{Times, Dec. 4, 1891, p. 1}

                 What Los Angeles Looked Like in the Year 1881

    A quiet, slow-moving, half-way frontier town was Los Angeles early in 

1881.  The census of the previous year had given it a population of 11,311, and 

it had certainly not increased since then, for there was quite an exodus to 

Arizona, which territory had been brought into prominence by the discovery of 

the Tombstone mines and the extension eastward of the Southern Pacific 

railroad, then fast approaching a junction with the eastern lines.  Tucson, the 

other old pueblo on the Santa Cruz, had a population of 6994, and was booming, 

while Los Angeles was decidedly dull.  Hundreds were endeavoring to dispose of 

their property here at any price in order to go and make their fortunes in the 

mining country.  Arizona was largely settled up at that time with Los Angeles 

people.  The fortunate ones were those who were unable to sell their property 

here, although they did not see it in that light.  You could have exchanged 

property in Los Angeles for property in Tucson on even terms then, while today 

fifty feet on Congress street, Tucson, would scarcely bring enough to pay one 

year's taxes on fifty feet of Spring street property, for Los Angeles now has a 

population of over 55,000, while Tucson has only about 5500.  Most of the 

wanderers have come back home, like the Prodigal Son, convinced that irrigation 

ditches are safer to base estimates of wealth upon than are holes in the 


    As the year wore on the Southern Pacific effected a junction at Deming, 

giving Los Angeles a direct through line to the East, shorter and with much 

easier grades than that from San Francisco.  The mining business in Arizona 

also brought many thousands of dollars to Los Angeles, whence most of the 

supplies for that Territory were drawn, as they are to a great extent now.  

This instilled a little life into the drowsy pueblo, and by the beginning of 

December, when the first number of The Times appeared, there was a perceptible 

improvement in business.  In its second issue The Times noticed that rooms and 

houses were all taken, and that stores were engaged as soon as the corner-stone 

was built, and old settlers were expressing the belief that "Los Angeles never 

had a brighter future before it than now."  On the 24th of that month a leading 

editorial was published on "The Need of Manufactories," in the course of which 

the rapid development of business resources of the city was referred to.  The 

article continued:

              General business has been so prosperous, the demand for 

         our produce in Arizona and New Mexico has been so active, the 

         opportunities for successful speculation in land have offered 

         so many inducements to the capitalist, and money has 

         commanded such a high premium for safe investments on real 

         estate and personal securities that but few of our citizens 

         have given thought to the more important considerations of 

         inaugurating manufacturing ventures in Los Angeles.  It 

         cannot be denied but that the City of Angels is now enjoying 

         a season of business prosperity almost without parallel in 

         her history.  Every merchant and commercial enterprise of any 

         importance is accomplishing wonders in the way of business 

         success.  The city is increasing rapidly in the way of 

         population and influence, and is speedily assuming all the 

         attributes of metropolitan existence.  Still, in the minds of 

         certain people, there is a doubt as to the permanency of this 

         prosperity.  Some people naturally regard it as only a boom, 

         and with a decline in the demand for our produce, or with the 

         evil of a dry season to curtail our harvests, they reasonably 

         expect a corresponding falling off in the volume of our 

         business, in the number of new buildings, in the amount of 

         real estate transactions and in the immigration to our city 

         and county.  While we are sanguine enough to doubt that 

         either of the causes enumerated would produce general 

         disaster in business and financial circles, as some think, 

         still we believe that Los Angeles should begin to consider 

         measures that would tend to avert any such direct calamities.  

         There should be some balance wheel that will prevent seasons 

         of booms and depressions, and will create a steady and 

         certain condition of business prosperity.  That balance wheel 

         is undoubtedly manufactures.

    In the light of events that have transpired it is amusing to read of the 

dire forebodings as to the effect of a reaction from the "boom" then 

prevailing.  What an innocent little boomlet it was!  The croaker was evidently 

here in 1881, with his mouldy maunderings about dry seasons and overproduction.  

He is here yet, although irrigation has made us to a great extent independent 

of dry seasons, and the markets of the world yet clamor for our products.  The 

remarks about factories are, however, still pertinent, although we have 

established scores of manufacturing enterprises during the past ten years.

    It must not be supposed, from the reference to the wonderful business 

done, that stores were carrying on a business then that bore any sort of 

comparison to that of today.  In December, 1881, a peddler went into one of the 

leading dry goods stores of the city and selected seven pieces of prints which 

he wanted to buy.  The proprietors complained that this would deplete their 

stock of those goods, and persuaded him to take only half a piece of each!  The 

Los Angeles retail merchant princes of today were yet in embryo in 1881.

    The change in the appearance of Los Angeles during the past ten years has 

been so remarkable that persons who visited then and who return now can 

scarcely recognize it as the same city.  In 1881 the Spanish quarter, with its 

low, one-story adobe houses, was still an important part of the city, and adobe 

houses and stores were numerous elsewhere.  The residences were nearly all of 

the cottage order, and few business buildings rose above two stories.  The only 

blocks of importance were those named after Baker, Temple and Downey, the first 

named being really the only building in the city of any architectural 

pretensions.  In the last-named was located the office of this paper.

    Much business yet clustered about the Plaza, around the little park in the 

center of which was a handsome row of well-trimmed cypress trees.  The business 

center was then at the Temple Block, the business quarter being bounded on the 

north by the Plaza and on the south by First street.  Where the Nadeau Hotel 

now stands was a German butcher shop, in an adobe building back of which was a 

horse corral and hay yard.  Adjoining on Spring street on the south was a 

planing mill.  Spring street, south of First, had more bare lots than 

residences and no stores, for business had not then begun to move so far south.  

Property on Spring street, between First and Second, was sold at $150 a foot, 

which was considered a very high price.  At two other corners of First and 

Spring were a saloon and a coal-yard.  The Wilcox Block on North Spring, where 

Jevne's grocery now is, was the only good business building on Spring street.  

Where the Phillips Block now stands was an old one-story adobe building used as 

a city jail.

    On First street there was no business east of Los Angeles street, the road 

being very bad.  Los Angeles street was then, as now, the principal wholesale 

business street.  Main street was then the leading residence street.  I. W. 

Hellman, Gov. Downey and John Jones had fair residences there.  On 

Broadway--then Fort street--were a few cottages.  There were a few scattering 

residences out to the west as far as Pearl street.  Even at that time Figueroa 

was considered a fine residence street, there being residences here and there 

as far south as Adams street, and on the latter street a number of houses had 

been built around the Longstreet tract, of a character that was then considered 

superior.  The houses on other streets in the neighborhood were mostly 

shanties.  Below Eighth street most of the town was planted in barley.  Acreage 

in the Morris Vineyard tract, between Pico and Washington, near Main, was 

offered at $900.

    Up Temple street, near Bunker Hill avenue, was a deep cut.  Here an old 

frame and muslin building, called the Pavilion, stood almost alone.  There were 

scarcely any buildings on the hills west of Bunker Hill avenue.  Lots were 

offered this side of the hill at $100 apiece, without finding many buyers.  

Second street, west of Hill, was nothing but a wagon track.  Beaudry was trying 

to supply the hills with water, which he succeeded in doing after a time.

    East of Main, both north and south at First street, there was quite a 

settlement of small buildings.  Mrs. Woodworth's residence, at the corner of 

San Pedro and Second, was then a stylish place.  Orchards and vineyards, on 

patches of from two to ten acres, covered much of this section.

    The only bridge in the city in December, 1881, was that at Aliso street 

{Aliso Road - Ed.}, the Downey avenue bridge having been built very shortly 

afterward.  East Los Angeles was a small settlement, consisting chiefly of 

Downey avenue, then recently laid out.  Lots on the avenue were valued at about 

$100 apiece, and one groceryman was slowly starving to death.  On Boyle Heights 

there were half a dozen houses, chief among which were the residences of 

Cummings, Hollenbeck and W. H. Workman.  Where the Cummings Hotel now stands a 

Spaniard kept a little flour and plenty of whisky.  Teams stopped there as the 

"last chance" this side of Downey.

    The Pico House and St. Elmo--then called the Lafayette House--were the 

principal hotels.  There were no paved streets in the city, which during the 

rainy season, were in a horrible condition, horses and vehicles often sinking 

knee-deep into the foul-smelling mixture of black mud and offal, which was 

churned by the vehicles and hoofs into the consistency of a sticky paste.  The 

"sidewalks" were little better in most places, consisting mostly of gravel, 

which after a long rain got so mixed with the soil that you could not tell one 

from the other.  This state of affairs continued to prevail, even on Main and 

First streets, until 1887, when a serious attempt was begun to pave the city.

    The show places of those days were the home of O. W. Childs on Main street 

and the Wolfskill orange orchard.  The street-car system was confined to a 

single horse railroad, running every twenty minutes from the San Fernando depot 

to Washington Gardens.  {Other records indicate several lines operated in 1881 

- Ed.}  The railroads were the Southern Pacific to San Francisco, and its lines 

to Santa Monica, San Pedro and Santa Ana.

    The leading agricultural industry was the raising of sheep and cattle.  

