A Southern California Album, Selected Photographs 1880-1900
By Wayne Bonnett, Foreword by Gary F. Kurutz
Windgate Press (Sausalito, California, 2006)
This album features the photographs of William H. Fletcher who arrived in Los Angeles from Vermont in 1884 along with hordes of other emigrants from the East and Midwest looking for Paradise and to get rich growing oranges. After all, that’s what the city’s promotional literature promised. Fletcher planned to open a drug store and cater “to invalids with respiratory ailments.” But alas, there were already enough druggists so he pursued photography, real estate, fruit growing, and oil drilling to make his living. He did not have a studio or gallery and despite the excellence of his work, is not well known today. The Huntington and Los Angeles Public libraries have some examples of his work but most of his images—including the ones reproduced in this book—are in the California State Library in Sacramento.
Fletcher photographed all over Southern California from Redondo Beach to Mount Lowe capturing the wide-open spaces of the Cahuenga Valley (from the tower of the Belmont Hotel) and the bustling streets of downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena. He documented special events like San Pedro’s free harbor jubilee in 1899 and the fanciful floats of La Fiesta de Los Angeles. Among his 1,300 surviving images are examples of both public buildings and private homes, including J. Cather Newsom’s delightful Victorians.
The album shows the work of more than two dozen other photographers, in addition to Fletcher, including these two familiar ones, William Henry Jackson and Charles C. Pierce. Many of the more than two hundred photographs had not been published previously.
While many of the images may be found online, “viewing them reproduced in a book such as this is a much more enriching experience,” wrote Kurutz in the Foreword. We agree – the reproductions are stunning and the book an important contribution to the photographic history of Los Angeles.