A vanished city lives again...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The cornerstone ceremonies, 1888/1936

View looking southwest from near today's intersection of Temple and Spring Streets. Courtesy U.S.C. Digital Library.

Recently, I found quite a bit of new information on the cornerstone of the old Los Angeles County Court House, which expands upon my post here from last year.

This newspaper article describes the ceremony of the laying of the cornerstone when construction began in the spring of 1888.


Laying of the Corner-stone Today– All Ready.

     An event of considerable importance to the community at large will take place this afternoon, when the corner-stone of the new courthouse will be laid, under the auspices of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of California, Grand Master Hiram Nathan Rucker officiating.
     The ceremonies promise to be both impressive and imposing in character, and arrangements have been made to accommodate some thousands of spectators. The members of the Darius Lodge will assemble at their lodgerooms at 1 o'clock, and appear in the procession as members of the Grand Lodge.
     Cœur de Lion Commandery No. 9, Knights Templar, will assemble at its asylum at the same hour, and will act as escort to the Grand Lodge.
     Delegates from all the Southern California lodges will be present, and it is expected from 300 to 400 of the Masonic brethren will be in line when the procession leaves the Masonic Temple. From thence they will wend their way down First street to Main street, Main street to Temple street, Temple street to Castelar street, and counter march on Temple to courthouse site.
     A platform will be erected surrounding the stone to be laid, upon which the grand officers of the Grand Lodge, the office bearers and the Masonic choir will be accommodated.
     The attendant ceremonies will be initiated by the band playing an appropriate selection. The Very Rev. Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge will offer prayer, after which an ode will be sung by the Masonic choir. T. E. Rowan, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, will then invite the Grand Master to lay the corner-stone, and the Grand Master, on behalf of the fraternity, will express his acceptance of the invitation and his readiness to perform the service proposed.
     The ceremony of laying the stone will then be proceeded with and laid according to the ancient usage, with Masonic honors.
     The Grand Master and his officers will then return to their seats while the choir sings another ode.
     An oration will then be delivered by the Grand Orator, after which the entire assemblage, accompanied by the band, will join in the "Old Hundred," and the ceremonies will be terminated with a benediction by the Grand Chaplain.
     The processions having reformed will return along Fort street to Third street; Third street to Main; Main to First street, and along First to the Masonic Temple.

The monumental edifice – clearly built to endure for the ages – was torn down after standing for only 48 years. When it was being demolished, the highlighted section below containing the cornerstone (outlined in white) was left intact.

Courtesy U.S.C. Digital Library.

The red circle shows the same grouping on the day the time capsule inside the cornerstone was opened on May 12, 1936.

Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library.

The following day, the Los Angeles Times ran this front page article on the ceremony. The writer's somewhat bemused tone here differs from the more formal presentation of the earlier article. He makes light of just about everything and everyone. I had to chuckle, myself, when I read about the bottle of old whiskey that was rumored to have been placed in the cornerstone!



Old Cornerstone Relics Found


Thousands Attend Ceremony Which Yields Papers Printed in 1888



     Yellow as great-grandmother's letters, a bundle of historic papers was lifted into the shimmering sunlight yesterday after forty-eight years in a slab of rock.
     Some 2000 persons stood on tip-toes and peeped over one another's shoulders as Marshall Stimson, president of the Historical Society of Southern California; Joseph Mesmer, president of the Pioneer Society, and an overalled workman with a chisel cracked the cornerstone of the old County Courthouse and pulled out a little copper box.


     They were gathered at the red sandstone ruin at Temple street and Broadway, kicking up a haze of white mortar dust, and pushing aside a cordon of deputy sheriffs to crowd round the platform and watch Mesmer reach inside the box, draw out a sheer of paper and shout:
     "Bank book of the public schools of the city of Los Angeles."
     "For what year?" called out an elderly lady.
     "For the year 1888, the year this cornerstone was laid," answered Mesmer at the top of his voice.


     He reached into the box again and pulled out another surprise–a blank piece of paper.
     "The letterhead of the county of Los Angeles," he said.
     He reached in again: "A bird's-eye view of the Santa Ana Valley." And again: "A copy of the Los Angeles Times, Thursday, April 26, 1888."
     He coughed and his voice cracked. He shook his head defiantly and shouted again:
     "A medical prescription by Dr. Kurtz. I don't know what for."


     His voice wavered again and he grinned and turned to Stimson who reached in for the next surprise and shouted so he could be heard across the street:
     "Program of the Sixty-second Anniversary Ball of the International Order of Odd Fellows. Does that stir up old memories?"
     For half an hour he reached in, plucked out a paper and shouted until towards the end his voice was beginning to scratch too. Finally he gave the last shout:
     "A brown 2 cent stamp."


