On the Frontiers of Medicine

Jan. 31, 1907
Los Angeles

Showing once again that Los Angeles is out of touch with Sacramento, local health officials are fighting an education bill that would lift mandatory smallpox vaccinations for schoolchildren.

Vaccinations were opposed for several reasons in the Legislature. Assemblyman Sackett said the law unfairly placed the burden of enforcement on schools. Assemblyman Percival, a Christian Scientist, apparently objected to the measure on religious grounds. Other opponents said the only reason health officials supported the shots is to protect their jobs.

“People do not realize what the repeal of the compulsory vaccination law would mean,” says health officer Dr. Powers. “If that law were not in force here we should need five health officers in place of one.”

“Those who question the efficacy of vaccination would do well to look over the records of the local health office and compare the amount of contagious disease 15 years ago with what exists today,” Powers says. “Our population is five times as great as it was then but there has been no increase in smallpox. To repeal the compulsory vaccination law means to invite a scourge of smallpox to come north from below the Mexican border and sweep the state.”

The Times notes that Powers and his aides are watching trains and hotels for visitors from Chicago, which has been suffering epidemics of diphtheria and scarlet fever. The anti-vaccination bill was defeated in February 1907.

Read more about smallpox in Los Angeles here.


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Stuck Fast

Jan. 30, 1907
Los Angeles

Recent rains have left the city’s streets in terrible shape, as The Times shows in a photo taken at 1st Street and Spring.

This wagon, pulled by a strong team, plunged up to its hubs in one of the potholes and the horses were unable to free it. “Under the whip and vociferous admonitions of their driver, they were helpless to pull it out from the stinking muck in which, hub deep, it stood,” The Times says.

The driver abandoned the wagon, The Times says, posing an obstacle to other traffic.

“Street conditions in Los Angeles never were so bad as they are today under our new-fangled, high-salaried and pompous Board of Public Works. When we had a street superintendent it was sometimes possible to ‘get a move on,’ ” The Times says.


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An Apostle of the Past

Jan. 28, 1907
Los Angeles

William Jennings Bryan stepped from the Owl train to be greeted by a long-waiting crowd.

“In appearance, Mr. Bryan has changed but little since he was last in Los Angeles,” The Times says. “In his manner, also, there has been little, if any, change, and he greeted his friends with the same fervor and showed the same remarkable talent for remembering names.”

From the Arcade Station, Bryan and his wife were transported by auto to the home of Nathan Cole on Pasadena Avenue. They took the Mt. Lowe railway and in the evening, he addressed a capacity audience at Simpson Auditorium in a benefit for the Lark Ellen Home for Boys.

At 47, Bryan was no longer the fiery orator of his youth, The Times says. Instead, he was a gentle idealist who “talked of the thousand little things that had found his favor on five continents, and a packed audience listened with almost breathless attention.”

“They liked the esthetic idealism of this older Bryan,” The Times says of the audience. “All along the many curving rows of seats, there was a leaning forward, as if to catch some word that had been lost, and a whispering sigh of regret.”

“In soft, sweet periods, reminiscent of ‘Gray’s Elegy,’ he lauded the age of belief, the age of dreams. Touchingly, he quoted from John Boyle O’Reilly, ‘For the dreamer lives forever, but the toiler dies in a day.’ ”

“William Jennings Bryan, making a simple discourse of so pretentious a subject as ‘The Old World and Its Ways’ showed himself still, as in the promulgation of strong beliefs that lie near his heart, the apostle of the past.”

The next day, there was a trip to Santa Catalina Island for the Bryans and 100 guests, followed by banquet hosted by local Democrats. Before leaving for Salt Lake City, he addressed the students of Polytechnic High School and attended a reception at the Chamber of Commerce.

Eighteen years later, Bryan and Clarence Darrow met in Dayton, Tenn., for the Scopes Monkey Trial. He died two days after the trial’s conclusion.


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A Most Remarkable Man

Jan 28, 1907
Los Angeles

“If my career seems strange to you, it seems stranger and more incredible to me,” Gen. Homer Lea once said. And indeed it was, for Lea’s life was the tale of a badly handicapped boy’s adventures as a leader in an exotic foreign land.

His 1912 obituary in The Times begins: “His great work finished, the pitiful, wasted little body of the American boy who overthrew the tattered old Chinese empire lies silent in his home in Ocean Park. Gen. Homer Lea died yesterday.

“Thus ends one of the most extraordinary careers of modern times. Of a physique that would seem to have made a military life impossible, Homer Lea will pass into recollection and annals of men as one of the greatest-if not the greatest-military geniuses American has ever produced.”

A Jan. 28, 1907, article in The Times notes that despite the physical strain of taking part in the recent city elections, Lea has written several articles on the Chinese Exclusion Act for various magazines and adds that his first novel, “The Vermillion Pencil,” a critical work about Christian missionaries in China, is about to be published.

