Read All About It in the Los Angeles Herald, 12 April 1890

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

While the heavy majority of the “Read All About It” series of posts on this blog featuring historic Los Angeles newspapers in the Museum’s collection have been from the first half of the 1870s, there are other “sheets” to share including the featured example for this post, the 12 April 1890 edition of the Los Angeles Herald, published by Joseph D. Lynch and James J. Ayers.

At the time, greater Los Angeles was experiencing a bit of a hangover from the ferment of the great Boom of the Eighties, which peaked in 1887 and 1888 during the mayoral administration of William H. Workman, nephew of Homestead founders William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste. Then came the inevitable bust and so conditions were subdued during the decade’s last year, though the 1890s would prove to include several years of regional drought as well as the national depression of 1893.

There was a national census taken in 1890 and, while the records for most of the country were consumed in a fire at the National Archives, we do at least know that the stated population (these are almost always undercounts) for Los Angeles city was 50,395 and just about double that for the county. These figures were enormous increases for the 1880 enumeration which officially counted not far north of 11,000 for the city and a little more than three times that in the county.

There were some other major issues at play or in the works in 1890, one of which was the devastating Pierce’s disease, caused by bacteria, that wreaked utter havoc on the vineyards of the region, including at the 75-acre Workman Homestead, where Francis W. Temple’s success in his wine-making business was followed, after his August 1888 death and occupation of the ranch by his brother, John, of the onset of the disease that we can assume wiped out the entirety of the vineyard. In fact, about the only area largely left unscathed was in the Rancho Cucamonga/Ontario area.

With another crop, however, there was a transportation revolution on the way as young Edwin T. Earl was perfecting a refrigerated box car that would better provide for reliable and protective rail shipments of the region’s legion of oranges. In short order, citrus would become identifiable with greater Los Angeles thanks to the improvement of rail lines, including the direct transcontinental link to the area by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe several years prior and which was a key impetus to the aforementioned book, and Earl’s critical invention.

Another local development in transportation came with the movement in power for streetcars from cable (the Los Angeles Cable Railway, for example, was completed in 1889) to electricity and the 1890s would include the development of electrified lines, such as the Los Angeles Railway, that, by the turn of the century included Henry E. Huntington’s settlement in the Angel City and his rapid moves to consolidate lines under his ownership in what eventually became the Pacific Electric Railway system.

Electricity was also expanding in use for domestic and commercial purposes, as was the telephone, while not all that far off, incidentally, was the introduction of the automobile and motion pictures. Speaking of entertainment, the growth of the region meant more visits by renowned entertainers on the stage and in music halls, as noted just yesterday in a post about the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, launched toward the end of the Nineties, while its founder, Harley Hamilton, also established a woman’s symphony orchestra in the Angel City in 1893.

These are just some examples of how greater Los Angeles was developing as the Eighties segued into the Nineties and this issue of the Herald refers to a few of them, as well. For example, it was reported that the Southern Pacific Railroad, a dominant transportation firm in California for many years, recently experienced a change in leadership as Leland Stanford, one of the “Big Four” who founded the enterprise some three decades prior, resigned as president in favor of another of the quartet, Collis P. Huntington, who’d spent most of his time previously in New York raising and managing the capital for the company.

One of the main matters reported upon in the shakeup was that “it was Huntington’s opinion that Stanford was neglecting the interests of the company, which were consequently suffering” and that a key bone of contention between the powerful partners was Stanford’s political career, including his service in the United States Senate since 1885. That latter year, incidentally, was when he founded Leland Stanford Junior University in honor of his teenage namesake son who died of typhoid while traveling in Italy the prior year.

Two articles pertaining to the Huntington/Stanford imbroglio appear in the pages of the Herald, including a front page one titled “Huntington Talks,” in which the new president was quoted as telling reporters in San Francisco, where the SP headquarters were situated, that

I do not want the public to think that I am opposed to Senator Stanford’s political success, or that I bear any personal hostility to him. Our only differences have arisen from his mixing the company up with politics. The company was organized to build and operate railroads, and there has been a good deal too much attention paid to politics. I have been very much opposed to this thing for a long time, and have often told Stanford so.

When asked if he planned to cut SP’s ties “from all political affiliations in this State,” Huntington curtly relied, “As a corporation, yes.” In the other article, he was quoted as saying “this building [company headquarters] has been overrun with politics, and it is time to call a halt.”

