Read All About It in the Los Angeles Express, 12 August 1874

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

For the Homestead’s interpretive era of 1830-1930, we’ve focused significantly on three decades that represent major aspects of the lives of the Workman and Temple family and greater Los Angeles generally, these being the 1840s, 1870s and 1920s. With the second of these, the Museum’s collection contains such historic artifacts as photographs and newspapers as among the most important and compelling ways for us to better understand that period, when the region underwent its first major period of growth.

This really began about 1868 as immigration picked up, the cattle ranches of prior days were largely subdivided into smaller farm plots, a small business community emerged, and other factors were part of the changes afoot in the area. Los Angeles had around 6,000 residents in the 1870 federal census (these are usually undercounted) and some estimates pegged the population at around 15,000 within five years.

Among the key figures in the group of, as historian Remi Nadeau titled his 1948 book on the era, “city-makers,” was F.P.F. Temple, who, having the power of attorney to act for his father-in-law, William Workman, guided the two men’s move from primarily ranching and farming to capitalism in the Angel City. Their projects ranged from real estate to oil to railroads to banking and, while these were on a small scale compared to what transpired in later periods and much bigger booms, they were part of a trajectory that often provided a template for what took place subsequently.

Inherent in much of what Temple and Workman embarked upon during this first boom was speculation—the use of capital for development that, if successful, would, of course, have meant a significant financial return, but, with a good deal of money expended upfront, potentially disastrous if efforts proved to be problematic. What makes the story of these two men and their families so interesting and instructive is that, while there were some success stories, they could not outweigh the failures, the most important of which was the collapse of their bank of Temple and Workman.

The first large-scale business failure in Los Angeles, the closure of the bank represented the most dramatic consequence of the bust that came in 1875-1876 and the reverberations, which were reflected nationally and internationally, carried through for several years afterward. While there was an uptick in growth in the early 1880s, it was not until a direct transcontinental railroad connection to the east and other elements occurred, that the Boom of the Eighties came and represented the next phase of regional development.

Newspapers are among the best remaining sources of information we have about that first surge in growth and development and the Museum’s holdings of issues of such papers as the Los Angeles Express, Los Angeles Herald and Los Angeles Star are invaluable for better understanding this period. The “Read All About It” series of posts on this blog frequently feature editions of these sheets and today we look at those of the Express from the 12 August 1874.

A short report noted that “Edward Moore was arrested this morning for a very criminal and senseless transaction” in that the prior evening at 11 o’clock, he climbed the back fence of Judge Harvey K.S. O’Melveny “and fired two shots at the direction of the outhouse [outbuilding] where the Judge’s Chinese domestic and his brother sleep.” The two men stepped out to see what was happening and Moore “fired another shot right through the window of the sleeping room and escaped.” Emil Harris, a Los Angeles Police Department officer, was alerted and nabbed the suspect “who admitted that he did the shooting, but gave no satisfactory reason for his conduct.”

In the edition of the 14th, the paper identified “the fortunate Chinamen who were in the room at the time of the shooting” as “Wen Lung” and “Sam Lung” and added that Moore was to be subjected to a preliminary hearing before Justice of the Peace John Trafford three days later. All that was reported by the Herald on the day after that proceeding was that Moore’s case was sent to the Grand Jury on an attempted murder charge. About a week later, the Express noted that he was arraigned at the County Court, of which O’Melveny was the judge, and Moore had veteran lawyer, Volney E. Howard (later a Superior Court judge) and future mayor Henry T. Hazard as his counsel.

After a demurrer challenging the indictment was overruled by O’Melveny, Moore pled not guilty and trial was set for 8 September. When that time came, however, the Herald noted that there was a proceeding by the trial jury to determine whether the defendant was sane “and after hearing evidence and duly considering the matter, it was determined that he was sane. Yet, when the case was concluded on the same day and the jury went to deliberate, it returned “with a verdict acquitting the defendant on the ground of insanity!”

The Express of the 8th said nothing about any of the proceedings, merely confining itself to the observation that Moore was acquitted because of insanity, but the Herald went to express its incredulity, using the quote “Oh, consistency, thou art a jewel!” and then quoted “an eminent jurist” who purportedly said, “the ways of the Almighty and a jury are past finding out,” though this appears to be an extension of Romans 11:33 from the Bible.

The paper then offered a third quotation, “Strange what a difference can be / ‘Twixt tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee,” which is a slight adjustment of a line from as 1725 satire by poet John Byrom, apparently referring to composers Giovanni Bononcini and Georg Frederick Handel—though these fanciful names were made popular by Lewis Carroll in his 1871 novel Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.

