Walking Tour: Los Angeles Lynching Sites
This walking tour revisits places and events made infamous in the first decades of the city--a period that was colored by great social, economic, and cultural unrest. The modern city has erased much of this past, but there are still places where the old city can be found, and like a war-torn battlefield, it demands recognition for its dead.
The Tongva tribe, later called the Gabrieliños, inhabited the region for over a thousand years. The combined Spanish and Mexican periods (1769 - 1850) did not even last a century. In the 1850s, the dirt roads leading out of the old Spanish plaza were still lined with many of the same adobe homes, and families, that had built them. In these early days, the plaza was little more than a dusty patch of land whose presence was intended to symbolize civilization, connect water systems, and lay the groundwork for what would become one of our nation's biggest metropolitan areas.
Surrounded by prominent Latino 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, chop houses, and gambling houses. Racial bias would also mark the city's first decades as cultural tensions, crime, and a fledgling legal system would enflame racial tensions in the neighborhood surrounding the plaza square.
Even in the 1850s, as visitors flooded into the Bella Union Hotel to dine on a bear that had been killed in the nearby San Gabriel Mountains, others made their way to the Montgomery Saloon where Anglos crowded in to get a glimpse at a rare necklace. One made of human ears that, it was said, had once belonged to some of the regions most notorious Latino bandits. The necklace's maker remains a subject of historical debate, but one can be certain that in such fierce times, no person of Mexican or Latin American descent would have been under great pressure, to defend their cultural, national, and economic legacies at a time when less than 6,000 people inhabited the city.
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.
This self-guided tour begins at Union Station (stop 1). Once known as the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal, it is located at 800 N. Alameda Avenue in downtown Los Angeles (Tour Stop 1). 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 existing Chinatown and is located above a Tongva archeological site for the village of Yaanga.
Exiting Union Station you will immediately see the old plaza. Don't worry you will be coming back here. But first, make a sharp left at Alameda Blvd. and go south one block to the intersection of Alamenda 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. He was Latino and only fifteen years old. He was presumed to have killed a Frau Leck, a local shopkeeper, while robbing her store. There was no trial so we will never know the full details of his death. As a side note, do not aim your camera at the federal building, as one time they sent patrol cars and surrounded me when I was trying to photograph this historic site.
Now turn right and walk north towards Los Angeles Street and then turn left on Los Angeles 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).
Next continue down to Temple Street to N. Spring Street and turn left and go to the intersection of 1st Street to the location of the first courthouse (stop 4). This was the approximate location of the city's first courthouse and no fewer than seven men were summarily hanged or lynched in its shadow: David Brown (1855); Thomas the "Indian" (1860); Eli Chase, Boston Daimwood, José Olivas, "Wood," and "Ybarra" (1863).
Turn around and go back to Temple and turn right and go the intersection of N. Broadway, to to old 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. If you are pressed for time, you could also just continue up N. Spring St. to the intersection of Aliso St. which was 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.
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 at least nine men who were legally executed, and an additional seven who were lynched before the gathered citizenry. Those legally (?) hanged were Reyes Feliz, Ignacio Herrera, Felipe (Félix) Alvitre, James P. Johnson, Tomas King, Luciano Tapia a.k.a. Leonardo Lopez, Syriaca Arza, Francisco Martinez, Adolfo “Rodolfo” Silvas. Those lynched at the site were Doroteo Zabaleta, Cipriano Sandoval, and "Baramus" in 1852; Juan Flores in 1857; and Pancho Daniel in 1858. All of these men were of Mexican or Mexican American descent. The last two lynchings drew crowds that may have numbered in the thousands. The site now has a public school for the arts on it, and access is limited. The fact that all of the lynchings and all but two of the legal executions were of Latino men clearly supports those who insist that race was a greater factor that many historians have acknowledged.
There was a time when you could climb the stairs to the top of the memorial but it has been locked the last few times I tried. Also, there were a number of unhoused individuals living in the shadow of the memorial.
