Thomas D. Murphy.

On Sunset Highways online

. (page 5 of 25)
Online LibraryThomas D. MurphyOn Sunset Highways → online text (page 5 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


some miles of highway in process of construction and had much more rough
going, dodging through fields, fording streams and arroyos, and nearly
losing our way in the falling twilight. Now a broad, smooth highway
leads down Verdugo Canyon from La Canada to the pleasant little town
of Glendale—a clean, quiet place with broad, palm-bordered streets—into
which we came about dusk.

To-day the tourist may make the journey I have just described over
excellent concrete roads, though he must make a short detour from the
main route if he wishes to pass through Sunland. He may continue onward
from Sunland following the foothills, crossing the wide wash of the
Tujunga River and passing through orange and lemon groves, interspersed
with fields of roses and other flowers grown by Los Angeles florists,
until he again comes into the main highway at San Fernando town. Though
the virgin wilderness that so charmed us when we first made the trip is
no longer so marked, this little run is still one of the most delightful
jaunts in Los Angeles County.

Los Feliz Avenue, by which we returned to the city, skirts Griffith
Park, the greatest pleasure ground of Los Angeles. Here are more than
thirty-five hundred acres of oak-covered hills, donated some years ago
by a public-spirited citizen and still in the process of conversion
into a great, unspoiled, natural playground for people of every class.
A splendid road enters the park from Los Feliz Avenue and for several
miles skirts the edge of the hills hundreds of feet above the river,
affording a magnificent view of the valley, with its fruit groves and
villages, and beyond this the serried peaks of the Verdugo Range; still
farther rise the rugged ranks of the Sierras, cloud-swept or white with
snow at times. Then the road plunges into a tangle of overarching trees
and crosses and recrosses a bright, swift stream until it emerges into
a byway leading out into San Fernando Boulevard.

This road has now been extended until it crosses Hollywood Mountain,
coming into the city at the extreme end of Western Avenue. It is
a beautifully engineered road, though of necessity there are some
"hairpin" turns and moderately steep grades. Still, a lively car can
make the ascent either way on "high" and there is everywhere plenty
of room to pass. No description of the wonderful series of views that
unfold as one reaches the vantage points afforded by the road can be
adequate. These cover the San Fernando Valley and mountain ranges
beyond, practically all of the city of Los Angeles and the plain
stretching away to the ocean—but why attempt even to enumerate, since no
motorist who visits Los Angeles will be likely to forget the Hollywood
Mountain trip.

The crowning beauty of Griffith Park is its unmolested state of nature;
barring the roads, it must have been much the same a half century ago.
No formal flower beds or artificial ponds are to be seen, but there are
wild flowers in profusion and clear rivers and creeks. There are many
spreading oak trees, underneath which rustic tables have been placed,
and near at hand a stone oven serves the needs of picnic parties, which
throng to Griffith Park in great numbers. One day we met numerous
auto-loads of people in quaint old-time costumes, which puzzled us
somewhat until we learned that the park is a favorite resort for the
motion-picture companies, who were that day rehearsing a colonial scene.

While Griffith Park is the largest and wildest of Los Angeles pleasure
grounds, there are others which will appeal to the motorist. Elysian,
lying between the city and Pasadena, is second largest and affords some
splendid views of the city and surrounding country. A motor camp ground
for tourists has recently been located in one of the groves of this
splendid park. Lincoln—until recently Eastlake—Park, with its zoological
garden, lies along El Monte Road as it enters the city, while Westlake
is a little gem in the old-time swell residence section now rapidly
giving way to hotels, apartments and business houses. A little farther
westward is the old-time Sunset Park, unhappily rechristened "Lafayette"
during the war, a pretty bit of gardening surrounded by wide boulevards.
Sycamore Park, lying along Pasadena Avenue between Los Angeles and
Pasadena, is another well-kept pleasure ground and Echo Park, with a
charming lake surrounded by palms and trees, is but a block off Sunset
Boulevard on Lake Shore Drive. Hollenbeck Park on Boyle Heights in the
older residence section east of the river, is very beautiful but perhaps
the least frequented of Los Angeles playgrounds. A small tree-bordered
lake set in a depression on the hill is crossed by a high arched bridge
from which one has charming vistas on either hand.

