Read All About It in the Los Angeles Herald, 24 February 1875

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This latest entry in the “Read All About It” series of posts on this blog highlighting historic greater Los Angeles newspapers from the Homestead’s holdings looks at the 24 February 1875 edition of the Los Angeles Herald. The paper, the first to be operated in the area from an incorporated company of stockholders, one of which was F.P.F. Temple, and which had the unwieldy name of The Los Angeles City and County Printing and Publishing Company, was one of three English-language dailies in the Angel City, the others being the Express and the Star.

Early 1875 was also a period in which the first significant and sustained growth boom in the region, which began several years before, about 1868, was peaking, though, of course, no one knew that in late February. Consequently, a great deal of printer’s ink in the Herald, along with its rivals, was expended on the boosting and promotion of Los Angeles and its environs and there was certainly no shortage of those in the pages of the paper’s editions featured here.

One of the areas of business that was getting some of its first major attention at this time was the development of oil and gas, though it was definitely in its infancy and in a rudimentary stage compared to what transpired later. Temple was one of the figures engaged in petroleum prospecting in what was then known as the San Fernando Field in the hills west of today’s Santa Clarita and where initial work was conducted a decade before at Pico Canyon. His main project, through the Los Angeles Petroleum Refining Company, was at nearby Towsley Canyon, where there is now a county park.

The Herald briefly referred to local efforts in an editorial titled “A Mystery,” in which the puzzled paper pondered “why gas—a thing so essential to light our way through this vale of tears—is so expensive a luxury on the Pacific Coast.” It was added that coal “costs money, but the difference in its cost is not in proportionate ratio to the gas man’s bills” while it was noted that the price of “the black, grimy article dug from the bowels of the earth” in Los Angeles was about $16 per ton (and $10 in San Francisco and $7 in Montreal). Yet, gas could only be had in the Angel City at $7 per 1,000 feet, while it was $5 in San Francisco and half that at Montreal.

Professing its ignorance, the paper concluded that “the learned ones—those who make the gas, not those who burn it—can explain about it,” but surmised that there would be comments about the variances of labor costs, interest from loans, expenditures in laying gas mains and in consumption habits. It ended by musing that “we the people, had rathe hear something about the great mystery, the difference in the cost of gas.” The private gas company in Los Angeles had its plant on the west side of Main Street south of the Plaza Church and directly across from the Pico House hotel and Merced Theater, both of which were among the earliest customers.

A crucial component of any substantial community’s growth was rail transportation and, with the Southern Pacific Railroad, having been forced by federal authority to build a line through Los Angeles (including through the Workman family’s portion of Rancho La Puente) on the way from the northern part of California to Arizona and future points east, facing its first serious competition in the region, the same day’s Herald opined on this in “Won’t Hatch.”

This piece looked at what it called “a mare’s nest” with respect to “the much desired dampening influence on the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad,” of which Temple was the first president and current treasurer. sought by the Southern Pacific because of the fight over the Cajon Pass. This vital entry point into the region from the interior deserts northeast of the Angel City, utilized by the Workmans as they migrated over the Old Spanish Trail from New Mexico almost 35 years prior, was the site of a recent bitter battle between surveying parties of the two rivals, but the paper observed,

The Los Angeles and Independence Railroad Company have possession and are now grading their road through it, by far the best and most practical pass through these mountains [the San Gabriel and San Bernardino portions of the Coast Range]. The report that the engineers of the L.A. & I.R.R. were following up the track of the Southern Pacific engineers with a view of changing the line of their road, is all moonshine.

James U. Crawford, chief engineer of the L.A. & I., sent a note to the paper establishing that there would be no change to the route because there were no alternatives nearly as good. The Herald asserted that locals had “have little faith . . . in the story that the Southern Pacific Company intend building a branch road through Cajon Pass” that support for the L.A. & I. was as high as it was before that false report was issued and it ended by declaring that “the opponents of the Los Angeles and Independence Road cannot kill it off with stories so thin that a blind man can see through them.”

