Friday, August 31, 2018

L.A. turns 237...from Quintero Street in Echo Park

The trails taken by Spanish poblador Luis Quintero in 1781 from Mexico to Mission San Gabriel, where he stayed for over a month before continuing on to the banks of the Rio de Porciuncula, may have been an easier effort than that of the citizens of Los Angeles in their resolve to carve Sunset Boulevard westward past Quintero Street at the turn of the 20th century.

Quintero and his family were among the eleven founding families to settle in Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles de la Porciuncula on September 4, 1781.  This blog posting commemorates the anniversary from Quintero Street, a street named for him located in the Echo Park district of Los Angeles.  

Growing pains in the area will be discussed along with a look at an early use for the hilly terrain when the advent of gas-powered cars in L.A. accelerated.

Luis Quintero's Brief Settlement in the New Pueblo

The original 1781 census of the town of Los Angeles listed Quintero, negro, age 55; his wife Maria Petra Rubio, age 40, mulata, and five children, Josef Clemente, age 3, Maria Gertrudis, age 16, Maria Concepcion, age 9, Tomasa, age 7 and Rafaela, age 6.  Quintero and his wife were from Los Alamos, Mexico.

Depiction of Maria Petra and Luis Quintero by Artist Mary Butler
(Courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research,
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County)

Quintero was the last poblador to sign up for the Spanish colonization party (on February 3rd), among the recruits who were from Sonora and Sinoloa.  An early group arrived at Mission San Gabriel on July 14, 1781.  Quintero was among the second group to reach the mission on July 22nd.  (A third group came the latest in mid-August.)

It is debatable whether the entire party simultaneously converged at the Porciuncula River.  Nevertheless, the plan was for each family to receive land and planting fields, along with wages and rations until they gradually became self-sustaining.  In five years they were to receive permanent confirmation of their land, but by September of 1786, only eight of the original pobladores remained. 

One historical account states that Quintero was confirmed as padrino or god-father to the mission Indians by Father Junipero Serra at San Gabriel in late March of 1782, but on March 26th, Quintero, his family, along with two other pobladores, departed and re-settled at the presidio in Santa Barbara.  Quintero was a tailor and lived out his life there.  His children eventually married, and one granddaughter Maria Rita Valdez married into the Valdez family that held Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas, today's Beverly Hills.

Quintero Street, Echo Park

View of Sunset Boulevard looking west

Quintero Street was named in 1897, replacing the segment of Waters Street from Sunset Boulevard uphill to MacBeth Street.

It is curious that Waters was renamed for a Spanish poblador.  Other street names along this 1888 Golden West Heights tract remain unchanged, including MacBeth, McDuff and Portia Streets (named after Shakespearean literary characters).  Waters Street and Canal Street reflected the nearby water reservoir, later to become Echo Park Lake.

The below Dakin Tract Map of Los Angeles, 1888, showed the reservoir and the undeveloped area (outlined in red) of the soon-to-appear Golden West Heights.

(Image courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research,
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County)
Baist's Real Estate Atlas of Surveys of Los Angeles, 1905
(Image courtesy of the Seaver Center)
Above map shows Quintero Street (which actually runs north/south) and nearby Vancouver Street (which should have been already renamed today's Sutherland Street in 1894 according to a source...hmmm, discrepancy!)  An electric railway was indicated by the dotted lines on the far left edge, which was Sunset Boulevard, and its service route also turned at Echo Park Road.

Baist's Real Estate Atlas, 1910
(Image courtesy of the Seaver Center)
By 1910, as shown above, Sutherland Street finally appeared.  The electric railway was running along Sunset and Echo Park Road.  Not shown in this photo, but the railway also ran to Glendale Avenue, along Temple Street, but not on the other major street, Bellevue.  The Sunset line went all the way to the city limit at today's Hoover Street and Fountain Avenue.

Baist's Real Estate Atlas, 1921
(Image courtesy of the Seaver Center)
The above map shows the progression of more tracts.  Elysian Park, along with the Barlow Sanitorium, is seen within the open areas along the right portion of the photo.

Growing Pains and the Development of Sunset Boulevard

Scores of schemes came and went in the late 19th century attempting to connect the now American city of Los Angeles to the sea.  The "Sunset" name may have been inspired by a failed real estate venture, platted 11/26/1887 by the Los Angeles and Santa Monica Land and Water Company, in what was once Rancho San Jose de Buenos Ayres, present-day Holmby Hills.

Locally, in 1893 the newspaper reported that the L.A. City Engineer presented a map proposing to develop Sunset from Douglas Street to the north city limit (today's Hoover Street and Fountain Avenue).

Nearly two years later the paper reported again about the opening, widening and extending of Sunset from Elysian Street to the city limit, but the city was awaiting the receipt of homeowner assessment fees.

In 1898 more discussions were traded, involving three groups:  the Northwestern, the Tejunga, and the Cahuenga Improvement Associations.  Everybody wanted connectivity, and the Cahuenga group was willing to help with the costs contingent upon securing Cahuenga property owners' rights-of-way.

