Monday, December 23, 2013

José Adolfo Bernal: An 1899 Booster Pamphlet for Boyle Heights, Part 3

In the 1899 publication Beautiful Highlands of Los Angeles, promoting Boyle Heights, Brooklyn Heights and Euclid Heights and issued by the Ninth Ward Improvement Association, almost all of the people and buildings discussed and visually presented were middle and upper middle class Americans and Europeans, like the target audience of the pamphlet who were solicited to come to the neighborhood.  Only a few people of color were mentioned in the booklet including Kiu Sing Chan, highlighted in a previous post on this blog.

Another was J.A. Bernal, who brief biographical sketch noted that he had been a resident of Los Angeles for 35 years (that is, from the middle 1860s) and that he "is a well known surveyor" who was chief deputy for the city surveyors for most of the period between 1881 to 1895 and who was then working for the city engineer.  As to why Bernal settled in the neighborhood, the sketch stated that, "his decision . . . [was] on account of its healthfulness and pleasant location."

Bernal's home was one of a quartet of residences shown on a page of the publication, including that of Kiu Sing Chan and it shows a small cottage with a projecting front room, a porch across three-quarters of the front elevation, and a profusion of climbing vines covering the porch and extending over the entrance towards the front room.  There even appears to be a hitching post near the street--automobiles were some years away from being in use.  Because the publication was downloaded from the Net, the image shown here is sketchy at best, though some cleaning up was attempted to make the image a bit clearer.

The Boyle Heights cottage at 1619 New Jersey Street of José Adolfo Bernal, longtime surveyor and civil engineer for the city of Los Angeles, from the 1899 booster pamphlet Beautiful Highlands of Los Angeles, which promoted Boyle Heights, Brooklyn Heights and Euclid Heights.
A little digging into Bernal revealed some more details about him.  José Adolfo Bernal was born in 1857 to José María Bernal, a native of Sinaloa, Mexico, and Serafina Uribe.  The comment in his biographical sketch from the pamphlet about how long he'd lived in Los Angeles seems to be in error, because the 1860 census showed the Bernal family residing in Los Angeles, where José María Bernal working as a plasterer, probably for adobe structures, which then predominated in the town.  By 1870, José Adolfo was in San Francisco attending St. Mary's College, a Catholic boys school (the use of "college" in those days could mean students from grammar school age and up) that moved to Oakland in 1889 and then in 1928 to the suburb of Moraga, where the school still operates.  A decade later, he was living with his mother Serafina (the elder Bernal died in 1866) on First Street in Los Angeles and had already been engaged in the surveying business.  The following year he began his duties as chief deputy surveyor for the city.

In 1880, Bernal married María Constancia Machado, from a prominent family who resided in the area near today's Los Angeles International Airport.  The couple went on to have a daughter, Rosa, and three sons, Eduardo, Adolfo and Alfonso, two of whom followed their father in the civil engineering and surveying trade, while the third, Eduardo, was a bookkeeper in the city department.

It is said that Bernal specialized in surveying land grants of rancho made under Spain and Mexican rule and he also had a surveying business with George Fisher, much of the archival material of which is deposited at the Seaver Center for Western History Research at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.  Maps worked on by Bernal can also be found at the Huntington Library, including a beautiful and ornate 1888 rendering of the "Workman Orchard," the property of Boyle Heights founder William H. Workman on the west side of Boyle Avenue on the bluff overlooking the city.

The short biographical sketch of Bernal from the pamphlet.
Bernal was also treasurer of the local chapter of the Sons of the Golden West and invested in some property in what was then called East Los Angeles, now Lincoln Heights.  He died in 1927 after a long and fruitful career with the city.  His home, which was at 1619 New Jersey Street just to the west of White Memorial Hospital, continued to be owned by his family for years afterward but is now gone.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California.  Thanks to Rudy Martinez of the Boyle Heights Historical Society for locating a copy of this pamphlet online.

Monday, November 4, 2013

William Mulholland, Longtime Boyle Heights Resident

Tomorrow is the centennial anniversary of the opening ceremony for the massive Los Angeles Aqueduct, which delivered water from the Owens River in eastern California to the Los Angeles region over a 220-plus mile system of finely engineered tunnels, channels, pipes, pumps, reservoirs and other elements in a scheme that was filled with controversy, but was also one of the great engineering marvels of its time.

William Mulholland, ca. 1910s.  From the Special Collections division, University of Southern California library.  Click on any photo to see it enlarged in a new window.
From the time the source was located in 1904 and the land purchased to the sale of bonds to finance the project to the beginning of construction in 1908 and the five-year work to build the aqueduct with the labor of some 5,000 men to the dedication on 5 November 1913, one of the key players involved was Chief Engineer William Mulholland.  At the time of the Aqueduct's opening, Mulholland was a resident of Boyle Heights, where he lived for about a quarter century.  Although much has been written about the man and his work, a little background might be in order.

William Mulholland was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1855 to royal mail guard Hugh Mulholland and Ellen Deakers, who died when her son was seven years old, not long after the family relocated to Dublin.  Ireland had been through decades of famine and political, economic and social unrest and, with little there to provide a basis for his future, William joined the British Merchant Marine while in his mid-teens and served in it for four years.

Mulholland in the field with surveying equipment, ca. 1920s.  From the Special Collections division, University of Southern California library.
In June 1874, Mulholland landed in New York and worked on a Great Lakes ship and then a Michigan lumber camp, where he nearly lost a leg after an accident.  Migrating to Cincinnati, he took to the road with a mechanic who specialized in sharpening scissors and fixing clocks.  Meantime, his younger brother Hugh, who was sent to serve in the British Navy by his father, abandoned his post and somehow located William.  In fall 1875, they arrived unannounced at the home of their mother's brother, a prosperous merchant in Pittsburgh, and they starting working at the business.

A tuberculosis epidemic erupted in the Deakers household, however, and, after some children in the family died, a group decided to leave for California in late 1876, including William and Hugh, who were, apparently, stowaways on the ship leaving New York.  At the Isthmus of Panama, though, the two were detected and ejected, forcing them to make the difficult fifty-mile trek across to the Pacific side.  From there, they joined a Peruvian vessel to Acapulco and then another ship conveyed them to San Francisco.  From there, they rode by horse the long trek to Los Angeles, where, in January 1877, they found the remaining members of the Deakers family, some more having died of typhoid.

Mulholland in the front passenger seat of a City of Los Angeles vehicle at an unidentified event, 1920s.  From the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.
Mulholland was not overly impressed by the small town he encountered and headed to San Pedro to find a ship on which to work.  He was stopped on the way down by Manuel Dominguez, owner of the Rancho San Pedro, who hired the young man to dig artesian wells, Mulholland's first entre into working with water and the motivation for his future career as a water engineer.  After that, however, the Mulholland brothers went to prospect for gold in the Territory of Arizona, but news of the famed Apache chief Geronimo convinced them to return to Los Angeles.

