Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 219 – California, Here I Come!

Part 219: California, Here I Come!

Map of Los Angeles in 1888 when Thomas G. Moses went to work painting scenery.

In 1888, Thomas G. Moses secured a substantial amount of work at the Grand Theatre, Spring Street Theatre and New California Theatre in California. He envisioned so many projects in one area that he decided to temporarily relocate his family to California. They rented three rooms in a private home on Temple Street for $50.00 per month, but there was a “land boom” in Los Angeles and everything was expensive.

Area near Temple Street where Thomas G. Moses lived while working in Los Angeles, California.

After a summer of constant travel the Moses family departed for California on August 25 and arrived in Los Angeles on August 31. They had rented their fully-furnished Chicago house to a dentist, wife and a bull dog. Moses later wrote that the bulldog “made antiques of all our rugs and draperies.”

Moses was constantly on the go and ready to settle in one spot for a while. California must have seemed like a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with Ella and his children. He had been crossing the country from coast-to-coast, juggling painting projects from Pennsylvania to California. Pennsylvania projects included theatre in South Bethlehem and Altoona. By September 17 he completed the scenery for the Grand Theatre and started the Spring Street theatre painting by Sept. 25. The few days in between projects, he and Ella enjoyed several days running about Santa Monica and other resorts. During this time they discovered an old school mate, Mary Jones, now Mrs. Connell, living directly opposite of them – a happy surprise.

Moses’ Spring Street Theatre project lasted from September 25 until November 20. At its completion, he fully expected to go to San Francisco and start on the New California theatre job as Booth and Barrett would be performing there in December. The New California Theatre job was later noted in the Dec. 17, 1888, publication of the Los Angeles Daily. The newspaper printed that “Booth and Barrett will open the new California Theatre in San Francisco, and we will again have the pleasure of seeing them.”

Ruins of the New California Theatre in 1906.

But Moses was not there for the opening. Unfortunately, the studio farmed out Moses’ painting skills on another project. He was sent east again and arrived in Chicago on November 27. There, Moses and Ed Loitz packed up their supplies and left for La Crosse, Wisconsin to began work on some scenery by December 1.

Map of La Crosse, Wisconsin, in the 1880s.

It took a month, but the two finished their project by January 1, 1889. Again, he expected to go back to his family in California, but there were some projects in the studio and he remained in Chicago. Moses wrote, “The new year of 1889 found me in a grouch, as I found I had fallen shy of $4000.00 for the past year. After all the hard work, I put in a month a round the studio and left Chicago the 30th of January. ” He was constantly away from his family and they were again spiraling into debt. I cannot imagine Moses’ frustration. He must have felt an utter failure as not only a husband and father, but also as a scenic artist. There was so much work to be had and he was not making any of the profits.

To be continued…

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