Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Kaspare Cohn Hospital and Mt. Sinai Hospital and Clinic, Part Two

 by Rudy Martinez

Editor's note: The second part of  this post by Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member Rudy Martinez takes us to the move of the Kaspare Cohn Hospital from Angelino Heights to what was later called East Los Angeles [Lincoln Heights was the original East Los Angeles.]  This part covers about a decade during the early part of the 20th century and we'll return next Tuesday with part three.  

With a growing population of Jewish immigrants in Los Angeles and no adequate hospital to serve them, the order of the day was to finally build a culturally familiar medical institution that was modern but large enough to accommodate their needs. In 1909, the Kaspare Cohn Association paid $5,000 for a 5-acre parcel at the southwest corner of Ditman and Stephenson Avenues for the construction of the new hospital. To comply with a 1904 city ordinance requiring hospitals of its type to be outside of Los Angeles city limits, it was also one block east of the line separating Boyle Heights from the county area beyond. In 1925, Stephenson Avenue was renamed, Whittier Boulevard. 

It should be pointed out that this was not the first Jewish institution established in the area. The Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles founded the first Los Angeles Jewish cemetery in Chavez Ravine in 1854 (where the former Naval and Marine Corps Armory stands today), but in 1901, they relocated the cemetery and those interred to the new Home Peace Cemetery at 4334 Stephenson Avenue (Whittier Boulevard), less than a mile east of the hospital site.  

Los Angeles Times, 5 September 1909

With the new hospital's projected cost being $50,000, committees were organized to solicit donations. When these gifts stalled at $20,000, four of the Jewish community’s most generous supporters stepped in. They included Harris Newmark, businessman and author of the valuable memoir, Sixty Years in Southern California: 1853 – 1913; David and Moses Hamburger, builders in 1908 of the opulent Hamburgers Department Store at Broadway and 8th Streets and which, fifteen years later, became the May Company; and the seemingly indispensable Kaspare Cohn. 

Designed by the architectural firm of Edelman and Barnett (Abram M. Edelman, son of the first rabbi in Los Angeles, also designed the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights in 1923), the 50-bed hospital was projected to serve as a general hospital for medical, surgical, and obstetric patients. Architectural drawings called for a red brick, two-story building, 158 feet wide and 80 feet deep, with a lofty portico entrance flanked by grand stone columns. A 10-cot, single-story tubercular ward was also built behind the main building. 

The opening dedication was held with an overflow crowd in the hospital’s main hall on June 19, 1910. The ceremonies included several musical programs and addresses by some of the facility’s prominent patrons, including Cohn. The following day the Los Angeles Herald reported, “In every particular, the equipment and the arrangement of the hospital are modern and scientific. There are two buildings, one large two-story brick and the other, a smaller one, also of brick. The association has shown foresight in purchasing a large amount of ground upon which additional buildings may be erected if necessary.”  

Los Angeles Herald, 20 June 1910.

Like the original Carroll Avenue facility, no one was denied treatment or hospitalization because of their inability to pay. Thanks to the Jewish community’s steadfast support, the hospital’s appeals, large or small, were often answered. When the hospital needed fresh eggs, and chickens for Sunday dinner, fifty laying hens and a hen house were delivered. When they requested “dark scarlet geraniums” to beautify the grounds and walkways, a flat of flowers was immediately provided. Socialist Jewish collectives also contributed to the facility, including sewing supplies from the Los Angeles Needle Guild, and the stitching of hospital garments by the Temple Sewing Circle. 

The hospital’s compiled statistics for 1912 showed hospitalization care was provided to 327 patients, with 125 being male and 202 female, and 53 were surgical, 63 obstetrical, and 211 medical. Total deaths numbered 18, the same number of babies delivered. Tubercular patients accounted for nearly three dozen of the total hospital population and there were seven deaths from that disease. During this period, the hospital maintained a staff of five doctors, including two surgeons, one specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, one internist, and one who attended maternity cases. 

Beyond these scant details, there is not a lot of existing documentation relating to the doctors’ daily activities, according to a limited-edition book about the history of Cedars-Sinai Hospital, published for their 2002 centennial. The authors wrote, “with no surviving hospital records to consult, virtually nothing is known about the medical facilities, patient case histories or treatment protocols, specific to Kaspare Cohn Hospital.”  

A 1921 Sanborn map showing the location of the facility beyond Los Angeles city limits along Indiana Street, at the bottom.  From the Los Angeles Public Library.

From the day it opened, the charity hospital continued to operate with a deficit until two events came together to finally set the institution right financially.  First, the old Carroll Avenue house and some adjoining property was sold for $3,300. Then, Cohn, the hospital’s principal benefactor, responded with a donation of $5,300. By 1918, the hospital created a segregated wing with enhanced rooms for paying patients, purchased a new X-Ray machine, and installed an elevator. 

After the completion of some needed repairs, the hospital and property were said to be valued at upwards of $100,000. By the following year, the facility was operating the Jewish Dispensary of Los Angeles, a busy charity clinic in the Bunker Hill area of downtown Los Angeles. The only serious obstacle to their health-care mission was during the flu pandemic of 1918-1919. When the pandemic swept through Los Angeles in the latter part of the year, the hospital was forced to suspend services, except to care for hospital patients, because of a staff shortage after its superintendent and several nurses died and several others became severely ill. Fortunately, the interruption lasted only a few days before services resumed.    

A 1920s photograph of the front of the hospital from Cedars-Sinai: The One-Hundred Year History of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, 1902-2002.

