Read All About It in the Los Angeles Express, 13 July 1874

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As has been stated here on several occasions through the “Read All About It” series of posts featuring greater Los Angeles newspapers from the Museum’s holdings, our collection of 1870s papers, especially from the first half of the decade, help us better understand the period of the region’s first significant and sustained growth boom.

It began not long after the Civil War and lasted through the mid-Seventies, with F.P.F. Temple one of those most active (along with his “silent partner” and father-in-law William Workman, who supplied plenty of ready cash) in development such that historian Remi Nadeau identified Temple as a key “City Maker,” as Nadeau’s 1948 book covering that era, was titled.

Invariably, going through the Los Angeles papers of that era, some reference would be found to Workman and Temple family members, principally F.P.F., and we are not disappointed with the example highlighted in this post, being the 13 July 1874 edition of the Los Angeles Express, which began in 1871 and was one of the three main English-language dailies of the era, the others being the Herald (launched in 1873) and the Star (the first paper in the city when it started in May 1851 and was published continuously until September 1864 and then ceased because its proprietor, Henry Hamilton, was arrested for anti-Union sentiments during the war, though it resumed in 1868 and lasted until 1879.)

In July 1873, the paper was operated by George A. Tiffany and John W. Paynter (founders with three others two yeas prior), with James J. Ayers as the editor. Two years later, Ayers and Joseph D. Lynch purchased the Express and, over the following decades, its owners also included Henry Z. Osborne and, for many years, Edwin T. Earl. In 1874, the paper was a Republican one, meaning its was decidedly in the minority when it came to local politics (although F.P.F. Temple was a Republican and ran for office several times, always unsuccessfully and not always proclaiming his affiliation directly, until he won election as county treasurer in September 1875 just as his Temple and Workman bank was on the precipice of failure.)

Usually, the papers of this period were four pages, with the first almost always being devoted exclusively to advertisements, these paying for the production of the sheet, while the last page was also primarily dedicated to this purpose. The second pages typically comprised editorials, telegraphed news from elsewhere in California, the nation and the world, and ads, while the third was largely devoted to local items and, of course, more ads.

In this case, there were Pacific Coast news jots, but also some reports from the Southern Californian, which was published in Anaheim during the early Seventies (and had the same name as a Los Angeles sheet of the mid-Fifties), with reports from that city, Santa Ana, and the town of Westminster. It was reported, for example, that James McFadden of Santa Ana had just returned from the east and “intends devoting his attention to the manufacture of cheese” so “has purchased and shipped to Newport Landing [where Newport Beach is now] a cargo of lumber, with which he intends erecting the necessary buildings.”

Later, James and his brother Robert, the name of whose hometown of Delhi, New York was used for the area of south Santa Ana near Costa Mesa, developed their own wharf at Newport after purchasing the landing mentioned in the article and which was opened in 1870. The name “Newport” was bestowed on it by the McFaddens, Benjamin Flint (cousin and partner of the Bixbys who bought Jonathan Temple’s Rancho Los Cerritos in 1866), and James Irvine, who bought ranch land near Newport for pennies on the dollar during the drought years of the Sixties and which made his descendants, including ones today, very rich.

As for Westminster, it was reported that “the flourishing colony,” set up by alcohol-abstaining Presbyterians in 1870, was experiencing an excellent agricultural yield. Moreover, “almost every day brings accessions to the population, and in every instance they are men [no women?] whose influence will serve to bring others.” Independence Day was celebrated as “a general reunion of the colonists” and included discussion of starting a cooperative store with stock of $2,500 at $25 a share with hopes of opening by the first of August.

With respect to Santa Ana, it was observed that “the principal work of this section at present is harvesting and threshing” including barley, oats, rye and other field crops while “the corn crop gives promise of an immense yield.” A picnic on the 4th “was a pleasant affair” and “the drive was one of the most enjoyable features on the programme,” this presumably meaning a country ramble through the town and environs. Finally, the school was said to be “in a very prosperous condition” thanks to C.W. Brown, who “is a faithful worker and takes a great interest in his school.”

