by Paul R. Spitzzeri
There are a number of well-known publishers and editors of magazines in greater Los Angeles history, including Charles F. Lummis of The Land of Sunshine, later Out West, and John Steven McGroarty of West Coast Magazine, to give a couple of examples.
Women publishers and editors, however, were almost completely unheard of with the conspicuous exception of the little-known Mabel Urmy Seares, whose California Southland, reconstituted after a 1928 merger with Pacific Coast Architect as California Arts and Architecture, was published for the entirety of the 1920s out of her Pasadena home.
Born Mabel Urmy in 1862 in Sacramento, she was the child of Ellen Thomas and William Urmy, a prominent Methodist Episcopal minister in Northern California. She attended the University of the Pacific, the University of California and the State Normal School for teachers at San Jose, from which she graduated in 1882. She then taught for some fourteen years before marrying Frederick H. Seares, who was more than a decade her junior, in 1896. The couple had a son, Richard, who became an architect.
Frederick Seares, born in Michigan and raised there and in Iowa before coming with his family to Pasadena as a young teen, was one of the first graduates of that city’s high school. After traveling in Hawaii, Tahiti and other locales in the South Pacific, he went to the University of California and graduated in 1895. While in Berkeley, he became fascinated with astronomy, so he remained several years as a fellow and teaching assistant before a department in that field was launched in the first years of the 20th century.
Meanwhile, the Seares’ spent nearly two years in Europe, where Frederick continued his studies in astronomy and Mabel gave birth to their son in Paris. In 1901, after returning to America, he took a position as an astronomy professor at the University of Missouri, where also was director of an observatory. Mabel had her own interests, however, in literary pursuits and architecture and later published articles in a St. Louis newspaper about architecture found in California.
This was because, in 1909, the Seares’ returned to the Golden State, when Frederick was offered a position by George Ellery Hale at the Wilson Observatory, which was installing its massive 60-inch reflector. Frederick was responsible for the computing division and editor of publications and was also helped build a substantial library. He also was known for developing ideas for stellar photometry, or the measurement of light, using the reflector.
Later, Frederick Seares, who became assistant director of the observatory in 1925, was responsible for cataloging some 70,000 stars and his work with polar stars established standards for understanding the nature, brightness and distribution of stars. A long time chair of an international photometry organization and editor of the Astrophysical Journal, he received the prestigious Bruce medal in 1940 for his contributions to astronomy.
Mabel, meanwhile, continued to develop her interests in literature and architecture, publishing poems, critiques of architecture, and other works. She then launched California Southland, a monthly that advertised as “An Illustrated Magazine of National Interest,” though it was focused on greater Los Angeles.
Today’s highlighted artifact from the museum’s holdings is the May 1926 edition of the magazine. The cover featured a rendering of the dramatic rotunda at the newly completed Los Angeles Public Library, where visitors today can still see the stunning murals of artist Julian E. Garnsey there and in the Children’s Room. Garnsey (1887-1969), who remains best known for his work at the library, also rendered some fine murals at the Temple Theatre in Alhambra, completed in December 1921 as Walter P. Temple’s first major real estate project.
A one-page article by Mabel Seares (listed as M. Urmy Seares) about Garnsey’s work noted that the artist’s father, Elmer, was a well-regarded muralist, widely admired for his work at the Minnesota and Iowa state capitol buildings, the New York Customs House and the St. Louis Public Library, among others. After studying architecture at Harvard, Julian traveled and studied in Europe, including Greece, Italy and Paris, and in Egypt.
Garnsey served as a captain in a field artillery unit in World War I and then came to Los Angeles, where he worked prolifically with projects in many banks, the headquarters of the Automobile Club of Southern California, the Fullerton College library, the home of actress Mary Pickford, and many others. As an illustration of Mabel Urmy Seares’ prose, she observed upon visiting the library rotunda that:
Snappy and brilliant are the colors placed so far from the floor of the rotunda; sparkling is the effect caused by that juxtaposition of pure tones, each enhancing the other in a way which only an artist born can encompass in such a colossal scheme. Softly all the sparkling colors of the dome decoration melt into the neutral tone of the walls as the eye travels down again to the floor where the tile again takes up the firm placing of tone against tone.
