Back in the Saddle Again (Again): A Workman and Brother Billhead, 31 July 1874

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Los Compadres con Libros is an organization, formed in 1958, of members “united by a love of books, art and literature” and which meets at the Sherman Library and Gardens, a jewel in the crown of Corona del Mar, the seaside neighborhood that is part of Newport Beach. The facility was established by Arnold D. Haskell, who purchased a small adobe house built in the early 1940s as an office close to his house in the community, added a wing to it and planted gardens.

Over about a decade, Haskell acquired surrounding lots and then donated the property to The Sherman Foundation, which was named after the prominent streetcar line builder and real estate developer, Moses H. Sherman, and which Haskell established with Sherman’s daughters in the early 1950s. The first section of what is now just over two acres opened in 1966 and eventually comprised the central garden, a conservatory, a café, a gift shop and, of interest to historians, the library.

The 1860s brick house built by Andrew Boyle at Paredon Blanco (White Bluff), now Boyle Heights, where William H. Workman, his wife Maria Boyle (Andrew’s daughter) and their family resided in 1874. Courtesy of the Workman Family Collection.

The library focuses on the Pacific Southwest, including parts of the United States and of México, and includes 15,000 books (among which is a remarkable collection of city directories from all over California), 30,000 photographs, and archival and art collections, as well. The connection with Los Compadres con Libros is through the library and this morning I spoke (substituting for attorney and historian Paul Bryan Gray, who’s written on the early Los Angeles Spanish newspaper, El Clamor Público, the lawsuit between former governor Pío Pico [a compadre of William Workman] and his brother-in-law, John Foster, and much else) on the history of the Workman and Temple family.

The talk was a general overview of the family’s many activities in business, social life, politics, entertainment and others in greater Los Angeles during our interpretive era of 1830-1930, much of which dovetails with the life of Sherman, and part of the discussion concerned the brothers Elijah H. and William H. Workman, nephews of Homestead founders William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste. Given that a few days ago, the Museum acquired an artifact connected to the siblings, this post focused on that object.

Los Angeles Herald, 12 April 1874.

This is actually a sort of follow-up to a prior post concerning the donation by Michael Patris and the Mount Lowe Preservation Society of an 1871 billhead (invoice) from Workman & Brother, the saddlery and harness business in Los Angeles owned by Elijah and William H. (whom we’ll refer to here as Billy to avoid more of the confusion between nephew and uncle!) Michael happened to point out a couple of weeks ago that another of these documents was available and it was purchased for the collection.

It is dated 31 July 1874 and is similar to the earlier one with some very minor changes in the design of the vignette at the top of the document, while the recipient was the same customer, William S. Chapman, brother of the prominent attorney and co-founder of the city of Orange (not far north of Corona del Mar), Alfred B. Chapman. The document lists transactions from early March 1873 to the end of April 1874, including whips, strops, bits, cruppers, collars and other accoutrements relating to equestrian equipage.

Herald, 13 June 1874.

As the earlier post covered, the business began in 1857 when 22-year old Elijah opened his solo enterprise in the newly-completed brick commercial building erected by Jonathan Temple and which was the first of four structures finished by him and his younger brother, F.P.F., and denoted as the Temple Block—this is now the site of Los Angeles City Hall. The saddlery and harness business was a family trade with their father David (and perhaps his brother William) apprenticed to it in his native town of Clifton, England.

When David migrated to central Missouri in the late 1810s, he opened his saddlery and harness business there, but also became a merchant engaging in trade as far south as Chihuahua City, México, and trying his hand with a store at Sacramento during the California Gold Rush. In fact, after his store burned in a fire that destroyed most of the Golden State’s capital and he visited William at the Rancho La Puente, he was invited to return to Missouri and retrieve his wife, Nancy Hook, and their three sons, the eldest being Thomas, and live at La Puente.

Los Angeles Express, 20 June 1874.

In fall 1854, this was accomplished and David became a foreman for William, supervising cattle drives to the gold fields. In late June 1855, however, he was killed in an accident on one of these journeys and his widow and sons soon moved to Los Angeles. Thomas went to work for Phineas Banning, the “port admiral” at Wilmington, Billy became a printer for the Southern Californian newspaper, and Elijah soon opened his saddlery and harness shop, the second in the Angel City, following that of Samuel C. Foy.

