Read All About It in the Los Angeles Star, 22 September 1875

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Most of the “Read All About It” posts on this blog that deal with Los Angeles-area newspapers of the first half of the 1870s from the Homestead’s collection are from the Los Angeles Express and Los Angeles Herald, though the other major English-language daily of that period was the Los Angeles Star, which also happens to be the oldest newspaper in the Angel City, dating back to May 1851.

In fact, except for nearly four years from October 1864 until mid-May 1868, the paper was published continuously until early 1879. Aside from the colorful and combative Henry Hamilton, who ran the Star from 1856 -1864 and again from 1868-1872, its most notable proprietor was Benjamin C. Truman (1835-1916), who hailed from Providence, Rhode Island and who got into journalist with the New York Times in the mid-1850s. He was particularly well-known for his dispatches from the battlefield during the Civil War, during which time he was also a Union Army officer, with the rank of Major, and a private secretary to Tennessee military governor and future president, Andrew Johnson.

After the end of the conflict, Truman was a post office special agent for the postal service on the Pacific coast and then returned to journalism, running a San Diego paper before acquiring the Star from George W. Barter, who’d leased it from Hamilton. Being a natural promoter and booster, Truman quickly wrote a series of travelogues extolling the virtues of greater Los Angeles and this yielded, in 1874, his book, Semi-Tropical California: Its Climate, Healthfulness, Productiveness and Scenery.

More about Truman can be found in a prior post here about an 1869 article about Los Angeles he wrote for the New York Times, while this post focuses on the 22 September 1875 edition of his Star. This was a particularly troubling time for the Angel City he extolled in such detail and with such verve and vigor just the prior year as an economic collapse in California just a month prior, following the outbreak of a national depression in 1873, caused both Los Angeles commercial banks, Farmers’ and Merchants’ and Temple and Workman, to go into suspension three weeks before this issue of the Star was published.

The managing cashier of the former (and ex-partner of F.P.F. Temple and William Workman of the latter institution) was Isaias W. Hellman, who was on vacation in Europe when the disaster struck, so his partner and president, ex-Governor John G. Downey, agreed to close the bank for a month along with Temple and Workman to see if they could calm the roiling waters of public sentiment and depositor confidence. Moreover, two of the prominent mercantile houses offered to cash checks under $250 for the two banks, with Harris Newmark and Company doing this for Temple and Workman and Hellman, Haas and Company handling this for Farmers’ and Merchants’.

Isaias Hellman, however, was furious at Downey for making this move and rushed home, stopping in New York City to borrow large sums of cash, and came back with gold and silver coin piled high on his bank counter to reassure customers of the solidity of the institution. Temple and Workman, however, remained closed, while its president, Temple, and managing cashier Henry S. Ledyard took frequent trips to San Francisco seeking to borrow money from capitalists, who, however, were not interested in dealing with the suspended bank.

Nothing of this, however, was alluded to in the edition of the Star. In the “Local Items in Brief” column, it was mentioned that Henry Fleishman, “one of our oldest and most respected citizens, was named an agent of German steamship lines traveling to and from America. At the recently established town of Santa Monica, where the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, established with Temple as its first president and then its treasurer, was ready to complete a line, “building . . . goes on at such a rapid rate that the supply of lumber is hardly equal to the demand.” In fact, it was separately noted the L.A.& I.R.R. was printing tickets in anticipation of soon launching service to the seaside resort community, while it was reported that dried fruit proprietor George B. Davis was contacted about planting 2,000 pepper and elm trees there.

In the southeastern part of the county, a visitor from Orange told the paper that there was “even unwonted activity in building and settlement in that lively locality,” while in the Angel City, “the number of cosy [sic] little cottages” being built in the southern section—though this meant between Aliso and 1st streets and east of Alameda—”will surprise any one who takes a walk or a drive in that direction.” As infrastructure gradually improved in the growing city, it was reported that the builders of a sewer line on Main as far south as 3rd Street got to a point where the operators of the newly opened Main Street and Agricultural Park Railway streetcar line had to “take up the turnout” so that work could continue. It was added that two cars were to run on the line down Main.

As is the case with our current and surprisingly cool weather, the Star noted with satisfaction that, “the weather is the subject of everybody’s praise nowadays” and it was accounted as “something delicious,” with the high the prior day being 77 degrees. Over at Agricultural Park, just outside the southwestern limits of the city and purchased in 1872 by the Southern District Agricultural Society, of which Temple was a founder, and which is now Exposition Park, a horse race was scheduled for the morning at $100 a side with entries by Oscar Macy and the Prussian-born physician Frederick Euphrat. Also of interest was that the German Benevolent Society established a “free labor exchange” so that there would be jobs for anyone who wanted them.

A separate short article noted the expansion of the Lafayette Hotel on the west side of Main Street, near where Aliso parallels U.S. 101. Charles Gerson, who ran the hostelry with Charles Fluhr, took Truman on a tour of the newly finished third floor. It was observed that the front rooms had the “best Brussels” carpets, while the furniture included “the best oiled walnut.” The less expensive rooms “are furnished in excellent style,” while the halls were wide and airy and had skylights.

Also in construction was a first-floor addition back to New High Street to the west with a 3,200 square-foot dining room sporting 13 1/2-foot ceilings and a 600 square-foot kitchen. Above that were to be 30 new rooms, making for 120 for the entire establishment and, once the new dining facility was finished, an office and reading room would occupy the old eatery space. Noting that “the Lafayette will rank high among good hotels” and that the proprietors “have reason to congratulate themselves upon the elegance and completeness of the” project, the article ended with the note that “it is the intention of” Fluhr and Gerson “to add still further to its already large resources” in the near future.

Further south on Main between 1st and Requena, which no longer exists but which was just north of 1st and extended eastward, the Cardona family, including Simon, who was later publisher of La Cronica, the city’s Spanish-language paper, engaged in the building of a three-story structure where a recent fire destroyed the edifices on the property. The Star reported that the foundations were being laid, while the architects Ezra F. Kysor (the city’s first trained member of that profession and who is credited with the remodeling of the Workman House several years earlier) and Walter J. Mathews, showed the paper the plans.

It was stated that the Cardona Block “will vie in beauty and imposing aspect with an structure in the city.” Covering an area of 85 by 90 feet, the three-story structure also included a 10-foot high basement, while the first level was to have four stores of 18-foot width. Each of the upper levels had suites, totaling fifteen, and eighteen singles, all furnished with gas, water closets and stands and “in fact, all the modern conveniences” and two sets of stairs to both of these floors.

The paper added that “the building will be erected in the San Francisco bay-window style,” with all rooms save two having this feature, and “the building will be surmounted with an elegant ornamental balustrade, with a pediment for the name of the block.” The total cost was stated to be $32,500 and the edifice was completed later in the fall. In December 1881, the structure was sold for $46,500 by James Stevens to Pomona rancher Louis Phillips, who later built his well-known block on Spring Street where the old adobe courthouse and adobe and brick city jail formerly stood, but its later history is murky, though Phillips still owned it when he died in 1900.

In the real estate listings section, it was recorded that F.P.F. Temple sold three lots to Robert Turnbull, the namesake of the canyon through which a scenic road was completed in 1914 connecting Puente to Whittier, while the Scottish native acquired five more from John Lazzarovich, a founder with Hellman and William H. Workman of Boyle Heights, and his wife, Juana López, whose family owned a large section of that community, established earlier in 1875. Another transaction showed that Phillips sold some land to the Los Angeles Immigrant and Land Co-operative Association, which had just created the town of Pomona, following its founding of Artesia in 1874. That company separately advertised that it would continue to accept checks from the aforementioned suspended banks as payment for contracts on those two new towns.

Also in the advertising section was a brief question, “do you know that the new proprietor of the Barnum Restaurant, H. Martin, is an old Mississippi cook and steward? A word to the wise—go and see him.” This referred to Horatio Marteen, who with Jeremiah Redding, acquired the “restaurant and chop house,” situated in an adobe building at the corner of Marchessault and Main streets across from the northwest corner of the Plaza. An accompanying ad noted that the establishment was “Open Day and Night,” offered customers the usual “best the Market affords,” employed the finest “French Cooks,” and had private rooms for women. What is notable is that Marteen and Redding were among the few business owners in the Black community of the Angel City, though their tenure was short-lived during the difficult economic times that ensued.

Another notable ad was for photographer Valentine Wolfenstein, with the native of Sweden, stating,

When you want a picture that shall be A true likeness of yourself, go to Wolfenstein, who owns the only Perfect gallery in Los Angeles. Do not squander your money away by Going to inferior galleries because Pictures are advertised half a dollar cheaper per dozen.

He added that he used only experienced “artists,” did not let poor-quality images outside his studio, enlarged photos to any size, “is very successful with children,” and, above all, “is successful because he entirely understands the art, and pays strict attention to his business and gives all the departments personal supervision.”

The main editorial concerned the 25th birthday of California as a state and a statement on this by the Virginia Enterprise, as it started with the statement that “what a proud, petted, spoiled child California is, to be sure!” It then added that “there will always be a peculiar interest attached to the wonderful State” and that “her people breathe a different air from that breathed by any other people.”

Given her youth, the paper marveled that “her life is but just commenced, and yet how she shines in the firmament of States!” and asked “what will she be like when her thousands shall have changed to millions[?]” at which time “how great should grow the people in such a State.” The purple prose persisted until the paean propounded that the “glories” to come would be such that they would “give a new reverence to the State, as on each returning birthday men gather near to honor it coming, until at last manhood and womanhood shall exhibit their highest types in the Golden State.”

Though the Museum’s holdings contain much fewer editions of the Star than its contemporaries, we will certainly look to feature more of the paper in future editions of the “Read All About It” series, so be sure to check back for those.

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