Read All About It in the Los Angeles Weekly Express, 2 October 1873

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As has been noted here many times before with entries under the “Read All About It” series of posts highlighting historic greater Los Angeles newspapers from the Museum’s holdings, these artifacts are among our very best sources of such periods as the first half of the 1870s, when the Angel City and its environs underwent their first significant and sustained period of growth and when F.P.F. Temple, and, by association, his father-in-law, William Workman, invested heavily in a wide array of business ventures.

While this first boom was much smaller than all of those that followed it, it was important in that much of what transpired was built (literally, in many cases) upon by subsequent growth periods, whether this be the ways in which downtown expanded, how the suburbs developed, lines of transportation constructed, the search for petroleum prosecuted, and much more. Poring through the pages of press accounts in the papers, allowing for over-exuberant promotion of the wonders of the region (of which there were many) and intentional or otherwise misrepresentation, if not fabrication, of facts, can be very instructive in understanding the history of this area some 150 years ago.

This post examines some of the contents of the weekly edition of the Los Angeles Express, issued each Thursday by Tiffany and Company and summarizing the reporting of the prior week, dated 2 October 1873. A “Local Dottings” column had bits of news, such as the formation of the new record-searching firm of Judson & Gillette; machinery developed for horse-powered wine presses by the Los Angeles Iron Foundry; a new turbine at the Aliso Mills allowing for more meal and flour processing; tailor Isaac Hauch making new suits from the product of the Los Angeles Woolen Mill, of which Temple was an owner; that the Southern Pacific’s progress on its railroad line to San Fernando totaled eleven miles, while that of other lines, including through the San Gabriel Valley towards Workman’s share of Rancho La Puente, was going well.

In the report of the proceedings of the Los Angeles Common (City) Council, it was noted that William H. Workman, nephew of the La Puente ranchero and representative of the city’s Second Ward, was chair of the meeting. Among the more interesting items was a report by City Surveyor William Moore about “the opening and improving of Ninth street,” showing just how far south the development of Los Angeles was moving and his statement was forwarded to the Board of Public Works and the City Attorney Aurelius W. Hutton instructed to write an ordinance “to meet the requirements of such improvements as are recommended.”

The vestry of St. Athanasius’ Episcopal Church, the first Protestant house of worship built in the city and situated at the southwest corner of Temple and New High streets, communicated with the council concerning its concept of exchanging its property for one at a school site at Spring and Third streets. It turned out that nothing was done with respect to a location change for another decade when the church, renamed St. Paul’s, moved to Olive Street across from Central (6th Street) Park, which became Pershing Square.

With the city relying on a volunteer firefighting force, there was also discussion about how to reimburse operators of trucks (horse-drawn, of course) who got to the company’s engine to transport it to the site of a fire and a concern about whether there might be abuses through false alarms. During the conversation, future mayor Prudent Beaudry arrived and took his seat, adding that a resolution should note that payment would be rendered for an actual alarm, while he acknowledged that “he was not prepared to say that this would not result as ineffectively as leaving the matter as it is.” The decision was to appoint a three-member committee to further investigate the matter.

Workman brought up the question of Hutton’s salary, suggesting it was too low and so another committee was formed to look into the issue. Joseph Mullally, an early brick manufacturer in the city, raised the matter of a problem with “Virgin street, in Sonora,” the area now embraced within Chinatown and at which “the water all flowed from that street into High [Street] and thence into the Plaza, and if something was not done, it will flood the lower [southern] portion of the town when the rains set in.” Beaudry suggested that Moore be requested to “examine all that portion of the town, and see what ought to be done,” noting that “all the water in that portion of the town should be drained into the zanjas,” or ditches which provided for irrigation and other uses. Virgin Street was later renamed to Alpine, which runs east to west through that area.

Beaudry then mentioned his concerns about water in the hills to the west and south of what was then downtown, specifically the need for “the existence of a zanja which is dug every spring at the side of Bellevue Terrace property.” This section is around the area west of Pershing Square and including the current Central Public Library and surrounding locales, with the real estate promoter observing that “the new embankment dug up every year is carried away by the freshet of Reyes Cañon, leaving caves and canyons in his property.” The council member suggested a culvert alone New Charity Street, where Grand Avenue is now, “would remedy the evil, and Moore was ordered to prepare a report.

Finally, there was the matter of possibly amending the city charter with Beaudry expressing concern that “serious omissions” from the state legislature were such that “he wanted to see the power of the city over street improvements and the collection of assessments for sewers, etc., rendered more perfect. On his recommendation, another special committee, including him and Hutton, was established to ponder potential adjustments to the charter.

A correspondent subscribed as “ROM” offered an interesting review of the community of Florence, situated just south of city limits (and now the Florence-Graham neighborhood of Los Angeles), but began with the observation that,

While all the papers of this city are showing up the advantages of Los Angeles as a home for Eastern people, they have overlooked to a great extent one of our chief attractions or what will be so in a few years, and that is the town of Florence, which lies just outside the city limits, but which in the future is destined to bear the same relation to us that the west end does to Chicago.

The correspondent went on to note that Florence was established just recently “since the [Los Angeles and San Pedro] railroad has been completed to Wilmington” and the first stop on the journey was there. It was then mentioned that settlers moved there under terms of the Homestead Act of 1862, but faced litigation in getting titles, with the further statement that “it is not to be wondered at that sharp and unscrupulous men should have tried all means in their power to obtain possession of the lands which ere long will be in the suburbs of Los Angeles, as they are the finest in the valley for agriculture.

As was so often the case when it came to “booster” commentary, the fertility of the soil, drainage of that land, the ocean breezes and other qualities were emphasized as to why Florence was without peer among local communities. It added, moreover, that there was a reason why Southern Pacific officials in adding its line to the southeast toward Anaheim and what later became Orange County “were not slow to perceive the advantages of the place and the first work in the county [by that company] was done here.” To date, seven miles of the road were graded and ready for the laying of ties.

Looking forward to the possibility that Thomas Scott’s Texas and Pacific Railway would be a southern transcontinental line terminating at Santa Ana, “ROM” added that “surveyors are already at work laying off the town an very liberal offers are made to settlers.” Moreover, “Florence offers fine inducements to men of small means to secure comfortable homes in a desirable part of the county.

Giving way to the flights of fancy and purple prose common to these communications, “ROM” expounded on the fact that

The view is also magnificent. Stretching away to the east and west, far as the eye can reach is a vast unbroken rolling plain of waving fields, dotted here and there by farm houses and clumps of trees; to the south the land slopes away into a gentle descent to the Pacific, whose waters can be seen glistening in the rays of the setting sun, while to the north, are the grand old heights of the coast range, standing with their rugged snow clad steeps and looking proudly down upon it, like scarred and hoary genii keeping watch and word over some bower of fairy land.

With respect to the growth and development of Los Angeles, an editorial titled “CREDIT FOR OUR EXPORTS” noted that former governor John G. Downey, while recently in San Francisco, spoke to an official of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company about why exports from Los Angeles were being listed by ship pursers as from San Diego (the originating point of sailings to the north) and the agent “promised to issue orders which would rectify the evil.” Downey also talked with the owners of the San Francisco Bulletin, who stated they would also change their listings of shipments accordingly.

The Express continued that “the exports from this city during the past month have been very large” and that “we are developing a trade which is only second in California to that of the metropolis of the Pacific Coast.” Specifically, it expressed pride that “the crops of our county and the country tributary to our harbor,” recently improved with a breakwater, involving the first federal expenditures at Wilmington/San Pedro, “are immense this year, while also mentioning that planting more wheat was necessary—William Workman, for one, expanding his growing of this field crop by leaps and bounds at the time.

With the change in land use from cattle ranching to farming, including on “the best grain lands in the county,” the editorial concluded, “we look upon the position of Los Angeles county as being the best of any in the State” as “our capacity for self-support and for growing a large surplus” was evolving year to year. Moreover, it went on, “we have a variety of productive wealth which no other county can boast, and our progress, in every respect, is substantial and rapid.” Elsewhere, “Our Best Advertisement” noted that wool exports were expected to surpass the 3.171 million pounds of 1872, while wheat production and wine manufacturing were expected to be strong and the crop of oranges “satisfactory.” The paper proclaimed

Now, when it is known that all this prosperity is the result of the labor and the enterprise of a population so small in proportion to the area of available land we have that we could easily accommodate one hundred times its number, what greater incentive could be given to people abroad to settle in our midst and grow with our growth?

While acknowledging the necessity of pamphlets to advertise the virtues of greater Los Angeles, the Express modestly offered that “the daily newspaper, which faithfully chronicles all facts transpiring,” and does so in an attractive and intelligent way, “is the most effective advertisement any county desirous of population could have.”

Following what was stated by the correspondent from Florence, “The Progress of the Railroad” noted that “the iron is laid on the San Fernando road” of the Southern Pacific, “for twelve miles, reaching now just beyond [the late Jonathan R.] Scott’s wheat field” in what is now Burbank. The speed was such that it was stated that “the track layers can lay the rails faster than the construction train can bring out material.” Grading was completed five miles beyond that and the efficiency of the crew was praised so that “a spectator [was] required to continue at a moderate walk in order to keep up with the construction gang.”

The account continued that

The busy scene is one of the most interesting that could be witnessed, and many of our people have gone out to the end of the road merely to behold the great rapidity with which railroads are built on graded ways by the aid of the perfect system now pursued.

Within a short time, Charles Maclay of San Jose, uncle of real estate promoter, attorney and former judge Robert M. Widney, established the town of San Fernando along that line, which today is also used for the Metrolink commuter train system and its Antelope Valley line. Separately, the paper reported that up to 80 miles of telegraph wire was at the Los Angeles and San Pedro (that line taken over by the Southern Pacific after a fall 1872 subsidy vote included its absorption as part of a package of incentives) depot, along with the instruments, batteries and tables for operation when ready for installation.

Another article concerned the woolen mill store of Sacriste, Elliott and Company, which recently opened in the White House hotel building at the corner of Commercial and Los Angeles streets and the future of the mill for churning out woolen fabric was said to have boded well for the future of the garment industry in the Angel City. The paper noted that “every enterprise which tends to render us independent and self-supporting, is a means of general enrichment,” while money kept within the city and county was accounted as “of lasting benefit.”

The enormous growth of sheep raising, especially following the decline of cattle ranching after the floods and droughts of the first half of the 1860s, was duly noted, though there was a call for the improvement in the quality of the wool through better scouring and grading. Another matter to be addressed, the Express pointed out, was “the increase of water supply so as to furnish power sufficient to invite here a whole series of woolen mills,” but, of course, the water question would only become more critical in subsequent decades until the completion of the Los Angeles Aqueduct four decades later. Meanwhile, one of the proprietors was reported to have gone to San Francisco to purchase machinery for the enterprise.

With respect to water, it was noted that “the farmers of the whole county should prepare to take part in the convention,” to be held at Gallatin, now part of Downey, “to consider the water question in its various aspects.” Concerning another valuable local agricultural product, the paper observed that Anaheim’s Benjamin Dreyfus was paying a penny a pound for grapes brought to him “and will furnish the necessary casks to pack them in for hauling.” It was concluded that “this offer may help our grape growers out of their trouble this season,” though William Workman, who had business connections to Dreyfus and others in Anaheim, had his own winery, so likely did not engage in this type of trade.

William Money (pronounced Mo-nay by him) was an eccentric San Gabriel resident of many years, who was the subject of a recent post on this blog. In newspaper references to him, it is not always obvious whether the reporting was with bemusement or not, but the Express observed that

Professor Money has made a startling meteorological announcement. He proceeded to his university [sometimes called the “Moneyan Institute” at his unusual octagonal-shaped adobe house] at the Mission of San Gabriel a couple of days since and devoted himself altogether to the interests of science. In making his usual astronomical observations he discovered a new and brilliant comet . . . by a series of the most exact and abstruse calculations, he has determined that the erratic visitor will soon be visible to the telluric naked eye . . . It is fortunate the Professor was considerate enough to make this calculation, and thus save us a world of borrowed trouble.

Finally, there is an interesting piece called “Relics of the Long Ago,” which noted that work on the property of a man named Moreno “in the centre of the block bounded by Nigger Alley [Calle de los Negros, where the Chinese community largely resided], Alameda and Alviso [Aliso?] streets,” unearthed, at a depth of five feet, “a quantity of cannon balls, which had doubtless been hurriedly buried there at the time of the surrender of the city in 1847” to invading American forces—and upon which, William workman was one of those bearing the white flag of truce from the town.

The account noted that there were eight copper and 27 iron eight-pound balls and speculated “perhaps the pieces which these shot were intended to serve are lying somewhere buried in the vicinity.” The paper reminded readers that “a quantity of canon balls were also unearthed during the excavation of the lot where Hellman’s handsome block now stands, at the [northwest] corner of Commercial and Los Angeles streets” and advised that “these warlike relics ought to be carefully preserved as mementoes of historical interest.”

We’ll continue to offer further examples of 1870s Los Angeles newspapers as part of the “Read All about It” series on this blog, so check back for these valuable sources of material about the history of that era for this area.

Leave a Reply