La La Landscapes: A New Donation of Photos Taken by Lemuel S. Ellis and William H. Fletcher, Los Angeles and Altadena, 1880s/1890s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

One of the most gratifying aspects of this blog is when people get in contact to say that a post connected them to their family history, told them something new about the community in which they live, or helped them in their research, among some prominent examples.

Yesterday’s post by Zac Salem was another great instance, in which he saw a post here highlighting Mexican theater posters from our collection and got in touch to say that he’d done a great deal of research on Mexican music in Los Angeles.  The result was an invitation to Zac to send something based on his work.

One of eight unmounted cabinet card photographs, all from the 1880s, just donated to the Homestead by Tracy Soinger of New York City, this view by Lemuel S. Ellis, who styled himself a “landscape photographer” shows the expansive grounds of homes on the west side of Figueroa Street in the University Park section of Los Angeles near the University of Southern California.  The Romanesque mansion is the Stimson House, which still stands.

Last week, I was contacted by Tracy Soinger, who lives in New York City, and who saw a post from this blog done in April as a preview to our Victorian Fair and which focused on cabinet card photographs of landscapes in Los Angeles by Lemuel S. Ellis. who specifically advertised himself as a landscape photographer.

Tracy was looking for information on Ellis because she had a set of eight unmounted cabinet card photos, all but one by Ellis with the outlier being the work of William H. Fletcher of Pasadena.  During my phone conversation with her, Tracy offered to donate the images to the Homestead and the photos arrived just yesterday.

Another Ellis photograph of the same side of Figueroa, but with the sidewalks, original zanja from Los Angeles’ original water delivery system, and tree-lined median next to the street.  Part of the Stimson House peeks out in the distance left of center between two tall trees.

The Homestead has over thirty Ellis photos and, fortunately, none of the seven that Tracy donated are duplicates.  They, of course, focus on landscapes, mostly of high-end residences and five of them in the fashionable area now known as University Park and situated near the University of Southern California with Figueroa Street and Adams Boulevard being the main thoroughfares.

One of the images, labeled “174. Figueroa St. Lawns” looks north and shows the spacious and well-manicured front yards of mansions along that street, including the Stimson House, which was featured through a trio of photos on a post here just over two years ago.  This image is taken from the residence to the south and shows hedges, a variety of trees and, of course, lawns.  Much of the south and east elevations of the Romanesque Stimson House takes up much of the view. with the residence to the north also visible.

A third shot by Ellis of the lush front yards to the houses of the well-to-do on Figueroa.

Another photo, “179. Figueroa St. Cor 23rd,” was taken from just a short distance to the north of #174, but is oriented to the south.  Again, a profusion of plants are noted on the large lots of the fine homes lining the street, but only small portions of the residences, including the Stimson House, can be picked out among the lushness of the landscape.

Noteworthy, too, are what are closer to the street, including the pepper trees providing shade and aesthetic interest, the sidewalk, and, the ditch running between the sidewalk and the properties.  This latter was, in fact, part of the old zanja or irrigation ditch system that provided local water before the importation of that precious fluid by the Los Angeles Aqueduct project, completed in 1913.

This is in the same neighborhood, but Ellis turned his attentions and camera to the  nearly-empty Adams Street [now Boulevard], just west of Figueroa, to show the tree-lined thoroughfare.
A third Figueroa photo is simply titled “175. Figueroa St.” and this one, too, is marked for its capturing of the large and well-maintained yards of the well-to-do who lived along the thoroughfare.  Again, very little of the residences can be discerned, but plenty of the front yards, including many palm trees, some large shrubs and other plantings.  Palms also are in the median between the street and the sidewalk and the residence in the foreground has an attractive low cast-iron fence on a concrete foundation.

Another trio of images are in the same neighborhood, but focused on Adams Boulevard.  One, #121, is strictly focused on the wide unpaved street, with its similar median between it and the sidewalk and these planted, on one side, with pepper trees, and, on the other, with a different variety (perhaps someone knows which?).  Far off in the distance appears to be a horse-driven vehicle, but, otherwise, the handsome boulevard is deserted.

