From Point A to Point B and a Driving Force Preview with “Touring Topics” Magazine, July 1928

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The Homestead is happy to host tomorrow’s presentation and book signing by Darryl Holter and Stephen Gee for their recent Angel City publication, Driving Force: Automobiles and the New American City, 1900-1930, which examines the astounding development of the automobile in rapidly car-centric Los Angeles.

Not only is the book’s time-period and topic right up our alley, but the Museum provided several images used as illustrations for the book. In the “From Point A to Point B” series of posts on this blog, we have frequently featured and focused upon objects from the Homestead’s collection related to autos and the automotive industry and, as a preview for Darryl and Stephen’s talk, this post highlights the July 1928 issue of Touring Topics, the member magazine for the Automobile Club of Southern California.

The Club was established in 1900, as the 19th century was closing and the dawn of a new century was at hand and as automobiles were just starting to make an early impact as part of a stunning transportation revolution. The organization was essential for all manner of auto-related developments, including the gradual standardization of traffic laws, establishing early roadway signage, promoting safety and a myriad of other ways.

Touring Topics, which now goes by the moniker of Westways, was, however, much more than about cars and the automotive industry, it emphasized the glories of tourism and, during the 1920s under the editorship of Phil Townsend Hanna, often published interesting articles on the history of southern California. In fact, a prior post here featured an historical account of 1840s Los Angeles by noted early American resident Stephen C. Foster that appeared in the August 1929 issue of the magazine.

This post looks more broadly at the contents of the July 1928, which certainly includes some notable historical material, and it should also be observed that the cover art for the magazine, as was the case for many publications at the time, includes a great painting of Mt. Whitney, the Sierra Nevada Mountains peak that is the tallest in the continental United States, by Benjamin C. Brown (1865-1942), who lived in Pasadena from 1896 until his death and was widely admired for his Western American landscapes.

In “The Editor’s Own Page,” Hanna observed that “sophisticated critics derisively refer” to the artist as “Poppy” Brown for his propensity to paint poppies, the state flower, but the editor asked “why not? What phase of the California scene is more characteristic or more colorful.” He added that Brown “defends his paintings with an ironical smile and irrefutable logic,” but, beyond this, it was noted that the artist, after five years of laboring in obscurity, painted a scene of “that glorious tapestry of poppies that stretched for miles between Altadena and Eaton’s Canyon, before the sub-dividers came. Also of interest is that Brown first came to this region in 1885, before the ensuing great Boom of the Eighties, and did pencil sketches of the Plaza Church, the original Chinatown and other local scenes.

In the last small section on this page, Hanna proudly included a message from Owen C. Coy, who was the director of the California State Historical Association and a professor of history at the University of Southern California, and who wrote to the editor that:

The historical articles in TOURING TOPICS are a contribution to the knowledge of California history. The historical association, which is just becoming re-established after a period of inactivity, appreciates this help in the matter of promoting California’s history.

Another editorial page concerned “Highway Benefits” and observed that “the national parks of the West, these being America’s playgrounds and the choicest in the world, are coming into the recognition which they deserve,” but until recently their remoteness and lack of decent roads were a problem. That was changing, however, as broader public interest and government attention meant that “they have been made more comfortably accessible by the building of many good highways leading to them from all directions.”

As “a national asset and a national responsibility,” the parks were such that, while local jurisdictions and the states could not provide all the resources needed for better access, the Auto Club, in concert with interested individuals, “has for years supported the position that Federal Aid for highways which are of national benefit is not only profitable but just and equitable.” It was recorded that there were appropriations in the federal budget for $75 million for each of the 1930 and 1931 fiscal years, with about 10% of that sum for forest roads and trails and that this “will be supplemented by approximately twice that amount by the various western States.” The problem, of course, would be the onset, well over a year later, of the Great Depression and the significant hit to budgets that ensued.

When the Depression came, Walter P. Temple’s once-substantial fortune was all but dissipated and, having leased in early spring 1930 the 92-acre Workman Homestead to the Golden State Military Academy, which moved from Redondo Beach, he sought to move somewhere where he could significantly reduce living expenses. He chose Ensenada, the coastal city in Baja California that happened to be featured by Florence B. Hinckley in the magazine. She began by reporting that after a late night arrival, “daylight dispels our remaining illusions” as “in place of colorful adobe haciendas with garden filled patios,” she and her group found “a group of ‘late American’ shacks.”

There was, however, “the lang[u]orous beauty of the country and certain quaint bits of Mexican local color” and she mentioned that she and her fellow travelers were looking to ride horses and the ranch of one “Don Castro” who, “through the one window of the shack that shelters his eight children,” apologized by saying that he was mucho mal (wouldn’t this, though, be muy malo?) or very bad for not having the animals ready. Then, Hinckley wrote that, as it was around noon and time for lunch, they stopped at the restaurant of Quong Loy, deemed an “excellent celestial” and who offered, through “his solid gold smile,” a repast of “Cheeken, pok chops, lamb chop, or Feesh,” which the writer concluded, “proves better than it sounds.”

