LOS ANGELES AT THE BEGINNING OF THE 1890S



    {While there is no description of the city as it existed at the end of 

1889, the tenth anniversary edition of the Times, which carried the depiction 

of the city as it existed in 1881, paired that article with one describing Los 

Angeles in 1891.  The hilltop viewpoints from which the fictional visitor observed 

the city still exist: up Beaudry to Figueroa Terrace and to the upper part of 

White Knoll Drive, and up Thomas to the open area beyond Two Tree Avenue, above 

and west of Lincoln High School.}



                          {Times, Dec. 4, 1891, p. 2}

                                   AS IT IS.

                                     - - -

       The Los Angeles of Today, with a Population of More Than 55,000.

    Would you obtain a comprehensive impression of Los Angeles, as it is 

today, within a short space of time?  You can do this in a single day if you 

are a good walker and will start out before the sun is very high, or you can 

drive to all the points mentioned in a buggy.  In making the trip you will get 

a better general idea of Los Angeles and see more of it in a day than many old 

residents have seen in ten years, for Los Angeles is an extensive pueblo, the 

city limits embracing an area of thirty-six square miles.

    Take the Temple-street car to Beaudry avenue and walk up the latter 

street, around the Sisters' Hospital to the white-fenced reservoir which you 

see on the hill.  There is no fear of your mistaking your road, for that 

reservoir is a landmark which is visible from almost any point for ten miles 

around.  It is something of a climb, but you will be rewarded when you get to 

the top.  What a magnificent panorama is spread before you!  The city and 

country for miles around are spread out like a relief map at your feet.  A long 

ridge, thickly covered with residences, extends from Buena Vista to Pearl 

street, hiding a great portion of the business center, but through a break in 

the hill you see the most thickly-settled residence portion, extending away to 

the south and southwest, until it is lost in the groves and fields in the 

distance.  To the left, on the very summit of the ridge, the High school, a 

large, dark red brick building of stately architecture, stands out prominently.  

A little to the right of this is the new Courthouse, the highest building in 

the city, which towers like a giant among the surrounding edifices.  Still 

further to the right the tower of the City Hall may be seen, rising above the 

trees.  The groves of gum trees and stretches of orchards away to the southwest 

are in Vernon, the beautiful horticultural suburb of Los Angeles.  To the 

left--or east--of the High school the river is plainly seen, winding between 

its leveed banks, under numerous bridges, through the city and in a tortuous 

course toward the ocean.  On the east and west bank frequent trains of the 

Santa Fe and Terminal railroads puff along, the sound of their whistles 

reaching the ear through the clear atmosphere several seconds after the 

escaping steam at the throttle has disappeared.  The numerous large brick 

blocks on this side of the river are in "Sonora Town," the old Spanish quarter 

north of the plaza.

    Beyond the river, on a high mesa which terminates in a bluff, at the foot 

of which the river formerly ran, is Boyle Heights, the airy and healthy eastern 

residence section of Los Angeles.  Ten years ago you would have seen a couple 

of farm houses there on the treeless plain.  Today it is dotted over with 

hundreds of beautiful residences and punctuated with graceful shade trees, 

while a double-track cable railroad traverses it from the river to the eastern 

limits of the city. The large brick building on the crest of the bluff, which 

is almost as prominent a landmark as the High school and the Courthouse, is the 

Catholic orphan asylum.  The rays of the setting sun cause the gilt cross on 

its summit to shine out like the evening star.  Beyond Boyle Heights, about ten 

miles to the eastward, is the low range of San Jose hills.  On their eastern 

slope Whittier is plainly seen.  The large white building, high up on the 

hillside, is the Whittier High school.  The massive building lower down to the 

right is the Reform school.  Still farther away, a hundred miles distant in an 

air line, the dark, gray mass of San Jacinto mountain looms up.  Coming back 

home and looking to the extreme left a portion of east Los Angeles is seen, 

embowered in verdure.

    Now turn your gaze to the south.  The Sisters' Hospital, a quaint, 

peaceful-looking brick building set in beautiful grounds, lies at your feet.  

Five years ago this was "out in the country."  Today it is surrounded by 

residences and graded streets.  Ten years ago not half a dozen of the hundreds 

of tasteful residences which you see at your feet had been built.  In the 

distance to the south, is the range of hills which hides San Pedro and the 

harbor.  Further west, in the plain, is Inglewood, with its avenues of green 

trees.  By their smoke you may watch the course of trains on their way from 

Redondo and San Pedro to the city.  Still further west is the low range of 

Ballona hills.  Just to the right of where they terminate you may on a clear 

day plainly see the ocean glittering in the sun through a break in the high 

sand banks which align the beach.

