by Paul R. Spitzzeri
With newspapers being among our best available sources for the notable period of the first significant and sustained growth during the late 1860s and first half of the 1870s, the “Read All About It” series of posts on this blog frequently spotlights issues of such sheets as the Los Angeles Express, Los Angeles Herald, and, to a much lesser extent, the Los Angeles Star.
Naturally, some editions have more useful and interesting information than others and, fortunately, the featured issue for this post, the 18 March 1875 edition of the Herald offers some choice content as well as notable advertising. Starting with the second, or editorial page, we find reference to the boom underway, with the paper noting:
The advance in real estate in and about this city has been very great within the past six months. The rapid increase in population has created a strong demand for building property, and the certainty of an early increase in railroad facilities has established a firmness in land transactions that astonishes the most sanguine of our oldest inhabitants.
Among the old-timers who were actively (actually, by proxy in the case of William Workman, who invested his money but had little involvement beyond that) in participating in the fevered activity was F.P.F. Temple, approaching his 35th year in the Angel City and environs. The mention of railroads almost certainly included his Los Angeles and Independence Railroad project.
The line was intended to build a narrow-gauge line to the Inyo County seat because of its proximity to silver mine boom towns like Cerro Gordo, where Temple was heavily invested. He was the first president of the railroad and then moved to the position of treasurer when United States Senator from Nevada, John P. Jones, took the executive role because of his majority ownership of company stock, which drove his goal of building a branch line first to his new seaside resort town of Santa Monica.
Returning to the editorial, it was observed that the steep rise in valuations (nothing like our recent skyrocketing values, however) was not limited to specific locales, but was experienced throughout Los Angeles. It was noted, though, that “the most striking advance . . . is in East Los Angeles” where the value of land “has trebled in value within the last six weeks.” A pair of ads from main developer Hancock M. Johnston warned readers that it was their last chance to acquire property in what is now Lincoln Heights, as just 70 lots remained for purchase.
The piece ended with the claim that “the prosperity of Los Angeles is unequaled by that of any other city in the State,” while just below is an article titled “Sectional Jealousy.” Here it was averred that “the little jealousies that once existed between the Southern counties of California seems [sic] to have vanished like the early dew” and that “good will and fraternal relations are now, henceforth and forever to exist.”
It was asserted that the neighboring counties of San Bernardino and San Diego (Orange County seceded from Los Angeles in 1889 and Riverside from San Diego a few years later) were joined with Los Angeles in seeking to “energetically push forward to completion all the great enterprises calculated to make Southern California prosperous and desirable.”
Of course, “as actions speak louder than words,” it was high time for those jurisdictions “to show their faith by their works” and the Herald called upon them “to unite with us in building a great highway by which the rich mineral wealth of the back country shall enrich all the plains of the sea.” These were lofty sentiments and laudable goals, though unrealized, and the piece ended with the cry, “Come, brethren—now or never.”
Yet, in the rush for growth, invariably it is infrastructure that often struggles to keep pace with new houses, businesses, farms and the like and the paper pointed out two such areas that were sorely lacking. One had to do with schools, though the Herald was sure to note “our school[s] cannot be better conducted” and “are well managed” so that “a more efficient corps of teachers could not be desired.”
But, given that “nothing adds so much to the prosperity of a city or offers a greater inducement to families of wealth to become her permanent residents, than good school facilities,” the paper implored, “we need a few more school buildings.” Among the areas lacking was the east side, likely meaning East Los Angeles, though William H. Workman, nephew of the Homestead’s owners, William and Nicolasa Workman, and partners would, within a few weeks, announce a new subdivision called Boyle Heights.
There were other areas that were in sore need of schools, but, the paper continued, “if the people vote the money asked for by the Board [of Education] the city will soon be provided with all the school-houses required at present, and visitors will have no reason to complain of the crowded state of our public schools.” This lament would prove, alas, to be recurring and consistent in following decades as boom followed boom and educational facilities lagged behind the relentless growth in the region.