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 of the Chinese Massacre (stop 8). Known as the Chinese Massacre of 1871, 18-24 Chinese men died here at the hands of a mob of over 300 Anglos and Latinos. The struggle lasted well into the night and when it was over at least fourteen men (and one boy) were lynched to anything that would hold the weight of a man. The original site was known as Calles de Negros or "Nigger Alley" 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, and only one official state marker (# 141) in Placerville, California, in spite of the over 350 documented cases in the state.
Once you have recognized the events of this site and are ready to move on, be sure to keep an eye out for a bronze plaque imbedded in the sidewalk that marks the massacre and other important events to the Chinese community and are located on the sidewalk on the left side of the street under the pepper trees. These plaques were private funded and organized by the Chinese American Museum, which 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 north towards the Plaza and turn left. 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 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 said that its demise was linked more to shaky lending practices that to any lack of popularity. Today it is used for special events and movie shoots. It is connected to the Merced Theater (1869) at 420 N. Main.
If you have time you should visit the old chapel and then head back into the 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.
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 (13). 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 the condemned cannot be easily forgotten. Los Angeles has always been a city of dreams, cultural diversity, and contested spaces.
LOS ANGELES COUNTY
FORT MOORE PLACE, parallel to Hill St.
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
1857: Jaun Flores, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., Calif./Mex.
1858: Pancho Daniel, Los Angeles, LA Co. County, (Sonora) Mexican.
1852: Reyes Feliz.
1854: Ignacio Herrera, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., Mexican.
1855: Felipe (Félix) Alvitre, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., murder, Mestizo/Mexican.
1857: James P. Johnson, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., Anglo/Euro.
1858: Tomas King (1 of 2), Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., Anglo/Euro.
1858: Luciano Tapia a.k.a. Leonardo Lopez (2 of 2), L.A., L.A. Co., (Sonora) Mexican.
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.
THOMLINSON & GRIFFITH CORAL, corner of Temple and New HIgh Streets (9 on map)
1870, Michael Lachenal, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, murder, Tomlinson & Griffith coral (corner of Temple and New High streets)
BANNINGS CORRAL, Spring Street/ Aliso St.
1863: Charles Wilkins, Bannings corral, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., white, murder, English.
LOS ANGELES JAIL HOUSE, 200 North Spring St.
The following people were lynched:
1855, David Brown, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County
(In front of old courthouse /jail. 111 e. 1st street. –LA, CA)
1860: Thomas, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., murder, American Indian.
1863: Eli Chase (1 of 5), Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., murder, Anglo/Euro.
1863: Boston Daimwood (2 of 5), Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., murder, Anglo/Euro.
1863: José Olivas (3 of 5), Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., murder, Mexican.
1863: “Wood” (4 of 5), Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., murder, Anglo/Euro.
1863: “Ybarra” (5 of 5), Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., murder, Mexican.
LOS ANGELES STREET, between Aliso and Arcadia streets and towards the current plaza (Chinese Massacre of 1871)
The following people were lynched:
Dr. Chee Long "Gene" Tong, physician
Leong Quai, laundryman
Ah Long, cigar maker
Wan Foo, cook
Tong Won, cook and musician
Day Kee, cook
Ah Waa, cook
Ho Hing, cook
Lo Hey, cook
Ah Won, cook
Wing Chee, cook
Wong Chin, storekeeper
The following people were shot and killed at the Coronel Adobe building:
Ah Cut, liquor maker
Wa Sin Quai
The victims were buried in the City Cemetery, which was eventually taken over by the city. The northern portion of the cemetery is occupied by the Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts.
source: Scott Zesch, "Chinese Los Angeles in 1870—1871: The Makings of a Massacre", Southern California Quarterly, 90 (Summer 2008), 109–158; via JSTOR; accessed 3 February 2018
ALISO STREET & ALAMEDA STREET
1861: Fancisco Cota, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., Mexican.
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.
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)