La La Landscapes: A Quartet of Cabinet Photos of Late 19th Century Los Angeles Gardens

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This Thursday at 5 p.m., I and my colleagues Jennifer Scerra and Robert Barron will be giving presentations for the Los Angeles County Library system on historic Los Angeles-area gardens as well as, in the cases of Jennifer and Robert, discussing our Homestead native, rose, and butterfly gardens and demonstration vineyard.

The talks will tie together the evolving history of landscapes and gardens in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in our region with what the museum is doing currently to make the landscaping around the Workman House more dynamic and instructional. So, the first part will be a photographic review of a variety of landscapes found in the area from the 1870s through the 1920s.

With regard to what the museum has been up to, the vineyard, for example, connects directly with what the Workman and Temple families did with their commercial grape growing and winemaking for much of the 1800s and Robert, with his vast knowledge as a certified sommelier who works full-time at the Homestead and then part-time at The Cellar, a fine dining establishment in Fullerton, is particularly well-suited to talk about that project.

We don’t, unfortunately, have the knowledge that we’d like about what the Workman family planted around their residence, though there are vague mentions of a flower garden at the north side of the house. We do have the great fortune of having a circa 1860 Lady Bank Rose still with us at that area of the building, so adjacent to the west is a rose garden with varieties commonly found in that time period and later.

Identified as the “Lee cottage” on Adams Street (Boulevard), this is a Lemuel S. Ellis image from the 1880s.

Whether the Workmans had much in the way of native plants or not, there are many reasons that the Homestead planted one along a walkway just to the south of the Workman House. Not the least of these is to encourage visitors to see and appreciate the great variety of such plantings that are available and which use little water when established. Beyond that, as our ongoing work with the Kizh-Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians has emphasized, these plants also had and have real practical value.

Jennifer will not only discuss these gardens, but also the latest addition to our portfolio and a particular pet project of hers, a butterfly garden featuring varieties that attract butterflies, which is not just about the beauty of the plants and the flittering creatures, but also about how vital butterflies are for the pollination of plants.

To whet your appetite, hopefully, for the presentation, the featured artifacts from the museum’s collection for this post are a quartet of cabinet cards, all appearing to be from the 1880s, and all from what were then among the toniest residential sections of the rapidly expanding Angel City, which went through the famous Boom of the Eighties when William H. Workman, nephew of Homestead founders William and Nicolasa Workman, was mayor in 1887 and 1888.

Two of them are identified, while a third almost certainly is, as the work of Lemuel S. Ellis, who was able to specialize as a “landscape photographer” as Los Angeles grew quickly and had enough attractive public and private gardens to provide him a ready market for that brand. There was actually a father and son of that name who worked together, though the son continued the business on his own into the early years of the 20th century.

Another 1880s Ellis image, this one was inscribed as being the property of “H. Kofold” and also on Adams.

As a previous post here noted, Lemuel the elder was a practicing photographer when he was enumerated in the 1850 federal census as a “daguerian [sic] artist” in Bangor, Maine, though he was also a watchmaker, a profession taught to his son. By the early 1870s, the pair were in Yolo County, northwest of Sacramento, where the father was working with timepieces, but Lemuel, Jr. was a “picture maker,” suggesting he was working in photography. They were in Los Angeles by the mid-Eighties, just in time for the boom, and, whether they were hired by clients to document their residences or took these for sale, it looks as if there was at least some decent amount of work they were given during the Eighties. There are Ellis images that are of downtown scenes, portraits and others, as well.

With the respect to the Ellis photos, all were taken on Adams Boulevard, which mainly had large houses of the well-to-do along its path in what looks to be the St. James Park area north of the recently opened University of Southern California (the Methodist-affiliated school accepted its first students in 1880).

The first image shown here, however, is a modest dwelling inscribed as the “Lee cottage.” The single-story wood-frame house with horizontal siding has its front entrance largely obscured with at least two vines. At the right is a flowering rose, probably with white or yellow flowers, while to the left may be four vines of a different variety, though whether flowers are out or just too small to make out is uncertain.

Many of the area’s homes had long, sweeping driveway or, in this case, a horseshoe-shaped one at the front and a neatly trimmed lawn has some mature trees and a few shrubs and bushes in it here and there. There are also large trees behind the house, while, at the far right, is a tall structure that could be a water tower, though it may also be a neighboring house. It’s also pretty cool to see the little hitching post at the bend of the drive near the building.

This one, again by Ellis and from the same general timeframe, shows the intersection of a property and its landscape and the sidewalk and pepper-lined street.

The next photo is identified as that of the property of “H. Kofold” and it shows a long, curving drive with wide expanses of lawn on the sides, more wide-spreading trees (the one at the right might be an umbrella tree), bushes and shrubs, and quite a few cypresses. At the center is planter with a low mesh fence around it to keep out damaging critters and there is also a wide-spreading palm tree behind it. Just to the left of the palm, and in the distance behind it, may be a glimpse of a building, but it’s really hard to make out any details.

The third image is taken from the sidewalk along that street and takes in much of the front yard, though not the dwelling, of a property, including a large clump of pampas grass in the midst of the lawn, while a large pepper tree is to the left and more of them form a border between the street and the sidewalk at the right. Just inside the sidewalk are a row of shrubs, while to the far left is a stand of what looks like an elephant ear plant.

Also at the left, behind the pepper, can be discerned the Romanesque facing of the porch as well as the upper portion of a rustic stone chimney for an expansive (and expensive, as most houses in this section were) residence. To the right of center and also hidden behind trees is the highest portions of a steeply pitched multi-gabled roof of what might be a Queen Anne-style residence. Again, the scene clearly shows an upper-end enclave of the “better sort” in the Angel City.

The outlier of the quartet of images is one that is unmounted, meaning it was not pasted down onto a board, and is identified as being on Washington Boulevard, the most northern of the trio of presidential thoroughfares in this part of town (Adams being in the middle and Jefferson being the most southern–obviously this was in order of the service of our first three chief executives, but, alas, no Monroe or anyone else followed). Presumably, this is the section of Washington that is very near the intersection of today’s interstates 10 and 110 and likely near Figueroa Street.

Finally, this unattributed photo shows profuse landscaping, but with the added visual interest of the little girl in her pony-drawn trap and the beautiful Queen Anne house behind her.

We can actually see more of the house, albeit the second story and attic level, of this exuberant Queen Anne that looks as if it could have been designed by the brothers, Samuel and Joseph Newsom (here is an 1889 example done by Joseph on his own). What’s also great is the young girl perched in a small two-wheeled trap pulled by what looks like a pony (could this have been customized for her or at least for the younger set? Obviously, whoever her parents were could have afforded the contraption by the look of the house!)

As for the landscape, there is flora in abundance, from the well-kept hedge in the foreground (which may be part of the same property and could have a twin to match out of the frame to the right), to the large desert plants nearest the street, at least five large palm trees, what might be a pine at the right and glimpses of other plantings here and there. A bit of the large house next door can also be discerned at the right behind a large palm and the pine, if that’s what that tree is. Note the sunburst design at the peak of the front face of the gable.

So, these photos are of the ilk that will be shared during Thursday’s talk, so, if you like what you see and are inclined to see more like them, as well as others from a little earlier and through the following four or so decades, please join me, Jennifer and Robert for our discussion of a variety of historic and current history-based landscapes.

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