by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Almost exactly a year ago, I was contacted by Déjá Barnes, who’d just moved into a Woodland Hills house, where she discovered a box containing an early 1890s studio portrait of a young girl identified as “Monnie” (a nickname for Monimia) Botsford on an inscription on the reverse. A little research determined that the angelic toddler was not quite two years old and her father was capitalist William F. Botsford and her mother was Monimia Laux, daughter of a prominent druggist in Los Angeles, Carl Laux (the pronounciation of the German surname is a bit like “locks”).
After Déjá donated the photo, a post was published on this blog about the image, its cute little subject and some of the Laux and Botsford family history. Briefly, it was noted that Carl Laux (1842-1914), his wife Emilie (1843-1927), natives of Bavaria nearly three decades before the unification of Germany, and a sister of Botsford formed the Union Investment Company, which dealt in real estate. Earlier today, we were contacted by Emma Huang, who bought a house recently in Eagle Rock, another Los Angeles neighborhood, and found that the original deed to the property from 1908 showed that the lot was sold by Carl and Emilie Laux to Cora A. Blunt.
Emma found the Monimia Botsford portrait post and noted the brief reference to the Laux family’s real estate dealings and then reached out to us. Easily one of the most rewarding aspects of this blog is when someone gets in touch because they’ve found a personal connection, whether it is part of their family history, their neighborhood or city, or their house. In Emma’s case, it was the latter, though it also had much to do with the Eagle Rock area, as well as a shock when she read the deed (more on that at the end of this post.)
Because the Botsford photo post mentioned the Union Investment Company, Emma wondered if the firm had something to do with the development of the area where her house is situated. The company was incorporated in September 1901, but, while it appears to have been active for a little more than a decade and perhaps folded after Carl’s death, with projects found in other parts of Los Angeles, Huntington Beach (a new town at the time), Long Beach, Covina and, possibly, San Diego, there was no mention of Eagle Rock in references to the firm.
What was located, though, was that Carl Laux owned a large estate called Las Flores in what was generally known as Eagle Rock Valley. A Los Angeles Herald reference of “Property Transfers” from late 1886, the year he, Emilie and their family came to the Angel City, then undergoing the early stages of the famous Boom of the Eighties, noted that E.D. Goode conveyed, for a $200 consideration, a chattel mortgage, which concerns “movable property” as collaterial for a loan, to Carl Laux in the form of the barley crop on the Woltman Ranch in Eagle Rock Valley.
While we cannot know for sure based on that piece of evidence that this was the basis for the Las Flores property, it was also noted that, in summer 1887, as the boom really exploded, a short Los Angeles Times article called “Eagle Rock Valley. Ascending Real Estate” included a report from “W.H.” who observed,
passing each settler’s habitation in the valley, I know something of its capabilities. I see almost every conceivable production. I see ripe pumpkins, delicious for pies; beets by the acre, weighing from one to twenty-five pounds; blackberries, the number of which no man could count; apricots, delicious to the eye and taste; cornfields, groaning beneath their weight; barely-stacks that will pay the producer well for their labor. Everyone looks satisfied, and well they may, with the additional acres of cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelons, etc.
The boom in real estate holds it own. I am no real estate agent, but am positive that land in certain localities cannot be bought for less than $700 per acre, limited to eight acres. The price seems large, but whoever interviews the owner five years hence will kick himself that he didn’t buy it.
Whatever the bounty derived from the cornucopia of farm produce grown in the valley, the real prize fruit was in the speculation of real estate in the frenzy of the boom. Among the several recent transactions cited by W.H. were the sale of seventy-five acres for $7500 and another sixty acres for $10,000 by Carl Laux.
Booms, of course, go bust but it appears that Laux, whose profession as a druggist was probably as recession-proof as most occupations would be, retained his Las Flores estate and, in fall 1893, it was reported that in the Times that “Carl Laux, the Spring-street druggist, who has a large orange orchard in the Eagle Rock Valley” was among growers trying out a new spray to rid his trees of insects. The other pestilence that was raging through the region was the national depression that erupted that year, while drought conditions also were a major problem regionally for much of the decade.
Whle W.H. did not mention the orange in his glowing description of the fertility of Eagle Rock, that fruit became dominant among the agricultural products of greater Los Angeles. Just about the time of the article, the refrigerated boxcar, with Edwin T. Earl, soon a major capitalist in the Angel City, as the creator of one of the most successful types, helped revolutionize the citrus industry in reaching distant markets with far less spoliage.
