“Picturing the Beauties of California” With the Rotagravure Magazine “Pictorial California,” November 1927

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As discussed in a previous post on this blog, Eugene Swarzwald launched his 24-page rotogravure magazine, Pictorial California, in December 1925 as the process of printing from a cylinder with etching rather than on a flat plate not only led to higher quality reproduced photos, but was cheaper, so that such large pictorial productions, when employed in newspapers, led to more readers and increased revenue from advertising.

Swarzwald and his wife published the magazine for over four decades and tonight’s featured artifact from the museum’s holdings is the November 1927 issue, the last of the second volume, with a range of notable images that, to use the title of a late 1930s compilation book published by him, were for “picturing the beauties of California.”

Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, the front cover showed a boy with a wide toothy-grin grabbing on to a turkey who looks more than alarmed at the situation and much of the content deals with other portions of the Golden State, including photos of Fleishhacker Pool, built on the western edge of San Francisco and opened in 1925 with it said to have been the largest on the planet and with 6.5 million gallons of water pumped in from the adjoining Pacific Ocean until just before it closed (it briefly used fresh water) in 1971.

Other features showed eucalyptus trees near Los Gatos, the famous “contorted cypresses” of the famous Seventeen Mile Drive at Monterey, the gorgeous setting of Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe, migratory ducks at Lake Merritt in Oakland, and sylvan scenes on the Redwood Highway in Humboldt County and near a dam at San Mateo.

A marked contrast to these nature scenes is a page about San Quentin State Prison, the oldest and largest of the several in the state system. It was curiously noted that “San Quentin is making fast strides towards becoming a sanitary, helpful abode for those whose freedom has ben misused” though reforms meant that, according to the text, the prison “is doing more for its inmates educationally than any prison in America.”

For example, there were 750 prisoners enrolled in extension courses offered by the University of California. An Educational Director established night clases with 1,300 men enrolled, while the library boasted 17,000 volumes, mainly provided by donors. Moreover, magazine publishers (perhaps including Swartzwald) sent issues to be distributed through cell blocks.

Also promoted was a recently completed Women’s Building with 449 new cells and a steel cover to keep male prisoners dry during wet weather as they entered the dining hall. Still, it was called “a sad and depressing fact that “there is never a sufficient amount of cell room” as there were always two and sometimes three men in a cell built for just one inate. Moreover, there was an average 9% a year increase in the prison population, so there were over 3,000 inmates, all of whom were serving the first terms (Folsom was, for the prior decade, the prison for recidivists.)

As for local featured elements, there is a shot of “A Perfect Day!” showing a foursome playing golk “under the old sycamores” of the Riviera Golf Club in Santa Monica Canyon. Los Angeles Athletic Club Vice-President Frank Garbutt organized a syndicate in 1922 to purchase land from oilman Alphonzo Bell (namesake of Bel-Air as well as the cities of Bell and Bell Gardens). It took some time to get the funding together for construction, but, after 18 months, the facility opened in June 1927 with the course considered the second most expensive in the world with its cost pegged at nearly a quarter million dollars. The “Grand Hotel of Golf” or clubhouse opened the following year.

A page dedicated to Pasadena, including the holding of a “Shakesperian Club Fete” in mid-October at the Huntington Hotel, including a swim meet held for women from the Pasadena Athletic Club. Also featured was the dramatic venue of the Vista del Arroyo Hotel, perched on the west bank of the picturesque Arroyo Seco, with that building now the federal Court of Appeals complex. Nearly twenty of the bungalows, some of which are shown in the photo foreground, however, are still standing as private residences.

One of a couple of dramatic landscapes featured “a sylvan retreat” showing a lily pond, stream, flagstone walk amid rocks and bounders and other components at a “Bel-Air meadow,” though where specifically was not stated, obviously out of respect for the privacy of the wealthy owner of the estate.

Another page promoted how “Man Improves On Nature” at Royal Palms, described as “a new Country and Beach Club” at the end of Western Avenue on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. While palm trees were planted among the cliffs years prior, it was noted that “the landscaping is unique, using the old palms as a nucleus” and including a waterfall and pool. Part of the facility was to include a pair of 18-hole golf courses and with a city block long clubhouse and a “still water bathing beach” of 1,200 feet length. Today, there are the White Point Nature and Education Center, White Point Park, Royal Palms Picnic Area and other recreational elements there.

The University of Southern California was also featuerd with photographs of a part of the campus and the Bovard administration building, as well as an image of school president Rufus von KleinSmid and vice-president Harold Stonier. One caption noted that the university was founded in 1879 (though the first clases began the next year) and that it was non-sectarian, though “under the general supervision of the Methodist Episcopal Church,” which established USC originally.

Another noted that the Bovard building had statues on its central tower representing church founder John Wesley and other Methodist figures, as well as Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Cicero and Plato. Von KleinSmid, an anti-Semite and supporter of eugenics, has been in the news lately as USC has apologized for his refusal to release transcripts of Japanese-American students sent to concentration camps during World War II.

The magazine’s centerfold highlighted “Stars of the Net!” at the first Pacific-Southwestern tennis tournament, held on 9 October at the Los Angeles Tennis Club, which was founded by sport stars Thomas Clark Bundy and May Sutton with help from oil and real estate capitalist G. Allan Hancock, opened with ten courts in 1924 and added seven more in 1927 not long before the tourney. It was noted that the Tennis Patrons’ Association sponsored the competition that that it hoped to host the Davis Cup as a buildup to the holding of the tennis matches for the 1932 Olympic Games at the club.

May Sutton Bundy teamed up with Marion Williams to win the women’s doubles match, while Holand’s Kea Bouman captured the singles title. For the men, “Big Bill” Tilden, a huge start of the era, captured the singles and men’s doubles (with Frank Hunter) titles, while also teaming with Norwegian star Molla Mallory to capture the mixed doubles crown. There is a large panoramic photo of a men’s match and many smaller action shots as well as one showing Tilden, Hunter, Bouman, May Bundy, Mallory and Spanish star Manuel Alonzo standing together on a court.

For those intersted in gardening and especially the fine art of raising orchids, a page was dedicated to the work of Benjamin O. Bracey, who worked with nurseries in Sawtelle, a neighborhood of west Los Angeles near Westwood. It was noted that orchids from Bracey’s collection would be shown in early November at the Beverly Hills Flower Show.

The opposite page featured rare plants, including ten varieties of the hibiscus flower, a silver tree from South Africa, a fuchsia and others from the gardens of Hugh Evans of Santa Monica. Evans, who developed Lido Island at Newport Beach, had a well-known nursery and was known for introducing many exotics in the area, while two of his sons, especially Morgan (known as Bill) went on to be landscape designers for Walt Disney’s home and theme parks.

Another interesting feature concerned walnuts, of which Walter P. Temple was a commercial grower at the time with part of the 75-acre Homestead planted to that nut (before that, his brother Francis cultivated the crop at the ranch, while another sibling, John, had a large orchard on what is now the Whittier Narrows Nature Center.) One photo on the page shows the deep irrigation used to generate large yields, while another image shows large drying trays at a grove in Santa Ana, where the 15-acre site produced some 18 tons a year.

Finally, there is a page devoted to “A Mountain Home” and the opening line noted that “on the highest hill overlooking Beverly Hills flies the American flag, an identifying mark of the extraordinarily beautiful home recently completed by Fred Niblo, the illustrious director of films.” Niblo was a stage actor and monologuist who became a film actor and director in the mid-1910s and became well-known for movies with Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. like The Mark of Zorro (1920) and The Three Musketeers (1921) and Rudolph Valentino in Blood and Sand (1923). In 1925, he was at the helm for the landmark Biblical epic Ben-Hur ad followed that the following year with The Temptress (starring Greta Garbo in one of her first major roles) and Camille, featuring Norma Talmadge.

Niblo, who at the top of his profession and well-liked by actors because he had been one for so many years, and his second wife, actor Enid Bennett (his first spouse, the sister of George M. Cohan, died in 1916), purchased their mountaintop property in what became Beverly Glen which they dubbed “Misty Mountain” and they hired famed architect Wallace Neff to design the sprawling Spanish Colonial Revival mansion of some 8,600 square feet.

The house was finished in 1926 and the article noted that it “is of Calabasas granite, reinforced concrete and stucco with a red tile roof,” though it was added that “the interior is a happy combination of the English and Spanish influences” including paneling in the drawing room that Niblo brought from England. Among the twenty-two rooms were a den with souvenirs and antiques collected during his long years on the road during his stage days), a projection room, a billard room, and “a Ben Hur room.”

The landscaping included beautiful gardens, stone steps leading to an old well that doubled as a fountain, a large swimming pool, and a tennis court. Because the property was at 1,000 feet above seal level, it was added that “the house commands a magnificent view that sweeps the whole Los Angeles plain, from the down-town skyscrapers on out over the sea to Catalina and the Channel Islands.”

A well-manicured sylvan scene at an unidentified Bel-Air estate.

Niblo retired in 1933, but his finances suffered during the Great Depression and he rented the house to actor Katharine Hepburn before it was old in 140 to Jules Stein, founder of MCA. Forty years later, after Stein’s death, media mogul Rupert Murdoch purchased the estate and it is now owned by his son James.

There are a few other items of note, including a photo of an equestrian club of elites at the Beverly Hills Hotel, with such names as actor Tom Mix, businessmen Irving H. Hellman and Marco Hellman, and others; the back cover image of the Honeymon Lodge at Cedar Pines Park in the mountains above San Bernardino; and a feature on Palm Springs, including an arhitectural rendering of the El Mirador Hotel, a $1 million sprawling faility of 200 rooms, a plunge, tennis courts, a golf course, a desert garden and more on 20 acres.

The hotel opened in January 1928 and was designed by Walker and Eisen of Los Angeles, who worked on the initial phase of La Casa Nueva at the Homestead and designed many of Walter Temple’s buildings in Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley. Developer Prescott Stevens was hammered by the Great Depression and sold the property for just $300,000 in 1932. After use as a hospital for wounded soldiers during World War II, the property repoened in as a hotel in the early 1950s but is now the Desert Region Medical Center campus with all the original hotel buildings gone, though the bell tower was replicated.

A lush landscape on the Palos Verdes Peninsla and the Royal Palms golf and beach club.

Leafing through the pages of this issue of Pictorial California is an interesting excursion through parts of the Golden State some ninety-five years ago, with the focus mostly on the well-to-do and the natural and man-made beauty of the state, save for the conspicuous exception of San Quentin. The Homestead has quite a few copies of the magazine between 1926-1930, so look for more of these in future posts.

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