KITTENS IN RANCHO LAND

When my family and I decided to foster a new set of kittens, I reached out to one of my favorite cat rescue groups, Kitt Crusaders.    Susan at Kitt Crusaders hooked me up with a young woman whose family found two kittens left in a box next to a dumpster.  She already had her hands full with her own fosters and I was very happy to step up and help.  We locked a time and then I asked her where I was to pick up the kittens and she gave me an address on Elden Avenue.   I was surprised, of all the places in Los Angeles, I was picking up the kittens from the block where the Cook Family lived one hundred and ten years ago. 

When Charlie and I first dated, he mentioned that his great grandfather Edward Cook was a doctor and that Charlie, his father and grandfather were all born at California Hospital  where Edward had his practice from 1900-1940s.  This piqued my interest and I wondered where Edward lived during that time, so I dug into public records.  I noticed early that following Edward Cook  in census reports and city directories spoke to a theme I had seen in a lot of my research of the growth of Los Angeles.    Like so many others who arrived here in the late 19th century, Edward was white, born in the Midwest (Indiana) and arrived in Los Angeles in early 1890s.  He lived at 7th on Broadway and was a student at USC medical school.   Once he got married in 1900, he lived with his wife Cosette and her mother in a house just north of Westlake Park (MacArthur) and then by 1910 he, his wife and their two children Tom and Cosette lived a few blocks west of Alvarado on Elden Avenue.  

It was at this point in my research that I saw something I had never seen on any of my family tree branches or any of my friends’ when I helped with their genealogy.  Listed in the census for 1910,  were two people identified as servants (driver & nurse) living with Edward and his family.  I remember saying to Charlie, “Live in servants?  Just how big was the Cook house on Elden?”  Charlie did not know anything since both Edward and grandfather were dead before he was born.   Charlie did not grow up with servants and even he was surprised by that fact.  I said, “Let’s go take a look.”    Together we drove over to Elden Avenue.  I remember we were disappointed to see that the house had been replaced with an apartment building, but I did note that there were houses still standing from the Cook era and they were quite large.  I always wondered about that community and how it got laid out but of course I got swept up in life and never pursued it.   Our  trip to Elden was twenty years ago and I had not been there since so now  I was excited to go get the kitties and look at the area with fresh eyes.   I also did some research.  

In all my years of digging up  Los Angeles history, there is one theme I have seen over and over again and that is the hard sell of land and promise.   The pitches by developers are long flowery words with the promise of a lifestyle that will come with each purchased lot.  No harsh winters.  Clean air.  Upstanding neighbors.    There were also the relentless write ups in the Los Angeles Times which is no surprise given the paper’s owner,  Harry Chandler, was a large-scale real estate speculator and had  investments all over the city.  Times ‘articles’ masquerading as news were clear marketing write ups and they were relentless.   The tone always the same,    “Look who is buying.  Lots are moving fast.   Get your dream on now.”  Such was the case with the new track being developed in the early 1900s just west of Alvarado called Westmoreland Place and described as  “The Beauty Spot of Los Angeles.”    Which is not to be confused with the beauty spot of Hollywood,  Pasadena, Santa Monica—so much beauty available for those who have the down payment. 

USC Digital Library.   Pico Heights electric car, the first in Los Angeles, ca.1887

There is a fantastic website dedicated to Westmoreland Place and its history,  I recommend visiting the site because the research is top notch.   In my own searching  I checked the LA Times archives and saw that Elden Bryan and Wesley Clark developed the area northwest of Pico and Alvarado and I surmised that Elden Avenue was named for Bryan.   Elden runs north south just beyond the western edge of Pueblo Los Angeles.   Between Hoover and Rancho La Brea and Rancho La Cienagas the land was considered public, so the Westmoreland Place development was never a rancho nor was it owned by any Californio (Spanish, Mexican Era).   

Bartolo Ballerino.  Date unknown.  WikiTree

However, in 1865 the land was purchased by Bartolo Ballerino who arrived in LA from Chile in the 1850s.   Ballerino had a few jobs but his ultimate business came from a lot of properties he owned between the original Chinatown (Union Station)  and the French district (Alameda & Aliso) .   His properties were  red light  district and Ballerino was a pimp.  He was a legend in Victorian Los Angeles and his stories feel like they belong on HBO.   I recommend reading the two links for more detail on Ballerino but distilling it down, there were lawsuits, problems with his family and politicians, lots of girlfriends and an angry wife.  He needed money and his property was sold in 1904  to Clark & Bryan.

Pico Heights and the western edge of Los Angeles in lithograph drawn by  B.W.Pierce.  Courtesy Library of Congress.  (1894) Facing southwest.  

In this map above which shows the undeveloped  Ballerino property,  Hoover is on the left, Vermont (Pico Heights) on the right,  Pico on the south and the north is modern day San Marino street. There are many drawings and maps of Los Angeles by B.W. Pierce and I find them all interesting.  When I saw this map, I wondered about the small lake and slough.  I was curious about its location.  I reached out to landscape architect Jessica Hall who is also an expert on the hidden creeks and streams of Los Angeles, which she highlights in her blog, LA Creek Freak.  We chatted and Jessica was kind enough to share with me her map of underground creeks and she figured out the pond.   It is still in existence and is underground on Westmoreland north of Olympic (formerly 10th street)  with some type of containing walls. 

Underground Water Map of Ballerino/Westmoreland/Pico Heights area.  2021- Courtesy Jessica Hall.  

Tighter shot of the lake under the apartments.   Courtesy Jessica Hall.  

