“Our Duty as Patriotic Citizens in the Troubled Times at Hand”: Celebrating Independence Day in Greater Los Angeles, 4 July 1916

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

At the Homestead, we have had a display of flags, provided by the Industry Hills Rotary Club, in the heart-shaped planter outside El Campo Santo Cemetery since Memorial Day and they have been there to honor those who sacrificed their lives serving in our nation’s military, as well as during Flag Day on 14 June and, lastly, they remain up through today, the day of independence for the country.

In reading David McCullough’s 1776, which discusses the beginnings of the American Revolution, the seemingly improbable and impossible effort of the rag-tag army led by General George Washington is masterfully told and today’s post deals with 140 years later and the celebration in several greater Los Angeles cities of Independence Day in a notable variety of ways. The highlighted object from the Museum’s collection here is a great photo of folks strolling in the Pike area of Long Beach and, while the image has been used here in a post five years ago, we’ll provide more context for it with coverage of some of the commemorations conducted in our region.

With respect to the rapidly growing coastal city, which, two decades before in the July 1895 edition of The Land of Sunshine magazine, was described as a little town with an “inalienable birthright which will insure it a brilliant future.” The Long Beach Press headline was “City Invaded By Army Of Visitors” and noted that “civic pride was the keynote yesterday of the largest and finest Fourth of July celebration every held” in the community. Estimates of the invasion varied widely from a conservative count of 50,000, to the Pacific Electric Railway tally of 75,000, to the Chamber of Commerce (these organizations always over-enthusiastic in their boosting and promotion!) insisting the crowds numbered some 100,000.

Whatever the case, hammering home on the martial theme even though a real war, horrifying in its stalemate in the fields of France, was underway in Europe, the paper observed that “for the first time the advance guard of the invading army of visitors reached the city early in the morning” and it was not until the late hours of the day that “the last detachment had departed for home.” Remarkably, there were no reported calls to the fire department, no accidents of any kind and “nothing but harmony and pleasure to mark the day’s festivities.”

Visitors rode the roller coaster and enjoyed other attractions at the Pike, saw acrobatic performances, enjoyed a parachute display from a balloon and a concert by the municipal band. A fireworks show, which took fully 1 1/2 hours, included “hundreds of aerial bombs [and] spectacular sky rockets and set pieces” and was deemed by long-time denizens as “one of the best ever seen in this city.” On the beach at the east end of the city, athletic games were held, as well.

The Long Beach Telegram went further in the attendance estimates, stating that, in addition to the 40,000 residents of the city (this assumed every single one partook in the festivities), some 60,000 outsiders thronged to town, though it offered that the only other time when there were crowds that large was in 1908 when the “Great White Fleet” of the Navy came to the region and drew enormous interest. It was noted that there were crushes of people at the bathhouse and the Pike, though vendors were ecstatic and “the crowds were good natured and merry, coming here as fun seekers and finding their goal.”

In addition to the activities and events described by its competitor, the paper focused on the parade watched by an estimated 35,000 persons and emphasized a civic exhibit element that “brought to the fore the disclosure of the interesting pages of the city’s growth industrially and governmentally.” As to the fireworks show, it was stated that 60,000 folks were in a crowd a mile or so long and “a novel feature of the display was the turning on of a battery of Seal Beach searchlights at frequent intervals while the most beautiful sets were being fired.” In what was said to be not much more than an hour, $1,000 in pyrotechnics was set off.

Long Beach Press, 5 July 1916.

In neighboring San Pedro, “the first municipal celebration . . . was quite a success,” and it is interesting to note that seven years ago residents of that community voted to be annexed to Los Angeles, but, as remains the case there and in other areas of the vast metropolis, a local identity was and is still strong maintained. The San Pedro Pilot recorded that about 500 persons watched a parade, the grand marshal of which was one of the Sepúlveda family who were among the region’s earliest European settlers, and exercises at the neighborhood’s Plaza, while about double that number might have been around for the general celebration. Over at Point Fermin, a picnic was held by the local chapter of the Knights of Pythias fraternal order with about 1,000 people attending.

