“All Hail to King Orange” With a Postcard for Orange Day, 20 March 1915

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

It’s been a wild ride on another atmospheric river on this first day of spring with abundant rain and gusty winds with only a bit of sunshine during the afternoon. In 1915, however, it was a balmy 81 degrees on the 21st of March with light winds and no precipitation in sight and it was just a couple of degrees cooler the previous day, which was another edition of Orange Day in California.

An important part of the context was that there were two major exhibitions under way: the Panama-Pacific in San Francisco, which ran from 20 February to 4 December and San Diego’s Panama-California, which ran a full two years between the New Year’s Days of 1915 and 1917. Both were mounted to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal, which was a landmark for shipping between the Atlantic and Pacific ocean trade routes and an expression of American nationalism.

Los Angeles Express, 20 March 1915.

For decades, the orange was the preeminent symbol of California to those elsewhere in the country and, in many cases, overseas, as well. The citrus fruit was introduced by the Spanish missionaries in the 18th century and the first commercial grove was planted in Los Angeles by William Wolfskill in 1841. It took, however, improvements in transportation, specifically transcontinental railroad service, for the industry to explode in growth and this was magnified by the invention, in the early 1890s, of the refrigerated box car, including by young Edwin T. Earl, who owned a fruit company and was later proprietor of the Los Angeles Express newspaper.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, then, growers proliferated throughout greater Los Angeles, with the expansive “citrus belt” in the foothills of the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountain ranges, the extensive growing region in and around Riverside, and in large swaths of Orange County being among the chief areas for raising oranges and, to a lesser extent, lemons and limes. By 1915, near the Homestead, there was also the recent development of North Whittier Heights, renamed Hacienda Heights by 1960, where citrus and avocados were raised in large numbers.

Express, 20 March 1915. The Sebastian Booster Club infused politics into the celebration as it advocated for the election of Charles E. Sebastian as mayor of Los Angeles.

Earl’s Express, being an evening paper, provided some extensive coverage of the Orange Day festivities in the Angel City in its edition of the 20th. It began by commenting that:

Los Angeles today paid homage to the orange with the most magnificent Orange Day parade in its history. More than 800 automobiles, gaily decorated with appropriate colors and filled with pretty girls, and a dozen beautifully decorated floats, participated. Along the streets as the parade wended its way were massed large throngs. The windows of office buildings were filled with people watching the splendid scene.

It may be added that this era was within what might be called the heyday of parades and pageants and, of course, there had to be a queen and her court for the event. The monarch was Leta (sometimes spelled Leita) Nash, who reigned over the recently held Orange Show at San Bernardino, which was the largest such exposition devoted to the fruit of the period.

Monrovia News, 20 March 1915.

The procession began at 11 a.m. from Eastlake Park in what was still known was East Los Angeles, but shortly was rechristened Lincoln Heights. The marshal was Herbert L. Cornish, head of a realty, investment and insurance firm in the Angel City, and the route, with an advance of police officers and music provided by bands from the city and county, headed south on Main Street to Seventh Street. After one block to the west, the caravan turned right on Spring Street and returned north to First Street. Another western turn one block was made to Broadway and a left heading south took the participants to Eleventh Street, where the parade ended.

It was noted that “thousands of oranges were distributed to the crowd” along the streets and the paper followed by noting that “San Gabriel valley was well represented” especially though an association of chambers of commerce from several cities which had more than a quarter of the autos in the procession. It was added that “the Covina float was one solid mass of oranges, and won the applause of the crowd,” while the entry from Monrovia was “tastefully laden with oranges that were distributed to the crowds” and which “received a great ovation.”

Pomona Review, 20 March 1915.

Also mentioned and praised were entries from Glendora, Azusa and San Dimas, while the float from Citrus High School, which was a pioneering union high school for that area, “carried a bevy of pretty girls garbed in orange dresses” and was considered “one of the prettiest in the parade.” When the vehicle reached the intersection of Main and Fifth streets, students of the school were ready and “cheered the float wildly it passed” with a “Rah, Rah, Rah, Citrus High School.”

A separate article under the title of “Fusillade of Oranges Features Gay Parade” offered some anecdotes intended to inject some humor into the coverage of the Express. One concerned an orator on an orange crate who expostulated on “the globose fruit of the ritaceous [rutaceous] tree” and “the exocarp being a yellow leathery rind containing many oil glands” before he was driven from his short wooden perch by a shower of oranges and jeers of “those are plain oranges.”

Whittier News, 20 March 1915.

Another story, following the typical racist caricatures of African-Americans, was said to have taken place on a Pacific Electric Railway streetcar and involved a “coluhed” man who was asked to vote for Sibyl Mather as queen of the parade and was quoted in “Black dialect” about how he’d rather pay for the oranges he was offered but cautioned that he didn’t want his vote for the wrong candidate—this was evidently a satire on buying votes in political elections. It was also noted that John L. Matthews, postmaster of Covina and marshal of the San Gabriel Valley contingent, was tasked with riding his horse up and down the route to keep order, but that he continually pelted with fruit as he did so.

The Express also offered a prize contest for submissions using oranges for recipes and it observed that “what an Orange day feast might be prepared from all the fine recipes sent in” with “new and attractive ways of preparing the golden California fruit” among the many contributions. The paper suggested that readers would do well by cutting out all that were published in the current and preceding ten days and keeping them for the future.

Venice Vanguard, 20 March 1915.

