Walking Tour: Los Angeles Lynching Sites
They say a coyote will only jump over a fence if it can see the ground on the other side. Perhaps we are all a bit like that. Unable to find our footing in a space we have only imagined.
This walking tour revisits places and events from the first decades of Los Angeles after California statehood. It was a period colored by great social, economic, and cultural change. The modern city has erased much of this past but there are still places where the old city can be found and like any site of deep human suffering, it deserves recognition and remembrance. For those not familiar with my practice, I am a visual artist and spent the past two decades reconstructing the history of lynching in California and have documented over 350 cases of lynching so far (59 in LA). I traveled across the state, though countless archives, and I wanted to create an experience that would allow others to participate in this journey. History is constructed, shared, it lives within us. Monuments symbolize the past and are a product of it. In walking with me or on your own, I hope that you will take the leap, and come to see these individuals, their victims, and those who took their lives, as a part of a collective journey to better understand how the past lives in our present.
The Tongva Indian peoples, later called the Gabrieliños, have inhabited and stewarded the unceded lands known as Los Angeles for over a millenia. The combined Spanish and Mexican periods (1769 - 1850) did not even last a century. In the 1850s, the dirt roads of La Plaza were still lined with many of the same adobe homes and families that had built them -- Sepulveda, Pico, Lugo, del Valle, Ybarra, and so on. In these early days, the plaza was little more than a clear patch of land that was intended to symbolize civilization, to connect water systems, and laid the groundwork for what would become one of this nation's biggest metropolitan areas. To learn more about the Zanja Madre water system and Los Angeles' first water supply click here. It was linked to the tanks and the small structure that appears in the center of the image below.
This self-guided tour begins at Union Station (stop 1 in). Once known as the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal, it is located at 800 N. Alameda Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. The father and son team of John and Donald B. Parkinson designed this landmark building. The main ticket hall has 62 foot ceilings, and metal beams that have been made to look like wood.It opened its doors in 1939 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Its design is as remarkable as the city itself, blending the Spanish Colonial, Mission Revival, and Streamline Moderne styles with Moorish elements. It also served to eliminate the historical Chinatown and is above a Tongva archeological site for the village of Yaanga.
Surrounded by prominent Latinx families, and some of the city's most successful entrepreneurs from Europe and the "States," the Plaza remained the city's center until the 1870s when these same streets would give way to brothels, bars, and gambling houses. Racial bias and cultural tensions would also mark this land, in the lives that ended here. In view, or in walking distances of this place (Union Station).
One can get to Union Station by any number of methods including bus lines, Metro's Red Line subway station, the Gold Line light rail, and Amtrak and Metrolink trains. visit Metro trip planner
Exiting the station you will see the Los Angeles Plaza, El Pueblo, which encompasses the oldest surviving settlement site of Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Ángeles, founded in September 1781 by eleven families from present day northern Mexico. There is a plaque in the plaza with their names. Exiting the station, make a left at Alameda Blvd. and continue south to the intersection of Alameda and Aliso Streets (stop 2). This is the site where in 1861 an angry mob dragged Francisco Cota up from lower Alameda, repeatedly stabbing him before they hanged him to a poll at the corner of this intersection.
"and having tied a rope around the murderer’s neck during the excitement they dragged him down to Alameda Street, where I witnessed the uproar. As they proceeded by way of Aliso Street, the mob became more and more infuriated, so that before it reached the spot which had been selected for his execution, the boy had been repeatedly stabbed and was nearly dead. At length, he was strung up as a warning to other malefactors.”
He was Latino and fifteen years old. He was presumed to have killed a Frau Leck, a local shopkeeper while robbing her store -- no witnesses.
