This Is What the Fourth of July in L.A. Was Like 100 Years Ago

It was…different
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Official Map of the County of Los Angeles, California, Laura J. Whitlock, 1916
Official Map of the County of Los Angeles, California, Laura J. Whitlock, 1916

Over the last century, no more than a handful of Angelenos have seen this rare wall map by the great Los Angeles cartographer Laura Wilcox. This map takes us all the way back to 1916. It’s vision of the city as it was 100 years ago is fleshed out by the newspapers of the time. Take this one from the Fourth of July, for example.

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Scan of the Evening Herald courtesy Los Angeles Public Library

Fourth of July those many moons ago was a nice summer’s day with mild temperatures around 77 degrees. The newspapers of the day were filled with stories about “the Mexican Problem,” which involved the revolutionary forces of Mexico invading the U.S. and clashing with the jingoistic militia guarding the border around El Paso. General Pershing had already crossed the border into Chihuahua, and President Wilson had insultingly referred to the Mexican government as “an unruly child.”

Meanwhile, the Great War raged in Europe. To make matters worse for both sides, the machine gun had been introduced and casualties increased as the two sides slogged back and forth in France. It would be ten more months before we were dragged into “the war to end all wars.” Though there were many debates on neutrality of the homeland, the government had no compunction about deporting 800 aliens they suspected of espionage, despite some being no more than mail order brides.

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Scan of the Evening Herald courtesy Los Angeles Public Library

Front-page tabloid news chattered about the death of Hattie Green, the richest woman in America. Newly rich Angeleno industrialists were planning bridle paths for horsemen along Wilshire Boulevard out to the Beverly Hills Hotel. Meanwhile, longshoremen were on strike attempting to make a living wage, a boxer had been killed in the ring at Vernon, and nine girls had escaped from the state reformatory in Ventura.

Locally, the populace was readying for Independence Day festivities, including an amazing polyglot celebration with orations in Chinese, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Slavonic, and even German. There was a big hoo-rah over at Exposition Park where 50 folks were granted their citizenship and the strains of “America the Beautiful” and “I Love You California” were heard before a stirring recitation of the Declaration of Independence.

Baseball on the Fourth was maintained at Washington Park, where the Venice Tigers played the Oakland Oaks in a double header. In Long Beach there was a “Carnival of the States” with floats and automobiles stretching for two miles! Venice by the Sea had a head start on all of Los Angeles with four solid days of celebration including, believe it or not, a rodeo. Most stores were closed on the Fourth, but the venerable Orpheum was presenting “the Best of Vaudeville” with the prima donna Mme. Eleanora De Cisneros singing arias from the world of opera.

Not all was perfect. Scalawags in Hobart (near Vernon) commandeered a handcar and were struck by a Santa Fe Railway passenger train as they returned to a rowdy wedding reception. The 18 cases of beer they were fetching back to the party were scattered across the tracks, but somehow no one was killed.


Los Angeles Public Library map librarian Glen Creason shares a map from the Central Library’s collection at CityThink each week.

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