Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Historic Photos of Boyle Heights: The Cummings Block, circa 1889

This Friday, the Boyle Heights Historical Society will be hosting a talk and book-signing by Catherine López Kurland regarding her book, Hotel Mariachi: Urban Space and Cultural Heritage in Los Angeles, which was co-written by Enrique R. Lamadrid with photographs by Miguel A. Gandert and an introductory essay by Evangeline Ordaz-Molina and published by The University of New Mexico Press in 2013.

Kurland is a descendant of the López family, which settled the area known as Paredon Blanco in the 1830s and which became Boyle Heights several decades later. Her maternal grandmother, Sacramenta Lopez, married George Cummings and the couple built, in 1889, and operated the Cummings Block and Hotel at 1st Street and Boyle Avenue—the property has recently been known as “Hotel Mariachi” as well as the Boyle Hotel and has undergone an extensive renovation. Kurland first saw the building a little over a decade ago and it spurred her to research and write about the building and help in its preservation as a valued community space for Boyle Heights’ mariachi musicians.

So, here's an early photo of the Cummings Block, probably taken just after its completion 125 years ago.

A circa 1889 photograph of the newly-completed Cummings Block at the northwest corner of 1st Street and Boyle Avenue, Boyle Heights.  This is a copy of an original owned by the Hon. David A. Workman, grandson of Boyle Heights founder William H. Workman.  Click on the image to see it enlarged in a new window.
George Cummings hailed from the Empire of Austria and emigrated to the United States in time for the famed Gold Rush.  Working with a companion he met on the ship over from Europe, Cummings made some quick cash on his first foray in Tuolumne County, but a second effort in Mariposa County proved to be a failure.  He and his partner spent three years farming along the Merced River and, from 1853-58, engaged in cattle ranching.  In 1858, Cummings purchased the Tehachapi ranch of over 3,000 acres, though two years later in the federal census he was counted among the residents of Los Angeles.  He later bought a section of 160 acres at Alpine Station in what is now Palmdale.

In 1869, Cummings married Maria del Sacramento López, daughter of Francisco López, whose father Esteban, obtained the area known as Paredon Blanco (White Bluffs) from Los Angeles pueblo authorities (more on the Lopez family can be found here.)  The couple first resided on the ranch at Tehachapi, where they appeared in the 1870 census, before relocating to the Lopez homestead, south of First Street and west of Boyle Avenue, mainly in the flats adjoining the river.  In 1876, just as Boyle Heights was getting its start, the couple built a $4,000 home on a 40-acre parcel in the Mount Pleasant Tract.   There, the pair had 2,000 orange trees and 1,500 deciduous fruit trees, among other improvements.  George died in 1903 in Bakersfield and Sacramento lived until 1930.  The couple had five sons and two daughters.

As for the Cummings Block, the four-story brick structure was designed in the Queen Anne and Italianate styles by architect W.R. Norton and cost $22,000 to build, according to a Los Angeles Times summary of buildings completed during 1889.  It featured cast-iron columns along the first floor storefront, patterned bricks for decorative panache, and a distinctive turret at the corner.  Originally, the building housed the Cummings Hotel (later the Mount Pleasant--the name of the nearby subdivision created by Cummings), comprised of several dozen rooms, and which was geared towards the tourist trade.

The building of the structure was timed along with the completion of the Los Angeles Cable Railway, which utilized a viaduct along First Street to cross the Los Angeles River, traverse the "flats" on the east side of the river, and then climb the "paredon blanco."

Notably, 1889 also saw the completion of the Orphans' Asylum in south Boyle Heights as well as the Los Angeles County Courthouse and Los Angeles City Hall--all reflecting the tremendous land and population boom that engulfed the region after the 1885 completion of a direct transcontinental railroad line to Los Angeles.  The boom, however, soon went bust.  Still, the building survived as a hotel and then as a residential building, with such retail uses as a drugstore, dental office, laundry, music school and others.

Declared Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #891 in 2007, the building underwent a major renovation and upon completion of 2012 opened with 51 affordable housing units and three ground-floor commercial spaces, including a mariachi cultural center to tie-in to the structure's recent history as a residential space for musicians of that genre.

Concerning the Cummings Block's architect, William Robert Norton was born in Massachusetts in 1853.  Afflicted with tuberculolsis, Norton went west and practiced architecture in Los Angeles from about 1874, when he designed an adobe house for the president of the Riverside Land and Irrigating Company, to 1890 and then relocated to the Territory of Arizona.  Established in Phoenix, he designed schools, courthouses and private homes in that city, as well as in Globe, Prescott and other towns.  Norton also created the subdivision of Sunnyslope, now in the northeast part of the City of Phoenix.  His 1895 residence, badly damaged, still stands, partially rebuilt in a decaying part of Phoenix.  Norton died at age 87 in 1938.