Like all creeks and sloughs in Los Angeles from another era I wonder if the people who live above them know what is going on beneath their property.  Of course, I also wonder about the Tongva who may have hunted rabbits and deer and other animals near these watering holes in our dry climate before the ranchos and the padres arrived.   

When Clark & Bryan began the subdivision for Westmoreland.   Pico Heights to the west was already getting established and it had its own curious history.  The rise and fall of Pico Heights  is punctuated with various stories, including during its ‘fashionable’ era an African American philanthropist bought on Vermont in 1906.  This upset the neighbors and the Times reported in their piece “Pico Heights is All White” that the philanthropist bought the lot for the purpose of building a senior home for black los angelenos.  The neighbors shut it down and they could now ‘breathe easier’.   No one can accuse the Times of being nuanced when they want to make a point.   Interestingly by 1919 a hundred members of a Japanese community moved into the area and in the 1920s Pico Heights turned more and more into a melting pot.  

View of Elden Avenue looking north from 10th Street (Olympic) in 1907, showing new homes, empty lots, and newly-planted palm trees along an unpaved street.  (LAPL)

The first section of Westmoreland to be developed was identified as Lone Star Track (Clark & Bryan were from Texas) and it included Elden Avenue.  While I could not find a photo of the Cook’s home, I did find this photo from the top of their block.    Based on the shadow of the trees I think this is late afternoon and the clouds suggest a winter or spring day.    Edward Cook’s house was south of this shot on the west side and based on what is still standing we can assume his house looked similar to these houses with the fresh palm trees.   In 1910 Edward’s children Tom (Charlie’s grandfather) was 9 and daughter Cosette (jr) was 4.  It is easy to imagine the children running and playing around the small trees perfect for their size.     Based on the census this section of Westmoreland Development was upper middle class income (physician, real estate, business owners) and the showcase homes for the uber rich was to their west on Westmoreland Avenue.  

Elden Bryan’s home at the corner of 11th & Westmoreland.  This 15room mansion Was demolished in 1941.    Old Homes Of LA Blog

On my original trip to Elden twenty years ago I had not paid attention to Westmoreland since I didn’t know its storied past but now on my way to get the kitties, I drove slow to take it in.  The large homes had been replaced by apartment buildings.  Jacaranda trees with their brilliant purple pedals was an explosion of color as I headed south,  I thought there seemed to be more Jacarandas on Westmoreland  than other streets In LA.   The long-ago squatty palm trees were now stretched high into the sky.    

I turned east at 11th and on Elden I pulled up to the apartment building down from the old Cook property.   I double parked behind a delivery truck and texted that I was there and a few minutes later the young woman arrived with the two kitties.   I got out of the car and put the kittens in my cardboard carrier.  The young woman was so sweet, she said she was glad her dad found them and that he has a cat who hangs out with him at work.  “We like cats,” she said with a kind smile.   She bounded back to her apartment and I headed home.   Just before I turned back on 11th I stopped in front of the Cook corner one more time.  I wanted to take a photo of two houses from that other era.   After I shot the photos,  I kind of wanted to ‘feel’ that other period, so I just stood there and took a moment.  I then saw a Korean gentlemen leave the house I just photographed and yell out to friend walking by.  I thought about the white only covenants that were in the contract when Dr Cook bought this house, in this development that Harry Chandler promoted in his newspaper.   I thought about these houses that would be replaced with apartments because humans need a place to live and not everyone can buy a house, but everyone should be able to have a place that is their home.   A home where sweet people live who rescue kittens.  I thought of Bartolo Ballerino who died of a stroke and was taken to California Hospital in 1909.  I wondered how funny it would be if the old pimp’s final doctor  was Edward Cook who lived on his land that he had for thirty five years before his rogue ways caught up with him.  Edward would sell his house after thirty five years and move to near a country club with his wife in San Gabriel Valley by 1939.   I then thought of Charlie’s grandfather Tom and his sister Cosette walking down the sidewalks, playing with their friends in their big yards.   A soft mew came out of the carrier in the backseat.  The kittens were ready for me to get the show on the road.  I peeked in the box and a black boy kitten and the sister tabby kitten looked up at me.  Even though our home is small and not fancy it is a good place to foster two sweet kitties, I gave them their foster names, Tom and Cosette. 

The neighbor house from the other era.

The other neighbor house from another era.

Cosette. 2021.

Tommy. 2021.

Tracy

2 Comments

  1. It would be interesting to know what happened to the Japanese community in that area during WWII. Unfortunately it may be a very sad story. If they were amongst those sent to Manzanar or one of the other internment camps, what happened when they were able to leave – could they go back to their homes or had they lost them?

    I’m also interested in the underground creeks and lakes – is the land where these are located less stable and will they fare worse than areas without them in the event of an earthquake?

    The picture of the neighborhood with the brand new houses has an eerie look to it, like it shouldn’t be there. Huge houses with identical yards out in the open with next to no vegetation other than some lawn and immature palm trees.

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    1. Yes, very weird and eerie to see the houses with identical yards and no vegetation. There were many areas of Los Angeles that strong Japanese American communities. Sawtelle on the Westside. Little Tokyo in downtown. Boyle Heights and parts of south bay, I think Torrance. I was looking it up and that area did not have as harsh redline laws. Yes they all went to internment camps. Terrible history. Some had sensible americans in their lives who ‘bought’ their business/homes and then when they returned sold it back. I heard of one such story yesterday. But the majority lost everything. In Little Tokyo, with all the empty storefronts and restaurants and bars, African American rented or purchased the property and Jazz clubs were formed. Charlie Parker and Miles Davis I believe recorded albums there..or maybe performed in the club and recorded here in LA since they were here. You would find this link interesting. https://www.dtlabook.com/history/bronzeville-dtla-history

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