Centennial Ramblings

Feb. 5, 2007
Sierra Madre

Because it’s celebrating its centennial this month, I paid a visit to Sierra Madre and while savoring a cinnamon dolce latte at the local Starbucks, watched the sun set on a historic Union 76 ball. A perfect fusion of two projects.

And here’s Sierra Madre’s Old North Church, with the artillery piece in the park across the street. Note the problem I encountered with lighting. Architectural photography is surely not my forte.

Now for the business at hand. I’ve often thought that with a century of lawmaking under its belt, the state Legislature might want to take the afternoon off. After all, with more than a century of making laws, what’s left to regulate?

The Times provides a tidy answer to my question. Here’s what the Legislature was wrestling with 100 years ago:

· The Senate unanimously passes a ban on docking horses’ tails and prohibits anyone from bringing horses with docked tails into the state. Those who own horses with docked tails would have to register them with the local county officials.

· The Senate passes a bill authorizing the governor to declare “Bud and Arbor Day.”

· The Senate passes a bill setting dairy standards and a bill to keep the polls open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

· A committee urges the Senate to pass Sen. Black’s tax exemption bill for all the buildings at Stanford as well as the bonds the university holds in trust.

· Sen. Wolfe introduces a bill making all robberies committed with a deadly weapon between sunset and sunrise punishable by death or life in prison.

· Assemblyman Grove L. Johnson introduces a “no seat, no fare” bill providing that railroad passengers who cannot find a seat need not pay. The bill would include streetcars.

· Assemblyman Johnson introduces a bill requiring firearms dealers to keep records of gun buyers’ names and addresses.

· The Assembly passes a bill by the late Assemblyman Burke making it illegal to spit on sidewalks or in trains, cars and other public conveyances.

· Sen. Sanford introduces a bill seeking to restrict corporate donations to political campaigns. I’m so glad the Senate wrapped that up 100 years ago so it can get on to more pressing matters.


E-mail: lmharnisch (AT) gmail.com

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.


E-mail lmharnisch (AT) gmail.com

An American Education

Oct. 19, 1907
Los Angeles

On a visit to Japan, K. Tsuneda of California met an attractive young woman named Toku. Telling her family that he was a wealthy Stanford student, Tsuneda married Toku and they embarked for the United States so his new wife could get an American education.

Her education began the moment they arrived in San Francisco: Tsuneda revealed that he was neither wealthy, nor a Stanford student. In fact, they both had to go to work. They moved from Berkeley to Redlands, where they separated. After reuniting briefly in Los Angeles, Tsuneda vanished, Toku said in seeking a divorce.

In court, Toku told Judge Charles Monroe that her father wouldn

The Mystery of Felt Lake

Oct. 3, 1907
Stanford University

Chester Silent was among the most promising young men of Delta Tau Delta at Stanford. The son of Judge Charles Silent and prominent in Los Angeles social circles, Silent, 22, had excelled in his studies and upon graduating with a law degree in the Class of 1907 had begun graduate work at Stanford and was expected to head to Harvard.

His fraternity brothers described him as being fairly quiet and reserved