Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Travels and Travails of the Haym Salomon Statue, Part One

This is the first part of a post by Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member Rudy Martinez on a little-known statue for a largely-forgotten figure from the American Revolution, Haym Salomon.  Enjoy and check back soon for the next installment!

In June 2008, a small rededication ceremony was held for a newly-installed, twelve-foot tall statue at the southeast corner of Pan Pacific Park in West Los Angeles. The name of the subject, who had a pivotal role to play in the American Revolution, is rendered with a simple etching at the center of the concrete platform: Haym Salomon 1740 – 1785 American Patriot. 

The new plaque added with the figure hints the statue might have traveled a somewhat circuitous route before arriving at its present location, but no timeline is given. However, a second smaller engraving at the work’s base reveals that the statue’s beginnings go much further back then 2008 – yet, even this revelation hardly begins to tell the entire story of the Haym Salomon Statue.

The dedication plaque for the 2008 placement of the Haym Salomon statue at Pan Pacific Park in west Los Angeles.  Photo by the author, Rudy Martinez 
Actually, the statue was initially unveiled in Boyle Heights in 1944 with great ceremonial fanfare and media coverage. The new park monument also served as a focal point for a spirited war bond drive during World War II in what was then a significantly Jewish eastside enclave. 

Two mayors in three different decades issued proclamations in recognition of the statue's symbolic importance, including Fletcher Bowron in 1944 and 1951 and Sam Yorty in 1969. However, by the time of the 2008 rededication, it also earned the unique distinction, according to The City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, of being the most removed, relocated, and rededicated park statue in the city’s history.

To begin with, Los Angeles is not the first city to have a Haym Salomon statue.  In December 1941, the city of Chicago dedicated the Herald Square Monument, which depicts the Revolutionary War figures of George Washington, Robert Morris, and Salomon standing side-by-side. 

The idea for a Haym Salomon statue in Los Angeles began the following year. Artist Robert Paine petitioned the Los Angeles Parks Commission to approve a site for the monument he would create, claiming it would greatly assist the city's war bond-selling campaign. In February 1943, delegates from several posts of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States organization endorsed a plan to hold a Haym Salomon Day at Pershing Square, located in downtown, where the statue would be officially unveiled. 

An article from the Los Angeles Times, 20 September 1943, noting that "a tentative site" for the Salomon statue had been  found at Terrace Park.
To solicit private donations for the project and extoll the historical significance of Salomon, several prominent citizens created the Haym Salomon Day Committee. Taking an active lead in the project, Beverly Hills physician and Jewish art authority, Dr. Monte Salvin, presided as chairman of the committee. 

But what were the significant contributions made by Salomon that earned him a public memorial? 

Haym Salomon had a life story that deeply resonated with many Jewish Americans.  The subject of several popular books for adults and children, as well as academic studies, Salomon has been regarded as a figure that embodied both the ideals of a loyal American patriot, and a devoted Jew.

The 18 October 1943 edition of the Times noted a change in location for the Salomon statue from Terrace Park to Hollenbeck Park in Boyle Heights.
Born in Poland in 1740, he settled in New York in 1775. Fluent in several languages, he worked as a trading goods broker, but was arrested by British forces as a suspected spy for the colonists. Eventually gaining his freedom, he fled to Philadelphia in 1778. There, Salomon established a successful brokerage business, had a family, and became a prominent citizen. Like many of the elite citizens of Philadelphia, he owned at least one slave, who ran away in November 1780.

In 1781, Superintendent of Finance and signer to the Declaration of Independence, Robert Morris, enlisted Salomon to broker government notes to help finance the war for independence. Morris wrote in his diary that Salomon was highly respected for his ability to repeatedly obtain desperately-needed loans from foreign and domestic sources and he reportedly took little or no commission for his valuable services.

Salomon apparently also extended personal interest-free loans to certain members of Congress, including James Madison. He was also an active member of Philadelphia's Mikveh Israel Synagogue, even leading a protest against a state law barring non-Christians from holding public office. The law was removed in 1790, but Salomon did not live to see this change take place.

Salomon invested heavily in government securities and notes and experienced severe financial reverses when these rapidly depreciated after the war. This kind of insolvency, however, was not uncommon after the revolution.  For example, Morris also went bankrupt and spent several years in debtor's jail. Salomon, who nearly was bankrupt after all he had done to advance the cause of the revolution, died on January 6, 1785. 

