Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Meanwhile out West: El Presidio de San Francisco

Opening October 13, 2017, the California Historical Society (CHS) will welcome Alexander Hamilton: Treasures from the New-York Historical Society. In conjunction with this exhibition, CHS will present Meanwhile out West: Colonizing California, 1769–1821, exploring the colonial history of the region now known as California with books, manuscripts, maps, paintings, and artifacts drawn chiefly from the CHS Collection. The shift from an Atlantic Coast narrative focused on the founder of the United States’ financial system—and freshly memorialized thanks to the beloved Broadway musical—to the Pacific Coast promises to draw contrasts and connections between the two regions as they existed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Reglamento, e Instrucción para los presidios que se han de formar en la linea de frontera de la Nueva España (Mexico: Br. D. Joseph Antonio de Hogal, 1773), Vault 349.462 Sp15r (1773), California Historical Society.
The same year that the founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in a first assertion of shedding their British dependency, Spanish soldiers established El Presidio Real de San Francisco, now referred to simply as the Presidio, at the far northern edge of the San Francisco Peninsula in view of the Golden Gate. Four years earlier, in 1772, the Spanish King Charles III delineated his specifications for military garrisons in New Spain, affirming their role as not only military but physical representations of Spanish unity and power. In these regulations, known as the Reglamento of 1772, the King expressed the importance of claiming militarily strategic positions, building according to uniform architectural plans, and providing adequate food and clothing for soldiers in an effort to, in his words, “defend the lives and estates of my vassals on the frontier from the attacks of the barbarous tribes,” as well as from other European powers exploring Pacific waters. According to archaeologist Barbara Voss, the Crown was actively interested in how location and presentation would affect “the frontier.” This reflected the Spaniards’ concern that the more politically non-centralized organization of Native peoples stood in direct opposition to the “colonial view of a proper civilized lifestyle” (Voss, The Archaeology of Ethnogenesis, p. 51). The King’s insistence on well-regulated presidios, therefore, was a way to aid in the overarching goal of establishing “civilized” Spanish settlements to Christianize and Hispanicize indigenous people in the Americas.

Letter and Administrative File concerning Storm-Related Damage to the Presidio of San Francisco and Proposals for Its Repair, MS Vault 34, California Historical Society

The maintenance of the presidio, due to its construction in wood and plaster, meant that keeping it in the good shape desired by the crown became an important part of life in San Francisco. A 1799 census of troops at the Alta California Presidios offers a unique record with an enumeration of officers and regular soldados at the San Francisco Presidio, along with their salaries; the total numbered only thirty-eight men. According to Barbara Voss’ analysis, the Presidio housed military men, their families, along with older men and widowed parents of soldiers, thus inflating the number of Spaniards without increasing their military strength. Missing from this census is the number of indigenous men working at the Presidio, “adult men recruited or impressed into service as laborers working in agriculture, craft production, and building construction” (Voss, p. 72). As the Presidio was home to the “the administrative, judicial, residential and economic centers” of the Spanish government on the frontier, the work of Native men would have been inexorably tied to its success (Voss, p. 57).
Louis Choris, Voyage pittoresque autour du monde… (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1822), Vault 910.4 C45, California Historical Society
The lithograph, “View of the Presidio in San Francisco,” sketched in October 1816 by German-Ukrainian artist Louis Choris (1795-1828) during his journey aboard the Rurik as part of a three-year Russian exploration of the Pacific, visually corroborates the speculation as to the comparative number of Spanish soldiers and indigenous workers, as well as their relationship. In the hand-colored lithograph, Choris shows three soldiers on horseback holding lances, two of whom seem to be driving groups of Native Californians, who are organized in rows like chain gangs. In this way, the lithograph conveys the disparity between the number of Spanish soldiers and Native people, as well as the hierarchical relationship established by the soldiers’ position on horses as opposed to the indigenous men on foot.

