Thursday, September 17, 2015

College Street, Early Schools, Saint Vibiana’s Cathedral and the Clergy of 19th Century L.A.

Calle del Colegio was recorded into Los Angeles’ street naming history by Edward O.C. Ord in his well-known 1849 first survey of Los Angeles.  In English it is written as College Street, but the translation does not explain the existence of a college in the neighborhood.

Today College Street is an ordinary street comprising of modest buildings in the heart of Los Angeles’ Chinatown. As the street stretches west past the Pacific Alliance Medical Center (formerly the French Hospital), an incline leads to a residential mix of apartments and houses. The street name is actually a historical reminder of the Catholic Church’s efforts to strengthen its influence and to impart religious education in the years following the transition from Mexican Los Angeles to an American city.

An explanation is found in James Miller Guinn’s A History of California and an Extended History of Los Angeles and Environs (Los Angeles: Historic Record Company, 1915), a book that has been digitized by Google and is available online. On page 414, Guinn stated that at the June 9, 1849 session of the ayuntamiento (city council), clergymen petitioned on behalf of the Catholic Church for a tract of land.

Their petition was accepted with the conditions “That the Holy See of California be granted amongst the municipal lands of this city…First, this land cannot be sold, transferred or hypothecated directly or indirectly; second, the building erected thereon shall at all times serve the sole and exclusive purpose of public instruction.”

The following month during that summer of 1849 when Los Angeles and all of California was under American military rule, the ayuntamiento hired surveyor Ord and his assistant, William Rich Hutton; they would soon be traipsing about. They likely deduced what the large lot was reserved for and recorded accordingly. However, the lot soon reverted back to the status of public land.

Fray Antonio Jimenez Del Recio (ca. 1815-1853)

The next year Fray Antonio Jimenez filed a request for a college on May 18, 1850 -- for land adjacent to the Plaza Church, but again, no action was taken. Jimenez arrived in California from Mexico in 1841, accompanying the bishop of the newly created Diocese of Both Californias, Francisco Garcia Diego y Moreno. The constantly sickly Jimenez was present at a pivotal time in the nascent Mexican California. In 1843, as a recently ordained priest, he was appointed to Mission San Gabriel. According to Diocesan Archivist Monsignor Francis Weber, the priest cared for the Asistencia in Los Angeles and was well-liked by the residents. Father Sugranes wrote that Jimenez was curate of Los Angeles from 1848 to about the time of his death in 1853.  He died in San Gabriel.

Bishop Joseph Alemany (1814-1888)

Guinn’s book mentions that Los Angeles’ city council granted lots for a college site on March 8, 1851 to Bishop Alemany. Joseph Alemany was the Bishop of Monterey (the title prior was Bishop of Both Californias). He served from 1850-1853. The diocese territory amounted to 75,984 square miles, and included southern California.

One of the pressing issues the new Bishop addressed was the state of titles to Church properties in California. The peace treaty, Treaty of Guadalupe, resulted from the U.S. War with Mexico and provided legal protection to natives’ land rights. But the Church had the burden to prove ownership, as did Mexican rancheros. It would be many years before the Church’s land claims to properties (that consisted of "church, edifices, stores, cemeteries, orchards and vineyards with their aqueducts") (from page 131 of Source 1) such as on former mission lands throughout California could be cleared. Alemany must have been anxious to acquire new land grants in places such as Los Angeles.

In 1851, a year into his episcopate Bishop Alemany assessed that none of the California Fathers were native-born nor were any native speakers of English; of the population (swollen from the Gold Rush), Catholics numbered about 40,000 compared to the number of Protestants of 30,000, leaving 130,000 unbaptized Indians and whites. In the interest to secure funding, he often wrote to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Paris, citing “our diocese was in the most miserable condition in regard to education. The poor boys and girls must be left a prey to Protestantism and immorality, if we do not exert ourselves to open some good institutions. We have commenced this work: and we are already in debt. Some of the old Churches have to be repaired and some new ones have to be built, and although there is money, yet all is exceedingly dear. Your aid will greatly relieve us.” (From page 125 of Source 1)

Early Schools in L.A.

The first schools in Los Angeles were “run on the go-as-you-please principle” (according to Guinn).  In the early years of the American period, a good number of school-age children did not attend.  While the Catholic Church was attempting to start up schools, local Protestants had similar ambitions.  About 1850, two individuals, Rev. Dr. Wicks and J.G. Nichols, helped to establish a pioneer English school. 

Meanwhile, Santa Clara College was established in northern California on the site of Mission Santa Clara de Asís by the Society of Jesus in 1851. 

