Many Famous Fourths Held in Los Angeles, by George W. Kirkman, 1927

“Many famous Fourths has our ancient city seen, in its dramatic and colorful history; but some of them were epochal enough to have deep interest and special significance to all Angelenos.

Especially interesting to our people, under the Mexican regime, was the first formal celebration of the Fourth in Southern California. In 1828, when the American ships anchored in San Diego Harbor celebrated the day by ‘burning much gunpowder’ in firing national salutes; the chief celebrant being the famous Franklin, an American ship, commanded by Capt. Bradshaw, that a fortnight later, fought the Second Battle of San Diego with. Fort Guijarros at the harbor entrance, and made our Angelenos wonder if we Americans kept such hair-trigger fireworks on tap, ready to go off at any moment.

Queer Affair

Strangely enough, the last Fourth of July in Los Angeles under the Mexican flag (July 4, 1846,) was celebrated in curious fashion by our Mexican pueblo’s formal destruction and confiscation of the ancient Indian village of Yang-Na, upon whose site Los Angeles was built. When white men, personified by Spain and its first Governor of California, Portola, first saw the tribe of 300 Los Angeles Indians on August 2, 1769, they were living in this village of Yang-Na, situated between our present Aliso street, East First street, and the river, .on an ancient site that probably had been inhabited from remote antiquity, thus marking our city as occupying one of the oldest continually inhabited sites on the globe. Though these aboriginal first Angelinos were painted and quite naked savages, yet they were always most friendly to the white man, then, and after the founding of Los Angeles in 1781; and our Town Council — whose name then was Muy lllustre Ayuntamiento (Very Illustrious Town Council) — had formally granted them for their rancheria or village, the ancient site of Yang-Na, which was in the central part of the many square miles of pueblo (town), lands that belonged to Los Angeles.

Poor Lo, however, quickly acquired the white man’s habit of lapping up too much firewater, whereon he was prone to get howling drunk and indulge in free fights, with fatal results, in his ‘Pueblito’ — as this early Indian reservation of Yang-Na was called by the Angelenos, who grew overweary of the sanguinary orgies of these red inebriates, and petitioned that the Indians be expelled from town. Amongst these petitioners was that romantic sailor, Johann Gronigen of Holland, one of the crew of the American brig Danube which had been shipwrecked in . San Pedro Bay on Christmas Eve of 1829. He had come to Los Angeles, changed his name to Juan Domingo (John Sunday,) as the Mexicans could not pronounce his name; had married and acquired a fine vineyard near First and Alameda streets; and had already been fined $2 by the Council for fencing in part of Yang-Na. Lo got lower, drunker and more of a pest each year, so, finally, the Council decided to remove him across the river to a place called Aguage de Los Avilas; and thus, on the natal day of our country, July 4, 1846, the Muy lllustre Ayuntamiento celebrated the day by selling this ancient Yang-Na to the Dutch- man, Domingo, for the sum of $200, which was to be expended upon the exiled aborigines — only Gov. Pio Pico borrowed it to pay his soldiers with, and Lo got left — as usual! This was the last recorded meeting of this most illustrious Mexican Council, and its last act was to thus take away from the ancient Indian owners of this place the last foot of their ancestral domains.

The American era was ushered in when Sloat hoisted the flag over Monterey , on July 7, 1846, and proclaimed that California was annexed to the United States. Stockton took peaceful possession of all California, and Northern California made no resistance; but the Angelenos were a spirited and independent lot; and so, in the fall of 1846 they revolted, drove off the American garrison of Los Angeles, set all Southern California aflame, defeated the American forces in the battles of Dominguez Rancho and San Pasqual, and forced Stockton to undertake a regular campaign against them. Stockton defeated them in two battles, not far from Los Angeles, and again took possession of our town, on January 10, 1847.

A strong garrison was kept here, to hold down the fiery Angelenos, and a fort was begun, on Fort Hill — the hill above the Broadway Tunnel, two blocks north of the Times Building — and was carried on nearly to completion by Col. Stevenson, then in command of Southern California, who also erected in its rear a flagpole 150 feet high, so that Mexican malcontents might see our flag from afar and tremble at our power. Stevenson ordered a military celebration of the day; and so, on July 4, 1847, the Fourth of July was thus first officially observed here by a full parade of the military garrison of 700 soldiers then stationed in Los Angeles. The Angelenos turned out en masse; the troops were paraded; a national salute fired at noon; the American flag streamed overhead, and the Declaration of Independence was read aloud to that strange assemblage of two peoples, speaking different languages and still eyeing each other askance, after their recent battles in the region of Los Angeles.

