Friday, June 27, 2008

Sierra Madre Villa

Sierra Madre Villa Hotel, ca. 1890
William H. Fletcher
Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California

The Sierra Madre Villa Hotel got its start in 1876 and is now remembered as southern California’s first famous resort. Above, you can see the Villa’s vineyards and citrus groves, the two story hotel and Victorian Cogswell/Rhoades House all set against the Sierra Madre/San Gabriel Mountains. The hotel building was just above where the Eaton Canyon Golf Course is now and the Villa property stretched all the way down to approximately Foothill.

Villa visitors were treated to fine accommodations (running water in each room) in the middle of a beautiful ranch setting. The Villa maintained its own bee apiaries, stable of horses and small herd of cattle. Then there were the groves:

“There is probably no pleasure and health resort in either this country or abroad that will compare to the Villa in this respect. The hotel proper is literally surrounded with orchards. To particularize: there are upwards of 5,000 large orange trees…, upwards of 150 lemon trees, … and besides deciduous fruit trees, nut trees and a fine line of ornamental forest trees, shrubs, flowing plants, ect. Not only does the Villa grow all its own fruits, but also all the vegetables, small fruits, nuts, grapes, ect. with which the tables are freshly supplied three times a day.” (Rural Californian 1891)

Sierra Madre Villa, Looking South
J.B. Blanchard
Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California

The views from the Villa were spectacular. Visitors had sweeping views of the stirring San Gabriel Valley. In the distance, the view extended all the way to the coastline, including San Pedro and Catalina Island. It is said that Villa guests could watch steamers out at sea as they approached San Pedro.

Sierra Madre Villa, Looking North
J.B. Blanchard
Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California

The generally well-healed Villa guests had lots to do. Nearby mountains offered hunting, fishing in the San Gabriel River, trips to Eaton Canyon or to the "grotto" in Davis Canyon that was the Villa's water source. Visitors could relax in the Villa’s gardens or stroll in its groves. Or they could enjoy their talented and gracious hosts, the Cogswell and Rhoades families. There were also nearby attractions like the Baldwin Ranch, Sunny Slope winery, Shorb winery and San Gabriel Mission.

The Villa’s proprietors and beautiful setting were magnets for the rich and powerful and the Villa’s notoriety quickly grew. The eminent guest list reportedly included Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Gen. William Sherman, Hollis P. Huntington, John L. Sullivan, Helen Hunt Jackson, the Crocker family and the Jacobs family. Other visitors, like Abbot Kinney, Charles Hastings, James Crank, and the Brigdens were guests at the Villa before buying their ranches.

Time has dimmed the memory of the Villa, but it played an important role in early settlement of the San Gabriel Valley. As noted in an 1887 Pasadena Union article, “The Villa since it was opened has entertained many of the distinguished people who have visited this coast. Its place in the development of the valley is highly important as among those who have settled here and expended large sums in the improvement of ranches and the building of elegant homes, many were first guest at this charming place…. Pasadena owes not a little to the Villa, especially in the pioneer days when our hotels were few and accommodations for the tourist limited.”

The Villa Hotel in 1894 and the hotel structure was torn down in 1923. Today, the Sierra Madre Villa’s name is carried on in Villa Street, Sierra Madre Villa Avenue, a namesake reservoir and the Sierra Madre Villa Metro Station.

More on the Villa's history is at this excellent neighborhood website.


Petrea said...

Are there any ruins? Any traces left at all?

Michael Coppess said...

Yes. Remnants of the great old hotel remain. There is the "Old House" on Old House Rd. that was formerly used as staff quarters or for laundry for the hotel. Also, just east of Sierra Madre Villa Ave. on Fairpoint is the old reservoir built for use by the hotel and its groves. The reservoir would have been right behind the hotel. Thanks Petrea for turning back to the old posts!!!!

Petrea said...

It's my pleasure, I assure you. I discovered you after you'd been blogging for some time, it seems, so I have some catching up to do. Your posts are treasures, Michael.

Rebecca said...

In 1964 my family bought a flag lot above the house on Old House Rd that was used for the Sierra Madre Villa Hotel staff. On our lot was a carriage house with a carriage in it, a cedar tack room and stalls. All of this was said to have belonged to the Sierra Madre Villa Hotel. I believe my dad gave the carriage to the Arboretum. He then decided to buy a lot on Fairpoint St. to build our home and he sold the Old House Rd. lot. Someone else bought that property, tore everything down and built a house there. The Hotel was on Fairpoint St. where the Hotel reservoir is still located.

Michael Coppess said...

Hi Rebecca: Thanks for the comment. Can you email me at I would like to talk to you or email to find out if you have any more information about the old carriage house and what you recall of the area.