If They Had Only Known

Jan. 21, 1907
Los Angeles

Mayor Arthur C. Harper addressed the crowd for a moment, reminiscing about a teacher who used to tell his pupils that someday, long after he was gone, people would get around Los Angeles in self-propelled vehicles.

And with that, Harper threw the switch, illuminating 10,000 electric lights at Morley’s Skating Rink on Grand between 9th and 10th Streets and beginning the insanity, formally unveiling the automobile in the first car show not only in Los Angeles, but on the West Coast.

More than 3,000 people poured through the exhibits in the first three hours of the show, which featured 97 gas-powered autos and two electric cars, as well as all manner of accessories such as odometers, speedometers, dashboard clocks and gas lamps. There was a personal appearance by Barney Oldfield with his famous “Green Dragon” racecar.

Not all of the exhibitors arrived in time for the opening night. The railroad car carrying the shipment of Pope-Toledos caught fire near Barstow and the Ford was delayed, although Henry Ford did attend the show, The Times says.

Great preparations had been made to display the vehicles: 9th and 10th Streets, as yet unpaved, were muddy from recent storms, but Grand was cleared of mud and a wooden causeway was built to the entrance. The Times notes that a canopy had been erected for people arriving in carriages.

The autos’ technical innovations were breathtaking: “At the space of the White garage a constant crowd looked over the Christman, a car built for the hardest kind of place, the desert,” The Times says. “The car is built for carrying passengers over no roads at all, for jumping off rocks and climbing over gullies and generally being abused.

“The Christman is a large, heavy, rugged-looking machine, with broad tread, large wheels and a body fitted with three seats, like an old-fashioned buckboard. Its frame is built like a railroad car, with truss rod underneath. In front is the motor, a Brennan double-opposed rated at 40 horsepower. This size is used in the car on exhibition, but the next ones turned out with have a 60 horsepower motor, capable of taking them anywhere.

“A peculiar system of individual clutch transmission is used, which has been changed a little since the first car was made. Formerly the car had no reverse and when Christman wanted to turn the machine around in the narrow streets of Goldfield he rushed at the curb, hit and bounced back and then continued the operation until he had bounced himself around.

“This operation seemed to have no deleterious effect on the car, but it was thought better to have a reverse as the method was rather strenuous on the passengers.”

There were many questions and after a few days, salesmen became exhausted from explaining why a car engine needs pistons and why a manufacturer can’t leave off the differential to save weight. The show was extended because of its popularity, and was forced to close in part because most of the exhibition cars had been sold.

If anyone asked about mass transit, pollution or traffic, the comments were not recorded. No, the first thing people did when they got hold of their cars was to see how fast they could go.


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The Mayor Departs From His Prepared Remarks

Jan. 4, 1907
Los Angeles

During a dinner at Levy’s, Mayor-elect Arthur C. Harper stood before 200 members of the Municipal League and their friends who were eager to hear what he planned for his incoming administration.

Harper took his typewritten speech from his pocket, showed it to the crowd, and laid it aside. Harper said he changed his mind

Signs of the Times

November 5, 1907boozesign
Los Angeles

Just as an innocent toke of reefer leads to a lifetime of laudanum addiction, everybody knows that electric signs lead to…neon!

Neon wouldn’t be introduced to the United States until 1923 (specifically, at the Earl C. Anthony Packard dealership, 10th & Hope Street).  That first reefer toke, though…that was the electric sign…

Property owners of 1907 argue that electric signs, particularly those of the swinging variety which jut from the façades of buildings, make the streets look tawdry.  Moreover, they nullify the illumination systems on principal business streets, and will become eyesores and nuisances.

The Mayor, however, is outspoken in favor of electric signs.  They illuminate business thoroughfares, and are an ornament to the city.  A man of vision, our Mayor Harper.

But what to do, then, with the Jim “de champ” Jeffries’ new saloon sign on South Spring?  He has had one built and installed, swung over the sidewalk, “bearing in letters as big as one of his mitts the magic pugilistic name.”

While this type of signage violates numerous and sundry City ordinances, the Board of Public Works has ignored similar signs in the downtown area that advertise cafés and theaters, who are crying foul in that municipal authorities have allowed such signs to hang for the last year.  Because of Jeffries’ transgression, he and all other sign owners received letters from the City Attorney demanding the removal of any and all projecting signage, the worry being that should these signs become commonplace, “the sidewalks would be converted into tunnels darkened and obstructed by a covering of advertising signs.”

Moreover, a proposed ordinance shall prohibit signage advertising liquor.  Can this be?

Mayor Harper stands firm.  What will become of our city?

electricyouthHere’s a vision of the future:  electric signage along Broadway, ca. 1920, as pictured in, uh, this book.

A Foul Wind Blows Over Boyle Heights

Oct. 12, 1907
Los Angeles

After repeated complaints to police because half a dozen dead dogs had laid in the streets for two weeks, the health department tried to charge C.T. Hanson, who held the contract for removing carcasses. But according to the city attorney, Hanson was only guilty of not abiding by his contract and nothing more.

In fact, Hanson had tried to get out his contract, claiming that he was losing money, but the city refused.

Downtown Demolitions

September 8, 1907
Los Angeles
ordersdownMuch has been made of Bunker Hill, its rooming houses torn asunder, and of the wholesale postwar demolition of many a downtown landmark.  Downtown hotels have fared the worst, though they limped along longest—the Lee, the Lankershim, the Gates, the Armondale, all held forth before being felled in recent memory.  As much as we must blush at this collective ignominy, let us turn an eye back to some of our fallen comrades that predate, or were otherwise too shabby to be considered amongst, the brick and metal structures of our Gilded Age.

On this day in 1907 Fire Chief Lips, Health Officer Powers, Building Inspector Backus, with Mayor Harper at the helm, visited four downtown lodging houses and found the living conditions in them so deplorable that orders were issued for their immediate demolition.  This action was largely at the behest of those tireless proponents of the “City Beautiful” movement, the Municipal Art Commission.

Like sleuths on the trail of flimsy firetraps unfit for human habitation (or, more likely, menaces to the business district), the Mayor and his posse struck first at the Saratoga, at 218-230 East Third Street.  The Mayor, having never seen the common bedbug once in his life, was horrified at the sight of the Cimex lectularius.  Harper had Building Inspector Backus draw up a letter to the building’s owner, one J. J. Pattison of Hollywood:  “…I have reached the conclusion that it is my duty under Sec. 7 of the Los Angeles Building Ordinance to condemn…on account of its exceedingly flimsy character—the construction being mainly boards and the ceiling consisting of cloth and paper.  The class of construction is, in my opinion, a very serious menace to the thickly built-up section surrounding the property.  You will therefore demolish the building at once and remove all the old material from the premises.  The section referred to requires that you begin this work within forty-eight hours of the receipt of this notice.”

Similar notices were sent to the owners of the Mechanics Lodging house at 232 East Second, the New England lodging house at 245 East Second, and the Nagaska Hotel on 2321/2 East Second.  The Saratoga, Mechanics Lodging and New England were immediately vacated, their roomers dispersed who knows where; however, regarding the Nagaska, "the Japs have disregarded their notice and are still packed in there like sardines in a can.  If they have not cleared out by Monday they may be transferred to the Police Station.”

While he was at it, Inspector Backus condemned the aged Pioneer Warehouse at 421 Bernardo, whose foundations have settled and whose brick walls are warped and cracked.  Fire Chief Lips also pronounced an unnamed hotel on Spring, south of the Alexandria, to be an unsanitary firetrap.

It is said twenty other buildings within the business district have failed to meet the approval of the fire chief and building inspector.  Their fate is of yet unknown.

This take-and-demolish method may be bad, but at least it’s more honorable than our modern methods practiced by that deceitful cabal of disingenuous philistines known as the LAUSD.

Mayor Harper Likes to Watch Young Girls — Hurdle Tombstones!

May 3, 1907
Los Angeles

The old cemetery adjacent to Los Angeles High School was a lonely and forlorn place, until a throng of young ladies from the HS girls’ track team made it their training quarters. The fair hurdlers and sprinters had important dates upcoming, and the disused graveyard was the only place they could practice–until the grizzled old caretaker descended on the girls as they footed it in and out among the memorials. He was responsible to the Mayor for the condition of the place, he told them, and if he let girls practice there, then boys would come ’round, and if boys came ’round, then the peace of the place would forever be destroyed. So the girls would have to go, he insisted.

Naturally, wind of this got to Mayor Harper, who disclaimed all complicity with the cruel edict, and went on to state that he likes to see girls leap over monuments and generally make the place lively. “Why, it’s good for them. Let the girls hop over tombstones if they want to. I like to have them,” said Mayor Harper. “If the girls are anything like they used to be they’re welcome to all the room they want.” Harper even went so far as to flourish the official pen and scribble out a permit allowing the girls to roam at will in the old Los Angeles cemetery adjoining the High School building, provided they did not desecrate any graves.

And that, children, is how young girls in the bloom of youth, their airy flights and frolics so delightful to the eye, got their graveyard privileges restored.