Victorian Fair Themes: Tourism at Hotel San Gabriel, April 1892

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As a prelude to next weekend’s Victorian Fair, here is another post exploring an important theme of the Victorian era in greater Los Angeles: the growing tourist market in the region.

A vital catalyst in bringing visitors to the area was the completion of a direct transcontinental railroad line to Los Angeles from the east, which occurred in 1885 when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe brought its first train to the city.  In the next few years, the Boom of the Eighties ensued bringing tens of thousands of new residents and a great many tourists, as well.

The cover of a souvenir booklet for the Hotel San Gabriel that is in the Homestead’s collection.

Today’s highlighted artifact is a souvenir booklet from one of the many boom hotels that sprung up around the region, the Hotel San Gabriel.  Built by the San Gabriel Land and Water Company a short distance north from the Southern Pacific’s flag stop at the new East San Gabriel tract, the hotel was opened in June 1888 towards the tail end of the boom.

The structure was a large 130-room facility and included a private dining area, a dance hall, a convention hall, bridal chamber, music room and a barber shop.  The building sat on a ten-acre property, which was landscaped with live oaks, palms, orchards, a two-acre vineyard and wide spreading lawns.  A livery stable housed animals owned by those who arrived by their own carriage, while a hotel-owned vehicle ferried guests to and from the local stop and the main station near the mission, about a half-mile to the southwest.

Hotel San Gabriel open LA_Times_Aug_8__1888_
Los Angeles Times, 8 August 1888 (get it-8-8-88?).  Among the listed guests were J.J. Mellus, former Los Angeles city treasurer; Rancho Santa Ana del Chino owner Chauncey H. Phillips; and Dwight Whiting, part of whose ranch is an Orange County park; 

The hotel was actively publicized in local newspapers, including the East San Gabriel paper, as well as major regional dailies like the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Herald, all of which often registered the names and hometowns of guests; covered events at the hotel; and occasionally highlighted the beauty of the site.  Winter and summer seasons were also duly noted in the press.

Unfortunately, the boom went bust not long after the hotel opened and patronage from prospective land buyers and out-of-town tourists waned.  Efforts were vigourously made, though, to have local patronage and clubs, societies and organizations held meetings and events at the facility.

A photo of the hotel from across San Gabriel Boulevard.  The inscription by the purchaser of the book recods that he had dinner at the facility on 19 April 1892 and that it was a “lovely spot.”

The most energetic of the several managers who operated the Hotel San Gabriel was H.R. Warner, a veteran of the business who later ran another well-known tourist hostelry, the Hotel Redondo on the coast at Redondo Beach.  It was under Warner’s supervision that the booklet was issued and it is an impressive publication.

A dozen photographs by Herve Friend, a “photographic artist” in Los Angeles were rendered into rotogravures by a Chicago firm.  These included an image of the hotel; views looking from the structure to the northwest and northeast; a shot of the old Mission San Gabriel, which was a very popular tourist destination; the “mother grapevine” that still survives near the mission; an image of Lucky Baldwin’s cottage at the Rancho Santa Anita, a short distance northeast; a view of L.J. Rose’s extensive horse-breeding facility at Sunny Slope, just to the north; and more.

A view from the hotel grounds looking towards the San Gabriel Mountains.

One of the stranger photos was of the “Moneyan Institute,” an octagonal-shaped adobe structure in ruins that, decades before, was the home of William Money, a native of Scotland who was an eccentric beyond compare.  The Homestead’s collection has a photograph of these ruins and someday there’ll be a post on the building and its iconoclastic builder and owner.

Another notable image is “El Molino Viejo,” the original grist mill for the mission, built in 1822 by American sailor and shipwreck Joseph Chapman (the first Anglo to live in Los Angeles with Jonathan Temple, the first of his family to come to the area, arriving several years later.)  After the mission was secularized, its lands were granted to Hugo Reid and William Workman and the mill was part of that property.  The grant was later invalidated and the mill became the home of Southern-born and bred, E.J.C. Kewen, an attorney, politician, and hot-headed firebrand.

Another photo from the hotel overlooking some of its grounds, San Gabriel Boulevard and then open land looking northeast towards the mountains.

Seemingly incongruous with the San Gabriel-centric grouping of images is one of the Raymond Hotel, a well-known facility in South Pasadena.  The reason for its inclusion, though, is because the Hotel San Gabriel, in 1890, entered into an arrangement with the Raymond’s owners, the prominent tourist agency of Raymond and Whitcomb in Boston, to provide promotion and direct traffic to San Gabriel, working around the Raymond Hotel’s schedule and sending overflow guests to the San Gabriel.

There is also a highly romantic essay called “In The San Gabriel Valley” by Jeanne C. Carr, who, with her husband, Ezra, a former professor at the University of Wisconsin, came to the area in 1869.  The Carrs, friends and supporters of famed environmentalist John Muir, developed the Carmelita Gardens at the west end of Pasadena near the Arroyo Seco.  This is now the site of the Norton Simon Museum.