Bitterness

So it befell that bitterness still lingered in the minds of the Californians, even after this epochal first Fourth of July celebration in Los Angeles; but time assuages even the fiercest passions of men, and gradually the Californians grew to appreciate and understand the alien race of American invaders and settlers, especially since the natives sat in our First Constitutional Convention as honored delegates; and had a responsible share in their State, local and city government. The Californians were a kindly, hospitable and most lovable lot of folks, and were not the kind to overnurse a grudge; yet there were some who still resented our conquest of California, as a wrong to their race, and it was with a view to dispelling this resentment, and proclaiming, in its stead, a new era of good feeling between their race and ours, that the brave and tactful Capt. Don Juan Sepulveda, who had fought against us here during the Mexican War, determined to stage a joint celebration of the Fourth of July by the people of both races — the first such ever held in Southern California, as hitherto the native Californians had held aloof.

So, on this memorable Fourth of July, 1853, Capt. Sepulveda set out with his American and Californian friends from the great Palos Verdes Rancho that belonged to his family; embarked at San Pedro in a big boat and proceeded across San Pedro Bay to Wilmington Bay, and there loaded a cannon aboard his boat, and proceeded to Deadman’s Island, which then was much larger and higher than the remnant now left of this famous and historic island in Los Angeles Harbor.

Salutes

Dragging the cannon to the top of this island, on which were the graves of the United States sailors and marines that had fallen at the Battle of Dominguez Rancho, the Californians and Americans fired thundering salutes to these heroes, and in honor of the day; awakening the echoes of the San Pedro hills, and filling one and all the company with mutual patriotic ardor and enthusiasm, over this first joint celebration of the Fourth. Then Capt. Sepulveda made a most stirring and splendid speech that moved his auditors most deeply.

This salute of honor, he said, would serve a threefold purpose, he hoped. It would banish any possible ill-feeling that might still remain in the hearts of the sons of the country (the Californians) toward the United States; also, It would mark California’s gratitude to the founders of modern liberty, such as Washington; and, lastly, it would be a fitting salute to the seven (really six) brave marines who lost their lives in the service of their country. And Sepulveda then proceeded to describe the battle in which he himself had fought and these heroes had fallen; and gave several interesting’ details of that strange battle that had practically been won by a single small cannon — the famous ‘Woman’s Gun’ — in the hands of the Californians in this curious conflict, where the American forces had no artillery with them.

‘The old gun was subsequently buried near my house,’ went on Capt. Sepulveda, ‘and after a nap of six years, here it is again. And here am I, and here are others who dragged it away at the time, And here we are — the old enemies, the new friends — and here is brave Higuiera, firing a salute of honor over our former foes who fell in battle

This same July 4, 1853, that stalwart American and eminent citizen. Phineas Banning, always rampantly patriotic, gave a famous celebration of the Fourth that lasted three days, and included a notable barbecue — which usually accompanied these early festivities. In those easy-going days time was not so valuable as now, and the Americans were glad of almost any chance to celebrate a fitting occasion. San Diego once staged a three-day celebration of the Fourth, and San Juan Capistrano spent half a week celebrating another Fourth of July, including a barbecue and the dancing that nearly always were included in these early Southern California fiestas of the Fourth.

In 1855 Los Angeles had a notable Fourth of July, with glorious music rendered by the military band from Fort Tejon, and much firing of salutes by cannon. The two old guns that Gen. Andres Pico had buried on the bank of the Arroyo Seco, before his surrender to Fremont, were much used to fire such Fourth of July salutes; until finally, one Fourth, one of them blew up, miraculously harming no one. Speaking of cannon, the one that Sepulveda used in 1853 was not the famous ‘Woman’s Gun’ (which is now in the Navy Department at Washington; ) but may have come from the wreck of the Danube, per Dana and Guerra of Santa Barbara, who bought it for $1761 and its cargo for $3316, and in February, 1830, came hither and wrecked it. Some of its timbers were said to have been used for the Guadalupe Refugio, built by Chapman and launched in 1831 at San Pedro — the first ship built in Southern California. Or Sepulveda’s gun may have been one of those left for some reason at San Pedro, in charge of Bartolo Tapia, by Capt. Noe of the armed Spanish ship Flora from Lima, who left six or eight Cannon at San Pedro in 1813.