     The crowd dispersed. Such a crowd will never gather again in this city. There were men and women there many of whom had not seen each other for forty-eight years, men and women who saw the cornerstone, which was opened yesterday, laid with pomp and great ceremony.
     As The Times of April 26, 1888, put it: "An event of considerable importance will take place this afternoon."
     One of the oldest was A. C. Shafer, 92 years of age, who was elected a City Councilman in 1888.
     "To tell you the truth I don't remember much about the laying of the cornerstone," he said. "I didn't care much for that sort of thing in those days. There were other things I liked better."


     The pioneers were not especially gregarious. Most of them found a seat early, sat there throughout the ceremonies and paid scant attention to their contemporaries. Each was surrounded and ministered to by a little bodyguard of friends and relatives.
     Their recollections were surprisingly vague.
     A considerable fright was thrown into the arrangements committee when S. W. Duncan, father of the Topsy and Eva Duncan sisters, went to Stimson and reported the wrong stone had been located.
     "That stone on the northeast corner that you plan to open isn't the one at all," he said. "You ought to be opening a stone in the arch. I know. I put the mortar in myself."


     This was Monday night, about sixteen hours before the great ceremony was to take place. Stimson called all the members of the Board of Supervisors.
     "I'm not sure which one it is," said each one.
     He called on this friends.
     "We don't know," they said.
     Finally he called Attorney Ray Howard, who said:
     "I was there at the time. The cornerstone is in the arch, I'm pretty sure."
     "Ray," said Stimson, "how old were you at the time?"
     "Eight years old," said Howard.
     "Well, I'm going to get up at 6 o'clock in the morning and find out for sure. I'm not taking the word of an 8-year-old boy."
     At 6 a.m. Stimson and a workman were on the scene, tapping stones. Not a stone in the arch rang as if it had a hole in the center. So they decided on the stone in the northeast corner that bore the date, 1888.
     "Let me tell you, I was glad it was the right one," said Stimson after the ceremony yesterday. The other cornerstone, long rumored in tradition will be carefully watched for by workmen for it is said to contain rare old whiskey, packed in as a prank.


     The crowd began gathering early. By 11:30 a.m. the platform reserved for old-timers was crowded and some of the most elderly had no seats.
     "I told them they should have built it twice as big," grumbled Stimson.
     The supposed cornerstone with 1888 carved on it sat in a fragment of wall the wreckers left standing. After a preliminary speech by Edwin A. Meserve, representing Ramona Parlor of the Native Sons of the Golden West, presentation of nearly fifty persons who were present at the laying of the stone, introductions of Miss Frances E. Mullard and Miss Frances Marshall, veteran county employees, and presentation by Paul Dougherty of Long Beach of the chisel used in fitting the stone in place, the boss workman shouted, "Let her go, Red."


     Red, sitting in a crane, pulled a lever and with a great clatter of machinery a wire cable girdling the cornerstone tightened. The stone rose into the air and swung over the heads of onlookers to the platform where it was lowered without a hitch.
     The copy of The Times taken from the cornerstone contained eight pages. This morning's contains forty-four pages, showing its growth with the city.
     Among the old-timers who attended the laying of the cornerstone and were invited for its opening yesterday, almost all accepting, are:
     Senator R. F. Del Valle, Charles H. Shaffner, Boyle Workman, S. W. Duncan, Attorney Ray Howard, Paul B. Dougherty, Julius Krause, architect and engineer, who worked on the building for fifteen months; Miss Mary E. Foy, T. R. Griffith, Mrs. T. D. Barton, George Cordier.
     William M. Stevens, Arthur Potts, Elizabeth Hale, William W. Jones, Fred W. Beau de Zart, Dr. Robert W. Miller, F. L. Benedict, Mrs. Mulvina Lott, Frank Leplat, Albert F. McDonald, Mrs. Hattie M. Goodrich, Mrs. Albert A. Eckstrom, A. C. Shafer, I. B. Wood, Milton R. Levy, O. E. Bly, Morris Albee, Refugio Bilderrain, W. A. Spalding, then an editor of The Times; I. B. Dockweiler, Adolph Ramish, Will Anderson and Herman C. Lichtenberger.

Today, the cornerstone resides in front of the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center at the intersection of Temple and Spring Streets, only about fifty feet away from its original placement in the 19th century courthouse. Photo taken September 20, 2014.

Photo by J Scott Shannon on Flickr.

Newspaper article transcriptions ©Los Angeles Times, Tribune Publishing. Used with purchased license.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Bruno Street – The last granite roadway in Los Angeles

I first learned about the granite-paved roadway of Bruno Street from a post in Floyd B. Bariscale's Big Orange Landmarks blog back in 2009, when my obsession with vanished Los Angeles was just gaining its initial momentum.

