Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas 1878 at the Sierra Madre Villa

A 19 foot high Christmas tree, carols, sweet lichi nuts and a new cart for your donkey....

From the History of the Famous Sierra Madre Villa Hotel by William Lauren Rhoades, son of the proprietor:

When Christmas time rolled around the real fun began. I will describe a typical Christmas day in the late seventies. The day before Christmas was one of excitement for all were preparing the gifts, some driving into Los Angeles, a thirty mile drive, to get the last few gifts needed and to shop for all the rest and only about two dry goods stores, two book stores and a few other places to purchase but that made it all the more exciting. There was a tree to sit up fully ninteen [sic] feet high, that was the height of the ceiling, and a spread of branches in proportion. Then the trimmings, popping the corn and putting on the cornucopias, hanging the glass balls and the angel on the top. That day the Chinese boy, Sam, made mysterious trips to Mother's room with packages coming from the servants and Chinese on the ranch.

Christmas morning was always the opening of an eventful day. I well recall Christmas of 1878. After breakfast I was taken out to the front of the house and there stood my donkey, which was given me two years before to ride and I named her after my Mother, Jennie, and there she was hitched up to a two wheeled cart made to order with a swell leather seat, the running gear was painted red and the body black, the harness was black with shining brass buckles. The guests all stood round enjoying my delight. I took Mother in at once and we drove off in style and many were the happy days I had with the children at the Villa in that turnout.

Christmas morning the coach that ran to the San Gabriel Southern Pacific Railroad Station daily for the mail and passengers, was ready to take any who might wish to go to the Episcopal Church in San Gabriel, as was the custom on Sundays. Then the day passed and all were in readiness for the big event in the evening with the Christmas tree.


Rhoades goes on to describe the evening festivities that took place in the hotel parlor with the Rhoades family and hotel guests attending. Christmas carols were sung and the tree was "stripped." There was a gift exchange with Villa's many Chinese workers. Rhoades reports that, to the delight of hotel guests, the workers would enter the parlor with a flourish. Dressed in fine silks, the workers had "their heads freshly shaved with their cues hanging down their backs with red ribbons braided into their hair." They came bearing gifts of sweet lichi nuts, ginger and dainty cakes. In turn, the workers were given a fattened pig for roasting.

The author of this account, William Lauren Rhoades, was the son of William Porter Rhoades. The elder Rhoades was the proprietor of the Villa and co-owned the Villa along with his father in law, artist William Cogswell. The young Rhoades lived at the Villa over much of his childhood.

The full history written by William Lauren Rhoades is at this excellent neighborhood website.

8 comments:

Cafe Pasadena said...

Great history, per the norm EoA!

However, doesn't look like anything new has happened in the SMV neighborhood since April 2004...judging by the home page link you gave!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bellis said...

I'm really enjoying learning about Sierra Madre Villa. The name always confused me - I mean, why was a place called Sierra Madre not in Sierra Madre? So I drove up there yesterday to check it out, and realized there was a large swathe of lovely Pasadena housing I'd not seen before. Thanks for all the historical information you're giving us!

pasadenapio said...

That kid got a donkey for Christmas. Today's kids get bikes. Heaven knows what tomorrow's kids will get! What is this crazy world coming to?!

Michael Coppess said...

Thanks for the comments all -- except the deleted comment which was trying to sell Louis Vitton shoes.

Bellis: Good question. Seems the SM Villa should be in the City of SM. But, bigger than the hotel or the city are the mountains. I think the hotel and the city (the hotel first) derived their names from our local mountains, commonly referred to in the late 1800's as the Sierra Madre.

Ann: I think the progression is something like: donkey, wagon, bicycles, skateboards....

CP: Yes, the SMV website goes back a number of years and hasn't been updated. But, the folks who put it together did a great job and the historical informtion is as useful today as it was 10+ years ago when the website was created.

altadenahiker said...

Ah, I love these first-person narratives. And to remember a time when a 30 mile journey was an all-day commitment.

pasadenapio said...

I gave a nod to your blog today.
http://pasadenapio.blogspot.com/2009/12/joe-hayashi-memorial.html

Petrea said...

I just love this. What a picture it gives.