Exposition Park on Figueroa Street, contains the city museum and
picture galleries and offers to the public opportunity for many
kinds of open-air recreation. The greatest interest here, however, is
the wonderful collection of bones and complete skeletons of mighty
prehistoric animals that once roamed the tropic plains of Southern
California. These were discovered in the asphalt pits of Rancho La Brea,
which lies near the oil fields along Wilshire Boulevard just west of
the city. Remains of the woolly mammoth, the imperial elephant, larger
than any now living, the giant ground sloth, the saber-toothed tiger,
and many other strange extinct animals were found intermingled in the
heavy black liquid which acted at once as a trap and a preservative.
Great skill has been shown in reconstruction of the skeletons, which are
realistically mounted to give an idea of the size and characteristics
of the animals. After the visitor has made a round of the museum and
read the interesting booklet which may be had from the curator, he may
wish to drive out West Wilshire Boulevard and inspect the asphalt pits,
which may be seen from this highway.

Nor should one forget the famous Busch Gardens in Pasadena, thrown
open to all comers by the public-spirited brewer. If you can not drive
your car into them, you can at least leave it at the entrance and
stroll among the marvels of this carefully groomed private park. And
if a newcomer, you will want to drive about the town itself before you
go—truly an enchanted city, whose homes revel in never-ending summer.
Is there the equal of Orange Grove Avenue in the world? I doubt it. A
clean, wide, slate-smooth street, bordered by magnificent residences
embowered in flowers and palms and surrounded by velvety green lawns,
extends for more than two miles. In the past two decades the city
has grown from a village of nine thousand people to some five times
that number and its growth still proceeds by leaps and bounds. It has
four famous resort hotels, whose capacity is constantly taxed during
the winter season, and there are many magnificent churches and public
buildings. Its beauty and culture, together with the advantages of the
metropolis which elbows it on the west, and the unrivaled climate of
California, give Pasadena first rank among the residence towns of the
country.

And if one follows the long stretch of Colorado Street to the eastward,
it will lead him into Foothill Boulevard, and I doubt if in all
California—which is to say in all the world—there is a more beautiful
roadway than the half dozen miles between Pasadena and Monrovia. Here
the Baldwin Oaks skirt the highway on either side—great century-old
Spanish and live oaks, some gnarled and twisted into a thousand
fantastic shapes and others the very acme of arboreal symmetry—hundreds
of them, hale and green despite their age.

I met an enthusiastic Californian who was building a fine house in the
tract and who told me that he came to the state thirty years ago on his
honeymoon and was so enamored with the country that he never returned
east; being a man of independent means, he was fortunately able to
gratify his predilection in this particular. With the advent of the
motor car he became an enthusiastic devotee and had toured in every
county in the state, but had seen, he declared, no spot that appealed
to him so strongly as an ideal home site. Straight as an arrow through
the beautiful tract runs the wide, level Foothill Boulevard, bordered
by oak, pepper, locust, and walnut trees until it reaches the outskirts
of Monrovia, where orange groves are seen once more.

About midway a road branches off to Sierra Madre, a quiet little village
nestling in the foothills beneath the rugged bulk of Mount Wilson.
It is famous for its flowers, and every spring it holds a flower show
where a great variety of beautiful blooms are exhibited. Just above the
town is a wooded canyon, a favorite resort for picnic parties, where
nature still revels in her pristine glory. Mighty oaks and sycamores
predominate, with a tangle of smaller trees and shrubbery beneath, while
down the dell trickles a clear mountain stream. It is a delightful spot,
seemingly infinitely remote from cities and boulevards—and it is only
typical of many such retreats in the foothills along the mountain range
which offer respite to the motorist weary of sea sands and city streets.




IV

ROUND ABOUT LOS ANGELES


It seems anomalous that our Far West—the section most removed from the
point of discovery of this continent—should have a history antedating
much of the East and all of the Middle West of our country. When we
reflect that Santa Fe was founded within a half century after Columbus
landed, and contests with St. Augustine, Florida, for the honor of being
the oldest settlement within the present limits of the United States,
the fact becomes the more impressive.

About the same date—June 27, 1542, to be exact—the Spanish explorer,
Juan Cabrillo, sailed from the port of Navidad on the western coast of
Mexico with two small vessels and made the first landing of white men
within the limits of California at San Diego, in the month of September.
A few days later he sailed northward to the Bay of San Pedro, and landed
within the present boundaries of Los Angeles to obtain water. Indeed,
if he climbed the hills overlooking the harbor, he may have viewed
the plain where the main part of the city now stands. But he did not
linger here; by slow stages he followed the coast northward as far as
the present site of San Francisco, but did not enter the magnificent
bay. On the homeward voyage he died near Santa Barbara in 1543, and the
expedition returned to Mexico.

Thirty years later Sir Francis Drake sailed along the coast, but there
is no record of his landing anywhere in the south. In 1602 Philip of
Spain despatched a second expedition under Viscaino, who covered much
the same ground as Cabrillo, though there is nothing to show that he
visited the vicinity of Los Angeles. In his account of his voyage to the
king he declared that the country was rich and fertile, and urged that
he be made the head of a colonization expedition, but his death in 1606
brought his plans to naught.

For one hundred and sixty years afterwards no white man visited the
present limits of California, though it was still counted a possession
of the king of Spain. Not until the revival of Spanish colonization
activities under Philip II did California engage the attention of
Europe, and being—nominally at least—a Spanish possession, the king,
with the co-operation of the pope, undertook to establish a series of
Catholic missions along the coast. The enterprise was put in charge
of Junipero Serra, a Franciscan monk of great piety and strength of
character, and after long delay and much hardship, he arrived at San
Diego in July, 1769. Missions had already been founded in the lower
peninsula and upon these Father Serra planned to draw for priests and
ecclesiastical equipment necessary in the establishments which he should
locate in his new field of work. He did not proceed northward in regular
order, for the second mission was founded at Monterey and the third at
San Antonio.

This brings us to the point to which the foregoing is but the barest
outline—the founding of the Mission of San Gabriel Archangel near the
city of Los Angeles on September 8, 1771. Twenty-six years later to a
day the second mission within easy reach of the city was established—San
Fernando Rey de Espana, being the seventeenth of the twenty-one
Franciscan religious houses on the California coast. The two missions
near the city—San Gabriel, six miles to the east, and San Fernando,
twenty miles northwest—will be among the first attractions to the
motorist in roving about Los Angeles, and we visited both several times
before undertaking our tour of the King's Highway. Each has much of
interest and may well serve to create a desire for an acquaintance with
the remainder of these romantic memorials of early days in the Golden
State.

San Gabriel is a little, dust-browned hamlet nestling under giant pepper
and eucalyptus trees, lying a half mile off the splendid boulevard
that bears the same name. It has but a few hundred people and is quite
unimportant in a business way. It is a quiet place, surrounded by the
wide sweep of orange groves, and would attract little notice were it not
for the plain, almost rude, structure that rears its heavy buttressed
walls directly by the roadside. It is a long and narrow building of
large square bricks, covered with stucco which has taken the hue of
old ivory from the long procession of years that have passed over it.
Along the top of the front wall is a row of moss-green bells, each in
its arched stone niche, which still chime melodious notes at vesper time
and which lend a peculiarly picturesque appearance to the unique facade.
True, the mission has been much restored since the adobe walls of the
original structure were reared in 1771. The winter rains, earthquakes,
and hostile Indians, all wrought havoc on the building; the arched roof
was thrown down by the quake of 1812 and was replaced by one of beams
and tiles, which was later superseded by the present shingle covering.
The elaborate ceiling was erected in 1886, but seems somewhat out of
keeping with the severe simplicity of the original design.

