Exploring Cities with Postcards: Los Angeles

Los Angeles is the second-most populous city in the United States, after New York City, and the largest and most populous city in the Western United States. With an estimated population of four million, Los Angeles is the cultural, financial, and commercial center of Southern California. Nicknamed the “City of Angels” partly because of its name’s Spanish meaning, Los Angeles is known for its Mediterranean climate, ethnic diversity, Hollywood and the entertainment industry, and sprawling metropolis.


laPacific Electric Building

The historic Pacific Electric Building (also known as the Huntington Building) opened in 1905 as the terminal for the Pacific Electric Red Car Lines running east and south of downtown Los Angeles, as well as the company’s main headquarters building. It was designed by architect Thornton Fitzhugh. Though not the first modern building in Los Angeles, nor the tallest, its large footprint and ten-floor height made it the largest building in floor area west of Chicago for several decades. Above the main floor terminal were five floors of offices and on the top three floors, the Jonathan Club, one of the city’s leading businessmen’s clubs.

In 1914, a total of 1,626 PE trains entered or left Los Angeles in 3262 cars daily. With the increase in automobiles in Los Angeles in the 1920s, congestion of shared street running with the Los Angeles Railway city streetcars and auto traffic delayed PE trains traveling to the north and west up Main Street to Glendale, Hollywood, and Santa Monica. In 1922, the California Railroad Commission issued Order No. 9928, which called for the Pacific Electric to construct a subway to bypass downtown’s busy streets. The Subway Terminal Building, a second PE terminal, was then built across downtown at the base of Bunker Hill at 4th and Hill Streets across from Pershing Square to serve the subway, which opened December 1, 1925, speeding passenger service considerably to Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Glendale.


s-l1600-35.jpgPolytechnic High School

John H. Francis Polytechnic High School is a secondary school located in the Sun Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, United States. It serves grades 9 through 12 and is a part of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Despite its name, Polytechnic is a comprehensive high school.

Polytechnic High School opened in 1897 as a “commercial branch” of the only high school at that time in the city, the Los Angeles High School. As such, Polytechnic is the second oldest high school in the city. The school’s original campus was located in downtown Los Angeles on South Beaudry Avenue, the present location of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board of Education headquarters.

Notable alumni include Helen Gurley Brown: founder of Cosmopolitan magazine,  Marcellite Garner: voice actress of Minnie Mouse, Tom Bradley: 38th Mayor of Los Angeles, and Carl David Anderson: recipient of the 1936 Nobel Prize in Physics.


s-l1600-36.jpgGriffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory is a facility in Los Angeles, California, sitting on the south-facing slope of Mount Hollywood in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. It commands a view of the Los Angeles Basin, including Downtown Los Angeles to the southeast, Hollywood to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the southwest. The observatory is a popular tourist attraction with an excellent view of the Hollywood Sign and an extensive array of space and science-related displays. Admission has been free since the observatory’s opening in 1935, in accordance with the will of Griffith J. Griffith, the benefactor after whom the observatory is named.

3,015 acres of land surrounding the observatory was donated to the City of Los Angeles by Griffith J. Griffith on December 16, 1896. In his will Griffith donated funds to build an observatory, exhibit hall, and planetarium on the donated land. Griffith’s objective was to make astronomy accessible by the public, as opposed to the prevailing idea that observatories should be located on remote mountaintops and restricted to scientists.

As a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, construction began on June 20, 1933, using a design developed by architect John C. Austin based on preliminary sketches by Russell W. Porter. The observatory and accompanying exhibits were opened to the public on May 14, 1935 as the country’s third planetarium. In its first five days of operation the observatory logged more than 13,000 visitors.

During World War II the planetarium was used to train pilots in celestial navigation. The planetarium was again used for this purpose in the 1960s to train Apollo program astronauts for the first lunar missions.


s-l1600-37.jpgUniversity of California, Los Angeles

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), is a public research university in Los Angeles. It became the Southern Branch of the University of California in 1919, making it the second-oldest (after UC Berkeley) undergraduate campus of the 10-campus University of California system. It offers 337 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in a wide range of disciplines.

