by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In the remarkable transformation that transpired in greater Los Angeles during the late 19th ad early 20th centuries, no organization was more active in promoting and publicizing the region and influential in helping the develop its resources than the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. Its massive membership, substantial funding, and cadre of staff in a large number of departments allowed the Chamber to disseminate a huge amount of information publicizing the area, put together elaborate displays and booths at conventions and shows, and otherwise bring attention to the rapidly growing metropolis and environs.
The featured artifact for this post is a 24 July 1928 letter from the organization’s assistant secretary F.L.S. Harman and, while it is the briefest and most generic of missives in which an inquiry from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania was answered, Harman’s reply does note that “we take pleasure in sending to you some literature descriptive of Los Angeles County and Southern California.”
While it was not stated specifically what was sent back to the Keystone State, several publications issued by the Chamber are shared here as part of the array of material at hand for the organization to send out to interested parties. First, though, even as the Chamber was nearing its fortieth anniversary, it was not the first Angel City entity organized to promote the region.
The Los Angeles News of 25 February 1871 put out a short notice that, in two days, “there will be held a meeting in the County Court room for the organization of a board of trade” with “many of the leading men of the city” calling for such a group and the paper ended by stating “it is to be hoped that all desiring the prosperity of the city” would attend..
Alas, the movement died quickly and, in its Christmas Day edition that year, the Los Angeles Star issued an editorial in which it stated “we would suggest the importance of the early establishment, in our growing city, of a Chamber of Commerce or Board of Trade.” There had been, for the past few years, a small boom in the Angel City and locality, with an increase in population, growth in business and other indicators that marked the first such occurrence in the history of Los Angeles. The paper added,
The commercial interests of this city have already assumed a magnitude sufficient to justify an organization of this kind, and commercial interests would be protected and greatly enhanced by securing harmony and concert of action among our merchants and business men. The experience and past history of other cities has fully demonstrated the value of these organizations, and by concert of action they make their influence felt in all parts of the world.
The Star also noted the importance of chambers and boards on local, state and national legislation when it came to championing (lobbying) politicians on behalf of business interests and it suggested this influence was vital in “restraining other corporate bodies from enacting obnoxious laws, and securing the passage of acts that are calculated to promote the public welfare.”
Seeing no action, however, on its recommendation, the paper tried again in its issue of 17 May 1872, reminding readers that only San Francisco had greater commercial importance in California (and there were plenty of Angelenos who dreamed of supplanting the northern metropolis in this area). It repeated that Los Angeles business interests would “be greatly protected and augmented” by a chamber or board “which would embrace the counsel and concert of action” of the business community and promoted the benefits that would result.
The Star added that a chamber or board would not only be of commercial value, but be important for “all questions involving the welfare and prosperity of our community.” For example, there were “various contemplated public enterprises” like the expansion of local agriculture, the inculcation of industry and manufacturing, and the promotion of railroads.
With the first, the age of the large ranchos and stock raising was all but gone and the farming of wheat, grapes and citrus was rapidly in the ascendant. It would be some time before large-scale manufacturing and industry would come to the Angel City, but negotiations with the dominant Southern Pacific Railroad were underway, including a major role by F.P.F. Temple, to determine lines, mandated by Congress as the SP built a line from the Bay Area to the Colorado River at Yuma. Not mention, but also essential, was the needed improvements of the rudimentary harbor at San Pedro and Wilmington, which had a breakwater being built with the first infusion of federal funding.
In repeating its call for a board of trade, the paper concluded:
It should become the great center from which would radiate the spirit of enterprise and advancement throughout our entire county; the faithful and efficient custodian of our present important and rapidly growing commercial interests.
Finally, on 31 July 1873, there was a meeting to establish a Board of Trade and the Star reported the surnames of such attendees as Beaudry (Prudent, soon to be the mayor,) Downey (former governor John), Griffin (Dr. John S.), Hellman (presumably banker Isaias W.), Lazard (merchant Solomon), Widney (perhaps real estate promoter and recent county judge Robert,) and Workman (likely William H. and/or his brother Elijah, nephews of Homestead owners William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste.)
At the gathering, Downey spoke of the importance of creating either a board of trade or chamber of commerce so that “Los Angeles should assume her rightful place as a commercial centre.” Merchant Myer J. Newmark told the assembled that “in his travels to the cities of the East, in the hotels and public libraries he always found numbers of San Diego and Santa Barbara papers, but encountered no Los Angeles papers.” A board or chamber could correct this problem so that “Los Angeles would be known and her importance appreciated abroad.”
A couple of weeks later, it was decided to definitely form a Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Star implored that “when the proper time arrives we trust that no man of business in the city or county will decline becoming a member.” Unfortunately, while the Chamber did launch and conducted its work over the next couple of years, while the boom continued to grow, it more or less followed the bust that came with the financial collapse in California in 1875-76 and which included the failure of the Temple and Workman bank. By the late Seventies, the Chamber dissolved.
