Thursday, February 27, 2014

Historical Photos of Boyle Heights: Breed Street School, 1891

Breed Street School in Boyle Heights might just be the oldest continuously operating elementary school in the city of Los Angeles.  The school began sometime in the 1870s as simply Boyle Heights School, though there isn't much information out there about those early days. 

An 1880 history of Los Angeles County, for example, merely noted that "Boyle Heights has but one school and one department," this latter meaning there were no divisons and all grade levels were located in a single classroom with one teacher.

In June 1883, the fledgling Los Angeles Times devoted significant space to the end of school year activities among the city's public schools, but noted that none of the reporting staff attended the festivities at the Boyle Heights School.

Then again, Boyle Heights was something of a struggling community in its first decade, from the mid-1870s to the mid-1880s, as the Los Angeles region was mired in a long-term economic downturn.  It was not until a direct transcontinental railroad route was built to Los Angeles in 1885 that a massive growth and development boom, usually called The Boom of the Eighties, ensued and transformed the fortunes of the region and the Boyle Heights community.

One sign of the dramatic change was that, in the 1880 history, the census of school children in the town's public school numbered 1,299.  An 1889 history of the county, written just as the boom was becoming a bust, indicated that the number of students was 10,970, a staggering level of growth in under ten years.

As for the Boyle Heights School, it was during the growth boom that a name change was decided upon.  The Times of 2 March 1888 reported that city schools superintendent William M. Friesner recommended a name change for five schools, including that of "Boyle Heights school to Breed-street school."  There was no explanation exactly for why, though it can be assumed that the burgeoning population would soon require more than one elementary school in the neighborhood, so having one of them be designated as "Boyle Heights School" might have been seen as misleading or confusing.

A panoramic photograph of students and teachers at Breed Street School, Boyle Heights, attributed to Oscar Shaw, 1891.  Courtesy of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.  Click on the image to see it in an enlarged view in a separate window.
In any case, Breed Street School took its new name, but soon was embroiled in a substantial controversy, some of which might ring true today.  Specifically in 1890, the city school board decided to divert money intended for Breed Street School and a proposed school at Euclid Heights (a recently-laid out subdivision south of 4th Street, north of Whittier Boulevard, east of Mott Street and west of Lorena Street) to other purposes.

A circular was distributed within Boyle Heights calling for a meeting on 9 July at a hall at the corner of First and Chicago streets to protest the school board's decision and crying out, "Come out, citizens, and demand our rights!"  The meeting, held in the half-full venue, included a lengthy explanation by one of the school board members, E. E. Powers, who claimed that he implored his fellow members to resist diverting the funds and went to Los Angeles city council member Robert Wirsching, whose Boyle Heights residence has been profiled here previously, for his assistance.  Wirsching tried to get the council to review the matter, but it refused as not being within its purview.

The issue was that the $6,000 that was appropriated for Breed Street School was for its expansion to an eight-room, from four rooms, building because of the tremendous growth of the student population in Boyle Heights due to the land boom. 

Judge R.H.F. Variel, a leading citizen of the neighborhood and the president of the meeting, lambasted the city's schools as being poorly funded and managed and noted that Breed Street School actually had to have two separate blocs of children during the day because of overcrowding.  He went on to lament that, "In Boyle Heights, there are nothing but country schools" composed of four small, inadequate school buildings not suitable for the rapidly-growing city.

Nothing that citizens in Boyle Heights voted for a citywide school bond issue to pay for improvements, including that for Breed Street, Judge Variel opined that it was illegal for the school board to take funds appropriated by an election and use them elsewhere and that he would donate his legal services to fight the decision.

William H. Workman, founder of Boyle Heights in the mid-1870s and who recently completed a two-year term as mayor of Los Angeles during its boom years of 1886-1888, expressed "that a gross outrage had been committed" and that the board could not take money and "put it in a portion of the city where there are no children," though the board likely would claim it was planning for future expansion in doing so. 

Moreover, when Powers tried again to explain that he'd done his best to advocate for Breed Street School, Workman responded, "then you should have voted no with Brother Whaling," which rejoinder engendered "great applause and laughter."   Whaling and Powers then had a spat about who was advocating for the school before a committee was elected to draft a resolution for presentation to the school board.

The six-member committee, headed by Workman and including Variel, met immediately after the conclusion of the confab and issued its resolutions, stating that the school board had actually received a proposal, when bids were opened publicly, to erect the four-room addition for $4700, 25% less than the appropriated sum.  It also echoed Variel's complaint that students had been attending half-day sessions for two years because of insufficient space and growing numbers.  Additionally, the resolutions reiterated support for $3,000 for the Euclid Heights school.