The eastside hospital, however, had to continue to move forward without their steadfast patron, Kaspare Cohn, who died at his home at 2601 South Grand Avenue in 1916 at the age of seventy-six. His large, well-appointed house, constructed in 1900, was located at the southwest corner of Grand and Adams Boulevard, which was in an affluent area of the city where many prominent business figures resided.  For example, Cohn's business associate and cousin, Harris Newmark, lived nearby at 880 West Adams Boulevard. 

His widow, Hulda Newmark Cohn, lived in the home until 1924 when she sold it to the University of Southern California as a new home for its College of Music, though the structure was demolished not quite a decade later. Pointing to his vast banking and real estate interests, his investments in the region’s early utilities infrastructure, and his support for many of the city’s first Jewish institutions, the Los Angeles Evening Herald noted at the time of his death, “The death of Kaspare Cohn marks the passing of one of the men who helped make Southern California what it is today.”  

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Kaspare Cohn Hospital and Mt. Sinai Hospital and Clinic, Part One

by Rudy Martinez

Editor's note: Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member Rudy Martinez returns again with another multi-part post on the fascinating history of Boyle Heights and the east side, covering the development of what evolved into today's Cedar-Sinai Medical Center.  We start with this first installment about the East Los Angeles location of the Kaspare Cohn Hospital, which became Laguna Park and then, fifty years ago this month, Ruben Salazar Park, in honor of the Latino journalist killed by a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy during the Chicano Moratorium protests of 1970.  Each Tuesday, we'll continue with Rudy's excellent telling of the history of the Cohn and Mt. Sinai facilities as essential to the Jewish presence in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles for much of the 20th century.

Today, most people in Los Angeles might have at least a passing familiarity with the renowned Cedars-Sinai Medical Center that has been operating (in both meanings of the word) in west Los Angeles since 1955. Initially established for the Jewish residents of Los Angeles as the Kaspare Cohn Hospital, it began providing health care to tuberculosis patients in a Victorian-era house in Echo Park in 1902, before moving to a newly built, and then-impressive, two-story building in 1910. 

But the not-for-profit facility, and the first hospital under Jewish auspices in Southern California, was not built at the current Cedars-Sinai location, but instead, in East Los Angeles. Specifically, this was on a parcel on Whittier Boulevard that eventually became Ruben Salazar Park, a Los Angeles County park recognized today for its own unique and historic legacy from events that took place a half-century ago this summer. But it took decades, and the eventual consolidation with another former eastside Jewish hospital, and its nearby clinic in Boyle Heights, before the Kaspare Cohn Hospital would emerge as the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.             

Located at 3864 Whittier Boulevard, Ruben Salazar Park, or just Salazar Park to eastside residents, sits one block east of Indiana Street, which divides the city’s Boyle Heights neighborhood from the unincorporated county area of East Los Angeles. On August 29, 1970, the park was the site of a violent clash between anti-war protesters and Los Angeles County Sheriff deputies at the conclusion of a protest march known as the Chicano Moratorium, the largest protest march in the history of East Los Angeles. 

A 1960s tract map showing the location of Laguna Park, renamed after Ruben Salazar in September 1970, and formerly the site of the Kaspare Cohn Hospital, from the Los Angeles County Office of the Assessor.

Later that day, Ruben Salazar, the award-winning Los Angeles Times columnist, and news director for the local Spanish-language TV station, KMEX, was killed instantly while sitting inside the Silver Dollar Bar on Whittier Boulevard when he was struck in the head by a tear gas canister fired by a deputy who took a position just outside the curtained doorway of the tavern. A coroner’s inquest ruled that Salazar “died at the hands of another;” however, neither the deputy who fired the tear gas canister nor anyone from the Sheriff’s Department were held criminally responsible. In September, just after Salazar’s killing, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to honor him by renaming what was then Laguna Park to Ruben Salazar Park. 

The preceding illustrates that the history of a place is not always fully recalled in an old structure or a monument, but is sometimes found submerged over layers of time. While the events surrounding the historic 1970 Chicano Moratorium at Salazar Park are generally well-known, this post focuses on peeling back the years to the early part of the 20th century to focus on the lesser-known history of that land.  This is a place that claims a historic legacy for both the Jewish and Mexican American communities of Los Angeles, while also serving as one of the principal sites where the early development of modern medicine and institutional healthcare in Los Angeles emerged. So, for the moment, let’s take a trip down Whittier Boulevard. 

During the early twentieth century, numerous ailing consumptives—a common term for people with tuberculosis—were leaving parts of the midwest and east coast for the supposedly healing climate and warm sunshine of Los Angeles, a reputation largely perpetuated by local booster literature. The more affluent could afford lengthy stays at “consumptive sanatoriums” but impoverished immigrants and the working poor, which included Jewish transplants from the east coast, could only rely on the meager resources of the city’s dedicated, but somewhat haphazard, network of charity agencies, leaving many to die alone with little care. 

Los Angeles Times, 18 September 1970.

In 1901, former El Monte resident, Jacob Schlesinger was the president of the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles, and also a member of a cadre of successful and mostly German-born Jewish merchants and bankers who supported several local Jewish-aid institutions. Wealthy and often integrated into Los Angeles upper society, they generally did not deal much with the poor, Yiddish-speaking eastern-European Jewish immigrants now arriving in Los Angeles. But Schlesinger decided it was time for the city’s elite Jewish families to establish a sanatorium for the destitute consumptives that were overwhelming the local charity institutions. 

He found a sympathetic ear in that of Kaspare Cohn, president of the Kaspare Cohn Commercial and Savings Bank, a downtown institution that is now Union Bank. Born in Loebau, Prussia (now Lubawa, Poland) in 1839, Cohn arrived in Los Angeles in the late 1850s. One prominent example of his many business endeavors was the purchase of the sprawling ranch property of Italian immigrant Alessandro Repetto in 1886. With several other prominent Jewish investors, including Harris Newmark (his cousin), and Isaias W. Hellman, a founder of Boyle Heights, they developed the area into the town of Newmark, later changed to Montebello. 

Schlesinger’s mandate was to establish a no-charge sanatorium for consumptives, supported entirely by ongoing contributions from the city’s Jewish community. In 1902, Kaspare Cohn bought a two-story house in the Angelino Heights tract at 1443 Carroll Avenue, a street now renowned for its beautiful row of restored Victorian-era houses, and donated it to the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles for the proposed sanatorium. The house was already occupied by the Wooley Sanatorium, which advertised “for treatment and cure in ten days of Opium, Morphine, Cocaine, Whisky, and similar habits.”

The Kaspare Cohn Hospital on Carroll Street in Angelino Heights, ca. 1905.  From the University of Southern California's Digital Library Collection.

Named the Kaspare Cohn Hospital, the facility was dedicated on September 21, 1902, with 12 beds, two nurses, and two rotating doctors. But two years later, nearby residents started complaining about the potentially infectious patients convalescing in their neighborhood. On May 4, 1904, the Los Angeles Times reported on an approved ordinance prohibiting the “maintenance of hospitals with patients suffering from contagious or infectious diseases, except in a 200-acre tract of a hill in Elysian Park. The ordinance was primarily aimed at the Kaspare Cohn Hospital, a benevolent institution maintained by charitable Hebrews.” The “200-acre tract” referred to the Barlow Sanatorium, which also opened in 1902 on a campus in Chavez Ravine. By 1905 the Kaspare Cohn Hospital arranged to have their tuberculosis patients transferred to the Barlow Sanatorium while it continued to operate as a general hospital.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Remembering the Honorable David A. Workman (1930-2020)

March 30, 1930 - March 23, 2020

The Honorable David A Workman passed away on March 23, 2020, just a week before his 90th birthday.

He was born in Los Angeles and his family roots are connected with Boyle Heights. 

His maternal great-grandfather was Andrew Boyle for whom Boyle Heights was named. 

His paternal grandparents were Boyle Heights founder William H. Workman and Maria Boyle Workman. 

His parents were Thomas E. Workman and Margaret Kilgariff.

He served in the United States Marine Corps, including its reserves, and retired in 1985 with the rank of colonel.

The Boyle Heights Historical Society would like to share some of our memories wherein we had the pleasure and honor of meeting Judge Workman and interacting with him throughout the years.

Judge Workman was the family historian and gatekeeper of the Workman family historic records and photos. Therefore, as the Boyle Heights Historical Society was organizing fifteen years ago, we reached out to him to learn about the rich history and early beginnings of Boyle Heights.  We knew Judge Workman was very busy but he contacted me and said he would be happy to attend our meeting.  

SHARED MEMORIES - Diana Ybarra, Boyle Heights Historical Society
We had the honor and pleasure of meeting Judge Workman in 2005.  The Boyle Heights Historical Society was just organizing and held its second outreach meeting at the beautiful Neighborhood Music School on Boyle Avenue.  We had approximately 40 community members in attendance, including representatives from our newly formed Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council.

This was a very important meeting and Retired United States Air Force Colonel Melvin "Bud" Weber, founding member and organizer, discussed the goals and mission of the Boyle Heights Historical Society.  He was born and raised in Boyle Heights, was a 1944 graduate of Roosevelt High School, and stayed connected with the Roosevelt Alumni Foundation, although he resided in Laguna Woods. He was very honored to meet a descendant of William H. Workman (founder of Boyle Heights) and appreciated Judge Workman coming to our meeting and sharing his memories and ideas.

A wave of changes was about to take place in Boyle Heights.  There were meetings and discussions with the CRA for new development, and significant changes were already underway in Boyle Heights. 

We were also fortunate that Paul Spitzzeri from the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum was able to attend our meeting. Paul prepared a very informative presentation and answered questions from the attendees.  The slide presentation showed vintage photos of Andrew Boyle and the Workman family, loaned by Judge Workman from his family's collection, as well as other earlier period photos of Boyle Heights.  

The vineyards that once graced the area of Boyle Heights were replaced with various structures, such as St. Mary's Catholic Church.  It was an enlightening presentation, and many of the photos and much of the information he shared had never been seen by residents. Usually, the history of Boyle Heights and early Los Angeles is shared and discussed at universities and museums.  Paul's knowledge was greatly appreciated.

[Andrew] Boyle Workman, grandson of Boyle Heights namesake Andrew A. Boyle and son of founder William Henry Workman and City Council president during much of the 1920s, with his nephews (left to right), Thomas, Henry, David and Richard, upon the publication of Boyle's book, The City That Grew, published in 1935.
Redevelopment and changes were in the future of Boyle Heights
We shared our concerns with Judge Workman regarding the future of Boyle Heights.  Many new projects were going to be developed in the coming years and older, historic homes were going to be demolished.  He gave us his thoughtful input regarding the significance of historic preservation and historic districts.  