A third critical area of the local boom was the development of real estate, which was highly speculative as were the others noted above and subject to bubbles that, when burst, could bring stagnation, if not ruin, to new towns and tracts laid out in haste during the most fevered moments of such periods. Mentioned in previous posts was the town of Artesia, the name of which referred to the increasing practice of drilling artesian wells to tap groundwater aquifers in the region.

The community southeast of Los Angeles was created by another entity with a mouth-filling moniker, the Los Angeles Immigration and Land Cooperative Association, which was composed of officers whose surnames are more familiar to modern residents of the other project launched by the firm, also in 1875, this being Pomona. So, among the leaders were Garey, Gordon, McComas, Thomas, Gibbs and Town, whose names are memorialized in some of Pomona’s streets. Other townsites recently established or in process included San Fernando, Centinela, and Lake Vineyard (Alhambra), with Temple involved as president and treasurer of the latter two.

An advertisement, previously discussed in a post here, went into great detail about the manifold benefits of investment in the nascent town and this issue of the Herald recorded the first of three days of sales for lots, with the paper reporting that “a large excursion party went to Artesia yesterday from this city to attend the land sale.” It was added that some 200 men (no women?) there having taken the Southern Pacific train from downtown Los Angeles south to Florence and then east on the Anaheim line to Norwalk, which was only about two years old.

From that station, “carriages were found in waiting for the conveyance to the lands of the company, some three miles distant” and “the road was in fine order and the trip was one of pleasure to all.” Moreover, “the day was fine, everybody was in good humor, and the sale commenced with spirited bidding.” A chart showed sales of town and fractional lots and those of 5, 10 and 40 acres and, among the buyers were farmer and future Los Angeles Public Administrator James W. Potts, city librarian John LIttlefield, druggist Edward Preuss, Star owner and author Benjamin C. Truman, and Isaac W. Lord, who co-owned a furniture store, was an officer with Temple and Robert M. Widney in the Spring and Sixth Street Railway, the city’s first streetcar line, and later founder of Lordsburg, now La Verne. Total sales involved 324 acres and 20 town lots totaling just under $25,000 with Potts alone accounting for about 20%.

Also of interest from the edition was “A Trip to the Hills” as a party from Anaheim ventured southeast to “Wood’s Cañon,” or Wood Canyon, in the San Joaquin Hills where the modern cities of Laguna Niguel and Laguna Beach are today. Aliso Creek drains into the Pacific after wending its way through the hills and canyon and the correspondent, subscribed as “Phillis,” noted that, after a somewhat lengthy discursion about an unexpected tangle with a clothesline en route, “we rode for miles over a rich, fertile plain” where grain fields “already a luxuriant green” from winter rains (perhaps not unlike this year?) were “newly turned by the gang-plows.”

Along with the farmland were espied “tasteful dwellings and commodious barns [which] give evidence of the thrift and intelligence of its inhabitants” as well as flocks of thousands of sheep, grazing the hills where cattle roamed in large numbers before the floods and droughts of the first half of the 1860s. Once the group reached Wood Canyon, “Phillis” commented,

Here are great bunches of cactus, brilliant tufts of scarlet sage, patches of elders and southernwood that relieve their sombre look, and whose summits almost reach the clouds upon the other. Yes, and here are the walls of an old stone house, part way up the hill and just beyond the grass line; solid and square, with a huge chimney at the back, the walls apparently laid in lime mortar. I marvel greatly who and what manner of person it could be who built for himself so substantial a dwelling so far from the busy haunts of men. But the walls tell no tales, and I am forced to turn away with my curiosity unsatisfied.

Hearkening back to the paper’s lament about the price of natural gas, we find that the correspondent noted that “all around are great patches of asphaltum [tar] that oozing from the ground in black streams cools, forming a thick, hard crust.” After noting that there was a spot in which an opening showed “a well filled with the inky black liquid,” the writer then pondered that it seemed like a window “to the infernal regions below” and, so, “I make a very short stay here.”

