Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Hotel Figueroa, and Figueroa Street Name Origins

The Hotel Figueroa

At the completion of a Saturday morning breakfast at The Pantry at 877 South Figueroa, the walk southward brought me past the 1926-era Hotel Figueroa.  The mid-1920s building boom in L.A. included many structures along Figueroa, including the hotel, the Friday Morning Club across the street, and the Automobile Club of Southern California further down on the Figueroa Corridor.  The Pantry Restaurant was established at this location in 1924.

Located at 939 South Figueroa, Hotel Figueroa opened August 15, 1926.  It was promoted as "the largest project of its kind to be built, financed, owned and operated by women."  The project was backed by the Y.W.C.A. and cost $1,250,000.  At first the hotel was intended for female business travelers, but soon men were welcomed with their families.  The 13-story building was designated with Spanish names in its public spaces, like sala de recepcion, and its "el corredor" led to Spanish decor design elements.

Less than two years later, the hotel was in financial trouble.  A fundraising campaign ensued, and the hotel managed to pull out of its hole.

1950s postcard

Ad from the Hotel & Motel Red Book, 1965

Northward on Figueroa, bypassing the main downtown business district, The Orsini at 606 North Figueroa, is a contemporary development and one of the last multi-residential structures located at the northern edge of downtown before Figueroa Street is interrupted by the Pasadena Freeway.  The handsome and imposing buildings on all sides of Sunset Boulevard could have been named "The Orsini at 606 Pearl" if "Figueroa" not replaced the former street name of "Pearl."

Origins of Figueroa Street

Since the signing of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the U.S. War with Mexico and transferring California to the U.S., Los Angeles instituted the land survey tradition to clarify its boundaries.  In 1853, city fathers sought to increase the size of the city and did so on its maps, even though the real authority, the U.S. Land Commission, wouldn't even confirm its original Spanish tradition "four square leagues" until 1856 (correction:  the city lands were confirmed in 1856, but the final surveyed patent was issued in 1866 by the U.S. General Land Office .  Confusingly, a new patent was issued in 1875 after the 1866 patent was deemed invalid due to a technicality; BUT in 1881 the original 1866 patent was upheld as valid.)

Early Los Angeles maps show municipal intent to expand in all four directions, with the main north and south arteries being named for the Mexican governors of Alta California:  Manuel Micheltorena, Juan Bautista Alvarado, Jose Figueroa, and Jose Maria de Echeandia.  East/west roads running south of 12th Street were named Pico Street (for Pio de Jesus Pico, the final Mexican governor of Alta California), followed by U.S. Presidents in their order of succession:  Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Jackson streets.

Maps prior to 1870 showed an earlier Figueroa Street running further west than the present day Figueroa Street.  And later 19th century maps showed both Figueroa Street and Pearl Street.

The earlier road called Figueroa Street extended from about where Boylston Street is north of Sunset Boulevard, down to Washington Boulevard.  Surveyor George Hansen likely designated the early Figueroa Street, naming it after the Alta California Governor, Jose Figueroa.  Coincidentally, a Mexican-era home, the Ramon Figueroa adobe, sat at Jefferson and Figueroa, until the mid-1950s.  Ramon was not related to Governor Figueroa, though numerous books cite that as a fact.  Ramon’s parents Manuel Figueroa and Gertrudis Silva appear on an 1804 census.  Ramon and his bride, Guadalupe Reyes y Botiller, resided at the adobe.  Though the date the adobe was built is not known for certain, some sources state 1846-47, although some sources also state that the couple vacated the adobe when, the war during those same years, caused them to leave.  Today the adobe at 3404 South Figueroa is gone.  In its place is the USC Galen Center, across the street from the iconic Felix Chevrolet dealership.

The original western border of the city, Calle de Las Chapules, later Anglo-sized to Grasshopper Street, changed to Pearl Street, and finally what we know it today, Figueroa Street.

[Update 1/27/2019:  a new blog post on The Tale of the Two Figueroa's and community organizer Darryl Holter.]

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tales from Simons Brickyard, by Frank Baltazar

Frank "kiki" Baltazar sent me a couple of comments on January 15th - thank you Frank!  I am re-publishing the comments on this post, so that readers can easily read what was said. 

Frank has a blog on boxing on the west coast.  Check it out by clicking here.  Here is what Frank wrote on January 15th, but he has provided more comments at the bottom of my August 4th, 2010 posting where I wrote about a Tour of Simons:

I lived in Simons "El Hoyo" from my birth in 1936 to 1952 when the brickyard was closed.

When we were living in Simons, our neighbor was a little old lady, Panfela, we called her Panfelita, Panfelita lived by herself and when she needed something from the Mom & Pop store she would ask me to go for her, she would ask me two or three times a day, I would jump on my bike go to the store for her, when I would come back and give her what she had order, she would tell me “might God pay you for your kindness” I would say to myself “yes because you will never pay me a dime”.

Anyway, Panfelita had a big white rooster, getting ahead of myself here on the rooster story.
In Simons there was lots of open land and the roads were all dirt, we didn’t have street lights. At night us young kids would light up a fire, one night one of the guys had an idea, “lets go steal Panfelita’s white rooster and we’ll cook him here on the fire”, so here we go about 4-5 of us kids, now this rooster was big and mean so nobody wanted to go into the coop and get him, finally Gilbert who we called Pachie said he would go into the coop, now Pachie was the smallest of us guys, don’t think he weighted more then 60 lbs, Pachie goes into the coop and suddenly there‘s a cloud of dust and all we could see was Pachie little feet stick out of the cloud of dust now an then. After a while Pachie won the fight and got the rooster, but let me tell you, that rooster beat the hell out of Pachie.

We ate the rooster.

Next morning my Mom and Panfelita were talking over the backyard fence, Panfelita was crying, I walked up to them and ask “what’s wrong?”, my Mom looked at me and said “somebody stole her rooster”, my mom gave me that looked that told me she knew I had something to do with the caper of “The Missing Rooster”.

We were not bad boys, I would like to think that we were just a little “mischievous”