The International Institute of Los Angeles Centennial, Part Two

As the International Institute of Los Angeles, which has an office in Boyle Heights, celebrates its centennial, this post looks back to the opening of the Institute’s office in the historic Perry Mansion, now located at the Heritage Square Museum, back in 1916.

The previous post from 3 July noted that the mansion was purchased in 1915 with plans to open by the New Year and some events were held in advance of the formal grand opening.  However, a near tragedy struck when, on 28 December 1915, a fire erupted in the structure.

According to a Los Angeles Times article, neighbors were awakened about 5 a.m. and saw flames issuing from the second floor of the building and quickly moving through four rooms there and then down a corner to the ground level.  While firefighters quickly responded and extinguished the blaze, the damage caused by the conflagration and the water used to fight the fire did substantial damage to the residence.

A 29 December 1915 article on a fire that erupted in the Perry mansion in Boyle Heights, where the International Institute of Los Angeles had recently relocated and was in the process of renovating for a planned grand opening for 1 January 1916.  The article was located by Rudy Martinez, Boyle Heights Historical Society advisory board member.  Click on the image to see it enlarged in a new window.

The article continued that renovations were nearly complete, but that some rooms were still being worked on when the blaze occurred.  Work had progressed enough, however, that two Christmas day events were hosted by the Institute—300 children from the organization’s “foreign settlement” were thrown a party in the afternoon and another 200 young women saw a Nativity pageant that evening, with a performance, reading and thirty-member chorus involved.

The planned grand opening reception for New Year’s Day evening included invitations to a thousand persons, but with the damage from the fire, it was anticipated that the event would be postponed until late January.

Unfortunately and as is often the case, the forecast was optimistic.  It was another two months beyond that that the reception finally took place, on 21 March 1916.  As reported in the Times, the event was scheduled for 2-5 p.m. and 8-10 p.m.  Nothing was stated in the article about specific program elements, though it was noted that the work of the Institute in “foreign work” was undimmed by the late December fire and that the organization was quite busy in the weeks leading up to the opening.

What was provided in the article was a list of the Immigration Committee members who would be present to receive guests at the reception.  Typically for the era, the committee was composed entirely of women, often wives of prominent figures in the Los Angeles area, as work with social services organizations was generally the domain of middle and upper class white women.

For example, Mrs. Willits J. Hole was the president of the committee.  The former Mary Weeks was born in 1868 in Butlerville, Indiana and married Willits in 1891 in nearby North Vernon, this area of southern Indiana being just west of Cincinnati and north of Louisville, Kentucky, where Willits finished high school before going to Boston to the Bryant and Stratton business college.

Just two years after their marriage and because of Mrs. Hole’s health, the couple and their daughter Agnes migrated to southern California, where they spent a few months at Santa Barbara before settling in Whittier.  While there, Hole acquired 3,500 acres from the Sansinena family on the Rancho La Habra and then developed the town of that name. 

In 1897, he became the Los Angeles-based agent of the Stearns Rancho Company, based in San Francisco, but which managed the vast properties of Abel Stearns, a prominent Los Angeles landowner, who controlled most of what became north Orange County. 

During Hole’s tenure, he was able to acquire one of the company’s ranches, the Rancho La Sierra in Riverside, consisting of 10,000 acres.  He hired Mission Inn architect Arthur Benton to build a Craftsman-style mansion on the ranch and the property is now a retreat and retirement home for the Roman Catholic Society of the Divine Word.

Incidentally, the Hole’s only child, Agnes, married Samuel K. Rindge, whose father, Frederick, bought the Malibu Rancho in 1892 and was a vice-president of Union Oil Company.  In 1940, the Rindges donated Willits Hole’s art collection to U.C.L.A.

Another key figure was chairperson Ida B. Lindley, born in Monrovia, Indiana, southwest of Indianapolis in 1856 and whose family lived for a period in Minneapolis, where her father, Milton, was a real estate agent.  She was educated at Cincinnati Wesleyan, a women’s college.  By 1875, the Lindleys migrated to Los Angeles and settled on a farm in the La Ballona district near the ocean and Ida had taken up teaching.

By the end of the century, Ida was working at the Marlborough School for girls, which was founded in 1889 by Mary Caswell and Lindley eventually became the principal.  She was also a professor of Latin at the University of Southern California.

Ida’s brother, Walter Lindley, was another prominent figure in the region, having opened a free dispensary for medicines in Los Angeles in 1875 and become the city’s health officer four years later.  He was a founder of the Whittier State School, the College of Medicine at U.S.C., California Hospital and of the Orphan’s Home in Boyle Heights.  He also was the superintendent of the county hospital, president of the state medical society and secretary of the California Board of Health, a member of the city boards of education and library and a failed candidate for Los Angeles mayor in 1906.

This Los Angeles Times article from 19 March 1916 discussed the grand opening of the International Institute of Los Angeles at the former Perry mansion at Boyle Heights, an event postponed from its original New Year’s Day date because of a late December fire. The article was located by Rudy Martinez, Boyle Heights Historical Society advisory board member.  Click on the image to see it enlarged in a new window.

A third woman of note was the wife of attorney and California Senator and Assembly member Reginaldo del Valle, one of the few prominent Californios of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Los Angeles and who was also a longtime member of the city’s Public Service Commission.  Helen White was the daughter of Caleb White, a 49er who settled in Stockton and worked in general merchandise and the nursery and fruit-raising business.  Caleb moved his family to Los Angeles when he ran sheep in the Florence community of what is now south Los Angeles and then became an early settler of Pomona, where he had a 70-acre orchard and farm, and where White Avenue is name for him.

Helen married Thomas J. Caystile, a newspaper man who was one of the first owners of the Los Angeles Times, and the couple had one daughter.  In 1890, several years after his early death in 1884, Helen married del Valle and they had a daughter, Lucretia, who became well-known as an actress and a Vice-Chairperson of the Democratic National Committee in the 1930s.  Helen del Valle died in 1920, just a few years after the International Institute opened in Boyle Heights.

Another prominent woman on the committee was Clara Cline (1864-1936), a native of Stockton, whose husband Walter, originally from San Francisco, was owner of the Los Angeles Electric Company and Los Angeles Lighting Company.  The Clines resided on South Figueroa Street near U.S.C. and later in a $900,000 mansion in Beverly Hills.

Two other women of note were ex-oficio members of the committee, because of their positions with the Y.W.C.A., the original sponsoring organization of the International Institute. 

M. Belle Jeffery (born in 1868), who was the general secretary of the Los Angeles branch in 1915-16, only held that position locally for a brief period, but had the same role in Seattle and, for many years, in Minneapolis, where she worked for over 20 years before coming to Los Angeles and ended up there later after her stint in Seattle. 

Then there was Susan D. Barnwell, who was the immigration secretary for the local Y.W.C.A.  She was born in Atlantic, Iowa in 1880, where her father, James, was a physician.  The family moved to Los Angeles and her father continued his practice, while Susan pursued a teaching certificate, probably at the California State Normal School, a teacher college located where the Los Angeles Central Public Library is now situated.  She taught high school in Glendale in the early 1900s and engaged in other social work as well as with the Y.

After the grand opening of the Institute and its regular work conducted in the Perry Mansion, there was another special event that is worth highlighting and which will be the subject of the next post.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry with initial research provided by Boyle Heights Historical Society advisor Rudy Martinez, who located the Times articles on the fire and grand opening of the Institute.