by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It was six months yet before the stunning news traveled the telegraph wire from San Francisco that the Bank of California, the state’s largest, collapsed under the weight of massive debt incurred in the burst of a stock bubble involving silver mining in Virginia City, Nevada and sent Angelenos into a panic that included a run on the Temple and Workman bank, which soon failed, and foretold a decade or so of economic malaise.
But, as February 1875 inched towards its close, a boom, which was inaugurated in the late Sixties, was still very much on in the Angel City and environs and, among our best sources of information about this period, are Los Angeles newspapers. Today’s featured artifact from the museum’s holdings is the 20 February issue of the Los Angeles Herald, which offers a variety of interesting content to better help us understand the era and place.
One of the many development projects underway in the region was the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, which initially had F.P.F. Temple, the head of Temple and Workman, as its president before United State Senator from Nevada, John P. Jones, purchased a majority interest in the company’s stock and took the top office, with Temple relegated to treasurer. While there were high hopes early on that local money alone could fund the narrow-gauge road, to terminate at the Inyo County seat of Independence near silver mine boom towns like Cerro Gordo, in which Temple was heavily invested, Jones was definitely needed to make the project viable.
The senator, however, was not only interested in his own mining operations in eastern California, specifically Panamint (with the other Silver State senator, William M. Stewart,) but he recently began developing plans for a seaside resort town directly west of Los Angeles, an early version of which was named Truxton, by predecessor Edward F. Beale, whose son bore the unusual first name. When Jones took control of the L.A.& I, his priority was in getting a branch line built to the coast where Santa Monica was soon to be established.
The Herald ran a small piece called “Going Ahead,” which informed readers that “renewed confidence is manifested in the successful carrying out of the enterprise” because it was reported that “active operations” were underway both at Truxton and at the Cajon Pass, through which the line was to run. The paper added that the news was of note to everyone in the area and that “the task of persuading people to become stockholders in the road is not as difficult as some weeks ago.”
Moreover, James U. Crawford, the L.A. & I.’s crack engineer was, the Herald noted, “pushing ahead with his surveys as rapidly as the nature of the work will permit,” and his alertness and decisiveness was crucial at the beginning of the year when he barely got to Cajon Pass and began surveying before the mighty Southern Pacific could get there to stake its claim to the vital access point (used by the Workman family in their overland migration from New Mexico nearly 35 years before) to greater Los Angeles.
Given these efforts, it was concluded that “everything indicates a determination on the part of the managers to redeem the promise that the road will be completed to Cajon Pass within five months from this date.” The route east from Los Angeles was, in fact, to pass through the San Gabriel Valley and the Rancho La Puente, owned by William Workman and the widow and children of John Rowland, who died in October 1873.
While it was asserted that “if the people render that assistance they should, the road will be speedily built,” it was the Santa Monica branch that was rushed forward, though that line did not open until the fall, just after the panic and a few months before the failure of Temple and Workman. Some grading and tunneling was undertaken at the pass, but that was all that was done east of Los Angeles and the L.A. & I. was sold to the Southern Pacific in 1877 as the economic picture darkened for the company and the area generally.
Another core component of regional development was in the establishment of new towns in the suburban areas surrounding Los Angeles. Downey, Norwalk and San Fernando were a few recent examples and, in 1875, were followed by Centinela, Artesia and Pomona. The first of these was established a firm that counted F.P.F. Temple as its president and which held a sale of lots just several days before this issue was published, while its ad was on the back page of this edition of the Herald. In the “Local Brevities” section, it was pointed out that the recent sale totaled 4,185 acres and 337 town lots realizing $137,000 to the firm along with “considerable outside speculation” by buyers.
The latter pair were established by the Los Angeles Immigration and Land Co-operative Association, incorporated in December 1874 and a previous post here discussed the land sale that was to be held at Artesia from the 23rd through the 25th. A short article promoting the development noted that:
Several hundred people have visited these lands within the last few days, and many of them with whom we have conversed all speak in the highest terms of the soil and its irrigating facilities. All concede that with forty acres of this land and the flowing well that $300 or $00 will secure, a valuable farm may be made on which never failing crops will reward the labor of the husbandman.
The piece continued that lots were sized for “people of small means” and that the developers “are old and well known citizens who will not risk their reputation in unworthy schemes.” Under the local news column, readers were encouraged to take the special Southern Pacific excursion train that day “and we promise that you will see one of the finest tracts of farming land to be found in Los Angeles county.” Whether purchasing or not, guests would benefit from viewing “the charming country and the fine artesian wells in the neighborhood.”
Advertisements in the issue included projects by the Los Angeles City Homestead Association and its tract near Figueroa Street and Washington Boulevard and houses and lots offered by Prudent Beaudry, the mayor of the Angel City and who owned large tracts in the hills to the west of downtown, including on Bunker Hill.
For those with leisure time and a little disposable income, there were two “grand celebrations” of the birthday of George Washington, both of which presumably far milder in commemoration than what took place in 1853 at the adobe El Palacio residence on Main Street of Abel Stearns, when some men upset at being shut out of the exclusive party tried to crash it and gunfire led to two deaths!
One of the events included a grand ball, with tickets costing $1,50, in the Stearns Block, also known as the Arcadia Block, on the east side of the adobe and fronting on Arcadia and Los Angeles streets. The sponsoring organizations of a parade included the 38s volunteer fire company (the professional city fire department was about a decade away) of which Elijah H. Workman, nephew of Homestead owners William and Nicolasa Workman, was a member and the Los Angeles Guards (which oversaw the dance) and Spanish Military Company militias.
The parade route had the firefighters form on Market Street, a very short little lane between Main and Spring where the county courthouse, formerly Jonathan Temple’s Market House, was situated; the Spanish Guards set up on Commercial Street, a little east of Main; and the Los Angeles Guards arranged on Arcadia Street at the Stearns Block next to Main and just below the Plaza.
The combined procession was to head south of Spring to 3rd, then west to Fort (which became Broadway in 1890), then south to Sixth (about the outskirts of town!), then east to Main, and then north to the Plaza. After circumnavigating the historic center of town, the group was to march down Main to Spring, where Temple also intersected in front of the Temple Block, and down Spring to the 38s fire house. Dr. Joseph Kurtz was the marshal.
The other celebration was sponsored by the Shominac Tribe #50 of the Improved Order of Red Men, one of the many, many fraternal orders which were so popular in the 19th century and some of which survive today (though the “Red Men” moniker would, of course, not). Members and “sojourning brethren” were to gather at the Wigwam at the Good Templars Hall, the building of the temperance society on Main Street.
Joined by Piepenberg’s Brass Band, the cadre of brothers, with Marshal R.J. Wolf as marshal, was to march up to and around the Plaza, then down Main to 4th Street, then west to Fort, then north to 1st, then east to Spring and then a bit south to the hall of the German Turn-Verein Society. In the auditorium, the assemblage was to hear three selections of singing and music under the direction of Professor O.W. Parker, a prayer by the Reverend W.T. Lucky (also the superintendent of city schools), a poem by attorney J.H. Blanchard, an oration by Blanchard’s partner Will D. Gould, and a benediction by the Reverend A.M. Campbell. Once the “exercises” concluded, the march returned to the Wigwam.
The Turn-Verein was also the venue for theatrical performances that evening by Charles Vivian and his Vivian’s Pacific Comedy Combination. On the program were “A Morning Call,” a “commedietta” starring Vivian and Nellie Cummins; songs and sketches by the pair under the heading of “Bloomin Pal;” something titled “Vivian’s Parlor Olio;” and a Brougham’s Burlesque called “Po-Ca-Hon-Tas, Ye Gentle Savage,” with Cummins as the title character, William Simms as her father Powhatan, and Jennie Reiffarth as Captain John Smith, while the whole company took part. There was also a matinee performance of Rip Van Winkle. Tickets were 50 cents in the gallery, one dollar for the dress circle and $5 for private boxes.
Meanwhile, Reiffarth, who was of German parentage and who career on the stage lasted until at least the mid-1910s, was both a talented operatic singer and an excellent actor, and a grand dramatic performance and ball was to be held at the hall on the 21st marking her first appearance with the Vivian troupe. Once the endering of the play “Eigensinn” was ended, the hall was to be cleared and the ball held, with tickets going for fifty cents.
The local news section also briefly noted that members of the Masonic orders were heading down to Anaheim for a Washington’s Birthday celebration and the paper’s correspondent from that town reported that farm products exported for the first half of the month included 1,573 sacks of barley, almost 300 of rye, 119 of potatoes, and 29 of wheat.
A few other tidbits in that column included carpenters working on the Spring Street post office building erected by F.P.F. Temple; discussion of the publication of the city ordinances, which the Herald adjudged would “be an interesting work of fiction;” the presence of “young bloods” who were “in a beastly state of hilarity” at the race track at Agricultural Park, now Exposition Park, at the south end of town; the recovery of a “colored individual” known only as Jim after he was slashed by a razor; and the sad news of the amputation of the leg of young Marion Freeman of Santa Ana.
As always, there are plenty of interesting advertisements, with a new one for that day being from Goldsmith and Davis and their two Main Street stores called “The Identicals,” and recent ones including that of George B. Davis’ Alden Fruit Drying Works, which was supported by F.P.F. Temple and his son Thomas; the “Important” store below the Lafayette Hotel; contractor M.A. Marshall, who accounted himself a “theoretical and practical builder of anything from “The Palace or the Cottage, the Cathedral or the Chapel;” H.H. Spencer’s sale of eucalyptus, cypress, lemon, lime and orange trees from his ground at Hill and First; the closing-out of the Dollar Store on the east side of Main across from the court house; and D.A. Stern’s “D.A.ring ” upside-down ad for his furniture sale and rental business.
Amid the dozens of ads, which, of course, provided much of the revenue to keep a newspaper in operation in a very competitive business, a very few were taken out by people of color. Among these were Pedro M. Vejar’s “California Nursery” on San Pedro Street south of Pico Boulevard; the Chinese laundry of Wau Hi, who’d just moved from San Francisco, and was in Samuel C. Foy’s new structure on the east side of Spring Street, between 2nd and 3rd; the toy store of Antonio Cuyas next to the Pico House in the Merced Theater building; M.S. Arevalo’s music school, operated with a man named Fallkenau, in the Lanfranco Building, on the east side of Main Street where his neighbors were saddlers Elijah and William H. Workman; and Caroline C. Burton’s hairdressing establishment, a very rare example of a business run by a Black woman.
Another notable advertisement was a proclamation from Governor Newton Booth offering a $2,000 reward for the arrest of Clodoveo Chávez, a member of the gang of bandit chieftain Tiburcio Vásquez. When the latter was captured in what is now West Hollywood the prior summer, Chávez, who referred to Vásquez as “uncle” because of their close family ties in Monterey, escaped and formed his own gang, committing robberies in the mining region near Cerro Gordo, mentioned above.
By May 1875, Chávez decided to head to Arizona and the Gila River valley near Yuma, but that November, he was discovered and killed by bounty hunters and his severed head taken back to California, purportedly for identification. The gruesome relic, along with that purported to be the head of the semi-legendary 1850s bandit Joaquín Murrieta, was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.
With a couple hundred issues of original 1870s Los Angeles newspapers in the Homestead’s holdings, we’ll continue to offer occasional glimpses into life at that time as seen in the press under the banner of “Read All About It,” so be sure to check back for future installments.