Calling the diversion "unjust, illegal and exasperating," the committee, "resolved that we do most earnestly protest against the wrong about to be perpetrated upon us, and that we will resist these official acts of injustice until the bitter end."  The committee then ordered its resolutions sent to the Board of Education, the City Council and Workman's successor as mayor, Henry T. Hazard.

In September 1890, the Times printed a letter from "A Boyle Heights Mother," who expressed her concern about a rumored alternative plan to deal with overcrowding at Breed Street School.  Namely, this was to be a division of grades with a single room, rather than adding rooms to allow for a grading of the student population by room..  In other words, for each four-room school, there would be four teachers and in each room would be two grades, to account for the first through eighth grades.

"A Boyle Heights Mother" protested that "it would be a libel on the poorest of the country schools of northern California to say that they are so poor and inadequate as this proposed system will be."  Shrewdly, the writer pointed out that, " when the Chamber of Commerce advertises the resources and advantages of southern California, let it be well guarded in its utterances, and say nothing about the public school facilities of Los Angeles."

Further, she continued, if the rumored plan was substantially true, "let our schools rather remain as they have been, that we may reap the greater benefit of half-day sessions, with one grade of two divisons for each teacher."

All the lobbying, protesting and resolutions appear to have had the desired effect.  For the 1891-92 school year, the Times noted in its 4 October edition, "at the Breed-street school the recent addition of four rooms and a kindergarten, will provide for at least 250 more students than formerly."  It was fortunate that this work was completed then, because, in 1893, a major national economic depression erupted and, meanwhile, southern California was ensnared in six years of drought during the decade, further worsening the financial picture.  There may not have been money available to do the enlargement of Breed Street School two, four or eight years later.

Meanwhile, the photograph is a cabinet card, with the image pasted-down onto a yellow board.  In ink at the top margin is an inscription identifying the school, year and the photographer as Oscar Shaw.  There was a house carpenter and builder of that name who lived on City View Avenue west of Soto during the 1890s and then at addresses above what is now the 10 Freeway near USC-County Medical Center, including on North Soto until the 1920s. 

Shaw had a few children old enough to attend Breed Street School in 1891, so it may be that he was an amateur photographer documenting the first day of school in the newly-enlarged building that came about as a result of the battles described above--though there is no way to verify this guess.

Monday, December 23, 2013

José Adolfo Bernal: An 1899 Booster Pamphlet for Boyle Heights, Part 3

In the 1899 publication Beautiful Highlands of Los Angeles, promoting Boyle Heights, Brooklyn Heights and Euclid Heights and issued by the Ninth Ward Improvement Association, almost all of the people and buildings discussed and visually presented were middle and upper middle class Americans and Europeans, like the target audience of the pamphlet who were solicited to come to the neighborhood.  Only a few people of color were mentioned in the booklet including Kiu Sing Chan, highlighted in a previous post on this blog.

Another was J.A. Bernal, who brief biographical sketch noted that he had been a resident of Los Angeles for 35 years (that is, from the middle 1860s) and that he "is a well known surveyor" who was chief deputy for the city surveyors for most of the period between 1881 to 1895 and who was then working for the city engineer.  As to why Bernal settled in the neighborhood, the sketch stated that, "his decision . . . [was] on account of its healthfulness and pleasant location."

Bernal's home was one of a quartet of residences shown on a page of the publication, including that of Kiu Sing Chan and it shows a small cottage with a projecting front room, a porch across three-quarters of the front elevation, and a profusion of climbing vines covering the porch and extending over the entrance towards the front room.  There even appears to be a hitching post near the street--automobiles were some years away from being in use.  Because the publication was downloaded from the Net, the image shown here is sketchy at best, though some cleaning up was attempted to make the image a bit clearer.

The Boyle Heights cottage at 1619 New Jersey Street of José Adolfo Bernal, longtime surveyor and civil engineer for the city of Los Angeles, from the 1899 booster pamphlet Beautiful Highlands of Los Angeles, which promoted Boyle Heights, Brooklyn Heights and Euclid Heights.
A little digging into Bernal revealed some more details about him.  José Adolfo Bernal was born in 1857 to José María Bernal, a native of Sinaloa, Mexico, and Serafina Uribe.  The comment in his biographical sketch from the pamphlet about how long he'd lived in Los Angeles seems to be in error, because the 1860 census showed the Bernal family residing in Los Angeles, where José María Bernal working as a plasterer, probably for adobe structures, which then predominated in the town.  By 1870, José Adolfo was in San Francisco attending St. Mary's College, a Catholic boys school (the use of "college" in those days could mean students from grammar school age and up) that moved to Oakland in 1889 and then in 1928 to the suburb of Moraga, where the school still operates.  A decade later, he was living with his mother Serafina (the elder Bernal died in 1866) on First Street in Los Angeles and had already been engaged in the surveying business.  The following year he began his duties as chief deputy surveyor for the city.

