by Paul R. Spitzzeri
After a horrendous period of deluge (floods in the winter of 1861-62), drought (1862-1864), disease (smallpox in several outbreaks, especially) and (economic) depression, greater Los Angeles emerged after the Civil War particularly ready for a change for the better.
From the late 1860s through the mid 1870s, the town and its outlying areas finally experienced a sustained, significant growth in which the population increased dramatically, agriculture replaced cattle as the backbone of the economy, and other improvements took place.
By summer 1874, even though a national depression broke out the previous year, the region was still riding the long wave. There are few places better to feel the pulse of the community than in its newspapers. This installment of “Read All About It” looks at the edition of the Los Angeles Express published on this day 143 years ago.
Local news included a range of very brief notes, such as the fact that noted bandido Tiburcio Vásquez, captured by county sheriff William R. Rowland in May in what became Hollywood, was to stand trial in northern California (he was convicted and executed in March 1875).
Other legal matters included the rape trial of Wiley McNair of El Monte, who was accused of the crime five years prior, and the conviction of Lucca Marasovich, a Los Angeles miner, in a domestic violence case in which he was indicted for manslaughter after hitting his wife, Rafaela Ledesma, who then died. As discussed in John Mack Faragher’s excellent Eternity Street, about crime in Los Angeles during these years and before, witnesses testified to seeing Marasovich hit his wife and a doctor in the coroner’s inquest reported “marks of violence” on the dead woman. Despite this, Marasovich, as the paper noted, was convicted of assault and battery, for which he was sentenced to a year in county jail.
Some of the news items found in the paper, not surprisingly, deal with some of those matters mentioned above. For example, with agriculture, there were two experiments noted.
One involved the efforts of Benjamin D. Wilson, who came to Los Angeles with William Workman in late 1841, at his house in Wilmington. Wilson was for twenty years the owner of Lake Vineyard, a property near near the Mission San Gabriel, but was getting ready to subdivide it with partners including Workman’s son-in-law, F.P.F. Temple, who became the treasurer of the Lake Vineyard Land and Water Company.
The article mentioned that Wilson took 4,000 grape cuttings from Lake Vineyard and planted them at Wilmington without the need for irrigation, which was the norm when it came to managing vineyards and water. Beyond that, the piece continued, Wilson planted 4,000 “gum trees”, meaning eucalyptus, which were imported from Australia as far back as the 1850s.
There was a big movement to plant more of the trees in the region, including the creation of the Forest Grove Association, which had F.P.F. Temple as a founder and which planted a large grove near the San Gabriel River near modern Downey.
Again, it was noted there was no irrigating used for the trees and the Express expressed (!) the hope that Wilson’s work would expand non-irrigating agriculture in what we now call the “South Bay” area of the county.
Meanwhile, Dr. F. P. Howard, mentioned elsewhere in the issue for his investments in the new town of San Fernando near the mission, was lauded as “the leading spirit in the tobacco planting experiment at Agricultural Park.” He reported on the success of the project, which was run by a company he oversaw and which had a temporary curing building on the park (now Exposition Park) grounds. If successful, the intention was to expand the enterprise dramatically, even as the Express noted that it had been engaged on “our crusade against the pernicious practice of using the horrid weed.”
Speaking of “pernicious practice,” the temperance movement against alcohol sales and consumption was on its own active crusade, which would culminate more than four decades later in Prohibition. Local option laws were being enacted in cities and towns by popular vote and there was significant controversy both as to the constitutionality and applicability of these laws when it came to prohibiting alcohol in those areas.
The Express weighed in with an editorial, saying “we have yet to hear of a single place of any note where it has been successfully enforced.” It went on to suggest that “the trouble is that the law is not popular enough to secure conviction for its violation.” To the paper, “the public mind cannot understand how it can be made a criminal offense to follow a pursuit, which the State generally licenses, by the mere voting act of a locality.” It was in the licensing system that the paper believed was the correct legal approach.
The other main area of coverage related to the growth of greater Los Angeles came with references to happenings in its communities. As noted above, the new town of San Fernando was mentioned with respect to the completion of a new hotel and several stores. Another example, with a nod to the Express’s competitor, the Herald, was Compton. Founded by F.P.F. Temple and El Monte farmer Fielding W. Gibson as Centerville in 1867, the town really began to grow when most of the tract was sold to George Compton and named for him.
With a new depot along the Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad, controlled by the Southern Pacific, a tavern and store, and, more importantly, a new church and a public school together costing $8,000 to build, Compton was said to be “in as beautiful a section as can be found.”
There were also many advertisements related to real estate, from individual houses to small tracts to large subdivisions. One of the latter that was recently laid out and promoted was East Los Angeles, the first tract within city limits that was east of the Los Angeles River. Developed in 1873, the community included the new passenger depot of the Southern Pacific Railroad and was supplied with water from a new system tied into the private Los Angeles City Water Company. Notably, the ad promoted the community’s location as “one mile from the Court House,” which almost seemed to indicate that, if a resident was in legal trouble, at least they were close to the court!
With regard to ads, one for a place not far from East Los Angeles (which was later renamed Lincoln Heights) was that for Sycamore Grove, a private park along the Arroyo Seco. Proprietor John Rumpp had “the pleasure of announcing that he has made extensive improvements, including a 2,500-square foot dance hall for Sunday band concerts.
In a contrast to the local option laws issue, Rumpp also was sure to note that he offered plenty of refreshment, including “the best Wine, Liquors, etc., dispensed.” Moreover, the hall could be rented for weddings, christenings, balls, and other special occasions. Sycamore Grove continued to be a popular place for picnics, large events and others and Sycamore Grove Park still lies next to the Arroyo Seco along Figueroa Street next to the communities of Mt. Washington and Highland Park.
There were other entertainment-related ads. Simonds’ Ice Cream Palace announced “Reform” or a reopening so that they were “prepared to give first-class Ice Cream, made from pure cream,” as well as serving raspberries and cream and offering candies. Then, there was the notice of a few days’ engagement in town for The San Francisco Circus, held at what was referred to as “the old Circus lot” at the corner of Temple and New High streets.
This is almost certainly the location of a former lumber yard which had the unsavory history of being a place for vigilance committees to lynch suspected criminals because it had a large gate with a strong supporting beam. The circus offered “highly-trained horses,” a miniature elephant named Princess Mollie and, interestingly, “performing goats.”
As for the humans, there were “17 Star Performers,” including horse riders, somersaulters, a “Queen of the Air” which seems to indicate something like a trapeze artists, a Peruvian Indian performing “grotesque acts” and other feats, acrobats, a clown and more.
There were a couple of references in the edition to members of the Workman and Temple families. William and Nicolasa Workman’s nephews, William Henry and Elijah, sons of William’s brother David, took out a notice for a Certificate of Partnership. Since the late 1850s, the brothers had, off and on, operated a highly successful saddlery and harness shop on Main Street, and, after a hiatus, resumed their business. Three years later, William sold out and devoted himself to the development of Boyle Heights, which he subdivided in 1875, his farm, and other interests. Elijah continued in the saddlery business until the mid 1880s.
Thomas W. Temple, eldest child of the Workmans’ daughter, Margarita, and her husband, F.P.F. Temple and a cashier in his father and grandfather’s bank, Temple and Workman, was the successful party to a civil lawsuit involving a Los Angeles brewery, so a Sheriff’s Sale of the defendants’ property was the subject of an ad taken out by Sheriff Rowland. The brewers, Frank Fanning and David Crichton, not only owed Temple money, likely from a loan, but a lease on the property and a mechanics’ lien against them!
Reading through the four-page paper provides a wide-ranging view of many of the aspects of life in greater Los Angeles during the area’s first sustained growth period. Within a year and a couple of months, the good times would come to a screeching halt with an economic panic hitting California and the city, which has often been (and will continue to be!) discussed here.
Look for more notable newspaper entries in future “Read All About It” posts!