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

Monday, August 11, 2014

"The Siren": The Boyle Heights Junior High School Newspaper, 1922

With today being the first day of school for the Los Angeles Unified School District, this seemed like a good opportunity to share some great history from Boyle Heights Junior High School's student newspaper, "The Siren," which made its debut on 19 October 1922.

The paper is a window into the community, the school, its students and the era and in coming posts, material will be shared from twenty-seven issues of the paper during the 1922-23 and 1923-24 school years, just a couple of years before the school name was changed to Hollenbeck Junior High.

The staff included editor-in-chief Maurice Nathan and associate editors Regina Karasick and Herman Kretzer, as well as a feature editor, literary editor, editors for boys and girls sports, and a joke editor.  There was a staff artist, Murray McClellan, a staff photographer in Clifford Garrett, and business manager Abe Turkel, assisted by Leonard Bastrup.  Finally, there was journalism instructor Helene Kuhnle.

Printing, of course, was a new offering in the school's curriculum and a room was set aside as a printing room, including, "two Chandler and Price job presses . . . [and] other printing equipment amounting to $3000 has been ordered.  Eighth grade boys "will take a ten weeks' course in printing" and "in time, it will also be a 9th grade elective."  Note that the school accommodated students in the 7th, 8th and 9th grades at the time.

The masthead and headline of the front page for the first issue of "The Siren," the student newspaper of Boyle Heights Junior High School, now Hollenbeck Middle School, 19 October 1922.  Courtesy of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California.
In this first issue, there was the headline of "Mr. Reed Boosts Newspaper!" referring to principal B.W. Reed giving permission for students to publish their own paper and writing a short note of congratulations to the editorial staff.  He noted, for example, that "you have an exceptional building, good equipment and splendid teachers.  All of these do not make a school.  Only through the combined efforts of the students themselves an a school be created that will furnish opportunities for development."  He wished that those students working on newspaper staff were able to develop a paper that brought "increased school spirit, and more of sunshine and happiness, thereby increasing our capacities for doing good."

Several of the articles in the twelve-page publication dealt with travel or related subjects.  For example, one teacher contributed an article about her European excursion, presumably during the summer break, while another wrote about her travels in Mexico.  There was also a school assembly at the end of September by a Dr. Munson, "a noted geologist and explorer," who spoke about his travels along the Colorado River and surrounding deserts.  Among his tales as one in which he said he found a skeleton with a note still nearby reading, "May God Help me.  John Raud.  1876.  Walla Walla, Washington."  Another noted that he explored a cave, in which "were the skeletons of a party of pioneers who had perished there."

A small item tucked away on page five noted that "our total enrollment is now 1617, the largest of any Junior High in the city."  This is not surprising as continuing surges in immigration to Los Angeles were especially noteworthy in Boyle Heights and the east side in general.  The next highest enrollment was McKinley Junior High (renamed George Washington Carver Middle School in 1943) in South Los Angeles, which had 1375 students.  Boyle Heights' population included 834 boys and 783 girls.

Other content concerned fires in Los Angeles, savings accounts, alumni news, trivia, short fiction, new campus buildings (including a boys' gymnasium 44' x 66' in size—the girls' gym was in future planning) and a lunch pavilion, both to be finished during the school year) and an athletics page.  This latter gave football scores for the previous week, including city high schools.  Because Roosevelt High was a few years from opening, the local school for Boyle Heights was Lincoln in Lincoln Heights, but the team was walloped by Long Beach High (now Long Beach Poly), 25-0.  Another local game of note involved a contest between two local athletic clubs, Superior and Benito, with the former winning 7-6.  It was noted that "the Superior Athletic Club is composed of present and former Boyle Heights students."

There was also a feature called "Your Opinion," in which five students and faculty were posed "a question dealing with school affairs" and their answers published.  The inaugural question was "What do you think of our practice of hazing scrubs?"  Of course, scrubs would be the incoming seventh-graders, subject to the time-honored tradition, in many schools, of many kinds of "hazing." 

Not surprisingly, the two seventh-graders were far from happy.  One, Alfred Chamwitz, bitterly noted, "Rotten.  They get too many little fellows and turn yellow when they see a big boy."  Willie Kaplan intoned that, "we shouldn't do it.  Their opinion of the school is lowered in this way.  It's a rotten stunt to pull on the helpless babes."  Ninth-grader Aaron Karlin, however, felt that "it doesn't harm them" and even claimed that "they [the scrubs] enjoy it."  His rhetorical response was, "if they do not object, why should we?"  Another ninth-grader, Sam Zagon, though, felt the practice should be abandoned and suggested that older kids should be "welcoming the scrub and showing him around."  Finally, instructor Mrs. Arrigonie simply said, "Poor little scrubs.  Spare them!"

