Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas 1878 at the Sierra Madre Villa Hotel

                                 Sierra Madre Villa Hotel ca. 1886
                                 By Carleton E. Watkins
                                 Courtesy of the California History Room
                                 California State Library, Sacramento, California

There is nothing like Christmas through a child's eyes.

William Lauren Rhoades grew  up in the 1870's and 80's at the Sierra Madre Villa Hotel.  His dad, William Porter Rhoades, was the proprietor of the Villa and co-owned the Villa along with his father in law, artist William Cogswell.  As an old man, William Lauren recounted the history of the Sierra Madre Villa and wrote about the Christmas of his childhood.   The story includes a donkey named after his mom, a giant Christmas tree, and a gift exchange between the two cultures that lived full time at the Villa -- that of the Rhoades and Cogswell families, who had migrated west from New York, and that of a group of Chinese men, who had originally migrated east to work on the railroads and then staffed the Villa.    .    

I enjoy Rhoades' account and post it every year.   So, without further adieu, let's travel with Mr. Rhoades back to East Pasadena in the late '70's.......    

From The History of the Famous Sierra Madre Villa Hotel by William Lauren Rhoades:

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 nineteen 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 Sierra Madre Villa Hotel was a famous West Coast resort located in the foothills of what is now East Pasadena.   The Hotel is the namesake of Pasadena's Villa Street and Sierra Madre Villa Avenue, which served as the access to the old hotel.   If you're interested to know more, I've a dozen or so posts on the Villa that are categorized under the Labels heading on the right side of this blog.  

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hastings Ranch Christmas Lights 2011

Organized Christmas displays in the Upper Hastings Ranch neighborhood have been a tradition since 1957.   Last year I spoke with the "mayor" of Hastings Ranch and my 2010 Christmas post has some interesting history of this great annual event.

We drive Hastings Ranch several times during the Christmas season and I always enjoy it.  One of my favorite houses has relatively little in the light category, but shows the old Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer TV special from the 60's.   There is a large screen set up on the front lawn the show plays continually with sound.  Seems whenever I drive by there are cars parked in front of the house and sometimes kids sitting on the grass watching the show.   The house in on Daveric just south of Alegria.     

Of course, when in Hastings Ranch you can also see the lights of the valley below.   Upper Hastings Ranch is on a mesa in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and affords some wonderful views.  

Friday, December 2, 2011

Windstorm Damage

No kidding.

Eucalyptus trees blew down on Sierra Madre Villa.  Six trees all probably more than 100 yeas old.  As you can tell from the trunks, these were very big trees.   

The trees just fell over and were strewn along the road nearly end to end..  It was sad, strange and fascinating all at the same time to walk the length of these giant trees, from roots to the tree tops.  And, standing in the middle of these trees there was this powerful scent of Eucalyptus.  

Tree fell knocking down power lines and a power pole on Sierra Madre Blvd.  There was a Channel 2 news van parked on the median while I drove past. 

Oak tree uprooted and fallen on van.