Harris Newmark wrote, "...and having tied a rope around the murderer’s neck during the excitement they dragged him down to Alameda Street, where I witnessed the uproar. As they proceeded by way of Aliso Street, the mob became more and more infuriated, so that before it reached the spot which had been selected for his execution, the boy had been repeatedly stabbed and was nearly dead. At length, he was strung up as a warning to other malefactors.” (305)
The Los Angeles Star defended the lynching saying the crime "..was enough to stir our citizens to call aloud for instant vengeance..., and the yanwning gates of hell opened to receive him none too soon."
There was no trial so we can never know the full details of the case or be certain of his guilt. Note: do not aim your camera at the Metropolitan Detention Center because it is a federal prison and they sent patrol cars and surrounded a group of us trying to visit the site.
Now, turn right and walk north towards Los Angeles Street and then turn left and continue to the current entrance to the parking structure at the Los Angeles Mall, on the 300 block of North Los Angeles Street. It is where Goller's Wagon Shop (stop 3) was located and also where 9 Chinese were hanged, It is also close to the site of Staney's Boot and Shoe Shop where it is said that some Chinese sought refuge on the night of Oct 24, 1871, all according to a recent study and details in the Request for Ideas (09/22).
"In the late afternoon of October 24, 1871, a gunfight broke out between two Chinese men on Calle de los Negros (stop 8: close to the current 400 block of North Los Angeles Street), near the town’s original concentration of Chinese residents and businesses. Two men (including a Patrolman of Californio/Mexican descent and a Mexican boy) were injured in the gun battle, and one later died from his wounds. As word of the shootings and the fatality spread across the town, a multiethnic mob of about 500 Angelenos—or nearly 10 percent of the city’s population at the time—converged on Calle de los Negros to seek revenge. By the end of the night, at least 15 Chinese men (stop 3 & 5) had been hanged and 2 shot to death (stop 8). Some records put the total number of victims higher, in a range from 19 to 24. There is broad consensus among historians that the number killed was at least 18." (RFI, 12-13)
The following people were lynched: Ah Wing; Dr. Chee Long "Gene" Tong, physician; Chang Wan; Leong Quai, laundryman; Ah Long, cigar maker; Wan Foo, cook; Tong Won, cook and musician; Ah Loo; Day Kee, cook; Ah Waa, cook; Ho Hing, cook; Lo Hey, cook; Ah Won, cook; Wing Chee, cook; Wong Chin, storekeeper. They were buried in the City Cemetery (stop 9), which was eventually taken over by the city. The northern portion of the cemetery is now occupied by the Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts.
The first attack took place at the former Coronel Building or Coronel Adobe (stop 8) at the corner of Arcadia and Calle de los Negroes, near the current site of the Chinese American Museum (Stop 9b). The following people were shot and killed at the Coronel Adobe building: Johnny Burrow; Ah Cut, liquor maker; Wa Sin Quai.
Next continue down to Temple Street to N. Spring Street and turn left to the location of the first courthouse/City Jail (stop 4). This was the location of the city's first courthouse and no fewer than 8 men were summarily hanged or lynched in its shadow: David Brown (1855) Felipe Alvitre (1855) (Noose broke and had to be hanged a second time; Thomas the "Indian" (1860) and Eli Chase, Boston Daimwood, José Olivas, "Wood," and "Ybarra" (1863) at the old courthouse. The tower in the center (of the image below) was the old courthouse. You will walk past stops 3a City Hall, and 3b a spot on Temple which would have been in front of the courthouse, which was toward Grand Park, to give context.
With regard to Brown and Alvitre, on jan 18, 1855, The Los Angeles Star wrote, "From very early on, people began to circulate through the streets, and to gather to witness the death of the unhappy Alvitre. It had been anticipated from the day before that there would be a fight between the Californians and the Americans as to why Brown should not be hanged, and we believe that this led the Sheriff to erect the gallows in the prison yard and not on the hill as is customary. custom. At 2 pm the adjacent hill was covered with people, as was the main street near the jail. At 3 o'clock the Sheriff, Barton, protected by about a hundred men armed to the teeth, came out with the prisoner destined for death. Alvitre was almost a boy—of good appearance—and it is a pity that one so young has soaked his hands in the blood of two victims..."
