by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It has long been accepted as a truism that greater Los Angeles has had an unparalleled climate, though the mounting aridification of the American Southwest is rapidly becoming a greater threat to that status. This year marks the centennial of the creation of the Colorado River Compact, which divided the water of the mighty watercourse among seven states, including California. In 1922, however, calculations of how much of the precious fluid was going to be available were fundamentally flawed, but never addressed, so that the actual flow has long been overused. Unprecedented Federal withdrawals of water are going to have to force a renegotiation of the agreement which affects 40 million people, while large amounts go to farmers, whose allotments will also have to be addressed.
Tonight’s featured artifact from the Homestead’s collection is a 1 July 1926 pocket-sized pamphlet issued by the powerful Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and titled “Los Angeles: The Metropolis of the Southwest.” With a subtitle of “The Tourist’s Winter and Summer Resort” and “The Homeseeker’s Paradise,” as well as “Climatic Capital of the New World,” the brochure was published at a time of enormous optimism about the region’s potential for growth, thanks to the existing Los Angeles Aqueduct, completed in 1913 and which drew water from the Owens Valley of eastern California, and the imminent Colorado River Aqueduct, which would deliver water through the Metropolitan Water District elsewhere in the region upon completion in the 1930s.
With the phenomenal development of the Angel City and its environs during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, one of the key boosters and promoters was the Chamber of Commerce, along with others like the All-Year Club of Southern California and the Los Angeles Times. With seemingly endless tracts of land, much of its incredibly fertile for agriculture and others ripe for development for housing, shopping, schools and business; the promise of more than ample supplies of water; and the fabled mild Mediterranean climate, it was small wonder that the future of this area was considered almost boundless.
In his somewhat modest way, Walter P. Temple exemplified the many residents of the region who were taking part in the rush for development. Thanks to his incredibly fortuitous bounty of income from oil found on his Montebello-area ranch, with wells and royalties flowing starting in the summer of 1917, he and associates avidly pursued other oil prospecting opportunities in many areas, such as Huntington Beach, Signal Hill (Long Beach) and Ventura, while some of those proceeds from the “black gold” were invested in real estate, including building projects in downtown Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley communities of Alhambra, San Gabriel and El Monte.
The most recent boom, coming after the end of the First World War and a recession that followed, peaked in 1923, but there was still plenty of activity going on in oil, real estate, agriculture, movies, heavy industry and other areas three years later when the Chamber issued its paean to the Angel City and surrounding areas. Always at the front of the minds of promoters and boosters was population, a point of pride for any rapidly growing metropolis, so it was no surprise to see that, at the top of the front panel, was: “THE LARGEST CITY IN THE WESTERN AMERICAS” and the estimated population of the city of Los Angeles as 1,265,519, while county was pegged at almost 2.15 million. Inside were figures for 1890 (50,395); 1903 (rather than 1900, with the total being above 104,000); 1910, at just shy of 320,000; 1920, not quite 577,000; 1924, 1.074 million; 1925, 1.1 million; and, finally, 1926 at 1.211 million. The county growth was not quite as dramatic, but went from just over 100,000 in 1890, to 70% more by 1900, and almost tripled by 1910 at over a half million. A near doubling by 1920 to 936,000 took place and above that was had by 1926 to the estimate of well over 2 million.
It wasn’t just that the number of residents was accelerating dramatically, but that the Angel City aggressively expanded through annexation over the previous decades, so that it covered almost 420 square miles, while the county was about ten times that size. The assessed value of property in the city was pushing $1.8 billion, with county over $2.8 billion. The banks of Los Angeles had total resources of $1.167 billion, including $81 million in capital and surplus above the deposits comprising the remainder of that sum. In 1925, there were just shy of 44,000 building permits issued, totaling north of $152 million.