Another local area with news provided by its own community paper was the port town of Wilmington, which had its Enterprise, which reported that Wilson College, launched by Benjamin D. Wilson, state senator, former Los Angeles mayor, and who came to the Angel City with the Workman family and John Rowland in 1841, was starting its next term in five weeks or so. This school was a precursor to the University of Southern California, established in 1880 with both having direct affiliations with the Methodist Episcopal Church. Wilson, meanwhile, reported that “his [grape]vines here . . . look better than they did at the same season and age at his celebrated vineyard up near the mountains.”

The reference was to Lake Vineyard in what is now San Marino and which, in 1875, was subjected to subdivision, excluding his home place, through the Lake Vineyard Land and Water Company, of which F.P.F. Temple was treasurer. The project stagnated in the resulting economic downturn, including the Temple and Workman bank collapse, but was revived and became Alhambra.

Also of interest was that a lighthouse was soon to be finished and in operation, while there was reference to the question of access to the port, which, while there was the first federal appropriation a few years prior to build a breakwater and improve conditions, there remained the matter of the channel inside the bar, which, at low tide, had between 15 and 22 feet of water. Yet, at other times, the issue was “down to two propositions—LIGHT-DRAUGHT STEAMERS, and DREDGING THE BAR.”

The problem of accumulation of silt and mud was perennial and Phineas Banning, the “Port Admiral” at Wilmington, long relied on light steamers to take cargo and passengers from land to larger ships beyond the problem area. In 1863, however, his Ada Hancock exploded when water got to the steam boiler, and many were killed, including Banning’s chief clerk, Thomas H. Workman, nephew of Homestead owners William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste. In time, federal dollars were at a point that the Port of Los Angeles became, by the early 20th century, a man-made harbor ready to take its important place in the explosive growth of greater Los Angeles.

Elsewhere, it was noted that the incorporated town of Wilmington, the election precinct of Compton (established as Centerville or Gibsonville by Fielding W. Gibson of El Monte and F.P.F. Temple on the northern edge of Rancho San Pedro in 1865) and the Los Nietos township and its Silver Precinct (possibly where Santa Fe Springs is now) were preparing for a 6 August special election on the “local option.” This was a popular mechanism at the time for temperance advocates, or those opposed to alcoholic beverages, to instill (!) the prohibition of “demon rum” and the like in their communities.

Denton was a purveyor of psychometry, a pseudo-science concept that purported, through his sister’s “talent,” to discover facts by touching items associated with a topic; in this case, fossils or ancient rocks and the like.

Then, there was the feature editorial about Wilmington and the primitive port, but with the Express favorably noting:

The able and energetic gentlemen [presumably Banning, Wilson, David W. Alexander, another close friend of the Workman and Temple families, and others] into whose hands the destinies of Wilmington have fallen, have taken the right view of the situation, and are inaugurating improvements that will eventually result in securing to that fine location a prosperity commensurate with its superior advantages.

The piece went on to note that it was obvious “that the real key to Wilmington’s future is in the facilities which the harbor can give to commerce.” As long, though, as the port was merely an embarcadero, literally a place to “embark,” but generally meaning a wharf or pier rather than a full-fledged harbor or port, Wilmington could not be part of “commercial activity which renders all seaports of rich interiors places of business prosperity.”

Instead, it had too long languished in stagnation, but “the crowning advantage of that town is its improving harbor, with better wharves and filled with vessels “would soon became one of the more promising cities on the coast.” In addition, these unnamed leaders of the community were “seasonably preparing for the near-approaching time when their harbor will be opened to the mercantile navy of the world.”

