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.
The celebration began when President McKinley pushed a button in Washington, D.C. that signaled a barge in San Pedro to dump a load of large boulders into the sea for the beginning of the new breakwater.
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.”
For more images, see the Port of Los Angeles’ archival photos (recently made available online) and also the book “Port of Los Angeles,” by Angel City Press.
Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare!
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.”
Today, Olvera Street celebrates its 83rd anniversary as it opened on April 20, 1930 (Easter Sunday). William Estrada’s book, “The Los Angeles Plaza: Sacred and Contested Space,” recounts the opening:
…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.”
This postcard comes from the recently launched Digital Public Library of America.
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.
Sat @ 12pm: Kevin Starr in Conversation with William Deverell. At the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes tonight, Kevin Starr will receive the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement (more info via the LA Times Jacket Copy). Historian Bill Deverell has published many titles about Los Angeles history, including the 2010 “A Companion to Los Angeles.”
Sat @ 2:30: History - Telling Hollywood Tales:
Sat @ 3:30 pm: The Real LA Noir with Patt Morrison:
Sun @ 11am: The Cold War - Hollywood & Beyond
Sun @ 1:30pm: Living and Writing Los Angeles
What did we miss?
Again, full schedule for the LA Times Festival of Books is available on the Los Angeles Times website.
This year, the Ramona Pageant celebrates its 90th season (performances are scheduled for April 20, 21, 27, 28, and May 4 and 5). If unfamiliar, Ramona is the romantic tale of early California written by Helen Hunt Jackson that sparked a tourist industry more interested in California’s mythic Spanish past than its actual Mexican one. In Jackson’s defense, she wrote Ramona to draw attention to the plight of the Native Americans, building upon her previous non-fiction book, A Century of Dishonor.
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).
The state of California recognized the Ramona Pageant on its 70th anniversary in 1993 by designating it the official California State Outdoor Play. RamonaBowl.com has more pictures and information about the pageant’s history. Also, City of Hemet’s Facebook page has vintage Ramona photos (including this 1923 photo above)
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:
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.”