Highly regarded for his contributions to the fight for America's independence, Salomon was buried in the Mikveh Israel Cemetery. But his estate was unable to afford a headstone, leaving the exact location of his gravesite unknown to this day.

This November 1943 announcement for the "War Finance Committee for Southern California" from the federal Treasury Department outlined the tie-in between the unveiling of the Haym Salomon statue and an ambitious two-month drive to sell $3 million in war bonds.  Courtesy of the Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.
With Salomon's legacy as their motivation, the plans for the project put forth by the Haym Salomon Day Committee began to come together in September 1943 with the city offering Terrace Park in the Pico Union District as the venue rather than Pershing Square. 

However, on October 18, with the proposed statue already experiencing prospects for site relocation, The Los Angeles Times reported that Hollenbeck Park was the new official site. The Times also reported that the statue would be presented to the city as a tie-in to a United States War Bond selling program in support of the ongoing war.

Check back soon for the continuing story of the Haym Salomon statue!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Historic Photos of Boyle Heights: Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple

Here is a great photo of over sixty persons, mainly young children and about twenty teens and adults, posed on the wide and tall stairs at the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Boyle Heights.

Taken on 4 January 1925, the image is almost certainly for education classes for Japanese children, although there are no inscriptions or markings on the photo to identify the occasion or the subjects.

As usual with large group photos, especially of kids, you see a wide variety of expressions from those with serious faces to others with wide smiles, some looking a little puzzled and other distracted or with eyes closed.

Taken on Sunday, 4 January 1925 by photographer Sadaichi Imada, this image of some sixty persons, mostly young children, is apparently of a youth education class at the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple at 209 S. Savannah Street, Boyle Heights.  Courtesy of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California.
Note the two girls in the fourth row at the right with their arms around each other and the little guy fourth from right in the front row with a broad smile and hands clasped in front of him.  With all of the men in suits or at least some combination of formal dress, there is, at the top right, a fashionable young man with a striped sweater and his arms around a couple of friends.  Presumably the man with a bright smile standing behind the stair rail at the bottom right was a figure of authority at the temple.

The photographer was Sadaichi Imada (1885-1952), who had a studio at 239 1/2 East 1st Street in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles.  A native of Hiroshima, Japan, Imada emigrated to the United States in 1902.  It appears he began work as a photographer early on as he was listed with this occupation when he registered for the draft during the First World War.

Imada and his family lived at his studio in the 1910s and then later lived near what is now Koreatown, west of downtown Los Angeles.  During internment in World War II, Imada was sent to the Pima camp in Arizona and records in 1942 showed him to be a "retail manager" as his primary line of work and as a photographer for his secondary employment.  He lived for several years after the war ended and his confinement in the concentration camp was over and he died in Los Angeles in 1952 at age 67.

For more on the temple, click here for a 2012 post on this blog.

If anyone out there knows what the occasion was for the photo or knows of any of the persons shown, leave a comment!

Contributed by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum and Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Early History of Hollenbeck Park

In the early 1890s, Boyle Heights and Los Angeles were experiencing some tough times.  A growth boom, often called the Boom of the Eighties, erupted a few years previously, peaking during the 1887-88 mayoral term of Boyle Heights founder William H. Workman, but it went bust by decade's end.

This detail from a Los Angeles Herald article, dated 14 January 1892, discusses the establishment of the boundaries for the new Hollenbeck Park, on land donated by Boyle Heights founder and former Los Angeles mayor William H. Workman and Elizabeth Hollenbeck, with the park dedicated to the latter's late husband, real estate investor and banker, John Hollenbeck.  The article was obtained from newspapers.com.  Click on any image to see them in enlarged views in a separate window.
Consequently, creative efforts were made to kick-start the community's development and one way to do that seemed to have been to enhance the neighborhood's infrastructure by establishing a city park.  The establishment of a community park was also a reflection of citywide effort to establish these "pleasure grounds" as part of a national "city beautiful" movement that encouraged healthful and attractive oases in urban environments.  Consequently, several parks sprung up in the city during the late 1880s and early 1890s including Westlake Park, Elysian Park, Griffith Park and others.

