by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Among the many notable endeavors of the remarkable Charles Fletcher Lummis in his more than four decades of living in Los Angeles, one of the most important was his editorship of The Land of Sunshine magazine, which debuted in 1894, not long after Los Angeles was heavily marketed and promoted at the prior year’s World’s Fair in Chicago. Lummis edited the publication, which was renamed Out West early in the 20th century, from January 1895 for about fifteen years and its contents contained many interesting and instructive articles about the region.
This post focused on the July 1895 issue of the magazine, culled from the Museum’s collection, and emphasizes several articles relating to greater Los Angeles. The primary piece was a remembrance of the area by Elizabeth Bacon Custer (1842-1933), widow of General George A. Custer, whose 7th Cavalry Regiment was wiped out by warriors from the Arapaho, Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne indigenous tribes at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876. Mrs. Custer dedicated herself to rehabilitating the image of her husband, as he was widely criticized for serious blunders that led to the destruction at the Montana battle site.
She did not state when she visited our region, but, in her “Memories of ‘Our Italy,”” Custer wrote that she first did not care for the comparison, thinking she would be disappointed when she arrived here and felt greater Los Angeles would pale in comparison to the European nation. Not unlike this year, she noted that “it was cold that spring, and summer did not run to meet us over velvet swards of green,” but when the latter season made its late appearance, “oh, what bloom and fragrance and delightful atmosphere it recalls!”
Moreover, she continued, “it was an Italy and without the trying features of that exquisite land of poetry, history and art,” as there weren’t the beggars, poverty and “the odors of that loathsome surroundings” to be found here. Instead, Custer gushed,
While you see all that nature can do in California, you are at the same time in the midst of our own countrymen, the most delightful people in the world, and made more so by the sunshine which mellows and enriches natures, as it darkens the purple of the grape and deepens the bloom on fruit.
As so many observed in their visits and descriptions of our region, she added, “there is nothing like the effect that life in the open air has upon the disposition as well as the health” and “in California, everything invites you to remain out of doors.” In fact, she claimed to have recalled little of the inside of houses she visited, but fondly remembered the porches and porticos of hosts and the “rugs on the floor, wicker furniture—chairs, tables and sofas—the tea service, writing desk, books, magazines and papers.”
She marveled at the landscape, with hedges, shrubs, palms and, most especially, the profusion of roses, where “the rarest varieties ran riot over the roofs of the houses” and she recorded that she received a basket of the flower with no fewer than fifty varieties. As the citrus industry became so dominant that the orange was literally identified with the region, Custer noted that “as we waked in the outskirts of Los Angeles, oranges from the groves we were passing fell at our feet.” She and her compatriots picked them from the trees and “whether it was because it was stolen fruit or not, there never seemed to be such freshness and delicacy of flavor.” She particularly enjoyed a twenty-mile trip in Pasadena and environs and “an avenue several miles long, shaded by full-grown trees only seven years old.”
A highlight of Custer’s visit was a sojourn at Sierra Madre Villa, the hotel in what is now northeastern Pasadena where a neighborhood of that name is now located (Walter P. Temple’s attorney and friend, George H. Woodruff, resided in the tract in the 1920s). She exclaimed that, on arriving there, “it seemed to me that I had reached the gates of heaven . . . when I passed under the arches of green into the garden of the Villa.” While there, she enthused, “to breathe the fragrance and be surrounded with the blossoms of my three favorite flowers at one time was more than I had ever expected on earth,” these plants being the jasmine, honeysuckle and the blossom of the orange tree. She wondered as she stared out and could see the Pacific, “so blue, so sparkling, so beautiful.”
A brief reference was made to the missions, which “add immensely to the picturesqueness of the land” and she observed “they are often the first ruins that an American has ever seen” as “the adobe softens to a beautiful gray with time, and lichen paints its tracery over an admirable background” and “the green mold and rust on the bells” and “the arches of the cloisters are al beautiful to eyes that have seen only the stereotypes architecture of our land.”
Custer concluded that “whenever I am tried, it always seems to me that nothing would rest the body and soul like sitting in the sunshine and among the flowers of Southern California” and followed by observing that “there are thousands who recall, as I do, in the odor of an orange as it is cut at breakfast, and in the bouquet of the Zinfandel and Angelica, a world of charming experience.” For those who could not visit, however, there was the comfort that California “comes to us in its fruits and its vintage [wine.]”
Emily Gray Mayberry contributed “El Molino Viejo” about the old mill built in 1816 and rebuilt seven years later by Joseph Chapman, the first American to live in the Los Angeles area (Jonathan Temple, who arrived in 1828, was the second) as part of the Mission San Gabriel’s operations and which was part of the El Molino Ranch which she and her husband, Edward L. Mayberry, acquired in 1881, three years after they moved from San Francisco because of her health. The couple, who had a son, Edward, Jr. from their marriage and another, Harry, from Emily’s prior marriage, owned about 420 acres of what was more recently the holdings of E.J.C. Kewen, a well-known lawyer and firebrand orator whose pro-Confederate stance was mirrored by many in southern California during the Civil War.
The mill, however, was part of the 1846 grant of Mission San Gabriel lands made by Governor Pío Pico to William Workman and Hugo Reid, though, while a land claim was pursued by Workman and Reid’s heirs and which took a dozen years before it was rejected in 1864 by the United States Supreme Court on the ground that Pico had no legal right to make the grant, James S. Waite, publisher of the Los Angeles Star newspaper, squatted on 160 acres on a pre-emption claim including the mill. The property passed to Dr. Thomas Jefferson White before Kewen took ownership and lived there for nearly two decades until it was lost to foreclosure on a mortgage held by John E. Hollenbeck of Boyle Heights, who, in turn, sold to the tract to the Mayberrys.
Emily began by asserting that “even in this realistic age, stabbed through with rationalism—an age whose crowning achievement is that perfection of unbearableness, the self-made man—the weather-gnawed walls of a gray ruin speak to the heart.” This was the Old Mill, which she described fancifully as
a very lover’s paradise, thridded [threaded] by a limpid stream whose rhythmic turbulence babbles under azure skies; past Daphnean haunts of interwoven sun and shade, under self-centered oaks, gliding in and out its brackened ways, until at last its wilful beauty emerges to be harnessed to humdrum utility; to gladden broad acres and the hearts of their owners, over this modern “Vale of Kashmir,” the San Gabriel valley.
Her application of a particularly purple prose continued as she claimed that it was 123 years before (1771) when the mission was established and the mill built. The problem, of course, was that the mission was established at Whittier Narrows in that year and not relocated to its current site until a few years later, but, mainly, that the mill was of much more recent date, as noted above.
Still, Mayberry insisted that “the walls and buttresses are proof against a century’s storms.” Meanwhile, its durability puzzled many who sought to discovery why this was and Mayberry offered two possibilities: that materials were brought from Spain and the other, far more likely, that “the cement was made in the Arroyo Seco, and mixed with bullock’s blood—which is known to render any cement almost adamantine.”
She noted the two-story structure, measures 25 x 60 feet, with the walls five feet thick at the bottom and tapering to four feet at the top and sitting upon a stone and cement foundation. The wood for the first floor were live oak and the boards laid ten inches apart and “are sound as when they were first rough-hewn.” Two corners were supported by “conical abutments of solid masonry.” Three wheel-houses remained, along with the masonry conduits for water, and were “as firm today as when constructed a hundred and twenty-three years ago,” excepting a crack from earthquakes in 1884 and 1894. The mill-stones, however, were at James de Barth Shorb’s San Marino Ranch, sold eight years later to Henry E. Huntington, though they were returned to the Old Mill later.
When the mill was converted by Waite into a residence in 1855, Mayberry stated, it took three weeks to cut two small windows in the massive walls. Close to the nearby natural lake, which gave Benjamin D. Wilson’s Lake Vineyard its name and which was also known as Kewen Lake, said to be forty acres in size and twenty feet deep, was a saw mill built of live oak. She mused on the “splendid human courage, brains and perseverance” of the mission fathers in dealing with a lack of materials and supplies, as well as “danger from treacherous savages” and “the many hindrances of unskilled Indian labor.”
Mayberry also cited the statements of a longtime El Molino Ranch foreman named Gray, who told her that he found a great many pestles and mortars from “a large colony of Indians on the bluff, probably during the construction of the mills and dam,” but added that “all have gone the way of the roof-tiles, to the insatiate tourist.” A dam that was investigated by Gray yielded a hand-wrought hammer missing its wooden handle and, “although of clumsy workmanship . . . it is . . . still capable of good service.”
She told another tale of how, some eight or nine years before, “an old negro showed a young man a timeworn parchment inscribed with unknown hieroglyphics” and said that it was given to him by a Spaniard who said that a priest gave it to him, but took the meaning of the document to his grave. The unidentified young man, however, purportedly was able to solve the mystery and stated that it was for treasure buried at the Old Mill site, but “he did not enlighten the darkey, but took the son of the owner of the ranch” to dig for the riches, but were stopped by the foreman. Given that the Mayberrys owned the ranch at that time, it seems obvious it was her son who was the young man, but, why she didn’t say that is another mystery.
In any case, she went on to mention her first view of El Molino Viejo, eighteen years prior, and added that “its picturesque loveliness burst upon the senses like a stray bit out of the Arabian Nights.” The owner was still Kewen, who’d built several wood additions that were “fast falling to decay.” A winding drive lined by orange trees, as well as cedar, eucalyptus, pepper and pine trees led to an area with a fountain hidden by lilies, myrtle, periwinkle and smilax and, once she passed, the “fairy fountain,” she saw the mill which was “glorified on each side . . . by an oleander, gorgeous in fullness of bloom and perfume—a veritable breath from the Alhambra of Spain, their leafage still whispering of the dark-eyed, rich-cheeked maids of Andalusia.”
The front entry was also covered by a trellis covered in passionflowers, while roses adorned a balcony on the second floor, and “below it a spring mirrored other groups of lilies, like Sisters of Charity bending above the sacred font.” She went on to claim that any cynic who was to “pass the ghost-beleaguered hour of midnight” at the near-ruin would have “an experience as novel as it is eldritch [sinister] and awesome.”
Beyond this, Mayberry wrote of “gray-hooded monks thridding their ways . . . are fleetly etched on the pale moon,” with strange sounds and even “swarms of musky bats” to add to the bewitching presence of the Old Mill. Yet, she concluded, “the present owner is not greatly given” to such flights of fancy, so “the old mill has leaped the chasm of fifty years of romance, and now serves as a ‘bunk-house’ for the workmen of the rancho.”
Four years after this account, Emily, who’d divorced her first husband (a noted deaf educator, who claimed she abandoned him for no good cause) sued Edward Mayberry for divorce and submitted dozens of pages of affidavits alleging horrendous physical and mental abuse. Though he promised to rebut her testimony, Edward was ordered by a judge to pay her alimony and court costs. Just three years later, the two died within two weeks of each other in June 1902 and Huntington’s land company bought the ranch, with the mill becoming a golf course clubhouse for the nearby Huntington Hotel.
The land was later subdivided and the mill left empty until Leslie Huntington Brehm, widow of Henry’s son Howard, had it remodeled and it was rented to several tenants over the course of more than three decades. After Brehm’s 1962 death, the mill was left to the City of San Marino and became a museum and art gallery, while, for years, it was the regional headquarters of the California Historical Society. Now, it is operated by the Old Mill Foundation and is California State Historical Landmark #302.
The first part of a series called “A Country of Outings” by “An Outer” and focusing on regional beach communities includes brief descriptions of Santa Monica, “the oldest and most populous of our seaside resorts” and which was extensively discussed in the June 1895 issue of the magazine. Redondo, “one of the comparatively new resorts, but one of the most charming” was deemed “already secure in the front rank” as it “is making a bid for high-class patronage by offering every comfort and refinement to cultured visitors.”
Terminal Island and San Pedro were labeled as “less a great resort than a beautiful beach” area, though “with all needful accessories for a day’s ‘seasiding,'” while “the little town of Long Beach” was considered “peculiarly fortunate” in that, while it had not yet grown rapidly, “it has the inalienable birthright which will insure it a brilliant future.” This was because “there is not in North America another so noble beach as this seven miles of gently-sloping, firm, white sand” and it was “the ideal bathing spot.”
Santa Catalina Island, owned by the sons of Phineas Banning, the “Port Admiral” of what became the Port of Los Angeles, was “making phenomenal strides in vogue as a place of summer recreation,” in the seven years since it was purchased from George Shatto. Featured were “the almost incredible clearness of its deep water, the rugged mountain scenery” as well as hunting goats, fishing, yachting and other features that “have brought it up to the front rank of popularity in spite of its distance from ‘town.'”
Orange County beaches were left out because there was a feature by Augusta E. Towner about three of its prime seaside locales. Deemed most popular with schoolchildren pining for summer vacation was Newport, which “is so accessible, safe, roomy, [and] with [the] chance for the rough and tumble of camp life, yet with the conveniences of civilization in sight.” With a 1200-foot long wharf handling sailing ships and steamers, railroad service through the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, two hotels, cottage rentals, plenty of tents, restaurants and a store, Newport was growing into a successful resort town, with fishing, in particular, highlighted as a developing industry.
Eighteen miles south of Santa Ana were the adjacent Laguna and Arch Beach areas, which, though not accessible by rail, could be reached by “a stage [which] takes passengers over a most picturesque road,” this being today’s State Highway 133, Laguna Canyon Road, “to both these places—which are within about a mile of each other.” Towner observed that
Arch Beach is a most romantic spot; set like an amphitheater amidst hills, its oceanward frontage precipitous, with fanciful arches at [the] base of the cliff, against which the breakers fling high their spray. A curious natural rock-arch gives [the] name to the beach . . . Arch Beach is exceedingly attractive, too, out of season, when wild flowers cover the hills, or winter storm roll in a thunderous surf.
There were cottages with water service and a small hotel there, while, Laguna, claimed Towner, was “named from the two little lakes” in the canyon, though it was actually given the moniker because of the lagoons at the head of the canyon. In any case, she continued that it “is one of the oldest resorts in the county, and most patronized now by ‘fashionables.'” After the canyon terminated with a wide opening, “with rising land on either side,” one found “cottages scattered all the way to Arch Beach” with people from the county and outlying areas, “even out of the State,” owning these. There was a hotel and areas “among rocks and caves to study and collect marine forms,” while it was noted that “here society functions alternate with the frolic of the daily ‘dip.'”
Towner ended her essay with the statement that “some one has said the people who can take inexpensive pleasures in a simple, healthful way are blest; and with such a trio of watering-places Orange county is thrice happy.”