As the group walked toward the beach, the author observed soldiers at barracks near the “Beach Hotel” and a duck pond, while “the town is rife with Americans on a holiday” as “Tia Juana, seventy miles away, overflows and all day they come noisily in their honking cars, men and girls in too much of a hurry, laughing coarsely. As Hinckley’s “fellow countrymen drink, drink, drink,” with Prohibition providing an easy opportunity to cross the border and legally enjoy alcohol, they don’t notice the beach, the residents (albeit, “lazy dogs and brown children asleep in the golden dust”) or the statue of Padre Hidalgo and “never knowing, never thinking of what they’re doing.”

Amid this scene, the author stated that “the Mexicans disappear like shy squirrels into their burrows,” while Hinckley and her compatriots, “ashamed to be white, where whites are thus,” go to the beach and bathe in the ocean and “sleep on the tepid sand.” As the hordes of Americans leave, “happy brown people again possess their town” and a band plays by the statue, while Chinese fishermen, who were described as “short yellow men with almond eyes,” were encountered. She continued that “we give them a hand to see what it feels like to be fishermen,” but, with this intrusion, “stolidly they ignore us” and once she and her friends “have had our thrill,” they blithely walk on.

The article ended with her observation that “on the rickety little wharf we are along with the moon and the little boats rocking on the bay” as the city “blinks quietly and contentedly.” This, then was Ensenada, “bright ad colorful, dozing beside the sapphire-tinted bay that is called Todos Santos.” One other side-note is that a major project just underway in the town was the Hotel Playa Ensenada, of which Walter P. Temple, his business manager Milton Kauffman and his attorney George H. Woodruff, were investors. Completed in 1930, the hotel, though built with funds from many Los Angeles-area capitalists and film folk, suffered during the Great Depression and closed after eight years, though the structure is now the Centro Social, Cívico y Cultural.

Philip Johnston, who grew up on the Navajo reservation in Arizona where his father was a missionary and who was a long-time employee of the Los Angeles city engineering department, is credited for the idea of the Navajo Code talker program used during World War II to transit secret messages undecipherable by the enemy. Earlier, however, he was a freelance writer and photographer for Los Angeles newspapers and magazines, including Touring Topics and his contribution to this issue was “Heraldry on the Early California Rancho,” meaning the cattle brands used by the rancheros.

Johnston wrote that former mission lands “in time became rich haciendas, rivaling in wealth the estates of Europe,” under private ownership, though the last part of the statement is exaggerated to a very great degree. In any case, he continued that

As the bulk of their liquid assets consisted of cattle that were free to wander from one range to another, it behooved the landed barons of those days to set the seal of ownership on their ambulatory property . . . Thus arose the necessity for an official registry of cattle brands which should give them a legal status and diminish the danger of duplication, similar indeed to a college of heralds. In time, this became so systematized that the registry and publication of a man’s brand was executed in a manner similar to that used with deeds.

While those large ranchos, such as La Puente in which the Homestead was situated, eventually gave way to modern development, the writer continued, “of the few mementoes of them that yet survive, there is perhaps none more interesting than the aged Libro de Fierros that reposes today in the Hall of Records.” Johnston noted that they were “soiled and worn by much handling, yellow and fragile with age,” but they contained the “inscriptions of cattle brands and the names of their owners” for the period 1833 (when the missions were being secularized, or shut down) and 1851 as the American era was still in its infancy.

Johnston’s article mentioned Abel Stearns, Andrés Pico, Agustín Machado, while there was a lengthy quote by Horace Bell, from his 1881 book Reminiscences of a Ranger, detailing his recollection of a May 1853 rodeo, or roundup, of cattle on the Rancho San Joaquín in what became Orange County and owned by José Sepúlveda. Among those present were “the Temples of [Los] Cerritos [Jonathan] and Puente [F.P.F., who actually owned the adjacent Rancho La Merced, though his father-in-law, William Workman, founder of the Homestead with wife Nicolasa Urioste, was co-owner of La Puente.]

The author provided brief detail about several of the prominent greater Los Angeles ranchos of the period included Los Cerritos, Santiago de Santa Ana (the Yorba family’s domain), La Cienega (Tomás Sánchez), San Pedro (Manuel Dominguez), and Los Coyotes (mistakenly said to be owned by the brothers Andrés and Pío Pico, though a land grant was later patented to the former and to Francisca Uribe O’Campo). For Los Cerritos, it was stated that Temple once had 14,000 cattle, 5,000 sheep and 1,000 horses on his 27,000-acre domain.

A table provided the names of the rancheros, their property, renderings of the brands and the date of registration. Included were fifteen men, three of the Yorbas being from the same Santiago de Santa Ana rancho, including prominent Californio names like Avila, del Valle, Machado, Sánchez, Sepúlveda, and Verdugo and a few Americans like Jonathan Temple, John Rowland (listed as Rowland), and Stearns.

Gordon Wolfe’s “The Lost Woman of San Nicolas” purported to be a telling of an indigenous woman, given no name in the article, who, as her people were being removed from the island, west of Santa Catalina Island, by the priests of the Mission Santa Barbara, dove from the ship and returned. The tale, told here by a boatman known only as Tomás, was that she did so because “she had left her baby behind her in all the confusion, and must go back for him” and after this “the woman became lost and forgotten.”

