Friday, December 17, 2010

Boyle Heights and the Mexican-American War

America's first war of imperialism, the Mexican-American War, reached Los Angeles in August 1846 when forces led by Commodore Robert F. Stockton (for whom the Central Valley city is named) quietly entered on the afternoon of the 12th and took possession of the town. Stockton remained in Los Angeles until September 3 when he departed by ship for the north and left a garrison of soldiers behind, led by Captain Archibald Gillespie. Gillespie immediately instituted a series of oppressive regulations, such as that all shops were to be closed by sundown, that no two persons could be seen congregating together in public, and that all liquor sales were to be approved by him. Within days, Californios formed a resistance movement and then besieged Gillespie and his guard at an adobe building known as "Government House" on Main Street, just south of the Plaza.

In the midst of this revolt, some Americans and Europeans, alarmed at the situation, left their homes and ranches and took refuge on September 26 at the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, some thirty miles east of Los Angeles. These men included Benjamin D. Wilson (a future mayor of Los Angeles and state senator and for whom Mount Wilson is named); future sheriff David W. Alexander; co-owner of Rancho La Puente, John Rowland; brothers Isaac and Evan Callahan; Michael White; and a few others. The Chino ranch had been granted in 1841 to Antonio María Lugo, a prominent Californio and owner of the Rancho San Antonio (now Bell Gardens and surrounding areas), but Lugo turned the ranch over to his son-in-law, Pennsylvania native Isaac (Don Julián) Williams. According to Wilson, who came to Los Angeles in 1841 with a party of migrants, travelers and others often known as the Rowland and Workman Expedition, Williams assured the Americans and Europeans who came to his ranch that he had plenty of ammunition. When, however, these men arrived, Williams told them that Californios had just left having seized his weapons and ammunition. Wilson counseled his compatriots that they leave Chino and make their way to other refuges in the mountains or back in Los Angeles. As he expressed it,

the majority of them being new in the county had a very contemptible opinion of the Californians' courage and fighting qualities, and seemed to be of the erroneous opinion that a few shots would suffice to scare away any number of them that should come to attack us . . . I remarked that I hoped that they had not underrated the natives.

That evening, a force of what Wilson believed to be eighty to 100 men surrounded Williams' residence. Included in the contingent were several of Williams' Lugo brothers-in-law. One American, Isaac Callahan, volunteered to venture out and determine the size and strength of the group and was shot and wounded in the arm. After Wilson offered the opinion that a night-time break was a desirable option, he was shouted down.

The next day, the 27th, the Californios wasted no time in setting fire to the roof, which, in the typical fashion on the day, was made of brush coated with asphaltum (or brea, hence the use of Brea Canyon and the La Brea tar pits for this material to keep out the elements.) As the house burned, Cerbúlo Varela, commander of the besieging force, approached and quickly arranged a surrender, organizing a march to Los Angeles. A mile in to the movement west toward town, the group was halted by a disturbance at the rear, where, Wilson stated, there was an effort by some Californios to line up and execute the Americans. Varela quickly placed himself in the middle of the scene and ordered that nothing be done to the prisoners. According to Wilson, Varela's actions "made him worthy of our admiration and respect." In later years, Varela "became very much dissipated and really a vagabond," and, whenever he was arrested for drunkenness and disturbing the peace, Americans would band together to pay his fines and keep him from jail in gratitude for his actions at Chino.

Wilson then went on to state that "we all arrived that evening [September 27] on the Mesa south of town, now known as Boyle Heights, without any further occurrence, except the suffering and groans of my poor wounded men." Indeed, in the few exchanges of gunfire at the siege in Chino, Carlos Ballesteros, whom Wilson described as "among my best friends" was killed while charging the house (this was perhaps why some of the Californios wanted to execute the American and European prisoners.) As to those captured, four men were injured, two badly according to Wilson.

More notably, Wilson continued, "In 'Boyle Heights' we were all placed in a small adobe room." Unfortunately, he did not identify where this structure was. At the time, there were two families who owned what was then known as Paredon Blanco (or White Bluff, because of the bluff overlooking the Los Angeles River), these being the López and Rubio families. At any rate, a priest entered the room and volunteered to take confession, which led some of the prisoners to believe they were to be executed. The father, however, assured them that he was only there to minister to anyone's spiritual needs.