Among other statistics were that there were exactly 624 churches and 136 medical hospitals, 44 sanitariums, 20 maternity hospitals and 33 rest homes—all having 4,769 beds. While there were twenty theaters for stage productions, there were more than ten times the number of movie theaters (235, to be exact), while there were 250 production companies and 58 studios in the exploding film industry. Los Angeles was accounted to have the “best hotel accommodations in the country” with well over 900 hostelries and some 2,200 apartment buildings with a total capacity of above a quarter million persons. Considered “the best electric system, urban and interurban, in the world” was the Pacific Electric and Los Angeles railway systems, with over 1,100 miles in the former and some 375 in the latter and over 7,200 “men employed in and around the city,” though there were some women office employees. A total of 11,000 workers received $16 million in payroll. Steam railroad employees of the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific companies numbered nearly 12,000 with $1.5 million a month in payroll.
There were almost 300 public schools, with more than 80% being elementary level, while there were 17 junior high schools and 25 high schools, in addition to 30 night schools (trade and “part-time” schools were not numbered.) Average daily attendance in the schools topped 172,000 with a total enrollment of almost 296,000, and teachers numbering 7,600. As for high learning, it was noted that “the Southern Branch of the State University,” meaning what became the University of California, Los Angeles, and 150 private schools and colleges. The public library, the central facility of which was just readying for opening but also including 42 branches and sub-branches a playground library and 76 deposit stations, had more than 650,000 volumes, circulation of nearly 5.4 million and those with library cards totaling over 230,000.
The city had almost 50 public parks and the total acreage was not quite 4,800 acres, though about 80% of the total was entailed in the expansiveness of Griffith Pak. As Los Angeles continued its 20th century expansion, though, parks were essentially an afterthought, so that the Angel City became starved for such facilities. Telephone stations were approaching 300,000 and it was observed “this is equivalent to about one telephone for every four men, women and children in the city, or one for almost every family, placing Los Angeles in this respect far ahead of all other cities in the world.” Today, there could well be almost one cell phone for every resident!
Statistics for the fire department were provided, though not for the police department, and it was stated there were over 1,500 fire fighters in 65 engine companies, 2 each of hose and rescue companies and 17 truck companies. There were also two fire boats, ten aerial trucks, and 21 fire companies. Water was of an “abundant supply, owned by the city” with low rates and “the water being furnished under pressure through a steel pipe line system.”
Receipts at the post offices were $8.2 million for 1925, but were on the way to an increase for the current year because the first six months totaled just above $4.2 million. With regard to manufacturing, there were some 5,700 such businesses employing more than 170,000 workers. At the end of the 19th century, total value of products was north of $15.1 million, but a decade later it leapt to $68.5 and, by 1914, topped $103 million. A major push, however, ensued by the end of the Teens, where the total was increased six-fold to nearly $620 million. In 1920, not quite $789 million worth of products were made, but two years later it was approaching a billion dollars. The 1925 estimate was $1.25 billion, an impressive increase by any standard, with a doubling in six years.
A separate table of manufactured items for 1924, showed that oil was the largest industry with production topping $220 million, though the payroll was less than half that of motion pictures, which was second on the list at $168 million in production. Third, with a payroll not much higher than oil, was iron, steel and metal products which was just south of $100 million. Rounding out the top ten were meat packing ($68 million); lumber and planing mills ($64 million; food ($58 million); automobile-related items ($44 million); publishing ($39 million); clothing and shoes ($35 million); gas ($31 million) and ice cream ($28 million). In all, the total was just over $1.2 million with payroll above $6.1 million.
In agriculture and animal husbandry, the latter including over $11.2 million dairy products and $10 million in poultry, while “livestock for slaughter” was almost $1.65 million for a total, with miscellaneous products, at above $23.2 million. The crop report included divisions for field crops at above $7.4 million, almost half of which was alfalfa (a high-water crop for us today, incidentally) on some 30,000 acres, while beans (17,000 acres) and hay (94,000 acres) were also major crops. Truck farming, on not quite 20,000 acres, totaled over $13.2 million, with flowers comprising close to 40% of that amount, while large yields were obtained from lettuce, market garden products and cauliflower.
