Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Los Angeles Street was "Negro Alley"

Los Angeles has a "colorful" past, to say the least - and their is irony in its name. Los Angeles was once the cow-capital of the US and was commonly known as a rough-and-tumble "cow town" in its early days as a US city, known for having an average of one murder every day. This reputation was solidified internationally at the start of the municipality as we know it and has been revisited many times in the last 157 years. Remember, before the May 1st Maylee of this year, the Riots of '65 & '92, or the Zoot Suit riots, there was the "Chinese Massacre of 1871."

From the firsthand account of Harris Newmark:

About the twenty-first of October a “war” broke out near Nigger Alley between two rival factions of the Chinese on account of the forcible carrying off of one of the companies' female members, and the steamer California soon brought a batch of Chinamen from San Francisco, sent down, it was claimed, to help wreak vengeance on the abductors. On Monday, October 23d some of the contestants were arrested, brought before Justice Gray and released on bail. It was expected that this would end the trouble; but at five o'clock the next day the factional strife broke loose again, and officers, accompanied by citizens, rushed to the place to attempt an arrest. The Chinese resisted and Officer Jesus Bilderrain was shot in the right shoulder and wrist, while his fifteen-year-old brother received a ball in the right leg. Robert Thompson, a citizen who sprang to Bilderrain's assistance, was met by a Chinaman with two revolvers and shot to death. Other shots from Chinese barricaded behind some iron shutters wounded a number of bystanders.
News of the attacks and counter-attacks spread like wild-fire, and a mob of a thousand or more frenzied beyond control, armed with pistols, guns, knives and ropes, and determined to avenge Thompson's murder, assembled in the neighborhood of the disturbance. While this solid phalanx was being formed around Nigger Alley, a Chinaman, waving a hatchet, was seen trying to escape across Los Angeles Street; and Romo Sortorel, at the expense of some ugly cuts on the hand, captured him. Emil Harris then rescued the Mongolian; but a detachment of the crowd, yelling “Hang him! shoot him!” overpowered Harris at Temple and Spring streets, and dragged the trembling wretch up Temple to New High street, where the familiar framework of the corral gates suggested its use as a gallows. With the first suspension, the rope broke; but the second attempt to hang the prisoner was successful. Other Chinamen, whose roofs had been smashed in, were rushed down Los Angeles Street to the south side of Commercial, and there, near Goller's wagon shop, between wagons stood on end, were hung.

This English account showed that "Los Angeles" was not a city of angels at the time, and further research shows that this tragic event revealed more about early Los Angeles by the location of the incident.

The name of the alley for the infamous first "riot" in LA was called "Nigger Alley" by Newmark but was known by the Spanish as "Calle de los Negros." In researching the name online, "Calle de Los Negros" is translated to mean "Street of the Dark Hued Ones," or "Street of the Black," but other accounts lay the name to refer to the notorious acts that took place there predating 1871.
But in the City, Calle de Los Negros was known as "Negro Alley" and then was changed to Los Angeles Street, as you can see in the name change card below:

The dates are 1877 to 1912 and those in red are removals of the Los Angeles Street name while the black type is where Los Angeles Street was extended or expanded.

This card shows the transition about 5 years after the massacre that the City was taking in bring control back to what would become an international city. (It actually took another 10 years before Los Angeles Street actually assumed its route and Negro Alley reverted to the adjacent property owner - after an additional ten years of litigation.) It needs to be known where we come from in order to move forward. Old street names reveal the City as it was founded, and the incidents of our past should show how we can move forward. Unfortunately, it appears we've still not quite moved forward beyond mobs of racial emotion, even if our street names have been changed.

Changing Street Names
Alley Parking