Continue to the intersection of N. Broadway and Temple. This is the site of the Tomlinson & Griffith Corral (stop 5). The high beam of its gate and an angry mob claimed the life of Miguel Lachenal in 1870. Harris Newmark and others historians have argued that as many as a dozen men may have died at this site. This is were six Chinese were killed (in the vicinity of the Federal Courthouse and County Hall of Records). If you are pressed for time, you could also just continue up N. Spring St. to the intersection of Aliso St. which is near the original site of Banning's Corral (stop 6). Charles Wilkins had murdered John Sanford, a local merchant. Wilkins was later apprehended in Santa Barbara and returned to Los Angeles where a judge found him guilty of murder and he was sent to jail for sentencing on the following morning. But after the verdict, reports all suggest that a large crowd, of as many as 200 persons, suddenly charged into the courtroom and dragged the prisoner away and hanged him to a nearby corral. (Los Angeles Star,12/19/1863). Hubert Howe Bancroft also recorded the lynching as happening at Bannings's Corral (Popular Tribunals, 510). The Daily Alta give this description, "As the Sheriff was taking him from the Court House, the prisoner was seized by a crowd of excited people, and hurried to the lumber yard of Major Banning, where he was hanged to the cross piece of the large door-frame of the yard" (v.15, n. 5047, 23 dec. 1863). The Los Angeles Herald also gave Banning's Corral as the location as well, despite some accounts which claim it took place at the Tomlinson & Griffith Corral (v.27, n. 124, 7 Aug. 1887).
Continue north over the 101 freeway to Arcadia St. and turn left. Continue to N. Broadway and turn turn right. You will see a set of cement stairs on the north side of the street that will lead you up to North Hill Street. Turn right and you will see the Fort More Pioneer Memorial (stop 7) which makes no mention of over a dozen Latinos executed or lynched at this site. The top of the hill is also where the bodies of the Chinese killed in the massacre were buried.
Once there, you may be able to walk up the stairs to the top of the memorial, and be able to share the same view witnessed by the many men who were hanged before the gathered citizenry, which in some cases numbered in the thousands. The site, at the top of the memorial, is now has a public school for the arts. Looking down at the La Plaza, now partially obscured, you can catch a glimpse of the past.
In the 1850s, visitors flooded into the Bella Union Hotel to dine on bear, or made their way to the Montgomery Saloon where visitors crowded in to catch a glimpse at a rare necklace; one made of human ears that, it was said, was made from some of the regions most notorious bandits of the Juan Flores/Pancho Daniel band. The necklace's maker remains a subject of historical debate . Flores was lynched on Feb. 14 1857 after a public vote. Between Feb. 1857 and Nov. 1858 11 suspected gang members were lynched, mostly by the "El Monte Boys" led by Frank Gentry. On Nov 30, 1858 Daniel was taken from his cell and lynched to the jail gate. In 1870, Pio Pico ( the last governor of California under Mexican rule, serving from 1845-46, just before the U.S. military occupation) opened the Pico House (stop 10 in Google map - link above) at a time when Los Angeles had a population of less than 6,000 people and it was the most luxurious hotel in the city, with 80 bedrooms, 21 Parlors, and a French restaurant. You will see it near the end of the tour. It is located in the Plaza square and is regularly used for special events, movie, and film shoots. It is not open to the public.
FORT MOORE (15)
Lynchings that took place on this site.
1852: Reyes Feliz, Latino, murder
1852, Doroteo Zabaleta, Fort Hill, Los Angeles, Latino, murder,
(Pico, Yorba, Sepulveda were all present)
1852, Jesus Rivas, Fort Hill, Los Angeles, Latino, murder,
(Pico, Yorba, Sepulveda were all present)
1852, Cipriano Sandoval, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County
1852, Benito Lopez, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County,
1852, surname, Barumas, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, Latino
1854: Ignacio Herrera, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., Mexican.
