Tuesday, December 30, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 29, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Times reported on September 8, 1888, that 

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Historic Photos of Boyle Heights: The Cummings Block, circa 1889

This Friday, the Boyle Heights Historical Society will be hosting a talk and book-signing by Catherine López Kurland regarding her book, Hotel Mariachi: Urban Space and Cultural Heritage in Los Angeles, which was co-written by Enrique R. Lamadrid with photographs by Miguel A. Gandert and an introductory essay by Evangeline Ordaz-Molina and published by The University of New Mexico Press in 2013.

Kurland is a descendant of the López family, which settled the area known as Paredon Blanco in the 1830s and which became Boyle Heights several decades later. Her maternal grandmother, Sacramenta Lopez, married George Cummings and the couple built, in 1889, and operated the Cummings Block and Hotel at 1st Street and Boyle Avenue—the property has recently been known as “Hotel Mariachi” as well as the Boyle Hotel and has undergone an extensive renovation. Kurland first saw the building a little over a decade ago and it spurred her to research and write about the building and help in its preservation as a valued community space for Boyle Heights’ mariachi musicians.

So, here's an early photo of the Cummings Block, probably taken just after its completion 125 years ago.

A circa 1889 photograph of the newly-completed Cummings Block at the northwest corner of 1st Street and Boyle Avenue, Boyle Heights.  This is a copy of an original owned by the Hon. David A. Workman, grandson of Boyle Heights founder William H. Workman.  Click on the image to see it enlarged in a new window.
George Cummings hailed from the Empire of Austria and emigrated to the United States in time for the famed Gold Rush.  Working with a companion he met on the ship over from Europe, Cummings made some quick cash on his first foray in Tuolumne County, but a second effort in Mariposa County proved to be a failure.  He and his partner spent three years farming along the Merced River and, from 1853-58, engaged in cattle ranching.  In 1858, Cummings purchased the Tehachapi ranch of over 3,000 acres, though two years later in the federal census he was counted among the residents of Los Angeles.  He later bought a section of 160 acres at Alpine Station in what is now Palmdale.

In 1869, Cummings married Maria del Sacramento López, daughter of Francisco López, whose father Esteban, obtained the area known as Paredon Blanco (White Bluffs) from Los Angeles pueblo authorities (more on the Lopez family can be found here.)  The couple first resided on the ranch at Tehachapi, where they appeared in the 1870 census, before relocating to the Lopez homestead, south of First Street and west of Boyle Avenue, mainly in the flats adjoining the river.  In 1876, just as Boyle Heights was getting its start, the couple built a $4,000 home on a 40-acre parcel in the Mount Pleasant Tract.   There, the pair had 2,000 orange trees and 1,500 deciduous fruit trees, among other improvements.  George died in 1903 in Bakersfield and Sacramento lived until 1930.  The couple had five sons and two daughters.

As for the Cummings Block, the four-story brick structure was designed in the Queen Anne and Italianate styles by architect W.R. Norton and cost $22,000 to build, according to a Los Angeles Times summary of buildings completed during 1889.  It featured cast-iron columns along the first floor storefront, patterned bricks for decorative panache, and a distinctive turret at the corner.  Originally, the building housed the Cummings Hotel (later the Mount Pleasant--the name of the nearby subdivision created by Cummings), comprised of several dozen rooms, and which was geared towards the tourist trade.

The building of the structure was timed along with the completion of the Los Angeles Cable Railway, which utilized a viaduct along First Street to cross the Los Angeles River, traverse the "flats" on the east side of the river, and then climb the "paredon blanco."

Notably, 1889 also saw the completion of the Orphans' Asylum in south Boyle Heights as well as the Los Angeles County Courthouse and Los Angeles City Hall--all reflecting the tremendous land and population boom that engulfed the region after the 1885 completion of a direct transcontinental railroad line to Los Angeles.  The boom, however, soon went bust.  Still, the building survived as a hotel and then as a residential building, with such retail uses as a drugstore, dental office, laundry, music school and others.

Declared Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #891 in 2007, the building underwent a major renovation and upon completion of 2012 opened with 51 affordable housing units and three ground-floor commercial spaces, including a mariachi cultural center to tie-in to the structure's recent history as a residential space for musicians of that genre.

Concerning the Cummings Block's architect, William Robert Norton was born in Massachusetts in 1853.  Afflicted with tuberculolsis, Norton went west and practiced architecture in Los Angeles from about 1874, when he designed an adobe house for the president of the Riverside Land and Irrigating Company, to 1890 and then relocated to the Territory of Arizona.  Established in Phoenix, he designed schools, courthouses and private homes in that city, as well as in Globe, Prescott and other towns.  Norton also created the subdivision of Sunnyslope, now in the northeast part of the City of Phoenix.  His 1895 residence, badly damaged, still stands, partially rebuilt in a decaying part of Phoenix.  Norton died at age 87 in 1938.