He then directed everyone's attention to the property directly across the street on Boyle Avenue.  This was where the Workman family homestead once stood.  It was the site where Andrew Boyle built his brick house.  The property was later sold to the Jewish Home for the Aging and the Workman home was demolished, and in the 1970s it was sold again and reopened as the Keiro Retirement Home. 

Judge Workman shared his recollections of visiting his Aunt Mary Julia Workman (daughter of William H. Workman) and driving around with her on her errands throughout Boyle Heights. She was the founder of the Brownson Settlement House in 1901 and which is now part of the Catholic Youth Organization of the Catholic Charities of Los Angeles.  She was involved in social services and politics in Boyle Heights and Los Angeles.

As the meeting concluded, I realized that this was no ordinary day in Boyle Heights.  In fact, Judge Workman's presence at the Boyle Heights Historical Society meeting was truly a special moment in time. Listening to him speak and share these wonderful memories helped paint a picture of what Boyle Heights was like many years ago.  He truly made our meeting even more memorable. It was an historic moment for all of us.

It was a great honor to have a descendant from Andrew Boyle and William H. Workman sharing his memories with us, and being seated across the street from the Boyle and Workman family homestead—where the history of Boyle Heights began.

At right, David Workman, a retired United States Marine Corps colonel and longtime Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, with retired Air Force colonel Melvin "Bud" Weber at an organizing committee meeting for the Boyle Heights Historical Society, Neighborhood Music School, 2005.  Photo courtesy of Diana Ybarra.
Revisiting Boyle Heights
After our meeting, I kept in touch with Judge Workman. He had expressed his desire to visit several historical sites in the community.  On several occasions when we drove through Boyle Heights he would point out certain places that he recalled visiting, adding his vignettes with historical insight and new information.

Iglesia Bautista Unida, formerly Hollenbeck Presbyterian Church, built in 1895.
Judge Workman expressed an interest in visiting the Hollenbeck Presbyterian Church (built in 1895) on Chicago Street, the building now serving as Iglesia Bautista Unida.  I arranged for Judge Workman to visit with the current pastor.  Judge Workman's great grandmother, Nancy Hook, was a member of the original church and donated one of the stained glass windows, so he hoped to see the window.  We learned that most of the original windows had been replaced.  However, a portion could still be seen—a small piece of the American flag that had been part of the design.

On another occasion that I fondly remember, I asked Judge Workman if he would be available to drive through Boyle Heights with Jay Platt (formerly with the Los Angeles Conservancy) and me. The purpose was to identify significant sites in Boyle Heights that could become historical landmarks or historic residential districts.

During our tour through the area, we made a stop at La Mascota Bakery on Whittier Boulevard to purchase some tamales.  Judge Workman had mentioned to me that he really enjoyed the tamales from this well-known neighborhood establishment. 

The Boyle Hotel - Landmark Application
The amazing history of the López family of Paredón Blanco and the history of Andrew Boyle and William H. Workman are interconnected. 
In 2006, I was contacted by Catherine López Kurland, a descendant of George Cummings and Sacramenta López de Cummings (her great-grandparents), who had built the Boyle Hotel as the Cummings Hotel and Business Block in 1889. Catherine and I discussed how the Boyle Heights Historical Society could assist and support nominating the Boyle Hotel as an historical cultural monument (HCM).
I reached out to Judge Workman to share our concerns about the historic Boyle Hotel and our efforts to have it nominated as an historic landmark.  I also explained that Catherine was a descendant of the López family of Paredón Blanco and of George Cummings who built the hotel.
Judge Workman was interested in hearing more about the historic Boyle Hotel and mentioned that he might have some documents that Catherine may want to review.   Soon thereafter, Catherine, Judge Workman, his nephew, Paul Workman, and I met for breakfast at Du-par’s in the Original Farmers Market.
It never occurred to me the types of documents Judge Workman would have in his possession nor could I have imagined what he was going to share with us.  It is difficult for me to describe how I felt at that moment when Judge Workman showed several significant documents representing the history of the community of Boyle Heights before it evolved.  To be present and witness these historical documents, and to be at a breakfast meeting with the descendants of the two most significant families of Paredón Blanco and Boyle Heights was something I had never imagined.  Personally, this moment in time was absolutely significant and historical.

SHARED MEMORIES: Catherine López Kurland 
My first meeting with Judge Workman was memorable, pivotal in fact. Just months before, Diana Ybarra, the founding president of the Boyle Heights Historical Society, and I recognized our mutual concern for the future of The Boyle Hotel, which was in imminent danger of being demolished. Saving the historic 1889 structure was beyond our means, but we could work together to obtain an historical designation for posterity and to slow down the wrecker’s ball. This required researching the history of the hotel for the nomination.
I knew that my great-grandfather George Cummings had built the hotel, but I didn’t know that it was on land that had been in the family of my great-grandmother María Francisca del Sacramento López (Sacramenta) since the 1830s. I proceeded to learn about my mother’s ancestors’ connections in the area, but was stumped by not being able to pin down something Sacramenta’s sister Francisca Lopez de Bilderrain had written: the second wife of their grandfather sold the López adobe, farmlands and vineyards at the bottom of the bluff “to a new arrival in town…none other than the affable and jovial Irish gentleman, Mr. Andrew Boyle.” 
Nowhere, however, in any history of Boyle Heights could I find a mention of the seller from whom Boyle had bought the land that became the residential development his son-in-law William H. Workman named in his honor. Thanks to Judge Workman, the missing piece of the puzzle was soon to be revealed at Du-Par’s one morning when Diana arranged for me to meet Judge Workman and his nephew Paul for the first time. 
It was thrilling to meet Judge Workman and hear his riveting stories about the history of Boyle Heights, when, to everyone’s surprise, he quietly pulled from his briefcase the handwritten deed of sale from Petra Varela to Andrew Boyle. Petra Varela was the widow and second wife of Estevan López, to whom the Ayuntamiento of Los Angeles in 1835 gave permission to build a house and granted him the land at the bottom of the bluff where he raised stock and cultivated crops, including wine grapes. (Fortunately, prior to his death, Estevan gave large parcels of the property to his children, including Sacramenta’s father, Francisco “Chico” López.)

From left to right, Paul C. Workman, Catherine López Kurland, Diana Ybarra and David Workman.
The revelation of the deed of sale was one of two instances when Judge Workman shared with me items that were key to our knowledge of the foundations of Boyle Heights and, in the second instance, the Boyle Hotel-Cummings Block, aka Mariachi Hotel. 
Under the sponsorship of the Boyle Heights Historical Society, and with the support of longtime residents, preservationists, and the new owners of the hotel—the East LA Community Community Corporation (ELACC)—the City of Los Angeles designated the Boyle Hotel-Cummings Block as a Historic-Cultural Monument in October 2007. ELACC purchased the property with the intention of saving and restoring the historic, but deteriorating, old structure. 
Unfortunately there were no photographs of the front facade on Boyle Avenue (then López Street). Once again, out of the blue, Judge Workman came up with a treasure: a photograph of the Cummings Block that was probably taken for the grand opening in 1889. I was moved beyond words to see the the distinguished brick building with William H. Workman on the sidewalk and George Cummings on the parapet. The image came to light just in time to submit critical information for the architectural restoration of the building. In December 2012 the Boyle Hotel-Cummings Block reopened, a proud landmark in keeping with its original design—thanks, in part, to Judge Workman.
These were but two of the many times that Judge Workman invited Diana and me to look over his historical documents and images. We three reveled in our shared passion: the multilayered history of Boyle Heights. It was always a pleasure to be in Judge Workman’s company, a gentleman with a dignified and gracious manner, infused with a subtle sense of humor belied by a barely concealed grin and a twinkle in his eye. He never hinted at the wellspring of knowledge beyond what we covered. 
Later, Judge Workman gave me carte blanche to avail myself of material from his family collection for the book I was working on, Hotel Mariachi: Urban Space and Cultural Heritage in Los Angeles (University of New Mexico Press, 2013). His profound knowledge of Los Angeles history and Boyle Heights in particular was only matched by his generosity in sharing it. I am indebted to Judge Workman, and grateful for having had the honor of knowing him.

A detail of the Boyle Hotel-Cummings Block.
The Boyle Hotel-Cummings Block was landmarked, restored and reopened in 2012 as affordable housing and Judge Workman joined Catherine and her family for this special ceremony and celebration.

Judge Workman and Catherine López Kurland at the reopening of the historic Boyle Hotel-Cummings Block in 2012.  Photo by Diana Ybarra.

2011 Exhibit: Images and Essays, Boyle Heights, 1850-1900

In 2011, I was assisting with a special exhibit for the Boyle Heights Historical Society.  I met with Paul Spitzzeri and Judge Workman to review photos from the Workman Family Collection that we could possibly use for the exhibit.  The exhibit was displayed for three months at the William H. Perry Mansion at Heritage Square Museum. The Society also displayed the exhibit at the library of Occidental College.  The Boyle-Workman family history panel shows photos of Andrew Boyle; his brick house and wine cellar; William H. Workman; Maria Boyle Workman; and their children: Boyle, Elizabeth, Mary Julia and William H., Jr.

David Workman and Diana Ybarra in 2019 with a display panel of the Boyle and Workman families from images provided by the Workman Family Collection.  Photo courtesy of Vivian Escalante.
Judge Workman was very helpful and gracious in providing me with the photos, as well as directing me to see the materials in the Workman family collection housed at Loyola Marymount University's Department of Archives and Special Collections in the William H. Hannon Library.
Sharing Historical Documents
In 2019, Gary Temple and Judge Workman, whose ancestors William and David Workman were brothers, shared some historical materials relevant to the early development of Boyle Heights.  We met at the historic Blanchard House.  Rose Acosta Yonai, Chief Financial Officer with the Boyle Heights Historical Society, hosted the afternoon with lunch and her husband John gave a tour of the beautiful home.  Judge Workman commented that he recalled visiting with his aunt many late 1800s houses in the area that were very beautiful.  Sadly, many of the homes of that period were modernized or demolished.
On this lovely afternoon, I also introduced Judge Workman to Vivian Escalante who was Vice-President of the Boyle Heights Historical Society and Chair of the Preservation Committee for the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council.  Ms. Escalante shared with him her commitment to help preserve the history and important structures in Boyle Heights. 
Judge Workman was very happy to share several historical documents with us. The documents are pertinent to the history of Boyle Heights and could serve as supportive documentation for creating historic landmarks or districts in Boyle Heights.  They are visual records of how Boyle Heights came to be.
This was a delightful afternoon we shared with wonderful conversations and refreshments. 

David Workman with Boyle Heights Historical Society members Vivian Escalante (seated left), Rose Acosta-Yonai (seated right) and Diana Ybarra (standing right) and with his cousin Gary Temple at the Blanchard House in Boyle Heights, 2019.
With great appreciation for Judge Workman’s kindness and willingness to help us share the extensive history of Boyle Heights and Los Angeles, we will continue to share, respect and preserve this history for future residents of Boyle Heights and generations to come.
We Salute You Colonel David A. Workman - Semper Fi! 

