by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Those of us living in greater Los Angeles do so as residents of an active part of the “Rim of Fire” and its “circum-Pacific belt” of ongoing volcanic and seismic activity. Obviously, we don’t have volcanoes in our region ready to erupt and spew lava through the area (though there are a number of extinct volcanoes around us), so most of the attention given to this condition is through frequently experienced earthquakes.
Another dimension of our being in that belt, though, are the hot (mineral) springs which dot our landscape. Some of these, especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, became resorts and tourist attractions, including examples east of San Juan Capistrano, Carbon Canyon near Brea, and the Alvarado Hot Springs in the Puente Hills in modern Rowland Heights.
A well-known resort in Los Angeles just west of downtown was the Bimini Hot Springs, which was the brainchild of former dentist and insurance company executive David W. Edwards. Edwards, born in Wisconsin in 1849, lived in Minneapolis for many years and appears to have done well in the insurance industry before migrating with his family to Los Angeles about 1895.
While Edwards continued in the insurance line, he also invested in real estate as the City of Angeles continued to grow, including west of downtown. He acquired property on gently sloping land off Vermont Avenue near 3rd Street and drilled for oil, not long after the Los Angeles City oil field was brought in by Charles Canfield and Edward Doheny. Though Edwards did not find the big strike he was aiming for, he did, at a depth of 1,750 feet hit a huge spring of hot mineral water.
On the last day of 1902, Edwards opened the Bimini resort. While some sources claim the name was derived from the westernmost island of the Bahamas chain (devastated this week by Hurricane Dorian), the Los Angeles Times, dubbing the resort a “local wonder,” reported the moniker came from a namesake poem about Ponce de Leon and his reputed search for the fountain of youth by Hesekiah Butterworth and published in Victoria Magazine in 1877.
The second stanza of the poem is:
There came to De Leon the sailor
Some Indian sages, who told
Of a region so bright that the waters
Were sprinkled with islands of gold.
And they added: “The leafy Bimini
A fair land of grottoes and bowers,
Is there; and a wonderful fountain
Upsprings from its garden of flowers.
The fountain gives life to the dying,
And youth to the aged restores;
They flourish in beauty eternal,
Who set but their foot on its shores!”
Then answered De Leon, the sailor:
“I am withered, and wrinkled, and old;
I would rather discover that fountain,
Than a country of diamonds and gold.”
The “colossal natatorium” consisted of a massive wood-frame building of 16,000 square feet with a large central plunge and a surrounding balcony with a capacity for 1,000 spectators. A lighted, arched bridge spanned the pool, which was to be used for amateur swimming competitions and water polo matches. The roof was largely glass and tropical plants enhanced the green and white paint scheme. The 15-acre complex was to have beautiful gardens and views from an eminence included the coast and sea.
Not long afterwards, the Bimini Hotel was built across the street from the springs. The three-story Mission Revival structure with a set-back central block and two projecting wings was planned by W.T. Somes and Arthur G. Newton, but to be operated in conjunction with the resort.
Projected to have 150 rooms, though a later description indicated there were a third of that, and cost $75,000, the hotel included some interesting features, including a combined bedroom and parlor by having “folding beds, lavers and clothes pressers [which] will form a part of the partition walls” and, when the Murphy bed was folded, it was ventilated in the recess.
The Times reported that architect C.H.E. Blackmann, who was born to German parents in Poland and practiced for years in Australia before evidently fleeing for Los Angeles with his children’s nanny and leaving most of his family behind “Down Under.” Blackmann tried ranching in Orange County before returning to architecture, though he declared bankruptcy early in the new century. The Bimini Hotel is the only known work done by Blackmann in America, though he was said to have practiced his architectural trade until at least 1912.
Early in 1905, Edwards convened the annual meeting of his Bimini Water Company and informed the press that he was planning Turkish and Russian baths, massages, luxurious rooms for female clientele including manicures, and much more. A Times article claimed that “wonderful cures of rheumatism, stomach troubles, etc., are of almost daily occurrence.” Plans were made for a separate building for carbonating and bottling the mineral water. An outdoor swimming pool was also in the works and, overall, it was stated that “Bimini will now be one of the liveliest, cleanest, as well as health-giving resort[s] on the Coast.”
Tragedy struck at the end of the year, however, when the mammoth bath house, since surrounded on all sides by Mission Revival like two-story additions, burned, though Edwards rebuilt and the new facility opened in summer 1906. The new structure, costing some $400,000, was also in the Mission Revival style, though the Los Angeles Herald called the architecture “Algerian,” had floors of concrete mixed with marble dust, and was even larger than the first building. It had some 500 dressing rooms with steam heating, a balcony with 500 seats, fifty-five individual baths, three plunges, a cafe and soda fountain, a cigar stand, a roof garden and offered hair dressing, facials and other services. One pool was raised above the others for specialized aquatic events and 1,000 lights were utilized in the interior.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the rapid development of the then-western limits of the city meant that the Bimini resort was soon surrounding by housing developments. In summer 1907, for example, lawyer Newton J. Skinner created “Bimini Heights,” a block from the hotel and overlooking “an arroyo” known as Bimini Slough, “which is expected to be made into a beautiful boulevard.” The existence of the hot springs apparently increased the value of Skinner’s tract.
In February 1915, there were reports on plans for an amusement park on the grounds, on eight acres leased by Edwards’ company to a syndicate that was also to take over the hotel, which was to be renovated for concessions. So, it appears that there was some financial distress experienced by Edwards. Among the planned attractions were a Ferris wheel, a music pavilion, a separate dance hall, an elevated railway, a large swing ride, Japanese and European villages, an ice-skating rink, a merry-go-round and more. The park, modeled after one in Kansas City, was projected to open in May, but the project went unfinished, except for some grading and retaining.
With that concept abandoned, it was decided to lease the hotel property and surrounding lots, overlooking the same slough slated for the “Silver Lake Parkway”, to the Cumnock School for Expression, a well-known private academy for girls that opened in 1894 on Figueroa Street near today’s Staples Center and Convention Center. Because of the growing urban environment there, it was considered that the Bimini Hotel site was more rural and suitable for the school. The hotel was to be one of three buildings, with the other two soon to be built with designs from John Frauenfelder, an architect born in Cleveland and best known in Los Angeles for his work on the homes of film director King Vidor and real estate developer Edwin Janss.
In 1918, Edwards died and the Bimini resort, which remained separate from the Cumnock school, passed into other hands. It operated for over three decades, but closed in 1951. As for the hotel, when the school moved to a new location in the Hancock Park area, it reverted back to use as a hostelry by the early 1920s. Later, it became a facility for treating alcoholics and remains that way as part of the Mary Lind Foundation. Here is a Google Maps view of the structure today.
Tonight’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection includes three of six snapshots taken probably in the 1920s of staff and visitors at the Bimini Hot Springs, including an outdoor plunge, as well as a published real photo postcard of the “Bimini Hot Springs Hotel.”
The latter has a typed message from 4 September 1921 by a grandmother to her two grandchildren in Connecticut, though the message says nothing about the hotel or resort. The photo of the hotel is striking in comparison to the modern Google Maps view because the front retaining wall and staircase are intact and, except for some fire escapes at the end of the projecting wings, the building retains much of its original appearance.
Here is an excellent 2004 overview by Cecilia Rasmussen of the Times about the history of the Bimini Hot Springs, hotel and other elements.