Thursday, August 2, 2007
‘Home Products Exposition’ Attracts Visitors in 1897
By ROGER M. GRACE
With exuberance rivaling that of a young Mickey Rooney decades later in MGM films, the business community of Los Angeles in 1896 declared, in essence, “Let’s put on a show!”
That’s something the Merchants’ Association had done before. In 1894, it staged La Fiesta de Los Angeles, a week-long mardi gras-like event aimed at drawing money-spending spectators to the City of Los Angeles, boosting its economy. The effort was a triumph, and a fiesta, with additional sponsors, was scheduled to be held for the fourth year in a row in April, 1897.
But it was a new kind of show that the organization, now known as the Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Assn., was in late 1896 planning for the first part of the next year. It would be aimed not at drawing folk from near and far—just from near. It was to be an exhibition of “home products” (products locally made, not necessarily for home use, as the term would today connote). The objective was to promote the notion that local industries should be supported by buying goods produced close to home…not from the East Coast, and certainly not from abroad.
A Dec. 20, 1896 editorial in the Los Angeles Times spells out:
“The Times has frequently urged the importance of taking steps to encourage local industries by inducing our citizens to patronize home products. Attention has been called to the fact that Los Angeles has reached the stage where it can no longer expect to grow as rapidly as during the past few years on horticulture alone. If Los Angeles is to realize the future that we are all proud to predict for it, there must be factories to supply the home market. A local organization, the Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Association, has been worling for some time in this direction, and for the purpose of arousing public interest in the question, has arranged for an exhibition of home products , to be held in Hazard’s Pavilion [at Fifth and Olive] from January 16 to February 6….
“The Home Products Exhibition deserves the hearty support of our local merchants and manufacturers, and of the public at large.”
Support did prove hearty—and most significantly, the effort got across the point to the populace that imported goods cost more, and aren’t any better than those produced here.
Festivities began on Jan. 16 with a parade. It was quite unlike the parades in connection with “la fiesta.” There were no Chinese or native Americans or cabelleros, in costume. There were, for the most part, marching businessmen, in business suits…hardly a colorful sight. They were, however, accompanied by bands…many bands.
“The grand parade of merchants and manufacturers took place this afternoon, and it was a great success in every particular,” an article in that evening’s Los Angeles Express begins. “It was one of the most interesting and instructive public events that ever took part in the city.”
The Express article notes:
“The people in the procession were not confined to the men. Many representatives of the gentler sex took part, showing that the ‘new woman’ is an important factor in business as well as in social and literary life.”
Grand marshal of the parade was William B. Wilshire. It was his brother and business partner, H. Gaylord Wilshire, after whom Wilshire Boulevard was to be named.
Throughout the period of the exhibition, there were daily concerts. There were other events: athletic contests, such as foot races and bike races…and events like “Irish Day” and “Baby Day,” the latter featuring a procession of infants in carriages to the accompaniment of the then-current tune, “Papa Won’t Buy Me a Bow-Wow.”
Large crowds generally attended the events, though on Feb. 1—which was both “Santa Monica Day” and “Doctors and Nurses Day”—the turnout was slim due to a storm.
“The various booths, when lighted by electricity, presents a beautiful appearance, and the whole scene resembles a little city,” the Jan. 28, 1897 edition of the Express observes. “Yesterday was floral day and the interior of the Pavillion never looked more attractive.”
One exhibit, that of the Sunset Telephone Company, was a sound-proof phone booth. Visitors could go into the booth after 8:30 p.m. and talk, at no charge, with the chief telephone operator in San Francisco. This was 1897, 110 years ago, and back then, that was something exciting.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company