Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Old Aliso Road Covered Bridge: An Update

The recent discovery of an article in the 30 January 1873 edition of the Los Angeles Weekly Express changes the story (see the recent post here)  about when the covered bridge across the Los Angeles River from downtown to the east side over Old Aliso Road, now César Chavez Avenue, was built.

Previous statements indicated that the lumber firm of Perry and Woodworth built the structure in 1870, but this article, which goes into some detail, stated matters differently:
It was erected by the Pacific Bridge Company, whose headquarters are in San Francisco and Oakland, and under the immediate supervision of Mr. C. H. Gerrill, the Secretary of the company.  It is a very substantial and extensive structure, and will be one of the most useful and sightly public improvements in the county.  The bridge proper has two spans of 150 feet each, roofed and inclosed [sic] the entire distance.
The Pacific Bridge Company was started in Oakland by William Henry Gorrill, who learned bridge building in his native Ohio and settled in San Francisco in 1869.  There was a boom in bridge-building and Gorrill and brothers, including the C.H. "Gerrill" in the above quote formed the firm and used an 1867 patented design by R. W. Smith for their projects.  The process involved "bridge kits" with elements built at the company factory and then shipped to the site.

After a description of the structural work, including how its chords and trusses were designed to distribute weight and strengthen the bridge, as well as noting the intricacy of the pine flooring, three piers of iron sunk 13 feet into the river bed, and the use of "the most approved concrete" to anchor the piers and absorb the weight of the structure, the article gave the dimensions as 24 feet wide by 475 feet in length and it was sure to note that there were 200 piles in the trestles.

The front page of the 30 January 1873 edition of the Los Angeles Weekly Express with the far right column article being about the completion of the covered bridge that ran across Old Aliso Street, now César Chávez Avenue, and the Los Angeles River between downtown and the emerging east side.  From an original in the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum Collection.  Click on the image to see it enlarged in a new window.
The paper also reported that the Pacific Bridge Company "is building two other bridges in this county—one across the old San Gabriel, at Foster's crossing [this would be in today's Bell Gardens at the Rio Hondo], and the other across the new San Gabriel, about one and a half miles beyond Gallatin [this being in present-day Downey]."  The paper reported that the bridge near Gallatin was nearly completed, while the former was in the early stages with the piers in position.

As to the Old Aliso covered bridge, the article noted that:
The work on the Aliso street bridge will be finished to-day, and it will be ready for use as soon as the city has made the grades required on each side of the river to run the approaches even with the bridge.
The Weekly Express opined that "the Council [Los Angeles' Common Council, now the City Council] should pass an ordinance to regulate the uses of this bridge, and provide for lighting, for as it is closely roofed, it will be as dark as a railroad tunnel, at night . . ."

Finally, the article finished by stating that, "the entire cost of three bridges is $59,000, in seven per cent bonds of the county."

So, it appears the bridge was completed close to three years late than elsewhere stated and that Perry and Woodworth did not build the structure. 

It does make sense, moreover, that the early 1873 opening would have directly facilitated the development of Los Angeles' first subdivisions east of the river, first being East Los Angeles, now Lincoln Heights, in 1873 and then Boyle Heights two years later.

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

Monday, June 30, 2014

The International Institute of Los Angeles Centennial

A century ago, the International Institute of the YWCA opened its doors with a mission to “serve the women and girls coming from Europe and the Orient and to assist the foreign communities in their adjustment to life in this country.” 

The United States was in the midst of one of the largest mass migrations of people in history, with new arrivals from Asia and Europe, principally, streaming to this country for many reasons, including religious and personal freedom, better job opportunities, and general quality of life issues. 

Anytime someone moves to another country there are all manner of challenges, as well as opportunities, especially for minority populations.  The International Institute was intended to make the transition smoother for female immigrants coming to Los Angeles, which was growing rapidly in the first part of the 20th century.

This image is from a 20 December 1915 article in the Los Angeles Times about the move of the International Institute of Los Angeles to the William H. Perry house in Boyle Heights.  The Perry home, now known as the Mount Pleasant House, was moved to Heritage Square Museum in the 1970s.
The Institute opened its doors in downtown Los Angeles, but quickly needed to find a better space in which to conduct its work.  An article in the Los Angeles Times from 20 November 1915 discussed that the organization had two locations: one on Commercial Street closer to downtown, which dealt mainly with Italian immigrants, and another on Utah Street in the Flats area of Boyle Heights, which served Russian migrants, of which a large number were settling in the Flats area over the previous decade or so.

However, these locations were not sufficient to meet the growing needs of the Institute, so a new site was purchased in Boyle Heights.  This was the former home of William H. Perry on Pleasant Street in the Mount Pleasant tract just south of Brooklyn Avenue, now César Chavez Avenue.  The Italianate mansion was designed by noted early Los Angeles architect Ezra F. Kysor (who designed the Pico House and St. Vibiana Cathedral, among others) and completed in 1876 for the lumber dealer.

The article noted that the house had more recently been owned by S. C. Hubbell, a prominent figure in Los Angeles.  Hubbell was born in 1841 in Conewango, New York, near Buffalo and became a lawyer.  After the death of his wife, Hubbell migrated west and practiced briefly in San Bernardino before relocating to Los Angeles.  He remarried and quickly became a busy player in the local scene.  His law practice mainly centered on street railways and, not surprisingly, he became an investor in several. 

With John E. Hollenbeck, another major Boyle Heights figure, Hubbell purchased the city's first streetcar line, the Spring and Sixth Street Railway.  He also was involved with the First Street Railway and the Los Angeles Cable Railway, which operated its line to Boyle Heights. 
Hubbell was a trustee of the University of Southern California, a director of the National Bank of California and for several years owned the San Clemente Wool Company, which supervised sheep ran on a lease held by Hubbell on San Clemente Island, off the coast of Orange and San Diego counties.  He also owned the Hubbell Oil Company, which had several oil wells in the old Los Angeles field, roughly where the 101 and 110 freeways meet.
Another significant project in which Hubbell was involved was his role in creating Westlake Park, now MacArthur Park, which occurred when he was serving on the city's park commission in the first half of the 1890s.

In 1888, Hubbell purchased the Perry house (some information on William H. Perry can be found
here on a post from this blog) and occupied it for over fifteen years.  In 1904, he bought property on the Westmoreland Tract, developed by Wesley Clark and E.P. Bryan and built a home on Arapahoe Street and Tenth Street, now Olympic Boulevard, where he lived until his death in 1922.

Meantime, the International Institute received assistance in renovating the interior of what is now called the Mount Pleasant House before moving its operations there. 

Curiously, the Times article, after referring to the fact that the house was once a "showplace" of the city and that thousands of tourists had "Kodaked" (that is, photographed) the long palm tree-lined drive to the mansion, commented that "with the expansion of Los Angeles, it has become really a center around which there are colonies of many nationalities.  Within easy walking distance, practically every large foreign colony of the city is located." 

It may be the old language of "colony" and the negative-sounding "but" that makes the statement read as if the glory days of the mansion had faded in the midst of a well-heeled upper class exodus and the "colonization" of Boyle Heights by eastern and southern European and Asian immigrants.

The first formal event of the Institute in its new home was to be a Christmas party thrown the following week for some three hundred children, with the next major activity a New Year's Day party.  However, a near-disaster almost befell the Institute and its new home—a topic that will be the covered on the next post here!

Meanwhile, the article continued that the work of the Institute was to provide for its clientele, "the ideal of American life—a friendly place, a place of justice, and a gateway to advantages this country has to offer in the great work of assimilating foreign elements."

Also noted in the piece was  the work of the Institute in providing classes to women in learning English, as well as home-making, sanitation and marketing and the piece included an observation that foreign immigration to the United States had declined by a dramatic 60-75%—this being because of the outbreak the previous year of World War I.

The Institute rented the Perry mansion for almost a decade, until a donation by Adeline Frances Wills allowed the organization to raise the $20,000 needed to buy the home and lot.  That same year, 1924, brought a major immigration act by Congress that established a quota system which significantly restricted migration to the United States.  The work of the organization continued in dealing increasingly with those foreign-born women in the city, rather than newcomers and then the Great Depression brought a new urgency to the work of the Institute during difficult economic times.

Over the decades since, the Institute has continued to provide important services to its clientele amidst changing times and circumstances.  Congratulations to the International Institute of Los Angeles on its 100th birthday!

This post was made possible by research conducted by Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member Rudy Martinez.  Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry