Thursday, December 6, 2007
Historic Occasion for City Ends As McKinley’s Train Exits
By ROGER M. GRACE
As the train bearing President William McKinley and his wife, as well as members of the Cabinet, departed from the Los Angeles Arcade Depot at about 6 a.m. on May 10, 1901, there ended what had been, for this city, a momentous and magical happening.
The chief executive of the United States had been here; he had reviewed a floral parade, high point of the Fiesta de Las Flores; and he had mingled among the populace. Uninspiring though such a presidential visit would be for us today in this blasé megalopolis, McKinley’s 2½-day stay occurred at the infancy of the 20th Century—well before television, radio, or even newsreels…it occurred when our population was about 100,000…and, it was generally thought—though erroneously (see below)—that no sitting president had previously set foot in California.
More than 200,000 persons had jammed into this city. There was pageantry: white horses pulling the presidential carriage, marching troops, bands, flower-laden floats…and there was noise: cheers from the multitudes, a 21-gun salute, firecrackers. Electricity illuminated the downtown streets at night, and electricity, in the sense of excitement, was in the air.
The Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Assn. had invited the president to Los Angeles and timed the fiesta, which it was in charge of staging that year, to correspond with his visit.
Two sets of colors were ubiquitously displayed: red, white, and blue, in honor of the president, and red, yellow, and green, the fiesta colors (representing wine, oranges, and olives). A May 10 article in the Times mentions that the Wilcox Building (from which this newspaper emanates and which was then the site of the M & M offices) “has a profusion of flags floating from its roof and windows.”
There had been, as previously related here, throngs welcoming the presidential party at the depot on May 8…a public reception that night…a tour by McKinley the next day of residential areas…and the parade along Broadway, a part of the fiesta, an event begun in 1894 and staged most years since then.
After the parade, the president visited the Old Soldiers’ Home in Sawtelle, west of what is now Westwood. (It is near-certain that this newspaper, founded three months earlier, covered that visit; Sawtelle was its bailiwick, and veterans were foremost among its readers, its name then being the Pacific Veteran Enterprise.)
That night, a private reception was held for the president and the first lady, attended by members of L.A. “society,” including Gov. Henry Gage. Gage’s nose was out of joint over having been excluded from the previous events, a May 11 article in the Evening Express relates. But it appears that his invitation had simply been lost in mail.
The McKinleys slept on the train that night. The train moved on; the visit was history.
“The President has departed, and like a child who misses a family guest, Los Angeles misses the President,” an article in the Times on May 11 remarks.
“Although all day yesterday the business streets were thronged with people, and the city put on a comparatively lively appearance, there seems to be a void which can not be filled.
“Though in person he is absent, the President is still here, and yesterday the chief topic of conversation downtown as well as in the homes, was the President.”
The article goes on to say:
“The Fiesta remains, and while there seems to be a damper on the enthusiasm of a few short hours ago, the flame kindled by the presence of the Chief Executive cannot die out quickly, and the ardor of the festal occasion is still with Los Angeles and its thousands of guests.”
The next president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt (who succeeded McKinley upon his assassination), also came to Los Angeles at fiesta time, making his visit in 1903.
I mentioned last week that McKinley had been the first sitting president to come here, predicating that on news reports published at time of the 1901 visit. But those reports, it turns out, were wrong. The May 10, 1903, issue of the Los Angeles Times sets the record straight, saying:
“Of late it has been commonly stated that President Roosevelt is the third President of the United States to have visited Los Angeles during his term of office, the others being President [Benjamin] Harrison and McKinley. But it is a fact still fresh in the memory of some, that President [Rutherford B.] Hayes was received in this city October 23, 1880, accompanied by Mrs. Hays, Gen. [William T.] Sherman and Secretary of War [Alexander] Ramsey. He was officially received by Gov. [John G.] Downey. The chief entertainment was a county fair then in progress at Agricultural Park [now known as Exposition Park]. Reports published at the time state that not over 200 were at the park to see him.”
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company