The beginning of Jeanne C. Carr’s highly romantic essay about the San Gabriel Valley.

Jeanne Carr’s writing began with the establishment of Mission San Gabriel in 1771 at its original location in the Whittier Narrows (she stated, in error, that the site “is yet marked by a few adobe ruins on the bank of the San Gabriel River” and was at the native Indian village of Sibagna–there were no adobe structures at the original mission and the Sibagna site was actually near the current mission location.)  She then discussed the development of the mission, but, typically, referred to the “efficient” workers the natives became as they were “instructed in all the arts of civilized life,” but ignored the destruction wrought upon the indigenous by the process of “civilization.”

Seguing to “the era of the great ranches,” Carr wrote that, when she “first saw this peerless valley,” many of the rancheros were still residing in the area and she pointed to “the flavor of [those] whose gracious hospitality yet lingers in memory.”  She mentioned Benjamin D. Wilson (who came to the region in 1841 with the Workman family and others,) Kewen and Volney E. Howard, a prominent attorney and judge who formerly represented William Workman in court.

Hotel San Gabriel ad LA_Herald_Apr_7__1891_
Los Angeles Herald, 7 April 1891.

Typically for the era, in discussing the efforts in ranching and agriculture in the valley, Carr rhapsodized “So swiftly does nature repay the toil of man, where she has hoarded her best in soil and sunshine!”  She described adobe homes near the mission “with tiny flower gardens and a few olive and pomegranate trees,” while “those of the better class” were roofed with red tiles.

She also stated that there were “numerous tule huts, swarming with bead-eyed Indian children, [which] added to the charm of the place.”  Elsewhere, she wrote of “two venerable squaws, who figured as the oldest inhabitants of the San Gabriel valley” and who “basked in the sunshine, though Death seemed to have forgotten them.”  Their existence seemed to be predicated around the fact “that the lighted cigarita placed in their hands [could not have] failed to bring a smile upon the puckered faces, and a blessing from their lips.”

Hotel SG Raymond Whitcomb LA_Times_May_23__1890_
Times, 23 May 1890.

After contrasting this asserted indolence with a paean to the industrious gardens and other work of mission priest José Zalvidea (rendered as “Lalvideas”,) Carr followed with “we rejoice in believing that San Gabriel has not forgotten his valley, but has so guided the hand of modern improvement as to make and not mar the perfection of an ideal landscape.  This led to the exptected romantic conclusion that

The charming hotel set among the native oaks offers a welcome on its broad verandahs, and varied delights from its many windows, with an expression of quiet and gracious hospitality worthy of the days of the Padres and Rancheros.

The booklet was inscribed by “Sam” to “my old Pard” on this day in 1892 and wrote next to the photo of the hotel that he “took dinner at this hotel yesterday, April 19th, lovely spot.”  At the photo of Baldwin’s cottage, Sam noted “Am going to visit this place tomorrow.  18 miles from Los Angeles.”  Evidently, Sam then mailed the publication to his “old Pard” and it happens to have survived the ravages of time.

Hotel SG to sanitarium LA_Times_Feb_4__1898_
Times, 4 February 1898.

This was not the case with the hotel.  It lasted only six more years, affected heavily by the post-boom depression that continued through most of the 1890s and which hit the San Gabriel region hard.  In 1898, the hotel closed and the building was turned into the Southern California Sanitarium (of which there were many of its type in the valley and region in those days) for a few years.

San Gabriel Masonic Home LA_Times_Mar_9__1906_
Times, 9 March 1906.

Another change came in 1905 when the structure was purchased for a home by a Masonic fraternal association for widows, orphans and the indigent.  After reconsideration, the association decided to keep a facility in the Bay Area for adults, while the San Gabriel site was to be for orphans.  As with the hotel, the site remained an orphanage for just about a decade and the association built a new facility in Covina in 1915.

SG Film Company LA_Times_May_2__1920_
Times, 2 May 1920.

A few years later, in 1919, the site became the property of the San Gabriel Film Company, which had a short life on the site, but which was used for the making of a few silent films, including those geared to religious themes.  By the mid-1920s the vacant hotel was razed as the ten-acre property was purchased for a subdivision of residences and businesses.  Meanwhile, just a short distance to the east, another new tract was established by Walter P. Temple, who’d developed the block across from the Misison San Gabriel, and who called his new town the “Town of Temple,” renamed Temple City in 1928.

An unusual view of the Mission San Gabriel from a spring-fed lake to the northeast that is now buried under development.

The Hotel San Gabriel souvenir booklet is a fascinating document that entails many aspects of the Boom of the 1880s in its namesake valley, including boom and bust cycles, tourism, romantic views of history, and other themes that we deal with at the Homestead.

An excellent 1989 article by Richard Arnold, a retired San Gabriel Police Department captain and historian of the city, gives a great deal of information about the hotel.



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