1857: Jaun Flores, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., Calif./Mex. "After eleven days on the run, Flores was brought in by a 120-man posse led by Andrés Pico" Addressing the crowd from the scaffold, he stated "he bore no malice, was dying justly, and that he hoped that those he had wronged would forgive him". When his execution was carried out, his noose being too short, Flores instead died from suffocation instead of having his neck broken as intended. No trial. Public vote...
1858: Pancho Daniel, Los Angeles, LA Co. County, (Sonora) Mexican. "Obtaining the keys from the jail keeper by force, some individuals brought Daniel out and hanged him from the cross beams of the jail gate."
1858: Tomas King (1 of 2), Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., Anglo/Euro. "condemned by vote at a public meeting", Newmark
1858: Luciano Tapia a.k.a. Leonardo Lopez (2 of 2), L.A., L.A. Co., (Sonora) Mexican. "condemned by public vote"
"Tapía's case was rather regrettable, for he had been a respectable laborer at San Luis Obispo until Flores, meeting him, persuaded him to abandon honest work. Tapía came to Los Angeles, joined the robber band and was one of those who helped to kill Sheriff Barton." Newmark
Possibly legal Executions that took place at this site:
1857: James P. Johnson, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., Anglo/Euro.
1862: Syriaca Arza, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., Mexican.
1885: Francisco Martinez (1 of 2), Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., Calif./Mex.
1885: Adolfo “Rodolfo” Silvas (2 of 2), Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., Calif./Mex.
Once you have seen it, you can go back down the stairs to Arcadia St. and continue south until you get to the intersection with Los Angeles St. This is historic site where the Chinese Massacre began. Known as the Chinese Massacre of 1871, 18-24 Chinese men died at the hands of a mob of over 300 Anglos and Latinos. The bronze marker (stop 8) The struggle lasted well into the night and when it was over at least 18 men (and one boy) were killed. The original site was known as Calles de Negros but it was eliminated when Los Angeles Street was extended--and further altered by the construction of the 101 freeway though downtown Los Angeles. There is no official recognition of any of the lynchings in downtown Los Angeles but there are plans for a memorial for the Chinese Massacre.
The Chinese American Museum, (stop 9b) is around the corner at 425 N. Los Angeles, and you enter from the plaza side. It is a great place to visit if you have the time.
Now continue towards the Plaza. You will see the Plaza Firehouse (stop 9) at 126 Plaza Street on your left, and is also worth a visit. It has an old fire engine and many historic elements. This structure dates from 1884 and is open to the public. As you continue across the plaza you will see the Pico House (stop 10) at 430 N. Main. It was built in 1869-70 and was the city's finest hotel. The Pico House was built by Pío Pico, last governor of California under Mexican rule. This was the first three story building and the first grand hotel in Los Angeles. The hotel was built in the Italianate style, with deep set round-arched windows and doors and the Main Street and Plaza facades were stuccoed to resemble blue granite. The hotel had eighty two bedrooms and twenty one parlors as well as bathrooms and water closets for each sex on each floor. The Pico House offered guests easy access to a late night supper of oysters and imported wine and practically guaranteed a celebrity sighting. In the 1860s, the city was hit with a massive drought that ended the days of cattle and ushered in an agricultural revolution of sheep herding, citrus groves, almond orchards, and vineyards. It is connected to the Merced Theater (1869) at 420 N. Main.
If you have time you should visit the original chapel on the left past the gate (stop 11), and then head back into the La Plaza. You will see the entrance to Olvera Street (stop 12) on your left (Pico House will be facing you from across the Plaza).