Finally, fruits and nuts took the lion’s share at over $45 million, with oranges (grown on nearly 23,000 acres) more than 35% and lemons (above 12,000 acres) comprising 13%. Nursery stock amounted to about a third of the total, while walnuts (raised on not quite 22,000 acres—the trees were spread much further apart than the fruit trees) were about 8%, though the La Puente Valley was a major growing area, including the Homestead, for that nut. Avocados, raised principally on 364 acres in the North Whittier (Hacienda) Heights and La Habra Heights area near the Homestead, were about $100,000. Fairly significant yields came with grapes (it was Prohibition so there was probably a major portion of table grapes with some wine grapes used for sacramental and medicinal purposes), on 4,800 acres, and peaches, on 6,000 acres, with values of $1.1 million and $890,000.
On the import and export front, a statement showed that in 1912, the latter totaled over $1.7 million and nearly doubled in five years and close to tripled again by 1920. Nearly another tripling took place by 1923 and then there was a 30% increase through 1925. On exports, there was clearly a misprint for 1912, with only $235,460 given, but there must’ve have been much more than that. In any case, the figure for 1917 was just over $3 million, but then a six-fold jump by 1920 and nearly a doubling by 1923. In just that year, moreover, the total again almost doubled to just shy of $66 million with about a 10% increase through 1925.
The back panel provided a table of “The Progress of Los Angeles Shown By Figures” with columns for post office business, bank clearings, building permits and population. For the first, the 1885 total was well below $50,000, on the eve of the great Boom of the Eighties, so that the total more than doubled by 1890. There was a 77% increase over the next five years and more large increases in subsequent years so that 1907 was the first year over a million dollars. That more than doubled by 1913 with another like increase by the end of the decade and again by 1925, where the total was above $8.2 million.
Bank clearings topped $36 million in 1890 and were well over three times that by the end of the century. In just two years, though, there was a doubling as another major boom came in the first years of the 20th century. Well more than three times an increase occurred from about $245 million in 1904 to $811 million in 1910. There were some drops, such as in 1908, due to the previous year’s depression and, again, in 1914 and 1915, with modest growth during the World War I years, but, from 1918 to 1919, there was a leap from $1.55 to $2.34 million and another leap to almost $4 million in 1920. By 1923, the figure ballooned to over $7 million and was posed to top $8 million in 1926.
The number of building permits is also notable over time. The 1890 figure, following the end of the Boom of the Eighties, was 737 at almost $1.2 million, but, over the next five years, the number more than tripled on both fronts (almost 2,500 permits and a value of north of $4 million.) There was a drop in the last half of the Nineties, but a significant rebound in the first years of the 1900s, going from under 2,000 permits and about $2.5 million to, by 1905, over 9,500 and nearly $15.4 million. The 1907 and 1908 depression years, of course, saw a drop, but the 1910-1913 period saw another leap to almost 16,500 permits and values nearing $32 million. A steep decline followed in the war years, so that, in 1918, there were below 6,400 permits and a value of $8.7 million, but in 1919, the permits doubled and the values went up nearly three times with another doubling in 1920. After two more good years in 1921 and 1922, the peak, as noted before, was in 1923, with more than 62,500 permits and $200 million, followed by more double-digit percentage declines in permits to 44,000 by 1925 and a value drop of some 25% to not quite $153 million.
Laden with statistics as this little artifact is, it does provide some important information for understanding the phenomenal growth of greater Los Angeles over roughly four decades, from the Boom of the 1880s, when William H. Workman, nephew of Homestead founders William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste, was mayor of the Angel City, through the mid-Twenties, when his son, Boyle, was nearing the end of his eight years as president of the City Council and Walter P. Temple was grappling with financial issues due to his heavy investment in oil and real estate projects. It was three years until the Great Depression burst forth and shattered the illusion, held by many, that the region could continue its amazing development basically unhindered. It was not until the post-World War II period that another massive boom ensued.