La La Landscapes: East San Gabriel Hotel/San Gabriel Sanatorium/Southern California Masonic Home, 1887-1925

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This morning, the Homestead hosted, for the third year, a group from the “Urban Gardens” program offered by Road Scholar/Elderhostel, an organization that offers a wide variety of remarkable lifelong learning programs, including the “Art Collectors in Los Angeles,” which I’ve been privileged to participate in as a presenter for almost twenty years.

“Urban Gardens,” which is an extension of a very popular Tournament of Roses program, explores a variety of interesting places in our region showing the diversity of landscapes, including the Huntington Library, Descanso Gardens, the Lake Shrine Meditation Garden, the Getty Villa, and other components.

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Los Angeles Herald, 1 January 1888.

The Homestead’s portion includes a PowerPoint-illustrated presentation reviewing the development of the greater Los Angeles landscape, mainly through 1930, including agriculture, public parks, private gardens and other elements, followed by a tour of the grounds surrounding the Workman House and La Casa Nueva.

On that walk, we look at the historic remnants of the landscape, including the circa 1860 Lady Bank rose bush in front of the Workman House, the 1920s Mission Walkway which includes a grape arbor, and other components.

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Herald, 19 November 1897.

My colleagues, Alexandra Rasic and Isis Quan, ended the morning by discussing recent adaptations of our landscape that have stronger programmatic purposes, including our demonstration vineyard, managed by our co-worker Robert Barron; a native garden, which was developed in conjunction with the Kizh-Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians; and our newest element, a Victorian rose garden, organized in collaboration with the Pacific Rose Society.

The “Urban Gardens” participants left, hopefully, with a strong sense of the historical development of the regional landscape, as well as what historic sites can do to better utilize their outdoor environs for programs as well as aesthetic appreciation.

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Los Angeles Times, 27 March 1898.

During the walk, I mentioned El Encanto Habilitation and Health Care Center, which sits immediately to the north of the museum and which operated in the historic houses and other structures on the Homestead from 1940 (originally as El Encanto Sanitarium) to the late 1960s before moving to its current location.  The City of Industry bought the rest of the site from the Brown family, which owned El Encanto, and restored the historic portion and created the museum, which opened in 1981.

In looking for artifacts from the Homestead collection for this post, I happened upon a remarkable series of cabinet card photographs, dating to about 1898, of another sanitarium, this one called the “San Gabriel Sanatorium.”  What struck me about the photographs was the beauty of the landscape.

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Times, 26 June 1898.

Finding some notes and digital files I’d had socked away on my computer and doing a little additional digging, it turned out that the site of the sanatorium, which only operated for a couple of years, was originally the East San Gabriel Hotel.  It was one of many hostelries which sprung up in greater Los Angeles during the frenzied Boom of the 1880s, which erupted after the completion of the transcontinental railroad line of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad in 1885.

The hotel, located at the southwest corner of today’s Las Tunas Drive and San Gabriel Boulevard, was impressive, designed by the Los Angeles firm of Preston and Sons, and featuring about 100 rooms with views of the still-bucolic San Gabriel Valley, including a spacious lobby, a large dining room, reception rooms and other amenities, including the beautiful gardens set on a substantial 12-acre tract.

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Times, 6 November 1898.

Developed by the San Gabriel Land and Water Company and J.J. Martin, who later ran the Seaside Hotel in Long Beach and the distinctive Abbotsford Inn in downtown Los Angeles, the hotel property was owned for several years by Henry H. Markham, who also served as California’s governor from 1891 to 1895, and was leased out.

After a decade of ownership and during some very tough economic times, punctuated by the national depression of 1893 and several years of deep drought regionally, Markham decided to sell out for $45,000 in November 1897.  The new buyer was a group of investors who were called the International Pulmonary Company, based in Columbus, Ohio, and which then formed the San Gabriel Sanatorium Company, incorporated in February 1898.  One of the directors and the president of the Ohio concern, E.M. Underhill, took on managerial responsibilities.

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An unattributed cabinet card photo of the San Gabriel Sanatorium, ca. 1898.  The other three following, all taken by William Henry Hill of Pasadena, are, like this view, from the Homestead’s collection.

The San Gabriel Valley was, in the late 19th century, a mecca for invalids seeking relief and cures for a variety of maladies including tuberculosis.  One of the best sources for information on this important and interesting aspects of our regional history is John E. Baur’s The Health Seekers of Southern California, published in 1959 by the Huntington Library Press and distributed by Angel City Press.

Among the main reasons why so many sanitaria opened in the valley, especially along the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains was the fantastic climate, but Baur’s work took a deep look at the belief that this was a prime factor in cures for ailments as he also examined dubious science, the power of marketing and promotion, and other elements.

