On this Mother’s Day, we share a brief history about several Los Angeles County landmarks for which mothers were the inspiration and/or driving force. We also share our new modest site on this Mother’s Day, since @LAhistory is a mother-daughter project. [More about us in About @LAhistory].
Chinatown’s Gate of Maternal Virtues
California’s first Chinese attorney, Y.C. Hong built Chinatown’s North Broadway gate to honor his mother. Only 5 years old when his father died, Y.C. Hong was raised by his single mother. “His mother survived many years of hardship and deprivation, but was able to eke out a living supporting Y.C. and his younger sister,” according to the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California. The Gate of Maternal Virtues (also known as the Gate of Filial Piety) was part of New Chinatown, built for residents displaced from the original Chinatown to make way for Union Station. The Gate of Maternal Virtues is Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #826. The Huntington Library recently shared a behind-the-scenes video of archivist Li Wei Yang, who is currently cataloging the Hong family archive.
Mary Andrews Clark Residence
William Andrews Clark, Sr. built monumental mansions for himself in Montana, Arizona, and most notably New York but none in Los Angeles. Here, he built a monumental residence for working women to honor his mother, Mary Andrews Clark. This sentimental eulogy delivered by her son-in-law, Rev. James M. Newell, at her 1904 memorial service describes how she was viewed by her contemporaries:
“….who will estimate what those hands have done! The household toil, the meals prepared, the clothing made and mended; the motherly care of eleven children, seeking always the very best possible in education in fitting for life’s work. And outside the home, loving ministries to the poor and neighbors in sickness and need; like many another noble mother of her day she was both nurse and physician.”
At the dedication of the building in 1913, her son echoed these sentiments: “Many now living will always remember her tenderness, her sympathetic advice and financial help.” William Andrews Clark, Sr. may have been a Montana copper baron who bought his U.S. Senate seat, but he loved his mother. Whenever he arrived in Los Angeles, his first order of business was to have breakfast with his mother. The 101-year-old landmark at the corner of Third Street and Loma Drive served as a YWCA residence for thousands of young working women (ages 18-30) from 1913 until 1987 when it closed because of damage from the Whittier earthquake. The building became Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #158 in 1976 and continues to operate as affordable housing through Abode Communities.
Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum
Mayme A. Clayton began her library career at USC’s Doheny Library and later worked as a law librarian at UCLA. While at UCLA, she was a consultant and founding member of the Afro-American Studies Center Library. Along the way, Clayton combed flea markets and used-book stores to assemble her collection, which is said to rival that of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center. When she died in 2006, her son Avery Clayton took on the charge. “As a teen, he realized ‘that what my mom was doing was important,’ and as he got older, he said that he knew he would ‘take up the mantle one day,'” Los Angeles Times. Days before his mother’s death, Avery Clayton secured the building that would house the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum. Sadly, Avery Clayton died suddenly on Thanksgiving in 2009. Many shared touching memories of Avery Clyaton’s passion in continuing his mother’s wishes, including the PBS History Detectives. “Avery shared his mother’s dream to ensure that ‘children would know that black people had done great things.’ It is my firm hope that the legacy of this mother and son combination will live on,” PBS History Detectives.
Mothers of East Los Angeles
In the case of the Mothers of East Los Angeles, it is what was never built that stands out–a prison in East Los Angeles. In 1985, the California Department of Corrections announced it would build a jail at Santa Fe Avenue and Olympic Blvd. The Coalition Against the Prison was formed to fight the prison as “the city’s poor and minority communities were already burdened with more than their share of dangerous and undesirable land uses,” according to A People’s Guide to Los Angeles. The Mothers of East Los Angeles (MELA) grew from this struggle. In the summer months of 1986 and 1987, MELA helped organize weekly marches that started near the proposed site in downtown and crossed over the Olympic Blvd. Bridge to show the proximity of the jail to their neighborhood. As remembered by Gloria Molina (then a California Assemblywoman), “Marches were also held on Monday nights on the Olympic Street Bridge to call attention to the issue and our struggle. The marches grew to several thousand!” The fight took many years but finally in 1992, newly-elected California Governor Pete Wilson signed Senate Bill 97 which eliminated the Eastside prison project. “Considered as ‘political novices’ the Mothers of East LA took on Governor Deukmejian and the Department of Corrections and won,” historian Vicki Ruiz.
In the Los Angeles Review of Books, author Wendy Cheng expands on the never built prison in East Los Angeles:
Visiting the site of the proposed East L.A. Prison, you might realize that you have never been to this part of town — that it is poor and industrial; adjacent to air-polluting, idling trucks; neighborhood-destroying freeways; and working-class communities of color. Something that didn’t make sense before might start to make sense. You might realize that “invisible” can mean many things: it might mean vulnerability to early death; it might mean a community’s hidden history of pride and resilience. It might mean the fissure just under the surface that will shake the earth when it is tapped.
There are many stories in Los Angeles’ distant and recent past that reflect the strong bond between mother and child. These are just a handful of tangible examples in hopes that, on this Mother’s Day, the invisible appears visible–whether it’s the family stories shared or the city streets explored.