Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Forgotten Legacy of Los Angeles, the “City of Vines”

Los Angeles’s Original Seal (1854–1905), c. 1855
Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library

Los Angeles is where it all began, and where, for years, the main action was to be found. California wine meant Los Angeles wine. The whole California wine establishment descends directly from Los Angeles.
—Thomas Pinney, The City of Vines: A History of Wine in Los Angeles 

Before oil, before Hollywood, before aerospace, there was wine. Even before California became a state in 1850, Los Angeles was known for its wine-making, due initially in great part to the missions—particularly Mission San Gabriel—established by the Franciscans.

1900 photograph of an 1832 painting by Ferdinand Deppe depicting Mission San Gabriel as it looked in 1828
California Historical Society Collections at University of Southern California

Vineyards (lower right) blanket the area between the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles River) in Marshall J. Miller’s 1931 model of Sonora Town, the first plaza area in Los Angeles, as it appeared in 1850
California Historical Society Collections at University of Southern California

The city’s first seal (featured above) shows the impact of grapes and the wine-making industry on the city’s identity and economic growth. First proposed to city leaders, it was recorded in the city’s records—the Minutes of the Common Council (the predecessor of today’s City Council)—on January 30, 1854. Written originally in Spanish and later translated, these minutes document a request that “The City provide a seal with which to authenticate their public Acts. . .” The seal was to depict a “bunch of grapes surrounded by leaves of the vine and around the border the following inscription, ‘The Common Council of the City of Los Angeles.’”

Translation, p. 62 (detail), Record of Acts of the Common Council of the City of Los Angeles,
May 13, 1853–April 24, 1855 (Los Angeles: Bureau of Printing, 1936)
Courtesy City Archives and Records Center, Los Angeles

Shortly afterward, on February 6, the minutes record a change to the inscription: from the “Common Council of the City of Los Angeles” to the “Corporation of the City of Los Angeles.” Finally, on March 7—163 years ago today—“the Secretary presented the Seal of the Corporation, which he had been requested to procure, accompanied by an account for thirty dollars, the value of the same, whereupon the Council resolved that the same be paid. . . .” The transactions for Los Angeles’s first city seal now completed, the seal was ready for use on all required documents.

A receipt from the City of Los Angeles—authorized with the new City Seal—for payment of $5.00 to furnish water, May 1, 1864
Courtesy City Archives and Records Center, Los Angeles

Certificate of Possession of Lot 3 with City Seal, June 27, 1855
Courtesy City Archives and Records Center, Los Angeles

In its recognition of the importance of wine-making to the region on a seal, Los Angeles led the way. As Los Angeles City Archivist Michael Holland points out, “Our seal depicting the grapes was first. The County created its cluster and leaf seal in 1887 and the Los Angeles Vineyard Society—a cooperative venture founded by Germans in San Francisco to grow grapes in Anaheim, then part of Los Angeles County—created its seal shortly after its formation in 1857.”

Seal of the Los Angeles Vineyard Society, founded 1857
Courtesy Thomas Pinney

First and Original Seal (1887–1957) of Los Angeles County
Courtesy www.laalmanac.com

Until the turn of the twentieth century, the city and county of Los Angeles overwhelmingly provided the winemaking in Southern California. But by 1905, city leaders felt that a seal representing more than the industry of grapes was needed. This new seal—the present City Seal—was authorized on March 27, 1905.

Los Angeles City Seal (1905–Present)
Courtesy Thomas Pinney

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager
skale@calhist.org

Sources

  • Interviews with Michael Holland, Los Angeles City Archivist
  • Thomas Pinney, A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989)
  • Pinney, The City of Vines: A History of Wine in Los Angeles (forthcoming, San Francisco: Heyday/California Historical Society, 2017)
  • Record of Acts of the Common Council of the City of Los Angeles, May 13, 1853–April 24, 1855 (Los Angeles: Bureau of Printing, 1936)

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Join Us for These Wine-Related Events!
In Los Angeles


September 14, 2017, 3:00–6:00 pm
Book Launch, Thomas Pinney’s The City of Vines: A History of Wine in Los Angeles (Heyday / California Historical Society)
Avila Adobe, El Pueblo Historical Monument
Meet wine historian Thomas Pinney, author of The City of Vines: A History of Wine in Los Angeles—the 2016 California Historical Society Book Award Winner—at Avila Adobe, where vines nearly 150 years old are still producing grapes. Join us for wine-tasting, book selling, and good conversation under the boughs where City Archivist Michael Holland harvests grapes each September.

In San Francisco


March 15, 2017, 6:00 pm
The History of California Wines in 20 Labels

From humble roots, how did California’s wine industry grow into the international powerhouse it is today? Join us as UC Davis wine historian James Lapsley takes us on a journey from the earliest days, when the Gold Rush drove a new thirst for domestic wine, to a world of seemingly endless consumer choice — a world in which wine has become an integral part of American culture.


April 13, 2017, 6:00 pm
What Is the Future of Wine Label Design?
Join designers, lawyers, and executive directors of label design companies for presentations and a discussion around the future of the wine label. From long time label makers to start ups to law, this event will highlight the possible innovations, challenges, and potential futures for the wine label design industry.

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Don’t Miss Our New Exhibition!
Vintage: Wine, Beer, and Spirits Labels from the Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing



December 10, 2016–April 16, 2017
California Historical Society, 678 Mission, San Francisco

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