Workman and Elizabeth Hollenbeck, whose late husband John invested heavily in Los Angeles-area real estate and banking before his 1885 death, agreed to donate fifteen and ten acres, respectively, to the city for a new Boyle Heights park to be dedicated to John Hollenbeck.  The main condition was that the city commit to spending $10,000 over two years for improvements and the council approved the proposal by early 1892.

Some of the details of the new Hollenbeck Park are given in this excerpt of a long article in the 26 March 1894 edition of the Herald.  From newspapers.com.
Some members of the city's park commission, however, were less than enthused by the deal, especially the financial commitment, given that there was an established budget with funds earmarked for existing parks and those that were in development.

It likely didn't help that the economy wasn't particularly strong and would become more strained by the onset of a national depression in 1893.  Still, the council had come to an agreement with Workman and Hollenbeck and decided to make a special appropriation to make up the shortfall.

A circa 1890s stereoscopic photograph of the lake and pedestrian bridge at Hollenbeck Park.  From the collection of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California.
The location of the park was a natural arroyo that existed across Boyle Avenue from Mrs. Hollenbeck's estate and a key component of the creation of the facility was the establishment of a dam and reservoir that served as a lake for the new park.

The effort to plant trees, bushes and shrubs and grass and lay out walkways, benches and other amenities took some time and the park was dedicated in the middle of 1893.  Within a couple of years, a boathouse was established and a franchise awarded for the operation of pleasure boats on the lake.

This short article from the 5 August 1894 issue of the Los Angeles Times discusses problems with the lake and inadequate supplies of water that led to a high concentration of algae and unpleasant odors.  By 1896, the problem, concerning disintegrating pipe joints that led to water leaking, was repaired and the lake much improved.  From the Los Angeles Times Archives Web site.
Yet, there were also occasional problems.  The major issue in the early years of the park was that some of the joints in the pipes laid to run water to the lake failed not long after completion, indicating shoddy work by the original contractor, so that the lake was not properly filled with water.  The city, in 1895-96, had to redo the work at no small expense, but the problem appears to have been solved.

In all, though, Hollenbeck Park proved to be a popular and highly-visited amenity for the growing community and this appears to have been a motivation for its benefactors.  Workman and Mrs. Hollenbeck owned substantial property surrounding the park and, not long after its creation and opening, the two subdivided their holdings into the Workman Park Tract and the Hollenbeck Heights Tract.

Advertisements for the Workman Park Tract began appearing early in 1896 and always promoted the subdivision's proximity to Hollenbeck Park.  In the case of this 15 March 1896 ad from the Herald, a tract map prominently depicting the park was included.  Note the reference to the "new electric cars" of the Los Angeles Traction Company line and the fact that the tract was also called "The Hollenbeck Park Lots."  From newspapers.com.
With the beautiful park as a visible symbol, advertisements for the two subdivisions touted the fact that tracts were adjacent to the park as one of many inducements for investors and residents to buy lots.  It does appear that there was some success in selling property in these two developments, even with the substandard economy.

Over time, development continued to accelerate near the park and elsewhere in Boyle Heights, although development trends in west Los Angeles and the emerging industrial core of the east part of downtown brought about a transformation of Boyle Heights from a middle and upper class residential suburb to a working and middle class enclave.

The 5 March 1905 edition of the Herald has an ad of the Hollenbeck Park Heights Tract, subdivided by Elizabeth Hollenbeck, featuring two views of the park to lure prospective buyers.  From newspapers.com.
Still, this didn't mean that Hollenbeck Park was less utilized or that it didn't remain a focal point of the neighborhood.  In fact, it was easily the most visible aspect of Boyle Heights, with many postcards, including real photo cards, professionally published in the first few decades of the 20th century demonstrating its importance.  Moreover, the growing popularity of the personal camera meant that there was no shortage of amateur photographs of the park that were taken and many of which survive in private and public collections.

Hollenbeck Park approaches its 125th birthday as one of the most notable symbols of the Boyle Heights community.  Its gift to the city by William H. Workman and Elizabeth Hollenbeck may have been equal parts philanthropy and business, but it has served and continue to play a central role in the neighborhood's identity.

A view of the original boathouse, built in the 1890s, at Hollenbeck Park from a 1914 photograph.  From the collection of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California.
Contributed by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Hollenbeck Home Souvenir Manual, circa 1900

Several years after the untimely death of John E. Hollenbeck, an early resident of Boyle Heights, whose business activities and land ownership was significant in the Los Angeles region over the short span of the decade from 1875-1885, his widow, Elizabeth, created a "memorial monument" in the form of what was then called The Hollenbeck Home for the Aged.