The next year, 1878, William took a job as a deputy zanjero, tending the main supply ditch for the privately-held Los Angeles City Water Company at a spot several miles north of downtown and remained in the position for a couple of years.  In the 1880 census for the San Fernando Township, which covered the area, he was listed simply as "W. Mulholland," age 24, and his occupation merely given as "laborer."

A detail from the 1880 census at the San Fernando Township showing "W. Mulholland," as a "laborer," though he was then an assistant zanjero for the privately-held Los Angeles City Water Company.  From  Click on any photo to see it enlarged in a new window.
One interesting anecdote had to do with a man calling out to Mulholland as he worked hard at cleaning out a ditch and receiving the curt reply, "None of your damn business," at which a fellow employee let Mulholland know he had just cursed out the water company's president William Hayes Perry, whose mansion was built in the new community of Boyle Heights in 1876 (and which is now at Heritage Square Museum  near Highland Park.)  Prepared to be fired, Mulholland was surprised to receive a promotion to foreman.

Mulholland and Frederick Eaton, a hydraulic engineer for the company, became close associates friends, though there was a falling-out later, and their partnership proved essential in the Los Angeles Aqueduct project.  Mulholland essentially was self-taught in the profession and was a voracious reader, taking in materials that aided his future work.

Detail from the 1900 census showing the Mulholland family at their house, built in 1894, at "Cor. Cummings & 6th" in Boyle Heights.  From
Through the 1880s and 1890s, Mulholland rose up the ranks of the water company and also was naturalized an American citizen in 1886, at which time the Los Angeles City Directory listed him as a "contractor in tunneling."  By the end of that year, though, he became the water works superintendent, a position he held for several years, while the water company grew by acquiring other smaller firms and establishing a subsidiary, the Crystal Springs Land and Water Company near today's Griffith Park.

In 1898, the thirty-year agreement the city of Los Angeles signed with the Los Angeles City Water Company expired.  That year, Fred Eaton was elected mayor of the city and served a single two-year term, during which the battle over whether city water should be privately or publicly managed continued.  When the private company finally agreed to sell to the city, new city treasurer, William H. Workman, who subdivided Boyle Heights with partners Isaias W. Hellman and John Lazzarovich in 1875 and was mayor of Los Angeles in 1887 and 1888, went to New York with the city attorney to sell the bonds to pay for the acquisition, which totaled $2 million.  All thirty-one of the old company's workers were kept on as city employees, including Mulholland, who became superintendent.

Detail from the 1910 census for the Mulholland family at Boyle Heights.  From  Click on any photo to see it enlarged in a new window.
Although the Los Angeles Aqueduct was clearly Mulholland's most notable project, he was involved a host of others as growth in the region skyrocketed into the 1920s.  These included the planning stages for the massive Boulder Dam project on the Colorado River and dealing with sabotage and other acts of resistance from folks in Owens Valley against the aqueduct.  Throughout the period, Mulholland's position as superintendent of the water department gave him a national prominence and stature, commemorated when a new scenic highway built along the ridges of the Santa Monica Mountains was named for him when it opened in 1926.

It was a position and prestige he held until the devastating St. Francis Dam disaster in 1928, in which a dam near modern Santa Clarita and engineered under Mulholland's leadership failed, with the resulting flood killed several hundred people in Ventura County.  Mulholland, who was in his early seventies and was bewildered by the tragedy, resigned and the new Department of Water and Power (DWP) took on new leadership under Harvey Van Norman, whose name now graces the main reservoir that receives Los Angeles Aqueduct water.  Mulholland died in July 1935 at the age of 79 with his body lying in state at city hall and thousands passing by his casket to pay their respects.

Enumerated on 5 January 1920, just prior to relocating to an area west of downtown Los Angeles, Mulholland, a widower of five years, is at his home, given an address for the first time in a census of 1915 E. 6th Street, with three children.  From
As for Mulholland's 25 years in Boyle Heights, not much is said at all in the exhaustive biography of the man, published in 2000, by his granddaughter Catherine.  She did note that the engineer and his family moved to the neighborhood in 1894 and their residence was in a fashionable part of the community at the northwest corner of Cummings and 6th streets and had a fine view of Hollenbeck Park.  Near neighbors included Elizabeth Hollenbeck, whose estate is now the Hollenbeck Palms senior residential community; the former house of Mamie Perry Davis, whose father was Mulholland's boss at the Los Angeles Water Company; and William H. Workman, who was mentioned above.

The Los Angeles Times of 19 May 1894 noted that a building permit was issued to Mulholland for a "cottage, northwest corner Sixth and Cummings, $3000."  That amount may sound paltry to modern ears, but it was a sizable sum for a residence of the era, especially one mired in a serious national depression which erupted the previous year.  Beyond that, the house did not evidently get mentioned again in that paper before the Mulholland's left for a new residence west of downtown in 1920.

Census listings for 1900, 1910 and 1920, though, do list the family at their Boyle Heights house. The first of these, taken on 7 June, shows the family as living at "Cor. Cummings & 6th."  The household consisted of the 44-year old civil engineer and his 32-year old wife, the former Lillie Ferguson, who had been married 9 years (their tenth anniversary was later in the year) and their five children, three daughters and two sons, ranging from two to eight years old.

A decade later, on 20 April 1910, the address was still given as "Cummings cor. 6th" and Mulholland was shown as "Civil Engineer City W. Works."  He and his wife were shown as having had six children, but five surviving, whereas in 1900 there were five children, all alive, there being a son who died at the age of two in 1905.

The 1920 enumeration was taken at the beginning of the year and the 64-year old Mulholland, again listed as "Civil Engineer," was a widower, his wife having died five years previously of cancer.  Three of his children were with him.  Soon, however, the family relocated to a home on St. Andrews Place, west of Western Avenue and north of Wilshire Boulevard and the 1930 census recorded the value of the home as $30,000, indicating that the home was substantial.  Notably, the Boyle Heights house was razed in the 1950s when the controversial construction of freeways, in this case interstates 5 and 10, were built through the neighborhood.  Not long afterward, the St. Andrews house was bulldozed when that street was converted to rows of apartment buildings.

William Mulholland was one of the most prominent individuals in Los Angeles during about three decades of explosive and controversial growth from 1900 to 1930.  From humble circumstances in a ravaged Ireland he emigrated to America and roved the country for several years before finding himself digging an artesian well on one of the last remaining Spanish and Mexican-era ranchos, which launched his career, largely self-taught, in water engineering. 

With the epic Los Angeles Aqueduct and other projects, he established a legacy of public works building with few rivals in American history, but it was tarnished by the disaster of the St. Francis Dam failure in 1928.  While much has been written about this remarkable man, but it has not often been noted that he was a resident of Boyle Heights for some twenty-five years from 1894 to 1920.