Who was Homer Lea? It’s a little difficult to tell.

“So much rot and twaddle has been written about him that I want to set down the simple facts as I know them and as he told them to me,” Carr said in Lea’s obituary.

Lea’s disabilities kept him from taking part in athletics, but he had a keen mind, Carr says, and took part in the debating societies at Los Angeles High School. Upon graduating in the Class of 1897, Lea went to Stanford with the intention of becoming a lawyer.

“He told me, one day long afterward, that he came to see in the course of his studies in Stanford that all the great careers of the world have been carved out with swords,” Carr said. “He decided that somehow and somewhere he would carve out such a career for himself. The obstacles did not daunt him as they would have another man. Nature had set him a very early lesson in the way of overcoming terrible handicaps.”

First, Carr says, he remembered reading about turmoil among the rulers of the Chinese empire. The next thing he knew, Lea was a prominent guest at Chinese banquets in San Francisco. “Then he slipped away and went to China,” Carr says.

There were many adventures. But with the empress, whom Lea opposed, securely on the throne, he fled to the United States. Carr says: “We all remember how he reappeared in Los Angeles after the Boxer rebellion and became the ‘man of mystery’ of this continent. He carried a little military ‘swagger stick’ which was beautifully engraved with a dragon and with an inscription denoting its presentation to ‘Lieutenant Gen. Lea’ by some Chinese viceroy.”

Lea spent the next six or seven years in study. “Every day he was to be seen out on the lawns of Westlake Park on an Indian rug, poring over works of strategy,” Carr says. “None of us knew what he was doing and to tell the honest truth, few believed in him. It was too incredible; to see the boy who sat next to you at school as the lieutenant-general in an Oriental army is altogether too violent an assault upon human probabilities to be taken at one dose.”

The skepticism was soon dispelled, however. An imperial prince arrived in Los Angeles and “reported for duty to Gen. Lea like a district messenger boy.” Carr says, “Later, when Kang Yu Wei, the former prime minister of China, came to Los Angeles, it was the same.”

“About this time, one of the most remarkable events ever seen on the Pacific Coast took place in Los Angeles Chinatown. Nearly all the young Chinamen cut off their cherished queues and formed themselves into an infantry company. It was drilled every night behind an enclosure in the Chinese quarter,” Carr says.

Lea and Kang soon left for a trip around the world, meeting with President Teddy Roosevelt, and then went to Europe.

Lea returned to Los Angeles and began writing “The Valor of Ignorance,” intending to “show that war with Japan is certain to happen some day and that the United States is utterly unprepared for such a conflict,” Carr says.

Carr reminisces about a breakfast he had at the Lankershim Hotel with Lea a year before the military leader’s death. Their third companion turned out to be Sun Yat Sen.

Lea left for China shortly after that, only to return with a fatal illness.

“In the course of newspaper life one gets to know many men of many manners,” Carr says, “but I have never known a more lovable, kindly, simple-hearted gentleman than Homer Lea.”

And as you can tell from the photo, he wasn’t Chinese.


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Why Doesn’t L.A. Do Something About Traffic?

Jan. 27, 1907
Los Angeles

One thing you can say about Angelenos: We love to talk about traffic. The only thing we love more is to commission studies and draft plans to deal with the problem, and then ignore them.

“With the wonderful growth of Los Angeles as a great city has come to it many problems to be solved. The Owens River and the system of storm drains underway are the solutions of two important ones,” The Times says.

A traffic jam in 1907

“But now the city is face to face with another important problem, that of the congestion of its streets in the business section, especially by the electric car traffic, which at certain times of the day causes blockades, loss of time to thousands, loss of business to merchants and discomfort to the public.”

Now this is painful reading:

“This problem of transportation will grow in importance every year during which it is neglected. Swift as has been the extension and shifting of lines of the great electric railway system in and about Los Angeles, the city has grown with still greater rapidity.”

The elevated train proposed for Los Angeles and never built.

The Times says Henry Huntington plans to build an experimental elevated line from the Pacific Electric Building south on Tennessee with the idea of eventually linking to the beach cities.

“To ride on such a railway, above the smells and dust of the streets, will some day be a delight to the citizens of Los Angeles, if ideas now if the mind of the great railroad builder are carried out.”

Sixty years ago, we again failed to address the problem of transportation, from the blog’s archives for September 1947:

Someday an inquisitive person studying the history of transportation and urban planning will tell the world exactly what became of Los Angeles’ 1947 blueprint for dealing with transit problems. In the meantime, we’ll have to settle for the knowledge that at least they made a valiant effort. They certainly knew what was coming-without much argument, you could call them futurists.

