by Paul R. Spitzzeri
A couple of previous posts here have highlighted copies of the short-lived, but fascinating, monthly magazine, The Valley Beautiful, which published in the 1920s by an association of that name. The group was comprised of officers from many local communities, including San Dimas, Covina, Monrovia, Monterey Park, Alhambra and Ontario, and it was noted that the group was “devoted to the beautification of the San Gabriel and Adjacent Valleys.”
The organization was created by those “who love our wonderfully sunny Southern California” and who wanted “to multiply its natural beauties, add to its natural advantages, divide its natural deterioration by time and elements and substract the abominations of commercial greed.”
To achieve this broad goal, there were four broad stated objectives: a cohesive development of landscaping and lighting along highways; beautifying county and localparks; the “lavish use of native California wild flowers in the hills and waste places,” whatever the latter was supposed to mean; and “removal of billboards and signs from our highways and scenic points.”
This evening’s featured artifact from the Homestead’s collection is the second issue of The Valley Beautiful for March 1926. The front cover shows a massive rose bush growing against the side of a brick commercial building in El Monte and was planted by Sarah Burdick, a member of an old family in that town. The Association’s treasurer, Frank M. Colville of Monterey Park, wrote that “when the roses are in bloom thousands of passing tourists pause to enjoy the beauty of this novel sight, and, incidentally, the community receives decidedl favorable advertising.” Otherwise, without the bush, there would only “be a blank, unsightly brick wall or perhaps a hideously colored advertisement of cigarettes or soap.”
The monthly meeting, held the fourth Friday, for March was to be held in San Gabriel and to include musical performances, “selections” from the “Mission Players,” which were, presumably, cast members from the widely popular Mission Play, a very sympathetic and paternalistic passion play about the Christianizing and civilizing endeavors of the Franciscan monks during the Spanish and Mexican eras of California and who counted Walter P. Temple as among its most public supporters and benefactors.
One of the three main addresses for the gathering was to be from its author, John Steven McGroarty, who championed the building, which was completed the following year, of a new Mission Playhouse, with Temple and capitalist and book and art collector Henry E. Huntington the biggest individual financial contributors and Temple’s business manager, Milton Kauffman, serving on the board overseeing the project.
With respect to the mission city, where Temple had major development projects with three commercial structures built earlier in the decade and the donation of a lot for a city hall, still used today, and which was designed by his favored architects, Albert R. Walker and Percy Eisen, best known for their many business buildings in downtown Los Angeles, there was “The Story of ‘Old Mission San Gabriel'” by Percival J. Cooney. He was an El Monte resident, a long-time instructor of “Americanization” at the city’s high school, and was best known at the time for his Dons of the Old Pueblo, a historical novel published in 1914.
In his preface of that work, Cooney wrote of the need for a “kindly sympathy for the gentle, chilvarous race” that occupied California before the American seizure of the Mexican possession, adding that the United States would necessarily interact more with “the Latin nations to the south.” In so doing, he continued, “well, indeed, will it be for us, and for them, if we remember that we are not better—not superior, only different.” He referred to the “Viking vigor” that was not possessed by Latinx peoples, but “neither are their virtues ours.” If it was to be that the “Anglo-Celt will lead” the modern world, Cooney concluded, “may he learn from the Latin races of kindliness of heart and speech, of poiseful dignity, of the graceful, gentler art of living.”
In his essay for the magazine, Cooney wrote of the founding of the Mission San Gabriel on 8 September 1771, as the priests Somera and Cambón and a caravan of soldiers and mules “came to a halt close to where the office of the oil company now stands, where the road from Montebello turns about the corner under the hill about three miles south of El Monte.” It appears he referred to the Temple lease headquarters of Standard Oil Company of California in the Whittier Narrows, south of El Monte.
He then repeated the oft-told story (there are no indigenous counterpoints to this) hat, once a banner of the Virgin Mary was held aloft, astonished natives “threw themselves on the ground with every sign of submission and respect.” Cooney added that, with promises of food, Indians were willing to build the mission structures and all was well until the soldiers “became too pressing in their attention to the Indian women.” A fight erupted but the soldiers’ guns led, “after a brisk fight of several hours,” to the killing of the native chief and the conflict ended.
It was purportedly the later arrival of Governor Pedro Fages that led to an improvement in relations between the Spanish and the indigenous people, “who once more submitted to religious instruction.” What Cooney wrote was that “the mission building was of wood plastered with adobe and roofed with tules” and was 45′ by 18′ in dimension “and surrounded by a palisade.” But, its proximity to the old San Gabriel River, known to us as the Río Hondo, that caused flooding for three consecutive years, with the last such that it “terrified the Padres” who “fled hastily to the hills [Montebello?] and decided to abandon the sie, and establish the Msision of san Gabriel where it now stands, three miles north.”
To his credit, Cooney disabused the notion. reinforced by some existing photographs of the era, that “the adobe buildings on the Garvey ranch” nearby were said to be from that first mission.” He continued, however, to observe that
from the definite description given by the chroniclers, the site of the old mission was at what is now known as Temple’s Corners. The spot has been appropriately marked by a stone and a metal tablet by Mr. Walter Temple, an oil capitalist who is very much interested in Califonria history. The tablet can be seen enclosed by an iron fence at the foot of the hill, but of the buildings no vestige remains.
Here, however, Cooney was in error. Later archaeological investigations, accounting for the effects of river flooding and subsequent invasive and intensive oil drilling and other uses, indicate the mission site was to the north, across San Gabriel Boulevard, but, because Temple owned the property comprising part of the oil lease at the base of the Montebello Hills, that’s where the marker, which is stone rather than metal, remains today.
The writer went on to note that “the name still survives and is now used to designate the south end of the flat, by Americans and Mexicans alike.” This community of Misión Vieja, or Old Mission, is where the Temples lived on half of Rancho La Merced from the early 1850s onward. Cooney told a tale of how, the prior year, “two strange Mexians arrived with a map which they claimed they had obtained from the Mexican archives” and which showed purported treasures buried by priests near a home.
Receiving permission from the owner to dig, by promisng him 20% stake, the bounty hunters were reporedly foiled because of a flood that caused them to be “unable to relocate the spot” where the gold and silver vessels were said to be hidden. Cooney ended by stating that “almost every summer sees treasure hunters prospecting about the old mission corner near Montebello.”
J.M. Paige, a Pomona resident, contributed an article “Execution of Plan and Planting” concerning the proper application of landscape beautification along highways and he especially highlighted the question of ownership and the resulting maintenance of plantings along thoroughfares. He observed that “most counties now have a tree warden or county forester” to oversee the management of roadside landscaping. For state highways, obviously, the state commission planted these, but Paige called for “localized control of responsibility.”
His recommendation was “that the county be divided into districts; perhaps the county road district will be a solution in this matter,” though it should not be general supervisors or foremen in charge, but, rather, suggested “the county horitculturist place on of his men in charge of this work if the county forestry department has not the finances and men to handle this work.” As for the type of trees planted in depended on climate and soil and he listed varieties to consider based on whether the road ran east to west or north to south. In addition to adequate watering, trees were not to be closer than 50 feet apart unless used for wind breaks and set back in case of future road widening.
Paige concluded by asserting that, rather than dogs, “our trees are the best friend to man” and he noted that “out of them our cradles are made, our houses built, our implements made” and other uses identified. Moreover, “the trees conserve our water supply which is vanishing very rapidly and without which we would soon die.” He finished with something of an aphorism: “plant me, guard me, and I will shade and prosper ye.”
Another piece, “Worthwhile Results Accomplished,” discussed some successes in ornamental landscaping along roadways and generally, including in locales from Cucamonga on the east to Monterey Park on the west. So, Pomona, for example, “is constantly and competently adding beauties and accommodations to her wonderful Ganesha Park,” and lighting more streets. At San Dimas, “much vacant property has been planted with native California wild flower seeds.” Baldwin Park, which “is afflicted with growing pains and that spirit of commercial development which seems always to precede the cultural embellishments in Southern California,” was expected to “soon catch up with her neighbors.”
Monrovia, though, “has too many advantages, too many improvements and plans and too many things started along our ideas to enumerate,” and it had a fine civic center, new parks, improved streets and regulations on billboards to recommend it. As for San Gabriel, host of the upcoming meeting, “she is taking advanced steps on uniformity of street trees” along with other approved improvements.