In 1880, Bernal married María Constancia Machado, from a prominent family who resided in the area near today's Los Angeles International Airport.  The couple went on to have a daughter, Rosa, and three sons, Eduardo, Adolfo and Alfonso, two of whom followed their father in the civil engineering and surveying trade, while the third, Eduardo, was a bookkeeper in the city department.

It is said that Bernal specialized in surveying land grants of rancho made under Spain and Mexican rule and he also had a surveying business with George Fisher, much of the archival material of which is deposited at the Seaver Center for Western History Research at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.  Maps worked on by Bernal can also be found at the Huntington Library, including a beautiful and ornate 1888 rendering of the "Workman Orchard," the property of Boyle Heights founder William H. Workman on the west side of Boyle Avenue on the bluff overlooking the city.

The short biographical sketch of Bernal from the pamphlet.
Bernal was also treasurer of the local chapter of the Sons of the Golden West and invested in some property in what was then called East Los Angeles, now Lincoln Heights.  He died in 1927 after a long and fruitful career with the city.  His home, which was at 1619 New Jersey Street just to the west of White Memorial Hospital, continued to be owned by his family for years afterward but is now gone.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California.  Thanks to Rudy Martinez of the Boyle Heights Historical Society for locating a copy of this pamphlet online.

Monday, November 4, 2013

William Mulholland, Longtime Boyle Heights Resident

Tomorrow is the centennial anniversary of the opening ceremony for the massive Los Angeles Aqueduct, which delivered water from the Owens River in eastern California to the Los Angeles region over a 220-plus mile system of finely engineered tunnels, channels, pipes, pumps, reservoirs and other elements in a scheme that was filled with controversy, but was also one of the great engineering marvels of its time.

William Mulholland, ca. 1910s.  From the Special Collections division, University of Southern California library.  Click on any photo to see it enlarged in a new window.
From the time the source was located in 1904 and the land purchased to the sale of bonds to finance the project to the beginning of construction in 1908 and the five-year work to build the aqueduct with the labor of some 5,000 men to the dedication on 5 November 1913, one of the key players involved was Chief Engineer William Mulholland.  At the time of the Aqueduct's opening, Mulholland was a resident of Boyle Heights, where he lived for about a quarter century.  Although much has been written about the man and his work, a little background might be in order.

William Mulholland was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1855 to royal mail guard Hugh Mulholland and Ellen Deakers, who died when her son was seven years old, not long after the family relocated to Dublin.  Ireland had been through decades of famine and political, economic and social unrest and, with little there to provide a basis for his future, William joined the British Merchant Marine while in his mid-teens and served in it for four years.

Mulholland in the field with surveying equipment, ca. 1920s.  From the Special Collections division, University of Southern California library.
In June 1874, Mulholland landed in New York and worked on a Great Lakes ship and then a Michigan lumber camp, where he nearly lost a leg after an accident.  Migrating to Cincinnati, he took to the road with a mechanic who specialized in sharpening scissors and fixing clocks.  Meantime, his younger brother Hugh, who was sent to serve in the British Navy by his father, abandoned his post and somehow located William.  In fall 1875, they arrived unannounced at the home of their mother's brother, a prosperous merchant in Pittsburgh, and they starting working at the business.

A tuberculosis epidemic erupted in the Deakers household, however, and, after some children in the family died, a group decided to leave for California in late 1876, including William and Hugh, who were, apparently, stowaways on the ship leaving New York.  At the Isthmus of Panama, though, the two were detected and ejected, forcing them to make the difficult fifty-mile trek across to the Pacific side.  From there, they joined a Peruvian vessel to Acapulco and then another ship conveyed them to San Francisco.  From there, they rode by horse the long trek to Los Angeles, where, in January 1877, they found the remaining members of the Deakers family, some more having died of typhoid.

Mulholland in the front passenger seat of a City of Los Angeles vehicle at an unidentified event, 1920s.  From the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.
Mulholland was not overly impressed by the small town he encountered and headed to San Pedro to find a ship on which to work.  He was stopped on the way down by Manuel Dominguez, owner of the Rancho San Pedro, who hired the young man to dig artesian wells, Mulholland's first entre into working with water and the motivation for his future career as a water engineer.  After that, however, the Mulholland brothers went to prospect for gold in the Territory of Arizona, but news of the famed Apache chief Geronimo convinced them to return to Los Angeles.

The next year, 1878, William took a job as a deputy zanjero, tending the main supply ditch for the privately-held Los Angeles City Water Company at a spot several miles north of downtown and remained in the position for a couple of years.  In the 1880 census for the San Fernando Township, which covered the area, he was listed simply as "W. Mulholland," age 24, and his occupation merely given as "laborer."

