Women and Outdoor Promotion: The Los Angeles Camera Club ca. 1900

In 1900, the inaugural issue of the West Coast’s first photography magazine Camera Craft, based in San Francisco, reported on a new organization in Southern California:

“The growth of the Los Angeles Camera Club, from an idea, six months ago, to an organization numbering over two hundred and fifty members at present, is the surprise of the year. It must be in the climate.”[1]

Over the course of the 1890s, the U.S. had witnessed the rapid formation of photographer societies due to recent inventions, like the dry plate process and the introduction of roll film cameras by Eastman Kodak, which made the medium accessible to wealthy amateurs. While sources document more than ninety American camera clubs across the country,[2] the most thriving activity was happening along the East Coast, notably within the avant-garde circle surrounding Alfred Stieglitz – as would most of the scholarly research conducted on this period later on.

To explore the widely unknown history of camera clubs on the West Coast, especially regarding activities in and around Los Angeles the photo collection of the Los Angeles Public Library provides an excellent point of departure. As for most European scholars of American photography, my research in the LAPL collection started online, as I typed in the words “camera club” in TESSA in 2016. Working on my dissertation on the San Francisco-based California Camera Club, I was pleasantly surprised to actually find relevant images – such as the print “L.A. Camera Club and bicycles,” ca. 1900. Although the image does not show the 250-member organization in its entirety, it does offer a rare glimpse of Southern Californian camera work: A group of 28 people, one-third of whom are woman (!), lounging on the side of a road with tripods and bicycles casually spread out in front of them.

L.A. Camera Club and Bicycles, Security Pacific National Bank Photo Collection, #00047688

It is a rare photograph of a very common activity – an outdoor-photography excursion. For West Coast residents, perhaps more than for practitioners located elsewhere, excursions were a cherished pastime. As the announcement in Camera Craft implied, many organizations in California prided themselves on the regional climate they considered particularly apt to exploring landscapes, trying out equipment, and creating scenic views. As the photograph (and other images taken the same day) demonstrates, belonging to a camera club provided a sense of community and shared outdoor pleasures – for both men and women.

L.A. Camera Club on Bicycles, Security Pacific National Bank Photo Collection, #00047686

While San Francisco’s camera club was established in 1890 and its well-equipped rooms had become a popular venue for local photographers, the Southern Californian scene that took off some ten years later also sought to advertise its offices. In November 1900, the Los Angeles Herald reported on an opening reception at the club’s new headquarters, praising the various dark rooms (six!), alongside toning-, enlarging-, and printing rooms.[3]

Wright and Callender Building, DWP Photo Collection, #1006049

The Wright and Callender Building on Hill Street (seen here in later years), whose top floor would be occupied by the Club in 1900, came to the attention of the club officers through Frank Wiggins, then director of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. His assistant, commercial photographer Carleton O. Valentine, became the first official president of the Club in late 1899. He was joined by another professional photographer, Frederic Hamer Maude, who operated a business on West 1st Street and mostly documented Los Angeles and Southwestern landscapes (as this print of the Mount Lowe Mountains, ca. 1900, illustrates).

F.H. Maude, Mount Lowe mountains, ca. 1900, Security Pacific National Bank Collection, #00035025

Although the label ‘camera club’ brings to mind a group of congenial amateurs with no intention of (or even explicitly opposed to) selling their work, Western clubs drew on the thriving local photography market in their membership. While the San Franciscan club was the result of such a dispute over commercializing prints (and then went on to embrace this practice), the Los Angeles Camera Club directly relied on the city’s professional network to display its work, disseminate it to larger audiences, and tout the latest equipment. The collaboration of regional boosters with the city’s photography scene does not come as a surprise as Jenny Watts, former curator of photographs at the Huntington Library, explains: “Southern California’s advocates needed photography to make words real, to demonstrate (or at least suggest) the authenticity of exaggerated claims about the future of a place like Los Angeles. Photography would be the rose-coloured glasses through which the country could glimpse this new city or, as some even claimed, this new civilization.”[4]

Like many Californian artists and writers of the time, Los Angeles Camera Club president Valentine then embraced exactly this booster rhetoric, notably in a piece in Camera Craft where he stated: “The Pacific Coast, from the orange and palm groves of Southern California to the pine-clad mountains of Oregon and Washington with caps of perpetual snow, forms the bountiful treasure-box of the camera devotee.”[5] With his business partner Arion Putnam, Valentine specialized in residence and architectural photography, and produced many picturesque scenes, for example the plaza and mission of Nuestra Senora Reina de Los Angeles near San Gabriel, seen here in a print from the California Historical Society.

The Plaza and Mission [Nuestra Senora Reina de Los Angeles], Views of Los Angeles, California, PC-GS-Photographers-Los Angeles-Putnam & Valentine, California Historical Society.
As a regional collective with promotional aspirations, the Los Angeles Camera Club set up a dynamic agenda in which local landmarks like the missions occupied a prominent place. These excursions were covered not only in the photographic magazines of the day, but also in newspapers, as on February 17, 1900, when the LA Herald announced a club outing to San Gabriel Mission.[6] The LAPL collection includes several photos of the mission in 1900, produced by the camera club, most probably during that very excursion.

Mission Bells, San Gabriel, ca. 1900, Security Pacific National Bank Photo Collection, #00079275

 

Mission San Gabriel, ca. 1900, Security Pacific National Bank Photo Collection, #00079207

Five months later, in July 1900, another trip led members to mission San Juan Capistrano on a special “club car” booked on the Santa Fe railway. In the pages of Camera Craft, a club member described the particular attraction of the missions to Southern Californian photographers: “[T]he arches, broken columns, long corridors and ruined altar [afford] opportunities for the photographer, which fills his soul with a great joy and empties his pockets of loose change in the endeavor to secure sufficient plates and films on which to carry away all the best views.”[7] Thanks to the halftone printing process, these views would be reproduced in photographic magazines and thus reached a much broader audience across the U.S. and Europe.

While many camera clubs offered outdoor programs, the Los Angeles Club – through its association with the Chamber of Commerce – was particularly keen on contributing to the creation of a historicized Western landscape. As part of a dominant group of Anglo-American settlers, these Southern Californian photographers shaped a victorious narrative of the region in which conquest and conversion of indigenous peoples and Mexicans were romaniticized. The driving force behind this production was Mrs. Harrye Forbes, along with her husband Armitage S.C. Forbes of Pasadena.

Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes, Security Pacific National Bank Photo Collection, #00043839

A preservationist and author, Harrye Forbes was very active in civic life, participating in Southern California’s Women Parliament and serving as chairperson of the California History and Landmarks Committee (and later as vice president of the Southern California Historical Society). More importantly, Forbes was one of the first women to be appointed on the board of directors of a camera club in a time when photographic societies barely started to offer active (rather than associate) female membership. As the majority of San Francisco’s camera club women held afternoon tea receptions or decorated headquarters, Los Angeles photographers like Harrye Forbes occupied active roles, such as director of classes on retouching, developing, and lantern slide making. In the summer of 1902, she gained additional recognition as chairperson of first Los Angeles photographic salon.[8]

L.A. Camera Club member, Security Pacific National Bank Photo Collection, #00047680

The May 1902 photographic salon, held at the club and co-organized by Forbes, was the first collective photography exhibition in Southern California. It included 550 prints submitted by 103 contributors, many of whom from San Francisco and Los Angeles, but also from Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and Louisiana. Club secretary Helen L. Davie, another active club woman, described the event in Camera Craft as “the first opportunity the Southern California amateur has had of comparing his efforts with those of the best-known workers throughout the North and East.”[9] Despite the emphasis on the “amateur” participation to demarcate the work displayed as artistic, many of the salon exhibitors were well-known professionals, like Charles C. Pierce, who showed nine prints of Southern Californian landscapes – similar to works in the C.C. Pierce collection at the LAPL.

C.C. Pierce, San Fernando, ca. 1890, C.C. Pierce Collection, #00023790

Forbes impact as a well-connected photographer and regional preservationist becomes tangible in the 1903 publication California Missions and Landmarks and How to Get There. Lavishly illustrated with images from her club colleagues and professionals – including C.C. Pierce, F.H. Maude, Putnam & Valentine, and others – the guide mixed historical information on the missions with hands-on tourist advice regarding train schedules and fares.

Mrs. Armitage S.C. Forbes, California Missions and Landmarks (1903). Illustration by Putnam & Valentine.

Opening to a picturesque depiction of the arches at San Juan Capistrano by Putnam & Valentine, Harrye Forbes’s introduction left little doubt about the goal of her guide: “First, to give the shortest and most direct routes whereby the traveler and student may visit the California mission buildings […]; and, secondly, to assist in creating further interest in the Mission buildings as Art treasures, hoping and trusting that ere long we, of the State of California, will learn to appreciate the legacy that Spain left to us and finally awaken to our responsibility – that of preserving and restoring the Mission Buildings.”[10]

The illustrations of crumpling arches and adobe facades amid roses insisted on the necessity of historic preservation with a sense of urgency and artistry. What Forbes and her colleagues considered authentic – the desired Spanish (i.e. white) lineage of the state of California – needed to be saved, and therefore promoted and made accessible in words, images, and practice. Marrying picture-taking and traveling, Forbes infused photography with historical and cultural meaning. To her, as to the many boosters in her circle, it was the ideal medium to internalize both a romantic European past and a dominant Anglo present – especially since cameras were mostly affordable by well-to-do Angelenos.

Despite this dynamic agenda of outings, exhibitions, and publications, the first Los Angeles Camera Club disbanded in 1904, after merely five years of activity, due to financial difficulties. By 1915, a second-generation Los Angeles Camera Club was underway. By the 1920s, the city would become a veritable photography hub, with organizations like the Southern California Camera Club, the Camera Pictorialists, or the Japanese Camera Pictorialists of California, all of whom organized exhibitions and provided venues for aspiring practitioners. Notable figures, like Edward Weston and Fred Archer (who went on to found his own school of photography after WWII), emerged out of this dense networks of clubs.[11]

Robert Douglas, Photography class, Fred Archer School of Photography, 1949, #00025303

While the impact of collective photography on regional promotion and the role of women in perpetuating such visual narratives in the early twentieth century require further examination, it is clear that camera clubs provided unprecedented participation in civic culture and the arts for many Westerners. Be it the state’s first photography exhibits, outings to missions and to the coast, or congenial strolls through the city, the Los Angeles Camera Club offered an attractive mélange of art, promotion, and historical instruction. Membership in the LACC gave female photographers, aspiring amateurs, and professionals an opportunity to leave their imprint on the cultural scene of the American West in the years before the film industry. The photo-collection of the Los Angeles Public Library provides a rare insight into these understudied decades and invites a closer look at how regional culture was shaped through collective picture-taking.