Among the prize winners were Mrs. R.E. McRae for her “Cup o’Delight,” while Mrs. R.C. Brown was recognized for her Orange Ambrosia. Mrs. C. Lorch submitted her “Jellied Oranges” which was honored and Mrs. Edna Earl with a St. Patrick’s Day contribution and Mrs. E.J. Plath and “My Everyday Cake” rounded out those recognized. Recipes with instructions in this issue included Orange Shortcake, Orange Honey Dessert, Orange Dessert, and Oranges and Sweetbreads.

The Monrovia News of that day observed that “with pennants flying and snapping in the breeze,” its delegation left for Los Angeles just before 9 a.m., but “before leaving, however, each car was loaded with a great sack filled with sweet, juicy oranges, to be used as ammunition in bombarding the Angelenos.” It was added that the city was part of the thirteen-member associated chambers group accompanied by a 48-piece band, while the oranges on the float, which was a water truck represented the American glad with the fruit wrapped in paper decorated in red, white and blue. The paper was confident that the entry “will undoubtedly compare most favorably with the entries of other valley cities.

South Pasadena Record, 20 March 1915.

The Pomona Review of the 20th reported that “with over a hundred automobiles from this city and the surrounding territory, following the beautiful Pomona float in the monster parade,” the city of fruit “is doing her share in carrying out the observance” of Orange Day. The truck carried “sixteen pretty maidens” and featured orange banners, bows, flowers and pennants and the name Pomona was emblazoned in large letters “so that the thousands in Los Angeles, who see it will have no trouble in learning what district it represents.” Seventy-five vehicles stopped at the packing house on Park Avenue to pick up fruit and banners as they joined the cavalcade.

The Whittier News editorial page featured a “Welcome to Orange Day” and it stated,

This is the day when Southern California and the whole state, in fact, will pay tribute to oranges. In Los Angeles a gigantic parade is being held and the golden fruit is being distributed on every hand. Whittier people are doing their share by shipping to eastern points sample dozen cartons of the choicest fruit from this justly famed district.

It was added that restaurants in the Quaker City were offering special orange dishes on their menus and that each resident was to eat at least one of the fruit during the day. Merchants decorated their store fronts and the local Elks lodge was to serve orangeade and the fruit, while the First National Bank offered a pair of oranges to each customer. The paper concluded with the greeting “All Hail to King Orange.”

Los Angeles Times, 20 March 1915.

Separately, the News printed some orange-based recipes developed by Mrs. I.C. Mayberry, said to be “an enthusiastic booster for California and her products.” The dishes included a fig and orange salad, and orange and celery salad, orange fritters, a sponge cake ring with oranges, orange compote, orange small cakes, orange jumbles, orange pie, orange custard pie, orange merengue pie and orange and apple pie.

In its coverage, the Venice Vanguard noted that the parade as such that :the sun-kissed luscious fruit held full sway in its eastern neighbor’s event—Venice was not annexed by Los Angeles until 1926. In observing that thousands of the fruit was handed out to those watching from the sidelines, the paper wondered if “easterners who witnessed the unique, but gorgeous parade never before realized what the orange was and is to California.”

Times, 20 March 1915.

Acknowledging the exhibitions in San Diego and San Francisco, the paper continued that “every city is gaudy in the colors” associated with the day, these being yellow and green, and that while, “pretty California girls are distributing oranges,” their sisters from the east “have become inoculated [infected!] with the day’s enthusiasm and are doing just what the California girls are doing.”

After noting that hotels, merchants, restaurants and the Pacific Electric were contributing in various ways to the day’s celebration, the Vanguard quoted Governor Hiram Johnson’s proclamation including his statement that “it is appropriate that in a festival spirit we pay tribute to such an important source of our happiness and wealth and material welfare” because “no place on earth has developed in a higher degree the citrus industry than California.” The paper concluded that

There is no reason in the world why the day should not be generally observed. Everybody loves the orange and everybody should assist in welcoming the day upon which the orange is placed on a pedestal and homage done it.

The Los Angeles Times of the following day opined that “a nation acclaimed King Orange yesterday” and that “the movement for the citrus holiday received redoubled impetus yesterday by the observances here and in many other parts of Southern California.” It counted nearly 500 automobiles “from the orange belt” along with about 100 from the San Fernando Valley and other areas in the processional with these out to “bombard the populace with the golden globules.”

Times, 21 March 1915.

The paper relayed reports that in Chicago, New York and St. Louis among others, there were orange-infused dishes on restaurant menus, while railroad dining cars heading to and from California “had strict instructions to see that oranges were served in one or more way, preferably more.” It was asserted that there were 10,000 ways to serve oranges and that “a menu that didn’t carry oranges in some form was frowned upon.

As to the parade, nine locales were said to be responsible for most of the entries including Azusa, Claremont, Covina, Glendora, Lordsburg, Monrovia, San Dimas, Pomona and Walnut. Queen Leta was said to be “only one beauty among many” as “there were a bewildering succession of them on the various floats, hurling oranges into the crowds and smiling as only California girls can smile.” It seems, though, that there was a shortage of the fruit as Claremont representative Frank Wheeler apologized for giving away too many early in the procession so that they were clean out by the time they reached Broadway—but he promised to bring another carload in 1916.


The Times summarized the celebration by proclaiming

Take a flawless day, such as yesterday, put some pretty girls in a setting of California oranges and trim with poppies and one has something of supreme beauty.

Orange growing remained a core product of the regional agricultural economy for several decades to come, but growing suburbanization and the development of tract houses, schools, shopping centers and more gradually chipped away at the industry and that fabled fertile soil of greater Los Angeles has largely been paved over.

Artifacts like this postcard, though, are a reminder of the vital importance of citrus raising in our region and we’ll be sharing more objects from the Museum’s collection related to it and other aspects of agriculture, so keep an eye peeled (!) for those posts.

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