Friday, February 13, 2015

The Early History of Hollenbeck Park

In the early 1890s, Boyle Heights and Los Angeles were experiencing some tough times.  A growth boom, often called the Boom of the Eighties, erupted a few years previously, peaking during the 1887-88 mayoral term of Boyle Heights founder William H. Workman, but it went bust by decade's end.

This detail from a Los Angeles Herald article, dated 14 January 1892, discusses the establishment of the boundaries for the new Hollenbeck Park, on land donated by Boyle Heights founder and former Los Angeles mayor William H. Workman and Elizabeth Hollenbeck, with the park dedicated to the latter's late husband, real estate investor and banker, John Hollenbeck.  The article was obtained from newspapers.com.  Click on any image to see them in enlarged views in a separate window.
Consequently, creative efforts were made to kick-start the community's development and one way to do that seemed to have been to enhance the neighborhood's infrastructure by establishing a city park.  The establishment of a community park was also a reflection of citywide effort to establish these "pleasure grounds" as part of a national "city beautiful" movement that encouraged healthful and attractive oases in urban environments.  Consequently, several parks sprung up in the city during the late 1880s and early 1890s including Westlake Park, Elysian Park, Griffith Park and others.

Workman and Elizabeth Hollenbeck, whose late husband John invested heavily in Los Angeles-area real estate and banking before his 1885 death, agreed to donate fifteen and ten acres, respectively, to the city for a new Boyle Heights park to be dedicated to John Hollenbeck.  The main condition was that the city commit to spending $10,000 over two years for improvements and the council approved the proposal by early 1892.

Some of the details of the new Hollenbeck Park are given in this excerpt of a long article in the 26 March 1894 edition of the Herald.  From newspapers.com.
Some members of the city's park commission, however, were less than enthused by the deal, especially the financial commitment, given that there was an established budget with funds earmarked for existing parks and those that were in development.

It likely didn't help that the economy wasn't particularly strong and would become more strained by the onset of a national depression in 1893.  Still, the council had come to an agreement with Workman and Hollenbeck and decided to make a special appropriation to make up the shortfall.

A circa 1890s stereoscopic photograph of the lake and pedestrian bridge at Hollenbeck Park.  From the collection of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California.
The location of the park was a natural arroyo that existed across Boyle Avenue from Mrs. Hollenbeck's estate and a key component of the creation of the facility was the establishment of a dam and reservoir that served as a lake for the new park.

The effort to plant trees, bushes and shrubs and grass and lay out walkways, benches and other amenities took some time and the park was dedicated in the middle of 1893.  Within a couple of years, a boathouse was established and a franchise awarded for the operation of pleasure boats on the lake.

This short article from the 5 August 1894 issue of the Los Angeles Times discusses problems with the lake and inadequate supplies of water that led to a high concentration of algae and unpleasant odors.  By 1896, the problem, concerning disintegrating pipe joints that led to water leaking, was repaired and the lake much improved.  From the Los Angeles Times Archives Web site.
Yet, there were also occasional problems.  The major issue in the early years of the park was that some of the joints in the pipes laid to run water to the lake failed not long after completion, indicating shoddy work by the original contractor, so that the lake was not properly filled with water.  The city, in 1895-96, had to redo the work at no small expense, but the problem appears to have been solved.

In all, though, Hollenbeck Park proved to be a popular and highly-visited amenity for the growing community and this appears to have been a motivation for its benefactors.  Workman and Mrs. Hollenbeck owned substantial property surrounding the park and, not long after its creation and opening, the two subdivided their holdings into the Workman Park Tract and the Hollenbeck Heights Tract.

Advertisements for the Workman Park Tract began appearing early in 1896 and always promoted the subdivision's proximity to Hollenbeck Park.  In the case of this 15 March 1896 ad from the Herald, a tract map prominently depicting the park was included.  Note the reference to the "new electric cars" of the Los Angeles Traction Company line and the fact that the tract was also called "The Hollenbeck Park Lots."  From newspapers.com.
With the beautiful park as a visible symbol, advertisements for the two subdivisions touted the fact that tracts were adjacent to the park as one of many inducements for investors and residents to buy lots.  It does appear that there was some success in selling property in these two developments, even with the substandard economy.

Over time, development continued to accelerate near the park and elsewhere in Boyle Heights, although development trends in west Los Angeles and the emerging industrial core of the east part of downtown brought about a transformation of Boyle Heights from a middle and upper class residential suburb to a working and middle class enclave.

