“It did not take me all these 50 years to decide on the best place to live. Southern California is best, and to me there is no place which can compare with Lamanda Park.” – Iva Engle, interviewed by the Pasadena Star-News, 1927
East of Old Town, west of Arcadia, somewhere along good old Route 66, lies Lamanda Park—a small puzzle piece of a neighborhood in East Pasadena. It’s home to diverse businesses, such as 77-year-old Fedde Furniture, Poo-Bah Records, Zephyr Café, and a variety of retro, borderline-seamy motels.
The houses, set neatly on quiet residential streets off Colorado Boulevard, are small and well-kept, most dating from the 1940s-1960s. Gone are the industrial citrus packing houses and wineries that once dotted the landscape. On the outskirts of Lamanda Park, remnants of the railroad that once ran through town are still visible behind chain-link fences. Near the corner of Walnut and Kinneloa, a lone rail bridge stands, leading nowhere.
At one time a bustling agricultural hub, today Lamanda Park has all but disappeared from maps and the public consciousness. Nevertheless, it still appears as a panhandle shape on Google Maps, bordered on top by the 210 Freeway, at bottom by Del Mar Boulevard, to the east by Eaton Wash, and to the west by Allen Avenue.
In fact, Lamanda Park used to be a separate town altogether. Once an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County—cut off from its more urbanized neighbor, Pasadena—Lamanda Park began as “Sunny Slope,” a vast agricultural ranch owned by German immigrant L.J. Rose. In its heyday, it had three movie theaters, a train station, a baseball team, and even its own newspaper—the Lamanda Park Herald. There was once a Lamanda Park Board of Trade, a First National Bank of Lamanda Park, a Lamanda Park School, and a Lamanda Park post office. The town even makes a brief cameo in Frank Capra’s 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life, doubling as the fictional “Bedford Falls.”
You could say the grape made the neighborhood, and it still shows in the street names: Del Vina, Vine, Vinedo, Vineyard, and Mataro (named for a red wine grape). There were at least five major wineries operating in the area between 1865 and 1923, including the Sunny Slope Winery, Sierra Madre Vintage Company, Golden Park Winery, Mountain Wine Company, and A. Brighton Winery. In 1892 alone, Lamanda Park’s vineyards yielded 2,961 tons in grapes.
Citrus, olive, and walnut groves also blanketed the countryside. Between 1890 and 1892, Lamanda Park shipped 16,500 boxes of oranges—an impressive feat for a small town that only numbered 400 residents by 1895.
It was all made possible by the Santa Fe railroad, which was extended through Lamanda Park in 1886, and finally ceased operating in 1994. Long segments of the train’s path are still visible along Walnut Street, which was once appropriately called “Railroad Street.” Around the railroad, which ran parallel to Walnut, numerous packing houses sprang up to ship Lamanda Park’s goods as far away as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
An 1891 tourist guide called Lamanda Park “the gem of the San Gabriel Valley,” and from its earliest beginnings, Lamanda Park took pride in itself. In 1896, a letter-writer to the L.A. Times bragged, “Pasadena is intensely jealous of their small eastern neighbor. Lamanda Park […] has beautiful groves of live oaks, such as Pasadena cannot boast of. The soil is far superior, also, for the cultivation of fruits, vines, or flowers.”
Nevertheless, Lamanda Park also gained a reputation as a “saloon town,” and an outpost of the Wild West. One Pasadenan in 1888 called it “a cesspool of vice.” In 1906, a “bloody fight over whisky” ended with a gunfight between three men, leaving two in the hospital and three more in jail, according to the L.A. Times. In 1910, a quarrel between neighbors over a property line fence resulted in one man drawing a revolver and shooting the other dead on the spot.
The overabundance of alcohol from Lamanda Park’s wineries proved both a source of pride (the town’s wines won top prizes at the 1900 Paris Exposition), and vexation: in 1910, a group of concerned citizens, led by the Rev. Guy Talbot of the Lamanda Park Methodist Church, fought to have operating licenses for the Sierra Madre Vintage Company and Golden Park Winery denied. “The minister explained that Lamanda Park had become a residence district and that wineries were a detriment to its growth. He pointed out that drunkenness was becoming common around these establishments,” reported the L.A. Times.
