Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ord Street: the Soldier, the Surveyor, the Civil War Hero and a Royal Lineage

Ord Street, in present day L.A.'s Chinatown, is a minor, ordinary side street, a brief stretch with no particular visual appeal (with the exception of Philippe's).  It begins an ascent at Philippe's, then levels off, but takes a sharp final ascent before it merges with Yale Street.  The street has been mentioned on this blog not once, but twice, prior to this posting.


The Ord name is well-known in its association with the first American survey of the city (Plan de la ciudad de Los Angeles) created by the 30-year old Lieutenant Edward Otho Cresap Ord and his 21-year old assistant William Rich Hutton during the summer of 1849.

In the cities of San Francisco and Monterey, and the U.S. capitol Washington D.C., each has a street named Ord, most likely for Edward.

Sometime in the late 1880s or early 1890s L.A.'s Ord Street evolved from the former "Walters" street, providing Edward an eponymous tribute through a street name.  The Ord name would have popped up often in the public memory, particularly after the real estate boom of 1886-88 - all L.A. parcel descriptions would invariably include references to "Ord's Survey" (and the references appear on today's assessor maps). 

The street was, by the standard of the time, not in a prominent neighborhood - it was near Sonoratown; some of the old adobes still stood; and around the corner was a hub of prostitution activity.  The location was a choice one, nevertheless, a name designation appropriate because Lieutenant Ord surveyed this specific street (as Calle Alta) onto the historic map.


Image courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research

The map originally drawn by Ord and Hutton no longer exists.  It was copied twice (through tracing) by Lothar Seebold for the price of $75.00 gold coin, which he completed in 1872.  The original may have been discarded after the official copies were finished.

J. Gregg Layne concluded in an article from the Quarterly Publication (Historical Society of Southern California) Vol. 17, No. 4 (December, 1935), pp. 139-142, that while Edward led a brilliant military career, "no act of his will place his name in the minds of men for all time more forcibly than his survey...".
Edward O.C. Ord (Image courtesy of the Seaver Center)

Lives and Careers of the Ord Family

A Royal Lineage

Edward was born in 1818 at Cumberland, Maryland, and his father was James Ord (c. 1789-1873).  Existing research supports the fact that James was the secret son of George IV and Maria Fitzherbert while George was the Prince of Wales (a morganatic union because Fitzherbert was outside of the royal class).  James immigrated from England in 1790 and never knew his true parents.

Ord Brothers

Edward's highly-educated siblings included brothers Pacificus Ord (b. 1816), Judge James Placidus Ord and Dr. James Lycurgus Ord.  Edward graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1839; James Placidus was elected into the Michigan legislature; James Lycurgus and Pacificus earned medical and law degrees respectively.  Edward, James and Pacificus spent career time in California as the escalating U.S. interest in Alta California and the eventual outcome of the war with Mexico placed the Ord brothers in pivotal points of California's transformative years.

Edward's first service was in 1840 during the Seminole Indian war in the Florida Everglades.  It was there that he was promoted from Second Lieutenant of the Third Artillery to First Lieutenant.  In 1847 he was sent with his regiment to California, on the USS Lexington from New York across Cape Horn.  Upon arrival he was stationed at the garrison at Monterey, where he spent a lot of time keeping an eye on the conquered Californians and Native Americans.  His brother James Lycurgus, had accompanied the regiment on contract as Surgeon.  Other siblings, Robert, William and Georgina, moved out to California as well.

The War with Mexico

The disputed boundaries of Texas escalated to war between the U.S. and Mexico by mid-year of 1846.  The greatest bloodshed, the rugged terrain met by the foot soldiers, and the atrocities against civilian Mexicans were found in Mexico, far from Alta California.  This included the noted battles of Buena Vista and Veracruz.  Amy S. Greenberg stated in the introduction to her book A Wicked War:  Polk, Clay, Lincoln and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) that this war "had the highest casualty rate of any American war.  Over 10 percent of the seventy-nine thousand American men who served in the war died, most from disease.  Mexican casualties are harder to estimate, but at least twenty-five thousand, most civilians, perished in the course of the war."

By the time Edward arrived in Alta California, a local peace treaty had been signed near Los Angeles (the Treaty of Cahuenga, January, 13, 1847).  He was a fortunate one, as American soldiers and volunteer units marched and held to the front lines much farther south in Mexico.

The U.S. vs. Californios

Pacificus moved to California in 1848 and held various positions of authority when a nascent government structure was taking shape in the earliest years of statehood - he was a member of the first California Constitutional Convention, 1849; he served as a justice of the state's Territorial Supreme Court.  In 1855, he was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California and served until 1859.  As the attorney, he routinely filed appeals on behalf of the U.S. against the Californios - the Mexican landowners who relied on the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to prove and hold onto their former Mexican rancho lands.

Two cases in example - the Del Valles of Rancho San Francisco (in present day Ventura County) were fortunately financially able to retain attorneys to successfully hold onto their property; the good news came nearly three years later, in January, 1855.  By the fall of the same year, they received a printed form appeal notice issued by Pacificus, stating the decision of the "Commissioners is erroneous, and ought to be reviewed, reversed..."  The same situation confronted Bernardo Yorba and family with the challenge to their Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana (present day Orange County), as they began to fight an appeal issued in the summer of 1856.  Below is page 3 from the Del Valle appeal notice.