The 5 March 1905 edition of the Herald has an ad of the Hollenbeck Park Heights Tract, subdivided by Elizabeth Hollenbeck, featuring two views of the park to lure prospective buyers.  From newspapers.com.
Still, this didn't mean that Hollenbeck Park was less utilized or that it didn't remain a focal point of the neighborhood.  In fact, it was easily the most visible aspect of Boyle Heights, with many postcards, including real photo cards, professionally published in the first few decades of the 20th century demonstrating its importance.  Moreover, the growing popularity of the personal camera meant that there was no shortage of amateur photographs of the park that were taken and many of which survive in private and public collections.

Hollenbeck Park approaches its 125th birthday as one of the most notable symbols of the Boyle Heights community.  Its gift to the city by William H. Workman and Elizabeth Hollenbeck may have been equal parts philanthropy and business, but it has served and continue to play a central role in the neighborhood's identity.

A view of the original boathouse, built in the 1890s, at Hollenbeck Park from a 1914 photograph.  From the collection of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California.
Contributed by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Hollenbeck Home Souvenir Manual, circa 1900

Several years after the untimely death of John E. Hollenbeck, an early resident of Boyle Heights, whose business activities and land ownership was significant in the Los Angeles region over the short span of the decade from 1875-1885, his widow, Elizabeth, created a "memorial monument" in the form of what was then called The Hollenbeck Home for the Aged.

The title page of the "Souvenir Manual" of the Hollenbeck Home for the Aged, now Hollenbeck Palms, in Boyle Heights, published by the facility's Board of Managers about 1900.  Click on any image to see it enlarged in a separate window.  From an original pamphlet in the collection of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.
Now known as Hollenbeck Palms, the facility for seniors is approaching its 120th birthday, but, after its third year of operation, the home's Board of Managers issued a "souvenir manual," offering information about the facility and some great photos to boot.

The pamphlet is not dated, but it does make reference to costs during its third year, indicating that it was published in 1899 or 1900 (it was certainly before October 1901 when a founding trustee, Frank Gibson died).  The opening remarks state that the creation of the home was a dream of both Mr. and Mrs. Hollenbeck, but a group of five trustees worked with the widow to put the plan into action.

These included John D. Bicknell [the pamphlet shows "Hon. J.E. Bicknell"], who was an attorney for the Southern Pacific railroad, Henry E. Huntington, and the Los Angeles Railway streetcar firm and made a fortune in real estate at Monrovia, Azusa and other locales; James M. Elliott, president of the First National Bank of Los Angeles and heavily involved in water development in the region; Frank A. Gibson, who had a title search firm that morphed into the giant Title Insurance and Trust Company and was also a long-time cashier at First National Bank; Charles L. Batcheller, an attorney and businessman (who also happens to be buried at Evergreen Cemetery in the Heights); and John S. Chapman, an attorney and real estate developer.

A panoramic view of the 13 1/2 acre property containing the home of John and Elizabeth Hollenbeck (left) and the Hollenbeck Home for the Aged (right) with a portion of Hollenbeck Park in the foreground.
Mrs. Hollenbeck deeded 13 1/2 acres in trust to the board, including the house she and her husband built on settling in Boyle Heights in the 1870s.  At the north end of the property, the large Mission Revival home was constructed at a cost of $60,000, with an additional $10,000 expended for furnishings.  The pamphlet noted that operating costs in the third year (again, 1899 or 1900) amounted to about $10,000.

The purpose statement, as given in the document, was to "offer to worthy aged people, residents of Southern California, who are left without means of support, a comfortable home for their declining years."  The home was intended, moreover, to be "thoroughly Christian, but not sectarian in its character."  On the eleventh anniversary of John Hollenbeck's funeral, the facility opened, this being 6 September 1896.

The number of residents in the opening year totaled 46, including 34 women, with two passing away during the course of the year.  By the third year, the total was 55, with 3/4 of them women.  This is telling, as it may indicate that, either widowed women were often left with little to sustain them or there were unmarried women with no other support.  The average age of residents in that third year was 72, with the eldest person being 90.

Religious services were held, including Thursday evening prayers conducted by the home's superintendent and chaplain, D. W. Hanna, a Methodist minister and educator who founded Ellis College and Los Angeles College in the 1880s and afterward.  Literary evenings, musical performances, and other activities were held, "thus breaking up the monotony of the Home life."  A Home library, staffed by an employee, was also available (though those found defacing books would be suspended from using the library for three months--one wonders how often that happened!)

The reception room and parlor of the Hollenbeck Home.  Note the cool ceiling fixtures reflecting the fairly recent introduction of electricity in the city.
Printed in the publication were the by-laws of the facility, noting that no one who could provide for themselves could live at the Hollenbeck Home.  Nor were persons admitted who were considered "deranged in mind or afflicted with any contagious or infectious disease, or any disease considered to be incurable."  If an applicant had a physical or mental disability that was "found objectionable," this also precluded acceptance.