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

Monday, August 11, 2014

"The Siren": The Boyle Heights Junior High School Newspaper, 1922

With today being the first day of school for the Los Angeles Unified School District, this seemed like a good opportunity to share some great history from Boyle Heights Junior High School's student newspaper, "The Siren," which made its debut on 19 October 1922.

The paper is a window into the community, the school, its students and the era and in coming posts, material will be shared from twenty-seven issues of the paper during the 1922-23 and 1923-24 school years, just a couple of years before the school name was changed to Hollenbeck Junior High.

The staff included editor-in-chief Maurice Nathan and associate editors Regina Karasick and Herman Kretzer, as well as a feature editor, literary editor, editors for boys and girls sports, and a joke editor.  There was a staff artist, Murray McClellan, a staff photographer in Clifford Garrett, and business manager Abe Turkel, assisted by Leonard Bastrup.  Finally, there was journalism instructor Helene Kuhnle.

Printing, of course, was a new offering in the school's curriculum and a room was set aside as a printing room, including, "two Chandler and Price job presses . . . [and] other printing equipment amounting to $3000 has been ordered.  Eighth grade boys "will take a ten weeks' course in printing" and "in time, it will also be a 9th grade elective."  Note that the school accommodated students in the 7th, 8th and 9th grades at the time.

The masthead and headline of the front page for the first issue of "The Siren," the student newspaper of Boyle Heights Junior High School, now Hollenbeck Middle School, 19 October 1922.  Courtesy of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California.
In this first issue, there was the headline of "Mr. Reed Boosts Newspaper!" referring to principal B.W. Reed giving permission for students to publish their own paper and writing a short note of congratulations to the editorial staff.  He noted, for example, that "you have an exceptional building, good equipment and splendid teachers.  All of these do not make a school.  Only through the combined efforts of the students themselves an a school be created that will furnish opportunities for development."  He wished that those students working on newspaper staff were able to develop a paper that brought "increased school spirit, and more of sunshine and happiness, thereby increasing our capacities for doing good."

Several of the articles in the twelve-page publication dealt with travel or related subjects.  For example, one teacher contributed an article about her European excursion, presumably during the summer break, while another wrote about her travels in Mexico.  There was also a school assembly at the end of September by a Dr. Munson, "a noted geologist and explorer," who spoke about his travels along the Colorado River and surrounding deserts.  Among his tales as one in which he said he found a skeleton with a note still nearby reading, "May God Help me.  John Raud.  1876.  Walla Walla, Washington."  Another noted that he explored a cave, in which "were the skeletons of a party of pioneers who had perished there."

A small item tucked away on page five noted that "our total enrollment is now 1617, the largest of any Junior High in the city."  This is not surprising as continuing surges in immigration to Los Angeles were especially noteworthy in Boyle Heights and the east side in general.  The next highest enrollment was McKinley Junior High (renamed George Washington Carver Middle School in 1943) in South Los Angeles, which had 1375 students.  Boyle Heights' population included 834 boys and 783 girls.

Other content concerned fires in Los Angeles, savings accounts, alumni news, trivia, short fiction, new campus buildings (including a boys' gymnasium 44' x 66' in size—the girls' gym was in future planning) and a lunch pavilion, both to be finished during the school year) and an athletics page.  This latter gave football scores for the previous week, including city high schools.  Because Roosevelt High was a few years from opening, the local school for Boyle Heights was Lincoln in Lincoln Heights, but the team was walloped by Long Beach High (now Long Beach Poly), 25-0.  Another local game of note involved a contest between two local athletic clubs, Superior and Benito, with the former winning 7-6.  It was noted that "the Superior Athletic Club is composed of present and former Boyle Heights students."

There was also a feature called "Your Opinion," in which five students and faculty were posed "a question dealing with school affairs" and their answers published.  The inaugural question was "What do you think of our practice of hazing scrubs?"  Of course, scrubs would be the incoming seventh-graders, subject to the time-honored tradition, in many schools, of many kinds of "hazing." 

Not surprisingly, the two seventh-graders were far from happy.  One, Alfred Chamwitz, bitterly noted, "Rotten.  They get too many little fellows and turn yellow when they see a big boy."  Willie Kaplan intoned that, "we shouldn't do it.  Their opinion of the school is lowered in this way.  It's a rotten stunt to pull on the helpless babes."  Ninth-grader Aaron Karlin, however, felt that "it doesn't harm them" and even claimed that "they [the scrubs] enjoy it."  His rhetorical response was, "if they do not object, why should we?"  Another ninth-grader, Sam Zagon, though, felt the practice should be abandoned and suggested that older kids should be "welcoming the scrub and showing him around."  Finally, instructor Mrs. Arrigonie simply said, "Poor little scrubs.  Spare them!"