Immense bands of sheep kept the hills bare of herbage.  The great complaint 

throughout the country was that there was "no water."  Since then bountiful 

streams have been connected on the plains from mountain canons and tunnels, and 

more is constantly being developed, yet some people complain that this is a 

waterless region.  Los Angeles was the center of what orange-growing business 

there was.  The Times of that year claimed that there were 256,135 orange trees 

growing within a few miles of the city.  The Wolfskill orange orchard, where 

the Arcade depot now stands, was famous all over the country.  Some of the 

orange trees, forty years old, are still standing in the home place of Mrs. 

Wolfskill near the depot.

    The climatic and other attractions of Southern California had been made 

widely known in 1872 by Charles Nordhoff, and quite a number of Easterners 

began to visit and winter here.  The stream was, however, a tiny one compared 

with that at present.  There were no special arrangements made for the comfort 

of visitors.  The Nadeau, the Westminster, the Raymond, the Arcadia and the 

Coronado hotels had not then been thought of.

    They were crying for a Federal building in December, 1881.  The cry still 

goes up.   State division was talked of a little even then and "Los Angeles" 

was suggested as a good name for the baby, which had not yet been born.  The 

City Council was urged to have the houses numbered.  A reduction in fruit rates 

to the East had just been secured.  Several more reductions have since been 

given and the end is not yet.  The city library boasted of from seventy-five to 

eighty visitors every evening, and that 900 books had been given out during the 

previous month.  As many as that are sometimes issued in a day now.  The 

Chamber of Commerce was considering the obtaining of an appropriation of 

$200,000 from Congress for the improvement of Wilmington harbor.  This and a 

good deal more has since been secured, but the appetite of Wilmington harbor 

grows with the getting, and it now asks for millions where it then wanted 

hundreds of thousands.  But then, its business has increased in the same 

proportion.  There were 1924 pupils enrolled in the public schools of the city 

in 1881.  The city assessments amounted to $7,627,632, and the tax levy to 

$75,749.  It takes a good deal more to make the municipal mare go now-a-days.  

The Times was saying it "would like to see" a first-class theater, a fire-alarm 

system, streets and sidewalks repaired, and a paper with larger circulation 

than The Times.  We have two first-class theaters, a fire-alarm system and 

excellent streets and sidewalks, but the paper with a larger circulation than 

The Times is not yet here.  

    Pasadena--then still generally known as the "Indiana Colony"--consisted at 

that time of four corners and a post office.  Five acres on what is now the 

city of Pasadena were sold in December, 1881, for $40 an acre.  Santa Monica 

was already quite a promising little place.  In one respect it was ahead of the 

present time, for it had a wharf and steamship communication.  A hotel was 

there, known as the "Jones and Baker."

    As to prices of real estate in 1881, a glance through The Times will give 

the best idea of that.  One of the largest sales of the year was that of the 

Cordona building, a large two-story brick block standing on a lot 81 feet front 

on Main street, running back to Los Angeles. It was sold by James Stephens to 

Louis Phillips for $46,500.  A house of five rooms on Charity street, now Grand 

avenue, close in, was offered for $1200.  A transfer of the south east corner 

of Temple and Olive was recorded for $1800, another of a lot on the west side 

of Main street, between Second and Third, for $2700, and one of a 60-foot lot 

on Wilmington street for $1300. 

    A nice little home on the hill near Temple street was offered for $475.  

Rowan and Dobinson offered a small house and lot on Bunker Hill avenue for 


    On the lst of January, 1882, The Times published a list of building 

improvements made in Los Angeles during 1881, and congratulated its readers on 

the great progress.  In this article it is stated that "during the past year 

Los Angeles has had a building boom seldom heard of in an agricultural 

country."  The total value of the improvements foot up something less than 

$200,000.  In further proof of the existence of a boom, the annual report of 

the city and county officers is given.  There was a boom even in deaths, the 

health officer reporting the number for 1881 at 254.  The fire department had 

been called out 33 times during the year, of which 15 were false alarms.  The 

losses paid by insurance companies amounted to $920, and the expenses of the 

department, of which Jacob Khurts was the chief, were $6648.  The number of 

arrests by the police was 948.  D. M. Adams, as City Justice, had received 

$3345.  The number of books in the library was 2800, expenses $1946 and 

receipts $494.  The zanjero had received $9346 for water and expended $10,586.  

J. C. Kays, City Treasurer, had $41,688 in his hands on November 1.  The 

delinquent tax list was $4496, of which $1449 had since been paid.  This is 

referred to as the smallest delinquent list ever known in the city.

    Los Angeles was at that time lighted by gas, but the new electric tower at 

San Jose was attracting much attention, and there was already talk of securing 

an electric light system for Los Angeles.