Wednesday, May 20, 2020

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


IN REMEMBRANCE OF
THE HONORABLE DAVID A. WORKMAN
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!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

From Boyle Heights to Beijing: Lotus Blossom Blog Post Appears in Chinese Film Journal

Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member and frequent contributor to this blog, Rudy Martinez, put together a fascinating multi-part post a little over two years ago on the 1920s silent film Lotus Blossom, the first Chinese-American movie and which was filmed in Boyle Heights.


After Rudy's post was published, contact was made by Dr. Ramona Curry, an assistant professor of English at the University of Illinois and arrangements were made for Professor Curry to give a talk on the film's star, Lady Tsen-Mai (Josephine Moy) at the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum in the City of Industry, whose director, Paul R. Spitzzeri, edited the blog post and made the contact with Dr. Curry.

That lecture was given a year ago this week and one of the accidental outgrowths of setting the event up is that contact was made with a student at U.C.L.A. whose mother is a film scholar in China.  Though Professor Qin Xiping could not come out for Professor Curry's talk, she did arrange for a translation of Rudy's excellent post in the 5 October 2018 issue of the journal Contemporary Cinema, produced by the China Film Art Research Center of the Communication University of China.


Professor Qin sent copies of the journal to Rudy recently and a couple of scans from the article are shown here. It is really great that this happy accident transpired, so that the story of the first Chinese-American film and its making in Boyle Heights was shared, through the efforts of Professor Qin with readers of the journal across the Pacific.

Friday, March 1, 2019

In Memoriam: Col. Melvin "Bud" Weber, 1925-2019


Buddy was born on December 20, 1925 at White Memorial Hospital in Boyle Heights.  He attended Bridge Street School, Hollenbeck Junior High School and graduated from Roosevelt High School Class of 1944. 

He was a member of the Roosevelt High School Alumni Association where he participated in special events for scholarships and fundraising.  He was honored as a recipient of the Roosevelt High School Hall of Fame Award- Teddy Roosevelt.  This honor meant the world to him.

He was also a member of the Saxons, a club that lasted for several decades.  He was a recipient of the Saxons Pride of Boyle Heights Award. 

One of his most memorable experiences was serving as a project advisor for the Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles.  The project was a large exhibit entitled – Boyle Heights Power of Place.  His love for Boyle Heights inspired the formation of the Boyle Heights Historical Society a year or so later and Buddy worked closely with the Society’s founding board of directors.


His love for Boyle Heights was apparent in all he did and as an advisory board member for the Boyle Heights Historical Society, he wrote and presented a special booklet entitled “I Am An American Citizen of My Birthplace in the Boyle Heights of Los Angeles, CA, USA” wherein he wrote “The Boyle Heights  - An Enduring Legacy of a Way of Life An Historical Treatise and Personal Perspective.” 

He also participated in the Boyle Heights History Day events as a presenter and guest speaker.  He was Grand Marshall in the 2008 Boyle Heights Annual Parade and it was a memory he said he would always treasure.

Buddy was a member of that generation we know as “the Greatest Generation” and served in the Army from 1944-47.  He received his Certificate of Retirement from the U.S. Air Force in December of 1985.

He was a recipient of the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, Legion of Merit Medal, Combat Infantryman’s Badge and numerous other medals.  He also received the Presidential Unit Citation Battle of Okinawa. 


He worked in the education field for several years after his retirement from the Air Force. 

He never stopped doing all that was good for others.  He was a man admired and loved by so many and his friendships lasted a lifetime.  He was a long-time member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Rancho Santa Margarita.  Buddy is survived by his beloved family: His wife, Brenda; his daughter, Tracie; his son, Kevin and his grandchildren and great grandchildren. 

With love and appreciation we say “farewell and thank you” to Buddy Weber with a final salute for a life well lived, a lifetime of service and always giving to others.  

