Read All About It in the Los Angeles Express, 31 August 1874

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Among the few hundred issues of Los Angeles newspapers in the Museum’s collection, most are from the mid-1870s when the Angel City and its surrounding region was undergoing its first significant and sustained period of growth and when F.P.F. Temple and his silent partner and father-in-law William Workman were heavily invested in the growing business community of the small city.

The papers are some of the best resources we have for the period and the myriad activities of that era that better help us understand what transpired as Los Angeles sought to be a hub of the American Southwest. These were baby steps compared to the giant leaps that took place later, after the great Boom of the 1880s and subsequent booms, but plenty took place that presaged the future of the region.

The featured newspaper for this installment of “Read All About It” is the 31 August 1874 edition of the Los Angeles Express, which was launched a few years earlier and which was one of three major English-language dailies, along with the Herald and the Star, in the city. George A. Tiffany, one of the original quintet of owners when the paper was launched in March 1871, was assisted by editor Joseph D. Lynch, who purchased the sheet from Tiffany in March 1875, so the voice of the Express was almost certainly exclusively that of Lynch.

There wasn’t a great deal of local news items of significance, though John Miller, the secretary of the Southern Pacific Railroad in Los Angeles, did report that the branch line from Florence (south Los Angeles) to Anaheim was certain to extend to Santa Ana, though nothing was said about when. The town clock, which was in the tower of the courthouse, built by Jonathan Temple in 1859 as the Market House, was to be repaired by jewelers Fisher & Thatcher and whose ad included a rendering of the innerworkings of a pocket watch. There was also a report of a opera cloak made of Angora fleece or mohair by the wife of Charles M. Jenkins, whose Civil War diary has been extensively covered in this blog.

A separate item concerned a daring robbery attempt of a stagecoach that left Spadra, now the southwestern part of Pomona, and was within several miles of San Bernardino. Driver Tommy Peters, however, continued driving as the bandit clung to the reins of the horses and began shooting at the animals in an unsuccessful effort to get them to stop. One horse, mortally wounded in the neck, managed to continue running for 3 1/2 miles before dying.

Peters then unhitched the dead creature and continued into San Bernardino, preventing the three men and three women on board from having their possessions taken from them. It was a noted change from the 1850s, when crime and violence were far more rampant, that the road, which was a cut-off built in 1867 by F.P.F. Temple and Spadra hotel-keeper William W. Rubottom, was considered so safe that stage drivers generally went unarmed.

There were reports from Anaheim and Orange from the Californian, a paper in the former town, in what, fifteen years later became Orange County as folks in the southwestern part of Los Angeles County increasingly felt isolated and unheard by the power brokers in the Angel City. At Orange, it was noted that several families from Walla Walla in Washington Territory were settling in their vicinity.

More news included that a new water was building a reservoir to accompany a newly finished ditch, there was talk about whether a wharf at Bolsa Chica (where Huntington Beach later developed) was likely to be successful, and local school children started a juvenile newspaper, the Orange Blossom (five years later, the Willow Dale Press was published by the children of Sierra Madre founder Nathaniel C. Carter).

At Anaheim, a new nursery opened, the Anaheim Landing wharf at modern Seal Beach took in a cargo of lumber, and William R. Olden reported that the demand for land was strong, including “the section, considered most desirable at present by purchasers, is the Coyote Creek neighborhood,” this being in the general vicinity of today’s west Anaheim, Buena Park and nearby locales. In the “uplands,” which, presumably is near the Puente and Chino hills ranges it was stated that water issues “caused all inquiry . . . to cease.”

A more interesting item is a reprint of an article published in the San Francisco Post, though the date was not provided, and describing Los Angeles. The unnamed correspondent tried to pin on the city’s name by stating that “over the piety of the city of Los Angeles, I cannot grow eloquent, though I surmise that a region some miles to the south, named ‘Gospel Swamp,’ has monopolized that virtue.” The latter place is better known to those in Orange County as the more melodiously named Fountain Valley, but the writer went on to suggest that “I may be pardoned when I say that were I in search of a congenial clime for Sunday Schools I would not choose Los Angeles,” perhaps because of its longstanding reputation for high crime and spasms of violence.

