Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Meal Prices, 100 Years Ago

Here's something to take your mind off the price of food today. In 1909, you could go out and get dinner at the Natick House (First and Main Streets) for 25 cents, except on Sundays when a special chicken dinner went for 35 cents. On holidays, the price was doubled, but you got turkey or ham for your two quarters.

Here's a photo (courtesy of the LA Public Library collection) of the Natick House/Hotel in 1928, with a nearly-completed City Hall in the background.

You could also go up to the 4th floor of the Broadway Department Store (at 4th and Broadway) and get breakfast for 15 cents or lunch for a quarter--and that lunch included soup, drinks, and dessert, beside the main course.

So...one hundred years ago a meal cost about one-hundredth of today's price. Poetic.

Of course, if you were one of the 3600 men working at any of the 57 camps set up during the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, you got a huge meal for your 25 cents. A Los Angeles Times reporter travelled the line with Chief Engineer Mulholland back then and said he got this lovely dinner: "Cream tomato soup, fricassed veal, roast beef, baked beans, celery in cream, mashed potatoes, German salad, pudding, apricot pie, coffee."

Actually, I think that was what we'd call lunch, because then the reporter (Allen Kelly) lists his supper: "Corn fritters, meat pie, cold ham, cold roast beef, combination salad, fried potatoes, spaghetti, stewed prunes, cake, tea."

Why was Mr. Kelly so concerned with what the aqueduct workers were eating? Apparently some agitators were complaining about the food in order to stir up a ruckus (or, as the paper put it, a "ruction"). The new commissary contract for the aqueduct project had ruffled the feathers of a few who profited by earlier contracts, now void. The article went on about other areas where those nasty agitators had tried to stir up trouble or incite strikes. The righteous workers had quickly shown these "misguided chaps" the error of their ways. Those were very anti-union days.

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