by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Last November, a “No Place Like Home” post here focused on the highly eclectic residence of the very powerful publisher of the Los Angeles Times, Harrison Gray Otis. Otis’ home, called “The Bivouac,” was located on Wilshire Boulevard and his next door neighbor was friendly rival in the newspaper business, Edwin T. Earl, owner of the Los Angeles Express from 1900 until his death nearly two decades later.
Earl was a native Californian, born in 1858 in a small town called Antelope, near Red Bluff in the northern part of the state. His father Josiah, who hailed from Ohio, was one of the hordes of 49ers who came for the Gold Rush, though he soon took up work as a freight hauler, spending a short time in Los Angeles before living in Stockton and Sonoma County before settling in Antelope. Earl’s mother Adelia Chaffee came to the state in 1852, also from Ohio, and her brother was briefly a partner of her future husband.
When the Earls, including Edwin and brother Guy (who went on to be a successful lawyer in San Francisco) went to the Red Bluff area, Josiah operated fruit orchards as well as a lumber business. The family then moved to the silver boom town of Virginia City, Nevada in the 1860s and then to Independence, near another silver mining area in eastern California, where Josiah continued fruit raising and mining (F.P.F. Temple later had interests at nearby Cerro Gordo and was president of the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, which sought to transport silver from the region to Los Angeles for shipment elsewhere.)
A massive earthquake that struck eastern California in 1872 destroyed the Earl home and most of their possessions, so they relocated to Oakland, where Josiah became a merchant. A few years later, at just 18 years of age, Edwin began shipping fruit to the eastern part of the U.S., quickly making a success of himself. His initial work was with fruit in Lodi where he spent about a decade from 1876 to 1886 building up his business.
He then relocated to greater Los Angeles, where he became one of the first forwarding merchants to send oranges on the recently finished transcontinental route built by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railway to Los Angeles from the east. Some of his earliest work in the region was in Riverside, where the navel orange became a phenomenon in the prior decade, and in Santa Ana in what soon became the county seat of the aptly named new county of Orange, established in 1889.
In 1887, he incorporated the Earl Fruit Company to handle his rapidly growing enterprise of shipping oranges to the east and, though he had a few partners, almost all of the firm’s stock was firmly in his control. A problem that plagued long-distance shipping, however, was that fruit either froze in ventilated box cars or spoiled from a lack of ventilation in all-refrigerated cars.
Earl, who was barely in his thirties, came up with an answer in the early 1890s: the C.F.X., named for the Continental Fruit Express Company which Earl set up, ventilator-refrigerator car which was so successful that there were some 2,000 cars manufactured representing an investment of about $2 million. After about a decade, he was bought out by Armour and Company, the Chicago-based food production giant, for the princely sum of some $2,500,000.
With his fabulous wealth from the deal with Armour, Earl bought the Express, which was launched in Los Angeles in 1871 and became one of the powerful media titans of the city, along with Otis and his son-in-law Harry Chandler of the Times and William Randolph Hearst of the Examiner, later the Herald-Examiner after a merger with another 1870s sheet.
Earl also moved into other large-scale investments in real estate and oil. He was a stockholder and director of the Union Oil Company, a big player in California’s oil industry. In 1905, he joined Texas oil magnate Edwin J. Marshall and local business leaders like Jared S. Torrance and John S. Cravens in acquiring the large Rancho Santa Ana del Chino in modern Chino and Chino Hills, managed by the Chino Land and Water Company.
About the same time, he joined Otis, Leslie Brand of Title Guaranty and Trust Company, developer Moses Sherman, and railroad and real estate tycoon Henry E. Huntington in forming the San Fernando Mission Land Company, buying a large swath of the largely dry San Fernando Valley cheaply. Sherman happened to sit on the Los Angeles Board of Water Commissioners, so was well-positioned to be in the know sooner than most about plans to import (some claimed, steal) water from the same eastern California area, specifically the Owens Valley where Earl lived over thirty years prior, to Los Angeles. With the seemingly unlimited imported water through the massive Los Angeles Aqueduct available for growth, the syndicate profited mightily from their investment to the tune of $5 million.
Earl, a staunch Republican, also aligned with the Progressive wing of the party and was said to have been a trusted adviser to Governor William D. Stephens in the late 1910s. He also incurred the wrath of Otis and the Times for his political positions under the broad “Good Government” umbrella and, in 1917, Earl successfully sued the Times for libel over some cartoons that portrayed the Express publisher as a supporter of degeneracy over Earl’s views that a widely publicized Long Beach prosecution of purported homosexuals should be mindful of the privacy of the defendants, while the Times sensationalized the incident and trial with clear contempt for the defendants as perverted criminals.
Earl married Emily Runyon in 1884 and the couple, who were childless, remained married for sixteen years until Earl secured a divorce on the grounds of cruelty and desertion from and by his wife. A couple of years later, in 1902, he married Emily Jarvis and the two had four children, three sons and a daughter.
The Earl residence, located at 2425 Wilshire Boulevard and an early home built in a tract developed by Gaylord Wilshire, depicted in the highlighted photograph was designed by Ernest and Almeric Coxhead, brothers whose work was more prolific in the Bay Area, but who designed a home for the Bixby family in Long Beach. The 1897-98 residence designed by the Coxheads was in their noted Shingle style, but a fire at the end of the project gutted the structure. The replacement was a brick English manor-style home, finished in 1899, but it was very eclectic and included dark interiors with massive fireplaces, massive plaster beamed ceilings and enormous amounts of carved wood decoration, much of the elements suggestive of Mayan influence!
The house had only been completed for a short time when Earl and Emily Runyon divorced, but the structure was where the wealthy, powerful publisher and real estate speculator and his second wife raised their children. On 2 January 1919, however, Earl, who’d suffered from heart trouble, died at age 60, leaving his widow and four children, aged 11 to 15. In addition to the pallbearers who carried Earl’s casket to and from the funeral service, there was an exhaustive list of honorary pallbearers including Governor Stephens, Boyle Workman (great-nephew of William and Nicolasa Workman), Harry Chandler and many prominent men of wealth, power and influence in greater Los Angeles.
Emily Jarvis Earl remarried in 1921, but died just a few years later. The Express was run by a nephew, Guy Earl, Jr. (who also owned the KNX radio station,) for a period and then sold to Hearst.
By 1930, the home was a restaurant, called Casa Verdugo, that relocated from Glendale, where the Verdugo family were early ranchers. Later in the decade it was used as a medical facility with an x-ray lab, doctors and dentists working in the house. After the county purchased the house in 1938, the Los Angeles Art Association held meetings in the building. It was then used as an annex to the Otis Art Institute, which operated next door in “The Bivouac,” an ironic circumstance given the enmity that sometimes existed between the two publishers despite their mutual investment in the San Fernando Valley.
In August 1957, the home, not quite sixty years old, was razed and today the site is a playground for Charles White Elementary School, which also embraces the location of the Otis home and art institute.
For some great history on the house and Earl, check out this blog post.