With all the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the opening of the aqueduct, Mulholland's place in Boyle Heights history should also be remembered.

Suggested Reading:

Catherine Mulholland, William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles (Berkeley: University of California Press,) 2000.

Margaret Leslie Davis, Rivers in the Desert: William Mulholland and the Inventing of Los Angeles (New York: HarperCollins Publishers,) 1993.

Charles F. Outland, Man-Made Disaster:  The Story of St. Francis Dam (Spokane:  The Arthur H. Clark Company,) 2002 (1963, 1977).

Doyce B. Nunis, Jr., ed., The St. Francis Dam Disaster Revisited (Los Angeles: Historical Society of Southern California; Ventura:  Ventura County Museum of History & Art), 1995.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry, with thanks to past Boyle Heights Historical Society president Malissa Strong for suggesting this topic.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

An Early Chinese Resident: An 1899 Booster Pamphlet for Boyle Heights, Part Two

The 1899 pamphlet put out by the Ninth Ward Improvement Association and introduced in the last post was intended to lure new residents and business owners by promoting (perhaps with some excess) the manifold benefits of living and working in the community.

Consequently, photos of dozens of homes and biographical sketches of many of the people who lived in them made up a significant part of the publication.  While these included prominent Angelenos of the time like neighborhood founder William H. Workman, capitalist and ex-city council member Burdette Chandler, philanthropist Elizabeth Hollenbeck, and county supervisor and former city council member Robert Wirsching, it isn't at all surprising that almost every person mentioned in the pamphlet was an Anglo, with two exceptions.

A page from "Beautiful Highlands of Los Angeles," published by the Boyle Heights Improvement Association about 1899 and showing, at the upper left, the residence of Kiu Sing Chan and family.  Click on the image to see it and the one below in a separate window and in a larger view.
One of these was perhaps one the first Chinese residents, or at least property owners, in Boyle Heights, a man identified as Chan Kie Sing.  Still, in the brief sketch about him, note the opening statement

To the Eastern visitor who is visiting Southern California for the first time, there is one element of our population which never loses its interest, that is the Chinese.
While not then explaining exactly what was meant by "interest" (we can assume this has to do with the "exotic" image the Chinese had for Americans, judging by the dozens of postcards of Chinese people and the Chinatown area of Los Angeles, which was then at today's Union Station, that were produced in the years just after the pamphlet), the sketch continued by observing

Finding a climate as balmy and mild as their own, [and] a market for their labor and wares superior to their own, they have settled in great numbers in our State, generally having a sort of colony of their own in every larger town.  A great many of them speak English, but imperfectly, or not at all, so when they come in contact with the government in a business way, they must have an interpreter.
The reason for this strange diversion was (evidently) soon explained by noting that "Chan Kie Sing," who emigrated from his homeland to the U.S. in 1871 and was a merchant in San Francisco, arrived during the great land and population boom of the late 1880s in Los Angeles, "where he has since filed the office of Court Interpreter."  The account concluded with another racially-loaded statement that, "Mr. Sing, with his wife and pretty little oriental children, lives in a cozy little cottage, No. 2309 East Third street."

This is a detail of the Kiu Sing Chan house from the "Beautiful Highlands of Los Anglees" publication .

A little digging reveals quite a bit more about this family.  Even though he was often referred to as "Chan Kie Sing", "Chan Kin Sing" and "Chan Kiu Sing," (this issue of misspelling and misidentifying Chinese names being quite common--frustratingly for the researcher), his actual name was Kiu Sing Chan.

Born, according to the 1900 census, in October 1854 in China, Chan's emigration date, according to census information, does appear to be about right in the pamphlet description, sometime between 1870 and 1875.  His arrival in the late 1880s was also accurately noted, as was his work as a court interpreter from early on.  Indeed, Chan continued in his line of work throughout the remainder of his life and it was his listed occupation on the 1900, 1910 and 1920 censuses.

He was, however, also a vital member of the Methodist Episcopal Church's Chinese Mission in Los Angeles.  In 1896, he served as a master of ceremonies for a Chinese New Year celebration held at the mission and a Los Angeles Herald article noted that he was a "courteous reporter and interpreter" and then went on to express amazement about "his wonderful accuracy of speech" and "acquaintance of the more subtle niceties of the English tongue," which praising his admonition to the audience "to abandon their ancient faith."

According to Lisa See's important book On Gold Mountain, Chan was the first Chinese licensed Methodist minister in the United States and was pastor of the Los Angeles Chinese United Methodist Church from 1900 until 1923.  Occasionally, articles in the Los Angeles Times and Herald newspapers mentioned Chan's ministering, as, for example, when the church had an observance after the asssassination of President William McKinley, not long after his visit to Los Angeles in 1901.

Chan was also passionate in his rebuttals to claims by ministers from other faiths who expounded the commonly-held view that the Chinese could not be assimilated or be good Christians, as evidenced in long letters published in The Times in 1909 and 1913.  Occasionally, he gave lectures on the relations between America and China, such as one given to an electrical industry association in Los Angeles in 1916.

In addition to his court interpreter position and ministering, Chan had other endeavors, such as when he and a partner leased twenty acres near the city and planted them to asparagus.  This project ended badly, however, when, during the second year of the lease, the owner went in and destroyed the crop and small buildings associated with the venture after a dispute over unpaid rent.  Chan sued and won a judgment for damages in court, but, on appeal, the verdict was overturned, the state supreme court finding that it was not possible to know whether the amount claimed for damages could be verified from books Chan indicated he kept and also noting that he had told someone that he could not make a profit on the lease and afford the rent.

With respect to the Boyle Heights house, it appears that Chan and his wife, Loy (also referred to as Nellie) and their large family, appearing to have consisted of eight children, with one or two dying in childhood, moved to the residence in the very late 1890s, just before the publication was issued.  Prior to that they resided at Wall Street and 6th Street downtown, but, once reestablished in Boyle Heights, the Chans occupied their home for decades.  While Kiu Sing Chan appears to have died around 1923, his widow and a few of their children were in the house until at least the 1940s.

What is striking about the census returns is not just that the Chans were the only Chinese family in the vicinity of Third between Breed and Soto streets, but how the neighborhood changed.  The 1900 sheet on which they appear includes otherwise "Anglo" surnames like Dorland, Peters, Evans, Shields, Conrad and Archer.  Across the street was the family of James G. Bell, whose wife Susan was a Hollenbeck, related to prominent Boyle Heights resident John E. Hollenbeck.  Bell's daughter, Maud, was in the first graduating class at Occidental College when it was established in the Heights and his son, Alphonzo, went on to be a prominent developer (Bel-Air, Bell Gardens) and oil magnate at Santa Fe Springs.  By 1910, the demographics were largely the same.