    The elevated group of large residences near in, to your right, is Angeleno 

Heights, the highest residence section of the city.  Behind, to the west, 

extends the country between Los Angeles and Santa Monica.  The Arcadia hotel 

and the gum trees on ocean avenue at the latter place may be easily 

distinguished on a clear day and clear days are the rule in Los Angeles.  To 

the right of Santa Monica, in the foothills, is the group of buildings 

composing the Solders' Home.  The Cahuenga range of mountains frames the 

picture to the northwest.  Along the slopes of its foothills are dotted here 

and there a few houses, the precursors of thousands that will be built in this 

beautiful semi-tropic valley as soon as better means of communication are 

furnished and the large ranches divided up. 

    Now go around to the northern side of the reservoir and another beautiful, 

though very different, scene meets your gaze.  The hill upon which you stand 

slopes abruptly down several hundred feet, its sides covered with a dense 

growth of white sage, thyme and laurel, to a peaceful valley, where an old 

ranch house is set in the midst of an orchard and vegetable garden.  A couple 

of brick kilns are the only other evidences of human activity.  Further down 

the valley the Jewish cemetery, its white tombs gleaming out from the shadows 

of a sombre olive grove, accentuate the rural character of the scene.  Not half 

a dozen houses are visible, look whichever way you may.  If planted down here 

suddenly, you would never dream that you were within the limits of a city of 

over 50,000 population and not over thirty minutes' walk from the business 

center.  Yet this is so; the northern line of the city being two miles from 

where you stand.  It is not necessary to inform you, after this, that the city 

has been growing in a southerly direction.  On the other side of the valley are 

a succession of wild, rolling hills, one above another, and still further, 

closing the background, the dark, rocky Sierra Madre range of mountains, its 

crest fringed with pine trees, which at this distance look like blades of 

grass.  An opening between the hills allows a few white specks, nestling at 

their base, to be distinguished.  These are cottages in the Crescenta Canada.

    After looking your full upon this fair scene, follow the path along the 

crest of the hill, a distance of about half a mile to the east.  You have 

constantly in view on the right the populous city and on the left the peaceful 

valley, with its background of mountains.  Passing the cozy residence of Mr. 

Hayes, the artist--the highest within the city limits--a walk of twenty minutes 

brings you to the Downey avenue branch of the cable railroad at the south end 

of the viaduct.  Boarding a northbound car you are quickly whisked over the 

long viaduct, a remarkable structure, built on single iron pillars, said to be 

the only one of its kind in the country.  Its purpose is to keep the cable road 

away from the numerous Southern Pacific tracks and switches which pass below.  

Beyond the viaduct on the left is the long freight depot of the Southern 

Pacific Company, loaded with merchandise of every description.  Over one of the 

archways of the building is inscribed "Santa Monica," a relic of the days when 

steamers called regularly at that point, as they probably soon will again.  

Beyond the freight sheds is the passenger depot.  It is now almost deserted, 

but was a bustling place until three years ago, when the passenger offices were 

removed to the new Arcade depot, nearly two miles south.  The neighborhood of 

the old depot has felt the effect of the change, and has a rather woe-begone 

appearance.  All trains on the Southern Pacific, except those to and from the 

East, still stop at San Fernando street.

    A ride of a few minutes more and the Los Angeles River is crossed, over an 

elevated bridge.  During the summer season it is a narrow stream, which a good 

vaulter could leap over, and the unsophisticated stranger looks with wonder at 

the big levees on each side of the wide, dry bed.  Let him visit it, however, 

in winter, after there has been a heavy rainfall in the mountains and he will 

see a deep, swiftly-moving torrent, filling the river-bed from bank to bank, 

and frequently carrying down a mass of driftwood and big timber.  When the Los 

Angeles River, innocent looking as it is, has gone on a rampage, there have 

been anxious times for the residents along its banks, to whom the completion of 

the levees came as a welcome relief.