Children

The patriotic American children of Los Angeles really deserve the credit for the celebration of the Fourth in the year 1859. No plans had been made for observing the Fourth that year, until these little ones clamored for it, and commmenced appealing to the local Americans for subscriptions for its celebration. Moved by their childish plea, a committee was appointed, $400 was subscribed, and a Fourth of July picnic was held in the enclosed garden of Don Luis Sainsevain.

Another famous Fourth of July — one that marked a crisis in Los Angeles’ state of mind, and which, if not a very elaborate celebration, yet was most intensely enjoyed by the loyal participants therein — was in 1861, during the Civil War, when passions flamed up to the fighting pitch, on the slightest occasion, especially in such localities as Los Angeles and Southern California generally, that had a very large and aggressive southern element in their midst. Feeling in Los Angeles was so intense that some southerners had threatened to shoot anyone who dared to raise the American flag — a dare promptly taken up by Capt. (afterwards Gen.) Winfield Scott Hancock — who was Democratic candidate for President years later on. That fine and fiery old Patriot, Phineas Banning, openly presented — on May 25, 1861 an American flag specially made for the occasion, to the new Union Club of Los Angeles; and he and Hancock made patriotic speeches, punctuated by the diapason of a thirty four-gun salute.

On July 4, 1861, the loyal Angelenos foregathered at the Plaza, formed a procession and marched to Sainsevain’s shady garden and applauded patriotic speeches, especially that of Capt. Hancock, who, as Army Quartermaster in our city, with his office at Third and Main, did all he could to advance the interests of Los Angeles, of which he was an ardent booster; and greatly promoted its commerce by establishing Camp Drum at Wilmington.

Merchants

For some years before 1871 the-Fourth had not been formally celebrated in Los Angeles, but that year the patriotic merchants got together and had a regular celebration of the Fourth, with flags and speeches and music and everything, including lots of noise, and the miscellaneous firing-off of guns and pistols that marked each and every American holiday in early Los Angeles.

The Centennial Year of 1876 witnessed our most pretentious early Fourth of July celebration, for which great preparations were made. Bunting and flags were liberally used; a triple arch adorned Main street; statues of national heroes and pictures of Washington bedecked the town, and on this auspicious occasion a truly typical American Fourth of July procession of the Victorian epoch paraded through the streets, headed by the opera-house band and the famous Los Angeles Guard, the Los Angeles Rifleros (Riflemen) and the Veterans of the Mexican War. The French Benevolent Society furnished a float, on which rode three beauteous ladies, representing France, the United States and Liberty. Thirteen young ladies- on another float posed as the thirteen colonies, while twenty-five maids on another represented the other States of the Union.

This triumphal march wound up, fittingly enough, at the ‘Garden of Paradise,’ in whose spacious grounds some 2600 Angelenos assembled to listen to patriotic speeches, drink beer and admire this remarkable resort, which was situated between Spring, Main, Third and Fourth streets, and had been adorned by Lehman (its genial originator) with statues of Adam and Eve and the Serpent lurking conveniently nearby, with an ophidian eye on Eve. In these grounds a sailor named Alexander had, in the ’40s, built a perfectly round house of adobe, after the pattern of an edifice that he had seen in Africa. Lehman had boarded over the walls of this famous early resort of thirsty male Angelenos, thus giving it an octagonal shape. And then, after planting shrubs and vines around its grounds, he had made a noble German beer garden out of it, and dubbed it ‘The Garden of Paradise’ — possibly because of man’s innate propensity to fall, whenever sufficiently tempted to do so.

Ten years later Los Angeles awoke from its long siesta as a sleepy little Spanish American town, and sprang into life as a full-fledged American city, full of pep, push, politics, promoters and mighty plans for the future, with a real estate batting average of 1001 and a desire to do or die — muy pronto! And so it set out on its long march to the sea, on which lies the foreshadowed greatness of the Los Angeles of the future, whose coming millions will some day raise grateful monuments to the American pioneers of Los Angeles, who kept the faith, stood guard at our gates, and renewed their patriotic fire at the flaming altars of our first Fourth of July celebrations, in the early epochs of our history as a city.”

-Excerpt and images courtesy of Newspapers.com, The Los Angeles Times, “Many Famous Fourths Held in Los Angeles: Celebrations of Old-Time Days Recited,” by George W. Kirkman, Sunday, July 3, 1927

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