Residents had to be at least 60 years old and a resident of any of the counties from San Diego to Santa Barbara, including Riverside and San Bernardino for at least three years--interestingly, applications were only accepted on Tuesday afternoons and those approved paid an admission fee of $300 and had to "convey to Mrs. Elizabeth Hollenbeck [or her designees] in trust . . . for the benefit of the Home, all the property, real and personal, belonging to such applicant at the time of admission to the Home."  In return, the resident had board and lodging for life.  They had to provide their own clothing for at least the first year, after which these would be provided.

Another interesting provision was that "members," as they were officially called, were to "render such other service [aside from caring for their own room] as they can for the good of the Home and for the comfort of those who may be less able than themselves."

Also listed were the "House Rules," which outlined the duties of the matron, who to "be kind to all alike without partiality" as part of her general responsibilities for the care of "members."  In return, residents were to treat her "with deference and respect" and "no member will be permitted to interfere or find fault with her or her assistants."  Any complaints were to go to the Board of Managers or their appointed committee.

The beautiful stairway and stained glass windows on the landing of the Hollenbeck Home.
Members were also required to be in attendance "in the dining hall punctually at the appointed meal hours, unless excused by the Matron."  Not only this, but "all are expected to remain seated at the table until the signal is given by the Matron, or her assistant, to arise".  They were also expected to "not talk to, nor interfere with the employes [sic] in any way."  On Tuesdays, when the Home was open to outside visitors, "members will be at home . . . [and] will have the doors of their rooms open on that day, unless excused . . ."  As for visiting among members, "all visiting in each other's rooms should be on invitation—excepting a friendly call on strangers," whatever that meant, with the rationale being that it allowed members to "have full control of their own time."

Rule #6 specified that "intoxicating drinks, opiates or strong stimulants will not be allowed, except by the order of a competent physician."  Another notable prohibition was that "it is desirable that the Family [of members?] should refrain from the discussion of politics, religion or other exciting subjects."  Visitors were not allowed to eat meals or spend the night, unless a physician decided that a member "is so ill as to require constant attention."

A view of the Hollenbeck Home for the Aged and its imposing pillared entrance from Boyle Avenue.
Religious requirements included a scripture reading or recitation of the Lord's Prayer as a group after breakfast and supper, In addition, the Thursday prayer service mentioned above and a "preaching service" on Sundays were required unless excused by the Matron.  And, "social exercises" held on Monday evenings were "expected" so that they would be "as pleasant and profitable as possible."

The by-laws and rules are particularly noteworthy for their attempts to control and mold the behavior of "members."  In return for lifetime room and board, after paying the $300 admission fee, residents were more or less expected to exchange that security for their freedom and the concept seems entire foreign to our way of thinking over a century later, but telling about the end of the Victorian era.

Obviously, the conditions of operating and living in the Hollenbeck Palms facility are markedly different, but the fact that the enterprise is nearing its 120th anniversary is a notable achievement.

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

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Introduction of Electric Light to Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, Part 4

This is the fourth and final installment of this post on the introduction of electric power to Los Angeles and Boyle Heights by Rudy Martinez, Advisory Board member of the Boyle Heights Historical Society.  Research included scouring online newspapers, poring through many articles and books, and diligently searching through public archival records.  Thanks, Rudy, for the expended extensive effort, which resulted in this very interesting post.

Finally, tomorrow night, December 31, marks the anniversary (the 132nd) of the switching-on of the first Boyle Heights electric light!

Through the rest of the 1880s, several more electric light masts would be built in Boyle Heights. The Los Angeles Herald, on July 4, 1887, reported that a newly-erected, 185-foot light mast at the corner of New York (now New Jersey) and Soto streets, was the tallest in the city. 

Though it is difficult to ascertain exactly how many light masts were eventually installed in Boyle Heights, an article (endorsement?) in the Herald on February 16, 1889, in discussing Edward R. Threlkleld's run for reelection for the city council's Ninth Ward, listed among his achievements, the securing of six electric lights (not including the First and Boyle mast) for Boyle Heights during his time in office. The article listed the location of each light mast. 

A Los Angeles Herald article from February 16, 1889, promoting what city council candidate Edward R. Threlkeld, a Boyle Heights resident, "has done for his ward," including six electric lights sprinkled throughout the neighborhood.
However, the Los Angeles Times on May 25, 1889 reported people in the area of Macy Street, near the covered bridge [covered in a previous post on this blog—link here], were complaining that no lights had yet been placed on a recently-erected mast and that “the vicinity is in very bad condition.” It is undetermined if the lights were eventually placed.  