By the end of 1858, Billy joined his brother in the enterprise and they remained partners, with occasional lapses, over nearly two decades. The siblings did well, including when Los Angeles underwent its first major period of growth during the late 1860s and first half of the 1870s, with one source, an 1870 list of incomes of the well-to-do, showed that Elijah earned about $3,000 the prior year and Billy made $2,500. Given that their uncle William took in some $5,000 and F.P.F. Temple netted about $9,000 and they were among the wealthiest citizens in the county, the brothers were doing quite nicely financially.

A circa 1872 stereographic photo from the Museum’s collection of Elijah H. Workman’s residence on Main Street (see upper left) and Tenth Street in the foreground. There is some distance between his place and the expanding city of Los Angeles in the distance.

By 1870, Elijah owned a fine suburban spread south of town where Main and 10th streets intersect—it’s a gritty commercial/industrial area now—including a comfortable house and outbuildings and a garden in which he experimented with such plants as bananas. In fact, he would have been very appreciative of the Sherman gardens as he was an important donor of plans to the Plaza (where three of the four Moreton bay fig trees he planted there at the time still stand—the fourth only recently toppled over and was lost) and Sixth Street or Central Park, now Pershing Square.

Billy, in 1867, married Maria Boyle, daughter of Andrew, who owned a substantial property east of the Los Angeles River in what was known as Paredon Blanco (White Bluff). After Andrew Boyle’s death in early 1871, Maria inherited his estate and she and Billy not only maintained the vineyards, gardens and house, but, in spring 1875, Billy established the tract of Boyle Heights, along with banker Isaias W. Hellman and merchant John Lazzarovich. Elijah later moved to Boyle Heights, as well.

Herald, 3 July 1874.

The two were also active in local public service including stints on the board of education and as members of the Common (City) Council. While Billy went on to wide recognition in the Angel City and, in fact, was commonly known as “Uncle Billy,” serving as mayor during the boom years of 1887 and 1888 and city treasurer during the next boom period from 1901 to 1907, Elijah lived a much more retiring life after about 1880.

It almost appears as if the siblings alternated in serving on the Common Council so that one of them would be more available to run the saddlery and harness business, with Billy serving consecutive terms (which were a year at the time) in 1872-1873 and 1873-1874 as representative from the Angel City’s Second Ward, which included the future Boyle Heights, while Elijah, who first joined the council in 1866, was a Third Ward covering the southern part of the city, representative in 1869-1870, 1871-1872 and 1874-1875. At the time the receipt was generated, Billy was a council member, but, at the end of the year, he chose not to run again, while Elijah secured a seat at the early December election.

Elijah had other major community endeavors with which he was involved in 1874. One was his enrolling with the second volunteer fire company to be established in Los Angeles—the first company, designated as Engine Company #1 formed at the end of September 1871, but disbanded earlier in 1874. The second company was mentioned in the 12 April 1874 edition of the Los Angeles Herald, which reported that, at the formation meeting in the chambers of the Common Council, “thirty-eight names were enrolled as charter members of the organization, and from the number, the name of the company was taken.”

The paper continued that “‘The Thirty-Eights’ are taking hold of the matter in a business-like way, and we expect in them a first-class fire company.” A committee was formed to draw up a constitution and by-laws and officers were elected, including Charles E. Miles as foreman, Sidney Lacy as secretary, Jacob Kuhrts as treasurer and Elijah as one of five standing committee members. There were additional volunteer fire companies in succeeding years until the professional Los Angeles Fire Department was organized in 1886 just as the Boom of the Eighties was getting underway.

Express, 27 July 1874.

Shortly afterwards, a committee was formed to organize the city’s Independence Day celebration and Elijah was a member along with F.P.F. Temple, Isaias W. Hellman, Juan Jose Carrillo (future marshal and police chief), Eulogio F. de Celis, Jr., and several other prominent citizens. Elijah reported on financial support at the next meeting of the organizers and was named treasurer. After the festivities were over, he reported on expenditures including for decorations, music, vehicles for a procession, lumber for a stage, sprinkling the streets where the gathering was held and the firing of guns! The total collected and spent was all of $664.50.

