La La Landscapes: The Garden of Dr. Rudolph Schiffman, Pasadena, ca. 1920s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As greater Los Angeles transformed dramatically in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a significant component of this change was the massive migration of people from other parts of the United States to the region.  These could be working class people attracted by the availability of jobs in agriculture and industry, middle class persons taking up employment in the booming white collar occupations found throughout the area, or the well-to-do bringing their considerable resources to their new hometown.

One of these latter was Dr. Rudolph Schiffman, born in 1845 in St. Louis of German immigrants.  Schiffman, who volunteered while still in his teens for the Union Army as a steward in field hospitals with the Eighth Regiment, Missouri Cavalry during the Civil War, enrolled after the conflict at the medical school of Washington University in his hometown and completed his studies there in 1867.   The same year, he married Kentucky native Isabella Johnson and the couple, married nearly six decades, had two daughters and two sons.

Schiffman Ad Minneapolis Star_Tribune_Tue__Jun_7__1870_
Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 7 May 1870.

He served for a short time as a assistant surgeon in the Army under the command of General Winfield Scott Hancock, who was stationed in Los Angeles just prior to the Civil War and then played a major part in the Battle of Gettysburg.  Under Hancock, Schiffman served during Indian wars in the Dakota territory and briefly was stationed in Taos, New Mexico, where he was the next-door neighbor, it was said, of famed scout Kit Carson, a close friend of William Workman and former saddler’s apprentice to Workman’s brother, David, in Franklin, Missouri.

After completing his one-year military service, Schiffman relocated to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he had a partner in a medical practice for a brief period before striking out on his own as a specialist in throat and lung issues, such as asthma, bronchitis, consumption (tuberculosis), and others.  By 1870, he was promoting his patented “pastille,” or lozenge, which was said to help with whooping cough, croup, bronchitis, consumption and asthma, while he also utilized inhalation treatments, often described as a “German asthma cure.”

Asthmador ad The_San_Francisco_Call_Tue__Sep_20__1910_
San Francisco Call, 20 September 1910.

In 1893, he was assigned a patent for “Asthmador,” a product guaranteed to bring quick relief to asthma patients.  As one advertisement expressed it, “Asthmador or Asthmador Cigarettes will give instant relief usually within 10 seconds, but always within 15 minutes.”  Naturally, Schiffman guaranteed that “if it does not give instant relief, and even more, if you do not find it to be the very best remedy you have ever used” a full refund would be given.

Schiffman, who had a manufacturing plant in St. Paul and one in Berlin ran by his namesake son, became very wealthy as a purveyor of patent medicines at a time when there was virtually no oversight by government as to the efficacy and safety of products.  Meanwhile, the doctor became a prominent citizen of the Twin Cities, including service on the board of education, as president of the city council, a candidate for mayor, and a stint on the St. Paul Board of Parks.  In 1897, while visiting Barcelona, Spain, he saw a fountain and was inspired to replicate it in Como Park in St. Paul.  It remains there and the Schifferman Fountain underwent a recent renovation.

Schiffman image Los_Angeles_Express_Sat__May_16__1908_
Los Angeles Express, 16 May 1908.

Like so many Americans from the eastern states, however, Schiffman took a winter trip to Los Angeles and fell in love with the region.  As related by the Los Angeles Times of 20 February 1901, the doctor told Mayor Meredith P. Snyder “that Los Angeles makes a better impression on the traveler than any other city of which he knows.”

Four years later, Schiffman, who kept his drug manufacturing plant in St. Paul, made a permanent move to the region, purchasing a large piece of property along the east bank of the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena.  He built the large Neoclassical mansion shown in the photograph, gave some of his land for park purposes along the arroyo’s bank and was head of the Arroyo Park Association, and began the extensive garden partially shown in the photo that garnered him a great deal of attention.

Schiffman garden mention Los_Angeles_Express_Fri__Oct_1__1909_
Los Angeles Express, 1 October 1909.

Schiffman also delved deeply into business in greater Los Angeles and elsewhere in the west.  He had manganese mines in Baja California; large tracts of orange groves in La Verne and in the San Joaquin Valley; was an officer with the Arrowhead Realty Company, which subdivided land near San Bernardino; was president of a Redlands land development firm; ran the Laguna Ranch Company involved in mining northeast of Santa Barbara; had commercial property on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena; and was an early developer of the La Cañada-Flintridge area.  In 1921, Schiffman moved his drug manufacturing operations from St. Paul to Los Angeles.  For a brief time in 1908, he was the city commissioner of Pasadena.  He was also noted for his philanthropy, including working with boys and girls associations in the Crown City.

Schiffman bougainvillea buy The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Sun__Mar_10__1912_
San Francisco Examiner, 10 May 1912.

As for his “home park,” Schiffman was widely known for its variety and beauty.  The Times reported that “his gardens at his own home are famous and, having himself planted virtually everything growing there from trees to flowers, he devoted much time to their care.”  Another account from the Long Beach Telegram in 1908 observed that “his greatest hobby is the collection of rare plants and flowers” and opined that:

His home place in the Crown City rivals that of the famed sunken gardens of Adolphus Busch [brewing magnate of Schiffman’s hometown of St. Louis] . . .

The paper added that the Schiffman home and gardens cost some $300,000, an enormous sum at the time.  The following year, the Los Angeles Express reported that cannas rising twelve feet in height “are attracting attention” among passersby.  Meanwhile, it noted that “a large banana tree, bearing really edible fruit, and many other plants of interest at this home will be the subject for pictures and story in several floriculture publications in the near future,” while Schiffman had a complex irrigation system “by which large areas of growing things may be sprinkled at the same time.”  In fact, the gardens were profiled in such national magazines as Suburban Life and House Beautiful in the early 1910s.

Schiffman obit The_Los_Angeles_Times_Fri__Dec_24__1926_
Los Angeles Times, 24 December 1926.

In 1912, Schiffman traveled to Panama, where he secured a rare bougainvillea, a native of Brazil, and the Los Angeles Express reported that “he will seek to propagate for the beautification of Grand View, whose attractions in Southern California are second only to the famous Busch Gardens.”

What made the example he found rare, given that bougainvillea were and remain very common in greater Los Angeles, was that “the flower is of the same hue as the famous American Beauty rose [and] this shade of bloom has never been discovered in the species before.”  It was added that Schiffman stumbled upon the plant while touring the Canal Zone, where the famed Panama Canal was in construction, and carefully arranged with an old widow to allow him to take cuttings back home.

1219054 House and Garden of Dr R Schiffman Pasadena 2009.215.1.10
This photo from the Homestead’s collection shows a portion of “Grand View,” the Pasadena estate of Schiffman, including much of its famed garden.

The photo gives a fine view of the expansive formal gardens at Schiffman’s “Grand View” estate, including neatly maintained paths, a variety of rectangular planting beds, a fountain and pool, a Neoclassical pergola with a stone bench, wide lawns, and many trees, shrubs and other plantings.

Schiffman died just before Christmas in 1926 at age 81 and, while his gardens were celebrated at the time, they, and his mansion, eventually gave way as the Busch Gardens did, to future development.  He is now long forgotten, but this photo is a document of what, for about twenty years, was one of the best known residential landscapes in greater Los Angeles.

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