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The San Gabriel Sanatorium is an interesting example.  Opened by spring 1898, it aggressively marketed itself and, in turn, was heavily promoted by the powerful and influential Los Angeles Times.  The operators of the facility advanced a concept of “antiseptic germicidal inhalation” in which medically-treated oxygen was taken in to the lungs with the presumption that it would rid the patient of the bacili that caused tuberculosis and other disorders.

In advertisements written to look like articles, the sanatorium claimed to discountenance the “quackery” utilized in the promotional material of other sanitaria and to practice a technique that was proven science.  One of these ads, however, stated:

It will repay any person to follow the example of the Times representative and visit the place.  Not only will he find it a gem of rare beauty set in a landscape famous the world over but he will have the opportunity of learning something of a form of treatment for tuberculosis that constitutes a discovery of immense importance in the domain of medical science.

Drugs, serums, and the promotion of climate alone were not enough, the piece (which reminds of radio ads where station personalities attest to the quality of the product they’re pitching) went on to tout the “reasonable, rational and scientific treatment by bathing the lungs in air impregnated by a germicide that destroys the bacili of tuberculosis.”

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For about a year, a steady stream of these pieces promoted the success of the sanatorium’s techniques with a pastor’s testimonial being one of the ways of promoting the process that, it was alleged, cured the curate’s brother.  Another article highlighted the cost as being proximate to that of a fine hotel to encourage the resort element of a stay.  One even went so far as to be titled “Luxury of Being an Invalid” and played up the bucolic setting, including mention of “a tropical conservatory, filled with rare plants, vines and flowers.”

As late as the end of March 1899, promotion continued heavily, including ads that had a chart of 100 cases of persons treated and the results based on three stages of tuberculosis (44 were said to be cured, 39 improved, and only 17 not helped, of which all but two were in the advanced third stage.)

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Yet, a day after that ad, the Times reported that an involuntary bankruptcy petition was filed in federal district court by three creditors of the sanatorium’s operator.  These were the prominent Los Angeles retail concerns of Haas, Baruch and Company (now Smart & Final), M.A. Newmark and Company (successors to Harris Newmark and Company), and Hans Jevne.  Tellingly, the credit amount due wasn’t in the tens of thousands of dollars, or even in the thousands.  Rather, the sum was a paltry $858.

If the San Gabriel Sanatorium was the success story so compellingly painted in those testimonials, articles masked as ads, and actual advertisements, how could such a small amount of money throw the enterprise into bankruptcy.  Underhill had his own lawsuit he filed against a local mortuary and undertaking business that he claimed owed him commissions for sending patients (presumably the 17% not helped by the program) who’d died to that business.  Maybe he would’ve applied that commission to his $858 debt?

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Times, 21 March 1899.

It was an ignominious end to the sanatorium, which apparently hired Pasadena photographer William Henry Hill to take three of the four photos shown here, depicting the conservatory mentioned above, the landscaping in the lawn in front of the structure, and a group of people, presumably patients and staff, on the front porch.  Undoubtedly, these were taken for promotional purposes.  The fourth photo of the building is unattributed, but could well have been done for advertising and marketing.

Although there was talk after the turn of the century about the site being refitted for another hotel, the next owner was the Southern California Masonic Home Association, a group incorporated in 1899 for the purpose of building a home for the widows and orphans of masons or aged members of that popular fraternity.  One of the directors was Frederick Lambourn, a tutor and ranch foreman for William Workman at the Homestead from 1860 to 1875, a state assemblyman, and a prominent wholesale grocer.

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Times, 22 March 1899.

The association purchased the site and building, engaged in rehabilitation, and opened its Southern California Masonic Home on Decoration Day (the precursor to Memorial Day) 30 May 1905.  An article two years later highlighted the extensive grounds, called “a beautiful park,” with “gnarled old live oaks,” and roses, though it was all said to be overgrown and the site “terribly dilapidated.”

The Masonic home, which eventually morphed into a facility strictly for orphans, moved after about a decade in San Gabriel to a new facility on 53 acres in Covina.  Today, there is a 33-acre Masonic Homes of California home there.  As for the San Gabriel building, it stood for another decade and was razed in 1925 as a residential subdivision came to the area.

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Herald, 30 May 1905.

Today’s tour leading to this post is an example of how interpreting history can take many forms and lead to pathways that, rather than being straight and simple, can take you on fascinating twists and turns.  The four photos from our collection featured here are visible representations of that unusual story of the San Gabriel Sanatorium and its remarkable landscaping.

Some excellent information on the San Gabriel site and great photos of the sanatorium are available in Richard Arnold’s San Gabriel from Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series.


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