Thursday, December 20, 2012

An Interesting Boyle Heights Letter from 1891

One of the other early notable players in the early development of Boyle Heights was John Edward Hollenbeck, of whom and his wife Elizabeth, there will be a separate post here soon.  The Hollenbecks were successful business people in Nicaragua for some twenty years before moving to Los Angeles in 1876, just as Boyle Heights was being launched by William H. Workman, John Lazzarovich, and Isaias W. Hellman.  Seeing opportunity in the new tract, Hollenbeck became an investor and developer and was a partner of Workman in subdividing property in the community.  Hollenbeck also had property in downtown Los Angeles, on which he built, at the southwest corner of Second Street and Broadway, the Hollenbeck Hotel block, and owned a few thousand acres of Rancho La Puente in the eastern San Gabriel Valley, as well.  But, he died in 1885 after less than a decade in the area, though his widow continued to manage his investments, established (with William H. Workman) Hollenbeck Park in her husband's memory, and resided in the large estate the couple built at 573 S. Boyle Avenue in Boyle Heights.

The first page of a six-page letter from George W. Simonton, business manager for Elizabeth Hollenbeck, to his sister, Dorcas Simonton Cleveland, on Hollenbeck Hotel stationery, but written from the Hollenbeck residence in Boyle Heights, 2 August 1891.  Courtesy, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.

Recently, a fascinating six-page letter and envelope on Hollenbeck Hotel stationery and a hand-drawn map of downtown Los Angeles was acquired by the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum in City of Industry.  Dated 2 August 1891, the correspondence was from George W. Simonton to Mrs. D. B. Cleveland of Camden, Maine.  The missive is mostly concerned with an encouragement from Simoton to his sister, Dorcas, to come out to Los Angeles to stay during the ensuing winter of 1891-92.  For many years, it was common for people from the colder Midwest and East regions of the United States to "winter" in the Los Angeles area and, while this is more famously connected with the wealthy who spent their winters in Pasadena, Santa Monica, Redondo Beach and other tony areas, there were middle-class folks who did the same under less lavish conditions.

What leapt out from the letter, however, was a statement at the bottom of the first page, when Simonton, starting his push for his sister to come out, wrote, "Of course you could visit us at Mrs. Hollenbeck's a part of the time . . ."  This invited a little research to determine what Simonton's connection was to Elizabeth Hollenbeck, because with the document on hotel letterhead, it first appeared to be from a visitor to town.

The last page of the letter discussing Simonton's rejected offer of resignation to Mrs. Hollenbeck and showing her address at 573 Boyle Avenue.

After some poking around, however, the story emerged.  George Simonton was from Camden, Maine, a seaside town in the center part of that picturesque state about 100 miles north of Portland.  Married and with several small children, he made the long migration all the way across the country to Gold Rush-era California in the latter 1850s and took up residence in Vallejo, northeast of San Francisco.  There, Simonton became a noted educator, teaching and then administering the public schools in that city, as well as being a prime mover in the establishment of the local orphanage.

By the mid-1880s, however, Simonton, who was about 60, made his way down to Los Angeles, just prior to the massive land and population boom commonly called the "Boom of the Eighties."  Not long after his relocation, he became the business manager for the newly-widowed Elizabeth Hollenbeck and her substantial estate. 

The envelope with the Hollenbeck Hotel name and names of proprietors, Cowly, Baker and Co.

As expressed in the 1934 book, A History of Hollenbeck Home by William Stewart Young, a Hollenbeck confidante, John Hollenbeck's death created a situation in which, "many demands were such as required a man to look after [her interests], [so] Mrs. Hollenbeck employed a business manager with whom to consult and to carry out her directions."  An initial attempt at working with someone proved to be a failure, so, "she changed to the plan of bringing an experienced man and his wife into the home to take the responsibility of the business and a portion of the household cares . . .  Mr. George W. Simonton now becaeme the business manager and with his wife resided in the home."  The wife in question was Simonton's third wife (he was twice widowed), Jane Leiter.

Simonton, however, wrote his sister in August 1891, that, "this spring, I offered my resignation to Mrs. H. and hoped to be housekeeping this winter with nothing to do but visit with you . . . but Mrs. H. did not accept and hoped I would not insist, that I knew all about her business, and she liked my wife so much, hoped I would stay, that she couldn't bear the idea of making a change, &c, so we are still here and likely to remain."

The reason for his desiring to leave was likely retirement, as Simonton was 67 years old and the demands of managing a large estate for several years probably took its toll.  As it was, he continued on for almost five more years until Elizabeth Hollenbeck made a significant change to her estate by creating what was then called the "Hollenbeck Home for the Aged," a retirement facility on the grounds of her property that opened in the summer of 1896.

Simonton's hand-drawn map of downtown Los Angeles from First to just beyond Sixth and from Los Angeles to Hill streets and notations of churches, theaters, business buildings, the city hall, and other notable features.  Click on this or the other images to see them in a larger view in a separate window.

Stewart wrote that, "the business part of the enterprise having been carefully handled by Mr. Simonton, after ten years of service he resigned and built himself a home nearby, into which he and his wife moved."  Although then in his early seventies, Simonton did not exactly ease into a total retirement.  As noted by Young, "Mr. Simonton was elected to membership in the city school board and served with fidelity and genuine interest for a number of years."  Young further noted that "in the earlier days of his life he had been a teacher and his love for the cause of education never waned."