In Alemany’s plea to the French Society, he mentioned that the College of Los Angeles "just commenced by the Fathers of Picpus with little funds”.  (From page 125 of Source 1)  It is not certain where this college was situated – whether it was the “College” tract, but it was likely the site (cater-cornered from the French Hospital that was probably also supported by the Picpus Foundation).

Father Edmond Venisse (1823-  )

French-born Venisse, a member of the Picpus Fathers, was assigned to Los Angeles in the latter part of March, 1851, to teach in the newly opened school, known as the Boarding and Day School at Los Angeles (the school name is conflicting with the other reference to the College of Los Angeles).  Recollecting his time teaching, he wrote he became “a real schoolmaster, teaching a little of everything to some poor children.”  (From page 82 of Source 2)  While in Los Angeles, he also assisted at the Plaza Church, where he organized a choir for the Indians’ great feasts.  Venisse recalled while serving in Los Angeles that he felt he was “among the angels”.  However, Venisse soon advanced to priesthood, and the other Fathers were recalled to the Sandwich Islands.  These developments halted the school by mid-1853.

Bishop Thaddeus Amat (1811-1878)

Alemany’s successor was Thaddeus Amat (whose title in 1859 was changed to Bishop of Monterey-Los Angeles); he was a Vincentian, appointed in 1853, and served until his death in 1878.  It would be two years before he finally visited Los Angeles in 1855, greeted by a welcoming city.  A newspaper reported that there were two matters Bishop Amat wanted to confer with the people:  1) the establishment of a college; and 2) the settlement of the Sisters of Charity (which in the start of 1856, six Sisters arrived and opened an orphanage).  When the Bishop arrived, the city was a small Mexican town without renown except for its lawlessness and had a population count numbering less than his year of visit (about 1,600 persons in the 1850s).  The only transportation to town was a wild 10-hour stage coach ride from the shore of San Pedro.  But, Los Angeles was formerly an outpost of Spain and originated as a Spanish civic pueblo.

Reverend Blasius Raho, C.M. (1806-1862)

Reverend Raho, Naples-born, like Bishop Amat, was a Vincentian, and he was named pastor of the Plaza Church in Los Angeles during the summer of 1856; he immediately set out to renovate the church interior and the exterior structures.  Monsignor Weber considered Raho to have been one of the most beloved priests of the diocese.

Father Blas Raho
From the Del Valle Collection,
Seaver Center for Western History Research
Father Raho also in August, 1856, re-opened the school previously run by the Picpus Fathers.  This was done during a political climate raining criticism against the Church schools to be “propaganda mills of ‘popish plots’” (From page 130 of Source 3) and which led to legislative exclusion of public funds for sectarian schools.  The school was known as Saint Vincent’s College and operated from a rented adobe.  Monsignor Weber assessed that the lacking of fund probably caused the revived school to eventually fail again.

Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul

The Sisters of Charity (as they are commonly referred) arrived in the southland in 1856 and enabled an orphanage and a school for girls.  Later the Sisters were asked to also include male students, but the Daughters institution set a limit to boys only under the age of six.  The Sisters also started to charge tuition by accepting boarding students.

Saint Vincent’s College and Loyola-Marymount University

Not until 1865 that another school by the same name “Saint Vincent’s College” began operating from the Lugo Adobe.  In 1867, the school moved to Sixth and Hill Streets, constructed a new building on land from benefactor Ozro Childs (later associated with founding USC).  St. Vincent’s prospered in subsequent years, especially after receiving a state charter allowing the school to grant degrees, and Bishop Amat was proud of this accomplishment.  Today’s Loyola-Marymount University is what grew out from St. Vincent’s.

From Del Valle Family Papers,
Seaver Center

From Del Valle Family Papers,
Seaver Center

In 1870, a little over twenty years after Ord’s map, a survey by William Moore, shown below, still distinctly outlined a large lot labeled “College Ground”.

Map of the Reservoir Lands,
courtesy of the Seaver Center

An 1873 map shows the college tract as “Bishop Amat”.  This writer is not aware of when the tract was sold.   (Wait!  This writer does know.  See the end of this posting before the citations)

Map of East Los Angeles and Vicinity
Courtesy of the Seaver Center

 Saint Vibiana’s Cathedral

The following year, after Los Angeles church was redone, Bishop Amat decided to move the Holy seat from Monterey to Los Angeles, which sparked a drive to erect a new cathedral and hopefully a seminary to follow.  It was not until 1871 that he gave final approval to begin.  Prior to that time, an occurrence helped solidify his plans:  the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows in Santa Barbara burned in 1865, ten years after the body of Vibiana was placed there by Amat.  St. Vincent’s College benefactor Childs donated land at Sixth and Main for a cathedral, although St. Vibiana’s was finally completed in 1876 several blocks north.  Below shows an 1857 authorization from Father Raho allowing for a parishioner to collect alms for the aid of the parish.

