Portrait Gallery: A New Donation of a Photo of Monimia Botsford, Los Angeles, 1892

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

A couple of weeks ago, the Museum was contacted by Déjà Barnes, who recently moved into a home in Woodland Hills and found a box containing an 1892 studio portrait by George Steckel of a young girl.  Intrigued and not finding anything else in the box that seemed connected to the photo, Déjà reached out to to the Homestead and I got in touch.

Fortunately, and this did not happen nearly as often as it should, someone took the time to write a pen inscription on the upper part of the reverse of the photo mount and, as importantly, in readable cursive: “To dear Grandma / from her youngest grandchild / Monnie Botsford / Los Angeles / Oct. 28, 1892.”

Botsford land purchase and sale early mention The_Los_Angeles_Times_Sat__Jun_30__1888_
An early record of William F. Botsford’s life in Los Angeles showing his purchase of land in what is now the northeast Orange County town of Placentia and where he had an orange grove, Los Angeles Times, 30 June 1888.

It was also good that the surname wasn’t “Smith” or “Jones” because, though the first name was hard to make out from the scan Déjà sent me, the surname wasn’t and “Botsford” is not all that common.  In short order, a brief search in Ancestry.com found our little cherub: Monimia Botsford, who was born in December 1890 and who, at 22 months when the photo was taken or, at least, inscribed, and with the nickname of “Monnie” was the obvious fit.

A little more digging located the names of her parents, Monimia Laux and William F. Botsford, and it turned out that Botsford was a pretty prominent guy during his close to a quarter century in Los Angeles and subsequent searching disclosed that Monimia Laux Botsford, commonly called Mona, achieved some local renown as a composer.  So, while there is no question that little Monimia, who also went by Mona for much of her life, was darn cute little tyke, the photo provides a window into more interesting material about late 19th and early 20th century Los Angeles.

Botsford Laux marriage Los_Angeles_Herald_Sun__Dec_29__1889_
Los Angeles Herald, 29 December 1889.

Monimia Laux was born in Chicago in 1867 to Emilie Schwarm and Carl Laux, Jr., who both hailed from Bavaria in what later became a united Germany and emigrated as youngsters to America. Carl Laux, Sr. was a music teacher near Munich and married Caroline Laux, Monimia’s sister, but, in the turmoil that erupted during the revolutionary year of 1848, the Laux family had to flee and wound up in America where they settled in Connecticut.  Carl, Sr. taught music at a girls’ school, headed west to Illinois and served in the Union Army, with which he saw battlefield and escaped without injury.  He returned to music instruction at several schools and this remained his life’s work.

Carl, Jr. married Emilie in Waukegan, north of Chicago on the shore of Lake Michigan, in 1865.  Monimia was the eldest of six children born to the couple and her father was a druggist in the Windy City before the family migrated in 1886, as so many did, to Los Angeles as it was in the midst of the famous Boom of the Eighties and where Carl Laux opened a successful drug store.  In 1892, the firm of C. Laux was incorporated and stockholders included William F. Botsford and his wife and Laux’s daughter Monimia and his wife Emilie.  Nine years later, Laux, his daughter, and William Botsford’s sister, formed the Union Investment Company, which dealt in real estate.

Botsford p2 1900 census
The six Botsford children (a seventh was soon added to the family), including the eldest Monimia, enumerated in the 1900 census at the large mansion they lived in on Orange Street, later Wilshire Boulevard, and which was built by George Shatto, a mining magnate and former owner of Catalina island.

He was later a founder of Sun Drug Company, which was incorporated in October 1901 “to control prices and reduce expenses.”  There were eleven stockholders with Laux contributing the most at $25,000, but the firm had to stress that it was not a trust “but was organized to be of benefit to the dealers as well as to the public.”  Laux died in 1914 of cancer at age 71.