Soon, General José María Flores, commander of the general revolt against the Americans, came to the building and asked Wilson to take a letter to Captain Gillespie and warning the impetuous officer that an attack was imminent and would be devastating to the Americans. Instead, Flores offered to allow Gillespie to surrender, march his forces to San Pedro and take ship away from the area. He also induced Wilson to include in the letter his own assessment of the situation, which Wilson stated was to the advantage of the Californios. Gillespie immediately accepted Flores' terms, surrendered his arms, and marched the next day to San Pedro.

As for the prisoners, continued Wilson, "myself and associated were all marched into town" and held at a building on Main Street. Flores offered to release the men if they agreed to be peaceable and not take up arms against the Californios, but Wilson would not agree to the provision that this condition exist until the war between the United States and Mexico was over. Consequently, the men were held longer and Wilson claimed that Flores and Englishman Henry Dalton, who were brothers-in-law, concocted a plan to send the prisoners to Mexico. As a result, William Workman, co-owner of Rancho La Puente with Rowland, worked with Californios such as Ignacio Palomares, co-owner of Rancho San José, north of Chino in what is now the Pomona area, to attack Flores' headquarters and seized the general. Wilson went on that "Workman rushed into our prison bringing us the glad tidings that Flores was a prisoner, and in irons and his and Dalton's plot broken." Workman's nephew, William Henry, would, almost thirty years later in 1875, subdivide Paredon Blanco which he inherited through his wife from Andrew A. Boyle and create the community of Boyle Heights.

Palomares assumed command of the Californio forces, according to Wilson, and took the prisoners to Mission San Gabriel. An arrangement was made with Flores, who was allowed to resume his generalship, provided that Wilson and his compatriots were to be treated as prisoners of war and kept in the area. They were then taken back to the same structure in Los Angeles, where they'd been held, and kept there "with more kindness and allowed greater liberty. In early November, as Commodore Stockton prepared to recapture Los Angeles, the prisoners were taken to the Rancho Los Cerritos in today's Long Beach and which was owned by prominent merchant Jonathan Temple. Stockton, however, was deceived into thinking that the defending Californio force was much larger than it was as he prepared to land at San Pedro and he sailed to San Diego to get a larger invading force together.

The prisoners were again moved back to their Los Angeles prison and remained there until early January 1847 when Stockton's American force, augmented by a contingent led by General Stephen W. Kearney, marched by land from San Diego to Los Angeles. Andrés Pico, brother of California's recently-departed governor, Pío, and hero of a Californio victory against Kearney near San Diego, informed the prisoners that they were being released because of the impending battle, which took place over two days on January 8th and 9th. Wilson observed the battle of the 8th, which took place on the west bank of the San Gabriel River, now the Rio Hondo, from atop the Puente Hills between what is now Whittier and Hacienda Heights. It has been suggested that, after the Battle of La Mesa, on the 9th, the retreating Californios stopped at Paredon Blanco, while other sources suggest that the defeated soldiers went up the Arroyo Seco through modern Highland Park and into what became Pasadena before dispersing.

On the 10th, the Americans entered Los Angeles and, three days after that, Andrés Pico and John C. Frémont signed a treaty of surrender at Cahuenga Pass that effectively ended the Mexican-American War in California. Boyle Heights had a small, but significant, role in the events of that war in the region.

Benjamin D. Wilson's account, from an 1877 interview, was published by Powell Publishing Company of Los Angeles in 1929 as an appendix in the book Pathfinders by Robert G. Cleland. There is also some coverage of the Chino prisoners in Neal Harlow's California Conquered, published by the University of California Press in 1989.

