Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cats 4 Moles 0

Over the long weekend, our cats caught four moles. Moles use their front facing paws and claws to dig and eat mostly earthworms which they paralyze with a toxin in their saliva. They live their entire lives underground except when they leave the nest in early adulthood to find their own homes. It may be that these moles were searching for a new home when our cats got them. We don't generally see moles, but I'll be watching for them now.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Victory Park on Memorial Day

Victory Park was dedicated by the Pasadena War Memorial Committee on May 25, 1952, "as a living memorial to those who fell in World War II." Seems a very fitting dedication for the most used public space in east Pasadena. This "V" shaped rose garden is at the corner of Paloma St. and Altadena Dr. In the center of the "V" is the Gold Star Mothers' Flagpole and this plaque:

On Memorial Day, we remember and honor those brave men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. I imagine that when Victory Park was dedicated 56 years ago there were many in attendance who knew some of the more than 400,000 Americans who died in WW II.
And certainly some of those in attendance were mothers of soldiers who did not return home. This plaque and flagpole were provided by those Gold Star Mothers. American Gold Star Mothers was formed in the aftermath of WWI by mothers whose sons or daughters died in the war. It was wartime tradition for families to hang a blue star in their window for family members serving in the Armed Forces. Families honored those who died in war by covering the blue star with a gold star. As described on the Gold Star Moms' site, the Gold Star represents the "honor and glory accorded the person for his supreme sacrifice in offering for his country the last full measure of devotion, and pride of the family in this sacrifice."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Camping at Gould Mesa

Last weekend my son and I went on an overnight campout with his scout den to Gould Mesa. The campground is about a mile north of JPL in the Arroyo Seco. The weather was hot and I saw four snakes over the two day trip. This is a rattler that was coiled in the shade of a post right outside the privy that serves the campground. The most interesting snake I saw was a striped racer snake that darted out of a bush chasing a mouse. The chase ensued down the trail until the mouse darted back into a bush and with the snake in pursuit. Watching the chase was fun, but the chaser and chasee were out of sight before I could get my camera out.

The stream is across the trail from camp and was welcome relief to the weekend's 100 degree heat. Nightime was also cool with a light breeze drifting through our mostly mesh tent.
Maybe the best thing about living in Pasadena how close we are to natural settings like this. The Arroyo Seco, Millard Canyon, Eaton Canyon - we have hiked these areas over and over and it never gets old. I am always amazed at the natural beauty that is so available to us who live in the ever more urban Pasadena.

Monday, May 12, 2008

William Cogswell, Famous Artist and East Pasadena Pioneer

President Abraham Lincoln by William F. Cogswell
White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

So, what is the White House portrait of President Abraham Lincoln doing in an east Pasadena blog?

Answer: Artist William F. Cogswell was an east Pasadena pioneer and founded the world-renowned Sierra Madre Villa Hotel. He was also a noted portrait artist. The best known of his works is this 1864 portrait of President Abraham Lincoln that is part of the White House Collection.

Cogswell is a fascinating guy. A self-made painter, he painted portraits of many of the most prominent men and women of his era. Then, seemingly at the peak of his fame, he left the east coast for a California adventure. Here is some of his story.

Born in upstate New York in 1819, Cogswell’s gifts were evident early and, even as a child, he reportedly loved art and color. As a young man, he worked briefly as a color mixer at a Buffalo paint factory. From the paint factory, he moved to New York City where he started his career as a professional painter. But, as the Pasadena Evening Star reported in Cogswell's obituary, the artist "never received a lesson in his life." He was entirely self-taught, which made his accomplishments all the more amazing.

Cogswell had a spirit for adventure and travelled extensively. In 1849 he came to California as part of the gold rush. For a year, Cogswell painted gold rush scenes. He then returned east traveling over the Isthmus of Panama. He created large dioramas of gold rush scenes and of Panama which he exhibited on the east coast.

His big break came in 1864 when he was invited to the White House to make sketches of President Lincoln. Cogswell then used the sketches and possibly a photograph of Lincoln to create his famous Lincoln portrait. The painting shows Lincoln on the White House porch with the Capitol dome in the background and the President’s black coat and tall hat on the chair in the foreground.