Page eleven of the inaugural issue of "The Siren" with the sports section, including the drubbing inflicted by Long Beach High (now Long Beach Poly) on Lincoln High, which Boyle Heights students attended until Roosevelt High opened a couple of years later.
The paper also contained lots of humor and jokes, including "Want Ads" such as "Lost—A cane, by an old man, with an ivory head" and "For Sale—By Burbank farmer—If you want a big fat hog come out and see me."  Another was an old classic that's been roamin' around for years: "Brutus—'Caesar, how many hot dogs have you eaten today?  Caesar—'Et tu, Brute.'"  Then, there's "Rich Dad—'My son is a writer.'  Friend—'You mean he writes for money?'  Rich Dad (grimly)—'Exactly.'"

Additionally, there are a lot of advertisements from Los Angeles and Boyle Heights businesses, including the Boyle Heights Feed and Fuel Company at 2114 E. 1st; J. Rubin's shoe repairing shop at 2229 E. 4th; the Mission Meat Market at 1611 Brooklyn (now César Chavez); Jim Saporito's grocery at 607 S. Soto; A.S. Babb's furniture store at "2918 Whittier Blvd., formerly Stephenson Ave.," the name change just having taken place; the Hollenbeck Pharmacy at 4th and Chicago; and "The 5c Joint" at 6th and Mathews.

This latter had some fun with their ad, noting that it had "that open faced counter where U get those T bone steaks in capsules easy to take" as well as "the famous Grapine Punch, right from Niagra Falls—Dempsey's famous punch [that is, champion boxer Jack Dempsey]."  Also included: "the cooks says everything is free except the service" and "Everything is fresh except the cook."

Lastly, there was a small notice from student Sarah Goldberg telling her classmates that
Now is the time to begin saving your copies of "The Siren," for this is the first issue.  Lay this copy away, and the next, and the next.  Some forty or fifty years from now, when you think of those times that you were a boy or girl, and are longing to be young again, you can get these copies out and read them over to your grandchildren.  What a joy that will be to them for knowing you went to Boyle Heights Junior High.
Through the upcoming school year, other posts will discuss more of the issues of "The Siren."

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

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The International Institute of Los Angeles Centennial, Part Two

As the International Institute of Los Angeles, which has an office in Boyle Heights, celebrates its centennial, this post looks back to the opening of the Institute's office in the historic Perry Mansion, now located at the Heritage Square Museum, back in 1916.


The previous post from 3 July noted that the mansion was purchased in 1915 with plans to open by the New Year and some events were held in advance of the formal grand opening.  However, a near tragedy struck when, on 28 December 1915, a fire erupted in the structure.


According to a Los Angeles Times article, neighbors were awakened about 5 a.m. and saw flames issuing from the second floor of the building and quickly moving through four rooms there and then down a corner to the ground level.  While firefighters quickly responded and extinguished the blaze, the damage caused by the conflagration and the water used to fight the fire did substantial damage to the residence.



A 29 December 1915 article on a fire that erupted in the Perry mansion in Boyle Heights, where the International Institute of Los Angeles had recently relocated and was in the process of renovating for a planned grand opening for 1 January 1916.  The article was located by Rudy Martinez, Boyle Heights Historical Society advisory board member.  Click on the image to see it enlarged in a new window.
The article continued that renovations were nearly complete, but that some rooms were still being worked on when the blaze occurred.  Work had progressed enough, however, that two Christmas day events were hosted by the Institute—300 children from the organization's "foreign settlement" were thrown a party in the afternoon and another 200 young women saw a Nativity pageant that evening, with a performance, reading and thirty-member chorus involved.


The planned grand opening reception for New Year's Day evening included invitations to a thousand persons, but with the damage from the fire, it was anticipated that the event would be postponed until late January.


Unfortunately and as is often the case, the forecast was optimistic.  It was another two months beyond that that the reception finally took place, on 21 March 1916.  As reported in the Times, the event was scheduled for 2-5 p.m. and 8-10 p.m.  Nothing was stated in the article about specific program elements, though it was noted that the work of the Institute in "foreign work" was undimmed by the late December fire and that the organization was quite busy in the weeks leading up to the opening.


What was provided in the article was a list of the Immigration Committee members who would be present to receive guests at the reception.  Typically for the era, the committee was composed entirely of women, often wives of prominent figures in the Los Angeles area, as work with social services organizations was generally the domain of middle and upper class white women.


For example, Mrs. Willits J. Hole was the president of the committee.  The former Mary Weeks was born in 1868 in Butlerville, Indiana and married Willits in 1891 in nearby North Vernon, this area of southern Indiana being just west of Cincinnati and north of Louisville, Kentucky, where Willits finished high school before going to Boston to the Bryant and Stratton business college.