There was no way for the Herald to discern (and why the Express had no comment other than the mere mention of the verdict, while the Spanish-language La Crónica cited the Herald report in its edition of the 12th) why this strange about-face by the jury took place. The truth is that, in almost all cases, then and now, the deliberations and decisions of juries remain a mystery known only to those who are members of these bodies.

Still, one can only wonder if the fact that the intended victims were Chinese and the anti-Chinese sentiment that ran rampant at the time (the horrific lynching of a teenage boy and eighteen men from that community by a mob of hundreds of Latinos and Anglos was not quite three years prior) was the deciding factor in the verdict. It is hard, otherwise, to understand what animated the jurors thinking, unless they somehow changed their minds about Moore’s mental state after hearing testimony and sifting through the evidence.

In the southern part of Los Angeles County, which, fifteen years later, after continuing concern about being improperly represented, became Orange County, a group of Anaheim residents developed a plan to build a wharf along the Pacific at Bolsa Chica, in what is now Huntington Beach. In addition to the long-established port at San Pedro/Wilmington and the more recent Anaheim Landing, of which William Workman was an investor, there was the recent project at Newport further south, as well as the imminent one, involving Temple and Workman, at Santa Monica west of Los Angeles.

The Express, in its “Local Items” column commented “we hear that the contract was closed here yesterday for the building of the Bolsa Chica wharf.” Yet, little happened the rest of 1874, except that a man named Gay, who was a bidder on the project, sued the Bolsa Chica Wharf and Forwarding Company, which accepted proposals at the Anaheim office of the Los Angeles and San Bernardino Land Company.

This latter firm was created to handle the management and sale of several ranches formerly owned by the prominent Los Angeles figure, Abel Stearns, and assigned to the company when his finances took a hit during the flood and drought years of the early 1860s. Among the more than 120,000 acres involved was the 6,700-acre Rancho Bolsa Chica.

In its New Year’s Day 1875 issue, the Herald described the wharf project at some length, noting that it was to extend 2,000 feet into the sea, with all but the 200-foot long “pinhead” at the end being 20 feet wide and that terminating section to be four times as wide, and sturdy enough to handle a 35-ton train. Anaheim luminary William R. Olden, secretary of the Bolsa Chica company, noted that local shipping went through Newport, but that this port was not sufficient to handle the volume, hence the need for the new project.

It was also noted that Bolsa Chica would be important for inland shipping so that, for example, the wine produced at Cucamonga could be transported by future rail through Brea Canyon to the wharf, which the article noted would become the main shipping point for greater Los Angeles. Yet, in early May 1876, after the boom went bust and litigation with a man who bid on the project dragged on for months, the Herald of the 5th merely stated “the Bolsa Chica wharf has been seized,” it being another casualty of hard times, though what was meant by “seized” and what exactly is not known.

Also mentioned in the “Local Items” section was that “there is an appreciative tendency in the barley market” and it was hoped that farmers would reap the benefit of increased prices in that field crop—one of those growing it in large volume was William Workman on his portion of Rancho La Puente. Santa Catalina Island later became, and remains today, a major tourist attraction in our area, but, in 1874, it was only beginning to be utilized for leisure, as the paper noted that “a number of families will go . . . tomorrow, in the sloop, Ned Beale,” named for Edward F. Beale of the Rancho Tejon.

The island was owned from 1864 to 1891 by San Francisco capitalist James Lick and his estate, while Augustus W. Timms, who had a landing at San Pedro for shipping and ran sheep on the island, also ferried visitors to Catalina. The notice continued that the visitors were expected to stay for three weeks and that another dozen people were headed over the following Monday. Later, the Banning family greatly expanded tourism and development there and, after almost thirty years, they sold Catalina to Chicago chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, whose family retains ownership today, more than a century later, through its Santa Catalina Island Company of much of the island, with a large portion deeded by it to the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy.

For much of the 19th century, citizen militias were common throughout the United States, though they were soon superseded by National Guard units. For the most part, however, these organizations were more social than military and their shortcomings on the latter were painfully obvious during the Civil War. In greater Los Angeles, militias were also occasionally formed or reactivated when violent crime and the ineffectiveness of duly constituted law enforcement officers and the courts led to significant citizen frustration.

By the mid-1870s, there had been some improvement on these latter fronts and militias fewer and less active, but the Express did observe that “the Los Angeles Guards have been accepted as part of the militia of the State of California.” Moreover, the paper added, “the Guard will be entitled to all the privileges and exemptions of other State military companies, including armory, rent, etc.” and it concluded that “a few more competent members will be accepted.” The Guards, later having headquarters in the Merced Theater building, which still stands next to the Pico House off the south end of the Plaza, disbanded in spring 1881 because of insufficient numbers of members.