A detail from the 1880 census at the San Fernando Township showing "W. Mulholland," as a "laborer," though he was then an assistant zanjero for the privately-held Los Angeles City Water Company.  From  Click on any photo to see it enlarged in a new window.
One interesting anecdote had to do with a man calling out to Mulholland as he worked hard at cleaning out a ditch and receiving the curt reply, "None of your damn business," at which a fellow employee let Mulholland know he had just cursed out the water company's president William Hayes Perry, whose mansion was built in the new community of Boyle Heights in 1876 (and which is now at Heritage Square Museum  near Highland Park.)  Prepared to be fired, Mulholland was surprised to receive a promotion to foreman.

Mulholland and Frederick Eaton, a hydraulic engineer for the company, became close associates friends, though there was a falling-out later, and their partnership proved essential in the Los Angeles Aqueduct project.  Mulholland essentially was self-taught in the profession and was a voracious reader, taking in materials that aided his future work.

Detail from the 1900 census showing the Mulholland family at their house, built in 1894, at "Cor. Cummings & 6th" in Boyle Heights.  From
Through the 1880s and 1890s, Mulholland rose up the ranks of the water company and also was naturalized an American citizen in 1886, at which time the Los Angeles City Directory listed him as a "contractor in tunneling."  By the end of that year, though, he became the water works superintendent, a position he held for several years, while the water company grew by acquiring other smaller firms and establishing a subsidiary, the Crystal Springs Land and Water Company near today's Griffith Park.

In 1898, the thirty-year agreement the city of Los Angeles signed with the Los Angeles City Water Company expired.  That year, Fred Eaton was elected mayor of the city and served a single two-year term, during which the battle over whether city water should be privately or publicly managed continued.  When the private company finally agreed to sell to the city, new city treasurer, William H. Workman, who subdivided Boyle Heights with partners Isaias W. Hellman and John Lazzarovich in 1875 and was mayor of Los Angeles in 1887 and 1888, went to New York with the city attorney to sell the bonds to pay for the acquisition, which totaled $2 million.  All thirty-one of the old company's workers were kept on as city employees, including Mulholland, who became superintendent.

Detail from the 1910 census for the Mulholland family at Boyle Heights.  From  Click on any photo to see it enlarged in a new window.
Although the Los Angeles Aqueduct was clearly Mulholland's most notable project, he was involved a host of others as growth in the region skyrocketed into the 1920s.  These included the planning stages for the massive Boulder Dam project on the Colorado River and dealing with sabotage and other acts of resistance from folks in Owens Valley against the aqueduct.  Throughout the period, Mulholland's position as superintendent of the water department gave him a national prominence and stature, commemorated when a new scenic highway built along the ridges of the Santa Monica Mountains was named for him when it opened in 1926.

It was a position and prestige he held until the devastating St. Francis Dam disaster in 1928, in which a dam near modern Santa Clarita and engineered under Mulholland's leadership failed, with the resulting flood killed several hundred people in Ventura County.  Mulholland, who was in his early seventies and was bewildered by the tragedy, resigned and the new Department of Water and Power (DWP) took on new leadership under Harvey Van Norman, whose name now graces the main reservoir that receives Los Angeles Aqueduct water.  Mulholland died in July 1935 at the age of 79 with his body lying in state at city hall and thousands passing by his casket to pay their respects.

Enumerated on 5 January 1920, just prior to relocating to an area west of downtown Los Angeles, Mulholland, a widower of five years, is at his home, given an address for the first time in a census of 1915 E. 6th Street, with three children.  From
As for Mulholland's 25 years in Boyle Heights, not much is said at all in the exhaustive biography of the man, published in 2000, by his granddaughter Catherine.  She did note that the engineer and his family moved to the neighborhood in 1894 and their residence was in a fashionable part of the community at the northwest corner of Cummings and 6th streets and had a fine view of Hollenbeck Park.  Near neighbors included Elizabeth Hollenbeck, whose estate is now the Hollenbeck Palms senior residential community; the former house of Mamie Perry Davis, whose father was Mulholland's boss at the Los Angeles Water Company; and William H. Workman, who was mentioned above.

The Los Angeles Times of 19 May 1894 noted that a building permit was issued to Mulholland for a "cottage, northwest corner Sixth and Cummings, $3000."  That amount may sound paltry to modern ears, but it was a sizable sum for a residence of the era, especially one mired in a serious national depression which erupted the previous year.  Beyond that, the house did not evidently get mentioned again in that paper before the Mulholland's left for a new residence west of downtown in 1920.

Census listings for 1900, 1910 and 1920, though, do list the family at their Boyle Heights house. The first of these, taken on 7 June, shows the family as living at "Cor. Cummings & 6th."  The household consisted of the 44-year old civil engineer and his 32-year old wife, the former Lillie Ferguson, who had been married 9 years (their tenth anniversary was later in the year) and their five children, three daughters and two sons, ranging from two to eight years old.

