Wilmington chosen over the SP’s preferred site at Santa Monica for government largesse and the building of the remarkable man-made Port of Los Angeles (followed by the adjacent Port of Long Beach.)

Another issue of concern to the region’s farmers and ranchers was the ongoing conflict over state-mandated fencing laws on properties, with a major point of contention being cattle and other stock damaging vineyards and farms. The News, observing that “the press of the State are nearly unanimous in favor a No Fence law,” cited extensively from another publication’s argument.

Essentially, the concern was that the cost of installing fencing on a 160-acre section would be as much as the price of the land. It was added that there was a scarcity of and, consequently, high prices for lumber for fences. As expressed by the other publication, the News Letter, the result was “making it the duty of the many to raise fences to protect their crops from the cattle of the few.” The idea, it was asserted, was to help foster agriculture, not hinder it, by such a requirement. For William Workman, for example, who owned some 18,000 acres of La Puente, the cost of fencing would be astronomical—$180,000 by the formula of $10 per acre claimed in the article!

In Los Angeles, the News brought attention to the need for the better definition of street lines, something of little concern when the town was sparsely populated, but becoming a greater issue with the influx of new settlers during this first boom. What was needed was a policy for the grading and opening of thoroughfares because:

In the lower [southern] part of the city, and in that section below Fourth, and west of Main Street, the private residences of the future will be erected. These lands are now rapidly appreciating in value, and upon them, during the past year, numbers of valuable private dwellings have been erected.

Therefore, the piece continued, it was vital to have a system of establishing street lines as confusion was such that, speaking of enclosures, “parties have extended their fences as they choose . . . [and] have not been contented with a portion, but actually enclosed entire streets.” The editorial ended with the simple warning that “delay will only aggravate the evil.”

Another indication of the continuing growth of the Angel City and the welcome onset of winter rains was in a short piece titled “Lively Times.” Here, it was observed that, “the large number of vehicles which appear on our streets everyday, is perhaps one of the best indications we have of the faith which the rains has [have] created in the minds of the community.”

Most of the conveyances, it was claimed, were from the hinterlands “bringing the last harvest’s crop into market” or heading back “carrying away seed, farming implements, and other articles necessary for conducting farming operations.” It was added that, the previous day, Commercial Street, which headed east from Main Street just north of the Temple Block where Main, Spring and Temple then intersected, was packed with vehicles so that “it required considerable engineering on the part of the drivers to extricate themselves.”

Still, it was allowed that his sight “of such busy scenes and substantial signs of future prosperity, make the hearts of all our citizens glad.” Eight or nine years before, when a terrible drought wracked the region, crickets invaded in large numbers, and smallpox raged, it was quite a different story in the Angel City and environs. From the boom of the Eighties onward, crowded streets would be a regular conundrum, but also noted as barometers of growth and economic success.

There were other news of note recorded in the News, including the gala dedication of the Los Nietos (Whittier/Santa Fe Springs/Downey) lodge of the International Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.), one of the many fraternal orders of great popularity in 19th century America and of which Elijah H. Workman, nephew of Homestead owners William and Nicolasa Workman, was a member through Los Angeles lodge #35.

Another interesting story concerned the capture of “one of the most notorious horse thieves in this section of the country,” described as “Cerea” Garcia or “The Blackfoot.” Garcia was purported to have been a member of a gang that had their hiding place in “some of the secluded valleys in the adjacent mountains,” though which range was not stated. The prisoner was reported to have returned to the region after his release from San Quentin two years prior.

Garcia was alleged to have stolen a trio of horses, a few nights prior, from Dolores Sepúlveda and that charges would be filed for that crime. Meanwhile, “an expedition is afoot” to find the rest of the gang, with the account ending with the view that “a few captures of such pests to society would not be amiss, and would really be universally appreciated.”

With respect to advertisements, among the new listings was one for a new roller-skating rink on Market Street between Main and Spring—this being a little thoroughfare on the south side of the Market House, built by Jonathan Temple in 1859 and which became the county courthouse. The site today is that of Los Angeles City Hall.

Another was taken out by photographer Valentine Wolfenstein, who claimed his offerings were the best outside of San Francisco and who had hired an unnamed “eminent artist” from one of that city’s prime studios. Elsewhere, however, Wolfenstein took out a notice that he was not responsible for debts contracted by Dudley P. Flanders, previously a partner of William M. Godfrey, and adding that Flanders was an employee, but not a partner as he claimed.

Among the newly opened businesses was wholesale grocer Hellman, Haas and Company, forerunner of today’s Smart and Final; the White House hotel at the corner of Los Angeles and Commercial streets; and the Los Angeles Soap Works on 2nd between Main and Spring. Some business relocated and announced their new quarters, including the store of Caswell and Ellis and Rinaldi and Company’s furniture store.

Female business owners were few and far between, but Caroline C. Burton, an even rarer Black woman entrepreneur, advertised her hair-dressing establishment on Main south of First, while Mrs. H. Shaw promoted her nursery two miles south of town on San Pedro Street. The bank Temple and Workman was just under two months old, having opened in late November, and it was listed above its only commercial banking competitor, Farmers and Merchants, whose managing cashier, Isaias W. Hellman, was formerly their partner.

The most interesting advertisement, however, was one issued on 16 December, just under two months after the horrific Chinese Massacre of 24 October 1871, during which a mob of hundreds of Anglo and Latinx residents stormed the Calle de los Negros near the Plaza and lynched eighteen Chinese males, including a teen. The notice by Yet San Tong was in both Spanish and English and promoted his medical services by stating,

In presenting my merits before the public of Los Angeles, and being one of a race which is not very popular, I hope all prejudice will be set aside. I know that there are many who style themselves Doctors, who have as much right to that title, as I have to that of Emperor.

Yet, however, decried those practitioners without “conscientious scruples” and promised that, if a patient was not cured, there would be no charge for his services. It is a remarkable artifact that could easily be overlooked among the dozens of ads and notices in the paper, but is representative both of the tenuous situation of the small, but growing Chinese community and the tenacity and persistence of its business owners trying to make a living as best they could in a very hostile environment.

This issue of the News is among hundreds of original newspapers in the museum’s collection from the first half of the 1870s and the latter end of that first boom that really help us better understand many aspects of life in greater Los Angeles. Check back for more examples in the Read All About It series of posts.

Leave a Reply