Brief references were also made to the San Fernando oil region, which is actually the east end of the Santa Susana Mountains, west of Interstate 5 in the Santa Clarita area. The first oil well in greater Los Angeles was drilled there in Pico Canyon in 1865 and, among the most active of prospectors during the first half of the Seventies was F.P.F. Temple. In this issue of the Express, the Parker Oil Company was starting work and a meeting was called at the office of Judge O’Melveny to develop further plans, while Dr. Vincent Gelcich, a native of Croatia and a major early figure in the oil field who designed the first refinery there, returned from the field with the fossilized vertebrae of a whale and other items, leading the paper to observe that “this must have been a well-irrigated country when the whale family disported in the waters that covered our highest mountains.”

In Vernon, just south of Los Angeles city limits, it was reported that an election to introduce a tax for the purpose of building a schoolhouse was rejected by voters in that school district, though it was stated that the problem was about the location of the proposed building, not the imposition of the levy. Also described at some length was a reception of the Good Templars fraternal society, which advocated temperance, or the abstention from drinking alcohol, with music, recitations and ice-water and lemonade as the only liquid refreshment.

Finally, there was a lengthy letter from “Dumnorix,” written in a very breezy and bizarre style of satire on the perceived rivalry between the Angel City and the new seaside town of Santa Monica, as this introductory sample attests:

I have been to Santa Monica, again. There is, perhaps, nothing very startling in this simple fact, yet I was startled at Santa Monica; nothing, perhaps, dangerous in going to or being at Santa Monica, yet did I look danger in the face. Horrid apprehensions that even the consciousness of my incognito could not suppress, danced an electrical quickstep athwart my nerves as I looked into the eyes that spake their judgment upon words spoken or written by “Dumnorix.” Uneasily I sat beneath the flash of those eyes, for they declared the sincerity of the tongue; and nervously I listened to the language of that tongue, and felt the penetrating influence of the words that denounced the pen that dared to lift its guilty point to stain the moral status of Santa Monica, or to impart questionable gas to its social atmosphere.

Sifting through these self-conscious stylings of purple prose, we can discern that “Dumnorix” hung out at the beach and noticed that it “was lined with Los Angeles novelty-seekers, who watched with abated breath the almost nude things that bounded among the breakers”—if only they knew what the same shore would reveal almost 150 years later! It was averred that the locals were long accustomed to what made the correspondent, it was claimed, “blushing scarlet at every step,” and it was noted that “the bathers were exclusively of the masculine gender.”

“Dumnorix” then expostulated on “Sparkin’,” which was adjudged to be “the newest, oldest, delighfulest [sic] and commonest pastime at Santa Monica.” Professing that this was the sole venture at this, the writer told of approaching a woman and “I blurted something real nice and sweet” and “we got on splendidly for a brief spell.” The correspondent asserted that a move to Santa Monica was contemplated, but, after discussing the weather, the classification of rocks and boulders in the nearby canyon, and the types of flora in the valley and hills, a young man approached and blurted out, “I’ll call again; hope you are not—good morning,” before fleeing. The writer then commented “I shall never go back again to settle the question of the botanical classification of that cañon’s flora if every sycamore in the place should change into a cabbage head by natural selection.”

Wrapping up this very strange essay, “Dumnorix” concluded,

I beg to deplore the terrible antipathy that the inhabitants of Santa Monica manifest toward the people of Los Angeles. I cannot believe that “our citizens and citizenesses” are all or at all such an aggregated ulcer as our powerful rival represents them. True, we have not their advantages—neither their social cultivation nor their social license, but when they represent us, of this inland town as no such things, who seek to misrepresent and injure them, we hurl the flagrant accusation back into their seaport with the sworn determination that this Spartan town of Los Angeles shall not be crushed by yonder maritime power . . . [should Santa Monica act] by turning loose her non-descript horde to devastate our orchards and vineyards . . . I, for one, will sacrifice every female member of my family in the effort to repel the invasion and drive the invaders into the sea.

A little bit of levity, over-wrought and confusing as it may be, is always amusing to see in these 1870s newspapers, especially as the massive growth of Los Angeles has led to a sort of balkanization where the “West Side,” “East Side,” “The Valley,” “The South Bay” and other areas have developed distinct identities for whatever reasons.

We will continue to offer further editions of “Read All About It” posts featuring newspapers of this period and helping us to learn more about this fascinating era, so please check back for those posts.

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