In March 1883, a new effort was undertaken to establish a Board of Trade and a meeting at the Produce Exchange at the Arcadia Block, about where U.S. 101 goes under Main Street today, was held. The Los Angeles Herald of the 10th stated that “the gentlemen present were very earnest, and seemed fully impressed with the importance to the material interests of the city of carrying out the matter in hand.
Eugene Meyer, who was part of the effort to form the chamber a decade prior, spoke and provided “a short history of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, which in its day had accomplished much good, but which was now defunct.” Meyer lauded the current effort as badly required and opined that, properly run, “would be of great benefit to the material interests of the city.”
After several years of economic malaise, Los Angeles finally was starting to show some evidence of growth by that time and the environment was eminently enhanced by 1886 when a direct transcontinental railroad connection was made by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe and the great Boom of the Eighties followed. This was why version two of the Chamber of Commerce was inaugurated in October 1888 and, this time, became a success and remains in operation today almost 135 years later.
Leaping forward four decades to 1928, greater Los Angeles was in another of its extensive boom periods and the sophistication of the Chamber was clearly reflected in the publications shown here. A pocket-sized “Los Angeles: The Metropolis of The Southwest” from the first of the year is fundamentally the same in layout and content as one from two years before recently featured in a post on this blog.
In this case, the publication estimated the population of the Angel City as being nearly 1.367 million persons (the county was around 2.2 million), listed the assessed valuation of property in the city as not far south of $2 million and that of the county as approaching $3.4 billion, showed agricultural products of all types (including livestock) as nearing $90 million, and indicated that all industrial products totaled $1.28 billion in value. The top industries were oil ($244 million), motion pictures ($176 million), and metal products and machine shops ($146 million). The crop report showed that oranges were still dominant at north of $20 million, with poultry at $12.4 million and dairy products at $11.9 million.
Another publication published annually during this period was “Los Angeles: The Center of an Agricultural Empire” and a post here from four years ago examines in some detail that item. A very interesting Chamber production, published in May, was “The Land of the Beckoning Climate” by Dr. Ford A. Carpenter of the organization’s meteorology and aeronautics department. In his question-and-answer section of the document, Carpenter noted that he’d answered 100,000 questions about the climate and weather of the region and he presented his most common queries and responses.
For example, as to how many days of the years featured sunshine, he noted that over a 23-year period it was determined that there were 354 days a year with some amount and that another report covering an era twice that length showed that there were exactly half that number of cloudless days. As to when storms mostly occurred, Carpenter stated that average rainfall was 16 inches annually, with the most at the upper levels of the mountains where storm clouds dropped their heaviest loads of precipitation. He also noted that there were an average of three thunderstorms a year, though not violent storms as found elsewhere in the country.
When asked how the local climate affected living and working conditions, Carpenter responded that artificial light in factories and manufacturing concerns was rare and these and schools have never closed because of weather conditions (although floods undoubtedly made some of this happen!). Moreover, he averred that the weather was such that there was a marked “contentment of office and factory workers as well as to laborers of every class and kind,” though these are striking generalizations as his statement that 80% of the time, Sundays, holidays and vacations were to the degree that “life may be enjoyed to the full in brilliant sunshine at sea coast, plains, foothills and mountains.”
Because Florida was a booming state during the 1920s, though subject to a massive land bubble that burst before the onset of the Great Depression in fall 1929, there was a comparison between Jacksonville and Los Angeles with respect to climate. The former had higher hot temperatures, while lows were fairly similar, but, of course, “humidity plays an important part” and his interesting example was that “cotton duck suits may be worn in Florida [all year] but they are uncomfortably cool for California” except at the end of August and in early September!
After offering lengthy comparisons between the “Franco-Italian and the California riviera” as well as “between Egyptian-Algerian and California conditions,” Carpenter addressed earthquakes and so-called “earthquake weather.” Over forty years, he noted, “Los Angeles has experienced a moderate earthquake tremor on an average of once in five years,” but claimed “there has never been a death or a serious accident which may be attributed to earthquakes in Los Angeles since the founding of the city in 1769.” First, the Angel City was established in 1781 and, second, there were fatalities in 1812, 1857 and 1920, as a few examples, though not of a large number. He also claimed that property damage in 157 (145) years was les in value that those from “a severe windstorm in any midwest town.”
Finally, of special interest to us nearly a century later as we increasingly experience the worsening effects of climate change, there was a question of “Is the climate changing?” Carpenter’s reply was that records were limited for much of the period, but he asserted that
there is no reason to believe that the winters are colder, the summers warmer, that there is more or less wind, or that there is less or more rainfall in the elapsed nearly four centuries [since Cabrillo sailed into San Diego Bay in 1542].
“Los Angeles County Sport Land” was another annual product of the Chamber, actually through its Junior chamber, during the era and this one, with its colorful wrapper, also proudly noted that the Angel City was to be host to the Tenth Olympic Games in summer 1932. It includes an essay by Robert S. Weaver, the regional president of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and he averred that “Nature in one of her recreational moods . . selected on the far Western rim of America a strip between mountains and sea, perhaps not greater than the Garden of Eden, and dedicated it to the happiness of mankind.”
Weaver waxed eloquently about the purported fact that “twelve months of healthy outdoor recreation every year have worked wonders, smiles have increased in mileage per capital and happiness has shown a tonic effect on the entire population until today we are beginning to suspect that a super race of young men and women is growing up in Southern California.” Photos and drawings, of course, show these to comprise a white “super race.” Essays on golf, polo, tennis, yachting, fishing, swimming, motoring, mountain sports, clubs, municipal camps, boxing, baseball, football and others are included and a future post will go into more detail on one of these editions of “Los Angeles County Sport Land.”
There are also two distinct publications on Los Angeles County, with one featuring a remarkable color wrapper of a golfing couple on a hillside near some equestrians (there is definitely a socio-economic distinction here, as well) while a clean urban landscape stretches out to lofty mountains—almost as if this was a sanitized view from, say, Palos Verdes to the San Gabriel range without a lot of the real life detail in between the two.
An introduction noted that the publication was “for the benefit of those who have not visited this region and who desire to get the proper concept of it” as it “proposes to present only actual facts gained from reliable sources and compiled in a way that is both interesting and informative.” The essay noted that the region “by virtue of its phenomenal growth during the pas decade, has attracted world-wide attention” and
has gained accessions from every part of the world—people who constitute the very best in brain power [this and the reference to “super race” sure sounds like the standard line of the eugenics promoters of the day], and to whom the newness of the country and its great opportunities and advantages hold an irresistible lure.
A separate contribution on Southern California plays up the recreational opportunities, though is careful to note that the region “is not alone a playground” as “it is a beehive of commerce and industry as well.” With the most diverse climate and scenery and its status as an economic powerhouse, greater Los Angeles “truly is a land where work and play mingle in happy combination and where life may be lived to its fullest.”
Another contribution on Los Angeles County refers to the Southern California coastal region as “a graceful sweep suggestive of the massive arches which the early Mission padres introduced into this far-flung outpost of the Spanish Empire some four centuries ago.” Within this unusual metaphor, “Los Angeles County is a strategic stone in this great structure” and it was added that the county “rises in three mighty steps or terraces from the ocean,” including the coastal plain, the valleys, the north of the San Gabriels.
Central to all of this, “Los Angeles is like a mighty hub with its spokes radiating in every direction,” but, generally, “within the confines of this Empire on the Pacific is to be found all that goes to make up the sum total of human happiness.” With its commerce, industry, agriculture, recreation, education, “religious environment,” the arts and so on, including “homes, even to the humblest, [that] are beautiful beyond description” and landscaping from all over the world, “here truly is a wonderland, where play and work are combined in happy proportion.”
After a summation from Carpenter on climate, details on cities, towns and communities throughout greater Los Angeles, with plenty of photos, comprise much of the remainder of the publication. There are sections on commerce, schools, music/art/clubs/churches, industry, agriculture, recreation, and hotels and apartments. Again, a specific post highlighting one of these publications will be offered at a future time.
Somewhat similar but in a narrower format, designed perhaps to fit neatly into an inside suit pocket or a purse is a county publication and its introductory statement provides more of the rapturous rhetoric common to Chamber materials. This includes:
For centuries the name “California” has stirred the depths of man’s imagination, running on forever in terms of romance, mystery and adventure. Stories of it, trickling back to the Courts of the Old World, sent their most adventurous spirits forth on hazardous expeditions on which crowned heads staked their wealth.
California even today has lost none of its lure. Thousands of people from all parts of the world annually heed its call. First they come as tourists and then sensing the rapidity of its growth and the stability of the factors behind that growth, return to take up permanent residence in this land of a million opportunities—opportunities to play and work with equal pleasure.
Further description of the diverse scenery, equitable climate, recreational opportunities and economic production is provided, along with brief notes on such regional attractions as the alligator farm at Lincoln Park; art galleries; gardens; historic sites; Santa Catalina Island; the Cawston Ostrich Farm; “China Town” with its authentic Chinese plays at a theater on Jackson Street, the temple in Ferguson Alley and, generally, “where can be seen Chinese life in all its phases; Christmas Tree Row in Altadena; the Coliseum; Gay’s Lion Farm; the Huntington Library; the Los Angeles Museum; the “Mission Church” or Plaza Church; the Mission Play at San Gabriel; Mt. Wilson; the Southwest Museum; movie theaters like Cathay Circle and Grauman’s Egyptian and Chinese theaters; and much else.
Plenty of facts are also included about the city and county, the missions, and general information; a series of motor trips with an Automobile Club of Southern California regional map and including such visits to the Orange Empire, Mission San Gabriel and Mt. Wilson, an Industrial Trip, the harbor and Signal Hill oil fields, Mulholland Drive and “Topango” Canyon, a film studio excursion; and others; travel information; hotels in many areas of the region; and Los Angeles apartment houses. Again, we’ll feature one of these publications in a later post.
The letter and half-dozen publications covered here are a glimpse into the massive organizational strength, weight and influence the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce wielded during the Roaring Twenties, when another boom period swept over greater Los Angeles. As noted, we’ll look to go into more detail with versions of some of these as they were issued through the period so readers can learn more about how the Chamber promoted the region during the era.