Wednesday, November 21, 2007
1901: President McKinley Comes to Los Angeles
By ROGER M. GRACE
May 8, 1901, was a momentous day for Los Angeles…and especially for this city’s Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Assn.
A train chugged and puffed as it made its way here, after being greeted at the depot in Redlands by Gov. Henry Gage. A wire service story that day says:
“The approach, to the city of Los Angeles was heralded by a terrific din which could be heard for miles. Steam whistles screamed, cannon boomed and as the train passed through the Chinese quarter of the city long strings of firecrackers hung from awnings exploded like the continuous rattle of musketry.”
Shortly after 2:30 p.m., the train pulled into the Arcade Depot at Fifth Street and Central Avenue. Alighting from it was the president of the United States, William McKinley, along with his entourage.
They made their entrance “[a]mid the blowing of whistles and shouts of welcome from thousands of people,” as the Los Angeles Evening Express’ edition that night recites. The account adds that the shouting and cheering was “heard all over the downtown district.”
An editorial in that edition remarks that “Southern Californians have been counting time by months, by weeks, by days, by hours and finally by minutes in anticipation of greeting” the president.
Nowadays, if the president happened to come to L.A., hardly an uncommon occurrence, it would surely engender no general excitement among the populace, let alone ebullience. But this was 1901, and no sitting president had ever set foot in this city*…not even in the state.
Credit for McKinley’s Los Angeles visit belongs to the M & M which invited the president here to attend its “Fiesta de Las Flores.” The invitation was followed up by an exchange of correspondence between the M & M and McKinley’s office and by urgings to the Republican chief executive from three Californians who had been elected to Congress on the GOP ticket.
No, the president did not take a train trip across the continent just to come to a festival in this city of slightly over 100,000 denizens. He had already planned a trip to San Francisco, population 342,782 (according to the 1900 census) for a ship christening, with multiple stops along the way.
The fact remains, however, that it was the M & M, not the City of Los Angeles, that induced him to come here.
While the M & M had charge of the fiesta, a separate ad hoc General Reception Committee was formed to deal with the presidential visit.
Upon arrival at the depot, members of the presidential party were shown to horse-drawn carriages, each seating four persons. The carriages proceeded, flanked by a military escort, to the Van Nuys Hotel at the northwest corner of Fourth and Main Streets. Newspaper accounts differ as to the occupants of the carriages, but it does appear that the president and his wife traveled in a carriage, drawn by four white horses, along with real estate investor (and founder of a china company) Homer Laughlin, chair of the reception committee, and banker Fred K. Rule, chair of the executive committee.
Others in the welcoming party included Harrison Gray Otis, publisher of the Los Angeles Times (at whose home the McKinleys stayed that night); rancher/banker Jonathan S. Slauson, father of the Town of Azusa; Lewis A. Groff, dean of the Los Angeles Law School (which had recently become affiliated with USC); Chamber of Commerce President A.B. Cass, president of the Home Telephone Company of Los Angeles (one of two competing, incompatible telephone systems here); grocer Hans Jevne, subject of columns earlier this year; J.R. Newberry, a competing grocer with a store two doors down from Jevne’s on Spring Street; and wholesale grocer R.L. Craig, president of the M & M.
(Ironically, E.T. Earl, publisher of the Express, was listed by the rival Los Angeles Times as being among those in the carriages, but wasn’t mentioned in the Express.)
The president held a reception at the hotel, open to the public. He was apparently unconcerned over any prospect of an assasination attempt. It was at just a public reception, held four months later at the the Pan-American Exposition in New York, that he was fatally shot by an anarchist.
Next week: more about the presidential visit.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company
*So it was said in news reports at the time, relied upon by this column. However, as noted in the “Reminiscing” column of Dec. 6, 2007, a 1903 Los Angeles Times article clarified that, in fact, President Rutherford B. Hayes had come to Los Angeles in 1880, the crowd drawn by him being less than 200.
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