Further northward along the coast, the city of Venice, which was not absorbed by Los Angeles until 1926 and which was always very popular with beachgoers, was said to have drawn at least 75,000 visitors, according to the Venice Vanguard. The sheet added that “the streets were almost blocked, the piers were massed with humanity, [and] the Ocean Front walk covered all day long and far into the night,” while it was estimated that $250,000 was spent in local businesses, including the bath house, amusement rides, and cafes. In the city and adjacent Ocean Park, there were airplane exhibitions (including ones illuminated at night), a rodeo, and a street carnival.

With regard to a “martial spirit,” this was particularly manifested at the eastern end of Los Angeles County in Pomona, where the regional 7th Regiment, California Volunteer Infantry, which also received attention when leaving Los Angeles, was thronged by up to 4,000 well-wishers as it stopped briefly to pick up local members at the inland citrus capital on it way to México.

San Pedro Pilot, 5 July 1916.

In early March, Mexican General Pancho Villa attacked American forces at Columbus, New Mexico as part of the complicated conditions during the long-standing Mexican Revolution and relations with America, so U.S. President Woodrow Wilson appointed General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing to lead an expeditionary force to capture Villa and patrol the border. Though the expedition lasted into early February 1917, Villa was never caught (he was assassinated six years later by his political enemies in México) and Pershing was shortly afterward named commander of the American Expeditionary Force that turned the tide of the First World War.

The response by locals crowding the Southern Pacific depot downtown was such that the Pomona Progress reported that “not even the passing of the Liberty Bell through the city created such a public manifestation of sentimental patriotism.” People began to gather around 4 p.m. and three hours or so later, the train pulled in to the station, with the high school band among the hordes there to greet the regiment. There were other large crowds to greet the troops as they went through Riverside, San Bernardino and Redlands on their way to the border.

Venice Vanguard, 5 July 1916.

In Los Angeles, there were several notable events on the Fourth, including a throng of 22,000 at Exposition Park—this was seven years before the completion of the Coliseum, built in honor of those who served in the world war—for ceremonies that included, as reported by the Los Angeles Times,

Patriotic oratory and music, voice, to the accompaniment of popping firecrackers and booming bombs, drills by the Boy Scouts, an impressive raising of the American colors while thousands stood at attention, athletic sports and games, daylight fireworks and, last, but deeply impressive, the bestowal of certificates of citizenship upon a large class of men and women from other lands who were eager to enroll themselves under the Stars and Stripes.

Willis H. Booth, who was educated in the Angel City, was a Republican primary candidate for the United States Senate (he lost to Governor Hiram Johnson), and who went to become a very wealthy banker and business figure, was chair of the day. In his remarks, he noted that “at this time when the alarm of battle sounds throughout the nation, when our flag is under fire, it is but moot and proper that we should give more than ordinary thought to the ceremonies of this hour.”

Pomona Progress, 5 July 1916.

With this reference being to the events at the Mexican border if not also to German aggression against American vessels at sea, Booth continued, “in the sacredness of this hour let us renew our faith” while “at the same time we can let our national devotion take hold of our present stress and do our duty as patriotic citizens in the troublesome times at hand.” He observed that, with the 7th Regiment having just passed through the city, these troops “are making sacrifices beyond measure for you and for me” and “we must take up our share of their burden and sacrifice.” He suggested the formation of a “Soldiers and Sailors Protective League” as a way to “improve the living conditions of our boys on the front.” This would include funds “for the occasional luxury” and a tent “for amusement and entertainment purposes.”

With respect to the citizenship ceremony, the Times wrote that, “in this body of men and women were . . . the fair-haired . . . from Scandinavia, and on through the range of European nations to the swarthy-hued people from Southern Italy.” Of the 62 new citizens, it should be pointed out that not one was a person of color, though it was reported that Willis O. Tyler, a Black attorney who graduated from Harvard Law School and opened his practice in the Angel City within the last couple of years, read the Declaration of Independence at the ceremony. Los Angeles County Supervisor William Hinshaw briefly spoke and concluded by “predicting that within the ensuing two years there will be secured for this park a great amphitheater or stadium.”

Los Angeles Times, 5 July 1916.

The orator for the day was Delphin M. Delmas, a native of France and a prominent Bay Area attorney best known for his defense of Harry Thaw in a famous trial involving a “love triangle” with Thaw’s wife, Evelyn Nesbit and the noted architect Stanford White. Delmas lauded the American democratic experiment, but also wondered about the nation’s future, asking,

This majestic fabric, this imperial structure, which we contemplate now with such exultant and yet such legitimate pride, shall it, too, vanish like the mist of morning?