Ellis identified this as the “Lewis Cottage” on Adams and focused the lens on the trailing Lamarque roses profusely covering the porch.

The second view on the street is #65 identified as “Lewis Cottage, Adams Street” with mention in the title of the “La Marque Rose,” commonly spelled as the Lamarque, named for General Jean Maximilian Lemarque, a noted general under Napoleon.  It is a climbing rose that grows rapidly, as is fully in evidence in the photo, as the plant covers a good portion of the home’s porch.  Other roses are in the foreground of the yard.

Then, there is “44. Orange Orchard Judge Silents Gds,” and which looks to be part of the large estate on Adams of Charles Silent, whose Rancho Los Alisos in Glendora was also highlighted in a “La La Landscapes” post in May of this year.  Silent, a remarkable figure in Los Angeles after his arrival in 1885 just in time for the resounding development boom that took place and known, naturally, as the Boom of the Eighties, was also the developer of Chester Place (named for a son) in the University Park area and which includes, among other high-end residences, the mansion of oil tycoon Edward Doheny and his wife Estelle.

One of the larger estates on Adams was that of Charles Silent, an attorney and former Arizona Territory Supreme Court judge who also founded the Chester Place development in the University Park area and had a renowned country place, Rancho Los Alisos in Glendora.  This Ellis photo is of the orange orchard at Silent’s place on Adams.

This photo shows some low hedges in the foreground, but the focus, of course, is on the many mature orange trees on the estate.  That fruit was a preeminent product of the greater Los Angeles agricultural economy of the time and for decades afterward, the orange was virtually synonymous with the region for a long while.

The final Ellis view in the donation takes us out to the San Gabriel Valley.  Labeled “235. P.S. Baker Grounds Pasadena,” the image’s special focus is on a hedge of La France roses that line both sides of the wide and long driveway with a row of taller plants behind the roses.  At the top of a knoll is the large residence and some of the extensive landscaping at the front of the mansion are in view, as well.

The last of the Ellis images in this cache is of the large estate of P.S. Baker in Altadena.  Specifically highlighted in the title applied to the card is the La France roses that line both sides of the long drive.

That “outlier” photo in the donation is the Fletcher view, probably from the mid-1890s or so, titled “Echo Mountain from Altadena” and is distinct from the others in that the focus is on a natural landscape feature, a part of the San Gabriel range that looms over the scene in the foreground.  This is an unidentified estate with a narrow dirt path hardened from a wider drive flanked by densely packed rows of palm trees on both sides.

As for Echo Mountain, technically a promontory created by an alluvial fan spreading between Rubio and Las Flores canyons, it became, in the early 1890s, a featured part of the remarkable Mt. Lowe Railway, of which a post was done this past April.  A 40-room inn was built on the promontory for the railway and its associated mountainside elements, followed by a hostelry double the capacity.

Added to the set is an 1890s photo by Pasadena’s William H. Fletcher and showing a palm lined road, though the focus is in the distance with Echo Mountain and the elements on it associated with the recently opened Mt. Lowe Railway, one of the most unusual and popular regional attractions of the day.

Thaddeus Lowe, the project’s creator, also built an observatory on Echo Mountain, as well as a small zoo, a dormitory and a shop for train maintenance.  Probably the most striking element of Echo Mountain, however, was an enormous searchlight Lowe bought from the 1893 World’s Fair at Chicago and installed at the promontory the following year.  In the photo, Echo Mountain is directly above the palm-lined roadway and some of the structures can be faintly discerned.

Tracy’s donation is a great addition to the Homestead’s photo collection, specifically the landscapes of the region, but it also serves as a reminder of what the museum’s blog can do in terms of sharing the history of greater Los Angeles with a wider audience (including across the country in the Big Apple).


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