In the first years of the 20th century, however, a new boom came into being and as the population of Los Angeles and environs continue to expand dramatically, the bucolic agricultural Eagle Rock Valley was due for its incorporation into the relentless push of suburbanization. In 1906, Laux decided it was time to cash in and subdivided his Las Flores property through the real estate firm of Edwards and Winters, reconstituted the following year as Edwards and Wildey.
Just before Halloween, the Herald noted that “Eagle Rock is Popular” as a new streetcar extension meant that lots of property was being sold, hillside lots were being gobbled up by those wanting to build homes, and the Eagle Rock Water Company was piping in the precious fluid for the growing community. The paper added,
the Edwards & Winters company has secured the general agency for the Las Flores tract, the beautiful country home of Carl Laux, the well known chemist. This tract is divided into large building sites, and all the tract improvements are now in and are of the highest grade.
An ad from Edwards and Winters in the same issue of the paper was titled “A Second Talk on Eagle Rock” following a first two weeks before, but prior to when Laux made his decision to subdivide when there were six other tracts on offer. The realtors, in fact, noted that “the remarkable manner in which Kenilworth and Mayfair tracts have been taken up by critical buyers has caused the owner of LAS FLORES, Mr. Carl Laux to place the general agency of his beautiful country place in our hands.”
The property, however, “is laid out in larger lots than either” of the aforementioned and “it is situated upon the highlands of Eagle Rock valley, and commands a superb view of the surrounding country and mountains.” It was added that “those who were disappointed in getting their choice of homesites in our Kenilworth tract can by making an early selection get their pick in LAS FLORES.”
In August 1908, Laux, whose full-time residence was on Carroll Avenue in Angelino Heights, where many late Victorian homes still stand, though his was torn down in 1970 (another Victorian-era home was moved to the property later in that decade and remains there now), sold a substantial portion of the Las Flores tract to Charles C. Loomis, a hotelier with his brother Harry who came to Los Angeles eight years before from San Diego and operated the Van Nuys and Angelus hotels. The 12-acre property, purchased for $8,000, was situated at the base of the San Rafael Hills at the end of what is now Argus Drive and had 450 feet of frontage of Hill Drive and 1300 feet deep, with some of the estate taken up by today’s 134 Freeway and then extending up to the crest of the hill, near where a portion of Glendale is just north of the freeway.
The article noted that there was a fine canyon with plenty of oaks and sycamores and a stream, while a well “and a water tunnel driven some 160 feet through solid rock” accessed more water. It was added that Loomis hired a landscape architect and intended to build a sunken garden not unlike the famous one in nearby Pasadena built by beer magnate Adolphus Busch. Loomis’ home was to be erected “upon a commanding knoll on the eastern edge of the property.” Later, the Argus family acquired some of this land and the Japanese garden and an amphitheater built by Loomis were incorporated into their estate. A few months later, in late November, Carl and his son Herbert, sold four parcels in the tract as the area continued to develop.
These sales occurred a month after Emma’s property was sold to Cora Blunt, who, with her husband John, could be traced back to Los Angeles as far back as 1889 and who died in 1935. The 22 October transaction was for only $10, suggesting that there was some relationship between the two parties, as the value of the property was, of course, much higher. There are some interesting terms to the contract, including the fact that the house had to cost at least $2500 to build, that it could be no less than thirty-five feet from the front line, that porches be opened excepting glass windbreaks, and that bathrooms had to be inside the dwelling.
Then, there was what Emma said was still shocking to see: the restrictive covenant, common with almost all parcels in Los Angeles and environs, excepting some districts (such as Boyle Heights or portions of South Los Angeles). The standard wording was:
no part of said premises shall be sold, conveyed, leased or rented to any person not of the white or Caucasian race.
Emma wrote me that “I was very well aware of the racial exclusions that were part of the history of Los Angeles.” Obviously, as an Asian-American, she would have been precluded from buying her house, or any other subject to this heinous restriction (Walter Temple’s Temple City, founded in 1923, had restrictive covenants, even though he was part-Latinx), if she were alive 113 years ago. Not only that, but the early years of the 20th century was the era of the so-called “Yellow Peril,” when anti-Asian sentiment was rampant in our country—first with the Chinese, who were subject to many legal forms of discrimination including the 1882 exclusion act passed by Congress, and, then with the Japanese, against whom the 1907 “Gentlemen’s Agreement” at the national level and the 1913 Alien Land Law in California were directed.
While matters have come a long way in many areas since then, we have obviously have much further to go, as we’ve seen a late resurgence of anti-Asian hatred, leading just yesterday to the passage of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act with rare overwhelming bipartisan support (a 94-1 vote, with Missouri Senator Josh Hawley the long holdout.) So, there is a particularly notable contemporary resonance to Emma’s contacting us today about the history of her property.