As to the “substantial wharf” and “most extensive, capacious and completely built warehouses, sheds and platforms on the Pacific coast,” this was lauded as “one of those sensible moves which cannot but result in substantial fruit.” The recent incorporation of the Southern California Cooperative Warehouse and Shipping Association, headed by Wilson and ex-governor John G. Downey, with F.P.F. Temple as a director, was what got this project started.

Beyond these immediate improvements, however, there was the planning for “manufacturing industries” including what was reported as the imminent starting of a factory for making furniture and then another to build house frames, while another proposed was for cooperage or “turning out pipes for our wine producers and barrels for our petroleum men.” Not coincidentally, Temple and Workman were involved in these latter two “refining” processes, with early oil well drilling in the “San Fernando field” in modern Santa Clarita and their own vineyards and Workman’s winery at the Homestead.

More detail was added about work with cutting a channel, with the engineer in charge of the breakwater project devising a series of jetties to straighten the channel and impel the tide to following a single line along the bar and greatly improving, it was stated, the channelizing work. Eventually, it was asserted, the success of the work would make access to deep water occur fairly quickly. While it was claimed that there was no fast-flowing river disgorging immense amounts of material, one had to remember that during floods there was, in fact, just that problem, but there was confidence the dredging, as well as a tide-gate which was called for, would obviate the issue as well as the general question of tidal flows.

The B’nai B’rith order was comprised of early Jewish residents of Los Angeles, such as banker Isaias W. Hellman (former partner of William Workman and F.P.F Temple), merchant Samuel Praeger, and the first rabbi in the Angel City, Abraham W. Edelman.

The piece concluded with the expression that “everything is working favorably to the future of our port” and, along with the expected growth at Wilmington, “whatever will facilitate commerce and cheapen transportation, must give to our city an impulse forward.” The basic issue was

If Wilmington becomes a thriving port, Los Angeles will become a great commercial city . . . These facilities and advantages [at the former] will fill our country up with a thrifty and prosperous people, and Los Angeles will become the commercial and financial center of a region as extensive as that which paid tribute to Tyre [the ancient city in what is now Lebanon], or which recognizes modern San Francisco as its commercial market.

Ongoing work by the Southern Pacific railroad in the region and the imminent launching of the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, intended to reach the silver mines of Inyo County in eastern California (where Temple and Workman were also heavily invested through their Cerro Gordo Water and Mining Company) with dreams to someday link to the transcontinental railroad in Utah, were part of the grand dreams of locals to propel greater Los Angeles into a hub of the American Southwest.

Ultimately, it took outside individual capital and federal appropriations, including the 1890s selection of Wilmington and San Pedro as the main harbor instead of the Southern Pacific’s Santa Monica wharf (succeeding the Los Angeles and Independence, which first built a facility at that new city in 1875), to achieve these ambitious aims.

On the second page, there was also a “Letter from the Oil Region” by “Miner” who reported from the “San Fernando Oil Springs” on the 10th that “the development of our immense oil region has begun at last” as workers were engaged in building derricks to begin drilling (called “boring” in those days) work.

Note the statement that no white persons were hired—this could refer to Blacks or Chinese, the latter were specifically targeted in this way in newspaper ads of the time.

Specifically, the correspondent reported:

The works on the Temple claim are now completed, and boring will commence in a few days. Mr. Spangler, the energetic Superintendent [of Temple’s Los Angeles Petroleum Refining Company, formed the previous year], has within a few weeks constructed roads, erected the necessary works for boring and has got the machinery on the ground and will commence to bore immediately.

The location was in Towsley Canyon, west of today’s Interstate 5 and just southwest of Santa Clarita, with the gulch in which Temple drilled two wells sometimes referred to as Temple Canyon. The letter from “Miner” stated that “the oil flows from many springs,” in fact there are many seeps today, “and is at present lost, there being no tanks here to save it.” The expectation was that, at a rate of ten feet of drilling per day, Spangler and his crew could get to the oil at 400 feet and in forty days.