Just two years after their marriage and because of Mrs. Hole's health, the couple and their daughter Agnes migrated to southern California, where they spent a few months at Santa Barbara before settling in Whittier.  While there, Hole acquired 3,500 acres from the Sansinena family on the Rancho La Habra and then developed the town of that name. 


In 1897, he became the Los Angeles-based agent of the Stearns Rancho Company, based in San Francisco, but which managed the vast properties of Abel Stearns, a prominent Los Angeles landowner, who controlled most of what became north Orange County. 


During Hole's tenure, he was able to acquire one of the company's ranches, the Rancho La Sierra in Riverside, consisting of 10,000 acres.  He hired Mission Inn architect Arthur Benton to build a Craftsman-style mansion on the ranch and the property is now a retreat and retirement home for the Roman Catholic Society of the Divine Word.


Incidentally, the Hole's only child, Agnes, married Samuel K. Rindge, whose father, Frederick, bought the Malibu Rancho in 1892 and was a vice-president of Union Oil Company.  In 1940, the Rindges donated Willits Hole's art collection to U.C.L.A.


Another key figure was chairperson Ida B. Lindley, born in Monrovia, Indiana, southwest of Indianapolis in 1856 and whose family lived for a period in Minneapolis, where her father, Milton, was a real estate agent.  She was educated at Cincinnati Wesleyan, a women's college.  By 1875, the Lindleys migrated to Los Angeles and settled on a farm in the La Ballona district near the ocean and Ida had taken up teaching.


By the end of the century, Ida was working at the Marlborough School for girls, which was founded in 1889 by Mary Caswell and Lindley eventually became the principal.  She was also a professor of Latin at the University of Southern California.


Ida's brother, Walter Lindley, was another prominent figure in the region, having opened a free dispensary for medicines in Los Angeles in 1875 and become the city's health officer four years later.  He was a founder of the Whittier State School, the College of Medicine at U.S.C., California Hospital and of the Orphan's Home in Boyle Heights.  He also was the superintendent of the county hospital, president of the state medical society and secretary of the California Board of Health, a member of the city boards of education and library and a failed candidate for Los Angeles mayor in 1906.


This Los Angeles Times article from 19 March 1916 discussed the grand opening of the International Institute of Los Angeles at the former Perry mansion at Boyle Heights, an event postponed from its original New Year's Day date because of a late December fire. The article was located by Rudy Martinez, Boyle Heights Historical Society advisory board member.  Click on the image to see it enlarged in a new window.
A third woman of note was the wife of attorney and California Senator and Assembly member Reginaldo del Valle, one of the few prominent Californios of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Los Angeles and who was also a longtime member of the city's Public Service Commission.  Helen White was the daughter of Caleb White, a 49er who settled in Stockton and worked in general merchandise and the nursery and fruit-raising business.  Caleb moved his family to Los Angeles when he ran sheep in the Florence community of what is now south Los Angeles and then became an early settler of Pomona, where he had a 70-acre orchard and farm, and where White Avenue is name for him.


Helen married Thomas J. Caystile, a newspaper man who was one of the first owners of the Los Angeles Times, and the couple had one daughter.  In 1890, several years after his early death in 1884, Helen married del Valle and they had a daughter, Lucretia, who became well-known as an actress and a Vice-Chairperson of the Democratic National Committee in the 1930s.  Helen del Valle died in 1920, just a few years after the International Institute opened in Boyle Heights.


Another prominent woman on the committee was Clara Cline (1864-1936), a native of Stockton, whose husband Walter, originally from San Francisco, was owner of the Los Angeles Electric Company and Los Angeles Lighting Company.  The Clines resided on South Figueroa Street near U.S.C. and later in a $900,000 mansion in Beverly Hills.


Two other women of note were ex-oficio members of the committee, because of their positions with the Y.W.C.A., the original sponsoring organization of the International Institute. 


M. Belle Jeffery (born in 1868), who was the general secretary of the Los Angeles branch in 1915-16, only held that position locally for a brief period, but had the same role in Seattle and, for many years, in Minneapolis, where she worked for over 20 years before coming to Los Angeles and ended up there later after her stint in Seattle. 


Then there was Susan D. Barnwell, who was the immigration secretary for the local Y.W.C.A.  She was born in Atlantic, Iowa in 1880, where her father, James, was a physician.  The family moved to Los Angeles and her father continued his practice, while Susan pursued a teaching certificate, probably at the California State Normal School, a teacher college located where the Los Angeles Central Public Library is now situated.  She taught high school in Glendale in the early 1900s and engaged in other social work as well as with the Y.


After the grand opening of the Institute and its regular work conducted in the Perry Mansion, there was another special event that is worth highlighting and which will be the subject of the next post.


Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry with initial research provided by Boyle Heights Historical Society advisor Rudy Martinez, who located the Times articles on the fire and grand opening of the Institute.