The First and Boyle light mast also distinguished Boyle Heights as being one of the handful of seventeen existing light masts to be located, along with their elevations, in a table that was the result of an on-going geodetic survey conducted by the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey (known today as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and published on August 1, 1885 in the Times.

The August 1, 1885 edition of the Times included a table showing the location of electric light masts in Los Angeles, including the one in Boyle Heights at Aliso and First streets, based on  "the distance the lights can be seen at sea" as part of work conducted by the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey.
Practically speaking, the light masts were never fully successful and had a reputation of unreliability. There were continued complaints that lights often burned out, and the company in charge was slow to replace them. In fact, within a few months, a new problem that was unique to this new technology soon came to light, so to speak – the Herald in June 1884, began to report the large number of dead moths collecting in the globes of the light masts, so numerous at times that lights would go out. 

Also, heading into the turn of the century, many major cities including Los Angeles began to rapidly build skyscrapers that would literally overshadow the light structures, making them impractical for street lighting. Eventually, smaller light posts closer to the street and lamps suspended by several wires above the center of an intersection, both lighted by the superior incandescent light, became the standard.        

Boyle Heights appears to act as a bookend to the brief history of the city's electric light masts. It served as one of the first areas in Los Angeles to have a mast for electric light, but it also had the last mast standing. According to O. W. Holden in the 1931 issue of The Intake, “The last mast to be removed was at Brooklyn and Cornwell Street which was taken out of service on October 27, 1924.”

This image by C.C. Pierce and Abiram E. McConnell from about 1895 shows the new LaGrande Station of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad in the foreground, the First Street bridge with the Los Angeles Cable Railway line on it at the left and, in the distance, Boyle Heights.  Go to the photo below to see a detail showing the electric light mast at 1st and Boyle next to the Cummings Block.  Click on the image to see it enlarged in a separate window.  Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California. 
It's interesting to note that compared to other major cities, the story of the early beginnings of electricity in Los Angeles is so little known. In fact, in his book, The Wizard of Menlo Park, Randall Stross, after describing some of the city's overly optimistic editorials about the need for a light tower, writes that “The towers in Los Angeles were never erected, averting certain disappointment.” 

In San Jose, there is a 115-foot replica of the original moonlight tower at History Park. In San Francisco there is a plaque where the first central electric station was located. The history of Detroit’s once-numerous moonlight towers is well documented, though there are none remaining. However, in 1894, the city of Austin, Texas purchased thirty-one of Detroit's original moonlight towers, and seventeen still stand today as registered historic landmarks (the towers are mentioned in the film, Dazed and Confused when Matthew McConaughey calls out, “Party at the Moontower!”).  Finally, in Cleveland, Brush's name lives on at Brush High School where the team name is the Arcs.

This detail of the above ca. 1895 Pierce and McConnell photo shows the 1st Street bridge crossing the Los Angeles River, the street climbing the Paredon Blanco (white bluff), the Cummings Block, which still stands at the northwest corner of 1st and Boyle Avenue, and, just behind the building, the tall white pole of the electric arc light switched on at the end of 1882.  Click on the photo to see it enlarged in a separate window.  Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California; only a portion of the entire image has been used.
As for the father of Los Angeles’ first electric lights, Charles Howland and his business associates helped establish the Los Angeles Electric Railway in 1886, as well as purchasing a 280-acre tract by Rosedale Cemetery that they named the Electric Railway Homestead Association. More a speculator and salesman than an inventor, Howland never really knew as much as he could have about electric light, or railway technology. 

His last two ventures were victims of the collapse in 1888 of the great land and population boom that erupted in the Los Angeles area a couple of years before. In a brief mention in the Los Angeles Times on August 20, 1894 it was reported that Howland died the previous day at “the soldiers' home”, this being the federal home for Civil War veterans in Sawtelle (now the Veterans Administration complex in Westwood). Harris Newmark, noting Howland's efforts to bring electricity to Los Angeles, wrote that Howland “was a prime mover in this project, but ill fortune attended his efforts and he died a poor man.” 

Until now, little has been known about the history of the eight-story light mast that once stood in the area that is now popularly known as Mariachi Plaza and helped usher Los Angeles, and Boyle Heights, into the new age of electric power.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Introduction of Electric Light to Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, Pt. 3

Introduction:  This is the third of four posts on the coming of electric lighting to Los Angeles and the Boyle Heights neighborhood by Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member Rudy Martinez.  The fourth and final installment will be posted tomorrow.