L.A. Camera Club at Point Fermin, Security Pacific National Bank Photo Collection, #00047678

 

L.A. Camera Club members, Security Pacific National Bank Photo Collection, Image# 00047682

 

[1] “News of Clubdom,” Camera Craft 1, no. 1 (1900): p. 32.

[2] Walter Sprange, The Blue Book of Amateur Photographers 1893: The New Photographic Club Directory. American Societies (London and Beach Bluffs, MA: W. Sprange, 1893).

[3] “Los Angeles Camera Club Holds a Reception in Its Cosy New Home,” Los Angeles Herald, November 17, 1900, p. 9.

[4] Jennifer A. Watts, “Picture Taking in Paradise: Los Angeles and the Creation of Regional Identity, 1880-1920,” History of Photography 24, no. 3 (2000): p. 243.

[5] “Notes,” Camera Craft 1, no. 2 (1900): p. 65.

[6] “City News in Brief,” Los Angeles Herald, February 17, 1900, p. 6.

[7] “News of Clubdom,” Camera Craft 1, no. 4 (1900): p. 200.

[8] For information on Forbes, see Peter E. Palmquist, Shadowcatchers II: A Directory of Women in California Photography, 1900-1920 (Arcata: Eureka Printing Company, 1991), pp. 128-129; See also Carolin Görgen, “‘Out here it is different’: The California Camera Club and community imagination through collective photographic practices. Toward a critical historiography, 1890-1915” (PhD diss., Université Paris VII Denis Diderot and École du Louvre, 2018), pp. 184-185, 246-248.

[9] Helen L. Davie, “The Los Angeles Salon,” Camera Craft 4, no. 6 (1902): pp. 248-249.

[10] Mrs. Armitage S.C. Forbes, California Missions and Landmarks (Los Angeles: Official Guide, 1903), p. 9.

[11] See Michael G. Wilson and Dennis Reed, Pictorialism in California: Photographs 1900-1940 (Malibu and San Marino: The J. Paul Getty Museum and the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Collections, 1994); Dennis Reed, Making Waves: Japanese American Photography, 1920-1940(Los Angeles: Japanese American National Museum, 2016).

Going up the Country: Tales of Topanga Canyon

Los Angeles is a city and county ringed by mountains where it doesn’t touch the ocean.  With the mountains come canyons, lots of ’em. Some of the most famous declivities are Laurel Canyon, north of Hollywood, Malibu Canyon, and Topanga Canyon. Images from the Los Angeles Public Library give glimpses of life and loss in Topanga Canyon, a winding ravine descending from Woodland Hills in the San Fernando Valley to the ocean between Santa Monica and Malibu. It is contained within the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA).

Topanga Canyon has a checkered history combining bohemian lifeways, sensational crime, and environmental catastrophes such as fires and mudslides. No doubt the remoteness of the locale and relative inaccessibility contributed to all three. Through it all, folks come to Topanga for its natural beauty and breathtaking views.

Early Days

The name Topanga comes from the local native people, generally called the Tongva, who originally occupied the area in close proximity to the Chumash. Despite its remoteness and unsuitability for ranching or agriculture, Topanga Canyon was part of two Spanish land grants in the early 19th century. By the late 19th century enough families were settled in the canyon’s folds to justify a small one-room schoolhouse. The chief occupation was cutting wood to sell to flatlanders. The beautiful canyon and its beach soon began attracting day trippers.

A 1902 photo shows students from the Topanga one-room school. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00024675. Below teacher Bessie Greenleaf stands in the school doorway in 1915. The Greenleaf family has deep roots in Topanga. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00069672.

 

 

The creek that carved the canyon ends at Topanga Beach. A group of folks enjoy an interlude on the sand, amidst seaweed, about 1898. A small child plays at left, background. Although the picture is labeled “Topanga Beach Picnic,” there is no food visible. The party likely arrived by horse cart and may have traveled over “Old” Topanga Canyon Road which had just opened. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00069667.

Away from it All

In the 1920s, Topanga attracted Hollywood stars looking for a quick getaway from the pressures of celebrity. Some, like Cecil B. DeMille and actress Pola Negri, built homes here.

Like so many other canyons, Topanga came to be a mecca for artistic types in the 1950s and beyond. The remoteness and natural beauty attracted many musicians. Neil Young recorded his album “After the Gold Rush” in his Topanga Canyon basement. Canned Heat’s Alan Wilson was inspired to write the rock anthem “Going Up the Country” here. Linda Ronstadt and Jim Morrison were frequent visitors. Beach Boy Dennis Wilson had a home nearby. More on that later.

Artists and fringe types still shape the culture of Topanga. The community includes an outdoor theater founded by blacklisted actor Will Geer in 1973, fairs and music festivals, and an annual film festival. A famous nudist colony closed in 2002.

Linda Ronstadt accepts a Grammy in the “best Mexican-American Performance” category, February 22, 1989. Photographer, James Ruebsamen, Herald Examiner Collection, Image #00083175.

The Dark Side of the Canyon

In the spring of 1968 Dennis Wilson picked up a couple of cute girls on PCH and brought them to his home just outside Topanga State Park. A day or two later he came home to find his house overrun with a group of strangers — a man named Charles Manson and his “family.” This encounter set off a series of unfortunate events, beginning with the murder of Topanga Canyon musician, Gary Hinman, who had befriended the group. That act was the first (or maybe not!) in a murder spree that took the lives of seven people (and likely more), including actress Sharon Tate and her friends.

Charles Manson, in a rare shaven appearance, during the penalty phase of his trail in Los Angeles, March 23, 1971.  The swastika he carved into his forehead is visible. Herald Examiner Collection, Image #00020778.

An earlier crime also involved the canyon. In 1951 Valley resident Barney Mapes dumped the bludgeoned body of his estranged wife in the ravine. In an unusual twist for the times, Barney was acquitted on the grounds of self-defense.

Fire and Rain

Wild fires are a perennial problem in the hills of Los Angeles. Topanga is no exception; spectacular and destructive fires have broken out many times.

 The fire in this 1948 image destroyed 25 homes. Herald Examiner Collection, Image #00045944.

 

Firefighters battle the 1938 fire in Topanga Canyon. Herald Examiner Collection, Image #00045945.

 

A group of fire fighters rest in the shade of their headquarters vehicle in Topanga Canyon, in November 1948. How many do you see? Herald Examiner Collection, Image #00057029.

 

Women with a child and pets wait to evacuate the canyon in the wake of a 1943 fire which destroyed their home. Herald Examiner Collection, Image #00057132.

 

Families fleeing the 1948 fire gather at the Topanga Canyon shopping center waiting for evacuation. Herald Examiner Collection, Image #00057062.

Where there are fires, can flash floods be far behind? Topanga has suffered from repeated cycles of floods and mudslides, sometimes trapping residents for days due to washed out roads. In recent years, mudslides have been an annual occurrence.

 

Five people and a dog walk past mounds of muck following a 1973 mudslide that closed the main road for several days. Photographer, E. Bruce Howell, Herald Examiner Collection, Image #00045957.

 

Several cars were washed fifty yards down the canyon in a 1974 mudslide, about a month after the photo above. Photographer, Mike Mullen, Herald Examiner Collection, Image #00045960.

Rocks and fossils: The Ecology of the Canyon

Old Topanga Road (possibly still called simply Topanga Road at the time), with Calabasas Peak in the background, in 1937. Topanga Canyon Boulevard, now State Route 27, was put in at about the same time. Works Progress Administration Collection, Image #WPA 147.

Topanga Canyon is a geologist’s dream. Cliffsides contain fossils, everything from scallops to whales, left by retreating ocean waters millenia ago. Sandstone structures, part of what is called the Vaqueros Formation, make dramatic appearances on the hills. Remnants of indigenous culture are found in the many bedrock mortars, man-made holes used to grind food products.

Vaqueros sandstone monoliths stand near Saddle Peak Road in Topanga Canyon, 1937. Works Progress Administration Collection, Image #00030237.

Vaqueros sandstone outcropping, 1936. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00030364.

Scallop shell fossils uncovered during road construction. Undated photo, Works Progress Administration Collection, Image #00030359.

 

USC Geology students carry a fossilized whale flipper and vertebrae out from a dig in Woodland Hills, circa 1920. The professor in charge, A.J. Tieje, may have been the photographer. Herald Examiner Collection, Image #00071898.

 

Herman J. Schultheis Collection, Los Angeles Photographers Collection, Image #00097866.

We’ll leave with this magical view of Topanga Boulevard taken by prolific German-born photographer Herman J. Schultheis in or about 1937.

Those Daring Young Men: The 1910 Los Angeles International Aviation Meet

110 years ago a remarkable event took place on Dominguez Hill in what is now the City of Carson, Los Angeles County. A scant six years after the Wright Brothers’ historic flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, an International Air Meet brought throngs to witness feats of aeronautical daring-do. The 11-day (January 10-20, 1910) meet featured lighter-than-air balloons and dirigibles, heavier-than-air monoplanes and biplanes, and some very experimental — and comical — machines that never got off the ground. The exposition was a media sensation, cementing the reputation of a number of aviation pioneers and establishing air flight as something more than a flash in the pan.

Photographs and images in the Los Angeles Public Library’s collection tell the tale. All images are from the library’s Security Pacific National Bank Collection.

The scene

The organizers of the event sought out a site where planes could fly safely and that was reasonably close to public transportation (no freeways in those days!). They found it on Dominguez Hill, a part of the Rancho San Pedro owned by the daughters of Manuel Dominguez. The family was persuaded to allow use of their land in exchange for free passes to the tournament. With financial backing from a number of eager sponsors, the organizers leveled out the area needed, now called Aviation Field, built a huge bandstand, set up areas for concessions, and improved the depot at Dominguez Junction on the Southern Pacific line, a half mile walk away.