While Hamilton gained the military rank of Major General and political prestige in the newly formed United States government as the first Secretary of the Treasury, the Spanish empire sought a foothold in Alta California. They established Catholic missions along the coast and strategic military garrisons such as the San Francisco Presidio up until the Mexican Revolution of 1821. This Hispanic past of what would later become the thirty-first state of the United States often does not garner the same amount of interest as the dramatic events of the early Federalist period, especially with the ongoing performances of the “Hamilton” musical. By placing the objects of “Meanwhile in California” alongside the New-York Historical Society’s Hamilton exhibition, the California Historical Society hopes to draw attention to this critical period in California history, a time of momentous change and upheaval with lasting impacts on the landscape, culture, and peoples of California.

Louisa Brandt
Library and Collections Intern, California Historical Society


Dorn, Samantha. “Major General Alexander Hamilton.” The National Museum of the United States Army. 16 July 2014. Accessed 12 September 2017.   

Ellis, Clifton. “Spanish Colonial Architecture: Forts and Presidios.” Texas Tech University, College of Architecture. 

Voss, Barbara L. The Archaeology of Ethnogenesis: Race and Sexuality in Colonial San Francisco. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2008.

“Voyage pittoresque autour du monde [illustrations—excerpt]: Background. “ American Journeys: Eyewitness Accounts of Early American Settlement and Exploration: A Digital Library and Learning Center. Wisconsin Historical Society. 2017. Accessed 12 September 2017.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Prominent Voice Silenced: Ruben Salazar

Ruben Salazar, 1955
Courtesy of USC Special Collections

Ruben Salazar (1928-1970) is recognized as the most prominent Mexican American journalist of the twentieth century. Through his work for the Los Angeles Times from 1959 to 1970 and at KMEX-TV (the first Spanish-language television station in Los Angeles) in 1970, Salazar was an outspoken advocate for the Mexican American community and the first mainstream journalist to cover the Chicano Movement; he opened doors for Latina/o journalists in other major newspapers.

Salazar shocked readers with his coverage of issues that still resonate today: discrimination, race relations, freedom of the press, state surveillance, inferior schools, lack of political representation, and police abuses.

On August 29, 1970, during the largest anti–Vietnam War protest in Los Angeles’s history, L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies aimed their weapons at the open door of the Silver Dollar bar in East Los Angeles, where inside, Salazar and his colleagues from KMEX-TV were taking a break from covering the rally and the chaos outside. The tragedy that occurred next is well known. Salazar, seated at the bar, was struck in the head and killed instantly by a ten-inch tear gas projectile. Was it a horrific accident or a premeditated assassination? For many, these questions have never been satisfactorily answered.

Coverage of Ruben Salazars August 29, 1970 murder at the Silver Dollar bar in La Raza, September 3, 1970; cover photos by Raul Ruiz 
Courtesy of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Records on the Homicide Investigation of Ruben Salazar, USC Libraries, Special Collections 

What is certain is that Salazar’s untimely death was a defining moment in the history of the Chicano Movement. More broadly, it reminds us of the importance of our First Amendment rights—freedom of speech, the press, and peaceful assembly—and the continuing struggle for equal rights and inclusion for minorities and immigrants in twenty-first-century United States.

Public viewing Salazar's casket at the East Los Angeles Mortuary
Courtesy of Lisa Salazar Johnson

On September 1, 1970, several thousand Chicano and Mexican American mourners attended a public wake in East Los Angeles. The community Salazar had reported on for many years for the Los Angeles Times and KMEX-TV showed an outpouring of admiration for the man they embraced as one of their own.

Otis Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, delivered the eulogy at the funeral. He noted that Salazar “was a fighter, a firm believer that all men, regardless of color or language barriers, could, in the end, live together peacefully and productively in our city. He devoted himself to try to bring about this sense of comprehension through the medium of communications.”

American burial flag draped on Ruben Salazar’s casket at his funeral, September 2, 1970
Courtesy of Ruben Salazar Papers, USC Libraries, Special Collections 

This American flag was folded according to military protocol and given to Salazar’s wife, Sally, and their three young children. It offers a glimpse into Salazar’s identity as Mexican and American: he immigrated with his parents to the United States from Mexico, served in the U.S. military, graduated from a Texas college, became a naturalized American citizen, and was honored with the flag in death as an American veteran.