This story related that twenty years later, a group went to the island and “found traces where some one had lived not long before.” After substantial searching, it was said, “one of the Indians came upon her suddenly” and it was added that “the poor creature had built a low fence to break the wind and inside it she had made a hut of whalebones found on the beach.” The unnamed woman sat at the structure’s door with “a half wild dog” next to her and it was stated that she’d forgotten much of her language, so, through “signs and guesses,” it was determined that she secured water from an arroyo, ate abalone and mussel, occasionally killed a seal and birds “and made dresses of [the] skins” of the latter.

Taking her to Santa Barbara, it was recorded that “she marveled at the size of the houses and when she saw horses and cattle, fell down to her knees in fright.” Moreover, “because of her tragic history, she as quite a curiosity,” though Tomás added that she seemed “childish—perhaps her brain had turned a little from the loneliness.” It was added that she enjoyed the music and dancing at fiestas, but “the new good she had to eat did not agree with her, and within the second month she sickened and died, carrying her story to the grave with her.” Wolfe concluded that, as he stood with Tomás on the desolate San Nicolas, he thought of the “lost woman” and her “keeping her lonely vigil on the windswept, dying island.”

The woman was baptized as Juana María before her death, after just seven weeks on the mainland, and a juvenile novel, giving her the name of Won-a-pa-lei or Karana, published in 1960 by Scott O’Dell, Island of the Blue Dolphins, was a Newberry Medal winner and sold millions of copies, while a film was made four years later.

With respect to the automobile industry, a notable feature is Chester N. Hess’s “What Caused the Accident?” and which looked at car accidents in thirteen counties in southern California between 1923 and 1926. The information came from transcripts of coroners’ inquests obtained by the Auto Club’s Public Safety Department and revealed that there were over 6,500 reported accidents in those four years and above 3,000 resulted in fatalities. Notably, deaths from industrial work, the second highest accident fatality type in California, were a third of that total, while the third highest, drowning, comprised 422 instances.

Moreover, there was a steady increase in traffic fatality deaths year-by-year, with 702 in 1923, 721 the following year, 798 in 1925 and 855 in the final year. Of these, “incompetent handling” of the motor vehicle was determined to be the cause of 371, or more than a third, of all instances and twice as many in 1926 as three years prior. In 301 cases, the cause of death was cited as “motorist’s negligence at railway crossing” and the issue of grade crossings was increasingly becoming an issue. In 271 examples, the death was determined to be “crossing not at an intersection,” meaning jaywalker, while 960 persons died in a “collision between auto and pedestrian.”

In 617 cases, there were fatalities because “motor vehicle overturned, while almost one person per day died in “collision between auto and auto.” Concerning crashes with trolleys and railroad trains, these amounted to 188 and 155 deaths, respectively, and the larger number for the former was determined to be a matter of urban location. Other types of incidents leading to death were collisions between a car and a truck; between a truck and a pedestrian; between a vehicle and a stationary object; and falling from a vehicle. Moreover, it was found that almost 45% of the casualties were suffered by those between the ages of 16-44, while almost a quarter occurred among those from 45-64 years of age.

At a Yale University conference in 1922, it was stated that “a wrong action of the mind, a mistake, is at the root of every motor vehicle accident where a person is involved.” It was also observed that the automobile age meant that

With speed came increasing complication and danger. Speed brought forth innumerable traffic emergencies. No normal evolution of any single machine of civilization has ever affected all the people in so sudden and unexpected a manner . . . The automobile injected temperament into traffic . . . In order to survive, each individual whether on foot or in a vehicle, had quickly to develop more self-confidence and foresight for the effects of his own actions and for those of every other individual . . . A wrong mind action or mistake in traffic creates an unexpected emergency for some one and, if the time is too short to amend and correct, an accident results.

Nationally, from mid-April 1926 to the end of June 1927, there were nearly 42,000 reported accidents and 19% were found to be from “incompetent handling.” As for other causes, those listed included speeding, pedestrians in streets, intoxication, ignoring rights of way, skidding, cutting in front of vehicles and falls from vehicles.

It was also noted that a majority of accidents took place between 4 and 6 p.m. and it was explained that “the average person is at his lowest ebb of energy and alertness,” while another peak time was just prior to noon, though why this was a problem period of the day was not stated. Fatigue during busier traffic times “makes unusual demands on a driver at a time when he is perhaps least fit to meet emergencies.”

Other articles of interest included one about advances in automobile braking systems, including those controlled by electrical or compressed air components; advancements in aircraft used by the Navy; new items related to automobiles including a stick-on lamp for night-time inspections; spare tire locks; and a rolled-up towline; steamboats on the Colorado River; Sierra Nevada Mountains peaks, other than Mt. Whitney; and a separate tipped-in rotogravure section with excellent photos of Golden State scenery.

We hope you can join us for Darryl and Steven’s talk and, as for the blog, keep an eye out for future installments of the “From Point A to Point B” series of posts on pre-1930 transportation, including by automobile as well as other issues of Touring Topics in the Museum’s holdings.

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