In October 1882, Charles Howland incorporated the Los Angeles Electric Company and built a small brick power plant on the southeast corner of Alameda and First streets to house the Brush-licensed equipment. Soon after the structure was completed, work quickly began to erect and station the poles and to string the wires along the streets for the seven light masts.

A short article appeared in the November 19, 1882 edition of the Los Angeles Herald regarding the construction at Aliso and First streets of one of the seven arc light masts that were to usher in the electric light age to the city.

A brief description of the construction of the light mast at the Boyle Heights location appeared in the Los Angeles Herald on November 19, 1882:

Boyle Heights was yesterday the scene of the usual curious crowd about the electric light masts where the top-mast was being put in place. Early next week the other masts will be completed and the lights put on. It is expected that in three weeks, at most, the effulgence of the new method illumination will cheer the way...

The Herald reported on Sunday, December 31, 1882, that on the previous evening, after Mayor James R. Toberman toured the power plant, he switched on the lights at 8:20 p.m. and “in almost an instant, the brilliant white light of electricity flashed out over the city.” 

Omar W. Holden, employed for fifty years as a street lighting engineer, wrote a lively account of the evening in 1931 for The Intake magazine, describing the scene:

simultaneously two mast tops burst into brilliance before an admiring crowd of spectators. What a contrast with the dim murky light of the gas posts which for 16 years had served the city streets.

As indicated in this description, Howland was unable to have all seven light masts ready on the same day, due to the delay in equipment arrival; thus, the mayor only switched on the light mast at Main and Commercial streets (where the 101 freeway now runs through) and another on First and Hill Streets.   

The first of the seven electric light masts switched on New Year's Eve 1882 and located on the east side of Main Street just north of Commercial Street (which is at the lower right.)  The photo was taken from the Temple Block (now the site of City Hall) and what was then the triple intersection of  Main, Spring and Temple streets.  In the distance is the Arcadia Block, with the distinctive towers.  Further down Main are the Masonic Lodge, Merced Theatre and Pico House hotel, which still stand at the south edge of the Plaza.  Click on the photo to see it in an enlarged view in a new window.   From the California Historical Society Collection at the University of Southern California's Digital Library.
On the following evening, New Year's Eve of 1882, with much less reportage and ceremony, and only twenty-four hours after electric lights were introduced to Los Angeles, the electric light mast at First Street and Boyle Avenue was switched on. Boyle Heights, only seven years in existence, was now part of the electric age. 

The other four locations, (using present-day street names) were Avenue 22 and North Broadway in Lincoln Heights (the area was then called East Los Angeles), First Street and Central Avenue, Fourth Street and Grand Avenue, and Sixth and Main streets.

It is interesting to note the planning decisions for the initial locations of the light masts. The city's elite no longer considered the Plaza area the heart of the city (which was mostly Mexican and Chinese) and the ascendant Anglo business class had now begun to establish a new bustling civic center south and west of the Plaza, with new modern services following. And a number of the more prosperous citizens were buying homes in the two newly developed and fashionable suburbs close to downtown, Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles (now Lincoln Heights).

Property developers around the First and Boyle area in Boyle Heights were quick to tout the new light mast, featuring it in newspaper advertisements in both the Herald and the Los Angeles Times as early as February of 1883. It would be a fixture in their daily advertisements for several years.


An advertisement in the March 8, 1884 edition of the Los Angeles Herald by Boyle Heights founder William H. Workman promotes the "30 Choice Residence Lots at the head of First Street" as being "near the Electric Light Mast."

The Times reported on September 8, 1888, that 


a good natured rivalry was taking place in Boyle Heights, between the electric mast people and the car-stable interest, each claiming that they were the head center and business section of the Heights. 

Apparently these masts were quite sturdy. The Times observed on July 21, 1888, that a runaway hay wagon pulled by a four-horse team crashed into the Boyle and First street light mast, and the wagon broke in half. 

This 1888 "Map of the Workman Orchard Tract" was drawn by surveyor J. A. Bernal (who was the focus on a post on this blog) and which shows the Boyle Heights electric light mast in the upper left vignette (click on the image to see it in an enlarged view in a separate window.)  This item is reproduced by permission of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
In a map published in 1889 of the William Workman property and vineyards, the “Electric Light” mast is plainly seen and identified on the upper left.  These maps were generally produced to promote a subdivision, neighborhood or city and prominent features, like the light mast, were given attention as part of selling a well-planned and suitably outfitted area for potential buyers of property and structures.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Introduction of Electric Light to Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, Pt. 2

Preface:  This is the second of four posts by Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member Rudy Martinez on the early 1880s introduction of electric street lighting to Los Angeles, including an arc lamp built at First and Boyle in Boyle Heights.  The third and fourth installments will be posted next week.

By early 1882, believing that too many streets were still murky and unsafe, Los Angeles citizens demanded a more comprehensive light system replace the inefficient gas lamps. Also, the city's influential business class was insisting on better illumination for their stores and properties, because of its potential to lure more outside capital investment.  This demonstrated that Los Angeles displayed such big city ambitions as having public lighting, in addition to other public works like a new city hall and courthouse, both completed in the late 1880s.

Indeed the Los Angeles Times would point out in an editorial on May 18, 1882 that “Eastern cities of the same size, and much less importance than Los Angeles, notably, Aurora, Ill., were already lighted with electricity.” As early as January 5, 1882, the Los Angeles Times, in its first year of publication, published an enthusiastic story about the “wonderful tower in San Jose” with the headline  “ELECTRIC LIGHT – Los Angeles Wants and Must Have One.” Four days later, the Times published its first ever photo, this being of the San Jose light tower.


The original handwritten Los Angeles City Council meeting minute book entry specifying the location of the new electric arc light lamps, including the one, highlighted in yellow, specified for Boyle Heights.  Image provided by the Los Angeles City Archives, which has the original minute book.  Click on the image to see it in a separate window in an enlarged view.
In July 1882, the Brush Electric Company, seeing that Los Angeles was “ripe for electric tapping,” sent its San Francisco representative, Col. Charles H. Howland, to sell the city electric lighting. On September 9, Howland successfully obtained a two-
year contract from the city council to provide lighting by December 1st. The Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Daily Herald reported that Howland proposed to introduce electric light to Los Angeles with seven 150-foot tall uniquely-designed “light masts” at $1,000 per mast per annum.

To be placed in the heart of the city and its settled suburbs, each mast would carry three arc lamps with a total of nine thousand candle power each. The contract stipulated the masts were to be lighted every night except on the night of a full moon, the two nights before, and two nights after. Appearing to closely resemble a re-purposed ship's mast, the Los Angeles City Directory 1886-1887 described the structures as “two sections of poles made of spars from Puget Sound, being about twenty inches in diameter at the ground and tapering to six inches at the top.” Furthering the resemblance to a ship's mast, existing photos show a workers platform on the light mast seventy-five feet above the ground.


Ordinance No. 80 at the bottom of the page specified the location of the several electric arc light lamps to be installed in Los Angeles, including number six at the corner of Aliso and First Streets in Boyle Heights.  Image courtesy of the Los Angeles City Archives, which has a copy of the printed ordinances.  Click on the image to see it in an enlarged view in a separate window.
          Approved by the city council on October 26, the project’s ordinance established the seven locations for each mast. One was “on Boyle Heights, at the corner of Aliso and First Streets.” There is also a Boyle Heights connection to the light mast on the corner of Main and Commercial streets in downtown. It was at this location that Andrew Boyle owned Boyle's Shoe Store from the late 1850s to near his death in 1871. And as noted in the store's advertisements that ran in the Los Angeles Star newspaper in 1864, he also took orders on this site for his wine, which he named after the vineyard's location, Paredon Blanco, established by the López family in the Mexican period, which was developed as the suburb of Boyle Heights in 1875 by Boyle's son-in-law, William H. Workman.

          According to the illustrated pamphlet The Beautiful Highlands of Los Angeles,  published in 1899 by the Ninth Ward Improvement Association. Boyle Heights resident and City Council member Burdette Chandler was a strong proponent for his neighborhood as a location for a light mast:


Mr Chandler stood for over a year and a half the sole champion for electric lighting in our city, with the other fourteen members of the Council arrayed against him. When the franchise was granted he inserted a claim for a mast light to be placed on the corner of First Street and Boyle avenue. Walter Moore, the genial fire chief, used to refer to this light as the light of Leon Los Nietos. However, under its rays have grown one of the most flourishing resident portions of our rapidly growing city, and this section will not soon forget its debt to Mr. Chandler.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Introduction of Electric Light to Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, Pt. 1

Introduction:  This is the first of four posts by Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member Rudy Martinez about the origins of electric lighting in Los Angeles, consisting of tall mast lights including one in Boyle Heights.

Since this time of year is a time of holiday celebrations, often involving bright and colorful illumination and higher than usual electric bills, this series of posts will look at the events leading up to the inauguration of electricity to Los Angeles through the erecting of seven 150-foot “light masts” that served as the city's first street lights. One of these was located at First Street and Boyle Ave. in Boyle Heights, and was switched on during the evening of December 31, 1882.

Before there were electric lights, the town of Los Angeles was a very dark place at night.  Although a Mexican-era ordinance required homes with two or more rooms to hang a lighted lantern outside the front door and this carried over into the American era to apply to stores, hotels, and saloons, Los Angeles remained a largely darkened community at night until after 1865.