The surface indications were such that “it was a sure indication of the wealth of this oil region, which will develop a large industry in our midst.” Moreover, “Miner” averred that “the value of this immense mineral deposit is now attracting general attention, and it is astonishing that it has been so long overlooked,” though the first oil well in greater Los Angeles was in nearby Pico Canyon in 1865.

With oil so far found said to be of a high quality and the work looking so promising, not to mention the Southern Pacific’s northern line from Los Angeles to San Francisco being a few miles to the east (it was completed in September 1876), it seemed clear that the future was right for oil prospecting in the area. While Temple, who used the first steam-powered machinery f his wells, did get some yield from his claim and shipped oil to Los Angeles, it was a minor strike and then his financial collapse ensued ending his efforts. Forty years later or so, his son Walter wound up the fortunate beneficiary of oil found on his Montebello-area ranch, on land owned by F.P.F. and lost to “Lucky” Baldwin, whose executor sold the tract to Walter!

The Express also quoted extensively from a recent New York Times article denigrating California wines, stating “the wine is used a great deal in making up other wines, or is sold in poor restaurants” and “one seldom or never sees California wine on gentlemen’s tables.” Continuing “it has not a good name,” the Times castigated Golden State winemakers for “gross and inexcusable carelessness” in production, including the ill-advised mixing of varieties of grapes “thus destroying the purity and flavor.

The brothers Elijah and William H. Workman, nephews of William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste of the Homestead, had a Los Angeles saddlery on-and-off for some 20 years between the late 1850s and late 1870s and this was one of their Certificate of Partnership notices when resuming their business.

Additionally, said the Times:

a too great devotion has been shown to the one easily-raised variety of grape, the “Mission grape,” a delicious fruit, but, for some inscrutable reason, incapable of making a delicious wine.

It declared that “California ought to be the France of America in the wine production” and there was some promise in some vineyards (these being north in the Napa and Sonoma valleys) and the paper added “the Old Mission grape is being abandoned, German and French wine-growers are employed, and much greater care is taken by the large wine-makers.” Finally, the tendency to emphasize “the conversion of poor wines into brandy” was a “growing evil in California be[ing] corrected.”

The Express did add that, while the Times writer called for “large and trusty associations of wine-growers” to improve the stock of California wine and push doctored product from the market, there were such organizations “which are greatly and effectively doing their work.” That way, the claim of the latter that California wines could hold their own against those of France and Germany as well as supply a felt need of “a pure, light and cheap wine,” would be realized.

A last item of note concerned the recent death the prior afternoon of John Reed, son-in-law of Rancho La Puente co-owner John Rowland, who died in October 1873. Reed, who was 56, and his brother James, who passed away two years prior, “enjoyed a wide celebrity as trappers and hunters among the early frontiersmen,” and he was also a volunteer with the American forces which invaded Mexican California 1846-1847 “and rendered valuable service to the American arms and interest.”

Reed was married to María Nieves Rowland and the couple resided a mile or so east of her father’s house (there is a John Reed Court in the City of Industry where the house once stood). Though they did not have children, they raised relatives through her mother from the Perdew family, also from New Mexico where the Reeds met and were married. The obituary added that

During the early immigration of the gold-seekers, across the plains, Mr. Reed’s hospitality and generosity were proverbial. He was kind of heart, warm of disposition, and dispensed his bounties with a liberal hand.

It mentioned his funeral was that afternoon under the auspices of the Veterans of the Mexican War and Freemasons, but it was not specified that Reed was buried in the cast-iron fenced plot behind St. Nicholas’ Chapel at El Campo Santo at the Homestead, being interred next to his father-in-law. Because the original stone was long gone by the time that Walter Temple acquired the Homestead in 1917, he placed a simple stone for Reed’s resting lace flush to the grass and which can be easily missed.

We’ll continue to share more 1870s Los Angeles newspapers in the “Read All About It” series, so be sure to look out for those in future posts.

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