The title page of the "Souvenir Manual" of the Hollenbeck Home for the Aged, now Hollenbeck Palms, in Boyle Heights, published by the facility's Board of Managers about 1900.  Click on any image to see it enlarged in a separate window.  From an original pamphlet in the collection of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.
Now known as Hollenbeck Palms, the facility for seniors is approaching its 120th birthday, but, after its third year of operation, the home's Board of Managers issued a "souvenir manual," offering information about the facility and some great photos to boot.

The pamphlet is not dated, but it does make reference to costs during its third year, indicating that it was published in 1899 or 1900 (it was certainly before October 1901 when a founding trustee, Frank Gibson died).  The opening remarks state that the creation of the home was a dream of both Mr. and Mrs. Hollenbeck, but a group of five trustees worked with the widow to put the plan into action.

These included John D. Bicknell [the pamphlet shows "Hon. J.E. Bicknell"], who was an attorney for the Southern Pacific railroad, Henry E. Huntington, and the Los Angeles Railway streetcar firm and made a fortune in real estate at Monrovia, Azusa and other locales; James M. Elliott, president of the First National Bank of Los Angeles and heavily involved in water development in the region; Frank A. Gibson, who had a title search firm that morphed into the giant Title Insurance and Trust Company and was also a long-time cashier at First National Bank; Charles L. Batcheller, an attorney and businessman (who also happens to be buried at Evergreen Cemetery in the Heights); and John S. Chapman, an attorney and real estate developer.

A panoramic view of the 13 1/2 acre property containing the home of John and Elizabeth Hollenbeck (left) and the Hollenbeck Home for the Aged (right) with a portion of Hollenbeck Park in the foreground.
Mrs. Hollenbeck deeded 13 1/2 acres in trust to the board, including the house she and her husband built on settling in Boyle Heights in the 1870s.  At the north end of the property, the large Mission Revival home was constructed at a cost of $60,000, with an additional $10,000 expended for furnishings.  The pamphlet noted that operating costs in the third year (again, 1899 or 1900) amounted to about $10,000.

The purpose statement, as given in the document, was to "offer to worthy aged people, residents of Southern California, who are left without means of support, a comfortable home for their declining years."  The home was intended, moreover, to be "thoroughly Christian, but not sectarian in its character."  On the eleventh anniversary of John Hollenbeck's funeral, the facility opened, this being 6 September 1896.

The number of residents in the opening year totaled 46, including 34 women, with two passing away during the course of the year.  By the third year, the total was 55, with 3/4 of them women.  This is telling, as it may indicate that, either widowed women were often left with little to sustain them or there were unmarried women with no other support.  The average age of residents in that third year was 72, with the eldest person being 90.

Religious services were held, including Thursday evening prayers conducted by the home's superintendent and chaplain, D. W. Hanna, a Methodist minister and educator who founded Ellis College and Los Angeles College in the 1880s and afterward.  Literary evenings, musical performances, and other activities were held, "thus breaking up the monotony of the Home life."  A Home library, staffed by an employee, was also available (though those found defacing books would be suspended from using the library for three months--one wonders how often that happened!)

The reception room and parlor of the Hollenbeck Home.  Note the cool ceiling fixtures reflecting the fairly recent introduction of electricity in the city.
Printed in the publication were the by-laws of the facility, noting that no one who could provide for themselves could live at the Hollenbeck Home.  Nor were persons admitted who were considered "deranged in mind or afflicted with any contagious or infectious disease, or any disease considered to be incurable."  If an applicant had a physical or mental disability that was "found objectionable," this also precluded acceptance.

Residents had to be at least 60 years old and a resident of any of the counties from San Diego to Santa Barbara, including Riverside and San Bernardino for at least three years--interestingly, applications were only accepted on Tuesday afternoons and those approved paid an admission fee of $300 and had to "convey to Mrs. Elizabeth Hollenbeck [or her designees] in trust . . . for the benefit of the Home, all the property, real and personal, belonging to such applicant at the time of admission to the Home."  In return, the resident had board and lodging for life.  They had to provide their own clothing for at least the first year, after which these would be provided.

Another interesting provision was that "members," as they were officially called, were to "render such other service [aside from caring for their own room] as they can for the good of the Home and for the comfort of those who may be less able than themselves."

Also listed were the "House Rules," which outlined the duties of the matron, who to "be kind to all alike without partiality" as part of her general responsibilities for the care of "members."  In return, residents were to treat her "with deference and respect" and "no member will be permitted to interfere or find fault with her or her assistants."  Any complaints were to go to the Board of Managers or their appointed committee.

The beautiful stairway and stained glass windows on the landing of the Hollenbeck Home.
Members were also required to be in attendance "in the dining hall punctually at the appointed meal hours, unless excused by the Matron."  Not only this, but "all are expected to remain seated at the table until the signal is given by the Matron, or her assistant, to arise".  They were also expected to "not talk to, nor interfere with the employes [sic] in any way."  On Tuesdays, when the Home was open to outside visitors, "members will be at home . . . [and] will have the doors of their rooms open on that day, unless excused . . ."  As for visiting among members, "all visiting in each other's rooms should be on invitation—excepting a friendly call on strangers," whatever that meant, with the rationale being that it allowed members to "have full control of their own time."

Rule #6 specified that "intoxicating drinks, opiates or strong stimulants will not be allowed, except by the order of a competent physician."  Another notable prohibition was that "it is desirable that the Family [of members?] should refrain from the discussion of politics, religion or other exciting subjects."  Visitors were not allowed to eat meals or spend the night, unless a physician decided that a member "is so ill as to require constant attention."

A view of the Hollenbeck Home for the Aged and its imposing pillared entrance from Boyle Avenue.
Religious requirements included a scripture reading or recitation of the Lord's Prayer as a group after breakfast and supper, In addition, the Thursday prayer service mentioned above and a "preaching service" on Sundays were required unless excused by the Matron.  And, "social exercises" held on Monday evenings were "expected" so that they would be "as pleasant and profitable as possible."

The by-laws and rules are particularly noteworthy for their attempts to control and mold the behavior of "members."  In return for lifetime room and board, after paying the $300 admission fee, residents were more or less expected to exchange that security for their freedom and the concept seems entire foreign to our way of thinking over a century later, but telling about the end of the Victorian era.

Obviously, the conditions of operating and living in the Hollenbeck Palms facility are markedly different, but the fact that the enterprise is nearing its 120th anniversary is a notable achievement.

Post contributed by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Introduction of Electric Light to Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, Part 4

This is the fourth and final installment of this post on the introduction of electric power to Los Angeles and Boyle Heights by Rudy Martinez, Advisory Board member of the Boyle Heights Historical Society.  Research included scouring online newspapers, poring through many articles and books, and diligently searching through public archival records.  Thanks, Rudy, for the expended extensive effort, which resulted in this very interesting post.

Finally, tomorrow night, December 31, marks the anniversary (the 132nd) of the switching-on of the first Boyle Heights electric light!

Through the rest of the 1880s, several more electric light masts would be built in Boyle Heights. The Los Angeles Herald, on July 4, 1887, reported that a newly-erected, 185-foot light mast at the corner of New York (now New Jersey) and Soto streets, was the tallest in the city. 

Though it is difficult to ascertain exactly how many light masts were eventually installed in Boyle Heights, an article (endorsement?) in the Herald on February 16, 1889, in discussing Edward R. Threlkleld's run for reelection for the city council's Ninth Ward, listed among his achievements, the securing of six electric lights (not including the First and Boyle mast) for Boyle Heights during his time in office. The article listed the location of each light mast. 

A Los Angeles Herald article from February 16, 1889, promoting what city council candidate Edward R. Threlkeld, a Boyle Heights resident, "has done for his ward," including six electric lights sprinkled throughout the neighborhood.
However, the Los Angeles Times on May 25, 1889 reported people in the area of Macy Street, near the covered bridge [covered in a previous post on this blog—link here], were complaining that no lights had yet been placed on a recently-erected mast and that “the vicinity is in very bad condition.” It is undetermined if the lights were eventually placed.  

The First and Boyle light mast also distinguished Boyle Heights as being one of the handful of seventeen existing light masts to be located, along with their elevations, in a table that was the result of an on-going geodetic survey conducted by the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey (known today as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and published on August 1, 1885 in the Times.