Talbot’s efforts were unsuccessful, but later that year the Los Angeles Herald reported that a new informal law had been adopted in the town. “When a man is known to have tarried too long near the wine barrels,” said the paper, “the offender is placed on the taboo.”
Talk of annexing Lamanda Park was discussed as early as the 1880s, but as late as 1913, the consensus among residents was that it would raise their taxes and suppress their independent spirit. In 1920, however, civic pride was subsumed to more practical concerns—like the need for modern sewers—and Lamanda Park was annexed by Pasadena, becoming part of the growing city. As a result, Walnut Street was extended to Foothill Boulevard in 1923.
Annexation, along with Prohibition, signaled the death knell for Lamanda Park’s wineries. That same year, the last operating winery in Lamanda Park, the Sierra Madre Vintage Company, shuttered, and its 100 acres of vineyards were subdivided for homes.
Even after Lamanda Park’s own citrus groves and vineyards disappeared, however, the Sierra-Madre Lamanda Park Citrus Association continued to box up oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit in a packing house that stood at the corner of Walnut Street and San Gabriel Boulevard. Citrus was shipped in from places like Etiwanda, boxed in Lamanda Park, and then sent to far-flung destinations across the country. The association thrived throughout the 1930s.
“My great aunt Dora sometimes worked there when they needed help,” recalls Jody Lorin, 78, who grew up in Lamanda Park. “I don’t remember when they closed the packing house, but I think it was in the early-to-mid ‘40s. We played there often [...] There were pits where they put the bad citrus that got fairly deep—no place for a child to be playing around and we got chased out all the time.”
Lamanda Park’s railway station, at the corner of Walnut and San Gabriel Boulevard, ceased operating in the 1950s, and was torn down in 1971. By 1969, Russ Leadabrand of the Pasadena Star-News wrote, “Lamanda Park is a suburb of Pasadena that almost none of the modern residents here knows anything about.” Further changes came in the mid-1970s, when the 210 Freeway was built through East Pasadena, and San Gabriel extended north. The town’s character was forever fractured.
Neverthless, Lorin remembers it nostalgically. “It was my favorite place in the world,” she recalls. “The memory of that place in time is a comfort zone for me in my mind. I felt safe there.”
Today, Lamanda Park may have all but been erased, but that hasn’t stopped resident David Chandler, owner of Chandler Cabinets, from declaring himself the “unofficial mayor of Lamanda Park.” Chandler should know a thing or two about local history: he lives in an 1890 house on North Vinedo Avenue, thought to be the last surviving building of the Sierra Madre Vintage Company.
Small Town Beginnings: L. J. Rose and Sunny Slope
“If ever there was an Edenlike spot on the surface of the earth, Sunny Slope was the one,” wrote L.J. Rose, Jr. in 1937. “There was everything there that heart could desire—trees and fruits in lavish quantity and flowers in gorgeous beauty, babbling brooks, balmy air, eternally blue skies, a perfect climate, and perpetual sunshine.”
In his book L.J. Rose of Sunny Slope, written in 1937, and published by the Huntington Library in 1959, L.J. Rose, Jr. recounts how his father, a German immigrant, transformed an untamed outlying ranch east of Pasadena into a world-famous winery that, at its peak, produced over 750,000 gallons of wine a year. He reflected back on a time which even then had receded into distant memory.
Today, the vineyards are gone—but the house L.J. Rose built in 1861 still stands at the corner of La Presa and Sunny Slope Dr., just south of San Gabriel Boulevard, on the outskirts of Lamanda Park.
Leonard John Rose, Sr. was born in Rottenburg, Bavaria, Germany in 1827, and emigrated to the United States with his family at age eight. After graduating Shurtfleff College in Alton, Illinois, Rose began a series of business ventures: apple-selling on the Mississippi River, running a general merchandise store in Iowa, waiting tables at a restaurant in Albequerque, New Mexico, and briefly owning a hotel in Santa Fe. Finally, Rose saved up enough money to fulfill a years-long dream: settling in the golden state of California, which he did in 1860.
Arriving in Los Angeles, Rose purchased 1,300 acres of land from William H. Corbitt and Albert Dibblee, who owned the Rancho Santa Anita—a huge 13,500-acre tract, formerly belonging to the Spanish, and comprising parts of present-day Monrovia, Arcadia, Sierra Madre, East Pasadena, and San Marino.
The land around Rose’s property once belonged to the Tongva Native Americans, whose village, Acurag-na, sat on five acres near the intersection of El Campo Drive and Huntington Drive. In Ranches to Residences: The Story of Sunny Slope Water Company, historian William A. Myers writes, “the area of Acurag-na lay astride a geologic feature known as the Raymond Fault, which threw up an underground barrier to southward flowing subterranean water, causing springs to percolate to the surface, forming marshy ponds. Even during the long dry season when the surrounding plain was brown and dusty, the pools at Acurag-na remained full, supporting extensive plant and animal life.” (In the Tongva language, Acurag-na loosely translates as “Woodville.”)
Rose built his home not far from Acurag-na, and soon found that the naturally-occurring artesian wells were ideally suited to be channeled and used for agriculture, which the Spanish had done before him. Through a combination of fertile land, savvy business sense, and intelligent harnessing of water resources, Rose was able to transform his large rancho into a lucrative vineyard.
That the land had once belonged to the Tongva was of as little concern to Rose as it had been to the Mission fathers, who had forced the area’s native population to toil building a dam near the present-day corner of Huntington and La Presa Drive. (The dam, built in 1821, still stands today on the property of the Sunny Slope Water Company.) As Acurag-na was part of Rose’s property, Rose hired some of its inhabitants, along with Mexican and Chinese laborers, to work in his vineyards.
Rose planted the first grapevines on his property between 1863 and 1865. “Vines were imported from Spain, Italy and Peru,” notes Water and Power Associates, “and the wine and brandy generated from Sunny Slope made L.J. Rose a household name and a very wealthy man.
From his winery, Rose produced port, sherry, muscatel, claret, blau elben, zinfandel, and Angelica—a sweet fortified wine made from the California Mission grape. By the 1880s, his wine-making enterprise was a nationally-known tourist attraction, beckoning visitors as prominent as U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes, railroad tycoon Leland Stanford, and renowned boxer John L. Sullivan.
Along with Rose’s tremendous success, however, came a gambler’s love of risk-taking. “Mr. Rose spent his money like a prince and was known as a man who would not ‘hedge’ on any proposition,” wrote the San Francisco Call in 1899. A lover of card playing, Rose once lost $100,000 in a single game.
In 1885, Rose began to subdivide and sell Sunny Slope, and thus a small town was born. He proposed, somewhat awkwardly, to call the town “Mandeville,” using part of his wife’s name “Amanda.” According to the L.A. Times, “the post office authorities at Washington refused to grant a post office to a town so named, the department having recently adopted a regulation refusing offices to places ending with ‘ville’ or ‘town.’” It was Rose’s wife who ended up suggesting the more pleasant-sounding “Lamanda.” After the first post office was named “Lamanda Park,” the name stuck, and was adopted by the community.
Rose also named streets after himself and his daughters: Rose Avenue, Rose Alley, Nina, Daisy, Annie (now Vinedo). In 1887, he sold his winery to J.H. Puleston, an Englishman, making over $1 million on the sale. He used the profits to construct a palatial house at the corner of Fourth Street and Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles, costing $100,000, and spent an additional $75,000 on construction of a lavish hotel in Ventura.
As a result, Rose’s debts got the best of him. In 1899, despondent after being turned down for a loan, he took a lethal dose of morphine while standing in the chicken yard of his Los Angeles home and died an hour later. In his suicide note, he confessed to his wife that he was “swamped financially.” Upon his death, the L.A. Times noted that Rose owed $264,000 to his creditors—about $7.2 million in today’s dollars.
Tragedy continued to visit the Rose family even after Rose’s death. In 1906, Rose’s daughter, Annie Rose Sanderson, was brutally murdered by her husband, who then committed suicide.
His son, Guy Rose, a respected Pasadena artist, fell victim to lead poisoning from his paint brushes, causing debilitating symptoms for the remainder of his life, and leading to his untimely death from stroke at the age of 58.
Rose’s downtown house was demolished in the 1930s, but his 1861 Pasadena home still stands. The Sunny Slope Water Company, incorporated in 1895, using the same valuable waters that fed Rose’s vineyards, continues to operate today.
In Part 2, we look at the quirky man behind Lamanda Park’s first and only newspaper, and a forgotten nature center…