by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In this continuation of a series of “Read All About It” posts from the Homestead’s newspaper collection, many of which are from 1870s Los Angeles, that decade being one of the three (along with the 1840s and 1920s) featured ones in our 1830-1930 interpretive era, we look at the 22 October 1874 edition of the Los Angeles Herald, one of the three major English-language dailies, the others being the Express and the Star, in the rapidly growing Angel City.
Prior to the late 1860s, the town was too small to have even one single daily paper and, after the myriad problems with floods and droughts during the first half of that decade, there was a dramatic shift in the second half with greater Los Angeles undergoing its first significant and sustained period of growth.
Among the many changes and improvements through the mid-Seventies were improved transportation and shipping facilities (rudimentary though these may have been) with better roads, the first railroad line, the earliest bridges, and work at the harbor at San Pedro/Wilmington; the first high school and colleges; the first viable public library; a wider array of businesses including some basic light manufacturing; and more.
With respect to the population, it also became increasingly demographically diversified, with the Spanish-speaking portion no longer numerically dominant as more Americans and Europeans migrated to the region, a small cadre of African-Americans grew slightly, and the Chinese community also grew moderately (though this segment of the city’s residents was subject to intense hatred from all quarters, culminating in the horrific massacre of eighteen men and a teen boy by a mob of whites and Latinos on 24 October 1871—tomorrow at 2 p.m., Scott Zesch will give a virtual presentation for the Homestead on the events of that terrible night.)
One of the best primary sources for understanding this era of regional history is through newspapers and the highlighted edition of the Herald for this post has plenty of interesting content. A particularly notable article was not from Los Angeles, but San Francisco, where celebrated photographer Eadweard Muybridge (born Edward Muggeridge) killed his wife’s lover at Calistoga in Napa County. Early in 1875, the man known for his early work in the study of motion through photos stood trial and was acquitted, the consensus being that the jury sympathized with the purported cuckold.
With respect to local news, the main feature concerned the recently completed Alden Fruit Drying Works in Los Angeles, a project financially supported by F.P.F. Temple and the Temple and Workman bank. Its proprietor George B. Davis invited journalists and “many prominent citizens” to visit the facility in East Los Angeles, now Lincoln Heights, and which was in a four-story (including a basement) 1,280-square foot frame structure. The Alden process was developed in Chicago and works sprung up across the country.
In the underground space were three furnaces connected to a like number of evaporators, which rose through the upper stories and vented through the roof. The ground floor was comprised of offices and a space for preparing the fruit before it went into the evaporators. The second story was made up of the packing room, while the top floor had a hoisting device and appliances in which the cured fruit was gathered and then lowered into a chute connected to the packing room.
As to those evaporators, they were composed of wooden flumes through which the hot, dry air generated by the furnaces passed and cured the fruit which moved along in drying pans through the 46-foot long flumes that were 12 square feet in size. Of that 46 feet, the first eleven were in the furnaces, 21 feet were occupied by the hoisting, and the remaining 14 were for the exhaust. The hoisting apparatus included chains on which there were brackets holding the drying pans and swinging doors on the sides of the evaporators at each level allowed for the placement of the fruit, which was examined at each step before the drying was completed.
As to the fruit involved, it was reported that “the grapes to be cured are first dipped in a warm solution to soften the skin, and arranged in thin layers upon wire screens, when they are ready to be passed into evaporators and in due process be metamorphosed into raisins.” Temperatures varied from 90 to 250 degrees, with the heat during the visit shown to be 170 degrees and the grape-drying process took some six hours.
It was added that apples and other fruits were dried much more quickly, while it was expected that, at full capacity, the process would be kept operating continuously. The expectation was that 2 1/2 tons of grapes yielding almost a ton of raisins would be processed daily. Moreover, the building could accommodate a dozen evaporators, meaning a quadrupling of capacity, so that 30 tons of grapes could be processed, if the market warranted. While Muscat grapes were the only ones known to be satisfactory for making raisins, experiments were being made on the Mission grape with high hopes entertained for success.
Davis told the assemblage that, once the Muscat supply was exhausted, he planned to work with the Mission grapes and also hoped to exhibit raisins at the next county agricultural fair. He added that the process could also be used for drying meat and other foods. After the tour and demonstration, the proprietor supplied those “who were bibulously inclined to partake with him in something which is considered to be an antidote to the drying process,” while those Good Templars, who were teetotalers, were served lemonade and others could have theirs “spiked.”
