Eva fenyes was driving her Waverly Electric automobile along South Raymond Avenue when the accident occured. Perhaps she was preoccupied with thoughts of building her new mansion, or perhaps she was feeling unwell as she often did. Or maybe she was otherwise distracted. After all, that new novel was so intriguing. The ensuing newspaper article about the accident would be embarrassing, but maybe the writer was just having a bit of fun—as this was not Eva’s first mishap.
On January 21, 1906, a Los Angeles Times correspondent wrote, “Not long since, Mrs. Eva Fenyes, wife of Dr. Adalbert Fenyes, was reading a novel as she was speeding her electric auto along on West Colorado street. That time she merely smashed the forward part of the machine, happily escaping injury. Yesterday, Mrs. Fenyes did something far more spectacular with the same auto, and escaped again. When Mrs. Fenyes attempted to stop the machine in front of the art store on South Raymond Avenue yesterday, it seems she turned the full power on, and with a yawp and a jump the auto tilted clear across the sidewalk and smashed two big show windows to smithereens. After vainly trying to fight its way into the store, the big machine suddenly listed to the rear, leaving the front wheels up in the air revolving rapidly. Meanwhile Mrs. Fenyes had tumbled out backward unhurt.”¹
The Pasadena Daily News ran a front page article leading with the succession of headlines: MRS. FENYES IN ACCIDENT – Her Auto Runs Wild – MACHINE STARTS TO CLIMB STOREFRONT—Wife of Well Known Pasadena Physician in Another Automobile Accident.
It identifies the John C. Bentz Japanese Art Goods² store at 49-55 South Raymond Avenue as the unfortunate store front. Damage to the Waverly was estimated at $70, its springs badly twisted and its top shattered. The article closed with the brisk observation that, “This is the third or fourth time that Mrs. Fenyes has had her auto go the wrong way.”³
It all started in 1900 when Dr. Adalbert Fenyes enthusiastically encouraged his wife to purchase an electric runabout. He wrote to Eva in New York City where she was shopping for dresses with her daughter Leonora. “The old English gentleman from North Orange Grove Ave. took me this afternoon for a ride on his new electric turnout 〔sic〕& a great success it is. It weighs about 1000 pounds & costs 1200 dollars, a child can handle it. The only trouble is that there is at present no loading station in Pasadena, but he says he is having one fitted up in his barn & that in the near future the electric light company will put up a station for this purpose; if this will be ready then we do not need horses anymore. Don’t you think it would be better to wait with the new harness or perhaps not buy new one at all & put that amount of money in an automobile?”
The earliest evidence of their owning an electric automobile is a 1905 photograph of Eva seated in her Waverly Electric, hand on the tiller, gazing placidly into the camera. One might imagine an open book on her lap and furtive glances at the pages; she was an avid reader in several languages. Granted, the Los Angeles Times claimed she was reading a novel while driving. Granted, the 1905 Italian novel Nostalgie by Nobelist Grazia Deledda—its spine gilded with ‘E. Fenyes’—sits on a shelf in the Fenyes Mansion library. And tempting as it may be to picture Mrs. Fenyes steering her speeding automobile with one hand, glancing at her Italian novel held in the other, the reporter’s depiction was surely a humorous jibe.
A dignified and more likely account of that earlier November accident ran in the Los Angeles Times. “An automobile driven by Mrs. Adalbert Fenyes crashed into the curbing on Colorado street near the Salt Lake depot yesterday, and while the machine was badly wrecked, Mrs. Fenyes luckily escaped injury. The accident was caused by Mrs. Fenyes turning her machine too suddenly in order to escape a possible collision with a heavier auto driven by Freeman Ford⁵ who was coming down the Colorado street hill at a more rapid rate, and it was her idea to turn out and allow him to pass.”⁶ On second thought, reacting with a sudden swerve is reminiscent of what might happen today when a motorist looks up from texting and is startled by an impending collision. Maybe Mrs. Fenyes was reading. No matter, her car suffered minimal damage, she none, and Mr. Ford kindly gave her a lift to her residence on East Colorado. The Waverly was repaired and readied for more of Eva’s driving.
By 1909, however, Eva and Adalbert required a new electric automobile. They traded their Waverly for a Detroit Model L Runabout, blue with leather trim and a cape top. They paid $1585 after a $300 allowance (trade-in) for the brave little Waverly.
Extras included a double rumble seat, a front folding seat, and a leather pouch on the dash—presumably to hold her novels? Wicker gates gave entrance to the tonneau (backseat), and her monogram—a crown over her entwined initials ESF—embellished an exterior side panel⁷.
It seems that in spite of her mishaps, Eva Fenyes wished to declare herself the proud owner and confident driver of her electric automobile.
Pasadena Museum of History
470 W. Walnut St., Pasadena 91103
¹”Lady and her Auto,” 21 January 1906, Los Angeles Times
²The Greene & Greene architectural drawings for the Bentz store can be seen at this link to Columbia University Libraries.
³”Mrs. Fenyes in Accident,” 20 January 1906, Pasadena Daily News.
⁴Adalbert Fenyes to Eva Fenyes, 14 September 1900, Curtin-Paloheimo Papers, Acequia Madre House Archives, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
⁵At the time, Freeman Ford was vice president of Pasadena Ice Company.
⁶”Mrs. Fenyes in Accident,” Los Angeles County News, Pasadena, 21 November 1905, Los Angeles Times
⁷Receipt, California Electric Garage Co., 26 August 1909. Pasadena Museum of History, Fenyes-Curtin-Paloheimo Papers, Box 26 Folder 3.