With the 1920 enumeration, though, came some changes.  On the same sheet as the Chans were four Latino families bearing the surnames of Moraga, Velez, Villegas, and Sandoval and the family listed above them consisted of Jews Morrie and Fannie Hirsch and their two children.  A decade later, after Kiu Sing had died, his widow and three children lived amongst predominantly Jewish neighbors, many of whom were born in Russia, Poland and Hungary.  There was one Latino family, the Garcias, who lived near the Chans on Third and two "Anglo" families.

This diversity was still reflected in the 1940 census, several families of Russian Jewish descent, a Latino family, and a Japanese family, the Kosakos, lived around the corner on Breed Street.  Three "Anglos" lived together in one household as the ethnic diversification of Boyle Heights is reflected in microcosm on this one census sheet.

Of the over fifty houses shown in the 1899 pamphlet, only about a third of them survive today, but one of them is the longtime residence of Kiu Sing Chan and his family.

In addition to the image of the house from the pamphlet shown above, here is a Google Maps link that shows how the structure looks today: click here.

This contribution was made by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.

Monday, August 5, 2013

An 1899 Booster Pamphlet for Boyle Heights, Part One

Recently, Boyle Heights Historical Society stalwart Rudy Martinez came across a pamphlet on an Internet search called Beautiful Highlands of Los Angeles, Comprising Boyle Heights, Brooklyn Heights, Euclid Heights

Apparently published in 1899 by the Ninth Ward Improvement Association (the city was then divided into "wards," a common designation in American cities then), this remarkable document was created to boost and promote Boyle Heights and its neighboring subdivisions for potential settlement and trade at a time when the region endured the lingering effects of the 1893 national economic depression and years of drought locally. 

Incidentally, Brooklyn Heights, subdivided in the late 1870s not long after Boyle Heights, was basically north of First Street.  Euclid Heights, which was lesser-known and newer, probably developed not long before this publication was issued, was to the southeast along its namesake street and south of 4th Street.

So, while its language and content were typically rosy and exaggerated, it does provide a snapshot of where the community was (or thought it ought to be) at the end of the nineteenth century when it was almost completely populated by middle and upper class Americans and Europeans.

The pamphlet promoted the usual benefits accuring to a community that had it all, proximity to the business center of Los Angeles; a gorgeous climate; fine schools; an abundance of churches; growing fraternal organizations; and, of course, the energy and direction of the Ninth Ward Improvement Association, which offered its considered opinion that the area "seems to have been specially planned by nature as an ideal residential district" and that the area flourished because, "in addition to the superior natural advantages of the Heights, [there] is the enterprise of the people."

Sections of the publication cover community founder William H. Workman, former mayor and soon-to-be treasurer of Los Angeles, and extoll his work in creating Boyle Heights; provide short biographical sketches of leading citizens, who, however, undoubtedly paid for the privilege of supplying both the information and photos of themselves and/or their residences; and essays on education, health advantages, fraternal organizations and clubs, churches, and rapid transit systems.

Some of the period's purple prose pours out in profusion, such as this tidbit from the "Healthfulness" essay by Mrs. M. J. Henry, who exclaimed about, "those breezes, how sweet and fresh they blow across the hills, stirring the blood and making the pulses fly, driving away the languerous [sic] fever, and filling the lungs with pure air, expanding but never clogging that delicate mechanism, and so precluding pneumonia and kindred diseases."

Whether or not the publication had the desired effect of bringing more residents and businesses to the east side, the community did certainly change dramatically in the following decades, though not likely as the Ninth Ward Improvement Association intended. 

Almost none of the featured persons in the document were ethnic minorities, but, by the 1920s, large populations of Japanese, blacks, Russians, Mexicans, and eastern European Jews settled in Boyle Heights, often because of restrictive covenants or less overt means of keeping them out of other areas of Los Angeles, as well as access to working class jobs in the city's industrial districts.  Many of the people profiled in the 1899 publication, had they still been living two or three decades later, would most likely have left for the neighborhoods west or south of downtown.

In any case, Beautiful Highlands of Los Angeles is one of untold numbers of the booster productions that burst out in the era.  While some of its claims might have been true and others fanciful or, at least, embellished, it does provide a window into an aspect of Boyle Heights and surrounding areas in their early years.

Future posts will deal with persons, residents, organizations and other aspects of this fascinating slice of Boyle Heights' history. 

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry with thanks to Rudy Martinez for passing along the info on the publication.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Lorraine Schneider: Artist from Boyle Heights

With the Memorial Day holiday upon us and it being a holiday of remembrance for the soldiers who have died in wars fought by the United States, it seems timely and appropriate for this post about Lorraine Schneider, an artist raised in Boyle Heights whose 1966 print, "Primer," decrying war has been an iconic image since.

Lorraine Schneider's "Primer" (1966) was created for an exhibition that limited entries to those of four inches square or smaller, but had a huge impact with its straightforward anti-war message and eye-catching yellow background and simple sunflower motif.  Courtesy of Another Mother for Peace, Inc.
In fact, one of the highlights of an Autry National Center symposium held last week to kick off the newly-mounted "Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic" exhibition was the artist's daughter, Carol, discussing her mother's life and work with attendees touring the gallery. 

There is something so profound in the deceptively simple elements of the bright yellow background, the basic sunflower motif, and the pointed phrase, "war is not healthy for children and other living things," that it is easy to see why the work generated such universal appeal after its creation during the height of the Vietnam War. 

And, Lorraine Schneider's formative years were spent in Boyle Heights.

Fittingly, she was born Lorraine Art in Chicago in 1925, but moved with her family to Los Angeles just a couple years later.  Her father, Sam (originally surnamed Ordzek) was from Poland and mother Eva Chayet hailed from Russia.  The Art family resided near City Terrace for a period and then later lived closer to the focal point of Brooklyn Avenue and Soto Street.  Sam Art was a tailor and a route man for a linen supply company, Eva had an artistic background, and Lorraine's formative years spent in working class and multi-ethnic Boyle Heights had a tremendous impact on her.

The Art family in Boyle Heights, ca. 1935.  From left is Sam, Lorraine, Seymour, and Eva.  Courtesy of Carol Schneider.
In a biographical sketch found on the Web site (see here) for Another Mother for Peace, a non-profit organization founded in 1967, it is stated that she was profoundly affected by the forced relocation of Japanese-Americans to camps and the attacks on Chicano and black "zoot suiters" during World War II.  She vividly recalled being spat upon by guards when she and others went to visit Japanese-American friends being held at the Santa Anita race track in Arcadia before being sent to camp.

Lorraine attended U.C.L.A. and studied art, but ended her studies to become an occupational therapist, working in army hospitals where she saw first-hand the devastating results of war on the soldiers she worked with.  She completed her college studies at U.C. Berkeley and went to work briefly as a teacher in the Bay Area before marrying Stan Schneider, whom she met at U.C.L.A.  She then devoted herself to her family, including four children.