Yet, “Phillis” then observed that “the wonder is that in a country where fuel and timber are so scarce this article is not more generally utilized” and asked whether there might be very valuable coal beds. It was also noted that “for roofing and pavements the asphaltum itself must be useful” and that “by a refining process petroleum could be manufactured,” so it seemed obvious that, someday, work would be done with the material beyond that of “the economical farmers who strives [sic] to eke out his scanty supply of fuel” at the site.

Before concluding the jaunt, “Phillis” hiked to a high hill “for a grand view of the surrounding country, and felt well paid for the trouble” of taking the trip. It was recorded that “like a broad panorama the whole plain was at my feet dotted with farm houses here and there with the trees of Anaheim looking in the distance like the bare masts of shipping in the harbor, while far beyond lay the silvery shimmering sea.”

There was one homebound complaint concerning “farmers drawing the water from their artesian wells into the highway [the road from Los Angeles to San Juan Capistrano roughly paralleling today’s Interstate 5 in that area] causing the mud to be three or four feet deep,” so that such a travail was “not conducive to a Christian frame of mind.”

A growing area of interest in animal husbandry at that time concerned those who kept apiaries; that is, bee-keepers. The Herald briefly noted that The Bee-Keepers’ Association of Los Angeles County held a regular meeting a few days prior at the hall built by long-time merchant Lorenzo Leck and situated on Main Street between 2nd and 3rd streets. Papers were read, with one asking whether apiarists could be enticed to attend meeting, and other business conducted. Given the bee crisis of our time, one wonders whether what the future will hold for those who are and will be engaged in the raising of these critical creatures.

Speaking of halls, the Turn-Verein on Spring Street, also between Second and Third, was the locale for a benefit, held by admiring Angelenos, for the actor Jennie Reiffarth of the theatrical troupe headed by Charles Vivian, a colorful figure best known as a founder of the Elks fraternal order and whose personal relations with the married Reiffarth have been recently covered in a post here. The event, to be held the evening of the 24th and between the conclusion of the Vivian company’s run in the Angel City and its imminent opening at San Diego, was to feature a few performances by it.

The Herald observed that the program was “a splendid bill, and present on the occasion of the benefit of a lady who by her excellent acting and untiring efforts to please has contributed much to the pleasure of our theatre goers.” Reiffarth was particularly lauded for her “display of intense feeling—the faithful portrayal of emotion” of which “she has few equals on the Pacific Coast.” After praising other actors in the pieces, the paper noted “we feel like saying something about Vivian; but as we have been saying good and true things about him for years; we find it difficult to get up one.” It managed to employ a strange, but particularly localized, metaphor in saying that the troupe’s leader “is a brick—none of your soft sun-dried adobes, but a regular hard-burned brick, who always tries to please and always does please.”

Other notable articles include a preview of the third annual masquerade ball by the Turn-Verein Germania, the society of German-American residents of Los Angeles, which was to be held on 6 march at the aforementioned hall; “Local Brevities” such as that Los Angeles sent by steamers to New York and Liverpool almost 2.35 million pounds of produce, with wine and brandy the largest portion with more than 40% of the share; and that “a lively row occurred in Chinatown,” this being the Calle de los Negros area southeast of the Plaza where the horrific massacre of 19 Chinese makes took place in October 1871, the prior evening.

The conflict, it was reported, was “all about a fair Celestial damsel” and one man pulled out a revolver and shot another in the leg and then beat him with the pistol. When a police officer quickly got to the area, it was stated that “the bellicose Mongolian fired two shots at him and made off to parts unknown.” Chief of Police Juan José Carrillo, whose great-uncle José Antonio was a prominent figure in Los Angeles and whose son, Leo, was a widely-known film and television actor, and another officer found the man who “gave his name as Yaing” and who “was promptly deposited in the calaboose,” the jail being on Spring and Franklin streets. While there were a few assault cases involving Chinese men found in surviving court records, there were no defendants with the name “Yang,” so it is not known what the disposition of the matter ultimately was.

There are plenty more newspapers from the mid-1870s in the Museum’s collection to share in the “Read All About It” series, so look for more of those in future posts.

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