by Paul R. Spitzzeri
On this date, 143 years ago, greater Los Angeles was deep in the midst of its first sustained period of economic and demographic growth.
The dual devastation of flood and drought in the first half of the 1860s largely destroyed the cattle industry, which was the backbone of the region’s economy. Starting after the Civil War, the region was primarily dependent on agriculture, included the farming of wheat and other field crops, viticulture, citrus, and more. Sheep raising also increased dramatically during the boom years.
Migrants, mainly from the eastern and southern United States, poured in to establish homes in the city, which grew from about 6,000 in 1870 to about double that within four to five years, or on a farm or new suburban community (like Artesia, San Fernando, Pomona and others that were founded during the period.)
Among the most fervent boosters of growth in the region were its newspapers, of which, in 1874, there were the Spanish-language La Crónica and the English-language Express, Herald and Star. Though each had their varied political allegiances, each was devoted to promoting the potential of greater Los Angeles whenever possible.
A look at the 18 January 1874 edition of the Herald, an original of which is in the Homestead’s collection, provides a fascinating glimpse into what was taking place in the rapidly growing town and region.
Something that is particularly timely now is a notice about the weather–namely, that after “four or five successive dry seasons,” which were especially concerning the region’s farmers, “this winter has brought back to their countenances the smiles of old, and reinspired their hearts with hope.” By that date, over 11 inches had fallen during the season and, with good harvests likely to come “every one is thankful” reported the paper.
With regard to the economy, there was a long editorial on wool growing in the area. The concern was that the method of raising sheep, in which large numbers of animals were introduced to grazing lands and allowed to pasture until the grass was gone and then taken elsewhere, was inappropriate to greater Los Angeles’ changing circumstances.
Instead, the piece cautioned, growers should import better breeds, provide them feed rather than despoiling the grasslands, and then more professionally shearing and carding the wool for a better marketable product. Specifically, ranchers were advised to raise alfalfa and feed that to animals with heavier fleece and then better prepare the wool.
The Herald also recommended a growers’ association to organize, publicize and market the industry. While it is not known if such an organization was planned, there was a Farmer’s Club in the San Gabriel Valley that had a wool growers committee. William Workman’s son, Joseph, whose 800 acres on the Rancho La Puente included large flocks of sheep, was the chair of that committee.
Another interesting bit of news came from Sacramento, where the state legislature approved a bill to provide a $5,000 reward for the capture of notorious bandit Tiburcio Vásquez, whose gang committed three murders during the course of robberies in the small town of Tres Pinos near Monterey. Within several months, Vásquez came to Los Angeles, committed more crimes and was hunted by Sheriff William R. Rowland, son of the recently deceased half-owner of Rancho La Puente. Vásquez was captured by Rowland’s men in present Hollywood and extradited north to stand trial for the Tres Pinos killings. The bandit chieftain was convicted and executed in spring 1875. Meanwhile, Rowland collected the reward for the capture.
As befitted a boom, there was plenty of attention being given to land sales and new subdivisions. The previous fall, John Wesley North, president of the Southern California Colony Association, took out an ad that was pretty typical of its type. The association’s project, called Riverside, was touted as “one of the very best places in Southern California” for raising grapes and fruit and as “unsurpassed in climate, soil, and abundance of water.”
Not only that, but being “far from the fogs and damp winds of the coast,” Riverside was promoted as perfect “for those afflicted with lung or bronchial diseases” and invalids were welcomes to try out the area for winter accommodations. Of course, these days, Riverside happens to be one of the smoggiest areas of the region!
Another new development found in the pages of the Herald concerned the new subdivision of Prudent Beaudry, a Canadian native who was highly active in real estate and would soon be mayor of Los Angeles. An article about his new project started off by looking back at history:
A little over a year more, and the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill will take place . . . [and] the nation at large is very justly arranging for a celebration on an extensive scale, of the centennial anniversary of this event . . . Overhanging [?] Los Angeles is a hill similar to Bunker Hill—nay, it is larger. From it all the city can be seen and the country for miles around. On this hill also, are military marks, the remnant of a fort, which was built for the protection of liberty in this State.
The reference at the end was to Fort Moore, built in 1847, shortly after the seizure of Mexican California by American forces and many Spanish-speaking citizens might have had a differing opinion about the fort’s function “for the protection of liberty.”
The general boundary of the tract was described as being between Hope Street on the west, Hill Street on the east, Temple Street on the north and 2nd Street on the south. An accompanying ad touted the “fine, dry, airy location” in “the most elegant part of the city” suitable for “homes for everybody” including “every industrious mechanic” who could pay “on the popular installment plan.”
Seeing that Beaudry’s Bunker Hill Tract includes such high-flying real estate as Disney Hall, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Taper Forum, Ahmanson Theatre, the county Hall of Administration and Courthouse, and a good portion of Grand Park, imagine what Beaudry would think of what his subdivision is like (and worth) today!
A few samples of advertisements are also included here, such as the opening (reopening?) on the 3rd of a skating rink, the location of which was not given, but which was open only to “respectable persons” and that “ladies and gentlemen may rest assured that this order will be rigidly enforced.” Note that while general admission was two bits (a quarter), women were admitted free.
Another ad was for the saddlery of Elijah and William H. Workman, nephews of William Workman, owner of the Homestead. The brothers first partnered in the late 1850s and continued their association for some twenty years until about 1877 with their business on the east side of Main Street in the Lanfranco Building, at the intersection of Temple. The brothers were also active in public service, with Elijah serving as a long-time city council member and board of education member and William being a council member, mayor in 1887-88, and city treasurer from 1901-09. Later in 1874, William, with Isaias W. Hellman and John Lazzarevitch, began planning for a new subdivision on the other side of town from Bunker Hill called Boyle Heights.
Of course, it feels like a duty to show the ad for the bank of Temple and Workman, which, in early 1874 after some two-and-a-half years of operation, seemed like a prosperous and highly profitable institution. Yet, as recent posts have noted, within two years of this issue of the Herald, matters went terribly wrong. More on the fate of the bank in about two weeks on this blog!