William Finn Botsford was born in 1851 at Port Huron, Michigan, northeast of Detroit, to Ann Huxtable, a native of England, and John S. Botsford, who hailed from New York and settled in Port Huron in the mid-1830s.  John was a cooper (a tinworker) before he became an steamboat owner, a government inspector with those craft, and then invested in real estate and did quite well for himself.

This cabinet card studio portrait by George Steckel of Monimia Botsford was donated by Déjà Barnes, who found it in a box with unrelated items in a home she recently moved into in the San Fernando Valley and who just donated it to the Homestead.

William went to work at fifteen in a wholesale grocery business and, two years later, joined his brother John E. in the forwarding of goods to markets.  Next, he went into a partnership with men’s furnishings, but, after a year, he worked as a bank clerk.  In the early 1870s, he rejoined his brother and formed a business in which they were elevator and grain merchants.

The enterprise prospered and included a shipping component with John retiring in 1886 and William rebranding as the Botsford Elevator Company and being its main owner, president and general manager.  Meantime, he got involved as general manager of a line of steamers and other ships plying the Great Lakes as far as Duluth, Minnesota and was president of an electric streetcar company in the Port Huron area, where he owned substantial real estate.  He was married to Nancy Sanborn and the couple had two daughters, Elizabeth and Mabel (both came with him to Los Angeles, the former married the family chauffeur and was disinherited and the latter married Monimia Laux’s brother Ernst) and, following Nancy’s death in 1887, William began to slowly sell his business interests in Michigan and went to Los Angeles as the Boom of the Eighties was starting to wind down.

The inscription on the reverse helped to identify little Monimia and which opened the door to learning about her family.  The grandmother who received this could have been her mother’s mother, Emilie Laux or her father’s mother, Ann Botsford.

Botsford starting by purchasing an orange grove in an area east of the boomtown of Fullerton and now within the city of Placentia.  He amassed considerable real estate in Los Angeles and elsewhere in California, including the Napa Valley, where he financed and ran the Vallejo and Napa Railway.  He was an organizer and long-time president of American National Bank until his resignation in 1910.

In the mid-1890s, Botsford, with his considerable wealth, purchased the massive and opulent mansion built by George R. Shatto, a mining magnate and briefly the owner of Santa Catalina Island who was killed in a streetcar accident in 1893.   The two-story house with a full attic and a tower above that sat on a rise in the landscape and had a commanding view with the family residing in the house until William died in May 1912 at age 60 of a range of health issues, including gastric problems and heart disease.

Botsford death The_Los_Angeles_Times_Thu__May_23__1912_
Times, 23 May 1912.

As for Monimia Laux Botsford, her career as a composer of local acclaim was profiled four years later in the Los Angeles Times, which noted that her grandfather was a music teacher and that he provided her early instruction, while her father, Carl, Jr. was also said to have a great deal of musical ability, repressed, however, for his career in the drug business.

Writer Jeanne Redman then added:

A delicate child who was perpetually being taken out of school and forbidden study of any kind, Mrs. Botsford has had a musical life which presents a wonder story of achievement against a series of continuous and startling obstacles.  Her frailty, combined with her father’s opposition [to her pursuit of music as a vocation], resulted in her learning to play the piano.

Though she had no formal instruction, she then learned the organ and, upon coming to Los Angeles with her family, became organist and choir director at the First Presbyterian Church at Broadway and Second.  Among the members was Mamie Perry, daughter of local lumber magnate William H. Perry and who became an international operatic singer.

Monimia Laux Botsford The_Los_Angeles_Times_Sun__Dec_17__1916_
Times, 17 December 1916.

After her marriage to Botsford, Monimia studied harmony and she began to have her songs published while taking up the piano again and working as an accompanist.  Redman went on that

one wonders what she would have done had she had a lifetime of instruction . . . surely absorption is a very excellent master . . . the playing of the masters has been a very great factor in her compositions, and the ability to think and feel in terms of music, and with a sympathetic heart and an intellect in tune with the times—these are the components which go to make a sincere and artistic composer of the woman who speaks of herself with such graceful humility . . .

The article also related a story in which Monimia met Ernestine Schumann-Heink, one of the most famous operatic singers in the world and with whom she was preparing to speak in German, when a friend presenting her “did so with the kindly announcement that I also had seven children, and was a musician!”  Monimia hesitated, feeling she couldn’t present her little German speech, and she said “and then Mme. Schumann-Heink and I both suddenly gave way to peals of laughter.  I felt that my dear children had never before loomed quite so large or so numerous.”

Times, 17 April 1948.

Monimia continued to write and perform after her husband’s death (she sold the Shatto mansion and it became part of Good Samaritan Hospital, which still operates on the site today) and survived him by over thirty-five years, dying at age 80 as Las Encinas Sanitarium, mentioned in a recent post here and which is also still in operation in Pasadena.

As for little angelic Monimia, or Mona, she was married three times and lived in Arizona and Monterey, residing at the latter when she died in 1959 at the age of 68.  The innocuous photo, found in a box with no context, did, however, to prove to have some interesting local history attached it, albeit indirectly, and this sort of happenstance takes place often, which is one of the most interesting aspects of the work we do at the Homestead.

6 thoughts

  1. Hi Paul,

    I recently came across your blog post and was thrilled because I have been searching for information on Carl Laux and Emilie Laux. I recently purchased my home in the Eagle Rock area of Los Angeles in 2020, and the title of the house linked to a deed from 1908 in which Carl Laux and Emilie Laux sold the land to a Cora A Blunt. I was curious to learn more about the Lauxs as well as Cora A Blunt. I found a photo of the gravestones of the Laux family and it is linked to the Botsford’s tombstone in the Inglewood Cemetary. Monimia is also buried there. This has been extremely interesting and informative, and I’m so impressed by all the information you have gleaned on the Laux and Botsford family. I’m curious to learn more about the Union Investment Company that your article mentions– I wonder if they owned many parcels of land in the Eagle Rock area.

    Emma H.

  2. Hi Emma, we’re glad you found the post. On the Union Investment Company, it looks like it was active from its September 1901 incorporation through at least 1912 and references were found to projects on Normandie Avenue (where specifically was not stated), Huntington Beach, Long Beach, Covina and, possibly, San Diego. A company by that name was operating in Inglewood in 1924, but whether it was a different firm, given there was no information located for the prior dozen years, is not known. In August 1906, however, Carl Laux was president of the Eagle Rock Improvement Association and two months later Laux subdivided his Las Flores country estate, so that appears to be how your property was developed by Edwards & Winters Company, later Edwards & Wildey.

  3. Hi there, I just found this article and deeply appreciate it. That’s a photo of my Great Grandmother, Monimia. Her daughter was Mona and my mother was named, at birth Mona Patricia Nelson. My mother and her mother were separated at a young age by her father and the relationship between them was always a bit touchy, though we lived near them and saw them frequently. Very little of the family history from that branch of the family was passed down so there’s always been a big hole in our knowledge of that side. This is far more in depth than anything I’ve seen before. Thanks for all the research! It means a great deal to me!

  4. Hi Peter, one of the most gratifying aspects of the blog is when people like you make a personal connection to a post. Fortunately, the photo was saved when the current owner of the house in which it was found contacted us about it and it led to this little history and then your discovering the story behind it. We’re glad it helped you better understand your family history!

  5. Hi Paul,

    Thank you for your very informative article. W.F. Botsford did have 2 daughters (Mabel & Elizabeth) with Nancy Sanborn before her death in 1887. I only know this because Elizabeth is my great-grandmother. She fell in love and married the Swedish chauffeur, Albert P. Fransen, and was subsequently disinherited by her father. Therefore, we know very little about this side of the family.

    Your research has proved very beneficial to my quest for more knowledge. Much obliged.

  6. Hi Candice, thanks very much for the comment and we’re glad you found the post and that it was helpful. It has been updated, based on what you mentioned.

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