The August 1, 1885 edition of the Times included a table showing the location of electric light masts in Los Angeles, including the one in Boyle Heights at Aliso and First streets, based on  "the distance the lights can be seen at sea" as part of work conducted by the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey.
Practically speaking, the light masts were never fully successful and had a reputation of unreliability. There were continued complaints that lights often burned out, and the company in charge was slow to replace them. In fact, within a few months, a new problem that was unique to this new technology soon came to light, so to speak – the Herald in June 1884, began to report the large number of dead moths collecting in the globes of the light masts, so numerous at times that lights would go out. 

Also, heading into the turn of the century, many major cities including Los Angeles began to rapidly build skyscrapers that would literally overshadow the light structures, making them impractical for street lighting. Eventually, smaller light posts closer to the street and lamps suspended by several wires above the center of an intersection, both lighted by the superior incandescent light, became the standard.        

Boyle Heights appears to act as a bookend to the brief history of the city's electric light masts. It served as one of the first areas in Los Angeles to have a mast for electric light, but it also had the last mast standing. According to O. W. Holden in the 1931 issue of The Intake, “The last mast to be removed was at Brooklyn and Cornwell Street which was taken out of service on October 27, 1924.”

This image by C.C. Pierce and Abiram E. McConnell from about 1895 shows the new LaGrande Station of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad in the foreground, the First Street bridge with the Los Angeles Cable Railway line on it at the left and, in the distance, Boyle Heights.  Go to the photo below to see a detail showing the electric light mast at 1st and Boyle next to the Cummings Block.  Click on the image to see it enlarged in a separate window.  Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California. 
It's interesting to note that compared to other major cities, the story of the early beginnings of electricity in Los Angeles is so little known. In fact, in his book, The Wizard of Menlo Park, Randall Stross, after describing some of the city's overly optimistic editorials about the need for a light tower, writes that “The towers in Los Angeles were never erected, averting certain disappointment.” 

In San Jose, there is a 115-foot replica of the original moonlight tower at History Park. In San Francisco there is a plaque where the first central electric station was located. The history of Detroit’s once-numerous moonlight towers is well documented, though there are none remaining. However, in 1894, the city of Austin, Texas purchased thirty-one of Detroit's original moonlight towers, and seventeen still stand today as registered historic landmarks (the towers are mentioned in the film, Dazed and Confused when Matthew McConaughey calls out, “Party at the Moontower!”).  Finally, in Cleveland, Brush's name lives on at Brush High School where the team name is the Arcs.

This detail of the above ca. 1895 Pierce and McConnell photo shows the 1st Street bridge crossing the Los Angeles River, the street climbing the Paredon Blanco (white bluff), the Cummings Block, which still stands at the northwest corner of 1st and Boyle Avenue, and, just behind the building, the tall white pole of the electric arc light switched on at the end of 1882.  Click on the photo to see it enlarged in a separate window.  Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California; only a portion of the entire image has been used.
As for the father of Los Angeles’ first electric lights, Charles Howland and his business associates helped establish the Los Angeles Electric Railway in 1886, as well as purchasing a 280-acre tract by Rosedale Cemetery that they named the Electric Railway Homestead Association. More a speculator and salesman than an inventor, Howland never really knew as much as he could have about electric light, or railway technology. 

His last two ventures were victims of the collapse in 1888 of the great land and population boom that erupted in the Los Angeles area a couple of years before. In a brief mention in the Los Angeles Times on August 20, 1894 it was reported that Howland died the previous day at “the soldiers' home”, this being the federal home for Civil War veterans in Sawtelle (now the Veterans Administration complex in Westwood). Harris Newmark, noting Howland's efforts to bring electricity to Los Angeles, wrote that Howland “was a prime mover in this project, but ill fortune attended his efforts and he died a poor man.” 

Until now, little has been known about the history of the eight-story light mast that once stood in the area that is now popularly known as Mariachi Plaza and helped usher Los Angeles, and Boyle Heights, into the new age of electric power.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Introduction of Electric Light to Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, Pt. 3

Introduction:  This is the third of four posts on the coming of electric lighting to Los Angeles and the Boyle Heights neighborhood by Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member Rudy Martinez.  The fourth and final installment will be posted tomorrow.