The above photographs, taken in June 2010, show the site of the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino adobe house, now the site of Boys Republic, a private, non-sectarian school and treatment community for troubled youth in Chino Hills, and the California State Historic Landmark plaque for the the adobe, with the plaque (mentioning the Battle of Chino) located at a fire department training center adjacent to Boys Republic.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Collections Manager, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Workman Family Papers

The Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University, holds the Workman Family Papers, an archival collection of importance to all persons interested in the history of Boyle Heights. William H. Workman was the chief developer of Boyle Heights in the late nineteenth century, and the records of his development figure prominently in the collection. Other Workmans important in the holdings include William H. Workman’s wife, Maria E. (1847-1933); their daughter Mary Julia Workman (1871-1964), a major Roman Catholic social activist in Los Angeles; her sister-in-law, Margaret K. Workman (1902-1987), prominent Democrat and social work leader; and her son, Judge David A. Workman. If you wish to learn more about the Workman Family Papers, consult the on-line guide to the collection:

William H. Hannon Library

Post contributed by William C. Stalls, Manuscripts Curator, Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University

Photo Courtesy of Department of Archives and Special Collections
William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Historic Photos of Boyle Heights: The Robert and Carlota Wirsching House

Still standing at 539 Brittania Street, although stuccoed and significantly altered, the Robert and Carlota Wirsching House is one of the older houses of Boyle Heights that dates to the late 19th-century. Like many houses, the Queen Anne-style structure has an interesting story relating to its original owners.

Carlota Valencia was born on 29 December 1851 on the Rancho Los Feliz in today's Glendale area. Her mother was a member of the Feliz family, which received the rancho as one of the first Spanish land grants back in 1784. In 1870, she was living in Los Angeles with a brother, Ramon, who was a tin smith. A decade later, she was residing on Aliso Street in the home of saloon keeper Norbert Des Autels. Because she was unusually well educated for Latina women of the period, Carlota was a longtime teacher in the town's schools. Until, that is, she met the man who became her husband.

Robert E. Wirsching was from the duchy of Saxe-Meiningen in Germany, where he was born on 15 February 1846. At the age of six, perhaps due to the turmoil of revolutionary politics in Europe, his family migrated to the United States and settled in New Haven, Connecticut. Wirsching's father, Martin, was a painter, a trade that Robert took up in his teens, although he also developed an interest in photography. In 1870, young Wirsching was in nearby Milford, and worked as a painter for carriage maker Samuel Beecher.

Within a few years, however, as Los Angeles was at the peak of its first growth boom, Wirsching relocated to the growing town, arriving in 1875. He went to work for a carriage maker before forming a partnership with Englishman Samuel Rees in business on Los Angeles Street that did blacksmith work and wagon making before branching out into the manufacture of agricultural implements. The company was a great success, particularly as the Los Angeles area underwent an enormous period of growth after the late 1880s.

Rees, in fact, was an early investor in land at Brooklyn Heights and Boyle Heights and built his home at 632 Brittania, just a block or so from Wirsching. Rees served on the Los Angeles City Council in 1891 and 1892 and was instrumental in persuading the council to accept Hollenbeck Park into the developing city parks system.

As for Wirsching, he, too, went into politics and was Rees' predecessor as the councilman for the Ninth Ward during 1889-90. He followed this with terms on the fire (1893-94) and police (1895-96) commissions, before securing election as Supervisor for the second district in the county, serving in this office from 1896 to 1900. He did intend to seek reelection, but a falling-out with the Republican Party leadership led to the withdrawal of his nomination. Later, however, Wirsching was appointed to the Board of Public Utilities, which oversaw what is now the Department of Water and Power. He remained a member of the board until his death in 1921.

Robert and Carlota Wirsching were married in July 1880 and had four children: Rose, Robert, Carl and Ernest. The family lived at their Boyle Heights home until sometime in the 1910s when they relocated to a residence on West 27th Street near Grand Avenue in South Los Angeles. Mrs. Wirsching remained in that home until the 1930s and died at ninety years of age in early 1942.

