Read All About it in the Los Angeles Star, 20 November 1875

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

During greater Los Angeles’ first boom, lasting for about seven years during the late 1860s and first half of the following decade, with a major boost in population and significant growth with the local economy, one of our best sources of information are the Angel City’s newspapers. The Homestead’s collection has a goodly number of issues from the main dailies in town: the Express (founded in 1871), the Herald (launched two years later), and the Star, which was the first sheet established in Los Angeles and which made its debut in May 1851. There was a hiatus for four years from 1864 to 1868, but the paper returned and continued operation until 1879.

The number highlighted for this latest “Read All About It” post is that of 20 November 1875, when Benjamin C. Truman, a notable and colorful figure in Los Angeles, was its proprietor, having acquired the paper two years prior. In short order after purchasing the sheet, Truman became a booster par excellence, penning lengthy articles to promote the region and then culling them for his 1874 book, Semi-Tropical California. He also achieved no small amount of local notoriety for being the first journalist to interview the bandido Tiburcio Vásquez, when the notorious robber chieftain was captured in the Angel City in spring 1874.

Yet, when the California economy, seemingly immune or largely so from the national depression that broke out in 1873, collapsed at the end of August 1875, due to the burst bubble of Virginia City, Nevada silver mine stocks traded in San Francisco, and then the terrible news traveled telegraph lines to Los Angeles, an immediate financial chill set in. Truman managed to hang on for two years, but sold the Star in 1877 to take the steady-paying government job as a postal service agent. As the economic situation continued to be tenuous, the paper soon failed, among many businesses to do so after the malaise set in—it was not until the early Eighties that the business environment improved and the great Boom of the 1880s soon followed.

In fact, the 20th was a crucial day for the Temple and Workman bank, which was hit hard by a run by depositors that erupted after the financial panic set in at San Francisco. Along with its rival, Farmers’ and Merchants’ Bank of Los Angeles, the institution suspended business for all of September to try to calm the waters, but, while the other commercial bank quickly reopened, Temple and Workman could not do so without a substantial loan. This proved particularly elusive, even in San Francisco, where capitalists clamped down on such activity.

Bank President F.P.F. Temple and Managing Cashier Henry S. Ledyard spent a good deal of time in the fall trudging back and forth between Los Angeles and San Francisco seeking funds to keep their institution open, but their efforts proved fruitless for nearly three months. At last, Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, whose sobriquet reflected his good fortune in cashing out to the tune of several millions of dollars when he sold his Virginia City silver stock before the bursting bubble, agreed to a $210,000 loan to the stricken bank.

On the day, however, this edition of the Star was published, Temple wrote to his father-in-law and “silent” partner, William Workman, to inform him of the deal, executed “on rather hard terms,” but Temple expressed optimism (what else would he have done?) that everything would turn out all right in the end. Of course, it didn’t and several posts here have explored what happened with the bank in early 1876. Meantime, among the list of passengers sailing from San Francisco to San Pedro, our local harbor, on the 19th and arriving the morning of the 20th was Ledyard, who came back, presumably, to get the bank ready for its infusion of cash and the reopening of Temple and Workman, which took place a little more than two weeks later, on 6 December.

Despite the fanfare and hoopla, including a banquet tendered to Temple and with speeches from Mayor Prudent Beaudry, Temple (offering profuse thanks and a toast to Baldwin), and Truman, the borrowed funds quietly were withdrawn by jittery depositors and two subsequent infusions of $100,000 and $30,000 failed to stem the tide. On 13 January, the bank permanently closed its doors and the result was an unmitigated financial disaster never before seen in the Angel City.

As for “Local Items in Brief,” the Star noted that, to date, just above four inches of rain had fallen during the season, early yet as it was, but there was precipitation as the issue went to press. It was separately recorded that there was “cheering intelligence” for the 1876 planting season in the region, including reports that grass was about two inches in height at El Monte, that the Rancho “Sausal Redondo looks like an English park, “an immense green field” was witnessed on the ride to the newly established town of Santa Monica, and that at another new community, Westminster, and at the Rancho San Joaquin in what became Orange County there was “every prospect of a bountiful season” ahead.