Monday, September 9, 2019

Sam Haskins (1846-1895): He Answered His Last Alarm, Part Three

This third and final part of Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board Member Rudy Martinez' post on Samuel (Sam) Haskins, the first black member of the Los Angeles Fire Department, takes us to the long-overdue recognition of Haskins, who died in line of duty in an 1895 accident, being the first department member to do so, and was interred at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.

On October 2, 1897, two years after Haskins; death, Los Angeles Fire Department commissioners hired George Bright as a call man and, just four weeks later, promoted him to a hose man, making Bright the first full-time black firefighter for the LAFD.

Bright made lieutenant in 1902 and was assigned to command Chemical Company No. 1, a recently formed company made up of black and Mexican-American firemen, ensuring Bright did not command white firemen. Bright’s hiring, however, ultimately opened the door for more full-time black firefighters in the department, though they were continually segregated to several all black fire companies.

In 1955, following the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision issued the previous year striking down the “separate but equal” doctrine in public schools, the LAFD commission ordered the department to integrate. The transition continued to be fraught with tension and hostility into the next decade as black firemen began working within what were once all-white fire companies.

A number of African-American firemen formed a group called the Stentorians in 1954 to lend guidance and support to black LAFD personnel experiencing acts of racial discrimination and segregation. Despite the racial animus, African-Americans continued to join the LAFD and to serve among white firefighters, and, like all firefighters and other first responders, were prepared and trained to face unexpected and perilous conditions.

The listing of Sam Haskins on the Fallen Firefighters Memorial at the Los Angeles Fire Department Museum in Hollywood.  Photo by Rudy Martinez.
Nevertheless, the department’s resistance during the first half of the twentieth century towards the idea of a racially integrated organization also contributed to long-standing errors to their historical record, beginning with the long-held belief that George Bright was the first hired black member of the LAFD. 

Another example of inaccuracy concerns the death of firefighter Thomas C. Collier on July 8, 1970. Collier was killed during a high-rise fire in downtown Los Angeles when the 85-foot snorkel (a hydraulic extending boom with a basket platform at the top) he was riding in lurched and collapsed onto the street. A highly respected 28-year LAFD veteran, Collier was declared the first African American firefighter in the department’s history to die during an active incident.

Along with George Bright, Arnett Hartsfield and other early black firefighters, Collier’s name is etched in department history as an example of the pioneering efforts and unselfish dedication African-American firefighters have contributed in service to the Los Angeles Fire Department over many years.

At the time of Collier’s death, however, LAFD personnel, including members of the Stentorians, were unaware that Sam Haskins was not only the first African American firefighter hired by the LAFD, but also the first LAFD firefighter killed during an active incident. No one even knew, or remembered, he existed. Moreover, it would remain that way for another 32 years.

The memorial headstone to Haskins at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights. Courtesy of the African-American Firefighter Museum, Los Angeles.
In a November 12, 2002 article, the Los Angeles Times reported that a crime analyst for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department named Joe Walker, was conducting genealogy research at the county registrar-recorder/county clerk’s office in Norwalk when, by chance, he came across the name of Sam Haskins. 

There was enough recorded evidence, including newspaper clippings, to help Walker construct Haskins’ story and tragic death. Walker took his findings to then 92-year-old Hartsfield, who was a 21-year veteran of the LAFD (1940-1961), an attorney (graduating from the USC School of Law in 1955), and a college professor.

As a founding member of the Stentorians, Hartsfield was also a noted authority on the history of African American firefighters in the Los Angeles Fire Department. Never having heard the story of Haskins, Hartsfield was surprised and impressed with what Walker had uncovered concerning the fact that Haskins was indeed the first African American LAFD firefighter and the first department member to lose his life during an active incident. 
Led by the Stentorians, an effort was undertaken to ensure Haskins’ achievements and sacrifice would be properly honored, beginning with a new marble headstone for his grave site at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.

Haskins’ name is also included in the Fallen Firefighters Memorial at the Los Angeles Fire Department Museum in Hollywood. The Maltese cross, the firefighter’s emblem, is etched next to the name of any firefighter who died while responding to or at the scene of an active incident. As the second name on the list, Haskins is the very first firefighter with the emblem etched next to his name.

The reverse of the Haskins memorial tombstone listing the entities that dedicated it in February 2004.
Another memorial is in the form of a permanent exhibit dedicated to Haskins at the African American Firefighter’s Museum.  The museum was established in 1997 and is located at 14th street and Central, a historically black neighborhood in downtown, inside historic Fire Station #30, which was one of  two segregated firehouses in Los Angeles and in use from 1924 – 1955.

Finally, on February 28, 2004, a ceremony was held at Evergreen Cemetery to present a new headstone and monument dedicated to the memory of Haskins,  The effort was a joint project of The Stentorians, The African American Firefighter Museum, the Los Angeles Retired Fire and Police Association, the Los Angeles Firemen's Relief Association, and the Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Society.

For the second time in 109 years, a diverse group of individuals that transcended race and nationalities came together at the Boyle Heights grave site of Sam Haskins to honor the sacrifice and bravery of “a faithful and industrious fireman.” 

Monday, September 2, 2019

Sam Haskins (1846-1895): He Answered His Last Alarm, Part Two

The first part of this post by Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member Rudy Martinez introduced us to Samuel (Sam) Haskins, a native of Virginia who came to Los Angeles in the early 1880s and became involved in the political world of the city's small but active black community.  In June 1892, Haskins became a call man (meaning he was on-call on an as-needed basis) with the Los Angeles Fire Department and was the first black firefighter in the department's history.  Now, we pick up the story of Haskins and thank Rudy for his excellent contribution.

On Tuesday, November 19, 1895, at approximately 6:00 p.m., the alarm sounded at Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) Engine Company No. 2, located at 412 North Main Street [editor's note: this is now a parking lot at the historic Plaza area next to the Pico House, Merced Theater and Masonic Lodge and just north of U.S, 101], where Sam Haskins was assigned as a call-man, meaning he was on-duty as needed.

The account of Haskins' death in the Los Angeles Herald, 20 November 1895.  The accident occurred in front of the Baker Block, formerly the site of Abel Stearns' adobe house, El Palacio, on the east side of Main Street and which is now where U.S. 101 passes through downtown.  This means the engine had only proceeded a short distance south on Main before the incident took place.
Many recent accounts mistakenly have Haskins responding from the Boyle Heights station at First and Chicago Streets, which was where Engine Company #2 relocated from the Plaza. This did not happen, however, until January 1896, shortly after the new Boyle Heights station house was completed at 2127 East First, where the Hollenbeck Station of the Los Angeles Police Department is today.

Responding to the alarm, the station crew immediately took their positions on the horse-drawn carriage and rode south down Main Street.  Haskins took a standing position on a running board at the rear, next to a shovel and a box of coal, which was behind a large and heavy steam pumper that was fixed at the center of the carriage.

Coverage of the tragedy in the Los Angeles Times, 20 November 1895.  The following day, the paper issued a correction, stating that Haskins was not burned by the boiler because it was insulated.
A small coal-fed fire was always kept burning inside the burn box of the steamer’s boiler so that it could achieve enough pressure to operate the pump and draw water from a hydrant to feed the hose line.

LAFD historians surmise that Haskins' position was that of a “stoker,” a task that required strength and coordination. Hanging on to the carriage with one hand while racing down the rough-hewn streets, a stoker’s responsibility was to maintain the fire in the burn box by using his foot to close and reopen the burn box and using his free hand to add shovels of coal.

The Times' account from 21 November of Chief Moore's report to the Los Angeles Fire Department Board of Commissioners about Haskins' passing.  Note the reference to Haskins' five years of association with the department, commission comments, and that funeral expenses, which amounted to $70, were paid out of a LAFD relief fund.
Traveling no further than two blocks from the station, however, the rig might have hit a particular deep rut in the road. At this point, Haskins lost his balance and fell between the boiler and the rear wheel, which led to his body being badly mangled.

According to the Los Angeles Times edition of the next day, the 20th, after the rig came to a quick stop, the wheel had to be removed first.  This took about ten minutes and only then could Haskins be freed, with his terrible injuries clearly visible to the growing crowd of onlookers. He was taken back to the station, where, after a few agonizing minutes, he died.

Reporting on the coroner's inquest from the Times, 22 November 1895.  See the end where it was stated that blacks and whites in large numbers went to pay tribute to Haskins.
Most of the city’s newspapers reported the story about this tragic event that next day. While highlighting the details of the agonizing manner of his death, these accounts described Haskins as the “colored politician” and the “the Herculean colored fireman,” noting that he “had many friends among the white as well as the colored population.”

One newspaper even recalled the time Haskins saved the life of police officer Valencia [see the first part of this post from last week.] Poignantly, LAFD Chief Walter S. Moore simply said, “The deceased was more than five years past connected with the department and was a faithful and industrious fireman.” [note the reference here to Haskins' association with the LAFD going back to at least 1890, though his assignment as a call man was two years after that.]

The brief account of Haskins' funeral in the Herald, 23 November 1895.
Haskins was buried in the segregated area of Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights on November 22. Marching to the cemetery from downtown, the funeral cortege, led by a band, was attended by both the chief and assistant chief of the LAFD, and a detail of thirty full-time firemen.

The Times reported that there were “profuse floral offerings, including a wreath from the Fire Commissioners and a star from the police department, with the services conducted by Rev. John A. B. Wilson, pastor of the First Methodist Church.” With no mention of family members, Haskins was simply described as a “bachelor” or “unmarried.”  His grave site, though, was left unmarked.

Coverage from the Times' edition of 23 November of the funeral ceremony, including a list of pallbearers.  Note the reference to pallbearer George Warner as "formerly a slave in company with the deceased in Virginia."
The third part of this very interesting post on a pioneering figure in the early Los Angeles black community and the Los Angeles Fire Department will conclude next week, so be sure to check back then.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Sam Haskins (1846-1895): He Answered His Last Alarm, Part One

Editor's note:  Rudy Martinez, a Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member and frequent contributor to this blog, provides another fascinating story of the community's history with this post about Sam Haskins, the first black member of the Los Angeles Fire Department.  The three-part post begins with some background on Haskins up to and including his joining the department.

When Sam Haskins, the first African-American firefighter in the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) tragically died in downtown Los Angeles in 1895, local newspapers depicted him as a rather exceptional citizen in his adopted city. Haskins was not only a LAFD pioneer, he was also briefly involved in politics and, occasionally, was unafraid to confront lawlessness as a private citizen.

At Haskins’ funeral, the Los Angeles Herald remarked that “the popularity of Haskins is shown by the large number of people, black and white, and of nearly all nationalities who have visited the morgue to view the remains.” After a large turnout at his funeral, the remains of the unmarried Haskins were buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.

A circa 1860s daguerreotype of Sam (Samuel) Haskins (1846-1895).  Courtesy of the African-American Firefighters Museum, Los Angeles.
The man and his deeds, however, quickly faded from memory, forgotten for over a century. This post examines his life in Los Angeles and the events in 2002 that led to the rediscovery of his unmarked grave in Boyle Heights as well as a newfound recognition of the significant legacy he left.

Haskins was born in Virginia, very likely into slavery, in 1846. However, little about his life has been documented before he arrived in Los Angeles sometime in the early 1880s. In Los Angeles City Directories from 1883 to 1891, Sam (or Samuel) Haskins is listed at several addresses, all near the vicinity of First and Main Streets. His occupations are given as a second cook, tradesman, bootblack, porter, and steward. 

Displaying an interest in electoral politics, Haskins also sought and was appointed the position of sergeant at arms at the Democratic City Convention in Los Angeles in February 1889. On September 12, 1890, the Herald reported “a number of colored Democrats” formed a new club called the Democratic Colored Zouaves (DCZ). “The purpose of the club is to advance Democracy and the colored race,” said Haskins, who was selected as its first lieutenant, but subsequent stories described him as the chairman, president, or captain of the club.

Los Angeles Herald, 12 September 1890.  The term "Zouaves" came from a French army light infantry regiment and was adopted by an Illinois volunteer regiment during the Civil War.
Later that month, a large parade of Democratic delegates marched in downtown Los Angeles gearing up for the state’s gubernatorial election in November. Significantly, the Herald briefly noted, “Capt. Sam Haskins, led the Colored Zouaves, headed by the Eureka colored band. These were the first colored men who have turned out in a Democratic parade in the city.” Though met with some initial enthusiasm, it appears the DCZ didn’t last beyond the gubernatorial election. 

Haskins also distinguished himself with the city’s police department in, at least, two interesting ways. Local newspapers reported that, on April 29, 1891, officer Valencia was bringing in an arrested man named Albert Spencer to the station when they were confronted by Spencer’s friend who demanded his release. When Valencia refused, the man took a shot at the officer but missed. According to the Herald, “before he could use it again, the pistol was seized by Sam Haskins, the colored politician, who sustained a painful injury when the descending hammer of the gun caught the fleshy part of his hand. Together, he and Valencia disarmed the man, then hunted down Spencer, who by that time, had run away.”

On June 7, the Herald reported that, the day before, Haskins calmly convinced a suicidal ex-police officer named Dan Lynch, who was holding a razor to his own neck in front of a saloon, to put it down. Lynch eventually complied and was taken in by police. The following year Haskins again distinguished himself in a significant precedent that would prove to be a milestone for the recently established Los Angeles Fire Department, the city of Los Angeles, and for African Americans. 

An 1893 photo of Los Angeles Fire Department Engine Company #4 at the south end of the Plaza in front of Fire House #1.  Haskins is seated second from left in the wagon.  The large tree at the center may be a Moreton Bay Fig planted by Boyle Heights resident Elijah H. Workman, whose brother William Henry, founded the neighborhood in the mid-1870s.  The fig tree fell recently leaving three others standing at the other points of the compass at the Plaza. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Archive.
On February 1, 1886, with only four staffed and provisioned fire stations, the LAFD officially went into service, largely replacing the volunteer fire companies that had served the city since 1869. Many of the initial members were likely former volunteers; however, all prospective LAFD members had to apply to the Fire Commission for assessment of their qualifications and suitability for the position.

The exact details leading up to Haskins’ selection to the LAFD’s reserve unit is unknown, but on June 1, 1892, Haskins was officially appointed by the Los Angeles Fire Commission as a call-man and assigned to Engine Company No. 4, located at Sixteenth Street, between Grand Avenue and Hope Street. A call-man generally worked a part-time schedule at an assigned station house and probably worked a couple of 24-hour shifts a month, filling in for members who were sick or not scheduled to work. They were also required to attend drill with their assigned outfit twice a month, and in return, call-men were paid a small honorarium.

Even by this early date, being a member of the LAFD was a prestigious position, and, with no shortage of applicants, this said a lot about Haskins. However, because he was black, department historians believe that, even though he was presumably well-liked and trusted to do his best, Haskins' bunk was most likely segregated from the other men within the station house. Additionally, he may not have necessarily taken his meals with the rest of the station crew. 

Haskins' listing in the 1895 Los Angeles City Directory as a call man for LAFD Engine Company #2, which was located at the northeast corner of Main and Arcadia streets next to the row of buildings still standing south of the Plaza including the Pico House hotel, Merced Theatre and Masonic Lodge #42.  The station site is now a parking lot next to those historic structures.
For Los Angeles firemen in the 1890s, just getting to an active fire could be a harrowing experience. When they responded to an alarm, the men took their places aboard a rig that was, essentially, a four-wheeled sprung carriage outfitted with various firefighting apparatuses, usually pulled by a team of at least two Percheron horses, a particularly muscular draft animal.

Most of the city’s unpaved roads were scattered with holes, wheel ruts, and cable car tracks. And fires were such a spectacle that large crowds would jam the streets with horses, buggies, bicycles, and even trolley and cable cars.  By late 1895, nine years after it was established, the LAFD had yet to lose a single member while fighting or responding to an active incident. But in November, the department would mourn the loss of their first fireman under those very circumstances.

Join us next week for the second part of this excellent accounting of the life of Sam Haskins!