Yet, it was commonly understood, though, that he’d sedulously cultivated all manner of political connections during his many years in New York City, as his colleagues had in California, to the extent that bribery was generally acknowledged as a common tactic in dealing with politicians. Huntington even claimed that “we are railroad men and intend to conduct a legitimate railroad business” and that “the two [railroading and politics] don’t go well together” and a railroad man “can’t do both at the same time.”

Moreover, a change in the directorate of the company meant that Huntington and Edward F. Searles, the much-younger husband of the late Big Four associate Mark Hopkins’ widow, were able to assert more control over the faction that was tied to Stanford and a son of the last of the Big Four, Charles Crocker, who died in 1888. In fact, just before Stanford died in 1893, Huntington, who became the sole survivor of the founders, brought his nephew Henry out from Cincinnati to become his assistant.

In 1898, Henry, who was enamored of greater Los Angeles when visiting the San Marino Ranch of James deBarth Shorb, purchased the Los Angeles Railway streetcar line. Shortly after Collis died in August 1900, a takeover of the Southern Pacific was engineered by E.H. Harriman and others and Henry was essentially cut loose. With a substantial fortune, however, he quickly landed on his feet in Los Angeles within months and went on to create a rail and real estate empire, as well as build his book and manuscripts collection along with a substantial art collection (thanks to his second wife, Arabella, who happened to be his aunt, being Collis’ widow!)

One of the main editorials in the Herald concerned “the gravity of the estrangement between” Collis Huntington and Stanford and it welcomed the former’s comments about the separation of business from politics with the SP, stating, “if the new President is sincere the whole people of the coast will welcome the change with acclaim.” The paper acknowledged that “Mr. Huntington himself has had a peculiar record in connection with politics” and added that myriad ways in which the railroad company “interfered in the making or marring of the fortunes of politicians were almost innumerable.”

It was also noted that Huntington supported Aaron A. Sargent in the senatorial race against Stanford and it was averred that the purge of the latter from the presidency of the SP was the sweet revenge of the former. In closing with the call of “All hail to Mr. Huntington in his role of reformer!” the paper observed that “the new President of the Southern Pacific Railway [sic] is wise in discerning the multiplying signs of the times.” In fact, two decades later, Progressives were successful in creating the state railroad commission to better regulate the powerful company and other firms and the entity is now the California Public Utilities Commission.

Another interesting bit of new concerned an investigation by the Los Angeles Police Commission on a complaint for a pair of saloon owners that a officer, identified only by his surname of Craig, went into the establishment, ordered a drink and refused to pay for it with manager Frank Smith telling the commission’s special investigating committee that Craig frequented the bar while on duty and behaved “as if he owned the house,” ordering as many as three drinks at a time without paying. He was said to have “produced a new pocketbook” showing sixty-five examples of Craig’s propensity for demanding drinks gratis.

Mrs. Smith also testified and dared Craig to look her in the eye and deny what she and her husband asserted. When it was suggested she was a questionable witness, she “freely admitted that she danced with negroes when it was necessary to fill up a ‘set.'” What this had to do with Craig’s alleged behavior was not explained beyond the fact that raising the race issue was an attempt to sully Mrs. Smith’s character and reputation.

Craig testified and “denied that he ever entered the saloon except on business,” though what this was did not get stated,” and that he owed a bill for drinks,” calling Smith’s record “a cooked-up job.” He claimed he’d had a drink with another officer while both were off-duty and at Smith’s invitation, while also describing the tavern, on Upper Main and Bellevue streets in what is now Chinatown, as the “worst joint in the neighborhood.” The decision of the commissioners, however, awaited a further meeting.

Another interesting legal matter concerned a Superior Court case in which Louis Kauffman sued Joseph Maier and George Zobelein of the Philadelphia Brewery for over $25,000 in damages in a horrific accident in which Kauffman tossed a towel onto the end of a shaft, which then caught the towel. When the worker tried to take it off, his arm was caught and torn from his body. There was a previous suit, but Judge Henry K.S. O’Melveny ruled against the plaintiff.