In October 1882, Charles Howland incorporated the Los Angeles Electric Company and built a small brick power plant on the southeast corner of Alameda and First streets to house the Brush-licensed equipment. Soon after the structure was completed, work quickly began to erect and station the poles and to string the wires along the streets for the seven light masts.

A short article appeared in the November 19, 1882 edition of the Los Angeles Herald regarding the construction at Aliso and First streets of one of the seven arc light masts that were to usher in the electric light age to the city.

A brief description of the construction of the light mast at the Boyle Heights location appeared in the Los Angeles Herald on November 19, 1882:

Boyle Heights was yesterday the scene of the usual curious crowd about the electric light masts where the top-mast was being put in place. Early next week the other masts will be completed and the lights put on. It is expected that in three weeks, at most, the effulgence of the new method illumination will cheer the way...

The Herald reported on Sunday, December 31, 1882, that on the previous evening, after Mayor James R. Toberman toured the power plant, he switched on the lights at 8:20 p.m. and “in almost an instant, the brilliant white light of electricity flashed out over the city.” 

Omar W. Holden, employed for fifty years as a street lighting engineer, wrote a lively account of the evening in 1931 for The Intake magazine, describing the scene:

simultaneously two mast tops burst into brilliance before an admiring crowd of spectators. What a contrast with the dim murky light of the gas posts which for 16 years had served the city streets.

As indicated in this description, Howland was unable to have all seven light masts ready on the same day, due to the delay in equipment arrival; thus, the mayor only switched on the light mast at Main and Commercial streets (where the 101 freeway now runs through) and another on First and Hill Streets.   

The first of the seven electric light masts switched on New Year's Eve 1882 and located on the east side of Main Street just north of Commercial Street (which is at the lower right.)  The photo was taken from the Temple Block (now the site of City Hall) and what was then the triple intersection of  Main, Spring and Temple streets.  In the distance is the Arcadia Block, with the distinctive towers.  Further down Main are the Masonic Lodge, Merced Theatre and Pico House hotel, which still stand at the south edge of the Plaza.  Click on the photo to see it in an enlarged view in a new window.   From the California Historical Society Collection at the University of Southern California's Digital Library.
On the following evening, New Year's Eve of 1882, with much less reportage and ceremony, and only twenty-four hours after electric lights were introduced to Los Angeles, the electric light mast at First Street and Boyle Avenue was switched on. Boyle Heights, only seven years in existence, was now part of the electric age. 

The other four locations, (using present-day street names) were Avenue 22 and North Broadway in Lincoln Heights (the area was then called East Los Angeles), First Street and Central Avenue, Fourth Street and Grand Avenue, and Sixth and Main streets.

It is interesting to note the planning decisions for the initial locations of the light masts. The city's elite no longer considered the Plaza area the heart of the city (which was mostly Mexican and Chinese) and the ascendant Anglo business class had now begun to establish a new bustling civic center south and west of the Plaza, with new modern services following. And a number of the more prosperous citizens were buying homes in the two newly developed and fashionable suburbs close to downtown, Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles (now Lincoln Heights).

Property developers around the First and Boyle area in Boyle Heights were quick to tout the new light mast, featuring it in newspaper advertisements in both the Herald and the Los Angeles Times as early as February of 1883. It would be a fixture in their daily advertisements for several years.


An advertisement in the March 8, 1884 edition of the Los Angeles Herald by Boyle Heights founder William H. Workman promotes the "30 Choice Residence Lots at the head of First Street" as being "near the Electric Light Mast."

The Times reported on September 8, 1888, that 


a good natured rivalry was taking place in Boyle Heights, between the electric mast people and the car-stable interest, each claiming that they were the head center and business section of the Heights. 

Apparently these masts were quite sturdy. The Times observed on July 21, 1888, that a runaway hay wagon pulled by a four-horse team crashed into the Boyle and First street light mast, and the wagon broke in half. 

This 1888 "Map of the Workman Orchard Tract" was drawn by surveyor J. A. Bernal (who was the focus on a post on this blog) and which shows the Boyle Heights electric light mast in the upper left vignette (click on the image to see it in an enlarged view in a separate window.)  This item is reproduced by permission of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
In a map published in 1889 of the William Workman property and vineyards, the “Electric Light” mast is plainly seen and identified on the upper left.  These maps were generally produced to promote a subdivision, neighborhood or city and prominent features, like the light mast, were given attention as part of selling a well-planned and suitably outfitted area for potential buyers of property and structures.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Introduction of Electric Light to Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, Pt. 2

Preface:  This is the second of four posts by Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member Rudy Martinez on the early 1880s introduction of electric street lighting to Los Angeles, including an arc lamp built at First and Boyle in Boyle Heights.  The third and fourth installments will be posted next week.