El Monte and Monterey Park received high praise for a variety of measures to beautify their municipalities and the former was highlighted for work to “be done to preserve some of the landmarks identified with her past history as the ‘end of the Santa Fe Trail,” though this last was a misnomer (the trail went from Missouri to the New Mexico city) and El Monte was preparing to solidify its approach to commemorating its white Southern “pioneer” history and exclude all others who lived in the community.
With regard to landscaping along roadways, Hugh R. Pomeroy, the secretary of the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission, provided an update on “A Park and Parkway Plan for the San Gabriel Valley.” This touched on many projected road improvements, including the Sierra Madre Parkway along the mountain foothills from the La Crescenta Valley to Upland; parkways along the Río Hondo and San Gabriel River and “the heart of the system will be in the Whittier Narrows, where not less than 1500 acres should be set aside as a great park;” the Santa Anita Parkway from the mountains to the Río Hondo; parkways along washes moving south from the San Gabriels; and hilltop roadways such as one from Whittier Narrows along the peaks of the San Jose Hills towards Pomona.
As for parks, Pomeroy discussed examples like one at “the hill area between Puente and the Pass and Covina Road,” this now being the Industry Hills complex in the City of Industry; one “on the Arrow Highway in Claremont at the entrance to Los Angeles County;” a “picnic park” where roads met in the San Jose Hills, probably where Interstate 10 crosses through the hills near Cal Poly Pomona; and a park not much smaller than Whittier Narrows at Santa Anita “where the matchless oak and sycamore groves and rolling land would make nationally famous park,” though there was the later development of the Los Angeles County Arboretum at Arcadia.
Pomeroy mentioned golf courses, parks along washes, including one in San Gabriel near the mission and the Alhambra Wash. He added that “this historic spot should be enshrined in the permanent plan of the Valley, and early steps should be taken to this end.” He noted that the Mattoon Act for financing unincorporated community improvements would provide the funding, though its provision that adjoining neighbors be responsible for the assessments of a delinquent tax payer, doomed communities like Walter Temple’s Town of Temple (renamed Temple City in 1928) to poor sales and led to its repeal several years later.
A preliminary map of a regional plan for parks and parkways in the valley was included. A regional highway plan from the county for the San Gabriel Valley was completed and published in 1929, the only of several projected, but abandoned as the Great Depression ensued. It is interesting to see what planners were proposing given what later transpired, especially after the Second World War.
Lastly, there is an interesting “The ‘Bill Board’ Complex” article from Wayne Allen, a representative of a company, Foster and Kleiser, that built these. He acknowledged that many were likely “to have his aesthetic taste completely nauseated” by “viewing cluttering and grotesque signs of all sizes and descriptions” on fences, trees, abandoned structures and the like. Allen noted, however, that advertising had an important business purpose and highighted that “the clear thinking elements in outdoor advertising for twenty-five years have been regulating the industry from within.”
It was “the regulated outdoor advertising associations” around the nation that set recognizable and reasonable standards and Allen, of course, featured the role of his company, operating on the West Coast, as “cognizant of the obligation imposed upon” the firm because “the greatest value of their medium is in its reception by the public and that the aesthetic aspect of its existence must be regarded.”
Proper placement, respect for natural locations of beauty, and an attractiveness of billboards erected, were critical to his company’s business model. There was, after all, a growing demand for these means of advertisement, but having those “that carry an attractive and harmonious appeal” would allow for more acceptance of the product. Foster and Kleiser, he said, was proactive in foregoing placing billboards on coastal highways and such recent landmark roadways as the Mulholland Highway in the Santa Monica Mountains. Working with civic organizations, women’s clubs, government commissions and others helped to bring out “the necessary restraint in the employment of such locations as would be objectionable.”
It was prime objective of The Valley Beautiful Association, however, to engage in the “removal of billboards and signs from our highways and scenic points” in the servce of the stated goal to “subtract the abominations of commercial greed.” The first page of the publication, moreover, called on its members to report
of the existence, location and advertiser, also the advertising company, of any billboard which interferes with a full view of any scenic point or which interferes with safety of traffic or is especially inharmonious with its surroundings.
While the organization and its magazine did not last long, the material found in the issues is often very interesting and enlightening, as the excerpts and examples here show.