Infernal Machines: The Bombing of the Los Angeles Times and L.A.’s First ‘Crime of the Century’
Bombed-out building of the Los Angeles Times at First Street and Broadway, 1910 | Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
It never fails to astound me. The tales we remember collectively. And the stories we forget. I first learned of the 1910 bombing of the Los Angeles Times on a walk around Hollywood Forever Cemetery. There, next to graves of the Otises and Chandlers, is a grand monument to “Our martyred men,” the 20 employees of the Los Angeles Times who had lost their lives in the early morning hours of Saturday, October 1, 1910. There is a list of the deceased, fourteen of whose remains are buried beneath the monument. They had been hard at work at the Times’ headquarters, often called “The Fortress,” on the northeast corner of First and Broadway, when a series of dry blasts starting at 1:07 a.m. shook downtown Los Angeles to its foundations.
When I was growing up my father ran a paper and a printing press. I spent many happy nighttime hours at the press — running in and out of the revolving doors of the dark room and climbing on the great rolls of newspaper. I can still remember the smell of the ink, the clanging rhythm of the insert machine, and the dark ink smudges on the pressmen’s shirts. There was a sense of camaraderie among the folks who worked at the paper — the odd hours, the stress of deadlines, and the constant noise. Perhaps these memories are why this story so resonates with me.
At the current home of The Los Angeles Times on Spring Street, faded and half empty, there are few references to the bombing. There is a brief blurb about it in a historical timeline exhibit in the lobby. There is the cornerstone laid in 1934 by Harry Chandler, which contains a copper box with a list of the dead and other mementos. The words “True Industrial Freedom” are etched into the building’s façade, a reference lost to most casual pedestrians.
Across the street is an empty lot where “The Fortress” and its immediate successor had once approximately stood. The day I visit, there is a faint smell of urine and trash, and the detritus of the city clogs the lot’s chain link fence. Weathered signs proclaim that the block will soon be a city park, and flowering bushes have already reclaimed much of the area. Stray sheets of newspapers blow through high, rustling weeds. The ruins of a later government building are visible, and a desk and chair sit on ghostly guard at the top of a set of stairs overgrown with weeds. Rumor has it that the future park’s retaining walls were made with the debris of “The Fortress,” but it is only a rumor. The truth is there’s nothing much left of the disaster that once gripped the nation and dramatically capped off decades of class warfare and labor struggle. There are just scattered pieces of remembrance, here and there.