    The visitor is now in East Los Angeles, one of the prettiest residence 

sections of the city.  As the car moves up Downey avenue, a broad thoroughfare 

lined with graceful pepper trees, the tasteful residences on either side, set 

back on lovely gardens and half smothered in climbing vines, cannot fail to 

arouse admiration.  Just before reaching the end of the track alight and take a 

road on your left--Thomas street--which mounts gradually up a ridge of high 

hill, on the summit of which stand a few isolated gum trees.  There is a good 

path and a climb of fifteen minutes or so brings you to the summit, where you 

may enjoy the finest view to be had in or near the city.  You are here much 

higher than at your previous point of observation.  The city, as seen from 

here, makes a different picture.  It is more at a distance and you see much of 

it that was hidden from your former "coigne of vantage."  Stretching away from 

the foot of the hill upon which you stand, East Los Angeles looks like a vast 

forest or park, so thickly is it embowered in shade trees.  To your left you 

get a fine view of Boyle Heights.  On the north and east the scenery is 

striking in the extreme.  Cutting its narrow passage through the high hills 

from the north, flows the Los Angeles River.  You can trace the valley as it 

opens out toward Burbank, above the mouth of the Arroyo Seco, adown which 

ravine comes the mountain stream of that name from Pasadena, a portion of which 

city is visible.  In the background are a succession of mountains, ending in 

the Sierra Madre, which from this point appear quite near.  There rises in the 

mind of the beholder the thought:  What a magnificent site for a big hotel!  A 

branch cable track could easily be run up this hill from Downey avenue.  A 

resort here would soon become world famous.  Right here it should be remarked 

that there are few cities in the world that offer so many picturesque building 

sites and grand views as does Los Angeles.  A month may be spent in 

explorations and still fresh beauties found.

    If you had time, by going a little beyond the cable road terminus you 

would come to a pretty little lake, set in a framework of hills, but this would 

extend the trip beyond the limits of a day.  Therefore, return to the point at 

which you left the car and ride back to town.  You will now take a ride of six 

miles in one direction, without leaving the city limits.  After recrossing the 

viaduct you pass through "Sonora Town," an interesting section, once the Los 

Angeles, now mostly composed of dilapidated adobe houses, interspersed on the 

main thoroughfare, with large brick warehouses.  Toward the plaza the Chinese 

divide the retail business with the paisanos.  This is old Los Angeles, the Los 

Angeles of '81 and '51, and is rapidly passing away.  It would have disappeared 

much more quickly were it not for the fact that the city is growing in the 

other direction.  The cars jolt you as it makes a sharp turn, and you are at 

the plaza.  This is the geographical center of the city and ten years ago was 

an important center of business before Spring street was thought of.  In the 

center of the open space is a little circular park with large rubber trees that 

have a stately appearance.  On the right is the long, low, plastered red 

Catholic Church, erected, as an inscription tells, by los filieles {fieles? - ed.} 

de esta Parroquia to the Queen of the Angels, in 1861.  On the south of the plaza 

is Chinatown, a section of the celestial kingdom set down in California.  The 

strangeness of the sights here is only exceeded by the strength of the smells 

which emanate from the Celestial region below and rise to the heavens above.  

At the southeast corner of the plaza is the Pico House, ten years ago the 

leading hotel of the city.  Perchance you may see, as the writer did the other 

day, Don Pio Pico himself, the venerable nonagenarian ex-Governor, seated in 

front of the building, both alike relics of former, and to them, flourishing 

days.  A little further south, on Main street, is the Baker Block, for many 

years the chief business building in Los Angeles and still standing forth as an 

imposing edifice of pleasing architecture.

    At the Temple Block the car passes into Spring street, now the leading 

retail business street of the city, in 1881 little thought of in that 

connection.  In that year the Temple Block marked the southern limit of retail 

business; now it is near the north line.  Here all is bustle, and fine business 

blocks multiply.  The Phillips Block on your right, a little north off First, 

is especially noticeable.  On a Saturday afternoon and evening Spring street, 

from Temple Block to Third, presents a lively and attractive scene, with its 

brilliantly lighted stores and dense crowd of purchasers and promenaders on the 

sidewalks.  At the corner of Spring and First streets the car turns into the 

latter thoroughfare, where the Boyle Heights line branches off.  This is at 

present regarded as the business center of the city, and a busy place it is, 

cable cars coming and going every few minutes, besides a multitude of other 

vehicles, while the sidewalks are thronged with hurrying pedestrians.  At the 

southwest corner is the Nadeau Hotel, a large building, the leading commercial 

hotel of the city.  One block westward on First street and the car turns into 

Broadway.  At the northeast corner, unique in its architecture, is the 

castellated granite abode of The Times.  Broadway, formerly called Fort street 

after an old fortification on the hill which you see to the north, now being 

cut through, is the coming retail business street of Los Angeles, a handsome 

thoroughfare, smoothly paved with asphaltum.  First street comes to an abrupt 

end one block farther west where a hill blocks the way to the western suburbs.  

