Sunday, October 7, 2012

Richard V. LeGrand -- 149 N. El Molino Ave., Pasadena

Richard Virginius LeGrand (b. 1860 TX), after attending Georgetown College in Washington D. C., pursued the mining business for 20+ years. With a large silver vein coming in at the "Mountain King" mine in the Lucky Boy, Nevada area, he decided to leave Texas and settle in Los Angeles, where he formed the Alamo Mining Co. to work various mine properties in Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.

The family settled in Pasadena around 1906, purchasing a home just a block north of Colorado Blvd. The 1910 census showed quite a crowd at their new Pasadena house. Along with wife Dixie (b. 1863 AR), many of their seven children lived with them, along with a few grandchildren. The house's occupants included son Joseph (b.1886,  TX), his wife Ethel, and their granddaughter; son George W. (b.1890 TX); son Richard V. (b. 1893 TX); daughter Edith V. (b.1896 TX); daughter Annie W. (b.1899 TX); daughter Myrtle N (b.1904 TX); and Dixie's older sister Georgie. No doubt the large number of people in the house was a premonition to its major use later in life.

149 North El Molino in 1909
  It appears that R.V. had everyone who was at home come out on photo day.  Here's a close up of the front porch.

 Picture Day

From left to right a guess of the family would be Dixie, Annie, Richard Jr., Edith, R.V. holding granddaughter Heriot's hand, and Myrtle sitting on the step.

But Pasadena was unable to keep the LeGrands and by 1915 the family had packed up and moved to West Adams, moving in at 640 West 21st St. The street directory for that year, which only recorded adults, showed that along with R.V. (and presumably Dixie), sons Claude, George, Joseph (now known as J. Mastella), and Richard V. were in residence.  R.V. was listed as a mining engineer. The family moved again by 1920 to 2118 Oak Street, where ten people were recorded for the 1920 census.

Meanwhile back at 149 El Molino, the Jay C. Hills family had moved in, seeking relief from Chicago winters.  Their son Gerald attended Occidental College, while spouse Myrtie was a member of the nearby Shakespeare Club, where she no doubt knew the B. O. Kendalls, who lived next door to the Club. By 1930 the Hills had moved to the new Vista Del Arroyo Hotel overlooking the Colorado Street Bridge. Interestingly it was also the home of Clinton C. Clarke (1873-1957) and his wife Margaret, who were soon to be involved with the El Molino property, which by now had become the Altadena School for Girls, a private boarding school that listed two teachers and five students in residence in 1930.

Clinton C. Clarke was listed as "retired" in the 1920 census, when he was 46 years of age. In 1910 his occupation was "own income". It appears inheritances from his Chicago lawyer father and his mother's family allowed Clinton to pursue his own agenda. A recorded lawsuit in 1898 appears to have provided 2/24ths of his mother's father's estate, which was ample.  He married Margaret in 1906, and from 1920 on, they lived in hotels.

In 1924 the Pasadena Playhouse built their historic building at 39 South El Molino, just two blocks south of the  house. While Clinton was its first President and on the founding Board of Directors, Margaret was keenly involved with the Playhouse too, as indicated by numerous articles in the Pasadena Star-News of the '20s and '30s. One 1926 headline stated:
"'You and I' is poignant comedy : Margaret Clarke, Samuel Hinds, Lois Austin and Maurice Wells lead : Are favorites at Playhouse : Credits charm of new production to skill of entire cast"
 By the 1930's the Playhouse was a major force in Southern California, attracting would-be actors in droves. In order to house the many students wishing to participate, the Playhouse purchased three houses on El Molino Ave. and named them in honor of their major patrons.  One of these places--149 North El Molino Avenue --was appropriately named "Clarke House", and was a female dormitory through the early '50s, before becoming mixed in the 1960's. Perhaps actress and former Playhouse student Joan Taylor, who was in the movie Rose Marie and TV's Rifleman series, stayed in the house. Here's an excerpt from a 2007 interview with her discussing the topic of Playhouse dorms:

"It was very special. I lived in a Playhouse 'dorm', an old Pasadena house that had been taken over by the Playhouse; there were two or three of these marvelous old homes that they took over."
USFS plaque for Clarke
Clinton Clarke
(orig. fm pcta.org)
In addition to supporting the Playhouse, husband Clinton had a love of hiking, and is given credit for first proposing the Pacific Crest Trail in 1932. Along with sponsoring multiple activities supporting the trail, he also advocated politically for the trail, continuing until his death in 1957, twelve years before the actual designation. In honor of his long-time efforts, a plaque was placed by the U.S. Forest Service in Soledad Canyon along the trail in 1998.

By the end of the 1950's, the Pasadena Playhouse was slipping, as evidenced by its 1963 sale of the three dorm properties to supporters, and then leasing the properties back from them. After founder Gilmor Brown's death in 1969, the Playhouse entered bankruptcy. Clarke House was in the hands of Playhouse supporters, but ultimately all three houses (127, 139, and 149) were demolished, resulting in the building and parking lot of today.

Approximate view of 149 N. El Molino today
(part of Ironworkers Office Plaza)
Additional Info:
Photo of R. V. LeGrand (1909)
Clinton Churchill Clarke obituary

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