History Keepers: Eleven Stories That Moved Los Angeles

Ruben Salazar’s story is represented in History Keepers: Eleven Stories That Moved Los Angeles on view at the El Tranquilo Gallery on Olvera Street at El Pueblo National Monument in Los Angeles from August 4, 2017 to October 1, 2017. Contributing institution to History Keepers: Eleven That Moved Los Angeles: Boeckmann Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies, USC Libraries, Special Collections. 

Coming to the Aid of Orphans: Ysabel Varela del Valle

Ysabel del Valle
 California Historical Society Collections at University of Southern California 

Ysabel Varela (1837–1905) was only fifteen years old when she married Ignacio del Valle, a man nearly thirty years her senior. She and her new husband lived at El Pueblo, among other elite Californio families, in an adobe facing the plaza. As there was no child welfare system at that time, orphaned children were left to roam the streets. So while Ignacio was busy with his work as an elected official, Ysabel ministered to the poor and homeless in the area. 

Ysabel Varela del Valle with Orphans, ca. 1884    
Courtesy of Seaver Center for Western History Research,
Los Angeles County Museum of National History

In 1861, Ysabel, Ignacio, and their young children moved to Rancho Camulos, a property Ignacio had inherited. Continuing her commitment to children, Ysabel brought eight orphans with her to be raised in her family. According to some accounts, she periodically brought more children to the ranch. 

Portrait of the Del Valle family, Rancho Camulos, ca. 1888
California Historical Society Collections at University of Southern California
The journalist and preservationist Charles F. Lummis, who was a friend of the del Valles, noted that Ysabel also saw to the care and well-being of the Native Americans who lived on her property; for example, she studied the medicinal qualities of plants and used them to care for the sick. Lummis wrote, “She was a woman whose life was dominated by the spirit of absolute and simple faith which led her through a long life of untold deeds of kindness and charity.”

Ysabel del Valle
Cabinet Card
California Historical Society, MSP 2230_004

The child in the cabinet card above may be Ysabel del Valle’s son Reginaldo, who went on to become a California state senator in 1882. Boys at this time often wore dresses, primarily for the convenience of toilet training and because dresses were easier to fit to growing children.
Rear view,  Los Angeles Orphan Asylum (1891-1953)
Courtesy of Seaver Center for Western History Research,
Los Angeles County Museum of National History

When Ysabel del Valle’s funeral procession passed the Los Angeles Orphan Asylum in Boyle Heights orphanage on its way to the cemetery, three hundred children stood outside to say goodbye to the woman whose work among the homeless was legendary.


History Keepers: Eleven Stories That Moved Los Angeles 

Ysabel’s story is not unlike the other 10 stories of perseverance, kindness, and lasting history in History Keepers: Eleven That Moved Los Angeles, on view at the El Tranquilo Gallery on Olvera Street at El Pueblo National Monument in Los Angeles, August 4 to October 1, 2017. Contributing institution to History Keepers: Eleven That Moved Los Angeles: California Historical Society.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Collections from the California Historical Society Help SFTravel Win Major Award

Last week, San Francisco Travel Association (SFTravel) announced that it had won the the U.S. Travel’s Destinations Council Destiny Award, in the $5 million to $10 million category, one of the most significant awards in the travel marketing industry. SFTravel was honored for its Summer of Love 50th Anniversary celebration campaign, and effort created in partnership with the California Historical Society.

One of the key components of the campaign was an engaging and original brand identity (see below) that promoted the 50th Anniversary and helped connect San Francisco's counterculture past to the present. The creative for the campaign was developed by Teak SF, a San Francisco-based branding and content studio. The archives of the California Historical Society played a critical role in this campaign as Teak was inspired by a range of materials in the CHS collection. Of particular note were vintage typographic materials from its Kemble Collections.

