The citizens of Los Angeles had good reason to celebrate the laying of the cornerstone for the San Pedro breakwater on April 26, 1899. It marked the successful end to a long-fought battle with the Southern Pacific Railroad over the location of the city’s deep-water harbor. Would it be San Pedro advocated by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Free Harbor League? Or would it be Santa Monica advocated by Collis Huntington and the SP?
One hero of the battle was Stephen M. White, Los Angeles attorney and U.S. Senator, who was dogged in his determination to locate the “free” harbor at San Pedro. If the harbor were to be built in Santa Monica, the Southern Pacific, which had been buying up property adjacent to the pier, would control access and freight rates. In San Pedro, rates were would be competitive.
In downtown Los Angeles, an estimated 100,000 people attended a parade followed in the evening with music from many bands, including the Mexican Philharmonic Band, who performed from a gayly-decorated streetcar that moved around town. In San Pedro, residents attended a barbecue, water carnival and fireworks on the first day. On the second, they saw a historical pageant, floral parade and parade of illuminated boats.
The Los Angeles Times ended its report, “In all it was a fitting close for a magnificent celebration, and when the last tune was played and the final lamp went out, the thousands who had participated in the carnival had retired, rejoicing that Southern California had won another victory for securing a free harbor.”
On William Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23, 1902, “a crush of ultra-fashionable ladies and gentlemen” celebrated by dedicating Cumnock Hall—a duplicate of Shakespeare’s house in Stratford. With its “wilderness of flowers [and] furbelows and electric lights in a violet-laden atmosphere,” the dedication was a “magnificent success” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Located on Figueroa, the hall was the new home of the Cumnock School of Expression which offered classes in acting and stagecraft (and even had a Shakespeare Room). Among the most popular were the Shakespeare classes taught by Kate Tupper Gilpin, founder of the Los Angeles Shakespeare Club. For this club, the Bard’s birthday was always an occasion for celebration.
In 1904, the club presented “The Merry Wives of Windsor” to great acclaim…”brilliant work” noted the Los Angeles Times. British-born actor, director and playwright Garnet Holme (author of the Ramona Pageant) “who trained and directed the play, was recipient of a Marie Antoinette basket of La France roses from the cast,” all of whom were amateurs.
The Times concluded “Let no one say, after this, that in the city of Los Angeles the immortal Bard of Avon is unremembered or unsung.”
…the next phase in the revival of the Plaza area began on Easter Sunday, 1930, with the opening of Paseo de Los Angeles, which later became popularly known by its official street name, Olvera Street. Christine Sterling’s romantic revival had finally come to pass. It was an overnight success as a local tourist destination and was heralded in the local press as “A Mexican Street of Yesterday in a City of Today.”
In preparation for the annual Festival of Books, the Los Angeles Times compiled a great map of Literary LA.
We skimmed through the festival’s weekend-long schedule to pull out several panels focused on Southern California history. The list below is not exhaustive as there will many writers and presenters who will weave between LA’s past and present, but hopefully this helps the LA history fan begin to navigate the overwhelmingly wonderful Festival of Books.
To write the adaption of Helen Hunt Jackson’s bestselling novel (which you can read here), the Hemet Chamber of Commerce hired actor/producer/playwright Garnet Holme with the hope of drawing tourists to the San Jacinto Valley. British-born Holme had arrived in Los Angeles in 1903 to teach Shakespeare and became active in Los Angeles’ theater community. Since then, he had been producing outdoor shows all over California, including the Desert Play in Palm Springs in 1921.
The Ramona Pageant turned out to be his most successful production. The pageant was so successful, he was later hired as the “pageant master” of the National Parks, producing historical plays for Yosemite, Yellowstone and Sequoia parks among others (Source: Garnet Holme: California’s Pageant Master by Phil Brigandi).
SongsinKeyofLA, “brings to life the Library’s extraordinary Southern California Sheet Music Collection. Consisting of sheet music pieces that range from the 1840s through the 1950s, the Collection offers a singular portrait of Los Angeles history and culture rendered in music and visual art. The motto of the project: archives should not just be preserved and maintained. Archives should come back to life.”
