Through the Viewfinder: The Hodgson Ranch, Hollywood, ca. 1890s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Looking at the circa 1890s cabinet card photograph from the Homestead’s collection highlighted in today’s post and it is hard to believe that the view is of Hollywood nearly 120 years ago.  Today’s bustling and heavily urbanized area was a bucolic, rustic arcadia of citrus groves and farmland known in the late 19th century under such names as Cahuenga Valley and Colegrove.  In the background are the largely undisturbed Hollywood Hills portion of the Santa Monica Mountains range.

The view was taken, perhaps from a water tower, at the ranch of the fabulously named Cecil Ernest Champneys Hodgson (1870-1948), who came to Colegrove in 1893 from England.  Hodgson’s great-grandfather, Thomas, a native of Caton, Lancashire, about 50 miles south of William Workman’s hometown of Clifton, Westmorland (now Cumbria), made his mark as a slave trader in Gambia and Sierra Leone before turning his attention to cotton raising.

Thomas’ son Adam was a prominent Liverpool merchant, whose activities included a cotton brokerage, insurance, the Bank of Liverpool, and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.  Notably, Adam and a brother became ardent abolitionists and active evangelical Christians.  Adam was also quite well known for a published travelogue of his trip through North America from 1819 to 1821.

Hodgson Ranch Hollywood 1890s
This circa 1890s cabinet card photograph from the Homestead’s collection is labeled “CE Hodgson’s Ranch / Center of Hollywood,” but the inscription was probably from later years.  The view is to the west and north towards the Hollywood Hills/Santa Monica Mountains range and shows mainly lemon groves and farmland long before suburbia and the entertainment inudstry took over.

Adam had a large family of thirteen children, only one of which, Thomas Edward, had a family.  Thomas was a minister and his longest assignment, for over twenty years, was as vicar of St. Cuthbert’s Church in Darlington, Durham.  William Workman’s home parish in Clifton was also St. Cuthbert’s and William’s older brother Harrison was attending school in Darlington when he died at age fifteen.  In any case, it appears that most of Adam Hodgson’s considerable wealth passed on to his grandchildren, Cecil and his sister Edith.  While Edith remained in England, Cecil headed for Los Angeles.

In 1893, he obtained the land in Colegrove that is shown in this photograph for a little under $2,700.  For about a dozen years it was his home and successful lemon grove and was located on Fountain Avenue near La Brea Avenue, so the view looks, perhaps from a water tank, north and west toward the Hollywood Hills.  Hodgson bestowed the name “Scarthwaite” on his estate, taken after his grandfather Adam’s domain at Caton back in England.  In 1900, he married Frances Roberts, a native of New Zealand and the couple had two children, Gerald and Undine.

Hollywood area map Hodgson
This detail from a map of the Hollywood area shows the C.E.C. Hodgson ranch, Scarthwaiteon Fountain Avenue in Plummer’s Subdivision of the Townsite of Caheunga at the lower right, just below Plummer’s name.  The map is from the Library of Congress as uploaded to

After several years, Hodgson picked up some property in a new tract at the base of the holls off Franklin Avenue, where he built a large Tudor style residence about 1903, and this became his main residence after he sold Scarthwaite for $24,000 in 1905.  He took most of his profit from the ranch sale to buy rental property off Figueroa Street, at what is now Olympic Boulevard close to the Staples Center.

Eventually, his five-acre Franklin Street property, at the corner of Sycamore Street, appears to have become part of the domain of the Bernheimer brothers.  Their famous Japanese-style home and opulent gardens were tourist attractions and have been the site of Yamashiro’s restaurant.  Hodgson was also a founder of an unrealized Hollywood Country Club and a main contributor to the St. James Episcopalian Church (superseded by St. Stephens, which is the parish church today) and was heavily involved in the church.

A very grainy image of Hodgson’s home on Franklin and Sycamore at the base of the Hollywood Hills from the Los Angeles Times, 29 May 1904.

Hodgson, who’d purchased land in Ocean Park and then spent summers at Santa Monica while living in Colegrove/Hollywood, moved out to Santa Monica full-time.  He was a bit of a poet, occasionally publishing a piece in a magazine and once appearing in an anthology, and was a member of the Santa Monica Writer’s Club and Southern Califonia Poetry Society.  After his wife died in 1924, Hodgson spent most of his remaining years living with his son, Gerald, on Third Street in the beachfront town and died there in 1948 at age 78.


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