The Plaza has changed quite a bit since California statehood in 1850, but there are places where the history seeps out from between the cracks. In the earliest days of the city this plaza served as a bullring, a parade ground for Commodore Stockton's troops, and a dusty oval that housed the city's first water tower. Its current configuration is no less remarkable. Christine Sterling (1882-1963) had a passion for the city's past, and in the 1920s she waged a personal battle to save this historic street. As noted there are also two bronze sculptures, and several plaques. The bronze sculpture of Father Serra was badly damaged and was removed.
Wine Street was renamed Olvera Street in memory of the first County Judge, Agustin Olvera (d.1876) in 1877. He lived on this narrow little street, which still contains one of the oldest houses in Los Angeles. The Olvera home has long since returned to the earth from which its adobe bricks were made, but the Avila House (1818) is still standing and open to the public. Other historic buildings include the Pelanconi House (1855) and the Sepulveda House (1887) at 622 N. Main. This is the last stop on the tour. If you have a little extra time please stop in to América Tropical Interpretive Center and see the rooftop mural by David Alfaro Siqueiros.
Having witnessed this turbulent past, the hungry (and thirsty) explorer may wish to end their trip by visiting some of the many shops and restaurants on Olvera Street. Whether sipping an oversized margarita, or taking a rest under the massive plaza tree, I hope that you will agree that walking in the footsteps of another can change not only what we see, but how we see it.
LOS ANGELES COUNTY (not on tour).
1861: José Claudio Alvitre, El Monte, Los Angeles Co., Mexican.
1874: Jesus Romo “El Gordo,” El Monte, Los Angeles Co., armed robbery, Calif./Mex.
SAN GABRIEL MISSION
1852: Unnamed, San Gabriel, Los Angeles Co., murder, American Indian.
1857: Pedro Lopez (1 of 4), San Gabriel Mission, Los Angeles Co., Mexican.
1857: Diego Navarro (2 of 4), San Gabriel Mission, Los Angeles Co., Mexican.
1857: José Santos (3 of 4), San Gabriel Mission, Los Angeles Co. (Sonora) Mexican.
1857: Juan Valenzuela (4 of 4), San Gabriel Missi
on, Los Angeles Co., Barton murder, Mexican.
1862: Manuel Cerredel, San Pedro, Los Angeles Co., murder, Mexican.
1864: Jesús Arellanes, San Pedro, Los Angeles County, murder, Calif./Mex.
1918: Marion (Warren) Cezerich, San Pedro, Los Angeles Co., murder, Anglo/Euro.
SAN LUIS OBISP0
1857: Miguel Blanco, San Luis Obispo, Rancho San Juan Capistrano Murders.
LA Star: "Miguel Blanco, charged with the robbery of Capt. Twist, was acquitted by the jury before the Court of Sessions on Thursday; notwithstanding the identification of the prisoner and the direct testimony of Twist to the main facts of the case as regards him. This appears still more strange when it is known that the prisoner had confessed to the officers his participation in the crime, and what disposition had been made of the booty. But, the confession was not legally before the jury."
ORANGE COUNTY (now)
YORBA RANCH HOUSE
1857: Francisco Ardillero (Guerro Ardillero) Yorba Ranch, (Sonora) Mex.
1857: Juan Catabo (Silvas, Sauripa, El Catabo), Yorba Ranch, Mex.
SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO
1864: Unnamed, San Juan Capistrano, Orange Co., Mexican.
1873, Francke Torres, Santa Ana, now Orange Co., murder, Mexican.
1888: Fritz Auschla, Santa Ana, now Orange Co., murder, Anglo/Euro.
1892: Francisco Torres, Santa Ana, Orange Co., murder, Mexican. Santa Ana.
VENTURA COUNTY (now)
SAN BUENAVENTURA MISSION, Ventura
1857: Encarnación Berreyesa, near Ventura, now Ventura Co., Calif./Mex.
1857: José Jesús Espinosa, San Buenaventura, now Ventura Co., Mexican.
For more on the history of lynching in California, see Ken Gonzales-Day, Lynching in the West: 1850-1935(Duke University Press, 2006)