Monday, December 24, 2018

Santa Teresa de Cabora: The Hummingbird's Daughter in Boyle Heights, 1902-1903, Postcript

Editor's Note:  The end to this remarkable tale brought to us by Rudy Martinez, Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member, about Teresa Urrea, known as Santa Teresa de Cabora, is in the form of this brief postcript.  In it, Rudy notes what happened to Santa Teresa in the few years after her leaving Boyle Heights.


Several months after the devastating fire that destroyed her house and consumed most of her worldly possessions, the Ventura County Superior Court finally granted Teresa Urrea Rodriguez her divorce in January 1904. In no rush to leave, she stayed in Ventura for a good part of the year. In late autumn, pregnant with her second child, Teresa returned with John Van Order to Clifton Arizona, now a bustling mining “boomtown.” She gave birth to daughter, Magdalena Van Order, before the end of the year.

Albuquerque Weekly Citizen, 20 January 1906.
Coincidentally, Teresa arrived in Clifton just barely one week after the town’s infamous, “Great Arizona Orphan Abduction.” This incident occurred when nuns from a New York orphanage brought forty Irish children for placement in the homes of various Mexican families in Clifton. Enraged that Mexicans would raise white children (though Mexican labor in the mines was invaluable), Clifton’s white citizens formed an armed vigilante group to “rescue” the children from the homes of Mexican families and insisting only white citizens had the right to raise them. (In New York, it was difficult for the nuns to find homes for the orphaned children because, as Irish, they were regarded as less than white). The legal wrangling that ensued eventually went to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the abductors.  

With money she earned during her healing tour, Teresa built a two-story structure in which she lived on one floor and continued her healing practice on another. By this time, the father of her two children, John Van Order, was rarely a presence in their lives, spending most of his time outside of Clifton. But by mid-1905, Teresa began to grow visibly weaker, eventually confining herself to her home as her health rapidly declined. Her old Clifton friend, Dr. L. A. Burtch confirmed she had tuberculosis, a common disease in mining towns.    

Bisbee [Arizona] Daily Review, 21 January 1906.
Teresa passed away in Clifton, Arizona at the age of thirty-two on January 11, 1906, leaving her two children to be raised by a close family friend since her days at Cabora Ranch. She was buried in the town’s run-down Catholic Cemetery on Shannon Hill next to her father. Several newspapers throughout the southwest reported that it was one of the largest funeral processions ever seen in the area with almost four hundred people in attendance. 

However, just as in most of her life when she moved from country to country, and city to city, so it was in death, a final resting place would elude Teresa. To make way for a new smelter on the site of the cemetery just three years later, the Shannon Copper Company supposedly relocated the remains of all those interred, including Teresa’s, to a new Catholic cemetery a few miles away. No burial records were kept, or grave markers erected, though within a decade, the newer cemetery was essentially “abandoned” as cemetery displacement in mining country is common. With virtually no information, no one is sure where Teresa is buried; whether her unmarked remains lay in a remote and long-forgotten cemetery or if they were, in fact, never moved, but instead excavated and dynamited out of existence. Today, the small town of Clifton is virtually overwhelmed by the massive Morenci open-pit copper mine, the largest copper mine in North America and one of the largest in the world.

La Prensa [San Antonio], 28 February 1937.
Today, a four-story parking structure for White Memorial Hospital and Medical Center now stands at the southwest corner of State Street and Avenida César Chávez (formerly Brooklyn Avenue) where La Santa Teresa de Cabora once lived and "healed" in her simple "bumble bee cottage."  Although it's only speculation, perhaps Teresa had plans to resettle, maybe permanently, in Boyle Heights as soon as she was granted a divorce in Ventura County.  

At the time of the 1903 house fire, newspapers reported her Boyle Heights home was filled with her personal belongings, many of them collected during her "healing tour," and all of them destroyed in the fire.  Today, no personal items belonging to Teresa, or the remains of Teresa herself, appear to have survived.