A decade later, on 20 April 1910, the address was still given as "Cummings cor. 6th" and Mulholland was shown as "Civil Engineer City W. Works."  He and his wife were shown as having had six children, but five surviving, whereas in 1900 there were five children, all alive, there being a son who died at the age of two in 1905.

The 1920 enumeration was taken at the beginning of the year and the 64-year old Mulholland, again listed as "Civil Engineer," was a widower, his wife having died five years previously of cancer.  Three of his children were with him.  Soon, however, the family relocated to a home on St. Andrews Place, west of Western Avenue and north of Wilshire Boulevard and the 1930 census recorded the value of the home as $30,000, indicating that the home was substantial.  Notably, the Boyle Heights house was razed in the 1950s when the controversial construction of freeways, in this case interstates 5 and 10, were built through the neighborhood.  Not long afterward, the St. Andrews house was bulldozed when that street was converted to rows of apartment buildings.

William Mulholland was one of the most prominent individuals in Los Angeles during about three decades of explosive and controversial growth from 1900 to 1930.  From humble circumstances in a ravaged Ireland he emigrated to America and roved the country for several years before finding himself digging an artesian well on one of the last remaining Spanish and Mexican-era ranchos, which launched his career, largely self-taught, in water engineering. 

With the epic Los Angeles Aqueduct and other projects, he established a legacy of public works building with few rivals in American history, but it was tarnished by the disaster of the St. Francis Dam failure in 1928.  While much has been written about this remarkable man, but it has not often been noted that he was a resident of Boyle Heights for some twenty-five years from 1894 to 1920.

With all the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the opening of the aqueduct, Mulholland's place in Boyle Heights history should also be remembered.

Suggested Reading:

Catherine Mulholland, William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles (Berkeley: University of California Press,) 2000.

Margaret Leslie Davis, Rivers in the Desert: William Mulholland and the Inventing of Los Angeles (New York: HarperCollins Publishers,) 1993.

Charles F. Outland, Man-Made Disaster:  The Story of St. Francis Dam (Spokane:  The Arthur H. Clark Company,) 2002 (1963, 1977).

Doyce B. Nunis, Jr., ed., The St. Francis Dam Disaster Revisited (Los Angeles: Historical Society of Southern California; Ventura:  Ventura County Museum of History & Art), 1995.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry, with thanks to past Boyle Heights Historical Society president Malissa Strong for suggesting this topic.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

An Early Chinese Resident: An 1899 Booster Pamphlet for Boyle Heights, Part Two

The 1899 pamphlet put out by the Ninth Ward Improvement Association and introduced in the last post was intended to lure new residents and business owners by promoting (perhaps with some excess) the manifold benefits of living and working in the community.

Consequently, photos of dozens of homes and biographical sketches of many of the people who lived in them made up a significant part of the publication.  While these included prominent Angelenos of the time like neighborhood founder William H. Workman, capitalist and ex-city council member Burdette Chandler, philanthropist Elizabeth Hollenbeck, and county supervisor and former city council member Robert Wirsching, it isn't at all surprising that almost every person mentioned in the pamphlet was an Anglo, with two exceptions.

A page from "Beautiful Highlands of Los Angeles," published by the Boyle Heights Improvement Association about 1899 and showing, at the upper left, the residence of Kiu Sing Chan and family.  Click on the image to see it and the one below in a separate window and in a larger view.
One of these was perhaps one the first Chinese residents, or at least property owners, in Boyle Heights, a man identified as Chan Kie Sing.  Still, in the brief sketch about him, note the opening statement

To the Eastern visitor who is visiting Southern California for the first time, there is one element of our population which never loses its interest, that is the Chinese.
While not then explaining exactly what was meant by "interest" (we can assume this has to do with the "exotic" image the Chinese had for Americans, judging by the dozens of postcards of Chinese people and the Chinatown area of Los Angeles, which was then at today's Union Station, that were produced in the years just after the pamphlet), the sketch continued by observing

Finding a climate as balmy and mild as their own, [and] a market for their labor and wares superior to their own, they have settled in great numbers in our State, generally having a sort of colony of their own in every larger town.  A great many of them speak English, but imperfectly, or not at all, so when they come in contact with the government in a business way, they must have an interpreter.
The reason for this strange diversion was (evidently) soon explained by noting that "Chan Kie Sing," who emigrated from his homeland to the U.S. in 1871 and was a merchant in San Francisco, arrived during the great land and population boom of the late 1880s in Los Angeles, "where he has since filed the office of Court Interpreter."  The account concluded with another racially-loaded statement that, "Mr. Sing, with his wife and pretty little oriental children, lives in a cozy little cottage, No. 2309 East Third street."

This is a detail of the Kiu Sing Chan house from the "Beautiful Highlands of Los Anglees" publication .

A little digging reveals quite a bit more about this family.  Even though he was often referred to as "Chan Kie Sing", "Chan Kin Sing" and "Chan Kiu Sing," (this issue of misspelling and misidentifying Chinese names being quite common--frustratingly for the researcher), his actual name was Kiu Sing Chan.

Born, according to the 1900 census, in October 1854 in China, Chan's emigration date, according to census information, does appear to be about right in the pamphlet description, sometime between 1870 and 1875.  His arrival in the late 1880s was also accurately noted, as was his work as a court interpreter from early on.  Indeed, Chan continued in his line of work throughout the remainder of his life and it was his listed occupation on the 1900, 1910 and 1920 censuses.

He was, however, also a vital member of the Methodist Episcopal Church's Chinese Mission in Los Angeles.  In 1896, he served as a master of ceremonies for a Chinese New Year celebration held at the mission and a Los Angeles Herald article noted that he was a "courteous reporter and interpreter" and then went on to express amazement about "his wonderful accuracy of speech" and "acquaintance of the more subtle niceties of the English tongue," which praising his admonition to the audience "to abandon their ancient faith."

According to Lisa See's important book On Gold Mountain, Chan was the first Chinese licensed Methodist minister in the United States and was pastor of the Los Angeles Chinese United Methodist Church from 1900 until 1923.  Occasionally, articles in the Los Angeles Times and Herald newspapers mentioned Chan's ministering, as, for example, when the church had an observance after the asssassination of President William McKinley, not long after his visit to Los Angeles in 1901.

Chan was also passionate in his rebuttals to claims by ministers from other faiths who expounded the commonly-held view that the Chinese could not be assimilated or be good Christians, as evidenced in long letters published in The Times in 1909 and 1913.  Occasionally, he gave lectures on the relations between America and China, such as one given to an electrical industry association in Los Angeles in 1916.

In addition to his court interpreter position and ministering, Chan had other endeavors, such as when he and a partner leased twenty acres near the city and planted them to asparagus.  This project ended badly, however, when, during the second year of the lease, the owner went in and destroyed the crop and small buildings associated with the venture after a dispute over unpaid rent.  Chan sued and won a judgment for damages in court, but, on appeal, the verdict was overturned, the state supreme court finding that it was not possible to know whether the amount claimed for damages could be verified from books Chan indicated he kept and also noting that he had told someone that he could not make a profit on the lease and afford the rent.

With respect to the Boyle Heights house, it appears that Chan and his wife, Loy (also referred to as Nellie) and their large family, appearing to have consisted of eight children, with one or two dying in childhood, moved to the residence in the very late 1890s, just before the publication was issued.  Prior to that they resided at Wall Street and 6th Street downtown, but, once reestablished in Boyle Heights, the Chans occupied their home for decades.  While Kiu Sing Chan appears to have died around 1923, his widow and a few of their children were in the house until at least the 1940s.

What is striking about the census returns is not just that the Chans were the only Chinese family in the vicinity of Third between Breed and Soto streets, but how the neighborhood changed.  The 1900 sheet on which they appear includes otherwise "Anglo" surnames like Dorland, Peters, Evans, Shields, Conrad and Archer.  Across the street was the family of James G. Bell, whose wife Susan was a Hollenbeck, related to prominent Boyle Heights resident John E. Hollenbeck.  Bell's daughter, Maud, was in the first graduating class at Occidental College when it was established in the Heights and his son, Alphonzo, went on to be a prominent developer (Bel-Air, Bell Gardens) and oil magnate at Santa Fe Springs.  By 1910, the demographics were largely the same.

With the 1920 enumeration, though, came some changes.  On the same sheet as the Chans were four Latino families bearing the surnames of Moraga, Velez, Villegas, and Sandoval and the family listed above them consisted of Jews Morrie and Fannie Hirsch and their two children.  A decade later, after Kiu Sing had died, his widow and three children lived amongst predominantly Jewish neighbors, many of whom were born in Russia, Poland and Hungary.  There was one Latino family, the Garcias, who lived near the Chans on Third and two "Anglo" families.

This diversity was still reflected in the 1940 census, several families of Russian Jewish descent, a Latino family, and a Japanese family, the Kosakos, lived around the corner on Breed Street.  Three "Anglos" lived together in one household as the ethnic diversification of Boyle Heights is reflected in microcosm on this one census sheet.

Of the over fifty houses shown in the 1899 pamphlet, only about a third of them survive today, but one of them is the longtime residence of Kiu Sing Chan and his family.

In addition to the image of the house from the pamphlet shown above, here is a Google Maps link that shows how the structure looks today: click here.

This contribution was made by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.