In March 1881, the California State Legislature authorized the creation of a southern branch of the California State Normal School (now San José State University) in downtown Los Angeles to train teachers for the growing population of Southern California. The Los Angeles branch of the California State Normal School opened on August 29, 1882, on what is now the site of the Central Library of the Los Angeles Public Library system. The facility included an elementary school where teachers-in-training could practice their technique with children. That elementary school is related to the present day UCLA Lab School. In 1887, the branch campus became independent and changed its name to Los Angeles State Normal School.s-l1600 (38)

During its first 32 years, UCLA was treated as an off-site department of UC. As such, its presiding officer was called a “provost”, and reported to the main campus in Berkeley. In 1951, UCLA was formally elevated to co-equal status with UC Berkeley, and its presiding officer Raymond B. Allen was the first chief executive to be granted the title of chancellor. The appointment of Franklin David Murphy to the position of Chancellor in 1960 helped spark an era of tremendous growth of facilities and faculty honors. By the end of the decade, UCLA had achieved distinction in a wide range of subjects.

Click here to check out our range of Los Angeles Postcards

Click here to check out our range of California Postcards

California Gold


The story of the California Gold Rush is one of the best known in American history. It’s quintessential to the ideals of taking advantage of opportunity and working hard to climb the economic ladder. Of course, most of those who rushed to the California gold mines went broke instead of striking it rich, but hundreds of tons of gold were uncovered over the course of the rush. What happened to it as it entered the economy?
GoldNuggetUSGOVThe Gold Rush changed San Francisco almost overnight. From a little town of 850 in 1848, it grew to over 20,000 by 1850. (Native American populations, however, dropped drastically: from 150,000 in 1845, to fewer than 30,000 by 1870.) On Liberty Street Economics, James Narron and Don Morgan write, “Carrying a small amount of gold in a glass vial, Brannan strode up and down Montgomery Street in San Francisco, then just a sleepy hamlet, extolling the great wealth that could be readily plucked from the foothills outside Sacramento. A kind of madness seized the 850 residents of the city, and as the San Francisco Chronicle noted on May 29, ‘the field is left half plowed, the house half built, and everything neglected but the manufacture of shovels and pickaxes.’”



800px-SanFranciscoharbor1851c_sharpThe influx of people as well as the high demand for mining supplies, drove the cost of goods up to exorbitant heights (in fact, shop owners were more likely to profit off the rush than the miners.) Only 2 years into the Gold Rush, it was cheaper to send laundry to Hawaii for cleaning than to have it done locally. Miners had to extract several ounces of gold a day simply to keep themselves supplied with food and equipment. One in twelve died, and many left. Eyewitness accounts talk about the harbor clogged with ships left to rot because the passengers and crew had all gone to the gold mines. A mercury rush a few years earlier combined with a common way of using mercury to mine gold had left many miners with brain damage and in too poor of health to leave. Despite the dire situation, individuals and mining corporations continued to pull gold out of the streams and mountains. The United States had moved from a bimetallic standard to the gold standard in 1834, and the the influx of gold from California acted like “a monetary easing by a central bank, with more gold chasing the same amount of goods and services.”


Some gold left the United States via immigrants, particularly workers from China. Some Chinese workers melted down their gold and shaped it into common household items, like pans, darkening them with soot to disguise them on the return journey. Anti-immigrant sentiment was high, and since fortune seekers from many nations poured into a city that was not prepared for them, tensions raged. The Foreign Miners Tax of 1850 called for a monthly tax of $20 on every foreign miner, a price many could not pay. (The Chinese Exclusion Act was put into place in 1882, halting immigration from China and preventing immigrants from becoming citizens. Chinese Americans were not allowed to become citizens until 1943.)