[Illustration: SAN GABRIEL MISSION
From Photograph by Putnam & Valentine]

It has been a parish church since the American conquest in 1846, though
its old-time glory vanished and for a period it was almost forgotten.
But the troops of tourists who came yearly to California rescued it
from oblivion. The coming of the electric car, which clangs past its
door, brought crowds daily; and when the motor arrived on the scene,
old San Gabriel became a shrine of pilgrimage such as it never was in
its palmiest days. Now a brown-robed priest welcomes you at the door,
collects a modest fee—to be devoted to maintenance and restoration—and
conducts you about every part of the ancient building. He leads you
to the roof and shows you the bells at close range, and you may as a
special favor be allowed to test their musical qualities. They are
Spanish bells, older than the mission, and are looked upon by the
fathers with a pride that verges on reverence. Then you will be shown
the curios, the relics, paintings, vestments, old manuscripts, and
books, some of doubtful value and authenticity and others of real
antiquity and importance. You will be given a glimpse into the quiet
burying ground, where many of the fathers are at rest and beyond which
is the sheen of orange groves and the blue peaks of the Sierras. The
monster grapevine that supplied the cellars of the old padres will not
be overlooked and many rude utensils of early days may be seen scattered
about the place. It is all very quaint and interesting, this bit of
old-world mediaevalism transplanted to the new world by the western sea
and about which has grown up one of the most enlightened and prosperous
communities in the whole country.

You will be told as much of its story as you may wish to hear; how one
time this fertile plain about the mission was tilled by the Indians whom
the padres had instructed and partially civilized—at one time as many
as five thousand of them. They raised vast herds of cattle, estimated
from eighty to one hundred and twenty thousand, and twenty thousand
horses and forty thousand sheep were numbered in their possessions at
the height of their prosperity. Allowing for probable exaggeration,
the wealth of the mission was undoubtedly great, reaching two million
dollars in 1842. Shortly after, this was confiscated by the Mexican
Government and the ensuing war with the United States marked the end of
San Gabriel's prosperity.

When the town of Los Angeles was founded during the palmy days of the
mission, a chapel was built there by the fathers and it stands to-day,
time-stained and demurely unpretentious, in the midst of the bustling
metropolis that has grown up around it.

But San Gabriel to-day has an added interest—the result of one of
the happy inspirations which come periodically to Frank Miller of
Riverside—in the Mission Play first given in the winter of 1910.
It occurred to this loyal Californian that the romantic zeal and
self-sacrifice that led to the foundation of the missions and the
wealth of historic incident connected with their active career would
furnish splendid material for a play—or, more properly, a pageant. The
idea was presented to Mr. John S. McGroarty of Los Angeles, editor of
the Pacific Coast Magazine, who combined the necessary qualities of
historian and poet. He entered zealously into the plan and in due time
the libretto was written. A playhouse was built—somewhat crude and
cheaply constructed, it is true—directly opposite the old mission. It
was not, however, inharmonious with the idea and spirit of the play
and was surrounded by an open-air corridor or ambulatory containing
small models of the twenty-one missions as they appeared in their most
prosperous days. The actors were mostly local people who, during the
performance, lived in the cottages of the village or near-by towns.

The play—or pageant—has but little plot, depending on scenic effect,
rich in life and color, and on a wealth of interesting incident. We saw
it during the first week of its performance and our only disappointment
was the clearly inappropriate ending—but evidently the writer recognized
this defect, for when we visited the play next season, the last act had
been rewritten more in harmony with the spirit of the subject.

Before the play begins you are at liberty to saunter about the
ambulatory to gain some idea of the subject with which it is to deal;
the clang of a mission bell hanging over the stage will call you to your
seat when the performance commences. Three figures pass like shadows
in front of the darkened curtain before it rises—a crouching, fearful
Indian, a fully accoutered and gaudily dressed soldier, representing the
Spanish conquistador, and, lastly, the brown-robed priest bearing his
crucifix—symbols of the three human elements with which the play is to
deal. It proves more of an historical pageant than a miracle play—but,
after all, what is Oberammergau but an historical pageant?—though it
seldom occurs to us in that light.

The curtain rises on False Bay, San Diego—a piece of scene-staging
that would do credit to any metropolitan playhouse. A little group of
monks and soldiers sit disconsolately in their camp in the foreground;
they are awaiting the arrival of Portola, their leader, who has gone
northward to explore the coast and whose return they momentarily hope
for. They have suffered from disease and hunger; hostile Indians have
continually harried them and shown no signs of being converted to
Christianity, despite the efforts of the monks. The soldiers are quite
ready to re-embark in the crippled little San Carlos, lying temptingly
in the harbor, and to return to Mexico for good. Here enters the hero
of the play, Father Serra, and his influence is at once apparent, for
complaint ceases and the rough soldiers become respectful. He addresses
cheerful words to the dejected men—speaking like a hero and prophet—and
to some extent rouses their depressed spirits. But the gloom is doubly
deep when Portola staggers on the scene with the wretched remnant of
his band of explorers—unkempt, footsore, starving, many of them sick and
wounded—and declares that the port of Monterey has not been found—that
all is lost. They must return to Mexico and when Father Serra insists
that if all go he will remain here alone, Portola tells him he will not
be allowed to do so. They will compel him to board the ship. The priest
pleads for one more day of grace; he is to baptize his first native—an
Indian child—and this may be the turning point of their fortunes. In
the midst of the ceremony the savage parents become terror-stricken,
snatch the babe from Serra's arms and flee to their retreat in the
mountains. The sad outcome of the ceremony only confirms Portola in his
determination to sail on the following morning; the San Antonio, which
was despatched months ago for relief supplies, has never been heard
of—she must have been lost at sea—there is no hope! The sooner they sail
the greater the chance of reaching home—all are ordered to prepare for
embarking. Serra raises his hands to heaven in deep contrition; it was
his pride and vain glory, he laments, over his promise of success that
has been punished—it is just; but he pleads in desperation with the
soldier not to turn his back on God's work—to wait one more day; God
may yet work a miracle to prevent the overthrow of the plans to save
the heathen. His words fall on deaf ears, but while he pleads the watch
sets up a joyful cry—a light is seen rounding Point Loma—the good ship
San Antonio comes—the spirits of all revive—the mission is saved! It is
indeed a thrilling and dramatic climax; the ship glides into the harbor
in a truly realistic manner and the denouement is creditable alike to
author and stage director.

The second act pictures the court of San Carlos at Monterey fourteen
years later. It is rich with the semi-tropical splendor of that
favored spot; green trees, waving palms, and flowers lend color and
cheeriness to the gray cloisters through which the brown-robed figures
march with solemn decorum. It is the great day when all the mission
fathers—nine in number at that time—have assembled at Monterey to make
report of progress of their respective stations to the president, the
beloved Junipero. He has aged since we saw him last; hardships and
wounds have left their furrows on his face, but it still glows with
the old-time zeal. His strength of character comes out in one of the
opening incidents—the military captain of the presidio comes to carry
off a beautiful half-breed girl to whom he has taken a fancy, but the
soldier's arrogance speedily fades before the stern rebuke of Father
Serra, his sword is wrested from him by the athletic young "fighting
parson" of San Luis Obispo, and he is ignominiously ejected from the
mission.

In the second act it seems to me that the influence of Oberammergau
can be seen in opulence of color and picturesque effects. The fathers
gather about a long table and Serra listens with pious approbation to
the optimistic reports of his subordinates. As an example of the fervent
and self-sacrificing spirit of the aged president, as illustrated by
the play, we may quote from Serra's address on this memorable occasion:

"Francisco, my beloved brother, and you, my brethren, all bear me
witness that I have never sought for world honor; I have asked only to
serve God in the wilderness, laboring to bring the light of Christ to
the heathen. I would gladly be forgotten when I lie down with death in
this poor robe of our Franciscan brotherhood, my hands empty, and rich
only in the love of God and my fellow-man. But oh, California is dear
to me! It is the country of my heart. It were sweet to be remembered
here by the peoples which shall some day crowd these golden shores and
possess these sweet valleys and shining hills that I have loved so well.
My feet have wandered every mile of the way between the great harbor
of St. Francis and San Diego's Harbor of the Sun so many, many times!
and on this, my last journey which I have just taken, I stopped often
amid the oaks and cypress, kissing the ground in loving farewell. I
have looked down from the hilltops and embraced in my soul every vale
carpeted with poppies and aflame with wild flowers as the mocking bird
and the linnet sang to me on the way. To be remembered in California—ah,
God grant that I shall not be forgotten in this dear and lovely land."



Online LibraryThomas D. MurphyOn Sunset Highways → online text (page 5 of 25)