Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It was the peak of an economic boom that started in greater Los Angeles in the late 1860s not long after the end of the Civil War and in spring 1875 it was a red hot one. Today’s highlighted newspaper from the Homestead’s collection, the 24 March 1875 edition of the Los Angeles Herald, had plenty of material related to the rapid growth in the city and county.
For one, there was a parade and the the dedication of the cornerstone for the new Methodist Episcopal Church being built on Spring Street between 1st and 2nd. This not only reflected the movement of new residents south from older parts of town, but also meant that more Anglos and Protestants were moving to the city from the midwestern and eastern portions of the United States.
The structure designed by Ezra F. Kysor, architect of such landmarks as the Pico House hotel, St. Vibiana Cathedral and, it has been said, the circa 1870 remodeling of the Workman House here at the Homestead, also included a small “treasure box” (what we would call today a “time capsule”) containing memorabilia such as bible, local newspapers dating to the early 1850s, and other items.
There was also a lengthy article by Angeleno James W. Potts, a native of Tennessee who came to Los Angeles during early migrations from Americans from the South in the early Fifties. Potts first lived in the “new American town” founded by southerners called El Monte and then resided in Wilmington near the harbor before settling in Los Angeles. He owned a store and then made a small fortune investing in real estate. Potts was a member of the city council for a one-year term in 1877 and 1878 and an early supporter of the Methodist Episcopal church mentioned above.
Potts, however, was also nicknamed “The Prophet” because of his passion as an amateur prognosticator of the weather before sophisticated meteorology systems were developed. This interest also manifested itself in an editorial published in the paper and reprinted from a religious periodical. In it, Potts discussed the importance of irrigation to improve conditions in greater Los Angeles, which he believed could support 2 million people with wise water management, exclusive of the importation of water that allowed much larger growth.
The real estate boom was also emphasized in many advertisements promoting developments throughout the county. For example, Prudent Beaudry, a French-Canadian who soon was elected mayor of Los Angeles, owned considerable property in the Bunker Hill area and advertised his lots there.
Elsewhere, the Rancho Santa Gertrudes, which was one of several ranches split off in the 1830s from the massive Nieto grant, one of the first two created under Spain in 1784, was subdivided and promoted.
A syndicate of investors with the lengthy name of the Los Angeles Immigration and Land Co-operative Association bought land southeast of Los Angeles and not far from Santa Gertrudes and created the town of Artesia, named for the artesian wells that pumped water from the area.
The same year, 1875, the association, which relied on loans from the bank of Temple and Workman, embarked on another development called Pomona, after the Roman goddess representing fruit. Such names involved in both projects are recognizable in Pomona street names like Garey, Milton, Gordon, Thomas, Gibbs, and Town[e].
Other items of interest in the paper include an ad noting the creation of the California Wine-Growers Association, a Los Angeles-based corporation formed to manufacture wine and brandy from local vineyards. The incorporators included Isaias W. Hellman, banker and owner of the prosperous wine-producing Rancho Cucamonga, along with Italian vintner Antonio Pelanconi, Hellman’s banking associate Leander C. Goodwin, and attorney and future judge Henry M. Smith, French wine maker Jean Bernard and Prussian physician Frederick Euphrat.
A joking reference in the issue referred to a lawsuit filed by ex-governor Pío Pico against Antonio Cuyas, who Pico leased his Pico House hotel to when it opened in 1869. Pico sued Cuyas for over $40,000 because of the failed partnership and the former governor and neighboring ranchero of the Workman and Temple families sought to recoup his investment in furniture and equipment purchased by Cuyas during his tenure as hotel manager.
The short piece in the paper claimed that the case, featured two men who were along in years (Pico was then 74 years old) would drag on until the youthful judge, Ygnacio Sepulveda, would find himself, like Rip Van Winkle, suddenly old and gray. The reference to “Jarndyce and Jarndyce” was to a fictional trial from Dickens’ Bleak House and became a catch phrase for legal proceedings that dragged on interminably.
There were also a couple of references in the edition to F.P.F. Temple, son-in-law of William Workman and president of the Temple and Workman bank. One was with an advertisement from the Los Angeles Petroleum Refining Company, of which Temple was the founder and president. The purpose was to levy an assessment on stock shares as the company was busily engaged in drilling for oil in the San Fernando district in today’s Santa Clarita area. The company did produce some crude oil for lighting and other purposes in Los Angeles for a brief period that year.
Then, there was a proposal from the county Board of Supervisors seeking bids to build a bridge over the “Vega Honda” at what was called “Temple’s Crossing.” Derived from a petition by Temple and others, the span was to cross the Rio Hondo, the old channel of the San Gabriel River, which diverted to the current route in the floods of 1867-68. The county road, now San Gabriel Boulevard leading from the Mission San Gabriel to “Old Mission,” site of the original mission location in the Whittier Narrows near El Monte, crossed the Rio Hondo and then continued eastward.
Within six months of this edition of the Herald, the flush times of the boom were over. The collapse of silver mining speculation at Virginia City, Nevada toppled the Bank of California, the state’s largest, in San Francisco. As the news raced down telegraph wires to Los Angeles, the two commercial banks in town, Hellman and Goodwin’s Farmers and Merchants and Temple and Workman, were besieged by depositors and, as recent posts in this blog have detailed, the latter couldn’t survive and failed.
The activity chronicled in the paper trickled to a fraction of that within a year’s time and the malaise generally lingered until a decade later, when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad built a direct transcontinental line to Los Angeles in 1885, ushering in the famed “Boom of the Eighties.”