5_Dollars,_Norris,_Gregg_&_Norris,_California,_1849_-_National_Museum_of_American_History_-_DSC00220As people and gold continued to flow into California, it became a center of national and global attention, achieving statehood only 2 years after the first gold was found. As the wealth continued to flow from the mountains, the need for a local Mint was obvious. The private company Norris, Gregg & Norris produced the first coins from California gold, but shut down within a year.



John Little Moffat moved to San Francisco from New York and began an assay business, as well as producing gold bars. However, the bars did not circulate, and he realized the need for coinage. They follow the pattern of the official gold coins, but also bear the legend SMV (Standard Mint Value.) Other minting companies followed suit, but Moffat was easily the most successful. These early California gold coins are rarities, and bring excellent prices when they go up for auction. (Some of the first gold from California actually ended up in Utah, carried by Mormon troops, and was used to create currency for the Utah territory. These are also rare and bring high prices.)


In 1850, the Treasury Secretary set up an assaying authority with the power to buy gold. Seeing the success of Moffat’s company, the federal authorities brought him into the operation. A skilled watchmaker from New York, Augustus Humbert, was also brought on board and was largely responsible for the shape of the first octagonal California gold coins. Ursula Kampmann writes in Coins Weekly that “These ingots and the ‘ordinary’ US coins could circulate simultaneously, but the former were no official means of payment. The problem of these specimens was that they had too great a weight. Compared with the official 10 and 20 $ dollar coins below weight, they contained much more gold – which was a nuisance to the banks who couldn’t get rid of their own currency anymore. Consequently, they took revenge by exchanging the ingot with the too big intrinsic value with 3 % discount only. That, in turn, made the ingots become much less popular; Moffat & Co. was forced to produce their old 10 and 20 $ dollar coins instead again, this time on behalf of the US government.”


765px-Photograph_of_several_San_Francisco_Mint_employees_near_the_top_section_of_the_Corless_Engine_on_the_first_floor._-_NARA_-_296572Moffat departed his company in 1852, and the firm was established as an official assay office of the United States. However, it closed late in 1853, when the new San Francisco Mint was expected to begin producing coins a few months later. Unfortunately, the mineral shipments needed to create alloys didn’t arrive in time for the Mint to keep to its original schedule, and opened in April of 1854. Just over $4 million face value in gold coins were minted during its first year of operation, making 1854 S mint gold coins rare and highly desirable to collectors and numismatists.


Over time, northern California settled down and became much like any other part of the States, with its own industries and exports. But the legend of the California Gold Rush was cemented into national memory, and the state still enjoys the golden glow of the promise of a better life.


Between a Rock and a Hard Place

They say you’re “between a rock and a hard place”. The meaning is clear: none of your choices are good ones. 

But where did this phrase originate? Like many American phrases we use today, it comes from the early 20th century. (Other cultures have similar sayings in different forms that had their own separate evolutions.)

It’s likely the rock and the hard place came from the U.S. Bankers’ Panic of 1907. The first in-print reference of the phrase comes from 1921 by the American Dialect Society: “To be between a rock and a hard place, …to be bankrupt. Common in Arizona in recent panics; sporadic in California.”

Graffart_tiesse_houyeuIt was indeed a panicked time in America, especially for the mining and railroad industries. Programs and organizations lost much of their funding.


In 1917, Arizona copper mining companies and miners had a feud. The miners made demands that the companies did not match, and some miners were shipped out as a result. The situation these miners faced was indeed a rock and a hard place, popularizing the phrase and putting it into popular use. The late 1930’s saw the phrase being printed more and more into newspapers.

Source: Phrases.org

The Currency of the California Gold Rush

You’ve heard of the California Gold Rush. One day, miners found gold in the town called Sutter’s Mill, sparking a rush from all over the world toward fortune seeking in the state of California. About 300,000 fortune-seekers made the journey.