Another aspect of society that is almost terminally underserved is care for the mentally ill and it is notable to find the Herald editorializing:
The city or county, one or the other, ought to provide a place in which to keep people who are not violators of the laws and yet their condition renders it necessary that they be retained in custody. It looks badly and partakes strongly of the inhuman[e] to thrust a mildly insane person into a cell of the county jail. Yet the officers have no other recourse.
An example was provided of an unnamed resident who was nonviolent, but of whom “it was hardly safe that he should be at large uncared for and unattended.” It was added that he had friends who were with him (actually, it was stated that they walked with him) during the day, but at night he was locked in the county portion of the jail, which was also utilized by the city.
The piece referred to what was being done in San Francisco, which “has sent hundreds of men and women to the Insane Asylum” at Napa, where “a few days of gentle treatment would have restored [the inmates] to reason.” The paper ended by warning, “we should not treat the unfortunate insane as though they were mal[e]factors,” a statement that still holds true nearly 130 years later. There was a facility known as the Los Angeles Poor Farm that was built in Downey in 1888 and one of the historic structures on the site, later known as Rancho Los Amigos, burned just under a month ago.
Another interesting article referred to the Aliso Mills, a flour processing facility of long-standing on the street of that name and close to the vineyard of the Sainsevaine brothers and which drew water from the Los Angeles River by a flume to power the grist mill. It was observed that a fire took place in July 1874 that destroyed the operation to the loss of some $20,000, only a fraction of which was covered by insurance. Moreover, it was stated that “the injury entailed upon the business interests of the community in the destruction of the principal flouring mill of the county swelled the actual loss to a much larger figure.”
The Herald added, though, that the brick walls of the structure survived the flames, so that “during the past two months, workmen have been busily engaged refurnishing the gutted walls with roofs, floors and machinery, and the Aliso Mills [now] stand as staunch as ever.” The $8,000 investment included up-to-date equipment, including bins, elevators, bolting machines, separators and other equipment, while the Zanja Madre, or irrigation ditch of decades of use, supplied plenty of water for operation via a water wheel “operating two run of stones.”
The Mills reopened just a couple of weeks prior, though full operation only took place within the last few days and “thus far only feed has been ground of mixed barley and corn,” but it was expected that very soon corn would be milled exclusively on the site. The paper added that it was due to some of the Angel City’s best-known capitalists, including bankers Isaias W. Hellman and John G. Downey, the latter a former governor of California, and nurseryman and real estate investor Ozro W. Childs, that “the honor of rescuing our city from a complete state of dependence upon other sections for the immense quality of flour and feed consumed in Los Angeles.”
It is possible that one mill that helped make up for some of the lack of milled product was the Workman Mill, opened by William Workman in the late Sixties near the confluence of the San Gabriel River (and its new channel created in the flood year of 1867-1868) and San José Creek, though, later in 1875, the partnership Workman had with miller John Turner was ended—this about a year after Turner’s son, William, who operated the mill for some seven years, and his wife Rebecca were injured and their unborn child killed in a robbery at a store operated by William Turner and Workman’s ranch foreman Frederick Lambourn at the site.
In any case, the piece concluded with: “We trust that the Aliso Mills will stand untouched by fire or accident in the future, and prove a nucleus around which other similar enterprises will congregate to make our city one of the chief manufacturing points of California.” There was, in succeeding decades, an industrial section of downtown Los Angeles that expanded along the west bank of the river near the mill site and well beyond.
Also of interest was a lengthy article about the previous day’s celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, which “ever wakes in the Irish breast feelings of patriotism; feelings which are intensified by the love of a country oppressed and a liberty denied in their own native land.” There was no small number of Irish-born Angelenos who migrated from the island devastated by famine roughly a quarter-century ago and it was also mentioned that the celebration included “a historical charm awakened, which furnishes additional zest to the occasion,” which involved both religious and patriotic components.
Adding that “in America, the love of their native land burns not less brightly . . . nor loses aught by the allegiance which they pay to their adopted country,” the Herald discussed a parade that formed at Arcadia Street just south of the Plaza and began at 1 p.m. led by Desmond’s Brass Band, augmented by musicians from other local ensembles. Some 300 men marched “with their regalia, badges and standards” as well as columns of those wielding American and Irish flags along with a banner of the Irish colors and “God Save Ireland” imprinted on it.