As Cogswell finished his work, Congress issued a call for artists to submit portraits of Lincoln and appropriated $3,000 to be awarded to the winning artist. Cogswell submitted his portrait and won the competition. The Lincoln portrait became part of the White House collection where it remains today.

In 1868, Cogswell painted a portrait of General Ulysses S. Grant which is now part of the collection of the United States Senate. Grant dabbled with water colors and it is not hard to imagine that he and the talented Cogswell may have struck up a friendship. Cogswell is said to have been a Grant family favorite and painted a life sized portrait of the entire Grant family.

Though well established on the east coast, at the age of 54, Cogswell again moved west. In 1873 he purchased 473 acres of wild mesa land in what is now east Pasadena. In its natural state, this land was said to be covered with greasewood so thick a jack rabbit couldn't penetrate it. But, the mesa offered unimpeded views that likely captured the artist's eye and imagination. There was the waiting San Gabriel Valley below and an ocean view that took in Catalina Island and steamers making their way to San Pedro.
To the left is part of an 1877 L A County map that shows the outlines of Cogswell’s property. I posted a larger section from this 1877 map earlier. The northern edge of Cogswell's property roughly bordered present day Fairpoint St. north of the Eaton Canyon Golf Course. The southern tip of his property extended to present day Foothill Blvd. and Sierra Madre Villa Ave. The jagged western edge of the property tracked the Eaton Wash. Cogswell's purchase also included rights to half the water flow over a waterfall located north of present day Pasadena Glen.

With the aid of 70 Chinese laborers, Cogswell's land was cleared and planted with citrus trees and grape vines. Water was transported from the water fall downhill by flume or clay pipe to irrigate the land. A beautiful Victorian home was built on the northern edge of the property. At the suggestion of friends, in 1876, Cogswell and his son-in-law William Porter Rhoades founded the Sierra Madre Villa Hotel on the site. For a brief time, the Villa was the premier winter resort west of the Mississippi. That's a photo of the Villa in the masthead for this blog. I’ll have more on the Villa in later posts.

Cogswell continued painting at a prolific rate. He was commissioned to paint portraits of many of the early California governors. His works dot the walls of the state capitol in Sacramento. Cogswell also produced a replica of his Lincoln portrait. He sold the portrait to the State of California and it now hangs in the State Assembly Chambers behind the speaker’s podium. A photo of the portrait is at the Capitol Museum website.

Other subjects of Cogswell portraits included: President McKinley, General Sheridan, Supreme Court Justice and Treasury Secretary Saloman Chase, naturalist Louis Agassiz, Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford, business titans Mark Hopkins and Jay Cooke. Cogswell also travelled to the Kingdom of Hawaii where he painted the portraits of King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani, the last Hawaiian monarchs.

Cogswell died December 24, 1903 at his daughter's home in South Pasadena.
(In addition to those mentioned above, sources for this post include obituaries published 12/26/1903 in the Pasadena Evening Star and Pasadena Daily News, notes and letters contained in a Pasadena Public Library folder on Cogswell, information at AskArt http://www.askart.com/ and the Sierra Madre Villa Assocation website at http://www.smva.net/)

Friday, May 2, 2008

1877 Map

This is a portion of an 1877 map of Los Angeles County showing the early landowners of the area that was later to become eastern Pasadena. The map above also includes parts of surrounding areas. You can see the Indiana Colony to the left and San Gabriel train depot toward the bottom. The map is from L.J. Rose, Jr.’s biography of his father: L.J. Rose of Sunny Slope 1827-1899. Double click on the map to get a larger image.

Some of the names of the early landowners are familiar. The names of Craig, Rose, Chapman, Eaton and Bailey all live on through namesake streets and places.

Santa Anita Road is also familiar. Though not as dusty, Santa Anita Road is still in place today as Altadena Drive.

An early landowner whose name you may not recognize is that of William Cogswell, who owned the pie-shaped piece of property north of the Rose and west of the Chapman properties. In coming posts, I’ll talk about Cogswell, how his property became world-renowned and his interesting connection to Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses. S. Grant.