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 , 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 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 , 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.