by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Today’s entry in the “La La Landscapes” series is a stereographic photograph by Lemuel Ellis and Son of part of the expansive and lushly landscaped garden of Ozro W. Childs, one of Los Angeles’ notable early figures.
Born in June 1824 in Sutton, Vermont, not far south of the Canadian border, Childs was raised on a farm and was educated enough that he taught a few years in his home state before emigrating to Massillon, Ohio (just west of Canton) in 1848 to continue work as a teacher. In 1850, he joined the hordes of gold seekers in California, but his asthma contracted back East was worsened in the north, so, in November, Childs and his friend John D. Hicks migrated south to Los Angeles.
Childs and Hicks opened a tinware shop in town, which they operated for a few years (later, Childs’ brother, Marcus, joined Hicks in another tinware business and another partner in the late 1860s was Thomas W. Temple, eldest son of Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple.) When Childs left, he opened Los Angeles’ first nursery on Main Street, importing a wide variety of plants and trees, including many rare specimens from Europe and South America.
He operated the business for about a quarter century and one of his employees was Thomas Garey, who became noted for his horticultural expertise and was a founder, in 1875, of Pomona, with Garey Avenue being the main north-south artery in that city named for the Roman goddess of fruit and flowers.
In 1860, Childs married Emeline Huber, the daughter of German emigrants to Kentucky, and whose father, Joseph was a wine-maker in Los Angeles. The couple, who had six children, settled on a large property Childs bought that was roughly from 6th to 12th streets, north to south, and Figueroa Street to Main Street, west to east. Their home, located at Main and Eleventh, was adjacent to the residence of Elijah H. Workman and a stereographic photo of Workman’s property previously featured on this blog was likely taken from Childs’ place.
Amassing significant wealth, Childs was a founding director of Farmers and Merchants Bank, established in 1871 after Isaias W. Hellman ended his partnership with William Workman and F.P.F. Temple. He was involved in the private water and electric companies that managed the city’s supplies, and dabbled in insurance, as well. In 1884, at Main and First streets, he built Childs’ Opera House, the most ornate theater in the city and a landmark of musical and theatrical performances for many years.
He was also very active in education, serving as a trustee of the Normal School, which educated and certified teachers (his former trade), gave land to St. Vincent’s College near Pershing Square (this is now Loyola Marymount University), and was a founding trustee of the University of Southern California, to which he donated some land.
As Los Angeles grew, the Childs Tract was subdivided, before the great Boom of the 1880s, which burst forth in 1887, and he retained ten acres of the estate. It was around this time that Ellis father and son (both named Lemuel) took the highlighted photo of a portion of the garden around the stately residence.
Lemuel Ellis, Sr., was an early photographer in New England, taking daguerreotypes in the 1840s and came out to Los Angeles about 1880. He and his namesake son were unusual in the business in that they advertised themselves specifically as landscape photographers. The Homestead’s collection features a number of Ellis and Son views of the front and rear yards of residences and of parks and other areas of the city which was increasingly including a variety of lush landscapes.
With the Childs garden, the Ellises captured one of the finest in the city (perhaps the Longstreet estate, highlighted before in this blog, was one of the few rivals). The photo shows a highly organized and diversified landscape, with lawns, wide walks, a tall bordering hedge, some shrubs and bushes, and an impressive array of tall, mature trees. At the back right is a pleasant shaded gazebo where, undoubtedly, Childs and his family spent many hours enjoying the bounty of their garden.
What is amazing is that the location today is in the heavily urbanized city with parking lots, commercial buildings, and lots of asphalt and concrete. The distinctive Spanish Colonial Revival building of the long-defunct Los Angeles Herald Examiner newspaper is very close to where the Childs home and garden was situated.
Just about five years after the subdivision of the Childs Tract and only a year or so after the Boom of the Eighties went bust, Childs died in early 1890 at age 65, leaving an estate said to have been worth $1.5 million and managed for decades by his namesake son. Converted late in life to Roman Catholicism, Childs was interred at Calvary Cemetery. He is a forgotten name now, but, for forty years in the last half of the nineteenth century, Ozro W. Childs was one of Los Angeles’ most prominent citizens and its pioneer nursery owner and horticulturist.