Another feature article is on the architecture and decoration of the newly finished Spanish Colonial Revival building of the California Security-Loan Corporation in Pasadena. The structure was designed by Wallace Neff, a prominent architect of the era, the interior decoration was supervised by the Cheesewright Studios across the street from the building.
Tiles, much of those from the photos looking like those in La Casa Nueva at the Homestead, were made in Mexico and imported by the Talavera Importing Company. Paneled wood doors and abundant use of cast-iron was also noted. Unfortunately, the building is no longer in existence.
The publisher’s son, Richard Seares, also contributed a short piece, under a broader heading of “A Course in the Appreciation of Architecture,” which references better town planning principles in places like Palos Verdes and Santa Barbara. In fact, Richard Seares was hired by the latter city’s Architectural Advisory Committee to consult on the rebuilding of much of Santa Barbara’s downtown after a devastating earthquake on 29 June 1925.
His contribution was about “The Bungalow in Spanish Style,” focusing its discussion on a home in San Andreas, a town in the Gold Country northeast of Stockton. At the bottom of the page, however, is a subdivision map for Montebello Park, south of Whittier Boulevard, divided by what was then known as Ninth Street, extending from downtown Los Angeles, but which soon was renamed Olympic Boulevard for the upcoming 1932 Olympic Games, as well as Garfield Avenue. The map was included to show how “this plan for a new subdivision between railroad tracks and power lines along East Ninth Street solves many problems.”
A couple of articles dealt with subjects removed from greater Los Angeles, including one on the Merced River, which flows from Yosemite Valley into the Central Valley, and the El Encanto Hotel in Santa Barbara. A continuation of a piece about landscape architecture is also to be found, along with a short one about the Pasadena Garden Club’s headquarters at the lavish Huntington Hotel (now the Langham Huntington).
Monthly reports are also found from that garden club, as well as those from the Southern California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the Architectural Club of Los Angeles, and the Assistance League of Southern California, the latter a charitable organization led by some of the most well-connected women in Los Angeles, including Mrs. Hancock Banning, Mrs. William Gibbs McAdoo (whose husband was Secretary of the Treasury for the administration of President Woodrow Wilson), and Mrs. E. Avery McCarthy, who was the descendant of a prominent early Los Angeles attorney, Volney Howard.
A “Southland Opinion” section, includes editorial comment on marriage (author and screenwriter Elinor Glyn, best known for It, which became a successful 1927 film starring Clara Bow, told the Assistance League that women had to be responsible for maintaining the importance of marriage as a perpetuation of the human race); advertising ethics by jobbers who work for merchants to advertise in print mediums; roadside advertising (a concern about the proliferation of signs degrading the beauty of the outdoors—see the recent post on this blog from the Standard Oil Bulletin on this very topic); and “Finding God—Within Us,” a short take on the teachings of Christ about individual development and the denial of worldly things.
A sports article discusses polo, yachting, tennis and golf, obviously laying bare the intended audience of the publication, which is also made clear in a piece on the opposing page about the Flintridge Riding Club’s annual Amateur Horse Show, a charity event for The Junior League held in today’s La Cañada-Flintridge.
A Southland Calendar provides listings for events hosted by clubs, musical organizations, colleges and universities, societies, and others. Book reviews include the newly published Adobe Days by Sarah Bixby Smith, whose family owned the ranchos Los Cerritos (acquired from Jonathan Temple in 1866) and Los Alamitos; other works of non-fiction; and novels, among others.
Finally, the numerous advertisements are targeted towards an upper class clientele including those from architects; designers; suppliers of services and materials for home design and construction; galleries; specialty shops; private schools; clothiers; and much more. At the rear are two full-age ads, one for a Los Angeles music company advertising Stieff pianos and the other for the Palos Verdes Estates project (an earlier version of which was featured on this blog earlier this year.)
Mabel Urmy Seares continued with her publishing of the magazine until the late 1930s when the Depression likely took its toll. She died in 1940 at age 78 and her widow, recently awarded the Bruce medal, remarried two years later with his second wife Mary Cross Joyner being his long-time administrative assistant at the Wilson Observatory Computing Department. The two remained married until his death in 1964 at age 91.
California Southland is an interesting and instructive publication in that it was published and edited by a woman and also because of its contents, dealing with architecture, landscapes, and other aspects of society appealing to “the better sort.” The Homestead’s collection has eight issues of the hard-to-find publication, so there will be future posts on other editions.