The paper also observed that the recently formed real estate business of George E. Long and Franklin E. Adams, with a main office at Temple and Spring streets and a branch at Los Nietos (where today’s Downey and nearby cities are now). While it was reported that the duo were “doing a fair share of real estate business” with readers urged to visit Long (Adams was at Los Nietos) because he was “rich and reliable, and does everything in an up and up manner,” the partnership soon folded, though Long was, in 1876, hired as assignee for the Temple and Workman bank.

In 1873, an “Indiana Colony” of emigres formed a town that recently became referred to as Pasadena and the Star observed that Nathan Kimball, a Union Army general during the Civil War and current surveyor general for the Territory of Utah and who had gone to Los Angeles in the search for a property for the colony, purchased a property in the nascent community (then referred to by the formal name of the San Gabriel Orange Grove Association) and was expected to settle there when his term of office expired. Yet, when that time came, Kimball remained in Utah, taking on the position of postmaster of Ogden, where he remained until his death in 1898.

In advance of the latest slate of horse races, Truman headed south of town the prior day to visit the track at what was founded early in the Seventies as Agricultural Park, then situated outside of the southern limits of Los Angeles. With recent rainfall, it was observed that the precipitation “makes the roads leading to the track, and the course itself, better and better,” and added that “there is very little epizootic [a general term for disease] among the horses in training, and even those that have it are not set back by it.” The track later became a rose garden at what was renamed Exposition Park and the area is still there next to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Appearing that evening at the German-built and operated Turn Verein Hall on Spring Street, reported the Star was The Great Herrmann, identified as “the World’s Greatest Prestidigitateur [Prestidigitator]” and performing “in a fresh accumulation of unaccountable and unapproachable mystifications” as recently displayed in San Francisco. For fifty cents in the family circle and a dollar in the dress circle, Angelenos could observe “the great wonder in the mystic art” and his “temple of delights,” with the paper adding that the magician “is the greatest and genteelest performer of sleight of hand in the world” and would “fascinate and amaze those who behold him.” Alexander Herrmann (1844-1896), born in Paris to a magician and physician, was mentored by an older brother, Carl, and left England in 1874 after a few years there to settle in America. In March 1875, he married Adelaide Scarcez who became part of his act, though it is not known if she was with him in Los Angeles for his appearance.

The report of the prior day’s meeting of the Common (City) Council included approval of a horse-drawn street railroad (the first in Los Angeles, the Spring and Sixth, which included F.P.F. Temple as treasurer, opened in 1874, was also granted an extension by the council at the meeting) to East Los Angeles, now Lincoln Heights, by Dr. John S. Griffin, one of that tract’s developers two years before. Also of note were actions relating to the grading or other improvements of city streets, always a concern prior to paving, as well as a fire and water committee being authorized to purchase a 1,475-pound bell for $275 for use by the city’s volunteer fire department.

Then there was a warrant for $940 due to civil engineer and federal surveyor Henry J. Stevenson, who came to Los Angeles from Portland, Oregon in 1874 and prepared a map of the Angel City that was something of a descendant of the classic ones made by Edward O.C. Ord in 1849 and Henry Hancock in 1857. Stevenson’s rendering appeared in 1876 and was updated eight years later just before the great boom, while another of the county was completed in 1880 and he was a long-time surveyor and engineer for Baldwin (which may explain how he came into the possession of an original 1868 Rancho La Puente map). Unsuccessful in real estate speculation during the boom, Stevenson, whose work was compared in 1896 to that of Hancock for deliberate inaccuracy out of “diabolical ingenuity,” remained in Los Angeles until his death in 1926.

The most exciting item on the council agenda concerned police officer Henry J. Twomey, a native of Ireland who came to the city a couple years prior and was once lionized for being a “terror to evil-doers” while on the force. After getting into fisticuffs with photographer Valentine Wolfenstein, however, Twomey was criminally charged and, as a result, council member Joseph Mullaly, one of the city’s early brickmakers and absent of a determination by a special committee formed to deliberate on the officer’s remaining on the force, motioned for Twomey’s dismissal.

