Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Irish and the Idyllic 8th & Alameda

The word "idyllic" is not the usual descriptor for the intersection of 8th & Alameda in Downtown, Los Angeles.  The crossroad is a part of what sums up Alameda Street -- an elongated hub of industry, warehouses, trucks, traffic, noise, and salvage yards further south  -- necessities to keep L.A. working, competing and thriving as a global city.

In another time, in the same place, this area was ideal to get away from the bustle and business of Los Angeles city life.  This post profiles some of the residents.

Leahy's water wheel, ca. 1907
(Courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research, GPF.1104)
Thomas Leahy (1834-1899) arrived in California at age 17, aided by his uncle, Mathew (Mateo) Keller.  Having left County Cork, Ireland many years earlier, Mathew (b. 1811) settled in America as a youngster (arrived in L.A. in 1849 via New Orleans).  Nephew Thomas no doubt escaped from the great potato famine coming directly to California in 1851.  Unlike millions of other Irish who reached the eastern cities of Boston and New York, Leahy had a leg up in sparse L.A.  He became a merchant and soon purchased 46 acres for a vineyard.  He held public office as councilmember between 1876 to 1879.  He retired to 8th & Alameda after that.

Land of Opportunity for Leahy

Not before long, the youngster even registered a cattle brand in 1854, which meant he had to have at least 150 head of the livestock (the minimum number required to obtain a brand - if L.A. was still following Spanish tradition).

Leahy's brand sample recorded at the County Recorder's Office, October, 1854
(Courtesy of the Seaver Center GC-1279-47-218)

(Courtesy of the Seaver Center P-010-145)

Leahy's 1862 purchase from Jose Rubio included an old adobe shown on the right above.  Leahy's Uncle Mathew's vineyard was nearby along 7th Street.
This image of the adjacent house appears to have been taken at a different time, as the vegetation around the house is rather sparse compared to the previous photo (Courtesy of the Seaver Center P-010-145 A)
(Courtesy of the Seaver Center P-010-145 C)
(Courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research P-010-145 B)


Manufacturing Takes Over

By the time the photos were taken, including the water wheel, the unidentified photographer was well aware that an era was coming to a close - manufacturing was growing.  A son of Leahy built Leahy Manufacturing nearby.  By 1907, the cracker and confection company, Bishop, bought the land from the widow, Caroline Leahy.  Bishop had large plans for developing the acreage into the "largest factory in America for Los Angeles."  Read more in the Los Angeles Downtown News article.

Leahy home and fields (Courtesy of the Seaver Center -
"Reproduction of Thompson & West's History of Los Angeles County")

Antonio Coronel, a Neighbor

A prominent neighbor of the Leahy's was Antonio Franco Coronel and his wife Mariana Williamson Coronel.  Coronel formerly held the offices of city mayor, county assessor and state treasurer.  He came to Los Angeles from San Blas, Mexico by ship in 1834 with his parents and siblings.

Coronel's tract lay west of Alameda, between 7th & 8th Streets.

Antonio Coronel Home at 7th & Alameda Streets (Courtesy of the Seaver Center - "Reproduction of Thompson & West's History of Los Angeles County")
"Veranda" painted by Alexander Harmer, below, illustrated the slow life enjoyed by the Coronels shown with a little girl, Evangelina Vasquez de Higuera, circa 1885.  The pastoral myth and fantasy culture of Southern California was in part promoted by the Coronels, as he and his wife befriended writer Helen Hunt Jackson through the completion of her fictional story of Ramona.

(Courtesy of the Seaver Center GPF.1003)
Irish Neighbors

Along the southwest side of 8th & Alameda were the McGarry's.  Daniel M. McGarry (1842-1903) from Loughgiel, Antrim, Ireland, arrived in L.A. in 1881 by way of Chicago.  He also served on the city's Common Council for a couple of terms not long after he bought his ranch.  By the real estate boom of 1886-1888, he was up for subdividing.  Today, McGarry Street remains.

(Courtesy of the Seaver Center GC-1310-2863)