In 1960, she returned to school, taking graduate courses in printmaking at San Fernando Valley State College, now Cal State Northridge, and launched into a new phase of her life as an artist, in which printmaking, sculpture and painting were joined in an exciting type of art, but maintaining her foremost commitment to her family.

The creation of "Primer" came as an entry in a exhibition, in which entries were limited to works that were only 4" square!  Consequently, it was an imperative to create something striking and simple to make the greatest visual effect, but the message of the work took the entry into another dimension.

Lorraine Schneider with a poster of her iconic anti-war print, "Primer."  Shortly before her death in fall 1972 she gave a speech at the United Nations Non-Governmental Disarmament Conference in Geneva that explained her motivation in creating the work.  Courtesy of Carol Schneider.
Lorraine's decision to donate the rights to her seminal work to Another Mother for Peace was a fateful and fruitful one.  As noted above, "Primer" became an international phenomenon and its popularity brought significant funding for the organization and its anti-war message.  The impact of the work was so significant that she was invited to speak at the United Nations Non-Governmental Disarmament Conference in Geneva in 1972.  On 26 September, she presented a speech that encapsulated her long-held views about the futility of war. 

In describing what motivated here to create "Primer," she stated that what she really wanted to do was to create "my own personal picket sign."  The point was to say something that could not be refuted and that was fundamentally truthful.  She went on to observe that the nuclear age made war obsolete and that humans had to evolve to the point where disagreements could be handled in a non-military manner.  She further opined that artists were those who had to lay the groundwork for people to take "the last step out of the cave."  Lorraine concluded by noting that those who would restrict the expression of speech and free ideas, "gave me four square inches and this is what I did with it."

Just a few days after returning home from Europe, Lorraine, who had been battling cancer for some time, was admitted to the hospital and died on 6 November.  She was just 47 years old, but she created a small artistic and political jewel that has taken on a long and meaningful life of its own and is now as old as she was when she passed away.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry with thanks to Carol Schneider for providing the photos for this post and for her inspiring talk about her mother's work.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Autry National Center Jewish LA Exhibit and Boyle Heights

The Autry National Center's newest exhibit, Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic, which just opened and runs through early January 2014, provides a broad overview of the multidimensional history of Jews in Los Angeles from the 1850s to the modern day.  Elements relating to families, religion, business and economics, Hollywood and the entertainment industry, sports, politics and other topics are included.  One interesting tidbit was a section of the little-known Iranian Jewish community.

Naturally, a significant part of the exhibit, as representing Jewish life in the city and region, touches on the importance of Boyle Heights as the center of Los Angeles Jewry for several decades, especially between 1920 and 1950.

Yesterday, a symposium was held at the museum as part of the exhibit opening and it was telling that, when someone asked the audience how many of them had a connection to Boyle Heights, dozens of attendees raised their hands.

Highlights in the exhibition relating to Boyle Heights included emphasis on such major institutions as the Breed Street Shul (for more on the Shul click here) and the Phillips Music Company store (see this great site on the Phillips store here).  The first part of the event featured tours of the exhibit and three persons were stationed to discuss aspects of the display.  In addition to interesting talks by a descendant of the early Newmark and Lazard families and on the story of Sephardic Jews, whose roots dealt mainly with Spain before the 1492 expulsion of them by the crown, there was a fascinating presentation touching upon Boyle Heights. This talk was by Carol Schneider, whose mother, Lorraine, was born in Chicago, but came to Boyle Heights as a child.  Later, Lorraine Schneider became famous for an iconic piece of art that has become a focal point for anti-war activists.

Lorraine Schneider's story will be the subject of the next post on this blog, but, meantime, anyone interested in Boyle Heights and, of course, the history of Jews in Los Angeles, should make a concerted effort to see this exhibit and its broad overview of a complex, fascinating and varied history.

For more on Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic, visit the museum's Web site page for the exhibit here.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Bernstein Film Studio of Boyle Heights

The Bernstein Studio complex with its open-air stage at the right and the Perry-Davis/Ganahl mansion at the left.  A sliver of Boyle Avenue is at the lower right corner.  The photo, dating from around 1917, is courtesy of Marc Wanamaker/Bison Archives.  Click on this or any photo to see them in a new window and in a larger view.
From the time that motion pictures were first filmed in the Los Angeles area around the turn of the 20th century, the industry has, obviously, been identified with Hollywood. The first studios, however, were in Edendale (the Silver lake/Echo Park/Los Feliz area) and others eventually were established in Culver City, Universal City, Burbank, Lincoln Heights and elsewhere.

There were two film studios in Boyle Heights, one being the Majestic Studios where Charlie Chaplin made some movies and which was located on Fairview Avenue in the north end of the community near where Interstates 5 and 10 and U. S. 101 are located.  A second location has been researched by John Mandel, this comprising the Bernstein Studio, which operated on South Boyle Avenue near the Daughters of Charity orphanage, though it produced only three films in 1917 and 1918. 

Its founder, Isadore Bernstein, came to Los Angeles from New York in 1913.  Possibly a relative of Carl Laemmle, the founder and chief of Universal Studios, Bernstein worked for Universal for a few years before deciding to strike out on his own.  A Los Angeles Times article from early December 1916 outlined his efforts to built a studio for two enterprises, his own Bernstein Productions Corporation and the Cleo Madison Film Corporation.  This latter was built around Madison, a Universal star actress, who made about eighty movies in the early to mid 1910s, but who never shot a film with Bernstein.  Instead, his leading lady for the three movies made at the Boyle Heights studio was Betty (Rosetta) Brice, who made several dozen films from 1913 to 1924.

In the Times article, it was mentioned that this new film enterprise was to be on the former estate of William H. Perry and this historic connotation was given some prominence.  The problem was that Perry's property was actually at the northwest corner of Boyle Heights in the Mount Pleasant Tract (his 1876 Italianate residence, designed by pioneer Los Angeles architect Ezra F. Kysor, is now at Heritage Square Museum near Highland Park.)

Mandel, through much digging, discovered the actual location of the Bernstein Studio site and this contributor and Boyle Heights Historical Society president Diana Ybarra assisted in identifying some of the ownership and history of the property, which was an eight-acre parcel and was reported to have been purchased by Bernstein for $100,000.  Rather than the William H. Perry estate, however, it was actually known as the Perry-Davis estate.  The Perry here was the lumber baron's daughter Mamie, while the Davis was her husband, Charles.

Mary B. (Mamie) Perry Davis Wood (1861-1949) was, with her first husband Charles W. Davis, the owner of the mansion that became the headquarters for the Bernstein Studio at the northwest corner of Boyle and Stephenson (now Whittier Boulevard) avenues in Boyle Heights.  After Davis's death, the property was owned by lumber yard owner Fidel Ganahl for a period in the 1890s.  This image comes from the Illustrated History of Los Angeles County, 1889.
As for the Perry family's background, William Hayes Perry was born near Newark, Ohio, just east of Columbus and migrated on a wagon train to California at the age of 20 with the group taking the route from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles and arriving there in early 1854.  
Apprenticed as a cabinet maker, Perry soon opened a furniture store, said to be the first in Los Angeles and had a partner named Brady before teaming up with Wallace Woodworth in 1858.  Perry and Woodworth worked first in furniture making and then, from 1873 when Los Angeles was in its first boom period, in dealing with lumber and building materials.

After Woodworth's death in 1883, Perry continued under the name of W. H. Perry Lumber and Mill Company and he did his own milling in the forests where the trees were harvested on his timber lands, shipped the product in his own vessels to wharves at San Pedro built by him, and delivered the finished materials to customers directly.  Perry, in fact, owned several other lumber-related companies for trade in Arizona, San Bernardino County and elsewhere. 

He also organized, in 1865, the Los Angeles City Gas Company, building a gas works across from the Plaza, and ran the firm for five years before selling it.  He was the president of the Los Angeles City Water Company and was involved in other business enterprises, including insurance, land and water development, and more.

In 1858, Perry married Elizabeth Dalton, a native of Los Angeles, whose father George was born in England and who was the brother of Henry Dalton, a migrant of the 1840s to Mexican Los Angeles and a merchant and owner of several San Gabriel Valley ranches, including Santa Anita, San Franciscquito, and Azusa. 

George Dalton emigrated with his wife and one child to the U.S. in 1837 and wound up in Circleville, Ohio, south of Columbus and a few dozen miles from where William Perry was from.  After his first wife died, George married a widower, Elizabeth Jenkins, and then brought his family to Los Angeles in 1851 at the urging of his brother, Henry.  George had a farm south of the city at Washington Boulevard and Central Avenue, where he raised his family including Elizabeth, died in 1892, and is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.

Known as the Perry-Davis place in an 1890 Los Angeles Herald article, the opulent mansion at the northwest corner of Boyle and Stephenson (Whittier Boulevard) avenues in Boyle Heights, was probably built by lumber magnate William H. Perry for his daughter Mary (Mamie) and her husband, Charles W. Davis.  Davis died about two years after their 1883 marriage and the house, by 1890, was owned by lumber operator, Fidel Ganahl.  When purchased by Isadore Bernstein for his fledgling studio, the parcel was owned by a Mary Turner.  The photo was located by Diana Ybarra of the Boyle Heights Historical Society and is courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.
William and Elizabeth Perry's daughter Mary B. (or Mamie) was born in 1861 and quickly showed a great facility for music, especially singing.  In 1880, having performed in Los Angeles for a period of time, she went to Italy to further her studies in operatic singing.  She made her debut there there following year and, known as "Maria Perrini," her high soprano brought her some renown.

Returning to Los Angeles, however, Mamie married musician Charles W. Davis in 1883.  It can be assumed that the estate named for the two was presented as a gift by her father, who likely built the impressive residence there.  Davis, however, suffered from tuberculosis, which may have brought him to semi-arid Los Angeles, and died in July 1885.

Presumably, Mamie Davis sold the house and estate on South Boyle not long after her husband's early and untimely death.  A biography and photograph (see above) of her appeared in an 1889 Illustrated History of Los Angeles County and it seems she still lived in the house.  In 1888, she married another musician, Charles M. Wood, a native of Springfield, Illinois, who manged the Los Angeles Theatre and later turned to the real estate business.  The couple remained in Los Angeles, living with her parents and, after William Perry's 1906 death, in several residences in the city.  Wood died in 1928 and Mamie in 1949, when she was in her late eighties.  Interestingly, their daughter Elizabeth married James Stack and this couple's son was the renowned actor Robert Stack.

Mamie Perry Davis Wood's passport application photo from 1924 as obtained from  After marrying musician Charles Wood in 1888, Mamie continued to perform for benefit concerts and other events and lived in Los Angeles until her death in 1949.  Notably, her great-grandson was actor Robert Stack.
By June 1890, the Perry-Davis property had a different owner, as profiled in a lengthy article about Boyle Heights in the Los Angeles Herald newspaper.  A reporter toured the neighborhood, which had grown dramatically during the great land boom of 1887-88, but, like the rest of the Los Angeles region, had seen a contraction in the years afterward.  In any event, the correspondent left the residence of Elizabeth Hollenbeck (covered in a recent post here), which was soon to become the Hollenbeck Home for the Aged, and wrote, "Just beyond this is the unique and magnificent residence of Mr. Fidel Ganahl.  It has usually been known as the Perry-Davis Place.  It would ornament any city in the country."

Fidel Ganahl was born in Schruns, Austria, in the far western part of the country near the Swiss and French borders, in 1849.  He emigrated with his family to America in 1866 and settled in St. Louis, where the Ganahls became well-known in the lumber business.  He remained there until about 1890 when he relocated to Los Angeles and joined his brothers, Frank and Christian, in forming the Ganahl Lumber Company, which became a major firm and still exists today.  It is notable that the Perry-Davis estate had two consecutive owners with ties to the lumber industry.

In the 1890 and 1891 Los Angeles city directories, Ganahl's residential address is given as the northwest corner of Boyle and Stephenson avenues, with Stephenson later becoming Whittier Boulevard.  His stay at the house, however, was also somewhat brief as, in May 1896, he left the Ganahl Lumber Company and made his way back to St. Louis.  Ganahl continued in the lumber business there for another twenty years, but maintained his ties to southern California.  In 1916, he bought a ranch at Corona in Riverside County and, after his wife's death three years later, moved there.  He died in 1921 and the Corona ranch remained in the family hands for at least 75 years more.

It is not known yet who owned and/or occupied the Perry-Davis estate for the twenty years between Fidel Ganahl's departure and the sale in 1916 to Isadore Bernstein, who was reported in the Times article to have bought the property from a Mary Turner, for whom the eight-acre tract was held in trust.

The signing of the the contract for the first movie produced by the Bernstein Film Company, ca. 1917.  Company founder Isadore Bernstein is seated at the desk.  Seated to his right are Sam Wood and Grace Kingsley of the Los Angeles Times.  Standing from left to right are Murdock McQuarrie, an unidentified man, star Betty (Rosetta) Brice, and director Jack Pratt.  Courtesy of Marc Wanamaker/Bison Archives.
As thoroughly documented by John Mandel, the Bernstein Studio included a main filming area of over 150 x 50 feet leveled on over 750 concrete piles on the hillside location, with the Perry-Davis/Ganahl house serving as studio headquarters.  Mandel noted that Bernstein promoted his enterprise as making films "for the clean-minded millions" and had a motto of "Pictures for the Clean-Minded" painted on the wall of the studio facing the Daughters of Charity orphanage—perhaps to assure the nuns of his good intent!  Moreover, Mandel observed that Bernstein had managed a boys' home in New York and, though a Jew, edited the Christian Herald there.

This detail at the Bernstein Studio shows a banner with the studio's motto, "Pictures For The Clean-Minded."  Courtesy of Marc Wanamaker/Bison Archives.
Though he had grand plans for a seven-film series that was motivated by a pure ideal of romantic love, rather than base passions and lust, the epic never was filmed and the three films produced by the studio consisted of a western and two dramas.  These movies, Who Knows (1917), Loyalty (1917) and Humility (1918) appear to have striven for the clean approach Bernstein promised.  Another film, the 1917 comedy Nuts in May, was filmed at the studio and its star, in his first such role, was comedian Stan Laurel, who was paid all of $75 for his work.

Mandel also learned that, by April 1919, Bernstein was no longer involved in the studio, having taken on the presidency of the National Film Corporation.  He had short tenures at Universal and a San Mateo studio called Pacific Studios before having what may have been a nervous breakdown.  Later, however, he became a writer for Universal and worked on some 65 projects until 1938.  Leaving the film industry, he worked for an oil tool company before his death in 1944.

This publicity shot from March 1917, titled "Bernstein's / The first turn of / the camera," shows the studio chief turning the crank of the tripod-mounted device at the far right, while the cast and crew look on.  Courtesy of Marc Wanamaker/Bison Archives.
As for Boyle Heights studio, it continued on under different ownership with the Ormsby Film Corporation making a picture there in 1920; P. D. Sargent producing two films there in 1921 and 1922; and there was an "American Studio" shown there in the 1924 Los Angeles City Directory.  Mandel discovered, however, that apartment buildings were on the property by the mid-1920s, though it is not known when the Perry-Davis/Ganahl mansion was razed, perhaps during the construction of Interstate 5 in the 1950s.  Today, apartments cover what is left of the eight-acre parcel.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California.  Information on the Bernstein Studio is from John Mandel.  Assistance in identifying the Perry-Davis estate came from Diana Ybarra, president of the Boyle Heights Historical Society.  Thanks are also extended to Marc Wanamaker and his Bison Archives, an amazing treasure trove of film-related material, for permission to use photos from the archives.

Friday, February 22, 2013

John Edward Hollenbeck and Boyle Heights

His tenure in the emerging neighborhood of Boyle Heights was short, just under a decade, but the mark John E. Hollenbeck made in the community and in the Los Angeles area generally was notable and is still maintained in some key ways.

Hollenbeck was born in Summit County, Ohio, south of Cleveland and near Akron, in 1829 and was descended from Dutch settlers of New York from the mid-17th Century.  His family relocated to Illinois in 1845, a common occurrence as persons from the "Old West," meaning places like Ohio moved further west to new opportunities.  Hollenbeck, who generally went by his middle name and was known as "Ed," didn't take too well to his new home or to farming and convinced his father, also named John, to let him go back to Ohio to pursue his career.

John Edward Hollenbeck (1829-1885)

By the end of the 1840s, Hollenbeck had taken up the occupation of machinist and worked for a time for a small firm called Bell and Cunningham.  In the 1850 census, listed as Edward, the 21-year old machinist lived with another family in the community of Tallmadge near Akron.  Meantime, his family remained in Pecatonica, Illinois, northwest of Chicago close to Rockford and not far south of the Wisconsin border.

The uproar caused by the California Gold Rush made its way throughout America and much of the rest of the world and hordes of gold seekers made their way to the new El Dorado.  Included was an older brother of Hollenbeck, Alphonzo, and young "Ed" himself.  In 1850, probably very shortly after that census was taken, he made his way to New Orleans and sailed for Panama.  Like many travelers through the tropics, he took ill, however, after the steamer he was to take to California broke down.  Soon out of funds, Hollenbeck was compelled to remain at Panama to work and earn money on steamships to hopefully continue his travels. 

At the end of 1851, he migrated to Greytown, Nicaragua and soon opened a store, eventually abandoning his plans to search for gold once he was well established in Central America with his mercantile business, owning a steamship, contracting to supply wood to steamers, and operating the Nicaragua Hotel.  Eventually, he owned a fleet of ships to carry travelers, cargo and government mail and became very successful.

John, Elizabeth and John, Jr., ca. 1856, not long before boy, the only child of the Hollnbecks, died.
He also had a partner in this, especially with the hotel, where he met Elizabeth Hatsfeld, a native of Mainz, Germany, who went to Central America from New Orleans, where she had lived since childhood, and became a partner and manager in the hotel before Hollenbeck bought it.  Elizabeth had been twice married and widowed and in March 1853 she married Hollenbeck.  With her financial acumen, they were an apt team in the hostelry business and life was generally good in Nicaragua, but there were problems.

One was that they welcomed a son, John Edward, Jr., into their life at the end of 1854.  Fearing that the tropics might be dangerous for the young one's health, they took him back to the United States and placed him with Hollenbeck's family in northern Illinois before returning to Nicaragua.  In summer 1857, however, a diptheria epidemic broke out and took the two-and-a-half old child.  The couple never had other children.

Another issue was American filibustering in Central America, principally that of William Walker, whose fanatical and violent dream of establishing his own empire caused havoc in Nicaragua; in fact, the Hollenbecks were taken prisoner.  When Walker was captured and executed, the Hollenbecks were released, though much of their property had been destroyed.

In 1860, the couple decided, having been successful in reestablishing themselves in Nicaragua, to sell out and go back to the United States, specifically Missouri, but the onset of the Civil War led them to believe that they would do better back in Central America so they returned.  Hard work in the tropics also meant frequent exposure to ill health, but his enterprises in transportation and shipping were doing well through the 1860s and first part of the 1870s, though California always remained in Hollenbeck's sights.

The Hollenbeck home, La Villa de Paredon Blanco, from Thompson and West's history of Los Angeles County (1880.)

This in mind, he visited Los Angeles in 1874 when the town was in the midst of its first development boom and it was decided by he and Elizabeth that they would make the small, but growing, city their home.  Hollenbeck deposited $25,000 in the bank of Temple and Workman and returned to Nicaragua to close up his affairs for permanent settlement in Los Angeles.

He and his wife arrived in the town in March 1876 to learn that a financial panic emanating from San Francisco, due to overspeculation in silver mining stocks in Virginia City, Nevada, had engulfed Los Angeles and the poorly-managed and undercapitalized Temple and Workman bank had failed, taking his money with it. 