Council member Elijah H. Workman, nephew of the Homestead founder and well-known at the time for his efforts in beautifying the Plaza and later the Sixth Street or Central Park (now Pershing Square, opined that “if Mr. Twomey was discharged it would be on account of striking Wolfenstein, who had insulted him.” Mullaly retorted that “a policeman had no right to strike a man even if he was called a liar or anything else.” After a motion was made to allow the officer to resign rather than be fired, Twomey was permitted to address the council and the minutes recorded,

He said it was a source of satisfaction to him that the motion to discharge him came from a Councilman who had shot the teeth down a man’s throat while taking a drink.

While the alleged incident was not further mentioned, Mullaly called Twomey to order and then suggested that if the officer “had anything personally to say, to say in outside,” in other words, the councilmember challenged Twomey to take their quarrel outside the council chambers. With that a motion was made on the resignation question and this passed, ending the matter. Later in the year, however, Twomey was acquitted of two separate criminal matters and he was soon hired as a special watchman and was found not guilty on a third allegation of violence, this against a fellow officer early in 1876 and was again discharged. In April, he was arrested again on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon during a drunken binge and then disappeared.

Lastly, there was the final of a five-day county Teachers’ Institute and an item of controversy came when an essay by a grammar school teacher, Charles H. Kimball, on his “Thoughts and Impressions Received from the Institute.” The Star report was that the paper “was aimed at the whole Institute, and appeared to be a premeditated depreciation of the respected President,” this being county superintendent George H. Peck, “and every other teacher in the county and by one who has not so much as lifted his finger to make the meeting a success.”

Later, James M. Guinn, an educator who became well-known as a regional historian, addressed the question of whether the Institute was a failure and rejoined that the answer was:

Yes, to those who have done nothing to make it a success; who have growled at everything others have done. Yes, to those perfect people who know it all now . . . Yes, to those whose nerves are so weak that they swoon under the weight and oppression of the ideas advanced. Yes, to the fault-finders, growlers, carpers, sneerers, snivelers. Yes, to the critical, satirical, the cynical.

Presumably, Guinn accounted Kimball as among these, while he replied that the response was in the negative for “those who have tried to do their duty . . . who have tried to learn . . . [and] who have tried to make it pleasant for all concerned.” Notably, Kimball, who hailed from New Hampshire and began his teaching career there before serving in the Union Army during the Civil War and was in Nevada County before coming to Los Angeles, went on to be the city school superintendent and principal of the high school and retired in 1880 after being presented a cane by the city’s teachers.

As to Peck, he was praised by Guinn as “our worthy Superintendent [who] has done his duty well” and “has been uniformly kind and gentlemanly.” His oversight of the Institute was deemed “fair and impartial” and, it was concluded, “if the Institute is a failure, it is not his fault.” There were resolutions to adopt certain textbooks, such as the Pacific Coast Readers, Cornel’s Geographies and Swinton’s Grammar, while the body passed one that insisted that the abolishing of the offices of county and state school superintendent “is a blow against our Public School system, and if successful will prove disastrous to the same.”

Meanwhile, the county’s Board of Supervisors were implored to establish “a suitable business office and furniture for the County Superintendent” as well as “for the preservation of papers and other valuable school property” along with public convenience.” The members also commended Peck for his work, called for his salary to be $2,000 annually (with a requirement to visit all schools in his jurisdiction at least quarterly) and passed another resolution that the county school superintendent also be a member of the California Board of Education. The press was also praised for “so courteously and correctly reporting the proceedings of this Institute.”

While the Museum’s collection has far fewer issues of the Star in its collection than of the Express and Herald, we’ll certainly look to include more editions in future “Read All About It” posts as we seek to better understand Los Angeles in the early to mid 1870s, a notable time in the Angel City’s history.

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