In mid-November 1874, the second streetcar company was established—the first, the Spring and Sixth Street Railway, with F.P.F. Temple as treasurer, completed its line during that year—and it was incorporated on the 18th as the Main Street and Agricultural Park Railroad. The company, which built the line to past the southern limits of the city where Agricultural Park, now Exposition Park, was established a few years prior, including former governor John G. Downey as president, Ozro W. Childs, Elijah’s neighbor, as treasurer, and Elijah as a director.

Express, 28 October 1874.

Billy served on the Common Council during the year, as noted above, and one of the more interesting of his activities was service on the Committee on Zanjas, these being the open ditches that delivered water from the Los Angeles River through private firms. The committee provided oversight and Billy along with fellow committee members de Celis and Julián Chávez (namesake of Chávez Ravine in the Elysian Hills where Dodger Stadium is now), reported to the council on the use of water by the Los Angeles Canal and Reservoir Company for irrigation on the Rancho Los Féliz at the north end of town. The trio (Chávez was a landowner in that area) reported that, though 2/3 of the water taken from the ditch there was for that purpose, the canal was at full capacity.

With respect to the Workman Brothers business, the two filed for a Certificate of Partnership on 18 June, suggesting that prior to that date there was another arrangement, likely that Elijah was the legal owner, hence the term “Workman & Brother” used on the billheads, even as the enterprise was consistently advertised at the time as “Workman Brothers.” One of the community activities in which the firm was involved was the fourth annual Southern District Agricultural Association fair, held in the fall.

Herald, 19 November 1874.

On the first day of the exposition, which was held on 28 October at the town’s skating rink, the Los Angeles Express reported that, in a space where Foy and the Bell and Green shop also displayed,

the Workman Brothers have an extensive glass room filled with elegant handiwork from their shops. There is a silver mounted saddle that would melt the dollars out of the pocket of a Spanish Hidalgo, [a] handsomely mounted harness, and all the paraphernalia which belong to the accoutrements of the horse.

Two days later, on the 30th, the Herald noted that, reflective of the sedulous experimentation undertaken at his suburban property, Elijah “displays a banana tree grown on his place” adding that “it is nearly twelve feet in height, with broad, spreading leaves and the circumference of the top must be as much as thirty feet,” while “the tree bears some ripening fruit.”

La Crónica, 25 November 1874.

An interesting postscript to this concerns an Express article from 7 September 1917 when the 78-year old “Uncle Billy” was featured as an original subscriber to the paper when it was launched in 1871. Accompanying the article was a photo of him holding a bound volume opened to the first page of that inaugural issue, a portrait of him from around 1871, and a great photo of the Lanfranco Block, where the Workman Brothers business was located (formerly the space occupied by the What Cheer Hotel and including the large horse-shaped sign atop the two-story building and which is mentioned on the billhead.

With respect to that opening edition of the Express, “Uncle Billy” observed that

I even carried an “ad” in the first issue. My brother and I were in the harness and saddlery business at the time. When the first issue came off the little old-fashioned Washington hand press, our “ad” was conspicuous. Since then I’ve subscribed regularly to the Evening Express without missing a day.

As he leafed through the book in the vault at the newspaper’s headquarters, he pointed to the horse-shaped sign as “that by which his place of business was known” and which “was reproduced in the queer engravings of the period.” Uncle Billy commented that “the Evening Express was a snappy little paper even then,” but then stated that “I was working, in addition to the harness store, as a printer, reporter, editor and errand boy on another publication called the Southern Californian,” adding that the Express founders offered him a job at the time with his reply being that he was too busy to accept.

Express, 7 September 1917.

Understandably, given his age (he died less than a half-year later), Uncle Billy’s memory was faulty as he worked for the Southern Californian during its brief existence in 1854-1855, a full sixteen years before the Express was launched and three years before he joined Elijah in the saddlery and harness business. He also repeated an oft-told story about how he wrote a version for the Southern Californian of the execution and lynching of Felipe Alvitre and David Brown, which took place in January 1855, prior to the occurrence of the hangings because a steamer was leaving for San Francisco in the morning and the editor of the paper wanted an account ready for that advance departure. More on this story has been discussed in a recent post on this blog dealing with the hangings.

Having this billhead in the Homestead’s holdings is another nice addition to our collection of Workman and Temple family documents and further assists in interpreting its history and that of greater Los Angeles during the boom years of the first of the 1870s. As it turns out, there was another billhead sent by error first, which we have also acquired for the collection, and we’ll highlight that in a post in the next few days or so.

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