“MAYOR WILL EAT BIG TURKEY AT HIS HOME”

Thanksgiving in Los Angeles, 1905

by Linda Civitello

 

Gertrude McAleer, the wife of Los Angeles mayor Owen McAleer, did not know exactly how much the turkey weighed, but stated that “It is just all that I can handle, and is the largest turkey we ever had.” So reported the Los Angeles Herald on November 30, 1905. The mayor welcomed Thanksgiving because it meant he could take a break from the controversy about a new city hall, which ended up not beginning construction for another 20 years; and from the Owens River project to bring water into Los Angeles from the Sierra Nevada mountains. That, of course, happened; the corruption involved was the subject of the 1974 film Chinatown.

 

Many things besides the mayor’s turkey were big in 1905. Another headline was “Big Sales of Turkeys Reported by Dealers.” Sizes ranged from seven pounds, for home use, to twenty-seven pounds, for hotel and restaurant kitchens. All cost 30 cents per pound. After all the turkeys were sold, customers bought geese, ducks, and chickens. Pumpkins were 2 cents per pound; sweet potatoes, 5 cents; and apples went for three pounds for 25 cents.

 

A eye-catching box on the same page showed that the Temperance Movement, which resulted in Prohibition in 1920, already had Los Angeles by the throat, which was why people went a few miles away to the “all bets are off” city of Vernon instead.

Just in case readers missed the point about leading a virtuous life, the paper announced that churches of many denominations, and synagogues, all had services at 10:30 in the morning. Then it was time for dinner. The Union Rescue Mission, at that time located at 145 North Main Street, served Thanksgiving dinner at 12:30. The Salvation Army distributed 200 baskets of food, which they expected would feed 500 people.

 

People who could afford to went out to restaurants in droves for Thanksgiving dinner that year. In a spectacular typo, the paper announced:

That one “tourist” certainly would have been lonesome—and would have had a difficult time spreading himself around at multiple hotels—if he had not actually been just one of the ten thousand tourists in Los Angeles at Thanksgiving that year. Tourist season started early in 1905. It usually began in the middle of December and ended on April 1.

The posh and newly opened 9-story, 300-room Lankershim Hotel downtown at Seventh and Broadway added a second dining room to accommodate the hordes of tourists. The Angelus Hotel, down the street at the corner of Seventh and Spring, was also serving an elaborate meal. Or tourists could go a few blocks away, to Spring and Second streets, to the Hollenbeck Hotel. Another new hotel, the Hollywood Hotel, had just opened, but far out in the country at the corner of Hollywood and Highland—now the site of the Dolby Theatre, where the Academy Awards are held. For Thanksgiving, the Hollywood Hotel dining room was “profusely decorated with poinsettias, the Hollywood flower.”

The Hollywood Hotel, 1908

Corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue

Security Pacific National Bank Collection/LAPL

What the menus of all four of these hotels had in common, besides turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and pumpkin pie was the starter: oysters. America’s 19th century oyster craze was still going strong in the 20th. The Lankershim Thanksgiving dinner began with an Oyster Cocktail. The Hollenbeck, not to be outdone, served a California Oyster Cocktail. At the Angelus, it was Blue Point Oysters on the Half Shell. The Hollywood Hotel’s starter was Oyster Pates [sic]. The Los Angeles Herald provided a recipe for a new way to present the old cocktail that was all the rage in 1905

Happy Thanksgiving!