Read All About It in the Los Angeles Herald, 27 December 1874

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

With this latest “Read All About It” installment of posts featuring newspapers from the Homestead’s holdings, we look at what was happening on the last Sunday of 1874 through the pages of the Los Angeles Herald, a daily owned by a company in which F.P.F. Temple was the stockholder and treasurer. As has been stated many times here, greater Los Angeles was at near the peak of its first boom, which began in the late Sixties, though, in about eight or nine months, that would, as is inevitable, into a bust.

Being the end of the year, the paper was sure to promote its “double sheet” for the New Year’s Day edition, with “EIGHT PAGES, or FORTY-EIGHT COLUMNS OF MATER [sic]” and without a higher price. It was noted that “this issue will contain full information concerning the agricultural, mineral, commercial and mechanical resources of this favored country” and was likely to be printed in 5,000 copies. While the Museum does not have that paper in its collection, we will be featuring the Herald‘s special issue for 1888 in parts next week, so be sure to look out for that.

On its editorial page, the paper made reference to a bit of a controversy involving the Rancho Cucamonga and an inquiry by Lawrence Gates as to the possibility of investigating purchasing some of the property even though there seemed to be some vagaries with respect to advertising the sale of some of the ranch’s land. Because of some reactions, including by “J.G.D.,” who presumably was former governor John G. Downey, president of the Farmers’ and Merchants’ Bank of Los Angeles, whose managing cashier Isaias W. Hellman, was the principal owner of the ranch, who questioned any cynicism about what was possible for sale, a response to Gates was issued by Jean-Louis Sainsevaine, who had a stake in Cucamonga.

Sainsevaine’s Christmas Day reply was a bit strange as he began by observing that “I do not wish to publish anything that could injure” the interest of anyone in “the Cocamungo.” So, Gates was advised that visit the place so that Sainsevaine “will show you all the good and bad land, and for the water, I can give you a complete information.” For the Herald, “this reads like the statement of a man who knew more than he cared to say” and that “the water item is especially equivocal.” The paper promised to return in a few days with more on “the Cucamonga land scheme.”

Another piece, “An Important Enterprise,” praised local grangers (typically meaning farmers who were part of a organization designed to protect agricultural interests) in the county for espousing “a movement that will result in much good and permanent gain to Southern California.” Specifically noted was the incorporation of the Los Angeles Immigration and Land Co-operative Association through the efforts of a committee on immigration established at a district grangers’ council at Compton (a community established by F.P.F. Temple and Fielding W. Gibson in 1865 and which took on the name of its major property owner, George D. Compton).

The article continued that “this association has for its object the circulation of reliable information to those seeking homes in this semi-tropical clime” and that it opened a local office and acquired 2,000 acres from the Los Angeles and San Bernardino Land Company, formed by San Francisco capitalists to manage the massive holdings, comprising nearly 180,000 acres, of the late Abel Stearns (1798-1871), an early Los Angeles merchant who got into financial trouble and assigned his property to the firm as he grappled with mounting and nearly insurmountable debt.

The Los Angeles Immigration and Land Co-operative Association, the narrative went on, bought this property, of which it was said that “every acre of which can be had artesian water,” to develop a new town that took that promise as part of its name: Artesia. A new monthly promotional publication called The New Italy, referring to the area’s salubrious climate, was to be launched with 5,000 copies of the inaugural issue to be distributed, including on transcontinental trains leaving Omaha for San Francisco and on steamers leaving the latter for Los Angeles and other ports of call in southern California. Sales were launched a couple of months later and the results were such that the company, which included such names as Garey, Holt, Town and Gibbs among its principals, moved to its next project, Pomona, with money borrowed from the Temple and Workman bank.

Unfortunately, the situation by late August 1875 was such that the good times experienced in the region were coming to a stark and sudden end with the collapse of silver mine speculation at Virginia City, Nevada, in which San Francisco banks, particularly the Bank of California, were heavily involved. When that bubble burst, a panic erupted and made its way to Los Angeles, where the biggest casualty was the Temple and Workman bank.

A notable part of the editorial page is “How to Investigate Spiritualism” as the Herald quoted from the most recent issue of the popular journal, Scientific American, some issues of which have been featured on this blog. Included in the cited portion is the statement that spiritualism “professes to create matter and force out of nothing and annihilate them when constructed,” but that, “if the pretensions of spiritualism have a rational foundation . . . let it be investigated.” Either it was “real and true and honest” or it was “a palpable fraud” and its mediums “are the most worship-worthy of mortals, or they are cheats and liars.”

The Herald added that “it is well to understand what modern spiritualists claim to have discovered as new,” because it was not the existence of spirits or their alleged ability to be known to people, with Biblical examples being cited. Instead, the account averred, “all that can possibly be claimed by the spiritist ]sic] as a new discovery is the power or art of making spirits visible or manifest themselves to humanity, at the will and pleasure of the mediums.” This, too, was hardly novel, said the paper, so it zeroed in on the Scientific American reference to the “claim to create material substance instantaneously and annihilate it at pleasure.”

For this, if it can be proved to be true, “we want the investigation made by competent men of every class,” though the Herald noted “we are not satisfied with any report we have seen from scientific men who have commenced the investigation of this subject.” It added that there were some in San Francisco, hearing of a medium in Oakland, “who have tried to penetrate the mystery [and] suddenly drop it and are as silent as the grave” and mocked that some were perhaps embarrassed by “something behind the screen” of their knowledge or were afraid of “a midnight assault from these ‘spooks.'” The item ended with the simple statement of “we are curious to know the cause of their silence.”