With that, the paper wished Davis the best of luck “for the speedy development of the project into what we believe will eventually be one of the leading industries of Southern California.” The Alden Fruit Drying Works, however, had a spotty record, at best, and, after Davis gave up on the business in the resulting economic downtown, during which the Temple and Workman bank failed and its loan to the proprietor not paid back, another attempt was made in 1880, though it, too, appeared to have gone by the wayside fairly quickly.
A special session of the Los Angeles Common (City) Council mainly addressed transportation issues, including the question of grading for the extension on Upper Main Street, north of the Plaza, for the Spring and Sixth Street Railroad, the first streetcar system in the Angel city and of which F.P.F. Temple was treasurer. The problem was that the cutting employed for the line was to the detriment of property owners along the thoroughfare, so the council ordered the firm, headed by attorney and former District Court judge Robert M. Widney, “to restore the street to its former elevation where graded, and that the track conform to the natural grade” within a week or face a lawsuit.
Also discussed was a report forwarded by the Southern Pacific Railroad “representing that they were about to commence the construction of the new depot building on the property donated for that purpose by the city.” The SP took over the local Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad, completed five years before and which ran to the harbor, with its depot on Alameda Street across from the end of Commercial Street. A larger station, however, was required, so the city provided land north of the Plaza near the Elysian Hills.
The SP further stated “that the lumber for the building had already been ordered and would be here within six weeks, and that the depot would be completed within one year.” With this noted, the company asked the city leadership for “the issuance of the $75,000 in bonds by the city in accordance with the contract” to continue the work.
Council member Prudent Beaudry, soon to be mayor, was in favor of the bond issue “provided the Railroad Company would give their statement in writing, properly signed.” That was done immediately after the request and, in the afternoon, “an ordinance passed making the necessary provision for the issuance of bonds.” The River Station, as it was called, was not, however, completed until 1876, and another, larger brick depot was built on the site just over a decade later as the great Boom of the 1880s was underway—today, the site is Los Angeles State Historic Park.
Smaller news items abounded, including that August Stoermer was crowned the “champion ten-pin roller” (that is, bowler) of the Angel City; silver mining in San Gabriel Canyon was being increased; the Los Angeles Guards militia was officially commissioned by Governor Newton Booth; Charles Knowlton, proprietor of the Pico House hotel, leased the upper floors of the new structure of Felix Signoret to accommodate more guests; lands at Rancho Cucamonga were to be sold in January; and that a “lake” formed from recent rains on Fort Street (now Broadway) purportedly contained fish, with the apparently joking suggestion made that a scientific commission be formed to study the phenomenon—the paper apparently insinuating that the city needed to improve grading there to avoid future watercourses from forming.
Another interest bit of news concerned “a flying visit . . . to the vineyard of Mr. Rubio, on Alameda street, South of the city” with the report stating that the reporter “had the pleasure of looking through his extensive grounds.” Rubio’s family planted the first vineyard east of the Los Angeles River in 1835 at what was called Paredon Blanco (White Bluff) as the ayuntamiento (town council) granted land to him and Esteban López in that section.
When Irish immigrant Andrew Boyle settled in Los Angeles in 1858 after several years in San Francisco, he acquired Paredon Blanco land, including vineyards, and his son-in-law, William H. Workman, founded, with banker (and former partner of F.P.F. Temple and Workman’s uncle, William) Isaias W. Hellman and John Lazzarovich, who married into the López family, Boyle Heights in 1875.
Rubio then moved to his Alameda Street property with his vineyard on the east side of the thoroughfare fronting the river. The article continued that
The vineyard proper contains one hundred acres [much larger than Rubio’s Paredon Blanco holding] upon which are planted Mission, Muscat, Flaming Tokay and others of the finest varieties of grapes. This is probably the largest vineyard in the vicinity of the city, producing not only the greatest quantity of grapes but those of the best quality raised in the Los Angeles valley.
This is notable because most attention went to such American and European vintners as Mathew Keller, the Sainsevains, Benjamin D. Wilson and others, but Rubio clearly had an extensive and successful operation (one wonders if he sent Muscat grapes to the fruit drying works). Moreover, the article added that “besides the vines, Mr. Rubio’s place also has a full complement of semi-tropical fruits, such as orange, lemon, walnut, etc., together with arbors of pleasant flower gardens.” It concluded that the estate “is one of the most delightful semi-tropical homes which [the] heart could wish” and it was encouraged to visit the site “to see what a home can be made in Southern California.”
The editorial section has several items of note including praise of Davis and his fruit drying enterprise, which, the Herald asserted, “will work a great change in the grape growing business of California,” especially locally because “our soil and climate are peculiarly adapted to the culture of the finer quality of grapes.” Moreover, it was predicted that Davis would preside over what “in a short time [will] become a chief industry in the Southern California counties” and that, within a year or so, “[we] will see several large Alden Fruit Drying factories in successful operation in this county.”
Also featured was United States Senator John P. Jones of Nevada, a mining magnate who was lauded by the paper for a recent speech on financial matters (a national depression erupted in 1873, though California seemed largely immune to its effects due to the stock bubble involving northwestern Nevada silver mines, in which Jones made much of his pile, that burst two years later and led to a bust that included the collapse of the Temple and Workman bank in its wake.)
The piece discounted rumors that Jones did not write his own letters and addresses and asserted he was “among the few leading men of the nation” with “strong practical sense.” It went on that, while Jones was very wealthy, “money cannot make the kind of man he is” and “nature did more” than what he realized in his speculations at the Comstock Lode at Virginia City. Jones was poised in fall 1874 to develop his new seaside town of Santa Monica and would soon take a controlling interest in the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, of which F.P.F. Temple was then treasurer, and build a branch line to his new community before the main route was to be constructed to eastern California silver mining regions—this latter not being realized before the railroad was sold, in 1877, to the Southern Pacific.
In “A Parallel,” the Herald lamented that the management of Los Angeles city affairs was such that “an immense sum of money [was] spent and there is not a great deal to show for it.” City lands, or “donation lots,” were sold, yet there was $200,000 debt and only “a few wealthy citizens” made out in the process of the disposition of those properties. With regard to “scrip,” basically an I.O.U., it was observed that “it is not long since city scrip was scarcely worth the picking up [of it] in the street.” As an example, $27,000 of that paper was issued for a wooden sewer which was contracted for at just 45,000.
Yet, there was some good news, in that the old “machine” was voted out and new leaders had not issued any scrip recently, while the city “has paid cash for everything, and she had several thousand dollars in her Treasury.” Still, the paper fulminated that “neither has done anything in the way of improving the city,” because “the old masters spent the revenue, sold the city’s land, disposed of the proceeds and ran the city so in debt” that the scrip was worthless, while the new leaders were better with finances, but were not investing in the municipality.
The Herald warned that Los Angeles needed “wide-awake, progressive men” and warned voters against returning “the old masters” to power, lest “we shall have heavy debts and plenty of scrip, but nothing to show for it.” It should be added that city finances were such that, when James J. Mellus, of an old local family, won election as city treasurer soon afterward, he deposited the $23,000 in municipal funds at the Temple and Workman bank. When that institution cratered, however, it appears most, if not all, those monies were lost in the debacle.
Finally, there is a lengthy diatribe about a conflict the paper had with its rival, the Express, concerning the Los Angeles City Water Company, formed in 1868 and which had a 30-year lease to distribute the precious fluid in the metropolis. The Herald noted that the city health officer wen before the Common Council “with a quantity of offensive matter taken from some part of the water-pipe,” but stated that neither the Express nor the Star made any mentioned of it.
Yet, while the Express and Herald seemed to agree on almost every matter the health officer brought before the city’s leaders, there was divergence on the question of possible problems with the purity of the water. It was suggested that the former was beholden to the water company and the latter crowed that “the trap is sprung, and we leave the people of Los Angeles to decide as to whether we have bagged our game or not.”
The paper went on to solemnly guarantee that it would never knowingly report falsely about the water company or any other entity or individual and would own up to any errors printed in its pages and it concluded,
We have seen fish, shells and other things not desirable in the way of drink taken from the San Francisco Water Works, and we have no doubt young whales and perriwinkles [sic—a joke, perhaps?] are sometimes found in the pipes of the Los Angeles Water Company, but why should the Express go back on this discovery of the Health Officer and yet howl about the ravages of the scarlet fever [then detected in some abundance in the area].
As always, it is interesting to see the advertisements in the paper, some of which are provided here, along with public notices, including one about proposals requested by the county for bridges, which were just becoming a feature of local transportation and one of which was for the “Anaheim to Spadra” road, basically what became Brea Canyon Road and the 57 Freeway corridor in the eastern reaches of the county, as it crossed San José Creek near where Brea Canyon ends at Valley Boulevard in today’s City of Industry.
We have plenty more 1870s newspapers for the Museum’s holdings to share in the “Read All About It” series, so keep an eye out for those in future posts.