With respect to Simonton and his longtime employer, Young noted that, "the close relationship of the years had begotten a friendship that was mutually prized," a sentiment certainly found in the letter.

The document also has a very detailed description of a part of Los Angeles in which Simonton did some research for his sister about a suitable boarding house (that was "not nice but comfortable") on the west side of Broadway between Second and Third streets and which would run between $30 and 45 a month for room and board.  He also spent some time letting her know the amenities of the area, to calm presumably any qualms she might have had about living in a big city that was a far cry from little Camden, Maine.

In his description he noted the new city hall across the street from Mrs. Locke's boarding house, which was "a magnificent stone and brick structure, in which are all the city offices, the public library, &c."   He also described the vicinity as having a bath house, the Jewish synagogue, several Christian churches, the YMCA, elegant houses (including that of Mrs. Hollenbeck's lawyer, John D. Bicknell), business blocks, the Post Office, and, of course, the Hollenbeck Hotel building.

Also of note was his reference to the fact that the boarding house he recommended was "along side the cable road, on which you can go to every part of the city, and to any part for five cents."  Moreover, he continued, "this road coems to Boyle Heights, near to Mrs. Hollenbeck's," which would obviously prove convenient for visits.

In all, this letter and map are full of interesting information about 1891 Los Angeles and Boyle Heights and a little more to the story of the community in which Elizabeth Hollenbeck, whose endowed institution is now called "Hollenbeck Palms," played a notable role.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Early Spanish-Language Theater Programs from Boyle Heights, 1929

Though there is a great deal of printed and digital information about downtown Los Angeles theaters, the vast majority cover those centered in the theater district on Broadway and nearby streets and concern those that featured English-language films and live entertainment.  Material on theaters that catered to Spanish-speaking audiences is much harder to come by.

A broadside advertising the January 9, 1929 program for entertainment at the Teatro Principal at 423 N. Main St., Los Angeles and which was printed by Jalisco Press in Boyle Heights.  Click on the images to see them in separate windows and in a larger format.  Courtesy of Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.

Here, however, are two programs from the Teatro Principal (Main Theater), which was at 423 North Main Street, just southwest of the historic Plaza, where the Pico House hotel, Merced Theater, and Masonic Lodge structures stand nearby and the proprietor of which was Dionisio Acosta, while the artistic director was Hilario Altamirano and the concert master was José de Léon Paniagua.

The broadsides, though, were printed by the Jalisco Press, located at 1605 Brooklyn Avenue, now César E. Chávez Avenue, in Boyle Heights.  The location is on the north side of Chavez, just slightly east of Echeandia and there is a one-story brick structure with two storefronts with the street numbers 1601 and 1605 that could well be the same building that housed the press over eighty years ago.

These January 9 and 10, 1929 flyers are filled with information about the entertainment offered at the theater, with the live performances in the vaudeville format embracing comedy, music and variety show elements.  For example, on the 9th, there was the variety performance of El Cabaret del Amor (Love Cabaret) and the comedy Agencia Matrimonial (The Wedding Agency), while the following day was offered ther comedia de risa loca (comedy of crazy laughter) called La Casa de Baños (House of Bathrooms).  Among the performers of note on both days was baritone singer Gilberto Soria, who was given an especially prominent credit on the flyer for the 10th. 

Soria may have been more prominent than his fellow entertainers as he did record some sides for Victor Records just a few months after.  On March 30 and April 11, he did solo and duet performances with an instrumental quartet (two violins, a cello, and piano) recording what were marketed as "Spanish" songs.  The first, "Escúchame Siquiera," was written by José de Léon Paniagua, the Teatro Principal concert master.

The January 10, 1929 program for Teatro Principal.
As for Paniagua, he had two of his compositions recorded by Victor in 1924 and then eleven more in 1929.  Meantime, Soria and another featured vocalist on the January 9 program, Josefina Rivas, did record together in Los Angeles for Columbia Records in September 1927 on a song called Mañana Triste credited to the duo of Elena Ramirez y David Valles.

Other listed performers included the singing ensembles Cancioneros Tapatios and Cancioneros Yucatecos, and individual entertainers Rafael Trova (a tenor who recorded for Columbia), Natalia Rubio, Pedro Valdez, Eloisa Valdealde (an actress by that name did perform in a 1937 Mexican film, The Obligation to Assassinate!), Hilda Espinosa, Consuelo Melendez (who may have done voice over as a singer in a 1934 Warner Brothers production called La Buenaventura as well as a low-budget 1940 movie called Mad World in which a Consuelo Melendez was an opera singer associated with La Golondrina Cafe, the famed Olvera Street eatery and which was the last movie of former silent film ingenue Betty Compson), and Hugo Ivanoff (one wonders if he was part-Latino, part-Russian!) and these joined Rivas and Soria in the presentation of El Cabaret del Amor.  And, there were the debuts of Carlos Altamirano and Delfina Rivas, perhaps related to the artistic director and performers listed above.

Finally, there were several references to the mimados del público (darlings of the public) Don y Doña Chema, a comedic duo who provided risa disbordante (boundless laughter) and mucha alegria (much happiness or joy.)  The theater was sure to remind its patrons: No Olvide que el Teatro Principal es el Preferido (Don't Forget that the Main Theater is the Favorite.)  Notably, there were no admission prices for the flyer of the 9th, but for the 10th, tickets were 15 and 35 cents.  Finally, there was one advertisement on the latter broadside, this for the Salazar Pharmacy, located next door to the theatre, one building to the north, and operated by Dr. Hidalgo y Terán.

These flyers are rare examples of broadsides for Spanish-language theaters in Los Angeles and the fact that they were printed by a Boyle Heights print shop makes them an interesting footnote to the history of the community.  These objects are courtesy of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum.

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

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Boyle Heights and Its "Pioneer Aristocrats"

As noted in the last post, there was a brief time in the 1920s, when, at least to some people, Boyle Heights was actually known as "Hollenbeck Heights."  In September 1926, a lengthy article appeared in the Los Angeles Times called "Hollenbeck Heights Once Was Home of Pioneer Aristocrats."  Though romantic essays like this were usually penned by Anglo reporters or guest writers, the piece was written by a descendant of one of the Californio families that occupied the area well before the founding of the Boyle Heights neighborhood.

The author was Isabel Claire Lopez (1902-1985), who had an interesting Los Angeles background on both sides of her family tree.  Her father was William Henry Thomas Lopez (1869-1908), whose forebears were father Jose Antonio Lopez (1822-1873), grandfather Esteban Lopez (1790-1852), great-grandfather Claudio Lopez (ca. 1767-1833) and great-great grandfather Ignacio Lopez (1728-1781).  In 1826 when Claudio was alcalde (roughly, mayor) of the small pueblo of Los Angeles, his son Esteban happened to sit on the ayuntamiento or town council.  About a decade later, in September 1835, Esteban was able to acquire land on the east side of the Los Angeles River that became known as Paredon Blanco (White Bluffs.) 

On her mother's side, she was the granddaughter of James Alonzo Waite, who came to California from Maine in the 1850s and worked as a printer for his uncle, James S. Waite, proprietor of the Los Angeles Star from 1854 to 1856.  Known as Alonzo, Isabel's grandfather then founded the Union-supporting Los Angeles News, which operated from 1860 to 1865; the Los Angeles Daily News, the first daily paper in town, from 1869-1872; the Downey Courier from 1875-1881; and finally operated the Santa Ana Herald from 1881 until his death in 1889.  The newspaper business was in the family's blood (or genes), evidently, as Isabel's mother and Alonzo's daughter, Olive, became a society pages editor and reporter for newspapers for decades, including after her husband, William Lopez, died at a young age.  She was also city treasurer in Santa Ana from 1915 to 1927 before moving with Isabel to Beverly Hills where another daughter lived.

Consequently, Isabel took to the business, as well.  Born in Santa Ana, Isabel was listed in the 1920 census as a school newspaper reporter, though for what school wasn't stated, perhaps the city high school.  It seems probable that the "Hollenbeck Heights" article was a freelance piece.

This drawing is of the Andrew Boyle residence, which was on the property obtained by him in 1858 from Petra Varelas, widow of Esteban Lopez, grantee of the Paredon Blanco tract in 1826.  Portions of this home survived until after the 1994 Northridge earthquake and were torn down.  The site is now a Japanese-American senior housing facility.  Courtesy of David Workman from the Workman Family Collection.
In any case, it contains the flowery language and romantic sentiments often found in the era.  For example, in referring to the name Paredon Blanco, Lopez wrote, "the soft accent which the Spaniard gave it and the significance of it seemed to breathe the exotic grandeur of the heights, which were then covered with tiny white pebbles, glistening in the California sunlight."  The author also offered that the community was "formerly the palce of residence of the aristocrats of the city," though that assertion might be countered by the fact that many of adobe "town houses" of the ranchero elite who dominated Spanish and Mexican-era Los Angeles were clustered around the Plaza that was the center of the pueblo.

Lopez continued that with "Hollenbeck Heights" consisting of "colonies of people of all nationalities," it was to be noted that "no longer do the spreading vineyards of those colorful days lie at its white feet.  Gone are the orchards, its waving fields of grain, the shops of the thrifty shoemaker, goldsmith and the pliers of other trades who sang lilting Spanish melodies as they worked."

This might sound too romantic and fictional, though Lopez claimed that the information for the article came from Francisca Lopez de Bilderrain, who was a first cousin to Isabel's father.  Yet, it was related that Claudio Lopez was the "son of noble Spanish parents," and though noble might mean well-mannered and respected, the connection to Spain was certainly several generations back in the family tree.

In any case, Francisca related that Esteban gave some of his Paredon Blanco land to his children and reserved property between what is now Second and Fourth streets for himself and that his adobe house was "on the bluff about thirty feet south of the present site of Second street."  Although Esteban would have been an "aristocrat" as defined earlier in the piece, it was noted that, regarding the house, "although modest in structure, it was comfortable."

Among the children he provided with land was Geronimo who was given "a piece of land south of where Seventh street runs at present" and "there another attractive home was erected."  Geronimo later moved to the area surrounding San Fernando Mission, where Claudio Lopez was once mayordomo or foreman, and established a house and stage stop called Lopez Station and then occupied an adobe house in what is now the City of San Fernando, the Case Lopez Adobe, that is to be reopened, after several years of closure, to the public by early 2013.

Two daughters, Manuela Lopez de Ruiz and Josefa Lopez de Carrión (who later lived in what is now San Dimas, where the Carrion Adobe is still privately held, on the Rancho San Jose, owned by another Lopez daughter and her husband, Ygnacio Palomares), with the former being immediately north of Geronimo and the latter having her house where John and Elizabeth Hollenbeck later established their estate and which is the location of the Hollenbeck Palms senior residential facility.

Then, in 1837, a son, Francisco (Chico) Lopez, who was Francisca Lopez de Bilderrain's father, was given land adjacent to that of Esteban as a wedding gift.  Within several years, in addition to an adobe residence, Francisco had a successful vineyard and the article noted that he sold grapes to the budding Gold Rush city of San Francisco in 1849 and also sold to local buyers like Mathew Keller, a prominent winemaker of the era.  Keller also resided at the base of the bluffs in what is called the "Flats".  Francisco's holdings also included "granaries, workingmen's quarters, [a] toolroom and silversmith shop where two men made silver and gold filigree jewelry.

Francisca's recollections were that, in 1855, her father added twenty-five acres of fruit orchards, sugar cane fields and vineyards to the north near Aliso Street and in the Flats.  Two years later, a new adobe house was constructed and she reflected that "as it stood fronting the grandeurs of the west and its sublime sunsets, it was indeed a land made ready by God for human hands to embellish!" 

The twenty-five acres just mentioned was soon given to another of Don Francisco's daughters, Juanita Lopez de Warren, who married William C. Warren, a Los Angeles city marshal who was killed in an 1870 daylight shootout on a busy street with one of his deputies, and who was the grandmother of longtime Los Angeles County Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz.

Francisca elaborated for her cousin on the types of fruit raised in the orchard, including "peaches, rosy-cheeked pears, oranges, lemons, sweet limes, citrons, walnuts, pomegranates, almonds, applies, mulberry trees, plums" and what were referred to as "Mission figs."  A nearby garden was "profuse with gorgeous white and pink moss roses, lilacs, snowballs and hollyhocks, verbenas, marigolds, violets and daisies.  Also of note were wooden bath houses, lined with tin, which took water from the zanja or water ditch diverting from the Los Angeles River by flood-gates, and from which emptied water was directed into pools for swimming.

There was also a simple sugar mill, using a horse moving round in a circle while hitched to a pole and thereby crushing the cane, with the juice running into a wooden trough.  After cooking in kettles, the sugar was dried on wood planks before being taken for export.

However, Esteban Lopez died in 1852 and, about six years later, his widow, Petra Varelas, put up part of the Lopez property for sale.  By mentioning both that she had remarried and that the land had been granted by the town council to her husband, Francisca and Isabel Lopez seemed to imply their displeasure with her decision.  In 1858, however, the local economy was in a doldrums, affected by the end of the Gold Rush, the oversupply of cattle and a national depression that erupted the prior year.  A sale might well have been out of financial desperation.

Francisca did, however, refer to the buyer as "the affable and jovial Irishman, Andrew Boyle, who saw the land and took a fancy to it."  Moving into the Lopez adobe, Boyle began the manufacture of wine in 1862 under the label of Paredon Blanco.  The article then concluded with the reminiscences conveyed to Isabel Lopez by Boyle's daughter, Maria (pronounced Mariah), whose husband, William Henry Workman founded Boyle Heights in 1875, but much of that story has already been related elsewhere, while the story of the Lopez family has been underrepresented in the historical literature.

Meanwhile, Isabel Lopez went on to write a small book with Pasadena artist Eva Fenyes (whose residence is now the Pasadena Museum of History) called Thirty-Two Adobes of Early California, published by the Southwest Museum in 1950.  Isabel married Alphonse Fages of Pomona and resided in the Casa Alvarado, an 1841 adobe situated within a stone's throw of the original adobe of Concepcion Lopez de Palomares' Rancho San Jose home, which the couple bought in 1951.

As for "Hollenbeck Heights," its use as the replacement for Boyle Heights was entrenched enough for it to be used in this article, but within a short while, the latter term reemerged as the neighborhood name and has remained so since, though occasional calls for a new name have come along.

In any case, romantic and embellished as this article may be, it is a rare, detailed source of information about one of the first families to live in the Boyle Heights area.

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

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Boyle Heights and Hollenbeck Heights Controversy!

A recent question about when the name "Hollenbeck" was applied to the Los Angeles Police Department station in Boyle Heights led to an interesting aspect of the history of the neighborhood. 

First, a police station was contemplated for the community as far back as the mid-1890s, though it was a few years before one was opened.  It appears that it was called the "Boyle Heights Station" well into the 1920s.  The name "Hollenbeck," which was the name of an early investor and resident, John E. Hollenbeck, came in as part of a larger, controversial proposal: changing the name of the community.

This idea of changing the name of Boyle Heights is not limited to the 1920s.  For example, there have been calls to rename the neighborhood because of the name "Boyle," which reminds people of "boils"!  Others have argued that namesake Andrew Boyle lived so long ago (he died in 1871) that no one knows who he is and, that being the case, why not come up with a name of someone more familiar to modern Angelenos.

Whatever the merits of those and other arguments are, there was a serious movement to rename the community by 1922.  Late that year, an article appeared in the Los Angeles Times provocatively headlined "Boyle Heights in Arms" with the subheading of "Proposal to Change Name of Historic Section Rouses Protest From District's Citizens."

The article was put out in advance of a meeting to be held at the Boyle Heights Public Library the following evening under the auspices of the Boyle Heights Improvement Association (which likely had a strong interest in promoting business and commerce in the neighborhood), a committee of which, consisting of W. J. Miller, Dr. D. D. Edwards, and D. S. Valentine, considered alternative names, including "Roosevelt Heights," presumably in honor of the late president Theodore Roosevelt, who had died in 1919, and "Hollenbeck Heights," and perhaps others.  When the committee went public at a recent Improvement Association meeting with their suggestion of "Hollenbeck Heights," this was reported in the Times with caveat that "it is possible another name will be chosen in case the association with the approval of the citizens decides to take steps to have the name changed."

This is a page from a Baist's Real Estate Atlas dating to about the 1910s and shows a section of Boyle Heights a few years before a controversy erupted concerning a name change proposed by the Boyle Heights Improvement Association.  The area covered is roughly from 4th Street on the north to Whittier Boulevard (then called Stephenson) on the south and from Soto Street west to about Camulos on the east.  Click on the image to see it in an enlarged view in a separate window. Courtesy of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.

As noted by the paper, members of the Native Sons of the Golden West, the Pioneer Society, and other like-minded organizations, planned to attend the confab at the library because they were "up in arms against the change in the name of this historic section of Los Angeles."  That is, if 45 years was historic enough, though the paper reported that proponents of keeping the name "Boyle Heights" for the "prominent citizens of Boyle Heights are vigorously protesting against the proposed change, pointing to the fact that" the existing name "has served well enough for the last sixty-five years."  Actually, the term "well enough" hardly seemed like an enthusiastic defense (and reminds of a campaign button issued for mayoral candidate Arthur C. Harper in the 1904 municipal elections and which read "He's Good Enough For Us."  Not only did the slogan lack zing, but Harper proved to be hardly good at all, being recalled a few years after his election!)

The defense, as outlined in the article, was based on the fact that Boyle was "the first American settler in the district" rather than, apparently, for any accomplishments or virtues he may have had.  For a community that was in the midst of a major demographic change in ethnic diversity, embracing larger numbers of Japanese, Blacks, Latinos, and other groups, this association may not have been as significant as it had been forty years before.  If anything, the Times piece extolled the specific virtues of Boyle's son-in-law and community founder, William H. Workman (whose photo, not Boyle's, accompanied the article.)

Curiously, the article ended with the statement that "in spite of the service rendered Boyle Heights and Los Angeles in general by the Boyles and Workmans  . . . it is proposed to change the name to one 'more in keeping' with the progress of that section."  Why the name "Hollenbeck Heights" was more symbolic of so-called "progress" than that of "Boyle Heights" went unexplained.  In any case, the piece concluded by observing that "a hot debate is promised for tomorrow."

On 14 November 1922, the Times duly followed up on the meeting with a piece titled "Eclipse on Boyle Heights" and a subhead of "Hollenbeck, as New Name for District, Obliterates Old Appellation by Turbulent 150-1 Vote."

Actually, the vote was not at all turbulent, as indicated by the overwhelming consensus in the final tally, the only naysayer being the widow of attorney Robert H. F. Variel, a prominent Boyle Heights resident.  There were, however, several impassioned speeches in defense of the name "Boyle Heights," including Andrew Boyle's grandson and namesake, Boyle Workman (a Los Angeles city councilman through most of the 1920s), Henry C. Lichtenberger of the city's Planning Commission, and Frank Dominguez of the noted Californio family who owned much of the South Bay area.  While Lichtenberger and Mrs. Variel were described as "making passionate pleas for the memory of Andrew Boyle, pioneer, and W. H. Workman, who originally owned all that land . . .," it appeared that Dominguez applied every rhetorical device known to humanking in his remarks.

The article was sure to note that "Mr. Dominguez waxed so eloquently that his rhetoric encompassed the towering mountains reaching unto imperial heaven, the shimmering ocean lapping against our fair shores, the chivalry and righteousness of our forefathers, the blood of our dead in France [during the late World War], and the glorious principles of civilization."  Alas, all the flowery and impassioned language was to no avail.

Speaking of language, the motion put forward to change the name (though the copy of the article found online was remarkably faint and hard to read) includes some laughable language.  For example, the motion stipulated that "whereas the name of Boyle occasioned ridicule and stimulated ribald thoughts in the impressionable mind . . . [and] it aroused thoughts of pimples" the name should be changed to something "more dignified" such as Hollenbeck Heights.  This was deemed necessary because the "ribald" name of Boyle "thereby proved to be a serious hardship to the development of the" community.

Notably, Dr. Edwards, one of the committee members promoting the name change, asked the assemblage whether any of the descendants of Andrew Boyle or William H. Workman live in Boyle Heights, which provoked, reported the paper, a "loud and naughty laughter."  Indeed, the Boyle/Workman descendants had only recently uprooted from their namesake community and transplanted themselves to the emerging desirable residential enclaves to the west of downtown, as many people had been doing as the "Westside" developed.  Edwards then mocked those who came in from other districts of the city to defend the early founders of Boyle Heights and suggested that a properly-inscribed monument be erected to them "and then change the name of Boyle."

Other comments and repartee were issued and recorded before the overwhelming standing vote was taken and Mrs. Variel was left alone to defend history and precedence, leaving the paper to remark that "the intruders could not vote" and, while they were a "gentlemanly, rhetorical opposition," they proved only to be "ardent, but voteless."

In coming years, there were occasional references to "Hollenbeck Heights," including an April 1924 Times article that addressed the fact that "the Hollenbeck Heights division" of the Los Angeles Police Department was "to be made the model police division of the city," according to Chief August Vollmer (a longtime chief in Berkeley, whose short stint in 1923-24 was terminated by his disgust at the corruption and hostility against the department from outsiders leading to his return to the Bay Area city he had left.)  In fact, Vollmer specifically referenced the systems he used in his previous job as to be implemented first at Hollenbeck Heights before being used elsewhere.  His resignation soon after, however, ended those plans.

In September 1926, a fascinating article that will be the subject of a later post on this blog was written by Isabel Lopez, descendant of the family that, in the Mexican era, settled what became Boyle Heights.  The piece was called "Hollenbeck Heights Once Was Home of Pioneer Aristocrats" and mentions the fact that the Spanish-language name for the area, El Paredon Blanco, or White Bluff, was "now known as Hollenbeck Heights."  The contents of the article awaits further discussion, but there were at least some people, including scions of the early Latino settlers of the area, who had accepted and used "Hollenbeck Heights" as the community's name.

Yet, the original name of Boyle Heights soon was revived.  When and how exactly that happened awaits further probing and poking . . . unless someone out there already knows and can leave a comment to this post about it.

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

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Boosting Boyle Heights During the Boom of the 1880s

After a decade of economic stagnation, Los Angeles entered into a major growth boom in 1886 shortly after a direct transcontinental railroad link was made to the city from the east by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.  Over a few year period, tens of thousands of new arrivals poured into the region and a major transformation of the area took place.

Boyle Heights, which was founded in a smaller boom in the mid-1870s, languished as the local economy did for ten years, but found its fortunes greatly enhanced by the new growth explosion.  With its convenient location to downtown, the location on the bluffs providing great views of the city, and transportation improvements via cablecars being implemented, the status of the neighborhood as an upscale residential community was highly promoted.

One such example, a classic of what is typically called "boosterism," is found in the 1886-87 Los Angeles City Directory.  As a representative sample of the booster mentality, the language will seem too good to be true (which, naturally, was usually the case!)  The five-page document is filled with flowery descriptions of the ideal community.

Actually, the piece began by extolling the virtues of Los Angeles County broadly:  "it is the riches, most prolific and prosperous county in Southern Californa . . . [and] has attracted wide-spread attention on account ot its unrivaled resources and superb climate." 

Then, follows another typical tactic in comparing the past to the present: "What was a few years ago a poor Spanish town, sleepy, dull, and filled with discouraged people, her streets filled with adobe buildings and here and there a wooden shanty of no architectural pretensions whatever[,] now what have we?"  Obviously, this strange sentence is laced with racism and unintentional comedy in equal measure.  Without being sure of just when "a few years ago" actually was, the use of the word "sleepy" to describe "Spanish" Los Angeles was used regularly, but the word "dull" is out of place for a town that, during the 1850s especially, was rocked with significant violence and racial and ethnic tension.  The phrase "discouraged people" is a bizarre and laughable one--how did the author(s) know that the residents of Los Angeles were chronically depressed?  And, of course, the presence of adobe houses must have been a guarantee of backward thinking!

This is the first of a five-page booster article about Boyle Heights that appeared in the 1886-87 Los Angeles City Directory, issued during the Boom of the Eighties which transformed Los Angeles and its environs.  Click on the image to see an enlarged view in a separate window.

Alas, progress came to the "metropolitan [that is, Americanized] city, whose streets are lined with buildings as fine as those of San Francisco or Chicago.  Noting that the population had jumped from about 12,000 to "nearly if not quite four times that number," the piece went on to discuss Boyle Heights, claiming that, "of all the sururbs or surroundings of Los Angeles the elevated tract of land east of the river is in many respects the most desirable."  Taking estimates from late 1884 that there were 2,650 people in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles (that is, what later became known as Lincoln Heights), the author stated that tere were about 7,500 and that a school census from May 1886 showed that Boyle Heights witnessed a doubling of population in one year.

As to why Boyle Heights was so desirable, the piece highlighted several factors.  First, businessman liked to "get away from their business" and enjoy leisure time at a healthful residence, "free from malaria [and] fog."  Second, the land was half the price as that in downtown.  Third, it had "perfect" drainage and "an abundant water supply."  Fourth, in addition to the water, Boyle Heights had "a horse railroad . . . and the electric light," though within a few months, the electric railroad was to be opened and this was to be the first such line in the state.  Meanwhile, a cable railroad, the first in southern California, was to be extended on Second Street and into the neighborhood.  Finally, Boyle Heights "has the pure sea breeze, unadulterated by any impure contact with the city" and the article claimed that existing air currents "would carry any impurities . . . much to the west . . "

To further entice future residents and investors, the essay claimed that "to do justice to Boyle Heights," readers should know who was living there.  First, of course, was community founder William H. Workman, who "by patient and courageous work, by liberal sowing,  . . . has now the satisfaction of gathering a liberal harvest."  The beauty of his house was extolled as was the products of his ranch and the attractions of his private park surrounding the house.  Mrs. John Hollenbeck, H. P. Benedict, George Cummings, L. N. Breed and J. W. Browning were also lionized for their building of fine homes in Boyle Heights, in which the names of three of the group are recalled with street names and the Hollenbeck Palms retirement home on the grounds of the Hollenbeck estate. 

As to Browning, he was mentioned simply because he was the author of the piece and described himself
"as being the only man who handles Boyle Heights property" as a realtor.  He listed thirteen tracts within the community that he dealt with for rentals, houses for sale, ranches and vacant lots (as well as loans), these being the Atwood, Benedict, Blanchard, Breed, Browning, Conrad, Cummings, Gleason, Miles, Spence, Stevenson, and Wilson tracts.

As per usual, the great boom of the 1880s went bust by the end of the decade.  The 1890s brought a prolonged drought and the debilitating depression of 1893, but Boyle Heights continued to grow, though, as with all communities, it transformed in sometimes unexpected ways.

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

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Blast from the Past: Brooklyn Theatre's Mysterious Bombing, 1926

A 29 June 1926 photograph showing destruction caused to the Brooklyn Theater at 2524 E. Brooklyn Avenue, now Cesar E. Chavez Avenue, Boyle Heights.  A confectioner and baker in the building, William Graham, was charged with dynamiting the structure, but all charges were later dismissed and the crime went unsolved.  Courtesy of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.

In the early morning hours of 17 June 1926, a series of powerful blasts rocked Boyle Heights.  At about five minutes to four, five explosions broke windows, toppled chimneys, and drove panicked residents into the streets.  Soon, it was determined that the scene of the blast was the single screen, 900-seat Brooklyn Theatre, located at 2524 E. Brooklyn Avenue, at the southeast corner of that main artery of the community at the interesection with Fickett Street.  When firefighters arrived on scene, they found that one of the fires inside had lit a fuse connected to forty-three sticks of dynamite and a quick-thinking fireman was able to cut the fuse before a terrible tragedy could ensue.  Nine additional "plants" of dynamite were said to have been found that had failed, totaling 163 sticks.  The destruction could have been far worse and spread to nearby structures.

Two witnesses, a milkman, evidently in the midst of his deliveries, and a local resident, stated that two men were observed running from the building and gave a detailed description of one whom they stopped and talked to as he left the scene.  Within hours, Los Angeles police arrested William Graham, also known as William Graczefsky, the 45-year old proprietor of a candy store and bakery located in the theater building at his Folsom Street house near the scene.  The second man was later identified as George Baker, a.k.a. H. W. Liebman, but Baker/Liebman was never located.

In the initial investigation, police officials announced that dozens of sticks of dynamite, fuses, caps, and  a barrel of gasoline were found in Graham's store and noted that the floor of the business was doused in the gasoline.  Several dozen more dynamite sticks were found in the theater building generally, including in the theater and upstairs.  On interrogation, Graham denied all knowledge of the explosion, though he did acknowledge that he was in the building until 1 a.m., or about three hours prior to the blasts, having served a late dinner as part of a function at the masonic lodge located on the second floor.  A hole was chiseled into the rear door, near the lock, of Graham's store at the back of the building.  Because chips of the wood from the door were found in shoes next to the adjoining wall, suspicion fell upon Graham, though it was not explained why this was so significant.

It was also stated by the police that Graham had been in some conflict with his neighboring business owners, including Fannie Laboritz, another confectioner, whose store was only a few doors down from Grahams.  Moreover, sewing machine store owner, Elias Eisenberg, whose business was a few blocks west on Brooklyn but who lived just one unit over from the theater, was questioned when it was learned that he had threatened Graham with bodily harm.  While Eisenberg openly admitted to the accusation, he said it was only bluster intended to scare his adversary.  There was, however, no established motive.

As to the building, the Brooklyn Theater was designed by well-noted movie theater architect, Lewis A. Smith, whose projects included South Pasadena's Rialto Theater, the Beverly Theatre in Beverly Hills, the Highland Theatre in Highland Park, the Wilshire Theatre on the westside, and many others.  It opened on Christmas Eve 1926, just months before the explosion.  The original owner was David Lazar of Folsom Street in Boyle Heights, who sold the structure to Lillian B. Young, a resident of the Westlake Park area.  Young's agent, noted that she had five insurance policies on the building, but was unsure whether the building, which sustained an estimated $50,000 in damage was covered in case of explostion and it was also not known if the complex would be condemned.

The grand jury quickly remanded the case to the Superior Court and, within weeks (as opposed to the years it would now take), a trial was held.  Graham had been held on $15,000 bail and continued to insist upon his innocence.  It was reported that new clues had been found in subsequent investigations by the police, including the fact that a meat cleaver, said to have belonged to Graham, and used to smash the hole in the rear door, the spigot from the gasoline barrel, and a strip of rag used to wrap the spigot, were found in the bottom of his laundry bag in the establishment.  Officials speculated that Graham engaged in "in a clumsy attempt to indicate" that the door and windows nearby were broken by others.

Still, the trial concluded with a hung jury, deadlocked at 9-3 for acquittal, based on insufficient evidence.  Finally, on 9 September, Superior Court Judge Needham dismissed all charges, comprising arson, placing dynamite in a building, and burning insured property, against Graham on motion of Deputy District Attorney Matherly.  Evidently, there was no way to know who exactly perpetrated the crime, though, if Graham was truly innocent, someone was obviously trying to implicate him.  Could it have been his foes like Eisenberg or Laboritz?  Would it have been the owner looking to cash in on insurance?  Was it a disgruntled patron who didn't enjoy a particular film?  The truth will never be known.

The photo above is a reference copy from the "N.E.A.," although it is not known if this was the National Education Association or some other group and is date-stamped 29 June 1926.  It shows blown-out windows, a damaged marquee, shattered roof tiles, and other signs of destruction.  Ironically, the marquee letters read "Brooklyn Hts. Improvement Ass'n Show."  The building, as captured in the photo, did not give much evidence of "improvement."

Within a year, however, the Brooklyn Theater and its building were remodeled and back in operation.  Another irony was that one of the first events held at the movie palace was a Brooklyn Heights Improvement Association presentation to Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph J. Scott, who served as chief for over 20 years, with a gold-plated ax "in appreciation of the showing he has made in the past few years in reducing fire losses."  The theater was a fixture in the Boyle Heights area for decades and well-remembered by its residents long after it was razed in 1989.  Today the site is a bare lot awaiting some future development and cleansed of any physical reminder of its important history.  UPDATE: a commenter corrected the information about the fate of the building, noting that, after the theater closed, retail use continued until the structure was purchased by the MTA and then razed in 1998.  More can be seen in the comment section to this post.

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

Monday, February 6, 2012

"The Buddhist Temple of Los Angeles": Rafu Bukkyokai/Higashi Honganji in Boyle Heights

An essential component to any community is its religious life. In the early years of Boyle Heights, religious structures were almost certainly all Christian, but, by the first part of the 20th century, as the neighborhood's population diversified, so did its religious buildings.

This post shows a postcard from 1913 depicting "The Buddhist Temple of Los Angeles." The cover has what seems to be an Arts and Crafts influenced design with flowering vines and a building evoking Japanese elements, specifically the joinery above the column (Japanese influences had a major impact on the Arts and Crafts movement, which was in full flower in these years.)

At the center and lower portion of the front are three images of the temple, including an interior view of the pews, the altar, and an exterior shot of the building. The lettering in the box at the bottom is a clear reflection of Arts and Crafts style, as well.

On the reverse of the card is a short inscription in ink, reading: "Visiting by Miss A. Lindsey & myself from Los Angeles. Aug. 1913. Met Japanese priest." There is no address or stamps, so the card was likely placed in a scrapbook, in which other mementos of a trip to Los Angeles were probably placed. For many tourists, a visit to such places as the temple, or the old Chinatown where Union Station now is, or to a remaining adobe house or a local mission, was a way to experience something "exotic" about Los Angeles, whether or not the experience was any deeper beneath the surface than the chance to meet a "Japanese priest."

The temple was first sited, in 1904, on East Fourth Street in downtown Los Angeles. Three years later, it moved to Little Tokyo at a space on San Julian Street. Then, in 1911, it relocated to the Boyle Heights location at 209 S. Savannah Street (at 2nd Street.) At the time of the card's 1913 purchase, the facility was known as the Rafu Bukkyokai or "The Buddhist Mission of Los Angeles." Eight years later, in 1921, there was change to the institution, which became the Higashi Honganji Temple. Then, five years after that, in 1926, the temple moved again, to 118 North Mott Street, where it remained for a half-century. In 1976, as the demographics of Boyle Heights had changed dramatically after World War II and the Japanese-American community slowly grew smaller in the community, the temple moved back to Little Tokyo at its current site at 3rd Street and Central Avenue.

For more on the temple and its history, see the Higashi Honganji Web site at:

Contribution from Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry. The postcard comes from the museum's artifact collection.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A 1920s Boyle Heights Artifact: 1921 Walker & Todd Ford Dealer Ink Blotter

This is a small little item that no one (or very nearly) uses anymore: an ink blotter. These were just to wipe excessive ink on when people used the old ink pens with steel nibs on them, before fountain and ball-point pens came into being.

Frequently, blotters were an opportunity for businesses to advertise their good, product or service. In this case it was for an authorized Ford Motor Car dealer, Walker and Todd, at their Boyle Heights location. In fact, the blotter was issued to announce that the firm was moving from temporary quarters at 3569 Stephenson Avenue to 2907-15 Stephenson. Note, too, the old exchange system phone number: BOYLE 2353.

Finally, there is the great image of what appears to be a 1921 Model T Touring car with, of course, a convertible top! Easily the most famous automobile of its era, the Model T was produced from 1909 to 1927 and was, basically, the first mass-production car that was affordable to the "masses."

Known everywhere as the "Tin Lizzie" and the "Flivver," the Model T controlled, by 1921, a staggering 60% of the entire American new car market and over 15 million of the cars were produced in its eighteen-year run! It has been said that Ford's cost-control methods applied to the paint and that he stated that a buyer could have any color they wanted, as long as it was black.

The 1921 touring car, being a larger sedan with three doors and seating five, and which had imitation leather upholstery, a 4-cylinder engine producing 22.5 horsepower, sold for about $415. Today, a touring car, fully restored, can set you back $15-20,000.

If anyone is wondering where Stephenson Avenue is, don't bother consulting a Thomas Guide or checking Google or Yahoo maps online, because Stephenson was changed later to Whittier Boulevard, when that road was extending from the east into Los Angeles.

The temporary location was at what is the northwest corner of Whittier Boulevard and Esperanza Street, south of the 60 Freeway, north of Interstate 5 and west of Indiana Street, the eastern boundary of the city limits of Los Angeles. The new location was about six blocks to the west, between Camulos and Euclid and just north of the 60. Today, there is a shopping center where the Walker and Todd dealership once stood on the south side of Whittier.

Contributed by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Homestead Museum, City of Industry. The blotter comes from the museum's artifact collection.