Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Cogswell/Rhoades House -- from East Pasadena to Porterville to Disneyland

The main residence at the Sierra Madre Villa was this Victorian home built in 1874 by noted artist William Cogswell and his son in law, William Porter Rhoades. Back in the late 1800’s, “the Villa” was world famous as a resort hotel.

The hotel and the Cogswell/Rhoades house are long gone from Pasadena. But, part of the old Victorian house still survives at The Happiest Place on Earth. Here’s the story:

In the mid-1940’s, the Cogswell/Rhoades house was sold to an up and coming studio in nearby Burbank – the Walt Disney Studio. Disney moved the house up to Porterville where it was used on the set of So Dear to My Heart, a 1948 movie. They modified the old Victorian into a general store and the house appears in the movie as Grundy’s Mercantile.

You probably recognize So Dear to My Heart as Burl Ives’ first full length film. But, it was also one of Disney’s first live action films. So Dear to My Heart contains both live action and cartoon characters that appear every so often during the movie. The movie is great family fare – entertaining with a pronounced moral to the story. My kids both liked it.

Not long after So Dear to My Heart, Disney embarked on building his theme park in Orange County. Park visitors would enter the park on a street that recalled town centers from a time gone by. As Walt Disney described it, "Main Street, U.S.A. is America at the turn of the century - the crossroads of an era. The gas lamps and the electric lamps, the horse drawn car and the auto car. Main Street is everyone's hometown...the heartland of America.”

As related by the Villaloa Neighborhood History Society, after So Dear to My Heart was filmed, Disney removed the decorative Victorian trim from the old Cogswell/Rhoades home and placed in storage for later use. The trim quickly found a place on the turn of the century buildings that line Disneyland's Main Street. Seems kind of fitting that trim from the Cogswell/Rhoades home that dates back to Pasadena's pioneer days and recalls the bygone era of the Sierra Madre Villa, was saved and is being re-used on Main Street USA.

The photo is interesting. Its a scan of a glass magic lantern slide. The slide was the work of Los Angeles photographer Frederick Hamer Maude and was probably made around 1890. If you click on the photo, the Victorian trim comes into better focus.


Palm Axis said...

A sliver of history I'd have never known if it wasn't for your post. I guess I shouldn't be surprised when the film industry is looking for a version of "anytown USA" they should choose Pasadena. South Pasadena, if it's the midwest. A friend lives on a street in South Pasadena that has no palms in it's sky line. A gold mine for the residents!

Petrea said...

Thank you very much for a fascinating post! I love learning these bits of our local history.