The Kemble Collections of the California Historical Society (CHS), established through gifts from George L. Harding and further enriched by donations of materials from a variety of printers, publishers, typographers and collectors, are named for pioneer California printer and publisher Edward Cleveland Kemble. The Kemble Collections consist of more than 3,500 volumes, extensive pamphlet and ephemeral materials, over 300 runs of trade periodicals, and significant manuscript holdings, all pertaining to the history of printing and publishing, with a special emphasis on California and the West.

A significant strength of the Kemble Collection is its materials related to typographic and graphic design. The collection holds type specimens and catalogs dating back to the early 19th century originally used in foundries and printing offices of the time to periodicals showcasing the latest graphic design from early 20th century design centers such as Leipzig, Germany. These materials are available to be viewed in the CHS library, offering artists and designers the opportunity to research, engage with and be inspired by original materials in design history.

Type specimens from the Timely Typography and Dan X. Solo’s collection of vintage type captured both the acid rock and art nouveau influences of countercultural 1960s design. Timely Typography, a San Francisco typography firm, offered their customers typefaces such as Harem or Swath. Examples include:

The company’s late 1960s – early 1970s type specimens feature typefaces that captured the exaggerated lines and bright colors typically seen in graphic design of this era.

Dan X. Solo was an Oakland-based collector and distributor of antique typefaces. By providing advertising agencies with repro-proofs from his collection of antique typefaces, Solo was able to bridge the gap between counterculture artists, designers and printmakers who were so influenced by art nouveau and Victorian-era design and the ad agencies that would co-opt these styles for mass consumption.  Solo was a strong advocate for making typefaces available for public use and dissemination and the CHS library is proud to support the spirit of Solo’s work by making his, and all of our Kemble Collections available to the public for both research and inspirational endeavors.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Reuniting a Collection: The Importance of Carte de Visite Albums to Victorian Society

Francisca Tejada de Orendain and daughters, Hipolita and Virginia, Portraits from the Hipolita Orendain de Medina correspondence and miscellany, MSP 1441
While today we might have separate digital albums to display albums of photos to our friends through Facebook or Flickr, the Victorians made their advances in photographic technology a fad of their own. The development of being able to have multiple, identical albumen-print photographs that could be pasted onto uniform, 2 ½-by 4-inch cards transformed possibilities for the distribution of images. While previously images were exposed directly onto the surface of the object that would become the "photograph," as in daguerreotypes and tintypes, cartes de visite came from a single negative, meaning that one could give their portraits to numerous individuals without multiple sittings. To incentivize the mass consumption of the new technology—called “cartomania,” as noted by Andrea L. Volpe—people could purchase photo albums which were specially formatted for cartes de visite. According to Olivier Debroise, these albums became "an indispensible object in homes after 1865" and were "exhibited from time to time" to guests in formal parlor rooms, filled with images of personal acquaintances and purchased copies of famous public figures. Collecting photographs became a new form of social "networking."
Beatriz and Adolfo Quevedo, Portraits from the Hipolita Orendain de Medina correspondence and miscellany, MSP 1441 
Hipolita Orendain de Medina (c.1847-c.1922), a Mexican-born San Franciscan socialite and author, gathered a large assortment of such carte de visite photographs, now held by the California Historical Society as an example of this type of Victorian collecting. Her particular assemblage of images, however, is at once unique to her position as a Mexican American woman connected to both of her countries, and classically Victorian for the array of images from her family, friends, and local celebrities. Many of the former images were taken in Mexico at studios in Guadalajara, Colima, Mexico City, or Acapulco, as Mexico also engaged in the carte de visite trading tradition, while most of the United States photographs came from San Francisco studios. The difference in the dress and poses is negligible, but the San Francisco images of Mexican Americans succeed in revealing a section of society often invisible in discussions of post-Civil War era San Francisco that largely ignore the region's past as Mexican territory. The visual unity of Mexican, Mexican American, and Anglo American subjects also shows that this trend was a cross-border phenomenon, and with her background, Hipolita could bring images together as equally part of her world and a representation of who was important to her identity.