Many plans for cutting through and tunneling this hill have been discussed, but 

a commencement of the very necessary work has yet to be made.  On Broadway are 

many handsome buildings.  Two blocks north of First is the imposing Courthouse, 

which you passed when you started out on your trip up Temple street this 

morning.  Proceeding southward at Second street you will perhaps see one of the 

swiftly-gliding cars of the electric railroad pass.  At the southwest corner of 

Second and Broadway is a very handsome block, on a part of which the Y.M.C.A. 

has its home.  The architectural features of this building are striking.  A 

little further south is the new City Hall, an imposing structure, patterned 

after a German town hall of the middle ages.  A couple of blocks more brings 

you to the postoffice, which has been moved twice during the past five years.  

The present location is quite a distance from the business center and there was 

much complaint on that account.  The site is supposed to be only temporary 

until a proper government building shall have been completed.  Opposite the 

postoffice is a market place and armory hall.  At Sixth street you will catch a 

glimpse of a little park, a block west on that street.  It is the most 

tastefully improved open space in the city and furnished with plenty of seats 

for the wayfarer.  Opposite is Hazard's Pavilion, where our horticultural and 

other fairs are held.  The large brick building in the rear, at the head of 

Fifth street, is the Normal school.

    At Seventh street the car runs west for three blocks and again turns south 

on Grand avenue opposite one of the three engine houses of the cable company.  

Here the Seventh street line branches off to Westlake Park.  Grand avenue, 

formerly known as Charity street, is one of the most fashionable residence 

streets in the city, having many imposing houses, but the visitor from an 

Eastern city will probably admire this street less than some others where more 

time and expense have been lavished on the grounds and a little less on the 

buildings.  In a city which contains over 23,000 acres there is little excuse 

for putting a $50,000 house on a fifty-foot lot.  The large building at the 

corner of Washington street is St. Vincent's College, which was removed here 

three years ago when the old site on Sixth street came into demand for business 

purposes.

    Get off at Adams street and walk a few blocks west.  Adams street, for a 

couple of blocks west of Figueroa, is undoubtedly the most beautiful street in 

Los Angeles, and it is doubtful it if can be surpassed anywhere.  The lots are 

all large, as they should be in this city, running into acres instead of front 

feet.  Large drooping pepper trees hang over the cement sidewalks, on the outer 

edge of which is planted turf.  The residences--large buildings, each with an 

architectural individuality of its own--are set well back from the street in 

carefully-kept grounds, which are realized dreams of semi-tropical beauty.  

Large date and fan palms, grevillas, magnolias, orange and other graceful trees 

cast their shade upon park-like lawns of brilliant green; roses, jasmine and 

heliotrope cover porches, trellises and carriage-houses; flaming geraniums and 

snow-white calla lilies form big hedges, and morning-glories wantonly climb to 

the very top of all evergreen trees, hanging from the branches in graceful 

festoons, while lovely flowers of every hue grow in such lavish profusion as to 

need, not encouragement, but constant repression at the hand of the gardener.  

It must produce a curious impression upon the visitor from the snow-clad plains 

of Minnesota and Dakota, as he views this scene on a winter day, while a 

southern sun invites him to court the shade.  Such a picture does more 

missionary work for Southern California in five minutes than a ton of 

pamphlets, filled with climatic statistics, can accomplish in as many years.  

There are scores, if not hundreds, of houses in Los Angeles as beautiful as any 

of these, but in other places a vacant lot with neglected trees, or a vulgar 

building atrociously colored, will intervene to mar the picture.  Here there is 

no break in the vista of beauty , and the result is a scene which delights 

while it rests the eye at the same time, showing what can be accomplished here 

when taste and wealth go hand in hand.

    Figueroa street, to which you now return, is the bon bon residence street 

of the city.  It and its northern extension, Pearl street, extend for nearly 

five miles from north to south.  On this street are to be found some of the 

handsomest residences in Southern California, many of them standing in grounds 

of rare beauty.  The street is shortly to be paved for its whole length with 

asphaltum, which will still further increase its attractiveness.  You can take 

a Figueroa-street horse car back to Ninth and Grand avenue, whence you can walk 

to the engine house and board a Seventh street car for Westlake Park.  Seventh 

street is another favorite residence street and is destined to become an 

important thoroughfare, as it extends from the western to the eastern city 

limits.  It is elevated, which, to many, gives it a preference over the 

southwestern part of the city.  Westlake Park, on the western city limits, is a 

pretty, breezy spot.  It will gain much in beauty after the trees shall have 

attained a larger growth.  The lake is well provided with boats, which are 

liberally patronized, and a band plays once a week.  A climb of a few minutes 

up one of the surrounding hills will reward you with some expansive views of 

the country between Los Angeles and the ocean.

    Returning to the car, you may now take another little ride of about six 

miles from west to east.  After passing the business center, the car proceeds 

down past First street three-quarters of a mile, crossing the river on a fine 

elevated viaduct.  Down below, on the right, is the Santa Fe depot, a temporary 

structure.  From Boyle Heights you get a good view of Los Angeles from the 

east.  This suburb has settled up rapidly since the cable railroad was opened.  

On Boyle avenue, at the top of the bluff, near the river, are some beautiful 

homes, which it would be worth your while to walk by if you had the time.  High 

elevation and gravelly soil make Boyle Heights a specially desirable residence 

section from a hygienic point of view.  The engine house is soon passed and the 

car comes to a stop at Evergreen Cemetery.

    Returning by the same car, get off at Los Angeles street, the first street 

east of Main, and take the electric car for Vernon, a distance of about three 

miles to the south, passing, on your way, the Arcade depot of the Southern 

Pacific.  Vernon is a beautiful suburb, whose orchards and vineyards were 

fortunately not cut up into town lots during the boom.  Much of the fruit 

consumed in Los Angeles comes from this section.  There are no grand houses, 

but cosy cottage homes, half buried under great shade trees and surrounded by 

heavily bearing orchards of oranges, peaches, apricots, pears and other fruits, 

which, with berry patches and alfalfa fields, make the happy owner of five 

acres here much more independent than some owners of a fifty foot lot on 

Figueroa street or Grand avenue, who lie awake o'nights wondering where they 

shall raise the money to pay off their mortgages.  Striking instances of what 

may be accomplished on a few acres in Southern California may be found in 

Vernon.  Near Jefferson street, on Central avenue, the car passes a pretty 

little park, which is approached between a row of immense pepper trees, over 20 

years old--quite a respectable age for shade trees in Los Angeles, although 

they would be considered babies in New England.  Beautiful flowers are grown in 

this park by a nursery company.  There are swings, tables and benches under the 

trees.  It is a pleasant place for families to bring their children to and 

spend an afternoon.

    Returning to the city, you have now finished your car rides, as laid out 

for you, and being probably by this time rather tired, we shall only ask you to 

lunch and then walk down Main as far as Fifth, passing the Catholic Cathedral, 

the Westminster Hotel and the Federal building in course of construction--a 

building which requires enlargement beyond the original plans.  A larger 

appropriation is expected, and a Government building befitting a city of the 

size and prospects of Los Angeles.  Turn up Fifth street into Spring and walk 

back along that street to First, noticing the massive Bryson-Bonebrake Block at 

the corner of Second street.

    You have now obtained as good a general view of Los Angeles as it is 

possible to get within a day, missing no important features, at a total cost of 

50 cents for car fares.  The impression made upon you can scarcely fail to be a 

favorable one, but it will lack the element of wonder which overcomes those who 

return to Los Angeles after an absence of ten or even five years.  If your time 

permits you may, as aforesaid, travel around within the city for a month and 

see something new every day.  The discovery of dainty homes that are beauty 

spots and new and strange vegetation will reward such fresh exploration.  Much 

of Los Angeles is almost a terra incognita to many of our residents, in spite 

of the fact that rapid and frequent transit has to a great extent annihilated 

distance.

    After looking over the city, the visitor who contemplates settling or 

investing will doubtless make investigations more in detail of the condition of 

affairs here.  He will find that the population of Los Angeles is at least 

55,000.  The census of last year gave it a trifle over 50,000, and that did not 

include Vernon, University and other suburbs which are really part of the city.  

The assessed value of all the city property is $45,953,704, there are 8744 

public school children enrolled, the banks of the city and county held 

$12,000,000 in deposits, there are over fifty miles of cable railroad track and 

an electric system nearly as large, partly constructed, over 200 electric 

lights illuminate the city at night, eleven railroads center here, two of which 

are transcontinental lines; there are over 1000 manufacturing establishments of 

all descriptions and over 100 carloads of produce are frequently shipped away 

in one day by one of the overland lines.  These and other facts, which are 

given more in detail in the following pages, including a description of the 

productive enterprises of the county, should convince the intelligent 

investigator that the claims made in the introduction to this issue and the 

predictions there offered are more than justified by the facts.  There is no 

need for exaggeration here.  The Times adheres to the sentiment which has 

actuated this journal in all its previous special issues of this character:  

"The truth about Lou Angeles is good enough."