Postcard commemorating the first International Air Meet in the United States. Image #00007970.

Lighter than air

The Los Angeles Examiner, a sponsor of the meet, stationed a balloon at mid-field. Part landmark, part advertising, the tethered balloon can be seen in many of the photos of the event. One side read “It’s all in the Examiner.” Image #00007966.

A balloon, probably the New York, with passengers, descends to its mark on Aviation Field. Image #00007977.

Labeled “Race of Dirigibles,” this photo shows two air ships, the nearer one piloted by Roy Knabenshue and the farther by Lincoln Beachey. The men control the machines while standing on the struts. Photo by C.C. Pierce & Co. Image #00007981.

Heavier than air

A biplane flies over the makeshift airfield at sunset. Image #00007916.

 

This image shows some of the principal aviators heading over to a photo op: from right are Hillery Beachey (brother of Lincoln Beachey), Charles Willard, Charles Miscarol, Louis Paulhan, Didier Masson, Glenn Curtiss, and Curtiss’ business manager, Jerome Fanciulli. Frenchmen Paulhan, Masson, and Miscarol brought the “international” to the international meet. Other participants were Americans. Notably absent were the Wright brothers who chose not to participate in the meet. Image #00007882.

Louis Paulhan, the French aviator, was the star of the show. He arrived in Los Angeles with two monoplanes, two biplanes, his wife, a mechanic, two students, and a poodle, not to mention a lawsuit alleging patent infringement that had been filed by the Wright brothers. Here he is celebrated for establishing a new flight endurance record, 110 miles. He also achieved a new altitude record of 4,164 feet, although he said he had gone higher. Paulhan is also remembered for giving a ride to William Randolph Hearst, no doubt sparking that man’s interest in aviation. Image #00007883.

Honorable mention

Any number of intrepid individuals made valiant efforts to show off their inventions at the meet. One of the more extraordinary sights was Professor J.S. Zerbe, an amateur inventor, in his five-tiered multiplane or “scalloped-winged” plane. Alas, the contraption never got off the ground. Image #00007930.

Those daring young women

Some of the aviators and aeronauts at the meet offered rides to lucky enthusiasts, these women among them. They happen to be Celeste Paulhan (left), wife of aviator Louis Paulhan, and Mrs. Dick Ferris, wife of the event manager. Mrs. Ferris was well-known in her own right — the stage actress and singer Florence Stone. While no female aviators flew at the meet, it was not many years before aviatrices Katherine Stinson, Edna Christofferson, Dorothy Heater, and others — not to mention Amelia Earhart — proved that women could indeed fly. Image #00007884.

High-flying imagery

Among the collection of images are a number which are clearly “photo-shopped” for the occasion. No doubt images such as the one below fooled many into thinking the skies were crowded with flying machines! Image #00007950.

Like the picture above, many images showed planes flying impossibly low over the crowd, which here appears unconcerned.

Legacy

By all accounts, the event was a huge success, attracting some quarter of a million ticket-buyers. While there were any number of mishaps during the air show, no serious injuries occurred. Later meets were not so fortunate; only one year later aviator Archibald Hoxsey crashed and died in front of spectators at the second Los Angeles aviation meet, held at the same spot as the first. And at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, Lincoln Beachey died when his plane fell into San Francisco Bay.

The media, of course, had a field day with the concepts and images of air flight. Many businesses were quick to capitalize on the event with special promotions and tie-ins.

Image #00007960.

More significantly, the air meet at Dominguez Field brought aviation home to the West Coast: Glenn Curtiss, Bill Boeing, and William Randolph Hearst are among the familiar names associated with airplane manufacturing who were at the show. On a more ominous note, the military took note of the possibilities flight presented; Army Lieutenant Paul Beck went aloft with both Curtiss and Paulhan where he tested the concept of aerial warfare by dropping sandbags on a target. Bullseye.

 

 

The Final Farewell — Funerals, Burials, and Memorials in Southern California

Southern Californians have panache. From the clothes they wear to the dishes they cook to the homes they make, they create their own style – often a mixture of tradition and innovation – and show it proudly. This flair for living does not stop once they stop living. As you can see from the photo archives of the Los Angeles Public Library, Angelenos leave this earthly realm and go to a final resting place with as much elegance or flamboyance as they had in life.

It seems that residents of L.A. are always ready for their close-up. A beautiful headshot of a recently deceased gentleman adorns his gravesite in a section of a Southern California cemetery serving the Chinese community (with all tombstone writing in Chinese).

chinese american gravesite

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1945.

While Southern Californians embrace the latest fashion in dress and style, cultural traditions are still important. A burial service for two Chinese-Americans is held at a cemetery in Southern California. As white is symbolic of death in East Asian cultures, the men attending this funeral wear white armbands over their dark suits.

chinese american funeral with white armbands

Harry Quillen Collection, photo taken by Harry Quillen on September 10, 1941.

At Eden Memorial Park Cemetery in Mission Hills, Rabbi Aaron Wise and Cantor Allan Michelson lead a procession bringing religious books (Tefillin) and religious objects (prayer shawls, for example) for the Sheymot burial. This type of burial is rare and occurs only when religious objects can no longer be used.

eden memorial park cemetery

Valley Times Collection, photo taken by Bob Martin on February 20, 1965.

The Pacific Ocean is the final resting place of one who loved the water and endeavored to keep all beach goers safe. A boat scatters the ashes of a lifeguard in the waters off of Santa Monica beach while surfers look on.

surfer memorial

Herald Examiner Collection, photo taken May 24, 1983.

Family and friends, from small children to senior citizens, gather for a graveyard funeral service honoring Ellen Rozier Crabtree and pose for a memorial photo.

african american graveside funeral

Shades of L.A.: African American Community, photo taken on February 5, 1932.

A man dances the Adewa (also known as Adowa and Adzewa), a traditional African dance, at the funeral of W.K. Anin, the father of Chief Nana Kofi Anin, a Ghanaian American. The dancer is wearing a costume of kente cloth, a silk and cotton fabric native to the Akan ethnic group of Ghana. The funeral is being held in the Crenshaw District of Los Angeles.

dancing the adewa

Shades of L.A.: Ghanaian American Community, photo dated November 7, 1996.

Here we see family members pouring liquids to invoke ancestral spirits, an important prayer tradition performed at traditional Ghanaian funerals.

african funeral traditions

Shades of L.A.: Ghanaian American Community, photo dated November 7, 1996.

Aimee Semple McPherson, the evangelist who founded Angeles Temple, broadcast sermons over her own radio station, and donated many hours and dollars to Southern California charities, was put to rest in October of 1944. Her funeral was attended by thousands of mourners, many who traveled great distances to pay their respects in person.

aimee semple mcpherson funeral

Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated October 9, 1944.

Francis Herman Pencovic was born in San Francisco in 1911. In April of 1948 he announced that he was the new messiah and claimed to have led rocket ships to Earth from an extinct planet. He founded the WKFL (Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith and Love) Fountain of the World cult in Simi Valley and changed his name to Krishna Venta. His group fought wildfires, fed the homeless, and gained national attention in 1949 when they were the first to offer aid to survivors of a commercial airline crash in Simi Valley. Krishna Venta was killed in a bombing carried out by two disgruntled former members of his church. Here we see his funeral in Chatsworth, California, attended by his faithful followers. (The cult ceased to exist in the mid-1970s.)

krishna ventna funeral

Valley Times Collection, photo taken by William H. Wilde on December 19, 1958.

Stately and elegant, Moritz-Harrell Funeral Home was built in classic Spanish style on West Whittier Boulevard in Montebello, California. (The building still houses a funeral home today.)

moritz farrell funeral home

Herman J. Schultheis Collection, photo taken by Herman Schultheis in 1938.

For convenience and comfort, the Ives & Warren Funeral Parlor in Pasadena provided private transportation via streetcar for funeral attendees.

ives & warren funeral home

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo undated.

Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. – the swashbuckling actor who portrayed Robin Hood, Don Juan, and Zorro in silent films – died on December 12, 1939 of a heart attack. His funeral was held at the Wee Kirk o’ The Heather Chapel on the grounds of Forest Lawn in Glendale. His remains were temporarily interred in Forest Lawn Glendale’s Great Mausoleum while his widow, (Sylvia, Lady Ashley), had a marble monument with a raised tomb built at Hollywood Cemetery (now known as Hollywood Forever). Sylvia moved her late husband’s remains to this spot in October of 1941.

Wee Kirk o’ The Heather Chapel, a reproduction of a 17th Century church in Glencairn, Scotland, is in the forefront of this photo. The tower in the background was the Tower of Legends which was demolished in 1948.

wee kirk o' the heather chapel

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo undated.

Pictured here is the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale. Douglas Fairbanks Sr. was originally interred here.

great mausoleum at forest lawn glendale

Herman J. Schultheis Collection, photo taken by Herman Schultheis in 1938.

Here is the raised tomb at Hollywood Forever Cemetery that is the final resting place of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

douglas fairbanks sr. tomb at hollywood forever

Carol Westwood Collection, photo taken by Carol Westwood in August, 1991.

Hollywood Cemetery (later known as Hollywood Memorial Park and then renamed Hollywood Forever in 1998) was built in 1899 on 100 acres. By 1920, 40 acres at the south end of the cemetery had been sold to Paramount Studios. Many prominent people from the entertainment field are interred on the grounds – Rudolph Valentino, Cecil B. DeMille, Fay Wray, Tyrone Power – as well as others including gangster Bugsy Siegel, L.A.P.D. chief Tom Reddin, and Griffith J. Griffith, donor and namesake of Griffith Park.

The entrance to the Hollywood Cemetery (now known as Hollywood Forever Cemetery) projects a collegiate air with its ivy-covered arch.

hollywood cemetery entrance

Cary Moore Collection, photo taken by Cary Moore on unknown date.

Forest Lawn Memorial Park has several locations throughout Southern California. Forest Lawn in the Hollywood Hills boasts a beautiful mosaic depicting events from the history of the United States. Here we see a Veteran’s Day event (which included a sacred torch rite performed by the American Legion) being held shortly after completion of the mosaic.

forest lawn hollywood hills

Herald Examiner Collection, photo taken on November 11, 1964.

The Home of Peace Cemetery in East Los Angeles was created on 35 acres of land donated by Kaspare Cohn, a businessman who played a pivotal role in the development of the City of Los Angeles and also had a major role in developing Jewish religious organizations in the region. When the cemetery was being constructed, Cohn negotiated an agreement with the Los Angeles Railway Company to extend a street car line to the cemetery, making the graveyard more accessible.

house of peace cemetery

Gary Leonard Collection, photo taken by Gary Leonard on unknown date.

The original Calvary Catholic Cemetery (most commonly referred to as Old Calvary Cemetery but also known as Buena Vista Street Cemetery) was built on the site now occupied by Cathedral High School. Many prominent Los Angelinos are buried there, including General Andres Pico, the first-generation Californio who fought in the Battle of San Pasqual during the Mexican-American War, signed the Treaty of Cahuenga, and became a California State Assemblyman. The cemetery showcased the diversity of settlers in Los Angeles, boasting tombstones written in Spanish, English, Italian, French, and German.

Here we see a family plot at the Old Calvary Cemetery.

old calvary cemetery

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo undated.

The New Calvary Catholic Cemetery, located at 4201 Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles, covers 137 acres and is owned by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. It is the final resting place of many celebrities and dignitaries including oil magnates Edward Doheny and Harry F. Sinclair, Archbishop of Los Angeles Timothy Manning, boxer Jose Yarba (Mexican Joe Rivers), musician Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton, and thespians Ethel Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Ramon Novarro, Irene Dunne, Lou Costello, and Pola Negri.

new calvary church

Cary Moore Collection, photo taken by Cary Moore in 1991.

A faithful horse receives a proper funeral with a bugler playing reveille, a horsewoman bringing a wreath, and a crowd paying their respects.

horse funeral

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photo taken in 1930.

Bringing the heat!

Man and boys horsing around at Santa Monica Beach. Image #00025341, Shades of L.A.: African American Community Collection, c. 1965.

The Los Angeles basin cannot escape the fact that it’s climate tends to extremes, particularly of the hot variety. Global warming and galloping urbanization have exacerbated the situation Temperatures have increased over the past century, while heat waves are becoming ever more common and last longer.

While the sunshine draws many to the region’s palm-lined shores, there are dark sides to the bright skies. In this post we’ll look at how Angelenos both meet and beat the heat. The essay features images from the photo collection of the Los Angeles Public Library and the captions that accompanied them when first published in the region’s newspapers.

 

This fellow has found a way to enjoy the beach while still keeping out of the direct sun under the Santa Monica Pier. “Beach temperatures in the 80s and highs in the 90s inland.” Image #00043682 by James Ruebsamen, Herald Examiner Collection.

 

Thanks to industrial pollutants, the sun is often visible in the daytime. “Visitors from France and Italy seek refuge from the heat and smog in the Hotel Bonaventure’s pool.” Image #00051486, Leo Jarzomb, Herald Examiner Collection, July 10, 1984.

 

“Vapor locks stall traffic: Hot impatient motorists pulled to side of Hollywood Freeway, enroute to Valley, as vapor locks caused by excessive heat stalled at least 200 cars. Later afternoon traffice was near standstill, with one lane blocked off for stalled cars. Extra police and tow cars were assigned to area.” Image #00058807, John Rinaldi, Valley Times Collection, 1955.

 

Quintessential Los Angeles in summer: Surf, sun, and youth. Except that this photograph was taken on December 21, 1972 at Will Rogers State Park. Image #00050694, Herald Examiner Collection.

 

Another classic beach scene — a bit sweatier than the one above. “The current Southland heat wave has sent thousands scurrying to local beaches, as witnessed here in Seal Beach. Another scorcher is on tap today, with temperatures expected again to eclipse the 100-degree mark.” Image #00083385, Chris Hosford, Herald Examiner Collection, June 28, 1976.

 

“Real cool pool: Little David Allan Siddon, 2 1/2, splashes happily in his plastic wading pool….while young David was cooling off, temperatures soared to highest this year — a scorching 107.” Image #00112664, Valley Times Collection, June 4, 1957.

 

Valley Times staff artist Bob Hyde gives us a hot dog. The accompanying article described a proposed “pooch cooler” at Hoover Dam in Nevada for dogs and other animals. It is unclear what the proposed cooler was to consist of and unknown if it was ever built. Today no dogs are allowed at the dam site, with the exception of service animals. Image #00112760, Bob Hyde, Valley Times Collection, May 19, 1961.

 

“Valley geyser gushes: The Van Nuys intersection of Oxnard Street and Ethel Avenue became the scene of a geyser-type eruption Monday afternoon when heat caused the concrete roadway to expand, breaking a valve of an eight inch water pipeline.” Image #00125918, W.F. Gaskill, Valley Times Collection, August 8, 1961.

 

Newspapers love to provide life hacks for “beating the heat.” Here “Charles E. Lambert, office manager at the Union Ice Co. in Van Nuys, beats record Valley heat which rose to 110 degrees outside with ice block chair in company’s ice storage building. Ice house’s coolest room registered 30 degrees below.” Image #00143286, Valley Times Collection, September 1, 1955.

 

“There wasn’t much point to the gag of placing a 100 pound block of ice on the sidewalk in front of the Valley Times office, but the hot weather stunt did give folks something cool to talk about.” Image #00143288, Valley Times Collection, September 7, 1955.

 

“Road collapses in heat: Valley heat proves too much for road patch at Sherman Way and Havenhurst. Blacktop gave way, dropping rear wheel of bus into three-foot hole.” Image #00143290, Valley Times Collection, June 28, 1956.

 

“Harold L. Schrock, Winnetka, takes amazed look at road at Saticoy and Mason avenue which was buckled by 105 degree temperatures in West Valley. Pavement rose two and one half feet above dirt bed.” Image #00143292, Valley Times Collection, June 19, 1957.

 

“Desperation over perspiration: Los Angeles City Councilment James Corman, left, and Lemoine Blanchard are just two of city’s officials about to break precedent and loosen collars and ties in heat wave that has ‘really hit City Hall.’ Officials say they have it in for weatherman, building’s executive elevator, and its air-conditioning system. Elevator is on blink, making men walk up to offices; air-conditioner is out of order, will be for three weeks, and weatherman, only one of three working, is busy predicting more heat.” Image #00144159, Dean Gordon, Valley Times Collection, August 4, 1960.

 

“Dog comforts heat victim: Kathren Noerr, 75, of San Fernando, lies on on concrete after being felled by Valley heat. Her dog, Cha-Cha, guards mistress. She was given first aid on scene.” Image #00154679, Valley Times Collection, July 16, 1957.

 

 

And finally, one lucky enough to have a private pool: “A resident polar bear at the LA Zoo cools himself off after a dip in the pool.” Image #00084299, Paul Chinn, Herald-Examiner Collection, August 2, 1987.

 

Tales of Deadman’s Island

Dead men do tell tales at times. Some have tales to tell about a small islet that once acted as a landmark in Los Angeles Harbor just off San Pedro. Photos in the library’s collection depict Deadman’s Island, or Isla de los Muertos, across nearly a century, while also giving glimpses at the rapidly evolving community of San Pedro. But don’t look for it now!

The earliest view we have of Deadman’s Island is this photo based on a daguerreotype by William Godfrey, dated 1850. Only the base of the island in the background can be seen. The very small collection of shanties is all that comprised San Pedro, at that time already the main port for the town of Los Angeles. Image #00033343, Security Pacific National Bank Collection.

Dana’s view

In 1836 Richard Henry Dana, a sailor by choice on the brig Pilgrim, described the island:

“…a small, desolate-looking island, steep and conical, of a clayey soil, and without the sign of vegetable life upon it; yet which had a peculiar and melancholy interest to me, for on the top of it were buried the remains of an Englishman, the commander of a small merchant brig, who died while lying in this port.”

Dana studied the island while guarding a stack of cowhides that his shipmates had just acquired from the local Californio ranchers. Hides and tallow were the lifeblood of commerce in Alta California, at that time a province of Mexico. It is likely that he heard the tale of the sea captain from the group of local men he spent time with that evening. He is able to provide lurid detail to the story:

“…the man died far from home; without a friend near him; by poison, it was suspected, and no one to inquire into it; and without proper funeral rites; the mate, (as I was told,) glad to have him out of the way, hurrying him up the hill and into the ground, without a word or a prayer.”

Dana must have speculated as to the cause of the man’s demise. His own skipper had a vile temper, and Dana describes many acts of cruelty, including floggings. He even admits to fantasizing about mutiny.

 

Detail from a WPA mural on display at Dana Middle School in San Pedro — It depicts sailors from Dana’s ship exchanging trade goods for hides. The Native Americans, in service to the rancheros, have brought the hides down by ox and cart to the seashore. In the background men are laboriously carrying the heavy hides down to the boats. The work of obtaining the valuable cowhides was called “hide-droghing.” Dana is famed for his book Two Years Before the Mast, a highly descriptive account of life in the days of sail. Works Progress Administration Collection, Adrien Machefert artist, c. 1929, Image #00070050.

 

Lost in translation?

Dana does not name the island and there is controversy about when and where the name “Deadman” or “Isla de los Muertos” (Isle of the Dead) first came into use. We know that sailing ships passed along the coast as early as the 16th century, including those of the well-known explorers Cabrillo, Drake, and Vizcaíno . It is possible, even likely that the islands and islets near to shore were used as convenient burying places for those who died at sea. We know that Cabrillo himself was likely buried on one of the channel islands, probably San Miguel, in 1543, after dying of gangrene.

Midshipman Robert Duvall of the USS Savannah believed he and his shipmates had first named the island. In his logbook, following the 1846 Battle of Dominguez Hills, he writes:

“Wm H. Berry, O.S. departed this Life from the effects of a wound received in Battle. Sent his body on “Dead Mans Island,” So named by us. Mustered the Crew at quarters, after which performed Divine Service.” [all punctuation sic]

There is also speculation that the original name of the rocky outcropping had nothing to do with death at all. One Narciso Botello (1813 – 1889), in his memoirs, refers to our island as Morrito. The editor of the published volume, Brent C. Dickerson, tells us that morrito is the diminutive of morro meaning “something jutting out” or simply “nose” or “snout.” One immediately thinks of the famed Morro Rock in San Luis Obispo County, a volcanic plug named by the explorer Cabrillo in 1642. According to the official website of the City of Morro Bay, the name means “crown shaped hill” in Spanish. If the 576-foot tall Morro Rock is a crown-shaped hill, perhaps the  55-foot tall Deadman’s Island was a smaller crown-shaped hill.

Yet other translations on offer for “morro” include dome, turban, and — perhaps the simplest of all — hill, in Portuguese. Cabrillo, after-all, was at least part Portuguese.

 

A similar view to that of the daguerreotype above, but taken some two decades later. A breakwater has been installed as an aid to navigation into the inner harbor and some temporary structures can be seen at the point where the island meets the breakwater. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00033342, 1873.

Our poor island’s name was taken in vain during the free port wars, beginning in 1889, when various interests vied for federal dollars to build port facilities at either San Pedro or Santa Monica Bay. Senator William B. Frye of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce had this to say about San Pedro:

“Deadman’s Island! Rattlesnake Island! I should  think it would scare a mariner to death to come into such a place! You people in southern California propose to ask the government to create a harbor for you, almost out of whole cloth. The Lord has not given you much to start with, that is certain. It will cost four or five million to build, you say: well — is your whole country worth that much?” (quoted in Hager, “A Salute to the Port of Los Angeles…”)

Despite the senator’s misgivings, San Pedro was chosen to be the deep water harbor for Los Angeles County. This decision ultimately sealed the fate of the little island, as we will see below.

 

This circa 1905 view of San Pedro provides a much clearer view of Deadman’s Island, now connected by rock jetty to Terminal (or Rattlesnake) Island. The port town of San Pedro, while still quaint, has docking facilities and rail service. A dredger works  at top left deepening the channel into the inner harbor. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00032600.

Toasting the dead

An interesting anecdote comes to us from one Horace Bell, a California ranger, who published his memoirs in 1881. It seems that Bell accompanied Juan Antonio Sepúlveda and a group of enthusiastic gentlemen on a little outing celebrating the Fourth of July in 1853. Sepúlveda was a prominent don who had served with José Antonio Carrillo in the California War. According to Bell:

“Don Juan, in the exuberance of his patriotism, had unearthed a venerable field piece which had enjoyed the silence of the grave since it had fired its last shot in defense of Mexican territory. Captain Sepúlveda mustered and embarked his command on a large boat and proceeded up Wilmington Bay, where he embarked his artillery and sailed for Dead Man’s Island, where, after infinite labor, he succeeded in mounting his battery on the highest point of the island, and all being ready, we let loose such a thunder as was never exceeded by one gun. It seemed that we would wake the seven sleeping heroes who so quietly reposed on the little barren rock…While paying our respects to our liquid ammunition, Don Juan proceeded to tell us how the seven sailors came to be killed. Their wooden head-boards stood in a line in front of us.”

The seven sleeping heroes were Americans who had been killed in the Battle of Dominguez Rancho, sometimes called the Battle of the Old Woman’s Gun, in October 1846. The battle between the American foot soldiers and sailors and a smaller force of mounted Californios had resulted in a rout of the Americans, largely due to the presence of an ancient piece of artillery brought to bear by the enemy (and later, allegedly, mounted by Sepúlveda on Deadman’s Island). It was the last true victory for the Californians before American forces made good their conquest of this outpost of the Mexican empire. One of the dead, a cabin boy, had been killed accidentally by friendly fire.

The little island, standing roughly where the the Americans’ ship, the USS Savannah, was anchored, proved a convenient place to deposit the remains of fallen comrades. The San Pedro coast was still closely watched by the enemy, not to mention coyotes.

This 1899 illustration depicts “San Pedro harbor as it will look when completed.” We can see a series of docks and jetties with Deadman’s Island clearly visible in the center, at the foot of the jetty connecting it to Rattlesnake Island. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00033175.

Reclaiming the dead

Primary and secondary sources detail a number of bodies interred on the island. Clearly the heroes of the battle were not alone. Some bodies were discovered in the late 19th century during the building of a jetty connecting the isle to Rattlesnake Island, really a large sand spit, just to the north in the harbor. Another story says that some young adventurers stumbled upon a coffin in 1893. At the time of the island’s demise, 1928-30, dynamite and bulldozers uncovered somewhere between 18 and 23 sets of remains. (The discrepancy could well be due to the intermingling of bones during or before the demolition.)

So who were these people isolated to a not-so-final burying place? Clearly all of them were buried far from home. Some may have lain in the ground for a century or more. Collecting up all the references we have been able to find, we come up with the following list (some duplication is entirely possible):

  • The six sailors and one cabin boy of the USS Savannah, killed during the Battle of Dominguez Rancho in 1846.
  • Black Hawk, one of the last members of the Nicoleño, the native people living on St. Nicholas Island in the Channel Islands who had been forcibly removed in 1835. Black Hawk died about 1845.
  • Two males who appear to have been Spanish soldiers based on their attire. Some have dated these remains to the 17th century or even earlier.
  • A blond female, buried next to the Spanish soldiers.
  • A white male, possibly a smuggler. According to a fourth-hand tale, he washed up on the island and died of starvation, his body found by local fisherman early in the 19th century.
  • An English sea captain.
  • The wife of an American sea captain, Mrs. Parker (or possibly Morton), who died of tuberculosis on shore at the same time her husband and crew were drowning at sea. The year was 1858 and the ship was the Laura Bevan, a clipper schooner bound for Santa Barbara.
  • A Native American woman.
  • A man with an arrowhead through his head
  • A passenger from a Panamanian ship in 1851.
  • And, of course, pirates!

The diversity of the populace hints at the storied history of the rock. Deadman’s Island was not merely a convenient place for burial. It served a number of purposes over the decades, including (briefly) a whaling station, a place of youthful exploration, a hideout for rum runners during Prohibition, a possible location of pirate treasure or smugglers’ contraband, and — in the 19-teens — a filming locale for several silent movies starring Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd.

What happened to the bodies? It is hoped that all the remains collected before and during the demolition of the island were re-interred elsewhere. Unfortunately, we cannot be sure. Certainly we can be sure that most were never identified. The earthly remains of the Americans from the Battle of Dominguez Hills are said to have been reburied at the Presidio in San Francisco. Others may have been repatriated to onshore cemeteries.

A dredger at work on the demolition of Deadman’s Island, 1928. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Image #00033162.

The hand of man

Deadman’s Island performed its last service as a sacrifice for the greater good. The building of breakwaters and jetties in the late 19th century had already taken a toll on the rock when the powers to be decided to remove it entirely to accommodate expanded port facilities. Dynamite and bulldozers did their work, leveling the islet and using the detritus as landfill to expand the flat Rattlesnake Island, at this time dubbed Terminal Island after the Los Angeles Terminal Railroad. The interests of commerce and industry were well-served: today the Port of Los Angeles, centered at San Pedro, is the top sea port facility in this country, measured by volume and value of goods shipped.

1928 aerial view of the harbor. Deadman’s Island is gone and a rectangular extension to Terminal Island is being created out of the remains. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Spence Air Photos, Image #00033126.


Sources for this post include:

Bringing It Down and Building It Up: Los Angeles Through the Lens of L. Mildred Harris

The online photo archive of the Los Angeles Public Library (TESSA) contains many photos taken by professional photographers, including images from Rolland Curtis, Lucille Stewart, Herman Schultheis, Gary Leonard, and Ansel Adams. These artists worked for magazines, advertising firms, newspapers, studios, and even government agencies. (Stewart worked for Fletcher Bowron, Mayor of Los Angeles from 1938 to 1953.) These photographers were well known and well-respected for their craft.

The collection also, however, showcases snapshots taken by people who did not have the title or training of a professional photographer but whose photos capture a moment, document an event, or memorialize a spot in sunny Southern California. These folks captured the history of the City as much as the professional photographers.

Not much is known about L. Mildred Harris. She was a secretary who worked for a Methodist church somewhere in greater Los Angeles. She took many photos of the City between the late 1940s and the early 1970s. These snapshots became a visual record of developments in Los Angeles – construction, renovations, additions, and demolitions – during the post-WWII boom years. Her photos wound up with her employer, a minister, whose daughter brought them to the Los Angeles Public Library and noted, “She [Harris] was my dad’s secretary and we have these photos. Do you want them?”

The Library took the images only to discover that they provide viewers with a stroll down memory lane and a chance to see places and parts of the City which no longer exist. Photography may have been Ms. Harris’s passion or perhaps just a hobby. She may, possibly, simply have had the habit of taking a stroll with camera in hand. No one knows for sure her motivation, but what is certain is that she captured Los Angeles at a time of great growth and change.

NOTE: All photos in this blog post are from the L. Mildred Harris Slide Collection of the Los Angeles Photographers Collection and were taken by L. Mildred Harris.

Fort Moore Hill was the original site of a U.S. military fort utilized during the Mexican-American war. Providing panoramic views of what is now downtown Los Angeles, Elysian Park, and Hollywood, it was situated above what is now the juncture of the Hollywood Freeway and Broadway Street. The fort was decommissioned in 1853 and the hill became the site of a cemetery, then a saloon, and later one of the toniest neighborhoods in the area – Bunker Hill. A tunnel was bored through Fort Moore Hill in 1901, with construction being so noisy and disruptive that wealthy residents abandoned the area and left their homes to become boarding houses. Most of the Hill was removed in the 1930s with the remainder leveled out in 1949 for the Hollywood Freeway. Ms. Harris wrote an article about the history of Fort Moore Hill for the Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly (Volume 32, No. 2, June 1950, pages 133-138) which can be found in the Reference Section at the Los Angeles Public Library or can be previewed and/or downloaded from the JSTOR database.

Ms. Harris was looking southeast from the L.A. Board of Education Administrative Offices when she took this photo. In the foreground, one can see Fort Moore Hill being removed. In the distance, one can see (from left to right) the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, City Hall, and the Hall of Justice.

