Portrait Gallery: Cartes de Visites of Fredrick G. and Agnes Lambie Yapp, ca. late 1870s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As has been stated many times here before, there is the perceived surface value of an artifact in the Museum’s collection and then there is what lies below, directly and/or tangentially, that can be of interest. In the case of this post, we start with the pair of cartes de visite (literally, calling card photographs) of Fredrick George Yapp (1832-1906) and his second wife Agnes Lambie (1859-1936), taken by the noted early Los Angeles photographer, Valentine Wolfenstein.

The images were taken of the couple in the late 1870s, as both came to the Angel City after 1875, but before the couple were married in October 1880, by which time Wolfenstein was in San Francisco. The interest beyond what was captured in the images is both with Fred, but also through Agnes, specifically with her brother William, who had a notable career in Los Angeles for about a quarter century.

Los Angeles Herald, 3 June 1875.

Yapp’s background is mysterious until the mid-1860s. He was born in New York of parents born in England, but nothing could be located of him until he was working as a miner at Clipper Gap, northeast of Auburn, along where the Central Pacific Railroad, the western portion of the transcontinental railroad, was building its line through the notoriously challenging topography of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The next that can be traced of Yapp is that he married Mary C. Burgess in Vallejo at the end of 1872 and they had a son, also named Fred, within two years. In spring 1875, Yapp was living in the San Fernando township where he was working on the early stages of one of the most important transportation projects in 19th century Los Angeles: the building of the nearly 7,000 foot tunnel for the Southern Pacific Railroad and its direct connection to the Angel City from the north.

Los Angeles Express, 30 June 1875.

Specifically, Yapp was in charge of the store, at the southern end where the 5 and 14 freeways meet today, maintained by Sisson, Wallace and Company, who were contracted with the Central Pacific on the transcontinental route to not just provide supplies, but also to bring in Chinese laborers. These men, recruited specifically from Guangdong Province, formerly known as Canton, were engaged in some of the most difficult work under conditions that were often terrible and many deaths resulted from the environment in which the thousands of Chinese workers labored.

It is not known if Yapp was particularly connected to the superintending of Chinese laborers on railroad projects for the Central Pacific or its Southern Pacific subsidiary, but it seems likely that he was with Sisson, Wallace and Company prior to making the move south the San Fernando. By early June 1875, Yapp acquired eleven acres in the southeastern part of Los Angeles, which seems to be in what is now Boyle Heights and which included grapes, oranges and walnuts.

Los Angeles Herald, 1 June 1876,

In the 30 June edition of the Los Angeles Express, the founder of San Fernando, former state senator Charles Maclay, who had a close connection to Leland Stanford of the Southern Pacific as he established his town along the rail line, furnished a report on the progress of the tunnel, noting that he met the managers, including Yapp. In its 2 May 1876 edition, the Los Angeles Herald reported that

At the tunnel, or within a few hundred feet of the entrance, is quite a settlement, and foremost among the establishments is the mercantile house of Sisson, Wallace & Co., who furnish the entire community for miles around with both the necessaries and conveniences of life. Their store is well stocked with goods of every sort, and is managed by Fred Yapp, who is very popular and efficient in the discharge of his duties, as well as courteous in his intercourse with all. This enterprising firm could have no better man at such a post.

It was added that there were about 1,000 Chinese working on the tunnel project—for a sense of scale, the 1870 federal census enumerated under 250 Chinese in Los Angeles County. Moreover, there were many other Chinese employed with the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, of which F.P.F. Temple was the founding president and then treasurer, when it built its branch line (the only one finished) to Santa Monica the prior year, so it may be that some of them migrated up to San Fernando for the tunnel work.

Yapp’s registration as postmaster at the Tunnel post office from April 1876 onward.

The article went on, somewhat abstractly, to note that, with the large number of Chinese laborers, “consequently in the store of Sisson & Co., there is a department to meet this branch of trade.” The suggestion seems to have been that goods, perhaps food as well as clothing and other items, were carried specifically for the Chinese. It was averred that “everything works harmoniously apparently, and everybody appears throughout the locality to be satisfied with their lot.”

A little further down in the article, it was recorded that not far below 4,700 of the 6,963-foot tunnel was finished and “the work is admirably done under the superintendence of W.T. Lambie, engineer in charge.” Specifically highlighted was the timber supports of redwood for what was deemed “a fine piece of engineering skill” in “the fourth longest tunnel in the world,” after one in France that is 7 1/2 miles in length, the Hoosac Tunnel in northwestern Massachusetts at 4 3/4 miles and the Blue Ridge west of Charlottesville, Virginia, though the length is 4,264 feet, so it would have been the third longest at the time.

Herald, 2 May 1876.

In its New Year’s Day edition for 1876, the Herald offered a very lengthy and celebratory piece on the tunnel, in which it noted the “Motley Groupe” of workers, including “Chinamen [who] are employed altogether for excavating” while whites attended to the timber supports and also oversaw “the Chinese gangs.” Notably, the reporter wondered “how men can endure daily toil in such a place” and added that “some of the poor fellows do fall by the wayside and undergo a long siege of fever as a result of the dampness and exposure.”

Despite this, it was claimed that the project offered “a fair immunity from disease and accident” for the large work force, of which the whites worked 12 hours daily and the Chinese 8. Not surprisingly, the former, considered “the best class of men” for such labor, earned $2.60 a day, including board, while the latter were paid just $1 a day. Here, too, it was observed that the store run by Yapp was “extensive” including “provisions for the Chinese force.” Among the managers listed was “Wm. Lamby, Engineer in charge.”

Express, 15 December 1875.

Benign as these descriptions were of the work conditions at the tunnel, occasional reports from Los Angeles papers indicated, brief as they usually were, of just how dangerous the environment really was. In its 8 May 1875 edition, the Los Angeles Express reported that “there was a Chinaman killed . . . by the caving of earth” and added “it was a hideous spectacle.” Not quite two weeks later, the paper noted that a Chinese worker suffered a broken leg when a bank collapsed.

The Express briefly observed another cave-in towards the end of September and “several Chinamen were badly hurt.” Yet, the paper followed up with the names and types of injuries suffered by white men and, unsurprisingly, left the Chinese victims unidentified with no specification as to their wounds. In mid-October, it gave more information about a horrific accident in which a car on an incline broke loose from its chain and plummeted to the bottom, so that “three men lost their lives in the accident, one of whom was a Chinaman,” who as decapitated.

Express, 30 December 1875.

In late November, a boiler exploded, killing a white worker—likely the Chinese were kept far away from that location and a couple of weeks later, another Chinese laborer was killed, but the Express thought it noteworthy to observe that “the Celestials gave the corpse of the Chinaman . . . a gorgeous funeral,” adding that “no less than twelve hacks were in line.” The Herald didn’t mention how and where the man died, but recorded that the obsequies were “high-toned” and that, in addition to the caravan of carriages, there were “lots of prayers, and plenty of roast pork for the late departed.”

By the end of 1875, another expected problem was noted, but, again, only in the briefest of reports, as the Express stated

In consequence of a quarrel between the Caucasians and the Chinese, a large number of the white laborers on the San Fernando tunnel are now in Los Angeles, discharged.

Naturally, it is frustrating that more wasn’t provided about the conflict, but it can be presumed, given the tenor of the times, that white workers were mistreating the Chinese laborers, who defended themselves. It is interesting that a significant cadre of the former were fired, while nothing was said about the latter. Towards the end of January 1876, a dirt car’s brake failed while descending an incline and ran over a Chinese worker and a horse, killing both. There were undoubtedly more examples of injury and death, belying the placid reports of the Herald about the relatively safe conditions at the project site.

Express, 23 October 1880.

On 14 July 1876, the tunnel was completed and not quite a month later, the first engine passed through, with the grand opening of the completed line taking place on 5 September, marking a transportation landmark in the history of the Angel City. As for Yapp, he went to live in Los Angeles, though his first wife died the following year. In October 1880, he married Agnes Lambie in a ceremony held at her brother’s East Los Angeles (now Lincoln Heights) house—William Lambie had a subdivision developed near where USC-Keck Hospital is now, just off Interstate 10.

The couple immediately moved to Tucson, where there were quite a few Angelenos at the time as the Southern Pacific’s line from southern California eastward to New Orleans (that connection made in 1883) was being prosecuted. It may be that William Lambie’s work as a Southern Pacific engineer allowed for him to make a connection for Yapp, who worked in a liquor dealership in the southern Arizona city. By 1885, Yapp was back in Los Angeles, where he was a receiver for the store of McNish and Company, this happening to be an Azusa enterprise owned by a brother-in-law of Josephine Belt, wife of Joseph Workman (who was the son of the Homestead’s founders William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste).

In 1886, Yapp became the treasurer of Flanagan-Cuddy Company, who specialized in selling Kentucky whiskies, including being agents for a distiller in Nelson County. His partner, Thomas J. Cuddy, was the Los Angeles Police Department chief from 1883-1885 and again during 1888, when William H. Workman was mayor during the city’s great Boom of the Eighties, but Cuddy resigned after being accused of accepting bribes and went on to be convicted of contempt of a federal court and then of trying to bribe a judge or jury

Yapp also worked as a fruit pest inspector and a miner, but also declared insolvency following the national depression of 1895. Interestingly, his son Fred, who lived with a Latino family while his father was in Tucson, joined the Navy and was in port at Shanghai, when he wrote about an incident involving sailors from his ship wounding a Chinese teen.

In early December 1906, the 73-year old Yapp was employed as a deputy sheriff, likely holding down some kind of a desk job, when as he was walking at Main and First streets, he stepped into the street and was struck by a motorcycle. Though it was thought he would recover, he succumbed to the injuries that involved a major concussion of the brain.

As for Agnes Lambie’s brother, William, who was a major with the Confederate Army and lost an eye in battle, he remained with the Southern Pacific for many years, as a division engineer and road-master, while also serving two terms on the Los Angeles City Council, in 1883-1884 and 1886-1887. This was followed by service as both the city surveyor and city engineer in 1887-1888 during the Workman administration. He was also involved in such local projects as assisting the Santa Ana Valley Irrigating Company in Orange County develop water distribution projects.

Los Angeles Times, 4 December 1906.

With the end of the 20th century came another major tunnel project, this one involving excavating under Bunker Hill for the extension of Third Street to points west. On 21 January 1900, however, Lambie and another man were at the west end of the tunnel when soil from a sewer pipe leak above gave way and the resulting landslide buried the 62-year old, who worked for the city engineer and who was given chief responsibility for the shoring up of the tunnel. Lambie was trapped by enormous timbers that held him from the waist down, though workers were able to remove dirt from his face and upper body.

It took about ten hours to get him freed, but, exposure to water and the cold caused shock to set it, and, not long after he was taken to the hospital, Lambie died, being one of three men to perish in the disaster. There were accusations that the tunnel was not properly supported, though the contractor and some of the employees countered that the slippage was from water exposure, not the timber structure. It is more than ironic, though, that Lambie, who was in charge of the Southern Pacific tunnel work when so many injuries and deaths occurred, died in a slide during his oversight—and when he was just a few feet from safety.

Los Angele Record, 23 January 1900.

So, again, here is another example of how an artifact in the Homestead’s holdings has a lot more to it than directly meets the eye. The stories of Fredrick Yapp and the brother of his second wife, Agnes Lambie, are interesting ones in terms of local transportation history, including the peril of tunneling!

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