A committee sponsored by the California Chamber of Commerce spent 19 months studying transportation issues and warned that someday Los Angeles would have a population of 5 million (the 2000 population of Los Angeles County was 9,519,338, with 3,694,820 for the city of L.A.).

“High-speed rail transit arteries plus a system of downtown subways alone can save Los Angeles from disintegration into a hodge-podge of unconnected municipalities,” The Times said in quoting the project’s advocates.

“Crux of this preliminary proposal lies in the immediate revamping of express highway projects (today we call them freeways) to include ‘center strip’ tracks capable of whisking trains at 35 to 50 mph.

“These cars, pouring millions of commuters daily into metropolitan Los Angeles, would unload at special downtown stations whence passengers would be shuttled to local destinations by subways tentatively scheduled under Broadway and Spring Street.

“The master plan envisions center strip tracks on the Hollywood, Santa Monica, Olympic, Inglewood, Harbor and East Bypass Freeways.”

The Times notes: “Eventually the master plan would integrate all forms of mass transportation, including operation of rubber-tired vehicles on certain expressways not immediately requiring trains.”

A quick search through Proquest isn’t helpful in determining the project’s fate. William Jeffers, the former Union Pacific railroad president who was to be a consultant on the project, is quoted in 1948 calling for approval of a rapid transit district.

Of course there was a competing proposal. The 1948 Babcock plan, named for consulting engineer Henry A. Babcock, who envisioned a 650-mile subway system at a cost of $1,100,000,000 ($10,410,604,566.50 USD 2005). While there were arguments between the two factions, in the end, neither plan was adopted, as any Los Angeles driver knows.

The original story reveals some obvious clues as to why: The Inglewood, Olympic and East Bypass Freeways aren’t familiar names these days. One could paper the dining room with Times maps of various freeway routes that were never built. (In simple terms, the Santa Monica Freeway was originally envisioned much farther north. To the south, the Olympic Freeway was to go from the Harbor Freeway to Venice and the Inglewood Freeway was to go from the Harbor Freeway to Sepulveda).

And there are other stories in the same issue that offer more hints: A huge petition drive led by Ted Meltzer, publisher of the South Side Journal, against building the Harbor Freeway between Broadway and Figueroa. “Homeowners in an area bounded by 23rd Street and Imperial Boulevard claim that several thousand homes in the built-up area would be destroyed and ask that the project be either abandoned or postponed,” The Times said. And an adjoining story reports on a seven-month investigation of graft and conspiracy in acquiring property for the Hollywood Freeway.

But it is gratifying when wondering what became of the 1947 plan to remember that the new Gold Line tracks run between lanes of the Foothill Freeway. Some things just take time.

Bonus factoid: The Harbor Freeway was realigned to spare the Auto Club headquarters on South Figueroa and USC’s Fraternity Row.


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Born in the U.S.A.

Jan. 26, 1907
Los Angeles

Chin Man Can (or Kan) is in jail on charges of being an illegal immigrant. The young man says he is nothing of the sort, but unable to prove that he was born in San Francisco because all of his belongings were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.

Can says that when he was 13, the rest of his family left San Francisco to return to China, but that he stayed behind, attending Chinese school and learning English. After the earthquake, he came to Los Angeles, where he was arrested while working at an Ocean Park restaurant.

The Times defended Can, noting that his uncle was a wealthy San Francisco businessman, Ching Wing.

“Ching Wing has always been so enthusiastic an American that he has arranged to bring up his baby as an American boy, forsaking the language of his fathers, wearing American clothes, reading American books. It seems like a joke that one of his relatives should be arrested,” The Times says.

The Times wrote in an editorial: “Every right-minded American will resent the disagreeable experiences which have befallen Chin Man Can, who appears to be our fellow countryman. Let us hope that all will end well for him and that his heart will not become embittered because of his rough treatment. We trust he will live long and prosper in the land of his birth, which has the same regard for him that she has for all her children, of whatever race, color or creed.”

An anonymous headline writer was not so kind, nor was a reporter who wrote: “ ‘Me velly flond this country,’ Chin Man stated on the witness stand. ‘Family all go back to China. Me hide in wood yard in Flisco till they all gone. I likee mission school, likee ‘Melican ways, alle slame ‘Melican myself.’ ”

Although an inspector bolstered claims that Can had been smuggled into the country, testifying that he had frequently seen Can in Ensenada, a benefactor charged that the “Mexican ranger” was railroading Can to get the $300 bounty for turning in an illegal immigrant.

In 1913, while out on bail as his case was being appealed, Can was charged with belonging to a ring smuggling Chinese across the border. By then he was manager of the Quang Hing Lung Co. at 305 Marchessault St., and attending the University of Southern California.

His trial lasted into 1914 and testimony revealed that Can had adopted the names Frank Chan and W.H. Chan. He was convicted of trying to smuggle a boxcar of immigrants into the U.S. and although he appealed his case, no further information can be found in The Times.


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Introducing Miss White

Jan. 24, 1907
Los Angeles

Meet a tough little lady who gave her life to helping the poor, needy children of Los Angeles. She built a church and school starting with a nickel donated by a newsboy, left it all and began again in a tent when the presiding minister turned out to be a crook, and then regained everything. She spent most of her later years fighting with state authorities to stay in operation. Her name is Belle L. White.

White was preaching as early as 1897 at the Pacific Gospel Union, working with needy children in the neighborhood east of Alameda Street. But in a few years, when the Gospel Union decided to give up working with youngsters, White split off and formed her own school at 6th Street and Mateo.

She began with a small, roughly constructed building and raised a larger Mission-style structure called the People’s Church. White was joined by the Rev. T.G. Atteberry, who was soon in debt. There was further controversy about him: “He has actually begun to jump with the Holy Rollers,” The Times says, “they who serve the Lord with ragtime songs and cakewalk accompaniment, and his institutional church at 6th and Mateo streets has become the lodging house, meetinghouse and general headquarters of the ludicrous bunch of fanatics.”

White continued to have faith in Atteberry when everyone else had abandoned him. “She is a sincere friend of Atteberry and last night fought his battle like the valiant little woman she is,” The Times says. “She pleaded and wept for him, declaring it was her belief that he is simply the victim of circumstances, that he is honest to the core and will pay every dollar owing on the People’s Church, though she says her work is now completely separated from it.”

And in January 1907, the church wanted to ordain her. “Los Angeles is likely to have the only woman preacher in the country in active charge of a congregation,” The Times says. The paper carried an announcement that White was to be ordained, but there is no further information about it.

Information on White remains sketchy. The institution at 6th and Mateo continued to operate, and by 1909 was known as the nonsectarian Belle White Children’s Home. In 1912, the Belle White Home moved from 588 S. Mateo to the home of former Mayor Hazard at 3701 Eastside Blvd., which had been remodeled as an orphanage.

In 1914, she was investigated on charges of running the home for personal profit and accused of neglecting the children. Later that year, the state Board of Charities and Corrections stripped the home of its license. White defied the ruling and vowed to stay in operation. She challenged the state board to arrest her, and when it didn’t, she continued caring for the children.

The next year, she incorporated and was again investigated by the state Board of Charities and Corrections, which among other things wanted her to restrict admission to either boys or girls and to have a board of directors including men and women. In 1917, there were further charges against White, saying that she operated a boarding home rather than a charity and White conceded that in some instances relatives paid the children’s expenses. It continued to operate as late as 1926, then vanished from the historic record, as did its namesake, Belle L. White.


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We Saved the 76 Ball!

The following is a message from the future, 2007 to be precise.

Y’know that little oil company Unocal out Santa Paula way? Welp, round about 1962 they’re going to send an ad executive up to the World’s Fair in Seattle (of all godforsaken backwaters) and he’ll create a sign that the whole world will fall in love with. He’ll call it the 76 Ball, and that’s all it is, a big orange ball with "76" across its belly, but not for 1776, but for some nutty thing to do with octanes.

Anyhoo, the 76 Ball will be a sweet old thing and everyone will love it, especially little kids, and folks’ll even wear little ones on their cars as decoration. Come 2003 and a big Texas company called ConocoPhillips is gonna eat up the little Californnia company and start knocking those friendly balls off their poles and replacing them with red Texas belt buckles. That’s when your time traveling pals at 1947project get involved, with a website and a petition. And would you believe, those Texans listen?

We pretty much just saved the 76 Ball — for museum collections and in a new, red and blue interpretation, and we’re feeling pretty good about it.

This concludes your message from the future. We now return you to your previously scheduled Lemon Fiend.

yrs, Kim
(and Nathan)
(and the rest of the 76 Ball geeks)

Le-Mon! Le-Mon!

Jan. 23, 1907
Los Angeles

Pity, for a moment, Felix Chavarino, caught in the grips, not of opium, morphine or heroin, but of citrus, for he is a “lemon fiend.”

He was arrested after begging for food in a small restaurant. Chavarino didn’t want anything else on the menu, pleading for a “le-mon,” a “le-mon.”

“Gaunt, unkempt and weird looking, he crouched there, disdaining all offers,” The Times says.

“With skin turned to the yellow hue of the lemon, lips drawn back sore and red, from protruding teeth, skin stretched tightly over cheekbones; matted hair, through which his fingers constantly moved; eyes bulging and glassy, he was a living picture of the effects of excessive use of the lemon.”

Someone gave him money to buy food, but took it away when Chavarino set off for the nearest fruit stand.

Chavarino, who had already served months in jail, was convicted of vagrancy and given 30 days. There is no further record of him in The Times, so we don’t know what became of him.


E-mail: lmharnisch (AT) gmail.com