Nonetheless, Hollenbeck went ahead and invested heavily in local real estate, having had an agent star tin 1874 with acquisitions that eventually totaled nearly 7,000 acres.  This included about 550 acres of Rancho San Antonio a few miles south and east of Los Angeles; over 5,000 acres on the Rancho La Puente, half-owned by William Workman of the ruined bank; several properties in downtown Los Angeles; and an investment in the new community of Boyle Heights, recently laid out by William H. Workman, nephew of the failed banker, and others. 

With nurseryman and orchardist Ozro W. Childs and former governor John G. Downey, Hollenbeck lent his support for the purchase by the State of California for what became Agricultural Park, now Exposition Park.  This was in 1880, the same year a Methodist college was started adjacent to the new park site--the school became the University of Southern California.

In downtown, Hollenbeck acquired, in early 1879, a lot at Spring and Second streets.  Five years later, he built a two-story hotel, naturally called The Hollenbeck.  A few years after his death, Elizabeth added two more floors to the structure, which was a well-known hostelry for many years in the city.

The Hollenbeck Hotel at Main and Second streets in downtown Los Angeles.  The building was demolished in 1933.

He also became the majority owner of the Spring and Sixth Street Railway, which was the first streetcar project in Los Angeles when it debuted in 1874 due to the involvement of real estate enterpreneur and District Court judge Robert Widney, F. P. F. Temple (in whose failed bank Hollenbeck had deposited that $25,000) and others.  Later, Hollenbeck became a principal in the Main Street and East Los Angeles line and invested, shortly before his death, in the West Second Street cable railroad line.

Hollenbeck served on the Los Angeles City Council in 1878 and that year was a founder of the Commercial Bank of Los Angeles, of which he was president.  Two years later, he became the first president of the First National Bank of Los Angeles.

As to Boyle Heights, Hollenbeck acquired a section, or 160 acres, of the new community from its founder William H. Workman at a time when the local economy was depressed and the new enterprise struggling.  As Workman's daughter, Mary Julia (later a prominent educator, social worker and civic activist) wrote, "My father had carried on a lone struggle to secure the water and to develop the hill land until dear Mr. Hollenbeck came.  From that day, father had not only a strong personal friend but a most able and far seeing collaborator."  According to her, Hollenbeck advised Workman to open more east-to-west streets from downtown to Boyle Heights, with only First and Seventh then crossing at that time.

Not surprisingly, Mary Julia Workman had very positive things to say about Hollenbeck, stating that he "had a most delightful and dynamic personality;" that he "was genial and radiant, but he was also loyal and reliable;" and that, finally, Hollenbeck was,"generous and kind, but he was farseeing and practical and had unusual business ability."  Whether or not she laid it on a little too thick (and there were more expressions of admiration beyond the ones given here,) perhaps, there is no denying that Hollenbeck very quickly rose to the upper ranks of the little city's elite

The Hollenbeck residence, known as the Villa de Paredon Blanco, was a large Italianate-style house on the bluff (Paredon Blanco) overlooking the city and it was surrounded by the kind of lush, varied landscaping for which wealthier Angelenos were becoming increasingly known.  Hollenbeck also encouraged family members to join him in his new hometown.  His brother Alphonzo actually was here slightly before John, but died in Los Angeles in 1873. 

When John and Elizabeth came permanently to live in Los Angeles, they had left Central America for the East Coast, taking in the American centennial exposition at Philadelphia.  On their way west, they invited Hollenbeck's father to live with them and they all took the transcontinental route from the Midwest to the Coast, though the elder Hollenbeck took sick on arrival in California and died in the northern part of the state.  The oldest sibling, Silas, migrated to Los Angeles in 1882 and lived there until his death about two decades later.

Then there was John's only sister, Susan, who was first married to Chester Wells in Illinois and with which she had three children.  After Wells died in 1866, she married James G. Bell, a Kentucky native who had been friends with John Hollenbeck, and who also a widower with three children.  Together, the couple had two children, Maude and Alphonzo, the latter named for Susan's brother.  The Bells came to Los Angeles at the time that John and Eliza migrated here and they obtained 360 acres of the same Rancho San Antonio in which Hollenbeck had bought property.  James Bell helped develop a community named Obed, but which later became the town of Bell.  Bell Gardens also became a town derived from the family's involvement in that area.

The Bell family became even more prominent through Susan Hollenbeck and James Bell's youngest child, Alphonzo, who became a real estate investor and, quite luckily, an oil magnate, through an investment at Santa Fe Springs that was not made with black gold in the forecast, but which was there in huge amounts.  Alphonzo Bell went on the create the upscale community of Bel-Air and developed portions of similar tony areas, like Westwood, Pacific Palisades and Beverly Hills.  His namesake son was an eight-term Republican member of Congress, representing the same Westside area of which his father had developed so much.

Finally, James Bell was a founder of Occidental College, when it opened in Boyle Heights in 1887.  Daughter Maud was one of the first two graduates of the school and Alphonzo, Sr. and Jr were also alums of the school, now in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles.

John Hollenbeck had only been in Los Angeles as a permanent resident for just under nine years when he was stricken by a sudden stroke and died on 2 September 1885.  He was only fifty-six years old, but had lived, by any standard, a remarkable life from rural Ohio to the tropics of Central America to the nascent city of Los Angeles, achieving significant wealth and power, but also struggling through political turmoil, the death of his only child, and other adversities. 

A circa 1920s view of boaters at the lake in Hollenbeck Park.  From the collection of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California.

In his honor, his widow Elizabeth and friend and Boyle Heights business partner William H. Workman donated portions of their property to the city for the creation, in 1892, of Hollenbeck Park, which is one of the most notable features of Boyle Heights.  In 1896, the Hollenbeck residence was refashhioned into the Hollenbeck Home for the Aged, now Hollenbeck Palms, a retirement care facility that is approaching 120 years of operation.  The Hollenbeck station of the Los Angeles Police Department also represents his legacy of involvement in the community, which was actually renamed Hollenbeck Heights for a brief time in the 1920s (as covered in this blog previously.)  Out in the eastern San Gabriel Valley, there is a Hollenbeck Avenue in West Covina and Covina and a second Hollenbeck Park, this in Covina.  In  Huntington Park, there is also a Hollenbeck Street.

Boyle Heights certainly would have continued on if there hadn't been John Edward Hollenbeck's involvement in it from its earliest days, but it would not have been the same.  Ironically, he died the same year the transcontinental railroad directly reached Los Angeles and ushered in a land and population boom that greatly transformed the city and Boyle Heights in ways, to a large extent, that Hollenbeck evidently had foreseen.  The neighborhood has changed a great deal since then, but Hollenbeck deserves to be remembered for his early active efforts in Boyle Heights.

Information for this post was obtained from William Stewart Young's 1934 book A History of Hollenbeck Home, Thompson and West's Illustrated History of Los Angeles County, California (1880), and genealogical material found on, among others.

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