By early 1882, believing that too many streets were still murky and unsafe, Los Angeles citizens demanded a more comprehensive light system replace the inefficient gas lamps. Also, the city's influential business class was insisting on better illumination for their stores and properties, because of its potential to lure more outside capital investment.  This demonstrated that Los Angeles displayed such big city ambitions as having public lighting, in addition to other public works like a new city hall and courthouse, both completed in the late 1880s.

Indeed the Los Angeles Times would point out in an editorial on May 18, 1882 that “Eastern cities of the same size, and much less importance than Los Angeles, notably, Aurora, Ill., were already lighted with electricity.” As early as January 5, 1882, the Los Angeles Times, in its first year of publication, published an enthusiastic story about the “wonderful tower in San Jose” with the headline  “ELECTRIC LIGHT – Los Angeles Wants and Must Have One.” Four days later, the Times published its first ever photo, this being of the San Jose light tower.


The original handwritten Los Angeles City Council meeting minute book entry specifying the location of the new electric arc light lamps, including the one, highlighted in yellow, specified for Boyle Heights.  Image provided by the Los Angeles City Archives, which has the original minute book.  Click on the image to see it in a separate window in an enlarged view.
In July 1882, the Brush Electric Company, seeing that Los Angeles was “ripe for electric tapping,” sent its San Francisco representative, Col. Charles H. Howland, to sell the city electric lighting. On September 9, Howland successfully obtained a two-
year contract from the city council to provide lighting by December 1st. The Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Daily Herald reported that Howland proposed to introduce electric light to Los Angeles with seven 150-foot tall uniquely-designed “light masts” at $1,000 per mast per annum.

To be placed in the heart of the city and its settled suburbs, each mast would carry three arc lamps with a total of nine thousand candle power each. The contract stipulated the masts were to be lighted every night except on the night of a full moon, the two nights before, and two nights after. Appearing to closely resemble a re-purposed ship's mast, the Los Angeles City Directory 1886-1887 described the structures as “two sections of poles made of spars from Puget Sound, being about twenty inches in diameter at the ground and tapering to six inches at the top.” Furthering the resemblance to a ship's mast, existing photos show a workers platform on the light mast seventy-five feet above the ground.


Ordinance No. 80 at the bottom of the page specified the location of the several electric arc light lamps to be installed in Los Angeles, including number six at the corner of Aliso and First Streets in Boyle Heights.  Image courtesy of the Los Angeles City Archives, which has a copy of the printed ordinances.  Click on the image to see it in an enlarged view in a separate window.
          Approved by the city council on October 26, the project’s ordinance established the seven locations for each mast. One was “on Boyle Heights, at the corner of Aliso and First Streets.” There is also a Boyle Heights connection to the light mast on the corner of Main and Commercial streets in downtown. It was at this location that Andrew Boyle owned Boyle's Shoe Store from the late 1850s to near his death in 1871. And as noted in the store's advertisements that ran in the Los Angeles Star newspaper in 1864, he also took orders on this site for his wine, which he named after the vineyard's location, Paredon Blanco, established by the L√≥pez family in the Mexican period, which was developed as the suburb of Boyle Heights in 1875 by Boyle's son-in-law, William H. Workman.

          According to the illustrated pamphlet The Beautiful Highlands of Los Angeles,  published in 1899 by the Ninth Ward Improvement Association. Boyle Heights resident and City Council member Burdette Chandler was a strong proponent for his neighborhood as a location for a light mast:


Mr Chandler stood for over a year and a half the sole champion for electric lighting in our city, with the other fourteen members of the Council arrayed against him. When the franchise was granted he inserted a claim for a mast light to be placed on the corner of First Street and Boyle avenue. Walter Moore, the genial fire chief, used to refer to this light as the light of Leon Los Nietos. However, under its rays have grown one of the most flourishing resident portions of our rapidly growing city, and this section will not soon forget its debt to Mr. Chandler.