At Our Leisure: The Round House/Garden of Paradise, Los Angeles, 1854-1887

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

It was certainly one of Los Angeles’ most unique structures between the mid-1850s and the mid-1880s and was known as “The Round House” and “The Garden of Paradise” to locals.  The accompanying stereoscopic photograph from the Homestead’s collection shows the building, which stood on the west side of Main Street south of 3rd Street, before it was razed during the Boom of the 1880s.

An early article about it by George W. Hazard from the 1901 annual publication of the Historical Society of Southern California noted that the two-story adobe building was constructed in 1854 by the French-born Ramon Alexander, who came to California as a sailor.  According to his wife, Maria Valdez, its cost was somewhere between $15,000-20,000, a handsome sum for the day.  The piece noted that Alexander “had seen houses in stone built in cylindrical form” during his seafaring travels to Africa and that this inspired his unusual creation, which had a steep wood shingle roof.

Perhaps the cost was why the adobe passed quickly from Alexander to George Lehman, a baker, and his wife Clara Snyder.  Lehman was described by Hazard as being from Germany, though the 1860 census lists he and his wife as being from France (unless this was a portion, like Alsace-Lorraine, that passed back and forth between the two rival nations at intervals.)

In any case, Lehman was said to have been a likable fellow, though “full of vagaries and fantastic notions.”  One of the latter was the reconfiguration of the Alexander adobe into “The Garden of Paradise.”  Lehman clad the adobe with wood siding some ten feet deep to give it an octagonal look and “over the windows he painted the names of the thirteen original states, with that of California added.”

SV Garden Of Paradise Los Angeles 2015.2.1.1
A stereoscopic view from the Homestead collection of “The Garden of Paradise,” a two-story adobe building built by French sailor Ramon Alexander in 1854 and acquired two years later by baker George Lehman, who turned it into a beer garden.  The structure was lost by Lehman in 1879 and torn down eight years later.

More notable, according to Hazard’s article, Lehman had a vision

that he had found the Garden of Eden, and he set to work to make his grounds as nearly as possible his conception of the dwelling place of our first parents.

There were arbors of vines and roses, fruit and ornamental trees, and a wide variety of bushes and shrubs that were “supposed to have delighted the senses and sheltered the bodies of the progenitors of the race.”  The place was also known for its tall, thich hedge of cactus.

Further, the garden

was embellished with cement statues representing Adam and Eve, reclining under a tree, with the wily serpent presumably alluring Mother Eve to take the initial step in human progress that bequeathed her name to posterity as the first woman who aspired to a higher education.

There were also cement effigies of animals from the garden, which took its biblical inspiration for very earthly purposes.  That is, Lehman “charged a small admission fee; and he sold beer and pretzels within its shady recesses.”

Hazard wrote that “for more than twenty years this garden was one of the resorts of the town” and had a role in the celebration of the American centennial in 1876.  However, Lehman soon encountered financial distress and lost the property three years later.

For several years, the site was used as a kindergarten (the museum collection has a photo of a cactus that was out on the walk in front of the building with a sign that reads “Kindergarten” next to it) and then as a lodging house.  Hazard indicated that the building was then used by transients before “it disappeared before the march of progress in 1887.”

The Hazard article also has the text of a description of the place from the Los Angeles Star newspaper on 2 October 1858 under the heading of “The Garden of Paradise.”  The piece stated:

The handsome grounds of the Round House in the South part of Main street have lately been fitted up as a public garden, under the above rather high sounding title.  In it are to be seen elegantly portrayed, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel; also the old serpent and the golden apples, all according to the record.

The Star article mentioned the facility had “flying horses” for kids and that bands played for guests from a balcony off the second floor of the building.  It concluded by noting that the garden was quite a popular place on Sundays.

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