Museum Lobby

Old Salt Lake | Virtual Museum

The Redondo Salt Works Photo (1898-1906)

The old Redondo Salt Works Photo is examined for what it can tell us.

The significance of the classic photo is it shows details of the moment in time at the Old Salt Lake site when the people occupying the place transitioned from an earlier American light industrial culture to the current Corporate heavy industrial culture. The photo captures use of the land by both types.

The identity of the person who took the photo is unknown. The date the photo was taken is unknown. However, for reasons demonstrated below, the range of dates within which this photo can be placed can now narrowed to be between 1898 and 1906.

Then. (1898-1906) The Redondo Salt Works Photo:

Now. The following photo was taken on April 18, 2014 from same location (within several feet) of the exact spot where the old Redondo Salt Works Photo was taken and looking the same direction, north, northeast.

  Then       Now

The old Redondo Salt Works Photo shows both the original salt works structure built in 1854 and the additional structure built in 1898 attached to east side of the original building. See below the 1898 newspaper article describing developments at the "Redondo Salt Company".

Look at the following 1890 photo taken looking south at the original 1854 salt works building . We know this photo was taken in 1890 because there is original writing on the upper left of the photo (in the sky area) which says "Old Salt Works Redondo Beach, July 2 1890". Notice the rectangle shape of the building and poor condition of the building. Photos and drawings of the salt works building on and after 1898 show it in good condition and with entirely new structure attached to the east side of the building giving the entire building a "T" shape.

What happened is in 1898, investment was made to re-build the salt works facilities under the name Redondo Salt Works and produce salt again. Salt was produced for a few years.

So, photos before 1898 show the original 1854 works building facility. Photos taken during/after 1898, will show the rebuild of the works with the 1854 structure and an additional structure attached to it.


"Old Salt Works Redondo Beach, July 2 1890", Source: California State Library

This is a detail of the 1904 Sanborn Map showing the dimensions of the building.

This photo of the building was taken in 1901 by Gilbert Bailey - looking west. This photo shows where the old Redondo Salt Works Photo was taken - from the top of that sand dune which in 1901 has an oil tank on it. The beach is on the other side of the dune.

From 1901 to 1910 Standard Oil Company had an oil docking business on that great sand dune.

This photo of the salt works building and evaporation ponds was also taken in 1901 by Gilbert Bailey - looking north:

This April 24, 1898 Los Angeles Times newspaper piece describes development of the salt works building.

While there is no detailed history about what happened to the salt works building itself, we can deduce that the classic Redondo Salt Works Photo could not have been taken earlier than 1898 because the photo shows improvements to the salt works building made in 1898.

Moreover, the classic salt works photo could not have been taken later than 1906 because the photo shows (see the background shot detailed below) the landmark brick house of the Pacific Salt Works Company. The brick house was built in 1854 along with the original works building. We know the landmark brick house was destroyed in a fire on January 11, 1906 as reported in newspaper articles. See two of those articles below.

The Redondo Salt Works Photo with markup indicating the location of the landmark brick house. The brick house was located a short distance behind (northeast of) the salt works building.

Detail of the Redondo Salt Works Photo showing the landmark brick house.

This January 12, 1906 Los Angeles Times newspaper article describes the destruction of the brick house landmark.

Note: The description in this piece about the bricks of this old house "had been brought around the Horn" is a story which is repeated elsewhere, but is likely incorrect. A solid reference has been found which describes the bricks as have been made by the first brick maker in Los Angeles, a Jessie D. Hunter. More information about this reference and about the brick house landmark will be published in a separate page specifically about the brick house.

This January 14, 1906 Los Angeles Herald newspaper piece also describes the destruction of the brick house landmark.

Note: In 1905, A. B. Steel purchased the property where the 1854 landmark brick house was located. The land was put up for sale by the previous owner Fred Mellus, son of Anita and Henry Mellus. Fred Mellus had lived in Redondo for a number of years and then sold his family land in 1905 and moved with his wife to Los Angeles. A. B. Steel, then, built a planing mill on the old Mellus land. By 1906, the landmark 1854 brick house was gone and within a few more years the salt works building itself and equipment was gone.

What happened to the salt works building itself and the equipment? ... there is no historical record. Exactly none of the artifacts of the earlier American culture at this site either exists at this site or remains anywhere else. Not one piece of salt works equipment or piece of a brick from the landmark brick house exists anywhere today.

The only [even] mention of what happened to the salt works equipment to be found is in the minutes of the City of Redondo Beach city council meeting of August 28, 1905. The city council was then called the Board of Trustees. A. B. Steel was on this Board at that time. What follows is an excerpt of the minutes of this meeting.

_____ [ Excerpt - 1905 Meeting Minutes ] _____

"Mr. Steel moved that the City Clerk be instructed to communicate with Mr. Verden, of the New Liverpool Salt Company and notify him that the Board of Trustees has ordered the Street Superintendent to remove the obstruction from the roadway across the Salt works, within the next sixty days and also ask the Company to make arrangements to move the salt vat interferring with the roadway at this time, seconded by Mr. Wooley and carried by the follow vote: Ayes: Messrs. Wooley, Hess, Steel and Pres. pro tem Ainsworth. Noes: None. Absent Pres. Quint."

That's it. By the way, The New Liverpool Salt Company mentioned in the minutes is the "Salt Trust" which obtained ownership of the Salt Works in 1901 from the Redondo Improvement Company and is another interesting aspect of what happened here. Production of salt stopped at that time. Anyway, what the salt trust did on the property is another clue as to when the Redondo Salt Works Photo was taken.

So, the classic Redondo Salt Works Photo is an invaluable source of information. Particularly since the photo was taken in such high resolution. This high quality photo captures many details of this site at this key time period. Details including, but not limited to the following:

The Salt

The Lake Bottom

The Fresh Water Pumping House

The Old Salt Road to Los Angeles

The Landmark Brick House and the Boundary Line of the Ranchos on the hill side

Poles and Wires [ Electricity and/or telephone? ]

The following excerpt from a piece in the Los Angeles Times under the caption "Redondo" seems to match what is seen in the classic photo.

_____ [ Excerpt - Los Angeles Times, August 23, 1899, page 13 ] _____

"The briny water of the lake has been almost all drained off, and run into cement reservoirs, where it is allowed to evaporate, in the process of salt making. About ten tons of salt per day is thus produced by the local company. Evaporation by artificial heat has been almost wholly abandoned and supplanted by seven acres of shallow cemented reservoirs for the solar process."

The photo may have been taken on or about August 23, 1899.


The USC Digital Library has an excellent treatment of the classic Redondo Salt Works Photo, including the facility on their web site to be able to zoom in on details in the photo.

See: Redondo Salt Works, California, ca.1895-1910 *

The full title of the photo on the USC Digital Library web page is "Redondo Salt Works, California, ca.1895-1910". I propose the date range in the title can be updated to read "ca, 1898-1906" for the reasons outlined above.

* [Update: USC was contacted about this study of the old photo and they have agreed with the logic for changing the date on the USCDL record and have just now made that change.]

Note: The original source of the photograph is the California Historical Society.