Pious Society for the Souls in Purgatory certificate
From Sepulveda/Mott Collection,
Courtesy of the Seaver Center
Bishop Francisco Mora (1827-1905)

Francisco (or Francis) Mora succeeded Bishop Amat, and Mora became the last of the Spaniard bishops in the California diocese, serving from 1878 to 1896.

Mora had accompanied Amat to America in 1854.  He was bounced around as pastor briefly at Santa Barbara, San Carlos Borromeo and San Juan Bautista before his arrival to the Plaza Church in Los Angeles in 1863, serving until 1878, the year when Bishop Amat died.  In that period, Mora also began serving as Coadjutor beginning in 1872 to assist Bishop Amat whose health was in decline.
Bishop Mora oversaw the construction of St. Vibiana’s Cathedral.  Later, a school building was added, and it opened on January 4, 1886, with 250 students.

He was a strong proponent for a Catholic newspaper.  He endorsed the establishment of the California Catholic which began publication in 1888 but ceased two years later.  Seven years later, a localized, diocesan paper went to press starting with the June 29, 1895 issue of the Catholic Tidings.

In his capacity as Bishop, Mora closed the old cemetery and then opened the New Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles in 1896.

He endured and tolerated a lot of heat and scathing criticism from a Protestant group, the American Protective Association (APA).  He was a favorite target of the APA, which referred to him as “that damn old foreigner at Second and Main.” (From page 18 of Source 4)

In the summer of 1882, during one of the many trips throughout the southland to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation, he fell off his carriage backwards and wrecked his back.  It was on his return trip after confirming a bedridden Indian woman.  His injury stayed with him for the rest of his life.

Ambrotype of Right Reverend Francisco Mora
from the Antonio Franco Coronel Collection,
Courtesy of the Seaver Center
College Ranch

Another place name that serves reminder to 19th century Church aspirations to develop California’s educational institutions is College Ranch, located in today’s Santa Ynez.  The original Mexican land grant provided the Church with six square leagues plus another 35,499 acres in 1845.  The property name became Rancho Canada de los Pinos and was planned for the first permanent diocesan seminary in California.  Challenges stemming from lack of Church funding, absence of educational tradition in the region, and political unrest stunted the small seminary to failure.  During the last few years of Bishop Mora’s administration most of the College Ranch land was sold off.

Land Developer Prudent Beaudry Got the "College" Tract

Prudent Beaudry, remembered for developing Bunker Hill and having served as L.A. mayor, ended up with the College tract for which the College Street name came about.  This writer surmises that there was a deal made - swapping his Beaudry Park property (sold to the Sisters of Charity for their new hospital in 1883) for the College tract (he already amassed the land surrounding it).

The city and the county boosters wanted the new hospital to be an attractive asset and the location was key.  The College tract was not suitable because the French Hospital, built in 1869, was across the street.  The below April 12, 1885 Los Angeles Times article boasted the nearly-completed Sisters hospital to have attractive vistas:


Beaudry, prolific land developer, included the College tract (corner of College and Yale) subdivided in his Beaudry Tract No. 2, circa 1884-1886, just ahead of the great southern California land boom.

Image courtesy of the Seaver Center

Sources cited above:

1.  California’s First Archbishop by John Bernard McGloin S.J. (New York:  Herder and Herder, 1966)
2.  California:  the Catholic Experience by Francis J. Weber (Los Angeles:  Libra Press Limited, 1981)
3.  California’s Reluctant Prelate:  the Life and Times of Right Reverend Thaddeus Amat, C.M. by Francis J. Weber (Los Angeles:  Dawson Book Shop, 1964)
4.  Francis Mora:  the Last of the Catalans by Francis J. Weber (Los Angeles:  Westernlore Press, 1967)

Other sources used:

A Centennial History of the Tidings by Francis J. Weber (Mission Hills:  Saint Francis Historical Society, 1995)
Encyclopedia of California’s Catholic Heritage 1769-1999, by Francis J. Weber (Mission Hills:  Saint Francis Historical Society, 2001)
Frontier Faiths:  Church, Temple and Synagogue in Los Angeles, 1846-1888 by Michael E. Engh, S.J. (Albuquerque:  University of New Mexico Press, 1992)
A History of California and an Extended History of Los Angeles and Environs by James Miller Guinn (Los Angeles: Historic Record Company, 1915), from Google Books
The Old San Gabriel Mission by Father Eugene Joseph Sugranes (Los Angeles, 1909), from