Read All About It in the Los Angeles Express, 24 March 1874

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This latest installment of the “Read All About It” series of posts based on historic newspapers in the Museum’s holdings focuses on the 24 March 1874 edition of the Los Angeles Express, one of the three English-language dailies in the rapidly growing Angel City and published by Tiffany and Company.

Consisting of four pages, like its contemporaries and competitors, the Herald and the Star, the paper generally ran advertisements on the first page, with occasional articles; editorials and telegraphed dispatches, along with new and recent ads, on page two; local news, including court and real estate notices and brief reports, on the third page; and the last page containing mostly ads with public notices, prices of commodities, and items of general interest found there, as well.

One of the chief editorial items concerned the State Board of Equalization, one of the least-known but most vital elements of California government. Notably, the function of the body, established by the legislature in 1870 to include the state controller and two appointees of the governor, changed significantly with the ratification of the state’s second and current constitution in 1879 to have four members elected by district as well as the controller with the tasks of oversight of county assessment procedures as well as to assess holdings of railroads and there have been many calls, through studies and state commissions, to abolish the BOE and simplify the administration of the Golden State’s tax structure.

In this piece, it was reported that the majority of the California Supreme Court submitted an opinion “which virtually declares unconstitutional all the material powers conferred on the” BOE by the legislature through statutory enactments.” Specifically mentioned was the delegation of the power to set tax rates following tax delinquencies essentially making the board one of assessors, even though “the Constitution [of 1849] is clear and imperative in its requirement that the Assessors shall be elected by the qualified electors of the district in which the property taxed is situated.”

Horatio Marteen was an African-American resident of Los Angeles who also ran a restaurant during this period.

This meant that a property owner was supposed to go to the county assessor to contest an assessment and then, if that was unresolved, to the county’s Board of Equalization, but if the state board, consisting of those “not elected in the districts where the property is situated,” had this power, then the unconstitutionality was obvious. Notably, though, the editorial observed that:

That portion of the Constitution which requires that assessors and collectors of town, county and State taxes shall bs elected by the qualified electors of the district, county or town in which the property taxed is situated, was adopted in deference to the wish of the Native California [Spanish-speaking, not indigenous Indians] population. They insisted on this safeguard to themselves, on which they deemed necessary to guarantee them against being taxed out of their property by a new ad strange people who had just acquired dominion in their country. Unless this provision had been conceded, it is doubtful whether the Constitution could have been adopted.

The question at hand was about what to do with the collectability of delinquent taxes after the creation of the board four years prior and how the legislature should approach the matter, but the quote is significant because it underscored the problem of the imposition of property taxes, which did not exist in the pre-American period, and the concern of Californios about the hardships they would face with a new and unfamiliar system (which also included the change from civil to common law) that could be used against them.

The masthead of the Express featured a train, an apt symbol not just of the critical role railroads played in the fortunes of any town or city of size and consequence, but also as a representation of progress and emblem of speed and efficiency. In fact, the development of time zones not quite a decade later is one of the core aspects of the important of railroads to our concept of timekeeping. A major part of the editorial page of this issue concerned the recently proposed narrow-gauge railroad to go from Los Angeles to the silver mining regions of Inyo County in eastern California.

One short piece noted that a separate article reprinted from the Inyo Independent identified many mining districts that would be tied to the new line, but added that “it by no means exhausts the transportation dependencies which so important an artery would dominate.” This was because, beyond mines, there would also be “the lateral valleys of southeastern Nevada debouching in the Colorado, [which] are unsurpassed in the agricultural character of their soil” and which area (presumably east of present Las Vegas), it was asserted, were only limited by “their remoteness from any market.” A railroad connection, however,

would at once open to a vast agricultural population a new country in which thousands of thriving farms would soon create a railroad trade of immense magnitude. Los Angeles would necessarily become the outlet of this trade, and for every dollar we have invested in the road we would have ample returns both in the earnings of the enterprise and in the vastly increased commercial prosperity of our city and county.

The source for the potential fertility of the area described above was based on government surveys claiming that runoff from mountains would bring to those lands “fresh alluvium which acts as a perennial fertilizer, rendering them capable of producing abundant crops,” but this was a fantastical assumption.

As to the Inyo newspaper, it sought to answer the crucial question of “Will It Pay” with the matter of what then called “the proposed Cerro Gordo and Los Angeles narrow-gauge railroad” and observed that there were eleven mining districts, as well as four towns (none of which survived), though there were others outside of a zone outlined by the paper. The Independent, moreover, claimed that “the available mineral deposits of this region are beyond all estimate” and that “if worked to capacity, or to the extent it would be under . . . a completed and cheaply operated railroad as proposed, we verily believe this region would afford business beyond the capacity of any railroad in existence.”

The hyperbole continued with the assertion that eastern California “possesses more dormant wealth than that portion of Colorado contiguous to Denver City, or perhaps the whole of that Territory,” where “a little narrow-gauge railroad has in three years raised the population of that city from 3,000, or less, to 25,000 inhabitants.” The paper stopped short of saying that its local mining region “can compare with the Comstock” Lode in and around Virginia City, Nevada, where large silver mine deposits were part of an ongoing boom, in terms of “breadth and consequent extraction of ores,” but it posited that “we have hundreds, we can safely say, far richer” and that the area could support as much business as one that had a standard-gauge railroad operating over thirty trains daily.