Still, the scribe noted that the view from was called “Mt. Fremont” was “one of unsurpassed beauty” and “this eminence” was “in close proximity to the town.” Perhaps this location was in the Santa Monica Mountains, but wherever the peak was, the writer added “I see in the town, where the feeble, faltering hand of man has reared, brick by brick, halls, cottages and temples, and called them grand.” To the east were descried the Sierra Madre (San Gabriel) Mountains, but the revelry was really inspired by a view to the south where:

stretching away to the dim horizon, lie checkered spots, where suburban villas nestle among the spreading branches of the sycamore and acacias, with ever and again a tall palm rearing its head; running streams, bordered and overshadowed by the weeping willow, osier [also a variety of willow] and locust; gardens and natural parks, where the pomegranate, mulberry and cypress, many species of shade and ornamental trees, and a thousand varieties of semi-tropical plants and flowers grow in rich luxuriance; orange groves, vineyards, and fields of waving corn; orchards, where luscious fruits load down the branches of peach, pear, fig, lime and lemon; spots where vines, vegetables and berries unburden their stores for the market.

This sylvan scene seemed like one “systematically arranged flower garden” stretching to the foothills of the San Gabriels with the Los Angeles River “a winding avenue curving through its entire length” though it was averred “the track of the locomotive directly through the center would make a pleasant promenade.”

In all, the correspondent asserted that “this view from Mt. Fremont is a magnificent one, and of which Los Angeles may justly be proud,” but surpassing the aesthetics was the monetary value “which, with the rapid development going on in the circumjacent localities, insures to the town a bright and prosperous future” At that time and during the next year, such new communities included Artesia, Pomona, and San Fernando, as well as early versions of Inglewood (Centinela, of which F.P.F. Temple was president of the development company) and Alhambra (he served as treasurer of that tract’s development firm).

Speaking of Alhambra, a much lengthier travelogue was titled “Notes of a Day’s Drive” and was the work of James J. Ayers, who went on to join Lynch in ownership and editorship of the paper. Ayers’ piece was so highly regarded by rival Los Angeles Star editor, Benjamin C. Truman, that it was included in his 1874 book, Semi-Tropical California. The account began with,

The morning was delightful and although the uplands and hills have just now, a very dry and faded appearance, the evidence everywhere that hay and grain had waved in delightful freshness on those very spots but a few weeks ago, took from the them the repulsive idea of dreariness and waste which attached to perpetually desert places.

Naturally, there was more than a slight exaggeration, as the San Gabriel Valley was nothing like a desert and was, in fact, the garden spot of greater Los Angeles with a generally good water supply and incredibly fertile soil in many places. In any case, the quartet arrived at San Gabriel, where “we drove through its quaint and picturesque avenue,” that is, Mission Road.

In the town, it was noted, “here and there [is] a cottage of modern architecture vainly struggling, amidst the dense foliage, for superior recognition among the weather-worn and ancient adobes which lord it in that curious old relic of a by gone civilization.” The group then stopped at “the monarch monument of them all, that old and rusty pile, the Mission Church.”

The account continued that the bells were ringing for the Sunday morning service and it was curiosity rather than “holier attraction” that drew the group “inside the portals of the ancient temple.” Observed were hand-lettered injunctions to remove hats and “Behave yourselves” and it was wondered “how much more rude and savage must have been the conduct that could have suggested such obvious behavior to an intelligent type of mankind from a people who, if they have no other virtue, can put us to shame in the respect and veneration which they entertain for the House of God!”

The short stay included note of the fact that “its dinginess is hardly relieved by the bright ornamentation of the altar piece” while “the old paintings that deck the walls, are ensombered [?] by the general gloom which pervades the building.” The description of Mission San Gabriel concluded with the note that it did not have much to differentiate it from other missions, save that it had two sets of pews on either side of a center aisle.

From the “ancient pile,” the party headed east to “The Fruit Belt” or what was generally known as the San Gabriel citrus district and the first stop was Sunny Slope, the estate of Leonard J. Rose, a Bavarian immigrant who established a vineyard, orange groves and purebred horse-raising facilities on his ranch and for whom the city of Rosemead is named.

It was stated that “we drove up his beautiful orange alameda, observing that everything on the place was kept in the most precise condition of order, and that neatness was universal.” They viewed Rose’s recently completed house which was deemed “a very tasteful piece of large-cottage architecture, and sufficiently ornée to gratify any dillentanti taste.”

Perusing the avenues bordered with orange, lemon, lime, apricot, fig, peach and walnut trees, with all fruit in excellent shape and the oranges, in particular, “abundant and promising,” the account observed that “the mere drive through these grounds almost surfeits one with variety and profuseness of nature, in this Belt, by her pomological generosity.”

The next stop was the “Dew Drop” estate of Luther H. Titus, later owned by Louis L. Bradbury (of the famed futuristic downtown office building and the upscale enclave near San Gabriel) and then developed as Gainsborough Heath in San Marino. The ranch was considered “one of the most beautiful and promising vineyards and orchards in the whole belt” while the Titus house “is picturesquely situated, embowered in a perfect wealth of shade and fruit, with a mulberry tree providing cover for the north porch.” With a breeze blowing through the edifice, “a more lovely residence we have rarely seen.”

The visitors found Titus looking over a new carriage house made, notably, of adobe “covered with a composition of cement, quicklime, etc.” and chosen because “of temperature, durability and [its being] perfect[ly] rain-proof.” A purebred horse was examined as well a system of water supply consisting of a spring-fed reservoir supplying a pipe to a gate that also drew from more springs, and the dual flow was handled by this one gate. The writer added “we have not seen a water system in the whole Fruit-Belt which surpasses that of Mr. Titus.”

Beyond this, he had “perfect aqueducts made by himself out of sand, cement and quicklime” to water his trees and vines and it was noted that these did not decay or leak and this was represented to be the acme of intelligent irrigation, juxtaposed to “the old laissez-faire system.” The party was shown by the owner some 4,000 trees watered by these aqueducts, while an adjoining orchard were found, with all said to be “large and flourishing, and all his limes and lemons are bearing prolifically,” whereas a neighbor had comparatively poor-looking specimens.

In all, Titus’ Edenic enterprise was deemed a,

beautiful and rapidly improving place thrift, intelligence, progress, and their inevitable concomitant—an elegant and cultured home, combining refinement with comfort, ease and family happiness. Here we found that large and cheerful hospitality which renders the guest, as it were, the giver instead of the recipient of favor.

The visit to Dew Drop was longer than anticipated and the group “found that the shadows were lengthening in the east, and yet we had only seen but a small proportion of the splendid attractions of the Fruit Belt.” A quick trip was made through the “orange grove avenues” of Benjamin D. Wilson and his son-in-law James de Barth Shorb at Lake Vineyard, where Alhambra and San Marino were subsequently developed. A child was espied playing in front of the house that overlooked the lake (now at Lacy Park) that gave the estate its name.

The writer continued “we soon sped out of this beautiful panorama of fruits and vines and lakelets” and followed a road leading to “irregular beauty and bold picturesqueness” where “the silver-tongued and poetic Edward J. C. Kewen,” a lawyer known for his temper and impassioned oratory (including for his support of the Confederacy during the Civil War) resided at the old mill of Mission San Gabriel—a property claimed by William Workman because of a land grant incorporating the lands of the secularized mission before the grant was invalidated in 1864 by the United States Supreme Court.

Our correspondent again fell into rhapsody by gushing,

Here we found the delightful irregularities of hill and dale, all submissive to the chaste design of a mind refined in the elaboration of nature into scenes of artful diversity. Here aspiring fountains in full play rising from rock-piled pyramids; there a winding avenue crossing a bridge spanning a mimic river; here a great willow weeping all over in the ample circumference of its extensive spread . . . in the midst of his gorgeous profusion of giant growth and pigmy vegetation, rose the solid walls of the Kewen mansion.”

All the doors and windows of the house were open, “emblematic of the knightly hospitality of the courteous master and gentle mistress of this Fruit-Belt castle.” As it got late, however, “the shadows admonish us that we must hurry from this enchanting scene, and reluctantly we turned upon as lovely and picturesque a spot as ever gratified the longing eye of ‘Persian king or rude Hindoo pariah.'”

As always with newspapers, advertisements are interesting to note, including the new ones, whether they be for a newly opened furniture store or bowling alley and billiard saloon, as well as for auctioneers, money lenders, an exhibition of art work for sale, a call for a meeting of a literary and social club, and the renting of seats in the Angel City’s first synagogue, which was situated on Fort Street, later renamed Broadway.

We’ll continue to feature Los Angeles newspapers from this period as part of the “Read All About It” series and share some of the fascinating history of the city and region found in their pages.

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