Monday, August 5, 2013

An 1899 Booster Pamphlet for Boyle Heights, Part One

Recently, Boyle Heights Historical Society stalwart Rudy Martinez came across a pamphlet on an Internet search called Beautiful Highlands of Los Angeles, Comprising Boyle Heights, Brooklyn Heights, Euclid Heights

Apparently published in 1899 by the Ninth Ward Improvement Association (the city was then divided into "wards," a common designation in American cities then), this remarkable document was created to boost and promote Boyle Heights and its neighboring subdivisions for potential settlement and trade at a time when the region endured the lingering effects of the 1893 national economic depression and years of drought locally. 

Incidentally, Brooklyn Heights, subdivided in the late 1870s not long after Boyle Heights, was basically north of First Street.  Euclid Heights, which was lesser-known and newer, probably developed not long before this publication was issued, was to the southeast along its namesake street and south of 4th Street.

So, while its language and content were typically rosy and exaggerated, it does provide a snapshot of where the community was (or thought it ought to be) at the end of the nineteenth century when it was almost completely populated by middle and upper class Americans and Europeans.

The pamphlet promoted the usual benefits accuring to a community that had it all, proximity to the business center of Los Angeles; a gorgeous climate; fine schools; an abundance of churches; growing fraternal organizations; and, of course, the energy and direction of the Ninth Ward Improvement Association, which offered its considered opinion that the area "seems to have been specially planned by nature as an ideal residential district" and that the area flourished because, "in addition to the superior natural advantages of the Heights, [there] is the enterprise of the people."

Sections of the publication cover community founder William H. Workman, former mayor and soon-to-be treasurer of Los Angeles, and extoll his work in creating Boyle Heights; provide short biographical sketches of leading citizens, who, however, undoubtedly paid for the privilege of supplying both the information and photos of themselves and/or their residences; and essays on education, health advantages, fraternal organizations and clubs, churches, and rapid transit systems.

Some of the period's purple prose pours out in profusion, such as this tidbit from the "Healthfulness" essay by Mrs. M. J. Henry, who exclaimed about, "those breezes, how sweet and fresh they blow across the hills, stirring the blood and making the pulses fly, driving away the languerous [sic] fever, and filling the lungs with pure air, expanding but never clogging that delicate mechanism, and so precluding pneumonia and kindred diseases."

Whether or not the publication had the desired effect of bringing more residents and businesses to the east side, the community did certainly change dramatically in the following decades, though not likely as the Ninth Ward Improvement Association intended. 

Almost none of the featured persons in the document were ethnic minorities, but, by the 1920s, large populations of Japanese, blacks, Russians, Mexicans, and eastern European Jews settled in Boyle Heights, often because of restrictive covenants or less overt means of keeping them out of other areas of Los Angeles, as well as access to working class jobs in the city's industrial districts.  Many of the people profiled in the 1899 publication, had they still been living two or three decades later, would most likely have left for the neighborhoods west or south of downtown.

In any case, Beautiful Highlands of Los Angeles is one of untold numbers of the booster productions that burst out in the era.  While some of its claims might have been true and others fanciful or, at least, embellished, it does provide a window into an aspect of Boyle Heights and surrounding areas in their early years.

Future posts will deal with persons, residents, organizations and other aspects of this fascinating slice of Boyle Heights' history. 

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry with thanks to Rudy Martinez for passing along the info on the publication.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Lorraine Schneider: Artist from Boyle Heights

With the Memorial Day holiday upon us and it being a holiday of remembrance for the soldiers who have died in wars fought by the United States, it seems timely and appropriate for this post about Lorraine Schneider, an artist raised in Boyle Heights whose 1966 print, "Primer," decrying war has been an iconic image since.

Lorraine Schneider's "Primer" (1966) was created for an exhibition that limited entries to those of four inches square or smaller, but had a huge impact with its straightforward anti-war message and eye-catching yellow background and simple sunflower motif.  Courtesy of Another Mother for Peace, Inc.
In fact, one of the highlights of an Autry National Center symposium held last week to kick off the newly-mounted "Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic" exhibition was the artist's daughter, Carol, discussing her mother's life and work with attendees touring the gallery. 

There is something so profound in the deceptively simple elements of the bright yellow background, the basic sunflower motif, and the pointed phrase, "war is not healthy for children and other living things," that it is easy to see why the work generated such universal appeal after its creation during the height of the Vietnam War. 

And, Lorraine Schneider's formative years were spent in Boyle Heights.

Fittingly, she was born Lorraine Art in Chicago in 1925, but moved with her family to Los Angeles just a couple years later.  Her father, Sam (originally surnamed Ordzek) was from Poland and mother Eva Chayet hailed from Russia.  The Art family resided near City Terrace for a period and then later lived closer to the focal point of Brooklyn Avenue and Soto Street.  Sam Art was a tailor and a route man for a linen supply company, Eva had an artistic background, and Lorraine's formative years spent in working class and multi-ethnic Boyle Heights had a tremendous impact on her.

The Art family in Boyle Heights, ca. 1935.  From left is Sam, Lorraine, Seymour, and Eva.  Courtesy of Carol Schneider.
In a biographical sketch found on the Web site (see here) for Another Mother for Peace, a non-profit organization founded in 1967, it is stated that she was profoundly affected by the forced relocation of Japanese-Americans to camps and the attacks on Chicano and black "zoot suiters" during World War II.  She vividly recalled being spat upon by guards when she and others went to visit Japanese-American friends being held at the Santa Anita race track in Arcadia before being sent to camp.

Lorraine attended U.C.L.A. and studied art, but ended her studies to become an occupational therapist, working in army hospitals where she saw first-hand the devastating results of war on the soldiers she worked with.  She completed her college studies at U.C. Berkeley and went to work briefly as a teacher in the Bay Area before marrying Stan Schneider, whom she met at U.C.L.A.  She then devoted herself to her family, including four children.

In 1960, she returned to school, taking graduate courses in printmaking at San Fernando Valley State College, now Cal State Northridge, and launched into a new phase of her life as an artist, in which printmaking, sculpture and painting were joined in an exciting type of art, but maintaining her foremost commitment to her family.

The creation of "Primer" came as an entry in a exhibition, in which entries were limited to works that were only 4" square!  Consequently, it was an imperative to create something striking and simple to make the greatest visual effect, but the message of the work took the entry into another dimension.

Lorraine Schneider with a poster of her iconic anti-war print, "Primer."  Shortly before her death in fall 1972 she gave a speech at the United Nations Non-Governmental Disarmament Conference in Geneva that explained her motivation in creating the work.  Courtesy of Carol Schneider.
Lorraine's decision to donate the rights to her seminal work to Another Mother for Peace was a fateful and fruitful one.  As noted above, "Primer" became an international phenomenon and its popularity brought significant funding for the organization and its anti-war message.  The impact of the work was so significant that she was invited to speak at the United Nations Non-Governmental Disarmament Conference in Geneva in 1972.  On 26 September, she presented a speech that encapsulated her long-held views about the futility of war. 

In describing what motivated here to create "Primer," she stated that what she really wanted to do was to create "my own personal picket sign."  The point was to say something that could not be refuted and that was fundamentally truthful.  She went on to observe that the nuclear age made war obsolete and that humans had to evolve to the point where disagreements could be handled in a non-military manner.  She further opined that artists were those who had to lay the groundwork for people to take "the last step out of the cave."  Lorraine concluded by noting that those who would restrict the expression of speech and free ideas, "gave me four square inches and this is what I did with it."

Just a few days after returning home from Europe, Lorraine, who had been battling cancer for some time, was admitted to the hospital and died on 6 November.  She was just 47 years old, but she created a small artistic and political jewel that has taken on a long and meaningful life of its own and is now as old as she was when she passed away.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry with thanks to Carol Schneider for providing the photos for this post and for her inspiring talk about her mother's work.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Autry National Center Jewish LA Exhibit and Boyle Heights

The Autry National Center's newest exhibit, Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic, which just opened and runs through early January 2014, provides a broad overview of the multidimensional history of Jews in Los Angeles from the 1850s to the modern day.  Elements relating to families, religion, business and economics, Hollywood and the entertainment industry, sports, politics and other topics are included.  One interesting tidbit was a section of the little-known Iranian Jewish community.

Naturally, a significant part of the exhibit, as representing Jewish life in the city and region, touches on the importance of Boyle Heights as the center of Los Angeles Jewry for several decades, especially between 1920 and 1950.

Yesterday, a symposium was held at the museum as part of the exhibit opening and it was telling that, when someone asked the audience how many of them had a connection to Boyle Heights, dozens of attendees raised their hands.

Highlights in the exhibition relating to Boyle Heights included emphasis on such major institutions as the Breed Street Shul (for more on the Shul click here) and the Phillips Music Company store (see this great site on the Phillips store here).  The first part of the event featured tours of the exhibit and three persons were stationed to discuss aspects of the display.  In addition to interesting talks by a descendant of the early Newmark and Lazard families and on the story of Sephardic Jews, whose roots dealt mainly with Spain before the 1492 expulsion of them by the crown, there was a fascinating presentation touching upon Boyle Heights. This talk was by Carol Schneider, whose mother, Lorraine, was born in Chicago, but came to Boyle Heights as a child.  Later, Lorraine Schneider became famous for an iconic piece of art that has become a focal point for anti-war activists.

Lorraine Schneider's story will be the subject of the next post on this blog, but, meantime, anyone interested in Boyle Heights and, of course, the history of Jews in Los Angeles, should make a concerted effort to see this exhibit and its broad overview of a complex, fascinating and varied history.

For more on Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic, visit the museum's Web site page for the exhibit here.