by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Several prior posts on this blog have focused on issues of this Los Angeles magazine published by Samuel T. Clover, a remarkable figure whose poetry, books and journalism were part of wide-ranging career that ended with a lengthy tenure in the Angel City spanning more than three decades.
The featured edition here is from 26 April 1924 and includes some interesting editorial commentaries including the emerging contest for the Democratic candidate for president in the campaign against Republican Calvin Coolidge, who ascended to office after the death the prior summer of Warren G. Harding. It was noted that there was no surprise that the Democrats of the state of New York put their support behind the Empire State’s governor, Al Smith, though it was added that “the attitude of the governor is that if nominated” at the party’s convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City “he will make the running, but will not lift a finger toward securing it.”
The question for the magazine was whether “the ‘wet’ executive,” meaning someone who favored the repeal of Prohibition, “can develop enough strength in other states to head off McAdoo,” this latter being William Gibbs McAdoo, Secretary of the Treasury under his father-in-law, President Woodrow Wilson. McAdoo, who unsuccessfully sought the party’s nomination in 1920, settled in Los Angeles a couple of years later.
Saturday Night added that “the California candidate will have enough of a following to dictate the nominee if he cannot be himself named, which is by no means unlikely.” In fact, McAdoo was widely considered the Democratic Party standard bearer in the first half of the Twenties, but the editorial continued that “if it is not McAdoo it will be a dark horse of the John W. Davis type, rather than Governor Al Smith.”
Davis, who was solicitor general and ambassador to Great Britain under Wilson, was not nearly as well known as McAdoo, but it was feared that Smith’s nomination “would be the signal for a continuous discharge of the full prohibition batteries at the Democratic leader, resulting in the certain election of Coolidge.” It was contended that “there is a fighting chance for McAdoo or Davis,” but many in Southern states, being committed to Prohibition, would desert the Democrats and vote for the incumbent.
Referring to the infamous Tammany Hall machine of Democratic politics in the Big Apple, the piece concluded that “Tammany is opposing McAdoo,” but that “there is a formidable array of McAdoo delegates preparing to assault Tammany’s breastworks.” Yet, the convention wound up going through a battle between Smith and McAdoo, with the Ku Klux Klan, experiencing a resurgence at the time, including in greater Los Angeles, backing the latter.
Yet, while McAdoo was solidly ahead in early balloting, he began to slip even as Smith could not gain the needed number of delegates and Davis emerged as a true dark house to secure the nomination after a grueling 103 ballots. Ultimately, it probably mattered little who emerged as the candidate after the convention as Coolidge romped to victory in November winning 54% of the popular vote with Davis garnering under 30% and Progressive Robert M. La Follette taking almost 17%.
Another key editorial concerned the newly proposed Los Angeles city charter, which was to be voted on at the 6 May primary election, and Saturday Night commented that it was clear that it was a “vast improvement as an organic instrument over the thing of shreds and patches that has served as the basic law of Los Angeles for the last quarter of a century.”
What was focused on was that the mayor, City Council and city departments would have “their powers amplified and better defined” and the charter would be such that it would provide A mayor responsible to the people, a group of departments responsible to the mayor, a council specializing on the legislative needs of the city.”
Moreover, street building and repairs, special assessments, bond funding, traffic management, franchises for public utilities and other elements of municipal government would be much better administered including in “the borough system, proposed for outlying sections.” The Board of Freeholders was lauded for its work in developing “an instrument that will not fail, if adopted, to make for better living, because of better government, in Los Angeles.” The charter, which was analyzed in a series of articles for the magazine, including the sixth part on the borough system, by William W. Clary, attorney for the city’s traffic commission, was overwhelmingly approved.
Also of interest was a piece discussing the possibility of the Los Angeles Gas and Electric Corporation being taken over by the City, with the magazine averring that this “will mean an unregulated monopoly of the electric light and power business in this city, since the state railroad commission [now the California Public Utilities Commission] .. . will have no jurisdiction over the municipal plant.” Saturday Night wrote that “a healthy competition is the best possible protection for consumers” because the state would not be able to regular prices.
Notably, the editorial argued that “electricity, as a commercial commodity, is not a natural monopoly like water, which latter, in every instance, should be city owned-and-operated” continuing that “light and power may be said to be manufactured and there can be no monopoly in that.” Beyond this, a rapidly growing Angel City would benefit from “dual plants of diverse ownership and operation” so the $21 million bond issue on the 6 May ballot was in dispute.
The magazine suggested that voters vote no on referenda concerning a survey of the gas and electric company’s property and for power fund replacement, so that “the people will make it clear that they believe in a state-regulated competition and this will upset any surreptitious plans to put the private concern out of business.” Calling this approach “the course of wisdom,” the editorial concluded that “by removing temptation . . . the city light and power bureau [was not] to go astray.” Yet, in the election, both referenda passed, while the bond issue, which needed a two-thirds majority, was approved by 65% of voters, barely falling short of approval.
Another item of note was an assessment of the Angel City by Marshall Murdock, publisher of the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas. Murdock stated in his paper that “the subdivision business has ‘blown up'” in our area and added that downtown real estate was such that a person “can’t buy today and sell tomorrow at a profit.” He continued that a downturn was expected, though he noted that Los Angeles had a growing industrial sector and “an oil production that will be renewed by opening new fields as the old exhaust themselves” as well as a rapidly expanding port.
Yet, Murdock also opined that Los Angeles’ “speculative whirlwind will suck down into its vortex a swarm of little investors who try its currents,” and, while Saturday Night concurred, it also observed that,
the cessation in buying outlying lots is due largely to Los Angeles’ initiative. The opening of new subdivisions developed into a craze and our conservative bankers, realizing that it was overdone, applied the soft pedal and by discouraging loans for that purpose, called a halt, but, bless Mr. Murdock’s heart, it is only a temporary interruption. With half a million people coming into Los Angeles [region] annually the demand for realty cannot be suppressed.
The editorial concluded that, while Murdock might have demurred on investing in Los Angeles and apparently did so in Vancouver (British Columbia or Washington?), “he will trade it in, at a later day, for Los Angeles realty and pay the difference in cash” because “they all do.”
It was the case that the latest real estate boom in greater Los Angeles peaked in 1923, when Walter P. Temple established the Town of Temple, now Temple City, a century ago next month, but, while there continued to be significant activity downtown, the “temporary interruption” was followed not that long after by the Great Depression.
In the Art Exhibits and Comment column penned by Elizabeth Bingham, it was reported that Marius de Brabant, the president of the Commercial Board of Los Angeles and a major figure in the development in 1925 of the expansive Metropolitan Warehouse and Industrial District that accommodated major industrial growth in the city, and the board’s managing director E.G. Judah, went to the City Council to ask for money “to promote art interests in a public, civic manner.”
It was noted that the pair “found an alert, responsive co-operator in Boyle Workman, president of the city council” so that what followed was unanimous approval by the council of “a fund of $50,000 for the purchase of sculpture and paintings to be placed in Los Angeles parks and public buildings.” The funds were also earmarked for “the offering of prizes at exhibitions, where California artists compete, purchases prizes which will place the work of our artists in such public buildings as the new city hall and the public library,” the latter completed in 1928 and 1926, respectively, “in addition to other marks of encouragement of a civic nature, which will have far-reaching effects upon the future of Los Angeles as a cosmopolitan center.”
Bingham added that “there is a stimulation in the mere announcement of these facts which should put backbone in every art organization in the city” because “without the support of the city’s government nothing can be done in the way of civic art.” Having this backing meant that “art has a commercial value, is a civic asset” and “that we have, in Los Angeles, artists whose work should be used in vitalizing public places.”
As for de Brabant, the writer noted that “he is the only individual in Los Angeles to whom the city has ever presented an official gold medal marked ‘For distinguished services to the city of Los Angeles.'” His work in securing the financial support of the city for the civic art program meant that “his efforts for art are but a continuation of this distinguished civic service and the artists of Los Angeles are fortunate, indeed, in securing his active interest in their affairs.”
For the native of Belgium, “when the average citizen is brought in contact with the work of his fellow citizens who are artists,” that meant more public support of civic art as being just as important as “other enterprises of [a] civic nature.” Bingham grandiosely concluded,
Merely a few men could make of Los Angeles the “Athens” of which we dream. We have great wealth here and natural surroundings of great beauty. In spite of what has been already accomplished, our city is still gloriously in the making; a fact which gives a sharp psychic impulse to everything we undertake. We are the newest American city, which means we are, for the moment, at least, the most active center in the civilized world. Think of it! Something unusually fine is expected of us. We are the legitimate outgrowth of American character and ideals, which means a legitimate foundation under our prosperity and fame. So, logically, after the pioneering, the building, the commercial and financial successes comes the desire for the more intangible assert of civilization, the quality of life we call culture. This is the historical sequence in the development of an individual, a city or a nation. For culture is the final proof of material prosperity.
In the “Drama, Spoken and Silent” column by John Orlando, he reviewed the performance of La Golondrina, a play by Mission Play creator John Steven McGroarty, and which, like its more famous cousin, was alleged to be “founded on historical romance,” whatever that happened to mean in terms of dramatic license taken with Spanish-era California history.
The story of the romance between a Russian count, Nikolai Petrovich Rezanoff, and María de la Concepción Argüello, scion of a prominent Californio family, was said to focus on the fact that the young teenager “turns her head to the love tales and dazzling promises” of the handsome Russian visitor to Yerba Buena, which later became San Francisco, but when Rezanov left for his homeland promising to return and marry Concepción, he died of pneumonia and she foresook marriage to become a Dominican nun (the Dominican girls’ college at San Rafael had Agnes Temple as a student from 1925-1929).
Orlando praised McGroarty’s writing and direction, especially since a rewrite two years before, noting that “it is playable in its present form and will, undoubtedly, prove a good running mate for the Mission Play.” As for the performances, however, the critic panned the cast, saying that it “is wholly inept at portraying what the playwright has put on paper” and the best part of the staging was actually a pantomime at the beginning of the final act “that is obviously the result of clever direction rather than acting ability.”
Bruno David Ussher in his “Music and Musical Activities” lauded the recent Easter performance by the Los Angeles Oratorio Society of “The Beatitudes” by César Franck, writing that “the lion’s share of honors must . . . go to Conductor John Smallman, whose direction manifested both detail control and realization of this musical Sermon on the Mount.” Calling Franck’s piece “one of the few great religious, sublime perorations in history,” Ussher also cited the work of “Lorna Gregg, accompaniste to the chorus, while he named several of the performers for their work, while ending that “the only deficient element in the performance was the playing of a small ensemble by Philharmonic Orchestra members.”
The critic also praised the Philharmonic’s final concert and its rendition of Johannes Brahms’ Fourth Symphony, with conductor Walter Henry Rothwell said to be very sympathetic to the composer. Ussher adjudged it to be “a greatly enjoyable performance, especially from a viewpoint of tonal blending,” though he decried the low attendance, even as there were standing ovations for Rothwell and the orchestra’s patron, William Andrews Clark, Jr. (who happened to be Marius de Brabant’s brother-in-law.)
Also covered were recitals by pianist Ossip Gabrilowitsch, who was well-known for his Hollywood Bowl performances the prior year, and, while it was stated that the 46-year old maestro lacked the “absolute flawlessness of old” he “remains a great and poetic player of the piano.” Moreover, when he performed before an audience of younger people, it was recorded that “he more than ever revealed himself the true musician and lovable human being” as “the youngsters adored him as much when he played entrancingly or chatted about music.”
An interesting account in the “By the Way” page by Clover concerned the relationship of the evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson of the Angelus Temple and gypsies who set up an encampment at Elysian Park. The piece discussed how the gypsy “king”, identified here only as “Steve” and elsewhere identified as Steve Yovanovich, purchased the property and presented it to “Sister Aimee,” who first planned to build a home there and then chose not to, instead intending to hold Easter sunrise services there instead. We’ll share this story of McPherson and the gypsies for a post this coming Sunday, so check back for that.