Hell Hole of the West

63898-looking-south-west-on-spring-street-from-temple-block-1876El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles. Los Angeles. The wild, wild west indeed. Before the city, there was the ‘hell hole of the west’, the most violent place at the end of the Pacific Special. The place where everyone went when they had no place else to go. When you were driven out of everyplace else, you went west, just like Horace Greeley told you to. And once you hit Los Angeles that was the end of the road.

Los Angeles always attracted the outcast, the misfit, people on the run and people seeking change. There’s never been anything normal or ordinary about the city of Angels or the people who inhabit it.


The first law in L.A. was a volunteer group of men who formed the Los Angeles Rangers in the early part of the nineteenth century. Unpaid, they lived off the largess of others for their equipment. The unit lasted roughly four years, then disbanded, leaving the already violent Los Angeles without a police presence. The county was overrun with bandits, gamblers, murderers and rustlers driven south by northern vigilantes. Vice of all kinds was not only legal, it was taxed.

To fill the void, the Vigilance Committee was formed in 1836. On October 13, 1854 Pinckney Clifford, a prominent businessman, was robbed and murdered by David Brown, a well-known bandit. The city Marshall jailed Brown, but the Vigilance Committee intended to take care of the killer. Mayor Stephen Foster intervened and convinced them to wait for the trial. But though convicted and sentenced to hang in January 12, 1855, his attorney convinced the California Supreme Court to grant a stay of execution. Instead another convicted murderer, a half-breed Indian was hanged.

Now provoked beyond reason, the Vigilance Committee, led by Mayor Stephen C Foster (who resigned his position to lead the lynch mob) forcibly removed Brown from his cell and hanged him. When Foster ran for re-election he was voted back in as Mayor on a landslide. Only in Los Angeles, you say? L.A. was also the first major metropolitan city to recall a Mayor from office, but that, as they say, is another story.



liberty2005What icon comes to mind when you hear the name New York City? For me it’s the Statue of Liberty. Others might think of the Empire State Building. What about Paris? The Eiffel Tower. London? Buckingham Palace. San Francisco? The Golden Gate Bridge. Egypt? The pyramids. The Sydney Opera House. The Great Wall of China, Mount Rushmore, the Taj Mahal…

All great monuments of their time that stand for ingenuity, craftsmanship and the indomitable spirit of mankind and our artistic skills.

Now think Los Angeles. I would hazard a guess that what pops to mind is Hollywood and the Hollywood sign or Graumann’s Chinese Theater. Vast monuments? Skillfully designed edifices that strike awe into people when they first see it?
hollywood sign and me
No, a nearly century-old advertising gimmick to sell lots in a city that was promoting growth. Harry Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, along with other wealthy Californians, was also a land speculator. He promoted the growth of Los Angeles, the Valley and of course, Hollywood. The sign meant to help him and the other investors to get richer went up in 1923 at the cost of $23,000. The LAND part of the sign was removed in 1949. It was fixed and made more permanent in 1978. In 2005 the metal sign was stripped and repainted white.

I guess in terms of monuments, it beats a giant donut.
Jawbone Pipeline
In actual fact, one of the greatest achievements of Los Angeles was the construction of the 233 mile Los Angeles aqueduct in the early 1900s, an engineering feat, doubled by the fact it was designed by a man with no formal engineering training who convinced a city of skeptics to fund the building of a pipeline that would bring water from Owens Lake to L.A. That the act destroyed a farming community and was empowered by corruption and greed, the monument is indeed a little tarnished. Still, without it, the city of Los Angeles would not exist and in my mind, the world would be diminished because of it. I explore this event in my upcoming novel, “Stolen Waters”, the third book in the Irish Immigrant series starting with “Ashes & Ice”. See more about the pipeline at Los Angeles Aqueduct images

This is part of why I love L.A. It’s not like anyplace else. Where else would pocket dogs be created. Where pet rocks actually became a craze. (I had a pet rock, but I didn’t buy him in some store, I caught him myself, up in the hills and I had to break him all by myself) Where people throng from all over the world to see the hand prints or footprints of men and (and the odd animal) they only know through the screen. Where even the cops are good looking. Where some east coast exiles came with a few black and white, grainy moving pictures and created a multi-billion dollar enterprise that has shaped beliefs and societies.

What’s not to love?