In the “Local Brevities” section, it was noted that San Francisco capitalist Michael Reese, accounted as “the great San Francisco money king and the richest man in the State” was visiting Los Angeles; that the Los Angeles Guards militia was preparing for a New Year’s Day social; and that pioneer saddlery Samuel C. Foy reported that he found a rifle ball in his house, suggesting that “some careless person” fired the shot and that “intentional or not, such visitors through the window are not pleasant.”

The Cuyas Bazaar, operated by the proprietor of the Pico House Hotel, was located in the adjacent Merced Theatre building—both structures survive today.

There were also several references to some recent celebrations of the Christmas holiday in the City of Angels. A recent post here included an image of an ad from the Herald of the 20th promoting a Christmas Eve grand ball at the school house at Gallatin, later part of the town of Rivera and now part of Downey. Dr. Burwell E. Rives, who came to the area in 1868 and opened a drug store and medical practice, was part of the organizing committee for the event and reported to the Herald that it

was a fine affair. Most of the gay lads and lassies of Nietos [Los Nietos township] were present and enjoyed themselves to the full limit of the law circumventing human happiness.

On Christmas night, the First Presbyterian Church held its event at the Good Templars’ Hall and “one of the features of the affair was a Christmas tree loaded with presents for each of the 103 scholars of the Sunday School.” These included a rosewood and ebony writing desk and a gold pen and pencil presented to the pastor, Rev. A.F. White. One of the students secured a silver watch and chain “and numerous other expensive presents were in the list.”

A separate and more detailed article concerned the “merry Christmas gathering at Leck’s Hall” for the Methodist Church for its Sunday School children. It was noted that “all restraint was thrown off and the big folks all came down to the capacity of the little ones” in enjoying the festivities. The piece observed that “it is good for older people to play child once in a while; it increases the sunlight in their faces.”

There wasn’t a Christmas tree for the party, but “there was a curtain hung across the corner of the room, the top of which was about five feet high” and “the presents for the children were placed behind this curtain and the whole was called the fish-pond.” One of the little ones was given a fishing pole and told to give it a pull when he felt a “bite,” with the paper adding,

What excitement and anxiety, while the little fisherman was waiting for a bite! A hundred little eyes were watching that pole; by-and-by the bite, then the jerk and out came the little bundle. It proved, perhaps, a dog—a real beauty—and the next one a lovely doll; then out came a pocket knife, and all was excitement. This fishing lasted nearly an hour. Then came the supper, when all the little folks were seated at the table first and the older ones waited. All enjoyed the evening with a gusto and went away calling it a merry Christmas indeed.

Another unique celebration was on board the steamship Orizaba, one of the regular craft plying the coast at the time, and it was reported that “after a sumptuous Christmas dinner,” the passengers gathered in the saloon and formed an organization for the evening with Reese as the chair. Billington C. Whiting, a ’49er seeking his fortune during the Gold Rush and an attorney, state senator, and federal district attorney who lived his last years in Los Angeles (one daughter was married to Albert J. Howard, son of prominent lawyer and judge Volney E. Howard and another was the wife of James J. Mellus, the Los Angeles city treasurer who deposited the city’s $23,000 in the Temple and Workman bank before its failure), was chair of a committee that expressed formal thanks to the ship’s captain, Henry J. Johnston.

The document, in part, thanked the skipper “for his skilful [sic] seamanship, and for his generous hospitality . . . to smooth the disappointment and soften the regrets of those whose seats at home had been made vacant at the festal board, on Christmas day.” Whiting told Johnston that he “regretted that he could not present . . . some more substantial token of friendship and esteem as a Christmas gift.” He joked that he hoped the captain would be remembered in someone’s will or “find a blessing recorded for him in the high Courts of Heaven.”

As for the vote, it was recorded that the tally was unanimous, including that of “the ladies all voting ‘aye’ with a proud appreciation of their rights to exercise the right of election franchises,” a nod to the growing woman suffrage movement, as it would be another 35 years before they could vote in California elections. Finally, it was recorded that the Episcopal Church was to have its Christmas tree ready for children the following day, and the event was to include “music by the school and several of our well-known amateur vocalists.”

There was also the paper’s call for the ouster of the postmaster at Downey because of “delay in the mails, owing to his negligence or carelessness.” Cited as a preeminent example of his breach of duty was the fact that the Herald “which should be delivered regularly every day, is turned over to subscribers in lots of three or four and of a corresponding number of dates.” A representative of the paper stated that two barrels full of the journal were found behind the post office and, this with the other proofs of neglect, was such that the paper thought it proper to “advise the citizens of our sister town to get up a petition of the removal” of the official to the federal government.” The piece ended with the clarion call: “Gentlemen, stand up for your rights and do not allow yourselves to be imposed upon by a derelict official.”

A review of closing exercises for the semester at the Vernon School, in what was then a farming district and now an industrial enclave is also of note, as well as Sunday readings including poetry and a lengthy reprinted article from a Christian journal on the influence of angels. As always, advertisements can be fascinating for learning more about the commercial aspects of the city along with current events, entertainments and other elements.

These newspapers are one of the best sources we have for general life in early 1870s Los Angeles, so please check back for further entries in the “Read All About It” series of pots on The Homestead Blog.

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