This circa 1870 photo by William M. Godfrey shows wooden tanks of the Los Angeles City Gas Company on the west side of Main Street across from the Plaza, Pico House, Merced Theater and Masonic Hall.  From an original stereoscopic photograph in the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum Collection..
In that year, the Los Angeles City Gas Company, with future Boyle Heights resident William H. Perry as a director, was awarded a franchise to provide gas for illumination to streetlights and private homes. Perry began operations with a gas works directly across from the Plaza, where the Brunswig Building stands now.  

However, only a few streetlights appeared in following years while wealthier citizens could afford to develop their own interior gas lighting systems.  These included the families of Boyle Heights founder William H. Workman and their neighbors, John and Elizabeth Hollenbeck, according to Workman’s son, Boyle, in his 1930s memoir, The City That Grew.  By the early 1880s, according to Eddy Feldman, in his The Art of Street Lighting in Los Angeles, “in this city of 12,000, there were but 136 gas lamps to guide people through the darkness.”

This circa 1877 photo by Francis Parker shows the intersection of Main Street (left), Spring Street (right) and Temple Street (out of view to the right), anchored by the multi-structure Temple Block.   This site is now Los Angeles City Hall.  Notice, however, at the bottom left one of the gas street lamps installed in the city during the preceding several years.  From an original stereoscopic photograph in the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum Collection.
By the mid-1870s, however, newspapers around the country were carrying stories about a new source of light that promised to be brighter, safer, and cheaper than using gas – electric illumination.  The early focus was on a type of light called arc lamps. 

Illumination was achieved when two closely-spaced electrified carbon rods emitted between them a high-voltage electric current, creating an intensely bright, bluish-white light. For years, early results were mixed; plus, the arc lamps required an energy-hogging generator, a dynamo, as its power source. 

Not until the late 1870s when an inventor from Cleveland, Ohio named Charles Brush unveiled a more efficient arc light and dynamo was this new technology finally seen as practical enough to be developed and sold as an alternative to gas illumination.


Encouraged by windy promises voiced by the cozy allies of newspaper editorial boards and venture capitalists seeking potentially profitable franchises, U.S. cities began to demand this newly-improved, but certainly not trouble-free, light technology as soon, and as affordably, as possible. 

Re-purposing existing gas infrastructures or building entire new grids were seen as too expensive, yet cities were eager to quickly harness the arc lamp's intense brightness in the most cost-efficient means possible, so early adapters would find inspiration from above: moonlight. Several arc lamps could be placed at the top of a metal lattice-type tower, anywhere from 150 to 300 feet tall, from where they cast light on the area below. 

An arc-light "moonlight tower" in the distance at San Jose, California, ca. 1880.  From the California Historical Society Collection at the University of Southern California's Digital Library.
These structures would commonly become known as moonlight towers, the first erected in Brush’s hometown of Cleveland in 1879 and was soon followed by other cities like New York, Detroit and, in California, San Francisco and San Jose. However, in name and design, the Los Angeles model would be uniquely different.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ilya Tolstoy Speech: The International Institute of Los Angeles Centennial, Part Three

On 15 November, the International Institute of Los Angeles is celebrating its centennial and this is the third post commemorating that event by featuring some history related to the early days of the Institute when it was located in the former William H. Perry home, now at Heritage Square Museum.

The headline and first paragraph of a Los Angeles Times article of 23 March 1917 on an upcoming lecture by Count Ilya Tolstoy on the Russian revolution of March 1917 at the International Institute of Los Angeles, then occupying the William H. Perry mansion in Boyle Heights.  From the Times archive Web site.
This entry concerns a notable event in the infancy of the organization: a free lecture given by Count Ilya Tolstoy, son of the famed writer Leo Tolstoy, creator of War and Peace, Anna Karenina and other works, who died in 1910.  The younger Tolstoy embarked in December 1916 on a speaking tour of the United States to discuss his famed father and was in Los Angeles when he made an unscheduled free appearance on the steps of the Perry mansion on 23 March 1917.

It's worth pointing out here that Europe was bogged down in its fourth year of the so-called Great War, later known as World War One, and the United States was only a few months away from entering the battlefield.  Moreover, just a few weeks prior to Tolstoy's lecture, Tsar Nicholas II and his government were toppled by a revolution that led to a provisional government with power-sharing by members of the Duma (Parliament) and Bolshevik socialists that lasted until the October revolution in which the latter seized control of the nation.