By 1899 Sunset Boulevard had been graded and graveled only as far as Douglas Street.  There was another approach, Alvarado Street, but it was not graded north of Temple Street.

In 1901, 24 members of the newly-formed Sunset Boulevard Improvement Association met with the objective to get Sunset graded beyond Douglas Street.

Meanwhile, in September of 1901, the town of Hollywood was celebrating its new Hollywood Boulevard.

By 1902, most property owners were on board, and the city secured deeds to straighten out some curvatures along Sunset.  Hollywood was also anxiously awaiting the connection of Sunset with its own Prospect Avenue.  The push involved a public campaign along with funding by H.J. Whitley (later known as the father of Hollywood) to secure rights-of-way.

Finally, on May 14, 1904, the Times newspaper published a procession route of the Hollywood Boulevard Parade, celebrating the connection of Prospect Avenue with the long-awaited Sunset Boulevard:

"With steam carriages and horse carriages, with electric runabouts and vehicles propelled by the vapor of hydrocarbons, all joining in parade, the approaching completion of the boulevard system connecting this city with Hollywood will be celebrated this afternoon."

Auto Thrills on Quintero Street Hill

A recent view on the street's descent towards Sunset Boulevard

Quintero Street was graded in 1910, and sewering took place in 1914.

In between those two accomplishments the short street became the stunt-worthy, hyperbolic testing ground for the new trucks and automobiles being introduced on the West coast.  A January 19th, 1913 news article described a Hudson 6-cylinder auto ascend a 38% grade, appearing to climb not a hill, but "the side of a barn".  Later that November, a locally manufactured Moreland truck took its 5,000 pound load onto "Quintero Street hill" on its 22% grade.  The street's actual grade was closer to 24.25%.

Plenty more auto antics continued to be published in the Times into the year 1923, with varying reports on the actual slope.  A Maxwell, Jackson, Jeffery, King "8", Packard, Oldsmobile, Ohio Electric, Owen Magnetic, Rickenbacher, more Morelands, Republic trucks, and others, took to Quintero, sometimes piling prospective buyers, a mother and her baby, or steering only with the knees, among crowds of onlookers.

This blogger arrived on the hill one recent Saturday afternoon with a high expectation but was quickly disappointed.  The ascent beginning at Sunset is short-lived.  It lacks the dramatic length of Fargo Street and even the blind apex of Duane Street before a nose-diving plunge onto Silverlake Boulevard. 

Fargo Street, its name already officially designated in 1908, also seemed to have had some grading by 1913. Why was Fargo rarely used as the go-to street for auto demonstrations?  The 1999 edition of Ghosts of Echo Park, by Ron Emler, described its 32% grade the steepest in the state of California.

Fargo's elevation may have overpowered most vehicles.  Quintero Street provided a unique challenge - the t-intersection at the bottom of the hill offered no running starts! 

A 1915 test of the King "8" and its "motometer" demonstrated to buyers a feature to monitor overheating.  Also in 1915, a mother and child coasted down Quintero Street safely on an Ohio Electric with the press of a button to activate a magnetic brake and avoided skidding.

Nearby Baxter Street was also accessible by 1916 and also used to test cars.  A newspaper exaggerated on its 35% grade, while another article described the street's final 300 feet as its steepest was 29.04% grade.

“The early automobiles were notoriously unreliable and often underpowered,” said Darryl Holter, historian and dealer principal at Felix Chevrolet.  “Automobile dealers in Los Angeles organized car races and endurance contests to show the public that their cars were reliable.  Allowing a customer to test drive by successfully climbing a steep street like Quintero or Baxter was an easy way to demonstrate what the vehicle could do.”

In 1917 Edward "Suicide" Dooley took an Oldsmobile onto Quintero, steering with his knees while his hands were handcuffed behind his head.  This performance was a precursor for Dooley, "the cowboy auto pilot" of his auto run to the Phoenix state fair.  Also driven while handcuffed, he averaged 45 miles per hour, changed gears with his feet and steered with his left knee.

In 1918, a Fageol truck with a full load pulled a trailer with a similar load:

August, 1918
(Image courtesy ProQuest Historical L.A. Times)

In 1919 a double demonstration befitted a White Auto Company's heavy duty, double reduction gear-drive truck.  The truck climbed San Francisco's Fillmore Street loaded with 4 3/4 tons, followed by a 34-hour drive to Los Angeles loaded with five tons of Spurry flour, concluding on the climatic Quintero Street hauling a new five ton load at 16 miles an hour.

A National car on the Quintero Street hill in 1921
(Courtesy California Digital Newspaper Collection)

December, 1922
(Image courtesy ProQuest Historical L.A. Times)

Overland Tour cars climbing Quintero hill, November 1923
(Image courtesy ProQuest Historical L.A. Times)

Within a Baseball's Throw

Interesting is Quintero Street's proximity to Dodger Stadium.  From the hilltop at MacBeth & Quintero, this blogger climbed a few wooden steps to discover the view:

Some backyards of Quintero Street homes overlook a piece of Shangri-La
along with a view of the Dodger Stadium parking lots