That linked article above tells the whole story better than I can, so if you want to learn the history of Bruno Street, there's your ref. This post, however, is mostly about my own recent visit, and the granite paving stone (actually known as a "sett") that I was able to score there.

If you read the Big Orange Landmarks post, it mentions that, about six years ago, the Los Angeles Department of Public Works did some repaving on Bruno Street, and they left a small pile of the granite setts behind afterward. Well, it turns out some of those discards are still there, so I asked the manager of the Homegirl Cafe that owns that particular piece of property if I could maybe have one, and he said yes! He gave me a really nice specimen, too, as you can see for yourself below. (Thanks, Joel!)

The side that was once part of the roadway surface was doubtless the one shown directly above; that face is slightly discolored and has a degree of smoothness to it, while the other side is still rough and essentially pristine.

What's really impressive to note about these stones is that they are clearly hand-hewn. Every sett was created with a chisel, hammer, and brute muscle power, and they were obviously set in place by hand, too, one by one.

Not coincidentally, about three weeks previously, a fellow amateur L.A. historian, Michael Ryerson, had given me a red paving brick he had recovered from a remnant of old Mignonette Street, on the other side of downtown off Fremont adjacent to the Harbor Freeway. The story of his own paving stone odyssey can be enjoyed here.

This is the Mignonette brick that M.R. gifted me. (The impressed initials stand for Los Angeles Pressed Brick Co.)

And finally, my two Los Angeles paving stone treasures, now on display here at home.

All photos © J Scott Shannon.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Palm pilgrimage

September, 2014, marks the centennial of the 180-year-old Hammel/Arcade Depot palm tree's transplantation to its forever home in Exposition Park, so my first visit to L.A. in two years was nicely timed.

Upon my arrival, though, I was initially alarmed to see that the ancient veteran had been the recent recipient of a rather severe trimming of its crown.

The arborists' perhaps overzealous labors left me with a nice souvenir of my palm pilgrimage, however: this shorn sheath fragment from The Oldest Living Thing in Los Angeles.

All photos © J Scott Shannon.


Monday, May 19, 2014

"French Flats"

Some years ago, while browsing digital archives online, I came across this photo of a dilapidated old Los Angeles apartment building. I found its quirkiness to be instantly endearing. It looked totally ramshackle, but at the same time, its architectural details suggested to me that it might have had a much more elegant past.

William Reagh, photographer. Courtesy California State Library.


So where exactly was this intriguing structure? No way to tell. The photograph's description contained no information more specific than it was taken on Bunker Hill in Los Angeles in 1963.

Not long ago, I found another photo of the building, but this time in color. Looking closely, I could tell it was taken around the same time as the black-and-white one (note the same three potted plants on the bottom floor porch). Moreover, this photo's online description did contain a specific address. It was 224 South Olive Street.

"Bunker Hill from Clay Street between 2nd and 3rd Streets, looking west," Palmer Connor, photographer. From the Palmer Connor Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. Link to full-res image.


Now I was anxious to find out what it looked like from the front. Thankfully, after a little more searching on the Huntington Library site, I found exactly what I was looking for. 224 is the building at right in the photo below.

"Olive Street between 3rd and 2nd Streets," Palmer Connor, photographer. From the Palmer Connor Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. Link to full-res image.

More history sleuthing after the jump!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Last Vestiges of Temple Square

City Hall is perhaps Los Angeles's most iconic and widely recognized landmark. Relatively few are aware, though, that for decades, one of L.A.'s earliest skyscrapers stood directly in the shadow of City Hall at the southeast corner of Spring and Temple Streets.

The International Savings & Exchange Bank Building was erected in 1907. When new, it towered over Temple Square and was among the most prestigious business addresses in the city.

"International Bank Building," Palmer Connor, photographer. From the Palmer Connor Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. Link to full-size image.


When construction of the present City Hall began in 1927, almost every structure on the site from Temple Street south to First Street was razed. For reasons that I've never been able to ascertain, however, the Bank of Italy Building, as it was then known, was spared demolition. This aerial view shows the Civic Center circa 1937. The now very much out-of-place bank building can be seen just to the right of City Hall, across Temple Street from the vacant lot where the old Post Office and Federal Building once stood.

Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library.


In contrast to the magnificent and monumental new City Hall, the dingy, aging Bank of Italy building became increasingly regarded as an eyesore. For years, it housed the city's Department of Public Health, but finally, in late 1954, the last remaining structure which stood along the old diagonal alignment of Spring Street was ordered taken down.

Here, looking far older than its actual years, the once-proud grand lady of Temple Square is succumbing to wreckers in January, 1955. The vantage point is the former site of the old 1888 Court House, at that time occupied by a cluster of wartime-era wood frame office structures.