You can imagine the pandemonium this would cause. And methods of commerce were shaky. They usually used Silver Reales or Escudos from Spanish America for exchanges, but that currency could not keep up with daily needs.Minners01 (1)

This led to original methods of payment. The gold found during mining didn’t always come in nuggets of gold, and fine gold dust was at least worth something. People would pay in actual pinches of gold dust for general stores or saloons. As you can imagine, dust does not offer the most secure method of payment.

A more solid means of currency was needed. Some mints had made $20 gold pieces, but much smaller denominations were needed.


We have some of our own California gold coins. Interested in owning one of your own? Go here!

Private minters began to make their own small gold pieces. (And when we say small, we mean small. These things are tiny.) They were called fractionals because they were worth a small fraction of these larger denominations. These coins were literally worth their weight in gold. The first, privately made coins were made between 1852-1856.

The fractionals circulated quickly from the need for currency, and soon wore down from all that use.

But the San Francisco Mint began its own full production in 1856, and the availability of more trustworthy pieces put these privately-made coins less appealing.1871califracObverse

Henry Finnegrass, the Chief of Operations for the U.S. Secret Service in San Francisco, claimed that these California gold coins were in competition with the U.S. Mint and confiscated any pieces made after 1882.

As collectibles, these coins are rare and hard to come by. While the California gold rush only gave success to a select few people, these gold fractionals have lasted as pieces of that hectic time in history.

Traveling with Art: Avalon Harbor in Catalina Island, California

The stunning Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island is a tiny, tourism-centered town with a rich history where visitors can go today for excellent boating and other seaside adventures.

The painting you see above is by Marie Antoinette Ney, an artist who helped popularize many California missions and landscapes through her art. This watercolor of the harbor features small sailboats next to colorful orange and brown reflections in the still water.

The history of the bay starts with a Native American tribe of Gabrielino/Tongva people who inhabited the island for almost 7,000 years. They developed a marine-based culture, living a life dependent on the bay.

But when Spanish explorers came to the island, the fate of the tribe changed for the worst. Most of the native inhabitants moved to the mainland when the Spanish began to colonize the California coast. Whether that was by choice was another matter.

A 1903 postcard of Avalon Bay.

A 1903 postcard of Avalon Bay.

By the 1830s, all members of the native tribe had either migrated to the mainland or died off.

Early developers decided the fate of the island. A German immigrant named Augustus William Timms ran a sheep herding business on Catalina Island and would also ferry tourists to the bay. The settlement was from then on referred to as ‘Timms’ Landing’.

Later, one man named George Shatto took advantage of a real estate boom and privately purchased Catalina Island. Though the settlement was at first referred to as ‘Shatto’, he and his family took great care over choosing the name of the island.


The full width of the painting by Marie Antoinette Ney.

Mr. and Mrs. Shatto and myself were looking for a name for the new town, which in its significance should be appropriate to the place, and the names which I was looking up were ‘Avon’ and ‘Avondale,’ and I found the name ‘Avalon,’ the meaning of which, as given in Webster’s unabridged, was ‘Bright gem of the ocean,’ or ‘Beautiful isle of the blest.’
—Etta Whitney

George Shatto originally introduced the island to the public as a tourist destination, but the island has had many owners over the years, all of whom helped shape the island to become what is today’s pleasant resort location.

With a population of just under 4,000 people, the town is dedicated to its visitors. Its beach is the main attraction, with opportunities for boating and sunbathing. Other attractions include the world’s largest circular ballroom and chances to walk the footsteps of the island’s famous residents and visitors, including Marilyn Monroe.

Have you ever been to Avalon Harbor, or are you planning on taking a little trip to this seaside destination? Let us know in the comments!

Other articles in the ‘Traveling with Art’ series:

Mount Vesuvius and Naples, Italy

Le Quai des Grands-Augustins in Paris, France

Prague Castle and Charles Bridge