Thursday, July 2, 2009
Groff Gains Senate Nod as L.A.’s Postmaster
By ROGER M. GRACE
When President William McKinley in early January of 1900 nominated Lewis A. Groff to be the new postmaster in Los Angeles, it would not have been supposed that controversy would develop.
Nonetheless, it did. As recounted in the last two columns, U.S. Sen. John A. Gear of Iowa sent a telegram to Washington asking that the Senate’s Postoffice Committee hold off on deliberations on the nomination until he could get there to urge a recommendation of rejection.
Facts suggest the validity of a theory alluded to in the Jan. 18 edition of the Los Angeles Record: that Gear was accommodating an Iowa newspaper which had, as the Record put it, experienced “differences” with Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis, a prime backer of Groff for the postmaster position.
Other theories pointed to in the story also seem plausible, but as the Record observes:
“All of these speculations are interesting but may not be absolutely pertinent to the real reason that Senator Gear of Iowa comes out of the bush to attempt to thwart the efforts of the California delegation in Congress.”
As it turned out, he stayed in the bush.
A Jan. 26 report in the San Francisco Chronicle, datelined Washington and dated Jan. 24, says:
“The nomination of Lewis Groff as Postmaster of Los Angeles has been favorably reported to the Senate through the influence of [California] Senator [George] Perkins and will be confirmed at the next executive session. Since asking to have the matter postponed, Senator Gear of Iowa has made no effort to compass the defeat of Groff.”
On Jan. 25, the Senate confirmed.
Gear died July 14, 1900. If animosity on the part of the Iowa State Register’s editor/owner toward Otis had prompted Gear to send his telegram from Iowa, such was never confirmed.
Groff took charge of the post office on March 1, 1900. The following day’s issue of the Times says in an editorial:
“Los Angeles has a new postmaster, and that he will make a good one goes without the saying. Gen. [J. R.] Mathews, who retired from the responsible position on Wednesday, has made an exceptionally capable and obliging official, and, considering that he is a Democrat, his record is something extraordinary. No greater compliment can be paid to Gen. Mathews than to say that his work as postmaster shows that he has all the earmarks of a Republican. Judge Groff has an excellent equipment of experience, savoir faire, and ability, and that he will fit the bill to the letter no one who knows the new postmaster will be inclined to question. If you do not get your letters, you may be sure that it is because the folks at home failed to write.”
Gosh, I hadn’t realized how important the position of postmaster is. I’m utterly ashamed to confess that I don’t know the name of the postmaster of Los Angeles. I don’t even know the answer to the really important question: of what political party is he or she a member?
The federal building had been long scheduled to be vacated and refurbished. A year after his four-year term began Groff had the chore of overseeing the moving of post office operations to a temporary headquarters, an armory south of the downtown area.
The March 13, 1901 issue of the Times tells of the new facility. The article contains this:
“Postmaster Groff said yesterday that he feels comfortable and at home in the new place, but people will joke [with] him about being out in the country. Already he has had several applications for milk from the cows that are alleged to graze in the pastures and meadows surrounding the postoffice.”
That was tongue-in-cheek. The facility was not quite that far from downtown. It was at Eighth and Spring Streets. Although that was only three blocks from Hans Jevne’s new store at Sixth Street and Broadway, the area was apparently considered remote.
The Times article notes:
“Below Sixth Street there have been comparatively few people on Spring Street heretofore, but yesterday a stream of pedestrians kept the pavements warm between the city and the postoffice.”
The article says that as “recompense for the moving of the postoffice so far south,” a substation would be opened at the Broadway Department Store at Fourth and Broadway.
Groff relinquished the post on Feb. 28, 1904 to Motley H. Flint, one of his competitors for appointment four years earlier. Flint was initially thought to have the edge in the competition because he was brother of the then U.S.-attorney for the southern half of the state, Frank P. Flint (who went on to become U.S. senator from California). Motley Flint was implicated in the Julian Petroleum scandal and was fatally shot by a victim of the scam in a courtroom where Flint was awaiting trial.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company