Image courtesy of the Seaver Center

The Survey and Ord's Time in California

The end of war along with a rising cost of living due to the California Gold Rush prompted young military men, including Edward, to seek supplemental income through surveying work.  Edward found work in the heart of the gold fields, slightly ahead of the teems of Forty-Niners soon to arrive.  One map in existence is the "Topographical Ske[tch] of the Gold and Quicksilver Dis[stricts] of California," completed by E.O.C.O. in July, 1848.  Edward also became assistant along with his friend Lieutenant William Tecumseh Sherman in the first survey of the newly founded city of Sacramento in 1849.

In 1848 California was under a military-ruled interim period before admission into the union.  Cities, including Los Angeles, were cash-strapped.  Anxious to sell land to generate revenue, the city needed a surveyed plan of the city.  Near the summer of 1849 the ayuntamiento (City Council) began to hire a surveyor.  Edward was one of the bidders for the job, though not the lowest bid.  He asked for $1,500 plus his choice of 10 lots and some other vacant lands.  The city officials declined to relinquish the land; they instead agreed to pay him a flat fee of 3,000 pesos, as he came recommended by the acting state military governor, Colonel Richard Mason.  Shown below were the parties to the agreement:  Alcalde or Mayor Jose del Carmen Lugo, Regidore or Councilman Manuel Requena, Sindico attorney and treasurer John Temple, and E.O.C. Ord.  John Temple lent his own money to the city in order to fund the contract.


Image courtesy of the Seaver Center

The survey work began the day after the contract was signed, and the field work was completed by August 19th.  On September 1st, the map was given to John Temple.

Edward returned the following year to Los Angeles in 1850, and he remarked that the place "improved in appearance but not in morals."  Through the decade, his military obligations would bring him back and forth to California, including his marriage in San Francisco in 1854.  One of his two sons, who bore his same name, was born at Benicia Barracks, California, in 1858 - Edward Ord II later retired to Eagle Rock following his own military career, where he died in 1923.  While Pacificus left to Washington D.C. in 1870, Dr. James Lycurgus remained in California having married the daughter from the most prominent Spanish Californian families in Santa Barbara, the de la Guerras.  (This meant that a local young lady, Trinidad Ortega, whom Spring Street (Calle Primavera) was named, became related to Edward by marriage in ensuing years - more on Spring Street on a future blog post.)

Edward, by then a Captain, noted during a visit on July 24, 1856:  arrived at San Pedro at eight a.m. and took a nine a.m. stage coach for Los Angeles, 27 miles across the plain, arriving at half past twelve.  He recorded in his diary, “As the road to Los A[ngeles] from San P[edro] is not very safe, the most of us who were going ashore here examined our pistols.”  On this trip, Edward was headed inland to Chino and beyond to assess whether native groups were stirring trouble and if an army fort was needed.

Duty sent him to Oregon, where he led campaigns against the Indians in 1856 and again in 1858.  In 1859, Edward was sent to quell the abolitionist uprising known as John Browns Raid on Harpers Ferry (in present day Virginia), but the turmoil may have subsided before his troops arrived.

The practical use of Ord's survey map came into question by city surveyors in the next decades.  Surveyor George Hansen in 1869 pointed out to the city council that Ord's beginning measuring points could not be physically found.  Rocks placed as markers were clarified by Edward (by then he was General Ord) who explained rocks had not been used because the city failed to supply him.  Also lacking on the map were street widths and dimensions of blocks and lots.

The Civil War Hero

Edward's career continued throughout the American Civil War, as he fought on the Union side and was wounded several times in the first years of war.  As Brigadier General, he commanded the department of Virginia and North Carolina troops in 1865.  He reached the brevet rank of Major General, leading a group (Army of the James) to key fighting against the Confederates in the battle of the Appomatox campaign, which culminated with the end of war due to the surrender of General Robert E. Lee.  Edward retired at the rank of General in 1880, but soon took a position as engineer to construct the Mexican railway.  He contracted yellow fever and died in Havana, Cuba, in 1883.  He is buried at Arlington Cemetery, Virginia.  Fort Ord military base, now defunct, was once in Monterey, California, was named for him posthumously (after the war, he commanded the Department of the Pacific from 1868 to 1871 and also in Texas).

Seventh Avenue

The street name nearly went away in 1896.  The city of Los Angeles expanded steadily through annexation of nearby towns, beginning with Highland Park in 1895.  Complications arose with street names due to similar names in the new and old parts of the city.  One group, the developers of the Highland View Tract, G.W. Morgan and Albert H. Judson, spearheaded a proposal in 1896 to rename east/west streets between Buena Vista Street and Pasadena Avenue.  They suggested beginning at Ord Street, it be changed to Seventh Avenue, Alpine Street to Eighth Avenue, College to Ninth, etc.  This renaming would continue to the north boundary of the city at Garvanza Avenue (Fifty-Second Avenue).