The speaker opined that “the conquests of civilization are to be achieved not by war, but by peace; not by establishing the supremacy of force, but by insuring the triumphs of the moral elements of our nature.” War was a travesty and a crime as well as a “remnant of a former savage state” and, moreover, “the march of time has made our country a world power” but one involving the wielding of “her moral influence over mankind” through instruction of democratic values.

Times, 5 July 1916.

Lofty as these sentiments were, the coverage then turned to the fact that “the remainder of the afternoon was given over to the programme of sports,” including races and the scaling of walls, as well as pie-eating contests (long before the hot-dog eating contests of our day!) The Times ended by observing that the majority assemblage remained until around 6 p.m., though some remained at the park into the evening hours.

In the morning of the 4th, a chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution unveiled a bronze marker set in granite at Fort Moore Hill, where invading American forces maintained an encampment after the seizure of the pueblo in summer 1846, and on the grounds of the residence of Mary and Benjamin F. Hilliker, the latter a Medal of Honor recipient for his service during the Civil War as a drummer boy and musician from Wisconsin who took up arms in the Battle of Mechanicsburg in Mississippi and nearly died of a gunshot wound and a prominent local figure in the Grand Army of Republic who kept his drum which he used in the service.

Times, 5 July 1916.

In his remarks, Benjamin Hilliker observed that a sycamore tree in his yard, sent to him in 1901 by his son, was within feet of where, purportedly, John C. Frémont placed his flag pole at the fort some seven decades prior, and among other speakers was Harrye (Mrs. A.S.C.) Forbes, president of the California History and Landmarks Association and whose sister Bertha Smith is featured in a new post, the second part of which appears tomorrow, this week on this blog.

John D. Fredericks, Los Angeles County District Attorney from 1902-1914 and who lost to Governor Johnson in the gubernatorial campaign of that latter year, spoke of the 1840s when Californios were, as paraphrased by the Times, “wholly unprepared to meet the demands of civilization as its advocates swept in across the mountains.” He praised the seizure of Mexican California by inquiring “Is not our civilization a step nearer God’s plan than the civilization of Mexico today?” but claimed he did not call for conquest, though he advocated for compulsory military service as vital for “service to mankind, service to the State and to humanity.”

Notable, given the fact that German attacks on American ships would lead to the United States entry into the world war under a year later, the German-American community held an Independence Day patriotic celebration at Scheutzen (Shooting) Park, established in 1903 off Soto Street where Lincoln Heights meets El Sereno as a German-club shooting range and events facility. It was reported by the Times that some 5,000 persons were in attendance for music, dancing, games and “addresses by prominent naturalized citizens of their race,” the last word particularly notable.

Times, 5 July 1916.

Max Socha, publisher of the daily Germania newspaper, warned that “the [American] government has been allowed to drift toward entangling foreign alliances,” like those that brought about the world war and “against which [George] Washington so wisely warned the people.” He cautioned that the United States should not support any single nation and offered that “the citizens of our race will be foremost in supporting our adopted country in an attitude of pre Americanism,” though America’s entry with the allies against Germany brought considerable anti-German sentiment during the remainder of the war.

Dr. Frederick Beckman, described as a “cosmopolitan” and former denizen of Germany, France and Spain, told the assemblage, through paraphrase, that “all Germans resident here should learn the English language, and that in the event of interracial marriages both parties should learn the language of their mates, in the interest of an amalgamated and united race, as well as for their mutual happiness and understanding.”

Times, 5 July 1916.

In the neighboring Boyle Heights community, there was a different holiday celebration with Civil War overtones at Hollenbeck Park, with the Times reporting “The Blue and the Gray stood hand in hand in the band stand . . . the Blue [Union Army], former mayor W[illiam] H. Workman, and the Gray [Confederate Army], Maj. A[lfred] F. Judson,” the latter a mining engineer and resident of the neighborhood founded forty years prior by Workman, John Lazzarovich and Isaias W. Hellman.