The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce was founded just two years prior during the later stages of the great boom and it became a very powerful instrument of boosterism for the Angel City and environs. An article in the Herald referred to material sent by the organization for the “California on Wheels” traveling exhibit via the railroad, a concept developed by the Chamber’s energetic secretary Frank Wiggins. Also briefly reported was that a committee of the organization was to begin seeking funding for the Chamber’s exhibit on California for the World’s Fair at Chicago in 1893, an important event for the nation at the time, as well as for the promotion of greater Los Angeles.

An organization of a decade’s existence in 1890 and still very much active today is the Los Angeles Athletic Club and a short article noted that the organization was “nothing if not progressive.” This was because “every since it moved into its new quarters” on Spring Street south of Second Street, “it has constantly been introducing new features which have added to its popularity.” This included gym classes for boys, which was so popular, that there were two age levels established; cross-country runs; and “an exhibition of out-door games” was in the planning stages.

For women, it was added that “several exhibitions have been given . . . and these were followed by dancing,” with more of these events to be held in the future. Beyond this, however, it was noted that

There are in Los Angeles quite a number of ladies who feel the need of exercise in a systematic manner, and as yet no place has been provided for their accommodation. It is now proposed to turn the gymnasium over to them two mornings each week, and allow them to have te benefit of the new appliances for the development of the muscles.

Because the male members of the Club were not using the facility much in the mornings, “there seems to be no reason why the ladies cannot be invited to train their physical nature.” With the programs for children and women, the Herald concluded, “if the club keeps on, it will become the most popular institution in the southern part of the State.”

With respect to pests and plant pathology, there was a lengthy article titled “A Buggy Subject” and which concerned a committee from the Southern California Pomological Society going to the county’s Board of Supervisors to request “that they appoint only practical horticulturists and fruit-growers” on the county’s horticultural commission while avoiding allowing anyone involved in nursery stock importing to serve.

The main issue was that “large quantities of infested Florida stock” of citrus trees “are being marketed and planted in almost every section of Southern California” and the request was so that the commission would be “efficient and capable of coping with the new evils that are besetting the growers.” Moreover, it was asserted that there were purple scale-ridden trees evading inspection and that there were importers who thumbed their noses at regulations “and had boasted that they would bring in al the Florida stock they saw fit.”

A call was issued for quarantining Florida imports and that bringing in outside plants constituted “a perfect farce” because there were so many claims that greater Los Angeles possessed the “capabilities of growing everything that can be grown in the temperate and semi-tropic zones.” One of the commissioners, Albert F. Kercheval, whose orange grove at Santa Fe Avenue and 9th Street (later renamed Olympic Boulevard) was subdivided during the boom in 1887, claimed that the board “had done all in their powers to prevent any stock from being planted without first being thoroughly inspected and dipped in a solution calculated to kill every scale” and expressed sympathy with those seeking to ban imported trees.

The article concluded that there was a proposal “that the inspectors be made deputy sheriffs” while it was added that all agreed “that the only safeguard was a rigid quarantine against all imported stock” and that inspection and dipping simply were not sufficient. The only answer, it was advocated, was “an absolute quarantine prohibiting it from coming into the county and the State.” A city ordinance that took effect on 1 April was “practically a quarantine measure . . . and the fruit-growers are to be congratulated on their success in completely fortifying themselves against the new insect pests.”

A smaller editorial item featured the claim by Robert Barton, a visitor to Los Angeles, who “expresses the hope that the vine disease has ben killed during the past winter” under the theory that the bacteria would likely to have been killed by frost, of which “there have been two instances in which the mercury descended below the freezing point.” He claimed that examples in the Mediterranean region supported his contention and that “an occasional frost is needed to send the sap down to the roots of the vine, where it ought to be, thus admitting of pruning without bleeding it to death.” If the sap escaped, this was akin to a wound, but Barton suggested “we shall know in three or four weeks whether or no his favorable vaticinations [prophecies] will be sustained in the facts.”

In 1883, the local chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was formed to combat the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcohol and, six years later, the Temperance Temple was constructed on the northwest corner of Temple Street and Broadway, cater-corner to the county courthouse. A very short notice in the paper observed that “Mrs. L.M. Wells, one of the national organizers” of the Union was in the city to lecture on a reading course as part of raising funds for the local chapter’s reading room.

The Homestead’s collection features nearly 60 issues of the Herald from March through May 1890, so we’ll be sure to share more of them during the spring months in future posts.

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