Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Having an institution of higher learning is another one of those common benchmarks found with the development in mid to late nineteenth century towns and cities, along with a public library, a substantial city hall and courthouse, a streetcar system and similar amenities.
In Los Angeles, its first college was a private Catholic school called St. Vincent’s College, which opened its doors in 1865. As noted in a recent post here, the town didn’t have a high school until 1873, so St. Vincent’s was filling a need for both secondary and higher education. The photo of the college shown below, a recent addition to the museum’s collection, is a stereoscopic image from Lemuel Ellis and Son and dates to the first half of the 1880s.
The concept was brought forward by diocesan bishop Thaddeus Amat (for whom the local La Puente high school was named and who, in 1857, blessed the cornerstone for St. Nicholas’ Chapel in El Campo Santo cemetery here at the Homestead.) After a meeting was held, Vicente Lugo of the prominent Californio family, agreed to donate the use of the family’s adobe on the east side of the Plaza for the campus.
Because Amat was of the Vincentian order, named for St. Vincent de Paul, the school took that name. The definition of “college,” though, was quite a bit different than our modern conception. For one thing, future priests were among the student body, but also the school was designed for boys as young as what we would consider junior high or middle school age up to the high school level.
After two years in the Lugo Adobe, the school moved to a new part of town, located on 6th Street between Hill Street and Broadway near the brand-new Central Park, renamed Pershing Square in 1918 after World War I general John J. “Black Jack” Pershing. The institution received a state charter that same year, 1869.
St. Vincent’s operated in this location until 1886, when Los Angeles was entering the famed “Boom of the Eighties” and the city was expanding rapidly, especially to the south and west. This photo can be dated, then, to 1885 or slightly before. Consequently, the campus moved to the corner of Grand Avenue and Washington Boulevard.
The school truly became a college after its move and began awarding bachelor’s degrees, the first granted in 1887 to Isidore Dockweiler, whose family became among the city’s elite. Other notable graduates included future Los Angeles County Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz, who descended from the López family, first residents of what became Boyle Heights, actor Leo Carrillo, from another prominent Californio family, and famed pianist Ferde Grofe.
The two youngest sons of Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple, Walter and Charles Temple attended St. Vincent’s, as did Boyle Workman, their second cousin (Boyle’s grandfather, David Workman, and Walter and Charles’ grandfather, William Workman, owner of the Homestead from 1842 to 1876, were brothers).
The college operated under the auspices of the Vincentian order until 1911 when the Jesuits took on the operation of the school briefly under the name of Los Angeles College in Highland Park, serving basically as a prep school.
The Jesuits then found a new home on Venice Boulevard (16th Street) between Vermont and Normandie and, in 1918, reopened as Loyola College. Eleven years later, a new campus was opened in Westchester near Mines Field, soon renamed Los Angeles International Airport. It remained an all-male campus until Marymount College for women, which occupied its own part of the campus from 1968, merged with Loyola five years later, giving the institution its current name of Loyola Marymount University.
Over 150 years have passed since the founding of St. Vincent’s College and its legacy as the first institution of higher learning in Los Angeles is still little-known. Check back here for more in the “Getting Schooled” series.