U.S. Post Office and City Hall in Los Angeles

August 2, 1949

Standing on the site of Fort Moore Hill during its excavation, one could look east and see the Post Office Terminal Annex (left), which was the main post office in Los Angeles. Built in the California Mission style in 1938, it processed over 4,000,000 pieces of mail daily until its decommission in 1994. Behind the Annex (in the distance) is Los Angeles County General Hospital.

fort moore hill removal

August 2, 1949

Many Victorian mansions on Bunker Hill were turned into hotels after their owners left them. From left to right in this photo, we can see the Melrose Hotel “Annex”, the original Melrose Hotel, and a glimpse of the Richelieu Hotel. All these hotels were on South Grand Avenue.

Melrose and Richelieu Hotels

April 16, 1955

Ms. Harris photographed the upper terminus of Angels Flight at its original location (juncture of Olive and 3rd Streets). Angels Flight, a funicular railway, opened in 1901 and ran for two uphill blocks, from the west corner of Hill Street at Third to its Olive Street terminus. The buildings on either side of the station were boardinghouses which would be demolished by the late 1960s during the redevelopment (and commercial construction) of Bunker Hill. This redevelopment also caused the dismantling of the original Angels Flight.

Angels Flight Original Station

April 16, 1955

The demolition of the Health Building at 167 W. Temple Street is seen here. On the left is City Hall and behind the demolition site is the original Hall of Records (which would eventually face demolition itself).

Health Building in Los Angeles

April 15, 1955

Here Ms. Harris captures the demolition of the Hall of Records in September of 1973. (If you click on the photo, you will see an enlargement that shows the California State Building just to the right. It would be demolished three years later.)

Los Angeles Hall of Records Demolition

March 22, 1973

The California State Building was a government office that opened in 1931 and stood at the corner of Broadway and 1st Street. (Its official address was 215 West 1st Street.) Forty years after it opened its doors, it was heavily damaged by the 1971 Sylmar Earthquake and became structurally unsafe. The 13-story Art Deco building was demolished in 1976. In this image, Ms. Harris captures the venue in all its glory (with City Hall peeking over its shoulder!)

california state building

May 11, 1950

Looking west from the City Hall, Ms. Harris points her camera at the future site of the Los Angeles County Courthouse, conceived as part of the 1947 Civic Center Master Plan which was to transform a large part of Bunker Hill into an axis of government buildings. The Courthouse formally opened on January 5, 1959. In 2002, it was renamed the Stanley Mosk Courthouse after former California Attorney General and California Supreme Court Justice Morey Stanley Mosk.

Los Angeles County Courthouse Construction

February 18, 1955

In this photograph, the imposing Los Angeles County Courthouse (designed to last 250 years!) is seen in the background of the construction site for the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration. Like the County Courthouse, the Hall of Administration would later be renamed in honor of a prominent Los Angeleno. The Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration was named after “Kenny” Hahn, a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for forty years.

los angeles county hall of administration

May 25, 1957

Another bit of history that Ms. Harris captured was the construction of the Department of Water and Power Building. Completed in 1964, the building cost over $26,000,000. The building was renamed the John Ferraro Building in 2000 after long-serving Los Angeles City Council member John Ferraro.

department of water and power building

January 25, 1964

One week after Thanksgiving in 1970, Mildred focused her camera northwest from City Hall and snapped a shot that featured (from upper left to right) the DWP Building, the Music Center, the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, Hall of Administration, the new Hall of Records, the Criminal Courts Building (shown under construction), and the old Hall of Records (in foreground with spiked roof).

panoramic view of 1970 downtown los angeles

December 3, 1970

West Coast Radio City, an NBC radio facility designed in the Art Deco style, is seen here during the early stages of its demolition. (It would be replaced by a bank building in 1967.) Further south on Sunset Boulevard one sees the Sunset Vine Tower, the first skyscraper built in Los Angeles after the city repealed it building height limit of 14 stories.

west coast radio city

May 3, 1964

sunset vine tower

May 3, 1964

The Police Administration Building is captured in this photo, taken shortly after its completion. This police headquarters building was located in downtown Los Angeles and would serve as the main police station for over 50 years. In 1966, the building would be renamed Parker Center after Police Chief William H. Parker. (Alas, it also faces demolition to make way for a 28-story office building.)

police administration building

June 1, 1955

The Crocker Bank Tower was designed by architect William Pereira and is located at 611 West 6th Street in downtown Los Angeles. Ms. Harris took this photo a few months before its completion in 1967.

crocker bank tower

June 2, 1967

The Paramount Theatre, which opened as Grauman’s Metropolitan Theatre on January 26, 1923, with the premiere of the film “My American Wife” (and an in-person visit from the film’s star, Gloria Swanson), ranked as the largest movie theater in Los Angeles for many years, having the largest balcony and the longest projection throw in the city. In this image, Ms. Harris catches the grand dame as she makes a final bow.

Paramount Theatre in downtown los angeles

March 10, 1962

The statue of Felipe De Neve stands in the plaza of Los Angeles’ historic Olvera Street district. In the background is the Methodist Headquarters Building.

NOTE: It is possible that the Methodist Headquarters, later renamed Biscailuz Building, was the site of Ms. Harris’s employer, though this is not known for certain. She could have worked next door in the Plaza Methodist Church which was built on the site of the adobe owned by Augustin Olvera (the man for whom Olvera Street is named).

felipe de neve statue

March 16, 1956

Palm trees are being planted in Plaza Park (aka Father Serra Park) in downtown Los Angeles at the site which formerly housed the Dragon’s Den Restaurant and Casa de Lugo, the residence of Don Vincente Lugo, an early Los Angeles landowner and highly accomplished equestrian.

father serra park

November 2, 1955

Standing at the construction site for the Santa Ana Freeway (which commenced construction in 1947, was finished in 1956, and encompassed Interstate 5/US 101), Ms. Harris could look northeast and see (from left to right), Los Angeles Transit Lines street cars and the United States Post Office Terminal Annex. (Clicking on the photo enables you to see a Los Angeles Gas Company gas holder and La Plaza Church on the right side of the photo.)

santa ana freeway construction

May 8, 1950

Ms. Harris captures the crossover spot for the Hollywood, Santa Ana, Harbor, and Pasadena freeways (near the Los Angeles Civic Center) on St. Patrick’s Day. This is a truly historic photo as the freeways are open and THERE IS NO TRAFFIC! (Could it be that everyone was somewhere celebrating?)

los angeles freeway interchange

March 17, 1956

Thank you, L. Mildred Harris, for capturing L.A.’s history while it was being made!

So … what’s in your camera?

It’s Cool, It’s Hot, It Swings, It Slides … It’s Jazz (and it’s in L.A.)

Whether you want it hot or cool, swingin’ or slow, Dixieland or experimental, there’s jazz to fit your mood, mellow you out, pick you up. Jazz was born in New Orleans – the only place in the U.S. in the 1800s where slaves were allowed to own drums. This ability to own drums led many African slaves (particularly those from West Africa) to play their traditional music in order to keep their musical heritage alive. As New Orleans was a huge seaport, this traditional music became mixed with rhythms heard from ships coming from Cuba, the Caribbean and other islands, as well as from Europe. This hybrid music often incorporated lyrics from slave songs and spirituals.

When slavery was abolished in 1865, many slaves began musical careers, bringing this American-born and ever-evolving musical style to other parts of the country and later to the world. The word “jazz” – originating from the slang term “jasm” which meant pep or energy – came to encompass this new style of music. (The earliest written use of the word “jazz” is in an April 2, 1912 article in the Los Angeles Times. Ben Henderson, a pitcher for minor league baseball team Portland Beavers, described his pitch as a jazz ball “because it wobbles and you simply can’t do anything with it”.)

Jazz – considered to be America’s classical music – found a home in Los Angeles. The photo collection at the Los Angeles Public Library documents jazz in the City of Angels – clubs, concerts, big names, local bands – and shows that jazz is as diverse as Los Angeles itself.

[NOTE: Please click on individuals photos to view enlarged images and obtain more information about photo.]

In 1915, the California Eagle – an African-American-owned Los Angeles newspaper – began to refer to Central Avenue as the “Black Belt of the City”. Local businesses and churches promoted the area to African Americans and their efforts spurred a steady increase in African-American ownership of stores, restaurants, and other businesses as well as homes during the 1920s and 1930s. The 1940s, however, was a watershed moment for Central Avenue. Over 50,000 African Americans moved into the area during WWII – many to work in munitions factories and other defense-related jobs – and took up residence in and around the area south of downtown. Central Avenue, often referred to as “the Avenue”, boasted jazz clubs that were the place to hear live jazz performed by newcomers, up-and-comers, and jazz greats. Legendary music producer Quincy Jones stated, “I didn’t know where Sunset Boulevard was when I moved to L.A., but I sure knew Central.”

Club Alabam (originally titled The Apex Room) was a very popular jazz club located next to the Dunbar Hotel on Central Avenue in Los Angeles. Owned and operated by Curtis Mosby – “the mayor of Central Avenue” – it was one of the ritziest clubs in the area and was often visited by Hollywood’s elite as well as regular folk who wanted to enjoy a live show as well as good food.

A group enjoy a night out at Club Alabam.

club alabam

Shades of L.A. Collection: African American Community, photo taken in 1941.

A view of the luxurious interior of Club Alabam.

interior of club alabam

Shades of L.A. Collection: African American Community, photo taken in 1945.

Lionel Hampton (far left), a jazz musician, bandleader, and philanthropist, poses in a Cadillac convertible in front of the Alabam Club to advertise his upcoming shows at the Lincoln Theater, also known as “the West Coast Apollo”.

lionel hampton at club alabam

Shades of L.A. Collection: African American Community, photo taken in 1953.

A group of women enjoy jazz in the company of a group of sailors at The DownBeat Club, a popular nightclub at 4201 South Central Avenue in Los Angeles. The DownBeat was one of the first clubs to feature bebop music, was a favorite hangout for gangster Mickey Cohen, and was the scene for West Coast jazz great Charlie Parker’s return to performing after serving a stint in prison.

the downbeat

Shades of L.A. Collection: African American Collection, photo taken in 1944.

A group of women enjoy a night out at the Casablanca, a jazz nightclub on Central Avenue.

casablanca night club

Shades of L.A. Collection: African American Community, photo taken in 1942.

Clubgoers enjoy a night out at the Last Word, a Central Avenue jazz club across the street from The DownBeat Club.

the last word

Shades of L.A. Collection: African American Community, photo taken in 1941.

