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Sherman Library and Gardens: Finding L.A. History in Newport Beach

Before the Sherman Library and Gardens occupied the corner of Coast Highway and Dahlia in Corona del Mar, there was an adobe house.

Haskell at the Sherman Library and Gardens
Haskell at the Sherman Library and Gardens, courtesy of Sherman Library and Gardens

In the late 1930s, Lawrence and Pauline Lushbaugh had paid $600 for the lot and then built their home out of adobe bricks – bricks they made themselves. When in 1956 businessman Arnold Haskell bought the property, then a nursery, for his Sherman Foundation, the adobe house became the foundation's office. As the foundation – a nonprofit Haskell created to honor his mentor, land developer and railway baron Moses Hazeltine Sherman – continued its work of providing grants to local organizations, Haskell started to landscape the area outside the adobe office.

“Haskell loved gardens for their peaceful atmosphere” said Paul Wormser, director of Sherman Research Library, in a recent interview.

Over the next 10 years, Haskell acquired the entire 2.2-acre Newport Beach block lot-by-lot and by 1966 the Sherman Foundation was focusing all its efforts on building a cultural institution called the Sherman Library and Gardens. Complementing the gardens would be a research library to house the papers of Haskell, Sherman, and also Otto Freeman Brant of the Title Insurance and Trust Company. USC history professor William O. Hendricks became the research library’s first director and for almost 50 years, Hendricks accumulated historical items focused on the Pacific Southwest. The library’s collections have since grown to include 25,000 books and pamphlets, along with maps, photographs, correspondence and more than 2,000 reels of microfilmed material all related to the Pacific Southwest. Open to the public, the library also owns one of the most comprehensive collections of city directories in the region.

During his interview, library director Paul Wormser shared a sample of photos that show the breadth the institution’s archives. These photos were taken by W.C. Sawyer, an engineer with the City of Los Angeles who documented Southern California with his five-by-seven-inch camera on his personal time. Sawyer specialized in the region’s maritime history.

Fulton Shipyard photographed by W.C. Sawyer, Courtesy of the Sherman Library and Garden
Fulton Shipyard photographed by W.C. Sawyer, courtesy of the Sherman Library and Garden
The Pacific Fleet
The Pacific Fleet photographed by W.C. Sawyer, courtesy of Sherman Library and Garden
Fourth Street Bridge photographed by W.C. Sawyer, courtesy of the Sherman Library and Gardens.
Fourth Street Bridge photographed by W.C. Sawyer, courtesy of the Sherman Library and Gardens
Downtown Los Angeles as decorated for the 1932 Olympics photographed by W.C. Sawyer, courtesy of Sherman Library and Gardens
Downtown Los Angeles as decorated for the 1932 Olympics photographed by W.C. Sawyer, courtesy of Sherman Library and Gardens
Pershing Square photographed by W.C. Sawyer, courtesy of Sherman Library and Gardens
Pershing Square photographed by W.C. Sawyer, courtesy of Sherman Library and Gardens

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The maritime theme fits nicely with the archive considering that its namesake led the Los Angeles Steamship Company late in his career. Before he managed steamships, Moses Sherman was a railway and land developer with a hand in many of the enterprises that contributed to L.A.’s remarkable early-20th-century growth. Sherman held leadership roles in major real estate syndicates that developed the San Fernando Valley, Hollywoodland, and West Los Angeles. His friend and business associate, Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler, wrote this of Sherman:

Reyner Banham offered a more critical perspective, crediting Sherman and his business associate Eli Clark as “pioneers of the get-rich-quick electric railway.” Sherman and Clark established the Los Angeles Consolidated Electric Railway Company that controlled 35 miles of electric trolley line, 14 miles of horse-drawn line, and 21-miles of cable car line by 1893. As Banham explained in his classic “Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies,” Sherman and Clark amassed this traction empire by creating railway companies that “floated, grew, collapsed, merged, came and went, were wrestled from them by outraged shareholders, but popped up again under different guises.” 

Despite outraged shareholders and legal disputes, Sherman received nothing but cheers when his Pasadena and Pacific Railway reached Santa Monica on April 1, 1896. Referred to locally as “General Sherman’s March to the Sea,” this new line, which followed the present-day route of Santa Monica Boulevard, was Los Angeles’ first interurban electric railway to the ocean and established the infrastructure of what became the famous Balloon Route.

Balloon Route
Courtesy of the Sherman Library and Gardens
Hollywoodland tract map
Hollywoodland tract map, courtesy of the Sherman Library and Gardens
Haskell as a young man
Haskell as a young man. Photo courtesy of the Sherman Library and Gardens

Arnold Haskell met both Moses Sherman and Harry Chandler when he was a teenager working as a Mission Inn bellboy in Riverside. He provided such useful assistance to Sherman and Chandler during their frequent visits that Sherman hired him in 1914 as his personal secretary. Haskell spent the next 20 years as Sherman’s right-hand man in Los Angeles and became his successor when Sherman retired to Newport Beach’s exclusive Bay Island. Haskell continued work as Harry Chandler’s associate and also played a role in the development of Calexico (through the Colorado River Land Company), the Tejon Ranch, and parts of Orange County.

Unlike Sherman, Haskell shunned personal publicity, preferring to name his businesses and philanthropic efforts after his predecessor. Perhaps this explains why there is Sherman Oaks and Sherman Way and that there used to be a town called Sherman (now West Hollywood), Sherman Junction, Sherman station, Sherman Cut-Off, Hazeltine Avenue and Sherman Rail Yard. For Arnold Haskell, there is only the San Fernando Valley’s Haskell Avenue. The lives and careers of both men beg for in-depth profiles that would better illustrate the development of the Pacific Southwest. The Sherman Library and Gardens is an excellent place to start.

Further Reading

"M. H. Sherman: A Pioneer Developer of the Pacific Southwest," William O. Hendricks, 1973 (republished for the 50th anniversary). 

"Sherman Library & Gardens 1966-1991," Sherman Library and Gardens, 1991.

"Valley Pioneer Arnold Haskell Succumbs at 81," Los Angeles Times, June 3, 1977. 

"The Beginnings of Sherman Library and Gardens," County Courier, Orange County Historical Society, September 2012. http://www.orangecountyhistory.org/newsletters/12-09Courier.pdf

"It Is Open to the Sea," Los Angeles Herald, April 2, 1896. http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=LAH18960402.2.15&e=-------en--20--1--txt-txIN--------1

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