Looking back on...Downey Newspapers

DOWNEY - Affordable at the cost of just a few quarters, newspapers may be cheap, but the information they provide is invaluable, and though considerably fragile, the paper medium itself is remarkably influential.Since its founding in 1873, Downey has always been privileged to have a newspaper, which not only circulated news, but also helped foster a sense of community in the developing town. Downey's newspaper history began in 1875. Downey's first newspaper was the Downey City Courier, first published March 13, 1875 by Alonzo Waite, a Maine native who started off as a printer in 1854 for Los Angeles' first paper, the Los Angeles Star. Waite also founded and published other pioneer newspapers throughout Los Angeles County. Waite had his Courier office in one of Downey's first buildings, the Central Hotel, erected in 1875 near the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. Larger in size than most papers today, the weekly Courier, published every Saturday, contained six columns of text across each page. On the front page, the first two columns on the left side were made up entirely of advertisements, while the remaining four featured everything from news and poems to advice columns and humorous anecdotes. The Courier, which soon expanded into the Los Nietos Valley Courier in 1876, provides a glimpse into the late 1800s, describing the early attempts at town building in the new community of Downey, California. Waite's "Local Dots" column chronicles the growth, setbacks, triumphs and trials of the early Downey settlers. The short column solidified the editor's role as town booster and general arbiter of good taste in just about everything from local produce, cigar flavor, dramatic talent and respect for the law. On November 27, 1875, Waite reported on the influx of settlers arriving in the emerging province of Los Nietos Valley. "Quite a large number of immigrants camped in the outskirts of town last Sunday evening. We understand they are seeking homes in the Valley," Waite wrote. "It is stated that our Valley is full of immigrants intending to settle in our midst. Let them come. There are yet plenty of broad and fertile acres to be had at liberal prices." However, as more pioneers began settling near Downey, other publishers set out to challenge the Courier. According to the Los Angeles Express, Downey gained its second newspaper when news editor L.T. Fisher of Santa Monica moved his paper, the Outlook, to Downey in 1879. While the Outlook is briefly mentioned in contemporary papers during the 1880s, the newspaper soon vanished from the scene, most likely as a result of the global economy, which was mired in depression until almost 1900. Due to the tough conditions, many small towns struggled during the nearly 20 year depression and Downey was no exception. Nonetheless, the community always managed to maintain a local newspaper. After the Courier faded from prominence around 1881, publishers Samuel H. Purcell and J.M. Emmert opened the Downey Signal the following year. However, Emmert, who resided in Compton, was in poor health by 1893, and subsequently, the paper folded. On April 4, 1885, a new journalistic endeavor began, the Downey Weekly Review, published by James C. Rives, who served as a Superior Court judge and L.A. County district attorney before building the landmark Rives mansion on the corner of Third Street and Paramount Boulevard. Nevertheless, the Review was short-lived as Rives, once a printer for the Los Angeles Times, left his paper to pursue his career in law. By 1887, the Review was out of business. After several attempts to establish a thriving Downey newspaper, Charles Henry Eberle finally succeeded, and in July of 1888, the Pennsylvania native published the first edition of the Downey Champion, which would become the bulwark and foundation in documenting Downey's development from the turn of the century into the early 1950s. Initially established to "champion" the causes of the Democratic party, the Champion was eloquently reviewed by the Los Angeles Herald as "crisp and full of pith," covering a vast amount of local news. But as the Champion grew into Downey's longest lasting newspaper, others came and went. In 1898, M.M. Purcell, married to schoolteacher Carrie McCoy, started the Downey Mirror with his sister-in-law, associate editor Jessie McCoy. Four years later, publishers Seay and Arrowsmith released the Downey Dispatch, which ran until 1907. According to Downey historian Easter Bangle Morrison, who wrote an in-depth history of Downey's development, printer H. Hull established a paper of his own around 1910 called the Downey News. However, by 1914, a potential merger with the Champion was in the works. Eager to retire, an ailing Eberle agreed to the merger and the Champion continued publication. In 1918, J. Ed Van Matre, a strong personality known for his political pugnacity, bought the paper from Hull, but the transition was far from smooth. Soon, prominent employee Knowles C. Weiss, known as K.C., and his wife Fannie parted company with Van Matre after an alleged disagreement. As a result, the Weiss family started their own Downey newspaper with conservative leanings. Soon, the Downey LiveWire was born. K.C. Weiss was an Indiana native, whose newspaper experience began at age 11 and included work at publications around the country. In much the same vein as Eberle's "boosterism," the LiveWire put positive emphasis on business and community activities, often leaving out news that portrayed the city in an unflattering manner. While that type of news would be deemed biased and slanted by today's standards, the public enjoyed the upbeat content published bi-weekly and mailed to local homes. By 1968, the Weisses had retired. The Call-Enterprise, an expansive paper, which covered many cities in the Gateway including Cerritos, Artesia, Bellflower and Lakewood, bought out the LiveWire and later merged with another paper, the Downey Herald American. Meanwhile, the Champion changed hands again when Thomas S. Fisher, a democratic businessman, from Calgary, Canada, assumed ownership from Van Matre in 1935. Don Fisher, a 1944 graduate of Downey High School, son of Thomas Fisher, served as editor during the mid-1940s until the paper was sold again in 1954 to Gus Karnopp. For four years, Karnopp published both the Champion and his Hollydale shopper, the Southeast News from the same headquarters, but by 1958 the Champion and Southeast News merged and became a Monday-Friday paper owned by John Dennis. The paper, which covered Downey, Norwalk, Bellflower, Paramount, Pico Rivera and Santa Fe Springs, was known as the Southeast News until its demise in August 1985. Since then Downey has had three local newspapers: the News Tribune, a colorful community paper published by Joseph S. Bianchi that covered many local cities including parts of Long Beach, The Downey Eagle, a weekly newspaper published by Jerry Andrews from March 5, 1993 until March 29, 2002, and most recently, The Downey Patriot, a descendent of the Eagle first published in May 2002 by veteran news editor John Adams. In 2006, the Patriot was sold to Downey native Jennifer DeKay-Givens. Moreover, newspapers have always played a vital role in Downey. From the City Courier to the Champion and from the LiveWire to the Patriot, this community has maintained a thriving newspaper to both inform and educate its citizens while monitoring local government. Although newspapers face decline while the blogosphere gains strength, one should nonetheless hope that local citizens remain engaged, keeping government accountable, no matter the format.

********** Published: April 21, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 1