by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Greater Los Angeles was widely known in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for its variety of resorts, many catering to winter birds flying from the frigid regions of the United States and enjoying the abundant sunshine, clean air, and open spaces of our region.
While the most common locations for these hostelries were beach communities like Santa Monica, Redondo Beach and Long Beach, as well as foothill areas at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains including Pasadena, Sierra Madre and the like, one of the more unlikely examples was the Silver Peak Guest Ranch, identified as being in Walnut, but located in what is now the southeast corner of Walnut near Diamond Bar and Rowland Heights.
Established by 1915 as a gentleman’s citrus ranch by George W. Chessman, whose father was a successful cattle dealer in Denver, Silver Peak, probably named for one of the peaks in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, also took on guests that winter.
The facility included Chessman’s residence, which was surrounded by fifteen bungalows and cottages, each with its own bath and steam heating, radiating from the main house and accessed by walkways leading through lush gardens. A dining room with a patio and lawn served meals and there were fine views of the eastern San Gabriel Valley from the hillside hostelry.
Silver Peak was open for visitors during the extended winter season, basically from November through March or April, though it was occasionally kept operating longer than that. While visitors from out-of-state were common, so, too, was the ranch utilized by locals, including for clubs having events and meals at the attractive site.
The Homestead collection has several images of Silver Peak and a sample are included with this post, including of the main home and its gardens, the extensive patio showing the view, an indoor shot of the primary building, one of the bungalows, and a published postcard showing the largely open spaces of the valley looking toward the San Jose Hills and beyond to the San Gabriels.
Chessman was born in Topeka, Kansas in 1885 as the only child of George H. Chessman and Lillian Hodgins. The family began visiting the Los Angeles area as early as 1904 and then settled in the region about a decade later. George, Sr. and Lillian lived in Pasadena and Altadena, but it appears they bought the Silver Peak property and had their son operate and manage it for them.
Ads for the ranch stated that it was off Valley Boulevard, so the property must have been extensive as the house and bungalows were about a mile to the south. One advertisement in November 1921 indicated that the hostelry was opening just before Christmas for its seventh winter season, pinpointing its opening to late 1915. Chessman was listed as an orange grower when he registered to vote in 1916 in what was called the Spadra precinct in the Pomona district. Poultry, fruits and vegetables were raised on the ranch for the hotel’s table.
For the winter season of 1923-24, Chessman announced to the Los Angeles Times that he recently added a new kitchen and “a novelty shop” to Silver Peak. He had become a collector of art and collectibles from around the world and created the Silver Peak Studios, which operated in La Jolla, near San Diego, then the Arrowhead Inn at the base of the mountains in San Bernardino and, finally, in Palm Springs.
In March 1924, a photo appeared in many newspapers showing Chessman and a woman from New York City enjoying a leisurely horse ride “along shadowed paths” at Silver Peak, perhaps on the tree-lined driveway leading from Valley Boulevard to the ranch. Later that year, Chessman opened early because of booming business and reported that he’d just returned from the East where he purchased new art works for the store. Among the guests that winter of 1924-25 was Elinor Glyn, a popular, and racy for the period, novelist and film screenwriter, best known for her book It, which was turned into a massively popular film in 1927 starring screen siren Clara Bow and matinee idol Antonio Moreno.
1925 proved to be a banner year for Silver Peak, as Chessman kept the ranch open much later than usual, taking guests through July. There were, however, challenges in running the facility. For example, a gang of thieves was planning late that year to rob the ranch, but the young leader of just 21 years of age was arrested before the plot could be carried out. In summer 1928, a fire broke out at Silver Peak, destroying a large barn, burning some of the orchard, and causing a few thousand dollars in damage. The conflagration was said to attract motorists on Valley Boulevard and Brea Canyon Road, where the 57 Freeway runs today, who drove to the scene to watch the blaze.
In early 1928, an advertisement for the Mutual Building and Loan Association of Pomona lavished praise on Silver Peak, calling it “the aristocratic pride of Walnut Valley” and likening it ambitiously to such famed hostelries as the Mission Inn in Riverside, the Del Monte at Monterey, and Santa Barbara’s El Mirasol.
Further called “the treasure place of beauty” with “an exotic tropical park” and fine interior decorative elements from Chessman’s collection, readers of the ad were urged “don’t let a visiting guest get away without seeing our dainty guest ranch.” Silver Peak was romantically positioned as a “symbol of the old Spanish hospitality of far-flung Rancho de la Puente and Rancho San Jose, of other days.”
In November 1929, a month after the stock market crash that October ushered in the early stages of the Great Depression, Chessman sold the property to Robert Fulton, who was said to have operated a hotel at Yokohama, Japan. Chessman remained in the area, living in Altadena and spending time at his Palm Springs location of Silver Peak Studios for a time in the Thirties. He died in 1947 at age 60 and is buried with his parents at Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena.
Fulton immediately undertook added promotion and marketing for Silver Peak, including a short article published in the Times that provided a description of the ranch:
In an orange grove crowning a hilltop, and overlooking the San Gabriel Valley is Silver Peak Guest Ranch, an hour’s drive from Los Angeles on Valley Boulevard. All the peace and charm of the country are here combined with the luxuries and comfort of the city. The home-like guest bungalows are set in the midst of a semitropical garden and represent the last word as to the convenience and artistry of their appointments.
Meals, expertly prepared and deftly served in the attractive dining-room are a source of joy to the guests. Silver Peak has proved very popular as a place to hold afternoon teas, bridge, luncheons or dinners.
Fulton, however, did not long operate Silver Peak as a hotel, though whether it was the worsening economy or not is not known.
In September 1931, the Pomona Progress reported that the shuttered guest ranch was leased for three years to H.R. Riggs and his wife E. Lillian Curry, operator of a boarding and day school for students from kindergarten through high school and called the Silver Peak Ranch School. The situation mirrored that of the Homestead, which the prior year, was leased to a boys’ military academy. Though heavily advertised, the school did not survive beyond its lease and closed in 1934.
Silver Peak then became a Claretian seminary training school for the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with a few dozen high school and older young men enrolled at the campus and taught by a staff of a half-dozen professors. A notable resident there was Father Joachim Uriz, a Spaniard who conducted guided tours of Mission San Gabriel for 33 years until ill health led him to settle at the seminary in 1940.
The seminary closed and the status of the ranch is unknown, but as the region entered another period of enormous population growth and rampant suburban development, the rural and agricultural character of the eastern San Gabriel Valley and the Walnut area soon changed dramatically.
In 1963, the Royal Vista Golf Club opened on part of the ranch and housing developments later were constructed on other sections. Other than a few references on old maps and photos and postcards like the ones shown here, the Silver Peak Guest Ranch, which would be east of today’s Colima Road and Brea Canyon Cut-off Road/Fairway Drive, is largely forgotten now.