Among the organizations were, foremost, the St. Patrick’s Benevolent Society and the Irish-American Literary and Social Club, while carriages carried committee members, the day’s president, marshal and aides, and orator, Catholic priests, and others. The procession went north on Main Street to the Plaza, then turned southward on Main to Sixth, then east one block to Spring and up that thoroughfare to the Turn-Verein Hall, the venue of the German society in the Angel City.
At 2:30, exercises began at the hall, including music and speeches, including the oration by recent arrival and newly minted attorney Stephen M. White, who was just 22 years old. The gifted speaker went on to serve in the state assembly and senate, as lieutenant governor, as district attorney, and as a United States Senator, while he was also accounted as the “Father of Los Angeles Harbor” for his work in securing federal funding for the Port of Los Angeles. He died at age 48 in 1901, but commemoration through a street and school in San Pedro and Carson, respectively, have been questioned because of his support for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
White’s address included allusion to the oppression of the Irish by the British, though the paper apologized for keeping its summary short, while noting that “Mr. White was frequently applauded in the course of his remarks, and it was plain to see that be [he] elicited the highest interest in his auditors.”
Musical performances included Irish songs as well as the “Star Spangled Banner, with one performer being Hortense Sacriste, who White married more than a decade later. When the event was over, the group marched to Stearns’ Hall at Arcadia and Los Angeles streets, behind the El Palacio adobe built by Abel Stearns, later the Baker Block, and through which U.S. 101 runs today.
In the evening, there was a ball at the Turn-Verein Hall and it was accredited as “one of the most delightful affairs of the kind ever held in Los Angeles” with “no lack of beauty, elegance and gaiety.” Dancing continued until the wee hours and proceeds “were donated to the wives and families of Irish patriots in English dungeons.” Committee members were congratulated for their excellent work in arranging the day’s celebration, which, the piece concluded, was such that “we venture the assertion that many a city of greater proportions than Los Angeles did not better the occasion.”
Finally, there was a lengthy piece about the Herald‘s response to a Santa Barbara newspaper that the Los Angeles sheet was to become officially identified with the Republican Party, but editor James M. Bassett, a Gold Rush migrant who spent most of his life in Oakland, including newspaper work and a stint on the city council, proclaimed that he was an independent, while adding that his goal was to promote “the vast resources of Los Angeles valley,” including its agricultural potential.
Part of the reason for the clarification was because there was a meeting of the stockholders of the paper’s owner, the Los Angeles City and County Printing and Publishing Company, which took over operation of the Herald after its founder, Charles Storke, decided to sell it and return to Santa Barbara.
Among the founders of the company was F.P.F. Temple, but, with the shareholders’ gathering, there was a change in leadership, so that Temple was no longer associated with the concern. Instead, its directors included East Los Angeles principal Hancock M. Johnston; Leonard J. Rose of the San Gabriel Valley (and for whom Rosemead is named); Eldridge E. Hewitt of the Los Angeles and San Pedro and Southern Pacific railroads; lawyer and former state attorney general John R. McConnell, along with Bassett and a couple of others.
In his editorial, Bassett was sure to note that “it will be seen that the new Board of Directors is composed of some of the best men in the county” and that “politically, there are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents,” while agriculture was represented by three farmers and a rancher among the directorate. He ended by averring that “it is the purpose of the company to make the HERALD a newspaper in every sense of the term, and thus add to its already considerable and widely extended influence.”
As always, advertisements are very important sources of information (and propaganda, when it comes, especially, to such examples as real estate promotion, including for the subdivision of 5,000 acres of Rancho Santa Gertrudes, east of the Los Angeles River where Santa Fe Springs, La Mirada and other areas are now) about local businesses, so a sampling is provided here. We’ll continue to share other issues of Angel City newspapers from the Museum’s collection under the banner of “Read All About It,” so please check back periodically (!) for future posts.