Concepcion Navarro de Camarena and child, Hipolita Orendain de Medina correspondence and miscellany, MSP 1441
When Hipolita Orendain de Medina’s papers and photographs were accepted by the California Historical Society, the portraits were removed from the rest of the collection and filed alphabetically amongst the other images in the Society's large portrait collection. While this gave the individuals an identity, the dispersed images, most of which had personalized messages to Hipolita on the back, meant that the care that Hipolita put into gathering her album was lost. Now, back together, the connections Hipolita had with the Mexican American community in San Francisco and her family in Mexico emerge. This unification provides a complete view of Hipolita’s social circle available for researchers, and perhaps more insight into the Victorian era than the images could on their own.

Pablo Rocha & Portu, recto and verso, Portraits from the Hipolita Orendain de Medina correspondence and miscellany, MSP 1441
Louisa Brandt
Library and Collections Intern, California Historical Society


"A Brief History of the Carte de Visite." The American Museum of Photography. 2004. Accessed August 14, 2017.

Debroise, Olivier. Mexican Suite: A History of Photography in Mexico.  Translated by Stella de Sá Rago. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2001.

No Rooms of Their Own: Women Writers of Early California, 1849-1869. Edited by Ida Rae Egli. Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books, 1997.

Shields, David S. "Buying and Selling Cabinet Cards 1865-1905." Broadway Photographs. Accessed August 14, 2017.

Volpe, Andrea L. "The Cartes de Visite Craze," The New York Times. August 6, 2013. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Kerouac's On the Road at 60

On this day in 1957, Jack Kerouac’s Beat Generation saga On the Road was first published by Viking Press.

In honor of the 60th anniversary of the influential book, the California Historical Society will be hosting Kerouac biographer, Dennis McNally, for a discussion on the book and the role it played in the rise of the counterculture (McNally is also the guest curator of CHS’s current exhibition, On the Road to the Summer of Love, on view through September 24th).

To attend tonight’s event, click here:

To read recent articles on the 60th Anniversary of Kerouac’s book and to view new Kerouac-themed posters released today by Orbitz, click below:

(Images below published today by Orbitz)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Happy Birthday Los Angeles!

A photo of Millard Sheets mural depicting the 1781 founding of Los Angeles. Courtesy of the USC Libraries – California Historical Society Collection.

Happy Birthday Los Angeles! September 4th, 1781 is recognized as the day Los Angeles was founded as a small Spanish settlementOur present in honor of the city's birth is links to pieces about the city's founding. Read more below:

Los Pobladores: Celebrating the Founding of Los Angeles 
Early Los Angeles—An Afro-Latino
 Happy Birthday, Los Angeles! But is the Story of the City's Founding a Myth? 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Los Angeles Landmark with a 116-year History Reopens

(Detail) Anton Wagner (Photographer), Mexican team working at Hill and 3rd Street, 1932
Los Angeles: 1932–33 by Anton Wagner, PC 017, California Historical Society

Eighty-five years ago, Anton Wagner, a young German PhD student, photographed Mexican laborers at the foot of Angels Flight—the short railway that carried passengers up and down a steep incline to Bunker Hill, then a neighborhood of Victorian mansions, in downtown Los Angeles.

Originally built in 1909, when a ride cost a penny, Angels Flight brought millions of people to and from the shopping area of downtown Los Angeles from its location at Hill and Olive Streets. It closed in 1969, a casuality of urban redevelopment, and reopened in 1996 at a new site half a block south. This time, its use was short-lived: A fatal malfunctioning caused its closure in 2001, and it lay broken and abandoned for the rest of the decade.

Angels Flight Funicular, view from lower end, in 2004
Photo: John Sullivan
Finally, in 2010, the small railway reopened, only to be closed again in 2013 when a derailment stranded a number of passengers above a downtown street. When an investigation revealed public safety hazards, the Public Utilities Commission forced another closure.

Today, the famous funicular—one car ascends as the other descends—reopened to great fanfare, as the following images celebrate. CHS Director of Exhibitions, Jessica Hough, braved the 100-degree heat today to take a ride on the newly restored Angels Flight. She sent these images and video (see below) from today's event!

And a video on Angels Flight today!


Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager
Anton Wagner’s 1932–33 photographs of Los Angeles are housed at the California Historical Society and may be viewed online at

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

California Floods, 1850–2017

Floodwater flows past a discarded boot in San Jose during the Bay Area storm, February 20, 2017

Courtesy San Francisco Chronicle; photo: Scott Strazzante

Since Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on Friday, August 25, 2017, we have seen an overwhelming array of images of the unrelenting rain and floods that have made the region home to terror, devastation, and despair.
Today we recall some of California’s major floods since our statehood began

January 1850: Sacramento

Detail, View of Sacramento City as it appeared during the great inundation in January 1850

Drawn by nature by Geo. W. Casilear & Henry Bainbridge (New York: Litho. of Sarony, c. 1850)
Courtesy, California State Library

1907: Oroville

Flooded streets in Oroville, 1907
California State Library
February–March, 1938: Los Angeles

Flooding at West 43rd Place near Leimert Boulevard, Los Angeles, 1938

1964: Northern California

Oroville Dam during the Northern California flood, Dec. 23, 1964
California Department of Water Resources; photo: Bob Mortensen
1997: Northern California
Detail, Flooded homes in Olivehurst, January 3, 1997
San Francisco Chronicle; photo: Vince Maggiora

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager

Read more about California floods on the CHS blog:

National Monuments: The Politics of Our Cherished Lands

Carrizo Plain National Monument

Courtesy Carrizo Plain Conservancy

It was 153 years ago this June 30 that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act, which granted to the State of California the stewardship of the “Yo-Semite Valley” and the “Mariposa Big Tree Grove” on “the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort, and recreation; shall be inalienable for all time.”
Thus began our national dedication to preserving wilderness areas while simultaneously allowing for their public use. Though it struggled to meet these two seemingly contradictory objectives, the Yosemite Grant Act is often regarded as the birth of the national park idea, which was formalized in the establishment of the National Park Service 101 years ago on August 25, 1916.

Carleton Watkins, River View, Cathedral Rock, Yosemite, 1861

California Historical Society

On August 25, the summertime anniversaries of the Yosemite Grant Act and the National Park Service were tainted by the recommendations by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to downsize at least three national monuments, opening the way for potential development of the nation’s natural resources. Since Donald Trump’s executive order last April to “end another egregious abuse of federal power,” environmentalists and others have anxiously awaited the results of Secretary Zinke’s review of 27 national monuments designated under the 1906 Antiquities Act.
Six national monuments were included in Zinke’s review with the criteria that they were not barriers to economic growth and energy development and that local input had been sought in their designations: Berryessa Snow Mountain, Carrizo Plain, Giant Sequioa, Mojave Trails, San Gabriel Mountains, Sand to Snow National Monument.

Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego, California

Although none of the six have been singled out as yet, Californians cannot help but question the future of the state’s preserved lands. Among the most popular national monuments in the state—and nation—are Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego and Muir Woods in Marin County.

Muir Woods National Monument

Courtesy Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives

Priceless expressions of America’s heritage, national monuments are places of natural significance with historical cultural, and/or scientific interest: geological sites, marine sites, volcanic sites, historical sites, and sites associated with Native Americans. Although they are set aside for protection, and may only be created from land already owned by the federal government, re-designations, altered boundaries, and even eliminations of national monuments—by acts of Congress or the President—offer a disturbing perspective of uncertainties in the protection of our most cherished lands.

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager


Emily Guerin, “California’s national monuments will not be eliminated but may be modified,” Environment and Science, KPCC, August 24, 2017;

National Parks Conservation Association, “Fact Sheet: What Is a National Monument?” May 3, 2017; monument?gclid=CjwKCAjwuITNB

Neeti Upadhye, Natalie Reneau, and Robin Stein, “The Debate over National Monuments,” New York Times, May 13, 2017
Yosemite Valley Grant Act, Senate Bill 203;


Learn more about CHS’s collection of Carleton Watkins mammoth plate photographs of Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove, 1861–1881:

Read our National Parks blog series, “A Mirror of Us”: