At Our Leisure with a Photo of a Visit to the Mt. Wilson Hotel, 21 August 1906, Part One

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

From yesterday’s post about the Orange County coastal enclave of Sunset Beach, we go today to the upper elevations of the San Gabriel Mountains for another “At Our Leisure” entry, featuring, from the Museum’s holdings, a real photo postcard, dated 21 August 1906, with an image by the prolific mountain photographer, Ernest B. Gray, of Herbert W. Chesebro astride a mule at Mt. Wilson.

Several prior posts here have featured Gray and his work and there’ll certainly be more to come. On its face, this image isn’t the most exciting or evocative of our many mountain-related photos, merely showing Chesebro seated on the animals, which were used extensively to convey passengers and freight at resorts and camps throughout what was still generally called the Sierra Madre range.

Los Angeles Herald, 12 December 1886.

There are, however, some notable regional associations with the young man worth relating, as well as happenings in and around Mt. Wilson at that time to share, as well. So, we’ll start with this part about Chesebro and his family, including their long residence in the San Gabriel Valley, specifically Covina, and then go to the Mt. Wilson aspect for part two.

Chesebro (1886-1941) was born in Jersey City, New Jersey to Herbert E. Chesebro and Charlotte L. Wilder and had two younger sisters. When he was just a baby, the family migrated to Los Angeles during the great Boom of the Eighties to join Herbert E. Chesebro’s sister Myra and her husband James McCarthy. The latter came to the region in spring 1886 to write about greater Los Angeles for “important Eastern press interests” and was, as so many visitors were, so enamored with the region that he determined to move his family to Pasadena.

The Chesebro family enumerated in the 1900 census in the Azusa Township, but in what is the Charter Oak area near Covina, and where Herbert E. was the manager of the large estate of John E. Hollenbeck, as well as involved in many local businesses with citrus, building and loan associations and others for more than fifteen years.

With the boom just underway, following such key events as the direct transcontinental railroad connection made to the area by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, James McCarthy launched a real estate career, which included developing the Sunnyside area of San Francisco as well as his Angel City enterprise, which soon included his son, E. Avery, who became a major real estate figure. We’ll get more into Avery McCarthy’s work when a post is developed around a photo in the Homestead’s collection of his second wife, Susan (who happened to be a granddaughter of the prominent 19th century lawyer and judge, Volney E. Howard—who had notable connections with William Workman, but that’s another story!)

The good word about greater Los Angeles was soon sent back to New York and Myra Chesebro McCarthy’s brother, Herbert, his wife and little Herbert W., packed up and went west. The elder Chesebro worked in real estate, perhaps in conjunction with or assistance from his brother-in-law, but, once the boom went bust, the Chesebros, by 1891, headed out to the San Gabriel Valley and, specifically, the sizable ranch of the late John E. Hollenbeck, the Boyle Heights-based capitalist, who acquired some 5,000 acres of the Rowland family’s half of Rancho La Puente and of which Herbert E. became manager.

Herbert E. Chesebro, age 16, was seriously burned while playing Santa Claus at the family home at Charter Oak, as noted in the Covina Argus of 27 December 1902.

He oversaw the raising of hay and citrus and acquired some of the land given that he and his wife sold some of it to James McCarthy for $50,000 in late 1892. A couple of years later, he joined a group that formed the “A.C.G.”, standing for Azusa, Covina, Glendora, lemon association, based in the latter town and became its secretary, while he then became a director and manager of the Covina Citrus Association and then held the same positions with the Covina Fruit Exchange.

Later in the 90s, he became a director of the Azusa Water Development and Irrigating Company, which provided water from San Gabriel Canyon to the farming districts east of the river of that name, and then president of the Azusa Land and Water Development Company, which may have been a reworking of the former firm. There was yet another change of the name to the Covina Irrigating Company and of which Chesebro was president, while he also was a founder of the Covina Mutual Building and Loan Association, formed in March 1899.

Argus, 6 May 1905.

There were challenges, however, during the so-called “Gay Nineties,” as a national depression that burst forth in 1893 and several years of regional drought caused some financial issues for many (including John H. Temple at the Homestead and his uncle Joseph Workman at what became Bassett on the La Puente ranch) and Chesebro had delinquent taxes owed on 375 acres of the Hollenbeck ranch. He also got into mining at Randsburg in the high desert of San Bernardino County, but got conned into buying a claim for which the seller had no legal right of ownership.

In 1902, there was yet another local fruit company of which Chesebro became an officer, the Covina Upland Citrus Association, and he was secretary of that enterprise. When some fruit growers living near the packing house on Azusa Avenue decided to sever ties with the Covina Citrus Association the same year, they launched the Covina Valley Association and he was voted secretary. Yet another business he joined was the Covina branch of the Renters’ Loan and Trust Company, which was to lend money for new construction of houses and other improvements on city lots. By 1904, he was also a director of the Los Angeles-based California Fruit Agency, which worked to promote regional growers in the expanded citrus market.

Los Angeles Express, 12 September 1905.

For Christmas Day 1902, 16-year old Herbert W. was playing Santa Claus at the family house on a 20-acre grove on Cienega Avenue in what became the Charter Oak section, when he strayed too close to a lighted candle on the holiday tree (these were always major risks for obvious reasons!). With his costume consisting of a heavy cotton overcoat and cotton batting for trim, the paper reported that “in a moment the young man was enveloped in a sheet of flames,” though the coat likely saved his life, though “all the exposed portions of his body were seriously burned.” A few years later, a two-year old brother drowned in a cistern on the family place, joining two other siblings who’d previously died young.

There was one reference to the Chesebro’s love of the outdoors prior to this photo being taken as, in August 1903, the family headed up San Gabriel Canyon to spend several weeks at Sycamore Flat. Yet, two years later, the family moved to Los Angeles, where the elder Chesebro opened his “Delaware Restaurant” at Broadway and 4th Street and then purchased an apartment house near Figueroa and 7th streets. By September 1905, he was back in the McCarthy real estate business, joining the growing firm with a branch office at Central and Slauson avenues in the South Park area of the city. Herbert E. sold his apartment house for $35,000 in 1907 and picked up a lease for half that amount for a hotel at Grand Avenue and 2nd Street.

Los Angeles Times, 22 April 1917.

Shortly afterward, the Chesebros packed up and moved to the northern California city of Chico, where the elder Herbert invested heavily in gold mines in the adjacent ranges of the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains. By 1912, however, the younger Herbert had returned to Los Angeles and went to work for his cousin E. Avery McCarthy, including as agent for the Wilton Heights tract. In April 1917, the Los Angeles Times published a photo of father and son sitting in the latter’s new Haynes “Light Six” automobile, parked in front of McCarthy’s house near Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue. The elder Chesebro was said to be a wealthy mining operator in San Francisco, where the family moved after leaving Chico, and, by 1920, the younger Herbert was living with them again and working in real estate, while he also dabbled in oil interests in Texas.

Another relocation back to Los Angeles followed during the 1920s and the elder Chesebro continued his association with real estate, while the younger did, as well, including his own firm and association with other companies during that decade. With the onset of The Great Depression and the doldrums of that industry, another northern migration took place, this time to the Seiad Valley of Siskiyou County near the Oregon border and where a massive wildfire complex is now burning.

Times, 15 April 1925.

By 1940, the back-and-forth continued with yet another move back to Los Angeles, where Herbert W. was back in the real estate game. On 25 January 1941, he was in Manhattan Beach attending to the affairs of a friend who’d died that day and, while driving back to Los Angeles, suffered a stroke. He was taken to his home in the Windsor Square/Wilton Place neighborhood and died several days later at age 54.

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