by Nancy Armitage (Panama Canal)
The year was 1909; Mr. H. E. Huntington & the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce would have been very exhilarated about coming events. On October 11, 1909, William H. Taft, President of the United States, traveled by ship into the Los Angeles Harbor (San Pedro, Calif.). The President traveled by Mr. Huntington’s Pacific Electric Railway train into downtown Los Angeles. He lived on the east coast at the White House in Washington DC.
At that time, a ship traveling to Los Angeles from Washington DC, would have had to travel south to the most southern tip of South America. Then around Cape Horn (Tierra del Fuego in Chile) & then head north up the Pacific Coast to Los Angeles. Cape Horn is where the Atlantic & the Pacific oceans met. The waves can get up to 98 feet at Cape Horn, that is as high as half of a modern cruise ship. Even in modern times many ships have been lost at Cape Horn in the violent & challenging waters. A great need was to make a passage way thru Central America from the Caribbean or Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean where Acapulco is located. A great waterway called the “Panama Canal” was built for trade, travel, & convenience. President Taft helped get it finally completed with the help of a lot of citizens & companies.
The Hotel Alexandria, was the most elegant hotel in downtown Los Angeles at the time. So on October 11, 1909, The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce entertained President Taft at a superb banquet at the Alexandria (at 4th & Spring Street) that day in October of 1909. After the sumptuous grand meal, President Taft gave a moving speech crediting Los Angeles being a united community of many different races, but all Americans. He was so impressed with California as a state, a land of men that got things done. He address his audience as Ladies & Gentlemen. Taft mentioned the Army & Navy, & the incredible men and engineers building this great structure(s) -the Panama Canal. He stated that he came to the beautiful city of Los Angeles by way of the (Los Angeles) Harbor, one of the great harbors of the Pacific Coast. Even in 2021, LA Harbor brings in 17% of USA market share & Long Beach Harbor is 31% of West Coasts market share.
The elegant presidential meal probably a luncheon (because it was only 5 courses). The menu includes not only fancy French food but promotes California produce, Olives, Almonds, Artichokes & California wine,& brandy.
The fancy menu at the Alexandria Hotel banquet room was as followed: Green Turtle aux Quenelles [a lovely soup popular in the early 1900’s.] It was served with Amontillado 1875 [Sherry], served with a relish dish of Celery, Ripe California Olives, & California Almonds. The next course was a decedent Lobster au Gratin in Cucumber Shell; served with Sauterne [white wine]. Presented as the main course was Squab Chicken accompanied by Burgundy red wine. The poultry was tastefully served with Artichoke Barigoule & Potatoes Chateau with elegant Mumm’s French Champagne 1898. The grand finale of their sophisticated meal with lovely assorted Fancy Cakes & Coffee served with a vintage VSOP 1800 Brandy [California Brandy]. The Alexandria also served to the honored guests cigars, cigarettes, & White Rock water [sparkling mineral water].
Artichoke a la Barigoule is a lovely vegetable dish traditionally from Provence, France. It is combination of braised vegetables like artichokes, onions, carrots, & garlic sautéed in olive oil & butter. To make a lovely fragrant white wine sauce made with chicken stock, white wine, & a bouquet of herbs like parsley, thyme, bay leaf tie up in string.
Roquefort Cheese, Alexandria (1913)
A recipe from the Hotel Alexandria in Downtown Los Angeles. This could have been used in many way but for a banquet it could have been on the relish tray. It could have been spread in celery sticks or spread on water crackers or spread on white bread rounds and popped in oven 400 for 15 mins and they called it “Roquefort Puff”, popular in the Gilded Age. Roquefort Puffs would have been perfect for a presidential reception. A adapted recipe from this 1913 cookbook: Tried & true Los Angeles Cookbook, Los Angeles p.16, 1913
1/2 c. Roquefort cheese
1/2 c. Butter
2 t. Baby garden Chives or French Tarragon, minced
1 dessert spoon Sherry wine
2 t. Anchovy butter
Serve on celery branches & cut up in bitesize pieces or serve on water crackers. For a elegant twist make Roquefort Puffs: spread mixture on white bread rounds & pop in oven 400@ for 15 mins until golden in color. Serve on doily lined silver or pewter tray.
What events might have been going on at the time of the Presidents visit in Los Angeles? Early on in the 1900’s, inherited by President Roosevelt, Taft was given the responsibility of building the Panama Canal (or finish it). Taft was also given the title Honorary Vice-President of the Panama Pacific Exposition Co. He used his power & influence to raise funds so that could get this momentous project completed. America trade would benefit by the Panama Canal creation. The US Government also helped pay to get the Panama Canal built. Also, many Pan-Pacific fundraisers were happening throughout California in Los Angeles, San Diego, & San Francisco to raise money.
President Taft also said in his speech that the Panama Canal was the greatest enterprise of construction in centuries; that trade between the east & the west United States was so very important. That the Los Angeles, San Francisco, & Seattle harbors would be greatly affected when the Canal opens. The economic international trade with all the world was the greatest importance & the Canal would make that happen. President Taft told the prominent citizens of Los Angeles, that he projected that he projected that the Panama Canal would open up on January 1st, 1915.
On October 13, 1909, The President was then transported by train (Southern Pacific) to Glenwood Mission Inn in Riverside, CA. The Mission Inn was designed with the romantic Mission revival architecture and surrounded by fragrant orange trees in the heart of Riverside. Mr. H.E. Huntington knew the owner of the Mission Inn, Mr. Frank Miller, & Huntington helped Miller out financially also. The Riverside Chamber of Commerce hosted a gala Presidential event. It was located in the Glenwood Mission Inn Court Banquet Hall with a grand dinner for 465 honored guests & dignitaries. A loud fanfare was made by rattles and noise makers when the President Taft was ushered in the banquet room. At the Mission Inn, the President addressed the Governor of California, Bishop Conaty, & gentlemen. He talked very emotionally about the romance of California. He admired the hardwork of the men & women that created such a beautiful land. The history of Father Serra and his Jesuit priests that traveled from the south to the north of the State, sharing their word. That night, off the President traveled to Arizona on the Southern Pacific Railroad.
On a side note, President Taft & Mr. H. E. Huntington had known each other from their Cincinnati days. In the 1890’s, H. E. Huntington worked as the Manager of Construction. He was laying down tracks for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Co., which his Uncle Collis Huntington was the president at the time. H.E Huntington and Taft were also both members of the Queen’s Club in Cincinnati, Ohio. Other Huntington connections with the Panama Canal were that Collis P. Huntington helped start to get the Panama Canal built. Collis & his company Southern Pacific of Mexico helped link the Mexican Central Railway together with other American, British & French investors. Those trains brought workers, food, & supplies to the places they were laying tracks. Their was also a close friendship with Collis & President Diaz of Mexico in the 1890’s and 1900 before CPH died. Archer M. Huntington (Collis’ son) also served as a committee member on the Panama Committee to continue to raise funds and finish the Panama Canal.
A poetic quote from Taft reminds a lot of H. E. Huntington, his kindness, faith, loyalty and his great sense of hard work. Its titled, “A Man’s Character”, it is as follows,
“The truth is that a man’s life with his family, with his wife, with his children, with his mother, with his neighbor, is not made up of grand-stand plays and defiance of the elements & all that sort of thing. It is made up by a series of little acts and those little acts & those little self-restraints are what go to make up the man’s character” – President Wm. Taft
HEH Coll. MS E40-199 (Huntington Library Menu Ephemera)
Taft, William, Presidential Address & State Papers of Wm. Howard Taft, NewYork, Doubleday, Page and Co. ,1909
Abbott, Willis, Heye Foundation Museum of American Indian & Huntington Free Library, Panama & the Canal in pictures and prose, London, New York and Toronto: Syndicate Publishing Co. ,1913
North, Wickware, Hart and Schuyler, The American Year Book, New York and London: D. Appleton and Co. , 1912.
Grant and Butterheim, The American City, New York, The Civic Press, 1909.