Page eleven of the inaugural issue of "The Siren" with the sports section, including the drubbing inflicted by Long Beach High (now Long Beach Poly) on Lincoln High, which Boyle Heights students attended until Roosevelt High opened a couple of years later.
The paper also contained lots of humor and jokes, including "Want Ads" such as "Lost—A cane, by an old man, with an ivory head" and "For Sale—By Burbank farmer—If you want a big fat hog come out and see me."  Another was an old classic that's been roamin' around for years: "Brutus—'Caesar, how many hot dogs have you eaten today?  Caesar—'Et tu, Brute.'"  Then, there's "Rich Dad—'My son is a writer.'  Friend—'You mean he writes for money?'  Rich Dad (grimly)—'Exactly.'"

Additionally, there are a lot of advertisements from Los Angeles and Boyle Heights businesses, including the Boyle Heights Feed and Fuel Company at 2114 E. 1st; J. Rubin's shoe repairing shop at 2229 E. 4th; the Mission Meat Market at 1611 Brooklyn (now César Chavez); Jim Saporito's grocery at 607 S. Soto; A.S. Babb's furniture store at "2918 Whittier Blvd., formerly Stephenson Ave.," the name change just having taken place; the Hollenbeck Pharmacy at 4th and Chicago; and "The 5c Joint" at 6th and Mathews.

This latter had some fun with their ad, noting that it had "that open faced counter where U get those T bone steaks in capsules easy to take" as well as "the famous Grapine Punch, right from Niagra Falls—Dempsey's famous punch [that is, champion boxer Jack Dempsey]."  Also included: "the cooks says everything is free except the service" and "Everything is fresh except the cook."

Lastly, there was a small notice from student Sarah Goldberg telling her classmates that
Now is the time to begin saving your copies of "The Siren," for this is the first issue.  Lay this copy away, and the next, and the next.  Some forty or fifty years from now, when you think of those times that you were a boy or girl, and are longing to be young again, you can get these copies out and read them over to your grandchildren.  What a joy that will be to them for knowing you went to Boyle Heights Junior High.
Through the upcoming school year, other posts will discuss more of the issues of "The Siren."

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

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The International Institute of Los Angeles Centennial, Part Two

As the International Institute of Los Angeles, which has an office in Boyle Heights, celebrates its centennial, this post looks back to the opening of the Institute's office in the historic Perry Mansion, now located at the Heritage Square Museum, back in 1916.

The previous post from 3 July noted that the mansion was purchased in 1915 with plans to open by the New Year and some events were held in advance of the formal grand opening.  However, a near tragedy struck when, on 28 December 1915, a fire erupted in the structure.

According to a Los Angeles Times article, neighbors were awakened about 5 a.m. and saw flames issuing from the second floor of the building and quickly moving through four rooms there and then down a corner to the ground level.  While firefighters quickly responded and extinguished the blaze, the damage caused by the conflagration and the water used to fight the fire did substantial damage to the residence.

A 29 December 1915 article on a fire that erupted in the Perry mansion in Boyle Heights, where the International Institute of Los Angeles had recently relocated and was in the process of renovating for a planned grand opening for 1 January 1916.  The article was located by Rudy Martinez, Boyle Heights Historical Society advisory board member.  Click on the image to see it enlarged in a new window.
The article continued that renovations were nearly complete, but that some rooms were still being worked on when the blaze occurred.  Work had progressed enough, however, that two Christmas day events were hosted by the Institute—300 children from the organization's "foreign settlement" were thrown a party in the afternoon and another 200 young women saw a Nativity pageant that evening, with a performance, reading and thirty-member chorus involved.

The planned grand opening reception for New Year's Day evening included invitations to a thousand persons, but with the damage from the fire, it was anticipated that the event would be postponed until late January.

Unfortunately and as is often the case, the forecast was optimistic.  It was another two months beyond that that the reception finally took place, on 21 March 1916.  As reported in the Times, the event was scheduled for 2-5 p.m. and 8-10 p.m.  Nothing was stated in the article about specific program elements, though it was noted that the work of the Institute in "foreign work" was undimmed by the late December fire and that the organization was quite busy in the weeks leading up to the opening.

What was provided in the article was a list of the Immigration Committee members who would be present to receive guests at the reception.  Typically for the era, the committee was composed entirely of women, often wives of prominent figures in the Los Angeles area, as work with social services organizations was generally the domain of middle and upper class white women.

For example, Mrs. Willits J. Hole was the president of the committee.  The former Mary Weeks was born in 1868 in Butlerville, Indiana and married Willits in 1891 in nearby North Vernon, this area of southern Indiana being just west of Cincinnati and north of Louisville, Kentucky, where Willits finished high school before going to Boston to the Bryant and Stratton business college.

Just two years after their marriage and because of Mrs. Hole's health, the couple and their daughter Agnes migrated to southern California, where they spent a few months at Santa Barbara before settling in Whittier.  While there, Hole acquired 3,500 acres from the Sansinena family on the Rancho La Habra and then developed the town of that name. 

In 1897, he became the Los Angeles-based agent of the Stearns Rancho Company, based in San Francisco, but which managed the vast properties of Abel Stearns, a prominent Los Angeles landowner, who controlled most of what became north Orange County. 

During Hole's tenure, he was able to acquire one of the company's ranches, the Rancho La Sierra in Riverside, consisting of 10,000 acres.  He hired Mission Inn architect Arthur Benton to build a Craftsman-style mansion on the ranch and the property is now a retreat and retirement home for the Roman Catholic Society of the Divine Word.

Incidentally, the Hole's only child, Agnes, married Samuel K. Rindge, whose father, Frederick, bought the Malibu Rancho in 1892 and was a vice-president of Union Oil Company.  In 1940, the Rindges donated Willits Hole's art collection to U.C.L.A.

Another key figure was chairperson Ida B. Lindley, born in Monrovia, Indiana, southwest of Indianapolis in 1856 and whose family lived for a period in Minneapolis, where her father, Milton, was a real estate agent.  She was educated at Cincinnati Wesleyan, a women's college.  By 1875, the Lindleys migrated to Los Angeles and settled on a farm in the La Ballona district near the ocean and Ida had taken up teaching.

By the end of the century, Ida was working at the Marlborough School for girls, which was founded in 1889 by Mary Caswell and Lindley eventually became the principal.  She was also a professor of Latin at the University of Southern California.

Ida's brother, Walter Lindley, was another prominent figure in the region, having opened a free dispensary for medicines in Los Angeles in 1875 and become the city's health officer four years later.  He was a founder of the Whittier State School, the College of Medicine at U.S.C., California Hospital and of the Orphan's Home in Boyle Heights.  He also was the superintendent of the county hospital, president of the state medical society and secretary of the California Board of Health, a member of the city boards of education and library and a failed candidate for Los Angeles mayor in 1906.

This Los Angeles Times article from 19 March 1916 discussed the grand opening of the International Institute of Los Angeles at the former Perry mansion at Boyle Heights, an event postponed from its original New Year's Day date because of a late December fire. The article was located by Rudy Martinez, Boyle Heights Historical Society advisory board member.  Click on the image to see it enlarged in a new window.
A third woman of note was the wife of attorney and California Senator and Assembly member Reginaldo del Valle, one of the few prominent Californios of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Los Angeles and who was also a longtime member of the city's Public Service Commission.  Helen White was the daughter of Caleb White, a 49er who settled in Stockton and worked in general merchandise and the nursery and fruit-raising business.  Caleb moved his family to Los Angeles when he ran sheep in the Florence community of what is now south Los Angeles and then became an early settler of Pomona, where he had a 70-acre orchard and farm, and where White Avenue is name for him.

Helen married Thomas J. Caystile, a newspaper man who was one of the first owners of the Los Angeles Times, and the couple had one daughter.  In 1890, several years after his early death in 1884, Helen married del Valle and they had a daughter, Lucretia, who became well-known as an actress and a Vice-Chairperson of the Democratic National Committee in the 1930s.  Helen del Valle died in 1920, just a few years after the International Institute opened in Boyle Heights.

Another prominent woman on the committee was Clara Cline (1864-1936), a native of Stockton, whose husband Walter, originally from San Francisco, was owner of the Los Angeles Electric Company and Los Angeles Lighting Company.  The Clines resided on South Figueroa Street near U.S.C. and later in a $900,000 mansion in Beverly Hills.

Two other women of note were ex-oficio members of the committee, because of their positions with the Y.W.C.A., the original sponsoring organization of the International Institute. 

M. Belle Jeffery (born in 1868), who was the general secretary of the Los Angeles branch in 1915-16, only held that position locally for a brief period, but had the same role in Seattle and, for many years, in Minneapolis, where she worked for over 20 years before coming to Los Angeles and ended up there later after her stint in Seattle. 

Then there was Susan D. Barnwell, who was the immigration secretary for the local Y.W.C.A.  She was born in Atlantic, Iowa in 1880, where her father, James, was a physician.  The family moved to Los Angeles and her father continued his practice, while Susan pursued a teaching certificate, probably at the California State Normal School, a teacher college located where the Los Angeles Central Public Library is now situated.  She taught high school in Glendale in the early 1900s and engaged in other social work as well as with the Y.

After the grand opening of the Institute and its regular work conducted in the Perry Mansion, there was another special event that is worth highlighting and which will be the subject of the next post.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry with initial research provided by Boyle Heights Historical Society advisor Rudy Martinez, who located the Times articles on the fire and grand opening of the Institute.