In the park, which “lay smiling under the golden sun” with “the beautiful lake between the green banks,” there were plenty of 4th of July events in the past, “but none excelled this one in patriotic ardor.” Workman was chair and his remarks included a discussion of his time in the California National Guard, then the California State Militia, where he recalled that only he and former sheriff James Frank Burns, who was present at the event, were the only survivors of those who guarded federal supplies during the Civil War. Raised in Missouri and a Democrat (his older brother, Thomas, was a Republican and Union supporter), Workman, nonetheless, did not support the secession of Southern states.

As to the world war, Workman told the crowd of about 3,000 that “the whole world is affected by the madness of that terrible war” and added “in our own country, we have seen some of our foreign-born forget their loyalty to America” while noting, “we cannot understand why they remain among us when their allegiance belongs elsewhere.” Love of one’s homeland, he noted, was understandable, but continued that

We want no hyphenated Americans in this country; no Irish-Americans; no French-Americans, no German-Americans, no English-Americans, no Spanish-Americans. We want nothing but pure, loyal, patriotic Americans.

District Attorney Thomas Lee Woolwine also spoke and commented on his exemplification in his public and private life of the ideals of “fearless, sincere, and untiring” efforts, while he aroused emotion in his listeners with his contention that his work as district attorney led to more mercy toward “those who have sinned.” He even claimed to prophesy a day “when there will be no courts, no judges, no juries, and when the weak and sinful will be taken into our arms and comforted, not punished.” It was environment and temptation, he averred, that led to crime, though what this had to do with the nation’s celebration of its independence was not discussed.

Reports of holiday injuries in the Times, 5 July 1916.

As with other 4th of July events in the region, the Boyle Heights one concluded “in tests of speed” as the “greensward” at Hollenbeck Park “was lined off into a race track and there boys and girls competed in footraces for prizes.” At the lake, there were aquatic events, presumably boat races, while “interspersed with the events were patriotic selections by Moore’s Band.”

Finally, at the Plaza, the historic center of the Angel City, the Times headline, under the common expression of “The Melting Pot,” for its coverage there read “Hearts Tuned To Patriotism” as ethnic diversity was touted, with the paper recording that

From lands afar there gathered . . . the most cosmopolitan assortment of humanity to be found in any one single meeting of Independence Day. It was truly an international celebration of the nation’s birthday, there being mingled in the motley crowd Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Castillians [Spanish], French, Slavs, Germans, Italians, Portuguese and even a few turbaned Indians from the mystic East.

This second annual gathering was “large due to the existing crisis which confronts the nation at the present time,” this presumably referring to the war. Robert Dominguez, the longtime city clerk and organizer of the event, spoke briefly about why it was established and then introduced his brother, Frank, a well-known attorney and public speaker who emphasized the need for Mexican migrants who fled the revolution in their country to become loyal, patriotic Americans.

Times, 5 July 1916.

He continued that “every Mexican resident of the Southwest who remains here without violation of the laws will be absolutely safe and need fear nothing for his personal rights and property interests,” adding, “the American people are essentially a people believing in fair play.” Asserting that the United States should not enter a war unless “the integrity of our nation has been violated,” Frank Dominguez noted that, if this was done, “100,000,000 hands will rise in unison against the foe and millions of men will take up arms and give their hearts’ blood for the cause.”

Lastly, the lawyer intoned that

Today our conception of America is a country in which all men have equal rights; a land where black and white, red and yellow, rich and poor men mingle and enjoy the privileges of independence. The ideals of Washington, Jefferson, Franklin , Monroe and other great founders of the country have been truly carried out.

Other speakers included the B.K. Scar, publisher of the Serbian-language newspaper Novo Vrijeme; Frank B. Pirri, the head of the regional Italian social association; Jean Castera, a leader in the French-American community; Dr. J. Ziegner-Uriburu, chair of the Latin-American department at the University of Southern California; and Chan Kiu Sing (Kiu Sing Chan), secretary of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, “whose guttural utterances” were paraphrased of saying that, though they had no citizenship rights, his fellow Chinese should “honor [the United States] for the benefits it has bestowed on many of them” and for America’s support for democracy in China.

Times, 5 July 1916.

More than a century later, much of what was reported concerning the Independence Day celebrations in greater Los Angeles in 1916 resonate with us today and it bears noting that just three years from now, the United States will commemorate its 250th anniversary, so the Homestead (which was the City of Industry’s contribution to the bicentennial) will soon be working on early planning for its participation.

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