A short notice observed that the San Bernardino Guardian opined that the proposed railroad should come through its city with the Express responding, “well, if the Cajon Pass offers the most desirable route, we have no objections” to the idea, though it pointedly added that “The Guardian, however, displays a splenetic antipathy to Los Angeles in its treatment of the subject” and pondered “Whyfore?”

On 28 March, the legislature approved a charter for the railroad to Inyo County with ex-Governor John G. Downey bringing the document back to Los Angeles. A couple of weeks later, a public meeting was held to form the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad for the construction of the line. F.P.F. Temple, who had extensive interests in Cerro Gordo in which his father-in-law William Workman also heavily invested, was named its president and Downey was elected treasurer. Tomorrow’s post will highlight the L.A.& I. and a survey map of the Cajon Pass, so be sure to check back for that.

With regard to another booming mining area, Panamint, also in Inyo County, there was a short article on this page that noted a Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce (a precursor to the current one founded in the late 1880s) meeting was to discuss road improvements to that area that promised “the important trade growing up in that region will be secured to this city.” Moreover, it was stated that Los Angeles would become “the great seat of supply of the entire region,” though there was also discussion of “the project of constructing a wharf to deep water at Santa Maria, so as to accommodate the Panama steamers,” but this almost certainly meant “Santa Monica,” not the northern Santa Barbara County town.

Also of interest on this page was a table of state apportionments of funds for March to Los Angeles County school districts, not so much because of the amounts, but because of the list of existing districts. While many of the names are familiar (Anaheim, Azusa, Duarte, El Monte, Los Angeles, Santa Ana, San Fernando, San Gabriel, San Pedro, Westminster, Wilmington and Vernon), quite a few are not. For example, who knows about the districts of Bog Dale, Green Meadow, La Dow, Maizeland, Richland, Silver, Spring and Sycamore? In any case, it was only about twenty years since public schools began to appear in the region and the list shows how much the system had grown, especially since the current boom in population began about 1868.

In the “Local Items” column, it was observed that the Western Union Telegraph Company was sending poles and wires from the Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad depot “to Riverside, to connect that town with the telegraph system of this section.” The Aliso Mill was operating around the clock and providing some 15 tons of feed and 4 of meal daily. The Southern Pacific Railroad, on its main line east from Los Angeles towards what would later be a connection to Yuma, Arizona on the Colorado River and points further east, “have sent out scales to El Monte, San Gabriel and Spadra depots; and telegraph instruments have been forwarded to those points so that they will be in operation by the time regular trains have commenced to run.” This would happen in April, including a stop at the Puente depot, within a mile of the Homestead.

While the boom at work in greater Los Angeles was modest compared to those of the late 1880s and afterward, there was enough activity that the Express remarked that “the arrival of the [steamer] Orizaba last night with a large number of passengers filled our already teeming hotels to overflowing.” In fact, conditions were such that the city’s hoteliers “had to secure rooms for their guests among our private citizens.”

Elias Laventhal was one of several well-known Jewish merchants in Los Angeles and his daughter, Ernestine, became the mother of Milton Kauffman, future business manager for Walter P. Temple.

For the teetotalers in town, there was a notice that

The ladies will perfect their temperance organization at Templar Hall to-night. They will seek, through legitimate channels and proper influences, to cause a drink reform in Los Angeles, calling to their aid, for that purpose, the great power of the churches, which, up to the present, have not been very forward in helping the cause of Temperance.

A terrible incident was reported by Dr. Kenneth D. Wise, who informed the paper that “he had been called upon to attend . . . [on] a diabolical outrage [which] has been committed on a little girl, and which will probably result fatally.” It was stated that a nine-year old Latina residing in an outlying area “was grossly abused” and that her father hurried from Baja California and took her to Wise. The physician stated that “inflammation and fever have set in, rendering the child’s situation extremely doubtful” and it was hoped that “the person guilty . . . ought to be ferreted out and brought to justice.” A search of existing criminal cases files, however, does not show that a case involving such a heinous crime was heard.

On a lighter side of local life, there was an advertisement and brief report on a “Complimentary Testimonial” paid by many Angelenos “to the deserving and popular young actor, Mr. S[amuel].W. Piercy,” who’d recently appeared at the Turn-Verein Hall and “whose histrionic talent is developing with great promise.” Declaring that “Los Angeles almost claims Mr. Piercy as her own [because] he has been so often and so long among us,” the Express asserted that some of his best performances were in the Angel City “and the high role he is destined to professionally fill will always be a matter of pride and gratification to his Los Angeles friends.”

Among those who invited the actor, who died in Boston of smallpox in 1882 while touring with the famed actor Edwin Booth (brother of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes booth), to the event on the 30th were Sheriff William R. Rowland, County Treasurer Thomas E. Rowan; banker Isaias W. Hellman; lawyers Alfred B. Chapman and Aurelius W. Hutton; and F.P.F. Temple, his son Thomas, and Temple and Workman bank managing cashier Henry S. Ledyard.

It was also reported that Stephen Massett, whose humorous character of “Jeems Pipes of Pipesville” was widely known in California, arrived in Los Angeles the prior night “and will shortly give us one of his varied entertainments.” An announcement was expected soon about where and when Massett would perform and the paper provided a review by a Portland, Oregon newspaper in which the actor was well-received. A prior post on this blog discussed Massett’s forthcoming appearances in the Angel City.

With newspapers like this being a primary source of information about this period of Los Angeles history, in which the Workman and Temple family was deeply involved, we’ll continue to feature editions from the Museum’s collection in this “Read All About It” series, so check back for more of those or delve into previous installments.

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