A jazz band plays at Dreamland Café on Central Avenue just south of downtown Los Angeles.

dreamland cafe

Shades of L.A. Collection: Mexican American Community, photo taken by Victoria Studio in 1922.

The Ferris Jazzland Revue Band – which featured a female drummer and female banjo player – poses for a portrait. Bandleader Bismark Ferris is at the far right (playing a saxophone).

ferris jazzland revue band

Shades of L.A. Collection: African American Community, photo taken in 1925.

The Lighthouse, a club/café in Hermosa Beach, began showcasing jazz in May of 1949. Featuring traveling groups and also its own Lighthouse All-Stars, the venue (known as the home of modern jazz on the West Coast) was the site of many recordings which captured the brilliance of musicians including Cannonball Adderly, Art Pepper, Ramsey Lewis, Mose Allison, and more. The Lighthouse featured an annual Easter Week Inter-Collegiate Jazz Festival in the late 1950s.

College age patrons enjoy jazz on the day before Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter Sunday) in 1959.

the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach

Herald Examiner Collection, photo dated March 21, 1959.

Bassist Howard Rumsey (second from right) and his Lighthouse All Stars prepare to judge a competition at the Inter-Collegiate Jazz Festival held at the Lighthouse, an event that would draw hundreds of jazz fans.

lighthouse all stars

Herald Examiner Collection, photo taken by Howard Ballew on March 21, 1959.

A group of musicians (names unknown) play jazz during a performance at an unknown venue.

jazz musicians

Shades of L.A. Collection: African American Community, photo taken in 1945.

Jazz pianist Nat King Cole prepares to play a song at NBC Radio City West, which was located at Sunset and Vine in Hollywood.

nat king cole

Shades of L.A. Collection: African American Community, photo taken in 1949.

Albert Shearing was a British-born jazz pianist who relocated to the U.S., became a citizen, and wrote over 300 jazz songs including Lullaby of Birdland, East of the Sun (and West of the Moon), and September in the Rain. He recorded for various record labels and formed his own band, the George Shearing Quintet. Here we see him preparing to tape a radio show in his Toluca Lake home. Blind since birth, Shearing first began playing jazz while performing with an all-blind band in London.

albert shearing

Valley Times Collection, photo taken by George Brich on March 7, 1963.

Actress and chanteuse Dorothy Dandridge performs a jazz set with the Count Basie Orchestra in Los Angeles.

dorothy dandridge and count basie orchestra

Shades of L.A.: African American Community, photo taken by Ted Merriman in 1950.

Jazz musician Stan Getz (left with saxophone) performs with Astrud Gilberto, a female singer from Brazil, and Gary Burton, an American jazz vibraphonist. Getz was known as “the Sound”, Gilberto made her vocal debut with the hit song “The Girl From Ipanema”, and Burton developed the four-mallet technique of playing vibraphones and later pioneered fusion jazz. The trio performed at Shelly’s Manne-Hole, a small club in Hollywood, and drew standing-room-only crowds plus block-long lines.

stan getz

Valley Times Collection, photo taken by Steve Young on July 15, 1954.

Shelly’s Manne-Hole was a very popular (but very small) jazz club on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood that hosted big names and little knowns.

shelley's manne-hole

William Reagh Collection, photo taken by William Reagh in 1970.

Jazz saxophonist Louie Armstrong (left) receives a plaque from Los Angeles council member Billy G. Mills.

louie armstrong

Roland Curtis Collection, photo taken by Roland Curtis on October 26, 1966.

Pianist Milcho Leviev (left) confers with fellow musicians during a rehearsal for the Olympic Jazz Festival, part of the citywide arts festival that preceded the Olympic Games being held in Los Angeles.

olympics jazz festival

Herald Examiner Collection, photo taken by Lisa Hatalsky on August 4, 1984.

Leonard Feather wrote extensively on jazz. He penned magazine articles, wrote musical reviews, compiled an encyclopedia on jazz, and also collaborated with comedian and radio/tv host Steve Allen in the creation of The Jazz Story: As Told By Steve Allen, a three-disc sound recording that captured various jazz performers performing various types of jazz between 1926 and 1957. Feather moved from London (his home town) to L.A.’s San Fernando Valley in 1960 with the goal of composing songs. In this photo, he and his wife Jane pose in their Southern California home.

leonard feather

Valley Times Collection, photo taken by George Brich on December 12, 1960.

If you wanted to look at jazz as well as listen to it, you would turn to jazz photographer Bob Douglas. Douglas began photographing local jazz clubs in Detroit before moving to Los Angeles in 1948. Working as a freelance photographer for various newspapers and private clients, he captured the L.A. jazz scene including the historic Central Avenue clubs, immortalizing jazz greats such as Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, and Charlie Parker. Here the camera is turned on him.

bob douglas

Los Angeles Photographer’s Collection, photo taken by Roland Charles in 1996.

Jazz drummer Arnold Frank keeps the beat while Cleopatra, a 350-pound lioness, listens and relaxes at Drum City in Van Nuys, California. Arnold Frank was the owner of Drum City, selling new and used drum sets and providing drum instruction. Cleopatra was onsite to advertise an upcoming event for teenagers (which included jazz and drums but not lions). In jazz lingo, Cleo and Arnie are a couple of cool cats.

frank's drum shop

Valley Times Collection, photo taken by George Brich on March 23, 1963.

A Silent But Vibrant Life: Honoring the Deaf Community During National Deaf History Month

In March of 1996, two deaf employees at Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington D.C. taught American Sign Language to their coworkers. This exercise spurred a week dedicated to deaf awareness at the library. The National Association of the Deaf suggested the week become a month, and in 1997 Deaf History Month was launched. Deaf History Month runs from March 13 through April 15, a period which encompasses three key dates in deaf history: the founding on April 8, 1864 of Gallaudet University, a private university for the education of deaf and hearing-impaired students; the appointment of the first deaf President to Gallaudet on March 13, 1988; and the opening of the American School for the Deaf, the first public school for the deaf, on April 15 in 1817.

The Los Angeles Public Library has books and other resources which chronicle the history of deaf people in society and provide information on the deaf community and its contributions. The photo collection of the Los Angeles Public Library provides a chance to see Southern California’s deaf residents as they live their lives, capturing them in settings ranging from schools to swimming pools.

Louise Treadwell Tracy (wife of actor Spencer Tracy) watches as a deaf student attending the Leadership Training Program at Valley State College (now California State University, Northridge) utilizes the newly invented telephone for the deaf. The student is able to send a message to a friend in another state via the telephone, thus making it possible for him to have a conversation over the phone. Tracy founded the John Tracy Clinic (also known as the John Tracy Center), a non-profit educational resource center for the deaf based in Los Angeles, naming the facility after her son, John, who was born deaf.

telephone for the deaf

Valley Times Collection, photo taken by Gordon Dean on January 28, 1964.

Esther Arnold teaches a Sunday School class of deaf students at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in North Hollywood.

deaf sunday school

Valley Times Collection, photo taken by George Brich on August 26, 1961.

Connie Tidwell, a teacher at the John Tracy Clinic, demonstrates to the clinic’s Northridge guild how she is helping four year old Patty O’Haver learn to speak.

teaching the deaf to speak

Valley Times Collection, photo taken by Steve Young on October 23, 1964.

Deaf students attend special classes at Saticoy Street School in North Hollywood. These classes were designed to prepare hearing-impaired children to attend classes with students with normal hearing. Hearing aids enable deaf students to participate in class discussions and (in this photo) spelling instruction.

saticoy street school

Valley Times Collection, photo taken by Larry Leach on December 2, 1963.

Three preschool children in the Los Angeles area utilize hearing aids at the John Tracy Clinic.

preschool deaf children

Valley Times Collection, photo taken on May 14, 1964.

Muriel Hersom leads a group of deaf congregants in silent worship at MacArthur Memorial Bible Church in Burbank. Using hand movements, body rhythm, and expressive signs, Hersom conveys the meaning of hymns, sermons, and songs.

 

religious services for the deaf

 

silent worship for the deaf

Valley Times Collection, both photos taken by Bob Martin on April 25, 1964.

Richard Joy, Jr., a blind and deaf Boy Scout, is awarded the rank of Eagle Scout by Los Angeles County Supervisor Warren Dorn. Joy’s parents watch proudly as their son is given the certification scroll.

deaf eagle scout

Valley Times Collection, photo taken by Jon Woods on July 20, 1960.

Bob Follosco (standing in pool) teaches John Lewis how to swim while Joann Munson and Kathy Garcia await instruction. These three students are deaf. Follosco, the pool manager at San Fernando Municipal Pool, hailed them as the best students he had ever taught.

swimming lessons

Valley Times Collection, photo taken on June 27, 1961.

Lori Le Sage, a seven year old patient at the John Tracy Clinic, poses with two members of the Northridge Guild of the John Tracy Clinic, as plans for a luncheon and fashion show are being discussed.

fundraising for john tracy center

Valley Times Collection, photo taken by George Brich on October 24, 1962.

Attorney Charles Mepham uses American Sign Language to confer with his client, Walter Lee Meiners, before going to court. american sign language used in court

Valley Times Collection, photo taken by Dean Gordon on February 21, 1957.

Quarterback Steve Scolaro uses sign language to give orders to his football team at California School for the Deaf.

deaf football players

Herald Examiner Collection, photo taken by Joe Rustan on November 17, 1965.

A delegate representing a member club of the American Athletic Association of the Deaf uses sign language to deliver a speech during a four-day National Basketball Tournament held in Los Angeles.

american athletic association of the deaf

Valley Times Collection, photo taken by George Brich on March 30, 1963.

Four coworkers at Community Rehabilitation Industries in Long Beach chat with each other during a coffee break. As all four are deaf, they use American Sign Language to converse.

deafness in the workplace

Herald Examiner Collection, photo taken on October 1, 1960.

Deaf actress Marlee Matlin is exuberant as she uses American Sign Language to give her acceptance speech at the 59th Academy Awards ceremony in downtown Los Angeles. Matlin won an Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in the film Children of a Lesser God.

marlee matlin

Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection, photo taken by Paul Chinn on March 31, 1987.

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Campo de Cahuenga: Overlooked Landmark

This undated postcard in the Security Pacific National Bank Collection, labelled “Fremont house, Hollywood, Cal.”, purports to show the original adobe on the grounds of Campo de Cahuenga in North Hollywood, with Cahuenga Peak behind it. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, #00070855. Photographer, M. Rieder Studio.

Nestled at the juncture of North Hollywood, Studio City, and Universal City, at the north end of the Cahuenga Pass, sits a small fenced-in heritage park.  Campo de Cahuenga is in the care of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks in partnership with the Campo de Cahuenga Memorial Association. It is believed to be the location of the signing of the Treaty of Cahuenga (otherwise known as the Capitulation of Cahuenga), a landmark event in the history of California. The treaty, which ended hostilities between American armed forces and the resident “Californios,” was signed 172 years ago, January 13, 1847, long enough past to make memories hazy. It effectively made the Mexican state of Alta California a military-ruled territory of the United States and, three years later, a state.

The Significance of the Treaty

Folks like to refer to the Campo as “The Birthplace of California.” However, there is much more to the tumultuous history of the Golden State. Prior to the treaty signing, the territory that is now the state of California had endured decades of shifting claims of authority: Spain until 1822, Mexico from 1822 to 1847. Russia established a short-lived colony at Fort Ross in northern California. Of even shorter duration was the California Republic in northern California, the dream of a ragtag band of American settlers with support from John C. Frémont and his soldiers. This “Bear Flag Republic” lasted 25 days in the summer of 1846. And let us not forget — for six days in 1818, the town of Monterey sat under an Argentine flag! All of these authorities ran rough-shod over the rights of the indigenous populations.

The story of the Bear Flag Republic speaks to the character of Frémont , one of the most famous men in both the history and mythology of the American West. By all accounts, Frémont was an ambitious man who saw himself as a major player in the future of California and perhaps the nation. He had burnished a reputation as an explorer, surveyor, Indian fighter, and man of destiny, specifically manifest destiny. In 1846 he was asked to bring his motley crew of mountain men, freebooters, and Native Americans into the fight for control of California.

Frémont is pictured here late in life standing next to a giant redwood tree, the so-called Frémont Tree. A legend that Frémont encouraged has it that he and a group of his men took shelter in the burned-out roots of this tree during a driving rain storm in 1846. The tree still stands in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz County. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, #00043846, undated.

The second man in our story is Andrés Pico, the brother of Pío Pico, the last governor of Mexican-controlled Alta California. Andrés Pico led the last stand of the Californios in Los Angeles. As Frémont and his California Battalion closed in from the north, and the American military commanders Stockton and Kearny approached from the south, Pico made the decision to surrender to Frémont , expecting greater leniency from that quarter than what had been rumored to be in store for him and his men from Stockton and Kearny. Through fast-riding intermediaries the outlines of a peace plan were sketched out and an appointment made to meet at “a deserted rancho at the foot of Couenga [sic] plain.” (Edwin Bryant journal) The rancho in question was a property connected to, though some distance away from, the Mission San Fernando Rey, where Frémont and his men were encamped.

A studio portrait of Andrés Pico. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, #00043874, undated, likely 1870s.

A Woman’s Touch?

Much has been made of the story of Bernarda Ruiz de Rodriguez, a widow living in Santa Barbara when Frémont and his men trudged into that town at the very end of 1846 on their way to Los Angeles. In Frémont’s memoirs, written forty years after the fact, he mentions that a woman “of some age” (she was 42) came to him and advised him to be lenient in his dealings with the Californios he was sure to conquer.

“In the interview I found that her object was to use her influence to put an end to the war, and to do so upon such just and friendly terms of compromise as would make the peace acceptable and enduring.”

Frémont gives the lady some credit in persuading him to act graciously toward the soon-to-be vanquished. He goes on to write, “Here began the Capitulation of Couenga [sic].”

Historians and journalists have latched onto this anecdote, adding much detail both possible and decidedly unlikely: Bernarda has been credited with everything from swaying Frémont from leveling the town of Santa Barbara to personally dictating the terms of the Treaty of Cahuenga. Many versions of the story have Bernarda traveling with Frémont and his men to Los Angeles and witnessing the signing of the treaty. This writer has yet to find evidence to back up this assertion in the primary sources.

 

An early hand-drawn map of Campo de Cahuenga, showing the as yet unchannelized Los Angeles River, the Camino Real running diagonally from top to bottom, meadows (llanos), and a field of chamisa plants, sometimes called rabbitbush, a yellowish flowering plant which may have provided fodder for cattle. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, #00031280.

Whether or not Bernarda was present in body at the signing of the treaty document, she was there in spirit. The terms agreed upon by both sides that rainy Wednesday were quite generous to the vanquished. They were to be allowed life, liberty, and property, as well as the right to remove themselves from the territory should they wish to. They would, of course, have to forfeit their weapons and swear off further violence.

The Treaty, or Capitulation, of Cahuenga was remarkable in that it had no official sanction from the superiors of either side, yet it was generally accepted and even became the model upon which the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the  pact that officially ended the wider Mexican-American War in 1848, was based.

The Significance of the Campo

Campo de Cahuenga is one of the lesser-known landmarks in the Los Angeles basin. Nonetheless the site offers a wealth of historical and archaeological significance. What was an abandoned structure at the time of the treaty signing continued to weather away until it was completely demolished in the 19-teens to make way for Universal City. It has been the site of a number of archaeological excavations, beginning with the efforts of a group of high school students in 1931 who uncovered a portion of foundations and some floor and roof tiles, enough to establish a rough approximation of the forgotten adobe and to qualify it for landmark designation by the State of California in 1935. A few years later the City of Los Angeles built a replica structure on what they believed was the footprint of the adobe. This structure and surrounding gardens were made available for use by the community.

This photo from 1928 shows the city-built walls surrounding a small memorial park. The original adobe structure of the Campo was long gone at this time, but a new structure was built about 1950 to serve in its stead. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, #00032431.

Sixty years later progress on a Los Angeles Metro project was halted when digging uncovered additional flooring materials under the street and sidewalk outside the new Campo gates along Lankershim Boulevard. Professional preservation practices were called into play resulting in the excavation of the original footprint of the adobe running crosswise to the re-imagined structure. These efforts uncovered artifacts of both Native American and Mexican/Californio origin.

Today, while the original foundations have been re-buried, one may see the outlines of the adobe walls adjacent to the reconstructed building and extending out onto the boulevard! An iconic bell-shaped markers identifies the spot as a location on El Camino Real, the original dusty road that connected the California missions and their growing communities.

Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes, the “Mother of the Campo.” Mrs. Forbes was a well-known advocate of preservation of California mission-era structures. She is credited with tracing the route of El Camino Real, the road that linked the California missions. She is sometimes known as the “Bell Lady” for designing and installing antique-looking bells along the route of the Camino, including at the Campo de Cahuenga. Her influence is credited for preservation and interpretation of the Campo site. Security Pacific National Bank Collection, #00043839, undated.

 One of the famous El Camino Real bells, designed by Mrs. Forbes, marks the site of Campo de Cahuenga. Herman J. Schultheis Collection, #00010012, c. 1937.

A Place for All

Although not well known to the general public, Campo de Cahuenga has been popular with a number of civic and heritage-minded groups in the San Fernando Valley area. A sampling of photos from the Los Angeles Public Library gives us a peek at the many happenings that have taken place at the Campo over the decades.

 

For many decades, the Campo de Cahuenga Memorial Association has held an annual re-enactment of the treaty signing at the adobe. Here James M. Sutton, left, of the Los Angeles Parks Department, and Geoge E. Shipley of the Memorial Association dust off the plaque on the in preparation for the event in 1963. Valley Times Collection, #00114275. Photographer, Bob Martin.

 

The Pan-American Friendship Club, North Hollywood chapter, celebrates Mexican Independence Day in 1957. The man standing at left is a representative of a Mexican airline, probably Mexicana. Valley Times Collection, #00124747.

 

A meeting of the San Fernando Valley Historical Society takes place at Campo de Cahuenga in 1959 with musical entertainment by Rudolph M. Garza. A plaque commemorating the treaty signing can be seen on the wall. Valley Times Collection, #00133101. Photographer, William H. Wilde.

 

The Daughters of the American Revolution, Peyton Randolph chapter, learn to duck and cover from Major William Koons, an Armed Forces Information Officer. The news article accompanying the photo was entitled “Learns atomic test lore.” Valley Times Collection, #00141406, 1957.

 

Ingrid Goude, a 19-year old starlet from Sweden, demonstrates how to re-set your sundial for the end of daylight savings time, September 29, 1956. Ms. Goude went on to find fame, of a sort, as the star of “The Killer Shrews” in 1959. Valley Times Collection, #00143191.

 

The Kappa Delta Sorority Alumnae Association, San Fernando Valley chapter, held Easter egg hunts at the Campo during the 1950s. This photo appears to be staged for publicity of the event which was to be the next day. Valley Times Collection, #00142142, 1955. Photographer, Dave Siddon.

 

Sculptor Henry Van Wolf presents a scale model of a proposed sculpture commemorating the Cahuenga Treaty signing to women representing the San Fernando Valley Historical Society and the North Hollywood Women’s Club. Van Wolf offered to create a full-scale monument for display at the Campo at his cost. It does not appear that the work was ever carried out. Efforts to interest the federal government in a national park at the site foundered. Valley Times Collection, #00133104, April 3, 1965. Photographer, Gordon Dean.

 

Sources consulted for this essay include Memoirs of My Life and Times by John C. Frémont (1887); What I saw in California, the journal of Edwin Bryant (1848); The Private Journal of Louis McLane, U.S.N., 1844-48; Bear Flag Rising by Dale L. Walker (1999); Old Spanish Santa Barbara, From Cabrillo to Frémont by Walker A. Tompkins (1967); “Doña Bernarda Ruiz de Rodriguez, Santa Barbara’s Forgotten Heroine” by William G. Lockwood, in Ancestors West: Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society, Fall 2009/Winter 2019; “San Juan to Cahuenga: The Experiences of Frémont’s Battalion” by William H. Ellison in the Pacific Historical Review, August 1958; “When the System Works, The Campo de Cahuenga,” by Roberta S. Greenwood, in the Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly, Spring and Summer 2002; the website CampodeCahuenga.com;