Sharing this LAPL photo of Jackie Robinson with his Pasadena Jr. College teammates as today, MLB celebrates Jackie Robinson Day. Many Dodger fans know that Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier (in Ebbets Field) on April 15, 1947. The movie 42 draws much-needed attention to this important achievement giving many the springboard to talk about Robinson’s early life in Pasadena and at UCLA. Here’s just a handful of articles:
For Zocalo Public Square, NPR’s Scott Simon wrote about Jackie Robinson’s days at UCLA (where he met his wife). Simon, “Because of UCLA, [Robinson] had played sports at the major college level and excelled…He had learned how to cope with the questions and attentions of sportswriters…” UCLA just unveiled a mural featuring Jackie Robinson at Jackie Robinson Stadium (more on KPCC).
Several discussed how the film 42 brushed over Robinson’s early history in Southern California. LA Weekly’s Brendan Whalen wrote, “Mostly, I’m disappointed because Robinson’s journey really both starts and ends in Los Angeles.” For KCRW, Kevin Roderick spoke on Jackie Robinson’s Pasadena life, “Jackie Robinson, is through and through, a local story before he went on to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers.” Robinson’s alma mater, Pasadena City College, celebrated with its own screening of 42 at Pasadena’s ArcLight.
African American reporter Wendell Smith covered Jackie Robinson for the African American-owned Pittsburgh Courier. Not allowed in the press box, Smith sat in the stands with a typewriter on his lap chronicling the achievements of Robinson. Bill Plaschke writes in the LA Times, “Everyone will remember the headline, but few will remember the byline — Wendell Smith.”
According to the LA Times, Magic Johnson once said, “If it wasn’t for Jackie, then I wouldn’t be able to own the Dodgers.” Both Johnson and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig hope to increase the number of black players in baseball. Magic Johnson, “We have to bring the game to them. We have got to bring the kids to the [neighborhood] park, as young, young kids, to let them see how exciting it is to be a baseball player.”
On April 12, 1909, Los Angeles shops closed and thousands lined the streets for the funeral of Madame Modjeska at St. Vibiana’s Cathedral. Born in Poland, Helena Modjeska was a famous 19th-century Shakespearean actress who emigrated to California in 1876. Though she settled in Orange County (Santiago Canyon), she was beloved in Los Angeles (and the U.S) as “Angelenos really felt Modjeska belonged to them,” according to 1953 article “Madame Modjeska in California.”)
Most pictures of the popular 19th-century Shakespearean actress, Helena Modjeska, show her costumed in one of her notable roles including Macbeth, Cleopatra, or Mary Stuart. Here she is shown (center, back row) in San Juan Capistrano with her Orange County friends, including Judge Richard Egan. Noted horticulturist and champion of California’s native wildflowers, Theodore Payne had his first job at Madame Mojeska’s ranch (and published his recollections “Life on the Modjeska Ranch in the Gay Nineties”). One of Payne’s favorite memories is of a dance on the veranda of her home, Arden, in Santiago Canyon: “There was Madame Modjeska, one of the greatest actresses the world has ever known….dancing with Jose Serrano, wearing a big Mexican sombrero. What a picturesque scene.”
After the funeral, Madame Modjeska’s casket was sent by rail to New York for another funeral and finally by ship and land to her native Poland where she was buried. And more than 100 years later, “America is awash in Modjeskiana” according to Beth Holmgran in her 2012 biography of the famous Polish-American actress, “Starring Madame Modjeska.”
While we may not remember who won the Oscars for best actor or actress in 1972, those attending the Academy Awards on April 10 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion will never forget the moving tribute to Charlie Chaplin. He received the longest standing ovation in Oscar history—12 minutes—when he came on stage. He had lived with his family in Switzerland since 1952, vowing never to return to the United States when he learned that the immigration service would deny him a re-entry visa because of his leftist leanings. His appearance at the Academy Awards on April 10 was the first time he was in the U.S. after 20 years. According to the LA Times, “…there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Jack Lemmon gave him his famous Little Tramp hat and cane.”
And, according to The Academy’s web site, the best actress was Jane Fonda in “Klute” and best actor was Gene Hackman in “The French Connection” which also won best picture.