"International Bank Building being demolished," Palmer Connor, photographer. From the Palmer Connor Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. Link to full-size image.

Going, going...

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Downtown Views, 1880s

Looking north on Main Street from the northwest corner of Fifth Street, circa 1886.

The house whose entrance can be seen at far left was built in 1869 at 343 South Main Street, and was the residence of one John H. Jones until 1900. In 1901, with a new address of 447 South Main, the house became The Belmont, a cafe specializing in oysters and other seafood. By 1907, the restaurant was known as The Beaumont. The Rosslyn Hotel was built on the site in 1911-1912. Today, it is known as Rosslyn Lofts.

Click image to see Google Maps Street View.

Fort Street (now Broadway) nearing First Street, also circa 1886.

In the background, the brand new home of the Los Angeles Times towers over its pueblo-era neighbors. The first three-storey brick structure built on Fort/Broadway, the Times Building heralded in the era during which the street grew to become the principal commercial district of old Los Angeles. The Times Building was destroyed in a unionist terror bombing in October, 1910.

Today, the Los Angeles Times occupies the entire city block bounded by Broadway, Spring, First and Second Streets. The Times' West Building (1972) looms at right.

Click image to see Google Maps Street View.


Friday, May 2, 2014

Little House on Pearl Street

This is Los Angeles, almost exactly a century ago. Doesn't look very familiar, does it? That's because, with the exception of a few homes in the hills in the far distance, every single structure you see in this photo is now vanished off the face of the earth.

"Panoramic view of Los Angeles, showing Sixth Street, Figueroa Street, Flower Street, east side of Sixth Street, ca.1916" (detail), C.C. Pierce, photographer. Courtesy USC Digital Library/California Historical Society. Link to full-res image.

When the picture was taken in 1916, this area was called the Apartment District. Today, it's the heart of the Financial District. The street to the left is Figueroa (formerly Pearl), and that's its intersection with Fifth Street at left. From 1928-1968, to our immediate right and just in back of us here, the late, lamented Richfield Building once stood. Now, the twin towers of City National Plaza would be directly in front of us, and past the Streicher Apartments, that entire city block is now occupied by the Westin Bonaventure Hotel. From the left edge of this picture into the hills to the north, the Harbor Freeway (I-110) now cuts a wide swath through this old residential neighborhood, and atop the hill at far upper right (if we could see through the buildings in front of us, that is), we would be able to catch a glimpse of the top of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion just beyond.


But this post isn't about any of these grand modern buildings. It's about the oldest structure you see in the photo above that was still standing in 1957 when the photo below was taken. See that rather forlorn-looking little wooden house in the rear of the parking lot?

"Oldest building in downtown Los Angeles," Palmer Connor, photographer. From the Palmer Connor Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. Link to full-res image.

That's the exact same building with the square white side that's in the right foreground of the picture at top. Although some architectural elements of the house suggest it might be from the 1870s, the structure actually makes its first appearance on a Sanborn fire insurance map in Volume 3 of the 1894 edition (it was not present in the 1888 edition). Its original address was 516 Pearl Street. When the St. Dunston Hotel was built on that property not long after the turn of the last century, though, the little house was moved to the rear of the lot and became 516-1/2 Figueroa. It was this move back from the street frontage that probably saved it from the wreckers for as long as it was.

Quite amazing to think that, in 1957, the "oldest building in downtown Los Angeles" had only been standing for about 65 years. And yet, 60-70 years was pretty much the maximum life span of any 19th century building in the old city. Los Angeles, impermanence is thy name...

(For more on this story, click here.)


Friday, February 14, 2014

View from atop Crown Hill, c.1886

This has to be one of the more remarkable images of historical Los Angeles that I have ever seen. The year is around 1886, and we're looking south toward what would become Long Beach from the present site of Belmont High School, near the intersection of Beverly Blvd. and Glendale Blvd. In the far distance at right is the still-recognizable profile of the Palos Verdes peninsula, at left, the Santa Margarita Mountains by San Clemente, and in between, what today is solid cityscape was then nothing but sparsely-settled open rangeland as far as the eye could see.

Click image to enlarge.

The photo was taken from the roof of the Belmont Hotel, which was located atop Crown Hill at the end of the old Second Street Cable Car line.

Courtesy U.S.C. Digital Library, California Historical Society.

The contemporaneous photo below shows the Belmont Hotel (upper left) as seen from Bunker Hill. The vantage point is near what would later become Hope Street overlooking Third Street (the road at the extreme left edge of the photo is Third). Today, the Harbor Freeway (I-110) runs left/right directly through this little valley. The familiar hills overlooking Hollywood can be seen in the distance.

Courtesy U.S.C. Digital Library, California Historical Society.

To learn more about the historic Belmont Hotel, click here.