The photos of the Wirsching house are from the collection of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry. The portrait of Robert Wirsching comes from James M. Guinn's Los Angeles and Its Environs (Los Angeles: Historic Record Company, 1915), Volume II, page 267.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Collections Manager
Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Historic Photos of Boyle Heights: The Joseph M. Workman House

As has been stated previously on this blog, Boyle Heights was developed in the 1870s and afterward with an eye to attracting well-to-do residents of Los Angeles. Boyle Avenue, in particular, had a number of large, well-appointed "Victorian" houses built among it, many of which survive. In some cases, some of the early houses became part of institutions, such as the senior homes for Jewish and Japanese Angelenos, and the older structures once on the properties were razed. This was the case with the Joseph M. Workman House, which once stood at 451 (originally 235) South Boyle.

Joseph Workman was a first cousin of Boyle Heights founder William H. Workman. He was born José Manuel Workman in Taos, New Mexico, about 1832 to British native William Workman and Taos-born Nicolasa Urioste. When Joseph was nine years old, his family hastily left New Mexico for Los Angeles because his father was accused of being in complicity with the Republic of Texas and its aims to annex, by force, significant portions of New Mexico. Using the Old Spanish (which was neither) Trail, the family arrived in Los Angeles at the end of 1841. The following year, the Workmans settled on the Rancho La Puente, in the eastern San Gabriel Valley twenty miles from Los Angeles.

Joseph, however, was sent back to the eastern United States to go to school and, by 1847, resided in Baltimore with his father's sister. A few years later, he was in Boonville, Missouri, staying with his father's brother, David Workman, and his cousins, including William H. When the David Workman family migrated by wagon to California in 1854 to live with William Workman, Joseph traveled with them and was reunited with his family for the first time in well over a decade.

Then in his early twenties, Joseph was sent to the southern San Joaquin Valley to help manage a ranch used by his father and brother-in-law, F. P. F. Temple, when cattle were sent to the gold fields from Los Angeles County. He remained there for some fifteen years and married Josephine M. Belt, a Stockton native. In 1870, he returned to Rancho La Puente and was given 800 acres by his father, on which Joseph raised sheep and farmed. According to an 1889 biographical sketch, "in 1881, desiring better advantages than the country offered for educating their children, Mr. and Mrs. Workman decided to lease their ranch and remove to the city. Buying a large lot, 162 x 300 feet, on Boyle avenue (Boyle Heights), they erected their present fine residence."

The lot was purchased from Joseph's cousin, William H. Workman and his wife Maria Boyle, for $800 and, by January 1882, Joseph hired the architectural firm of Kysor and Morgan to build "a neat two-story residence." Ezra Kysor, the first trained architect to practice in Los Angeles, was well-known for his designs of the Pico House hotel, St. Vibiana's Cathedral, and the Boyle Heights home of William H. Perry, now at the Heritage Square Museum complex in Highland Park. Kysor also designed a remodel of the home of Joseph's father, now at the Homestead Museum in City of Industry. By fall 1882, contractors McAulay and Chisholm were building the home, the external dimensions of which were 36x32, meaning the home was somewhere in the 2,200 square feet range. The cost of the house was $4,000, a considerable sum for the time. The 1889 Illustrated History of Los Angeles County referred to the home as "one of the most picturesque and beautiful homes in this part of the State."

Joseph and his family lived in the structure for about a decade or so. There was a significant real estate boom in the late 1880s, followed by a bust. The national economy went into depression after 1893. Meanwhile, Joseph took out loans with a Los Angeles bank and was unable to repay them. In 1895, foreclosure proceedings were initiated and that year the family left the Boyle Heights house. Joseph lived in several locations in the city before passing away in March 1901 at the home of a daughter in south Los Angeles. He did, however, return to Boyle Heights in that he was interred at Evergreen Cemetery.

Concerning the house, it is not known when it was torn down. The property is now the International Institute of Los Angeles, which was founded by the YWCA and which has been on the site since the 1920s.

Now, if we can only figure out whether that dog on the sidewalk in front of the house actually stayed still for the photograph because it was alive or stuffed!

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Collections Manager
Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Historic Photos of Boyle Heights: The William H. Workman House

Last month's post concerned the 1858 brick home of Andrew Boyle, namesake of Boyle Heights. After Boyle's death in 1871, the house passed on to his daughter, Maria (pronounced Mariah) and her husband, William Henry Workman. Four years later, Workman subdivided much of the Boyle property and created the community of Boyle Heights.

As the Workman family grew to include seven children, a new house was built very close to the older Boyle residence and was completed in 1887. This Queen Anne Victorian was part of the very popular style that was sweeping the United States. The home, as can be seen in the photograph, was a large one with the parlor, formal dining room, substantial second-floor bedrooms and other features typically found in the Queen Anne style house. A unique feature was that the wood frame wing which the Workmans added to the older Boyle House was removed from the latter and reattached to the former! It can be seen at the back of the house on the right.

It turned out that, at the time the house was built, times were very good for Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, and for the Workmans. The completion of a direct transcontinental railroad line to the city in 1885 opened the floodgates of immigration. Tens of thousands of new residents, mainly from the Midwest and the East, poured into the city. Boyle Heights, with its proximity to downtown and views, proved to be a desirable place for the well-to-do to live. Boyle Avenue and other neighborhood streets were soon filled with large "Victorian" homes, some of which are still standing. In the case of the Workman residence, it remained in existence a relatively short time--about forty years or so.

When the Workman family did what many wealthier families did by the 1920s and move to the Westside in newer neighborhoods like Hancock Park or Beverly Hills, their Boyle Heights property was sold to be part of the Jewish Home for the Aging. Unlike the Boyle house which was kept, the Workman home was torn down. Today, the site is part of the Keiro Senior HealthCare retirement facility for Japanese-Americans (a Los Angeles Times article about Boyle Heights and the Keiro facility, with brief mention of Andrew Boyle just appeared on Monday, 22 February—the day this post was drafted!) (See LA Times article here)The address for the Workman home was 357 South Boyle Avenue, at the northwest corner of the intersection of that thoroughfare with Fourth Street. The image below is a lithograph of the "Vineyard, Orange Orchard and Park of W. H. Workman, Boyle Heights" with an inset of the Boyle house that appeared in the History of Los Angeles County California, originally published by Thompson and West in 1880.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Collections Manager
Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Historic Photos of Boyle Heights: The Andrew Boyle House

Long before there was a Boyle Heights, the area was occupied by the Lopez and Rubio families who had adobe houses there. Perhaps someone descended from those families has photographs and the history of those important early settlers and their homes to share on this blog.

Meantime, in 1858, Irish native Andrew Boyle, recently arrived in Los Angeles from San Francisco, purchased land in the "flats" along the east bank of the Los Angeles River and up on the bluffs above. He then constructed a brick residence (see the photo below), in which he lived for the remaining thirteen years of his life. Boyle was a shoe merchant but also manufactured wine from grapevines long established on the land which he sold under the label of Paredon

Boyle's home was remodeled sometime around 1867 (see the drawing below by Harriet Morton Holmes for the 1935 book The City That Grew by Boyle Workman) to accomodate his daughter and her new husband, saddler William Henry Workman. This wood frame addition in the Gothic Revival style was built to the south side (left side of the drawing) of the brick home and was used by the couple until Andrew Boyle died in 1871, leaving the house and land to his daughter and son-in-law. William and Maria Workman occupied the home for another fifteen or so years, but as their family grew, the Boyle house became too small.

To the south, then, about 1885 a Queen Anne-style house was constructed and the Gothic Revival portion of the Boyle house was moved and incorporated into the new home. More about the 1880s home in the next post, but the Boyle house continued to be used by the Workman family over the years. In 1910, William H. Workman, Jr., who was active in real estate and banking, dramatically remodeled the old Boyle house (see below), including the addition of a second floor and exterior renovations that turned the structure into an Italianate villa.

By the 1920s, however, William H. Workman, Sr. had died and his children and widow moved to the west side of Los Angeles. The Boyle house was sold to the Jewish Home for the Aging, which owned this portion of the Boyle/Workman estate until 1974. Five acres, including the Boyle house, were then sold to the Keiro Senior HealthCare organization, which has now served the Japanese-American community on the site for over thirty years.
Due, it was reported, to earthquake damage from the 1994 Northridge shaker, the Boyle House, long used as office space, was razed shortly afterward. The care facility, however, bears the same address the house once had: 325 South Boyle Avenue.
Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Collections Manager
Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum