I recently received these charming linen type postcards (high quality rag cardstock with linen finish–textured front, smooth back–common in the 1930’s and ’40s) of San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Gabriel, Mission San Bernardino, San Diego and Santa Catalina Island.
Chinese immigrants first settled in Los Angeles in the 1850’s, establishing laundries and green grocers. By the 1870’s, these businesses had clearly formed a Chinatown. Then in the 1930’s, the building of Union Station–the city’s monumental railway hub–got underway in Chinatown, displacing the business community. But a mile away in Little Italy, second-generation Italian-Americans were relocating to other reaches of the city. As Italians moved out, Chinese moved in, establishing New Chinatown which the governor of California officially dedicated in 1938.
Pershing Square courtyard park, Downtown Los Angeles.
In the 1850’s, when the pueblo of Los Angeles had just been incorporated as a city, the area that would become Pershing Square was a settlers’ camp. Canals ran alongside it, which is so hard to imagine now that it’s boxed in by busy boulevards. A decade later, the new mayor dedicated the plot as a public plaza, and a local businessman, a German immigrant who ran a beer garden, planted beautiful trees and flowering shrubs which he maintained till his death.
The plaza flourished as a central park for the city, and in 1900, became the home of Los Angeles’ first work of public art (a monument to fallen Californian soldiers of the Spanish-American War).
After many name changes, the park was dubbed Pershing Square after WWI’s General Pershing a week after Armistice Day in 1918.
Pershing Square was then demolished in the ’50s to construct an underground parking garage. I know, how L.A… A Hungarian immigrant who owned a cigar store across the street did have a reflecting pool laid atop the garage in honor of his late wife and in thanks to the city for the opportunity he’d found here. Otherwise, the lot was an eyesore. It was finally renovated in 1994. It’s still not great, as it’s completely cement with rigorously modern art, but a mini ice rink (with a mini Zamboni made of recycled aluminum cans) in the winter brings life to Pershing Square now every year.
Avalon is the only town on Santa Catalina Island. The high school’s sports teams invite L.A. teams over for games!
The Estudillo family, among the early settlers of San Diego, built themselves a big U-shaped Californio style house in 1827 where they lived for the next sixty years. When they moved to Los Angeles in 1887, the Estudillos left the house in the charge of a caretaker. And the caretaker was commercially savvy.
Helen Hunt Jackson’s popular novel Ramona, the story of romanticized Californio life, was published in 1885 and the author died a year later, leaving fans yearning to see locations referenced in Ramona but at a loss of where exactly to go. Flocking to San Diego on the new Southern Pacific and Santa Fe Railway lines (a cheap trip because of the price war between the two railways), tourists were ready to pounce on anything alleged to be related to the novel. So in 1887, when the San Diego Union newspaper reported that the Estudillo house was the location of Ramona’s wedding, the caretaker welcomed the tourists in.The house did indeed match the description. Even before the newspaper article, a tourist had scratched the name of Ramona’s husband, Alessandro, in the wall. But Helen Hunt Jackson had never been to La Casa de Estudillo. That didn’t stop the caretaker from selling off its contents.
The house continued to be a tourist attraction after restoration in the 1910’s under a San Diego railroad baron, and after another round of renovation (after this postcard’s publication) under the State Park Service.
In this postcard, the sign above the wishing well says:
Quaff ye the waters of Ramona’s well
Good luck they bring and secrets tell.
Blessed were they by sandaled Friar
So drink and wish for thy desire.
Sometime after this postcard was published, a bride fainted after looking into the well. She believed she saw eyes gazing up from the water. The well was then filled in.
Home to farmland still, the San Gabriel Valley East of Los Angeles was an absolute cradle of agriculture in the first half of the twentieth century. The sign in this postcard from the city of San Gabriel says:
Oldest and Largest
Planted in 1775
Covers Over 10,000 Sq. Feet
Now the date is set at 1861, which makes a lot more sense in terms of California history. Besides, the Old Grape Vine started as a cutting from the “Mother Vine” at Mission San Gabriel winery. The Mother Vine was planted in 1826. But it is still reported that the Old Grape Vine trailed out to 10,000 square feet! No wonder it was a local gathering place, now the city’s oldest park.
And unlike the Casa de Estudillo, this Californio locale is related to Ramona. Often called “the birthplace of Ramona,” Helen Hunt Jackson began writing her famous novel while staying at San Gabriel’s former Grapevine Inn. Jackson got the heroine’s name from San Gabriel resident Ramona Shorb (who happened to be the cousin of General George S. Patton).
Funny enough, I took two pictures from just a little further down the hill this past summer: