Some looked at the arid hills of Los Angeles and saw worthless land. Prudent Beaudry gazed up at them and envisioned prime real estate.
In 1867 Beaudry – a French Canadian immigrant who would later serve as mayor – began snapping up hilltop parcels on the cheap from sellers who didn't share his vision. Soon he'd built an elaborate system of reservoirs, iron pipes, and steam pumps to irrigate the sun-baked hills. Suddenly land he'd bought for $1,500 was worth twenty, thirty times as much.
To advertise the potential of his hilltop tracts, in the early 1870s he transformed two barren knolls into Bellevue Terrace and Beaudry Park – Edenic landscapes that, though privately owned, welcomed the public to visit. Here, the fragrance of orange blossoms mingled with that of eucalyptus leaves. Paths meandered through vineyards and fruit orchards. And ocean views dissolved into the horizon.
Vistas were certainly the highlight of Bellevue Terrace, if its Canadian French name is any indication. Perched atop a 70-foot hill that no longer exists (it's the site of the Central Library today), this 6.5-acre garden overlooked the growing city below and the pastoral countryside beyond. Clear days offered glimpses of the Pacific. But there were spectacles inside the garden, too. High-pressure hoses cast water high into the air -- "a refreshing sight," in the words of a Los Angeles Herald scribe. And within the garden's eucalyptus-lined perimeter, a grove of some 500 fruit-bearing orange and lime trees stood in an orderly grid. The Austrian prince and naturalist Ludwig Salvator visited in 1876 and left thoroughly enchanted, describing Bellevue Terrace as "a perfect jewel."
Further west was Beaudry Park. The eight-acre private reserve rose above the canyon that today carries Sunset Boulevard between the city's downtown and Echo Park districts. Here Beaudry's landscape gardener, Francis Tamiet, planted a veritable forest of fruit and ornamental trees: 475 oranges, 2,600 Mexican limes, 1,200 gums, 1,000 cypresses, and 100 Monterey pines. Amid all this horticulture, wild nature managed to thrive -- in 1878, the Herald reported the appearance of "a splendid gray fox from the mountains." "His tail is a sight worth climbing the height to see," it added.
Bellevue Terrace and Beaudry Park might have become crown jewels of Los Angeles' parks system, but Los Angeles in the 1870s possessed only the rudiments of an organized public parks movement. With orange groves, vineyards, open pasture, and rugged mountains surrounding the city, perhaps Angelenos felt little pressure to set aside open space for retreat and recreation. Even within the city, greenery abounded. Visitors were welcome to stroll through lushly landscaped residential yards, as well as private, commercial resorts like Washington Gardens or City Gardens. (See USC sociologist Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo's new book, "Paradise Transplanted" for more on that.) When booming development finally convinced the city that it needed municipally owned parks, it turned to its leftover, marginal lands -- marshy depressions, defunct reservoirs, and rugged hillsides.
Ultimately, Beaudry placed his two gardens on the market soon after he'd liquidated the surrounding real estate tracts. In 1881 the state purchased Bellevue Terrace for the site of the California Branch State Normal School, a teaching college that eventually became UCLA. When the Los Angeles Central Library replaced the college in 1926, construction crews graded the hill out of existence. Beaudry's Park, meanwhile, was purchased in 1883 by the Sisters of Charity. On that site (now occupied by The Elysian apartment building and Holy Hill Community Church) the sisters placed their new infirmary, repurposing Beaudry's fruit trees and cypresses into a soothing backdrop for their patients.