Consequently, Ilya Tolstoy's address was on "The Revolution in Russia" and an article in the Los Angeles Times  from the 23rd noted that many of the 7,000 native-born Russians in Los Angeles were expected to attend.  The paper went on to report that "yesterday and today all the Russian students at the institute made a house-to-house canvass of the Russian settlement, telling of the meeting . . ."

The previous decade had, in fact, included an explosion in the numbers of migrants from Russia, especially Molokans, who were dissenters from the Russian Orthodox Church and who were persecuted by the Tsarist government.  In the area of Boyle Heights called "The Flats" between the Los Angeles River and the Paredon Blanco (white bluffs), the Russian community established itself in significant numbers during the 1900s and 1910s.

Interestingly, the Times piece observed that, "the institute has just planted its front yard to potatoes, but the managers stated yesterday they would sacrifice the valuable tubers for the purposes of giving the local Russians opportunity to hear a clear account of the steps being taken to establish a republic in their native land."

Whatever was assumed to be the centerpiece of the presentation soon fell by the wayside as a report following the talk noted that the real eyeopener of the lecture was a controversial remark by the count.

A Los Angeles Times article excerpt from 25 March 1917 about protests over Count Ilya Tolstoy's interpreted remarks concerning Jewish speculators and food riots during the March 1917 revolution in Russia at a lecture for the International Institute of Los Angeles at the William H. Perry mansion, Boyle Heights.  From the archives Web site of the Times.
With a Times headline blaring, "Russian Jews Hoot Tolstoy," the paper reported that Tolstoy remarked, as relayed through an interpreter, that, relative to food riots that had erupted in Russia after the March revolution, "there was absolutely no reason for the food riots in Russia," but that it happened, according to the interpretation, "because the Jew speculators, who were in league with the Russian ministry, had secured control of all other food supplies [excepting, evidently, sugar and some other items which were thrown away to pigs], and were holding them at prices that made it impossible for the people to buy."

Tolstoy went on to claim that the ministry was pro-German and that the food price fixing was established to force a peace in the war with Germany.  The article continued that, "this statement brought a wild storm of hoots and cat calls that for a brief time created a situation that bordered on riot."  The tumult was only quelled when a man went up and, in English, castigated the demonstrators, saying "that they should be the last people in the world to show an intolerant spirit, particularly under the sheltering folds of the flag of America, to which country they had fled to seek an asylum from the awful persecution meted out to their race in Russia."  This was a reference to the fact that there had been ongoing pogroms throughout Russia against Jews, most of whom fled for other parts of Europe and the Americas.

The piece concluded by noting that, "after this speech, which had a decidedly quieting effect on the rebellious spirit of the Jewish part of the assembly, Count Tolstoy resumed his talk.  His remarks from that point on were exceedingly guarded."  The Times went on to claim that, while there some 2,500 Russians present, most of whom could not speak much or any English, the demonstrators were functional in that language and that, "their side remarks [indicated they] were all members of socialistic or anarchistic organizations."  How the paper arrived at that interpretation, however, was not explained and, given the heightened political atmosphere of the era, these statements should be questioned.

Ilya Tolstoy returned to Russia, where in 1915 he started a newspaper called New Russia, after his tour was over, but the Bolshevik revolution forced him to flee and he moved first to Paris and then to the United States, settling in Connecticut.  He continued lecturing and did some writing, including reminiscences of his father, but was also forced to sell Tolstoy family valuables to sustain himself.

In 1926, Tolstoy came to Los Angeles to consult on two silent film renderings of his father's books.  The first was Resurrection, an Edwin Carewe production released in March 1927 by United Artists starred Rod LaRocque and Dolores del Río with Ilya having a small role in the picture.  If it seemed strange that a Latina was playing a Russian, Carewe repeated the casting type for this 1931 talkie version, which featured Lupe Vélez.  Notably, the first filmed version of Resurrection was in 1909 by D. W. Griffith for Biograph Pictures and included Mack Sennett in a minor role.

Count Ilya Tolstoy as "The Old Philsopher" in the 1927 film Resurrection, based on his father Count Leo Tolstoy's book, and released by United Artists and Edwin Carewe.  From the J. Willis Sayre Collection of Theatrical Photographs, University Libraries, University of Washington.
The second movie was an adaptation of Anna Karenina by Edmund Golding for MGM titled Love and starring the red-hot team of John Gilbert and Greta Garbo.  Indeed, the original working title was Heat and had Ricardo Cortez in the starring role (here was an attempt to have a Latino in the prime male role as a Russian!)  The film was released at the end of November 1927.

His short involvement in Hollywood over, Ilya returned to live on the East Coast and died in a New York hospital in 1933.

Thanks to Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member Rudy Martinez for the articles on Tolstoy's talk at the International Institute.

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